Pharyngula

Open minds, rather than sealing them

There’s some new movie out about religious indoctrination, reviewed by David Byrne.

Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)

That’s sad, chilling stuff; perhaps one of the most pernicious things about religion is the way the young are targeted and their minds molded before they’re old enough to really think. Maybe we should start treating religion the way we do sex: it isn’t discussed in front of the kids, we have committees and institutions that police the media to block access to it, the government works hard to dun fear and contempt of it into young kids’ school curricula so that they don’t monkey with it until they’re at least in their late teens. It seems to me that if we’re able to slap sex with the label of shame for so long, without actually destroying the ability of most kids to eventually enthusiastically participate in it, it ought to be possible and fair to do the same with religion, right? We could also treat people who expose kids to Catholicism or Islam or Scientology as disgusting perverts who deserve to be sent to jail, and put them on police lists that are distributed to neighborhoods.

I’m all for it. Let’s make religion something in which mature adults can consensually revel, but that we keep away from the kiddies…until they’re old enough to manage the responsibility. Sounds fair? I’m sure, though, that that is the last thing the pious would want to do: remove the kids from their oily, sanctimonious grasp, and religion would die back in a few generations to a low level eccentricity held by a small fraction of the population—and those few believers would all be idiosyncratic, and not at all in thrall to the big money institutions of modern religion.

Which leads me to mention Camp Quest, where I spoke last week. It’s the diametric opposite of Jesus Camp. Kids are taught the tools of skeptical thought—I saw that they were learning a little probability theory and the scientific method, and were learning how to test claims about dowsing—and they go out of their way to expose the kids to the diversity of religious thought (a tactic which may be even more effective than insulating them from all religious thought). Right after my session, they had a pair of pagans give a talk on their belief system, and they were more than a little loopy…but nobody had to tell the kids that, everyone was nice and polite, and you could tell that no one was fooled.

My own talk was a bit about the scientific method, a short overview of some creationist claims, and some easy ways to refute them (the index to creationist claims is the instrument of choice there). I also taught them the most useful question they can apply anywhere: “How do you know that?” I told them that they should apply it to teachers and scientists as well as creationists…I noticed that one clever fellow applied it to the pagans that followed me.

I don’t think that approach would go over well at Jesus Camp.

Comments

  1. #1 Prufrock
    August 3, 2006

    That David Byrne guy is starting to make sense.

  2. #2 Corey Schlueter
    August 3, 2006

    Ironically, it was filmed in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota.

    I think these kids should watch Saved!, satirical comedy about fundmentalist Christians. Or better yet, Dogma.

  3. #3 olly
    August 3, 2006

    PZ you owe me a new laptop, I just spit coffee on my screen at the thought of Jesus driving an SUV.

    In all seriousness though, this really makes me sick. It’s bad enough when you’ve got indoctrination in the home as a kid grows up, but structured indoctrination like this? Reminds me of the Youth SS Brigade of Nazi Germany (you know, the one that the Pope was a member of?)

    -olly

  4. #4 Bronze Dog
    August 3, 2006

    I also taught them the most useful question they can apply anywhere: “How do you know that?”

    I find that question to be quite useful: I’ve never met a woo who can answer it.

  5. #5 Roman Werpachowski
    August 3, 2006

    Maybe we should start treating religion the way we do sex: it isn’t discussed in front of the kids, we have committees and institutions that police the media to block access to it

    Or maybe you should drop that puritan approach to sex?

  6. #6 Koray
    August 3, 2006

    What a noble idea: to protect children until they are of the age of consent. However, it’s not protection in the eyes of the believers; it’s denial of the Godly truth.

    However, this instead could be promoted: anybody with a religion should be able (and willing) to research the arguments against their belief (and belief in general) when they are young adults. If you are a true believer of the true word of God, this does nothing but strengthen your belief. If you are believing in the wrong God, perhaps you could be enlightened (remember, the majority of the world is believing in something other than your religion, if any).

    Reigion should not be presented as a tautology as it is not one, especially in the presence of other religions and atheism. But it’s mightily effective esp. against kids.

  7. #7 Steve_C
    August 3, 2006

    This Week in God

    http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gmarchive/2006/08/this_week_in_go_3.html

    “Children are the future… of Religious Wars.”

    Koray. They’re all wrong.

  8. #8 RavenT
    August 3, 2006

    I envy you, Bronze Dog–when I’ve tried that tactic on hard-core alties, I’ve gotten the “quantum nature of reality” as an answer enough to where I think it qualifies as a meme in certain circles.

  9. #9 James Allen
    August 3, 2006

    I believe absolutely that children shouldn’t be exposed to religion until they are mature enough to be able consider whether or not they want to give it any place in their lives. Why do you think religious groups target the children so much? It’s the same reason tobacco companies do. Get them hooked when they are young and impressionable and they will be lifelong customers.

  10. #10 Mena
    August 3, 2006

    One thing that I never understood is why it’s ok for the “news” people on “Christian” tv shows to repeatedly tell kids that they are going to die any day in a fiery blaze of hellfire but if there is even on glimpse of a nipple (which any modern kid worth their muster had already seen on the Internet) or someone says “damn” the world will end right there and then so the broadcasters need to be punished. I had to set my remote to avoid Pax and networks like that for that reason. I really do wish that any church or religious organization who promotes any political candidate or agenda would lose their tax exempt status. Zealots aren’t exactly known for their powers of critical thinking and will believe anything they are told as long as someone appeals to some sort of pollyanna reason and yells really loudly about it. Hmmm, “Brainless: The Church of Conservatism” has a nice ring to it…

  11. #11 Bronze Dog
    August 3, 2006

    Slight modify to my previous comment: The ones who do attempt to answer end up backpedalling until they have to resort to Doggerel, rather than admit their beliefs have no foundation.

  12. #12 Uber
    August 3, 2006

    It is perhaps one of the most telling falsehoods of religion that they actively seek to indoctrinate the minds of children.

    When exposed these same children will rarely deviate from what was placed within their heads. The smarter of them will concoct elaborate webs of ideas to preserve and insulate these thoughts given to them by trusted adults against all attacks.

    Some will have brains wired to overcome what is primarily an emotional bond and understand the diversity of religions and realize they are but one idea of many. Others , usually out of a false fear, will go the other way and become aggressive defenders or just aggresors seeing everything as an attack on a belief they got from trusted elders.

    Any way it happens a war has been started that can be life long and very painful despite the reassurances it offers to some.

  13. #13 Jim
    August 3, 2006

    I may be sick. Manipulation of people this way is just sickening.

  14. #14 Uber
    August 3, 2006

    Oh and I know this is somewhat inflammatory but I no longer care. As mentioned above, if you are putting thoughts into your childs heads of hell, torture, and devils you are abusing that child.

    You can’t complain about sex and then go one and push these horrible disgusting ideas into the head of young people without being a big ass hypocrite. And I might add the sex pics will do far less harm than will the imagery discussed above.

  15. #15 Richard
    August 3, 2006

    RavenT, I’ve been having the same experience with the “quantum ” woo. Definitely qualifies as a meme now. Any good debunking that people can refer to on that, anyone?

  16. #16 justawriter
    August 3, 2006

    This disgusts me. God (yes I’m being ironic here) how this disgusts me. Devils Lake was the closest “big town” to where I grew up (which should tell a lot about where I did grow up). Its a nice place to live and the God botherers mostly leave a person alone. I did a little digging and found this vermin is infesting Lakewood Park, which at one time hosted one of the largest Chautauqua events west of the Mississippi. Guess we know what passes as educational around those parts these days.

    The name thing has a double irony. Devils Lake is a corrupted english translation of Minnewaukan, which is Dakota for Great Spirit Lake. It would be interesting to find out how long “Becky” has been spitting her filth at the park. Devils Lake is a closed basin lake, that is with no natural outlet at its current elevation. In 1993, the lake started rising and is now about 24.6 feet higher than it was back then (elevated rainfall over an extended period is the cause). About 80,000 acres of land have been more or less permanently flooded. Could be the Great Spirit doesn’t like these yahoos any more than I do.

  17. #17 ThePolynomial
    August 3, 2006

    Maybe we should start treating religion the way we do sex: it isn’t discussed in front of the kids, we have committees and institutions that police the media to block access to it, the government works hard to dun fear and contempt of it into young kids’ school curricula so that they don’t monkey with it until they’re at least in their late teens.

    …and even then you’re only allowed to choose one of the two.

  18. #18 Zeno
    August 3, 2006

    Well, it’s obvious that global warming is a hoax. The public figure most closely associated with it is Al Gore, a godless liberal! (Okay, he’s a Baptist, but that doesn’t count. Because he’s a liberal!) You see, if a liberal tells you “Good morning,” then it must be a bad morning, because they always lie.

    That’s enough of channeling my father now. I need to go lie down for a bit.

  19. #19 Kristine
    August 3, 2006

    While in Portland, Oregon I saw the film “The King,” which takes a hard look at fanaticism (religious and otherwise), and I don’t think this film is going to get a wide distribution–it’s a grim flick and understated, without sparkle or gimmicks, and it’s extremely sad, hard to watch, and frankly it scared the living daylights out of me, but it’s remarkable in that it doesn’t cop out of its horrible conclusion. The conservative religious father and son are unsympathetic at first, but as the story builds they reveal their complexity and humanity, whereas the initially sympathetic bastard son reveals his dark side. This is a film that forces you, despite what you think of the people in it, to fear for them and to empathize with their suffering. I didn’t “enjoy” this film but I highly recommend it, if you can find it.

  20. #20 Bronze Dog
    August 3, 2006

    RavenT, I’ve been having the same experience with the “quantum ” woo. Definitely qualifies as a meme now. Any good debunking that people can refer to on that, anyone?

    Working on one. Had an earlier “Doggerel” entry on “Quantum”, but it had some mistakes on it. Got some help earlier, and I just need to spend a little time with my Adobe software to make some entertaining visuals.

    Thinking of having it something like this:

    Doggerel #17.1: “Quantum” (Corrected version)
    17.A: “The Double-Slit Experiment Proves [Woo]!”
    17.B: “Quantum Entanglement Proves [Woo]!”
    17.C: “Shrodinger’s Cat Proves [Woo]!”

  21. #21 DanC
    August 3, 2006

    Let’s make religion something in which mature adults can consensually revel, but that we keep away from the kiddies…until they’re old enough

    Not a bad idea, but I think it would be a better idea to do the opposite and treat religion more like how we treat Santa Claus: let kids believe god exists until they turn 6 or 7 and then let them in on the big lie and have a good laugh.

  22. #22 Martin Christensen
    August 3, 2006

    Regarding the getting-to-the-children business, our side is sort of guilty of that, too. Don’t we want to teach the young our point of view as soon as we can, too? Our only defence (that I can think of) is, however, that the kernel of what we want to teach them is critical thinking, which I suppose qualifies as a sort of anti-indoctrination. If said critical thinking will be applied in generous amounts to whatever science we try to teach the kids, both the kids and the science will be better off for it. I’m undecided on whether I believe that the same applies to religion.

    Martin

  23. #23 Radi
    August 3, 2006

    “…expose the kids to the diversity of religious thought (a tactic which may be even more effective than insulating them from all religious thought)…”

    Sure worked with me *chuckle*. I am a confirmed atheist, and have been since the age of 12 or thereabouts. Agnostic before then, but avowedly atheist since. Heheh.

    My parents (and extended family) were busy trying to indoctrinate me in the Hindu religion, while the teachers at the private, Protestant school that I attended from 4th through 12th grade were busy trying to convert me to Christianity. Just that simple but long 8-year exposure to two different religions was enough to make me realize that I didn’t believe in ANY of their woo; that it was all fairy tales (same as the ones Enid Blyton wrote, or Hans Christian Anderson, for that matter).

  24. #24 Dr. T
    August 3, 2006

    Martin: Exactly. On certain level, any system of thought is based on unprovable assertions. But the Enlightenment-Scientific Revolution assertion that rationality and empiricism are the best route to knowledge includes the self-correction factor of critical thinking. “How do you know that?” indeed! Anyway, typing on this computer, I have a concrete example at my fingertips that the Scientific Revolution might have been on to something….

  25. #25 gwangung
    August 3, 2006

    RavenT, I’ve been having the same experience with the “quantum ” woo. Definitely qualifies as a meme now. Any good debunking that people can refer to on that, anyone?

    Um…”You can show me the math on that, right?”

  26. #26 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    August 3, 2006

    I find that question to be quite useful: I’ve never met a woo who can answer it.

    Here’s how that qustion usually goes with fundamentalists.

    Q: How do you know that?
    A: The Bible says so.
    Q: Well, how do you know the Bible is right?
    A: It’s the Word of God.
    Q: How do you know the Bible is the Word of God?
    a: The Bible says so.

    … and soon, in an infinite loop.

  27. #27 Watchman
    August 3, 2006

    “That David Byrne guy is starting to make sense.”

    Heh… Good one, Prufrock! ;-)

    Keeping religion away from kids until they reach the age of consent. That’s an interesting idea, as is Camp Quest. It’s all very Jeffersonian, and who *cough* hates America more than Thomas Jefferson, I ask you?

    Jefferson counseled his own nephew, on the subject of religious inquiry, to “shake off all the fears of servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear…

    “[Y]ou must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject any thing because any other person, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.”

    You’re in good company, PZ.

    I’m new on the block. Has the name David Barton come up in these parts? He’s one of those “myth of separation” revisionist/liars, and his fabricated Madison quotes – thanks to their proliferation on the ‘net – just won’t die. It’s troubling.

  28. #28 Ahcuah
    August 3, 2006

    In addition to “How do you know that?”, there are two companion (scientific-like) questions:

    “If you were wrong, how could you tell?”

    and

    “What would it take to convince you otherwise?”

    If the answer to that last one is “nothing”, then there is no scientific thinking (or integrity) going on at all.

    Note that these extra questions apply quite well to all sorts of areas, including ID and the global warming doubters (“what data would it take to convince you that global warming is happening and man-made?”).

  29. #29 RavenT
    August 3, 2006

    d’oh! gwangung, that’s an excellent one! [/Treppenwitz]

  30. #30 Martin Christensen
    August 3, 2006

    Ahcuah:

    In addition to “How do you know that?”, there are two companion (scientific-like) questions:

    “If you were wrong, how could you tell?”

    and

    “What would it take to convince you otherwise?”

    Even as an atheist, I’m struggling with the latter: I believe that there is no god, but if the Almighty himself stepped down from the heavens with his angelic brass band, would I believe that everything were indeed as the Bible has tols us, or rather, and more likely, that advanced technology (or whatever) is being used to deceive my senses or do stuff the science behind which I simply don’t understand? I am not so arrogant as to assume that I would be able to tell vastly advanced technology at work from real magic, and so my bias compels me to assume that whatever I’m witnessing very probably is not magic and has perfectly natural causes beyond my understanding.

    I’d like to think otherwise, but intellectual honesty demands that I acknowledge that I’d likely be as difficult to persuade of the existence of the divine as a believer would be to persuade of non-existence of its non-existence.

    Martin

  31. #31 Caledonian
    August 3, 2006

    When exposed these same children will rarely deviate from what was placed within their heads. The smarter of them will concoct elaborate webs of ideas to preserve and insulate these thoughts given to them by trusted adults against all attacks.

    The smartest of them will recognize it for the garbage it is.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be seeking to increase the incidence of atheism. We don’t want hoi polloi ruining a perfectly valid position, after all.

  32. #32 Ron Sullivan
    August 3, 2006

    It’s evil, it’s nasty, but you know what? It’s not that far from what some of us got nine months a year in Catholic parochial schools, and it’s not necessarily incurable. Makes the camp-processed sproggen a bit harder to tolerate, though, if you happen to engage them in what passes in some circles for conversation.

  33. #33 Ed Darrell
    August 3, 2006

    Hmmm. Well, it’s probably not child abuse to teach stuff contrary to the state education standards. More’s the pity.

  34. #34 Richard
    August 3, 2006

    gwangung……that’s perfect — so simple, and so impossible.

  35. #35 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    I believe that there is no god, but if the Almighty himself stepped down from the heavens with his angelic brass band, would I believe that everything were indeed as the Bible has tols us,

    You would if he turned your best friend standing next to you into a tiny crystal than crushed it between his giant boot, leaving a million purple and golden frogs in its wake, each of which sprouted wings and flew into the air singing “Jesus has returned! Jesus has returned! Bow down and pray! Bow down and pray!”

    I’m guessing you would be bowing down and praying, right along with me. Maybe you’d be thinking about blowing your brains out in between your panic attacks, but I think your survival instincts would get the better of you.

    Of course, this bullcrap isn’t ever going to happen and I’d bet everything I own on it with any fundie moron. And you know how they’d reply don’t you: “I’m not a betting person.” And that of course, is just another Lie for Jesus because 99.9% of the Christian religion is simply a way of coping with the fear of death and not seeing your mommie or daddy or kiddie or doggy or goldfish “ever again” boo hoo hoo hoo!!!! Pascal’s Wager is alive and well, over 2 billion served.

  36. #36 Gavinpublic@comcast.net
    August 3, 2006

    You can visit the camp’s web site, Kids in Ministry International, where they actually promote the movie on the front page. You can also get Becky’s thoughts on the movie. There are some things about the documentary that confuse her, but she trusts that it is all part of God’s plan.

    If you don’t want to wait for “Jesus Camp” you can get KIMI’s own camcorder shot video, “Kids on Fire Summer School of Ministry” for only $19.99. Or perhaps you’d like to get their curriculum teaching children to be faith healers or their aptly named “Leading the Lambs to the Lion” training institute.

    You just can’t make this stuff up.

    Gavin

  37. #37 lytefoot
    August 3, 2006

    However, this instead could be promoted: anybody with a religion should be able (and willing) to research the arguments against their belief (and belief in general) when they are young adults. If you are a true believer of the true word of God, this does nothing but strengthen your belief. If you are believing in the wrong God, perhaps you could be enlightened (remember, the majority of the world is believing in something other than your religion, if any).

    This misses one of the most important points of fundimentalist thought. To the fundimentalist mind considered faith is worthless. Faith is not based on a rational process, but rather the result of being moved by the holy spirit. (A fundimentalist once described being born again as being “like seeing a blinding flash of blue light, and everything was clear to me”.) If you contemplate, and meditate, and ultimately come to the conclusion that yes, Jesus Christ is your personal savior, that’s worse than not believing at all.

  38. #38 Jenna
    August 3, 2006

    It’s sickening just to know that children are more impressionable, quick learners, and are targets. It’s even worse when you also know a little something about developmental neurobio to boot and the childhood indoctrination is intense and all-pervasive. However, there are plenty of people who are able to decide otherwise as adults; but I’ve noticed that the more intensely indoctrinated the kids are, the harder this decision is for them.

  39. #39 Gray Lensman
    August 3, 2006

    Sounds familiar. I grew up a Southern Baptist kid in SE Texas. We went to “camp” in the summer. Lots of Bible memory work (“sword drill”), bad food, singing and praying, mosquitos, crafts, creepy counselors,preaching, being “saved”, etc. Luckily, my folks didn’t insist when I protested. By the age of 15 I was out of there and never returned.

    A happy 50-year pagan.

  40. #40 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    To the fundimentalist mind considered faith is worthless.

    Maybe that’s true of some fundies in the American desert, who live without TVs or the Internet and who merely pray and believe.

    But for many of the ones we meet online (e.g., at The Evangelical Outpost and other houses of ill repuke), “faith” equals “overwhelming evidence.” The fundies on the internet have given their “faith” a great deal of consideration. That is why they always want to talk to you about it.

  41. #41 Koray
    August 3, 2006

    Martin, if “some” creature ascends from the sky, all it can do is to dominate you. It cannot convince you (i.e. prove to you) that it created the universe because you (or I) are incapable of verifying such a proof.

    There could be a creature that is powerful enough to distort my senses and my brain to make me accept ‘a demonstration’ as a proof, and such a creature does not necessarily have to be powerful enough to create a universe.

  42. #42 Pierce R. Butler
    August 3, 2006

    More testimony from the Cult of the Cosmic Coincidence -

    The Random Quote accompanying my view of this item:

    I would defend the liberty of consenting adult creationists to practice whatever intellectual perversions they like in the privacy of their own homes; but it is also necessary to protect the young and innocent.
    Arthur C. Clarke

    [spelling & punctuation corrected]

  43. #43 386sx
    August 3, 2006

    There could be a creature that is powerful enough to distort my senses and my brain to make me accept ‘a demonstration’ as a proof, and such a creature does not necessarily have to be powerful enough to create a universe.

    Even if it’s powerful enough to create a universe, such a creature doesn’t necessarily have to be the creator of the universe. Nor does it necessarily have to be “wise”, or “good”, or “honest”, or any of the myriad of unfounded assumed properties all these religions assign to their gods. One unwarranted supposition piled on top of another, on top of another, on top of another…

    Wow!

  44. #44 horrobin
    August 3, 2006

    (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)

    Have you heard the latest? Pat Robertson, who used to believe global warming was a scam dreamed up by enviro/liberal/nature-worshipers, has seen the light. He now believes the ice caps are melting and we need to control fossil fuel consumption. What convinced him? Overwhelming scientific evidence? Nope.

    Because it’s been really hot lately.

    link

  45. #45 JonnJonzz
    August 3, 2006

    When I was in the second grade, my mother had become quite enamored of her sister’s church: an Apostolic Pentacostal church on the South Side of Chicago. She was “saved” there, and ultimately decided she was not to worship any false idol, which was for her all of her pants; she cut up every pair and for years and years only wore skirts and dresses.

    My father, the son of a Baptist minister, was never particularly interested in this church, and did not attend with my mother. Many times she would take me and my brother, five years my junior, there herself. We would go to Sunday School with children we did not know with the exceptions of our cousins, and attended the extremely long services (for those who do not know, African-American church services tend to be rather longish at 2-3 hours; compare that to your standard mainline Protestant Methodist or Episcopal service of 1 hour max, and you get the idea). Add into it that I attended a Catholic school and the required Friday Mass, my patience with those services was always taxed.

    Eventually, it was decided that it was time for me to be saved. That would require that I get baptized (full immersion, none of that “drip some drops of blessed water on your forehead” stuff) and then “get the Holy Ghost.”

    Getting the Spirit or the Holy Ghost was a phenomenon I was familiar with…it happened at my father’s church, my grandfather’s church…but I had never seen it happen to a child. Only with adults, and you always knew for the most part who was going to “get it.” At my grandfather’s church, Sister Bobo was a reliable recipient of Holy Ghost Power. Without fail she would stand and howl, dance in her seat, crying out with the power of the Spirit when my grandfather’s sermon would come to its inevitable climax. She would exhaust herself in that hot little sanctuary, and the nurses would come and fan her whole the congregation would cheer her on and applaud, my grandfather smiling and “preaching on,” as Deacon Harper would call for.

    As a kid in the church, you just get used to it.

    At a Pentacostal church, it’s a little different.

    Those who get the Holy Ghost don’t simply scream and howl, sing and dance in their seats. The speak in tongues. The beliefs of the Pentacostals demand that in this state, you are touched by the tongues of fire as the Apostles were, and speaking tongues is simply understood and expected.

    As I was to find out, even the children.

    At 8 years old (and having taken swimming lessons) I was confident in my ability to get through the full immersion aspect of the process; only thing I recall was one of the people who went in ahead of me wore one of my socks into the baptismal font.

    I descended into the font, a hand was clasped over my nose and mouth, and I was plunged backwards into the water by Elder Baggett, the man who’s 24 square foot portrait now hangs in the narthex of the church’s sanctuary. I climbed out, got dried off and dressed, and was hearded into the basement with the other young kids who were baptized that morning.

    In that room, we were told that in order to be saved, to complete the process, we had to accept Christ as our savior and to prove we had done so, we had to speak in tongues.

    I had no idea how I was going to do that. I had seen my mother do it, my aunt do it. But me?

    Well, here’s how.

    In this little room, the kids are told strongly and repeatedly how they must love Jesus with their whole heart and soul. You HAVE to. And you must repeat, over and over again, “Thank you JesusThank you JesusThank you Jesus.” Over and over and over again.

    Until you are on the point of tears and beyond. All of us are sobbing trying to say it enough times, fast enough to get the Holy Ghost.

    And when you are that broken down, 8 years old, in a room without your parents or anyone else you know, you do what you are told.

    I believe that something like this is what these children in the movie go through. The details will be different, but the idea remains; break them down emotionally, and they will accept what you tell them. They wouldn’t question in any event, but it’s just one more step in the path of indoctrination. A child that will die for their God, Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Jew, terrifies me. Because they will never question or reason. For their God is never wrong, and he is on their side.

    I am 38 years old, and I don’t believe that I am scarred be the experience. I went to Catholic Schools, have sung in many different denominations’ services, and come to the point of questioning a lot of what passes for faith and what is done in the name of God. I see the idol worship so condemmned by this group of people transferred from those objects they so detest to their leaders they follow unquestioningly, men like Elder Baggett and George W. Bush. Men they treat like kings, who neither earned nor deserved that right.

    Christianity, and religion in general may indeed have its place. The continual misuse of that religion to manipulate children and young adults, however, is a continual and inescapeable blot on nearly all of them, whether they come from the Madrassass in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or the camps in the Western United States, or the churches on the South Side of Chicago.

  46. #46 jeffperado
    August 3, 2006

    Martin: I’d like to think otherwise, but intellectual honesty demands that I acknowledge that I’d likely be as difficult to persuade of the existence of the divine as a believer would be to persuade of non-existence of its non-existence.

    Funny you should say this, I was just talking about this very thing the other day.

    What I came up was this:
    Even if “God” did come down to earth and set about “proving” His existence, I would not believe. The difference between (and I presume you as well) and the Christian (or any religionist for that matter) is that I base my reason on rationality and strict adherence to natural law. The truth is that when a person (a religionist) bases their belief on the supernatural, then it is anything goes, and nothing proves anything: To the Christian the appearance of “God” proves Christianity, to the Muslim, it proves Islam (because it is actually the devil saying this and not Allah) etc and etc.

  47. #47 Rupert
    August 3, 2006

    As with the Islamicists who want to recreate the medieval caliphate, you don’t get anywhere pointing out the inherent contradictions.

    We’d do better by taking them at their word. The modern world is bad? Fine, then don’t touch it – throw away your computers, your medicines, your cellphones, your cars and your electricity. Your God-given righteousness will ensure your triumph. Any contact with the evils of materialism will sap your strength. Follow your faith through to its logical conclusions, and be as the lilies of the field. Give up all that you have, and follow – that’s what the Bible says.

    (and as for the cult of the family – Luke 18:29-30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”)

    Go on then!

  48. #48 Paleoboy
    August 3, 2006

    Q What’s the difference between religion and beer?
    A It’s illegal to force beer on children who can’t think for themselves.

    Just thought I’d share…

  49. #49 Sounder
    August 3, 2006

    I’ve actually had this discussion before. How could a rational person be convinced of the existence of a supernatural entity? Simply put, as we are now, we can’t be: there’s no way for us to even comprehend such a being, and could therefore not even know what to look for. The only way we could ever know of a “God” would be for him to, basically make us gods ourselves. To give us knowledge of the supernatural, we would first have to be made supernatural, to comprehend it.

  50. #50 Paul
    August 4, 2006

    Yeah – the trick is to teach ALL religions (inc. the FSM, blessed be his noodly appendage), plus the scientific method – giving them all equal time and emphasis. Then let the kids figure it out for themselves.

    Insulating kids from religion just makes it look alluring. The “all religions equally” approach also cuts the turf from under the holy joes who’ll inevitably (and justifiably) say you’re anti-religion if you try to stop them teaching religion wholesale (and it gets around First Amendment issues in the US). An added bonus is that it puts them on the pointy end of the stick if they try to argue that their religion should get more airtime (that’s where you wheel out the FSM).

    That said – single faith schools shouldn’t be paid for with public money (as is the case in the UK).

  51. #51 Paul
    August 4, 2006

    Oh – and I forgot to add – the “all religions equally” approach should also include notable “dead” religions like Mithraism, the Greek, Roman and Norse pantheons etcetcetc. Just for context, don’t you know.

  52. #52 Daniel Morgan
    August 4, 2006

    One of my most memorable experiences in church was at 13 or so (I was raised in church from infancy – 3 times / week) we had a “revival” with a guest evangelist. He played a tape where some Russian drillers had cored down deep, and recorded some audio of the sounds down there. Of course, retrospectively I know that it was the sound of giant rock plates shearing one another, but at the time, it sounded like the most godawful screams you can imagine. And of course, the evangelist played it as “evidence” that hell existed beneath the earth.

    I flew down to the altar that night, as did many other young people, and bought my “fire insurance policy” — Jeebus.

  53. #53 Laura (geekymom)
    August 4, 2006

    The Geeky kids are already fully indoctrinated. Geeky Boy, unfortunately, has to regularly say, “That’s an urban myth.” Then he has to explain. Though this has upset a teacher or two, it got him in good stead with the librarian.

  54. #54 mark
    August 4, 2006

    Maybe we should start treating religion the way we do sex: it isn’t discussed in front of the kids, we have committees and institutions that police the media to block access to it, the government works hard to dun fear and contempt of it into young kids’ school curricula so that they don’t monkey with it until they’re at least in their late teens.

    But watch out! Kids will learn about behind the barn, from other kids who don’t really know as much about it as they think. We’ll see a lot of unwanted teenage rapture, people will believe they can catch catechism from toilet seats, and half of all conversions will end in apostacism.

  55. #55 Magnus
    August 4, 2006

    If religion is to be treated like sex, lots and lots of religios websites will pop up offering bible quotations, pictures of Adam and Eve in only their leaves. We’ll have to install parental filters on our computer to prevent under age kids learning about Job and Moses from filthy pages that “only” want your credit card number for “verification” purposes. Oh, and thos explicit pictures of the virgin Mary. Naughty.

    And what if litle Billy finds a copy of the Watchtower under his older brothers bed. God forbid.

  56. #56 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    David Byrne is proposing another solution than PZ, and it is actually stronger:

    “When one sees religion perverted — in the U.S. or in Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan or India, one wonders if the spiritual seeds, planted by visionaries and enlightened prophets like Jesus, Mohammed, Marx and others, are just too volatile for large societies to deal with. One asks if religious visions are better off kept as a personal thing, or at least confined to a small group — otherwise the death and destruction sown by and in the name of religions more or less balances out their moral and personal virtues (which are many.)”

    But PZ’s solution seems fair and good enough.

    BTW, the maker of the documentary, Loki Films, seems to be an interesting company. Apart from a cool name and cool documentaries one of the founders is “A private investigator turned filmmaker”. That may give some original and skeptic stuff.

    Martin:
    “I am not so arrogant as to assume that I would be able to tell vastly advanced technology at work from real magic”

    I believe thinking of special cases of beings and deceptions confuse the situation unneccessarily. Arthur C. Clarke’s third law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is about technology, not magic or the supernatural. Generally, there should be supernatural phenomena that we can eaily see, just as there are natural phenomena that isn’t technology. For example watching new objects (or species :-) POOF! into existence without no discernable means or side effects.

    Clarke also said “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.” (The first law.) We should have respect in declaring anything impossible.

  57. #57 inge
    August 4, 2006

    Q: What would it take to convince you of the existence of god?

    A: If your god is really all-knowing and all-powerful, I’m sure he can think of something.

    (Doens’t work with pagans whose gods are not all-knowing and all-powerful.)

  58. #58 Slippery Pete
    August 4, 2006

    If Camp Quest invited fundamentalist evangelicals to give a speech, you would (rightly) refuse to endorse it. But they invite a couple of hippy “pagans” and you’re ok with it, because a couple of kids asked skeptical questions?

    Quite honestly, this pagan business is new to me. I had read a little about Camp Quest and had no idea. It sounds less like a pro-science anti-mysticism camp and more like an antiestablishmentarian camp, which is worse than useless because it comflates skepticism of all paranormal claims with skepticism of The Man. Bleh. I’m disappointed.

  59. #59 PZ Myers
    August 4, 2006

    Umm, no. They do and have invited representatives of different faiths, including mainstream religions, to talk. It is not pro-pagan or pro-fundamentalist to give them a chance to open their mouths — it’s pro-open information.

  60. #60 Nix
    August 4, 2006

    religion would die back in a few generations to a low level eccentricity held by a small fraction of the population

    Yeah, right, because that works so well when it’s tried with sex.

  61. #61 Steve LaBonne
    August 4, 2006

    My daughter would love to attend a camp at which either an evangelical preacher or a “pagan” was invited to speak. Either talk would give her a great opportunity to exercise her considerable gift for sarcasm.

  62. #62 PZ Myers
    August 4, 2006

    Yeah, right, because that works so well when it’s tried with sex.

    Errrm, uh…touché.

    I should qualify that. While there would still be widespread willingness to accept peculiar beliefs, and it would not eliminate common credulity, it would break the backs of the major organized religions.

  63. #63 Keith Douglas
    August 4, 2006

    Richard: The physicist Vic Stenger (do a google search) has written about some of it. Or, there is also decent but complicated work that is a sort of step removed. (Philosophers like Bunge, Popper and others have emphasized that QM is as realist as any other theory in physics and it is only the cruft that Bohr and what not tacked on that isn’t.)

    Koray: Amazingly I think we are potentially around 50-100 years away from that ourselves. Be afraid.

    All the talk about “what if you saw jesus (or whoever) descend” and that sort of stuff – ST:TNG did a rather lousy episode about this, but it made the point sufficiently clear. Just simply apply Clark’s Law. That’s all.

    Paleoboy: Which of course is interesting, since both can massively rewire your brain …

  64. #64 Steve LaBonne
    August 4, 2006

    Some of this discussion reminds me of a famous Bertand Russell story. Someone once asked him what he would say if he died and found himself standing before God to answer for his unbelief. He said that he would tell God, “You didn’t give us enough evidence!”

  65. #65 Dunc
    August 4, 2006

    Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that?

    Yes. Exactly that.

    Would Jesus drive an SUV?

    Republican Jesus would driver a Hummer. Or a tank. Mere SUVs are effete.

    Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?

    Not just suspect… Obviously wrong, and evil, motivated solely by the desire to kill babies and eliminate Christianity. Unless it conforms to, or can be twisted to appear to conform to, the aforementioned corporate agendas.

  66. #66 bsturtz
    August 4, 2006

    We’re having a terrific film festival this week in Traverse City. One of the scheduled offerings is Jesus Camp. The distributor wants to yank it because the festival’s main organizer is Michael Moore.

  67. #67 Kagehi
    August 4, 2006

    For example watching new objects (or species :-) POOF! into existence without no discernable means or side effects.

    And what, other than our own current lack of knowledge on how to do so, makes this impossible using natural laws? Fact is, even with modern knowledge, you need a few things we don’t have, like some way to manipulate idividual atoms, a “blueprint” of functional DNA for the species, etc., but its not “impossible”, just not possible with current technology. Your Clarke quote says it right their, your “presuming” something is impossible, which breaks the first law. The problem is, for someone to come up with a thing that might be possible, but also supernatural, you have to first think of something that science “must” claim is an impossibility. Most such things would be catastrophic to existence, the ones that are not, are also not “certain”, to be impossible in science at all, at least not yet, like turning off gravity temporarilly.

    Point is, for the poofing of objects, I can think of three possible “invisible” things, worm holes, which we are fairly sure are possible, though be can’t currently make them work, teleportation, which is a bit more iffy, and nano-tech, though I suppose “that” might produce a visible effect, and disqualify itself. And those are just in the realm of valid, if currently unproducible, possibilities. There are bound to be others that range from theoretically possible to pure sci-fi, with the later more often than not being “Its not possible the way described, but maybe if you do it this way…”

  68. #68 arlani
    August 4, 2006

    Did I correctly understand that the film company that produced Jesus Camp is Loki films? Does anyone else see the irony there?

  69. #69 xebecs
    August 4, 2006

    I should qualify that. While there would still be widespread willingness to accept peculiar beliefs, and it would not eliminate common credulity, it would break the backs of the major organized religions.

    That’s the thing. We’d see the major religions shrivel to a fraction of their current size and power, and a new generation of “weeds” sprouting up to fill in some of the gaps.

  70. #70 Owlmirror
    August 4, 2006

    Did I correctly understand that the film company that produced Jesus Camp is Loki films? Does anyone else see the irony there?

    I saw the irony, but I thought it was rather obvious. The makers of the film do not appear to be entirely in sympathy with their subject.

    But as I’ve said elsewhere, fundamentalists seem to be irony-blind.

  71. #71 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    Kagehi:

    “And what, other than our own current lack of knowledge on how to do so, makes this impossible using natural laws?”

    Energy conservation.

    “Point is, for the poofing of objects, I can think of three possible “invisible” things, worm holes, which we are fairly sure are possible, though be can’t currently make them work, teleportation, which is a bit more iffy, and nano-tech, though I suppose “that” might produce a visible effect, and disqualify itself.”

    Energy conservation trivially excludes the last two. Worm holes are only possible in small scale, and they would be observable in larger scale anyway.

    arlani:
    They may want to point out skepticism against todays religions.

  72. #72 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    Kagehi:

    “Your Clarke quote says it right their, your “presuming” something is impossible, which breaks the first law.”

    Sorry, I missed answer that. I’m presuming supernatural actions are possible to observe in some good mannered experiments in the same way that natural actions are, not that something is impossible.

  73. #73 Owlmirror
    August 4, 2006

    While there would still be widespread willingness to accept peculiar beliefs, and it would not eliminate common credulity, it would break the backs of the major organized religions.

    Which is why I think it should be mandatory that young teens be taught a course (or several courses of increasing complexity) in “How to verify and evaluate assertions”.

    It would be nice if all con-men were unable to find marks, not just the religious ones.

    But I sometimes wonder if skepticism can actually be taught, or is an innate skill.

  74. #74 dorkafork
    August 4, 2006

    Yeah, right, because that works so well when it’s tried with sex.

    In all fairness, most people have a much stronger urge to have sex than to believe in some invisible Creator.

  75. #75 Chris
    August 4, 2006

    Did I correctly understand that the film company that produced Jesus Camp is Loki films? Does anyone else see the irony there?
    Hmm… Looking back, it appears that I just jumped to the conclusion that the film was an exposé, and nothing in the article actually says so.

    So… *is* it an exposé? Sympathetic to the jesus pushers? Somewhere in between?

  76. #76 David Harmon
    August 4, 2006

    Well, this topic’s brought out the one-liners!

    if the Almighty himself stepped down from the heavens with his angelic brass band, would I believe … or rather, and more likely, that advanced technology … is being used to deceive my senses or do stuff … which I simply don’t understand?

    Well, that’s a special case of a more general question, along the lines of “just what could an arbitrarily powerful/capable being convince me of?” Or alternatively, “how can an arbitrarily powerful being authenticate itself as “One Who Must Be Obeyed (And Not Just Because I Can Kill You)”, to a sophisticated observer? ;-)

    Also, in this context, I question Clarke’s Third Law! Folks, Clark’s Third Law of Technology came out of a discussion about writing science fiction. I think it reasonable to say that at this point, our scientific establishment really does have a fairly good idea of how the world works. Better, we have a pretty good idea of the boundaries of our knowledge. Any stunt with nanomachines is going to have to deal with thermodynamic issues. That means no “poofing” things into existence. Likewise, any use of wormholes will necessarily involve some sort of structures for physical support, control, guidance, so you can’t just pull out a wormhole and order up a pizza. It’s not unreasonable that some trick for large-object teleportation might exist, but there will certainly be intrinsic limits, tradeoffs, and side effects, just like anything else. (Targeting? Air displacement? Gravitational potential? Niven has riffed on this.)

  77. #77 David Harmon
    August 4, 2006

    Another take on:

    … if the Almighty himself stepped down from the heavens with his angelic brass band, …

    But consider that in fact, that’s generally not how religious visions work! Discounting the Bible-as-history idea, I gather that consistent mass visions are damn rare in historical accounts. Much more often, individuals have private visions, which then spread to other people by the usual means of storytelling, writing, interpersonal dominance, etc.

    David Byrne is quoted as: “One asks if religious visions are better off kept as a personal thing, or at least confined to a small group”

    In fact, this is essentially the real Other Leading Brand in religion. All religious systems and practices can be loosely separated into two types, which I call the Jovian and Promethean forms. The Promethean type of religion is the older form, characterized by widespread, private, relationships and experiences with divinity, which need not be absolute. Divination, trances, and magic are commonplace. Shamanic traditions are classically Promethean, as are many elements of the New Age movement. In contrast to this, the Jovian type of religion features group worship and heirarchical organizations. The spiritual heirarchy is closely linked to the real-world heirarchy of power, and not just by analogy. The priesthood are the gatekeepers for the sacred, and are jealously protective of their monopoly. Thus, any “sacred” experience outside the System is to be feared and shunned.

    The really interesting thing about these two forms of religion, is that they tend to cycle back and forth. The Promethean form is primordial, in that the experiences it depends on can be found scattered among the population. Thus, “primitive” tribes tend to develop faiths of this sort. But when tribes start setting down and growing in size, they start developing more political structure. Eventually, the chiefs give way to kings, and the shamans organize into a priesthood. In the tribal scheme, the chief and the shaman are always potential rivals, but they can also be allies. Likewise for the larger towns and cities — but once the two heirarchies become interdependent, the forms of worship start to shift, steadily to the favor of the “powers-that-be”. This leads rapidly to a Jovian religious system, which is likely to become progressively more coercive and dogmatic. But of course, those “private” religious experiences are still happening…. and occasionally, they’ll inspire outbreaks of Promethean faith. Those can then spread through word-of-mouth and spirit of rebellion, and occasionally grow to the point of challenging the parent faith.

    To lay out classic example: In the times of the Roman Empire, Temple Judaism was a pretty Jovian faith. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for that business about not paying taxes to the god-king, they’d have fit right in. (Note that there were a bunch of other types of Judaism floating around, many of them Promethean.) Into this we see a new faith erupting, one whose scriptures and early behavior look pretty damn Promethean. It proceeds to gobble up all the Promethean-style Jewish traditions… but then it converts the Emperor of Rome… and suddenly, the personal is political, and the Christian Church begins a long growth as a Jovian heirarchy. But it regularly sheds splinter sects as Prometheanism keeps breaking loose…. Meanwhile, the remaining Jews get their temples thrown down and their people scattered across the globe. The surviving traditions are the Rabbinicals, emphasizing personal study and interpretation of the Torah, and the Qabalists, using the Torah as a focus for mysticism. Both pretty much Promethean, but notice that when Judaism actually got a nation of its own to run, the Jovian theme popped out right on cue, as the Orthodox started turning religious observance into civil law.

  78. #78 Eric Paulsen
    August 5, 2006

    The very first article I clipped out of a newspaper (back while Reagan was Pres.) was about a group of evangelical Christians that promised a group of inner city children pizza and basketball but ended up forcing nearly all of them into a baptismal pool. Most of the children were horrified by the experience of being forced into white robes by strangers and I remember in particular two brothers who had refused the pressure to convert. Brave kids.

    I have always thought of that article when I hear how gays recruit our young people. At least I never heard of them abducting our children and forcing them to convert. Pizza and basketball indeed!

  79. #79 Keith Douglas
    August 5, 2006

    Owlmirror: It can certainly be improved, somewhat. It is also true that children are both credulous (believing a lot of what adults tell them) and skeptical, after a fashion (asking many questions). Most children get told to shut up eventually and to stop asking the questions. This does very severe harm, as far as I am concerned.

    David Harmon: I mentioned this previously elsewhere, but I think part of how powerful creatures might be able to manipulate us is purely mentally – by disrupting our brain functions. (What if they could activate the part of the temporal lobe Persinger has been investigating?) Now, would they be able to produce reliable hallucinations? I doubt it, but that area of knowledge is much less secure than our knowledge of fundamental physics.

  80. #80 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 5, 2006

    David:

    Clarke’s laws are made in an essay “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination”. A reviewer says about the two explicitly stated laws (1 and 3) that: “Both serve highly instructive warnings against making absolutist statements”.

    The laws are even useful outside that context. No-go statements and universal negatives are of course part of theories. (“No negative mass”, …) But it seems hard to make them stick because their assumptions are often circumvented.

    But I agree that the third law is a weak or nonfounded absolutist statement in itself. And you eloquently show why.

    BTW, todays teleportation requries entangled particles to be brought to the place of receiving.

  81. #81 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 5, 2006
  82. #82 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    That Byrne finds global-warming-denial “puzzling” indicates how clueless he is; what all the things taught at Jesus Camp have in common is that they are part of the Republican party platform. This is hardly a coincidence — it is a consequence of a political strategy hatched in 1980 by Richard Viguerie to put Ronald Reagan into office.

  83. #83 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    So… *is* it an exposé? Sympathetic to the jesus pushers? Somewhere in between?

    Well gee, maybe if you had clicked on the Jesus Camp link give above, and then clicked on the Read More link, you wouldn’t have had to ask … and wait for a response … and trust what someone else says …

  84. #84 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    But I sometimes wonder if skepticism can actually be taught, or is an innate skill.

    Perhaps it might help to wonder less and pay more attention to the evidence — for instance, how many people become skeptical after being burned, whether there are ex-fundies, ex-Catholics, ex-Scientologists, etc.

  85. #85 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    I’m presuming supernatural actions are possible to observe

    How does one “observe” that something is “supernatural”? With one’s third eye?

    It would be a great advance if people could grasp the fact that “supernatural” is not a coherent concept. Anything that occurs in the natural world is natural. And the only other kinds of worlds are virtual/imagined/hypothesized/abstract/etc.

    Also, “natural laws” are descriptive, not prescriptive. If something is “impossible according to the laws of physics”, that doesn’t make it impossible, because physical laws aren’t laws in that sense, they are only our current best inference about the world, and we can be wrong.

  86. #86 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    We’d see the major religions shrivel to a fraction of their current size and power, and a new generation of “weeds” sprouting up to fill in some of the gaps.

    The major religions have shriveled to a fraction of their size and power in Europe. The old churches are now filled with dance halls, theatres, etc.

  87. #87 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    It sounds less like a pro-science anti-mysticism camp and more like an antiestablishmentarian camp, which is worse than useless because it comflates skepticism of all paranormal claims with skepticism of The Man. Bleh. I’m disappointed.

    And why shouldn’t people be as skeptical of “The Man” and the “establishment” as of paranormal claims? Bleh yourself.

  88. #88 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    Q: What would it take to convince you of the existence of god?

    Brain surgery, Alzheimers, heavy drugs, or whatever else it would take to convince me of the existence of a square circle. In either case, I have no idea what the term is supposed to refer to.

  89. #89 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    I’ve actually had this discussion before.

    Wow, aren’t you special.

  90. #90 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    Regarding the getting-to-the-children business, our side is sort of guilty of that, too.

    That’s like saying that people who aren’t serial killers are guilty of not being serial killers.

  91. #91 truth machine
    August 6, 2006


    “What would it take to convince you otherwise?”

    If the answer to that last one is “nothing”, then there is no scientific thinking (or integrity) going on at all.

    Quite false. Aside from logical tautologies, which are convincing in and of themselves, it is dangerous ever to be convinced of most claims. A better question would be, what would it take for you not to be convinced?

  92. #92 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    [where's the damned edit button?]

    “What would it take to convince you otherwise?”

    If the answer to that last one is “nothing”, then there is no scientific thinking (or integrity) going on at all.

    Quite false. Aside from logical tautologies, which are convincing in and of themselves, it is dangerous ever to be convinced of most claims. A better question would be, what would it take for you not to be convinced?

  93. #93 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    I believe that there is no god, but if the Almighty himself stepped down from the heavens with his angelic brass band, would I believe that everything were indeed as the Bible has tols us

    Does the Bible mention a brass band?

    Seriously, this description begs the question. What actual event would we interpret in such terms? I can’t think of one. If I see a brass band, what would cause me to think it was angelic? What would cause me to think that the band leader was “the Almighty”, or that he had “stepped down from the heavens”? What are “the heavens”? How does one “step down” from them? I can imagine various hallucinations I might have, but I imagine them as hallucinations. Even if they were to seem so real that I would refuse to credit them as being hallucinations — although, given what I know of the mind, I don’t know why I would refuse — I don’t see why I would interpret them as you describe.

    or rather, and more likely, that advanced technology (or whatever) is being used to deceive my senses or do stuff the science behind which I simply don’t understand?

    Or natural brain chemistry run amuck. The basic thing to keep in mind is that perception is not necessarily veridical.

    I am not so arrogant as to assume that I would be able to tell vastly advanced technology at work from real magic, and so my bias compels me to assume that whatever I’m witnessing very probably is not magic and has perfectly natural causes beyond my understanding.

    Uh, Clarke didn’t use the word “real”, for good reason — the concept of “real magic” is incoherent. Or, as someone else (I forget who) put it, it’s ironic that “real” magic is the kind that doesn’t exist and “fake” magic is the kind that does exist.

    And all causes are natural; “causal”, “natural”, “physical”, “real”, can be thought of as synonymous.

  94. #94 truth machine
    August 6, 2006

    I’d like to think otherwise, but intellectual honesty demands that I acknowledge that I’d likely be as difficult to persuade of the existence of the divine as a believer would be to persuade of non-existence of its non-existence.

    You shouldn’t like to think otherwise; to be convinced of the existence of the divine, one should first have reason to think that the term is meaningful and that it can refer to something that can “exist”, but Hume blew these notions apart and they have never been put together again. What distinguishes “the divine” from that which is not “divine”? What might serve as a proof, or even evidence, that something is divine rather than not divine? Without that, it is intellectually honest to reject all claims that something is divine, and intellectually dishonest to embrace any claim that something is divine.

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