Pharyngula

Last week, I was told that I have a “god-shaped hole in my heart.” My first thought was to reply that no, I have a perfectly intact heart thick with good strong sheets of muscle, but of course, that would have proven his point, that I’ve willingly replaced the Holy Ghost with actin and myosin, and the sacraments with Hodgkin and Huxley’s sliding filament theory. So I have to confess that my email correspondent was correct in his sentiment, at least: I lack any feeling for god, religion, and superstition. It’s simply true, and freely admitted. Although if I were to digest the idea down into a greeting card sentiment fit to be emailed, I think I’d prefer to phrase it as he has a god-shaped figment jammed crosswise in his brain.

I think all of us lack any god-presence in us, but many of us have had it hammered into us from birth that we should—we’re trained to confuse any stirrings of appreciation of greater things for the diddling finger of a god, and we’re also brought up to believe that those of us who notice the absence of any deities should be shunned. One major problem we face, in addition to the thugs and fools of crude religion, is that even intelligent people of good will are disquieted by outspoken atheism. This is particularly obvious in a recent article about Sam Harris which marshals theologians and academics to dismiss him.

The un-gospel according to Sam has found a huge audience, but every bit as striking is the counter-reaction to Harris among religious scholars. Mention his name to academics of just about every religious persuasion and you can almost see their eyes roll. Oh, that guy.

Harris has grossly oversimplified scripture, they say. He has drawn far-reaching conclusions based on the beliefs of radicals. As bad, his stand against organized religion is so unconditional that it’s akin to the intolerance he claims he is fighting. If there is such a thing as a secular fundamentalist, they contend, Harris is it. Even some who agree with his conclusions about the dangers of fanaticism find his argument ham-handed.

I don’t care to defend Sam Harris in particular—there are some things I disagree with him on—but I am going to roll my eyes at this ridiculous reverence for scripture. Get real. The books of the Bible were written by cynics and opportunists, poets and peasants, fervent true believers and syncretists who decoupaged scraps of other traditions into their holy gemisch, and of course, scholars and scribes who were committed to rationalizing their culture’s traditions, and who weren’t above lying to make a political point. The only thing sophisticated about it is the generations of contortionists who have striven to make excuses for it. As a snapshot into the mind of Man and the nature of society, it is exceeded in quantity and quality, and is just about as uneven in both, by a random week’s worth of television programming. I think we can get more insight into humanity from an academic analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Project Runway than we do from any Bible scholar—at least the culture critic isn’t hampered by pretentious illusions that he or she is gazing deep into the Mind of God.

I’ll give them this much credit: many academic theologians know they aren’t in the God business full well.

“I think this country needs a sophisticated attack on religion,” says Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University. “But pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics, that seems like a very crude mistake.”

According to Harvey, not only has Harris picked a fight with those who could be on his side, but his solution — let’s all ditch God — is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives. Others say that he has taken these “Old Books” at their literal word, instead of studying the way that the faithful actually engage the scriptures. Put more simply, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

We need a “sophisticated attack on religion”? No. Harvey can see that there are deep, disturbing trends in religious belief in this country that need to be checked, but what he means by “sophisticated” is actually “half-hearted.” This is the stumbling block we face: that any honest attack on religion is going to be against the core assumptions of faith, the values placed on belief without evidence in beings without substance, and I’m sorry, but if we’re going to be consistent, that means we have to criticize bad ideas held by nice people. In fact, it’s not about attacking people at all, but foolishness. If we start playing the game of picking and choosing our targets on the basis of whether we like the people or not, then our atheism becomes just another tool to be used for or against certain people, and we’ve abandoned the integrity of the idea for the convenience of social engineering.

So no, I am not interested in pushing moderates into camps, nor am I interested in putting the extremists there. I care about scooping out the ideas and subjecting them to the light of unblinkered criticism. These theologians seem more interested in looking for exemptions and excuses for keeping some ideas out of the lights…but then, I’m beginning to think that is precisely the job description for the field.

“All of reason is informed by some faith, and there is no mature faith that hasn’t been coupled with and enlightened by some reason,” he says. It’s also wrong for Harris to assume that Christians consider the Bible the direct word of God, Volf says. Most don’t, so combing the scriptures for the fingerprints of fallible authors, and then declaring victory once you find them, is silly.

“Most Christians believe that while the Bible was inspired by God, it is not free-floating, megaphone pronouncements out of nowhere by God. It was given through the medium of a culturally situated people, with the limitations of their knowledge at the time. And it’s our task to ask, ‘What does this mean to me today?'”

Volf is simply dribbling out well-practiced rationalizations. My “faith” that, say, physicists have been doing their job to the best of their ability for the last few centuries and that their measurements and theories are reasonable is not the same as a faith in things unseen, in great conscious powers that lurk in the cosmos and fret over our diets, in the God-aided destiny of Chosen Peoples. I have mechanisms for evaluating and testing the ideas generated by reason, for one thing, and consider reliance on ideas without evidence a weakness rather than a virtue.

It is true that many of the recent books on godlessness do make an effort to find the most reprehensible acts of religion as examples, but Volf clearly doesn’t understand why. We are in a culture that blindly accepts the symbols of religion as a proxy for good—religiosity is a prerequisite for public service, precisely because so many people falsely assume that someone wearing a crucifix must be a good person, and better than someone without one. Harris and Dawkins and I (at least, I’m sure about the last one in that list) are not arguing that all religious people are bad, which would be just as dogmatic and damning and false as the current assumption that all religious people are good, but are instead trying to break a fallacious prejudice. Our fellow human beings should have to earn our trust by their actions, not by the expedience of simply putting on a clerical collar—pointing out a few pedophile priests is not intended to suggest that all priests are bad, but that some could be, and that their faith is no sure-fire guarantee of propriety. Further, it’s to point out that contrary to the loud insistence of the believers, religion has absolutely nothing to do with morality.

As for the idea that some theologian has a better idea of what Christians believe than any other random person who is a member of our culture, I suggest that he needs to read the news sometime, and perhaps drop in on his local megachurch, or tune in to the painful, strained sincerity of the Christian rock station in his region. I sit in my town’s little coffeeshop, which is also the site for Bible discussion group meetings in the morning, and I hear all the time what ordinary, decent Christian folk believe about their religion. “Limitations of their knowledge” and “culturally situated people” are not phrases that come up very often. These are people possessed of absolute certainty that God has literally spoken and told them, through the intermediary of their priests, precisely what they must believe if they want to avoid an eternity of hellfire—doubt and skepticism are not words in their language.

And these people vote.

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races.

I do not believe this particular evangelical preacher is going to get far—he’s a kook and a scoundrel—but he readily finds an audience receptive to this kind of nonsense. The Left Behind books would not have sold tens of millions of copies if there weren’t a solid core of Christian believers who refute by their existence the absurdly attenuated, fleshless assertions about religious belief of the theologians. This is a case where the atheists have a better handle on the pulse of the people than these people who make religion their profession—which makes sense, I suppose, since if anything, we’re more reliant on our understanding of reality rather than our ability to invent fabulous rationalizations for the absurd.

Please, please don’t ask atheists to overlook the insanity of the religious. If you are offended at these embarrassing instances of kooky, irrational, dangerous behavior that we so gleefully bring to your attention, do something about it…other than beating up the messenger.

Oh, and good luck convincing the average American that they really believe that God is a cultural construct and an abstract concept free of empirical evidence. If you are interested in breaking the back of fundamentalism, don’t look to the Sadducees who caution against the fervor of the godless—their goal is to decapitate any secular movement that threatens the status quo. One thing modern atheists are cultivating that these desiccated relics from the divinity schools lack is some vigor, some fire, some passion—and an appealing positive message of the power of reality. I think there’s some hope for us in that.

So sure, we have god-shaped holes. It’s our stigmata, we wear them with pride.

Comments

  1. #1 norbizness
    October 27, 2006

    No way God has a shape. I, on the other hand, have an Invisible Pink Unicorn of Triton-shaped cookie-cutter. ALL HAIL THE UNICORN (the Hypnotoad won’t be around for another 950 years).

  2. #2 Warren
    October 27, 2006

    Ahh, that was tasty.

  3. #3 bmurray
    October 27, 2006

    Something that many critics of Harris seem to miss (and I’m not sure how — it’s an error of the same magnitude as reading The Selfish Gene and concluding that Dawkins means to imply that genes have consciousness and free will) is that he doesn’t start with the thesis that because bad things are done by religious people, religion is bad. His analysis is much deeper than that.

    He shows with many specific references to the apporopriate holy book how our two major religions in collision (and some others) are inherently divisive. He shows how genuine belief in what these books say makes the attack on and death of unbelievers somewhere between acceptable and necessary. The litany of bad things done in the name of religion is a carny sideshow of bad behaviour but it’s hardly the thrust of the argument. The argument is this: holy books say kill the infidel. Holy books say you will be rewarded for following the book’s advice and tortured forever otherwise. If you believe the contents of these books (and I would submit that many moderates do not and are essentially atheists who like the good feeling of a day in church with churchy pals) then you are a dangerous person. We want our death and torture, if it must exist, to at least have a basis beyond dicta from some ancient tome.

  4. #4 QrazyQat
    October 27, 2006

    If you don’t have at least a couple of holes in your heart, you aren’t truly alive. Literally.

  5. #5 J-Dog
    October 27, 2006

    Excellent. Thank you.

  6. #6 Bronze Dog
    October 27, 2006

    Blood goes in. Blood goes out. It goes round and round. Any deviation from that is generally a bad thing.

  7. #7 Mentat
    October 27, 2006

    …he has a god-shaped figment jammed crosswise in his brain.

    Brilliant! A new meme is born. Go forth and multiply!

  8. #8 Richard
    October 27, 2006

    Thanks for addressing this. One of the more annoying tacks taken by the Dawkins-bashers since his book came out is that we theists jsut don’t understand what religious people really think. Sorry, I have fundies in my family. I’ve been to their church services. I also have religious moderates in the family and I’ve been to their church services too. I grew up in America, the most religious of the western democracies. I am a part of the culture. I have friends who are religious whom I talk to about their beliefs. We athiests actually tend not to be ingorant about how the religious think. Perhaps it’s the academic theologians who are clueless about it.

  9. #9 Richard
    October 27, 2006

    Sorry for the typos. I meant “we atheists” not “We theists”. What a difference a letter makes!

  10. #10 OGeorge
    October 27, 2006

    A god shaped hole in the heart is better than a god-shaped hole in the brain.

  11. #11 99 bottles
    October 27, 2006

    Sigh. The “more secular than thou” rhetoric is a bit overwrought these days. If the objective is to reduce the influence of religion and the religious, particularly the literalist, absurdist strains on public life and policy, then surely we want the assistance of fellow travelers, whether they pray each night or not. If the objective is something else, say eliminating the belief in Yaweh and his buddies from Psalm 82 altogether, then chanting “God is dead” over and over makes some kind of sense.

    PZ seems to mix and match from these two separate objectives as the wind suits him. Nothing wrong with that, but it is possible to disagree about the best strategy, and indeed overall objective. And the fact that two people disagree about the overall objective or the best strategy is not a reliable indicator that the more rabid form of atheism is by default correct, or that more accommodating pundits are evil or weak or cowardly.

    We don’t have to be kind or nice or happy with the religious, but we don’t have to have every essay drip with contempt and privilege, either. It is a simple fact that the literal words of the English Bible are at variance with reality, and ample textual, archaeological, and scientific evidence accumulated over the past 250 years can demonstrate that. Rabid atheism has been around for over 100 years, and it has done doodly besides fill seminaries and theology schools with apologists.

    Really, it’s a kind of moral masturbation. It feels good, but it doesn’t accomplish very much, and is best done in private. Religion has the same qualities.

  12. #12 wombatwife
    October 27, 2006

    “Religion is never going to go away,” says Aslan, “and anyone who thinks it will doesn’t understand what religion is. It is a language to describe the experience of human nature, so for as long as people struggle to describe what it means to be alive, it will be a ready-made language to express those feelings.”

    OK, so I obviously don’t understand what religion is. What the heck does this mean?

    Most religions I come across toggle between “we’re not worthy!” and “YOU’RE not worthy!”

  13. #13 Daniel Morgan
    October 27, 2006

    I wrote at some length (here, if you’re interested) that I felt that we need the Harrises and Dawkinses, in order to fight at the level of wide readership and easy-peasy-Japanesey refutations of religious arguments.

    However, I agree with Harvey, but for much different reasons, that we need more sophisticated and serious attacks on religious dogmas and doctrines.

    The reason is simple: for 2000 years, charlatans have been in the business of building long, articulate apologia of the faith. Showing all of those defenses to be without merit requires serious effort. Those defenses are what keep the number of academic believers as high as they are. Interacting with the best scholarship on the other side will lead to the crumbling of the conservative core in the faith (IMHO).

    I don’t see that happening via Dawkins or Harris, no offense intended. As long as there are so many Bible colleges and readings of apologetics, and as long as many apologetics go unrefuted, there will be those people who still value the intellect, but believe that there are good intellectual reasons to believe.

    Giving them any “safe haven” of rest, any place to find “refuge” from the merciless dissection of their faith, will not convince them otherwise.

    All that said, I think that two major arguments should be focused on, because of the nature of the arguments themselves: morality and evil. Arguments from morality will always captivate the masses. Believing there is no good apart from God will keep believers around as long as no decisive refutations of those notions exist in the popular mindset. Morality is the most powerful attraction to religion.

    The argument from evil is the most powerful wedge of doubt to drive into the heart of religion — a God who “cares, loves,” etc.

    Focusing the best and most vocal criticisms on the best and most lauded apologists (Plantinga, Lewis and Swinburne) would have devastating results for any of those with any intellectual respectability in their faith whatsoever.

    There will always be a fringe of fideists and the irrational. But they are indeed a smaller sect. There isn’t much you can do for them.

    Pulling the rug of the illusion of solid intellectual grounding out from under the overwhelming majority of believers will require more than Dawkins and Harris have yet proffered. I am glad for their work. I want the same thing they want. But my opinion is that it will require a lot more scholarship and effort to attain it.

  14. #14 Greg Peterson
    October 27, 2006

    Here’s what bugs me: Does Harris, as the one article says, claim he’s fighting intolerance? I don’t get that impression at all. I think he’s fighting ignorance, of which he open, reproachfully intolerant. And good for him, I say. This notion that tolerance is something to be lauded doesn’t have much to recommend it.

    I agree that Buffy and the Whedon corpus has more to say to us than the Bible does (funny story: I have a degree in biblical studies from a fundamentalist college). Perhaps one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen came from the Buffy spin-off, Angel:

    “If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… then all that matters is what we do… now, today. All I want to do is help…because people shouldn’t suffer as they do. If there isn’t any bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.”

    Along with the Opus cartoon of a few weeks ago, in which Opus says that perhaps meaning is “not so much found as made,” I’d say that there are many better places to look for a worldview, a philosophy of life, than the Bible, which you, PZ, described perfectly as “decoupaged scraps.”

  15. #15 99 bottles
    October 27, 2006

    “All that said, I think that two major arguments should be focused on, because of the nature of the arguments themselves: morality and evil. Arguments from morality will always captivate the masses. Believing there is no good apart from God will keep believers around as long as no decisive refutations of those notions exist in the popular mindset. Morality is the most powerful attraction to religion.”

    As with PZ, you mistake the ritual for the reason. People without blogs and tenure often have lives that suck. Heaven is very appealing to these people. Those with idle time and vast material wealth tend to focus on the language and the ritual rather than the material features of believers’ lives. Their identities are wrapped up in their religion, so to attack the religion is to attack their identity. But, in their mind, riches and blogs and tenure pave the road to hell.

    PZ and his ilk think that lofty and rational arguments will win the day. But he’s arguing against, and with, people who play the lottery.

    So which is more likely to effect a secular society? Blathering endlessly about how much of a coward Ken Miller is, or working to improve the material existence of believers so desperate that phantasms seem worthwhile, however remote the chances? I know where my efforts are going.

  16. #16 bernarda
    October 27, 2006

    Of course there is a focus on jesus freaks here. But mohammed freaks are just the same. Here is what a top muslim in Australia thinks.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20646437-601,00.html

    “The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney’s southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years’ jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.

    In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?

    “The uncovered meat is the problem.”

    The sheik then said: “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

    He said women were “weapons” used by “Satan” to control men.

    “It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).” ”

    The moron male chauvinist pig imam clarifies himself,

    “Sheik Hilali said he only meant to refer to prostitutes as “meat” and not any scantily dressed woman with no hijab, despite him not mentioning the word prostitute during the 17-minute talk.”

    Now it appears that this lying sack has “apologized” further.

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    October 27, 2006

    I have always found that a randomly selected passage out of Shakespeare is more likely to be poetic, inspiring or just downright delicious than a randomly chosen passage out of any Bible translation. You see, Shakespeare had to write for a living. Actors had to know that saying his lines would put bread on their tables, and people had to enter the Globe Theatre of their own free will. A playwright can’t count on the threat of hellfire! Thus, you get things said well and concisely; sure, there’s some ponderous stuff written to please the Stuart dynasty (like the speech about the English king’s healing powers in Macbeth), but it’s much better than what the Bible has in that department. Could any playwright get away with “And Arpaxhad begat Saleh, and Saleh begat Eber”, on and on down the generations, or the droning ritualistic boredom of Leviticus, or the total jibbering cacophony that is Revelations?

    But hey, I’m a nut for iambic pentameter.

  18. #18 386sx
    October 27, 2006

    cynics and opportunists, poets and peasants, fervent true believers and syncretists who decoupaged scraps of other traditions into their holy gemisch, and of course, scholars and scribes who were committed to rationalizing their culture’s traditions, and who weren’t above lying to make a political point.

    Yeah, but just wait till you get out of Missouri. It’s a big world out there, people.

  19. #19 NickM
    October 27, 2006

    Good post.

    I’ve been a bit baffled by the Harper’s and NYT’s reviews of Dawkin’s latest. It reminds me of the knight who gets chopped to bits in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. They’re reduced to a torso and still shouting “Come on, you coward! It’s merely a flesh wound!” When you get down to it the articles basically concede that:

    – The Bible is essentially a cultural artifact rather than the divine word of God;

    – There is no good evidence for a personal God, or a being that has the traditional attributes of God: Creator, omniscient, omnipotent, and all-good;

    – The best we can do in seeking “evidence” of God is to point to some of the strange things science has discovered – like quantum physics, the Big Bang theory, etc. – and say that these theories are so weird they create space for a mysterious godlike force.

    So while the critics give up about 95% of the traditional religion store they permit themselves to argue that the traditional things – the Bible, the angels, the Holy Water, the BVM – are not what religion is about anyway and they therefore can put themselves on the side of the religious against the godless. It’s difficult to understand this impluse, and it leaves me a bit speechless. Are they really convinced of a “God of Quantum Mysteries”? Do they think anyone else is? Don’t they see they’re itching for a fight after being left with four bleeding stumps?

  20. #20 Rykit
    October 27, 2006

    ‘I was told that I have a “god-shaped hole in my heart.”‘

    I would be very interested in knowing what shape god is. Short of cutting your heat out PZ, you think you could find out from your accuser what shape god is so the rest of us can check to see if we have a god shaped hole.
    I’m thinking he’s a parellelagram, but then I could be way off.

  21. #21 Harold Henderson
    October 27, 2006

    Ranting is not a strategy. As Daniel Morgan suggests, it might be part of a strategy.

    I’m a long-time unbeliever and I want this project to succeed. I find PZ and Sam Harris (and, I gather, Dawkins) to be excellent ranters — or, as I would say, truth-tellers. But in their understandable enthusiasm they can start to sound like fundamentalists turned inside out. (As someone who often loses his temper in matters of this sort, I can assure you that understanding more and keeping your cool always works better.) It doesn’t help that they seem to pride themselves on their ignorance of the nature and variety of beliefs they’re attacking.

    Nobody I know of has explained the plain fact that we are worse off now than a century ago on this matter. Then, the drift toward increasingly attenuated religion and toward “ethical culture” or agnosticism or atheism seemed obvious and inevitable. It is no longer so. Why? It hasn’t been for lack of eloquent truth-telling all along the way. Nobody writing now has made our case better than Bertrand Russell did.

    Doing the same thing louder when it already hasn’t worked might be part of a strategy. But we’re not going to win people’s hearts and minds by exhibiting contempt for their beliefs and community, while claiming to be only talking about ideas.

    It’s not about showing how smart we are, it’s about ways of bringing them to see what we do. What teacher teaches by rubbing her students’ noses in the stupidity of their current understanding of math or cephalopods? You start where they are and work step by step from there. And that means understanding all about where they are and how they got there. That’s not compromise. That’s real seriousness.

  22. #22 john crayon
    October 27, 2006

    Harris and Dawkins and I (at least, I’m sure about the last one in that list) are not arguing that all religious people are bad, which would be just as dogmatic and damning and false as the current assumption that all religious people are good, but are instead trying to break a fallacious prejudice. Our fellow human beings should have to earn our trust by their actions, not by the expedience of simply putting on a clerical collar–pointing out a few pedophile priests is not intended to suggest that all priests are bad, but that some could be, and that their faith is no sure-fire guarantee of propriety. Further, it’s to point out that contrary to the loud insistence of the believers, religion has absolutely nothing to do with morality.

    Thank you – my sentiments exactly.

  23. #23 Susan Brassfield Cogan
    October 27, 2006

    “A god shaped hole in the heart is better than a god-shaped hole in the brain.”

    My first thought was something similar. They got the “God shaped hole” in the wrong organ. It’s between people who have god-shaped holes in their heads and those who don’t.

  24. #24 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    PZ, this quote of yours is dogmatism:

    I think all of us lack any god-presence in us, but many of us have had it hammered into us from birth…

    True you say you only ‘think’ this, it is a dogmatism lightly held, and it might be accurate, but frankly, it probably isn’t. It is likely that there’s some sort of religious instinct, not present in all people, but present in many, and like other instincts it will find its expression whether those who lack this instinct want it to or not. You can get people to change the songs they sing, or sing in a different style, but you can’t get them to stop singing altogether. Music presumably is harmless compared to religion, but that doesn’t alter how it is subjectively experienced by the individual.

    I agree with your excellent post on almost everything else. Lies must be exposed. I don’t think it’s cruel to tell people they’re wrong. It would be cruel not to– and unpatriotic in our current situation. But it is cruel, dogmatic, and perhaps deceitful to tell people that what matters to them doesn’t really matter to them and was only something they were conned or pressured into wanting or cherishing.

    Con men would not get anwhere if there weren’t any real passions to prey upon.

  25. #25 99 bottles
    October 27, 2006

    Harold Henderson said: “Doing the same thing louder when it already hasn’t worked might be part of a strategy. But we’re not going to win people’s hearts and minds by exhibiting contempt for their beliefs and community, while claiming to be only talking about ideas.”

    You can’t cut and run! If we don’t stay the course, the religionists will win. Doing the same thing over and over and over hasn’t worked in 100 years, but that’s nothing in the span of history. Future historians will judge Dawkins and Harris and PZ as heroes, for doing it better and louder than anyone else. Sure, Bertrand Russell makes them look like toddlers, and Menken makes the lot look like babes in swaddling, but so what?

    You wage an ideological war with the army you have. And these boys are the SHIZNIT!!! Look at how righteous and moral they are! Look at their bravery, in the face of persecution, and the risk of not getting tenure! Watch as they boggle your mind with their 100 year old refrains! Stay the course….

    Stay on target…stay on target…stay on targweeeeeee!!!

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    October 27, 2006

    I’m confused. Right here in this thread I’m told that this article is both a “lofty and rational argument” and a “rant”. Which is it? I’m also told that both of those are ineffective. It’s like half of you are saying “Quit being passionate, you’ll turn people off” and the others are saying “Quit being thoughtful, people will ignore you.”

    Why don’t you two camps turn on each other and fight it out, I’ll wait for the blood to stop flying to see who to listen to.

  27. #27 VancouverBrit
    October 27, 2006

    There’s an entertaining debate on the BBC’s “Have your say” pages on whether the UK should be a secular state:

    http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?sortBy=2&threadID=4522&edition=1&ttl=20061027194917&#paginator

    The “readers recommend” listing is revealing a lot more sense than usual!

  28. #28 Markus
    October 27, 2006

    I think most common reply that non-believers who grew up in religious households get, after expressing their non-belief, is “What went wrong?”

    Having a religious upbringing is SUPPOSED to make you belief, or money back! At least that is the assumption from the believers. Saying that maybe the religion itself was the problem is not acceptable.

  29. #29 steve s
    October 27, 2006

    Religion is waaaay more than religious beliefs. In fact I’d argue that for many, the beliefs are secondary. Churches provide social networks and give people real benefits. They provide community, comforting ritual, and even food and money if you’re down on your luck.

    Unless atheists come up with an equally attractive product, it will remain the province of a small minority of people who’ve objectively thought about the world.

  30. #30 Sastra
    October 27, 2006

    There are plenty of “sophisticated” attacks on religion, but such higher criticism rarely makes it outside of academic circles. The exception seems to be those popular gurus who push various forms of “spirituality” over organized religion, all the while affirming the inherent value of faith, mysticism, and God as it *really* is, of course.

    When critics shake their heads and complain that Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris are not “sophisticated” enough, I tend to translate that as they’re not “deferential” enough; they’re not smart enough to redefine God and squeeze theology till it starts to make some kind of sense. As if deference works wonders strengthening the case for nonbelief, and secularizing religion successfully strengthens the case for belief.

    I like HL Mencken’s take:
    “The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians — and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

    Dawkins and Harris are gay fellows, indeed. In which case, perhaps these sorts of complaints can be seen as simply another form of ‘gay-bashing.’

  31. #31 William Hyde
    October 27, 2006

    Figure and ground.

    If you have a god-shaped hole in your heart, then you
    have an outline of god in your heart.

    Which means you can sell your heart for $50k on Ebay,
    easy.

    I have a Zeus-shaped hole in my heart, and it ain’t
    worth squat.

  32. #32 Baratos
    October 27, 2006

    You know, I went to get a CAT scan and they found a god-shaped figment stuck in my brain. It was lodged in there pretty tight, so we decided to leave it in for the time being. On the plus side, it allows me to talk like a total idiot without being embarrassed.

  33. #33 Markus
    October 27, 2006

    Actually I have been thinking about starting a Sunday School. Of course it will be one devoid of superstitious religion.

    Of course providing competition to churches might be deemed anti-religious and result in some very negative response from the small town I live in.

  34. #34 jeffw
    October 27, 2006

    Religion is waaaay more than religious beliefs. In fact I’d argue that for many, the beliefs are secondary. Churches provide social networks and give people real benefits. They provide community, comforting ritual, and even food and money if you’re down on your luck.
    Unless atheists come up with an equally attractive product, it will remain the province of a small minority of people who’ve objectively thought about the world.

    Quite true. Atheists can’t really with compete with it, at least not in the short term. But I firmly believe that with increased awareness and education, many of the negative aspects of religion can blunted and neutered. It’s gonna take time and many head-on attacks (such as dawkins) to wear it down. The light touch will not work, believe me.

  35. #35 Uber
    October 27, 2006

    I agree with Sastra. There is no problem with the level of argument brought by Dawkins and his ilk. The problem is he gives the theological arguments no free lunch and this offends those who think the arguments matter regardless of the fact that each and every religion has it’s apologia.

    The truth is most of these ‘theologians’ spend their lives trying to defend a belief they had implanted by the culture of their birth. The smart ones just develop arguments that try to make it sensible.

    Another poster said apologetics needs to be attacked with high level arguments. I find this faulty as most apologetics are very old and HAVE been refuted and in fact it is not hard for even a HS student to punch holes in much of ‘sophisticated’ theological ideas given the shallowness of their base assumptions.

    Another sticking point and perhaps the most valid is it appears to me that Dawkins/Harris know their subject BETTER than these supposed theologians as it is clear to me from simply living and going to churches Dawkins view of the believer is far more accurate than whatever the theologians think people believe. They seem totally out of touch.

    Secondly why defend scripture at all? What about it makes one think it should be unless one is conditioned to be?

  36. #36 Uber
    October 27, 2006

    from the above secondly should be lastly.:-)

  37. #37 Greg Peterson
    October 27, 2006

    I wouldn’t rule out he possibility of a “lofty rant.”

    Experience with Christian friends and family has taught me that there are three issues that must be, in some way, addressed before the truth of atheism can even be considered: morality, mortality, and meaning. When I’ve suggested this before, I’ve been slapped back for coddling people who don’t care about the truth. I’m not unsympathetic to that view. It reminds me of the guy in “The Matrix” who sold out his comrades in the “real world” so he could re-enter the Matrix and live a comfortable lie. It smells like treason, and it is. But it does us very little good, those who prefer that humanity could agree on a reality and work together to make it the best reality possible, reducing suffering and promoting flourishing, to act as if existential concerns are unreal to the people who feel them.

    It is to people’s credit, I think, that they care so much about morality and meaning. Unfortunately, they have swallowed the lie that religion is a sufficient, even necessary basis for morality and meaning. We must demonstrate that this is not the case. The way we live should proclaim it, we must be able to articulate it, and I think the arts can help us in this (I’m thinking of Phil Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, for example, which nicely counters the Narnia B.S., and the previously mentioned works of Joss Whedon, an atheist, which extoll humanistic virtues).

    Mortality has been a problem for atheists, I suppose. But I think the biggest issue with it is not so much death, but the notion that because of death, our current lives have diminished meaning, or no meaning. Woody Allen talks shit like that sometimes and it makes me nuts. Why would that be true? It’s a very strange economy that makes a thing–time–MORE valuable because it is unlimited.

    Death itself can be a problem, and funerals can be uncomfortable. I have found the ancient wisdom to be the best I have to offer, if called upon to say anything: “Where death is, we are not; where we are, death is not.” I also take comfort, personally, in the knowledge that perhaps no well-known person died better than did David Hume, a famous skeptic. The story of his grace in facing death is amazing, and brought more puzzlement to his believing friends, it seems, than did even his best-reasoned philosophical writing.

    This is a too-long way of saying that we must, of course, trumpet the truth of atheism. But it does not help the cause of reason to forget utterly the humanistic concerns that drive many people deep into the “matrix” that is religion.

  38. #38 Mena
    October 27, 2006

    Lucy was found when I was in the first or second grade. I remember asking a CCD teacher about how that fit in and was told that Adam and Eve were the first people with souls. That sounded like something made up off the cuff to me even at that age and I never could respect that sort of glib explanation since then. It has only gotten worse now that people like that are trying to tell people that they can’t marry who they want to or that torture is ok against islamofascists because Islam is a violent religion. If they were just simply nuts they could be ignored but now that they are nuts trying to boss everyone around based on their pathology I just can’t be tolerant any longer.

  39. #39 JaysonB
    October 27, 2006

    This post borders on being a manifesto. It’s the culmination of so many things that I’ve said and felt, and if there should be a pharyngula greatest hits, it should most definately be in the top ten.

  40. #40 George
    October 27, 2006

    “but his solution — let’s all ditch God — is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives…”

    Genocide also plays a big role in our collective lives. Let’s not ditch that either.

    Moron.

  41. #41 stogoe
    October 27, 2006

    I dunno. I still prefer “Planet of the Hats”. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, worthwhile even, but it lacks a ‘below the fold’ or ‘after the jump’, which aesthetically queases me.

    Top Twenty, definitely.

  42. #42 JohnJ
    October 27, 2006

    The trouble with religious fundimentalism is that it makes good people do bad things in the belief that what they are doing is for a greater good. Most people don’t need religion – what they need is a caring society which is why they drift into religions/cults whatever

  43. #43 Kristjan Wager
    October 27, 2006

    >I dunno. I still prefer “Planet of the Hats”. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, worthwhile even, but it lacks a ‘below the fold’ or ‘after the jump’, which aesthetically queases me.

    I am personally a big fan of The proper reverence due those who have gone before, but all of them are good.

  44. #44 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    The Religious Right is a big scary beast. Dawkins and Harris want to attack it from one angle. Leftists like Eagleton want to attack it from another. The mainline theologians want to attack it from another.

    The mainline Christians and leftists want Dawkins and Harris to join them in THEIR various strategies, and fear THEIR strategies are otherwise undermined. Their contempt for Dawkins is similar to Dawkins’ contempt for them. And Dawkins gets press, which is all the more embittering.

    The reason no faction will sign on to any other faction’s strategy is that it’s easy from the outside to see that none of these approaches will work.

    Neither attacking global capitalism, nor sending out scientists to say there is no god, nor promulgating obscurantist metaphysics from the mainline pulpits will defeat the Religious Right. All of these together MIGHT work, but they’re mutually incompatible. Even if you could make them compatible more is still probably needed.

  45. #45 stogoe
    October 27, 2006

    The best way to tame the beast that is religion is to get to their kids as early as possible. Teach them about caring for people, helping, learning, questioning, and leave out the religion. Teach kids to be good independent of whatver religion tries to impart.

    Won’t help the homeschooled, though, unfortunately.

  46. #46 AC
    October 27, 2006

    I would be very interested in knowing what shape god is. Short of cutting your heat out PZ, you think you could find out from your accuser what shape god is so the rest of us can check to see if we have a god shaped hole.
    I’m thinking he’s a parellelagram, but then I could be way off.

    Silly, God is a stellated dodecahedron.

    Careful analysis of the Time Cube proves this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. #47 Scott Hatfield
    October 27, 2006

    I’m a believer. A friend of mine has told me that he simply doesn’t ‘get’ religion, and I take him at his word.

    I don’t, however, believe that this makes him defective, as in ‘a piece of his heart is missing.’ That move turns every legitimate skeptic into a pathological case, another Grinch, rather than a human being to be met where they are at, which is to say as an individual, rather than a member of a group.

    When I think of my friend, I *don’t* think of him as my ‘atheist friend’. I think of him as my friend–who happens to be, among other things no less important, an atheist.

    I asked him half-jokingly if he thought that there was some sort of genetic basis to his apparent immunity to religion and he rather seriously replied that it wouldn’t surprise him. And perhaps that is true. Who knows? Maybe if we compared the DNA of self-described ‘brights’ we might learn something new! I doubt, however, that we could safely impute anything pathological to it. If anything, the opposite might be the case, given what we know about how ‘quasi-religious experience’ can be elicited via drugs….SH

  48. #48 C. Schuyler
    October 27, 2006

    Professor:

    You make some solid points, but your perfervid hostility to the Bible once again leads you into some breathtakingly blockheaded statements. E.g.:

    “The only thing sophisticated about it is the generations of contortionists who have striven to make excuses for it. As a snapshot into the mind of Man and the nature of society, it is exceeded in quantity and quality, and is just about as uneven in both, by a random week’s worth of television programming. I think we can get more insight into humanity from an academic analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Project Runway than we do from any Bible scholar–at least the culture critic isn’t hampered by pretentious illusions that he or she is gazing deep into the Mind of God.”

    Is this an accurate characterization of the Psalms, or the Book of Job, or Ecclesiastes (written by a pessimist with Epicurean leanings, for crying out loud)? Dawkins doesn’t seem to have a problem with the notion that some parts of the Bible are great literature. “Why seems it so particular with thee?” And the conflation of “Bible scholars” with theologians in this and the following paragraph merits jumping on. They’re very often not the same thing. Bible scholars have played a crucial role in destroying beyond any hope of repair the fantasy of inerrant Holy Writ. I’ll be so bold as to suggest that this achievement can be mentioned, without ridicule, in the same breath with biology from Darwin on. In both cases, a crucial demystifying of the world has taken place. That many Bible scholars continue to believe in God doesn’t nullify this achievement, any more than the religiosity of this geneticist or that physicist impairs the power of science.

  49. #49 Scott Hatfield
    October 27, 2006

    Lockean:

    Yes. You are right. None of these things will curtail the growth and influence of the Religious Right in this country on their own, and the advocates for one strategy tend not to play well with those who push another strategy.

    Which is just another way of saying it’s not a scientific problem, it’s not a religious problem, it’s not a philosophical problem. It’s a political problem.

    How to proceed? As I’ve said here more than once, the way to proceed is for different parties to identify the core values they share in common which are opposed by the creationists and their ilk, then consciously work to strengthen those core values through engagement. Coalitions based purely on desired future objectives tend to fail when one or more party acts badly; alliances that are built on what we already have in common tend to be more robust….SH

  50. #50 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    Scott,

    I fear that ‘values’ is part of the problem. The Enlightenment worked hard to get people talking about self-interest and building political structures on serving self-interest. If you and I are arguing over our interests and I refuse to compromise, I look like a jerk. If we compromise we get praised. If, on the other hand, we’re arguing over values and I refuse to compromise, people will praise me–‘I may not agree with him but I respect him for being committed to what he believes! He stands for something, etc.’ If I compromise my values I look like a wimp.

    It’s counter-intuitive. One would think a focus on self-interest would make people selfish but it doesn’t. There’s a paranoid part of me that thinks Nietzsche promulgated this whole ‘values’ notion because he hated democracy (which is true; he did) and wanted to find a philosophical virus he could infect it with (which is admittedly far-fetched; is anyone that smart?). So merely by talking about values, memes, mores, beliefs and so on, and by trying to build coalitions and create social change on this basis. we’re doing Nietzche’s dirtywork for him and essentially overthrowing our civilization. It’s paranoid as I said. Maybe I’ve listened to too much Nirvanna.

    I have two odd questions for you, Scott.

    (1) Do you think whatever it is that makes you religious is also what makes the Religious Right folks religious? I don’t mean you’re like them. I mean is their religion rooted in the same instinct or instincts as yours, howevermuch it differs in practice.

    (2) Are you in a relgious denomination that is under pressure to split or move to the right? That is, are you part of a congregation where there is open conflict over political issues?

  51. #51 Caledonian
    October 27, 2006

    However, I agree with Harvey, but for much different reasons, that we need more sophisticated and serious attacks on religious dogmas and doctrines.

    The reason is simple: for 2000 years, charlatans have been in the business of building long, articulate apologia of the faith. Showing all of those defenses to be without merit requires serious effort.

    First of all, it’s been going on for much longer than two thousand years.

    Second of all: HAVE YOU PEOPLE LEARNED NOTHING FROM HITLER? Good God, you don’t attack the Maginot line, you go around it, or above it, or below it. All that is necessary is to show that the foundations of the faith are flawed and corrupt, and the edifice built upon them will fall. Those apologia are constructed to hide the flaws in the foundation, to create the appearance of justifying that which cannot be justified. Strike to the heart of the matter, pull away the curtains to show the humbug behind them, and you’re done, you’ve conquered France, badda bing badda boom.

  52. #52 coz
    October 27, 2006

    Great post as usual.

    Scott Hatfield- maybe you are on to something…:)

    I never have believed. I just can’t. Maybe its not a choice most people get,I don’t know. I just know I never have had an inkling of faith. I tried for a bit when I was about 12 but it didn’t work out. There is nothing in me that requires a belief in a invisible sky fairy. My life is wonderful, full and fun despite that…who da thunk!

    The whole athetist= bad and immoral really, really pisses me off. I don’t need to fear punishment or be tempted by paradise to do good.

    I am moving to your fair country in January. I have my Green Card thingy in my hot little passport. I really excited but a bit worried about the whole god bothering thing being more in my face. I’m sure I’ll be fine and now the FDA recalled the ban on Vegemite my will will be stronger.

  53. #53 Richard
    October 27, 2006

    Caledonian, thank you.

  54. #54 madjoey
    October 27, 2006

    I like what Greg Peterson says above: [T]here are three issues that must be, in some way, addressed before the truth of atheism can even be considered: morality, mortality, and meaning.

    As an atheist with little people in the house, I strive to teach my kids that acting with high regard for others – morality – is important. It’s the Golden Rule, and there’s a reason why it’s at the core of so many religions and ethos(es). At the same time, I constantly am hiding the “God Is My Big Buddy” primers my deluded mother-in-law keeps sending…

    Mortality? To quote Iron Maiden: You’re gonna die. Knowing that makes me value life today, and makes me more responsible for my morality now. The dangerous fallacy of Christianity — that your soul’s going to heaven where everything will be perfect, in the next chapter of your soul’s existence — gives believers a Pass. They’re pious, but the most wretched assholes…

    As for death: People cry at funerals because they didn’t have the balls to tell the people in their lives they loved them. (Fortunately, JAY-zuss will tell them once they pass over to the Great Beyond.)

    ‘Scuse me while I go bleach my brain…

  55. #55 Pierce R. Butler
    October 27, 2006

    Daniel Morgan: Pulling the rug of the illusion of solid intellectual grounding out from under the overwhelming majority of believers will require more than Dawkins and Harris have yet proffered.

    Harold Henderson: You start where they are and work step by step from there. And that means understanding all about where they are and how they got there.

    Perhaps your tastes would be better satisfied with the works of Bishop Spong and the Jesus Seminar than with those of Dawkins, Harris, Myers, et al. Each to their own, after all.

    But wouldn’t it be pitiful if, say, Spong was the strongest brew in the bar? There is a place for sarsparilla tea – but espresso, or even a full-bodied arabica blend, is what really wakes people up…

  56. #56 J. J. Ramsey
    October 27, 2006

    I like HL Mencken’s take:
    “The pedant and the priest have always been the most expert of logicians — and the most diligent disseminators of nonsense and worse. The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe — that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

    Being a gay fellow who heaves dead cats does not stop someone from being accurate in their criticisms. Richard Dawkins would be no less a dead cat heaver if he said, “Who cares whether the Troubles in Ireland would have happened without religion? What religion has done is plenty bad enough!” A really good gay fellow can belt out a horse-laugh to the crowd while still rattling off the ten thousand syllogisms to the more sophisticated critics.

  57. #57 dzd
    October 27, 2006

    I was born and raised without religion. Does that mean I have a birth defect?

  58. #58 Scott Hatfield
    October 27, 2006

    Lockean:

    1) I don’t *think* my belief is rooted in the same instinct as that of the fundamentalists. Hey, I could be wrong. And that absence of complete certainty is probably one of the things that would distinguish me from them. I’m OK with the idea that I don’t have all the answers and I’m confortable attaching the occasional question mark to my walk of faith. The fundies, on the other hand, appear certain that they have all the answers on everything that really matters, and they deliver it all with exclamation points: The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it!

    When you get right down to it, they aren’t really open to honest questioning and react with hostility whenever their beliefs (which they perceive as privileged) are challenged.

    2) With respect to your second question, I’m a member of the United Methodist Church. Like all mainline Protestant denominations of size, we tend to be split on certain issues.

    Gay marriage has been the most visibly schematic. Our particular conference (which encompasses two states, California and Nevada) has lost (I think) 2-3 congregations on that issue in the last 10-15 years and there are probably about two dozen pastors (out of nearly a thousand) who have publicly adopted a conservative stance on the matter. However, this particular dustup seems to be losing steam and I think the moderates who favor not making this a doctrinal issue seem to hold a solid majority, and the number of ‘affirming’ congregations that openly embrace gay men and women is growing.

    So, while we have our problems like everybody else, I don’t sense that my denomination is moving to the right. As for my particular church, it’s in a solid Republican area of the state, and that is reflected in the political views of our members, especially the older couples, but we are a pretty diverse bunch and we all value that diversity, even the staunch conservatives among us. We’re also pretty independent, in that we don’t take marching orders on social issues from anyone. Cheers…SH

  59. #59 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    Caledonian,

    In many ways the Maginot metaphor works for the mainline Protestants who once were aimed at the Catholics. The humanists or classical liberals or deists or whatever you call them went around behind them, got them to surrender, and from about 1700 till about 1970 the mainline Protestants did little harm to civil society, almost none in the English-speaking world.

    The Religious Right, rooted in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, is organized more like guerilla armies. (They even think of themselves this way.) Individual, independent cells under the absolute authority of local pastors networked loosely with other autonomous pastors and a bewildering array of ever-shifting coalition groups. They will not engage in open battles or debates. They have almost no concrete ideology or theology or metaphysics to disprove. The bible is like an I-Ching opened at random to a verse that inspires an awareness in the pastor whose validity is proven to the congregation’s satisfaction by the pastor’s alleged holiness, which is proven in turn by the congregation’s faith. These people dump Wesson oil on one another, think the world is literally filled with demons, and pray for you and I to commit suicide. How do you argue with people that fucking crazy? And there are many tens of millions of them.

    I agree with your basic notion that there is a way to beat them. I’m sure there is. But I’m also sure that at this point reconquering the mainline Christian Maginot line, whatever the merits of that undertaking, won’t do much about the Relgious Right. They hate the mainline Christian denominations more than they hate Evolutionary Biologists.

  60. #60 Caledonian
    October 27, 2006

    I don’t think you’re quite following me, lockean. The post was in response to the suggestion that refuting centuries of theology is a difficult task. Bringing an end to the meme that spawned those centuries of theology is a more difficult task – and it’s not limited to Christianity by any means – but that will have to be done in time. That has nothing to do with the post.

    The point is that you don’t need to attack the theology if it’s founded on nonsense. That theology is a Maginot line, set up to keep attacks from touching the critical flaw. Don’t attack it, go around it. Hit the nonsense, and hit it hard.

  61. #61 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    Scott,

    Thanks for answering. I just finished Hard Ball on Holy Ground, edited by Stephen Swecker, about the splits in the Methodists. I recommend it if you haven’t read it. Swecker is editor of something called Zion’s Herald, which I take it is some sort of Methodist denominational magazine.

    I guess my religion question was more of:

    Do people feel that there is a god because they’re being conned, or are they being conned because they feel that there’s a god?

    As in, do people like to gamble because there are casinos, or are there casinos because they like to gamble?

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with gambling or feeling that there’s a god, so long as you remember that in the long run, the house always wins.)

  62. #62 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    I am sorry, Caledonian, I did miss your point. Bad enough to subject you to my spewing verbiage. Worse still to subject you to irrelevant spewing verbiage.

  63. #63 Caledonian
    October 27, 2006

    Quite all right.

    If I may make a general suggestion, the Dixie Chicks’ music video for “Not Ready to Make Nice” is on YouTube. You should all see/listen to it.

  64. #64 donna
    October 27, 2006

    I’m confused. Is god aortal, artery, pulmonary vein, or valve shaped? Or ventricle?

  65. #65 llewelly
    October 27, 2006

    Do people feel that there is a god because they’re being conned, or are they being conned because they feel that there’s a god?

    It’s a feedback effect. First, as children (typically…) people are conned into feeling there is a god. Next, their feeling that there is a god is used to con them into performing religious rituals, and following religious rules. Next, they are told they do these things because ‘god’ commanded it. Since it wouldn’t make any sense to do many of those things if ‘god’ was not real, they feel they must believe in god in order to justify the behaviors they have been conned into – resulting in a stronger belief in god. Wash, rinse, repeat. And all along the way, con men of all sorts will abuse the victim’s belief to defraud them of wealth, free time, and perhaps worst of all, the results of their charitable impulses.

    The exit clause in the loop appears to be study of religion – in some people, belief in god inspires them to study their religion. A proportion of these, discover, initially to their horror, and eventually to their great relief, that god is not real, and religion is a con game. (Personal note: If I had not studied the scriptures of the religion I was raised in (Mormonism), I might not have become an atheist.)

  66. #66 Scott Hatfield
    October 27, 2006

    Lockean: That sounds like the spiritual equivalent of ‘did you stop beating your wife yet?’….:}

    However, the short answer is that both can be true. People can believe there’s a ‘god’ because they buy some poor argument that appeals to their ignorance or vanity. And, of course, once someone buys such an argument they are fair game for those who know which buttons to push, to appeal to their ignorance or vanity.

    The unspoken question you raised, I suppose, is which of those applies to me. I suppose the former’s a possibility, but not the latter. My views on certain topics are sufficiently rarified that I don’t have to worry about any preachers appealing to them.

  67. #67 Scott Hatfield
    October 27, 2006

    Donna:

    I would say that the world itself is atrial. Puckishly–SH

  68. #68 llewelly
    October 27, 2006

    From Lockean:

    Do people feel that there is a god because they’re being conned, or are they being conned because they feel that there’s a god?

    From Scott Hatfield:

    Lockean: That sounds like the spiritual equivalent of ‘did you stop beating your wife yet?’….:}

    Scott – was your reply to Lockean a reply to the question from Lockean I quoted?
    If so, your response seems to imply that ‘being conned’ is the equivalent of beating one’s wife. I hope that’s not what you meant …

  69. #69 llewelly
    October 27, 2006

    I was born and raised without religion. Does that mean I have a birth defect?

    Everyone is born without religion.

  70. #70 Observer
    October 27, 2006

    Excellent post, PZ. I read this as more “lofty and rational” than a “rant,” actually. It’s tight writing. For those of us who lived on atheistic islands pre-Internet immersion, passionate essays like this are much appreciated. The megachurch is just down the street.

    As was pointed out, other than the line, “I think all of us lack any god-presence in us…,” this post is suitable for framing.

  71. #71 Observer
    October 27, 2006

    Excellent post, PZ. I read this as more “lofty and rational” than a “rant,” actually. It’s tight writing. For those of us who lived on atheistic islands pre-Internet immersion, passionate essays like this are much appreciated. The megachurch is just down the street.

    As was pointed out, other than the line, “I think all of us lack any god-presence in us…,” this post is suitable for framing.

  72. #72 Steve Watson
    October 27, 2006

    I’ll also take a stab at Lockean’s question to Scott:

    (1) Do you think whatever it is that makes you religious is also what makes the Religious Right folks religious? I don’t mean you’re like them. I mean is their religion rooted in the same instinct or instincts as yours, howevermuch it differs in practice.

    As an ex-believer who went through both fundamentalist and liberal phases, I would also say No. I think it is a serious error (and one which many participants in these discussions make over and over) to treat religion (or even a particular religion like Christianity) as an undifferentiated monolith, in which all adherents are motivated by the same psychosocial factors. There’s a nominal commonality in being centered around a common theology and language — but people have a way of putting diverse “spins” on the central memes, both in outward emphasis, and in the inner psychological use they make of it (I’m saying this badly; I hope it makes sense).

    This came home to me one day when I realized (somewhere along my spiritual meanderings) that Jerry Falwell and I did not practice the same religion. Though we used the same language to talk about what was theoretically the same God, the things we respectively thought were Terribly Important were just about diametrically opposed. (I’d never liked Falwell anyway: my first encounter with his rhetoric showed him to be one of these people whose Christianity is inextricably welded to American jingoism — a kind of idolatry, as I saw it at the time).

  73. #73 lockean
    October 27, 2006

    Sorry Scott,

    It sounded worse than I meant it. I don’t think Jesus or St. Paul or John Wesley were con men. I don’t think you’re being conned by the Methodist church.

    I meant that religious con artists play on peoples’ pre-existing natural relgious instincts (assuming as I do that many people have these instincts), not that there is anything wrong with the instincts or that everyone who has the instinct is being conned.

    I don’t think a teenage girl’s instinctual love of music or her instinctual curiosity about famous people is to blame for her getting herpes from shagging some scuzzy rock star. I mean he’s able to be a rock star because people love music.

    Authoritarian movements probably exploit the human craving for justice more often than the human craving for god, but most people still can’t help but believe in justice. I do. I can’t tell you what it is or prove that justice isn’t just another sky fairy or stand up to any rational argument about it. But still, I’d never surrender this invisible, unexplainable thing, justice, no matter how many arguments I lost.

  74. #74 Observer
    October 28, 2006

    Lockean: peoples’ pre-existing natural relgious instincts (assuming as I do that many people have these instincts)

    Natural religious instincts? What are those? The instinct is fear. It’s all born out of fear. There’s a “choice” of how to deal with that instinct – fear – and religion is a choice not an instinct. Perhaps “human predilection towards religion” (or insert any supernatural or superstitious belief) would be a more apt phrase, no?

  75. #75 George
    October 28, 2006

    Those who come here and tell atheists to:

    1) Be more polite,
    2) Shut up,
    3) Go blow,
    4) Get a life,
    5) Be reasonable.

    Can stuff it, as far as I’m concerned.

    I love this site. For me it’s Atheism Central. For years, I didn’t discuss my atheism openly and was afraid of even opening my mouth about my lack of belief in God (how stupid that now seems!)

    Now I can come here and:

    1) Celebrate atheism,
    2) Enjoy the company of fellow atheist and smart people,
    3) Make serious and not so serious criticisms of
    the religiously-minded,
    4) Share information,
    5) Fume when some nut job says something idiotic.

    (Plus there’s the free science education to absorb!)

    I’ve learned more here than I could possibly have learned from self-study (Jeebus, this place is crawling with Ph.D.s dispensing knowledge and advice, for free, what more could you want!), and I get so upset when people say this site is all about ranting and intolerance and inhumane unreasonableness, because I don’t think I’ve come across a more reasonable (and funny) group of people on the Internets.

    It’s a great place to hang out. People are passionate, yes, but dismissing what goes on here as “ranting” (which seems to be the theme recently) or fringe is just completely missing what Pharyngula is all about.

  76. #76 miko
    October 28, 2006

    “Religion doesn’t make people bigots,” says Reza Aslan, author of “No God but God,” a history of Islam. “People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.”

    OK, this is the issue that sticks with me. I’m not sure what Reza Aslan’s (trying to avoid Aslan jokes) deal is, this is the person who claims elsewhere that there aren’t many polytheists around anymore (ummm… Hindus? Chinese Buddhists? That’s like, half the planet).

    I think very few wars, genocides, etc, overall have been ideological. Geography is destiny… it’s land, resources, territoriality, the accrual of power, etc, that keep the human travesty going. I hate religion, really, and I believe it has a poisonous influence on everyone’s life to varying degrees. Doubtless it is a good tool to manipulate people to commit and justify violence and war and bigotry, but I can’t figure out how much to lay at the feet of supernatural beliefs per se.

    I think Harris is wrong that redheaded women would be killed in his fictional scenario, because the bible already is full of crazy shit like that. But none of the biblical reasons are the motivations for Xian violence, they just often become the justifications. The crusades were not about freeing the holy land.

    So, how much less violent is a religion-free planet? We can’t know. I ardently believe it’s a better planet, and that the kind of rationality that frees one from belief in magic makes you smarter and more critical and independent of mind and is socially beneficial in other ways (e.g. we have to solve the problems that are destroying the earth ourselves because there is deity to save us).

    Ultimately I’m not convinced that religion in general is causal of the inhuman crimes and bigotry routinely committed in its name. Muslims don’t wear burkas, Saudi Arabians do… Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, and burkas are illegal (for Indonesians). It’s just a fucked up, bad cultural practice with a cheap coating of religion.

  77. #77 lockean
    October 28, 2006

    You may be right, Observer. It might all be fear, but I’m skeptical. If religion slaked fear, religious people would be less fearful than the rest of us, wouldn’t they? If religion were a neurosis spun from fear, they’d be more fearful. Yet mainline Christians and Reform Jews don’t seem any more or less fearful than the non-religious. Holy-Rollers seem more fearful, but that likely comes from the abusive authoritarianism of their churches.

    The pre-David Hume British Enlightenment view (to drastically oversimplify) was that religion comes from an instinctive sense of duty toward what created us. The creator slot is open and can be filled with anything–nature, god, the universe, history, the proletariat–but for those with the instinct something will be put there. ‘Priestcraft’ then uses awe and fear to exploit this sense of duty for the benefit of the priest.

    This may be utterly wrong, but it at least opens the possibility that the fear may not be the cause of every non-rational or irrational thing that people do.

    I don’t think religion is really like believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, but kids don’t believe in either out of fear, so belief in the invisible clearly doesn’t require fear.

  78. #78 MarkP
    October 28, 2006

    What George said.

    Also, isn’t it interesting that the subject of the existence of God is arguably at the top of the list of issues with the most bad and downright illogic arguments justifying it? What better evidence that it is a triumph of desire over cognition?

  79. #79 Stew
    October 28, 2006

    I agree that religions of all stripe that profess a belief in the supernatural should be mercilessly criticized. For too long they have had unjustified ownership and sway of opinion over everything that makes us human and is why I have no problem in identifying and accusing them as being usurpers and destroyers, of dividing all of us from one another for the sake of the invisible and unreal. The Layity are witless dupes of the actual culprits of this swindle, the leaders, priests and ministers who at times seem to be engaged by nothing more than a fetish for power, the moderates being just as culpable in their striving for it. What is ultimately galling to me however is that the power they truely crave comes after they’re dead! Can anyone please tell me what lunacy is it that they really profess to?
    I say unleash the dogs of unbridled criticism and let them have sport with these men who make claims upon the entire universe for the sake of nothing.

  80. #80 Scott Hatfield
    October 28, 2006

    Lockean: No worries. I wasn’t offended, just amused. I hope you notice I took your question seriously.

    Steve Watson: Well said.

    George: Hi! I share your enthusiasm for Pharyngula. It’s a marvelous resource, and I learn much here!

  81. #81 Mary
    October 28, 2006

    lockean: It might all be fear, but I’m skeptical. If religion slaked fear, religious people would be less fearful than the rest of us, wouldn’t they? If religion were a neurosis spun from fear, they’d be more fearful. Yet mainline Christians and Reform Jews don’t seem any more or less fearful than the non-religious. Holy-Rollers seem more fearful, but that likely comes from the abusive authoritarianism of their churches.

    I think that fear is large part of what keeps people in the church. Fear of death, fear of punishment, fear of their own free will (and what they might do with it if they didn’t have someone to tell them what NOT to do!). Fear is a small word that doesn’t sufficiently cover the complexity of the need they have which requires some type of spiritual fulfillment.

    The dependence on religion may not start with fear, but my impression has been that fear is a powerful tool wielded with great skill by the leaders of those megachurches. They seem to be able to take the weak-minded and use fear and fairy tales to develop an emotional dependency that grows like an addiction.

  82. #82 Damien
    October 28, 2006

    “Natural religious instincts? What are those? The instinct is fear. It’s all born out of fear.”

    I think there are other instincts at work. Object-persistence mechanisms: a person stops moving and talking, leaving a dead body; something’s missing, where did it go? Then if it’s someone close to you, someone you’re sensitive to, your visual and auditory systems may misfire so you think you see or hear them — ghosts! Or you dream about them, or see them in psychedelic hallucinations — contact with the spirit realm! Note I’m talking about our hunter-gatherer ancestors 50,000 years ago; no dumber than we are, but without lots of materalist explanations to belie their senses.

    We’re probably evolved to seek purpose behind animate objects, since most of those are people, animals, or plants rustling because of people or animals. But weather’s ‘animate’ as well, without a strong selection for not seeing purpose in it. Ditto for the planets, the stellar wanderers. This can lead us back to fear, especially in storms, but isn’t limited to fear.

    And heck, as a small kid I was animist enough to apologize to doors I bumped into and to mercy-kill my breakfast sausages; I suspect those impulses came out of small kid making sense of the world mechanisms.

    And finally, definitely back to fear, there’s sleep paralysis. Having experienced it intermittently myself I’m surprised it doesn’t get more play in explanations (Dennett didn’t mention it *or* dreams in Breaking the Spell) of religion/spirituality. Nothing like “waking up” paralyzed and ‘suffocating’ with a sense of lingering malignancy to convince one that hostile spirits or witchcraft are out there.

    So you’ve got all these things working in a population even before bringing in fear of one’s own death, which would be why animism, psychedelic shamanism, and ancestor-something seem pretty common in traditional religions. Then various changes happened recently with agriculture and larger populations.

  83. #83 plunge
    October 28, 2006

    The god shaped hole or the “you know deep down you want to believe” is probably the one I hate the most. It’s so sinister: condescending beyond belief (my beliefs are SO important that you are litteraly built to deeply desire them!) and just plain nasty.

  84. #84 Arun
    October 28, 2006

    A few posts ago, I said that PZ Myers and many here had a blind spot. The blind spot is that they cannot recognize bad arguments if the arguments favor their atheism. Well, here is an opportunity to put it to the test. Dawkins writes something scientific here:

    “Sorry for the digression, but there is no open thread here. Delete if appropriate. I’m posting this because Richard Dawkins is invoking the anthropic principle as an explanation (and as an explanation much superior to God. IMO, the anthropic principle is no more scientific than God).

    “We explain our existence by a combination of the anthropic principle and Darwin’s principle of natural selection. That combination provides a complete and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-dawkins/why-there-almost-certainl_b_32164.html

    It is nonsense that the anthropic principle is any part of a “completely and deeply satisfying explanation for everything that we see and know”. The superstring community in particular, and the physics community in general, is deeply split on this issue. For most physicists, the anthropic principle ends science the way we have known it.

    Let us see if PZ Myers and others can have a rational discussion on this statement of Dawkins.

  85. #85 Harold
    October 28, 2006

    George, I appreciate your point about this being Atheism Central — kind of a friendly clubhouse in a hostile world. I’m all in favor of that, but I thought it could go beyond our congratulating each other on being right, and also serve as an attempt to think about strategies — without having people tell each other to stuff it. Similarly, I thought perhaps PZ would actually engage the question. Evidently I was mistaken.

    There are ways of striking at religious foundations that don’t make you look like an arrogant ignoramus (although I’d say that comparing Buffy favorably to the Bible is evidence of a literary disability, not a religious one). You can do it by attacking the argument from design, but many people haven’t heard of that. You can also do it by knowing and pointing out, for instance, that there are two incompatible creation stories in Genesis. (I suppose Bishop Spong is good for that, although not for a lot else.) You can also do it by knowing that the Bible really is anti-gay (a very conservative theologian about whom I’ve blogged, Robert Gagnon, has done all the work), and hence immoral by many decent believers’ lights.

    Et cetera. This isn’t rocket science and it’s not compromise: one way to attack the castle is to tunnel inside and set off charges there. (And unless you’re George W. Bush, you don’t do this in ignorance of what’s there.)

    If you want to change the world — to teach — you have to know what you’re teaching about and who you’re teaching. If you want to provoke, you don’t need to know much.

    Enjoy your clubhouse. Perfect your sneers, insult dissenters, quaff convivial beer. But don’t imagine that the winter winds howling outside will die down as a result.

  86. #86 Caledonian
    October 28, 2006

    A quick note: theists are most likely to find offensive and complain about the most effective strategies afforded to atheists. If true believers begin telling you how important it is to change what you’re doing, you’re probably on the right track.

  87. #87 Hen3ry
    October 28, 2006

    Arun, I believe that Dawkins was using the Anthropic principle in much the same way as Douglas Adams used to use it, in as much as he was trying to point out that We Are Here. Any explanation that ignores the fact that We Are Here, making observations, is missing evidence. It is like the puddle, wondering why it fits so perfectly into the hole in the ground, concluding that the hole must have been made for it. He is not using what may be more accurately reffered to as the Strong Anthropic Principle, that the universe was fine tuned to produce you, and that everything is therefore here for your benefit. Generally, as far as I can work out, the two ideas are split into the Weak and Strong anthropic principle, but I may be wrong.

  88. #88 Observer
    October 28, 2006

    Lockean: You may be right, Observer. It might all be fear, but I’m skeptical. If religion slaked fear, religious people would be less fearful than the rest of us, wouldn’t they?…

    I never said fear is the basis of all irrational beliefs or thoughts, I was referring only to religion and your phrasing “pre-existing natural religious instincts.” I believe that from early mankind to present, the instinct is fear and religion is an outcrop of that fear…a way to deal with it, so to speak. I am not familiar with Hume’s philosophy – I’m sorry my mind is simple – but I don’t think religion was born out of duty to a creator, any creator. I love this site, because you bright minds make me Google away: this cached link of a Bertrand Russell quote is along the lines of what I was thinking. (BTW, I have never read Russell, nor had I ever read any books on atheism until recently, and I’ve been an atheist my whole life.)

    In my experience, religious people I know are less fearful of, say, death than I am. For me it’s very final, so I have to deal with that fear in a different way besides adhering to religion. There’s no instinct; there’s no need for religion to survive or to ameliorate my fears; it’s a conscious choice of how to deal with the root base of fear. The evolution of human thought has matured, but the sociopolitical, societal pressures, etc. aspect of religion still makes belief in God a very attractive way to deal with fear.

    Harold Henderson brought up a good point:

    It’s not about showing how smart we are, it’s about ways of bringing them to see what we do. What teacher teaches by rubbing her students’ noses in the stupidity of their current understanding of math or cephalopods? You start where they are and work step by step from there. And that means understanding all about where they are and how they got there. That’s not compromise. That’s real seriousness.

    I don’t necessarily think the world would be better if religion were suddenly extinct, though it would certainly be better if fundamentalists stopped trying to compel others to believe as they do. And as Mark Twain said, it’s better to have many churches than one or two powerful ones – let them all bicker with eachother so one doesn’t gain control. Without religion, humans would find something else to replace it, and as Harold said, we need to show others a different view that fulfills the desires and needs that religion does. Because fear isn’t going away. I’m not interested in converting believers, but I don’t hear atheists say enough about dealing with fear; many religious people I know just don’t want to let go of God “just in case.” Also, the common thread that binds their church community would be lost; the rituals give them comfort as well.

    Santa Claus and The Tooth Fairy are just fantasy. I don’t think fear fuels those myths either. Irrational beliefs can be caused by cognitive distortion of thoughts, too. But the carrot of religious belief is based on fear, imho.

    I’m sorry if my rambling sounds sophomoric. Thank you for your thoughts.

  89. #89 J. J. Ramsey
    October 28, 2006

    A quick note: theists are most likely to find offensive and complain about the most effective strategies afforded to atheists.

    And theists are also more likely to point out when an atheist has his facts wrong and then use that in anti-atheist apologetics.

    I see a hypocrisy here in too many atheists. They rail on theists for getting the facts wrong, yet when someone, either theist or sometimes even atheist, points out that many of the criticisms of Dawkins and Harris are punchy but inaccurate, then we get atheists like P.Z. Myers complaining that the objections are really to the punchiness rather than the inaccuracies. Does “sophisticated” really mean “half-hearted”? Sometimes, but sometimes it really means “intellectually honest.”

  90. #90 Caledonian
    October 28, 2006

    Most theists aren’t capable of detecting the sorts of logical errors and problems that you describe, Mr. Ramsey. If they could, they wouldn’t be theists in the first place.

  91. #91 lockean
    October 28, 2006

    Observer,

    You don’t sound sophomoric at all. I really don’t know what religion is about.

    The ‘Enlightenment Critique’ of religion I was summarizing was one that was before David Hume. Hume’s critique (Dialogues on Natural Religion most famously) is more along the lines of Russell, Dawkins, and PZ. It’s probably closest to PZ’s views as I understand them, though his writing style is very different. Hume doubted that people are born with any sort of ‘god presence’; seeing it rather as a side effect of other aspects of the human mind, though Hume was not dogmatic about it. He does not claim to know for certain. At least that’s how I remember Hume–haven’t read him in years.

    We generally call the Pre-Hume guys who thought religion was some sort of innate instinct ‘deists.’ (BTW deists didn’t call themselves deists. It was a word mostly used by their orthodox enemies, presumably riffing on their penchant for talking about The Deity, Divine Providence, The Creator, Nature’s God, and so on.) The key point of deism is something you say: most people are going to worship something. Atheists from Paolo Sarpi in the rennaissance to Dawkins today tend to hope that it’s possible to free most people, or at least most educated people, from religion. Deists had no such hope. They tried to tame religion by breaking religious authority and discrediting theology, but they wanted to leave god, hymns, sermons, prayers and ceremonies intact. Might’ve been a mistake.

    Needless to say, all these guys were much smarter than me.

    Now I’m the one rambling on…

  92. #92 J. J. Ramsey
    October 28, 2006

    Most theists aren’t capable of detecting the sorts of logical errors and problems that you describe, Mr. Ramsey. If they could, they wouldn’t be theists in the first place.

    I have to wonder why to try to argue thus. I hope that you are not trying to insinuate that it is OK to try to deconvert theists by bad arguments because they wouldn’t catch the flaws. You would be dishonest if that is what you were really thinking.

    Anyway, your judgment on the capabilities of theists is flawed. The mental capabilities of most theists are average, and while the average person is usually not well-trained at critical thinking, it is an exaggeration to say that they simply cannot detect logical errors. Theists often become theists in their upbringing, before they have a chance to evaluate their beliefs maturely. Even those who adopt it at an older age often adopt it for emotional reasons. Rarely is the problem that theists are fundamentally incapable of detecting logical errors. Rather, it is that for various reasons, they apply the capabilities that they do have to something other than their religious beliefs.

    Furthermore, while most people aren’t great at spotting logical errors on the fly, it only takes a few people, whether they are apologists or book reviewers or editorial writers or whatnot, to spot the errors and pass on that information to readers and listeners.

  93. #93 Bro. Bartleby
    October 28, 2006

    Bro. Myers, we have proclaimed November at the monastery to be “Have You Hugged an Atheist Today?” month. Of course we had previously proclaimed 2006 to be the “Understanding Your Atheist Friends” year, and after ten months of listening, I think a friendly hug is now in order. And if you are in the vicinity of the Mojave desert, drop by for your hug … and perhaps we can stroll the dunes while smoking a cigar, and then an evening of scanning the autumn skies with Bro. Clarence’s new telescope. It is some sort of kit that he mail ordered, so I’m not yet sure of the scopes power, but I can attest that at with but eye-ball power, the Milky Way above the Mojave is a sight to behold.
    Shalom,
    Bro. Bartleby

  94. #94 Ralph Dratman
    October 28, 2006

    Greg Peterson wrote, “This notion that tolerance is something to be lauded doesn’t have much to recommend it.”

    I strongly disagree. Matters of metaphysics are all outside the realm of knowledge and experiment. They are untestable and therefore neither provable nor disprovable. For example, I assert with great conviction that the Big Bang took place on the back of one of these ceaseless turtles. But such a statement is irrefutable in that it has no consequences in our universe. I cannot prove it and you cannot disprove it. Therefore, on what grounds could you possibly be disturbed by my non-consequential belief?

    On the other hand, if I state that the pre-world turtle situation implies that turtles have magical powers, you can insist that I provide evidence to support that assertion. Since there is no such evidence, you will win the argument.

    Suppose I then try to coerce others to worship the turtles. But in that case, the concept of tolerance is not applicable to my actions, since coercion does not fall under its aegis.

    I assume that “religious tolerance” was proposed for just such reasons. Briefly, why should I care what anyone else believes? I only care about other people’s actions.

  95. #95 Caledonian
    October 28, 2006

    I strongly disagree. Matters of metaphysics are all outside the realm of knowledge

    Then why should we tolerate those who claim they possess knowledge of metaphysics? They’re lying.

  96. #96 George
    October 28, 2006

    I don’t think God is a metaphysical construct. I think he is a social construct, and thus open to all the intolerance that can be mustered against him.

  97. #97 Nes
    October 28, 2006

    Wow, wish I had seen this sooner, before 90+ posts piled up. I kinda skipped and skimmed once I got near the end, so sorry if someone else already commented on the first comment by norbizness:

    (the Hypnotoad won’t be around for another 950 years).

    Yeah, his show has been going downhill since season 3.

  98. #98 Frisbee
    October 29, 2006

    There has been a lot of ranting against religion here. While a great deal of it may be objectively true, subjectively, it is a non-starter. This is why.

    Like it or not, virtually all people will find the prospect of a completely accidental, purposeless, existence followed by oblivion completely forbidding.

    Therefore, those of you who fancy yourselves as materialists absolutely must assume that religious belief is a brute, ineradicable fact, no matter how unattractive you may find it.

    As well, many of you, and Dr. Myers in particular, need to understand that contemporary Christianity, while certainly not perfect (not as if atheistic “progressives” are, either), is not the enemy.

    Islam, however, is.

    Pope Benedict XVI’s recent Regesnburg speech is well worth some investigation. As this discussion shows, I suspect all of you here will find your entering assumptions shattered.

    BTW, I write this as an areligious agnostic who thinks we would all be better off as dunnoists.

  99. #99 ABC
    October 29, 2006

    The main problem with Dawkins and those of a similar outlook is that I don’t think he grasps how religious belief grows not – or not just – from ignorance and irrationality but from deep emotional and psychological unhappiness with the world. I think this is true of professional and successful people generally – the world seems largely rational and reasonable to them and they do not easily perceive how a very large proportion of the world finds itself shut out or materially and psychologically crushed (that is people feel they are simply indifferently tolerated by wider society rather than valued and respected). Hence they do not appreciate the limits of reason other than the limits produced by the failure of other people’s faculty of reason or their lack of education.

    I’m a strong supporter of the Enlightenment and its values, especially as regards its opposition to religious superstition, but I’ve always felt that this must be linked in some way to the aspiration for a much greater sense of human community and equality based around humanistic ideals. If it is not, then it risks merely repelling people from the values it propounds: it makes rationality the tool of their domination rather than their liberation. The affluent embrace a contempt for religion, and then link it to a contempt for the people: the people, seeing that contempt, run to religion for their response.

  100. #100 Ichthyic
    October 29, 2006

    I assume that “religious tolerance” was proposed for just such reasons. Briefly, why should I care what anyone else believes? I only care about other people’s actions.

    most would consider words to be actions.

    otherwise, what you just wrote is meaningless.

    think closely about that when you consider what you mean by “tolerance” and “actions”.

  101. #101 bernarda
    October 29, 2006

    Christinanity is not the only problem with religionaires.

    Hindu fundamentalists have been active in trying to effect the content of school textbooks in California and Texas.

    http://www.stopfundinghate.org/

    Here is a satiric look at their program,

    http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=215

    Here is what the Vedic Foundation believes,

    http://web.archive.org/web/20030803191007/http://thevedicfoundation.org/communities/do_you_know.htm

    A commentary on the Hindu program,

    http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Mar06/Ravishankar22.htm

    ” Q2: How different are the western religions from our Bhartiya religion? [7]

    A: In no way could there be any comparison of the western religions (which are based on mythologies) with the Hindu Vedic religion which is eternal, universal and is directly revealed by the supreme God. “

  102. #102 jw
    October 29, 2006

    For most physicists, the anthropic principle ends science the way we have known it.

    Do you have any support for this statement? Did someone take a survey? As a physicist, I haven’t found this to be the case with most physicists I’ve met. The superstring physicists may think like that, but they make up a small fraction of all physicists.

  103. #103 George
    October 29, 2006

    I’m a strong supporter of the Enlightenment and its values, especially as regards its opposition to religious superstition, but I’ve always felt that this must be linked in some way to the aspiration for a much greater sense of human community and equality based around humanistic ideals. If it is not, then it risks merely repelling people from the values it propounds: it makes rationality the tool of their domination rather than their liberation. The affluent embrace a contempt for religion, and then link it to a contempt for the people: the people, seeing that contempt, run to religion for their response.

    Well said.

    A lot of the harsh words of contempt on this site are directed at the people who promote an anti-science, anti-evolution fundie agenda.

    The fundies demonstrate their contempt for the less-well educated and less fortunate by promoting ignorance and dependency and a host of infantilizing emotions.

    The mega-church phenomenon is nothing but exploitation of people’s emotions for profit and political gain.

  104. #104 Keith Douglas
    October 29, 2006

    (I encourage the antimetaphysicists to, once again, read about scientific metaphysics. Yes, religious metaphysics is ludicrously false or untestable, but that only suggests we need better understanding of general categories, not a dismissal of the field.)

  105. #105 Daniel Morgan
    October 30, 2006

    PZ, 99 bottles, etc.,

    The point I make is a sort of multi-pronged strategy is necessary, and I freely concede that lofty (read: ‘valid/true’) arguments won’t matter for a percentage of the populace:

    There will always be a fringe of fideists and the irrational. But they are indeed a smaller sect. There isn’t much you can do for them.

    BTW, I will not make the same complaints of Dennett that I do of Dawkins and Harris. Dennett writes in a much different tone, and anyone who has read all 3 can point that out.

    I suppose Sastra was right to respond to my complaints:

    There are plenty of “sophisticated” attacks on religion, but such higher criticism rarely makes it outside of academic circles.

    That’s the problem. Why not more popular works summarizing and translating the responses of the philosophers to the works of Plantinga, Lewis, and Swinburne?

    Ah! I think I’m going to start a manuscript and book proposal…

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Seriously, though, I don’t see religion going away any time soon, but I hope the sects of extremist loons are affected by something, anything. I don’t know if it will require Dawkins, Dennett, rejoinders to Lewis/Plantinga, or just a more vocal atheist populace. I just know I think all of these things should be tried, simultaneously, until these sects no longer exist.

    Call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

  106. #106 melior (in Austin)
    November 2, 2006

    Preach it, Brother!

  107. #107 Al
    July 13, 2008

    ‘Unless atheists come up with an equally attractive product, it will remain the province of a small minority of people who’ve objectively thought about the world.’,

    #34 “Quite true. Atheists can’t really with compete with it, at least not in the short term.”

    I have to disagree with this notion that atheists have to come up with something to compete with church life. Are you kidding? Almost ALL of modern society is a product of a secular process (science) that aims (at least in application) to improve the lot of humanity. What better product is there??

    Churches and religion have floated along with this groundswell of knowledge-based improvement, like scum on a soup. Here’s an example: How many priests are taking statins for their blood pressure? Where did that drug come from? From hundreds of years of chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology research, thats where! How does the priest get to church much of the time? In a car, derived from application of physics, chemistry and mechanics over a century of refinement. Every tangible improvement in operational aspects of human endeavour has derived from the touch of secular science. The idea that religion can even begin to compete with advancement derived from science is, to me, absurd.

  108. #108 the strangest brew
    July 13, 2008

    “The idea that religion can even begin to compete with advancement derived from science is, to me, absurd.”

    Not only absurd but religious fervour always…without fail…discourages and hampers scientific advance when it contradicts their world view…

    When science was a toddler…folks like Galileo…Kepler and Copernicus were given a shortish lead…which got much shorter for Nico…in fact he ended up tethered to a hot pole eventually…

    But the authorities that were… allowed and even encouraged science ..until it conflicted with their pet myth…then it was blasphemy and heresy…so no change there then…

    Religion…certainly the Creationist abomination…would love to be able to say they were on a par with science…in fact that is the battle they are girded up for now…the poor bunnies want to be taken seriously…they are getting a little red faced and puffy about folks laughing at their antics…let alone their delusion…

    IDiots…decided they were scientific anyway…hoping no one would notice their claim…and maybe they can fool other folks that they had evidence for a fairy story that is more wishful thinking then cast iron fact…before anyone actually found out they were fraudulent…

    I just get tickled pinkish…(by the grace of our unicorn in nirvana)…when Dr Dino…is quoted by trolls spoiling for a spanking…that they really think he is a Dr…with a real post graduate degree…an all that…they will not accept the reality cos it weakens quite substantially their delusional grasp of palaeoanthropology…bless ’em…

    Even moderate religion is a very uncomfortable bed partner for science…they say not…but they have their agenda also…and tis not for the benefit of mankind methinks…

    It is just not going to happen…science will and can never be allied with religion…the premise of the two subjects are completely divided by rationality…and reality…simple like so…

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