Pharyngula

Infidels

There are plenty of outspoken atheists in the United States—read the latest Carnival of the Godless #48 for a small sampling—but you can still find many mainstream journalists writing about them as if they were peculiar aliens living under a log with other unsavory and oddly constructed organisms. Today, it’s Newsweek that exclaims in surprise that there are godless people among us.

It’s not a very deep or thoughtful article, and what I found most noticeable about it is the obliviousness of the author. Here’s how it starts:

Americans answered the atrocities of September 11, overwhelmingly, with faith. Attacked in the name of God, they turned to God for comfort; in the week after the attacks, nearly 70 percent said they were praying more than usual. Confronted by a hatred that seemed inexplicable, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson proclaimed that God was mad at America because it harbored feminists, gays and civil libertarians.

From there, it goes on to note that there are these unbelievers, Dawkins and Dennett and Harris, who are writing about the dangers of religious fanaticism, and this is “not a message most Americans wanted to hear,” as if the strange thing is that rational people find no comfort in that invisible impotent phantasm, God, but it’s perfectly reasonable for people to hear voices telling them to blow themselves up, or to talk to oneself in hopes that a holy ghost will materialize to smite one’s foes. Answering atrocities with faith is like answering them with denial or wishing for leprechauns—it’s ineffectual and pointless. But no, the weird thing is that these atheists are publishing popular books and making a case for skeptical, rational inquiry. O Heresy!

This particular passage was singled out for criticism by Afarensis, and I can see why. It’s a twisted lump of illogic in the center of the article.

But Dawkins, brilliant as he is, overlooks something any storefront Baptist preacher might have told him. “If there is no God, why be good?” he asks rhetorically, and responds: “Do you really mean the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up.” That’s clever. But millions of Christians and Muslims believe that it was precisely God who turned them away from a life of immorality. Dawkins, of course, thinks they are deluding themselves. He is correct that the social utility of religion doesn’t prove anything about the existence of God. But for all his erudition, he seems not to have spent much time among ordinary Christians, who could have told him what God has meant to them.

What is the author thinking here? Dawkins raises an objection to the idea that religion is a force for morality, and his reply is 1) the argument from popularity, that since millions believe, there must be something to it, and 2) the erroneous idea that beliefs about belief are a data point in favor of its efficacy. Millions of people believe that wearing a copper bracelet cures arthritis, that burying a statue of St Joseph in your yard will help sell your house, and that aliens have abducted human beings—not only does this stuff fail to prove anything about the existence of magic copper, helpful saints, or aliens with an anal fetish, but it also says that human belief is a fickle and silly thing that seems to have little bearing on what’s actually true. I’m sure Dawkins has spent time among ordinary Christians, and has heard them earnestly declare how important God is to them, but so what? Ordinary Aztecs, animists from the Congo, and teenybopper fans of David Cassidy have all gushed over the central importance of their idols to their lives, and it doesn’t impress most of us at all. Maybe we should add Argumentum ad Fanboi to the lexicon of logical fallacies.

It is not just extremists who earn the wrath of Dawkins and Harris. Their books are attacks on religious “moderates” as well–indeed, the very idea of moderation. The West is not at war with “terrorism,” Harris asserts in “The End of Faith”; it is at war with Islam, a religion whose holy book, “on almost every page … prepares the ground for religious conflict.” Christian fundamentalists, he says, have a better handle on the problem than moderates: “They know what it’s like to really believe that their holy book is the word of God, and there’s a paradise you can get to if you die in the right circumstances. They’re not left wondering what is the ‘real’ cause of terrorism.” As for the Bible, Harris, like the fundamentalists, prefers a literal reading. He quotes at length the passages in the Old and New Testaments dealing with how to treat slaves. Why, he asks, would anyone take moral instruction from a book that calls for stoning your children to death for disrespect, or for heresy, or for violating the Sabbath? Obviously our culture no longer believes in that, he adds, so why not agree that science has made it equally unnecessary to invoke God to explain the Sun, or the weather, or your own existence?

I can’t say that I’m particularly fond of critics who don’t understand what they are criticizing. No, the books he’s talking about aren’t attacks on religious moderates, or on the idea of moderation: they are attacks on foolish ideas. If I say 2 + 2 = 4, and the raving lunatic in the corner says 2 + 2 = 6, the “moderate” does not get points for suggesting that we split the difference and agree that 2 + 2 = 5. When the premise you are working from is false, it doesn’t matter how polite you are, or how fair you are about giving each side a turn to speak.

It’s the same story with Harris’s approach to the Bible. Are you going to claim it’s the sacred, inspired word of God, or are you going to say it’s the theological maunderings of a lot of old priests? One thing that doesn’t make any sense at all is to claim that you are going to pick and choose which bits are the True Words of God, and ignore the ones that you think are out of date or wrong. That’s Harris’s point: once you start seeing the objectionable and the lunatic in the holy words, there’s no reason to stop, no reason not to reject the divinity and treat the whole thing as a wholly human production.

Ah, but lazy thinkers always stoop to portraying atheists as the equivalent of fundamentalists, out to purge anyone who has impure thoughts.

Even agnostic moderates get raked over–like the late Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist who attempted to broker a truce between science and religion in his controversial 1999 book “Rocks of Ages.” Gould proposed that science and religion retreat to separate realms, the former concerned with empirical questions about the way the universe works, while the latter pursues ultimate meaning and ethical precepts. But, Dawkins asks, unless the Bible is right in its historical and metaphysical claims, why should we grant it authority in the moral realm? And can science really abjure any interest in the claims of religion? Did Jesus come back from the dead, or didn’t he? If so, how did God make it happen? Collins says he is satisfied with the answer that the Resurrection is a miracle, permanently beyond our understanding. That Collins can hold that belief, while simultaneously working at the very frontiers of science as the head of the Human Genome Project, is what amazes Harris.

Notice that Dawkins raises those awkward, difficult questions, and the reviewer…glides over them, unperturbed, and simply utters the new iconic name among theists, St Francis of Collins. Well, it’s nice that Collins is satisfied by the word “miracle,” but it’s really no answer, and it says more about the shallowness of Collins’ thinking than it does in actually addressing any of those questions. I can tell we’re going to hear much, much more about Collins from now on—he’s the all-purpose answer to any criticism of religion from a scientist. He’s a wonderful 2 + 2 = 5er.

The Newsweek article concludes by simultaneously belittling the importance of those inconsequential atheists, and raising the worry that their continued vocal insistence on existing is going to get people hurt.

Believers can take comfort in the fact that atheism barely amounts to a “movement.” American Atheists, which fights in the courts and legislatures for the rights of nonbelievers, has about 2,500 members and a budget of less than $1 million.

Oh, and the Armenian Apostolic Church only has about 200,000 members in the US, so we can all take comfort in the fact that there are hardly any Christians here.

Cute trick. Take a group that has no central organization at all, pick one associated organization, and pretend that that subset is the whole. Ignore the fact that the nonreligious are the second largest belief category in the US and the secularists are the fastest growing segment of the population.

On the science Web site Edge.org, the astronomer Carolyn Porco offers the subversive suggestion that science itself should attempt to supplant God in Western culture, by providing the benefits and comforts people find in religion: community, ceremony and a sense of awe. “Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way,” she writes. Porco, who is deeply involved in the Cassini mission to Saturn, finds spiritual fulfillment in exploring the cosmos. But will that work for the rest of the world–for “the people who want to know that they’re going to live forever and meet Mom and Dad in heaven? We can’t offer that.”

Here’s the important point, though, the thing that all the bland and thoughtless guzzlers of religious myths don’t want to think about: when people want to know about an afterlife, religion can’t answer it, either. They don’t know! They’re good at covering up their ignorance with a smooth patter of dogma and doctrine, but don’t confuse “spiritual fulfillment” with “hearing what you want to hear.” That’s all religion has to offer. If science has any handicap as a substitute for faith, it’s that scientists are more reluctant to lie than are priests.

If you want grand and tangible ideas and objects to venerate, though, the scientists have a lock. We offer the entire universe and all space and time as the center of our beliefs. The priests? A rather dull book or two, and the tepid products of some uninformed imaginations.

If Dawkins, Dennett and Harris are right, the five-century-long competition between science and religion is sharpening. People are choosing sides. And when that happens, people get hurt.

And of course, no one had been hurt in the millennia that religion held unchallenged sway; religion would never be divisive, and until science came along and made people uncomfortable with their myths and superstitions, everyone was happy and got along peacefully and sang hymns as the manna fell from heaven.

Yes, let us choose sides. I’m on the side of enlightenment and knowledge and critical thinking and the rejection of dogma. Which side are you going to be on?

(crossposted to The American Street)

Comments

  1. #1 Retired Catholic
    September 3, 2006

    Atheism had me at the first two hellos in Genesis.

  2. #2 Dutch Vigilante
    September 3, 2006

    ‘Believers can take comfort in the fact that atheism barely amounts to a “movement.”‘

    Ofcourse it doesn’t… A movement often wants to covert others, grow bigger, instate new rules and new dogmas. One of the basic things about Atheïsm is that we don’t do those things. We don’t need to convence people to ensure ourselves we are “right”..

    The artice acts as though Atheïsm is a religion that competes with Christianity, which is just plain silly.

  3. #3 mndarwinist
    September 3, 2006

    Actually, if you see Dawkins’s movie, he spends quite a bit of time with fundamentalists from all faiths.
    They don’t at all look convincing, only scary.
    Of note to Newsweek.
    Also, Harris quote in an interview a minister, reading his book to his audience, but offering no rebuttal at all. In his opinion, it seems, Harris is so obviously wrong that he doesn’t even need to bother with a response.
    The style of Newsweek.

  4. #4 fishbane
    September 3, 2006

    “Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way,”

    Wow, I hadn’t heard that before. While I see the appeal behind the idea of supplanting dangerous emic and community experiences with benign ones, I can’t help but think that engineered rituals worshipping gravity will fizzle and leave everyone involved feeling a little silly.

    To be fair, I have been wrong about this sort of thing before, and that usually happen when I give people too much credit. I still really can’t imagine the Reformed Church of the Singularity attracting too many congregants.

  5. #5 matt
    September 3, 2006

    Come all you good people,
    Good news to you I’ll tell
    Of how empiric methods
    Have come in here to dwell.

    CHORUS:
    Which side are you on?
    Which side are you on?
    Which side are you on?
    Which side are you on?

    My dady was a chemist,
    And I’m a chemist’s son,
    And I’ll stick with science
    ‘Til every battle’s won.

    They say in Kansas Country
    There are no neutrals there.
    You’ll either be a science man
    Or a thug for ____ (damnit, i need a religious leader that rhymes with ‘there’)

    Oh people can you stand it?
    Oh tell me how you can?
    Will you be a fundie dupe
    Or will you be a man?

    Don’t follow the clerics,
    Don’t listen to their lies.
    Our culture hasn’t got a chance
    Unless we hypothesize.

  6. #6 Brian Axsmith
    September 3, 2006

    If the author of the Newsweek article thinks that atheists are so inconsequential, why spend so much time trying to refute them? It looks like a bad case of insecurity to me.

  7. #7 j
    September 3, 2006

    Ugh, don’t get me started on Newsweek.

  8. #8 Tom
    September 3, 2006

    Mr. Myers,

    Thank you for being “on the side of enlightenment and knowledge and critical thinking and the rejection of dogma”. I can’t claim to be a “2+2=5er” but I see no conflict between the practicality of the scientific method and the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I choose faith AND reason.

    I expect that you are right if you think that the psuedo-science attacks on ‘Darwin’ are an attempt to mask the lust for more and still more corporate power and irresponsibility. There is a very real effort underway to hijack a ‘great world religion’ and, of course, it’s about greed and power.

    Though you may be an unbeliever, I hope you will not be offended if I recognize you as a prophet of God. We need you desperately. I cannot send an offering to you but I will send up my prayers to Heaven for even more strength and wisdom for you. Please, keep up the good work.

  9. #9 Doodle Bean
    September 3, 2006

    Excellent, matt!

  10. #10 kansas_lib
    September 3, 2006

    er, that was weird.

  11. #11 fishbane
    September 3, 2006

    Thank you for being “on the side of enlightenment and knowledge and critical thinking and the rejection of dogma”. I can’t claim to be a “2+2=5er” but I see no conflict between the practicality of the scientific method and the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I choose faith AND reason.

    Tom: Thank you for being sane. I don’t mean to condescend, so please don’t take it that way – I hate that I have to even say this, but the current polarity is stark. As an atheist who doesn’t have an axe or a grinder, I don’t at all mind religious people. As you state, our common enemy is people who want to dictate morality, stifle science when it doesn’t support certain conclusions, and control politics.

    If I have one suggestion, it would be that laying labels like “prophet of God” on others who do not share your faith may not be welcome. You’re completely free to pray for others, but consider how you’d feel if someone of a different faith labeled you “Harbinger of Ba’al”. I know you think you’re paying a compliment, and I don’t speak for our host, but it wouldn’t sit well with me, even though I know you mean well.

    A big aspect of tolerance for disagreement is at least a bit of understanding how others think, reason and feel about the world. Everyone has a lens through which the view things; empathy is understanding how they refract. (And reporting is telling the truth as you see it, but that’s a different discussion.)

  12. #12 Uber
    September 3, 2006

    I see no conflict between the practicality of the scientific method and the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I choose faith AND reason.

    Tom,

    I appreciate your views and share some of them but the above sentence is simply absurd. It is not at all reasonable to this of the latter as a ‘reasoned’ belief. You can have an irrational faith in it and I would support you but we must be sure not to delude ourselves into thinking this a belief based on reason.

  13. #13 Keith Douglas
    September 3, 2006

    PZ Myers, a prophet? That’s almost as bad as when a group of Chinese wanted to deify Bertrand Russell!

  14. #14 AndyS
    September 3, 2006

    Wow, nearly 30 minutes have gone by and no one has attacked Tom for expressing his belief in God. Are the Pharangulians going soft or have they accepted the recent kindler, gentler admonitions of the Chief Pharangulian?

  15. #15 Chasm
    September 3, 2006

    PZ writes:

    Millions of people believe that wearing a copper bracelet cures arthritis, that burying a statue of St Joseph in your yard will help sell your house, and that aliens have abducted human beings–not only does this stuff fail to prove anything about the existence of magic copper, helpful saints, or aliens with an anal fetish, but it also says that human belief is a fickle and silly thing that seems to have little bearing on what’s actually true.

    Two points:

    1. The article writer cedes Dawkin’s point that Christians’ belief has no bearing on the existence/non-existence of God.

    2. PZ lists three provably wrong irrational beliefs while ignoring the fundamental connectedness of someone’s behavior and their beliefs. If someone honestly says that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness, that is a true statement. It may be that their belief in God is simply delusion, but that does not rob it of its efficacy. Nor does it negate the “social utility” of that religious conversion.

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    September 3, 2006

    “In the science Web site Edge.org, the astronomer Carolyn Porco offers the subversive suggestion that science itself should attempt to supplant God in Western culture.”

    In much of “Western culture” outside America, this isn’t a “subversive suggestion” at all. It’s what most people take for granted. The Enlightenment happened over 200 years ago, you know.

  17. #17 Caledonian
    September 3, 2006

    I can’t claim to be a “2+2=5er” but I see no conflict between the practicality of the scientific method and the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I choose faith AND reason.

    Ah, the “eat my cake and have it too” school of delusion.

  18. #18 Kristine
    September 3, 2006

    Oh, need I mention that I consider Newsweek to be a current-events-pimped Woman’s Day?

    Everyone, let’s all write our personal “Day in the Life of a Friendly Neighborhood Atheist” stories and send them off for publication in the “My Turn” column, and see what doesn’t happen.

  19. #19 Caledonian
    September 3, 2006

    If someone honestly says that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness, that is a true statement.

    Not necessarily. It follows only that they believe it to be a true statement, not that the statement itself is true.

    How… curious… that you seem unable to notice even the most blatant flaws in your reasoning when you’ve reached a conclusion you find palatable.

  20. #20 Russell
    September 3, 2006

    Chasm writes, “If someone honestly says that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness, that is a true statement.”

    Perhaps. It’s certainly as plausible as any other self-related explanation of personal change.

    “It may be that their belief in God is simply delusion, but that does not rob it of its efficacy.”

    If the reason they offer for their belief is its efficacy, that in itself is proof that their belief is irrational.

  21. #21 Keanus
    September 3, 2006

    Dutch Vigilante has it right. Atheists are by definition not organized.; they have no dogma to create or defend. They don’t proselyltize; each person makes their own decisions. They especially value individuality and the primacy of the mind. Getting any three to agree is harder than getting two cats to march in lockstep. Adler’s comment (Adler’s the Newsweek author) on American Atheists’ membership only numbering 2500 should conclude with amazement that one could get that many to organize in one group and agree on goal. Anyone who’s every attended a meeting of Atheists knows that by comparison a meeting of all the Democratic Party factions would look like a love fest.

  22. #22 Mike Haubrich
    September 3, 2006

    “If someone honestly says that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness, that is a true statement. It may be that their belief in God is simply delusion, but that does not rob it of its efficacy. Nor does it negate the “social utility” of that religious conversion.”

    What someone is saying in this case is that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness; but they honestly believe that GOD actually did the turning, when in fact they did their own turning. Yes, religion did have some value in these instances but they want us to believe that this constitutes belief in God.

    For example Cris Carter attributed his success with the Vikings to God; he had been using drugs and doing other bad things with the Eagles but the fact that the Eagles put him on waivers because of his behavior and it was causing problems in his career. He came to the Vikings, started acting like he believed in God and did some great things in his career and his charity work. But we have no way of knowing that it was God working through him, as he claims, or if it was him doing it all himself and giving the credit to a higher power.

    I suspect it was Cris doing all the work, but needing a belief in a higher power to explain his sudden turnaround. It gave him the answer he was looking for, not necessarily the truth.

    Atheists only ask for extraordinary proof of an extraordinary claim; and so far all proofs extended for the existence of God have fallen far short. The problem that atheists have with religious scientists is trying to figure out why a scientist can demand statistical verification of phenomena in their professional careers and avocations, and in an area so central to our nature, our “spirituality” (for lack of a better word) let shoddy proofs stand.

  23. #23 wrymouth
    September 3, 2006

    I am sorely tempted to make a side-ways remark about the “challenge” of critiquing a “Newsweek” reporter’s reason, but on second thought I realised that since THIS is the sort of C- thinking that is popular reading, sometimes it is necessary or desired.

    I know of Dawkins, Dennett and Gould, but which Harris? I didn’t pick this up on first reading — possibly because my 4-yr-old is underfoot and the missus is calling us to supper.

    Best wishes, Tom! Continue to grapple!

  24. #24 Tom
    September 3, 2006

    fishbane writes:

    “A big aspect of tolerance for disagreement is at least a bit of understanding how others think, reason and feel about the world. Everyone has a lens through which the view things; empathy is understanding how they refract. (And reporting is telling the truth as you see it, but that’s a different discussion.)”

    Point well taken, fishbane, but thank you for your graciousness. I am but an egg (not even yet a pharyngula). To me, PZ is providing a much needed light into a very dim place. My hope is to encourage him and others to continue. At this time, encouragement and prayer is all I can offer.

  25. #25 David Harmon
    September 3, 2006

    “If science has any handicap as a substitute for faith, it’s that scientists are more reluctant to lie than are priests.”

    OK, that line’s a classic!

    Oh, and AndyS: We’re not beating on Tom because he wasn’t obnoxious. That simple. Calling PZ, an avowed atheist, a “Prophet of God”, is perhaps awkward in a “fanboy” sort of way, but it’s clearly not an insult, and I’m certain PZ himself can recognize that. This idea of taking offense even at a compliment, because it’s not phrased according to your religion… well, that’s a religious thing, and not even universal among religions.

    Of course, “I see no conflict…” bit is like waving a red flag, so we see Uber trying to swat at the flag without being too hostile about it. ;-)

  26. #26 matt
    September 3, 2006

    Excellent, matt!

    Thanks. Next up is a new rendition of Joe Hill’s classic “The Preacher and the Slave”

  27. #27 Foobarski
    September 3, 2006

    Matt,

    “They say in Kansas Country
    No neutrals there do dwell.
    You’ll either be a science man
    Or a thug for Jerry Falwell.”

  28. #28 fishbane
    September 3, 2006

    Point well taken, fishbane, but thank you for your graciousness. I am but an egg (not even yet a pharyngula). To me, PZ is providing a much needed light into a very dim place. My hope is to encourage him and others to continue. At this time, encouragement and prayer is all I can offer.

    I’m simply glad we had a nice dialogue wherein disagreement was possible, and it came to an amicable end. That’s really rare these days. I welcome those who have beliefs to join with me (or, me with them) when we campaign for sensible democracy, science based research, or policy driven not from a book, but from reason. For that matter, I love it when people disagree with me and use reason to do so. It makes me stronger, or, rarely, convinces me I was wrong. But that’s even better, from a philosophical payload perspective.

    Again, thanks, Tom, you remind me that not everyone who practices religion strongly is as vicious as some of the beasts that use the same mantle to preach genocide, etc.

  29. #29 Ken Cope
    September 3, 2006

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night!

  30. #30 Bo Dixen Pedersen
    September 3, 2006

    Well I think that humans basically are irrational beings.

    That’s why we have invented religion as an explanation and social system, which is basically is and many MANY people still favours the inprovable explanations over the provable because they are easier to comprehend and can give answers however unsatisfactory on closer inspections where the realm of the provable gives up.

    And that bleeds over into faith in the domain of explanations that can be proven in false and incorrect explanations.

  31. #31 Seth Gordon
    September 3, 2006

    Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way,…

    Barbara Ehrenreich had something similar to this in a column a few years back about the Church of Secular Humanism (“then we all join hands and chant the Periodic Table”), but she meant it as a joke.

  32. #32 speedwell
    September 3, 2006

    Changing the whole thing… just because it was fun…

    “They say in Kansas Country
    No neutrals there do dwell.
    You’ll either run to reason
    Or run away from Hell.”

    (speedwell the apostate)

  33. #33 Chasm
    September 3, 2006

    From Caledonian

    Not necessarily. It follows only that they believe it to be a true statement, not that the statement itself is true.

    How… curious… that you seem unable to notice even the most blatant flaws in your reasoning when you’ve reached a conclusion you find palatable.

    I admit that I have not studied philosophy, but, if I cannot make a true statement about my behavior being based on my beliefs/thought processes, then any concept I have of “self” pretty much has to go out the window, doesn’t it?

    “I did not grab that cookie because I believe that I did not need the extra calories.” My thought processes were exactly along that line– how is that not a true statement? Please note that if I were starving, my *belief* that I do not need the extra calories would be completely erroneous, and yet the statement I made would still be true (at least in my delusional little world that I find palatable.)

    PZ put out three examples where peoples’ beliefs have no functional bearing on what actually happens. (Well, there’s probably placebo effect for the copper bracelets.) The example he was trying to refute is not so straightforward. Beliefs (rational and irrational) affect behavior. Christianity can affect people positively (Cris Carter in Mike’s comment), or negatively (in the case of, say, most christians discussed by PZ).

  34. #34 Robert Bate
    September 3, 2006

    My favorite headline on the subject…

    “Wartorn Middle East Seeks Solace in Religion” – The Onion
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/51849

  35. #35 David Harmon
    September 4, 2006

    Unfortunately, real science doesn’t come neatly packaged into catechisms and invocations…. Then too, science doesn’t need to be worshipped! A deep understanding of nature can indeed bring reverence, but nature is not moved thereby, only ourselves. Likewise, science itself may be respected or not, but that doesn’t change its principles.

  36. #36 Pete K
    September 4, 2006

    Before I choose sides, I’m going to start by defining “God”. One CAN believe in a god AND be rational, scientific, logical, etc – deism Science by definition, only studies the physical world, so if God is defined as being somehow “above or beyond” the physical world, and separate from it, beyond scientific analysis, there’s no logical contradiction, and the neverending, intellectual science/religion dichotomy is irrelevant. But that kind of deistic deity is surely not a feature of the “side” PZ is arguing against. Religion often ignores the “keep off the scientific grass” signs

    Remember the philosophical question about red? “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?” It’s probably the same for god or gods. Pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, monotheism, deism, agnosticism, it’s just whatever you were raised on, whatever psychologically attracts you. Opinions, interpretations. Some have what it takes to persist, others die out. So many little so-called truths, but no one big “Truth”.

    Something else: atheism only exists because THEISTS did first. Without theistic beliefs, there would be surely nothing to argue against so explicitly. (e.g. Notice there are no “a-leprachaunists”…) People wouldn’t NEED to organise themselves into dynamic groups based on non-belief of something, unless the believers strongly outnumbered the non-believers.

  37. #37 junk science
    September 4, 2006

    Something else: atheism only exists because THEISTS did first. Without theistic beliefs, there would be surely nothing to argue against so explicitly.

    Was this intended as a defense of theism?

  38. #38 Nsherrard
    September 4, 2006

    Screed of the proselytizing Atheist

    Arise, fellow atheists! The time has come to throw down the works of the god-fearing! Let the wails of the ununbelievers ring out across the land as a warning to all those who would fail to doubt the power of the almighty! The great purge is at hand. Come, brothers in science, sisters in reason, let your rallying cry of “flagella evolved!” echo in the mountains and in the plains, let it bring dismay to your enemies so that their hearts quail at the sound! Then, when the last vestige of godlessnesslessness has been vanquished, then at last we shall have peace (well, at least until we have to take care of those bloody agnostics).

    Until atheists start speaking like this, I doubt very much if Newsweek’s Mr. Adler need fear that people will get “hurt” (unless he’s talking about their feelings). In fact, if anyone does get “hurt”, I rather strongly suspect it will be the atheists. Therefore Mr. Adler may put his mind at ease.

    Nathan

  39. #39 Dustin
    September 4, 2006

    AndyS wrote:

    Wow, nearly 30 minutes have gone by and no one has attacked Tom for expressing his belief in God. Are the Pharangulians going soft or have they accepted the recent kindler, gentler admonitions of the Chief Pharangulian?

    No. Tom just doesn’t think as highly of himself as you do, and didn’t leap in here with a condescending and patronizing tone. That counts for a lot with me.

  40. #40 bad Jim
    September 4, 2006

    (“then we all join hands and chant the Periodic Table”)

    What Tom Lehrer gave us isn’t exactly a chant:

    There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
    And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium
    And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
    And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
    Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium
    And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium
    And gold, protactinium and indium and gallium
    And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium…

  41. #41 DAE
    September 4, 2006

    Well the pope is at it again, Herr Professor-Turned-Pope will be leading a Seminar on Evolution. Apparently the pope can’t quite reconcile “faith and reason.” The attitudes expressed by the protagonists quoted in this NY Times article are a mirror image of those expressed in the Newsweek commentary. In particular the pope, when still a cardinal, is quoted as saying:

    “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” he said. “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

    To show the vacuousness of this sentiment just remove the subject “God” and repeat the quote as follows

    “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” “Each of us is the result of a thought. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

    As an atheist and humanist I can accept the above formulation. Evolution, in and of itself is casual and meaningless. But I am more than its product. I was the result a thought (that of my parents), I was loved (by my family) and I feel necessary as I contribute to the best of my ability to my communiuty. There are evolutionarily contingent reasons for all of the above, but they only explain why we think, love and create not the thought, love or creation per se. In addition, most of our social problems are due to the lack of thought (unwanted children), the lack of love (child abuse) and the lack of commitment to one’s community (despair and alienation, the result of the two deficiencies mentioned above). God does not enter into the equation.

  42. #42 DAE
    September 4, 2006

    Opps The link to the NY Times article on the pope and evolution is here.

  43. #43 Dustin
    September 4, 2006

    Yeah, and I have a hard time thinking that a child is born into the Darfur region to die of disease or starvation or violence before his third birthday out of God’s divine plan. That isn’t love, and it isn’t necessary.

    Sometimes I wonder whether it’s even worth asking if God exists since, if he does, it’s pretty clear that he’s a thoughtless immoral ass who isn’t worth our time anyway. And before someone asks me, yes, I would say that to his face.

  44. #44 Anne Nonymous
    September 4, 2006

    PZ, I think that very first quote from the Newsweek article was kind of broken. Let me try to repair it:

    Confronted by a hatred that seemed inexplicable, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson proclaimed [a hatred that seemed inexplicable].

    There, all better.

  45. #45 Anne Nonymous
    September 4, 2006

    …yes, I would say that to his face.

    Dustin, I think as far as most theists are concerned, you just did. :)

    As for myself, I’m inclined to think that it’s hard to know what I’d say in the face of such power as the average deity is supposed to possess without actually being faced with that deity. I look at the wingnuts screaming about the “cowardice” of those two Fox journalists who proclaimed their allegiance to Islam under threat of death, and much as I can spin stories about what I would’ve done to avoid having to belie my own convictions, well, would I actually have done any of that? What pressures were they faced with that I haven’t imagined? I really have no way of knowing. So, much as I hope I’d do the courageous thing in such a situation, I can’t claim to know whether my hope is grounded in reality.

    Fortunately, I’m probably even less likely to be faced with a need to challenge a deity to its face than with a need to challenge Islamic militants. So it seems unlikely that this is actually worth me worrying about. :)

  46. #46 601
    September 4, 2006

    Tom:

    I choose faith AND reason.

    If would be so kind as to help me understand what you mean by this. You consider something true if:

    a) When there is not enough reason, I add a little faith
    b) If I don’t have enough faith, I add a little reason
    c) Render unto Reason what is reasonable, and ONLY when there is no scientific theory I switch to faith, e.g. Why does gravity exist?
    d) None of the above (please explain)

  47. #47 GH
    September 4, 2006

    Just as an aside I found this quote on a myspace website(embarrassed as I am that I was curious enough to see what the fuss is about):

    you begin to live your life with your eyes and your heart wide open. when the Spirit of God envelops your soul, your spirit comes alive, and everything changes for you. you are no longer the same. and to those who cannot see the invisible, to those who refuse to believe it exists, the path you choose, the life you live, may lead them to conclude that you are not simply different but insane.
    people who are fully alive look out of their minds to those who simply exist.

    Interesting isn’t it?

  48. #48 Thinker
    September 4, 2006

    Great fun, Matt! My suggestion for the blank:

    “They say in Kansas Country
    There are no neutrals there.
    You’ll either be a science man
    Or give yourself to prayer.”

  49. #49 Graculus
    September 4, 2006

    Remember the philosophical question about red? “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?”

    We commonly agree to assign the arbitrary label “red” to a certain set of wavelengths. Those who do not agree have a “disorder”, either of (physical) perception or of mind, because “red” is a convention. Words are of no use whatsoever unless we agree on their meaning.

  50. #50 Hank Fox
    September 4, 2006

    I always hate that “I’ll pray for you” thingie. More than half the time, it’s a passive-aggressive assault. Kind of a “I just know you’re going to burn in hell, but I’ll condescend to intercede for you anyway.”

    As to the ending of that article:

    If Dawkins, Dennett and Harris are right, the five-century-long competition between science and religion is sharpening. People are choosing sides. And when that happens, people get hurt.

    Am I the only one who hears the none-too-subtle threat in that?

  51. #51 John
    September 4, 2006

    I consider this posting the best fisking by anyone on any topic I have read all year. I’m happy now.

  52. #52 Mike
    September 4, 2006

    Mike Haubrich wrote:

    For example Cris Carter attributed his success with the Vikings to God; he had been using drugs and doing other bad things with the Eagles…

    I finally figured out that the vikings and eagles were sports teams of some kind. I was very confused by this sentence for a while.

  53. #53 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 4, 2006

    “We offer the entire universe and all space and time as the center of our beliefs. The priests? A rather dull book or two, and the tepid products of some uninformed imaginations.”

    Yes, that is a nice perspective.

    Actually it’s more exciting than that. As it stands today, multiverses are the simplest explanations in a number of theories in science and philosophy, and at least the level 1 and 2 of Tegmarks multiverse cathegories seems best supported theories by observations. The religious perspective seems rather narrow and dull in comparison.

    BTW, using some informed imagination instead; level 1 universes – infinite copies of me and my closest, possibly including an infinite subset who will live forever by some fortuitous mechanism or invention. Level 2 universes – infinite copies of me and my closest, reoccuring forever. Religious thinkers will have to come up with new tricks if they want to trump the sweet hand of science as it is today.

    matt:
    “They say in Kansas Country
    There are no neutrals there.
    You’ll either be a science man
    Or a thug for ____ (damnit, i need a religious leader that rhymes with ‘there’)”

    Or a thug for a whore.

    Since whores also offers love for a living. (No offence meant to whores – I’m sure they do the best they can in a difficult situation.)

    Pete:
    I’m sure you can call deism or fideism many things, but not rational.

    Deism is usually supported by cosmological or teleological arguments that have their own problems. But even a rarefied deism is not rational.

    First, it has no rational motivation. It is equivalent to an adhoc. But adhocs are usually motivated by observation, or they are part of a theory that lends the motivation. Circumstances may motivate unsupported adhocs, but there is no such forcing here.

    Second, it isn’t rational. It is a dualism, things that science has been debunking since its inception. Naturalism is ‘common descent with modification’ of theories, dualisms doesn’t ‘spontaneously occur’. Call it materialism if you will, monism of matter or nature, but that is what is observed. One universe, one fundamental structure connected by universal concepts in theories. Deism is also not parsimonious, so absent supporting observations it fundamentally isn’t compatible with science method.

    “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?”

    Subjective experience is a representation of the mind. Representations are different for different minds, but for most human minds probably not too different at any level. Most of us are running See (TM) in Windows of our eyes (TM) on Neuronium processors (TM). :-) As Graculus comment, in this case there is a robust objective outside referent.

    But experience has nothing to do with fundamental descriptions of religions and atheism. Atheism is qualitatively different, like bald is not a hair color.

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 4, 2006

    “Representations are different for different minds, but for most human minds probably not too different at any level.”

    Hum. I probably need to qualify that. These representations as such are analogous. But of course individually implemented in different individuals.

  55. #55 Magnus
    September 4, 2006

    “I always hate that “I’ll pray for you” thingie. More than half the time, it’s a passive-aggressive assault.”

    Hank, I think the proper response should be “If you’ll pray for me, I’ll think for you.” Kinda sums up the subjects of faith vs. reason.

  56. #56 goddogtired
    September 4, 2006

    I can translate most people’s use of the word “faith.” It’s a sort of shorthand for someting that flutters between “fear” and “sloth.”

    Any real religion would acknowledge both as part of our humanity, while working to overcome their animalizing (in the human sense of the word) effects.

    Oh, and the guy who wrote the articla was REALLY a doody-brained idiot of an asshole. I stopped bothering after the first except. Groucho Marx would have dealt with him appropiately, you can bet.

  57. #57 Emanuel Goldstein
    September 4, 2006

    Wll crtnly wldn’t wnt t lv n cntry rn by fndmntlsts.

    r Lnnsts.

    nd sr s hll nt by PZ MYRS.

  58. #58 Tom H.
    September 4, 2006

    Well, the Unitarian Universalist hymnal doesn’t have any songs under “gravity”, but it does have three hymns listed under “evolution” – at first I thought that could make PZ happy, but two of them seem teleologist and the other’s frankly deist. :( Oh well. #14’s pleasantly atheist, and starts off praising sun, stars, and moonlight, but never explicitly gets to gravity.

    The readings do a bit better: 5 on “evolution”, mostly not too theist. I almost like the call-and-response

    “Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reailty ever new-born;
    You who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of truth.”

    I can’t find a copy of the newly-published supplement to the hymnal, but I think they spent their energy on multi-cultural, not science, there. So my current candidates for gravity hymns would have to be limited to:
    *) Astrocapella – a capella group founded by NASA astrophysicists
    *) filk sings at a science-fiction convention

  59. #59 Pierce R. Butler
    September 4, 2006

    nd sr s hll nt by PZ MYRS.

    PZ’s getting soft – he allowed Goldstein to retain one vowel!

  60. #60 dichosa
    September 4, 2006

    “I always hate that “I’ll pray for you” thingie. More than half the time, it’s a passive-aggressive assault.”

    When I get a condescending I’ll pray for you, I’m happy to give it back to them with a quick “Gee, thanks for nothing.”
    Dichosa

  61. #61 Chris
    September 4, 2006

    Unfortunately, “irresistible march” stinks of teleology. And let’s not get started on “blessed”…

    GH: How do you decide who is genuinely seeing something no one else can see, and who has a delusion no one else has?

  62. #62 Lukku Cairi
    September 4, 2006

    Well I think that humans basically are irrational beings.
    That’s why we have invented religion as an explanation and social system…

    Thanks, Bo Dixen Pedersen, even though the rest of your post didn’t make much sense gramatically.

    So, is it irrational to claim that, since evidence abounds that human beings aren’t rational, ergo we should be attempting to rationalize our irrationality into some kind of open-minded format that doesn’t interfere with advancing the overall rational faculty and knowledge base of our species?

    As an aside, my mother prays for me constantly. It used to drive me nuts, until I just accepted that this was her irrational way of trying to come to grips with the bewildering informational deluge that is conscious human existence. Now, even though I’m not religious, I remind her to pray for me whenever I’m going through some kind of challenge in my life. I see this as the equivalent of speaking Portuguese to someone from Portugal – easier than trying to converse with them in, for example, Swahili.

    This method of keeping the peace will probably continue to work right up until she realizes I’m going to raise her grandchildren to be Secular Humanists…

  63. #63 Magnus
    September 4, 2006

    Correct med if I’m wrong, but I thought Y was considered a consonant in the english alphabeth. Might explain why PZ included the letter.

  64. #64 PZ Myers
    September 4, 2006

    It’s purely pragmatic. Deleting “y” in addition to “aeiou” seems to make it much, much harder to decipher. The idea is to leave enough of the comment intact that anyone who really wants to can figure out the gist of it, but to still discourage people from bothering to reply to it.

  65. #65 kemibe
    September 4, 2006

    Rational people in America clearly have their work cut out for them. Not only does the mainstream press unapologetically — and worse, unthinkingly — toe the logically bereft “atheists-are-in-the-minority-so-the-problem-is-theirs” line, but people can look at fuckery like this and claim with a straight face that watching some poor kid say, also with a straight face, he was saved by Jesus at age five is uplifting, reasonable, and most of all, right.

    Religion is nothing more than a communicable mental disorder with varying levels of penetrance (Tom has only mild symptoms and is very high-fucntioning, while fundagelicals are in the grip of fulminant disease).

  66. #66 voodoo-1
    September 4, 2006

    (damnit, i need a religious leader that rhymes with ‘there’)

    Pope Ratzing-ere
    ok it’s a stretch

  67. #67 quork
    September 4, 2006

    It’s purely pragmatic. Deleting “y” in addition to “aeiou” seems to make it much, much harder to decipher.

    You could set up a random number generator with a numeric cutoff to handle the Ys. It’s like they say:
    A E I O U, and sometimes Y.

  68. #68 David Harmon
    September 4, 2006

    “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?”

    Ooh, did this guy pick the wrong example! This is a classic case where the common experience yields a solidly consistent result, which is normally taken as representing objective reality.

    Given an something with a given primary or secondary color, you can go down the street, and the overwhelming majority of English-speakers will give exactly the same answer for the color. Tertiary colors will get you a consistent set of responses, whose “usual referents” will cluster tightly around the sample color. (Similarly, non-English speakers will give consistent results in their own language.)

    Likewise, if you bring out two objects of different colors, these same people will be equally consistent in being able to distingush them. If the colors are similar, the consistency will be in the percentage who lump them together. In this case, even the language hardly matters.

    And most interesting of all are the exceptions! Notably, some 7% of American males will be specifically unable, or less able, to distinguish among colors ranging between red and green. For any given individual, the degree of disability will be measurable and consistent, and among individuals, the measurements will neatly cluster into a small handful of subtypes and scales.

    But the thing is, in no case does our society allow a color-blind person to assert their reduced experience of colors as equally authoritative to a normal person’s view. When my Dad couldn’t make out the color of a traffic light or naval buoy, he would ask a companion, sometimes one brought along for the purpose. He might gripe about America signing onto the red/green buoy standard (red/black was much easier for him) but he didn’t even mumble about his vision being “just as good in it’s own way” — because he knew that neither law, nor cross traffic, would care about “validating his personal experiences”.

  69. #69 j
    September 4, 2006

    I don’t really get bothered when people offer to pray for me. When I was in the hospital, I was surprised to find out that a group of my Christian friends had organized a prayer session to pray for me. Another time, when some other shit was happening, a Christian friend prayed for me every day. And yes, I have had Christians pray for my salvation. In my personal experience, those who pray for others actually care about them but feel helpless to change the situation. So they appeal to a higher power. While I cannot function this way, I can understand why others might want to.

  70. #70 Will E.
    September 4, 2006

    The whole article smacks of good ol’ kneejerk anti-intellectualism and condescension–the journalist writes as if he can hardly believe that *anyone* would *ever* contemplate, of all things–gasp! shock! quel horreur!–atheism. His contempt is palpable. Would that his contempt be saved for the pedophile priests and faith healer scam artists, but no, heap it on the person who thoughtfully says, “Er, one minute, please…” and questions any aspect of faith or belief without reason.

    Fuck that guy, fuck Newsweek, but really, what else could anyone expect?

  71. #71 Dan2
    September 4, 2006

    Actually the religious establishment is running scared, they could just push everybody around for millenia, but about 2 hundred year their empires just started too evaporate with no fuss or ceremony… today they find themselves in an almost totally secular world. Of course they are actually trying to rebuild what is lost, the problem is that when they try too push, people push back and laugh at them when they start screaming about hellfire. Think of it as some washed up celebrity screaming “Don’t you know who I AM!!”.

  72. #72 Kayla
    September 4, 2006

    According the Pew Research Council, 3% of Americans consider themselves athiest or agnostic. That’s almost 9 million people. Suck on that, Newsweek.

  73. #73 quork
    September 4, 2006

    “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?”
    .
    Ooh, did this guy pick the wrong example!

    Thanks for the info, but i think you missed his point. I gather he was talking not about whether people can distinguish the same colors, but about qualia, the conscious experience of redness. It is a medieval concept popular with dualists.

  74. #74 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 4, 2006

    Tom:
    “So my current candidates for gravity hymns would have to be limited”

    Perhaps “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? IIRC it was also the song that named the first australopithecin.

    Pierce:
    “PZ’s getting soft – he allowed Goldstein to retain one vowel!”

    Makes one want to ask: “y”?

    David:
    “But the thing is, in no case does our society allow a color-blind person to assert their reduced experience of colors as equally authoritative to a normal person’s view.”

    I wish the same applied to rational-disabled or rational-blind people!

  75. #75 Pierce R. Butler
    September 4, 2006

    The close-to-ideal disemvoweller would whack the Ys which follow vowels, and leave the rest (which would still render Myers as Myrs, but maybe our host would rather leave it that way, since “PZ Mrs” would imply more participation here than his spouse proffers). Words like “eye” would become complete blanks, but hey, if it offends thee…

    Same rule should apply to Ws, perhaps with built-in exceptions for Hawai’i and Iowa – and disregarding the patriotic knee-jerk desire to remove all Ws on general principles.

  76. #76 clarke
    September 4, 2006

    Dichosa, this kicks ass:

    “When I get a condescending I’ll pray for you, I’m happy to give it back to them with a quick ‘Gee, thanks for nothing.'”

    I’ll be visiting family soon. Expect a deluge of royalty checks.

  77. #77 Pierce R. Butler
    September 4, 2006

    Hmmm – Ys at the ends of words should also go up against the wall.

  78. #78 David Marjanović
    September 4, 2006

    Did Jesus come back from the dead, or didn’t he?

    I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.

    And as long as no evidence is forthcoming, I’ll keep maintaining that noone else knows either, and continue to not fucking care about the question.

    “I don’t know, and I don’t care”

    People* commonly seem to miss what a strong position agnosticism, especially apathetic agnosticism, is. Hey, it’s the only defensible position both from the point of view of science theory and from the point of view of sheer pragmaticism/utilitarianism.

    ——————-

    Whatever. Sorry for getting my holy wrath. I really like “render unto reason what is reasonable”! :-D

    ——————-

    * Americans. Only Americans ever talk about religion. In Europe that’s a private affair, like you don’t talk about your sex life or your salary.

  79. #79 David Marjanović
    September 4, 2006

    Hawai’i has three consonants, not two.

    The “I’ll think for you” answer is ingenious! Almost too bad that in Europe nobody will tell you “I’ll pray for you”. ;-)

  80. #80 David Marjanović
    September 4, 2006

    As usual, the Onion article is priceless!!!

  81. #81 Krystalline Apostate
    September 4, 2006

    Well, I shot off a letter to the (web) editor:

    I read your article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14638243/site/newsweek/page/3/ with some irritation. Why? As I am an atheist, it is of some interest. Because, as always, the media always slants its bias towards the religious. I would like to point out a few things, if you please:

    “Believers can take comfort in the fact that atheism barely amounts to a “movement.” American Atheists, which fights in the courts and legislatures for the rights of nonbelievers, has about 2,500 members and a budget of less than $1 million.”
    I suggest the author hires some fact-checkers, because this unrepresented sample leaves out some pretty heavy facts, as the agnostic/atheist/secular tallies as of 2005 were approximately 1.1 billion, Hinduism coming up on it at 900 million. The numbers were different last year – have your fact checkers look it up for you. Japan weighs in at 64-65%, and Israel is 43% secular at last count.

    Also, many noted public figures are avowed atheists, such as Angelina Jolie, Lance Armstrong, Woody Allen, and a variety of names that would be instantly recognizable to the public. There are HUNDREDS of these people – don’t take my word for it, see for yourself, at http://www.celebatheists.com/index.php?title=Main_Page.

    ‘Barely amounts to a movement’? I’d say the author barely amounts to a journalist. And rest assured, I am being kind.

    I say we all deluge this cat w/letters. Some are bound to be printed.

  82. #82 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    the books he’s talking about aren’t attacks on religious moderates

    You’re wrong about Harris; have you read him? He is extremely critical of the political behavior of religious moderates, arguing that they enable religious extremists. I have some sympathy with his view, although when it comes to Islam I think he falls into many of same traps as the right wing, discounting the political elements of the Muslim world and treating everything that is written in the Koran as if it were the belief of every Muslim, when he would never argue that of the bible and every (as opposed to literalist) Christian or Jew.

  83. #83 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.

    And as long as no evidence is forthcoming, I’ll keep maintaining that noone else knows either

    Is it also the case that no one knows whether the corpses dance in the mausoleums when no one is looking? There is in fact plenty of evidence that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead — everything we know about the physical world serves as evidence.

    Hey, it’s the only defensible position both from the point of view of science theory and from the point of view of sheer pragmaticism/utilitarianism.

    No, it’s indefensible within the epistemology of science.

  84. #84 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    Thanks for the info, but i think you missed his point. I gather he was talking not about whether people can distinguish the same colors, but about qualia, the conscious experience of redness. It is a medieval concept popular with dualists.

    His statement is more on point than you (or he) realize. The question was “How can I be sure MY idea of red is the same as THEIRS?”, and the answer can be obtained by checking to see what people’s ideas — their attitudes and dispositions — are concerning red. “qualia” is the thoroughly mystical notion that there is something above and beyond these attitudes and dispositions, “the redness of red”. We can see here that dualists slop this mysticism all over any mental concept, including “idea”.

  85. #85 JackGoff
    September 4, 2006

    There is in fact plenty of evidence that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead

    Nope, just evidence that other people haven’t. You’re using the fallacy of division. Of course, you are also using scientific skepticism, which overrides the falacy, IMO.

    Since I personally don’t have any evidence he did, I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t know that he didn’t, though. I’m an apathetic agnostic as well. God is a question for academia, since there’s no evidence he/she/it has any effect on the world. Of course, I’ll believe in Teh Chupacabra before the Christian God.

  86. #86 Uber
    September 4, 2006

    According the Pew Research Council, 3% of Americans consider themselves athiest or agnostic

    That number is so low as to be meaningless. Perhaps outspoken admitted examples but I suspect even for that it’s to low.

  87. #87 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    If someone honestly says that their belief in God turned them from their path of wickedness, that is a true statement. It may be that their belief in God is simply delusion, but that does not rob it of its efficacy. Nor does it negate the “social utility” of that religious conversion.

    Congratulations on beating up a strawman, but

    a) The question was “If there is no God, why be good?” Social utility might do if you can’t think of a better reason. But why is more social utility preferable to less, hmmm? Think about what “good” means.

    b) Dawkins’s response was “That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up”. That would seem to apply if, say, the only reason someone isn’t a criminal is because they believe God doesn’t approve of it; that’s a pretty shaky foundation, and what happens when such people lose their faith or rationalize that God doesn’t really disapprove lacks “social utility”.

    c) Dawkins doesn’t say that it would be better if sociopaths who restrain themselves only because of their belief in God didn’t do so.

    Perhaps only moral people are able to understand what Dawkins is talking about when he refers to morality as something other than sucking up.

  88. #88 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    Believers can take comfort in the fact that atheism barely amounts to a “movement.” American Atheists, which fights in the courts and legislatures for the rights of nonbelievers, has about 2,500 members and a budget of less than $1 million.

    Ah, so believers can take comfort in the fact that the rights of nonbelievers will continue to be trampled.

    “Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way,” she writes. Porco, who is deeply involved in the Cassini mission to Saturn, finds spiritual fulfillment in exploring the cosmos. But will that work for the rest of the world

    I would ask whether that would work for people with brains. Not even the Unitarians pray to gravity.

  89. #89 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    Sometimes I wonder whether it’s even worth asking if God exists since, if he does, it’s pretty clear that he’s a thoughtless immoral ass who isn’t worth our time anyway. And before someone asks me, yes, I would say that to his face.

    This shows that even people who don’t believe in God have absurd conceptions of it. It makes as much sense as declaring what you would say to the face of a square circle. These aren’t things to believe in or not believe in, they aren’t things at all.

  90. #90 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    We commonly agree to assign the arbitrary label “red” to a certain set of wavelengths. Those who do not agree have a “disorder”, either of (physical) perception or of mind, because “red” is a convention.

    You apparently know nothing at all about visual perception. As just one example of the problems with your statement, explain
    http://www.officebuffoon.com/funny/dotty.asp
    in terms of wavelengths and conventions. Or perhaps you (and the rest of us) have a “disorder”.

  91. #91 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    There is in fact plenty of evidence that Jesus didn’t come back from the dead

    Nope, just evidence that other people haven’t.

    As I said, “it’s indefensible within the epistemology of science”. Do you have any clue of what that means? Or do you think that only the planets in this solar system have elliptical orbits?

  92. #92 truth machine
    September 4, 2006

    Since I personally don’t have any evidence he did, I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t know that he didn’t, though.

    I know that you don’t have a billion dollars in gold bars sitting in your living room — I know this at least as well as I know that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. If you don’t know that I similarly don’t have a billion dollars in gold bars sitting in my living room, then you’re a fool. And to insist that you don’t know that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead is special pleading — it’s a refusal to apply normal epistemological standards to certain subjects, and to instead insist on absurdly absolute standards that you would not — and do not — apply to other matters.

  93. #93 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    truth machine,
    I’m not following. Surely it would be special pleading to imagine that a person called Jesus rose from the dead, just as it would be to believe, without evidence, that you have a billion dollars in gold bars in yor living room?

    Or am I misunderstanding what you’re saying…?

  94. #94 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    Look, I have large amounts of evidence that I don’t have gold bars in my living room. I have no evidence God doesn’t exist and that he didn’t, in some instance long ago that I was not a part of, raise some dude from the dead. Other people insist it happened and i have no evidence to refute them otheer than that I don’t believe it happened.

    I do have evidence that I don’t give a shit about it, though, and that it isn’t a question I care about.

  95. #95 Magnus
    September 5, 2006

    Are you sure you have evidence you don’t have gold bars living(?) in your room? Have you checked the infenitely deep bottom drawer of your dresser. You know, the invisible one, below the one you assume is the bottom one? The gold bars are behind the infinite numder of turtles living there too. You just got to brush them away.

  96. #96 Lukku Cairi
    September 5, 2006

    Didn’t they start including Y as a marshmallow “vowel” in Alpha-Bits cereal a few years back?

    I feed Alpha-Bits to all my gold bars. It keeps them nice and shiny.

  97. #97 Stanton
    September 5, 2006

    Gold bars, or gold barbs?

  98. #98 truth machine
    September 5, 2006

    I have large amounts of evidence that I don’t have gold bars in my living room.

    I referred to your knowing that I don’t have gold bars in my living room.

    I have no evidence God doesn’t exist and that he didn’t, in some instance long ago that I was not a part of, raise some dude from the dead.

    Then you have no evidence that God hasn’t placed a billion dollars in gold bars in my living room. You can’t know that I don’t; you can’t know much of any of the things you claim, when not trying to defend some untenable philosophical position, to know. Do you know that Bill Clinton got a BJ, if you didn’t give it?

    Like I said, it’s special pleading.

    I do have evidence that I don’t give a shit about it

    I have evidence that you haven’t thought clearly about it and aren’t willing to.

  99. #99 truth machine
    September 5, 2006

    Surely it would be special pleading to imagine that a person called Jesus rose from the dead, just as it would be to believe, without evidence, that you have a billion dollars in gold bars in yor living room?

    Or am I misunderstanding what you’re saying…?

    I’m saying that it’s special pleading to say that there’s no evidence that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead but there is evidence that the orbits of planets we are totally unaware of are elliptical — and surely there is such evidence. It’s not valid to apply the normal process of empirical inductive inference in every case except one.

  100. #100 John G Rayner
    September 5, 2006

    I don’t see how a scientist can possibly be an atheist! After all to be an atheist requires certainty that no god exists. There is no experiment which can be done to disprove the existance of a god. Therefore a scientist must be an agnostic! To be an atheist is as much contrary to science as to be the most fundamental of believers.

    While I admire the more ballsy position of atheists it is not scietifically sustainable.

  101. #101 Magnus
    September 5, 2006

    “There is no experiment which can be done to disprove the existance of a god. Therefore a scientist must be an agnostic!”

    It should read like this:

    There is no experiment which can be done to disprove the existance of a god. Therefore the very concept of god is unscientific and every scientist should be an atheist.

    Oh, and I suggest you go read up on the definitions of strong and weak atheism, and maybe also on your selfproclaimed position as an agnostic.

  102. #102 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    This is all about whether I have belief or unbelief. I have thought very long and hard about it, and I guess I just need more evidence to say definitively that something doesn’t exist other than that I cannot see it. I said I have evidence that I don’t have gold bars in my living room. I could care less whether you do. I don’t have evidence that you don’t, other than you calling me a fool for possibly believing it, which I don’t. As I said, I do not believe things. I like to know things. If I don’t know, I’m not going to say concretely that they do not exist. You are readily able to say you do not believe something without conclusive evidence that it is false. That’s okay, and I’m not saying you can’t do that. If Jesus was risen from the dead, it means nothing to me, since it has no effect on me. To use Magnus’ analogy, that invisible drawer isn’t something I am looking for, nor do I care whether it exists.

    You should consider thinking a little more before telling other people exactly what they believe. As I said, for me, belief is bullshit.

  103. #103 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    and surely there is such evidence.

    Yep, empirical evidence from observation by Kepler and other astronomers. Something we don’t have in either direction for this case. Some people said that that Jesus was resurrected in writings of questionable authenticity. I do not believe them. That’s not to say that I know it didn’t happen. I really just have no inclination to worry about it.

  104. #104 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    I could care less

    Heh. I couldn’t care less.

  105. #105 Tom D.
    September 5, 2006

    This is a comment about this blog in general:

    I wish you would be more humble and just speak out loud the results of Your research instead of glamouring yourself using not so clever anti-fool / anit-religious marketing.
    You should really leave the people that make assumptions about unsolvable/undiscoverable things alone.

    Making jokes about fools will not make you smarter !

  106. #106 Chris
    September 5, 2006

    truth machine: You have a very low standard for “knowledge”. I consider it highly improbable that you have a billion dollars in gold bars in your living room, but after all, you could be an eccentric billionaire – how would I know? I can’t observe your living room the way I can my own.

    Similarly extrasolar planets: there are good reasons to expect that they will have elliptical orbits just like the ones in our own solar system, but it’s not impossible that they will turn out to have something else. Although, off the top of my head, I would rate the probability even lower than you being a billionaire with a living room full of gold bars.

    I do think it’s reasonable for everyday life to refuse to consider sufficiently improbable events, and I think that rising from the dead after three days belongs in that category. But I wouldn’t call it certainty.

    Frankly, I think it’s time to get rid of the concept of certainty anyway. Aside from leading to exactly this kind of dispute, it does every so often lead to someone ruling out a low-probability event that actually does happen.

  107. #107 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 5, 2006

    John:
    “To be an atheist is as much contrary to science as to be the most fundamental of believers.
    While I admire the more ballsy position of atheists it is not scietifically sustainable.”

    Actually, using such principles as falsifiability, universality and parsimony, the ideas of gods are neither well defined or well motivated within science even in the absence of observations, by connection with current theory.

    I happen to think that we can eventually form a good theory delineating embedding gods into supernaturalism, delineate natural actions against nonnatural ones with what we know generally holds for such systems (energy conservation more specifically), and prove that theory beyond reasonable doubt with a finite number of experiments.

    Of course, any theory is tentative. But science doesn’t always gives theories, it also helps debunk dualisms and prove the alternates. Multiverses currently looks good due to the observational preference for chaotic inflation and removes finetuning arguments, so debunking is moving forward in any case.

    So for these reasons I think the reasonable project is to think of debunking gods or debunking or disproving nonnatural action in our quest for knowledge. But if you ask about the status today, the reasonable answer is “we don’t know”.

    I guess today it comes down to if you prefer to swing around the steel balls or the pointer.

  108. #108 Keith Douglas
    September 5, 2006

    Seth Gordon: Of course we shouldn’t chant the periodic table. Everyone knows that the elements are meant to be sung.

  109. #109 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 5, 2006

    “Frankly, I think it’s time to get rid of the concept of certainty anyway. Aside from leading to exactly this kind of dispute, it does every so often lead to someone ruling out a low-probability event that actually does happen.”

    The problem with that is that in the absence of observations you must define the probabilities from a verified model of the situation. Unless you do that you are discussing bayesian degrees of belief, even worse apriori beliefs. And we all know how beliefs are seen in science. :-)

  110. #110 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 5, 2006

    “the reasonable answer is “we don’t know””

    Actually the reasonable answer is “we don’t know, but we have a preference that looks good”.

  111. #111 Millimeter Wave
    September 5, 2006

    I’m saying that it’s special pleading to say that there’s no evidence that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead

    I think I agree with that, taking into account the compounded negatives…

    We have large accumulations of evidence that people, once dead, remain in that state. Is that what you mean?

  112. #112 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    We have large accumulations of evidence that people, once dead, remain in that state. Is that what you mean?

    Exactly. We have large amounts of evidence that people do not rise from the dead, ever. We can say with a large amount of certainty that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Can we know it with absolute certainty? I don’t think so, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that there are people who do believe it to be true, and calling them fools isn’t going to help you make your point. Not sure what would make religious people change their minds other than exposure to science and logic, but your approach, TM, won’t win you a lot of converts.

  113. #113 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    “‘m n th sd f nlghtnmnt nd knwldg nd crtcl thnkng nd th rjctn f dgm. Whch sd r y gng t b n?”

    PFff nt n yr sd nr nyn wh jts bltntly nd strght-fcd clms t b th wnr f trth nd rsn, nd, mrvr, dclr hmslf “fr f dgm”!!!
    ‘d sy, Jz wht prck!! Shld w ll jst knl nw?

    twlv yr ld cn wrt sch pmphltrn crp, nd s thngs lk jst “chsng sds.” r y trgtng th brnlss, PZ?

    Tstlss. Nt th knd f thng lk t s n th vtn sd, f y knw wht mn. Myb y wll rlz smtm, w dn’t ND t d shmlss slf-prpgnd. Lv tht t th fnds nd D lvrs.

  114. #114 Steve_C
    September 5, 2006

    *chirp chirp chirp*

    All I hear is the crickets.

  115. #115 TomEG
    September 5, 2006

    “We offer the entire universe and all space and time as the center of our beliefs.”
    _PZ Myers

    “We preach Christ crucified.”
    _St. Paul

    Having met neither “PZ Myers” or “St. Paul,” I am at a loss to decide which of the above quotes is the more rational. Is it possible to validate either claim? It’s such comparisons as these that illustrate why I demur from discussions on the comparative worthwhileness of studying science and theology. Both houses, if you will, make equally bold and equally foolish claims. I’d bet, though, that if scribes of both houses of knowledge were to exercise a modicum of restraint of pen and tongue, and a little modesty, they might have wonderfully rich, insightful, dreamily irrational conversations, and all go to bed satisfied. :)

  116. #116 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    Pffff thght tht ws lgtmt crtcsm. ‘m thnkng bt th cs, PZ.
    Hw r y gng t gt t f dn’t shw jst hw bd tht knd f stff scks?
    Tk hd, PZ. Stp bng th rflctn f th fnd.
    Dsmvwl ll y lk. Dspt th fct y wrry s mch bt “lkng gd”, m drssng y, prsnlly, n hps tht ndrnth yr mzngly frvls wys, thr my stll b sm knd f nnr prcssng…

  117. #117 Stanton
    September 5, 2006

    Mr Vargas, perhaps if you were to stop ranting, and provide, for example, a logical explanation of placoderm genealogy that can be explained by the Bible, instead of the Fossil Record, Professor Myers might consider not disembowelling you at every other opportunity.

    Other scientists respect Professor Myers instead of, say, Michael Beehe, because Professor Myers is not willing to sell his intellectual soul in order to help sell a political gimmick.

  118. #118 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    My crtcsm ws dsmvwld. Ths mns cn’t rpt th rsns why dd nt lk ths pst. Bt dn’t cr. s sd, hp PZ wll ndrstnd clrl, tht m nd thr lk-mndd cllgs f hs, my nt b mch mprssd by sm f hs thnkng. Prfssr Myrs wll nly bnft f hs cllgs cn shw hm hs mstks. t’s fr hs wn gd, nd, hpflly, tht f th cs.

  119. #119 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    Stntn,
    m jst pntng t, tht PZ ds pr jb n dfndng scnc n th slf rghts wy h ds (whch s n ltmtly smplstc, chldsh vw f scnc).
    cn hrdly thnk f nythng mr brng thn wstng my tm xplnng ny rltn btwn plcdrm gnlgy nd th Bbl. Y my thnk y r scntfc gns bcs y rlz thy r nt rltd, nd rjc n th fct tht sm bbl thmpr hs t ll wrng.
    Y my b bl t rlz, tht m dsgrng wth PZ’s styl, ds nt mk m bbl-lvr. Bt thn gn, y prbbly dn’t. Fr hw thn cld y plc m n th “vl” sd?

  120. #120 Steve_C
    September 5, 2006

    Maybe Vargas needs some prespective.

    Watch this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RNfL6IVWCE

  121. #121 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    ntrstng vd. Wll, ‘m knd gld tht th crrnt fscst phs f th S cycl hs dcdd t tk rlgn s bnnr. t wld rlly sck f thy clmd ny nsprtn frm scnc. Thnk bt t.

  122. #122 Steve_C
    September 5, 2006

    The fascist forces of science trying to teach evolution?

    The developemental science grey shirts out burning bibles and bombing churches?

    You mean inspiration from those guys?

  123. #123 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    Nt t ll, stv.
    Thnk gn.. knw t hrts

  124. #124 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    Stll pffy-ngry, PZ? jz mn yr PMS s tt cntrl. Why nt strght t bn m, snc y r bng ndscrmnt? Y’ll nvr hv t dl wth crtcsm y cnt hndl gn

  125. #125 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    Vargas, stop trolling, idiot. Go set up your own science-hating blog if you have a problem with being outed as a disemvowelled troll.

  126. #126 Steve_C
    September 5, 2006

    Vargas thinks is evil/wrong/counter productive to attack religion.

    And he can’t resist the chance to tell us how wrong PZ is.

    It’s boring.

  127. #127 Alexander Vargas
    September 5, 2006

    Vlnt lngg. Cnsrshp. Blck + wht thnkng. Dd jst wndr nt fnd blg??? N, wt..ths s “scnc” blg, Y knw, fr-thnkng.

  128. #128 JackGoff
    September 5, 2006

    Easy on the meth dude. That shit’ll leave you more tweaked than you already are.

  129. #129 601
    September 6, 2006

    lxndr Vrgs:

    Vlnt lngg. Cnsrshp. Blck + wht thnkng. Dd jst wndr nt fnd blg??? N, wt..ths s “scnc” blg, Y knw, fr-thnkng.

    Wht r u tlkng bout? U r nt mkng ny sens!

    Shw som respct, b logcl, nd listn. Then you might get your vowels back.

  130. #130 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    and surely there is such evidence.

    Yep, empirical evidence from observation by Kepler and other astronomers. Something we don’t have in either direction for this case

    It’s interesting that you think that we don’t have any evidence one way or the other as to whether dead bodies can get up and walk around. Interesting in that it suggests a mental pathology.

  131. #131 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    truth machine: You have a very low standard for “knowledge”. I consider it highly improbable that you have a billion dollars in gold bars in your living room, but after all, you could be an eccentric billionaire – how would I know?

    I pity you for your lack of inferential capabilities.

  132. #132 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    P.S. Which empirical claims are infinitely improbable, as opposed to merely highly improbable? And what are the odds that any given eccentric billionaire has a billion dollars in gold bars in his living room? On top of that, what are the odds that such an eccentric billionaire would be posting on this blog? And what are the odds that such an eccentric billionaire, with a billion dollars in gold bars in his living room, would introduce that specific fact into his argument that you know that he doesn’t have a billion dollars in gold bars in his living room? I mean really, seriously — send you to the chair if you lie seriously — what do you think is the probability is that I have a billion dollars in gold bars in my living room? And what do you think the probability is that, say, PZ Myers isn’t really an atheist? But would you ever be tempted to say “I think it’s highly probable that PZ is an atheist” rather than “PZ is an atheist” unless you were trying to maintain an untenable philosophical position?

    Epistemology ain’t what you think it is.

  133. #133 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    Similarly extrasolar planets: there are good reasons to expect that they will have elliptical orbits just like the ones in our own solar system, but it’s not impossible that they will turn out to have something else.

    Y’know, I really wonder why people say silly stuff like this. I never said or implied that it’s impossible to be otherwise.

    I do think it’s reasonable for everyday life to refuse to consider sufficiently improbable events, and I think that rising from the dead after three days belongs in that category. But I wouldn’t call it certainty.

    Or silly stuff like this. I didn’t say it’s a certainty, I said we know it isn’t true. Whah?? you say — but those aren’t the same, if you actually paid attention to how people use the words know and knowledge.

    Frankly, I think it’s time to get rid of the concept of certainty anyway.

    Who said anything about certainty? That’s your word; I’m talking about knowledge.

    Aside from leading to exactly this kind of dispute, it does every so often lead to someone ruling out a low-probability event that actually does happen.

    Sometimes knowledge is wrong.

  134. #134 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    I think I agree with that, taking into account the compounded negatives…

    There were only two negatives; surely taking them into account isn’t difficult?

    We have large accumulations of evidence that people, once dead, remain in that state. Is that what you mean?

    Indeed.

  135. #135 truth machine
    September 6, 2006

    Exactly. We have large amounts of evidence that people do not rise from the dead, ever. We can say with a large amount of certainty that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

    Despite your having said there was “no evidence”.

    Can we know it with absolute certainty?

    Strawman; no one said anything about absolute certainty. There’s almost nothing that we know that we are absolutely certain about.

    The point is that there are people who do believe it to be true, and calling them fools isn’t going to help you make your point. Not sure what would make religious people change their minds other than exposure to science and logic, but your approach, TM, won’t win you a lot of converts.

    Boo hoo hoo, poor baby. I’m not looking for converts, and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.

  136. #136 JackGoff
    September 6, 2006

    Then let me call you an asshole. Just the way I see it. 8^)

  137. #137 Keith Douglas
    September 6, 2006

    Moreover, we not only have the naive inductive evidence (which is overwhelming enough) that the dead stay dead, but also, even granting the dubious source for the claim, the consilience from biology and so on that tells quite a bit about why it is that dead is irreversable.

  138. #138 601
    September 6, 2006

    Maybe, but from “Buying Time in Suspended Animation,” June 2005 SciAm by Mark B. Roth and Todd Nystul

    …Nature, however, abounds in organisms that can and do reversibly arrest their essential life processes, in some cases for several years at a time.

    …If the scientists are right, then human accident [or crucifixion] victims might be sent into hibernation with hydrogen sulfide gas. This would give rescue workers [PFJ/JPF] extra time [3 days] to transport injured patients to hospitals.

    However, did they have enough rotten eggs (HS2) 2000 years ago?

  139. #139 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 7, 2006

    “Exactly. We have large amounts of evidence that people do not rise from the dead, ever. We can say with a large amount of certainty that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Can we know it with absolute certainty?”

    It doesn’t work that way. We have theories about the states of life (metabolism et cetera) and death (brain death) and their mechanisms. It is more than simple observations. So we are saying based on these theories that beyond reasonable doubt all humans that die stay dead.

    Philosophically, if you want to argue unreasonable doubt you are making a special plea, and if you want to argue that this doubt is about one person instead of a undeterminedly large group you make another special plea. Hard enough. Scientifically, you must present observations and mechanisms. Even harder.

  140. #140 JackGoff
    September 7, 2006

    Cool. I was trying to play a little devil’s advocate, but it was a messed up argument to begin with. As I said, I don’t believe Jesus did anything other than rot, but trying to prove it to religious people has proven to be more difficult because they don’t listen to such arguments as can be given through science. Normally my arguments against religion go more towards the evils it has produced as opposed to its absurdities.

  141. #141 601
    September 7, 2006

    JackGoff:
    Most religions inoculate their flock at an early age, rational thinking is discouraged by threats of eternal hellfire and such. They are trained to expect and counter-attack, and NEVER consider the possiblity that they are wrong, it’s a test of faith. Of course, this is the kind of meme that would be “naturally selected.”

    BTW even mentioning “evil” only plays into their hand. I don’t believe in evil, EVERY example I have ever seen is either someone doing what they think is “good” OR (rarely) just random insanity.

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