Pharyngula

The false equation

I’ve rarely seen it so starkly said:

“We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism,” says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark. “Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each other as destined to fry in hell.

“You have a triangle with fundamentalist secularists in one corner, fundamentalist faith people in another, and then the intelligent, thinking liberals of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, baptism, methodism, other faiths – and, indeed, thinking atheists – in the other corner. ” says Slee. Why does he think the other two groups are so vociferous? “When there was a cold war, we knew who the enemy was. Now it could be anybody. From this feeling of vulnerability comes hysteria.”

Wow. So Dawkins is setting off bombs, appropriating religious people’s land, and hates gay people? And he thinks Christians and Muslims are going to hell? Talk about not getting it…

I like how he categorizes people of faith as the reasonable ones, with a few “thinking atheists” tossed in so he can sound inclusive.

The article really doesn’t get any better from there. It makes the premise that atheism is identical to fundamentalism, and ties it to violence and attempts to deprive people of their civil rights, all claims completely contrary to the evidence (but who cares? It’s OK to slag mere atheists with lies), and it’s all wrapped up in a hysterical frenzy of anti-Dawkins terror. That guy really hit a sore spot, didn’t he?

As usual, there’s the expected whining about Dawkins’ book by people who, if they even bothered to read it, didn’t understand it. I like this attempt to escape the anti-religion logic:

Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: “The core of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and (sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western Christianity.”

Shorter John Gray: “We know religion is stupid, but it makes us feel good.”

If that’s all religion is, I suggest he take up Tai Chi for the ritual, go sit in a forest or by the seashore for a ‘mystical’ experience, and join a book club for the sense of community. I have to despise these arguments that try to pretend religion is not what it is—they are in essence conceding that the atheist’s criticisms are valid and that they have to redefine religion to avoid them, but they are not intellectually honest enough to admit that the existence of gods, souls, an afterlife, and the efficacy of prayer are indefensible propositions.

And then there’s Rabbi Julia Neuberger.

Neuberger is to take on Hitchens, Dawkins and Grayling when she speaks at a debate against the motion We’d Be Better Off Without Religion next month. The debate has been moved to a bigger venue. “What I find really distasteful is not just the tone of their rhetoric, but their lack of doubt,” she says. “No scientific method says that there is no doubt. If you don’t accept there’s doubt in all things, you’re being intellectually dishonest. “

Hasn’t. Read. The. Book.

Atheism, even that firebrand atheism Dawkins is pushing, certainly does admit to doubt, and Dawkins wrote at considerable length about it. All the good Rabbi has to do is expose us to some evidence for her religion, and we’ll consider it. Too bad these religious kooks never have any.

If that’s going to be Neuberger’s tack, though, this debate is going to be entertaining—Dawkins will mop the floor with her. There’s something wonderful about a debate opponent who not only charges in with a silly proposition, but does so by completely mischaracterizing the other side; it should be a real Emily Litella moment.


I don’t think Ophelia liked the article, either.

Comments

  1. #1 Kent
    February 26, 2007

    My favorite comment:

    “I refer to secular fundamentalism. The problem is that these people believe that they have the absolute truth. That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight.” Azzim Tamimi

    Because atheists like Dawkins always end debates in fisticuffs, or just nodding politely while the religious commentator prattles on and on about the absolute truth of their religion. Oh, and suicide bombers seem to be nonexistent among atheists.

  2. #2 VMartin
    February 26, 2007


    As usual, there’s the expected whining about Dawkins’ book by people who, if they even bothered to read it, didn’t understand it.

    Of course. Dawkin’s teaching is secret one, only for neodarwinistic devotees. We others miss dawkinsonian imagination how ancient fish climbing mount improbable became feathered eagle in the end.

  3. #3 Cyde Weys
    February 26, 2007

    PZ, the problem is that, even though you and Dawkins are right, the majority of people are going to side with the other guys, simply because the majority of people are religious and they are incapable of seeing the obvious flaws that you are pointing out.

  4. #4 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    Even money someone at the debate will drag out the chestnut about Dawkins’ not understanding the refined, subtle formulations of modern theology. Of course, it goes without saying that criticizing Dawkins for lacking experience in theology is tantamount to saying that the vast majority of religious people are ignorant of that which they worship. At the same time, such a claim actually reinforces Dawkins’s argument that it is dubious in the extreme to call a young child “Christian” or “pagan”. Surely, if an interested amateur, an Oxford professor, cannot grasp the material then we have no business attributing religion to children. I find it difficult to resist the conclusion that the theologians are taking themselves to task for not teaching theology to the billions of people who need to understand all the details of their God.

    I suspect that a good percentage of the Dawkins-bashing sound-and-fury actually reflects a fundamental difference in approaches. See if this sounds reasonable:

    A theologian — by which I mean one who makes an academic study of a religion in which he believes — is naturally bound to authority. In the Western tradition, he must place all ideas in relation to divine authority, from which all truth radiates. He must also pay deep homage to human authorities: people like Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas who found their share of grace and wrote basically infallible books about it.

    Theologians may disagree among themselves as to which orthodoxy best channels the Word of God, but they’ll all say that there is a true, inspired orthodoxy. (If you meet one who says otherwise, that catechisms are merely covers for Chaos, look around for mirrors, swords and labyrinths, because you’re probably trapped in a Jorge Luis Borges story.) To a first approximation, theology is a discipline in which the game pieces and rules of play were set out centuries ago, and everything which comes after is just elaboration — fitting the irritating developments of a world which just won’t stay still into a medieval framework.

    But, to steal a quip from Carl Sagan, in science there are no authorities, only experts. There is a world of difference between these two categories! An expert knows her subject matter, but we don’t have to pay special reverence to her Word. Nobody gets distraught by the fact that the math Minkowski used to describe Special Relativity was more elegant than Einstein’s; we just say that Einstein had the right big ideas, and then we go ahead and teach Minkowski spacetime. A freshman course on physics includes topics of which Newton never wrote, vectors for example. Likewise, despite all the creationist braying over “Darwinism”, an introductory biology class leaves The Origin of Species far behind, even in all likelihood discussing findings in genetics which came years after Watson and Crick.

    Without really paying attention to it, science and science education have embraced Alfred North Whitehead’s motto: “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

    Theology refuses to acknowledge this entire idea!

    Thanks to cheap books and the Internet, a well-read teenager can poke holes in all the ontological arguments ever offered to prop up Divinity. We really can demolish Anselm’s arguments in less time than it took Anselm to build them. (“The perfect Wikipedia article must exist, because among its maximal set of most excellent attributes, it must have the attribute of existence. . . .”) This is called progress. But within the bounds of his profession, a theologian must find this attitude to authority not just anathema, but completely incomprehensible.

    In science, “authorities” are questioned, criticized, rephrased, amended, summarized and sometimes even discarded. In theology, they are illuminated with gold leaf.

  5. #5 VMartin
    February 26, 2007

    PZ Myers:

    And you’ve read it, VMartin? You might try looking at Chapter 4, “Why there almost certainly is no God”, to find that he rather plainly addressed Neuberger’s false assertion. The point is that there is nothing secret about it at all. I see that when you aren’t being Davison’s sycophant, you’re being a vacuous little troll instead.

    Laws governing evolution of living forms on the Earth have nothing to do with darwinism. And great mystery of evolution has nothing common with Dawkins phatasmagories at all.

    Greatest scientist as Robert Broom (as well as T. Chardin) considered evolution to be spirit-governed process. It is in accordnace with the best tradition with russian as well as british metaphysical thinking. See this article from Vaclav Petr from Prague Charles Uni (I can tell you one of the best nowadays Czech scientist biolog and philosopher profesor Zdenek Neubauer turned to be antidarwinian too).

    British metaphysics as reflected in Robert Broom’s evolutionary theory:

    http://www.mprinstitute.org/vaclav/Broom.htm

    You should better read John Davison’s Manifesto and to reconsider your darwinistic opinion.

  6. #6 Sastra
    February 26, 2007

    A lot of so-called moderates seem to have a huge problem making a distinction between saying that a belief is mistaken, and “suppressing” the belief. There’s that ever-popular mantra: “Everyone should be allowed to believe what they want.” What does that mean? Freedom of thought and conscience — or a relativistic indifference to content? In many cases, it seems to mean both.

    I think the reason fundamentalist Christians and atheists are often equated is the perceived attitude of intolerance: they both tell other people that they’re wrong! And telling other people they’re wrong is … wrong. As Daniel Dennett pointed out in his last book, people often have more faith in the value of faith, any faith, than they have in specific religious claims.

    The concept of an honest, respectful debate on issues seems to have slipped away, and been replaced by the namby-pamby idea that it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re nice about it and don’t try to push it on others. In other words, as long as you don’t do something rude and aggressive like try to persuade someone to change their mind.

    It’s the Mr. Roger’s School of Theology: “I like you just the way you are.”

  7. #7 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 26, 2007

    James Randi quote:

    “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    Deeper than it looks. For example, I’ve never played Chess in a tournament. Does that mean that my not playing Chess is a hobby? Superficially, that’s absurd. But suppose I’m attracted to Chess (I am), read the Chess column of the Los Angeles Times (I do), am friends with a Chess Tournament Director (Benjamin Nethercot), am friends with a former U.S. Women’s Chess Champion (marriued name Sharon Friedman), and attend Chess tournaments as a spectator (including the U.S. Chess Open, as I have).

    Then, to True Believers in Chess (who are Rated Players), what am I? Clearly not one of them. I don’t have a rating. But also clearly not someone indifferent to Chess or attacking their belief system.

    It might be said indeed that, for me, not playing Chess is a hobby. Where by “playing” means in tournaments, where the play is official. Unofficially, I did beat Ben Nethercott (very close to International Master) in a game where I had K 5 pawns to his K R. His father was watching, which may have given me a psychological edge.

    Further, I study the Mathematics of Chess (see the Chess-related sequences in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences).

    In the same way, I am not a True Believer of any established religion. But Religion fascinates me. I’ve been to services in many different churches and synagogues. I’ve read many books on religion. I’ve performed marriages as the Minister. I’ve published Theological essays and poems. I’ve written about what I call Theophysics and Theomathematics.

    So is not believing in God a hobby for me? The case can be made.

    Agnosticism is a heterogeneous population. I am a Chess Agnostic but still interested. I am a God Agonstic, but still interested. I do happen to believe rather strongly in Evolution by Natural Selection, Stellar Evolution, the Old Earth. I hedge my bets on the Big Bang. I am very skeptical of String Theory.

    There is a stance that can be summarized as: Skeptical of belief X, but also skeptical of the Skeptics of X. That can be done in an open-minded and polite way.

    It would be nice if the X Believers and X-Skeptics tolerated each others’ existence, the way the Chess professionals tolerated and were puzzled by me, in conversation. But, alas, many X-believers seem too fearful and angry to tolerate the way that Jesus instructs one to be — nonjudgmental of, say, whores, and loving ones’ enemies. I guess that Creationists are thus, ultimately, not true Christians, in the way that many Islamist terrorists are not actually behaving in an Islamic manner.

  8. #8 G. Tingey
    February 26, 2007

    I have sent the following to the newspaper, I was so annoyed…
    Staurt Jefferies said, in your newspaper:

    “Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England.”

    I call him LIAR, and dare him to sue.

    If he is telling the truth, he should be able to produce an example to justify his case …..

    Really, sirs, does no-one proof-read the nonsense some of your guests write?
    Between this idiot, and Bunty (Madelaine B.) spouting on about how “peaceful” islam is, I’m beginning to wonder how you can call yourself a news paper ….

    G. Tingey.

  9. #9 Jim Harrison
    February 26, 2007

    There are many fundamentalisms in the contemporary world, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Shinto varieties. These movements all differ in what they claim to believe, but they are strikingly analogous from a sociological point of view. They are all protests against modernity and share many of the same political and cultural characteristics. I’m not aware of any atheistical outfits that are remotely similar in organization or tactics to these movements. Claiming that Dawkins is somehow the counterpart of Falwell may be rhetorically effective, but it’s bad sociology.

  10. #10 Steve_C
    February 26, 2007

    I posted the INTRO. Uhg.

    Apparently the Czech Republic is neck and neck with turkey on creationism. And they don’t even have Noah’s Ark up on one of their mountains.

  11. #11 Kristine
    February 26, 2007

    Well, it seems that the conversation that I have dreaded and hoped for has finally begun.

    Not believing in something that does not exist is not “extremism.” But it appears that Dawkins has finally gotten the so-called tolerant sexularists to reveal their true colors. Yes, it makes me angry to see yet another supposedly learned individual frame disbelief as “fundamentalist” as belief, and advocate some sort of (constantly shifting) middle ground. (How am I supposed to compromise, by believing that Jesus “kind of” rose from the dead? Turned water into wine coolers? I can’t do that, people!)

    I’m not going to take the bait this time about equating atheists with terrorists and I suggest that others don’t, either. I have learned from experience that you are not going to convince someone who thinks you’re a terrorist that you aren’t, and the debate that ensures just plays into their hands.

    Gray argues that this fixation misses the point of religions: “The core of most religions is not doctrinal. In non-western traditions and even some strands of western monotheism, the spiritual life is not a matter of subscribing to a set of propositions. Its heart is in practice, in ritual, observance and (sometimes) mystical experience . . . When they dissect arguments for the existence of God, atheists parody the rationalistic theologies of western Christianity.”

    I see some things to agree with here, however:

    It is also a caricature of non-western religions to portray them as having no doctrine. That is simply not true. Lay Buddhists worship Buddha, and they’re not supposed to. They believe in sin, salvation, and hell. Some Muslims in Yemen and North Africa revere saints, and they’re not supposed to. Look at the Sunni-Shia divide: that’s not based upon doctrine? And it is simply not the case that non-western beliefs as actually practiced do not impose creationism or apocalyptic doctrines upon their followers. John Gray needs to meet actual practicing believers (as I have), not just write about pure, esoteric religious theory.

    Isn’t there something ironic about me knowing so many people of different faiths, more so than these advocates of “tolerance”?

  12. #12 Kristine
    February 26, 2007

    Sorry. One more point:

    “What I find really distasteful is not just the tone of their [Dawkins and Grayling] rhetoric, but their lack of doubt,” she [Neuberger] says. “No scientific method says that there is no doubt. If you don’t accept there’s doubt in all things, you’re being intellectually dishonest.”

    Um. Lack of doubt? That’s pretty twisted.

    I have no lack of doubt that the Greek gods do not exist, either. Neither does Neuberger! Does that mean she’s an extremist, or a confused soul just trembling to reconvert and sacrifice a goat to Athena at the Parthenon?

    No, as the article points out, religion hasn’t disappeared. But the present-day religions will someday disappear, just as the relgions of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Assyrians, and Egyptians did. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will die off (I hedging on Hinduism and Buddhism, though). ;-) There will be new religions in place of the old. What doesn’t change? What will always be around, though perhaps never in the majority? Atheism.

  13. #13 mtraven
    February 26, 2007

    I like what John Gray said. I find it ridiculous/amusing/sad how PZ and Dawkins thinks that they get to define what religion is, so they can keep attacking it. If religionists want to “redefine” what they believe in so that it doesn’t conflict with science, this pisses PZ off. Why? Because he’s got fewer occasions for self-rigteous mockery and easy laughs? It’s this sort of behavior that earns you an extremeist label, because your interest is in keeping up the conflict rather than settling it, keeping up a tired conflict rather than engage in productive dialog.

    The fact is that “religion” covers a wide range of phenomena from the profound to the profoundly stupid. It seems equally stupid to focus solely on the worst of religion. That’s why I prefer Dennett’s book to Dawkins. He is no believer either, but at least he’s willing to try to see what the point of religion might be.

  14. #14 Dustin
    February 26, 2007

    These nutjobs have come completely unhinged. Atheists don’t have doubt? What? And even if they didn’t, how does having doubt justify belief? That is probably the most twisted logic I’ve ever seen.

    And how exactly is Richard Dawkins like a terrorist? I don’t recall him blowing himself up. Oh, I see how this works. Religion is always good, and when it isn’t good, it’s because those entirely rational people who worship invisible bronze age storm gods have come unhinged and started acting more like atheists.

    I wonder if these people would be so quick to trivialize religiously motivated terrorist attacks if they weren’t just watching them “on the tube”. Then we wouldn’t see arguments that amount to “Disbelief = Killing People With Bombs in The Name of Allah”.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    I find it ridiculous/amusing/sad how PZ and Dawkins thinks that they get to define what religion is, so they can keep attacking it.

    [second spit take of the day. . . root beer this time!]

    Have I been following an entirely different public debate? PZ, Dawkins, Altemeyer, Sokal and all the rest haven’t been defining what religion is in order to maximize the number of rhetorical targets. Far from it: they took a look at what religious people actually think and do. This becomes their empirical definition of “religion”. Theologians who attempt to justify a Deist or Spinozan God and then pray each Sunday to a Bearded Sky Father are the ones playing with redefinitions.

  16. #16 Steve LaBonne
    February 26, 2007

    mtraven, I call bullshit. What Dawkins attacks- and he’s quite explicit about this- is the kind of religion to which most religious people really adhere. That’s the kind which is actually important in real-world terms. No doubt the world would be a much better place if most religious believers resembled, say, Scott Hatfield. Well, hello- that’s not the world we actually live in.

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2007

    Yep. Dawkins and I aren’t redefining religion — we’re looking at what people actually practice, and criticizing that rather than some attenuated hypothetical version that theologians have invented.

    Also, it’s not because they’re switching to some definition that is free from error — I think the ‘mystical experience’ thing is pretty darned silly.

  18. #18 Blake Stacey
    February 26, 2007

    Equating the “mystical experience” — i.e., what you can potentially get from the night sky, music and/or LSD — with religious belief is just silly. Analogy:

    I enjoyed the privilege of an alien abduction every few weeks during my junior year of MIT.

    Let me elaborate on that:

    Junior year for us physics majors is deliberately designed to be a brutal experience. To use flamboyantly gender-biased language, the professors want a chance “to separate the boys from the men” (you can substitute “sheep from the wolves” if you prefer). Key ingredient in the witches’ brew is Junior Lab, a class which the course catalog says will require eighteen hours of work per week. Well, if you’re a slacker, perhaps: I never knew anybody who did a decent job doing less than twenty. And you’re expected to be taking three other classes at the same time, including your first real encounter with quantum mechanics — a nice, intuitive subject which gives you time to relax and contemplate — and if you believe that, I’ve got a very attractive deal on a bridge in Brooklyn. . . .

    Put simply, if you survive junior year, you know you can make it as a physicist. You also learn just how productive you can be in a state of sleep deprivation. I was a lightweight, usually tumbling into bed between two and four A.M. when others could go all night long. However, I would wake up around six, when the sun started hitting my bedroom window, and damnably, I would have the hardest time falling asleep again.

    So I would curl up there in bed, not able to be awake, not able to sleep. And then, pretty dependably — when I was truly zonked with exhaustion but somehow unable to doze off — I would feel a wave of numbness, followed by a strange paralysis. With my eyes closed, I would see my room, but with the sizes and proportions all distorted. If the experience lasted long enough, I would sense myself rising into the air and sometimes even flying through abstract tunnels of light.

    “This is so freakin’ cool!” I would exclaim. After a few such experiences, I discovered I could give myself a good shake and break the sleep-paralysis. Sometimes, after I did that, I could relax into my little hypnogogic trance again.

    I expect lots of people have had similar experiences, half-awake and seeing odd things. (I mean, I tripped out in a dentist’s chair at age eight after inhaling too much nitrous while they fixed my sugar-rotted baby teeth. Weird things can happen to the brain, even in daily life!) Junior year at MIT gave me the chance to explore the phenomenon, to test it with a little repeatability.

    Now, experiencing an assortment of psychological and physiological perturbations which I could identify as similar to alien-abduction reports did not convert me to a UFO believer. Quite the opposite: by identifying a down-to-Earth explanation for these purported abductions and verifying that explanation with my own experience, I’ve firmly grounded myself in skepticism.

    Why should a “spiritual” or “mystical” experience be any different?

  19. #19 Colugo
    February 26, 2007

    Watch out Dustin! Randians are a passionate bunch.

    Hey, I liked ‘The Fountainhead’ too, but it was just a movie. Like ‘V For Vendetta.’

  20. #20 Dan
    February 26, 2007

    Dustin:

    Oh, I see. What it is about is going through the motions.

    And here I was thinking that people were being sincere when they said that religion added meaning to their lives. Well, I’m glad we settled that.

    Well, they are sincere, after a fashion, because it’s either convince yourself you’re being sincere or sink into nihilistic despair.

    The real problem is that they never actually define what they mean by “meaning.” And there’s also that whole thing about how if you need to make up an invisible man in the sky (or other such things) just to give your life meaning, then your life has no meaning.

  21. #21 Kristine
    February 26, 2007

    If religionists want to “redefine” what they believe in so that it doesn’t conflict with science, this pisses PZ off.

    Well, I can tell you what pisses me off, anyway, mtraven, and that’s that there is a pecking order as to who does the “redefining” and who does the worshipping of a supposed absolute truth.

    Religious doctrine is presented as unchangeable. (Well, it certainly doesn’t take much Sunday school to figure out how that’s not true, but no one talks about it.) However, those who profit from religion change the religion to suit themselves. Some religious scholars may be interested in getting their beliefs to agree with science, because they’re gentle academics, but the machine of religion does this only so that its credibility with the passive believers is not damaged. Religion is essentially a sport in American society! I mean, let’s call it for what it is. It’s a sport and a form of entertainment, and a huge moneymaker.

    What I see in today’s megachurches is an exponential increase in this strict hierarchy. Thousands of people can now follow a charismatic leader who calls the shots and who can revise the past of Christianity itself. This is not even the intellectual Christianity I learned, this is what Dawkins has derisively referred to as the “happy, clappy church.” Dawkins himself quoted an Anglican priest on the phenomenon: “They are afraid of thinking.”

    That’s at the root of this. Worshippers today are invited to jump around to shitty pop music instead of thinking (give me Bach any day! Something wrong with Beethoven?). But while all this playpen happiness is happening, you can be sure that someone is doing the thinking! You can be sure that there is a whole lot of thinking going on behind the scenes, a whole lot of quote-mining to convince people that their particularly religious fad is “scientific,” a whole lot of PR to get poor people to cough up money (it’s a scandal in Africa right now), a whole lot of guilt-tripping to turn a credulous audience into perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive self-batterers.

    This is about power. This is not about “fundamentalist believers versus fundamentalist atheists.” (Fundamentalist means adhering to The Fundamentals, as set out by R. A. Torrey, and yes, most fundamentalists are not screaming crazies.) This is about the establishment of new hierarchies, in America and thus the world, that has nothing to do with governments or politics (but is related to corporations), and is not a conspiracy but does include some conspiratorial maneuvers. And the people running the show will do anything to maintain their newly-found power. Even let science in (as it suits them).

    Religion isn’t going away but it is, simultaneously, becoming a more personal experience (on the level of the happy clapper), but in the service of a larger, well-run machine that the happy clapper doesn’t know and doesn’t care is going on behind the scenes. And insofar as the media is a part of the machine, Dawkins is an easy target for what he says.

  22. #22 infamous
    February 26, 2007

    PZ:

    I don’t understand why you sit in your ivory tower and look down on all those of a different opinion… all while attempting to make your opposition look as narrow minded and ignorant as possible.

    “Wow. So Dawkins is setting off bombs, appropriating religious people’s land, and hates gay people? And he thinks Christians and Muslims are going to hell? Talk about not getting it…”

    …come on now. You know that’s not what was meant,right? (talk about not getting it…)

    “I like how he categorizes people of faith as the reasonable ones, with a few “thinking atheists” tossed in so he can sound inclusive.”

    …see above.

  23. #23 Steve_C
    February 26, 2007

    What is the worse thing that PZ or Dawkins in the name of godlessness?
    What’s the worst thing religious fundamentalists have done in the name of their religion?

    How are they the same again?

    Because the beliefs are strident doesn’t mean the actions taken are on any way equal.

    Thinking religion is based primarily on superstitious nonsense is not hatred.

    I do recall Dawkins wearing a t-shirt that said “Atheists for Jesus”.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    I have no idea which of my beliefs are fact and which are fiction.

    why don’t you?

    Is it that you don’t feel you have the tools to differentiate?

    or is it that you simply don’t want to know?

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    and almost one-third of us believe that Jesus will return in 2007

    hey, didn’t we just have a thread where Jesus’ return was already documented?

    heck, people were already getting their ’666′ tatoos.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    At some point we have to counter these beliefs (which are enabled by religion)

    yes!

    I’ve come to the conclusion over years of conversing with creobots that this is exactly what is going on.

    it’s the religion that is enabling the underlying leanings towards a particular pychological profile.

    like cocaine commonly enables the manic/depressive cycle in bipolar individuals.

    It’s not surprising at all that any particular religion would be co-opted to become even more of an enabler; like making a stronger version of a drug.

  27. #27 CalGeorge
    February 26, 2007

    Two thousand frigging years of glorious obedience to a freaking fantasy perpetuated by a bunch of manipulative bastards who called themselves priests, ministers, popes, whatever!

    Times up! Ding, ding, ding ding! God has left the building. Time to go home. Sorry, no curtain calls. You’ve had your fun. Move on! Come on. Get along. Nothing more to see. God is dead. Hurry, hurry, get along! Watch your head going out!

  28. #28 PaulC
    February 26, 2007

    Ichthyic:

    Is it that you don’t feel you have the tools to differentiate?

    The tools I have are inadequate. It’s been established experimentally that people come up with post hoc explanations for why they behave a certain way that are unrelated to the actual cause. (A story on this comes out in the press every few years–e.g. subject claims he picked the white rabbit because of his childhood pet, but actually that was the image flashed in his left eye, that sort of thing–but about 5 minutes of googling hasn’t yielded a reference, so I’ll assume others are aware of this).

    To take my own example (no, not a stellar analogy for religion, but useful as a simplified model): I’m largely, but not entirely, skeptical of my claim of why I like Sumatra coffee. Part of the problem is that I’ve had Sumatra that just wasn’t that good compared to my memories of when I decided I like it. At this point I’m not even that sure I do like it that much. But I can also rule out the bad cups, particularly the ones ruined by over-roasting (which is almost all coffee on the west coast). On the other hand, I can reinforce my initial claim by the fact that external references to Sumatra will say it is low-acidity (which is at least measurable) and earthy (a little harder to pin down) and some will suggest a light roast. So I think there’s probably an objective body of evidence confirming my memory of my first, good experiences with Sumatra coffee.

    Do I have the “tools” to differentiate between why I actually like Sumatra coffee, or whether I even like that that much and the fiction (or insufficiently established claims) that I present when the subject of coffee comes up (sometimes you start discussing coffee or any other shared interest and the value of social bonding exceeds the value of getting everything exactly right–and basically nobody wants to hear me agonizing about it)?

    I suppose with enough effort, I could probably tease out the precise motivations behind whatever claims I might make about Sumatra. But that would be time consuming and would only scratch the surface of my motivations. The best I could do is say that a lot of what I claim to believe is in a sort of gray area that is very possibly fictitious and that I lack the resources to place it on a firm epistemological basis. In fact, that is what I tend to say. The only question that really interests me is how it causes me to act. This is where I at least make a decision between those beliefs that I will treat as fact, and those I will treat as fiction.

    I really have trouble believing in fully or mostly rational people. I am willing to hold out its possibility only because I’m dealing with inherently subjective experience and maybe I’m totally wrong and other people out there are just way ahead of me in empirical justification for all their beliefs. I’ve put enough effort into my own justifications, though, that my tendency is to believe that anyone who really thinks they’ve teased out the fact from fiction in their own mind hasn’t even scratched the surface.

  29. #29 abeja
    February 26, 2007

    What is the worse thing that PZ or Dawkins in the name of godlessness?
    What’s the worst thing religious fundamentalists have done in the name of their religion?
    How are they the same again?

    Steve C, I have asked X-tians a similar question. They’ve responded by saying that atheists want to remove/prevent prayer in schools, approve of gay rights, want to remove the tax exempt status of churches, value science over faith, etc. Some of the things they’ve pointed out are true, some are not. But their accusations of the “harm” caused by atheists is always in the form of some sort of “repression” of religious freedom, or the harm they think would come to society if it became widely acceptable for groups of people they disapprove of to be given more rights. Whether or not it’s true that atheists can be credited (or, in the mind of the x-tians, blamed)for the things they credit/blame us for, the fact is that a great deal of them DO, in fact, think we are responsible for religious repression and progressive changes in society.

    Here’s the kicker: The x-tians I’ve talked to think that things such as fighting prayer in schools and making laws to protect gays are every bit as bad as all the witch hunts, wars, terrorist attacks, and large scale killings inflicted upon the world by religionists.

    Example: Damage done to society by making birth control available=horrors of the crusades. They cancel each other out, making atheists equally as damaging to society as anything xtiandom has ever done.

    I’m not kidding–they really do think this way.

  30. #30 Scott Hatfield
    February 26, 2007

    What an incredible thread. There’s so much….MEAT. Way too much for me to respond to, that’s true.

    mtraven: even if I thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread (which I don’t), I’d have to agree with Steve Le Bonne: we don’t live in a world where most of the ‘believers’ are like me.

    Proof of same: the fact that Jason and I went round and round on a recent thread on the question of whether beliefs taken on faith could be said to be justified. Oddly enough, both of us said ‘no’, which I don’t think was all that satisfying for either of us. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade that honest exchange of views for an inkling less of doubt. I think we owe it to Jason and other skeptics to acknowledge that most believers really do prefer certainty to questioning. And, indeed, as the priest quoted by Dawkins says, ‘they are afraid of thinking.’

    Kristine, by way of contrast, typically says some pretty thoughtful things. It really *is* about power at some level: all you have to do is look at the turf wars between rival creationist groups, with AIG being especially keen to draw distinctions between themselves and every other hamlet in the cottage industry which is creationism.

    In turn, those interested in power love to pit ‘in-groups’ vs. ‘out-groups’; as Uber has suggested, this likely exploits aspects of our primate biology. Kristine again nails it by pointing out the conflation of hatred with meaning: that is, when we define ourselves as the opposite of the thing we hate.

    How, then, to respond? Allow me a moment of optimism: there are bonobos, as well as chimps. Our biological heritage is not merely one of competition, but one of cooperation. We have options, and we can choose to break the bonds of hatred and ignorance by championing the things that unite us as human beings, by expanding the circle of those whom we are prepared to love. In other words, to take the question ‘who are my brothers, and my sisters?’ seriously.

    Fraternally….SH

  31. #31 George Cauldron
    February 26, 2007

    We others miss dawkinsonian imagination how ancient fish climbing mount improbable became feathered eagle in the end.

    You should better read John Davison’s Manifesto and to reconsider your darwinistic opinion.

    VMartin is best understood as a cross between Waylon Smithers and Borat.

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    Greatest scientist as Robert Broom (as well as T. Chardin) considered evolution to be spirit-governed process.

    The fact that you say “greatest scientist” and act as if that were an argument shows that you don’t know how science works. Arguments from authority are unscientific.

    Neither Broom nor Teilhard de Chardin had any evidence for their metaphysics. I don’t know about Broom, but I’ll flat-out say that Teilhard de Chardin was not a scientist — he made up fancy terms (“the soul temperature was rising”) without ever explaining them. Today you will not find a single biologist who adheres to Teilhard de Chardin’s bizarre opinions; most importantly, his assumption that evolution is progress (shared by the communists, incidentally) has turned out to be utter nonsense.

    It is in accordnace with the best tradition with russian as well as british metaphysical thinking.

    Whatever “best” means.

    By the way, it is interesting that there seems to be such a thing as “Russian” or “British metaphysical thinking”. If you suggested there were such a thing as “Russian science” or “British science” you would be laughed out of the room!

    (I can tell you one of the best nowadays Czech scientist biolog and philosopher profesor Zdenek Neubauer turned to be antidarwinian too).

    Here you commit both fallacies at once.

    Look, I sympathize with you. I agree that communism was a dogma, not a science, and that having to live under it was horrible. But the fact that communism was bullshit is not evidence that any of its many opposites must be any better.

    Whether something is science or not is easy to find out. If the proponents of an idea can answer the question “if we were wrong, how would we know?”, the idea is science. If they can’t, it is not.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    Greatest scientist as Robert Broom (as well as T. Chardin) considered evolution to be spirit-governed process.

    The fact that you say “greatest scientist” and act as if that were an argument shows that you don’t know how science works. Arguments from authority are unscientific.

    Neither Broom nor Teilhard de Chardin had any evidence for their metaphysics. I don’t know about Broom, but I’ll flat-out say that Teilhard de Chardin was not a scientist — he made up fancy terms (“the soul temperature was rising”) without ever explaining them. Today you will not find a single biologist who adheres to Teilhard de Chardin’s bizarre opinions; most importantly, his assumption that evolution is progress (shared by the communists, incidentally) has turned out to be utter nonsense.

    It is in accordnace with the best tradition with russian as well as british metaphysical thinking.

    Whatever “best” means.

    By the way, it is interesting that there seems to be such a thing as “Russian” or “British metaphysical thinking”. If you suggested there were such a thing as “Russian science” or “British science” you would be laughed out of the room!

    (I can tell you one of the best nowadays Czech scientist biolog and philosopher profesor Zdenek Neubauer turned to be antidarwinian too).

    Here you commit both fallacies at once.

    Look, I sympathize with you. I agree that communism was a dogma, not a science, and that having to live under it was horrible. But the fact that communism was bullshit is not evidence that any of its many opposites must be any better.

    Whether something is science or not is easy to find out. If the proponents of an idea can answer the question “if we were wrong, how would we know?”, the idea is science. If they can’t, it is not.

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    Oh, and… the term “scientific Darwinism” does not exist. You made it up. Unlike Marxism, the theory of evolution is science and doesn’t need to assert that in its name.

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    Oh, and… the term “scientific Darwinism” does not exist. You made it up. Unlike Marxism, the theory of evolution is science and doesn’t need to assert that in its name.

  36. #36 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    a weird affectation of an Eastern European underpar knowledge of English which comes and goes, and really never looks authentic at all.

    I wondered…

    His telegraph style doesn’t really look like how someone writes who doesn’t know how to use articles. And the Czech keyboard has a ? key for Zden?k.

    But this hypothesis of yours is testable — it’s scientific. VMartin, can you translate your latest post into Czech? (Kseniya and I, at the very least, will notice very fast if you have used translate.google.com or babelfish.altavista.com or the like.)

  37. #37 David Marjanovi?
    February 26, 2007

    a weird affectation of an Eastern European underpar knowledge of English which comes and goes, and really never looks authentic at all.

    I wondered…

    His telegraph style doesn’t really look like how someone writes who doesn’t know how to use articles. And the Czech keyboard has a ? key for Zden?k.

    But this hypothesis of yours is testable — it’s scientific. VMartin, can you translate your latest post into Czech? (Kseniya and I, at the very least, will notice very fast if you have used translate.google.com or babelfish.altavista.com or the like.)

  38. #38 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    I suppose with enough effort, I could probably tease out the precise motivations behind whatever claims I might make about Sumatra. But that would be time consuming and would only scratch the surface of my motivations.

    perhaps you could have shortened that entire response to:

    Yeah, I think the tools are there, but it’s too tedious for me to bother using them.

    IOW, your answer fits with my second postulate, you don’t really care to.

    if you’re worried that would set you apart… don’t.

    I think the vast majority feel introspection to be unworthy of the effort.

    OTOH, have you considered that the very lack of effort might be a lot of the reason why creobots continue in their delusions?

    you can readily see standard defense mechanisms kick into gear whenever you challenge a creobot on their interpretations of observations, and how they don’t fit with actual reality. Typically, you get complete denial, followed by a “reset” to previous conditions.

    IOW, point out to a YEC that their perception of a young earth flies in the face of ALL available evidence, and they will deny it, then the next day act as if you never pointed it out to them to begin with.

    hence, they certainly have the tools available to explore WHY they think the world is 6k years old (and biblical literalism is really a red herring – a basic referal to authority). they simply refuse to use them.

    to co-opt an old phrase, and ounce of introspection is worth a pound of actual evidence.

    If a YEC had ever bothered to examine what maintains their own belief structures, likely those beliefs would end up falling by the wayside. Instead, a failure to examine them early on (often due to the fact that there is no peer pressure to do so) ends up reinforcing the false perceptions to the point where even serious therapy would have problems getting them to reexamine their beliefs, let alone actual evidence.

    food for thought.

  39. #39 JR
    February 26, 2007

    I really don’t understand this obsession with evidence. I have no evidence that Attila the Hun ever lived, but I believe it. I have no evidence that there are spatial objects orbiting the sun that are thousands of millions of miles away, but I believe that. I have no evidence that there is a city in Australia called Perth, but I believe that, too. Almost everything I believe, I believe on the basis of authority, not of evidence. That is true of you, and PZ Myers, and Dawkins, and all human beings.

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    because damn, just damn

    stop it! you’re reading my mind.
    ;)

  41. #41 autumn
    February 27, 2007

    Stay with me for a bit on this, I do have a point.

    I work as a convienience store clerk, and in this exalted position I am forced to sell people lottery tickets, of which the instant “scratch-off” variety are especially popular. At least six million times every day (exaggerated very slightly) I am face to face with a person who states with absoloute certainty that only even/odd numbered scratch-off tickets win (the tickets are numbered sequentially [is there another way to be numbered?] for inventory purposes), or that only tickets from the first/last half of the roll win. Without exception, my first question to these troglodytes is “how large was your sample space?”, which elicits many blank stares. When I go on to explain that a statement of fact implies some research into the subject, I am told that it just works, or their friend said so, or some other crap. Interestingly, when I explain to them that I have actually surveyed the winning tickets (yes, I am a super-dork who has spent time cataloguing the inventory numbers of about two-hundred tickets over three days) and have found nothing other than randomness in the distribution, I am invariably told “well, I just know it works.”. Then they walk out broke. I actually had a man say, after his predicted even number didn’t win, but the next ticket did, “see, it’s either the even ticket, or the one right next to it”.
    The point, if anyone has stuck around, is that people have a huge ability to rationalize demonstrably false beliefs as true when presented with ample evidence to the contrary, even when these beliefs are trivial to the point of total vacuity of meaning. Imagine the engine of rationalization when a belief is tied to one’s identity as strongly as religion is.
    If something as stupid as lotteries can cause such mass misery and deprivation (imagine if these people were saving the $20 American that they spend on average [yes, I also took averages over two weeks to arrive at this figure, and due to the methodology, it is artificially low] every day), then what about a belief that has such important cosequenses as a religion?
    Religions are detrimental, not to the individual in every case, but to the larger society.

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    or their friend said so,

    peers commonly reinforce false conclusions, hence creationism still exists because peers reinforce it long enough for the thinking patterns to be very resistant to change.

    hence the reason PZ and Dawkins and many others (myself included for the most part) think that attempting to curtail the constant reinforcing patterns is a legitimate approach to reducing the spread of this “meme”.

  43. #43 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    The chinese communist party’s persecution of anyone who is religous or is in a cult can be seen as one example of athiest fundamentalism.

    not really, as with falun gong the issue is one of control and rebellion, not religion.

    they look at religious organization the same as any other organized group, a potential threat to control.

    BTW, that’s nothing new, as most of secular europe battled for control against various religious orders as well.

    heck, it goes farther back than that even; some have put forward a reasonable hypothesis that Akhnaten created the concept of monotheism in order to better maintain the position of pharoh.

    has nothing to do with promoting atheism, at all.

  44. #44 jr
    February 27, 2007

    Well sure, there are lots of books that tell me that there is a city called Perth. Not nearly so many as tell me that there is a God. Many more people have heard of God, talk about God, write about God, pray to God, have spoken to God, believe that they have a personal relationship with God, than write about Perth, have been to Perth, have a relationship with a person from Perth. Many more great philosophers and artists have written and painted about God than about Perth. There is much more evidence of God than there is of Perth. Further, for me to disbelieve in God, I would have to believe that there is either a vast world-wide conspiracy to make me believe, or alternatively, that there is a mass delusion among hundreds of millions of my fellows – people whose powers of perception and reason are in no way inferior to mine, who are obviously not not “kooks,” who raise families, run businesses and farms and governments and universities, and create art and literature, very often much more successfully than I do.

    Now, as it happens, I am an atheist, and I do believe that most people do suffer from this mass delusion. I do reject the evidence of God that is all around me. I reject the evidence of books published by, say, the Abington Press, and I reject the personal eyewitness evidence of the very large number of people I know who claim to have a personal relationship with God. I think they are mistaken. On the other hand, I accept the authority of the National Geographic, even though I have never even met a person who claims to have been to Perth. And I accept the authority of the scientists and science popularizers – like Dawkins – from whom I gain my knowledge of evolution, even though I have no personal knowledge of it and I really don’t understand the mechanisms of natural selection particularly well.

    To a religious person, I suppose I am like a person blind from birth who demands evidence of color. Now, I am still an atheist, but I also recognize that a person blind from birth will never perceive the difference between azure and cerulean.

    So we’re not talking about evidence here. And anyone who says, like PZ Myers, that religious people are kooks because they have no evidence, is really not grappling with the issue.

  45. #45 Jason
    February 27, 2007

    JR,

    Jason and Nerull – you say “there is evidence” that Perth exists. What you mean is that authorities that you accept report that Perth exists.

    No, I don’t mean that, although it is also true. I mean that there exist photographs, videos, audio recordings and other pieces of physical evidence that Perth exists. This evidence is available to you personally. There is no evidence that God exists.

  46. #46 JR
    February 27, 2007

    Uber – You say that I fail to understand that scientists base their conclusions on evidence. I don’t fail to understand that at all. I accept that it is true. But I accept it as a result of my faith in the authority of science. I personally am incompetent to judge the validity of that authority. I can’t do the science. I can’t even understand the science. Oh, I can read Dawkins’ work for a popular audience and I have a vague notion of his dispute with Gould, for example, but not in a way that anyone who really understands the material would consider understanding. For me, rejection of creationism and acceptance of the theory of evolution is based primarily on my faith in certain sources of authority and my rejection of other, competing sources. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

  47. #47 JR
    February 27, 2007

    No, I think that evolution is science. I accept that science produces knowledge while religion does not. I accept that creationism and i.d. are bad faith efforts to disguise religious beliefs as science.

    I accept that Dawkins accepts evolution because he understands it. Perhaps PZ Myers also understands it. But I don’t understand it – not deeply, not in the sense that I understand the things I really do understand. I don’t really understand the theory of relativity or the theory of quantum mechanics, either. I have only a glancing understanding of the germ theory of disease. Yet I believe that all these theories are true. There was a time in my youth when I believed that the theory of psychoanalysis was true and I entertained the possibility that there was a scientific theory of history. I don’t believe those things any more. Yet I can’t honestly claim that either my belief or my disbelief is based on an evaluation of evidence.

    To take evolution as an example, I can read Dawkins’ books, I understand them after a fashion, and I accept that he is writing in good faith and that his conclusions are based on reliable evidence. Yet the best I can do is to evaluate Dawkins’ belief and decide whether to accept his authority or to reject it. As I will never be a scientist, the possibility of making my own informed decision as to the truth of evolution or any other scientific theory is closed to me, as it is closed to great majority of humankind – including, I would guess, to many of the commenters on this blog. For people like us, there is no alternative to belief based on authority. We are fooling ourselves if we claim to have knowledge based on evidence. If one denies that reliance on authority is a legitimate form of knowledge, the necessary consequence is that the overwhelming majority of human beings cannot legitimately believe in evolution.

  48. #48 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    JR -

    try google earth;

    there you can utilize a satellite that took a photograph of Perth quite recently.

    unfortunately, the same satellite will never take a photograph of god.

    if you can’t understand the difference between observational vs. inferential evidence, you have a very large problem to deal with that goes beyond a minor discussion on an internet forum.

  49. #49 stogoe
    February 27, 2007

    JR’s just a solipsist. Forget him.

  50. #50 JR
    February 27, 2007

    Ichthyic – I can look at a picture that, a recognized authority advises me, is a satellite picture of Perth. I have no problem accepting that it is what the authority tells me it is. I don’t really understand how satellite photography works – that is, I have a lay person’s understanding of how light images are captured through powerful lenses and focussed onto hundreds of millions of light-sensitive pixels, which are excited by the light and thereby emit electrity, which is transformed by a computer program into digital strings, which is broadcast by radio waves to a receiver, etc., but I don’t really have a deep understanding of how that google earth image came to be. It certainly isn’t my own personal sense perception. I accept that it is an image of Perth because I accept the authority of the NASA scientists who stand behind the validity of the image. But I personally have no percipient knowledge of Perth and I don’t expect that I ever will.

  51. #51 JR
    February 27, 2007

    A solipsist is a person who believes that there is nothing outside his own mind. I don’t believe that at all. I believe that there is an external reality that is in large part although perhaps not entirely knowable. I believe that neither I nor anyone else will ever know even a small fraction of what is knowable, and that some of what each one of us thinks we know is almost certainly wrong. I believe that my own ability to know is rather limited and imperfect, even in comparison with other people’s. I believe what I believe, but I recognize that others believe differently. Some although of course not all of these others are, on the evidence available to me, better people than I am – smarter, more loving, more productive, better parents, better spouses, better friends – and I don’t find it useful or entertaining to call them kooks or other silly names because their beliefs differ from mine.

    And now I’m done. Thanks for putting up with me. Have a pleasant evening.

  52. #52 Jason
    February 27, 2007

    Scott,

    Your phrase “the faith experience” is a good example of what I mean by vacuity. The problem is not just that you believe without evidence, but that you offer no explanation of why you believe what you believe at all. You might just as well believe the moon is made of cheese.

  53. #53 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    Ichthyic – I can look at a picture that, a recognized authority advises me, is a satellite picture of Perth.

    uh, NO, idiot. you can actually guid a fricking satellite yourself, move the range to the spot where perth is “supposed” to be, and lo and behold, see it with your own damn eyes.

    that’s the frickin’ difference between observational and inferential.

    there is NO OBSERVABLE EVIDENCE for any divine beings, at all.

    You can generate multiple kinds of OBSERVATIONAL evidence for geographic locations.

    gees, I think the poster who called you a solopist was on the money.

    give it up already. your analogy is a logical falsehood.

    …and get out of the house once in a while so you can use your eyes to verify things actually exist from time to time.

  54. #54 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    A solipsist is a person who believes that there is nothing outside his own mind. I don’t believe that at all. I believe that there is an external reality that is in large part although perhaps not entirely knowable.

    I am NOT a solopist, except by definition.

    I thought the philosophical woo of subjective reality died in the 60′s?

    dude, cut down on your drug intake.

  55. #55 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    we have no evidence but have not been disproved.

    the non-existence of Perth HAS been disproved.

    just sayin.

  56. #56 Ichthyic
    February 28, 2007

    Only operating under the assumption that there is not some cosmic conspiracy to falsely convince you of the existence of Perth.

    oh, of course! That would be the same people/things responsible for the scientific conspiracy of that damnable darwinism!

    huzzah!

    *puts finger to side of nose*

    I can’t figure out what’s a bigger waste of time to discuss, solipism, or whether firefox has a good adblocker.

    I’m gonna go with the solipism.

    now to go tweak my browser…

  57. #57 Ken Cope
    February 28, 2007

    But that doesn’t make the experience itself vacuous.

    Where does vacuity reside?

    It is full of meaning, albeit the subjective sort that has no standing in science. It would be a mistake to think that I was offering it in that spirit.

    Meaning does not inhere in the events themselves, but is constellated onto them, in any environment sufficiently rich in pattern, ambiguity, and storytellers. The nature of storytellers is not impervious to the imprecations of scientific investigation.

    I owe my use of constellation as a verb to game designer Brian Moriarty, whose presentation I saw when first presented in 1999 at the Game Developers’ Conference: Clue #6! Paul’s been killed in a bloody car crash…

    Again, did you read post #152?

    Counting the hits and ignoring the misses. Damn it, Sigmund, sometimes an acausal connecting principle is just a Police lyric.

  58. #58 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    Q. What caused the Big Bang (or Steady State, or whatever)?
    A. (Never heard one that was sensible, usually something along the lines of accusing the questioner of being a religious fruitcake.)
    - Double Duh.

    Eh, firstly, my fellow agnostic, that’s a question for physicists, not for atheists – those groups overlap but are not congruent.

    Secondly, there are plenty of ideas; that you haven’t read of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. For example, a Big Bang could be what causally follows a black hole (in another spacetime). One version of this idea – that universes reproduce by black holes, and that the parameters of the Standard Model are inherited and mutate, leading to natural selection for those values of the parameters that lead to the greatest production of black holes – is testable: find one neutron star that is twice as heavy as the Sun, just one, and the idea is trash. If you like, I can send you the link to the latest pdf in an hour or two. Or you google for “cosmological natural selection”.

    ————————

    jr, I’ll just repeat the issue: As long as you stay in front of your computer, you’re right. But you are not right in principle. You can buy a plane ticket to Perth. You can repeat any scientific experiment (by definition). Ignoring Stenger’s book, which I haven’t read, you can’t do any experiment on the existence of anything supernatural (deities, karma, nirvana…). That is a difference.

    If you prefer a more sublime wording, I can supply that: Science is concerned with reality, and reality is the place where argumenta ad lapidem work. The supernatural is outside of that. Perth is inside.

  59. #59 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    Q. What caused the Big Bang (or Steady State, or whatever)?
    A. (Never heard one that was sensible, usually something along the lines of accusing the questioner of being a religious fruitcake.)
    - Double Duh.

    Eh, firstly, my fellow agnostic, that’s a question for physicists, not for atheists – those groups overlap but are not congruent.

    Secondly, there are plenty of ideas; that you haven’t read of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. For example, a Big Bang could be what causally follows a black hole (in another spacetime). One version of this idea – that universes reproduce by black holes, and that the parameters of the Standard Model are inherited and mutate, leading to natural selection for those values of the parameters that lead to the greatest production of black holes – is testable: find one neutron star that is twice as heavy as the Sun, just one, and the idea is trash. If you like, I can send you the link to the latest pdf in an hour or two. Or you google for “cosmological natural selection”.

    ————————

    jr, I’ll just repeat the issue: As long as you stay in front of your computer, you’re right. But you are not right in principle. You can buy a plane ticket to Perth. You can repeat any scientific experiment (by definition). Ignoring Stenger’s book, which I haven’t read, you can’t do any experiment on the existence of anything supernatural (deities, karma, nirvana…). That is a difference.

    If you prefer a more sublime wording, I can supply that: Science is concerned with reality, and reality is the place where argumenta ad lapidem work. The supernatural is outside of that. Perth is inside.

  60. #60 Mooser
    February 28, 2007

    All the good Rabbi has to do is expose us to some evidence for her religion, and we’ll consider it.

    I will tolerate a lot but I will not tolerate anti-Semetism and Holacaust denial!!!

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

  61. #61 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    I really like comment 177…

    219: Which David? I’m not used to having hundreds of namesakes. :-}

  62. #62 David Marjanovi?
    February 28, 2007

    I really like comment 177…

    219: Which David? I’m not used to having hundreds of namesakes. :-}

  63. #63 Caledonian
    February 28, 2007

    If you say that the existence of gods is not open to empirical testing, you’ve already admitted that they don’t exist.

  64. #64 Scott Hatfield
    February 28, 2007

    Hello, old Scot! The ides of March are upon us soon, and I’ve got a sporting proposition for you:

    I’ll agree for purposes of discussion to abide by your definitions of anything you want to define, and to not attempt to refute any line of reasoning you want to present here or anywhere else, through March 15;

    In return, you agree to expound on your views on topics related to the nature of science, reality, scientific method, etc. and, if necessary, to patiently explain points that aren’t immediately clear, through March 15.

    We should also both agree not to let other commenters derail your presentation of your ideas.

    What’s in it for you? An opportunity to present your thought in a clear, systematic way under circumstances that are not prejudicial to its explication.

    What’s in it for me? A better understanding of your views and, frankly, the fun of it.

    What say you?….SH

  65. #65 Scott Hatfield
    February 28, 2007

    I’m sorry to tell you this, Jason, but you’re not entitled to an elaboration (or, if you prefer, a justification) of my privately-held religious views. Here’s my (ahem) justification for that:

    When I participate in public threads on science, religion, reason and faith I participate because I’m interested in those topics. Period. I’m not there to discuss my privately-held religious views,or push same on others. Period. If I refer to them, it’s only to establish a context for the purpose of an honest exchange of views about the topic it hand, not my beliefs. Period. There’s no hidden agenda on my part, and there’s nothing wrong with me referring to my beliefs for the purpose of discussion.

    Ask yourself this: have I ever asked you or any other self-described skeptic/atheist/non-believer/whatever to justify their self-identification? I don’t think I do that, sir! I’d rather meet people where they’re at, listen and learn. Or are we to presume that the mere presence of folk like me constitutes a provocation? (rubs chin ruefully)

    Well, if this habit of mine is rubbing some of you the wrong way, I’ll make an honest effort to quit being a pricktease. I’ll try not to reference my belief unless necessary, and I’ll be sure to establish the context when I do. But you can forget about me ‘putting out’ because (again) you’re not entitled, sorry.

    On a more cordial note, what does “humility” have to do with “withhold assent from propositions that one has no reason to believe are true, and good reasons to believe are likely to be false?” I mean, the latter sounds like a different virtue, and one could have that virtue without being specifically humble, I would think.

  66. #66 Colugo
    March 1, 2007

    Jason:

    I find animal rights ideology to be more objectionable than a belief in the existence of God.

    I begin with the moral axiom (That’s right, I’m not going to try to justify it, I’m just going to call it axiomatic) that humans are more important than animals. So much the worse for animals rights ideology.

    The existence of God as a generic proposition – I’m not talking about any specific baggage of policy and ideology – does not harm me, society, or science. The animal rights movement does, however. While God (or God’s nonexistence) is not demonstrable, the harm produced by the animal rights movement is.

    Caledonian:

    Just which paragon of humility on these threads should someone seeking to be more humble model himself after? (By the way, are you a Nozickian?)

  67. #67 Uber
    March 1, 2007

    Oops missed Colugo:

    I find animal rights ideology to be more objectionable than a belief in the existence of God.

    I agree. But thats not the point as I see it. In this thread Jason isn’t making claims about animal rights but SH has made a claim and been asked about it. A claim which colors his views which I don’t think anyone begrudges but folks do seek to understand the why of it all.

  68. #68 Scott Hatfield
    March 1, 2007

    Caledonian: I never claimed to be humble, sir. If I was, I probably wouldn’t have the temerity to petition you for your views, in which I am genuinely interested. Post #225 on this thread is a genuine offer. For you. Respond if you like.

  69. #69 junk science
    March 1, 2007

    I am starting to get pissed off with the amount of people that haven’t read “The God Delusion” and actually have the nerve to have an opinion on it. READ THE BOOK.

    When I was reading The God Delusion, I wondered why Dawkins spent so much page space repeating points like “natural selection is not the same thing as random chance,” and “you can’t disprove the existence of anything.” How many times did he think those things needed to be said before his readers caught on? But I realize now that no matter how many times he repeated himself, there would be people who wouldn’t hear him.

  70. #70 Jason
    March 1, 2007

    Colugo,

    I’d be happy to defend “animal rights ideology” against your (typically confused) criticism, but this is not the place to do it. You might want to look at my posts in the PETA thread from last week though.

  71. #71 Martin.V
    March 1, 2007

    David Marjanovi?

    But this hypothesis of yours is testable — it’s scientific. VMartin, can you translate your latest post into Czech? (Kseniya and I, at the very least, will notice very fast if you have used translate.google.com or babelfish.altavista.com or the like.)

    How long it will take to delete my post? I will se…

    Kto je prosím ?a Kse?a? Ja také meno nepoznám, mo?no Xénia. Myslím, ?e sa ur?ite tak aj pí?e, tak?e predpokladám, ?e sa s ?ou pozná? len letmo, ke? nevie? ako sa pí?e jej meno.
    Bol mi zakázaný prístup, vraj som Davison osobne. Aké smie?ne, nemyslí?? Pozdrav Xéniu.

  72. #72 David Marjanovi?
    March 2, 2007

    OK. While not a translation of your latest post, this is Czech. I retract the accusation of you being JAD.

    That name is an English transcription of the Russian and/or Ukrainian version. I don’t see anything unusual about that.

  73. #73 David Marjanovi?
    March 2, 2007

    OK. While not a translation of your latest post, this is Czech. I retract the accusation of you being JAD.

    That name is an English transcription of the Russian and/or Ukrainian version. I don’t see anything unusual about that.

  74. #74 Keith Douglas
    March 3, 2007

    MartinC: Unfortunately, I think an anti-psychotic filter would be a computationally unsolvable problem …

    Blake Stacey: Indeed. As soon as someone says they are like Spinoza beliefwise, ask immediately if they pray. If they say yes, they are being dishonest (or suffering frm doublethink) somewhere …

    Steve LaBonne: Not just with pharmaceuticals – spontaneously. I have had (twice) what believers would no doubt have labeled a religious experience that way. Both times I was struck with complete clarity the “point of view” of another. One was of two friends (a couple) and me seeing her the way he does. The certainty was brief but astonishing. Of course, it was (like certainty rightly is regarded) purely psychological, not epistemic.

    Steve_C wrote: “I’ve never read Rand. I miss anything good?” No, not really, unless you happen to like rather egocentric bastards …

    H. Humbert: Why do you think there is a movement in theology to use phenomenology and, amazingly, the Nazi Heidegger, as a source of inspiration/material?

    Colugo: As a philosopher I’ve made it part of what I do to articulate the answers to your questions, to articulate a world view and to help others to do the same … so if you want to get some tentative answers, read my other posts :)

  75. #75 Steve_C
    March 4, 2007

    boohoo. Sounds like someone has a trolling problem.

  76. #76 ??????
    March 6, 2007

    I don’t know what you mean by this “transliteration”.

    Transliteration is the transcription of a word from one alphabet to another, and should not be confused with translation.

      ???????????? <- transliteration -> zdravstvuyte
      ???????????? <- translation -> hello
      zdravstvuyte <- translation -> hello
      hello <- transliteration -> ?????

    We do not use Cyrillic in Slovakia at all. We use only Latin with diacritic. Cyrillic is used in Serbia, Russia and Bulgaria. Their languages are different.

    Da. Ya ponimaiu. Yes (and don’t forget ???????). ? ????. That’s all true, but if you’re trying to make a point, I am not seeing it. Izvenitye.

    So it seems to me you are not competent at all to decide wheter I am John or not.

    I never claimed to be, and certainly not on the basis of your fluency (or lack of fluency) in Czech or Slovak.

    Anyway thank you.

    You’re welcome.

  77. #77 ??????
    March 6, 2007

    I don’t know what you mean by this “transliteration”.

    Transliteration is the transcription of a word from one alphabet to another, and should not be confused with translation.

      ???????????? <- transliteration -> zdravstvuyte
      ???????????? <- translation -> hello
      zdravstvuyte <- translation -> hello
      hello <- transliteration -> ?????

    We do not use Cyrillic in Slovakia at all. We use only Latin with diacritic. Cyrillic is used in Serbia, Russia and Bulgaria. Their languages are different.

    Da. Ya ponimaiu. Yes (and don’t forget ???????). ? ????. That’s all true, but if you’re trying to make a point, I am not seeing it. Izvenitye.

    So it seems to me you are not competent at all to decide wheter I am John or not.

    I never claimed to be, and certainly not on the basis of your fluency (or lack of fluency) in Czech or Slovak.

    Anyway thank you.

    You’re welcome.

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