Pharyngula

Journey to the other side

Lya Kahlo carried out an
informal atheistical survey of Christian forums—she visited 35 online religious forums as an openly atheist but friendly visitor, to sample their attitudes. The results aren’t pretty. Her summary:

The entire experience can be summed up fairly easily. Generally speaking, they know next to nothing about atheists, they are extremely emotionally attached to their deities, and they are just people looking for truth as we are. The animosity that sparks between atheists and theists seems to stem from the two camps speaking two different languages – atheists speak in terms of empirical evidence and logic; theists speak in terms of faith, emotion, and the unknown. An atheist expects proof before acceptance, a theists sees acceptance as proof.

Do I see it as a waste of time? On some of the boards (*cough*HolyCultureRadio*cough*) it was a waste of time. On boards frequented by a large teenage population or a way-out-there new-agey element, it was a waste of time. But this is not the case overall—surprisingly some of the more useful conversations happened on some fairly conservative forums.

Lastly, I think there are some allies to be made out there in the fight against an impending American Theocracy (okay, that’s a little dramatic), women’s rights and anti-war activism. There are plenty of good, decent xtians out there. However, we are never going to understand each other. We speak different languages.

I don’t doubt that the majority of Christians have good intentions. That language barrier, though…that’s a killer, especially since there’s little mutual interest in learning to speak each other’s language.

Comments

  1. #1 george cauldron
    January 15, 2006

    I don’t it’s exactly accurate to say that ‘there’s little mutual interest in learning to speak each other’s language’; it’s more accurate to say that for either group, the other’s language makes no sense.

    Probably our only hope in this country would come from both sides agreeing on a sort of middle ground, crafting a ‘third language’ both parties would agree to speak when they have to interact.

  2. #2 afarensis
    January 15, 2006

    6. Moderate and Progressive/Liberal Xtians are just as worried about the separation of Church and State as we are
    7. Most Xtians I had contact with do not support Bush or the war

    That is a good sign though.

  3. #3 decrepitoldfool
    January 15, 2006

    Probably our only hope in this country would come from both sides agreeing on a sort of middle ground, crafting a ‘third language’ both parties would agree to speak when they have to interact.

    I have a suggestion for that ‘third language’…

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or of prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacably to assemble…

  4. #4 Kagehi
    January 15, 2006

    I wonder.. If you found someone able to translate between both, would they make a good first contact team member? lol But seriously, its hardly a suprise they don’t speak the same language, even when the same sounds are being put together to try to communicate.

  5. #5 george cauldron
    January 15, 2006

    I have a suggestion for that ‘third language’…

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or of prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacably to assemble…

    Yup.

    The third language has to be based on an understanding that pushing one’s ideology on others is unacceptable and destructive of society. Certain factions of the US will never believe this, but if a large enough majority goes accepts this, that may be enough.

    Moderate and Progressive/Liberal Xtians are just as worried about the separation of Church and State as we are

    In my experience, the only people in this country who want to do away with the separation of church and state are the sort of rightwing xtians who are convinced they’ll be calling the shots in a theocracy. Just about everyone else realizes there’s a superb chance they’ll be among the losers in a US run by the clergy.

  6. #6 Narc
    January 15, 2006

    The third language has to be based on an understanding that pushing one’s ideology on others is unacceptable and destructive of society.

    But, but, but … Then they’d burn in hell for all eternity! We can’t have that.

  7. #7 ruidh
    January 15, 2006

    I’m not at all surprised that an athiest and a person of faith have such completely different worldviews that conversation is not possible.

    Many Christians confuse statements of faith with objective truth. Their epistemology is rudimentary. I speak as a progressive Christian with an education in the sciences and in philosphy.

    Many Christians will attempt to offer statements and arguments which they construe as proofs, but which fail as logically complete. They fail to understand the essential distinction between statements of fact and statements of faith — expressions which are accepted as true by the individual in the absence of certainty.

    I take it as axiomatic that proof nor disproof for the existance of Gid exists or can be devised. A great many statements fail to rise to the level of logical certainty. We act in the absence of logical certainty constantly. We step in an elevator trusting in its design, construction and maintenance. People of faith choose to act as if certain unprovable statements are in fact true.

    Unfortunately, Christians often forget or never knew the logical leap they have taken. They do not understand those who have not chosen as they have.

  8. #8 G. Tingey
    January 15, 2006

    Common language?
    Well, lets try this, for starters ……

    Unreasoning belief, and the believers.

    The believers, in all the monotheistic religions, and even that religion-without-a-god, communism, seem to have common characteristics, as do those religions.
    All seem to suggest that religion is a very bad idea, and that religions, and especially their believers, will do certain unpleasant things.
    In order to combat this pernicious mind-rot, I’m proposing some falsifiable tests for religions, and some suggestions as to what rational people should do about it.
    (these suggestions are part of a long(ish) essay – and are not included in this posting – sorry!)

    A set of testable Propositions

    1. No “god” can be detected – OR – God is not detectable
    2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    3. All religions have been made by men.
    4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    What do those religions (including Marxism) actually DO?
    How are they structured?
    Never mind what they claim – what are their real, testable parameters?
    For example, Marxist governments murdered millions in the name of their patent version of Marx’s holy truth – which was wrong, because the revolution was going to come to the most developed countries first – which was completely wrong …… Which sounds like a religion in its operating parameters to me.

  9. #9 The Fool
    January 15, 2006

    It’s not just a “language” problem. Languages can be translated. It’s a fundamental epistemological disagreement.

  10. #10 george cauldron
    January 15, 2006

    It’s not just a “language” problem. Languages can be translated. It’s a fundamental epistemological disagreement.

    Agreed. These are not even two languages that a single person can speak. All we can do is hope that most people recognize a vested interest in everyone leaving everyone else alone. That’s the way the US to be not too long ago, before the GOP and the religious right recognized the political gains to be made from the country ripping itself apart.

  11. #11 Samnell
    January 15, 2006

    The value structures are almost totally at odds too. Any value system which privileges faith over reason is going to lose 90% of the atheists in this country ab initio.

  12. #12 odograph
    January 15, 2006

    I don’t think a healthy human mind requires any kind of “final contest” between faith and science. They concern different domains of human experience, and probably exercise different sorts of brain machinery (that machinery designed by God and/or Nature).

    Heck, we are probably looking (in these conflicts) at distributions within the human population, at fights between faith-weighted and logic-weighted individuals.

    I think I could say “get over yourselves” to either side. Atheists could stand to recognize the support framework churches provide, and the religious could stand to recognize the practical benefits that science provides.

  13. #13 Sage Donkey
    January 15, 2006

    “It’s not just a “language” problem. Languages can be translated. It’s a fundamental epistemological disagreement.

    Agreed. These are not even two languages that a single person can speak. All we can do is hope that most people recognize a vested interest in everyone leaving everyone else alone. That’s the way the US to be not too long ago, before the GOP and the religious right recognized the political gains to be made from the country ripping itself apart.

    Posted by: george cauldron ”

    That is a nice hope, however now that we are going down the road of increasing religious intrusion in society I am not sure we can go back to the prior ‘live and let live’ state.

    I do have hope that if they keep pushing ‘faith first’ they will continue to increase the number of people who will choose not to agree with them. In other words ‘casual, social’ xtians may be forced to at least leave organized religion if belonging to the club means ignoring the facts all around them. ID for instance has taken a giant leap in the direction of ‘flat earth’ in the minds of many, now that Dover dragged it into the light of day.

    The facts are on the side of non believers, and most people are comfortable with a high degree of facts in their daily lives. They know that god doesnt make the little pictures come out of the TV, even if the details escape them. In the long run society will become more and more secular, because to not do so would be compeletly illogical. Or we can repeat the Crusades.

  14. #14 tenquid
    January 15, 2006

    ” I don’t think a healthy human mind requires any kind of “final contest” between faith and science. They concern different domains of human experience, and probably exercise different sorts of brain machinery (that machinery designed by God and/or Nature)”.

    You might enjoy reading Steven Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” here: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

    Then, from another perspective, “One Side Can Be Wrong” here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1559743,00.html

    Then let us know what you think about rapprochement.

  15. #15 tenquid
    January 15, 2006

    ” I don’t think a healthy human mind requires any kind of “final contest” between faith and science. They concern different domains of human experience, and probably exercise different sorts of brain machinery (that machinery designed by God and/or Nature)”.

    You might enjoy reading Stephen Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” here: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

    Then, from another perspective, “One Side Can Be Wrong” here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1559743,00.html

    Then let us know what you think about rapprochement.

  16. #16 Sage Donkey
    January 15, 2006

    Thanks, tenquid. Both delightful to read.

  17. #17 odograph
    January 15, 2006

    I’ve skimmed those, and will read them in more detail later.

    Rapprochement? That’s more a question of American political reality than of faith and/or neurobiology. I think faith and science could (in theory) settle to a less antagonistic relationship, but (in practice) certain groups will drive the conflict in America for some time.

    It’s the story of American “polarization” in microcosm. Who gets worked up and drives the politics of this? Those at the extremes of course, resulting in a dialog lacking any moderate voice.

  18. #18 odograph
    January 15, 2006

    BTW, wearing my “scientific” hat, I am interested in how distributions of political views (which twin studies indicate have a genetic component) relate to this polarization. If people are (by nature) distributed across political beliefs, what does that say about the nature of parties or movements? What does it say about societal structures that empower the extremes?

    (I’m sure many of you have seen linkages to “religiosity” in twin studies as well.)

  19. #19 PaulC
    January 15, 2006

    As someone raised Catholic, who went to Catholic primary and secondary school, I would say that Catholic education compartmentalizes effectively between faith and reason. Actually, even in a religion class, you’re often expected to reach logical conclusions given a doctrinal starting point. (I’ve often thought this is why there are so many lapsed Catholics, but that’s another story.)

    I’m comfortable in saying that even most practicing Catholics do not “speak a different language” from atheists outside of specific doctrinal matters, and I imagine this applies to most other mainstream religions. I’m actually a little surprised at the generality of Kahlo’s conclusion. He may be looking at a self-selected sample of religious people who choose to be active on discussion boards about religion in particular.

  20. #20 PaulC
    January 15, 2006

    Ooops. I meant “she” not “he.”

  21. #21 jbCharleston
    January 15, 2006

    I see here a lot of people who missed her point. We’re all humans, so finding a common language is possible. But it may make both sides uncomfortable. As an atheist in the South, you can find it if you want. Common language exists when there are common experiences. The common experience I find to be spirituality – no, not the mumbo-jumbo of the new-agers. But the emotional experience of something wonderful. It can be hearing Tosca’s Visi d’Arte, walking outside on a totally dark night and seeing the Milky Way, picking up your first grandchild, having a glass of wine looking over the Tuscan hills in Spring, and any of another million such experiences. That’s where you start. If you can’t acknowledge that human spirituality of others, you’ve cut conversation off – not them. There’s a common emotion/experience. Start there. Build some mutual respect before you just put up a wall.

  22. #22 Scott Spiegelberg
    January 15, 2006

    I think the idea that religious people speak a different language (or have a different mindset) is BS. It is an overgeneralization that as meaningful as saying that all scientists are intelligent. Yes, there are a significant set of Christians who put faith before reason, just as there are a signficant set of scientists who really are intelligent. But there are also many Christians (and true believers in other religions) who are able to integrate the two, just as there are many nonbelievers who do the same. The Episcopal/Anglican Church is based upon three pillars: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Notice that these three pillars are given equal weight (theoretically). The Catholic example above is another data point.

    (And yes, there are many scientists who are not intelligent. They are not good scientists, but who says that the Christians you have described are good Christians?)

  23. #23 BadTux
    January 15, 2006

    Disclaimer: I speak the language of the christopaths. I grew up in a multi-religious household learning their language via CCD and Vacation Bible School and all the various other mechanisms they use. But when I return visits from their web sites and type this:

    “If your faith is so weak that it cannot survive the realities of science and history, then I submit that you need to be praying to God to help you renew your faith, rather than attacking scientists and historians for doing their divinely-ordained tasks”

    – the result? [crickets].

    The christopaths are willing to talk up until the time that you start talking in their own language and saying things they don’t want to hear in their own language. Then they go silent. How can you hold a reasonable discussion with people who don’t want to hear what you have to say?

    But what the hey, that’s the Catholic in me, which has no problem at all with the notion that science has nothing to say about faith and vice-versa… or maybe it’s because Tuxology (the religion of better health via applied herring technology) has no problem with evolution (heh!)…

    – Badtux the Tuxologist Penguin

  24. #24 Samnell
    January 15, 2006

    “The common experience I find to be spirituality – no, not the mumbo-jumbo of the new-agers. But the emotional experience of something wonderful.”

    This is a problem I have personally. If spirituality is no more than “good happy feelings” then there’s no reason to use a word for it with such titanic levels of baggage. One can construct a definition of it which lacks them, but in practice believers are going to use their own definition and smuggle the baggage in through the back door. This is going to lead up in rapid succession to the old “see, you believe after all!” canard.

    As for myself, I have not, and hope never to, experience anything I would call spiritual. I would think far less of myself if I ever did.

  25. #25 coturnix
    January 15, 2006

    Here is another example of someone wading into xtian cyberwaters and bumping into the language barrier. The meaning of “spirituality” figures prominently.

  26. #26 Steve Patton
    January 16, 2006

    There are some enlightened comments here and some as unenlightened as the “good” Christians’ illogic. What most Christians fail to realize is that their faith, religion to be more exact, is based in part on the old Semitic religions that it grew out of. More acurately seems to have been attempting to surmount. The Semitic Hebrew text at the time carried with it so many rewrites and distortions from its original possibly logical observations and had become institutional dogma meant to keep a priestly class in luxury at the expense of the masses. It also made sufficient adherence to afford salvation imposible for all but its diety. Hence all were outsiders and doomed although many were afraid to drop the pretence just in case they had done it right and did have a glimmer of hope. However I suspect the non believer population and backsliders were probably more plentiful in the land than those of the faith, meaning that the religion was losing its grip on the masses and the whole business was coming apart at the seems. It may even be posible that in the beginning the priest cast or at least the higher ups with some savvy actually encouraged the creation of the new concept, even greased the skids until they began to see the risks their spokesman presented. This dude Jesus was just getting out of line! If one takes time to read the text of the gospels as a stand alone framework for the new religion one discovers that Christian belief differs from its parent in that redemption through faith becomes a way back into the fold, and thus safe haven from eternal death. But it also differs in another way and that is that rather than being the law that requires the adherence it is now a religion that requires acceptence on faith. Hense absent the tail of the old testiment books it does something that is heresy for the time and politically dangerous at the same time. On its own Christianity suggests self determination, is all but anarchistic inn the sense that it says if you adhere to the faith you must follow Jesus and disregard the state where the law clashes with the word of Jesus. No government can allow this new rapidly spreading doctrine to stand without the safeguards of the talmudic prehensile tail, so alexander who now sees the possibilities in adopting this new and inviting idea realizes that he must retain the old prehensile Talmudic tail and the other books of the founding faith to keep the lambs in the flock under the shepherds Crook. This is the foundation of the Church universal, the permission to the priest governng class (as they truely were) to hammer the entirety into the peoples of the known world, probably would have succeded in time save the rivalry from Mohamed who also builds his new concept from the old Semitic faith but wishes to retain control in of the flock and advance his agenda through the blind obedience of his flock.

    You see the real problem here is that the flock is like the blind man who has fallen over the cliff but in his fall managed to grab onto a root and save falling to what he imagines to be certain death. He is in actuality only a foot above terra firma but can’t see it. He is out of reach from the top where his two blind companions are saved by the sound of his fall abd his cries from beneath them. The one tells him he must hang on and wait for help Because if he lets go he will surely die. The other being more practical throws a rock and counts the time it takes to fall and realizes that the fallen one is from the sound of his voice very near the bottom and also realizes that there is little chance that anyone will find them before the fallen one must either fall or perishes from thirst. So he tells the fallen one he must let go to save himself. since none can see no one can say which is true but logic goes with blind man two if for no other reason the only hope for any of them rests with trusting in the best technology available.

    OK, already, I can think but I can’t spell. I think I am more agnostic than atheist. The term atheist is in and of itself threatening in that it suggests confrontation to the Christian mindset. So far neither side seems to quite have it all together and until someone comes up for the definitive answer for why the universe and life in particular behaves the way it does I am going with the assumption that Religion is another tool of evolution for the thinking ape until he is able to figure out how to get by on his own without blowing up the planet or making himself extinct. Jesus wouldn’t bother me if the Christians would let go of the old horse pucky attached to its Semitic origins and the same with Mohamed. although it’s not as easy with that one since Mohamed included the old dogma in his, cleaned up a bit, but still there to keep the flock in line and insure that they’d shove it down the rest of the world’s throat until everyone thought alike. Either way the goal is to create one organism from an ever expanding flock. Unfortunately it seems his priest class are opportunists and no less corrupt that their good christan counterparts.
    Steve Patton

  27. #27 mclaren
    January 16, 2006

    One minor correction: I should think that atheists expect evidence. Proof remains another matter.

    Scientifically speaking, we can never prove anything absolutely definitively, since all obversations come with some margin of error. We can only pile up such a surpassing amount of evidence that no sensible person would try to contradict the inescapable conclusion.

    Also, it seems unlikely that we ought to restrict the ranks of those who demand evidence to the atheist community. A more reasonable definition of people who require evidence in order to believe something would be “People with common sense.”

  28. #28 Ian H Spedding
    January 16, 2006

    I remember a debate between the psychologist Professor Hans Eysenck and a clergyman many years ago on a BBC TV religious programme. Eysenck declared at the outset that he thought that any real debate between them was impossible because their basic beliefs were so different, that all that could really happen would be a statement and defence of their respective foundational assumptions. This survey would seem to confirm Eysenck’s view.

    Given the mutual antagonism between atheists and Christian fundamentalists is any real rapprochement possible? To judge by the strident views of the more extreme advocates in both camps, I would say not. But is there a middle ground where the two sides can meet, where an offer to tolerate and consider opposing views is extended to those from the other side who are willing to reciprocate?

  29. #29 Jerome feldmann
    January 16, 2006

    As a catholic converted to atheism, the confrontation of two “languages” for believers and non-believers is obvious to me. I can still (less and less automatically with years) shift from one view point to another. Actually conceiving the world with or without a deity is incredibly different. And I don’t think it is about asking for evidence before believing. Most statements about life, spirituality, philosophy, morality… even when identical in the form actually have different meanings from the 2 viewpoints.

    I would not be surprised if we were using different parts of our brain during a cognitive experience and a spiritual one.

    Forming an opinion on facts as is required from science was never the aim of religion in which the facts are one’s spiritual experience (which is very unreliable as philosophy explored it). If one consider that in one’s own private universe, the truth is always subjective, spiritual and scientific experiences can be considered as equaly truthful, even if very different in nature.

    If you try hard enough to imagine what it’s like if god existed, religious arguments start making sens and atheistic proposal less sens.
    However, the problem is not necessary in finding a middle ground, it is in personal flaws like intolerance to other’s ideas, lack of understanding of science and religion.

    For this last point, I got the feeling that most educated Christians will reject ID because it does not correspond to their understanding of religion. (I might be wrong on that).
    As a matter of fact the base of the ID stupidity is theologically wrong: god is supposed to leave us free to believe, hence to leave no proof of his existence.

    To conclude it is possible to talk in the others language but you have to lie to yourself. It is a difficult exercise.

    On evolution, you can try: the creation of earth and the apparition of life as we understand it scientifically can sound very created like. If you condsider that there was just water and rocks and unbreathable air at first, than progressively evolution made possible the apparition of a very diverse and beautiful nature: first green plants, animals and flowers (who are relatively a late invention) and finally : US

  30. #30 Keith Douglas
    January 16, 2006

    Those of us who are teachers of some form or other have another alternative: to recognize that although the older adults are unlikely to change, we still have the younger generation. This is especially true of children – those of us (like me) who have been involved in higher education know that it might be too late even then. Of course, there is a tremendous bootstrapping problem here, but I think realistically this is the best we can hope for any time soon.

  31. #31 Mark Jeffrey
    January 16, 2006

    I find myself in an interesting position here, as a committed Christian (a Methodist preacher even) who has no truck with the idiots pushing ID and other anti-science positions.

    As such, I have to challenge the assertion that Christians are not interested in athiest arguments. I wouldn’t have been reading this blog for so long if that were the case.

    Of course, I’m an anti-ID Christian, which I suspect is pretty common outside the US. Certainly I’ve never seen such rubbish pushed more more than cranks, even in a Christian Establishment country like the UK or Switzerland. (The UK _requires_ worship in public schools, and Switzerland collects taxes to support their churches). But neither one would give credence to ID as any sort of science. And I’m NOT going to burn in hell for saying that.

    The trouble is of course that both groups have a tendancy to put members of the other into little boxes or categories to simplify the debate, which is rather disrespectful in both directions. The loudest shouters are not the median opinion on either side.

    I once had a debate over the merits of veganism with a young lady. She and I agreed on the facts under discussion, but it took several days before she realised that someone could come to different conclusions from the same information. Rather like the old Communist concept that people would naturally prefer a communist existance once they had been “reeducated” with the truth.

    So please don’t shut the door on discussion. Creationism is really a fringe element of the Christian church; and many of us find no difficulty combining our belief in science as the best means for understanding God’s world with our faith as the best means for understanding God’s purpose. And I’m happy to talk about the former without ever invoking the latter.

  32. #32 PaulC
    January 16, 2006

    “Of course, I’m an anti-ID Christian, which I suspect is pretty common outside the US.”

    It’s pretty common within the US as well. Though I no longer count myself as religious, I didn’t meet a single proponent of creationism until I went to college (this was over twenty years ago) and I was frankly stunned to discover that anyone in a science major believed in such fairy tales. Not all US Christians are evangelicals, and none of what used to be the mainstream US Christian religions (Catholicism and the bigger protestant denominations) have had any quarrel with evolution in many decades.

  33. #33 Samnell
    January 16, 2006

    Yes, but over the past twenty years most churches in the US have gone hard right. PZ has posted before about his own childhood church now welcoming drooling creationism where no such thing would have happened in decades past.

    Fundamentalism is the format of a religion in competition. We should expect it to be increasingly normative in places where religion remains relevant to large numbers of people and competition has arisen, whether it be from secular sources or from other religions. The presently in vogue, personal, DIY spirituality is something one needn’t go very far right to find outright reviled in the churches.

  34. #34 GH
    January 16, 2006

    ‘I’m comfortable in saying that even most practicing Catholics do not “speak a different language” from atheists outside of specific doctrinal matters, and I imagine this applies to most other mainstream religions. ‘

    That is absurd. Any practicing Catholic who buys doctrines based on irrational points of view includingbut not limited to virgin birth, bread to flesh, demon possession, eternal marriage even when one hasn’t seen the person for 2 decades, and on and on are not speaking the same lanquage as a rational person. They are compartmentalizing absurd thoughts in relation to how they normally live their lives.

    I am a Christian who is increasingly aware that what i have long believed is not only on shaky ground but is in many ways harmful. I love forgiveness and love of my fellow man but ‘religion’ is a monster that inflicts far to many paper cuts daily to deserve my respect.

    ‘And I’m NOT going to burn in hell for saying that.’

    The fact that anyone, anywhere thinks he existence of such a place is A. just or B. a part of their religion should give pause as to the moral message contained within.

    ‘The Episcopal/Anglican Church is based upon three pillars: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.’

    And what if tradition is incorrect? Tradition is a very poor way of knowing anything. Then scripture-which interpretation there are 1000′s. That leaves reason.

    The problem with any religious argument is that their is no consistent religious argument. So many come from so many angles and rebuff each other.

  35. #35 JimC@yahoo.com
    January 16, 2006

    ‘Catholicism and the bigger protestant denominations’

    Well that would be the baptists and I don’t think your correct on this one.

    ‘Creationism is really a fringe element of the Christian church;’

    BULLSHIT! This is almost like being an ostrich with your head in the sand. By poll the vast majority of US Christians are creationists. If you believe in God youa re a de facto creationist just not in the way we use the temr around here.

    ‘and many of us find no difficulty combining our belief in science as the best means for understanding God’s world with our faith as the best means for understanding God’s purpose’

    This is the rampant stupidity that people apparently never reflect upon or even care about. How do you know you faith has any merit at all and Zeus isn’t the one who you should be speaking to? How can you possibley understand God’s purpose when no one has ever settled upon who God is? If you praying to Jesus the jews think your wasting your time and liekwise. So do the Hindus, Muslims, and on and on.

    Basically your really saying this is my opinion, which is fine but then giving it some otherworldly value and then comparing it to what science does.

    What possibly consistent message can one get out of 10000 sects in the same religion which is one religion out of 1000′s that have existed? And how does supernatural faith provide anyone with purpose other than in their own head?

  36. #36 Violet Socks
    January 16, 2006

    “Yes, but over the past twenty years most churches in the US have gone hard right. PZ has posted before about his own childhood church now welcoming drooling creationism where no such thing would have happened in decades past.”

    Christianity in America has also become much more overt, more obviously magical in its thinking, more resistent to reason. As you say, the response of a religion in competition. When I was a child, my Christian relatives rarely discussed their faith outside of church. Now you can’t have a conversation with them without hearing about “the Lord.” At breakfast at my aunt’s house during a recent family get-together, she insisted that everyone hold hands and sing hymns. It was appalling.

  37. #37 GH
    January 16, 2006

    ‘Christianity in America has also become much more overt, more obviously magical in its thinking, more resistent to reason’

    Ahhh but has the pendulum begun to swing back the other way?

    In my view it’s tribalism brought about by fear. Fear of terrorism, slipping world rank in the pecking order, and of science.

  38. #38 Anonymous
    January 16, 2006

    I find it interesting that many of the people who visit this blog consider themselves free thinkers. I consider myself a free thinker, and what I have learned from this free thinking journey is that those who are open-minded pride themselves on not buying into stereotypes about groups of people. Anytime you paint a group of people with a broad brush, you fail to see people within that group as individuals. You fail to see the myriad of diversity that exists within that group of people. You hurt those within that group who don’t agree with or don’t match up with the stereotype. And most heinous of all (I point out on this Martin Luther King observance), you leap across the line into ignorance and prejudice. I’m sure you all agree with this assessment. And yet, I have seen nothing but overgeneralizations and stereotypes about Christians and Christianity on this Blog. Please consider that maybe there is more to Christians and Christianity than the media, who only pays attention to fundamentalist Christian ideology, would lead you to believe.

  39. #39 Mark Jeffrey
    January 16, 2006

    “‘Creationism is really a fringe element of the Christian church;’

    “BULLSHIT! This is almost like being an ostrich with your head in the sand. By poll the vast majority of US Christians are creationists.”

    I stand by my comment, as most Christians are – surprise – not in the US. America has a tendancy to amplify the extremes of every debate, and this is one example.

    “‘and many of us find no difficulty combining our belief in science as the best means for understanding God’s world with our faith as the best means for understanding God’s purpose’

    “This is the rampant stupidity that people apparently never reflect upon or even care about. How do you know you faith has any merit at all and Zeus isn’t the one who you should be speaking to?”

    What an amazingly arrogant statement! The whole point of my original post is that some of us DO reflect upon this question at great length, including examining contrary positions as seen here, and have come to a position different to yours based on the same or similar evidence. How do I know my faith has any merit? Because I have found evidence in my own life to support that. Can I present scientific evidence for that? Of course not, but unlike the IDiots I make no such claim. Is mine the “only true faith among 10,000 others”? I very much doubt it. But then I know that my own view of God is a very very limited segment of the whole.

    I have friends of many faiths and none, and they gain my respect based on their character and honesty of intent towards those around them.

    If you really think “this is the rampant stupidity that people apparently never reflect upon or even care about” perhaps you need to meet a wider spectrum of people. :-)

  40. #40 Anonymous
    January 16, 2006

    Amen, bro

  41. #41 Violet Socks
    January 16, 2006

    And yet, I have seen nothing but overgeneralizations and stereotypes about Christians and Christianity on this Blog.

    You’ve seen nothing but that? Why, on this very thread several people have discussed the growth of a particular brand of Christianity — the in-your-face fundamentalist evangelical brand — and contrasted it to older forms of popular American Christianity, as well as to more sophisticated strains of religious thought. I do not see a broad brush at work here.

    I myself have been personally exposed to a broad spectrum of Christianity, from know-nothing fundamentalists to modern Biblical scholars, from liberation theologists to millenial apocalypticists. But the dominant, growing strain of Christianity in America today is the “Jesus is a Republican and he sends hurricanes to punish people for abortion” load of nonsense.

  42. #42 george cauldron
    January 16, 2006

    ‘Christianity in America has also become much more overt, more obviously magical in its thinking, more resistent to reason’

    Ahhh but has the pendulum begun to swing back the other way?

    In my view it’s tribalism brought about by fear. Fear of terrorism, slipping world rank in the pecking order, and of science.

    Sure. But I don’t see any of those 3 factors going away anytime this century.

  43. #43 Dr Marco
    January 16, 2006

    It is true, we speak different languages. However, I believe that at least we try to understand them. Most of them believe that, reagardless, we are going to hell. The fact that Lya Kahlo went to see the Christian blogs is a proof of our will to understand.

    Visit me at Multae Sententiae

  44. #44 Dr. Marco
    January 16, 2006

    By the way, I added a link to your blog in mine!

  45. #45 JIMC
    January 17, 2006

    ‘How do I know my faith has any merit? Because I have found evidence in my own life to support that. Can I present scientific evidence for that? Of course not’

    Fair enough, just don’t go stomping around pretending your faith is any different than those who worship L Ron Hubbard.

    ‘Is mine the “only true faith among 10,000 others”? I very much doubt it. But then I know that my own view of God is a very very limited segment of the whole.’

    Your presuming something here, how do you KNOW this? You don’t and yet you call others arrogant.

    Although I will say I like your approach better than many others.

  46. #46 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    GH wrote: “That is absurd. Any practicing Catholic who buys doctrines based on irrational points of view includingbut not limited to virgin birth, bread to flesh, demon possession, eternal marriage even when one hasn’t seen the person for 2 decades, and on and on are not speaking the same lanquage as a rational person. They are compartmentalizing absurd thoughts in relation to how they normally live their lives.”

    Yes, it involves compartmentalization. I call that being bilingual rather than failing to speak the language of logic and empiricism.

  47. #47 GH
    January 17, 2006

    ‘Yes, it involves compartmentalization. I call that being bilingual rather than failing to speak the language of logic and empiricism.’

    No it involves irrationality plain and simple. Your not speaking any different lanquage than those who believe in fairies, bigfoot, Zeus, and Thor. It has nothing to do with two equal yet seperate ideals. One is clearly inferior.

  48. #48 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “No it involves irrationality plain and simple. Your not speaking any different lanquage than those who believe in fairies, bigfoot, Zeus, and Thor. It has nothing to do with two equal yet seperate ideals. One is clearly inferior.”

    I said absolutely nothing about faith being “equal” or valid in any sense, only that it’s possible to have a facility in both modes of expression. The human mind is capable of a lot more than you give it credit for. Religious people may be wrong about a lot of things, but if you think they’re patsies, you’re fooling yourself.

  49. #49 JimC@yahoo.com
    January 17, 2006

    It’s not I who is fooling himself, that line in reference to this conversation is almost funny. I don’t disagree one can have faith in something and be a scientist, just that faith for the purposes of our discussion is of the irrational kind.

    ‘Religious people may be wrong about a lot of things, but if you think they’re patsies, you’re fooling yourself.’

    Really how so? What is your definition of patsie? One who will believe anything with no evidence—–seems to fit. Someone who is very credulous? seems to fit. Someone who believes something someone else says without question? seems to fit(particuarlly in regard to Catholics not so with Baptists and Methodists)

    You must have a really broad encompassing defintion of patsy.

  50. #50 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    BTW, I don’t think that my experience with Catholic education was unusual in any sense, at least for the time period (1970s to early 1980s). I had more than half lay teachers. Almost all were practicing Catholics. Few sounded remotely religious outside of religion class. The biology teacher taught evolution enthusiastically; the history teacher was equally enthusiastic about enlightenment ideals and the separation of church and state; the English teacher would even acknowledge the stultifying effect of Irish Catholic culture on the young James Joyce who wrote Dubliners. I assume these teachers prayed and went to church regularly, but if they didn’t tell you, you’d just think they were reasonably smart private school teachers.

    The idea that atheists have a monopoly on an ability to think critically is not supported by any evidence.

  51. #51 GH
    January 17, 2006

    PaulC,

    With all do respect-you are missing the point. As I read it jimC didn’t say religious people don’t think or couldn’t think critically just that they DON’T do it in all facets of their life expressly excluding the religious beliefs they where raised with from youth.

    ‘The idea that atheists have a monopoly on an ability to think critically is not supported by any evidence.’

    No one said that, but the fact is atheists carry the CT over to all areas of life and the religious do not. That is supported by evidence whether you choose to accept it or not.

    If you think a man was born of a virgin and bread turns into a flesh once you eat it—–YOU are not thinking critically and surely you are aware of this.

  52. #52 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “Really how so? What is your definition of patsie?”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=patsy
    A person easily taken advantage of, cheated, blamed, or ridiculed.

    It’s true that believers in a particular religion may appear gullible relative to their willingness to adopt their leaders’ beliefs, it’s a mistake for you to imagine that YOU will find it easy to take advantage of them. When their life or livelihood is at stake, you’ll probably find that they can think, on average, about as well as anyone else.

    My point is that the idea that religious people are “stupid” or “gullible” or “incapable of logic” is not a useful idea. In particular, it’s a very bad idea for anyone to adopt if you want to fight them. Religious people have a particular set of blindspots. Outside of those blindspots, their ability to reason critically is some function of innate capacity and that amount of effort they’ve devoted to it. Merely declaring yourself to be an atheist does not automatically make you smart; equally, there are many of very smart people who also happen to have some religious beliefs.

    The idea that “they’re speaking a different language” strikes me in large part to be a form of laziness to avoid making an effort to communicate.

  53. #53 JimC
    January 17, 2006

    ‘It’s true that believers in a particular religion may appear gullible relative to their willingness to adopt their leaders’ beliefs,’

    Your making my point for me.

    ‘it’s a mistake for you to imagine that YOU will find it easy to take advantage of them. When their life or livelihood is at stake, you’ll probably find that they can think, on average, about as well as anyone else.’

    Of course thats the entire point you see to miss each and every time. They are gullible to their religious leaders but not in any other avenue of life. They are willing patsies for no reason whatsoever in the religious arena.

    ‘My point is that the idea that religious people are “stupid” or “gullible” or “incapable of logic” is not a useful idea’

    No one said they where, just that they don’t use CT in regards to their own bizarre beliefs.

    ‘Merely declaring yourself to be an atheist does not automatically make you smart; equally, there are many of very smart people who also happen to have some religious beliefs.’

    I agree being an atheist doesn’t make you smart. But it does mean you are carrying CT alot further than someone who thinks virgins give birth.

    ‘The idea that “they’re speaking a different language” strikes me in large part to be a form of laziness to avoid making an effort to communicate.’

    Baloney, how can one have an honest coversation with an individual who believes fairies talk to him? Or that aliens visit him at night? Or virgins give birth? No amount of communication can overcome a bizarree attachment to such an idea.

  54. #54 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “No one said that, but the fact is atheists carry the CT over to all areas of life and the religious do not. That is supported by evidence whether you choose to accept it or not.”

    Actually I have trouble believing that most self-identified atheists succeed in this goal. If someone wanted to make this claim, I’d observe their investment behavior, their response to everyday risk, and their action in response to loss vs. gain for example, all of which tend to be areas in which the human mind is quite terrible when it comes to behaving rationally.

    It’s unreasonable to expect the brain to function as an effective tool of pure logic all the time. The brain is capable of doing logic, but it’s actually a lot better at doing language manipulation, pattern matching, and crude inductive reasoning–all of which are prone to lead to faulty conclusions. The reason it’s good at these processes is probably that they are efficient and do lead to useful conclusions much of the time. They may even be more efficient on average cost/benefit when you consider the effort needed to find a sound epistemic basis for decisions. I’m not sure about that on an individual basis, but on a species basis, getting things right 100% doesn’t give you a great advantage over 99%. It seems unclear to me why you should expect to be good enough at logic that you would use it for all aspects of life.

    Personally, I believe strongly in the usefulness of critical thinking. In fact, I believe it’s the best means available to getting at the truth. However, I also believe that it requires measurable effort. Thus, unless you’re doing it for pleasure, you ought to justify the expense of thinking as you would justify any other expense. I would weigh it against the outcome of making the right decision vs. making the wrong decision.

    In case of religious tradition, the difference in outcome may not only be relatively minor, but subtly difficult to measure. There may, for instance, be a social benefit to groups of people assembling even if those same people are mostly wrong about their individual reasons for doing so (I’m not religious, by the way, so this is not intended as self-justification.)

    So, rather than identifying religious people as different or inferior to myself, my inclination is to assume that they have developed a successful social strategy, and to try to understand how it works, as well as how to speak to them. I would argue that this has a stronger empirical justification than simply banging one’s head on the wall about how people could be stupid or wrong about so many things and yet clearly very influential.

  55. #55 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “I agree being an atheist doesn’t make you smart. But it does mean you are carrying CT alot further than someone who thinks virgins give birth.”

    Not necessarily. You be an atheist and still believe in perpetual motion machines or ponzi schemes. My only measure of whether someone is capable of critical thinking would be to see an extended example in which they carried it out. Even that would tell me little about the extent to which they were willing to apply it to other areas.

    Thus, no declared belief would help me very far in reaching such a conclusion. Someone who carries out critical thinking to as many areas in life as possible may indeed reach an atheist conclusion, but simply being an atheist doesn’t mean that that was the way you got there. For instance, someone might not be exposed to theism in the first place, or more commonly might have developed an animosity to it.

    Finally, I thought that the point of the original article was religious people “don’t speak the same language” as atheists. I just don’t believe this. It may be true of some religious people, and I assume it’s true of the people on the discussion boards Kahlo visited. But as I said above, this is almost certainly a self-selected sample. There are many people who might hold religious beliefs but don’t make religion into their avocation and would not be found on such boards.

  56. #56 JimC
    January 17, 2006

    You missing the point. Whether an atheist believes in a perpetual motion machine or not doesn’t leave the virgin birth believer off the hook. Both would be in error.This is bait and switch. We are speaking about the routine beliefs of some religious people. And the fact remains that people who buy into many religious ideas are not using CT.

    This next step is pure baloney:
    ‘Someone who carries out critical thinking to as many areas in life as possible may indeed reach an atheist conclusion, but simply being an atheist doesn’t mean that that was the way you got there.’

    But it does matter if you stay there.

    ‘For instance, someone might not be exposed to theism in the first place,’

    And who on this planet might that be? A baby right out of the womb? A better question would be why would anyone believe a virgin would give birth in spite of all known knowledge if someone hadn’t indoctrinated them from birth?

    ‘or more commonly might have developed an animosity to it.’

    Why would someone have animosity towards an unproven idea. This is something people say and it never makes sense. How can you be mad at something they don’t think exists? It’s simply a ridiculous argument.

    Your last paragraph illustrates it again, the language is different because if you think virgins can give birth you are NOT speaking or using CT in regards to this subject that will make any discussion possible with one who is using CT in regard to this topic.

  57. #57 JimC
    January 17, 2006

    ‘The brain is capable of doing logic, but it’s actually a lot better at doing language manipulation, pattern matching, and crude inductive reasoning–all of which are prone to lead to faulty conclusions.’

    I can agree with that.

    ‘So, rather than identifying religious people as different or inferior to myself, my inclination is to assume that they have developed a successful social strategy, and to try to understand how it works, as well as how to speak to them. I would argue that this has a stronger empirical justification than simply banging one’s head on the wall about how people could be stupid or wrong about so many things and yet clearly very influential’

    I can agree with that.

    ‘Actually I have trouble believing that most self-identified atheists succeed in this goal. If someone wanted to make this claim, I’d observe their investment behavior, their response to everyday risk, and their action in response to loss vs. gain for example, all of which tend to be areas in which the human mind is quite terrible when it comes to behaving rationally.’

    We are talking about whether an atheist has a better grasp of CT in matters of the supernatural(whatever that is) so I think your inventing a strawman here.

  58. #58 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “You missing the point. Whether an atheist believes in a perpetual motion machine or not doesn’t leave the virgin birth believer off the hook.”

    I agree, but it was intended as a counterexample to your claim that an atheist necessarily carries critical thinking to all aspects of their life. Some might. Most might for all I know. But there is nothing about the state of being an atheist that proves that critical thinking was the route used to get there.

    ” ‘For instance, someone might not be exposed to theism in the first place,’ And who on this planet might that be?”

    That was why I followed up with “more commonly.” I agree that it’s not a very likely hypothetical, but there’s no reason in principle why it would be impossible. In fact, some people are brought up atheist, and some may even be sheltered to a sufficient degree that the existence of God never occurred to them.

    ” ‘or more commonly might have developed an animosity to it.’ Why would someone have animosity towards an unproven idea.”

    Typically, it would be animosity towards individuals who represented a particular religious belief. This is very common. But for that matter, don’t you think you could develop a visceral animosity towards the abstract concept of uncritically accepting unproven ideas?

    I agree that critical thinking is one route to atheism. If you think it is the exclusive route, you have yet to make your case for this.

    “Your last paragraph illustrates it again, the language is different because if you think virgins can give birth you are NOT speaking or using CT in regards to this subject that will make any discussion possible with one who is using CT in regard to this topic.”

    Well, obviously, the “language” is most likely to be different when the subject is religion. My main point was that outside of that sphere, there is a lot of potential for common ground. For that matter, anyone can learn to apply logical inference to a set of assumptions and understand how people reach their conclusions from that set of assumptions. Usually the difference is in the underlying set of assumptions rather than the “language” used.

    I agree, though, that someone who eschews reason entirely doesn’t provide much of a basis for communication, but I don’t think that this characterizes the majority of people who might happen to follow some religious practices.

  59. #59 PaulC
    January 17, 2006

    “We are talking about whether an atheist has a better grasp of CT in matters of the supernatural(whatever that is) so I think your inventing a strawman here.”

    I honestly don’t know what “we are talking about” or who that we might be, but I have been doggedly addressing the original contention that religious people “speak a different language” from atheists, making it especially difficult for finding common ground, because this has not been my experience. Most people have great facility compartmentalizing their beliefs. Some may consider this practice dishonest, but it can actually aid in communication, since it means that regardless of religious background, it’s possible to work together in secular spheres.

  60. #60 JimC
    January 17, 2006

    ‘But there is nothing about the state of being an atheist that proves that critical thinking was the route used to get there.’

    Now back this up. This is one of those open ended statements that one can say but has little meaning. In my life the overwhelmning majority-meaning every one- of the atheists I know arrived at that conclusion by following an evidential trail. None of your examples has provided idea one in a real world sense of how else one may actually get there.

    ‘ and some may even be sheltered to a sufficient degree that the existence of God never occurred to them. ‘

    So that is the natural human state then, if no one teaches you about invisible people and virgins who give birth you won’t believe in them. You have spoken a large truth he methinks.

    ‘Typically, it would be animosity towards individuals who represented a particular religious belief.’

    Perhaps, but not in a way to say I don’t think God exists or vice versa.

    ‘But for that matter, don’t you think you could develop a visceral animosity towards the abstract concept of uncritically accepting unproven ideas?’

    Yes, but again it has nothing to do with the claim God exists. For that you would follow the evidence. Your erecting strawmen.

    ‘but I don’t think that this characterizes the majority of people who might happen to follow some religious practices.’

    I think your tap dancing here. If you think, again, that virgins give birth you simply are not going to be capable of a rational discussion involving religion. Nothing can dissuade you, no amount of counter evidence. So what type of conversation could be had?

    ‘Some may consider this practice dishonest, but it can actually aid in communication, since it means that regardless of religious background, it’s possible to work together in secular spheres.’

    That has been my entire point. You can work together in secular spheres namely because there evidential rules run the roost and fairy tale like notions are ignored. But in a larger sense it is dishonest.

  61. #61 Hollis Geary
    January 19, 2006

    I work in IT. My boss is catholic. There is no separation between his religion and his work. In my using of unix it is strictly forbidden to use the command “chmod 666″ because it is the sign of the devil. The Christmas lunch he through for the department was used as a platform to yell at me about god and the constitution.
    No language problem here. I know exactly why I was never promoted.

  62. #62 Violet Socks
    January 19, 2006

    Good lord, Hollis, that is outrageous. Do you have no recourse to higher-ups?