Evolving Thoughts

Dawkins’ lecture in Phoenix

I (and apparently Jim Lippard) went to see Dawkins’ talk based on his The God Delusion, which I have critiqued before. I was impressed at the technique. It was definitely the very best Revivalist Sermon I have seen. I was not impressed by the content, nor by the fact that Dawkins was playing for laughs, applause and identification of Us versus Them.

In particular I was annoyed that those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”. Bullshit. That is not why we dislike the Us’n’Themism of TGD. We dislike it because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two. Way to go, Richard. Good bit of framing and parodying the opposition. Real rational.

I noted with interest that he seems to have abandoned his claim that an agnostic is somebody who has an evenly balanced probability assessment of the existence of God, which is total crap. But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren’t. I doubt it.

What I most came away with was that he sets it up that one simply cannot understand the existence of religion, and so must treat it as an evil, immoral, or simply irrational thing. Apart from begging the question (since he is so fond of talking about logical errors), it makes the origins of religion a miracle. Now Dawkins is fond of miracles. He has said that evolution begins with the first replicator, ignoring the fact that replication systems are complicated things that cannot appear, as it were, by fiat. It’s a scientific miracle as he presents it [I believe there is a better, evolutionary, account of replication, which Dawkins cannot, because for him replication is the sine qua non, the necessary precondition for evolution].

If we demonise the God of the Old Testament, as he does, one is left wondering why in the hell the Hebrews ever wrote that book in the first place. Of course, the evolution of the Old Testament is a complex social process, beginning, I believe, from a henotheism in which YHWH and El (two distinct deities in the beginning) were tribal gods among other tribal gods (that is, they acted as social totems). On that basis one can easily explain why the OT deity is jealous, a bully and so on – the other sort of religion, ethical monotheism as it is sometimes called, was centuries in the future. But Richard doesn’t want to understand; he wants to demonise, diminish and eliminate the Enemy, so as to make the Bright Us, the ones with the Red A, confortable. As you say, Richard, simply because a belief makes us comfortable, doesn’t mean it is true.

And while we’re on truth, let’s stop pretending all this talk of truth is scientific and not religious in itself. Scientific ideas are tested or not, reliable or not. They are never True, just good enough. To talk about Truth is to help yourself to the trappings of religion under the counter, as it were. And this is the final point I want to make about Dawkins on religion: he is trying to produce exactly the same effects as religion does. Social cohesion, derogation of the Other, ideas that everyone can take for granted. I wish it were the case that he was taking the scientific approach here, but at best he’s using the cachet of science to promote his quasi-religion.

To clarify: I don’t think there’s a god or a higher power. I think we need to have freedom for all from the tyranny of religious extremism and absolutism. I think religions should not have exceptional standing in a secular society. And I think that includes the rhetorical polemics of Richard Dawkins. It isn’t a religion yet, but it’s not from a lack of trying on his part. If you want free-thinking, then think freely. Don’t just kneejerk react to religions around you: think.

Comments

  1. #1 John Lynch
    March 7, 2008

    I predict a fight in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …

  2. #2 jeff
    March 7, 2008

    If we demonise the God of the Old Testament, as he does, one is left wondering why in the hell the Hebrews ever wrote that book in the first place

    Why they wrote it has nothing to do with why we demonize Him. Dawkins is absolutely right in demonizing that miserable rotten excuse for a God. There’s no redeeming value in Him, and he serves as a piss poor example for any civilization. As Thomas Paine said, a cruel God makes a cruel man. Do I have to list all the horrifying verses here? Do we need to offer up a burnt sacrifice so that the aroma “pleases him”? I can tell you one thing, He’s caused nothing but misery and pain in my family and in my life, and I wish he’d never been invented.

  3. #3 plover
    March 7, 2008

    Bravo for calling out Dawkins — a fine take-down of his polemical excesses and his abuse of the idea of rationality.

    However, I think it is incorrect to call what he is doing religious or pseudo-religious as such. It seems to me that what Dawkins and those allied with him are doing is creating a political movement. In this sense, the vilification of religion they engage in is an expressly political reaction to the way politics has come to be used by the religious in recent decades.

    Of course, any sufficiently fervent political movement is functionally equivalent to religion in the kind of Us vs Them mentality it produces in the minds of its followers. So the kicker is: by according religion such a uniquely heinous place in the bestiary of human irrationality, they end up discounting well-tested models from neurology and social psychology which show that the irrational aspects of religion are manifestations of general mechanisms of human meaning generation (and distortion) which can occur in many contexts, and thus fail to take into account how our empirical, rational account of human irrationality affects their own position. In other words, by making religion the Anti-Science, they effectively disregard a good deal of what science currently tells us about religion.

  4. #4 UO
    March 7, 2008

    If we demonise the God of the Old Testament

    You mean, like presenting Him in a worse light than the Old Testament does? Is that even possible? Considering the god of OT is practically a demon to begin with.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    I’ve been going around with the True Non-Believers over at Larry’s place about the incongruity of the righteous indignation displayed by them about religion and believers, when they necessarily deny absolutist moral codes, a point raised by John Haught:

    http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4497

    While I think Haught is wrong about atheism necessarily resulting in nihilism, I think he’s right about the failure of the most-recently-famous-atheists (I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings by calling them “New Atheists,” given how considerate they are of others) to think through their moral positions.

  6. #6 Stuart Ritchie
    March 7, 2008

    Nonsense. I’m in a bit of a rush, but I’ll just bring up a few points:

    ‘…no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society…’

    First of all, Dawkins’ point is that if you accept the importance of science, you shouldn’t believe in the supernatural. Second, the reason he wrote The God Delusion is that so many religion people don’t accept the importance of science or the need for a secular society! How could you have missed this?

    ‘What I most came away with was that he sets it up that one simply cannot understand the existence of religion…’

    Well, perhaps you’ve misunderstood. He devotes an entire chapter of The God Delusion to attempting to explain the existence of religion. Did you miss this too?

    ‘Now Dawkins is fond of miracles. He has said that evolution begins with the first replicator, ignoring the fact that replication systems are complicated things that cannot appear, as it were, by fiat. It’s a scientific miracle as he presents it [I believe there is a better, evolutionary, account of replication, which Dawkins cannot, because for him replication is the sine qua non, the necessary precondition for evolution].’

    This is total, utter crap as well. Have you read The Blind Watchmaker? In it, Dawkins goes into detail about Cairns-Smith’s Clay Theory, which is as much of an evolutionary account of replicator production as I’ve ever heard. You really haven’t been paying attention.

    To describe Dawkins’ ideas as a ‘quasi-religion’ is also sheer lunacy. I normally really enjoy your blog, and I’ll continue enjoying it – but you seem to have been really confused over this one.

  7. #7 MartinM
    March 7, 2008

    I noted with interest that he seems to have abandoned his claim that an agnostic is somebody who has an evenly balanced probability assessment of the existence of God, which is total crap. But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren’t. I doubt it.

    How do you define a ‘knowledge claim,’ out of interest?

  8. #8 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 7, 2008

    John, I can only speak for myself, but in your closing you make the case that those of us who post the Scarlet A on our sites are doing so to demonstrate our Superiority. Yours is a claim based on a generalization, and not accurate at least in my case. It is to tell people that I am not afraid of being known as an atheist. That is it.

    Are you demomising those of us in the Out Campaign?

  9. #9 John Farrell
    March 7, 2008

    Excellent post, John. I’m always astounded by the huge presuppositions Dawkins makes, which he just assumes are self-evident and require no further discussion.

    Which, as you point out, is the mark of a faith-based movement.

  10. #10 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    … in your closing you make the case that those of us who post the Scarlet A on our sites are doing so to demonstrate our Superiority

    No, John was quite specific that he was taking about “the rhetorical polemics of Richard Dawkins,” not making a claim about all atheists. If, as you say, it doesn’t apply in your case, then John’s objection does not apply to you.

    It might be well to remember not to lump all religionists into one group either.

  11. #11 Levi
    March 7, 2008

    Martin: I cannot speak for John Wilkins, but traditionally, atheists are those who claim to “know god does not exist” whereas agnostics are those who claim to “lack a belief in a god”. So using those traditional uses, atheists are making claims about their knowledge whereas agnostics are making claims about their beliefs. Of course atheism can also be defined as “without theism” which does not necessarily imply a knowledge claim, and agnostics can vary between those who claim there simply isn’t good evidence for a religious belief to those who claim religious views are inherently unknowable.

  12. #12 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    What I think is a far more interesting question is whether it is actually possible to remain entirely pragmatic and consistent in ones views?

    I simply don’t believe that any of us “do not care” what other people think or how they act, as long as they are not harming others. We may not care about a particular issue, but I am skeptical about such wide-ranging claims. You would really have to define harm, first and foremost, and then find a consistent method of measuring it and quantifying whether we are justified to not be bothered by it. Do you believe that people should be allowed to harm themselves, for instance, and how should we measure this, consistently and fairly? It really does require some sort of bias, in my opinion.

    You would need a fair amount of faith in “free will” to not care what people do, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society. I’m not sure that we can know for sure whether beliefs are harmful, either to the individual or society as a whole, and whether we are justified in speaking out against that, but that really does work both ways, does it not? And how would you show that accepting science and secularism is more justified than having concern about religious belief? Ah, its all about personal preference, really, isn’t it?

    While I agree that Dawkins over-stretches and gets things wrong, I am yet to be convinced that a pragmatic approach has ever affected real and lasting change in a society, especially when there are a large number of people who are determined to do as much damage as possible (as we would see it, of course). If anything, the approach in most countries seems to be moving towards sensationalism, in all areas. I really despise it, to be honest, but I am at least willing to accept that it is the reality, and that those who want to make a difference may sometimes have to be willing to work within the confines of that reality, as opposed to what we would all wish the reality to be.

    As long as people are consistent in complaining about both sides I guess that you can get away with it, but we also must recognize that even those who hold benign and liberal views are benefiting from the work of the more zealous, on both sides. It’s nice to not have to get your hands dirty, of course, but none of us would presumably complain about the amount of people that Dawkins has motivated to support science and secularism? Again, if he has motivated more than another person, overall, are we justified in criticizing the other? Of course, you can say that he has also alienated many people, but then we are really at a stalemate, talking about personal experience again.

    Many secular philosophers, by the way, have attempt to reclassify Atheism as an absence of belief in deities. That is why I would call myself an Agnostic (can’t know, don’t particularly care) Atheist (live my life as if there are no gods). You can call me what you like, though.

  13. #13 gbruno
    March 7, 2008

    I have to go with Stuart Ritchie…I didn’t hear the speech, but in typical Dawkins (not sound bites) he is careful with his words and non-absolutist (except science trumps religion).

    Certainly a there is less of a battle against the simple religious person who is not an extremist, but if that person can’t analyze the probability that his religion accurately reflects reality, how is that person making other political decisions which affect the rest of us?

    Society will be better off when people use rational thinking to reach their conclusions. De facto, religion must become extinct.

  14. #14 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    ….Again, if he has motivated more than another person, overall, are we justified in criticizing the other? Of course, you can say that he has also alienated many people, but then we are really at a stalemate, talking about personal experience again….
    Posted by: Damian

    The actions of Dawkins have suprised and saddened me, his books (after Gould’s) expailned evolutionary theory rather well. I still prefer Gould as he was the better writer and less seemingly driven by his own importance.

    Defending science is one thing, creating enemies out of possible allies is another thing altogether.

    Dawkins, in my opinion, is creating enemies for Science while trying to evangelise his own beliefs using his Scientific credentials as his authority and to buttress his claims to speak for Science.

    He may be incredulous about religious beliefs and find their probability low (arguement from incredulity?) but to insult those who don’t agree with his beliefs and urge others to do the same seems silly to me; unless his aims are other than defending Science.

    Luckilly for me, I didn’t need Dawkins and his ilk to tell me what Science is & isn’t; if I did then Science would very likely have lost a supporter.

  15. #15 brtkrbzhnv
    March 7, 2008

    But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren’t.

    But that is not so. Neither atheists nor theists make knowledge claims any more than agnostics do. Agnosticism and theism are beliefs; atheism is a nonbelief – neither beliefs nor nonbeliefs involve knowledge claims.

  16. #16 gbruno
    March 7, 2008

    C.W. -

    We can’t have a society where all beliefs are treated equally. That would be anarchy.

    Those who fail to accept that their beliefs are not supported by evidence, have to be criticized.

    And if you would have not supported Science, than please do away with your electricity, your purchased food, your present and future medical care, your automobile, etc.

    Enjoy your life.

  17. #17 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    Defending science is one thing, creating enemies out of possible allies is another thing altogether.

    Dawkins, in my opinion, is creating enemies for Science while trying to evangelise his own beliefs using his Scientific credentials as his authority and to buttress his claims to speak for Science.

    He may be incredulous about religious beliefs and find their probability low (arguement from incredulity?) but to insult those who don’t agree with his beliefs and urge others to do the same seems silly to me; unless his aims are other than defending Science.

    While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, it does piss me off slightly that so many people (seem) to think that it is perfectly natural that we have cut down half of the worlds rain forests so that religious people can all indulge in their activities, and yet, when those who don’t believe in deities decide that it might be useful to provide some counterbalance to that, many people are offended by it, all of a sudden.

    It reminds me of one of the criticism’s that I have read of those of a liberal persuasion (of which I could be included, though I don’t really label myself, politically). I do think that there is a tendency for some people to, on the one hand, rail against a particular view with a passion, while not being entirely consistent when considering an opposing position, for fear of offending, and it is often for reasons that are entirely patronizing, as well. Now, that could rightly be claimed of Dawkins, also, but it could really be claimed of all of us, in my opinion.

    I don’t think that Dawkins claims to be speaking for science, to be honest, and he has said that he is willing to accept that he may be making it more difficult for people to win some of the battles against creationism. But would you also accept that the softly, softly approach, while putting out individual fires quite well, has not exactly been very successful in its attempt to turn the US in to a more scientifically literate and secular society? If anything, there is more fundamentalism in both the US and the rest of the world than ever before. I guess that I just don’t see how anyone can think that Dawkins is obligated to agree with those who think that the approach has been working. He clearly isn’t.

    And, I rather think that some people will be offended regardless of what you do, and that it really isn’t worth worrying about. If a person is so easy to alienate, simply by writing a book that opposes their religious views, I am not convinced that they are worth relying on in the first place. There have been something like 15 books written in opposition to the “new Atheists”, and yet, I simply can’t imagine that Dawkins would be so offended by that, that he wouldn’t work with each and every one of those people to defend science. We really should be defending freedom of speech, at all costs, and not the freedom to be offended, in my opinion.

  18. #18 Derek James
    March 7, 2008

    We dislike it because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two.

    Unfortunately there’s a negative correlation between valuing science and the need for a secular society and “believing in a diety or two”.

    And you didn’t just whip out the ol’ “atheism is just another religion” canard, did you?

  19. #19 Eamon Knight
    March 7, 2008

    The OT God would be just fine if he stayed back there — an ancient Early Iron Age tribal deity, just like many others. No one nowadays would bother to rail against him any more than anyone wastes breath demonising the capricious Greek gods: he’d be just another historical curiosity. But in fact, YWHW/El — in all his vengeful, spiteful, blood-thirsty glory — is still the God worshipped by far too many people, many of whom are otherwise quite decent and civilized. I think it’s worth asking those people to take a long hard look at the kind of deity they tolerate, or are having pushed on them from certain pulpits.

  20. #20 Thony C.
    March 7, 2008

    First of all, Dawkins’ point is that if you accept the importance of science, you shouldn’t believe in the supernatural

    Not only do I accept the importance of science I spend a very large part of my waking hours, and even some of my sleeping ones, studying, thinking about and trying to untangle and understand its history (yes I really do dream about my work!) but who the fuck is Dawkins to tell me or anybody else for that matter what I should or shouldn’t believe?

    Excellent post by the way Mr Wilkins.

  21. #21 John S. Wilkins
    March 7, 2008

    As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.

    No, I don’t think atheism is a religion, or need be. It is simply a knowledge claim that there is no God or gods. As a knowledge claim it need not be based on certainty, but it is based on warrant.

    Agnostics, as I have interminably argued before, hold that at least some of these knowledge claims are unwarranted. Dawkins does a nice end run around those claims by asserting (but not sticking to it) that he’s not interested in these “pantheist” gods (and it’s “panentheism, Richard; at least get the terminology right and stop your strawmanning of these views), but then he asserts that all religion is to be rejected. It goes one way or the other – ether you are arguing against all deities, or you aren’t. You cannot isolate yourself from critiquing some respectable (and adhered to) views, and thens ay that you have shown that all religion is somehow irrational.

    A knowledge claim is just the assertion that one has, to some degree of certainty, knowledge that things are or are not. Atheists say they have warrant for holding there are no gods. Agnostics say that, no matter what they might think about Thor, teapots in orbit, and so forth, there are at least some views one is neither warranted to assert the truth of, nor deny it.

    I don’t like intellectual banners calling the faithful to rally beneath them. Dawkins sets up several.

  22. #22 Aaron Clausen
    March 7, 2008

    Stuart Richie wrote:

    First of all, Dawkins’ point is that if you accept the importance of science, you shouldn’t believe in the supernatural. Second, the reason he wrote The God Delusion is that so many religion people don’t accept the importance of science or the need for a secular society! How could you have missed this?

    And that position itself is utterly unsupportable by science, and it’s why Dawkins and the others in the latest Hate All Religion Mantra Movement have fallen off the wagon.

    The fact is that I agree that if you cannot provide a test, some means of modeling an alleged phenomona and some method of falsifying it, there’s no reason at all to accept its existence. That being said, the nature of many supernatural claims is such that, whether designed to be that way or not, they cannot be measured or dismissed by empirical means.

    This whole culture war Dawkins is trying to start is a sort of evangelicalism. Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn whether the guy next to me is Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. As long, as John says, he accepts the secular society we both live in and isn’t out to destroy science in favor of his own beliefs, then there’s no quarrel, beyond perhaps the sort of cheap coffee shop banter.

    Sitting around and mocking other peoples’ beliefs for no better reason than to make your own worldview look better to me is the most smug, pointless and rude of activities. This isn’t about going after Creationists and IDers. This is about jerking chains in a psychic masturbatory process. I have about as much interest in listening to Dawkins spout off some anti-theistic line as I do in listening to some Evangelical Preacher spew rhetoric about the evils of secularism. In both cases they’re missing the point.

    Oh, and I am a full-blown atheist.

  23. #23 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    C.W. -
    We can’t have a society where all beliefs are treated equally. That would be anarchy.

    Don’t you believe in equal under the law?
    Do we all have to agree with your viewpoint?

    Those who fail to accept that their beliefs are not supported by evidence, have to be criticized.

    What evidence? You mentioned evidence in another blog but didn’t supply any evidence that God doesn’t exist.

    Scientists, using scientific methods, seek to model the natural world and do a very fine job.

    If you believe that the material world is all there is no worries, but that belief isn’t science. It is simply a belief.
    Why should others who believe otherwise be of any concern to you as long as they aren’t anti-science or anti-secular state?

    Just an aside. Just because someone is unversed in science doesn’t mean that they are anti-science. In fact it is those unversed in science that we should be trying to reach out to and ranting on that Science = Atheism doesn’t help. Especially as it is untrue.

    And if you would have not supported Science, than please do away with your electricity, your purchased food, your present and future medical care, your automobile, etc.
    Enjoy your life.
    Posted by: gbruno

    Oooo steps back in stunned amazement and horror; give up my car how terrible :o) Shock I’m converted to your ‘rational’ viewpoint-not.

    I wrote that ‘if I was reliant on Dawkins to tell me what Science was’ as I’m not the case doesn’t arise.
    The point was that, as an aid in the defence of science, I do not believe that Dawkin’s methodology helps.

  24. #24 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    #17 Damian,
    As a minor enviro-nut anyone chopping down rain forest is subject to villivication in my book, especially those crazies chopping down forest to grow crops to create ‘environmentally friendly fuels’.

    I don’t disagree with opposing those I disagree with, nor others arguing for their beliefs.

    If Dawkins rages against those not in agreement with his beliefs good luck to him.

    My main disagreement is with the claim, that is implicit in TGD and in his polemics whilst holding a Chair specifically calling for the public understanding of science.

    He may claim to have been speaking ex-cathedra (i.e. not as a scientist), but I have never seen him write or say so and in TGD he does go on about how science doesn’t support religion. Why it should I’ve no idea.

    I suppose it depends on his aim. Teaching those unversed in science about how science develops hypothesis, tests them against the natural world and then improves the hypothesis seems to me something relevant to the public understanding of science. It would also help in defending science from those who are anti-science.

    If his aim is simply conversions then perhaps he should be up front and not trade on his scientific credentials.

    Obviously he won’t give a fig for what I think, he knows he is right just as I think he is wrong.

  25. #25 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    Certainly a there is less of a battle against the simple religious person who is not an extremist, but if that person can’t analyze the probability that his religion accurately reflects reality, how is that person making other political decisions which affect the rest of us?

    Oh, simple religious people like Theodosius Dobzhansky, R.A. Fisher, Owen Gingrich, Ken Miller, Barak Obama, Pope John Paul II, et al.?

    We’d be better off trusting politics to people who make simplistic categorizations of human beings in all their complexity?

  26. #26 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    C.W.

    You don’t have to do anything except die. You can believe what you want. But conclusions drawn from scientific inquiry have led us to our modern advances in technology. Not religion. That is a fact, not a viewpoint.

    There are an infinite number of beliefs anyone can have. If they are not provable, what’s the point? That’s fantasy, it is anti-science at its core. And if you can’t understand that, then it scares me if you vote, though we have a secular state. I’m concerned people like you vote based on fantasy and that can harm me.

    Science=atheism=abigfootism=aastrology=ahomeopathicmedicinism=atoothfairism=acasperthefriendlyghostism

    Dawkin’s methodology fills certain gaps. Others have a more hard line approach, others less.

    The truly religiously deluded will require some form of treatment once the biological cause of their impairment is pinpointed. Godspeed.

  27. #27 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    J.P. -

    We’re best off trusting politics to people who have demonstrated with their past experience, their historical depth of logical thinking and the apparent logic of their proposed plans that they are the best candidate.

    But it is a subjective evaluation for each voter.

  28. #28 Jim Lippard
    March 7, 2008

    Aaron: “This whole culture war Dawkins is trying to start is a sort of evangelicalism. Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn whether the guy next to me is Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. As long, as John says, he accepts the secular society we both live in and isn’t out to destroy science in favor of his own beliefs, then there’s no quarrel, beyond perhaps the sort of cheap coffee shop banter.”

    Perhaps a lot of these issues would go away if people would focus on *actions* and *behaviors* more than beliefs (though of course beliefs have very strong indirect effects on actions and behaviors). But the culture wars already exist, and Dawkins didn’t start them. There are constant attempts by politically active religious groups to break down the wall of separation between church and state, and the Bush administration has succeeded in knocking some of it down. Alliances with religious people who recognize the value of secular society is essential to combating these abuses, of course, but I didn’t hear Dawkins say anything last night in opposition to such alliances.

    I see Dawkins’ Out Campaign as one for political recognition of the legitimacy of nonbelief, which I think is a worthy endeavor, at least here in the U.S., where we currently don’t have many politicians willing to publicly agree. Instead, we have had presidents and Supreme Court justices who have explicitly stated that nonbelief doesn’t merit Establishment Clause protection (e.g., Bush Sr. and Scalia).

    I have my own skepticism about the feasibility or desirability of forming a cohesive group solely on the basis of lack of belief in gods, but I’m glad there are people like Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, Hirsi Ali, and others who are outspoken public defenders of nonbelief. In my opinion, far too many religious believers do not think critically about their own religious beliefs, and public spokesmen getting media attention will provoke some of them to do so. (I think the same problem exists, but to a far lesser extent, among nonbelievers–most of them got there from somewhere else as a result of reviewing their own beliefs, as the recent Pew Survey shows.)

    “Sitting around and mocking other peoples’ beliefs for no better reason than to make your own worldview look better to me is the most smug, pointless and rude of activities.”

    To characterize all criticism of religion in this manner is inaccurate and dishonest. I don’t think this accurately describes anything in Dawkins’ lecture.

  29. #29 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    We’re best off trusting politics to people who have demonstrated with their past experience, their historical depth of logical thinking and the apparent logic of their proposed plans that they are the best candidate.

    We can also take into account the logic of people who make or support political statements to the effect that “religion must become extinct.”

  30. #30 etbnc
    March 7, 2008

    Behavior matters.

    While I was drafting the rest of this comment Jim Lippard wrote: “Perhaps a lot of these issues would go away if people would focus on *actions* and *behaviors* …”

    Actions and behaviors. Behavior matters.

    The act of communicating ideas is a behavior. Persuading is a behavior. Attempting to persuade is a behavior. A persuader’s behavior matters — as much and sometimes more than the ideas communicated.

    Effective persuasion involves behavior as well as ideas. Some persuaders see this and behave accordingly. Unfortunately the values of the culture of science can obscure that causal relationship, and that impairs the persuasive ability of some participants.

    Regardless what would-be persuaders wish to believe, what many audiences demonstrate is:

    Behavior matters.

  31. #31 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    J.P. -

    Please do. Let me add to the list of things which should become extinct (other than as amusements):

    1. Astrology
    2. Alchemy
    3. Santa Claus, the reindeer, the elves
    4. Homeopathy
    5. The Cowboys were the good guys the Indians were the bad guys
    6. Religion…oooppss, already said that. Superstitions.

    Or vote for someone who wants those types of things to thrive. Please vote rationally.

  32. #32 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    Alliances with religious people who recognize the value of secular society is essential to combating these abuses, of course, but I didn’t hear Dawkins say anything last night in opposition to such alliances.

    Hasn’t he called them “enablers” of the “bad kind” of religion (or is that solely PZ’s trope)? He calls other atheists, such as Eugenie Scott, “Chamberlain atheists” if they want to make common cause with religious people in support of science. I guess “heretic” was already taken.

    … the culture wars already exist, and Dawkins didn’t start them.

    But do we want to fight them by adopting the same tactics as our “enemy”? At what cost?

  33. #33 mlf
    March 7, 2008

    Unless he has down a sudden about-face, Dawkins has always said that he does not really care what kind of supernatural beliefs individuals hold so long as they do not force their beliefs onto others, especially their children. It doesn’t look like that point has been made yet in this thread.

    Additionally,Dawkins is mocking supernatural beliefs because he feels that said beliefs should be not be held in higher regards than other beliefs, such as political ones. Some people will be turned off, but no one is suggesting that his method should be the only method, and neither is he. His methods have positively influenced at least some people: http://richarddawkins.net/convertsCorner

  34. #34 Aaron Clausen
    March 7, 2008

    John Pieret wrote:

    But do we want to fight them by adopting the same tactics as our “enemy”? At what cost?

    The cost will be secular society, I suspect. Which ever side of this particularly idiotic and nasty debate that gets the higher ground is out to promote their orthodoxy, and we know what happens to losing orthodoxies.

  35. #35 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    Or vote for someone who wants those types of things to thrive.

    Ah, the petito principi. Assume that religion is worthless and then assert that it should be treated as worthless. The problem with your list is that, in a very real sense, astronomy and chemistry grew out of astrology and alchemy and, therefore, have the same sort of superficial similarities to those things as religion does to belief in Santa Clause. Your list would suggest that we should also vote against science … if it had anything to do with logic in the first place..

  36. #36 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    You don’t have to do anything except die.

    And pay taxes!

    You can believe what you want.

    Very magnanimous of you.

    But conclusions drawn from scientific inquiry have led us to our modern advances in technology. Not religion. That is a fact, not a viewpoint.

    Have I written otherwise?

    There are an infinite number of beliefs anyone can have. If they are not provable, what’s the point?

    Why not?

    Can you prove that only the material exists, no of course you can’t it is one of your suppositions.

    That’s fantasy, it is anti-science at its core.

    This isn’t a claim that religious people can’t be scientists is it?

    Or will you raise the cognitive dissonance canard for them?

    And if you can’t understand that, then it scares me if you vote, though we have a secular state. I’m concerned people like you vote based on fantasy and that can harm me.

    Why should my beliefs harm you?

    Actually I don’t hail from an officially secular state.
    Secular in practice though.

    Would you deny people the right to vote because they don’t conform to your ideology?
    Seems a tad authoritarian.

    Science=atheism=abigfootism=aastrology=ahomeopathicmedicinism=atoothfairism=acasperthefriendlyghostism

    Just because you write it doesn’t make it so.

    Science is Agnostic on the God question.

    Dawkin’s methodology fills certain gaps. Others have a more hard line approach, others less.

    Gaps in what!?

    The truly religiously deluded will require some form of treatment once the biological cause of their impairment is pinpointed. Godspeed.
    Posted by: GBruno

    Will this ‘treatment’ be enforced, if so how?
    Don’t you believe in liberty and an individuals right to choose?

    No more Rights of Man.
    So how are you different from the wannabe theocrats?

  37. #37 Aaron Clausen
    March 7, 2008

    mlf wrote:

    Unless he has down a sudden about-face, Dawkins has always said that he does not really care what kind of supernatural beliefs individuals hold so long as they do not force their beliefs onto others, especially their children. It doesn’t look like that point has been made yet in this thread.

    I’ve been hearing enough varying reports on Dawkins’ behavior that I do wonder. On the one hand, he can be quite reasonable and accomodating, but then I hear accounts by people like John who have seen or heard him and he can be quite vitriolic.

    I’m beginning to suspect that Dawkins tailors his message to his audience.

  38. #38 Gbruno
    March 7, 2008

    J.P. -

    The non-religiously impaired dump astrology and alchemy for astronomy and chemistry. We also dump religion for philosophy.

    Science is based on fact. Nothing else my list was. That’s a fact!

  39. #39 Jim Lippard
    March 7, 2008

    John Pieret: “But do we want to fight them by adopting the same tactics as our “enemy”? At what cost?”

    Which tactics are you referring to? Dawkins giving public lectures explaining why he believes what he believes, and criticizing religion?

    If your objection is to Dawkins speaking and writing books, and you would also object to the 19th century orations of Robert Ingersoll and Thomas Paine’s authorship of _Age of Reason_, then I am in vehement disagreement with your position.

    The country I live in is one where things like this and this are happening.

  40. #40 Scholar
    March 7, 2008

    Wilkins, you would make a great atheist. I actually used to think you were, with the monkey pic, and all.

    Would be nice if you and Richard could have a little sit-down to discuss all of his shortcomings… :)

  41. #41 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    C.W. -

    No you don’t have to pay taxes. There will be repurcussions if you don’t, but you don’t have to.

    I can’t only the material exists. So, what’s the point?

    Religious people can be scientists, just like murderers can be doctors. It doesn’t make religion true or murder right.

    Gaps in communication approaches.

    I’m not a theocrat, because I don’t claim my approach originates from a make-believe, imaginary being. I don’t know if the treatment will be enforced. It won’t be the first time treatment is imposed on people for mental debilitation. It would likely be a matter of degree.

  42. #42 Jim Lippard
    March 7, 2008

    John Pieret: “Hasn’t he called them “enablers” of the “bad kind” of religion (or is that solely PZ’s trope)? He calls other atheists, such as Eugenie Scott, “Chamberlain atheists” if they want to make common cause with religious people in support of science. I guess “heretic” was already taken.”

    I haven’t seen or heard Dawkins say anything like that–I certainly disagree with that view. Last night, Dawkins seemed quite ecumenical about both varieties and activities of nonbelief, and that he had no objection to religious belief of the Einsteinian sort, aside from not seeing the point of it.

  43. #43 Susan Silberstein
    March 7, 2008

    One almost expects, from Dawkins’ most fervent supporters, shouts of “Amen, brother!”.

  44. #44 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    No,

    “Amen, professor!”

  45. #45 Jim Lippard
    March 7, 2008

    I thought it was “QED, professor!”

  46. #46 Tim
    March 7, 2008

    Excellent John! I love your phrase: “…the very best revivalist sermon I have seen…” It is long past time that the tactics of these ‘Atheist’ types where revealed for what they are.

    Theism is an irrelevant concept – irrelevant to absolutely everything. The attachment of an ‘A’ as a prefix to theism in no way changes the irrelevancy. Far too much of the time and energy of otherwise extremely intelligent people is spent standing on soapboxes screaming that there is no great troll in the sky! Dawkings and his disciples would do well to follow the example of Siddhattha Gautama, a very early true sceptic who, it is said, when asked about the Gods and afterlife replied (to paraphrase a translation of the written memory by one of his disciples) “There are many things that I have not spoken of: consider them as things I have not spoken of. Your responsibility is to the condition in which you find yourself.”

    As I understand Siddhattha he is simply imploring us to stop wasting time worrying about irrelevancies and fantasies and get on with the real job!

  47. #47 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    Tough to get on with the real job in a democracy where most of the citizen’s fantasies prevent them from voting in a rational manner.

    That’s why we shout!

  48. #48 Aaron Clausen
    March 7, 2008

    GBruno wrote:

    I’m not a theocrat, because I don’t claim my approach originates from a make-believe, imaginary being. I don’t know if the treatment will be enforced. It won’t be the first time treatment is imposed on people for mental debilitation. It would likely be a matter of degree.

    Perhaps you’re not a theocrat, but you’re a would-be autocrat. As I said, if I had to choose between you and a theocrat, I’d choose neither, because both of you, in fact, are enemies of secularism, and of the right of man, as established in the Enlightenment, to believe as his conscience will allow.

    History is filled with individuals and groups who have taken upon themselves the role of supreme arbiter of what is true or otherwise. It’s a scary road, and I can tell you that, though an atheist I am, I would stand beside the Christian, the Muslim, the Jew, the Buddhist, the Animist and the Hindu when your Thought Squads came along to take them to the re-education camps.

  49. #49 Eamon Knight
    March 7, 2008

    John Pieret:

    Hasn’t he called them “enablers” of the “bad kind” of religion (or is that solely PZ’s trope)?

    I think that’s Sam Harris’ line — one of a number stupid things he said in The End of Faith. It’s possible that my affection for Dawkins comes from the fact that I read TGD immediately after Eof — and it was so damn much better. Where Harris just tosses off claims, Dawkins at least tries to argue the point (and also doesn’t go haring off after his own brand of incomprehensible mysticism as some sort of replacement for the mysticism he is shooting down).

    So let’s be careful in this thread not to blame Dawkins for things that were actually said by other “New Atheists”.

    He calls other atheists, such as Eugenie Scott, “Chamberlain atheists” if they want to make common cause with religious people in support of science.

    Not one of Dawkins’ better moments — pretty much Godwinned that discussion. He says lots of really good stuff, but occasionally sticks his foot rather badly in his mouth, eg: the Chamberlain thing; Jewish influence on US foreign policy; keeping Saddam for study; and some self-regarding blather he said on Steve Paikin’s show (which is way too long to get into here).

  50. #50 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    My main disagreement is with the claim, that is implicit in TGD and in his polemics whilst holding a Chair specifically calling for the public understanding of science.

    He may claim to have been speaking ex-cathedra (i.e. not as a scientist), but I have never seen him write or say so and in TGD he does go on about how science doesn’t support religion. Why it should I’ve no idea.

    I suppose it depends on his aim. Teaching those unversed in science about how science develops hypothesis, tests them against the natural world and then improves the hypothesis seems to me something relevant to the public understanding of science. It would also help in defending science from those who are anti-science.

    If his aim is simply conversions then perhaps he should be up front and not trade on his scientific credentials.

    As an Englishman myself, this kind of thing really isn’t the issue over here that is in the US. In terms of religion, our two countries are probably at polar opposites. Religion is looked upon suspiciously in the UK, particularly in politics, but even in public life in general. Again, why is Dawkins (or anyone else, for that matter) required to think of the US, at the detriment of the same number of people in Europe, say?

    Also, many people are not consistent in their condemnation. It seems that Ken Miller (and Francis Collins, to a lesser extent, as well as many others) are applauded for giving religious convictions a veneer of scientific credibility, as it is seen as an attempt to “persuade” others to accept science. That really grates with me, to be honest, as the opposing view has already had more than 2000 years, and who knows how much literature, in its support.

    If I am honest, I have no idea why Dawkins book has been given so much attention, anyway. There are so many better books out there about non-belief, and I agree with many of the criticisms of Dawkins, but I notice that not too many people have complained about Victor Stenger’s book, which really does claim to be a scientific critique of religion and the question of God’s existence.

    I am also less than impressed with what seems to be one-sided claims of inconsistency in Dawkins views, when it is perfectly obvious to me that those who are making them are really arguing from personal preference, to a large extent. Many people that I have come across really are grateful for what Dawkins has done, both in his science writing and with the latest book. That doesn’t make his views correct, of course, but too many people have only considered those who might be “offended”, and to hell with those who haven’t dared to be themselves for 50 years of their life. I can’t support that, I am afraid.

  51. #51 bsci
    March 7, 2008

    Not much to add, but it’s nice that some people here don’t deify Dawkins and understand that being an atheist doesn’t mean hating everything about every religion.

    Of course, the biggest loudmouth on the scienceblogs site is a bit too thick to get this message.

  52. #52 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    Jim Lippard: “I haven’t seen or heard Dawkins say anything like that–I certainly disagree with that view.”

    Actually, it’s right in The God Delusion itself.

  53. #53 Lev
    March 7, 2008

    I take exception to a few key aspects of Rev. Richard Dawkins’s ideas. Read on, gentle reader, and hear what I have to say. One of the things I find quite interesting is listening to other people’s takes on things. For instance, I recently overheard some folks remark that if you think that the average working-class person can’t see through Rev. Dawkins’s chicanery, then think again. I can promise freedom-lovers everywhere that my priorities, observations, countermeasures, and predictions are not in any manner similar to those embraced by Rev. Dawkins. Whatever weight we accord to that fact, we may be confident that Rev. Dawkins is not interested in what is true and what is false or in what is good and what is evil. In fact, those distinctions have no meaning to him whatsoever. The only thing that has any meaning to Rev. Dawkins is masochism. Why? It is bootless to speculate on the matter but it should be noted that some people I know say that Rev. Dawkins believes, in his elitist delirium, that everything is happy and fine and good. Others argue that we are now stuck with a jaded Stalinism bearing a human face — that of Richard Dawkins. At this point the distinction is largely academic given that he focuses on feelings rather than facts. Sure, Rev. Dawkins attempts to twist and distort facts to justify his feelings but that just goes to show that he hates it when you say that the core ethic of his cabal has been its brash, unyielding nature, its unquestioning loyalty to Rev. Dawkins, and its eternal war footing constantly spoiling for a fight. He really hates it when you say that. Try saying it to him sometime if you have a thick skin and don’t mind having Rev. Dawkins shriek insults at you.

    From what I know of Rev. Dawkins’s apologues, he is saying essentially three things:

    1. A plausible excuse is a satisfactory substitute for performance.
    2. Character development is not a matter of “strength through adversity” but rather, “entitlement through victimization”.
    3. Children don’t need as much psychological attentiveness, protection, and obedience training as the treasured household pet.

    Obviously, all three of these are surely impractical. It seems ironic that Rev. Dawkins’s adept at spinning lies, given that he exhibits an air of superiority. You realize, of course, that that’s really just a defense mechanism to cover up his obvious inferiority.

    I could go on and on about Rev. Dawkins’s special form of hooliganism but you get the general idea. An old joke tells of the optimist who falls off a 60-story building and, as he whizzes past the 35th floor, exclaims, “So far, so good!” But it is not such blind optimism that causes Rev. Dawkins’s lackeys to think that they can sound the standard “they’re out to get us” call and rally Rev. Dawkins’s pals, who are legion, to put a licentious spin on important issues. With this letter, I hope I have made my views crystal-clear: Rev. Richard Dawkins is immovably entrenched in his pugnacious, flagitious philosophical positions.

  54. #54 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    Swami Lev, get real. You are misstating Dawkins so grossly that it’s not worth getting into detail.

    Remember the religious guy who fell off a cliff, yet barely hanging onto a limb called up to his friend for help. The friend asks, “Would you like me to pray”? To which the religious guy says, “I’d prefer a rope”.

  55. #55 AtheistAcolyte
    March 7, 2008

    It’s kind of amusing in a sad, ironic way, that the people who say religion ain’t so bad are using the word ‘religion’ as an epithet against others.

  56. #56 John S. Wilkins
    March 7, 2008

    #49: I have commented on Stenger here. He at least makes sure that he restricts his attack to actual and specific religious doctrines.

  57. #57 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    And what evidence do you have for your claims, Lev? I certainly have ammunition against Jim Lippard’s claim that “it’s truth that is the closest thing to sacred for Dawkins,” such as Dawkins’ distortions on the Founding Fathers or his straw man of Thomas Aquinas’ fourth way (which he didn’t even need to make since the real faults of the fourth way are enough to knock it down), and that’s only a partial list. So far, I can’t see anything to justify how Dawkins is masochistic.

  58. #58 Lev
    March 7, 2008

    JJ Ramsey, my point is that he presents himself as a Christ like figure for his flock and delights in the ridicule, scorn and vitriol he naturally, and appropriately, inspires.

    Rev. Dawkins’s arguments would be a lot more effective if they were at least accurate or intelligent, not just a load of bull for the sake of being controversial. Not only have slaphappy self-promoters decided to glorify their ipse dixits by dressing them up as moral and righteous prerogatives but their manifestos are being debated as though they were actually reasonable. I want to express our concerns about Rev. Dawkins’s naive precepts. But first, let me pose an abstract question. Why does Rev. Dawkins have to be such a party pooper? Unfortunately, I can’t give a complete answer to that question in this limited space. But I can tell you that Rev. Dawkins’s plan is to bask in the ignorant shine of Bulverism. Rev. Dawkins’s helpers are moving at a frightening pace toward the total implementation of that agenda, which includes turning con artists loose against us good citizens. That’s all I have time now to write. If you want to get more insight into Rev. Richard Dawkins’s mentality, though, then study the details of his opinions. Try to see the big picture: It will amaze you. It will take your breath away. And it will convince you that it has been a long-standing observation of mine that Rev. Dawkins often compares himself to Jesus, usually on the grounds that I’m trying to crucify him for speaking the truth.

  59. #59 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    No you don’t have to pay taxes. There will be repurcussions if you don’t, but you don’t have to.

    As I intend to be uploaded perhaps I needn’t die either

    I can’t only the material exists. So, what’s the point?

    Point is you have made a non-scientific claim.
    You claimed non-scientific claims are irrational.

    To make it clear; science only investigates the natural world, that is its raison detre. It doesn’t prove that only the material exists.

    Religious people can be scientists, just like murderers can be doctors. It doesn’t make religion true or murder right.

    Doesn’t make them false or wrong either (though I do tend to oppose murder in principle).
    Religious people and murderers aren’t by their natures always inimicable to science. Atheists can torture and kill as well.

    Gaps in communication approaches.

    Ah, communication. No I don’t consider villifying others as useful forms of communication; except to reinforce the concept of them and us.

    I’m not a theocrat, because I don’t claim my approach originates from a make-believe, imaginary being.

    I asked why you are different from a wannabe theocrat, I didn’t say that you are a theocrat.

    This was based on your rather outlandish claims of curing those who held religious beliefs.

    I don’t know if the treatment will be enforced. It won’t be the first time treatment is imposed on people for mental debilitation. It would likely be a matter of degree.
    Posted by: GBruno

    A very dangerous road you want to walk down.
    Illiberal and autocratic.

    I hope that I’ld stand by those who don’t agree with you if you or those who think like you gain power, just as I hope that I’ld stand by you if someone wanted to cure you of your beliefs against your will.

    Sadlly, it appears that you think curing people who hold opinions you don’t agree with is OK.

    Liberty isn’t for the few or the self righteous only and freedom of thought and expression are essential liberties.

    These liberties include the right to be wrong.

  60. #60 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    C.W. -

    Save it for the church.

    You will die.

    There is no evidence for anything but the natural world.

    Religion is false, people who believe in superbeings are wrong to do so, based on logical conclusions derived from the preponderence of the evidence.

    Dawkins doesn’t villify others (meaning religious people, he has villified Hitler, Stalin, etc.) He villifies believing in something unsubstantiated by evidence.

    People are treated everyday for their mental delusions. When the delusions result in a certain degree of harm to the rest of society, the delusional may be held against their will, either in a mental facility or a prison, depending on what they’ve done. Nothing new about that.

    We all have the right to be wrong, but we don’t have the right to hurt society by striving to be wrong.

  61. #61 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    Lev: “it has been a long-standing observation of mine that Rev. Dawkins often compares himself to Jesus”

    Then you should be able to cite an example of this.

  62. #62 Lev
    March 7, 2008

    He proposes that his acolytes wear garments bearing the phrase “atheists for Jesus” in support of his actions.

  63. #63 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    Swami Lev:

    Here is a link to his store:

    http://richarddawkins.net/store/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=1&sort=20a&page=1

    No such garments.

    Are you that delusional or just dishonest?

  64. #64 mlf
    March 7, 2008

    Lev is refering to a shirt someone gave him. I doubt he has asked anyone else to wear it despite Lev’s uncited claim. Also, admiring someone is not the same as comparing yourself to someone. He has never done that, that’s why Lev’s single best example is uncited and poor.

  65. #65 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    As an Englishman myself,

    That’s OK, someone has to live south of the border :o)

    this kind of thing really isn’t the issue over here that is in the US. In terms of religion, our two countries are probably at polar opposites. Religion is looked upon suspiciously in the UK, particularly in politics, but even in public life in general. Again, why is Dawkins (or anyone else, for that matter) required to think of the US, at the detriment of the same number of people in Europe, say?

    That has confused me at times as well.
    Perhaps he has a more amenable audience in the US.

    Also, many people are not consistent in their condemnation. It seems that Ken Miller (and Francis Collins, to a lesser extent, as well as many others) are applauded for giving religious convictions a veneer of scientific credibility, as it is seen as an attempt to “persuade” others to accept science. That really grates with me, to be honest, as the opposing view has already had more than 2000 years, and who knows how much literature, in its support.

    I tend to agree, though I’m not sure if it is an attempt to persuade others or just point out that people can be scientist and religious and why.
    A lot of writing against Ken Miller and Francis Collins does exist on other blogs.

    If I am honest, I have no idea why Dawkins book has been given so much attention, anyway. There are so many better books out there about non-belief, and I agree with many of the criticisms of Dawkins, but I notice that not too many people have complained about Victor Stenger’s book, which really does claim to be a scientific critique of religion and the question of God’s existence.

    Stenger’s book was against religious claims, not against the existance of a God as such.

    As for the attention given Dawkins book, he is a reasonably good writer and he was already a well know and popular science writer, it may have also have been fortuitous in its timing.

    I am also less than impressed with what seems to be one-sided claims of inconsistency in Dawkins views, when it is perfectly obvious to me that those who are making them are really arguing from personal preference, to a large extent.

    Well he has been inconsistent, you can hardly claim that religious people are all stupid, ignorant or wicked and that religion is delusional and then say that you aren’t against people holding religious views.
    It doesn’t help that he also had a TV program called The Root of all Evil and then claims he had no say in its title when called on the claim made in the title (yes I know it had a question mark).

    Many people that I have come across really are grateful for what Dawkins has done, both in his science writing and with the latest book. That doesn’t make his views correct, of course, but too many people have only considered those who might be “offended”, and to hell with those who haven’t dared to be themselves for 50 years of their life. I can’t support that, I am afraid.
    Posted by: Damian

    I’m suprised that there are that many people in the UK who haven’t dared to be themselves, haven’t met any myself. It is hardly a religious society. Though I’ll bow to your experience in this regard.
    Oh, I’m one of those who really enjoyed his popular scientific writing. He has a nice turn of phrase.

  66. #66 paiwan
    March 7, 2008

    GBruno:

    If you rear your babies with science without religion, your babies will either die or become monsters. Simply like that your reasoning.

    Never tell your children that you love them. Tell them this super milk is made of Vit A, B, C and plus f***k balanced nutrients. Right away, tell them their cousin was ape, ancestors were fish in the ocean, and more precisely, their partners were viruses which gave them DNA.

    You better do home schooling, start from chemistry, science, science.

    You certainly can recruit many from this thread. I bet that you talk science with your wife on the bed?

    Think of Carl Woese’s advice, or check with John Pieret. Just want to balance the education, don’t need to throw out the bath water and throw out the baby, a simple and common sense.

    I can not understand why you guys are crazy?

  67. #67 Lev
    March 7, 2008

    “Are you that delusional or just dishonest?”

    Neither, GBruno.

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,20,Atheists-for-Jesus,Richard-Dawkins

  68. #68 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    Swami Lev – My question stands, “Are you that delusional or just dishonest”? Where in that article does Dawkins propose that his acolytes where that T-shirt?

    Paiwan – what does “love” have to do with atheism? I think you are crazy. What about all the atheist babies in the Scandinavian countries who don’t die and don’t become monsters. Oh sorry, those are facts, and you don’t like those. Not only are their cousins apes, but they are too, just like me and you. Banana?

  69. #69 Chris' Wills
    March 7, 2008

    Save it for the church.

    Make many unwarranted, irrational assumptions do you?

    You will die.

    Mayhaps I will. Dust to Dust.

    There is no evidence for anything but the natural world.

    What do you consider evidence?
    Please don’t say science, you know that wouldn’t be true.

    Religion is false, people who believe in superbeings are wrong to do so, based on logical conclusions derived from the preponderence of the evidence.

    You claim evidence again.
    Where is this evidence?
    Why are they wrong to do so? Even given your belief that God doesn’t exist it simply makes their belief false.
    They may gain social benefit from the belief.

    Dawkins doesn’t villify others (meaning religious people, he has villified Hitler, Stalin, etc.) He villifies believing in something unsubstantiated by evidence.

    You haven’t read TGD then.

    People are treated everyday for their mental delusions. When the delusions result in a certain degree of harm to the rest of society, the delusional may be held against their will, either in a mental facility or a prison, depending on what they’ve done. Nothing new about that.

    Because of what they’ve done, not because they disagree with your beliefs.

    Also, just because something is done doesn’t make it ethical, I am opposed to imprisoning people because of what they might do. If someone breaks the law then they should be subject to the law.
    If the law said that holding beliefs opposed by the self righteous was criminal I’ld oppose that law.

    You obviously see nothing wrong in imposing your views by force.

    We all have the right to be wrong, but we don’t have the right to hurt society by striving to be wrong.
    Posted by: GBruno

    Prove a harm other than to your ego.

  70. #70 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    C.W. -

    I’ve read the TGD and there’s little villifying of people, mostly ideas. There is no evidence for anything except the natural world, if you have some you would win a Nobel Prize, otherwise you just have rhetoric.

    I agree with you, that if someone doesn’t act on his beliefs in a way that harms society, then society has no role in addressing them. But in reality, that’s not the way it plays out very often.

    Any time that non-evidenced based opinions are proposed as equals to evidence-based opinions in the public arena, the society has the potential for being harmed. Creationism, stem cell research, autism & vaccines, global warming “controversy”, gay rights, and on and on.

    If I had an ego, I wouldn’t be on this blog.

  71. #71 AtheistAcolyte
    March 7, 2008

    C.W.:

    Ah yes, what is “evidence”?

    I think there are plenty of different definitions out there, but I think a reasonable definition of evidence for these purposes is “a piece of information demonstrating with certain weight a nontrivial hypothesis to be a true or false representation of the natural order of the universe.”

    With such a definition an argument is reduced to how you apportion weights to what methods of information-gathering. Technically, holy scriptures are evidence under this mantel, I just choose to assign very low weights to ancient anthropocentric historical records of the birth of the universe.

    In a trivial sense, there is evidence for something other than the natural world, shown by eyewitness testimony of ghosts and spirits, as well as personal testimonials of being touched by the “hands of God”. However, there is also evidence that human feelings of the divine are psychologically caused, and can be induced through mechanical means. Also, ghosts or spirits are frequently debunked as optical illusions or forgeries. The question is how you assign your weights, not what you consider as ‘evidence’.

  72. #72 paiwan
    March 7, 2008

    GBruno says: What about all the atheist babies in the Scandinavian countries who don’t die and don’t become monsters.

    Are this Scandinavian countries the place where had Soren Kierkegaard? How you sure they have not adopted religious traditions? Just remember that not far from there, not more than 70 years ago, Holocaust happened where people claimed exactly like now-came of age, mature enough. Who can say Scandinavia is the paradise forever?

    I am not against atheism, I am against your reasoning, and your scientism can not explain “love”.

    ———————————

    To those who are against Old Testament or Genesis:

    The background and theology in that time was the flood had threated people, they needed coherence in life, may you called God as the creator who can control the flood, and He is not only the ruler of the nature but also the final judge of people, and nations.

    Do we need this kind of coherence now? we need to think twice. We not only need science, but also history and wisdom.

  73. #73 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    Paiwan -

    I hope you will seek treatment when it becomes available.

    Here is an evolutionary explanation for “love”:
    http://www.percepp.com/lovempat.htm

    Kierkegaard wasn’t bad, his religious father was.

    There was no world wide flood. That is a delusion.

  74. #74 Matt Penfold
    March 7, 2008

    John,

    You seem to overlook an important point.

    Most, but not all, religious people allow for some form of divine intervention, be it creationism, virgin birth, intercessory prayer, resurrection or miracles. When they do that they are rejecting science. Thus anyone who accepts that divine intervention does not accept science without reservation, since science excludes divine intervention as an explanation.

    So who is left out of the religious who do accept science ? Well those who think god is just the rules by which the universe works. But then you have the problem that this is not the god Dawkins talks about, in fact he is quite explicit on that point.

    I cannot understand your position here. You must realise that those religious people who allow for divine intervention do reject science at least, in part, and those who do not are not the target of Dawkins’ ire. So who are these religious people you are talking about ?

  75. #75 Alexandra
    March 7, 2008

    As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.

    So anyone who disagrees with you just proves your point. Well, isn’t that just special?

  76. #76 John S. Wilkins
    March 7, 2008

    Thing is, Matt, I don’t care if they have nonscientific views about nonscientific subjects; any more than I care that some people actually like Kenny G. If, in the particular domain of science, they do not oppose knowledge, why would I? It’s not up to me. I may think it a pity that friends who are religious think silly things. I may even try to discuss it with them with a view to talking them out of it. Or, they may have views about the Great Beyond that are not empirically contradictory, in which case I simply shrug my shoulders and say to myself, “Oh well, people believe silly shit sometimes.” So long as it doesn’t make them have to interfere with the positive results of science or its education, or try to impose their views on mine, they can think what they like.

    And who are you, or Dawkins or PZ or anyone to say otherwise?

  77. #77 Ben Abbott
    March 7, 2008

    “In particular I was annoyed that those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”. Bullshit. That is not why we dislike the Us’n’Themism of TGD. We dislike it because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two. Way to go, Richard. Good bit of framing and parodying the opposition. Real rational.”

    “we” … for whom do you speak?

    Would it not be more appropriate to say “I”?

    To be honest, I’m half way between your position and Richard’s … and I find Richard less self-righteous :-(

  78. #78 Alexandra
    March 7, 2008

    So long as it doesn’t make them have to interfere with the positive results of science or its education, or try to impose their views on mine, they can think what they like.

    Unless you’re moving to your own unlisted planet sometime soon the views of your neighbours will be, to some extent, imposed upon you. You talk like science and education are separate from daily life. That’s just nonsense. When people believe silly shit they do silly shit, expect silly shit and more importantly they vote for silly shit to become policy. Thus we are subject to official “unimportant silly shit” like protecting marriage from the pernicious influence of sinners or protecting discarded blastocysts, sorry, I mean orphaned pre-born babies from being used in nefarious frankensteinian research.

    It matters what the other people in our society believe, even when it’s not directly about science or education.

  79. #79 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    Levi: “I cannot speak for John Wilkins, but traditionally, atheists are those who claim to “know god does not exist” whereas agnostics are those who claim to “lack a belief in a god”.”

    False. Agnosticism is a claim about knowledge, atheism about belief. The definition of atheism that simply specifies lack of belief is ancient and the one used by most atheists. Too many folks that fancy themselves agnostics simply haven’t thought about whether their set of definitions make any sense. They don’t. Either one believes in a god, or they don’t. And either one claims to know if there is a god or not, or they don’t. The former is a question of theism/atheism, the latter of agnosticism/gnosticism. These are independent questions, and all combinations of answers are possible.

  80. #80 PZ Myers
    March 7, 2008

    And where has Dawkins or this PZ fellow said they want to impose their views on others?

    And if we were to say that, how are we going to do it?

  81. #81 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    John S. Wilkins: “As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.”

    While I’m critical enough of Dawkins to get myself yelled at from time to time, and while I’m inclined to be more sympathetic to you than your opponents here, paragraphs like this are really quite bad.

    In many ways what you say here bears all the hallmarks of trolling. You accuse someone of something nasty, and then when they are pissed off that you did so, you claim that the fact that they got angry about it proves that you’re right.

    That’s just a really lame way to argue. Make accusations, and back them up directly: not by using the fact that people are arguing against you as evidence that you’re correct!

    I also, obviously, do not accept your definition of atheism, and especially since Dawkins doesn’t use your definition of atheism either, I think you repeatedly trying to call people atheists under THEIR definition and then use YOUR definition to allege that they hold positions that they don’t is pretty shady.

    Agnostics still either believe in a god or they don’t. They are either theists, or they are non-theists (or, as we atheists often call non-theism… atheism). A far smaller number of atheists than you seem to allow do not run around asserting that they know there are no gods. I don’t, for instance. Such a claim is unnecessary and overambitious. I’m not denying that some atheists do make such claims, and do commit errors based on those claims. But trying to smear or define all atheists with that is wrong.

  82. #82 Aaron Clausen
    March 7, 2008

    Bad wrote:

    Agnostics still either believe in a god or they don’t. They are either theists, or they are non-theists (or, as we atheists often call non-theism… atheism).

    You accuse John of redefining a word, and then make this rather odd and obviously false claim as to the meaning of agnostic.

    Agnosticism is most certainly quite different than either theism or atheism. I have no idea why you would try to assert differently.

  83. #83 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    John Wilkins: “As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.”

    Alexandra: “So anyone who disagrees with you just proves your point. Well, isn’t that just special?”

    Depends. There’s indignation and indignation. If one witnesses the kind of indignation where there is much pounding of the table, frothing at the mouth, or responding to a straw man version of the accusation that triggered the indignation, then that might point to Wilkins’ accusations about a quasi-religion being reasonable. I can think of at least one partisan of Dawkins who has displayed the sort of distortions of fact that one sees in religious zealots. Bad had pointed out his recent mangled reading of an Obama speech (and I can even think of a certain, ahem, embellishment of the facts that he hasn’t corrected in over a year).

  84. #84 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    Well he has been inconsistent, you can hardly claim that religious people are all stupid, ignorant or wicked and that religion is delusional and then say that you aren’t against people holding religious views.
    It doesn’t help that he also had a TV program called The Root of all Evil and then claims he had no say in its title when called on the claim made in the title (yes I know it had a question mark).

    I’m suprised that there are that many people in the UK who haven’t dared to be themselves, haven’t met any myself. It is hardly a religious society. Though I’ll bow to your experience in this regard.

    I don’t know whether you have misunderstood something here – Dawkins did say something about “stupid, ignorant or wicked”, but in reference to those who dismiss evolution, not to the religious, as far as I can remember. Obviously, I could be wrong, and he does go over the top with his rhetoric – though I usually take it as playful, more than him actually being serious, to be honest.

    I have noticed that many people do jump on things that he says – which is fair, I suppose – but there is an awful lot of misinformation out there. It is also important to note that he was dead against calling the documentary, “The Root of all Evil”, for obvious reasons, but he was overruled by the TV company. It is only fair to point that out.

    If I may indulge a little, part of the reason that I defend Dawkins, to a point, even though I have certainly come to agree with much of the criticism from people like John is, I suppose, for selfish reasons. I suffered with an illness in my early twenties which lasted for several years. As I was recovering, it was reading the God Delusion which set me on a journey of discovery which included regaining my passion for all areas science; for the first time finding an interest in some of the debates about religious claims, such as the resurrection, etc, after never really having any interest in anything religious, previously; and also taking an interest in philosophy and many other related areas.

    I must admit to being slightly confused about what it is that really think about a whole host of issues, which is obviously not a bad thing, but I am determined to continue exploring as many areas of knowledge as I can. I have even spent several hundred pounds on books in the last few months!

    I appreciate reading the perspective of people like John (and yourself, as well as others) as it forces me to think about things that I hadn’t thought of, previously. Indeed, I find many of John’s posts to be inspiring as it is quite an eye opener to think about what exactly it is that we can consider a justified belief. Philosophical questions really do force you to consider all of the things that you were quite comfortable with believing, yet didn’t realize that it isn’t quite so simple.

    One thing that I have noticed is how easy it is to become dogmatic in ones beliefs, whether we are believers, or not. It is one of the reasons that I try to engage will as many perspectives as possible, and it certainly validates the idea that variety really is the spice of life! It is important that I at least attempt to understand the position of others, as we are all just trying to make sense of things, in our own way. Einstein said it quite well, I think:

    “A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty .. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

  85. #85 Robert Thille
    March 7, 2008

    I just love it when people ding someone for not getting their terms straight, but they are the ones screwing up:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism

    There is a difference. The first is “Spinoza’s or Einstein’s God”, the second is much more in line with Christianity.

    Simple stuff like that you can’t get right, and the silly confusion with charisma and the ability to help lead a social movement with a religion make you come off like an idiot, or a PZ Myers says, someone with a concussion…

  86. #86 Tim
    March 7, 2008

    Bad:
    A-biotic usually is interpreted as ‘not biotic’ (not of a biotic origin and not having the characteristics of a biotic system). A-theist usually is interpreted as ‘not theist’. It may be possible to argue about what ‘theist means’ but, whatever it means, Atheist must mean not theist.
    Agnostic usually means “I don’t know”. Admittedly a bias but I would add that Agnostic also means “it’s irrelevant”!

  87. #87 Cpl. Chrondo
    March 7, 2008

    I don’t get it? It’s clear from your description of the metamorphasis of the god of the OT that you KNOW that the bible is not some divine revelation straight from god’s pen to our eyes. And any classification of it as such is 180 degrees from the truth. So wouldn’t science’s near-truths be much, much better in any context? The theory of Gravity could be considered one of sciences almost-truths and I take it’s existence for granted everyday, is there something wrong with that? Granted I wasn’t there to hear his words or tone but science is such the antithesis of religion that I don’t think we have to worry about them melding into some superforce. And replacing religion with science may not cure all the worlds ills but I don’t see how it could be seen as anything other than an improvement.

  88. #88 bob koepp
    March 7, 2008

    Bad –
    “Agnostics still either believe in a god or they don’t. They are either theists, or they are non-theists (or, as we atheists often call non-theism… atheism).”

    OK. Among those who don’t believe in a god, then, we can distinguish between those who believe ‘There is no god’ and those who do not believe ‘There is no god.’ So, what do you call someone who neither believes there is a god nor believes there is no god? Some, like myself, tend to use ‘agnostic’ to refer to these people. If we should not use ‘agnostic’ like this, because of its historical and etymylogical connections to claims about knowledge, as distinct from claims about beliefs, again, OK. But then what would you suggest as a term to refer to atheists who don’t believe there is no god?

  89. #89 Jim Lippard
    March 7, 2008

    J.J. Ramsey (comment #52): As I said in my blog post on Dawkins’ lecture, I haven’t read his book. He didn’t say anything like that in his lecture. Do you have a page reference? I’m inclined to read it now, if only to find out whose descriptions of its content are accurate.

    J.J. Ramsey (comment #57): I was reporting what Dawkins said about his own position.

  90. #90 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    bobkeopp: “So, what do you call someone who neither believes there is a god nor believes there is no god?”

    Still simply an atheist (someone without god beliefs). Or an atheist agnostic. The terms are not logically mutually exclusive.

    In doxastic logic, B (belief) and K (knowledge) are two different operators, and they do not directly imply each other or the negation of each other.

    My definition of atheism, and that used by most atheists as far as I can tell is ~BG, or “not believe god.” This is logically distinct from B~G or “believe no god.” However, note that B~G is a SUBSET of ~BG: i.e. anyone with the position B~G also falls under the larger category of ~BG It makes sense then, that ~BG is the main category, because it, (and NOT the position B~G) is the direct negation of BG (“believe God”) and those two positions are binary and complete (i.e. everyone falls under one or the other category).

    Theists have generally always wanted to paint the only two positions as BG or B~G, because B~G is far easier to argue against (since it has its own burden of proof, makes an actual existential claim, etc.) You’ll often hear theologians or preachers present three options: you believe god, you believe that there is no god, or you are uncertain. This sort of presentation is where the idea that atheism must mean B~G comes from. But note how sloppy that taxonomy is, and note that the position it carefully avoids mention of ~BG (or skepticism that definitively, not uncertainly, does not assent to BG). Agnosticism is basically presented as the “humble” but simply as yet uninformed position. No room is left for those of us who find God claims, in no uncertain terms, unconvincing. We have no further obligation to assert B~G. The burden of proof is not on us UNLESS we claim B~G.

    KG, ~KG, K~G then, are a different matter, though they play out in the same fashion (i.e. all people that claim K~G also hold the position ~KG)

    “But then what would you suggest as a term to refer to atheists who don’t believe there is no god?”

    Atheists. The fact that some atheists make anti-god claims doesn’t make that a defining feature of atheism anymore than the fact that some men are violent means that men are by nature violent.

    Tim: “A-biotic usually is interpreted as ‘not biotic’ (not of a biotic origin and not having the characteristics of a biotic system). A-theist usually is interpreted as ‘not theist’. It may be possible to argue about what ‘theist means’ but, whatever it means, Atheist must mean not theist.
    Agnostic usually means “I don’t know”. Admittedly a bias but I would add that Agnostic also means “it’s irrelevant”!”

    You seem to be agreeing with me here, I’m sure I see what the issue is. Of course, the history of a word is hardly conclusive: the fact that “a” “theism” means “without theism” (i.e. exactly what I’ve argued) doesn’t prove my point, because definitions are always ultimately based on common usage, which can change. Nor are definitions really important in the end: the point of them is to communicate ideas as clearly as possible between two people.

    The problem I have with the other definitions of atheism being proposed here is that they all lend themselves to some incredibly sloppy thinking and equivocation, and they lead to a fairly non-comprehensive, unbalanced system of classification when it comes to god beliefs.

    Agnosticism literally means “without knowledge” which is precisely what Huxley meant when he coined the term. Of course, he meant it in a much stronger sense: he thought that he knew that it was impossible to know anything about god: that you didn’t just lack knowledge, but that you _couldn’t_ have such knowledge. But, as I’ve noted, the use of the term changed to the present weaker form, which most people use to mean “I don’t know.”

  91. #91 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    Aaron Clausen: “You accuse John of redefining a word,”

    Let’s make this clear, since you seem to have missed the key point here. There is no real problem with defining words differently as long as one is clear and consistent as to their usage. The problem comes when you mix up inconsistent definitions, and I explained HOW this is a problem in the post you are referring to. If I define atheism as lacking god belief, and you define atheism as the position that there is no gods, neither of us are “right” or “wrong,” and as long as we understand how we are each using the words, there is ultimately nothing of substance to argue over. We may have to use a different word to express what one or both of us really means, but that’s fine too.

    But if you, understanding my definition of “atheist” is, agree that I am an atheist, but then turn around and accuse me of holding the “believe there is no god” position, then this is the logical fallacy of equivocation: using one definition and then switching mid-argument to another usage.

    This actually is a huge problem in defining “atheism” because while many people insist that the term means “belief in no god” they often end up USING it to mean “lacking belief in god.” For instance, if I were asked if I believed in god, I’d say that no, I don’t. Most people would call me an atheist, based off of that answer. But that’s a use of the weak definition alone: merely lacking god belief!

    “and then make this rather odd and obviously false claim as to the meaning of agnostic.”

    I find people often claim something is “obviously” this or that most often when they can’t explain their position. In this case, it’s neither false, nor do I see how it could be false. Logical binaries do not have middle positions (in fact, this is an actual _formal_ logical fallacy, unlike equivocation). Agnostics either believe in a god or they don’t.

    “Agnosticism is most certainly quite different than either theism or atheism. I have no idea why you would try to assert differently.”

    I’m not sure why you think I did. I argued, in fact, that agnosticism is independent of theism/atheism: it concerns knowledge, not belief. However, and perhaps this is what you object to, an agnostic has not escaped the basic issue of whether or not they believe in god or not (or, as I have defined the terms, whether they are a theist or an atheist).

    All agnostics are either theists or non-theists (i.e., atheists).

  92. #92 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    Jim Lippard: “Do you have a page reference?”

    pp. 66-9

    Jim Lippard: “I was reporting what Dawkins said about his own position.”

    Fair enough, but I’d say that what Dawkins said about his own position is belied by his own treatment of the facts.

    For Bad:

    Offhand, I’d say the real difference between those who insist on calling themselves agnostics and those who accept the atheist label is that those who call themselves atheists think, “Well, I act as if there is no God, so I might as well call myself an atheist,” while the agnostics put far more emphasis on the issue of certainty and aren’t comfortable about giving even the appearance of a certain answer to hazy propositions like God’s existence.

  93. #93 Gary Bohn
    March 7, 2008

    Jesus John, you stirred up quite the hornets nest. Interestingly there seems to be a few hornets who, rather than trying to understand your point, jump to some interesting conclusions about your intent.

  94. #94 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    “Offhand, I’d say the real difference between those who insist on calling themselves agnostics and those who accept the atheist label is that those who call themselves atheists think, “Well, I act as if there is no God, so I might as well call myself an atheist,””

    Again, no, not as I see it. This “might as well” implies that non-believers should just go ahead and assume that not believing requires some affirmative anti-god position. It doesn’t. We can be non-believers (atheists) just fine without. No extra step is required, and no extra term is necessary. Atheism can already cover it.

    “while the agnostics put far more emphasis on the issue of certainty and aren’t comfortable about giving even the appearance of a certain answer to hazy propositions like God’s existence.”

    Again, this would make sense only if you defined atheism such that it was an expression of certainty. But this is a confusion in most respects, I think. The only certainty expressed in “I don’t believe in god” is a certainty about the contents of ones own mind. That’s an entirely forgivable sort of certainty, I think.

    And again, the real issue here should be having a clear, consistent, and complete taxonomy of positions, to minimize confusion and equivocation. What you seem to be proposing seems to me to be an embrace of confusion along with some so-so coping strategies for navigating it without correcting it.

  95. #95 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    Re the taxonomy of agnosticism, the distinguishing feature to my mind is that, to the agnostic, the statement “I don’t believe in god” is as unfounded as “I do believe in god.” Both are statements made in the absence of knowledge. Of course, like John, I don’t believe that atheists are merely stating an absence of belief. Dawkins speaks of the probabilities of God’s existence with no little confidence. You don’t have to claim absolute knowledge to be making a knowledge claim.

  96. #96 Pierce R. Butler
    March 7, 2008

    … the Us’n’Themism of TGD.

    How dare Dawkins attempt to separate disbelievers from believers, when the believers have always been so kind and inclusive towards their less godly neighbors!

  97. #97 J. J. Ramsey
    March 7, 2008

    Bad: “This ‘might as well’ implies that non-believers should just go ahead and assume that not believing requires some affirmative anti-god position.”

    Not really. That’s certainly not what Russell indicated in his essay “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?,” where he indicated that while “agnostic” might be the more technically correct description of his beliefs, but that “atheist” is the better term for conveying the gist of his beliefs to the man on the street.

    Bad: “Again, this would make sense only if you defined atheism such that it was an expression of certainty.”

    Not quite. Rather, it is that those who call themselves atheists aren’t as hung up on the certainty issue as those who call insist on calling themselves agnostics are.

    Bad: “And again, the real issue here should be having a clear, consistent, and complete taxonomy of positions, to minimize confusion and equivocation.”

    I think we are talking at cross-purposes here. I’m proposing an answer as to why some choose to identify themselves atheists or agnostics. Also, attempting to impose a descriptor on someone who won’t accept it isn’t going to minimize confusion.

  98. #98 Tim
    March 7, 2008

    Bad:
    “Agnostics still either believe in a god or they don’t. They are either theists, or they are non-theists (or, as we atheists often call non-theism… atheism).”

    While agree with your logic re. atheism and theism there is still a problem. To assert that an Agnostic (as the term is usually understood) is either atheist or theist is equivalent to asserting that an agnostic is either Trollist or Atrollist. That is, you assume that this concept called theism is somehow more important than other concepts e.g. unicornism. I submit that agnosticism implies that knowledge of this concept (theism) is unimportant to the extent that it is no more relevant than knowledge of any other speculation.

  99. #99 Eamon Knight
    March 7, 2008

    How dare Dawkins attempt to separate disbelievers from believers, when the believers have always been so kind and inclusive towards their less godly neighbors!

    Actually, yes how dare he (assuming he does, and I’m not re-reading TGD just to confirm or disconfirm that hypothesis). To the extent that religion is evil (and my feelings are largely in line with Wilkins’ on this), it is because of the material things it does — one of the worst of which is to create Us vs. Them tribalisms. Fundamentalists (of which I am an “ex”) create that division explicitly along lines of belief. I reject atheist attempts to use that as a criterion for the same reason as I eventually rejected the fundamentalists’ — that it is plain bigotry, either way.

    When one is in a fight conceived of as at least partially moral, one should take care not to emulate ones opponent’s faults.

  100. #100 Eamon Knight
    March 7, 2008

    How dare Dawkins attempt to separate disbelievers from believers, when the believers have always been so kind and inclusive towards their less godly neighbors!

    Actually, yes how dare he (assuming he does, and I’m not re-reading TGD just to confirm or disconfirm that hypothesis). To the extent that religion is evil (and my feelings are largely in line with Wilkins’ on this), it is because of the material things it does — one of the worst of which is to create Us vs. Them tribalisms. Fundamentalists (of which I am an “ex”) create that division explicitly along lines of belief. I reject atheist attempts to use that as a criterion for the same reason as I eventually rejected the fundamentalists’ — that it is plain bigotry, either way.

    When one is in a fight conceived of as at least partially moral, one should take care not to emulate ones opponent’s faults.

  101. #101 Janus
    March 7, 2008

    Bad,

    To say that Dawkins “calls other atheists, such as Eugenie Scott, “Chamberlain atheists” if they want to make common cause with religious people in support of science” is a lie, one of the many lies that can be found in the comments on this page.

    Dawkins has nothing against atheists who make common cause with theistic evolutionists against creationism. The ones he has a problem with are those who spread the dogma that religion and science are compatible (and all that NOMA bullshit) because they’re afraid of offending potential allies.

    John Wilkins said:

    Thing is, Matt, I don’t care if they have nonscientific views about nonscientific subjects; any more than I care that some people actually like Kenny G. If, in the particular domain of science, they do not oppose knowledge, why would I? It’s not up to me. I may think it a pity that friends who are religious think silly things. I may even try to discuss it with them with a view to talking them out of it. Or, they may have views about the Great Beyond that are not empirically contradictory, in which case I simply shrug my shoulders and say to myself, “Oh well, people believe silly shit sometimes.” So long as it doesn’t make them have to interfere with the positive results of science or its education, or try to impose their views on mine, they can think what they like.

    And who are you, or Dawkins or PZ or anyone to say otherwise?

    I don’t get you, John. You acknowledge that religious beliefs are silly shit, whether or not they’re falsifiable. The only extra step Dawkins would like you to take is to SAY SO to people who believe that religious beliefs aren’t silly shit. That’s all.

    Seriously, what do you think Dawkins and the new atheists want? Do you think we want to pressure politicians into passing laws that outlaw religion, or something?

  102. #102 porkchop
    March 7, 2008

    It seems to me that quite a lot of the disagreement here centers around the issue of respect. I for one am an atheist, but I have friends who are Catholic priests and rabbis, and while I frankly don’t understand their faith I am also certain they are not idiots, or naive, or deluded. I’m not so arrogant that I’m willing to start tossing around epithets at people who are wise, kind, and learned just because I don’t see the world the way they do.

    GBruno: Do you know anything about history? Giordano Bruno was hardly an atheist. You might want to rethink your choice of a handle, or better yet, get off your f***ing high horse.

  103. #103 Muse142
    March 7, 2008

    If, when you say, “he’s using the cachet of science to promote his quasi-religion”, you mean, “he’s gathering many fans who agree with his line of reasoning and interpretation of the evidence,” then I totally agree with you. Otherwise… erm… I mean, I like the guy, but it’s not like I’m sending him money, or getting on my knees on my Atheist Carpet five times a day praising Dawkins (PBUH). We agree with him because we think he’s correct. Not because he’s a swell guy, or because our parents always told us to, or because he’ll do favors for us, or we’re scared he’ll track us down and beat us up if we don’t.

    Maybe the “Us’n’Themism” works with certain Dawkins audience members because they’ve been treated as “Them” and not “Us” most of the time.

    And some of us do kind of mind that others believe in deities. In the US, at least, belief in God comes with some sort of package deal that includes being anti-abortion, pro-war, and disregard for brown people. If not that, then at least the annoying tendency to bring up God-belief at random times with random levels of attempted emotional manipulation.

    But then, what do I know? I’m just a Dawkins-ist, and we all know that it’s a matter of FAITH, not FACTS.

  104. #104 rimpal
    March 7, 2008

    An atheist or agnostic has no existence outside the Christian framework. If philosophy is considered a logical or rational pursuit, making rules for which it is answerable to itself only, Dawkins’s philosophy is very weak. About the only scientist of our times who displays any philosophical depth is Chandra. Dawkins displays plenty of signs in following a relgion – the essential features of which are doctrine and dogma converging to provide an explanatorily intelligibe account of the cosmos; where belief and action are in congruence.

  105. #105 John Pieret
    March 7, 2008

    Dawkins has nothing against atheists who make common cause with theistic evolutionists against creationism. The ones he has a problem with are those who spread the dogma that religion and science are compatible (and all that NOMA bullshit) because they’re afraid of offending potential allies.

    But theistic evolutionists are the ones (along with many people who don’t think science is a “lifestyle” or a “worldview”) who think the practice of science and religion can be compatible. So, Dawkins thinks we should tell the theistic evolutionists that their beliefs are bullshit before making common cause with them? And why would Dawkins approve of making common cause with bullshitters? Isn’t that as great a “compromise”?

  106. #106 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    Janus: “Bad, To say that Dawkins “calls other atheists, such as Eugenie Scott, “Chamberlain atheists” if they want to make common cause with religious people in support of science” is a lie, one of the many lies that can be found in the comments on this page.”

    I’m confused here: are you sure you meant to address me? I have no idea what you are talking about. I didn’t say anything on this subject. Why are you addressing this to me?

  107. #107 Janus
    March 7, 2008

    But theistic evolutionists are the ones (along with many people who don’t think science is a “lifestyle” or a “worldview”) who think the practice of science and religion can be compatible. So, Dawkins thinks we should tell the theistic evolutionists that their beliefs are bullshit before making common cause with them?

    Yup, exactly.

    And why would Dawkins approve of making common cause with bullshitters? Isn’t that as great a “compromise”?

    Compromise? What are you talking about? Dawkins wants to promote rational/critical/scientific thinking. When that means attacking religion as a whole, he attacks religion as a whole and gladly allies himself with people that he thinks are idiots about other things (Christopher Hitchens about Iraq, Sam Harris about consciousness, etc). When that means attacking creationism, he attacks creationism and gladly allies himself with people that he thinks are idiots about other things (theistic evolutionists, homeopaths, whatever).
    That doesn’t stop him from pointing out that religious beliefs are silly shit, that the Iraq war was a huge mistake, that consciousness isn’t a “fundamental entity”, that homeopathy is bullshit, etc etc. Why should it?

    Repeating the lie that is NOMA isn’t wrong because it’s a ‘compromise’, it’s wrong because it’s a lie.

  108. #108 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    Tim: “While agree with your logic re. atheism and theism there is still a problem. To assert that an Agnostic (as the term is usually understood) is either atheist or theist is equivalent to asserting that an agnostic is either Trollist or Atrollist. That is, you assume that this concept called theism is somehow more important than other concepts e.g. unicornism. I submit that agnosticism implies that knowledge of this concept (theism) is unimportant to the extent that it is no more relevant than knowledge of any other speculation.”

    You’re welcome to declare it unimportant, but that doesn’t make the classification any less useful when we are trying to get a sense of what someone will or won’t assent to in a discussion. We all fall into countless binary classifications. And we are welcome to find any one of them uninteresting. I wasn’t trying to imply that the fact that a given agnostic is an atheist is an IMPORTANT fact, or the ONLY fact about them. But it is a fact, and when the matter concerns god beliefs, sometimes a relevant one worthy of note.

    What you say about agnosticism implying though, I don’t think is true. That particular attitude doesn’t seem to be universal or general to agnostics in general that I’m aware of.

  109. #109 Janus
    March 7, 2008

    You’re right, Bad, my comment was addressed to John Pieret, not to you. My bad. ;)

  110. #110 Bad
    March 7, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey: “Not quite. Rather, it is that those who call themselves atheists aren’t as hung up on the certainty issue as those who call insist on calling themselves agnostics are.”

    I don’t get this at all: this seems to be merely posturing, though I’m not sure to whose benefit. None of these alleged hang-ups and so forth are anything other than amateur psychology leveled at these various groups: they are subjective opinions held about atheists or agnostics in general, not accurate statements about the concepts or classifications.

    I lack a belief in god in exactly the same way an agnostic who doesn’t believe in god but doesn’t want to be called an atheist does. I don’t see any important distinction here about certainty. My lack of belief is a lack of certainty in a particular set of claims, not an expression of it in any claims of my own.

    Bad: “Also, attempting to impose a descriptor on someone who won’t accept it isn’t going to minimize confusion.”

    Then perhaps we should stick with the clear, consistent, and complete taxonomy I’ve outlined, and which it seems most atheists agree. Atheists in general are not B~G. Some atheists are. Agnostics are (and logically MUST be) either theists or non-theists (i.e. atheists).

  111. #111 Steven
    March 8, 2008

    Theist or Atheist donotes belief or lack of belief. Gnostic or Agnostic denotes knowledge or lack of. You can be an agnostic atheist. In other words you don’t know there is no god(it is impossible to know even every definition of that word) but you just don’t believe there is. I haven’t visited everyone planet(or even one) in the Andromeda galaxy so I don’t know there isn’t an alien with 25 arses in the shape of my head that lives on one of those planets. However I don’t believe there is.

    I am an agnostic atheist when it comes to a deistic type of god.

    I am a gnostic atheist when it comes to the Abrahamic gods because they actually posit claims about that god and they are easy to debunk.

  112. #112 Pierce R. Butler
    March 8, 2008

    Eamon Knight @ 99/100: … one should take care not to emulate ones opponent’s faults.

    Is it somehow illegitimate for members of a group under attack to rally other members to recognize and respond to such attacks?

    There is a real challenge to dealing with aggression, spelled out (e.g.) rather verbosely in Andrew Bard Schmookler’s The Parable of the Tribes: hypothetically peaceful party(ies) being attacked have only three choices: to surrender, thereby rewarding the belligerents; to cede their ground and retreat (same result); or to resist, thereby entering into the cycle of feuding (unless they can annihilate the aggressor, which still leaves little chance of returning to the pacific status quo ante).

    Only in this very broad sense can Dawkins be said to “emulate” that which he opposes. Though skilled in the rhetorical manipulations demanded (by audiences) in popular speaking and writing, he does not fail to include fact and reason to back his points, nor does he exploit conflicts for personal or organizational gain.

    If you have suggestions as to how infidels might get through the “culture war” (declared in the US about two decades ago at a Republican national convention, fwiw) without surrender, retreat, or joining together in common defense, please tell us!

  113. #113 Mark E. Witt
    March 8, 2008

    Re:#112 Pierce R. Butler said:

    “If you have suggestions as to how infidels might get through the “culture war” (declared in the US about two decades ago at a Republican national convention, fwiw) without surrender, retreat, or joining together in common defense, please tell us!”

    Follow the Simple Truth of which Dawkins know little: Ben Stein is doing a fantastic work of revealing His Ignorance. (HINT: You already know the Truth.)

    Mark Witt

    Intelligent Design,
    Institute of Theory
    New Haven, CT

  114. #114 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 8, 2008

    John Wilkins wrote:

    In particular I was annoyed that those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”. Bullshit. That is not why we dislike the Us’n’Themism of TGD. We dislike it because no matter what other beliefs an intelligent person may hold, so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society, we simply do not care if they also like the taste of ear wax, having sex with trees, or believing in a deity or two.

    …and…
    Aaron Clausen wrote:

    Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn whether the guy next to me is Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. As long, as John says, he accepts the secular society we both live in and isn’t out to destroy science in favor of his own beliefs, then there’s no quarrel, beyond perhaps the sort of cheap coffee shop banter.

    That is all very liberal and tolerant and enlightened and I agree.

    But what if the man sitting next to you is a Muslim who believes that to save your soul you must be converted to Islam – by force, if necessary – or be killed as befits an infidel? What if it is not just the man sitting next to you who believes that but a sizeable fraction of the world’s Muslim population? As a champion of the Enlightenment, how will you respond?

    We know that the world’s major faiths are not the monolithic structures that they may appear to outsiders. We know that there are civilized, rational, tolerant, humane Muslims – and Christians – and that we would be well-advised to reach an accommodation with them. By all means, enlist their support in the struggle against bigotry, dogma and absolutism.

    But, in the United States, how many of those moderate Christians have spoken out against the popular view of an atheist as being somewhat worse than a pedophile? How many have stepped forward to defend the right of atheists or agnostics to reject faith of any kind? How many have condemned the fact that overt atheists have a snowball-in-hell’s chance of ever being elected to public office?

    As for moderate Muslims, one has the impression that they are mostly concerned with keeping their heads down for fear of getting them blown off by their less-nuanced brethren.

    Is it not the case that atheists and agnostics everywhere have, to a greater or lesser degree, felt isolated and oppressed? Do they not bite their tongues in public for fear of being shunned – or worse – if their lack of faith becomes widely-known? Is it any surprise therefore that, when a small band of stubborn non-believers write and speak out forcefully about the merits of godlessness, they find themselves the rallying-point for atheists everywhere? Is it also any surprise that they are seduced by their new-found popularity and the mouth-watering prospect of becoming the intellectual vanguard of a popular secularist movement?

    The standard defence to the accusation that atheism is a religion is the now well-known saying that “atheism is a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby” (attribution?). The definition of ‘religion’ can only be stretched to encompass non-belief by making it as elastic as the IDiots definition of ‘science’. What we are seeing in the groundswell of support for the views of Dawkins et al is an incipient political movement, not a religion, which has emerged as a reaction to the excessive influence of the “religious right” over US politics and society.

    While in practice the beliefs of atheists and agnostics overlap considerably, I would argue they can be distinguished by noting that atheism is a claim about belief while agnosticism is a claim about knowledge. Atheists disclaim any belief in the existence of a god or even reject the existence of such a being altogether. Agnostics deny that we have any knowledge of the existence of a god or even that we can have any such knowledge but recognise that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.

    While atheism and agnosticism can both claim roots in science – Huxley’s formulation of agnosticism in particular being little more that a prescription of the scientific method – neither of them are science themselves. Atheists go beyond what is justifiable if they claim the authority of science for their beliefs. Science has found no reason to assume the existence of a god but neither does it claim to have disproven such.

  115. #115 Tulse
    March 8, 2008

    I don’t care if they have nonscientific views about nonscientific subjects [...] So long as it doesn’t make them have to interfere with the positive results of science or its education, or try to impose their views on mine, they can think what they like.

    And that’s kind of tolerance is great…until they suddenly oppose HPV vaccines for girls because it will promote promiscuity, or suddenly oppose stem cell research because it is killing babies, or suddenly oppose climate change action because God gave Man dominion over the earth, or suddenly oppose social research on gay families because homosexuality is a choice and is not to be normalized, or suddenly oppose teaching evolution because it contradicts the Bible, or suddenly demand that pharmacists be allowed to refuse to fill contraception prescriptions because it is evil.

    In other words, you can’t predict when their apparently benign, non-scientific beliefs will result in them interfering with the positive results of science or its education, or trying to impose their views on you (did you see the opposition to the HPV vaccine coming? Could you have predicted that?). The problem really isn’t the specific content of the beliefs, but the very nature of those beliefs — irrational but backed with certainty. In this kind of climate, where it seems that practically any matter of public policy can become entangled with religious belief, isn’t it completely reasonable for at least some people to feel that the best way to avoid such intrusions isn’t to play whack-a-mole each time religion intrudes, but instead to innoculate society against those kind of beliefs in general?

    If all religions agreed to stay out of public policy and governance, we wouldn’t have this problem, and there wouldn’t be an issue, and Dawkins would be writing about gene frequency changes rather than atheism. But given the current state of things, it seems hugely short-sighted to expect that religion will somehow stay in a corner and not intrude its irrationality on society, and thus perhaps it makes sense to push back against religion qua religion, rather than just specific policies.

  116. #116 Trinifar
    March 8, 2008

    Nice post, John. It’s a joy to see a level-headed scientist/philosopher review Dawkins.

  117. #117 Zarquon
    March 8, 2008

    Err, right. It’s not intemperate to accuse Dawkins of starting his own religion based on the fact he has enthusiastic supporters at one lecture?

  118. #118 nigel holmes
    March 8, 2008

    “As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.”

    There’s an argument with potential:
    As so often, those who reject the idea that Obama’s campaign is a cult demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.
    As so often, those who reject the idea that Apple users are a brainwashed sect demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their idol the very thing suggested.

    Why, you can use it practically anywhere.

  119. #119 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “Thing is, Matt, I don’t care if they have nonscientific views about nonscientific subjects; any more than I care that some people actually like Kenny G. If, in the particular domain of science, they do not oppose knowledge, why would I? It’s not up to me. I may think it a pity that friends who are religious think silly things. I may even try to discuss it with them with a view to talking them out of it. Or, they may have views about the Great Beyond that are not empirically contradictory, in which case I simply shrug my shoulders and say to myself, “Oh well, people believe silly shit sometimes.” So long as it doesn’t make them have to interfere with the positive results of science or its education, or try to impose their views on mine, they can think what they like.

    And who are you, or Dawkins or PZ or anyone to say otherwise?”

    John,

    The point you cannot or will not see is that a person who accepts divine intervention does oppose knowledge. They hold that events in the material world are outside the purview of science. They allow that in certain circumstances “goddidit” is a valid answer. Any Christian who accept the virgin birth as being literal opposes scientific knowledge of mammalian reproduction. Any Christian who accepts the Resurrection as fact opposes scientific knowledge of neurology and physiology. And they do so just as much as the creationist opposes scientific understanding of the origins of life and the universe. Now I know you oppose creationism, but why do you not give as hard a time to those who hold scientific views just as at odds with reality ?

  120. #120 Iorwerth Thomas
    March 8, 2008

    Ian H Spedding: “But, in the United States, how many of those moderate Christians have spoken out against the popular view of an atheist as being somewhat worse than a pedophile? How many have stepped forward to defend the right of atheists or agnostics to reject faith of any kind? How many have condemned the fact that overt atheists have a snowball-in-hell’s chance of ever being elected to public office?”

    How many of them are actually *listened* to when they condemn these things, support the unbeliever’s right to reject faith and so on? I condemn these things, but I a) live in the UK, so can’t have much effect on other Christians world-wide and b) have you *ever* attempted to have a sensible conversation on religion on the Internet? There are only a few places where civil conversation won’t be drowned out by idiots on both sides, along with picky arguments over terminology that are largely irrelevant and serve solely to feed the intellectual ego — I think we are seeing an example of this in progress — which tends to mean that those with more moderate views won’t bother. I know *I* generally don’t. (The development of a killfile system for blog comments might change this, though.)

    There’s probably also an issue with media and selection bias here; sensible viewpoints are almost never picked up. (I’ve seen at least one condemnation of the Archbishop of Canterbury for not being anti-war prior to the Iraq conflict, despite the fact that he condemned the idea of waging the war several times prior to its starting and was reported as doing so. Those who aren’t reported in the first place don’t have a chance.)

    Also, aren’t there more pressing issues than forcing religious moderates into a ‘Will-You-Condemn-athon’ (http://crookedtimber.org/2008/02/14/will-you-condemn-athon/)?

  121. #121 Brian English
    March 8, 2008

    Hi John. You’ve stirred up a murder of atheists now. (I’m assuming that’s the collective.)
    Just a question. If you hold that a belief is false or silly, don’t you have some sort of duty to disembarrass the person holding that silly belief? If I’m crossing the road, believing it’s safe, when really a truck is about to pass. I’d be a bit miffed, should I live, if you didn’t correct my false belief. Please correct my possibly false beliefs on the matter. :)

  122. #122 Richard Carter, FCD
    March 8, 2008

    Believe me, sex with trees is very overrated.

  123. #123 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    I’ve read the TGD and there’s little villifying of people, mostly ideas. There is no evidence for anything except the natural world, if you have some you would win a Nobel Prize, otherwise you just have rhetoric.

    Well claiming that those who believe in God are delusional is a villification of sorts as is the claim of stupid, bad or wicked.

    Which Nobel prize?
    It couldn’t be a Science one as Science seeks to model the natural world.
    Also, what evidence would be accepted?

    I agree with you, that if someone doesn’t act on his beliefs in a way that harms society, then society has no role in addressing them. But in reality, that’s not the way it plays out very often.

    If someone breaks the law (assuming we aren’t including laws against thought) then they’ll be judged under the law as should happen for everyone.
    I’m not clear as to what you are saying in your sentence starting ‘But in reality, that’s…’

    Interestingly, as I understand it, in the USA the right to rebel actually exists as a right.

    Any time that non-evidenced based opinions are proposed as equals to evidence-based opinions in the public arena, the society has the potential for being harmed. Creationism, stem cell research, autism & vaccines, global warming “controversy”, gay rights, and on and on.
    If I had an ego, I wouldn’t be on this blog.
    Posted by: GBruno

    No, not ‘has the potential for being harmed’, it has the potential to be changed; harm is in the eye of the beholder.
    People being people will be swayed by many things, some not based on evidence that you would accept, many people would deny that and those you might claim are delusional, though perhaps they just interpret the data differently.

    Societies change; we have gone from mostly extended to mostly nuclear families, we have gone from feudal to freeish societies and, in the west seem to be heading towards state intervention/control (the nanny or bully state) at every level.

    Good or bad depends on your viewpoint, I want to keep the freeish type of state without Thought or viepoint police.

  124. #124 Zarquon
    March 8, 2008

    On the contrary, it’s the bees knees.

  125. #125 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    Believe me, sex with trees is very overrated.

    You have obviously never done it with a gum tree.

  126. #126 Thony C.
    March 8, 2008

    John S. Wilkins wrote

    any more than I care that some people actually like Kenny G

    Come on! How can you tolerate somebody who actually likes Kenny G! There are fucking limits you know! Even for wimp-like agnostics.

  127. #127 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    Janus:

    Anyone who will elevate their philosophy (of positivism) to the status of “truth” — making NOMA a “lie” — is just as authoritatian in their beliefs, based on as little knowledge, as any theist. Why would I want to live in a world run by such people based on their beliefs anymore than I would a world run by fundamentalist theists based on their beliefs? You and Dawkins are free to advocate for your positions — no one has said otherwise — but I have no desire to join any cult of scientism and will work to keep any aspirants to one out of control just as I would Christian Dominionists.

  128. #128 Ryan Stone
    March 8, 2008

    Is it possible that the Judeo-Christian God exists? Yes.

    Is it probable? No.

    Therefore it is very much a case of Us versus Them. Some people think just the possibility of a god is enough. Some people don’t.

  129. #129 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 8, 2008

    “I talk to the trees
    That’s why they put me away…”

  130. #130 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    #90 Bad,
    Why the two value logic?

    I agree that either God(s) exist or don’t exist; that doesn’t mean that we only have two options either to believe or not-believe.

    In a criminal case the accussed is either guily or not-guilty; that doesn’t prevent us having hung juries.

    I adopted the term Agnostic for myself using Huxley’s definition as it seems most sensible to me. (Nicholas Cryfts Agnosticism was also involved to some extent)

    I actually think that the God question is important, I just haven’t reached a definitive solution.

    It doesn’t prevent me being pro or anti other things of course.

  131. #131 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    …If all religions agreed to stay out of public policy and governance, we wouldn’t have this problem, and there wouldn’t be an issue, ……Posted by: Tulse

    Are you suggesting that those with religious beliefs not be allowed to participate in the democratic process?

    I ask simply because when people participate in society we bring with us all our biases and beliefs, those beliefs may not accord with yours on many issues (economic policies for example come in a wide range all claiming to be the best for society).
    So, to expect anyone to leaves their biases at home and not bring them into social discourse seems strange.

  132. #132 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    Ah yes, what is “evidence”?

    I think there are plenty of different definitions out there, but I think a reasonable definition of evidence for these purposes is “a piece of information demonstrating with certain weight a nontrivial hypothesis to be a true or false representation of the natural order of the universe.”

    Minor problem, your definition excludes the non/super-natural.
    I would suggest that your definition is very close to scientific methodology.

    With such a definition an argument is reduced to how you apportion weights to what methods of information-gathering. Technically, holy scriptures are evidence under this mantel, I just choose to assign very low weights to ancient anthropocentric historical records of the birth of the universe.

    But others assign a greater weight to them, so why are you correct? Apart from in pragmatice and positivist senses.

    In a trivial sense, there is evidence for something other than the natural world, shown by eyewitness testimony of ghosts and spirits, as well as personal testimonials of being touched by the “hands of God”. However, there is also evidence that human feelings of the divine are psychologically caused, and can be induced through mechanical means. Also, ghosts or spirits are frequently debunked as optical illusions or forgeries. The question is how you assign your weights, not what you consider as ‘evidence’.
    Posted by: AtheistAcolyte

    But as you started with a definition that included only the natural universe I’ld assume you’ld discount seemingly non-natural things. So you start with a bias?

  133. #133 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    I don’t know whether you have misunderstood something here

    Very possible. Wouldn’t be the first time I erred :o)

    - Dawkins did say something about “stupid, ignorant or wicked”, but in reference to those who dismiss evolution, not to the religious, as far as I can remember. Obviously, I could be wrong, and he does go over the top with his rhetoric – though I usually take it as playful, more than him actually being serious, to be honest.

    This ‘being playful’ may be true, he does have a cultured erudite British wit and being an Oxford don we sort of expect it of him and grant him a chuckle. However his US audience may not understand the culutural nuances and so take him seriously at all times.

    I have noticed that many people do jump on things that he says – which is fair, I suppose – but there is an awful lot of misinformation out there. It is also important to note that he was dead against calling the documentary, “The Root of all Evil”, for obvious reasons, but he was overruled by the TV company. It is only fair to point that out.

    OK, I’ll accept that the title wasn’t in his purview.

    If I may indulge a little, part of the reason that I defend Dawkins, to a point, even though I have certainly come to agree with much of the criticism from people like John is, I suppose, for selfish reasons. I suffered with an illness in my early twenties which lasted for several years. As I was recovering, it was reading the God Delusion which set me on a journey of discovery which included regaining my passion for all areas science; for the first time finding an interest in some of the debates about religious claims, such as the resurrection, etc, after never really having any interest in anything religious, previously; and also taking an interest in philosophy and many other related areas.

    I must admit to being slightly confused about what it is that really think about a whole host of issues, which is obviously not a bad thing, but I am determined to continue exploring as many areas of knowledge as I can. I have even spent several hundred pounds on books in the last few months!

    Gould was the person who opened the window to biology for me, Dawkins was a Johnny come lately.

    On books, it is frightening how much they cost and how much room they take up. I’m looking to move house just for storage room.

    I appreciate reading the perspective of people like John (and yourself, as well as others) as it forces me to think about things that I hadn’t thought of, previously. Indeed, I find many of John’s posts to be inspiring as it is quite an eye opener to think about what exactly it is that we can consider a justified belief. Philosophical questions really do force you to consider all of the things that you were quite comfortable with believing, yet didn’t realize that it isn’t quite so simple.

    He does explain Philosophy very well.

    One thing that I have noticed is how easy it is to become dogmatic in ones beliefs, whether we are believers, or not. It is one of the reasons that I try to engage will as many perspectives as possible, and it certainly validates the idea that variety really is the spice of life! It is important that I at least attempt to understand the position of others, as we are all just trying to make sense of things, in our own way. Einstein said it quite well, I think:

    “A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty .. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”
    Posted by: Damian

  134. #134 J. J. Ramsey
    March 8, 2008

    Bad: “I don’t get this at all: this seems to be merely posturing, though I’m not sure to whose benefit.”

    Actually, it’s a conclusion that I came to after observing John Wilkins and John Pieret, and especially this post by Wilkins:

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2006/12/atheism_and_agnosticism_again.php

    Like it or not, there are reasons that agnostics who refuse the label “atheist” which have to do with certainty, and you are going to have to take those into account in your taxonomy.

    Ian H Spedding: “But what if the man sitting next to you is a Muslim who believes that to save your soul you must be converted to Islam – by force, if necessary – or be killed as befits an infidel?”

    Both Wilkins and Clausen answered your question even before you asked it. How hard is their condition, “so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society,” to understand?

  135. #135 J. J. Ramsey
    March 8, 2008

    Aargh! I meant to say this:

    “Like it or not, there are reasons that agnostics who refuse the label “atheist” have for rejecting the label, and these have to do with certainty, and you are going to have to take those into account in your taxonomy.”

  136. #136 ShellyD99
    March 8, 2008

    I’m really stuck on the phrase “if we demonise the God of the Old Testament…” I have a BA in Biblical Studies and IMHO, Richard does not demonize the OT God. All one has to do is describe this God and it’s damning enough. What may sound like demonization is just reporting on the OT accounts themselves.

  137. #137 Bryson Brown
    March 8, 2008

    There are a few things that seem awry here. On a small point, I don’t see why a knowledge claim is involved either in theism or atheism; of course, some theists will claim to have knowledge, but the line between theism and non-theism is surely a matter of belief, and similarly for atheism. Agnosticism occupies a middle ground by refusing both beliefs (I’m pretty sure this is what Huxley was after when he adopted the term for his own position).

    But what seems entirely wrong to me are the deep hostility towards Dawkins and the ‘atheism is a religion too’ trope. Dawkins is a naturalist–his account of the world starts with science. Some claim this is as unfounded as starting with religious faith–but that’s a product of a hopeless kind of foundationalism in epistemology. Science has grown out of the systematic extension and refinement of the kinds of claims about the world we humans actually manage to reach independent agreement about. Religion just doesn’t qualify by this standard (how often does a deep theological disagreement get resolved in a way that actually persuades both sides, rather than by force or schism). The result is a level of explanatory coherence that (while always imperfect and under revision) justifies regarding science as the gold-standard for human understanding of the world.

    Science is not religion, and starting from science in our quest for an account of the world is not an act of faith in anything like the way that belief in the resurrection is an act of faith. Of course there are no guarantees that science will continue to work as well as it has… but to say “it’s an ‘act of faith’ to believe the sun will rise tomorrow (or that the standard model will continue to explain what goes on at the range of energies and scales that it has been successfully tested)” and then equate this faith with the faith of religious belief is downright silly.

  138. #138 Pierce R. Butler
    March 8, 2008

    Ian H Spedding FCD: As for moderate Muslims, one has the impression that they are mostly concerned with keeping their heads down for fear of getting them blown off by their less-nuanced brethren.

    I’ve dealt with quite a few of them: in the US, they’re keeping their heads down for fear of red-blooded, two-fisted, rootin’-tootin’ Christian patriots.

  139. #139 peter
    March 8, 2008

    It’s kind of interesting to note the number of people who are atheists who continue to capitalize “Him” when referring to a god.

    being polite just in case?

  140. #140 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    Science is not religion …

    But neither is it a “worldview” nor a philosophy.

    and starting from science in our quest for an account of the world is not an act of faith in anything like the way that belief in the resurrection is an act of faith.

    Which appears to be a quantitative rather than a qualitative judgment on your part … one I happen to agree with. But that does not give me confidence that I would be entitled to dismiss others as irrational or stupid for making a different judgment.

    [To] equate this faith with the faith of religious belief is downright silly.

    But to expand our empiric experience of the material world into a belief system, supposedly sufficient to explain all of whatever it is that constitutes “reality,” is, in my judgment, equally silly.

    To try to make science into something that functions socially as if it is a religion is downright dangerous.

  141. #141 Larry Moran
    March 8, 2008

    Johwn Wilkins writes,

    As so often, those who reject the idea that Dawkins is trying (not the first to do so) to start a quasireligion demonstrate by their indignation at such a critique of their Hero the very thing suggested.

    John, we disagree on many things including your position on ignoring the silly beliefs of theistic evolutionists. You are wrong about that. (IMHO, of course.)
    But you are right about the quasireligion claim. Dawkins is very much trying to create a cult with himself as one of the prominent priests. He did this when he tried to establish the Brights and he’s doing it again through his website and his promotion of red-letter Atheism.

    I don’t have a scarlet “A” on my blog for that very reason. There is nothing that unites me with Richard Dawkins other than the fact that neither of us have been convinced of the existence of supernatural beings. That’s a position that I share with you, as well, but it doesn’t mean we are disciples of Richard Dawkins. Although, in fairness, you did come under his spell at one point in your life. :-)

  142. #142 Tulse
    March 8, 2008

    Chris’ Wills:

    Are you suggesting that those with religious beliefs not be allowed to participate in the democratic process? I ask simply because when people participate in society we bring with us all our biases and beliefs, those beliefs may not accord with yours on many issues

    If you actually read my comment, you’ll see I said no such thing. Those with religious beliefs should be allowed to participate in the democratic process, and bring with them their biases and beliefs, just as members of the KKK are, and pedophiles are. But the best way to mitigate the impact of religious belief on social policy may be to reduce the prevalence of religious belief directly, rather than oppose it on a case-by-case basis.

    John Pieret:

    Anyone who will elevate their philosophy (of positivism) to the status of “truth” — making NOMA a “lie” — is just as authoritatian in their beliefs

    NOMA is a lie as a descriptive claim, and not because of positivism, but because contrary to Gould, science does conflict with many religions about truth claims regarding the physical world. Gould describes NOMA thusly:

    The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.

    But that is a prescriptive claim, and with regards to the extent of religions’ claims is simply not true for many beliefs. It’s not science that is violating NOMA, it’s religion.

  143. #143 Chris' Wills
    March 8, 2008

    If you actually read my comment, you’ll see I said no such thing. Those with religious beliefs should be allowed to participate in the democratic process, and bring with them their biases and beliefs, just as members of the KKK are, and pedophiles are. But the best way to mitigate the impact of religious belief on social policy may be to reduce the prevalence of religious belief directly, rather than oppose it on a case-by-case basis.
    Posted by: Tulse

    So let me try and understand clearly.
    Religious people can vote but religion shouldn’t involve itself in social policy.
    So if religious people ignore their religion you don’t mind them voting or being religious?

    On the other bit about reducing religious adherence, surely education rather than verbal assault is more likley to be conducive towards this end. Vinegar isn’t a good bait and insulting people is more likely to have them ignore you than listen.
    In the end you need a strong education system that teaches things honestly and doesn’t bring in irrelevancies.
    Teach the scientific method in science classes, teach english in english classes etc, teach people how to argue and discuss logically and to understand their pre-suppositions.

    Philosophies (agnosticism, theism, atheism, platonism etc) can be taught in religious education/philosophy classes.

  144. #144 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    John Pieret said:

    Anyone who will elevate their philosophy (of positivism) to the status of “truth” — making NOMA a “lie” — is just as authoritarian in their beliefs

    What are you, a post-structuralist? If you are, please say so clearly so I can stop wasting my time replying to you. There’s no point in discussing anything with someone who thinks there’s no such thing as a fact.

    NOMA and its accompanying claims are false.

    It is false, as Tulse pointed out, that religions limit themselves to answering questions about morality. All religions make claims about reality, whether or not those claims are falsifiable; if they didn’t make claims about reality, they wouldn’t be religions, they would be moral philosophies or ethical codes (and primitive, incoherent ones at that).

    And it is false that science and religion, as ways of forming beliefs about reality, are compatible. Science is a rigorous method that gets us progressively closer to the truth (or at least, closer to that portion of the truth that it is in principle possible for us to know). Religion is based on faith, which amounts to making implausible guesses about reality and convincing oneself that these guesses are right, usually for emotional reasons.

    By the way, I’m not a positivist, and AFAIK neither is Richard Dawkins. Neither one of us would say, for example, that unfalsifiable claims are meaningless.

  145. #145 John S. Wilkins
    March 8, 2008

    Although, in fairness, you did come under his spell at one point in your life

    But I got better… and at no point did I ever agree with Dawkins about how to approach or think about religion.

    I think a lot of this has to do with what one’s experiences of religion have been. Although I stopped being religious (and coincidentally stopped being a theological student, oddly ;-), my experience of religion was profoundly mixed. On the one hand there was a community that helped me deal with drug addiction and depression, for which I am grateful. On the other hand my apostasy led to rumors that I was now a witch and Satanist, and the loss of my entire social circle in one fell swoop. So I can see a positive side to religion (the social support) and a negative (the demonisation of those who do not believe). Consequently I am perhaps a bit more open to the possibility that people who are strong believers can be forces for good in the world, while being aware they can be forces for bad.

    Life is not a series of boxes of binary choices. Peope are not all good or all bad merely because of which badges they wear. I believe that firmly and will not back down from it – too much empirical evidence. Those who, like Dawkins, want to emulate the bad aspects of religion (note: PZ, I am not saying he is treating atheism as a religion. Learn to read, will you?) to support their “enlightenment” seem to me to be skating on very thin and nasty ice, based on past experiences.

    Those whose experiences of religion include Fred Phelps or being shunned in their secular community have good reason to hate the bad aspects of religion, but I want to make a final comment (although you can all continue to berate or support me here as long as you have something to say).

    A friend once went to the doctor with a case of anxiety. He told the doctor that he was scared and discouraged by what he read in the newspapers. “So, stop reading newspapers,” replied the doctor. My friend did this and started to live a happy life. Why?

    It’s not that the bad stuff stopped happening, but that he was able to realise that 90% of everyone is decent 90% of the time, and that ain’t too bad. In his life, he was never mugged, nor was he killed in car accidents, bombings, and so on. Bad stuff happens, but it rarely happens to everyone.

    Religion is like that – yes there are places where religious adherence is used as a badge to identify and hurt others, and that will always happen, because it is a general human tendency independently of religion. But in most western secular societies it is a rare thing, with the possible exception of the US. Most of the religious danger comes into those countries from religious traditions that are basically tribalisms, and tribalisms don’t work well in cosmopolitan urbanised societies. In other words, it’s the social structure that is dangerous, not religion in and of itself.

    I know, and have some dear friends who are, devout but educated and intelligent. To accept Dawkins’ caricature I would need to say to these wonderful Episcopalians, Anglicans, Catholics and even the odd Baptist that they are stupid or wicked, and they are neither. So I choose to ignore their silly beliefs because they do not hurt me, their kids (all of them who have kids permit theirs to make their own minds up), their society or science. In fact several of them are practicing scientists. On what possible basis can I attack this?

    What is more, Dawkins knows some of these people (their kind, not my friends) too. So the little dance he does between saying “there’s a kind of religion I don’t attack” and the conclusion “all religion is a bad influence”, by implicit or explicit demonisation, is disingenuous at best.

    Oh, and on the OT god thing? If you just say religion is a bad thing when it is pre-scientific, then you remove any possibility of understanding its evolution and history. Dawkins does this, of course, when he calls religion a mind virus. But religion is not a pathogen, all the time, nor is it a parasite of the mind. It spreads from person to person because overall, it doesn’t actually end up reducing the fitness of its adherents. That is worth considering, I think. [Dennett's view is more considered, but still open to this counternormative objection.]

  146. #146 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    John,

    Do you think the virgin birth is contradicted by science ?

    If you do, can you explain why you keep insisting that people who accept the virgin birth do not reject science, and if you do not, can you square why you are at odds with science yourself ?

    Only it really is quite simply. You cannot accept the virgin birth and accept science. The first precludes the second.

  147. #147 John S. Wilkins
    March 8, 2008

    There’s an old vaudeville gag done by Peter Sellars in one of the Pink Panther movies:

    Clouseau: “Does your dog bite?”

    German concierge: “No.”

    Clouseau comes in and the dog bites him.

    “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite?” in the execrable French accent.

    “Zat is not my dog.”

    The people I respect do not defend the virgin birth as a real event. Nor do I respect all Christians for their beliefs…

  148. #148 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    NOMA is a lie as a descriptive claim, and not because of positivism, but because contrary to Gould, science does conflict with many religions about truth claims regarding the physical world.

    Even if NOMA is wrong, that would not make it a “lie.” But you appear to misunderstand NOMA as formulated by Gould. Here is more than a quote mined bit.

    The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

    This resolution might remain all neat and clean if the nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) of science and religion were separated by an extensive no man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border. Many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both for different parts of a full answer�and the sorting of legitimate domains can become quite complex and difficult. To cite just two broad questions involving both evolutionary facts and moral arguments: Since evolution made us the only earthly creatures with advanced consciousness, what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with other species? What do our genealogical ties with other organisms imply about the meaning of human life?

    So your characterization of NOMA, as formulated by Gould, as simplistically holding that there is no conflict at all between science and religion is itself wrong (though I wouldn’t call your statement a “lie,” even if it is wrong). More importantly, it was never intended to be “descriptive”:

    I believe, with all my heart, in a respectful, even loving concordat between our magisteria�the NOMA solution. NOMA represents a principled position on moral and intellectua] grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance. NOMA also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions properly under the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution. This mutual humility has important practical consequences in a world of such diverse passions.

    Of course some religious people violate NOMA, but can’t you think of any scientists who do too?

  149. #149 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    Larry Moran said:

    But you are right about the quasireligion claim. Dawkins is very much trying to create a cult with himself as one of the prominent priests. He did this when he tried to establish the Brights and he’s doing it again through his website and his promotion of red-letter Atheism.

    He is, huh? And I say he’s trying to start something like a community or a movement, so as to make our words heard more loudly, and to force politicians, the media, etc, to take our viewpoint into account, if nothing else. What Dawkins is trying to create is no more a cult than is the movement for gay equality.

    But hey, I’m always happy to be proven wrong. I say it’s a movement with a few ‘champions’ (that is, public representatives), and you say it’s a quasireligion, a cult with priests. There should be a way to distinguish between a movement and a cult, don’t you agree? What is it, in your opinion, that clearly shows that Richard Dawkins’ website, community, and “Come Out as an Atheist” thing are meant to be a cult and not a movement?

  150. #150 Alex Besogonov
    March 8, 2008

    Religion IS a viral phenomenon – there’s no question in it.

    However, whether religion is a _pathogenic_ virus is quite another question.

    For example, we now know that some viruses may actually give their hosts some advantages (like Hepatitis G protecting you from AIDS). The same goes for religion.

    Also, like a lot of viruses religion may not exhibit pathogenic behavior until it is exposed to special conditions.

  151. #151 Bad
    March 8, 2008

    JJRamsey:”Like it or not, there are reasons that agnostics who refuse the label “atheist” which have to do with certainty, and you are going to have to take those into account in your taxonomy.”

    It’s not a matter of whether I like it or not, it’s a matter of whether it makes any logical sense. And it doesn’t. The question of whether you believe or not is not a question regarding certainty. Many theists believe with no certainty at all: on faith. Many atheists do not believe without any effort or even consideration of the issue.

    There’s no reason to include irrationality and confusion in a taxonomy of classification. Many creationists think there are biological groups called “kinds” but there is no real way to make this work when applied to real nature. Likewise, agnostics can pretend to be dodging the unavoidable binary of believing or not. But since this makes no sense, no one is obligated to try and work it into a sensible system of definition.

    Being an atheist has nothing at all to do with positive claims of certainty. In many cases, the belief that it does comes from, I believe, simple desperation and the need to make atheism a straw man that people can feel more moderate in the face of.

  152. #152 Chris Schoen
    March 8, 2008

    John,

    You’re on the right side of this argument, and most of your points are valid. But I think it is a problem to continue to characterize various religious beliefs as “silly” while accusing Dawkins and Myers (correctly) of not engaging the seriousness of (some) religious ideas.

    I acknowledge it’s a tough line to walk. How can we not call the doctrines of Mormonism (to shoot the biggest fish in the barrel) ridiculous, and even pernicious (e.g. the patently racist notion that non-whites are descended from a fallen tribe of Israel).

    That one may be a no-brainer, but it gets trickier when we try to infer what any particular self-identified Catholic or Anglican believes. That is to say, that unless it is made explicit (as it often is with Protestant Fundamentalists), we can’t presume that religious “belief” is considered as logos rather than mythos, or literal rather than metaphorical.

    This is the principal misapprehension among the “New Atheists;” they don’t accept the reality of mythical thinking (though of course they freely engage in it all the time in their advocacy of scientific materialism/atomism).

    I’m far more inclined to call the metaphysics underlying modern biology “silly” than the one underlying Abrahamic religion, because at least within the latter there is a significant minority of people who aren’t naive enough to take the narratives as literal truth.

  153. #153 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    It is false, as Tulse pointed out, that religions limit themselves to answering questions about morality.

    Oh, I see now … you’re just spouting off about something you don’t understand. That makes it easy.

    And it is false that science and religion, as ways of forming beliefs about reality, are compatible.

    In what way “incompatible”? Cannot exist in the same time or place? No, that’s clearly false, since there is both science and religion in most universities. Can’t be done by the same people? That’s empirically false, as shown by Dobzhansky, Miller, Gingrich and many others. Can’t be properly done at the same time about the same subject matter? That’s true … and it’s called by some “NOMA.”

    I’m not a positivist, and AFAIK neither is Richard Dawkins. Neither one of us would say, for example, that unfalsifiable claims are meaningless.

    That’s good. Falsify the claim that a particular man/god was miracuously born of a virgin 2,000 years ago. Hint: if you insist that science shows it didn’t happen, you’re a positivist.

    And no, I’m not a post-structuralist. That doesn’t mean I think anyone who claims to “know” something actually does.

  154. #154 H. Humbert
    March 8, 2008

    The people I respect do not defend the virgin birth as a real event.

    What about the resurrection? Was that a real event? How many supernatural claims can one discard before we’re no longer talking about Christianity the religion?

    If you want to defend philosophies of Jesus–without all the supernatural baggage–then do so without equivocation. But that’s not Christianity as understood by virtually 100% of its practitioners. There may be a slight few who don’t believe Jesus was literally the son of a god and still choose to call themselves Christians, but to base an argument on such a minuscule aberration would be more than disingenuous.

    Christians are believers in magic. They believe in ghosts, spells, incantations, supernatural events, and magical realms. Make sure your arguments deal with that reality and don’t whitewash the absurdities of the Christian faith because you want to pretend it’s much more sensible than it actually is. Deal with religion as it’s practiced, not as you can conceive it.

  155. #155 H. Humbert
    March 8, 2008

    Also, I must say that throughout this thread you fail to make a distinction between attacking ideas and attacking people. Dawkins says religion is a bad idea. That’s not attacking a person, even if people who hold that bad idea choose to become offended. Your conclusion that you must ignore your friends “silly beliefs” in order to avoid attacking them is seriously flawed. Keep your friends, just have the courage to explain why you consider their beliefs silly in the appropriate venues. This is a battle of ideas. No one is asking you to make literal causalities of your friends.

  156. #156 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “There’s an old vaudeville gag done by Peter Sellars in one of the Pink Panther movies:

    Clouseau: “Does your dog bite?”

    German concierge: “No.”

    Clouseau comes in and the dog bites him.

    “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite?” in the execrable French accent.

    “Zat is not my dog.”

    The people I respect do not defend the virgin birth as a real event. Nor do I respect all Christians for their beliefs…”

    John,

    You seem to be worse than the Archbishop of Canterbury in being unclear about what you saying. So there is no doubt, do you think that a allowing divine intervention means rejecting science ?

    Only I have some news for you John. Most Christian do believe in the virgin birth, thus it is fair even by your own criteria to say that most Christians reject science. It seems that you in fact have no argument with Dawkins at all. You rule out divine intervention as being compatible with science as much as he does. And if you have a religion without divine intervention is ceases to be much of a religion at all, and becomes the type of religion espoused by Einstein, and we know Dawkins has no problem with that type of relgion.

  157. #157 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    John Pieret said:

    In what way “incompatible”? Cannot exist in the same time or place? No, that’s clearly false, since there is both science and religion in most universities. Can’t be done by the same people? That’s empirically false, as shown by Dobzhansky, Miller, Gingrich and many others. Can’t be properly done at the same time about the same subject matter? That’s true … and it’s called by some “NOMA.”

    And that’s why NOMA is such an incoherent concept. As I explained, all religions make claims about reality. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be religions, they would be ethical systems, like secular humanism or most brands of Confucianism or some brands of Buddhism. Therefore, no religious believer can ever completely respect NOMA; it’s a logical impossibility.

    The study of reality is the turf of science (and, if you want to be pedantic, of (rigorously applied) philosophy, logic, and mathematics). Any religious belief that steps on this turf is incompatible with scientific and critical thinking. And they all step on it, by their very nature. NOMA is a diplomatic lie, no matter what Gould may have said.

    That’s good. Falsify the claim that a particular man/god was miraculously born of a virgin 2,000 years ago. Hint: if you insist that science shows it didn’t happen, you’re a positivist.

    I can’t falsify it, but I don’t need to. To quote your eminent self, “That doesn’t mean I think anyone who claims to ‘know’ something actually does.” A claim about reality that’s not supported by evidence is a guess, and we know by logic and from experience (evidence) that guesses are usually wrong.

  158. #158 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “And that’s why NOMA is such an incoherent concept. As I explained, all religions make claims about reality. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be religions, they would be ethical systems, like secular humanism or most brands of Confucianism or some brands of Buddhism. Therefore, no religious believer can ever completely respect NOMA; it’s a logical impossibility.”

    There are some Anglicans who would seem to have rejected the idea of a god that plays any role in the universe. I think it would be fair to consider those Anglican to moved to their religion being an ethical belief system rather than the more conventional form of religion. Such people would not have any conflict between their religious beliefs and science. Sadly though most Anglicans are not of that view.

    “That’s good. Falsify the claim that a particular man/god was miraculously born of a virgin 2,000 years ago. Hint: if you insist that science shows it didn’t happen, you’re a positivist.”

    There is this thing called the burden of proof. There is no evidence at all to support the clain that Jesus was born of a virgin. There is plenty of evidence that mammals do not go in for virgin births. Evidence counts for something, and so does a lack of evidence.

  159. #159 Bryson Brown
    March 8, 2008

    Chris Schoen tells us:

    I’m far more inclined to call the metaphysics underlying modern biology “silly” than the one underlying Abrahamic religion, because at least within the latter there is a significant minority of people who aren’t naive enough to take the narratives as literal truth.

    Why do you think there’s a metaphysics ‘underlying’ modern biology? Isn’t the object-level language and its use (very successful use) enough? Does every language require a meta-language in which its ‘real’ significance is revealed? That seems to lead to a (silly) regress!

  160. #160 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold said:

    There are some Anglicans who would seem to have rejected the idea of a god that plays any role in the universe. I think it would be fair to consider those Anglican to moved to their religion being an ethical belief system rather than the more conventional form of religion. Such people would not have any conflict between their religious beliefs and science. Sadly though most Anglicans are not of that view.

    There is still a conflict between the method of science and that of religion. Reason and evidence versus faith. The claim that there is a God, whether or not this God intervenes in the universe, is a claim about reality that’s not supported by evidence or logical deduction.

    Now, if you mean that even though you acknowledge that this deistic brand of Christianity is irrational, it’s such a small and inconsequential claim that it can safely be ignored, I see your point and partially agree. That is, I would say that while all religious beliefs are equally false, they are not equally ridiculous or equally dangerous. That’s why I’m willing to make common cause with theistic evolutionists against creationists, and to make common cause with Christian fundamentalists against Islamists.

    However, I resist any attempt to sweep the truth under the rug in the name of diplomacy, not because of some ideological dogmatism on my part, but because I think that spreading a lie in the name of defending and promoting reason can be nothing but counter-productive in the long run. Religious faith (of any kind) and scientific thinking are incompatible, and won’t refrain from saying so.

  161. #161 J. J. Ramsey
    March 8, 2008

    Bad: “It’s not a matter of whether I like it or not, it’s a matter of whether it makes any logical sense.”

    I think we are talking at cross-purposes, so I’ll try to clarify as best I can and possibly correct misstatements on my part.

    The perspective of someone who self-identifies as atheist seems to think along these lines: “The evidence for God is pretty bad, so I am comfortable answering ‘No’ to the question ‘Do you believe that God exists?’” 100% certainty is not required for this ‘No’ answer. Such a person is comfortable with this answer even when the God in question is unfalsifiable, since the ‘No’ answer is at worst a close enough approximation to this one’s beliefs.

    The perspective of someone who self-identifies as agnostic but not atheist seems to think along these lines: “The evidence for gods that can be expected to have a concrete effect on the world is pretty bad. Given that a Deist God or a God of the more liberal religions is unfalsifiable, it is hardly coherent to speak of evidence for or against such beings. Therefore, I am not comfortable with giving a yes-or-no answer to the question ‘Do you believe that God exists?’ especially not without further clarification of the god in question.” There is far more of a tendency in these kinds of agnostics to emphasize the ambiguities involved in dealing with the evidence for or against God.

  162. #162 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “There is still a conflict between the method of science and that of religion. Reason and evidence versus faith. The claim that there is a God, whether or not this God intervenes in the universe, is a claim about reality that’s not supported by evidence or logical deduction.

    Now, if you mean that even though you acknowledge that this deistic brand of Christianity is irrational, it’s such a small and inconsequential claim that it can safely be ignored, I see your point and partially agree. That is, I would say that while all religious beliefs are equally false, they are not equally ridiculous or equally dangerous. That’s why I’m willing to make common cause with theistic evolutionists against creationists, and to make common cause with Christian fundamentalists against Islamists.

    However, I resist any attempt to sweep the truth under the rug in the name of diplomacy, not because of some ideological dogmatism on my part, but because I think that spreading a lie in the name of defending and promoting reason can be nothing but counter-productive in the long run. Religious faith (of any kind) and scientific thinking are incompatible, and won’t refrain from saying so.”

    You and I are not in disagreement on this then. I too would work with religious people for a common cause, whilst not being willing to censor my views on religion. Nor would I expect those religious people to censor their views about their belief. In this respect I, and you, are no different to Dawkins as he is also willing to work with theists to combat creationism being taught in UK schools.

  163. #163 PZ Myers
    March 8, 2008

    Those who, like Dawkins, want to emulate the bad aspects of religion

    This is where we disagree. I see Dawkins trying to adopt some of the good stuff in religion, like community and mutual support, which actually isn’t religious at all — it’s human. The good aspects of religion are all about community-building, which I think you unfairly trashed as us-vs-themism, while the bad aspects are all the silly beliefs about deities and souls and magic chants, which we criticize but you seem to think are perfectly OK.

    If we are to build a rational society, then we must adopt those social institutions that religion has parasitized so effectively, while actively opposing the superstitious nonsense that afflicts religion.

  164. #164 Chris Schoen, atheist
    March 8, 2008

    Why do you think there’s a metaphysics ‘underlying’ modern biology? Isn’t the object-level language and its use (very successful use) enough? Does every language require a meta-language in which its ‘real’ significance is revealed? That seems to lead to a (silly) regress!

    Bryson,

    I “think” there’s a metaphysics underlying biology because it’s a logical necessity. Facts can’t exist of themselves; they have to appear in the context of some unifying order. Part of this is determined by the nature of our understanding and communication, which is predicated on symbols. The regress stops when you accept that no observer can completely escape the conditions of his or her observation.

    That’s not to say I reject science. It’s just that the triumphalism of realist view that purports to obviate the legitimacy of all other views could suffer a dash of humility.

  165. #165 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “That’s not to say I reject science. It’s just that the triumphalism of realist view that purports to obviate the legitimacy of all other views could suffer a dash of humility.”

    Well when it comes to understanding reality science is the best thing we have. All beliefs are not equal. The idea the earth is 6000 years old because of calculations made based on the bible is not as valid as knowing the earth is around 4.5 billion years old based on a number of different dating methods. Evidence matters, and if scientific evidence conflicts with other views, such a religion, it is religion that is in trouble, not science.

  166. #166 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “That’s not to say I reject science. It’s just that the triumphalism of realist view that purports to obviate the legitimacy of all other views could suffer a dash of humility.”

    Well when it comes to understanding reality science is the best thing we have. All beliefs are not equal. The idea the earth is 6000 years old because of calculations made based on the bible is not as valid as knowing the earth is around 4.5 billion years old based on a number of different dating methods. Evidence matters, and if scientific evidence conflicts with other views, such a religion, it is religion that is in trouble, not science.

  167. #167 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    Janus:

    Therefore, no religious believer can ever completely respect NOMA; it’s a logical impossibility.

    Only if you insist that people must choose to do only one or the other. As those good and great scientists I cited demonstrate, people can do science sometimes and religion other times. The demand that people have to do either one or the other exclusively, along with your claim that “reality” (whatever the heck that might be) is the turf of science, is the essence of positivism. That’s your philosophy, which is, indeed, in conflict with religion but which is not the same thing as science.

    A claim about reality that’s not supported by evidence is a guess, and we know by logic and from experience (evidence) that guesses are usually wrong.

    Really? How many hypotheses have, despite the lack of evidence, turned out to be right? Your assertion is not “evidence,” it’s your own guess.

    Matt:

    There is this thing called the burden of proof. There is no evidence at all to support the clain that Jesus was born of a virgin. There is plenty of evidence that mammals do not go in for virgin births. Evidence counts for something, and so does a lack of evidence.

    Where does this “burden of proof” come from? Who established it and what sort and amount of evidence meets the burden? In the law, I know exactly who establishes it, its purpose (which has nothing to do with “truth”) and the type and amount of evidence that “satisfies” it.

    And if the lack of evidence is reliable measure of “truth,” does that mean atoms didn’t exist before the end of the 19th century and suddenly popped into existence when we got the evidence?

    Of course, the real evidence that you need to produce to even begin to make your argument is not that mammals normally don’t do virgin births but that there are no such things a miracles.

  168. #168 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “Where does this “burden of proof” come from? Who established it and what sort and amount of evidence meets the burden? In the law, I know exactly who establishes it, its purpose (which has nothing to do with “truth”) and the type and amount of evidence that “satisfies” it.

    And if the lack of evidence is reliable measure of “truth,” does that mean atoms didn’t exist before the end of the 19th century and suddenly popped into existence when we got the evidence?

    Of course, the real evidence that you need to produce to even begin to make your argument is not that mammals normally don’t do virgin births but that there are no such things a miracles.”

    I think you will find the concept of the burden of proof comes from philosophers. Try Bertrand Russell, he was rather good on the concept.

    Russell gave the example of a teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars. If we do not require the person claiming that there is indeed a teapot in such an orbit to support the claim with evidence then we will be left with no way of knowing if that claim if any more valid than the claim that moon orbits the Earth. It is the evidence that allows us evaluate different claims and decide how much credence should be given to each claim.

    The evidence that mammals do not go in for parthenogenesis is very strong. There has never once been a recorded example of it happening. Further what we know of mammalian reproduction strongly suggests that it cannot happen. The evidence that a virgin birth did occur in a human female is non-existent. We can draw conclusions from that. It never happened. The same way we can conclude from the lack of evidence there is no teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars. Both positions are open to being re-evaluated should new evidence be presented.

  169. #169 Chris Schoen
    March 8, 2008

    Well when it comes to understanding reality science is the best thing we have. All beliefs are not equal. The idea the earth is 6000 years old because of calculations made based on the bible is not as valid as knowing the earth is around 4.5 billion years old based on a number of different dating methods. Evidence matters, and if scientific evidence conflicts with other views, such a religion, it is religion that is in trouble, not science.

    Matt, you either did not read or did not understand what I wrote. Evidence does matter, I agree. But if we lose track of what that evidence is based on, we run the risk of getting just as caught up in superstition as any fundamentalist.

    The biggest superstition of the rationalist cast of mind is the confusion of symbols for reality (in Korzybski’s words, “the map is not the territory”). If we can remember to understand the distinction, some of our hauteur in knowing the “truth” of things dissipates.

    For many things, science is indeed the best method of understanding. But we pay a very big price for falling prey to the belief that this understanding is truly objective. I agree with you, by the way, that some beliefs are better than others. Belief in true objectivity is a superstition we can’t afford to maintain.

  170. #170 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    I think you will find the concept of the burden of proof comes from philosophers. Try Bertrand Russell, he was rather good on the concept.

    Argument from authority? I’m aware of the teapot argument and I don’t find it persuasive. Maybe you can make a better case for it, including answering my questions.

    The evidence that a virgin birth did occur in a human female is non-existent. We can draw conclusions from that. It never happened. The same way we can conclude from the lack of evidence there is no teapot orbiting between Earth and Mars. Both positions are open to being re-evaluated should new evidence be presented.

    You seem to have a disconnect here. You acknowedge that the evidence is not sufficient to make a conclusion (it’s “open to being re-evaluated”) but you nonetheless make a conclusion (“It never happened”). By your standard, atoms did not “happen” until the further evidence came in. It is far simpler to simply acknowledge the lack of evidence … especially since the evidence you cite against it (lack of parthenogenesis in mammals) doesn’t go to the claim under consideration, namely: a non-natural event. You’re free to take the philosophical position that there are no such things as miracles but that’s not a scientific conclusion.

  171. #171 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    John Pieret:

    Only if you insist that people must choose to do only one or the other. As those good and great scientists I cited demonstrate, people can do science sometimes and religion other times.

    What are you going on about? I made the assertion that NOMA is false: The magisteria of science and religion overlap. They always overlap. If religion gets off science’s turf completely, it’s not religion.

    And now you’re saying that some religious scientists only have religious beliefs about some aspects of reality, and scientific beliefs about other aspects of reality. Well, no kidding. So does the most ignorant Young Earth Creationist. So what?

    The demand that people have to do either one or the other exclusively, along with your claim that “reality” (whatever the heck that might be) is the turf of science, is the essence of positivism. That’s your philosophy, which is, indeed, in conflict with religion but which is not the same thing as science.

    Since I’m aware that you and Wilkins use a particularly narrow definition of science, I was careful to say that reality is also the turf of rigorous philosophy, logic, and mathematics. So no, I’m not a positivist.

    Given the basic assumption that there is reality that can be discovered to some respectable degree of accuracy, it’s easy to show that beliefs which are based on evidence are a lot more likely to be true than beliefs that are based on tradition, authority, personal revelation, faith, etc. I would call this a part of the scientific method. If you want to establish a distinction between this statement and “science”, that’s your business; I’m not interested in playing word games. My only point is that the scientific method works, but faith doesn’t. That the scientific method is unable to ascertain the truth of certain claims doesn’t mean that faith can.

    Really? How many hypotheses have, despite the lack of evidence, turned out to be right? Your assertion is not “evidence,” it’s your own guess.

    The fraction of all hypotheses that have turned out to be right is incredibly tiny. I don’t see how you can think otherwise. Isn’t it obvious that most the hypotheses that have ever been suggested have turned out to be wrong? And we’re talking about scientific hypotheses here, mind you, hypotheses that were proposed by people who usually knew what they were talking about, with some evidence for them. Hypotheses made with no evidence whatsoever by people living in the pre-scientific age would be even more likely to be wrong.

    Out of the huge, perhaps infinite range of things that might be, reality only corresponds to one tiny slice of this range. Here’s an example: I’ve just put an object on my desk, to the left of my left arm. Guess what it is. Hell, I’ll even let you try to guess a hundred times. Out of those hundred guesses, how many do you think will be true? Perhaps one will be, most likely none. It’s an almost absolute certainty that you first guess will be wrong. Do you disagree?

  172. #172 J. J. Ramsey
    March 8, 2008

    PZ Myers: “I see Dawkins trying to adopt some of the good stuff in religion, like community and mutual support, which actually isn’t religious at all — it’s human. The good aspects of religion are all about community-building, which I think you unfairly trashed as us-vs-themism,”

    No, the us-vs-themism comes when he caricatures the opposition. And spare us the nonsense about “strident” just being code for “being an atheist and publicly arguing against god-belief.”

    PZ Myers: “while the bad aspects are all the silly beliefs about deities and souls and magic chants”

    Those aren’t the only bad aspects of religion. Aside from caricaturing the opposition, there’s the slipshod reasoning, getting facts wrong, and the use of cutesy but inaccurate or content-free ridicule to dismiss the opposition.

    (As I hinted above, you are an example of this. Who else here fits the descriptions about a “recent mangled reading of an Obama speech” and “a certain, ahem, embellishment of the facts that he hasn’t corrected in over a year”?)

  173. #173 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “Argument from authority? I’m aware of the teapot argument and I don’t find it persuasive. Maybe you can make a better case for it, including answering my questions.”

    You asked who made the “burden of proof argument. I told you. Do not get tetchy with me because you looked ignorant.

    Just what method do you suggest for evaluating claims ? Given that your reject the use of evidence to do so, ust what method do you suggest for evaluating claims ?

    You would also seem to have to be agnostic on every single issue. There is a claim that earth orbits the sun, and a claim that sun orbits the earth. The rest of us, in the real world, use evidence to decide which claim is right. You have ruled out using evidence, so I presume you either think the earth orbits the sun at the same time the sun orbits the earth, or you simply have no opinion at all on the matter.

    “You seem to have a disconnect here. You acknowedge that the evidence is not sufficient to make a conclusion (it’s “open to being re-evaluated”) but you nonetheless make a conclusion (“It never happened”). By your standard, atoms did not “happen” until the further evidence came in. It is far simpler to simply acknowledge the lack of evidence … especially since the evidence you cite against it (lack of parthenogenesis in mammals) doesn’t go to the claim under consideration, namely: a non-natural event. You’re free to take the philosophical position that there are no such things as miracles but that’s not a scientific conclusion.”

    In science all conclusions are tentative. If you are not aware of that it may be you need to learn how science works. As it stands you would seem to know little of the subject.

    From what you have said it would seem you are a lawyer. Just quit playing your pathetic lawyer games here.

  174. #174 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    One more thing.

    It is your problem if you do find Russell’s teapot argument persuasive. We are not responsible for your intellectual failings. Given what I know of Russell’s intellect, and given what I know of yours, I know who I would place my money on being right. You do not even get to the starting line in that little race.

  175. #175 bob koepp
    March 8, 2008

    Bad -
    There are different ways to set up or, if you prefer, to frame, the issues. For example if you start with a question about belief, i.e., ‘Do you believe there is a god?’, then the taxonomy you propose seems very natural. But the issues can be approached in other ways. For example, suppose one proceeds by asking ‘What truth value do you assign to the proposition ‘There is a god.’? Then the taxonomy against which you’ve been arguing seems very natural.

    Moral: While it’s important for fruitful dialog for all discussants to have compatible “working definitions” of key terms, there is no unique “right way” to arrive at working definitions. Natural languages are much more fluid than that.

  176. #176 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    You asked who made the “burden of proof argument. I told you. Do not get tetchy with me because you looked ignorant.

    I look ignorant of Russell when I’ve discussed his argument at length long ago? You have a strange idea of what the appearance of ignorance is, especially when you still haven’t tried to defend the idea or even show you understand it, but have only only parroted Russell as an argument from athority. And I didn’t ask who has made the argument before, I asked who established it as some sort of standard that that is a reliable producer of conclusions, as you claimed.

    Just what method do you suggest for evaluating claims ? Given that your reject the use of evidence to do so, ust what method do you suggest for evaluating claims ?

    Claims about the investigatable natural world? Science/empiricism, of course. But you didn’t produce evidence about the claim made. Asserting that science answers claims not amenable to scientific investigation based on vague and undefined “burdens of proof” is abusing science. But most importantly, why do you think you have to “evaluate” it, when it is so clearly beyond any objective test? Not everything can be decided by science.

    In science all conclusions are tentative.

    Strange, just a few posts ago you said that something you had not and could not ever test “never happened.” Maybe you need to work on your understanding of science.

  177. #177 John Pieret
    March 8, 2008

    I made the assertion that NOMA is false: The magisteria of science and religion overlap. They always overlap. If religion gets off science’s turf completely, it’s not religion.

    I gave you Gould’s definition of NOMA and access to an extended discussion by him of the concept. If you are going to create your own private definition and argue against it, there is no point in continuing with that. It is not about “turf,” it is about which is authoritative in each realm and how they interact.

    And now you’re saying that some religious scientists only have religious beliefs about some aspects of reality, and scientific beliefs about other aspects of reality. Well, no kidding. So does the most ignorant Young Earth Creationist. So what?

    Can you nail down those goal posts? The issue was the “incompatibility” you claimed between science and religion. You still haven’t explained what it is that is actually incompatible. Yes, we know you can’t successfully use science’s methods on most religious claims or religion’s methods in science. I can’t use baseball rules in football or vice versa but that doesn’t make them “incompatible” unless you try to play them on the same field at the same time.

    Since I’m aware that you and Wilkins use a particularly narrow definition of science, I was careful to say that reality is also the turf of rigorous philosophy, logic, and mathematics.

    Yes, but you insist that religion can’t address that “turf” for no articulated reason other than you insist that it is somehow “incompatible” with science. Vague waving at “rigorous” philosophy, logic, and mathematics (which I suspect would merely line up with your supposedly non-narrow definition of science) doesn’t change the fact that you are giving science the decisive word on what “reality” is. That’s still the essence of posivitism (or “scientism” if you don’t like the other word).

    Given the basic assumption that there is reality that can be discovered to some respectable degree of accuracy …

    Isn’t that one of those “guesses” that are so often wrong?

    … it’s easy to show that beliefs which are based on evidence are a lot more likely to be true than beliefs that are based on tradition, authority, personal revelation, faith, etc. I would call this a part of the scientific method. If you want to establish a distinction between this statement and “science”, that’s your business; I’m not interested in playing word games. My only point is that the scientific method works, but faith doesn’t.

    It’s easy to show that claims about the natural world that are investigatible by scientific means are more likely to be true. That was never in question. The issue here is why you think the investigatible natural world is coexistent with “reality”.

    The fraction of all hypotheses that have turned out to be right is incredibly tiny.

    But, strangely, virtually all of that scientific knowledge you so highly prize started out as hypotheses. It seems the fact that “guesses are usually wrong” doesn’t really have such a reliable connection with whether something turns out to be true.

  178. #178 Bryson Brown
    March 8, 2008

    Chris Schoen:

    I “think” there’s a metaphysics underlying biology because it’s a logical necessity. Facts can’t exist of themselves; they have to appear in the context of some unifying order. Part of this is determined by the nature of our understanding and communication, which is predicated on symbols. The regress stops when you accept that no observer can completely escape the conditions of his or her observation.

    How accepting the impossibility of escaping the conditions of observation stops the regress is completely opaque. If facts need a context of ‘unifying order’, and that context is specified by further ‘metaphysical’ facts, the regress is inescapable unless the process can arrive at a level that needs no context, or one that provides its own context, or one that can draw on previous level(s) for context.

    What might stop the regress is the recognition that it shouldn’t be launched in the first place. “Facts” are pretty linguistic things– after all, we specify them as the complements of ‘that’-clauses. But the successful use of the language (that we can teach it, and- often enough- independently come to agreement on what sentences to assert in it) provides a grounding for it that is not a matter of metaphysical theory– it’s just a matter of practice (historically, agreement at the object level has always been far easier to achieve that agreement on the ‘metaphysics’).

    I suspect you’re still looking for foundations of some kind, and therefore too impressed by the appeal to ‘conditions of observation’ to notice that science itself aims to include an object-level account of what we are as observers which will explain how (and in what circumstances) we can make the observations we do. What more we could fairly ask for is unclear at best.

  179. #179 Janus
    March 8, 2008

    John Pieret said:

    I gave you Gould’s definition of NOMA and access to an extended discussion by him of the concept. If you are going to create your own private definition and argue against it, there is no point in continuing with that. It is not about “turf,” it is about which is authoritative in each realm and how they interact.

    I have no idea what your problem is with my refutation of NOMA. What I call turf you call “realm”. Um, okay. Gould’s central point is that religion holds dominion over moral meaning and values, while science holds dominion over facts (heh, maybe you should be accusing Gould of scientism as well). For Gould, in an ideal world science and religion would refrain from making pronouncements about the other’s realm. My point is that such an ideal world is not possible, even in principle, because religions must make factual pronouncements, by definition

    Can you nail down those goal posts? The issue was the “incompatibility” you claimed between science and religion. You still haven’t explained what it is that is actually incompatible. Yes, we know you can’t successfully use science’s methods on most religious claims or religion’s methods in science. I can’t use baseball rules in football or vice versa but that doesn’t make them “incompatible” unless you try to play them on the same field at the same time.

    What a horrible analogy. You’re absolutely correct that the games of baseball and football are compatible, but that’s because baseball and football don’t ‘overlap’, to use Gould’s terminology. Science and religion do overlap.

    Here’s a better analogy: Two men are at the starting point of a very complex labyrinth, and they are given the goal of getting to a treasure chest hidden somewhere in it ASAP. The first man uses the well-known method of moving while always keeping a hand on the wall to his left. The second man, however, decides to sit down to meditate, hoping that the correct path to the treasure chest will come to him in a miraculous flash of intuition.

    No doubt you could find universities where some professors prefer to use the first method, and other professors prefer to use the second. No doubt you could even find some men who sometimes use the first method, and sometimes use the second, depending on whether the labyrinth’s walls are made of stone or metal. Do you think that means that the two methods are compatible? Of course not, because they’re in direct competition with one another, because they’re about the same thing: Getting to the treasure chest as soon as possible. Likewise, science and religion are about the same thing: Making accurate claims about reality; religion also does other things, but that’s irrelevant.

    That’s what I mean when I say that science and religion are incompatible: They are in competition with one another, and in that competition science completely crushes religion.

    The only way that you can disagree with me is if you think that reality is somehow divided into two or more disconnected ‘parts’ or ‘realms’, and that science (and rigorous philosophy, logic, and mathematics) addresses one of these realms while religion addresses another. Looking at the rest of your comment, it looks like that’s exactly what you believe.

    Yes, but you insist that religion can’t address that “turf” for no articulated reason other than you insist that it is somehow “incompatible” with science. Vague waving at “rigorous” philosophy, logic, and mathematics (which I suspect would merely line up with your supposedly non-narrow definition of science) doesn’t change the fact that you are giving science the decisive word on what “reality” is. That’s still the essence of positivism (or “scientism” if you don’t like the other word).

    I wouldn’t call it positivism, since it doesn’t disprove itself, and it doesn’t look at everything that science can’t address as “meaningless”. Call it scientism if you like, although I don’t think that science can say anything about ethics, aesthetics, etc, and I would obviously prefer not to use a word that is always used pejoratively. I would call it rationalism, but the word’s already taken. Empiricism is too narrow. Naturalism isn’t well-defined. Whatever.

    As for why religion can’t talk about reality… well, actually it can (and always does, hence why NOMA is crap), it’s just that it fails miserably, for the same reason that meditating to find the treasure chest in the labyrinth will fail miserably, 999 times out a thousand.

    Isn’t that one of those “guesses” that are so often wrong?

    No. Without the assumption that there is a reality that can be discovered, there is nothing to guess about. “Guessing”, or “making claims”, or “hypothesizing”, or anything of the kind is meaningless without a reality that is at least partially subject to our understanding.

    It’s easy to show that claims about the natural world that are investigatible by scientific means are more likely to be true. That was never in question. The issue here is why you think the investigatible natural world is coexistent with “reality”.

    And there we have it. You divide reality in two parts, apparently, the natural world and (presumably) the supernatural world. What is natural, what is supernatural, why do you draw this arbitrary line to split reality in two, and, if I were to grant you that there is a supernatural “realm”, what makes you think that religion can say anything about it that is more than a blind guess?

    But, strangely, virtually all of that scientific knowledge you so highly prize started out as hypotheses.

    Of course it did. But the hypotheses that have become the scientific knowledge that we currently possess are only a tiny, tiny fraction of the sum of all hypotheses that have ever been formulated.

  180. #180 Tim
    March 8, 2008

    At the risk of anthropomorphising nature (I know, Mother Nature hates being anthropomorphized) allow me to speculate that religion may be Mother Nature’s response to the evolution of sentience. My (tentative) argument is as follows:

    1. – Sentience (self awareness) results in a species realisation (by individual members) of temporal limits. This realisation results in individuals having no reason to act other than for momentary gratification. i.e. “The future beyond my lifespan has nothing to do with me, so why should I give a damn about it.”
    2. – The above stance is deleterious to the continued existence of the sentient species!
    3. – Religion evolves to insure that individual species members “give a damn” and so correct Mother Nature’s oversight in permitting sentience to evolve.

    Conclusion: Religion is a necessary response to evolutionary pressures!

  181. #181 mlf
    March 8, 2008

    RE: Tim

    EXACTLY. That’s why apes and dolphins died out long ago. Not elephants though, the found Dumboism; as everyone knows.

  182. #182 Tulse
    March 8, 2008

    Yes, we know you can’t successfully use science’s methods on most religious claims or religion’s methods in science. I can’t use baseball rules in football or vice versa but that doesn’t make them “incompatible” unless you try to play them on the same field at the same time.

    Or unless you care about truth.

    You want incompatibility? How about the very simple example of the age of the earth. Some religions claim that the earth is 6000 years old. Science says it is 4.5 billion. At most only one of those claims can be true. And that is where you get incompatibility. You could describe the conflict as something else, but unless you want to go profoundly post-modern about reality, only one of those claims (at most) can be true.

  183. #183 Chris Schoen
    March 9, 2008

    Bryson,

    In mathematics and other logical systems, it’s true that appealing to ever-higher levels of explanation would result in an infinite regress. What I’m arguing is that logical systems are a subset of the terms we use to understand and communicate reality, which I’m sure you will accept. Logic can’t explicate logic, after all. Logic is useful to us, but we shouldn’t regard it as a property of reality itself.

    At a certain point we must decide (or have decided for us) what terms we will use. I don’t pretend we can make up any scheme we want; if we’re going to communicate with each other our conveyances must be meaningful. But we can be as aware as possible of the (often unconscious) metaphysical assumptions that underly our thinking, and question whether they are best suited.

    But the successful use of the language … provides a grounding for it that is not a matter of metaphysical theory– it’s just a matter of practice (historically, agreement at the object level has always been far easier to achieve that agreement on the ‘metaphysics’).

    The fact that people are able to agree on terms does not mean metaphysical underpinnings do not exist, it just means they aren’t paid attention to. And your account paints a much more static picture of culture than we know to be true. Cross-currents and cultural change are shot through our history, and our concepts are constantly being negotiated–as right here in these comments, where clearly the word metaphysics has very different associations, due, I think, to your approaching it from a mathematical or computer science angle, and my approaching it from a philosophical angle.

    Science itself aims to include an object-level account of what we are as observers which will explain how (and in what circumstances) we can make the observations we do.

    I hope it does not aim to do this, because it will surely fail if it does. Talk about regress! This is exactly the problem I was getting at in the first place, and the reason why scientists and rationalists should chill out a little about religion. How does an observer objectively observe itself? Where does it stand? It is a vain dream to be perspectiveless and unconditioned–the dream of being god.

  184. #184 paiwan
    March 9, 2008

    Tulse says: Some religions claim that the earth is 6000 years old. Science says it is 4.5 billion. At most only one of those claims can be true. And that is where you get incompatibility. You could describe the conflict as something else, but unless you want to go profoundly post-modern about reality, only one of those claims (at most) can be true.
    ————————————————–

    My understanding of the interpretation from Paul Tillich in his book “Dynamics of Faith”; truth of science and truth of faith are in two dimensions. Religion is not answering the question of science such as the age of earth, it belongs to scientific dimension; it is 4.5 billions year. Nevertheless, science can not answer the question of faith such as the ultimate concern of life, courage, freedom, meaning of suffering, etc which are coherently part of human ultimate reality.

    This is the area of semantics; nevertheless the convergence of science and religion is ever prominent. Some efforts in evolutionary epistemology would help; it implies that science more advanced, religion more forwarding ( not withering).

    Scientific methodology has its limitations, the challenges are in science itself, religion does not need to replace; such as heterogeneity, diversity and incommensurability from post-scientific challenges. Or the paradox of light as particle and wave, relativity, etc.

  185. #185 Bryson Brown
    March 9, 2008

    Chris, I’m at a loss to see where you got the notion that I’m proclaiming some kind of absolute here. It’s a minimal condition for a satisfactory account of ourselves and the world that what we say about ourselves (our senses, our brains etc.) should be such that we are indeed (as described) capable of observing the things we report about our environment. There is nothing ‘perspectiveless’ or ‘unconditioned’ or god-like about the result– just a coherent account, which we will no doubt have to continue refining and revising indefinitely. The contrast with religion is very simple: independent agreement and successful persuasion, based broadly on our sensory capacities and explanatory coherence, are important marks of an epistemological stance that is highly successful, and starkly distinct from anything that has ever emerged from religious thought (even when confined to the ethical questions that NOMA fans are often prepared to hand over into the hands of religions).

  186. #186 John S. Wilkins
    March 9, 2008

    paiwan

    Tillich is one of those whose theology I find inoffensive and compatible with the results of science, and I recall studying his Systematic Theology some twenty five years ago. That said, I find the special pleading that science and religion are distinct epistemic activities question begging now. Just so you know.

    Another domain I find inoffensive is that of the Neo-Thomists like Maritain and Maskall, but their metaphysics is insupportable in modern science.

    Some here have claimed, and more at Pharyngula in the thread on this topic, that I have a narrow view of science. As they do not know what I think about science unless they’ve read me, they cannot say anything useful (but a brief search of the “Best of ET” tab would enlighten them). I believe, for instance, that NOMA is historically false – science and religion bang elbows all the time. Sometimes this is because religion is getting too full of itself, and other times because science is. In neither case are we entitled to just say “Oh well”. But when religion doesn’t deny the facts of science, and despite the irritated claims that it always does, it often doesn’t, then we should just back off.

  187. #187 paiwan
    March 9, 2008

    Tulse says: You want incompatibility?
    ————————————–

    Semantics again, perhaps the term of compatibility could be replaced by convergence when we are dealing with science and faith dimensions. What does everyone think?

  188. #188 anon
    March 9, 2008

    But when religion doesn’t deny the facts of science, and despite the irritated claims that it always does, it often doesn’t, then we should just back off.

    ************

    Doesn’t religion by its very nature deny the facts of science? Believing in something that is made up, no matter how feel good it may be (I was raised religiously) simply does not jibe with a scientific view of the universe.

    I was thinking about the people in my life who have died today. I miss them, but I am certain that I will not see them again no matter how hard I wish it to be true. They are among the billions of people who have died that in a hundred years or less will have been forgotten. But that is all right. While they lived they did some small things greatly, but lived mostly ordinary lives. They loved, raised children, worked and sustained friendships. Those of us who knew them were enriched in some way by their lives, but in the scheme of the universe, they were like an unamed star. Beautiful, but one of many. The night sky may look different without it, but only to someone who took the time to notice.

    I then had a conversation with a young person who had a friend who was concerned about sin in their life. What could I say? Well, I said that if it was not life threatening, addicting or anything that would cause harm to others that life was going to go on. If you take eternal damnation out of the picture – guess what- life goes on. People do stuff because they are people, and the wisest course of action is to accept that you made a choice and to move on. I spoke from experience having lived much of my life in a state of fear because I had done things that in my religion were pretty big sins, and having that used against me. Guess what- I am still the same person now, except without the anxiety that religion caused me. I live a moral and ethical life – I avoid or minimize harm to others, I vote, I pay my bills on time and I teach my kids to be responsible for their choices because it is the right thing to do, and not because of a set of rules set out by a particular religious view.

    Religion and science are always going to be in conflict. It took hundreds of years for the Catholic church to recognize that Galileo was right, and that the earth revolved around the sun. Science on the other hand is constantly moving and changing in response to new discoveries, and religion is not set up like that at all. It changes at a snail’s pace and often only because it has pressure from the outside world. Think about the acceptance of slavery in America, as it was practiced. “Slaves obey your masters” was ordained by the holy book. It took a very long time to change that practice.

    Don’t even get me started on women and religion. Other than to say that it is sad that there are protestant religions that still will not allow for women to vote in the church, or hold office because that is the domain of men. As Science Blogs has made clear, women are definitely an importan part of the scientific community.

  189. #189 paiwan
    March 9, 2008

    John Wilkins:

    Thanks for your comment. Paul Tillich’s “Systematic Theology” indeed is a very interesting book. I now re-study after 20 years. His theology perhaps will be helpful for the dialogue in the near future. Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians have rejected him. Re-discovery perhaps is not harmful both for religionists and scientists.

    A record of his dialogue with Albert Einstein kept by Yale Divine School Library can be reached:
    http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/einsteinsgod/tillich-einsteinresponse.shtml

    Similar dialogues ‘Religion and science are not mutually exclusive’ also available from
    http://www.ucc.org/not-mutually-exclusive/

  190. #190 Thony C.
    March 9, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    It is your problem if you do find Russell’s teapot argument persuasive. We are not responsible for your intellectual failings. Given what I know of Russell’s intellect, and given what I know of yours, I know who I would place my money on being right.

    Matt that is possibly the crapiest argument that I have ever read on this blog. I think it would be safe to assume, from everything that you have posted in the last couple of days, that you don’t believe in astrology. Now Johannes Kepler was a convinced supporter of astrology and wrote extensively on the subject. Given what I know of Kepler’s intellect and given what I know of yours, I know who I would place my money on being right. ;)

  191. #191 John Pieret
    March 9, 2008

    My point is that such an ideal world is not possible, even in principle, because religions must make factual pronouncements, by definition

    The issue is whether they make “factual pronouncements” about matters which are subject to scientific investigation. The Catholic church can, for one example, accept that the diversity of life on Earth is the result of evolution but insist that humans have a supernatural soul. They respect (on that point) the results of science in biology but maintain that there is an aspect of human beings that cannot be either confirmed or refuted by science. If you maintain that science can answer the question of the existence of a soul, then you are, in effect, saying that nothing is beyond the reach of science, which is scientism/positivism. Many religions and theologians do recognize this distinction, though, as Gould said, there is elbowing around the borders and it remains an ongoing process of interaction, not some completed “fact.”

    Two men are at the starting point of a very complex labyrinth, and they are given the goal of getting to a treasure chest hidden somewhere in it ASAP.

    The problem is that you are assuming both men have the same goal. To paraphrase Galileo, science is interested in how the heavens go and religion is interested in how to go to heaven.

    The only way that you can disagree with me is if you think that reality is somehow divided into two or more disconnected ‘parts’ or ‘realms’, and that science (and rigorous philosophy, logic, and mathematics) addresses one of these realms while religion addresses another. Looking at the rest of your comment, it looks like that’s exactly what you believe.

    Actually, no, I don’t. But theists do. And I know of no reason to be confident that there isn’t more to reality than what science can discover. The question here is whether science disproves that there is two realms or whether our lack of belief is just our philosophy. Science doesn’t even address the question of whether there is anything beyond the natural. Again, I have no doubt that your philosophy is in conflict with religion but the question is whether science is.

    I were to grant you that there is a supernatural “realm”, what makes you think that religion can say anything about it that is more than a blind guess?

    Your theology may find that unacceptable, but that has nothing to do with science

    But the hypotheses that have become the scientific knowledge that we currently possess are only a tiny, tiny fraction of the sum of all hypotheses that have ever been formulated.

    But as a heuristic for determining, in the absence of evidence, what may turn out to be true, your formulation has the fault of rendering all of science a false negative.

  192. #192 J. J. Ramsey
    March 9, 2008

    Janus: “Gould’s central point is that religion holds dominion over moral meaning and values, while science holds dominion over facts”

    Actually, what Gould said was more along the lines that religion and science, when properly executed, shouldn’t overlap. NOMA is meant to be normative, not descriptive. Essentially, it is a way of telling creationists and others who try to use religion to determine potentially empirically verifiable facts, “Religion: Yr doin it wrong.” It is very clear that Gould is aware that religion and science can stomp on each other and NOMA is Gould’s lever to push religion’s encroachments back. The main catch of NOMA is getting believers to buy into what Gould would consider proper execution of religion.

  193. #193 John Pieret
    March 9, 2008

    Tulse:

    How about the very simple example of the age of the earth. Some religions claim that the earth is 6000 years old.

    Go and find the link I gave to Gould’s article. NOMA is not a claim about the impossibility of conflict between practitioners of science and religion. It is a claim that, if properly understood by both sides, they can exist without tresspassing on each other’s intellectual shoes.

    Anon:

    What you call “a scientific view of the universe” is a philosophy, not science itself. You are free to have that philosophy and, like Janus’, it is doubtless in conflict with religion. But, whatever it is that you call “a scientific view of the universe,” it is not, itself, an empiric fact of the natural world, which is what “science” produces.

  194. #194 Jim Lippard
    March 9, 2008

    John Pieret: I agree that religion and science can avoid conflict, if religion continues to retreat in the face of scientific advancement. But I’m not sure that will leave religion with any permanent territory. I think it’s a huge mistake to consider the topic of morality, for example, off-limits for science. Recent studies in neurological correlates of moral decision-making show science making inroads into areas where previously philosophers relied on intuitions as their primary evidence.

  195. #195 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 9, 2008

    Iorwerth Thomas wrote:

    Ian H Spedding: “But, in the United States, how many of those moderate Christians have spoken out against the popular view of an atheist as being somewhat worse than a pedophile? How many have stepped forward to defend the right of atheists or agnostics to reject faith of any kind? How many have condemned the fact that overt atheists have a snowball-in-hell’s chance of ever being elected to public office?”

    How many of them are actually *listened* to when they condemn these things, support the unbeliever’s right to reject faith and so on?

    [...]

    There’s probably also an issue with media and selection bias here; sensible viewpoints are almost never picked up.

    I think those are good points.

    Competition for audience amongst news media is so severe that they are forced to concentrate on the most sensational aspects of stories in order to attract attention and, hence, money. Calm, temperate, rational comments do not generally make good soundbites or provide eye-catching pictures so they will tend to get edited out – if they are covered at all.

    The obvious answer is for moderate opinion to form pressure groups to ensure that its message gets out there. The obvious problem is that moderate opinion, by virtue of being moderate, is not usually inclined to shout loud enough to ensure its voice is heard over the uproar from the much noisier extremists.

    This is the one area where the so-called New Atheists have scored a notable victory. They have made the voice of non-belief heard loud and clear, albeit at the cost of being perceived by some, rightly or wrongly, as a counterbalancing extreme to the religious fundamentalists.

    This highlights the question of whether or not forming aggressive but polarising opposition groups is the most effective way of rolling back the fundies.

  196. #196 Ian H Spedding FCD
    March 9, 2008

    J. J. Ramsey wrote:

    Ian H Spedding: “But what if the man sitting next to you is a Muslim who believes that to save your soul you must be converted to Islam – by force, if necessary – or be killed as befits an infidel?”

    Both Wilkins and Clausen answered your question even before you asked it. How hard is their condition, “so long as they accept the importance of science and the need for a secular society,” to understand?

    I understand that Wilkins’ and Clausen’s willingness to engage moderate believers does not mean they would not fight against extremism if that became necessary. I also agree with John that 90% of people will behave decently 90% of the time, given the chance.

    What concerns me is that, in a polarized situation, I suspect that most of the decent 90% will tend to gravitate towards one or other of the poles rather than coalescing around a third, intermediate position unless it is strongly established.

    The success of any policy of appealing to moderate opinion depends on there being a majority – albeit a largely silent one – of such to be won over. If there isn’t then peaceful engagement may have little effect.

    I suppose the question is at what point do more extreme measures become necessary?

  197. #197 John Pieret
    March 9, 2008

    Jim:

    I think it’s a huge mistake to consider the topic of morality, for example, off-limits for science. Recent studies in neurological correlates of moral decision-making show science making inroads into areas where previously philosophers relied on intuitions as their primary evidence.

    I agree that NOMA won’t be comfortable for religionists. But theologians like John Haught (in the link I gave up in #5) are willing to face up to science’s inroads into such issues as the sources of moral judgment and the very origin of religion.

    Wilkins is right that there is no easy a priori epistemic distinctions between science and religion. The history of science has been to consistently expand its reach. But religion has been facing that challenge, willingly or unwillingly, for as long as science has been in existence. You (and I) may think it is, ultimately, a long hopeless retreat on their part but a demand that religionists “surrender now or die” is only likely to stiffen the resistance. Looking at NOMA as an educational process in place of issuing an ultimatum offers the possibility of reducing the damage on both sides … not to mention the fact that education always works best when weilded as a carrot rather than as a stick.

  198. #198 anon
    March 9, 2008

    religion

    The English word religion is in use since the 13th century, loaned from Anglo-French religiun (11th century), ultimately from the Latin religio, “reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety, the res divinae”.[4]

    The ultimate origins of Latin religio are obscure. It is usually accepted to derive from ligare “bind, connect”; likely from a prefixed re-ligare, i.e. re (again) + ligare or “to reconnect.” This interpretation is favoured by modern scholars such as Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell, but was made prominent by St. Augustine, following the interpretation of Lactantius. Another possibility is derivation from a reduplicated *le-ligare. A historical interpretation due to Cicero on the other hand connects lego “read”, i.e. re (again) + lego in the sense of “choose”, “go over again” or “consider carefully”. [5]
    (Wikipedia sourced)

    ————————-

    philosophy
    1297, from O.Fr. filosofie (12c.), from L. philosophia, from Gk. philosophia “love of knowledge, wisdom,” from philo- “loving” + sophia “knowledge, wisdom,” from sophis “wise, learned.”
    Nec quicquam aliud est philosophia, si interpretari velis, praeter studium sapientiae; sapientia autem est rerum divinarum et humanarum causarumque quibus eae res continentur scientia. [Cicero, "De Officiis"]
    Meaning “system a person forms for conduct of life” is attested from 1771. Philosophize is attested from 1594.

    ****************************

    So essentially there are two thoughts to what a religion means; binding or going over again.

    Philosophy is a love of wisdom and a way to live that out.

    Religion was just put there to contrast the two, but the reason I am writing about philosophy is that I was told here that I have a philosophy:

    What you call “a scientific view of the universe” is a philosophy, not science itself. You are free to have that philosophy and, like Janus’, it is doubtless in conflict with religion. But, whatever it is that you call “a scientific view of the universe,” it is not, itself, an empiric fact of the natural world, which is what “science” produces.

    …by John Pieret.

    Well, I guess I do have a philosophy (said like it is such a bad thing) which is the love of wisdom. I think that a philosophy is a good thing to have if it enables one to think, learn, re-learn, and live. That mine has something to do with science makes sense, considering that we went through the Enlightenment which was the Age of Reason.

    Reasoning the whole thing out, it seems implausible that we still believe in a cosmic bnevolent/malevolent (depending on which side you are on) force in the sky that has an interest in our lives in any way shape or form.

    It does make sense that we ought to love wisdom- learning from the things around us in our environment, in order to come to a rational view of the universe and our place in it.

  199. #199 Janus
    March 9, 2008

    John Pieret:

    The issue is whether they make “factual pronouncements” about matters which are subject to scientific investigation. The Catholic church can, for one example, accept that the diversity of life on Earth is the result of evolution but insist that humans have a supernatural soul. They respect (on that point) the results of science in biology but maintain that there is an aspect of human beings that cannot be either confirmed or refuted by science. If you maintain that science can answer the question of the existence of a soul, then you are, in effect, saying that nothing is beyond the reach of science, which is scientism/positivism.

    Okay, so science can’t confirm or falsify the existence of undetectable souls. Well, neither can Catholicism or any other religion.

    I’m not saying that nothing is beyond the reach of science, I’m saying that if there is something beyond the reach of science, it’s also beyond the reach of any other method of inquiry. Therefore the only rational position as regards things that are beyond the reach of science is either agnosticism or belief in their non-existence, depending on how specific/implausible the guess about these things is.

    The scientific method has been tested time and again, and now in the 21st century we know that while it may not be perfect, it’s very, very good. If the Catholic Church thinks it has ways of making accurate claims about reality that science doesn’t possess, then they should tell us what those ways are. And they have told us: It’s faith. It’s a freaking guess. It’s based on nothing at all. They don’t even try to find out the truth.

    And you know what? If the Catholic Church or any other religious organization did have a method of inquiry that actually worked, it wouldn’t remain the Catholic Church’s method for very long, because scientists would quickly incorporate it into the scientific method. Science isn’t some game with an arbitrary set of rules, like soccer or football. Science is pragmatic and adaptive, not with the goal of surviving, but with the goal of discovering the truth: It uses any means necessary to achieve that goal, and if new means are discovered, they will quickly become a part of science.

    The problem is that you are assuming both men have the same goal. To paraphrase Galileo, science is interested in how the heavens go and religion is interested in how to go to heaven.

    Those two goals are part of the same goal: Learning about reality. That there is a supernatural “heaven” is a hypothesis about reality. That there is a specific way to go to this heaven is also a hypothesis about reality. Those hypotheses may or may not be testable. If they’re not testable, they’re worthless guesses, the same as guessing where the treasure chest is in the labyrinth.

    Your theology may find that unacceptable, but that has nothing to do with science

    May find what unacceptable? Blind guesses about reality? You think that making a blind guess about some aspect of reality and declaring it’s true is perfectly ok? You think that’s not contrary to the scientific method?

    But as a heuristic for determining, in the absence of evidence, what may turn out to be true, your formulation has the fault of rendering all of science a false negative.

    No, it doesn’t.

    I’ve already given you an example: You have to guess what object I’ve put on my desk.
    Do you or do you not acknowledge that it’s a nearly absolute certainty that your guess will be wrong (if your guess isn’t ridiculously generic, e.g. “An object heavier than 0.01 gram”)?

    Whatever objections you have to my statement that guesses are usually wrong (and are more likely to be wrong the more specific/implausible they are), you must have the same objections to the example above.

    The more evidence you somehow obtain about the object, the more likely it is that your hypothesis will be true. And if you have lots of conclusive evidence, your hypothesis will almost certainly be true, and will actually be a fact. But as long as you have little or no evidence, your hypotheses are just blind guesses, and therefore almost certainly wrong. If you have a problem with this, tell me what it is concretely within the setting of this example, please.

    J.J. Ramsey:

    Actually, what Gould said was more along the lines that religion and science, when properly executed, shouldn’t overlap.

    I know. And the problem with NOMA is that even when religion is properly executed, it does overlap with science. It must overlap with science. There is no way that religion won’t stomp on science, because religions always make claims about reality.

    I don’t know how I can make it clearer. I’ve repeated and explained this point three times now.

  200. #200 John Pieret
    March 9, 2008

    anon:

    I guess I do have a philosophy (said like it is such a bad thing) …

    Au contraire! I am a philosophy maven myself, which is why I like Wilkins so much. I’m much more interested in the philosophy of science (it has a philosophy without itself being a philosophy) than the actual nitty-gritty of the science, which is mostly beyond my technical knowledge and beyond the time I have to devote to learning it in the depth the subject deserves.

    It does make sense that we ought to love wisdom- learning from the things around us in our environment, in order to come to a rational view of the universe and our place in it.

    Sounds like a good philosophy … one that NOMA should help to encourage in others.

    Janus:

    I’m not saying that nothing is beyond the reach of science, I’m saying that if there is something beyond the reach of science, it’s also beyond the reach of any other method of inquiry. Therefore the only rational position as regards things that are beyond the reach of science is either agnosticism or belief in their non-existence, depending on how specific/implausible the guess about these things is.

    I think you are just backdooring scientism/positivism here. You are saying that the only “real” or “useful” or “true” knowledge there is or can be about “reality” is scientific knowledge. Agnosticism is not, of course, “incompatible” with religion but even there you try to put a positivistic spin on it by appealing to some unspecified (but, doubtless, scientistic) measure of “plausibility” to measure whether or not to be agnostic.

    Those two goals are part of the same goal: Learning about reality.

    But you have already denied that we can learn about reality except by science. Since that is a philosophical conclusion, not itself a scientific result, you have rigged the game. Science and religion are incompatible simply because you say that nothing but science is allowed to play.

    You think that making a blind guess about some aspect of reality and declaring it’s true is perfectly ok? You think that’s not contrary to the scientific method?

    We’ve already been through this. First of all, making “blind” (underevidenced) guesses about nature is a part of the scientific method in the form of hypotheses. More relevant to the question of the interaction of science and religion is that making any statement about anything beyond the natural is not part of the scientific method. Saying that it’s not ok to believe souls exist because the scientific method cannot address them is not a scientific result. Thus the scientific method does not contradict “blind guesses” about souls. Outside of science, the rules of the method of science do not apply … unless, again, you are bringing scientism/positivism in through the back door.

    But as long as you have little or no evidence, your hypotheses are just blind guesses, and therefore almost certainly wrong.

    One more time: every hypothesis was a “blind guess” at some point, with little or no evidence. If your heuristic is a good measure of the future “wrongness” of any particular blind guess, then all the eventually successful scientific hypotheses were false negatives. The sum total of blind guesses may be overwhelmingly wrong but is that fact more important than the fact that every correct hypothesis also started out as a blind guess?

  201. #201 Chris Schoen
    March 9, 2008

    Bryson Brown writes:

    It’s a minimal condition for a satisfactory account of ourselves and the world that what we say about ourselves (our senses, our brains etc.) should be such that we are indeed (as described) capable of observing the things we report about our environment.

    This doesn’t seem too tricky, does it. A bit tautological though. It would be embarrassing to find we weren’t capable of observing and reporting the things we were observing and reporting.

    The contrast with religion is very simple: independent agreement and successful persuasion, based broadly on our sensory capacities and explanatory coherence, are important marks of an epistemological stance that is highly successful, and starkly distinct from anything that has ever emerged from religious thought (even when confined to the ethical questions that NOMA fans are often prepared to hand over into the hands of religions).

    This is fallacious. How do you privilege the success of scientific materialism, which is at best a few centuries old, over that of worldviews that reigned, variously, for millenia? In what way are we a success, exactly?–we who have brought the planet to the brink of destruction?

    I don’t think you can argue in good faith on this topic without addressing the implicit propaganda of most cultures that they are better than what came before. It’s a specious point: all of our benchmarks are things that were of small concern to previous societies. Nowhere in Greek philosophy, for example, will you find any handwringing about extending the life span, of increasing food yields from a given acreage (they would have hated that one) or any of the other supposed measures of our superiority.

  202. #202 J. J. Ramsey
    March 9, 2008

    Janus: “There is no way that religion won’t stomp on science, because religions always make claims about reality.”

    But those claims are not all testable or invite conflict with the actual practice of science.

    Janus: “And the problem with NOMA is that even when religion is properly executed, it does overlap with science. It must overlap with science.”

    That depends on what constitutes “proper execution.” It is up to the religious to determine what constitutes that, and it is up to the atheists and agnostics to nudge (or sometimes shove) the religious to finding a proper execution that doesn’t stomp on the facts. And if the religious find that such a proper execution forces their religion to cede more and more of their old ground, well, that ought to tell them something.

    Janus: “I don’t know how I can make it clearer. I’ve repeated and explained this point three times now.”

    That may be what you thought you were doing, but you wrote as if you ignored what Gould said about NOMA in favor of your own oversimplified definition.

  203. #203 Janus
    March 9, 2008

    But you have already denied that we can learn about reality except by science. Since that is a philosophical conclusion, not itself a scientific result, you have rigged the game. Science and religion are incompatible simply because you say that nothing but science is allowed to play.

    Not at all. That science rocks and religion sucks ( ;) ) is just the way that things happen to be. In a fictional universe where science and religion are equally effective methods of inquiry, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, science and religion would still be incompatible: You would either use one or the other to discover this or that feature of reality. It’s just that in the fictional universe, the competition between the two methods wouldn’t be over yet, whereas in the real universe it is (and religion never stood a chance, of course).

    We’ve already been through this. First of all, making “blind” (underevidenced) guesses about nature is a part of the scientific method in the form of hypotheses.

    Read the whole sentence. I said, “making a blind guess about some aspect of reality and declaring it’s true.”

    More relevant to the question of the interaction of science and religion is that making any statement about anything beyond the natural is not part of the scientific method. Saying that it’s not ok to believe souls exist because the scientific method cannot address them is not a scientific result. Thus the scientific method does not contradict “blind guesses” about souls. Outside of science, the rules of the method of science do not apply … unless, again, you are bringing scientism/positivism in through the back door.

    You still haven’t defined ‘natural’, so I’ll assume that you think it means ‘falsifiable’.

    The scientific method does address unfalsifiable hypotheses. Have you ever noticed that there are many hypotheses that could in theory be vindicated, but that can never be falsified? An otherwise sneaky deistic God who has left a hard-to-discover message in the universe is one of those hypotheses. If we discover the message, we can be certain that God exists; but there’s still no way to falsify God.

    So science addresses unfalsifiable hypotheses by noticing that there is no evidence to support them. And if there is no evidence for a hypothesis, belief in that hypothesis is not warranted. Now, you and I can argue about whether this means that we should believe in the negative proposition (e.g. strong atheism) or that we should merely not believe in the original proposition (e.g. weak atheism), but in the context of this particular discussion it doesn’t really matter. The point is that skepticism is an important part of the scientific method, and that means not believing in blind guesses. It doesn’t matter if the guess is falsifiable or not, why should it?

    The sum total of blind guesses may be overwhelmingly wrong but is that fact more important than the fact that every correct hypothesis also started out as a blind guess?

    Yes, of course it’s more important, because if I believe that all implausible guesses are wrong I’m going to be right almost every time. Practically speaking, there is no distinction between being absolutely certain and being almost absolutely certain.
    And if there is undiscovered evidence for a hypothesis that would convince me if I knew about it, well, I’ll believe it once the evidence becomes available, that’s all.

    Besides, I doubt that the majority of hypotheses that turned out to be true were completely unsupported by evidence when they were formulated. It seems more likely that while they didn’t have enough evidence to warrant belief, they still had some. Take Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, for example.

  204. #204 John Pieret
    March 9, 2008

    That science rocks and religion sucks ( ;) ) is just the way that things happen to be.

    No, that’s enough. You just keep finding different ways to assert your positivism/scientism. There is no more point discussing it.

    You still haven’t defined ‘natural’, so I’ll assume that you think it means ‘falsifiable’.

    That’s a complex philosophical problem but it basically means “regularities consistent enough to be considered to be operating by ‘law’.” Popper’s “falsifiability demarcation criteria” is generally considered by philosophers of science for the last 20 years or so to be neither correct nor relevant to how science really works. Thus the rest of that is also irrelevant.

    … if I believe that all implausible guesses are wrong I’m going to be right almost every time.

    Which is irrelvant in those particular cases where you are wrong.

    I doubt that the majority of hypotheses that turned out to be true were completely unsupported by evidence when they were formulated.

    I refuse to get into another endless wrangle with you but religion isn’t unevidenced, even though you will continue to assert your positivism/scientism by claiming that what theists cite to isn’t “evidence” … in your opinion … because it isn’t scientific evidence.

    Let us agree to agree that you will go on believing that science is the only effective method of inquiry and, therefore, anything that does not follow science’s method is in conflict with science. I will go on believing that you do not understand science. Further bludgeoning of moribund Equidae would be simple animal cruelty.

  205. #205 Jud
    March 9, 2008

    John Wilkins said: I don’t like intellectual banners calling the faithful to rally beneath them.

    Interesting sentence, mixing “intellectual” and “faithful.” Would saying that scientific (surely not all intellectual) ideas don’t draw their (probative) value from the numbers of the “faithful” they excite be roughly what you meant by this? Or is it a restatement of the distaste for “us vs. them” sociopolitics?

    Which brings me to PZ Myers’ statement: The good aspects of religion are all about community-building, which I think you unfairly trashed as us-vs-themism….

    Unfortunately, the good and bad aspects of religion are all about community-building. (Excepting the odd example of, e.g., a violent psychosis involving a religion unique to one individual.) Inevitably, some of what is advertised or begins as community-building shows its true colors as, or mutates into, “us-vs-themism.”

    It’s understandable that folks may think perhaps communities that *don’t* require belief in the impossible and unprovable are those most likely to “do the right thing.” However, I’m unaware of any good sociological studies showing atheist/agnostic groups are better behaved toward their fellows than religious groups (with aspects such as size, authority, etc., controlled for). Anyone?

  206. #206 J. J. Ramsey
    March 9, 2008

    Jud: “However, I’m unaware of any good sociological studies showing atheist/agnostic groups are better behaved toward their fellows than religious groups (with aspects such as size, authority, etc., controlled for). Anyone?”

    I remember that in one of the Beyond Belief (2006?) segments, Scott Atran pointed to statistics showing that atheists were at least as likely to scapegoat as the religious.

    One of the places where the us-versus-them shows up in Dawkins’ rhetoric is when he uses the metaphor of a war between rationalism and superstition. There is an implicit false dichotomy here, since those who are irrational but not superstitious are neglected. With this way of, ahem, framing the situation, it is easy to think, “Hey, if I’m against superstition, then that puts me on the side of rationalism.” Like hell it does. For example, Dawkins writes in TGD,

    Robert Gillooly shows [in the December 2004 issue of Free Inquiry] how all the essential features of the Jesus legend, including the star in the east, the virgin birth, the veneration of the baby by kings, the miracles, the execution, the resurrection and the ascension are borrowed—every last one of them—from other religions already in existence in the Mediterranean and Near East region.

    The article that Dawkins cites has several red flags, one of them being that it contradicted itself on the birth of Mithras. There are a couple telling things. First, it is telling that it was published in Free Inquiry in the first place. Its staff obviously did not fact-check the article. The second telling thing is that Dawkins didn’t see the red flags. If he had written the book with the attitude, “Hey, I better research my opposition so that I’m not surprised when it throws me curves,” he would have stumbled across the problems that were overlooked by the article’s publishers. Heck, lurking around IIDB would have helped him. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in atheist circles to pass around BS about religion that flatters them (*cough* Brian Flemming *cough*). Then again, it is pretty common for those caught up in the us-versus-them mindset to be ignorant about “them.”

    Duckspeaking the pat “Courtier’s Reply” in 3, 2, 1 …

  207. #207 eddie
    March 10, 2008

    @ Wilkins;

    “And while we’re on truth, let’s stop pretending all this talk of truth is scientific and not religious in itself. Scientific ideas are tested or not, reliable or not. They are never True, just good enough. To talk about Truth is to help yourself to the trappings of religion under the counter, as it were. And this is the final point I want to make about Dawkins on religion: he is trying to produce exactly the same effects as religion does. Social cohesion, derogation of the Other, ideas that everyone can take for granted. I wish it were the case that he was taking the scientific approach here, but at best he’s using the cachet of science to promote his quasi-religion.”

    I think John W is mistaken because he is accepting a religiously hijacked definition of (T)truth. The very idea of absolute truth is wrong. The real meaning of truth could be debated but to my mind is identical to that scientific correctness JW is claiming is not really true. I would say that even a scientific theory that has been superceded or shown to be inaccurate (e.g. Newtonian mechanics) has more truth in it than any religious statement because it was arrived at through genuine inquiry.

    Also, it is wrong of JW to complain that “[Dawkins] is trying to produce exactly the same effects as religion does. Social cohesion, derogation of the Other, ideas that everyone can take for granted.” These are thing that people have invented independently of religion and have likewise been hijacked.

    PS – I think Lev is using one of those automatic insult generators that were popular for about 5 mins a few years ago. Lots of character assasination and not a shred of evidence to back up a single one of his claims.

    Reclaim TRUTH – ed

  208. #208 AtheistAcolyte
    March 10, 2008

    C.W. #132-

    Minor problem, your definition excludes the non/super-natural.
    I would suggest that your definition is very close to scientific methodology.

    That’s a problem? I propose that “super-natural” is only called such because we don’t understand how it fits in with the universe. If there is any mechanism which exists apart from what we call the universe which influences this universe, it implies a larger universe consisting of at least our universe and the external mechanism, in which case all our current knowledge is at best a special case of the grander universe.

    But others assign a greater weight to them, so why are you correct? Apart from in pragmatice and positivist senses.

    I never said I was correct in anything. I proposed a definition of “evidence”. Make use of it how you may. At least this method can highlight where you need to direct your attention in argumentation — how they rate credibility of sources.

    Perhaps the addendum can be made- “The natural order of the universe being defined as the underlying structure of what we pragmatically call the universe and any and all mechanisms which can and do exert influence over it.” Does that cover my bases?

  209. #209 Chris' Wills
    March 10, 2008

    That’s a problem?

    Yes it can be a problem. If all you accept as evidence is that which can be tested by the scientific method you may exclude that aren’t easy to repeat (i.e. very low probability events).

    I propose that “super-natural” is only called such because we don’t understand how it fits in with the universe. If there is any mechanism which exists apart from what we call the universe which influences this universe, it implies a larger universe consisting of at least our universe and the external mechanism, in which case all our current knowledge is at best a special case of the grander universe.

    Your first sentence in the above paragraph seems at odds with what follows it.
    If our perceivable universe is a sub-set of something larger then the super-natural (that which is beyond our ken) doesn’t have to fit in our universe though it could affect it.

    I don’t disagree with the special case idea, though I’m not sure about calling it all the Universe.

    I never said I was correct in anything. I proposed a definition of “evidence”. Make use of it how you may. At least this method can highlight where you need to direct your attention in argumentation — how they rate credibility of sources.

    So we return to who we trust (credibility).

    Perhaps the addendum can be made- “The natural order of the universe being defined as the underlying structure of what we pragmatically call the universe and any and all mechanisms which can and do exert influence over it.” Does that cover my bases?
    Posted by: AtheistAcolyte

    Interesting and I don’t disagree, not sure what it has to do with evidence though and aren’t we back to naturalism; unless you are saying that everything is natural?

  210. #210 Monado, FCD
    March 12, 2008

    I agree that it’s pointless to demonize people who are religious. If religion makes them bullies or terrorists, that’s another story. I regard them as people who’ve been imprinted in childhood with a deep desire for security or beliefs that were inculcated before they were old enough to evaluate them. It’s as unthinking as a phobia developed in childhood. We don’t make fun of people who are afraid of heights, do we? It’s something that happened to them at a pre-rational stage, so it’s a handicap rather than a fault. Sneering is useless.

  211. #211 paiwan
    March 13, 2008

    I am not sure if Tony Blair has knocked the gate, but Yale opened it. So he is going to hold a teaching post, his subject is R. Top secret?

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!