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 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.

  2. #2 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.

  3. #3 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.

  4. #4 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.

  5. #5 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.

  6. #6 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!!!

  7. #7 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.’

  8. #8 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.

  9. #9 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?

  10. #10 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.

  11. #11 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.

  12. #12 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…

  13. #13 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.

  14. #14 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.

  15. #15 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.

  16. #16 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.”

  17. #17 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…

  18. #18 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.

  19. #19 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”.

  20. #20 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…
    ;-)

    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.

  21. #21 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.

  22. #22 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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