… In which I narrow the gulf between two allied factions enough that with a running start you can jump across … maybe.

It has been suggested that Accommodationism is “a more moderate atheist perspective on the nature of religion and science.”1 In this view, religion and science are not antithetical, and can exist side by side.

I think this is a fair description of accommodationism, and it is what bothers me about accommodationism itself or the description of accommodationism, depending on who’s doing the talking, but I also don’t think that this is what certain people who have been considered to be Accommodationists are actually saying. I don’t think Joshua Rosenau is saying this, I don’t think Chris Mooney is saying this, and I think Ken Miller says this sometimes then he unsays it other times. (Since this is the blogosphere, any of these three can certainly correct me on this.)

And here I am questioning the term “moderated atheism” because there is no such thing. That would be agnosticism or something else. Indeed “moderated atheism” is always in conflict with science. (Something parallel is probably almost always true on the religion side of this discussion as well.) The reason for this is that science is a self contained system and it is impossible to stipulate the veracity of, or any details of, some feature of the body of scientific knowledge from an outside source. To put it simply, you can’t decide that evolutionary theory is valid regardless of religious objections to it, but then say that the origin of life may be best explained by reference to a supernatural cause. Such a position would very nicely “accommodate” many religious individuals who would be happy to have the biological sciences move right along in explaining (almost) everything, but need to have god in there somewhere doing something important. I think this is sometimes the position Ken Miller takes.

From a scientific perspective this is entirely unacceptable. However, to my knowledge, the so-called Accommodationists do not have this perspective. Chris Mooney and Josh Rosenau do not seem to be making the claim that sections of life science can or should be sliced out and replaced with the hand of god like one might slice out and replace a segment of a protein for trans-species analysis of function.2

If accommodationism is defined this way, then there are two kinds of atheists: Accommodationists who don’t understand anything and have it wrong in some really important ways and cannot be taken seriously, and everyone else, including the aforementioned Accommodationists and the New Atheists. Someone who takes the slice and dice Accommodationist view is not an atheist. This would be a religious view. I’m pretty sure, at this point in this long term ongoing conversation, that this is understood by most of the people involved.

So what about people like Josh and Chris? For some reason they are not considered to be New Atheists, and they don’t seem to be Accommodationists as defined in the first paragraph above. I know Chris has specifically indicated that he is an atheist. Off hand I can’t remember Josh’s mode of theism. Chris is called an Accommodationist and seems to more or less define himself as one, but he does not believe that we can or should substitute non-science for science at politically convenient points.

The confusion comes from the fact, in my view, that the line between certain viewpoints has been drawn in the wrong place. The main difference among all of the views that are out there is the difference between those individuals who will allow for some supernatural involvement in natural process and those who will not. This places PZ Myers and Chris Mooney firmly if uncomfortably in the same boat. And it is the very same boat that Francis Bacon imagines sailing between the Herculean pillars to commune among, and understand, the monsters of the sea.

The difference between the “Accommodationist” view vs the “New Atheist” view must therefore be something else.

I propose that this difference is similar to a corresponding contrast that exists among the religious folk involved in this question. The difference is in how one handles undone business. This is much more easily understood in relation to religion (and religious politics) than science, so let’s start with that.

I myself was raised to be religious, but it did not stick. The nature of the demise of my religiosity is only slightly interesting, and maybe we can talk about that another time. Now, I just want to make this point: I learned early on (when I was still an altar boy) that where religion and life conflict — where the religion was not doing a good job at explaining the bits and pieces of life that were not making sense — it was OK to drop the details of the religion part and chalk it up to mystery. This pragmatic approach sounds like kind of a cop out, but it makes utter sense from a religious perspective, if your religion has elements such as a deep and unknowable god, a god that tests your faith, and stuff like that. It is absolutely reasonable, to a Catholic in the particular subculture of Catholicism that I was raised in (and I suspect, Ken Miller as well) to accept Genesis and Darwin at the same time. No accommodation is needed. In life, it is important to use Darwin to make sense of the world, and the conflict between Darwin and Genesis will be explained to me later on when I’m dead. Unless God sends me to Hell. In which case, I suppose I’ll never find out.

To a different kind of Christian, and I refer here to your basic fundamentalist because fundamentalists believe in the essential and immediate truth of the Bible, you can’t have this conflict. Some may allow for smallish differences in interpretation of the bible, perhaps rejecting the Usherian chronology in favor of vagueness or just plan lack of accuracy (not inaccuracy, just … not being chronometrically accurate on purpose). But, essentially, the Bible does provide an account of the origin of everything, and so does science, and they are majorly different. A fundamentalist Christian picks one (and only one). A Catholic raised in the American Catholic church by Irish Priests in the 1960s is not even that interested in the question. Catholics get to pick and choose, and are allowed to choose ambiguity.

The difference between these two kinds of Christian is what do with the undone business. The Fundamentalist wants no undone business and is driven to great lengths to ensure that there not be any. The Catholic has piles of it and does not seem to mind. In fact, half the sing songy Irish priest jokes (the ones the priest makes, not the ones made about the priest) make use of this unfinished business. “It is a mystery” is the supporting trope for the punchline in old school Catholicism. In fundamentalism … there are no punch lines.

I oversimplify. But I believe that this brief description is a valid skeleton on which to build a useful if somewhat artificial dichotomy.

Now, what about the two kinds of (atheist) scientists? Are there two kinds, parallel to the two kinds of religious people?

Yes, in the sense that so called new atheists and so called Accommodationists have the same exact view of the science but different views of what to do with undone business.

The undone business includes the following two distinctly different things:

1) What religious people think about science. This refers to the opinion, feelings, attitude, or personally settled-on conclusions by relevant religious people about the science. For instance, how does the student in your classroom who comes in as a creationist feel about your teachings in evolution? How does that student deal with this, what do they conclude? Or, what does the politician think, or more importantly, say, about the same issue while on the campaign trail? Or while in the legislative chamber?

2) What scientists and educators think about strategy. How do scientists and science educators feel about the differences between what people get wrong and what science actually says, and what how does one prioritize what to do about it?

These two categories of ‘business’ are each treated in different ways by Accommodationists vs. new atheists. So we have a kind of two by two matrix.

[1,1]The Accommodationist sees the views of the religious science-questioner as something that should be addressed as part of the current ongoing discussion, but [1,2] the New Atheist sees such views as “not my problem.” [1,1]The Accommodationist wants to help the religious person ‘deal’ while [1,2]the new atheist wants the religious person to take these problems to the rabbi, priest, or whomever, and address these issues outside the context of the science learning process. That is a big difference. I’m personally much more comfortable with the latter, but when I talk to certain people … where there is mutual respect and caring between us … I know that such a view can be difficult. I retain it, but it hurts a little.

With respect to the second set of business, [2,1]the Accommodationist wants to form a coalition with the believers because it is politically important to do so (important according to the Accommodationist). [2,2]The new atheist wants to hold the line and require the believers to at the very least check their beliefs at the door because those beliefs can’t be brought into the discussion. Or just dry up and blow away.

(This somewhat artificial … but not arbitrary … two by two matrix can be easily reformulated into a spectrum, but that would make the model less manageable.)

I think that this describes most of what people are saying and doing in this long term and ongoing discussion. But it does not describe what people could be saying and doing. For instance, it is quite possible to see the views of the religious science-questioner as something that should be addressed in the context of that person’s religious culture (“Take it to the minister, buddy!”), but at the same time to be willing to sit down with members of that sub culture and be … at the very least … diplomatic.3

I think that might be close to my view. When it comes to doing science, describing science and, yes, teaching science, take no prisoners. But consider that we spend a great deal of effort on working out how to teach people science when society and culture throws so many proverbial wrenches into the works. The fact that people think that cold is a thing, or the fact that people anthropomorphise the ant, the grasshopper, and the chimpanzee to roughly equal degrees, are classic issues in science education. Well, perhaps people’s religious beliefs should be treated similarly. This would be a kind of Accommodation because it involves recognizing religious views and then addressing them, even if somewhat tangentially, as part of the learning process.

Ironically, PZ Myers, the archetypal New Atheist seems to act on a similar view, seemingly unbeknownst to the Accommodationists. I have heard PZ describe his introductory college biology course, and it includes an exploration of the sociocultural transformations that have happened in concert with the development of science from the late middle ages to the present. His biology course is to no small degree a course in western philosophy. I have no idea how much he deals directly with specific extant religions, but his approach is exactly what a person starting out with an acceptance of Genesis or even Intelligent Design Creationism would benefit from most, even if their thinking did not totally change as part of such a classroom experience. PZ Myers teaches theology. Sort of. (A kind of “theology to end all theology” … but still….)

And ultimately, the person who is doing the learning will drive the system no matter what the educator prefers. I happen to know a person4 who is on a journey from a more or less fundamentalist, evangelical starting point (and who lives well inside of that culture) through a relatively traditional academic education and investigation of inter cultural generation (and maintenance or alteration) of meaning. Demographically, this is someone people like me would not want on the local school board. But in a recent conversation, she said this to me: “I don’t know that much about science, but every time I learn something more, I get pretty excited about it … So, being ‘religious’ but anticipating my ‘curiosity to transcend my culture’ I would like to search this stuff out from a solid source…which a lot of times means atheist scientists.”

This is the kind of person I want in my classroom, across the table from me in a coffee shop, or attending the Cafe Scientifique. Or, for that matter, on the school board.

… At the outset I claimed that I would narrow a gap. You should know that I don’t really believe that I’ve done that. But perhaps I’ve annoyed my fellow bloggers in a novel way that could lead to some positive discussion …

1The source of this quote is important. I happen to know someone who is personally quite deeply involved in the fundamentalist culture, but happens to be someone with whom I share an unquestioned mutual trust and whose opinion I value very highly. That quote is not this individual’s opinion, but rather is that individual’s characterization of the problem at hand. This entire essay is a response to my friend’s private remarks in answer to this question of mine: “So, what do you think of accommodationism?”

2I know that is a somewhat strained metaphor, but I could not resist. As I write this my wife is across the living room writing up part of her research in which she removes some piece of a protein and replaces it with the same piece of a protein but from a different species. Playing god with proteins!

3The word “diplomatic” is, again, quoted from the same private conversation to which I refer in footnote one. That is my friend’s position: Diplomacy can matter.

4Yes, same person.

Comments

  1. #1 Nathan Myers
    July 9, 2009

    Accommodationism is much, much simpler than all that. It is an uncomfortable fact of nature (and we are all for acknowledging uncomfortable facts of nature!) that some people insist on theism. We have no desire to kill those people, or (more to the point, in practice) to provoke them into killing us. Therefore, they must be accommodated to some degree. Effectively all atheists are accommodationists.

    The only issue, then, is how much, and matters of degree lead to arguments. Is it OK to infect kids with the religion meme, as a sort of inoculation which might or might not take over their mind, or is that child abuse? OK, it’s child abuse, but to what degree is that our business? If it’s our business, what and how much can we do about it without risk of provoking the theists to kill us?

    There’s nothing philosophical about it at all.

  2. #2 Dan J
    July 9, 2009

    Excellent post, Greg. :)

    The words that the differing sides are using, and their meanings, are definitely crucial to understanding the problem, and I don’t think they’ve been well-defined by either side.

    I was started on a Catholic upbringing (not very regular, to say the least) but gave it up on my own before my First Communion. Most of my extended family is religious to a certain degree. We never actually discuss it. The difference between those who believe literally and those who don’t (and the actions taken in the name of those beliefs) is the biggest point for me. Most people who go to church every Sunday have no desire to see any of their religious ideas or laws legislated as the law of the land. The ones who do are, of course, the most vocal.

    I’m not yet convinced that Chris doesn’t hold the “slice and dice Accommodationist view“, or that “he does not believe that we can or should substitute non-science for science at politically convenient points“. I guess I’ll have to read the book this weekend (if I can find a copy) to make a more informed decision.

    So much to say, but I’ll leave it for my own post at a later date (but soon!).

  3. #3 vikki
    July 9, 2009

    Nathan, I think you have not been listening to what people have been saying.

  4. #4 vikki
    July 9, 2009

    Nathan, I think you have not been listening to what people have been saying.

  5. #5 Nathan Myers
    July 9, 2009

    vikki: That way lies madness.

  6. #6 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    You’re not related to PZ Myers, are you?

    Here’s a question. If you believe religion is child abuse, do you endorse outlawing teaching religion to children? If not, why do you want child abuse to be legal?

  7. #7 Stephanie Z
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon, have you stopped beating your wife? Feeding kids on fast food diets is abusive too. Where do you stand on legislation?

  8. #8 Nathan Myers
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon: Which part of “what and how much can we do about it without risk of provoking the theists to kill us?” didn’t you understand?

  9. #9 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    Stephanie: If parents actively choose to feed their children exclusively fast food, there already exist government services to deal with that. As for parents who can only afford to feed their children fast food, more money should be put into food stamps and school lunch programs.

    Nathan: What, exactly, do you propose be done about this child abuse epidemic?

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon, the government programs that have the resources to deal with children’s diets (i.e., almost none and only when something much more immediately threatening brings parents to their attention) are educational programs. Because we have a First Amendment in the U.S. that protects us from having to raise our children with religion, we also can’t have the government engaging in that kind of education with respect to religion. We get to educate people ourselves, which is exactly what we’re doing.

  11. #11 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    Sorry Stephanie, I always get annoyed when people call religion child abuse and respond by complaining on a comment thread. Child abuse is a very serious issue and it bothers me that some people trivialize it. Not to mention that it implicates me as abusing my children and my parents as abusing me.

  12. #12 DuWayne
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon -

    See here and explain to me how this is trivializing child abuse.

  13. #13 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    I’m sorry your childhood was so miserable. And believe me, I do not think that all religion is not child abuse. I do not think that all religion is child abuse either. The answer lies somewhere in between, at some point I have not exactly pinned down.

  14. #14 abb3w
    July 10, 2009

    “It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy– it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either.”

  15. #15 Nathan Myers
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon: I am sorry for you that you were so abused (as I was), and much moreso that you have responded by abusing your own children, but that is the typical pattern/cycle. To end the cycle must be a conscious choice. I hope you can muster the courage to make that choice (as I did).

  16. #16 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    You never did say whether you were related to PZ, or if the last name is just a coincidence.

  17. #17 Nathan Myers
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon: Open your local phone directory and count Myerses.

    “What is the mind but a plaything of the body?”

  18. #18 DuWayne
    July 10, 2009

    Has nothing to do with my own childhood, except that the abuse that is religion is particularly poignant for me – and not, btw, just my motherfucking childhood.

    Unless it is watered down to become virtually meaningless, convincing children to believe in some magical godfigure is abusive. Telling a child, “this is what I believe, other people believe other things” is not so much. Telling them some people are going to suffer eternal torment – telling them that there is some magical being who is going to make it all better – telling them that everything will be even better when they die – these are child abuse, any way you want to couch it. And it isn’t the least bit of a detraction from violent child abuse.

    Or are you going to argue that because the damage isn’t “that bad” or doesn’t physically harm the child, that it makes it ok?

  19. #19 ImpressivelyTedious
    July 10, 2009

    Holy crap, this is just as much a waste of time as religion!! Two peas in a pod, Christians and the “New Atheists”… so much to bicker about, so little time.

    If you’re going to write endless paragraphs on the nuances of various definitions (what, bored with Michael Jackson videos already?), you might as well do it with the belief that you get rewarded in heaven for all your troubles.

    So.. much.. hot air.

  20. #20 ImpressivelyTedious
    July 10, 2009

    Holy crap, this is just as much a waste of time as religion!! Two peas in a pod, Christians and the “New Atheists”… so much to bicker about, so little time.

    If you’re going to write endless paragraphs on the nuances of various definitions (what, bored with Michael Jackson videos already?), you might as well do it with the belief that you get rewarded in heaven for all your troubles.

    So.. much.. hot air.

  21. #21 Nathan Myers
    July 10, 2009

    ImpressivelyTedious has it right. “What and how much can we do about it without risk of provoking the theists to kill us?” is the only question worth asking.

  22. #22 Brian
    July 10, 2009

    Re: Greg

    That is a very odd line to draw in the Accommodationists/New Atheists debate. My understanding is basically:

    Accommodationists = Let’s play nice and maybe we’ll get that new flow cytometer/x-ray spectrograph/keg for happy hour. I mean, you know and I know it’s all crap, but shhhhh…

    New Atheists = Seriously? Seriously?!? That’s what you believe? I win by being smarter, so give me that new MALDI-TOF. Now.

    Really though, drawing the line in the sand at Accommodationism being active, no-shit-that-thing-right-there-was-a-miracle version of science is completely outside of the debate. What we have here is “Well, we don’t have all the answers yet. What? God? Um…. I’ll get back to you on that.” versus “So, the Easter Bunny synthesized the first ribozyme. Mhm. Any evidence? Right, ok, shut up.” Both PZ and Chris *allow* for some supernatural involvement in the process. Most atheists don’t have access to machines that allow them to look backward 3.5 gya to see whether God pushed that last uracil in place. But their approach to this problem of God being involved or not is decidedly different.

  23. #23 Richard Eis
    July 10, 2009

    Moderated atheism it seems is where you are atheist but aren’t allowed to say anything against religion because that would be rude.

  24. #24 Laborum
    July 10, 2009

    I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. I said, throughout my early years, “I do not want to go today.” I was forced to go anyway. I was forced to study and read the materials given to me daily. I was forced to use those religious materials to write speeches, stand up on stage and spout scripture and dogma I didn’t believe in. I was taught that evolution was false and God created all things. I didn’t do very well in science or math, and maybe I’m wrong, but I believe the way I was brought up had something to do with that.

    Yes, you may say I had a choice. I had a choice between that or spankings, not being able to go outside, not getting food that night, etc. That’s not a fair choice for someone who simply can’t get out of that situation. There are kids out there going through worse things than this, from physical and emotional stress and abuse. I do consider religion to be child abuse, and it doesn’t concern me one bit that this offends someone who condones it.

    My brother was raised the same way and at 26 was still attending the meetings of the JW’s. He was a building/bridge painter. One day, while working from a mechanized cherry picking basket and painting a building, a steel beam hanging from a rope swung towards him and pinned him against the cherry picker. He quickly reached for the controls and moved the picker away from the beam and got himself down to the ground. This is no easy feat considering his insides were compressed into a 1/2 inch sandwich for a short time.

    Reaching the ground and finding himself alone outside and probaby in a state of hysteria at the time, he stumbled to his vehicle and drove himself to the nearest hospital (this was before cell phones were readily available). He barely made it into the emergency room before collapsing to the floor.

    The doctors did alot of work on him the next day or two while we waited in the emergency room, praying for him. He would be in surgery over and over again for days and he was even alert a few times between O.R. visits. I don’t remember the details of his injuries, but I do remember one thing from those sleepless couple of days. He refused to take blood transfusions. I remember this because the doctor came to the waiting room and told my parents he wouldn’t survive without one. My parents told the doctors he wouldn’t recieve them as it was against their religion and his.

    A simple procedure, a blood transfusion, stood between my brother and death. After all that trouble he went through to try to survive this and get himself help… he refused the help he needed in the end due to his “good christian values”.

    Religion is poison.

  25. #25 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 10, 2009

    Religion isn’t child abuse along the lines of beating, neglect, incest or any of those more heinous crimes. Calling a child a Muslim Child, or a Christian Child, or a Hasidic child or assigning a child to a specific religion because of hir parent’s upbringing is a form of child abuse. It assigns to a child a specific form of belief before the child has any chance to learn, grow up, compare, contrast or study and make a choice of their own in the matter.

    Raising a child to believe that all of their actions and beliefs in this short lifetime determine their fate for an eternity based on their actions and choices is a form of abuse because it takes from them an element of independent thought which they may only gradually recover (if ever.) It takes away from them their own self-determination.

    I know that parents who bring up their children to be absolutely certain that their religion is the right one can’t see this, because centuries of tradition have led them to believe that they are doing the right thing, but just because it is tradition doesn’t make it right.

    It is as much abuse as is trying to steer a gay child to be straight.

    @Brian – Really? A time machine to find out if a Creator put the final touches on RNA is necessary to understand if abiogenesis is a natural process?

    The “New Atheists” don’t say absolutely their is no such Creator, but they do say that such a claim requires some sort of evidence before they will allow for it to be taken seriously. The likelihood of such a Creator is so tiny as to be effectively negligible and there is no meaningful gain to conceding such a point because they “don’t know for certain.” The forces of religion know that they are losing the stage of explanatory power to the scientific process and they are refusing to take their bow; instead demadning rewrites that keep them in the lead role even if they subconsciously recognize those lines to be “Sound and Fury.” The accommodationists are all too willing to allow the forces of religion to dictate the course of the play.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2009

    Brian, FTR, I’m pretty sure that neither PZ nor Chris allow for supernatural aspects, and I’m pretty sure you are not characterizing my position accurately.

    Sorry, you may have to go back and re-read. This is pretty clear. I’m not being even a little abtuse.

    Richard: I think individuals may feel that the should “not say anything against religion” to avoid being rude, but that seems to me bit oppressive. (Maybe that is why I’m a “new atheist” rather than an “accommodationist.” I think the problem with that statement is that it is very oversimplified.

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2009

    Regarding the child abuse issue:

    This is actually a good example of where oversimplification can get you some pretty good rhetoric but can also both obscure reality and cause unnecessary rifts to form among people who otherwise agree.

    Personally, I think it’s kinda fun to say “religion is child abuse” now and then because it gets people’s attention and is often correct. But just like anything else, it is not so simple. Is “hitting” a kid child abuse? what if you are addressing a choking or cardiac issue with the “hitting”? There is a valid debate regarding spanking. Is high school football abusive violence? Boxing?

    There is no doubt that religion is very often implicated in abusive practice quite directly (as in “no transfusions”, see above!) and there is no doubt that religion is used to cover up child abuse. When thinking about child abuse as a general probelem, you better be thinking about religion as a factor. If you think religion is somehow untouchable as a factor because it is … religion … then I want to inspect your basement and the trunk of your car, if you don’t mind. Probably nothing there, but I want to have a look.

    Accommodationists are not actually accommodating child abuse. It really isn’t relevant to this discussion, though it is, of coruse, important. (and being relevant is not a criterion for being discussed in the comment section of a blog post!)

  28. #28 NewEnglandBob
    July 10, 2009

    Thanks Greg. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. Too bad several of the comments here are so off topic (although many are valid issues, but they dilute this topic).

  29. #29 Jason Thibeault
    July 10, 2009

    I rewrote what I had planned originally, to incorporate (and seriously over-stretch) your metaphor, Greg. I think it came out much better for it, so I thank you for allowing me to borrow it (without your explicit permission :) ).

    http://www.lousycanuck.ca/?p=1519

    Since children have died as a direct result of the forced-meme-implantation of religion, and since children’s thought processes are short-circuited so early and such short-circuiting handicaps them in life so significantly, and they view this as wholly normal through their development, the parallels between religious upbringing and child abuse are far too easy to draw. They might not involve physical or sexual abuse, but they are mental abuse of a very insidious kind — the kind where everyone in society is convinced it is normal and acceptable to do.

  30. #30 James Sweet
    July 10, 2009

    I think you’re on the verge of something here, but I think you abandoned this idea of the whole thing being a continuum rather too quickly.

    It is right to point out that pretty much every person in the accomodationist vs. “New Atheist” “debate” raging right now falls into the [2,1] category of your taxonomy. I mean, for example, we don’t have to speculate as to whether Dawkins would be willing to forge an alliance with religious leaders in order to promote science education, he has already done that and is still doing it.

    The debate is on the interpretation of the “1″, i.e. what does it mean “to form a coalition with the believers”?

    Does it mean we can’t say anything that has any chance of hurting their feelings? That would be one end of the spectrum. (I sometimes think Mooney is uncomfortably close to this extreme, but I digress…)

    On the other end of the spectrum, does it mean that while we should be civil and tell them we want to form a coalition, we should pointedly remind them of the absurdity of their beliefs any time the conversation comes even remotely close to religion?

    It really comes down to a continuum, because I think the accomodationists and the “New Atheists” both agree that a) you should not directly lie to protect the feelings of a theist, and that b) you don’t have to get up in the theist’s face every single time he or she alludes to some aspect of their theism.

    The sole difference seems to be exactly how much an ally is allowed to wax theistic before it is necessary to point out their flawed thinking. That’s a pretty subtle difference to be inspiring a multi-week blogowar…

  31. #31 Jason Thibeault
    July 10, 2009

    Excellent point James, but it spilled over into meatspace with the production of Mooney’s book. It’s no longer just a blogowar, no matter how subtle a difference it might be.

  32. #32 James Sweet
    July 10, 2009

    Heh, true. I don’t know anything about Mooney’s book except what I’ve read on the blogosphere, so I can’t comment… but it certainly it does expand the scope of this “debate”.

    The other comment I have about this whole mess is that there is room for both, and in fact I would argue that both accoms and “New Atheists” are necessary for lasting social change.

    To draw on the oft-used analogy to the gay rights movement, I ask: which gay archetype is responsible for the stunning progress of recent decades? Is it the “loud-and-proud”, the ones marching in the Pride parade wearing almost nothing, being at all times unapologetically themselves? Or is it the nice quiet lesbians who live next door, who gradually proved to homophobes that, woah, I guess I don’t actually hate all gay people?

    My answer: Both. To enact meaningful social change, you need people who push on the boundaries as hard as they can, and you also need people who are so moderate that the other side can’t really find anything in them worthy of criticism. If you only have the former, then the debate becomes too polarized to make any progress; and if you only have the latter, the debate becomes too one-sided to make any progress.

    (That said, I think Mooney fired the first shot by suggesting there was no place for the “loud-and-proud” atheists… which by analogy, I would liken to an LGBT person 15 years ago claiming that Pride parades just scare straight people and make them think all gay people are perverts. Ick. You don’t have to be vocal about it, Mooney, but you shouldn’t tell other people not to be.)

  33. #33 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    I think it’s kinda fun to say “religion is child abuse” now and then because it gets people’s attention and is often correct. But just like anything else, it is not so simple.

    Thank you! You can’t just spit out a tragic life story and some fancy rhetoric and then conclude that the vast majority of the world are abusing their children. Life does not have all these simple yes-or-no answers, no matter how tempting they may be.

  34. #34 wildlifer
    July 10, 2009

    The accomodationists are wrong because if a set of beliefs are sacred because people believe them, then all beliefs are sacred and shouldn’t be criticized. So, it’s not the New Atheists who need to sit down and shut up, it’s the accomodationists because they’re attacking the beliefs of others, which is a contradiction to their position.
    For example:
    Mooney/Kirshenbaum Redux:

    The American scientific community gains nothing from the condescending rhetoric of the New Atheists Warmists —and neither does the stature of science in our culture. We should instead adopt a stance of respect towards those who would hold their faith denialism dear, and a sense of humility based on the knowledge that although science can explain a great deal about the way our world functions, the question of God’s existence climate change lies outside its expertise.

    That there are actually segments of the population who would assert that climate, likes gods, is way too complex for man to KNOW, makes this just too ironic.

  35. #35 DuWayne
    July 10, 2009

    Brandon –

    Not being that simple, doesn’t mean that the complexity makes the sentiment wrong. Rather than whining that people making this assertion are wrong, you might consider asking where it comes from and don’t settle on the surface bullshit. You state that life doesn’t have these simple yes or no answers, yet you claim a simple yes or no answer to the question of religious indoctrination being abusive.

    Yet the only justification you throw out for your position, is that religious indoctrination isn’t as abusive as many other things are.

    Just because the harm caused by something isn’t as easily quantified as a broken arm or hand-print shaped bruises, doesn’t mean that the behavior that caused it isn’t abusive. Raising a child to believe that people who don’t have the same color of skin, same political views or who are attracted to members of the same sex are horrible, nasty people is also abusive. Hell, raising a child to believe that people who believe in gods or other types of magical thinking are fucking morons is also abusive.

    Religious indoctrination is abusive on several levels and for several reasons. Unless it is so very non-specific and makes no solid claims about the nature of gods and the natural world that it is pretty much meaningless, it is abusive. You can sit their and complain that it isn’t so until the cows come home and head back out again – it isn’t going to change a damned thing. Or you can explain why telling a child that there is a magical being they can’t see is going to help them through life, if only they believe in and worship it properly, isn’t abusive. You can explain how telling a child that people who worship the wrong god, worship the right god the wrong way, or worship no god at all, are going to suffer for all eternity isn’t abusive. You can explain how inundating a child with magical thinking that allows them to believe things for which there exists absolutely no evidence, isn’t abusive.

    But I suspect that you would rather just complain that my rhetoric is too strong and/or that I am just jaded by my personal experience with religious indoctrination. But while the latter is undoubtedly true, it is also informative. It’s not like I was indoctrinated outside of the mainstream of Christianity. It’s not like the beliefs I had was steeped in are in any way uncommon. Indeed what was uncommon about it all, was that I was also raised with voices of reason around me – voices of people I respect and care a great deal for.

    I didn’t capriciously decide one day, that religious indoctrination of children is abusive. It’s not something I came up with on a whim, or accepted from people I respect. I spent years making the same simplistic argument that you are making here – I’ve done so right at your side on a number of comment threads. I didn’t want to believe that this is abuse and even after losing my battle to maintain my faith, I held onto the idea that it’s not. But like my battle for my faith, lost to attrition in the face of overwhelming evidence – I lost this one too. I could no longer ignore the evidence that quite clearly points to the abusive nature of indoctrinating children into religion.

  36. #36 Brandon
    July 10, 2009

    Me:

    I do not think that all religion is not child abuse. I do not think that all religion is child abuse either. The answer lies somewhere in between, at some point I have not exactly pinned down.

    You:

    you claim a simple yes or no answer to the question of religious indoctrination being abusive.

    I’m officially done here. Congratulations, you win the comment thread argument trophy. I hope for your sake this isn’t the highlight of your day.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2009

    James: Yes, there can be a continuum along the political spectrum, and certainly there is. I did not mean to suggest that it would not work, just that it makes what is already a complex argument messier. Also, not all of this can work along a continuum. There is no acceptable continuum of how much science we are willing to say is caused by gods or unicorns. that is a binary. But politically, and with respect to coalitions, I’m sure you are right.

  38. #38 DuWayne
    July 10, 2009

    No, actually the highlight of my day has been wading through half a dozen anthropology papers and getting my responses to them started for class.

    And I am sorry you’re all done here, because I would love to understand how any religious indoctrination fails to be abusive. You don’t get to weasel out by taking some undefined middle ground that still amounts to a simplistic yes or no response. The fact that you admit that some religious indoctrination doesn’t give your denial of the rest any complexity or dimension.

    Teaching children magical fuzzy thinking is abusive. Teaching them that it is ok to blithely accept important notions without any evidence to support those notions is abusive. It makes it very easy for them to grow up accepting ideas that are patently false. It teaches them that it isn’t necessary to critically evaluate ideas, based on the best evidence available that supports or denies those ideas. It ultimately teaches them that intuition is somehow more important than evidence. It allows them to deny evidence when they don’t like what the evidence implies, rather than because they have found superior evidence to the contrary.

    This is not to say that a lack of religious indoctrination will provide a solid foundation for rational critical evaluation. But religious indoctrination creates a foundation that runs hard against rational critical evaluation.

    Again, you are riding on a very simplistic response to this discussion. It is not as simple as some indoctrination is abusive, some isn’t. Lying to children – even if one believes the lie themselves, is abusive. That doesn’t mean that lying to them is going to cause significant harm – a lot of kids see through it with far more ease than others, myself included. But the fact that they get through it easier than others, doesn’t make it any less abusive. Any more than a child having the ability to heal quickly, both mentally and physically, from physical abuse makes the abuse that was inflicted any less egregious.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    July 10, 2009

    James: Nice point about the gay archetype. Feminist archetype too.

    DuWayne and Brandon: Come on, guys, I’m sure you can find common ground to agree on!

  40. #40 The Science Pundit
    July 10, 2009

    Come on, guys, I’m sure you can find common ground to agree on!

    Even Steph(v)en :-)

  41. #41 DuWayne
    July 10, 2009

    When it isn’t cloudy during the day, the sky is blue…Grass is usually green…Sex is big fun…Anti-gay bigotry sucks ass…Mammals are hairy creatures…The earth orbits the sun…Michelle Bachman is a fucking loon…

    Tons of common ground to work with.

  42. #42 VolcanoMan
    July 10, 2009

    I’m with wildlifer: If you grant automatic respect and deference to one belief system, then all are equally deserving of respect. This position may be theoretically ideal (why can’t we all just get along), but pragmatically, the way our society is set up, to advance any idea at all often requires the ideological permission, or at least indifference, of those with whom you disagree on many issues.

    I find that the most critical idea that ALL atheists who want public policy to be decided without consideration for theistic objections must understand is that we need to start getting the intellectual, liberal religious people into the atheist camp. Boost our numbers. Shift the demographic center so that it lies in the liberal religious region. Dawkins and Hitchens realise this and write books targeting these people.

    I have a Catholic friend who fits into this category perfectly, and with whom I agree on numerous things. But one day we categorised our disagreement, and found only one fundamental idea that stood between us. He thinks that some things are simply unknowable. Like Greg said, “a mystery.” On the other hand, while I know that humans will never know everything, from all of the knowledge we do have, I draw the inference that nothing is unknowable. Nothing works by rules that we couldn’t understand, with the right tools and background information. I think that rather than (or in addition to) focusing on the negative (all of the bad things you can chalk up to religion), the atheists need to focus on the positive aspects of the “everything is knowable” idea; why it’s a good idea.

    My Catholic friend won’t budge on this: he is very emotionally involved in the romantic idea of the “spirit”, how people can feel such profound connections with pieces of art and musical compositions, and he won’t acknowledge that it’s all just a product of complex neural activity. Still, I think that making a convincing argument here could swell atheist numbers dramatically. This may cause a reactionary polarisation amongst the moderate religious people, but right now, we’re the reactionary ones and we need to assume our rightful, rational control, make others react to us.

  43. #43 Nathan Myers
    July 11, 2009

    VolcanoMan: I’m 100% atheist, and I don’t accept at all that there’s nothing that works by rules we couldn’t, in principle, understand. It’s a big universe, and we are sadly, nay pathetically, limited animals. I think we may someday have machine-assisted successors who could understand things we cannot, and they, in turn, likewise, but I don’t think any Nth-level successor will ever run out of things they can never understand, although some may not succeed in perceiving any.

    I am certain of this because I know of things I personally cannot understand despite being coached patiently by people who already do, and I understand things these same people will never, ever get. Acknowledging that it’s a big universe isn’t the same as getting religion.

  44. #44 Jason Thibeault
    July 11, 2009

    Nathan: I daresay you and Volcanoman are actually agreeing, though you think you’re disagreeing. Volcanoman appears to be arguing that every phenomenon that can be observed in this universe can eventually be understood, should we observe it long enough and have the appropriate tools to examine it with. That’s not to say *we humans* are going to understand it all eventually, but rather, that it is not bound to be mysterious for all eternity, to every sentient being in the universe. Maybe our descendants (biological or technological), will discover new mysteries and solve them, stuff we have never seen nor will ever see ourselves; but that doesn’t mean the stuff they discover was by necessity unknowable. We just may never get to know it ourselves, is all.

  45. #45 VolcanoMan
    July 12, 2009

    Jason: Exactly. I think the major barrier is the way we think about what we don’t know. The liberal religious people most commonly attribute the influence of god to areas of life that are fundamentally experiential in nature, for which there is no current, systematic, rational explanation. Aside from the cosmic origins question, the emotional connections they form are the main reason they retain spirituality.

    But just because we can’t explain something doesn’t mean that God did it. Natural disasters were acts of God at one point, but we now have, if not a complete understanding of every single natural disaster and the processes that create it, at least partial awareness of the causal chain by which it occurs, and pretty decent theories about the nature (on Earth) of the prime mover that eventually lead to those processes.

    Perception and consciousness, these fundamentally experiential and emotionally-charged human qualities seem to be the last refuge of God, but just as we know that plate tectonics is the cause of most volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on Earth, so too will we understand the neural processes that control feelings.

    And just because, even if we survive and accumulate knowledge for the remaining lifetime of our solar system (or longer), we won’t ever know everything there is to know, does not mean things that we can observe, study, and experience are caused by something operating outside the rules of our universe/multiverse. All I am saying is that given an infinite amount of time and the right resources, we could know everything, and God would be out of a job.

    I don’t think this worldview is a tough sell, nor do I think it’s morally bankrupt or somehow less wondrous than a worldview involving a deity. The fact that we can experience profound emotions is, in my opinion, even more spectacular if the brain that grants us these feelings emerged by completely natural processes. I am inclined to think that mind will not inevitably emerge in the presence of life – 3 billion years is a long time of very minute change on Earth before such extreme complexity and diversity developed, leading to mind; if this is the case, and we are a rarity in the Universe, how amazing is it that we can actually find truth in our surroundings, that we can learn, that we can create, that we can love? That processes that began over 13 billion years ago (and perhaps long before then) can end up with a species that is able to learn about and appreciate those initial processes is mind-boggling. That we can organise into civilisations, governed by rules on how to exist and how to treat other people, even if the accepted mythology is that God gave us those rules is phenomenal (especially if you accept that PEOPLE came up with the rules, even if they used divine will to implement them).

    We don’t need God. And intellectual, open-minded spiritual people will continue to take the last, logical step of mental deicide, as many of US did. The American atheists among us did this in defiance of society, but our numbers are swelling, and the internet provides a good medium for networking and social support. People don’t have to alienate themselves when they give up their faith anymore. By promoting our agenda and giving positive reasons for our non-belief, rather than focusing on religious conflict and hatred…by making others aware that they also don’t need God, and that taking this step isn’t social suicide…we can promote logic, shift the demographic center towards non-belief, and hopefully gain some momentum.

  46. #46 DuWayne
    July 12, 2009

    Volcanoman -

    I don’t think this worldview is a tough sell, nor do I think it’s morally bankrupt or somehow less wondrous than a worldview involving a deity.

    I totally agree with the latter bit, but the notion that it’s not a tough sell is just not my experience at all.

    Since becoming an atheist and coming out about it, I have found that even people who have virtually no faith to speak of tend to consider me somehow less than all but the most rabid fundamentalists. They simply believe that without some kind of spiritual belief, morality is simply not possible. Even those who would simply call it karma and disavow any organized religious views are loathe to accept that non-religious, non-universal morality is an adequate governor of one’s actions. They believe that there has to be something greater than us, helping to guide us into doing what is right.

    I suspect that this is truly the heart of my argument for religious/spiritual indoctrination being abusive. It fosters the belief that something extranatural or extrahuman is essential to making us do what is right. And when someone believes this absolutely and is also caught into the trap of doubting the existence of such an extranatural agency, it makes for some seriously fucked up cognitive dissonance. Throwing doubt into the face of absolutes is extremely painful and can cause significant psychological damage – sometimes repairable, sometimes not. And given that the only way to start repairing the damage is to let go of those absolutes, it all too often becomes a fact of life.

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of equating moderate religious belief, with a lack of the absolutes that define fundamentalism. The problem is, that while the actual belief may be undefinable, most moderates have an absolute belief that there is something, even if the something is illdefined.

  47. #47 The Science Pundit
    July 12, 2009

    I don’t think this worldview is a tough sell,

    All worldview changes are tough sells. A person’s worldview isn’t the same as their belief in some benign point of fact. It is so much more: it involves an emotional attachment. As an analogy, try to imagine convincing somebody that their mother doesn’t love them. Even if you have rock-solid evidence and indisputable logical arguments on your side, you will almost certainly hit a wall of denial (unless that person doesn’t love their mother or had already suspected her lack of love, which would make this more of analogy to an uncertain or nebulous worldview).

    I know that I, for one, have never changed worldviews without a fight. Even today, if Jeebus himself were to fly down from the sky and start rapturing fundies up, I would be convinced that I was either halucinating, or somebody was playing an awesome prank on me.

  48. #48 VolcanoMan
    July 12, 2009

    You guys all make valid points, but I am not talking about convincing moderates, I am talking about exactly what you said, Science Pundit – selling it to people with uncertain or nebulous worldviews. Here in Canada, 15-20% of the population (depending on where you live) does not associate with any particular religious tradition. Most of them aren’t atheists or agnostics, but simply undecided on the god issue, or indifferent. Incidentally, atheists and agnostics rate between 0.1-0.5% of the population (so much for Canada being a rational breath of fresh air in the Americas!). But that 15-20% of undecided and indifferent people is a good place to find people who just need a bit of information to push them into the realm of non-belief. Even if we could move 5% of the 5 million people in this category into the atheist/agnostic column, and even if only 5% of those are vocal about their lack of faith, we would have over 10,000 extra advocates to spread the meme. But in order to get to this point, WE ALL need to assume responsibility for the meme. We must not be afraid to discuss our reasons for being atheists, and our reasons for being moral, altruistic people without a God to guide our decision-making.

    As for changing peoples’ committed worldviews, this is a distinctly different and more difficult goal, and we won’t get to this point unless the atheist meme gets more exposure.

  49. #49 Nathan Myers
    July 12, 2009

    Jason: No. Pay attention. What I said, and what I meant, is that there are phenomena in the universe that not we, nor any descendants of ours unto the Nth generation, for all N, will ever understand, try as ever we all might.

    Most importantly, this fact does not constitute a coherent argument for embracing religion. You might fail statistics and want to watch cartoons or go shopping, but you’re watching cartoons or shopping just because you want to, and not because flunking statistics left you no choice.

  50. #50 DuWayne
    July 12, 2009

    Nathan -

    Unless you are talking about phenomena we are unaware of and probably always will be, I have to rather strenuously disagree. And even on the front of phenomena we are unaware of, I wouldn’t get too certain. The Faith it takes to make such an absolute assertion of truth, is not a whole lot different than the Faith that drives religion. I can accept that it is highly unlikely, but making the assertion that it is impossible is just silly. You simply cannot know that. You cannot tell the future any more than the Christians who are so very certain that armageddon is upon us can.

  51. #51 Nathan Myers
    July 12, 2009

    DuWayne: You miss the point. We don’t know what may happen, and neither will any of our descendants. Any such descendant at some generation M where all known phenomena are understood by somebody will not know whether at generation M+1 some phenomenon will be discovered that can’t be. Furthermore, those at M+1 will have no idea whether some phenomenon has still not been perceived. So, the implications of the true subsequent events are identical to those of the assumption.

    So, it doesn’t matter. If inventing gods at generation M is a mistake, then it’s a mistake now, and it was at generation 0.

  52. #52 DuWayne
    July 12, 2009

    Nathan -

    Epistomologically your statement is precarious at best and though I understand what you are getting at now, also very confusing. It is much simpler and absolutely accurate to say that just because we don’t understand how everything works, doesn’t mean that goddidit or that gods are required to explain it.

    I also think you’re actually wrong about the idea that inventing gods at gen 0 was a mistake. I think it is entirely reasonable to assert that it is unlikely that civilization would have achieved any cohesion without the notion of divine retribution to hold it together in infancy. Consider exactly where we came from – what the world of our protohuman ancestors was like and what they were. We came from entirely instinctual existence, formed language that was quite rudimentary at first and had to begin to rise above our instincts, managing to exist and subsist together in increasingly diversified populations.

    Consider that every culture that developed into states, were theocratic in nature. Do you think there wasn’t a reason for that? Gods (or ancestral spirits) were the glue that bound cultures into something more than basic family groups.

    We cannot be absolutely certain, but I strongly suspect that to step beyond instinct required something greater than our early ancestors to help it make sense. And I suspect that having faith in the ability of rulers to rule, required divine favor be bestowed upon those leaders – along with, at least in founding generations, the ability to administrate well.

    Like I said, we can’t say with absolute certainty, but I sincerely doubt we would have made it past instinctual existence without gods to make it all come together.

  53. #53 Jason Thibeault
    July 12, 2009

    Nathan: I was paying attention, and it appeared as though you were saying that there are phenomena in this universe that may never be known to us or our successors, but that you were not asserting that there are things that are fundamentally unknowable to anyone in the entire universe.

    Now that you’ve rebuked me (rather sharply at that) on making that error, I see that you are saying that there exist phenomena that are somehow fundamentally unknowable, that nobody will ever understand no matter how much time is given them to try to understand it, even if these entities (descendants of us or otherwise) are unaware of their existence.

    So far, our given track record is for every phenomenon that we’ve discovered to eventually be borne out and interpreted correctly given advances in our technology. Granted, there’s still a hell of a lot we don’t know, and many frontiers on which we’re constantly pushing forward in the scientific world, but given our track record, I doubt that every one of these unknowns will stay unknown forever. Since you are making the positive assertion that there are things that are fundamentally unknowable, it’s incumbent on you to show what things these are. If they are then later understood via the standard scientific method, during our lifetime or otherwise, then you are proven wrong. If they are never understood, then you are proven right. However, it would take until the end of the universe to prove you right. And even then, not enough data will have been collected to prove that every phenomenon in the universe cannot eventually be knowable — just that certain stuff got missed in all species’ collective drive toward cataloguing every phenomenon in the universe.

    Yes, the universe is vast. Yes, we are horrendously limited. But that doesn’t mean that there necessarily exists any phenomenon that a priori can never be known. Saying that there is, invites a god-of-the-gaps argument from the religious, even if you yourself do not believe that this god exists. The only scientifically reasonable position is to assume that, eventually, everything can be understood.

    “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible” – Albert Einstein

  54. #54 Nathan Myers
    July 12, 2009

    Jason: There have always been gaps. If gaps were a good reason to invent gods, then inventing gods would be a good idea, and would remain a good idea into the conceivable future. Your rejection of theism had better not depend on the gaps going away someday, because you will never see such a day. There are more unknowns now than there have ever been, and the trend has always been toward increase. To assume that everything is, in principle, understandable by mere humans can only be primate arrogance. It’s a weak assumption, and any atheism based on such an assumption must be very weak indeed.

    DuWayne: There have been very large, powerful, and long-lived Buddhist empires all over Asia. Buddhism is not theistic. Furthermore, the Harappans of the Indus river valley constructed magnificent cities and highways, but no temples.

  55. #55 The Science Pundit
    July 13, 2009

    @Nathan

    1. I think you’re missing Jason’s point. His argument isn’t whether or not gaps justify g0ds. His is an argument from induction: virtually every previous gap that we thought housed g0d has been shown to contain not-g0d. The number of gaps is irrelevant; it’s a question of history.

    2.

    Buddhism is not theistic.

    Perhaps, but most Buddhists are theists.

  56. #56 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    Nathan -

    Show me a single state that has developed without theism. Buddhism is a johnny come lately and while Buddhism isn’t inherently theistic, a great many Buddhists are in fact theists. Ultimately Buddhism was a spiritualism that developed in response to the notion that priests should control religion – an eastern form of reformation if you will – or more accurately a unitarian/universalist approach to spirituality. Not only is Buddihism a latecomer, it was a latercomer response to religious and social degradation.

    As for the Indus river valley cultures, you fail to mention that while there were no temples – or palaces of kings, there were household idols and signs of administrative authority. And again, we’re talking Johnny come latelies. Cultures and civilizations were well underway by the time people reached the Indus river valley. There is no doubt that they were an advanced people and religion probably played a relatively small role in their society. But they weren’t a cradle of civilization kind of society. They were developing their culture almost two thousand years after Egypt had developed a dynastic society for fucks sake.

    I am all about listening to your argument in support of the possibility that protohumans could have developed out of instinctual responses, into language and cohesive culture without religion, but the fact is that you don’t have a single example of it happening. There is not a single state that didn’t develop out of a different state, that wasn’t theocratic.

  57. #57 Nathan Myers
    July 13, 2009

    DuWayne: So, the Harappans started out dominated by religion, and then dropped it? I think we would need some positive evidence for that. There’s not a lot of evidence from the beginnings of Sumeria, but what we do have suggests that it was the Akkadian invaders who imported the notion of personified gods, millennia later, probably ultimately traceable to the Egyptians.

    Inventing gods at generation 0 was manifestly a mistake because we’re still stuck with them. Once having invented them, they’re demonstratedly hard to toss out, however damaging the belief turns out to be. I’m not saying it was obvious at the time.

    And I don’t accept that most Buddhists are theists. It’s a moot point, though, now that none of the Buddhist states count, nor the Harrappans, nor even Sumeria or Egypt, and we have to rely on citing the civilization that predated them all: Atlantis!

  58. #58 Robert
    July 13, 2009

    Both science and religion attempt to do the very same thing and that is to explain nature and our situation in it. The main difference is that science attempts to do this honestly, using evidence and hard dedicated work whereas religion lacks this concern for honesty, it’s only concern is to provide comfort, to provide answers that people find appealing. Religion is really nothing but a crutch for death deniers. An escape from reality like drug abuse.

    Faith and science are like oil and vinegar. You can’t embrace both without being a hypocrite. Faith based beliefs are not based upon knowledge but rather the lack of it.
    Most people who have faith are usually quite rational in their everyday lives. They serve on juries quite well, they are not gullible into believing in all the other unsupported things like psychics and bigfoot and so forth. They are simply hypocrites, they hold their faith to no real standard of critical scrutiny like they do most every other topic and they do this because something personal is at stake. If death avoidance was not part of the religious package, religion would be as easily reject by theists as they reject a belief in alien abductions. Theists let their personal desires get in the way of what they will believe true or false. They are unable to be objective when something personal is at stake. Atheists tend to be more concerned with the justification for a belief whether or not something personal is at stake.

  59. #59 Greg Laden
    July 13, 2009

    From a scientific perspective, there is no reason to believe that the universe we live in consists of anything that cannot be addressed scientifically, and, essentially, ‘known.’ There may be other universes that we we don’t know about and maybe we can’t really ‘know’ about them (which is one of the reasons we call them other universes) but in fact science can theorize about them and thus attain a proxy for knowing. But, given enough theorizing, some egghead is soing to come up with a way of detecting them and we’ll ‘know’ a little about them too.

    This statement starts out with basic truth and ends with basic otpimism, and I think describes the ‘knowability’ issue as much as it needs to be from within a scientific perspective.

    From a religion perspective there might me ‘more’ but it would just be made up stuff.

  60. #60 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Great job Nathan!!! I love your clever bit of “I don’t know how to respond, so I’ll accuse my opponent of magical thinking!!!”

    Because there is no way you could have known that my next tact was indeed going to be referencing the ancients in the flying city, who lived in the Pegasus galaxy as long as ten thousand years ago…

    Seriously though, now that I’ve gotten my morning chuckle out of the way…

    What part of “state that did not develop from another state” did you not understand? Name a single geographically isolated state that became a state after living with more “primitive” (I hate that word for it, but it is the accepted term) forms of subsistence, that was not a theocracy. Just one would do. Name a single “cradle of civilization” type state that wasn’t a theocracy.

    And what part of “I don’t think it likely that ou protohuman ancestors would have developed culture – would have developed very far past rudimentary language and basic instincts, without gods to make it all fit together for them,” wasn’t clear? No magical claims that gods actually did it, or that some mythical city of highly advanced beings did it.

    Just the simple assertion that I suspect that developing from basic instinctual primates with a sharply limited capacity to learn, to developing crude language and crude, non-instinctual social groups would not have worked without a god concept to make it all make sense. And that as societies developed increasingly complex social structures, most notably, the concept of leaders who do not lead because they are simply the most physically powerful, thoswe god concepts grew increasingly important, before they became less important – such as we see in the Indus river valley people – people who had religious notions, but who were advanced enough that they weren’t such an essential aspect of their culture.

    Now I fully accept that I may be wrong – indeed after discussing this with my girlfriend last night, I suspect rather more strongly I may be wrong. But you have yet to actually address my assertions. Instead you are throwing cultures that developed out of other cultures and very strangely, you bring up Buddhism, which was never a culture in itself – rather a spiritualism that developed out of a relatively rigid and in many ways authoritarian religion/spiritualism that was the foundation for it’s society at the time. What that has to do with primitive state development or protohuman ancestors, I really don’t get – for that matter I don’t understand where the Indus rive valley fits, but whatever.

  61. #61 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    Dammit, I failed to mention why I found it so amusing that you mentioned Atlantis…

    This episode of Stargate Atlantis came up while Juniper and I were discussing this topic. Namely we were discussing the notion that if it were possible to come up with an experiment to determine whether or not it would be possible for protohuman type populations to develop without religious inclinations, would it be ethical to perform any experiments that would help make that determination. Being a huge scifi geek, I am perfectly content with discussing hypothetical situations that are so exceedingly improbable, as to be pretty much impossible. And having such a brilliant, beautiful GF, I am increasingly inclined to discuss hypotheticals that are exceedingly distasteful, because discussing them does not imply endorsement.

    In the interest of disclosure, Gregory Benford’s novel Cosm also came up in that discussion. I won’t link to it, because then this comment would probably get eaten…

    As for the ethical concerns, I am going to email Dr. Freeride, because whether or not she deigns to respond, I am thinking she would find the ethical dilemma rather amusing…

  62. #62 VolcanoMan
    July 13, 2009

    If death avoidance was not part of the religious package, religion would be as easily reject by theists as they reject a belief in alien abductions.

    Do you really think it’s this? Wishful thinking? Letting their fear of death allow for an irrational belief in otherwise mostly rational lives? I mean, the crowd that keeps foisting “Pascale’s Wager” on us as if an omniscient God can’t tell the difference between true belief and professed belief are obviously in it for the immortality, but I still think that if immortality was taken off the table you would still see a religious majority on Earth. I think the sticking point is more subtle – our planet has seen plenty of human design and human arrogance, the self-aggrandizing desire to make our mark on the world. Civilisations have risen and fallen, but at the root of these cycles are the individuals, small and insignificant. People fear that these trivialities are all there is, that nobody is in control, that without a divinity to keep us honest, to love us, a divinity to whom we are children (as we have children whom we love), our lives will have no meaning beyond the human, a horrible prospect. The belief that we aren’t the top of the food chain offers us a chance for humility and a short-cut to morality. I think most people have the innate knowledge that they are mere grains of sand, easily eroded away…the religious convince themselves that their only chance at true meaning is to obey a deity and be rewarded, in this life or a potential immortal future.

    And don’t think this doesn’t make the hardship of life easier to handle. Many atheists who have been religious (including myself) can attest that you feel something as a believer, a sense of calm, of place, of purpose. It is motivating, addictive, and whether immortality is part of the package or not, a very attractive way to live.

    A far more difficult way to live is to strive to improve the human condition so that meaning originating within us and the physical world in which we live can motivate people. We don’t need a god to fill that gap. Humility is possible in the context of the vast and almost entirely unexplored and unknown universe. Morality is possible through mutual respect and by working toward common goals for the benefit and enrichment of all. The extreme believers would say that we are making ourselves into gods, but all we are doing is accepting a godless reality. And there is a difference.

    I still think that a godless worldview can be attractive to people who are rational enough to remain undecided about their belief in the supernatural, and there are enough of these people to convince without worrying about the committed religious. This is a long road – 200 years ago unbelief was virtually unheard of. Who knows where we’ll be in another 200 years?

  63. #63 Nathan Myers
    July 13, 2009

    DuWayne: I only mentioned Atlantis because you said you would only accept evidence of civilizations that necessarily left no records. (The exclamation mark was there because you’re supposed to gasp whenever Atlantis is first mentioned.) There was a real civilization in northern South America that might qualify, but we don’t know its name, never mind whether it had religion. Of course it might have been preceded by another civilization we don’t know about, and thus be disqualified.

    Since discussing matters (well, “discussing”) with your girlfriend myself, we agree that you may be wrong too, but I’m not completely sure what about. She and I may need to, er, discuss it some more.

    Really, despite Robert’s assertion, religion is not an attempt at understanding the universe. It’s a means of social control. When you need a seasonal labor force or a concentration of social power, religion has always been the most efficient way to achieve it. Nowadays we all worship money, and it still works exactly as it always has, with no hint of cosmology or personification involved. Do you believe in money?

  64. #64 The Science Pundit
    July 13, 2009

    Nowadays we all worship money

    Define worship. By the way, are you one of those Venus Project anarchists? Also, you seem to be saying that money is means of social control. I’m sorry, but that’s like saying that the family car is a means to control your teenaged children. Nobody here is denying that money or religion can be used as a means of social control, but that’s hardly what they’re about. Money (or something just like it) is necessary to value goods and services whenever there is a division of labor. It’s as old as civilization. Religion is first and foremost about having a sense of belonging. Secondly, it’s about having answers and understanding of the world we find ourselves in.

    Do you believe in money?

    That’s just a bizarre question. I have no idea what you’re trying to get at.

  65. #65 Nathan Myers
    July 13, 2009

    SP: “Are you one of those….?” Hm. Are you one of those Capricorns? Capricorns are especially status-conscious and money-gr… er, money-oriented. (I get to say that, I’m supposed to be one.) Why do you list your astrological sign in your “Science Pundit” blogger profile, anyway?

    Seriously, if you are hoping for a civil discussion, “are you one of those…?” is very poor way indeed to start. At your age you know that, so your rudeness must be intended. Evidently I touched a nerve. I wasn’t even talking to you, but I guess you answered the question. I won’t be needing your Capricornian opinion any anything else, although of course you remain free to offer it.

  66. #66 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    I only mentioned Atlantis because you said you would only accept evidence of civilizations that necessarily left no records.

    I said no such thing – not even close. I asked you to point out one single cradle of civilization state – i.e. a state that rose from non-state based cultures, that was not a theocracy. Hell, you could even point out a single non-state culture that was non-religious (including ancestor worship) and I would concede the point. Where from that you got “civilizations that necessarily left no records,” is rather confusing.

    If you are talking about developing protohuman cultures, I am rather confused, because I daresay that these populations weren’t civilizations, they were developing cultures. And at their earliest origins, the only record we have is the fossil record with a smattering of primitive tools. As they began developing language, which was quite likely pictographic in nature, we have a little more – but not much. However it is reasonable to surmise from the evidence of very early cohesive cultures, that they had religious/spiritual systems that, contrary to your contradiction of Robert, were very much developed as explanations for how the world functions. While in all likelihood they developed into social controls rather quickly, egalitarian societies had minimal needs for external social controls. Survival necessitated cooperation and basic systemic reciprocity.

    Since discussing matters (well, “discussing”) with your girlfriend myself, we agree that you may be wrong too, but I’m not completely sure what about. She and I may need to, er, discuss it some more.

    And you’re the asshole lecturing someone about civil discussion? Give me a fucking break, you pathetic piece of shit.

    Really, despite Robert’s assertion, religion is not an attempt at understanding the universe. It’s a means of social control.

    The two aren’t mutually exclusive you fucking moron. Why do you think it has been such an effective means of social control? That would be because it provided explanations for how the universe works. It was also as effective as it was, because as often, if not considerably more often than not, the people exploiting religion for the authority it offered believed in it themselves. How effective a leader can be if not only the led believed s/he had a divine right to lead, but the leader also believed that their rule was divinely inspired.

    Nowadays we all worship money, and it still works exactly as it always has, with no hint of cosmology or personification involved. Do you believe in money?

    What a truly bizarre statement and ridiculously stupid question to cap it off. I most certainly do not worship money. I accept the social utility and necessity of money, if one wishes to function in a society, but that is not the worship of money, any more than my recognition of the social utility and necessity of laws implies that I worship the law.

    So you have gone from a rather precarious epistemological position that was far more complicated than it needed to be, coupled with a overly simplistic statement about the necessity of religion in “generation zero,” which concept, it should be noted is fallacious on it’s face – headlong into ignoring my actual argument – which may or may not be correct, to argue that not all cradle of civilization states were theocratic, while failing to list one and throwing Buddhism into the equation for some unknown reason – on into implying magical thinking on my part – still ignoring my actual argument – until you finally show you simply don’t understand my argument, get upset about it and decide to make rather vile implications about my girlfriend and finish with the absurd notions that religion has never been about a way to understand the universe and the idea that recognition of social utility = worship. And of course we can’t forget that after you make some extremely uncivil comments about my girlfriend, you accuse someone else of being less than civil.

    So I hope you understand and take it personally, when I say that you are not only a complete fucking moron, you’re an obnoxious asshole to boot.

  67. #67 Jason Thibeault
    July 13, 2009

    DuWayne: I wouldn’t take the crap about your girlfriend personally, it became relatively evident after the Atlantis tangent that Nathan was no longer interested in actually discussing the topic at hand. He can’t argue the topic adequately so he resorts to getting your hackles up to throw you off your game.

  68. #68 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    I know Jason. And note, I didn’t actually swear at him all that much and it took that for me to start.

    Yay me!!! I’m becoming increasingly civil with each passing day. Though definitely not too civil. If I get a chance, I am going to write a relatively uncivil post here soon…

  69. #69 The Science Pundit
    July 13, 2009

    Nathan,

    I was contemplating whether I should respond to you, but then DuWayne chimed in and pretty much said everything I was thinking. I’ll only add that I had no idea that my profile listed my astrological sign. It’s probably the default; I have no plans to change it since I really don’t care.

  70. #70 Jason Thibeault
    July 13, 2009

    I was just thinking Blogger might just calculate your sign and Chinese year if you put in your age details, as a sort of way to show people info about you, without actually showing the age proper. I wouldn’t know though, as I don’t have a Blogger profile.

  71. #71 omar
    July 13, 2009

    So, if I understand you correctly, if a person has a faith-based understanding of any aspect of the natural scientific world, they are not a New Atheist and they are not an Accomodationist. But what then is their classification, sir?

  72. #72 Bill James
    July 13, 2009

    “…But what then is their classification, sir?”

    Suspect.
    :)

  73. #73 Nathan Myers
    July 13, 2009

    DuWayne: You brought your girlfriend into this. My remarks were as civil as yours; ask her. If you can’t handle internet levity, you’re really in the wrong place. Phony pique, like the phony hilarity that preceded it, must seem like a good way to get yourself out of a hole, so go for it, I guess, if it works.

    But it doesn’t, on me. It was you who identified the Harappans as far, far too (“fucking”, I think you said) derived to serve as an example of an interestingly atheistic society. Since every culture that was not so derived necessarily predates literacy, little is left that we know anything substantial about. Hence, Atlantis, in effect.

    I didn’t ask if you worship money, I asked if you believe in it. If you have a different opinion about the functions of religion and money in societies than I do, you are free to express it. Rancor is not necessary, unless you’re trying to hide something. If you don’t understand why I mentioned Buddhist empires, you may simply ask, although as I noted it’s moot.

    So, where are we? An assertion that everything will be understood by somebody someday, as support for atheism; a demurral, with call for better support than that, followed ultimately by primate aggressive posturing. Why do I not hold out much hope for humanity to understand everything there is?

    I doubt human supremacy, and am atheist. Ipso facto, faith in ultimate human supremacy is not a necessary precursor to atheism. You may believe whatever you want, but at some point it becomes religion again, and then you’re right back where you started. I’m off that treadmill.

    Jason: Please try to keep up.

  74. #74 Jason Thibeault
    July 13, 2009

    Insufficient information, Omar. If this person is also an atheist, then they are an atheist. Otherwise, they are theist. (A tautology.) Lots of people think magically about lots of things without necessarily falling into these definitions, you see.

    So far, the definitions are:

    Accomodationist — one who is an atheist but believes atheists should not confront religious folks about their worldviews and must defer to these religious folks anyplace the religious folks’ faith conflicts with science. Used as an epithet.

    New Atheist — an atheist who is unwilling to defer to religious folks anyplace the religious folks’ faith conflicts with science. Used as an epithet.

    It must be noted that both categories are defined by being atheist and pro-science, however the “New Atheists” are “in-your-face” and “atheist-ing it up in front of everyone”. Compare / contrast with publicly-out homosexuals.

  75. #75 Jason Thibeault
    July 13, 2009

    Nobody here said that humans *will* understand everything there is, Nathan. I believe many of us even conceded that neither we nor our descendants will ever understand everything in this universe. But to say that anything in this universe is prima facie incomprehensible is short-sighted and probably wrong without any sort of evidence. Again, you’re the one making the positive assertion that there exists something that is destined to be a mystery forever. Please, postulate something that might fit your criteria, so that when / if it is ever understood, you are proven wrong (to our great^n grandkids).

    I look at it like a video game — it’s possible to play through your average video game and beat it, without getting 100% of the items or getting the “perfect ending”. We life-forms could exhaust ourselves through this iteration of the universe and never get 100% completion of the body of knowledge.

    But that’s not to say that the other remaining percentage is impossible to know — just because we never managed to do it, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You’re the one saying it is impossible to know some things. There’s a huge difference between “it’s impossible to know this thing” and “we life-forms might not ever figure it out before game over”.

    Do try to keep up with the rest of us. I’m tired of having to jog back and point you in the right direction. This is the second or third time (I can’t be bothered to scroll up and count) I’ve explained this really simple point, and you’ve misconstrued my arguments or totally missed the point. And while you’re at it, you might want to avoid conflating a sidebar about someone’s loved one and the conversation they had on a related topic, with some form of debate tactic that you can then attack by employing your flawed understanding of levity. I doubt XKCD would concur, no matter what they say about trolls: http://xkcd.com/493/

  76. #76 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    Why yes Nathan, when I mentioned discussing this with my girlfriend, I should have expected you to make offensive remarks about her. As for asking her – she seemed to take them the same way I did.

    It was you who identified the Harappans as far, far too (“fucking”, I think you said) derived to serve as an example of an interestingly atheistic society.

    They were not an original state, like the Egyptians, Sumerians, Incas, Maya, Aztecs, etc. There were other relatively localized states that predated them by thousands of years – many of which, btw, left enough of a record for us to know a lot about them. Nor were the Hrappans atheistic – there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that they had religious inclinations, though they were likely far more personal in nature.

    I am not denying in the least that the Indus river valley people weren’t an interesting society and notably because not only religion, but centralized authority didn’t seem to play a significant role in their society and because they also were quite advanced – far moreso than most or all of their contemporaries. But that doesn’t change the fact that they were derived. They didn’t move to statehood out of more “primitive” social/cultural constructs such as band level, tribal or chiefdom level societies. And therefore don’t change the fact that every state that did rise to state level society from more “primitive” social constructs, was a theocracy.

    Rancor is not necessary, unless you’re trying to hide something.

    You’re a fucking shithead who claimed to “discuss” things with my girlfriend, as though you even know her and implying more than “discussing” things with her. Rancor is inevitable when you show that not only are you too fucking stupid to actually understand what I am actually getting at, but that this fact bothers you so, that your only recourse is to make nasty comments about my girlfriend.

    I didn’t ask if you worship money, I asked if you believe in it.

    No, you made the assertion that “we” worship money and asked if I believe in it. I responded to the assertion as well as the question. Apparently reading comprehension really isn’t your strong suit.

    An assertion that everything will be understood by somebody someday, as support for atheism;

    Damn, that reading comprehension got you again. My exact wording was that I thought it exceedingly unlikely that everything will be understood by somebody someday, but that your assertion that it is impossible was an assertion of faith. I conceded after you explained, that the idea made more sense and that it was only epistemologically precarious and much simpler to just say that the fact that there are things we don’t understand does not imply that a god must have made it happen.

    The sad thing is, I am all about having a rational and interesting conversation about the role of religion in the development of language and culture of our protohuman ancestors. I happen to believe it likely that religious/spiritual inclinations played an essential role in said development and that that development would not be possible without those religious inclinations. I also made it clear that I am far from certain of this and would be happy to hear arguments to the contrary. And I would. I happen to think this is a fascinating topic and would love to have someone throw hypothetical social development at the protohuman level, into primitive human cultures and even to the development of state level societies.

    But instead of providing an interesting argument, you throw much younger societies at me and even younger spiritual constructs and tell me I am wrong. Hell, I would have been happy being told you think I’m wrong, but either have to think about how culture could have developed sans religion, or even simply said you’re not sure how, you just don’t buy the notion it was essential. And when it became apparent you had nothing, instead of either admitting as much, or just bowing out, you need to make implications about my girlfriend? My seven year old is more mature than that.

    It’s neither mine, nor my girlfriends fault, that you’re too fucking stupid to comprehend English and/or the argument I was actually making. So don’t blame us for finding you an offensive little git, when you act like one in an attempt to hide your blatant fucking stupidity.

  77. #77 VolcanoMan
    July 13, 2009

    Wow, are things always so fucking heated around here? This is exactly the argument Greg was making in the first place! The world is an increasingly nasty place and its rational people, although naturally fractious and irritable it seems, need to come to common understanding and present a unified message of intelligent discourse, robust information, and moral superiority.

    Back on track, Nathan, all we are saying (and Greg made this point very clearly way back in comment #59) that while we will NEVER know everything there is to know, there is nothing unknowable. Just because we won’t understand something doesn’t mean it functions in a way that we couldn’t understand, given the right tools of observation, the right time frame, etc. All of the evidence from discoveries made over the millenia suggest this is the case. The alternative hypothesis would be that there are things (for example, an event) that are fundamentally unknowable, beyond any potential human observation (they could happen right in front of us and no tool we could ever develop, even given millions of years of advancing technology could observe them), requires evidence. We have been, for the purposes of this discussion, considering this universe only, but as Greg mentioned, even if said event happened in another universe, it may still be knowable should there be a way to predict the nature of other universes, and observe models thereof.

    What type of phenomenon would be beyond knowledge?

  78. #78 Andrew
    July 13, 2009

    It would be a good idea for this conversation to refocus. Perhaps people who have read the Mooney/Kirshenbaum book could make specific remarks about specific things in it?

  79. #79 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    The world is an increasingly nasty place and its rational people, although naturally fractious and irritable it seems, need to come to common understanding and present a unified message of intelligent discourse, robust information, and moral superiority.

    LOLWTF?

    What you don’t seem to understand, Volcanoman, is that there isn’t some common understanding and never will be. The fact that we happen to agree that religion is a bad idea, does not imply any sort of common understanding – many of us think religion is a bad thing for very different reasons in the first place.

    Take the rather heated interaction between Nathan and myself – whichever one of us might be right, we absolutely do not have a common understanding and given the general tenor that our exchange took, it is unlikely that we ever will. If we do come to a common understanding of the issue we’re discussing here, it won’t be because of each other – I don’t generally find myself deciding to agree with assholes who talk smack and I doubt he tends to decide suddenly he agrees with people who call him a complete and utter fucking moron. So if we ever do find ourselves on common ground in this, it will be because others convinced one or both of us that another position is the correct one.

    And a lack of religious belief is not a reasonable foundation on which to build any unified message, nor is it inherently a precursor to intelligent discourse. Like I said, people decide that religion is bad, or that they simply don’t believe, for a vast array of reasons – not all of them intelligent and by definition not unified.

    Chris Mooney, for example, is not religious because he grew up without religion. He was never inundated with Faith and therefor it is perfectly natural for him to be an atheist. Me on the other hand – I struggled and fought for the vast majority of my life to desperately cling to the remnants of the very profound, very deep seated, absolute Faith of my childhood. It was only after a nearly thirty year odyssey through Faith and conflicting reason, that I finally lost the war of attrition and became an atheist. It took even longer and was only after my interactions with people who were damaged even more than I was by Faith and then with people who’s experience was far less intense but just as nefarious, that I came to believe that religious indoctrination of children is inherently abusive and moreover, that it was intensely abusive to me personally.

    Chris Mooney, OTOH, hates it when people say the sorts of things I said in my last sentence. Comfortable enough position to take, when one has never experienced the abusive nature of religious indoctrination. And you think that I am even capable of joining a unified message with Chris, or anyone else who believes it would be better if people with opinions such as mine, kept them to ourselves?

    And quite frankly (and honestly no offense intended), you can take your moral superiority and shove it up your ass. Atheism does not make anyone morally superior to anyone else, nor does theism make anyone morally inferior to anyone else. I know a whole hell of a lot of people I would judge morally superior to others – and religion has absolutely nothing to do with that judgment. There are a lot of people, theists and otherwise, who follow a moral framework that is similar to my own and many of them manage better than I do. There are also a lot of people who behave and even fundamentally conduct their lives in a way that goes hard against the most important aspects of my moral framework – many of them theists and many of them atheists.

    Never mind that those folks feel quite the same about me and my moral framework. Though that does shoot us back to the last point. Because if I can’t show a unified front with Chris Mooney, who in spite of our significant difference of opinion is probably living a lifestyle that is closely aligned to my moral framework, can I be expected to be unified with someone who’s moral framework is fundamentally different than my own? I disagree with Chris and cannot come to a consensus with him on some fundamental issues, but I rather like Chris and would probably enjoy hanging out with him and having dinner.

    I cannot say the same about an atheist who believes that social safetynets are an infringement of their rights, that torture is ok, if it is making us safer, that the rule of law can be thrown under the bus, when push comes to shove – I could go on and on. People like this I wouldn’t want to have dinner with, even if they happen to have virtually identical views to my own on religion.

    But the bottom line, absolutely fundamentally fatal flaw to your line of reasoning here, is in the functional fulfillment of this goal. Because while I am sure that there are people who have made positive changes in their lives, due to the way Chris Mooney deals with religion, it wasn’t a Chris Mooney who helped push me past the final blocks. Likewise, there are people who appreciate my condor and general attitude about Faith – people who are, or recently were theists, who find themselves rather intrigued by my attitude and where it comes from – they, like me, are unlikely to make the choices we would like them to, because of what a Chris Mooney – or for that matter, a PZ Myers has to say about it.

    There are a lot of assholes in the world, who are assholes in much the same way that I am an asshole. And guess what? They appreciate assholes like themselves and the way we put things.

    I like you and appreciate your position – I really do. But I have no interest in your homogenized, “Kumbaya,” campfire fucking bullshit. We need all of us, being who we are, to affect positive change. Because when the positive change in question is an end to religion and lack of religion is the only common thread, homogenization isn’t going to get us very far.

  80. #80 Stephanie Z
    July 13, 2009

    To add to DuWayne’s point about diversity among atheists, I grew up without religion, much the same way Mooney did. However, for reasons unrelated to any effect religion has had on me, I tend to agree with DuWayne on most of the points in this discussion. I’ve not been nearly as kind to Chris’s positions and tactics, mostly because he’s trying to assert an authority he hasn’t earned and promises not to use well.

  81. #81 VolcanoMan
    July 13, 2009

    Your position, DuWayne, is valid, insofar as given the different paths and struggles we all have taken and fought, we approach the problem of affecting positive change from different places. But we are a virtually insignificant minority nonetheless, and that is why I cannot assume the “fuck all y’all” attitude.

    There is no hope in your message. No optimism. No chance for the rational few to make a large enough impact on society to have a chance at attenuating our species-wide suicide. Changing peoples’ minds requires changing ourselves, making sure that we few are examples for the rest, moral not because a GOD gave us rules but because we feel accountable to ourselves and our species (not to mention to the billions of years of slow change required to reach this point). The only way our impact will resonate throughout the future of humanity is if we approach the problem more-or-less united.

    Incidentally, when I say united, I don’t mean homogenised. Not everyone will contribute in the same way, and we most certainly don’t have to agree on everything. But the arguments we do have should be secondary to the primary goal of being role models for an idea that defines us. Religion is about the big questions, the identity stuff, why are we here, what happens when we die? Our worldview is a legitimate and equi-moral (you’re right, there is nothing inherently superior about our position, but highlighting the fact that there is nothing inferior is crucial) way to approach those questions.

    I know that if superstition dominates in the majority of our civilisation there is very little chance of us advancing much more as a species, in any way. Squabbling about petty differences because we are atheists for different reasons isn’t going to make our position more attractive to the significant portion of our society that is undecided on the issue of faith vs. rationality. Rather than fight that fight, over and over, about those minute differences of opinion, you might as well throw your hands up in the air and give up, because we will fail without some unified answer to the religious message.

  82. #82 DuWayne
    July 13, 2009

    You’re totally missing the point Volcanoman. Let me ask you an important question here…What exactly is so very much more hopeful or optimistic about your position, in regards to my own?

    More importantly, how exactly is your position of unity going to change people who have my fuckallya attitude? How do you intend on changing people who have the more mocking attitude of a PZ Myers? How do you figure this is going to play with people who really appreciate Chris Mooney’s demur and respectful to a fault, approach? What about the folks who really could give a shit?

    We are not a unified people. Why do I have to fall in line with some grand master plan, to show the people around me that atheists can be just as moral as anyone else? I do that by default, on a daily fucking basis – just by being who I am. And while there is simply no question that my attitude turns some people off (because yes, I am just as much who I am online, when I am not), there is also no question that I have had a very positive impact on people I interact with. Whether it is kindly telling the guy I just gave five bucks to so he can eat, that I don’t believe in gods and don’t need their blessings, or it is going on a semi-deranged rant (partly induced by changes in my meds) and shouting rather loudly at a nutjob fucking asshole that he can take his faith in jesus, his faith in bill (AA founder) and his faith in satan and shove it up his ass…

    I don’t need to join some club or change who I am or how I act, to affect change in people around me. Gave a guy a fiver and he decides to eat his lunch with me and ask me why I gave him the five, if I don’t believe in gods. Got a hella lot of scowls for my angry rant, but also ended up in a lot of conversations with my fellow coffee shop denizens subsequent to that happening (it ended up getting talked about for a while) – many of which were very positive discussions. And those are two small examples.

    So what exactly do you think I need to do here? Pretend that I agree with people I don’t? Pretend that I’m not a generally nice guy, who is capable of being a raging fucking asshole when it seems to be the thing? Pretend that I think other atheists are something I firmly believe they’re not, because us atheists have to stick together?

    Does it not make a hell of a lot more sense for me to deal with the sorts of people that I am pretty good at dealing with, letting you deal with the sorts you’re good with and onward? Meanwhile, I’m just going to continue calling fucking morons when I see them, whether they are atheist or theist, gay or straight, ugly smelly and gross, clean and fresh or just plain, regular old stoopid…

  83. #83 Stephanie Z
    July 13, 2009

    VolcanoMan, the substitution of one baseless authority for another is not a petty issue. Also, don’t be fooled by what you see. The fact that we fight with each other doesn’t mean we won’t fight together against a common enemy. It just means our skills will be honed.

  84. #84 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    DuWayne: Please try to calm yourself. I didn’t make nasty comments about your gf; you inferred nastiness from my lighthearted banter. Ad hominems really don’t help matters, and they set rather a poor example for little Jason.

    I didn’t say it was you who insisted everything would be understood by somebody, eventually; it was somebody else, who has probably stopped following this thread since you started using abusive language. Me, I have chosen not to be distracted by it, but I doubt Greg, our host, likes it much. If you have any respect for Greg, you will stop.

    The Aztecs are deeply derived. Mayans too. Olmecs too. Likewise every civic society we have any record of. We know practically nothing about the early Egyptians and Sumerians, never mind whoever preceded them, e.g. anybody who built with wood instead of stone or clay. There were huge civilizations in the Mississippi and Amazon river valleys only five centuries ago, and about all we know of them is where they chose to pile up dirt, and we almost missed noticingthem. Of any such society eight times as old that didn’t move much dirt, there would be no trace.

    “We” is ambiguous about inclusion, particularly when used collectively. If you didn’t feel it ought to include you, then perforce it didn’t include you. Regardless, money worship is very common in the U.S.

    But back to the topic at hand. Can a civic society arise de novo without religion? Nobody knows. Has one ever? Nobody knows, the end. Can we have civic society without religion? Yes, there are lots of Asian examples.

    Will everything be understood someday? I choose not to assume so. You can have faith if that’s how you’re wired. Would the existence of processes humans can’t understand imply God? No, so it doesn’t matter if there are things we don’t come to understand. The end.

    It still comes back to, “what and how much can we do about [X] without risk of provoking the theists to kill us?”, whatever [X] may be. The neo-atheist answer, according to some, is the same as to the answer to the age-old question, “is your kitchen floor clean enough to eat off of?”: “try it and see”.

  85. #85 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Wow. Nathan, you’ve finally gone beyond telling Greg what he should be doing with his own blog to telling other people how to behave on Greg’s behalf? That’s astoundingly rich.

    It’s more rich coming from someone who can’t be bothered to apologize for insulting the lovely and dear Juniper. (The insult not being that she would fuck you, but that she would fuck you.) And someone who can’t disagree with someone without insulting them.

    If you’re so in need of manners to police, attend to your own, little troll.

  86. #86 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    SZ: Have you ever asked Greg if he likes you trashing his comment board with name-calling? Surely you can do that all you like on your own blog.

    Juniper, if you’re reading this, I meant you no disrespect. But it must have been fun for you to watch DW sputter.

  87. #87 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    About a week and a half ago, Greg and I were having breakfast in a noisy coffee shop before his first panel at SkepchickCon. He mentioned that one of things that most people really don’t understand about bloggers is how much they communicate behind the scenes.

    He made a similar point during the panel, talking about blogging communities and how useful they are. One of the things he said was, “Sometimes I’ll see something in the comments that I should respond to. Then I think, ‘Nah. Stephanie will be on top of that one.’”

    In other words, yes.

    And what kind of insane view of love do you have to have to say that to Juniper?

  88. #88 VolcanoMan
    July 14, 2009

    Nathan, for the nth time, NOBODY is saying that everything WILL be understood (that’s a ridiculous idea), just that everything is understandable.

    Stephanie, you mentioned baseless authorities, but I think you misunderstand what I’m saying. There is a line between thinking a certain way and acting on those thoughts. Individuals should be free to reach any conclusions about what matters to them, and act accordingly (or not)…unless such actions involve forcing other people to think what you think, or persecuting them for holding alternative ideas. I value freedom as much as the next person, and of course there will be a great diversity amongst atheists, in both thought and action. Even among the religious, there are varying degrees of how much mental contradiction one can handle, from applying your religion to your entire life, to being completely rational except on Sundays for a couple hours. But seriously – when the irrational masses outnumber you 100 to 1, some support is always nice. Raising awareness is all about getting people comfortable with the idea of “confessing” to their own atheism. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little cohesion.

    In the end, this isn’t some big thought exercise with no consequences, and that’s what concerns me. Religion has a profound effect in creating and binding communities that we don’t see in its absence. But I don’t think we need a “grand master plan”, just a rough consensus to represent the worldview that defines us, atheism, with integrity. Perhaps I was wrong – the details don’t need to be common to everyone, and I certainly agree that the methods used to convey our message can be as diverse as we all are. DuWayne, you are absolutely correct – play to your strengths, deal with the people you’re good at dealing with, and I will do the same. Understand, my vehemence here is in reaction to the daunting challenge we face.

    Incidentally, I have a lot of respect for both PZ Myers and Chris Mooney, and I think both their methods have a place in advancing atheism. As the title of the post implies, we are still on the same side, even if we disagree on how to act.

  89. #89 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    SZ: Or in even other words: No, you did not, in fact, ask him that. For questions about love, you should ask somebody near you.

    VM: To distinguish “can understand” from “will understand given infinite time” is academic hairsplitting. The burden of proof for the assertion that everything can be understood, sight unseen, is, like any extraordinary claim, on the claimant. Of course it can’t be demonstrated. Fortunately, there is no need to make such a claim. It’s equivalent to asserting infallibility, and that’s for the theists.

  90. #90 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Right, Nathan, I apologize. I was crediting you with reading comprehension again. To unpack my prior comment: Of course I have asked him. We’ve been in contact on this and other matters for quite some time. Not only that, but I recently received confirmation that the answer hasn’t changed. Also, I have no questions about the nature of love or even whether you’re fucked up. I’m quite confident about both.

    As for extraordinary claims (different topic now, Nathan), an extraordinary claim is one that is not an extrapolation from the data at hand. Humanity has demonstrated a remarkable ability to develop tools that have allowed us to investigate and describe parts of the universe that were previously unknowable. Provided we survive long enough, there is no good reason to hypothesize that this will stop. No faith, no infallibility required.

  91. #91 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    What is it exactly that we don’t understand now, and at what level? There really is not much other than a bunch of details. Since we are talking about what we don’t understand, can someone specify please?

  92. #92 Paul D.
    July 14, 2009

    And here I am questioning the term “moderated atheism” because there is no such thing.

    I think there is a distinct difference among some opinions here. Atheism is often thought of as non-theism plus activism, or non-theism plus anti-religion.

  93. #93 DuWayne
    July 14, 2009

    I suspect we are now pretty much there Volcanoman. I just want to make myself crystal clear on something. I absolutely agree with you that this is a daunting task with rather dire consequences. I have written repeatedly about the need to dramatically reduce the impact of religion and magical/fuzzy thinking on society. I wrote much on that when I was still a theist and that has only intensified with becoming as atheist. I have lived firsthand the consequences of such thinking and not just in regards to faith.

    I think it’s important however, to understand that not all atheists even agree with us on religion. One of the biggest issues I have with Chris Mooney, for example, is that he firmly believes in “live and let live.” His goal is science education and the general promotion of science. He has stated categorically and in direct response to a post I wrote at my own blog, that he doesn’t believe we should respect the religious beliefs of others, except when they come into conflict with science. And again, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot that I appreciate about Chris and given the experience of my own brother and several other people I know, I am quite confident that I would really enjoy meeting Chris in person – we have a lot of shared values. But I am never going to buy into his views on religion.

    And to clarify further, I am not just talking about minor differences in the way various atheists deal with religion or in how we feel about it. When it comes to atheism and religion itself, Chris’ position is flat irreconcilable from ours. And when you get into facets of life that have nothing to do with religion, there are a lot of atheists out there who’s values are fundamentally and irreconcilably different from my own. Even though many of them have very much the same attitude about religion that I do, I cannot ally myself with people who, according to my own moral framework, are inherently immoral people.

    But to reiterate the most important point – I have no illusions that this is a pointless thought exercise with no real world consequences. I know full well what the stakes are and I am quite aware what we are up against in dealing with them. And that is exactly why I think it is critically important – essential – for us to be who we are and not to change who we are or fake anything. That is going to leave a lot of people in the dust. I even accept that those atheists I mentioned, the ones who I believe are absolutely immoral – they have a role to fill too. Because I have no illusions that there aren’t a lot of theists like them, who quite often believe that atheism is homogenized and that there aren’t atheists who share their values.

    Nathan -

    Have you actually talked to Greg about how he feels? Because Stephanie’s not alone in having done so, though I have yet to have the pleasure of actually sharing a meal with Greg or meeting him in person. Greg is a friend of mine and I told Greg that if I ever say anything that bothers him, to please let me know. And guess what – he’s never emailed me or dropped a comment, telling me not to be such an asshole. Do you honestly think that he’s just incapable of doing so?

    You also seem to have an awfully fucked up view of love and relationships. Juniper loves me and is deeply in love with me, as I am with her. What the fuck makes you think that this person who loves me as much as she does, would be amused by any discomfort on my part? What the fuck makes you think that she would be the least bit amused by your offensive, euphemistic implication that she would have any interest in you? Do you have a GF? If you do, do you think that she would find that kind of smack talk the least bit amusing?

    You are nothing but a pathetic piece of shit who doesn’t like to be wrong. You feel the need to belittle people, when you can’t actually respond to them with a coherent argument. And you really have a very serious reading comprehension problem that you might want to work on, before you start going off on the internets. Because I am far from alone in noticing that you don’t seem to have the foggiest clue what the fuck people are actually talking about and seem to love responding from a position of ignorance and outright lack of comprehension.

    And btw, I didn’t just pull my position on the role of religion in the development of culture, out of my pasty beige ass. I’m a reasonably bright guy, but I take my cues on this one from the anthropological record and from such (apparently ignorant) folks as Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins – not to mention a host of others. Can we know absolutely what our protohuman ancestors believed, what role religion played in their development of rudimentary culture? No. But we can extrapolate a great deal from what we do know about very early cultures – and we know a fair amount about a lot of earlier cultures than you are apparently aware of. But you actually did a pretty damned good job of betraying your ignorance, with your statement about “gen 0.” Because here’s a little hint – the very concept of a “gen 0″ is completely incoherent. I understood what you meant (or assumed I did) and not realizing what a fucking moronic asshole you are, I chose to respond to what I thought you meant, rather than calling you on it. Now I’m not so sure.

    But it is all rather moot, because what I am absolutely certain of, is that you are a fucking moron with the social skills of a two year old and I’ve wasted more than enough time on you.

  94. #94 nm
    July 14, 2009

    I like the “boat” analogy but it may be a little more apt if some of the people on the boat were busy carrying out an act of mutiny. Or at least it seems that way given the level of fighting among people you seem to be claiming are all “on the same boat.”

  95. #95 not2religious
    July 14, 2009

    All in the same boat and sinking fast!

  96. #96 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    nm, I can’t help but notice that what you suggest is pretty well exactly what I wrote about in response to this original article on my blog… link is up above. :)

    DuWayne, I couldn’t agree more with your position on why this is important and why we can’t bring ourselves to just accept Mooney’s elbow-throwing. I’m okay with others (like VolcanoMan) thinking that there’s room for both Chris and PZ’s approaches, and there absolutely is, but I don’t feel that any infighting (perpetrated by Mooney by the way, not just with the book but with the framing and the civility arguments) are necessary, productive or even at all useful except to give the religious more ammunition against us. Also, I’m glad you’re the one on the topic of religious development of culture, not me, since I haven’t the research under my belt presently to back up any argument on the topic. I will have to do some, before I can weigh in on anything on your argument thread.

    Ad hominems really don’t help matters, and they set rather a poor example for little Jason.

    Here’s an ad hominem for you — you appear to be incapable of making an argument, period.

    Hmm, wait, no, that’s actually supported by evidence in this thread. You’re really all over the map, so I’m still not using an ad hominem, as I’m attacking the argument, rather than the person. I suppose the possibility is still open that you’re capable of making an argument, but, like your argument that there are things in the universe that are fundamentally impossible to understand, the jury’s still out until you provide an example of one.

    Oh, here’s an ad hominem — you’re an asshole. …No, wait, also supported by evidence, and since we’re not substituting arguments against your claims for insults against your person, it’s still not a true ad hominem — an ad hominem would be “your argument is invalid because you’re an asshole”. In this case, “you’re an asshole” is a separate and distinct thought from counterarguments against your fallacious and ludicrous thinking.

    Stephanie has it exactly right. The burden of proof is on you, since we’re extrapolating from data. So far, in Tim Minchin’s words, “every mystery throughout history has turned out to be not magic”. We have not yet encountered anything unsolvable (nor is it possible to prove something unsolvable), so the reasonable position to take is that everything is solvable given the right tools / person looking at the problem. It is unreasonable to assume this means we’ll achieve 100% on some knowledge completion meter, or that anyone in this thread is arguing such. Nor is it reasonable to assume this means we use some kind of faith that we’ll eventually reach 100% completion, to bolster our atheism, because that’s magical thinking and requires faith, which is what atheists are *not* about. So, at some point, either you ought to walk back some of your claims, and probably admit you were just trolling to annoy the people you can’t out-argue in hopes of exposing a chink in their arguments’ armor, or perhaps you could reread the argument at hand and, as others have pointed out, work on your reading comprehension skills.

  97. #97 The Science Pundit
    July 14, 2009

    @Jason

    Altough I’m pretty sure we all know that everything in your last comment after “Ad hominems really don’t help matters, and they set rather a poor example for little Jason.” was directed at Nathan and not DuWayne, you never did explicitly say you were addressing him.

  98. #98 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    Oops. You’re right, Science Pundit, thanks. Mea culpa.

    I’m sure DuWayne knows I wasn’t going all adhominal on him, though. Wouldn’t make any sense in context of the thread.

  99. #99 DuWayne
    July 14, 2009

    Don’t worry SP, I’ve already got a plan for those fucking Canucks…A multifaceted plan that includes in parts, littering and rather extreme impoliteness. If all else fails, we can always just bump into them, until they go mad from repeatedly apologizing…AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!11!!1!!!!1

    There are even more nefarious plans afoot, but those are the super-secret plans that I can’t talk about here – wouldn’t want to tip off my smarter norther neighbors…

  100. #100 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    I would like people to consider the possibility that this whole ad hominem concept is deeply flawed.

  101. #101 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    In what way, Greg? The way I see it, it’s more that people’s understanding of it is deeply flawed.

    I think it’s a useful logical construction to say that a counter-argument is invalid because it attacks the person rather than the original argument, and it happens often enough that it deserves its own name. The thing is, people see an insult or epithet and immediately think “oh, look, ad hominem.” And that’s wrong.

  102. #102 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    For the record, it was Stephanie who brought up the topic of fucking Juniper; I was writing figuratively, and never imagined DuWayne might… well, never mind. I see that the standard response around here to any technical disagreement is to screech “fucking moron” and “obnoxious asshole” over and over. I hope you’ll all forgive me for not reciprocating, despite that it’s what SZ insists Greg really wants. DuWayne, your Appeals to Authority are second to none, and your screeching must surely overtop the clouds. Jason, please consider yourself the Argument King Forever, and I hope you’ll reveal the flaw in Turing’s Halting Problem proof sometime soon. (Turing, sadly, couldn’t wait.)

    Greg, are you really serious? Nobody has reconciled quantum mechanics with general relativity: the mathematics of string theory is utterly intractable, even assuming it’s close to right, for which no one has a ghost of evidence. Plasma fluid dynamics may be in better theoretical shape, but the mathematics is almost as bad, so it’s hard to tell. Even a regular quantum mechanical calculation is impractical in amazingly simple circumstances. Tropical ecology. Economics. P=?NP. Civil discourse.

    My cousin has insisted for years that he can eat a hundred hot dogs at one sitting, but he’s never actually done it. He can’t understand why we doubt him, although he hasn’t taken up screeching yet.

    My recommendation is that your arguments for atheism shouldn’t depend on scientific omniscience, because you’ll have a hard time demonstrating it in skeptical company. Mine don’t.

  103. #103 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    As an anthropologist I’m prone to entertaining ideas that make a person’s linguistic and inferential reality and the person’s reality-reality hard to separate. You are what you say, you are what you think, you are what you believe.

    There is no doubt that one can formally isolate ideas from the personalities, and that is easier in some areas of thinking than others. But when you look at most of these conversations that is not really what is happening. If you have an idea that is stupid or smart, it makes you a little bit stupid or smart yourself. It is often very difficult to separate the person from the argument.

  104. #104 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    Nobody has reconciled quantum mechanics with general relativity

    Does not count. We know about quantum mechanics and we know about general relativity. Reconciling two theories that don’t conflict is a minor detail, comparatively.

    the mathematics of string theory is utterly intractable, even assuming it’s close to right, for which no one has a ghost of evidence.

    Nonetheless, there is a string theory. More broadly speaking, I’d say that we ‘know’ that dimensionality is important. Details to be worked out.

    Regarding the other things you are talking about. I think you are conflating inability to predict things with knowing things.

  105. #105 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Silly Nathan. The response to a technical disagreement is technical argument. The response to someone who tries to argue a technical disagreement with personal attacks and sneers is to show them how ill-equipped they are to play that game here. I mean, look at you, trying to claim you didn’t say something just because you didn’t use “uncivil” words. Do you really think anyone reading here is that dumb, or even inclined to be that charitable to you at this point? Silly Nathan.

  106. #106 DuWayne
    July 14, 2009

    I’ve already made the argument Nathan, it’s not an appeal to authority to explain the sources I used in developing it. Especially because it was not just specific individuals who happen to have much the same position that I do, but the anthropological record as it stands to date and as I am familiar with it.

    And for the record, I am not being the least bit “shrill,” as you put it. Given the evidence you have provided, I have concluded you’re an ignorant fucking moron, with the social skills of a two year old. And that is not a response to any technical argument – you haven’t made one. That conclusion stems from your juvenile tendency to respond to ideas and arguments you don’t understand, with insults and ignorant ramblings, mixed with some rather offensive implications about my GF. That and your complete lack of reading comprehension.

    Here’s a tip – there isn’t a single person on this thread who has argued that the human capacity to understand the universe, is in any way related to our atheism. In fact the only person who did make that connection was you, with your absurd faith based claim that such understanding is impossible and could never be possible – and that this somehow has something to do with lack of religion. I shall attempt to make it clear even to you …

    You … Are … The … Only … Person … Here … Who … Has … Claimed … That … The … Human … Capacity … For … Understanding … The … Universe … Has … Anything … To … Do … With … Atheism …

  107. #107 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Greg: If you can’t solve the equations, you can’t test your theory because you can’t tell whether it matches experimental results. That’s about as elementary as science gets.

    At the end of the 19th century most naturalists (there were no physicists then) insisted physics had been played out, with nothing left but “details to be worked out”. It was in those details that quantum mechanics and relativity were both found, that overturned everything. Your picture of science being almost played out today is as sad and shortsighted as theirs was then, and as wrong. The details are where everything interesting is.

  108. #108 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    So you’re saying in order to argue that everything in the universe is comprehensible and nothing works by “magic” that’s beyond any mortal’s ken, I have to solve P=NP or the Halting Problem? Seriously? I don’t think so. And the fact that you say that both of those are totally unsolvable sort of reminds me of another “unsolvable” problem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermat%27s_Last_Theorem I don’t go in for math though personally.

    I don’t see where Greg, or anyone in this thread, is even remotely suggesting that science is played out, so I’m guessing that’s that reading comprehension problem again. I totally agree that the details are where everything interesting is — however, I’m not the one arguing that some details are impossible to examine, that’d be you.

  109. #109 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    Nathan, you need to straighten up your argument a bit. Yes, the details are the important part, and they have not been worked out. An overarching theory that links the tiny and the huge will be a major advancement. But consider the difference between us now knowing that such a theory is needed and that it will probably have to do with dimensionality with scientists in, say, 1870, and what they thought about the physical laws.

    Of course, one never knows and that is what makes exciting.

    Sorry I made you sad!

  110. #110 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Greg, the notion of an ad hominem fallacy merely says that pointing out that someone is generally muddle-headed or dishonest (or pointlessly insulting) isn’t enough to make their argument wrong. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look harder at the arguments of people who don’t argue clearly or honestly or shouldn’t send them back to the drawing board at the first flaw instead of digging carefully through everything they say.

    In fact, taking that information into account generally gives us a good idea of where to look. For example, knowing that Nathan is dishonest makes it very easy to go back through his arguments and see all the places where he’s changed his mind about what he’s arguing and what constitutes required evidence for effectively disagreeing with him.

  111. #111 The Science Pundit
    July 14, 2009

    I hope you’ll reveal the flaw in Turing’s Halting Problem proof sometime soon. (Turing, sadly, couldn’t wait.)

    I’m going to assume that you mean that since Turing proved that there are programs that we cannot know whether they will ever halt, hence there are things that are “unknowable” and so Turing proves you right and everyone else wrong. But why go to that length? Why not just say “We can never know the full decimal expansion of π, therefore there are things that are unknowable.”?

    Of course, we will never have the full decimal expansion of π because that would require infinite reources. But it is theoretically knowable (we know how to go about calculating it if we did have infinite resources). We also know a hell of a lot about π, we can calculate it to any arbitrary precision, and even the finite decimal expansion that we do have so far is more than enough to calculate the circumference of the known universe to the closest Planck length.

    The same applies to the Turing Halting Problem. What Turing actually proved was that there exist programs where you could not determine whether or not they would halt in less steps than it would take the program to halt (or not halt). Again, this is a problem of finite resources, not fundamental “unknowability”.

    Unless of course you have a different definition of “unknowable” than the rest of us do.

  112. #112 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Jason: You wrote, just today, “We have not yet encountered anything unsolvable (nor is it possible to prove something unsolvable)“. Turing did prove the Halting Problem is unsolvable, so I suppose “we” have now encountered one. Nobody knows yet whether P=NP; it may be solved someday, it may not; to choose one or the other takes faith I haven’t got. Greg really did write, just today, that of scientific unknowns “there really is not much other than a bunch of details”, echoing eerily those 19th-century naturalists. I didn’t ask you to demonstrate that nothing in the universe “works by magic”, I wouldn’t conflate that with finding everything comprehensible, and I didn’t argue that any details are impossible to examine. Discussions of reading comprehension seem unwise under the circumstances.

    By the way, Greg, if quantum mechanics and general relativity didn’t conflict, there would be no need to reconcile them, and physics departments the world over would not be packed with new-minted string theorists struggling desperately to do it. I don’t doubt that if it’s ever solved it will overturn everything again, and we’ll all be embarrassed as heck about having encouraged Gary Zukav and Deepak Chopra. I was not made sad, because I don’t for a second buy the premise that “there really is not much” left to work out.

    Also, there’s not “a” string theory. There are 10^500+ string theories with no reasoned hope of choosing which might be right, or even of showing that any 10^50 of them, or any at all, is even close. The mathematicians are enjoying themselves, and that’s what seems to matter at the moment. As for where we are compared to scientists in 1870, I’m reminded of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s great-grandfather’s evaluation of Zaphod’s social standing.

  113. #113 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Science Pundit: Ten points for completely failing to understand the significance of Turing’s proof. At least you have lots of company. Care to take on Godel next?

  114. #114 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    Re: ad hominem:

    I would simply argue that it is not always possible to separate the essence or belief system of the person from the argument they are making. A pure attack on a person is obviously not an appropriate way to argue. Taking into account a person’s characterisitics can be appropriate as you point out, Stephanie. (It may be very vital information) And that can go either way, because at some point we need to trust information. Very commonly, a group of people having a discussion will develop group level beliefs that are not rational at all (we saw that at one of the SkepChickCon panels where many in the audience and some on the panel tacitly agreed to vote standarized testing off the island without any actual current or useful information, treating it as a bugaboo. I therefore do not trust that group of people regarding education policy because they are education-morons. ad hominem in that case = good policy)

    There are parallel arguments in the home schooling area (or should I say “homeschooling” area)

  115. #115 Liz
    July 14, 2009

    I think the point here is that we know that there IS a Turin’s proof, not that a given individual can recite it. The fact (if true) that scientists 100 years ago were orders of magnitude dumb about the nature of the universe does not by itself mean that they are now exactly as ignorant. I am a little uneasy with the assumption (which I think Nathan is pushing) that there is a steady state of ignorance that we must always live with.

  116. #116 Greg Laden
    July 14, 2009

    …and physics departments the world over would not be packed with new-minted string theorists struggling desperately to do it….

    Nathan: The point being that there is an ongoing struggle. We know about these things, and this conflict.

    Liz: I agree. I think the steady state of ignorance idea is actually rather brilliant. I may write a blog post on that.

  117. #117 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    I honestly didn’t mean “unsolvable” in the sense of “a mathematical problem that cannot be proven for every set of inputs without crunching the equations manually / in an automated sense”. In the sense of “unsolvable” that I meant, the Halting Problem is one of trying to develop a program that can guess whether or not another program will ever run, and that program must take less cycles than the original to do so. It may be possible to create an algorithm that will guess to a certain degree of accuracy whether or not a given logic-flow will ever end with a given input, but you may stump it in the case of programs that never halt but whose variables always change. However, this may change with the paradigm shift of quantum computing, and it may even be possible to accurately 100% of the time guess whether a given program/input pair will end without having to crunch the program itself to do so. And even if it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean the possibility of creating an AI that can guess at something better than we can, is fundamentally impossible. And even still, even if til the end of time nobody ever proves/disproves the Halting Problem, that does not mean it is a problem that is impossible to untangle. Or maybe someone will figure out that we’re going about it all wrong at the moment, and with a bit of lateral thinking we’ll prove that the problem itself is moot. Like Zeno’s Paradox. You know, not “really” a problem.

    Mathematical models like this make me cringe. Building a better intelligence than our own is a noble goal, because then perhaps that mechanical offspring will have more tools at its disposal with which to discover stuff about the universe. If the Halting Problem is ever solved (e.g. so that one can accurately predict whether the program will end or not), then we’ll have developed a useful tool in the AI field. If not, again, still doesn’t prove that it’s fundamentally impossible to prove or disprove.

  118. #118 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    Additionally, if Turing’s proof turns out to never be overturned, guess what, the fact that a particular mathematical trick is proven impossible also adds to our body of knowledge. Just like, as Science Pundit said, we can’t calculate pi to infinity.

  119. #119 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Liz: I hope you are deucedly uncomfortable with the assumption of a steady state of ignorance. History suggests, rather, exponential increase. This is captured in such aphorisms as “The more we learn, the more questions we have” and “the more we learn, the more we discover how little we know”.

    Turing’s proof is very simple, and easy for anybody to follow with minimal mathematical background. Yet it is the foundation of the whole field of computation theory. If it were as trivial as SP, and now Jason, wish, it would be of no interest. By the way… twenty points, Jason, for making an utterly unrecognizable hash of Turing.

    Greg: There is no conflict. None of this army of string theorists is anywhere close to solving it. Most know they won’t make progress, so they bang away at lemmas of purely mathematical interest; I gather the mathematics is very engaging. The ultimate solution, if it’s ever found, may have nothing to do with string theory, or indeed with dimensionality. All these string theorists might well end up just overspecialized mathematicians.

  120. #120 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    If my shallow understanding of the Halting Problem (as I said, math is not my thing) is somehow getting in the way of you proving that there is some fundamental aspect of the universe that is impossible to discover, please feel free to simply call me an idiot and drop the line of argumentation, then carry on with proving what aspect of the universe is impossible to understand. I just don’t happen to feel that proving that a particular mathematic trick is impossible, is the same as proving that something about the universe is impossible to understand.

  121. #121 That guy from that movie
    July 14, 2009

    Jason, what you are saying is INCONCEIVABLE!

  122. #122 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    Liz: I hope you are deucedly uncomfortable with the assumption of a steady state of ignorance. History suggests, rather, exponential increase. This is captured in such aphorisms as “The more we learn, the more questions we have” and “the more we learn, the more we discover how little we know”.

    Does that mean these things which we discover that we do not understand, didn’t exist before we discovered that we don’t understand them? Those aphorisms do not suggest an increase in ignorance, but an increase in the length of the boundaries of our human knowledge as we grow into understanding more and more of this universe. As in, we were just as ignorant of the existence of those facts that the “new questions” pertain to, before we learned to ask those questions. And after we answer them, we are no longer ignorant of them, and can move on to other topics building on the answers to those questions.

    In the same way that the field of computer theory is predicated on Turing’s proof that the halting problem is impossible to solve (which is by the way an answer to the question “is it possible to ascertain whether a computer program will deliver an answer, before running it to see if it runs infinitely”), answering a question pushes the boundaries out further and gives us new questions to ask and maybe one day answer.

    Again, whether we ever do answer all the questions there are to be asked in the universe is not the argument at hand — you’re saying over and over that it’s impossible to answer certain questions because they’re fundamentally unanswerable and that somehow we’re basing our atheism on the idea that everything will eventually be answered, and neither of these assertions have anything to do with what any of us have been arguing. These assertions come from you, not us.

  123. #123 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    That guy from that movie (Fezzik): yup, sounds a lot like Nathan. That word — I do no’ think it means wha’ you think it means.

  124. #124 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Greg: Sorry, that must have been confusing. Yes, there is a conflict between quantum and relativity models, and we happen to know about it. A little more than a century ago it couldn’t even have been expressed; at the time, Newtonian mechanics just needed some little details worked out. You seem to be betting that the 20th was the last century in which any fundamental verities will be abandoned. Historically, that’s a very poor bet indeed.

  125. #125 Juniper Shoemaker
    July 14, 2009

    Juniper, if you’re reading this, I meant you no disrespect.

    Why, Nathan, of course you did. Even if your disrespect merely entails a grotesquely quaint and flatly unfunny attempt to get my boyfriend’s goat.

    You decide to treat DuWayne’s conversational references to me in comments about other topics altogether as an invitation to make lewd insinuations about someone you don’t know from Eve. Then you blame DuWayne for your decision to do this. You get called out for your rudeness by several commenters. Then you blame them for your behavior by rebuking them– not only for not adhering to your capricious rules of what does and does not constitute “internet levity”, but also for possessing the reading comprehension to correctly deduce that you were making lewd insinuations in the first place.

    You know, insinuations. Like, when you don’t actually have to explicitly state what you mean, but it’s unmistakably clear to everyone what you meant anyway. Language allows for tricky conveyances of messages like that. So does that odd neurobiological phenomenon called intuition. Who’s the one who should get off the internet, again?

    It’s the same pattern evinced when you claimed that you meant me no disrespect only to immediately follow with a malicious assertion that I must love to watch DuWayne squirm. Um. NO. Just for the record. Meanwhile, your refusal to take responsibility for your own statements is just as tiresomely bizarre as the statements themselves. Dude. “Internet levity”? Seriously? In response to some innocent pondering over whether or not religion had some social utility to humans and therefore got culturally selected for?

    I can only conclude that your heart isn’t even in your own narcissism or your own trolling or whatever it is of yours that is not working here. Though it might have been, had you the balls to actually own anything you said.

  126. #126 Juniper Shoemaker
    July 14, 2009

    BTW, thanks, Stephanie and Jason. I have not slept all night, and I have spent half the day hunting down my graduate advisor. :)

  127. #127 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Juniper, one of the things I love about you is how (even when you haven’t slept) you demonstrate so gracefully that you don’t need someone to step in and stand up for you. You’re perfectly capable of doing it yourself; we only do it because you’re completely worth it.

  128. #128 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    I hardly lifted a hand, Juniper. DuWayne had already done all the pummelling. I was just sort of kicking the corpse.

    Oh. And, Vizzini, not Fezzik. Fezzik is the hippopotamical land-mass.

  129. #129 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Yes, we all love these things about each other, and we love telling everyone on teh internets all about it. Every ding-dang one of us is completely worth it.

  130. #130 Stephanie Z
    July 14, 2009

    Oh, goodness, no, Nathan. And you know it, too, or you wouldn’t be letting your envy show like that.

  131. #131 Paul D.
    July 14, 2009

    I think I figured out that Stephanie, Juniper and DuWayne are sock puppets of Jason and Nathan who are working for Greg, based on a textual analysis.

  132. #132 Nathan Myers
    July 14, 2009

    Juniper: Either I really did know you from Eve, or I really meant you no disrespect. It can’t be both. Any lewdness is in your own mind, and rather flattering to me, I might add, thank you. It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy seeing DuWayne sputter; really, you need to take your enjoyment where you find it. Internet levity, yes. Seriously.

    Paul: Such patience, I can hardly believe it. But no, we’re all Greg.

  133. #133 Jason Thibeault
    July 14, 2009

    See that comic you posted, Nathan? See what the stick guy did to the other stick guy (with the stick girl as an apparently willing pawn)? That’s funny.

    See what you did earlier? That’s not.

    The difference? XKCD’s comic made a back-reference to a rule in an earlier panel, extending it in a humorous manner to include a suggestion of impending sex with the other person’s girlfriend. You just seized upon the first mention of a girlfriend to both diminish the point of the conversational sidebar and insinuate that you have already had sex with the girlfriend. Your feigning innocence in the point, afterward, notwithstanding.

    I’d like to think this particular comic you linked exposes why you and your attempt at levity is in itself a joke, as in pathetic.

  134. #134 Nathan Myers
    July 15, 2009

    If you think a joke isn’t funny, the sane person’s response would be to not laugh. It’s funny that such a thing needs explaining here.

  135. #135 Jason Thibeault
    July 15, 2009

    If you also think a joke is revolting and insulting, a sane response goes deeper than merely not to laugh.

  136. #136 DuWayne
    July 15, 2009

    There seems to be so many layers to what you just don’t get Nathan, that it is impossible to cover them all. But I think the saddest one is that you simply don’t understand why someone who loves someone else, wouldn’t find that person’s discomfort amusing. I love Juniper and she loves me – this is not a peripheral love, not a “I really, really like this person’ kind of love. Neither of us are capable of finding the discomfort of the other at all entertaining. Indeed, when she is unhappy or uncomfortable, my own joy is diminished and the same is true of the other direction.

    That’s what truly and deeply loving someone is all about.

    And for the record, I never did splutter, as it were. Nor did I take your stupidity and inferences personally. It pissed me off for the same reason that most ignorance and stupidity pisses me off – because it is indicative of the prevalence of such stupidity in the world. And what especially pissed me off about it in this circumstance, is that it indicates this tendency of so many people to turn to insulting and rude behavior, when they find themselves incapable of actually handling reasonable and reasoned discourse. So don’t flatter yourself, it’s not your specific stupidity and obnoxious behavior that pissed me off, it is what it indicates about the world.

    And finally;

    Either I really did know you from Eve, or I really meant you no disrespect. It can’t be both.

    Why exactly? Just because I don’t know your significant other – assuming you have one, which I would doubt, do you not think he or she might just find it a tad bit offensive if I made some euphemistic remark about my having some sort of relations with him or her? Are you really that fucking stupid?

  137. #137 Nathan Myers
    July 15, 2009

    Explanation of elementary logic would be wasted here, seeing how, for example, blue-skies extrapolation has been presented in all earnestness as induction, so I’ll skip it. About love, all I’ll say is that its depth is strictly limited by one’s own maturity, which limit is clearly revealed by a propensity to screech. Evidently Greg is all in favor of screeching here, but hope you won’t mind if I continue to ignore it. (It’s his carpet; if he doesn’t mind you pissing on it, why should I?)

    One sort of discomfort that is always funny, and that we can all enjoy in good conscience, is punctured pretense, because we’re also laughing at ourselves, and at the human condition.

    As I had said, I thought your pique was just posturing. Thank you for confirming it. It puts all your screeching (past and, I’m somehow sure, future) into context.

    But, back to the matter at hand. What have you done lately to increase, only incrementally, the risk that the theists will come to feel it necessary to kill us all in our beds?

  138. #138 Stephanie Z
    July 15, 2009

    Nathan, DuWayne, Juniper, Jason and I all have links connected to our names. If you want to know some of what we’re doing, those are very easy to follow. I recommend you go back 2-3 weeks and follow the links to where the four of us (and Greg) all participated in a caper that led to several discussions about the separation of religion and marriage.

    What do you do?

  139. #139 DuWayne
    July 15, 2009

    See Nathan, I am far more interested in reducing the number of theists and trying to ensure that those who are about, don’t decide to murder us in our beds. As for what I do in pursuit of that goal…

    I am an outspoken atheist. This is not to say that I go around telling everyone I meet that I am, but when the discussions of religion and faith come up, I make it very clear what I am and if it’s that sort of discussion, why. I am unapologetic about it as well. And I do not hesitate to criticize/correct magical thinking, whether it be religious or otherwise. Being a midwesterner, these opportunities come up relatively frequently. For example, when evolution came up in my cultural anthropology class a few weeks ago, I was willing and able to explain in simple terms (it helps having a seven year old who understands evolution, because of my efforts) how whales walked into the sea and provide strong evidence that they had done so.

    But most importantly, I am what I was when I was a good Christian witness. I am a good neighbor, always eager to lend a hand to those who need it. I help people around me when they need help. I am kind to strangers. And on those occasions when a blessing is offered (which was common in irreligious Portland, much less my current midwest home), I politely explain why I really don’t want or need that blessing.

    And as Stephanie pointed out, I also get involved in a lot of discussions online – not hard to find some of them, or links to them through my blog, or any of the blogs she mentioned – including this one.

    I am also trying to get a book proposal finished, for a book somewhat about my experience with Faith. But more importantly a discussion of factors that might help others with a similar experience with Faith and the Faith conflict with reason, get past it. Based in parts on my discussions on blogs and more on my discussions on an ex-theist forum, I was asked to write the proposal.

    And finally, I also have many discussions with theists and recently ex-theists, who have a lot of questions about life after Faith – something that I feel very strongly about given the exceptionally traumatic nature of my own experience. The most difficult factors being, letting them know they’re not alone and helping them find the beauty and “meaning” that exists outside of the Faith paradigm and is actually quite prevalent in the world and universe around us.

    So what, may I ask, do you do? You know, besides being juvenile and insulting people who make arguments you can’t manage with. Because I don’t think you know what it is, this rhetorical screeching. I’ll give you a hint, getting pissed off at a dishonest fucking moron, who prefers insults (no matter how “politely” worded) to admitting he doesn’t have a response, is not screeching. Turning to insults, OTOH, in lieu of reasoned responses is screeching.

  140. #140 Nathan Myers
    July 15, 2009

    Asking me questions implies you don’t, in fact, think I’m just a filthy troll. The name-calling, screeching, and feeble insults, then, really were just generic rudeness, pissing on Greg’s metaphorical carpet. I’m glad everything is clear now.

  141. #141 Stephanie Z
    July 15, 2009

    Nathan, you just don’t get it, do you? Asking you the same questions you’ve asked us is simply providing you an opportunity to dodge answering and demonstrate that the questions weren’t intended as a form of dialog.

  142. #142 Greg Laden
    July 15, 2009

    It was such a nice carpet. Tied the whole room together.

  143. #143 Stephanie Z
    July 15, 2009

    You may have your carpet back, Greg. I’m bored with this one, as it demonstrates no ability to learn and very little capacity to entertain.

  144. #144 DuWayne
    July 15, 2009

    Well if your metaphorical bathroom didn’t smell so funny…And honestly, while deep shag carpet is quite comfy on the feet, pink and orange is just not right…

    If it will make you feel better, you can piss on mine anytime you like.

    And for the record Nathan, I don’t think you’re a filthy troll. I think you’re a fucking clueless asshole who likes to substitute insults for arguments, when the arguments just aren’t coming to you.

    You’ll also note that I actually answered your comment, in more detail than Stephanie did even. But instead of answering in kind, you did what we figured you would – weasel out of responding because, again, you just have nothing.

  145. #145 Nathan Myers
    July 15, 2009

    I’ve found this, er, “discussion” exceedingly revelatory. In contrast to my prior experience, it turns out some professed atheists behave in public indistinguishably from your lower grade of Christian. Greg, such friends you have! This bodes ill for the Glorious Atheist Future, and, indeed, for humanity at large. There’s always Skynet to look forward to, I suppose, or the rise of the otters.

  146. #146 DuWayne
    July 15, 2009

    And still you have nothing…

    How’s that working out for you?

  147. #147 Stephanie Z
    July 15, 2009

    Oh, it’s okay, Nathan. Apology accepted. We were all young and dumb once. Just concentrate on seeing the world as it is instead of as you want it to be. You’ll grow up in no time.

  148. #148 Bruce Gorton
    July 16, 2009

    The problem here is that the argument is not simply about atheism, it is about accomodationism.

    You have the scientific purists, who hold that science compromised in the name of not offending popular opinion isn’t science so much as propaganda – which is the group I fall under (fair disclosure).

    This side is generally written off as being “New atheists” but it is hardly restricted to atheists. One of the criticisms of science I have come across when arguing with creationists, is that they don’t trust scientists who are more about telling them what they want to hear than the truth.

    The second group you get are the scientific accomodationists. These are not the same as the people who think there is no conflict, it must be stated, they are instead those who think whether there is a conflict or not is secondary to “promoting science.”

    Hence in order to “popularise” science they argue that scientists should not hold controversial positions or use scientific evidence to maintain these positions, hence so far as I can see, what they are arguing for amounts to sacrificing scientific accuracy in the name of political expediency.

    Here is why I disagree with them:

    In arguing how to communicate science, one should take into account how other concepts have been successfully argued, or held back. Politics demonstrates that people are actually comfortable with controversy, and will rally to it.

    This is how woo operates – homeopaths make their money by claiming “big pharma” is evil, the “Secret” operates on the idea that it includes something “they” don’t want you to know about. In South Africa, the ANC is the ruling party of our country yet still makes effective use of rhetoric involving third forces and “counter-revolutionaries.”

    Why? Because controversy, even manufactured controversy sells.

    And trying to hush it up doesn’t. There is no more effective way to convince people there is something to see than to adopt a bored tone of voice and say “Nothing to see here.”

    By glossing over any given controversy, any given argument within the scientific community the accomodationists effectively sacrifice scientific accuracy and ethics, in the name of zero real gain.

    By putting across an argument that essentially says “shut up, that’s why” they undermine the very cause they claim to champion, leaving science to the position of the Democratic party – where ultimately support for it wains until the forces of anti-science stuff up so royally that the said stuff-up is too big simply to ignore.

    GW Bush was a bad president by 2004, he was president until the end of 2008 – because Kerry, was milquetoast and the Democrats had a name for rolling over, a name they maintain and which will go back to hurting them once Bush is long past enough to be forgotten.

    I am not saying scientists should copy Rovian politics, as popularity is not the end goal of science, but rather that if you want to popularise science, you shouldn’t copy the Democratic Party either – you shouldn’t compromise in the name of political expedience because compromise is not actually politically expedient.

  149. #149 Nathan Myers
    July 17, 2009

    Sorry, Bruce, this thread has been killed dead.

  150. #150 Robert
    July 21, 2009

    “People fear that these trivialities are all there is, that nobody is in control, that without a divinity to keep us honest, to love us, a divinity to whom we are children (as we have children whom we love), our lives will have no meaning beyond the human, a horrible prospect.” by VolcanoMan

    Then you are just making an argument that faith = ignorance, fear and inflated ego. First of all morals are nothing more than the rules of group co-operation. They allow civilization to exist, for people to live in close proximity to each other without killing each other, for trade and commerce to exist and so forth. Morals evolved in us naturally because there is a survival advantage in possessing them.

    The “life would be meaningless without eternal life or god” belief is nothing more than the product of a foolish inflated ego. Humans have always attempted to place themselves at the center of importance in the universe and that is exactly what religion does. Not only are you taught to believe you were created by a supernatural god but that he spends every second of every day keeping track of the trivial behaviors of billions of humans so he knows who to punish. The idea of a god punishing the objects of his own creation is rather absurd when you think about it. God giving imperfect humans free will is like giving a baby a razor blade then punishing the baby when it cuts itself.

    You wrote “without a divinity to keep us honest”. I can’t help but point out that faith itself is dishonest. Honest people admit to not knowing things that are unproven, they won’t blindly believe in things through faith just because the beliefs are appealing, so if anything “divinity” is keeping a lot of people dishonest. Any person who says they KNOW there is a god is nothing but a liar. No man knows that god does anything, that god knows anything, or that there even is a god. Theists may believe in god but they do not know there is one.

  151. #151 Robert
    July 21, 2009

    “Really, despite Robert’s assertion, religion is not an attempt at understanding the universe. It’s a means of social control.” by Nathan Meyers

    Many religions attempt to explain “creation”. Explaining nature and our situation in it is an important element to many many religions.
    Religion as a means of social control has proven itself to be a complete failure and religion does more to facilitate poor behaviors than it does to prevent them. The most secular countries – those with the highest proportion of atheists are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations, where worship of God is in abundance, are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive and poor. Look in America for example. Which group has the highest level of belief in god? The answer is African Americans. They also happen to be the group that exhibits the least social control in their behavior with a crime and violence problem much higher than that of our nation as a whole.

  152. #152 DuWayne
    July 21, 2009

    Robert -

    First of all morals are nothing more than the rules of group co-operation.

    This is an extreme simplification and not even an accurate one. Morality is the personal arbitrator of right and wrong. Moral frameworks are often quite similar within a given cultural paradigm, but that is easily explained by environmental similarities.

    Morals evolved in us naturally because there is a survival advantage in possessing them.

    Wow. This is an incredibly ignorant statement. Morality is not biological, except insofar as our minds are biological constructs. This is no different than saying that fall safety courses evolved, because there is a survival advantage for construction workers who have taken them.

    I tend to think that my assertion about religion or spirituality being an essential component in the initial steps from instinctual subsistence to higher cognitive function. But I would categorically reject the notion that evolution had anything to do with it. Religion and religious thinking had a great deal of social utility at one point. Morality also has a social utility, in that it governs one’s actions outside the coercive social order paradigm of the state. But these are social utilities, not biological. Biology doesn’t dictate morality or, excepting certain neuropathologies, whether we have a moral frame at all.

    God giving imperfect humans free will is like giving a baby a razor blade then punishing the baby when it cuts itself.

    I love this line and intend to use it the next time I get into it with theists at the coffee shop…

    Which group has the highest level of belief in god? The answer is African Americans.

    Really? I would have pegged that to republicans. If you really need to throw a racial/ethnic group out there, I would peg Hispanics. But using AA’s as an example, is rather essential to a good racist paradigm.

    They also happen to be the group that exhibits the least social control in their behavior with a crime and violence problem much higher than that of our nation as a whole.

    First of all, attributing this rather blatantly racist characterization to religion is a huge logical fallacy. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the crime and violence that occurs among AA’s has anything to do with religious inclinations. Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence that it has far more to do with poverty and the cycle of babies having babies.

    Secondly, you are assuming that because the social controls in play aren’t those of the larger culture in which they exist, there simply aren’t any. This is indicative of your resounding ignorance, rather than outright racism. Make no mistake, there are absolutely social controls within the group you are describing here. Enforcement of those conventions include, ridicule, intimidation, violence and death. The fact that these social conventions fall outside the scope of our larger cultural paradigm doesn’t come close to implying that they don’t exist – ultimately another logical fallacy.

    And this is not somehow inherent to AA’s. Every ethnic and racial group in the U.S. that lives in poverty, makes a substantial contribution to this same sort of cultural paradigm. Poverty means that people play by different rules than the larger culture. Violence and crime are always more prevalent. At least overt and obvious violence and crime.

    I would suggest that before you try to engage in this discussion again, you go through a short primer of elementary logic and logical fallacies. A post or two down, from the top of my blog, links really concise primers in both.

  153. #153 Robert
    July 21, 2009

    DuWayne, The first thing you need to understand is that “right and wrong” are subjective and based purely upon human wants and needs. Morals are indeed the rules of group co-operation. Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating area to look into.

    “First of all, attributing this rather blatantly racist characterization to religion is a huge logical fallacy. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the crime and violence that occurs among AA’s has anything to do with religious inclinations. Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence that it has far more to do with poverty and the cycle of babies having babies.” by DuWayne

    I never attributed the higher level of criminal behavior to religion DuWayne. I simply showed that a belief in god is in no way linked to a higher ethical or moral standard and that religion has failed miserably at improving human ethics. The evolution of morals in humans has everything to do with environment. It is environment that shapes us and this is the basic principle of natural selection. Differing environments will create differing results and moral sense is not immune from this. The rules of group co-operation (morals) have greater importance to survival in a cold harsh climate than a temperate tropical one.

    As to your poverty excuse for the behavioral differences between the races, did you know there are far more white people at the poverty line than black in the USA simply due to population numbers differences? When economic status is taken into account, blacks are still far more criminal and far more violent than whites so poverty doesn’t explain it. The “cycle of babies having babies” that you mentioned simply shows that blacks are willing to devote more effort to reproduction than they are to child-care which in my opinion is just yet another moral deficit.

  154. #154 DuWayne
    July 21, 2009

    Robert -

    Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating area to look into.

    Evolutionary psychology is fascinating in the same way that theology is fascinating – it’s a thought experiment and that’s all it ever can be. Kind of like the very thought experiment on religion I threw out there in this very thread.

    Your equation of morality is pretty much on a par with my equation of religion and indeed is something that fits well into my assertion. But it is not evolution, because it does not have any biological foundation – at least that we know of. Given the lack of any functional and consistent moral axioms, if there is a biological component, it is completely peripheral. I am not saying yea or nay, I am just saying that you are making assertions of fact, based on nothing more than supposition.

    I never attributed the higher level of criminal behavior to religion DuWayne.

    It is certainly what your statement implied, but is also irrelevant to my response. Your baseline assumption that AA’s are the most religious, is flawed.

    I simply showed that a belief in god is in no way linked to a higher ethical or moral standard and that religion has failed miserably at improving human ethics.

    So what? No one here has argued otherwise – not a single damned person.

    The evolution of morals in humans has everything to do with environment. It is environment that shapes us and this is the basic principle of natural selection.

    It is one thing to use the word evolution to describe the growth and development of societies and cultures. It is another to imbue this conflation with the principles of biological evolution. The equation simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – especially given your next statement…

    Differing environments will create differing results and moral sense is not immune from this. The rules of group co-operation (morals) have greater importance to survival in a cold harsh climate than a temperate tropical one.

    This is a stunning display of absolute and abysmal ignorance of how primitive social constructs operate. There is a reason why a hunter/gatherer society is exponentially more stable than a state level society. H/G societies cannot exist without absolute group cooperation. Note we are talking about egalitarian societies that do not use overt force to keep everyone in line. Everyone does their part and everyone contributes to the greater good. For most people in an H/G society, it wouldn’t ever occur to them to steal, rape or abuse anyone else. It also wouldn’t occur to the folks who just brought in a Gemsbok, to hoard that meat or refuse anyone a share.

    No laws being enforced, order is kept through good natured mockery, discussions with elders, fear of spirits and if all else fails, banishment. According to my anthropology professor (who has spent a great deal of time in the N Kalahari with the !Kung people), banishment is exceedingly rare. And these are people who actually cooperate enough with not only each other, but there environment as well, that they rarely give birth during a season that would make breastfeeding difficult and rarely give birth to more babies than their environment can support in the very worst years.

    You actually have things pretty ass backwards really. Because the actual living conditions aren’t what determines cooperation, it is the type of subsistence a society lives by. And the least stable, least cooperative and most work intensive type of society, is a state level society. State level society, could easily be described as the very least moral type of society, if you are defining morality as pure social lubrication. State level society is certainly the only type of society that requires extreme shows of force, to enforce order.

    As to your poverty excuse for the behavioral differences between the races, did you know there are far more white people at the poverty line than black in the USA simply due to population numbers differences?

    And did you know that there are also a hella lot more white criminals than ever get caught, simply because they’re white?

    When economic status is taken into account, blacks are still far more criminal and far more violent than whites so poverty doesn’t explain it.

    Not entirely, but again, you’re assuming a much larger difference in crimes committed, than actually exists. Bottom line, white criminals are far more likely to get away with it than blacks and hispanics, because they just aren’t as heavily on the radar.

    The “cycle of babies having babies” that you mentioned simply shows that blacks are willing to devote more effort to reproduction than they are to child-care which in my opinion is just yet another moral deficit.

    No you fucking moron, what it indicates is that someone who was raised by a baby, is likely to reproduce at that age. Especially when this is consistent with what they see around them. And someone raised without a father around, is more likely to become a young single parent, because that is what they see.

    It has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with the environment in which people are raised.

  155. #155 Nathan Myers
    July 21, 2009

    See? Dead, dead, dead.

  156. #156 DuWayne
    July 21, 2009

    Do you have some pathological need for the last word here Nathan? Seriously, what the fuck?