Pharyngula

I’ll take a leaf from Chris Ho-Stuart’s book and urge you to read this post on Positive Liberty before I tackle his post. Jonathan Rowe is making the useful point that we have an interest in shaping religions, even religions with which we do not agree, to make them compatible with a civil, democratic society. He points out that the US founding fathers put an Enlightenment twist on the Christianity they favored, rejecting old notions of exclusivity and intolerance to promote a more benign form of religion — without actually establishing a state religion, they at least exemplified some broader-minded principles against which other religions had to compete, and it had the result of at least temporarily softening the hard-liners.

That’s excellent, and I’ll agree with it—barring the complete eradication of religion, we need to change it to accommodate the modern world. I’ll add, though, that other countries did set up state religions, and then seem to have modified that institution into similarly benign forms that have had a more lasting effect. The unofficial position of America’s founding fathers may have been wonderfully positive in the beginning, but we can see now that they flopped mightily at building enduring institutions that would maintain any kind of religious rationalism. I tend to think that if they had, for instance, declared Unitarianism the official US religion (with the same strong statements that religion was not to be a prerequisite for holding office, etc., and that it was not a declaration of exclusivity) we’d be better off today. There’d at least be one officially sanctioned brake on the excesses of our wildly proliferating looney-tunes churches.

Rowe quotes the goals of this Jeffersonian view of enlightened religion as “inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter,” which is all well and good as a desirable end of a government that wants to promote civil harmony. One issue is that even this view of religion doesn’t seem to be implemented well in this country; another, though, and one I’m more interested in, is how we can expand that enlightened view to also encompass the needs of a more scientific society.

These are hard problems.

I’d have to say that a science-compatible religion would have to reject miracles and myth, superstition and the supernatural, and would have to be open to constant self-criticism and readjustment of its beliefs. It would have to refuse to try and squeeze god into quantum minutia or into the preconditions of the Big Bang. It would have to be intensely suspicious of hypothesized meddling spirits in our past history, and of the transmogrification of brains made of meat into ethereal invisible unworldly souls in our future. It’s not impossible — I’m looking at you, Spong, and you, Dalai Lama, as at least going in the right direction — but we’re deluding ourselves if we think modern religion, especially modern American religion, is anywhere near that point. If anything, it seems to be drifting the other way, towards ennobling dogma yet more and treating magic as a credible strategy for coping with the real world. And this is where I part company with Chris Ho-Stuart.

Chris advocates a conciliatory approach, and also tosses out a new label, “tolerant atheist,” to describe it.

The conciliatory approach — mine — is that religion itself is consistent with science; though of course there are individual believers (creationists, for example) who hold views that are unambiguously falsified by the findings of scientists. But we tend to say that science is a process for finding things out, and that it can’t find out everything. We tend not to think of science as requiring a belief in metaphysical naturalism, even though most of us actually do seem to be metaphysical naturalists — disbelievers in God and in the supernatural. No matter; we admit that some of our scientific colleagues may have radically different metaphysical perspectives; and as long as they don’t try to bring in the supernatural as a way of distorting the actual methods of scientific investigation, we don’t mind what they believe. If you really can form your beliefs in such a way as to avoid being directly falsified by a line of empirical evidence, then you can be consistent with science.

Now there’s something to be said for the notion that we are promoting as “authentic” a form of religion that is highly unusual and quite distinct from traditional religion all down the ages. It’s not quite a total humbug, because religion does change over time; and there are plenty of religious leaders trying to promote an expression of their religion that remains fully consistent with all the discoveries of modern science. We tolerant atheists approve and encourage them.

I categorically reject the label and the approach, for a couple of different reasons. One, as Larry Moran already notes in the comments there, it sets up an obvious dichotomy and implies that this is a disagreement between the good, sweet, kind, tolerant atheists and those who reject Ho-Stuart’s position, who must be the awful intolerant atheists. This plays right into the hands of the reactionary supporters of the status quo; I’ve been accused of wanting to march the religious into camps, of planning forced sterilizations, and of wanting to purge science of Christians, all false, but still reflecting this unfortunate choice of terminology.

For another, it’s delusional. Someone who favors applying pressure to tack the Southern Baptists towards a science-friendly deism is no more tolerant, from their point of view, than someone who advocates for an outright rejection of all religion. It will misleadingly find approval from many of the liberal theists, but we aren’t worried about them. It’s ignoring the real threat to wallow with a few like-minded progressives and pretend all is right with the world.

I’ve got a different label for Chris. Instead of “tolerant atheists,” they are “do-nothing atheists”. Their goal is to avoid conflict, ignore differences, and just get along, and hope that by avoiding confrontation the great theistic mob will just generally drift into friendship with them and eventually align themselves more and more with that great bunch of guys and gals. It’s nice. It’s even going to work — with some people. I’ll also admit that most of us are “do-nothing atheists” most of the time. When I talk to some Christian fellow at the coffee house, we’ll talk about the weather, the news, what’s happening around town, and I’m not interested in sparking a confrontation over an issue that isn’t relevant to the interaction at hand (remember, we’re all tolerant atheists together here, and despite all rumors to the contrary, I do not think my fellow citizens are idiots if they go to church).

The do-nothing atheists optimistically hope that everyone will evolve into a more enlightened form of religion, and unfortunately, will abstain from contumelious contention even when they are directly opposed by strongly held and patently absurd religious beliefs. I get the impression they’d instead want to fix a nice pot of tea and reassure the visiting evangelist that they can still find common cause in a conversation about the azaleas this spring. It’s all so damned nice and buries all the argument under the sociable politesse that it makes my sublingual venom glands start to spasm. OK, sure, I’ll join them both in a cup of tea and a little chit-chat, but let’s not fool ourselves: this is not a step towards resolving conflicts, it’s evading them. It’s a delaying maneuver while the do-nothing atheist vaguely hopes progressive social forces draw people away from hellfire-and-brimstone religion, and the evangelical Christian enjoys a moment’s conversation while his peers are actively proselytizing and influencing the political process in the background. At some point we must engage the fight.

The complement to the do-nothing atheist is, naturally enough, the activist atheist. The difference isn’t that we’re intolerant, or even that we have different beliefs about god and religion—it’s that we’ll unfurl a bold banner and stand uncompromisingly beneath it, state our differences loudly, and dare the others to contend with us. We do not aim to get along. Our goal is to strengthen others in our shared skepticism about religion and our positive affirmation of the power of reason and the sufficiency of the natural world, to challenge the long-held domination of supernatural and authoritarian thinking, and to change minds. Not to passively hope that others will eventually see the light, but to light that fire ourselves. Not to glimmer optimistically, but to incandesce ferociously. Where some hope the world will follow, some have to lead.

Jefferson and Madison and the other founding fathers also led. Their position was not so radical as atheism, but they did not sit back and make excuses for states that restricted freedom of religion or the advocates of heretic-burning, they did not wait for liberal winds to waft the populace towards a kinder, gentler religion—they worked to promote their vision of an enlightened faith. They got the country part way there, but as we can see, we’re backsliding at a tremendous pace, a frightening portion of the world around us is enslaved to faith, and now is not the time to trust to those liberal winds…now is the time to work harder, push farther, and aim higher. And I choose to aim for an unapologetically secular state that trusts in empiricism and natural law rather than revelation and traditional dogma.

And I will speak and act to achieve that goal.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 23, 2007

    Wow.

    I like it.

  2. #2 Carlie
    May 23, 2007

    Chris needs to watch Jesus Camp to see how the other side is approaching it. These are the same people who condemn Catholics and cast a skeptical eye at Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists; they certainly will not afford atheists any respect for being “tolerant” atheists as opposed to any other kind.

    Really, people like Chris need to understand: they hate your viewpoint and see you as a threat simply for existing, regardless of how you act about it.

  3. #3 CalGeorge, radical secularist
    May 23, 2007

    What’s the point of compromise?

    Religion is bullshit. It breeds stupidity. It harms civil society in many ways. It breeds truly nasty people in the United States like Falwell, Dobson, and Robertson.

    Every time someone invokes belief in a fantasy God it is an insult to human intelligence.

    Mock religion. Scorn it. Do not molly-coddle the people, nasty and nice, who want to believe in fairy tales.

    The “shut up you atheists” meme is getting tiresome.

  4. #4 Randy Owens
    May 23, 2007

    I get the impression they’d instead want to fix a nice pot of tea and reassure the visiting evangelist that they can still find common cause in a conversation about the azaleas this spring. It’s all so damned nice….

    Hey, now, my Grandpa was mainly responsible for the development of those hardy Northern Lights Azaleas at U of M there, so be careful how you talk about them. I’ll be watching you!

  5. #5 Arren Frank
    May 23, 2007

    As usual, an excellent rebuttal of milquetoast non-theism from free folks’ favorite bio-buccaneer, PZ.

    (Look! You even brought one of the poor recovering postmodernists out of the lurking shadows!)

    It’s worth mentioning, despite the myriad flaws and foibles of the founding fathers, their deism was as radical in the context of their times as atheism is in ours.

  6. #6 Ford
    May 23, 2007

    Do people change religions because they change their beliefs, or because they want to affiliate with a different group, for reasons that have little to do with the stated beliefs of that group? Seems like there must be data on this. If the latter, rational (or irrational) argument is pointless. The issue is, who has better parties?

  7. #7 CalGeorge, radical secularist
    May 23, 2007

    Whenever I criticize the more extreme elements of Islam, I always stress that most Muslims say this doesn’t represent the authentic version of their faith.

    Uh-huh. From an article in the Columbia Dispatch today:

    FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
    WASHINGTON — One in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable in some circumstances, a poll says.
    [...]
    Although nearly 80 percent of U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings of civilians to defend Islam cannot be justified, 13 percent say they can be, at least rarely.

    [source]

  8. #8 Ford Denison
    May 23, 2007

    Or, will I sell more cars if I go to this church or that one? Or, he/she won’t marry me unless I convert.
    A few people may actually weigh the plausibility of different religions, but I don’t think people who weigh the plausibility of things are the problem.

  9. #9 Tulse
    May 23, 2007

    PZ, you certainly are ferociously incandescent!

    I would suggest that a more neutral term than either “tolerant” or “do-nothing” is “conciliatory” atheist (which I think still works in comparision to “activist” atheist). I agree that “tolerant” has the implication that other atheists are “intolerant”, but I think it’s also incorrect to label non-activists as “do-nothing”, since many vigorously push for alliances with the less-fundamentalist theists. Their chief attribute is not that they do not act, but that they believe a conciliatory attitude toward religion is fruitful.

    I’d have to say that a science-compatible religion would have to reject miracles and myth, superstition and the supernatural, and would have to be open to constant self-criticism and readjustment of its beliefs. It would have to refuse to try and squeeze god into quantum minutia or into the preconditions of the Big Bang. It would have to be intensely suspicious of hypothesized meddling spirits in our past history, and of the transmogrification of brains made of meat into ethereal invisible unworldly souls in our future. It’s not impossible — I’m looking at you, Spong, and you, Dalai Lama, as at least going in the right direction

    I’m surprised you’d grant this much, PZ, since I don’t see how one can have science-compatibility in anything that meets a most basic definition of a religion (as opposed to a philosophy, or a culture, or a social club). Perhaps more accurately, I don’t think it is possible for anything reasonably labelled “religion” not to make empirically-falsifiable claims about the world. Is there any extant religion that does not involve some sort of belief in miracles (as broadly defined)? Is there any extant religion that does not hold that pleadings to a supernatural being are not somehow efficacious in the natural world? Would it even make sense to call belief in a supernatural-but-completely-non-intervening being “religion”?

    I agree with the conciliators that there are religious groups that are more benign toward science than others, and perhaps as a matter of politics it is helpful to recognize this. But I am completely unconvinced that any meaningful religion could be completely compatible with science.

  10. #10 Newtronflux
    May 23, 2007

    Quote:“If you really can form your beliefs in such a way as to avoid being directly falsified by a line of empirical evidence, then you can be consistent with science.”

    This seems to be about the most comforting, apologetic load of drivel I can imagine. An analogy that comes to mind is “Police can’t be everywhere at once to enforce all laws, so as long as there are no police officers around when you rob banks, you’re still a law-abiding citizen.”

    What a load of crock.

  11. #11 PZ Myers
    May 23, 2007

    A few people may actually weigh the plausibility of different religions, but I don’t think people who weigh the plausibility of things are the problem.

    I entirely agree. That’s another reason we won’t win people over by being shy about our beliefs, or constantly conceding the privilege of possibility to religion. People also follow strength. And confidence.

  12. #12 David Marjanovi?
    May 23, 2007

    Sublingual?

    PZ is no treacherous snake. He’s a Gila monster.

  13. #13 David Marjanovi?
    May 23, 2007

    Sublingual?

    PZ is no treacherous snake. He’s a Gila monster.

  14. #14 speedwell
    May 23, 2007

    “I’d have to say that a science-compatible religion would have to reject miracles and myth, superstition and the supernatural, and would have to be open to constant self-criticism and readjustment of its beliefs….”

    Wow. Sounds just like what I was thinking when I read Thomas Paine. Don’t have time to elaborate, but maybe someone else will.

  15. #15 Bronze Dog
    May 23, 2007

    Very appropriate quote that came up on the random quote thingy:

    First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

    Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail

    We may not have things as bad as MLK’s circumstances, but we still have to stay active.

  16. #16 David Marjanovi?
    May 23, 2007

    Would it even make sense to call belief in a supernatural-but-completely-non-intervening being “religion”?

    Many religions in Africa have a god who created the universe, hasn’t done anything since, and is above worship. AFAIK those religions are all polytheistic, though, with plenty of more lowly gods that meddle with the world and require worship and sacrifice.

  17. #17 David Marjanovi?
    May 23, 2007

    Would it even make sense to call belief in a supernatural-but-completely-non-intervening being “religion”?

    Many religions in Africa have a god who created the universe, hasn’t done anything since, and is above worship. AFAIK those religions are all polytheistic, though, with plenty of more lowly gods that meddle with the world and require worship and sacrifice.

  18. #18 Alan Wagner
    May 23, 2007

    Some social change is occurring. Although Hitchens’ F-eulogy of Falwell excited even rabid tolerant apologists like Brayton, he almost certainly would not have been allowed on TV a couple of years ago. So, which group is contributing most to this change: the “tolerant” non-confrontationists fighting their Quiet War of conciliation behind their Maginot Line of the Establishment Clause or the strident activists aggressively attacking and ridiculing the absurdity of religious/supernatural beliefs?

  19. #19 Raging Braytard
    May 23, 2007

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to getting my opinions from Ed.

  20. #20 Sastra
    May 23, 2007

    As I understand the argument, it isn’t “do-nothing atheism” at all. It’s “true-religion atheism.”

    TRUE Christianity has no problem with evolution. TRUE Islam has no problem with human rights. TRUE Wicca only uses spells as a metaphorical prop. TRUE religion is about love, peace, kindness, and respect for others. That’s what “true-religion” atheists want religionists to recognize. They deeply respect religion, even if they don’t agree with it, as long as the religionists are talking about the REAL version. Meaning the version that bothers atheists the least because it makes more sense without all that extraneous interfering supernatural hoo-doo.

    I suppose this would contrast with “false-religion atheism.” No, the supernatural claims in religion are all false and the rest of the sensible stuff stands on its own. It’s not the place of atheists to tell the religious the “right” way to do their theology because God really wants it this way instead of that way. We don’t genuinely approach religion from that perspective, and are playing a pretend role when we do.

  21. #21 John Danley
    May 23, 2007

    Get your radical tentacles out and make Darwin proud!

  22. #22 Tulse
    May 23, 2007

    Sastra, atheists aren’t saying anything about theology — they are saying that religion is incompatible with science. Atheists don’t give a horse’s ass about the finer points of theological discourse, as long as it is kept out of science.

    On the other hand, with statements like “TRUE Christianity has no problem with evolution”, you seem quite content to dole out theological pronouncements, claims that would be disagreed with by a majority of Americans (sadly).

  23. #23 chuko
    May 23, 2007

    “religion itself is consistent with science” – Chris, that’s just incorrect. If anything actually happens that can be measured, it’s in the realm of science, even if it can’t be explained at the moment.

  24. #24 chuko
    May 23, 2007

    Ridicule as a tactic only works at the margins — it encourages people to move toward the mainstream. It has its place, but we have a harder job in persuading people to adopt enlightenment principles.

    It’s probably useful that we have a whole spectrum of approaches going on at the same time. It had better be, anyway, since that’s what we’re going to have.

  25. #25 Brandon
    May 23, 2007

    The founding fathers regected Christianity, supernatural events, and divine revelation in support of Deism: the religious philosphy of a ‘supreme being’ based on human reasoning and observations of the natural world. I think Jefferson and Lincoln might have even been Atheist.

  26. #26 Christopher
    May 23, 2007

    What about simply turning Science into a religion. Isn’t there a name for that? Scientism? Why can’t we worship delta or omega or some other arbitrary symbol for the relentless pursuit of scientific truth? Where’s my science church? Hmmm?

  27. #27 guthrie
    May 23, 2007

    Good idea Chris. Why don’t you set a church of science up and see how many people come along to worship science.

    Then, after its folded, or been laughed out of town by scientists, you might work out why.

  28. #28 Sastra
    May 23, 2007

    Tulse wrote:

    Sastra, atheists aren’t saying anything about theology — they are saying that religion is incompatible with science. Atheists don’t give a horse’s ass about the finer points of theological discourse, as long as it is kept out of science.
    On the other hand, with statements like “TRUE Christianity has no problem with evolution”, you seem quite content to dole out theological pronouncements, claims that would be disagreed with by a majority of Americans (sadly).

    You misunderstand. I’m saying that the division between different “kinds” of atheists on the specific science/religion stance PZ is talking about here is not so much “do-nothing atheists” vs. “activist atheists,” but “True-religion atheists” vs. “False-religion atheists.”

    The former seem to think that the wisest course towards resolving the conflict between science and religion is to promote the view that the best, truest forms of religion are those which agree to keep themselves consistent with modern science. They advocate what amounts to getting involved in theology by promoting some forms of religion as more “authentic,” or True, than others. In politics, this is the Real-Islam-is-peaceful or Real-Christianity-promotes-Enlightenment-values school of atheism.

    In this view, faith is only a problem if it steps outside its proper bounds, so we should encourage the religious to keep it there.

    The “False-Religion atheists” are uncomfortable with the idea that atheists should get involved in telling the public that “creationism is not only bad science, it’s bad theology.” We (and I probably come down on this side myself) may recognize some pragmatic value in “doling out theological pronouncments” like this, but think it is dishonest, untrue, and will probably come back to bite us.

    The problem with faith is that it redefines rules and — once you accept it as the basis of your beliefs — technically speaking there are no “proper bounds.”

  29. #29 Ichthyic
    May 23, 2007

    truest forms of religion are those which agree to keep themselves consistent with modern science. They advocate what amounts to getting involved in theology by promoting some forms of religion as more “authentic,” or True, than others.

    *strrrreeeeeetttttccchhhh*

    *ping*

    don’t recall seeing ANYBODY with that position on any science blog. OTOH, I could easily point to those on the RELIGIOUS side as doing that very thing: accusing other sects as not being “TRUE” xianity, for example. you see it every day.

    Can you point to examples to clarify your position?

    The problem with faith is that it redefines rules and — once you accept it as the basis of your beliefs — technically speaking there are no “proper bounds.”

    I’ll agree with the gist of that; it’s why NOMA doesn’t work.

  30. #30 viggen
    May 23, 2007

    Our goal is to strengthen others in our shared skepticism about religion and our positive affirmation of the power of reason and the sufficiency of the natural world, to challenge the long-held domination of supernatural and authoritarian thinking, and to change minds.

    The problem with attempting to “change minds” with regard to a religious notion is that those minds are simply not pursuaded by logical argument. In my experience, applying “reason” in this regime usually leads the opposing party to galvanize their standpoint rather than to concede their error. (eg “Why should I be wrong, why aren’t you wrong?”) Attempting to reason with them generally causes such people to dig in and become less pliant to the suggestion that they are wrong.

    People usually take a criticism of their belief as an insult to themselves, and therefore do not accept criticism, or the application of reason (which is generating the criticism), constructively. With regard to belief and religion, people do not change unless they want to change.

    I think the real question is whether more is accomplished by beating your opponent into submission or by coaxing him/her into making small concessions. While application of main force is seductive for promising immediate results, it does not always get the job done and can sometimes do more damage than it sought to repair. It does not help that some approach may come across as main force when it was not intended as more than benign logical discourse.

    This is part of why the Framing argument is so important.

  31. #31 RedMolly
    May 23, 2007

    The Church of Listening to Radiohead is wholly compatible with science; it preaches no intolerance*; and it offers Guinness and a range of other fine beverages in lieu of sticky-sweet communion wine. I look forward to seeing all you civil, democratic types at our next (late-morning, early-afternoon) service, whenever and if-ever that happens.

    *it preaches no anything

  32. #32 forsen
    May 23, 2007

    RedMolly: You have a church for Radiohead fans? And I thought I saw the light when i converted to pastafarianism…

  33. #33 windy
    May 23, 2007

    I think the real question is whether more is accomplished by beating your opponent into submission or by coaxing him/her into making small concessions.

    Yeah, that should work, the religious have always been so generous in making those small concessions. Who cares where the Holy Spirit proceeds from, or who was the true heir of Mohammed?

  34. #34 Caledonian, Meat Wrangler
    May 23, 2007

    He points out that the US founding fathers put an Enlightenment twist on the Christianity they favored, rejecting old notions of exclusivity and intolerance

    I hate it when people use perfectly good terms in trendy, buzz-wordy ways.

    Intolerance is not a bad thing. Intolerance is what motivates us to push back when people walk all over our rights. Intolerance is what makes work to keep non-science out of science classes. Intolerance is what permits us to reject the bigots, the racists, the sexists. Intolerance is vitally necessary to a healthy, functioning mind, and by extension a healthy, functional society.

    Stop using ‘intolerance’ to refer only to intolerance you don’t agree with!

  35. #35 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 23, 2007

    Thanks for the comments, Paul!

    On my blog, Larry also asked if I am calling others intolerant. The answer is definitely “No”, I am not. By saying that I aim to be a “tolerant atheist”, I am not saying everyone else is “intolerant”, any more than “Democrats” are the only people who support democracy.

    I think it is fair enough to say, meaning no insult, that one of the differences between me and you is that I am more tolerant of religion. Don’t you agree? I’m not saying this as an attempt to insult you, nor am I setting up a dichotomy between tolerant and intolerant. It’s a spectrum of sorts, and I understand you to be arguing that part of our problem is that we’ve been too tolerant of religion.

    Tolerance is not always a good thing, after all! One of the points in my essay — and you echo it here — is that the approach taken by the USA Founding Fathers might not have been entirely positive. They did contribute to the reshaping of religion into a more reasonable form. But in the end this may have contributed to your current situation, where religion has more impact on your society than in any other first world country — and this is plainly to your detriment.

    I do find it incredibly silly to fuss about the labels in this way. I don’t really mind what you call me. I’ve used the “Neville Chamberlain” label for myself sometimes, despite its inaccuracies. Another term that seems apt is “conciliatory”.

    If the only way you can talk about those who disagree with you is in negative terms that belittle and denigrate, or if you take umbrage any attempt by us to use a term with some positive connotations, then I fear you are falling into a kind of extreme fundamentalism that may win you notoriety but is losing you respect in some quarters at least.

    You propose as a label that “do nothing” atheist. That’s just idiotic.

    I’ve been active in this for years. I go out of my way to engage with Christians directly; and when I do so I wear the label “atheist” prominently and with pride. Over the last couple of years I have been an active contributor to the conservative Christian webforum “TheologyWeb”. Just recently I heard about a contributor there who has abandoned their Christian faith and become an atheist, and who has credited my writings with a large part of that. Such conversions are rarely instantaneous; and they tend to occur offline, as people reflect for themselves on a point that rankles. There are other similar cases I know of in the past, and I suspect there are probably more I don’t know of.

    This, however, is not actually my main objective, and I spend a lot of time talking all kinds of issues. I even make even occasional comments on theological topics in Christian only discussion areas, with permission from the moderators and always with the explicit disclaimer that I speak as an unbeliever; and without any explicit attempt to denigrate or refute religion.

    That is, I don’t just have one hobbyhorse to ride. I’m planning a post at my own blog sometime in the future that describes a bit more personal background and which may help explain my own personal choices for approach.

    I can understand skepticism about my chosen approach. That was part of why I wrote my last blog entry; specifically to look at possible negative long term consequences of my style. For the time being it remains my deliberate choice; but I do understand the concerns of my more hardline atheist colleagues.

    Anyone who thinks this amounts to a “do nothing” approach has missed the point entirely, and has no idea of all that I’m doing in this engagement.

  36. #36 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    By saying that I aim to be a “tolerant atheist”, I am not saying everyone else is “intolerant”, any more than “Democrats” are the only people who support democracy.

    “Tolerant” of what?

  37. #37 Sastra
    May 23, 2007

    (True-religion atheists) advocate what amounts to getting involved in theology by promoting some forms of religion as more “authentic,” or True, than others.

    Ichthyic wrote:

    I don’t recall seeing ANYBODY with that position on any science blog… Can you point to examples to clarify your position?

    Well, of course Chris Ho-Stuart advocates that, but he’s neither on scienceblogs nor, I think, an atheist:

    Putting it really bluntly and in rather cynical terms: even if we are not followers of the religion ourselves, it is still a good idea to try and sell the “authentic” form of that religion as the most tolerant peaceful version we can conceive.

    Have I heard this strategy — or similar comments about how extremists are not “real Christians (Muslims, Hindus, etc.)”– come from atheists of my acquaintance? Sure, but that doesn’t help you. Have I seen “creationism is bad theology” written by atheist apologists, or references to “non-christian behavior = bad behavior” come from atheists on the net or in print? Yes, but can’t recall specific examples right now.

    So ya got me. Good question. I’ll look around…

  38. #38 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 23, 2007

    Sastra writes:

    Well, of course Chris Ho-Stuart advocates that, but he’s neither on scienceblogs nor, I think, an atheist:

    For the record, I am an atheist. I am identified as such in my on-line profile, and in every post that I write for the Christian discussion forums to which I belong.

    I am what is sometimes called a “strong” atheist; that is, I do not merely lack a belief in God, but I am definite that no such thing exists. My own apologetics for strong atheism can be found here. I’m surprised to see it still being maintained at that site; I no longer work at QUT. I’ve repeated and revised that argument a couple of times since then; and when I get a bit of time it will become the basis of a blog article at my new blog.

    Cheers — Chris

  39. #39 Steve_C
    May 23, 2007

    I go to the Kid A mass regularly.

  40. #40 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 23, 2007

    Carlie says:

    Really, people like Chris need to understand: they hate your viewpoint and see you as a threat simply for existing, regardless of how you act about it.

    There is no “they”. Christians are enormously diverse. Many of them are my friends. I’ve not at all shy about speaking up in the company of Christians to say I don’t believe God exists. I am very familiar indeed with the kind of approach you describe. But in a discussion forum with lots of Christians, I nearly always find that there will be other Christians — plenty of them — who speak up in my defense and in repudiation of the the violent antipathy some Christians have to any expression of unbelief.

    Carlie, I suspect you have no idea just how deeply immersed I am in this engagement. I started up my blog about a month ago and that is now slowly taking over my time; but most of my online activity has previously been a Christian discussion board. There are lots of other unbelievers present but the majority are Christians, and the leadership is strongly conservative. I am, nevertheless, welcome there; indeed I recently won a member-of-the-month award in a popular vote.

    The denigrations and antipathy is always there from a vocal contingent; but they are a minority.

    Cheers — Chris

  41. #41 frog
    May 23, 2007

    CalGeorge, nice to whip up hysteria. And 51% of Americans think that intentionally attacking civilians is alright also (http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/05/23/polls/index.html?source=rss). Yeah, people in general are scumbags – and we in particular are scumbags. But to run around screaming the Muslims are gonna get us? Playing right into the hand of the Christian fundamentalists (50% for torture of “suspected terrorists”). Evangelical fundamentalists are the enemy, of every religious (and even the few non-religious, aka Maoist and such) variety. But repeating a propaganda campaign to beat the drums of a failing war? That’s scurrilous.

  42. #42 tomh
    May 23, 2007

    PZ, quoting Chris Ho-Stuart:
    “But we tend to say that science is a process for finding things out, and that it can’t find out everything.”

    I see this sentiment expressed by so many, from creationists to scientists, yet it seems to me the height of arrogance. Consider what the great botanist, John Ray, wrote over 300 years ago, “I predict that our descendants will reach such heights in the sciences that our proudest discoveries will seem slight, obvious, almost worthless. They will be tempted to pity our ignorance and to wonder that truths easy and manifest were for so long hidden and were so esteemed by us …” Is there any doubt that the same is true today? Who knows what science will discover in 300 or 3000 years. It may well “find out everything”. To proclaim otherwise from our still rather primitive vantage point is nothing but conceit.

  43. #43 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    Don’t be ridiculous. One of the things we’ve already found out is that you can’t find out anything.

    The real question is whether we will ever find that there are things that can be found that we can’t find with science.

  44. #44 PZ Myers
    May 23, 2007

    Chris, I know you’re an atheist, and even a strong atheist. So what makes you more tolerant than me? Or does your category of “tolerant atheist” also include me?

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    May 23, 2007

    “Tolerant” is a horrible word to use in this connection. It implies that atheists who are not filed in the “tolerant” drawer are less accepting of all variety, not just religious belief. I don’t like being called a racist and a homophobe.

  46. #46 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    Isn’t it obvious? What he thinks makes him “tolerant” is that he won’t say that religious belief is foolishness and the religious are just plain wrong. He respects their beliefs, after all, no matter how dumb they are.

    He’s like the guy in the cartoon you posted a while back.

  47. #47 Scott Hatfield, OM
    May 23, 2007

    This post will probably surprise some of you.

    I think the ‘broad spectrum’ of non-belief is a good thing. It is a very good thing that there are activist atheists, who are especially good at holding the feet of fundies and their fellow travelers to the fire. In my own way, I think of myself as an activist and there are some things I don’t mince words on. Sometimes it’s cruel to be kind!

    On the other hand, I also find the nuanced approach of Chris Ho-Stuart useful, because it allows for a different sort of dialogue between believers and non-believers, as Chris has demonstrated elsewhere. Sometimes, it’s better to use honey instead of vinegar…sometimes!

    Why do I find both of these ‘useful’, if I’m a theist? Because, in different forums and in different ways, both raise issues and points that help folk like me make common cause with others on things like defending science education. And (this is just a personal preference) I find that a lot more interesting than the sort of bland uniformity where everyone in the pew nods in agreement!

  48. #48 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    The conciliatory approach — mine — is that religion itself is consistent with science;

    Chris’ approach is incorrect. Religion permits and even encourages belief without evidence and belief in the face of contrary evidence, and accepts authority as a valid justification. Science rejects these things.

    How can a system of thought that permits things scientific thought forbids, but be consistent with it?

    This is just another excuse to say that religion is a valid method.

  49. #49 Caledonian, Made out of Meat
    May 23, 2007

    On the other hand, I also find the nuanced approach of Chris Ho-Stuart useful, because it allows for a different sort of dialogue between believers and non-believers, as Chris has demonstrated elsewhere. Sometimes, it’s better to use honey instead of vinegar…sometimes!

    Yes – when you’re trying to catch flies.

  50. #50 poke
    May 23, 2007

    I don’t really understand how you can be a conciliatory strong atheist. Does it go something like “I’m a strong atheist under my metaphysical assumptions but yours are fine too”? That sounds like agnosticism to me.

  51. #51 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    I think that rather than some sort of dichotomy, these are two different approaches to the same goal. More importantly, I have been coming to realize, they are both necessary, for achieving the goal of a more reasonable, secular society.

    What I have less certainty about, is whether arguing about which is better, which is more effective, isn’t counterintuitive to that goal. All I really see the fighting accomplishing is to alienate people who should be accepting their different approaches and working together where they can.

    A great example of this is the longstanding distain between PZ and my brother Ed Brayton. I started out with the perspective that such outspoken anti-theists, were just pissing people off, without really having a net positive effect. Being a theist myself, that was a natural position for me to take. However, as I think that the goal of drasticly reducing the impact of religion on secular society and eliminating it’s effects on secular law, is critical to the wellbeing of everyone in society, including theists, I have come to realize that both approaches have important roles to play.

    While chastising and mocking the religious, will create more backlash than converts (just look how effective it is when theists do it), simply convincing theists that we can reconcile our faith with science, does not necessarily translate into Enlightenment values. I do think that rather than using juvenile condescension, or being an asshole about it, it helps to be more gracious and polite (Dawkins does this very well). I also think that rather than just tearing down religious notions, it is more effective to displace them with the awe and wonder the natural world has to offer.

  52. #52 Carlie
    May 23, 2007

    Chris – I think the “but they’re a minority” attitude is a dangerous one. The Christians I was referring to are the fundamentalist evangelicals, and the latest word is that there are over 80 million of them in the US altogether. That’s not a small minority, and they’ve made themselves even more prominent in society by being loud, brash, and figuring out how to be a strong force in politics. Think about the religious leaders who have been in the news in the last 6 months. Who are they? If you ask people on the street to name prominent pastors, who do they name? Aside from the pope, almost all the ones in the public eye are evangelical fundamentalists. Saying “most of them aren’t like that” really ignores the incredibly potent force the extremists become.

  53. #53 frog
    May 23, 2007

    Overgeneralization alert! Caledonian: Religion permits and even encourages belief without evidence and belief in the face of contrary evidence, and accepts authority as a valid justification. Science rejects these things.

    That would be most religion – even practically all religion. But there do exist some varieties of Buddhism and Taoism that, have as an essential principle, all doctrine must be supported by evidence. And in general, primitive religion works on an evidentiary system. The animists may be wrong in fact, but they don’t call upon faith to justify their beliefs – at worst it’s tradition, but in general it is the evidence from a limited collection of data.

  54. #54 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    I don’t really understand how you can be a conciliatory strong atheist. Does it go something like “I’m a strong atheist under my metaphysical assumptions but yours are fine too”? That sounds like agnosticism to me.

    It’s worse than that: it reduces atheism, strong or otherwise, to the status of a religion. And one religion is as good as another, so clearly any other religion is just as good as science.

  55. #55 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    But there do exist some varieties of Buddhism and Taoism that, have as an essential principle, all doctrine must be supported by evidence.

    I’m a philosophical Taoist myself. The cultural practices of Buddhism and Taoism are still religions.

    Do they present evidence that Buddha existed? That he said what he is supposed to have said? They present these doctrines as religious matters to be accepted on faith, not rigorous evidence.

  56. #56 Blake Stacey
    May 23, 2007

    Scott Hatfield, OM:

    Sometimes, it’s better to use honey instead of vinegar…sometimes

    I suspect my taste buds may be calibrated in an odd fashion. I consider Sagan honey and Hitchens vinegar. Daniel Dennett is a bittersweet chocolate truffle, and a great deal of the talk about NOMA (and, lately, philosophical vs. methodological naturalism) is saccharine diet soda.

    Why do I find both of these ‘useful’, if I’m a theist? Because, in different forums and in different ways, both raise issues and points that help folk like me make common cause with others on things like defending science education. And (this is just a personal preference) I find that a lot more interesting than the sort of bland uniformity where everyone in the pew nods in agreement!

    This is a sentiment I like.

  57. #57 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    poke -

    The same way that one can be concilliatory about anything. By making the point that in some regards you believe the other person is wrong – pure and simple, yet still accepting the common ground you do share. I see a lot of it, when I have the time to go to meetings of the interfaith alliance against church and state. Believe me, there are a lot of differences among members. Yet most everyone there gets along – including the atheists – because we all share a common goal. We not only tolerate, but accept each other, in spite of some members having some rather extreme views about the “rightness” of their own faith over others. One need not accept the beliefs of the person, to accept and even really appreciate that person.

    It is from that place that it becomes easier to influence others. It’s a lot harder to do from the “your beliefs are stoopid” approach.

  58. #58 frog
    May 23, 2007

    Generally, you can’t question everything – it’s not so much accepted on faith, as assumed (at least for some). A fine but essential distinction. If you assume a general Buddhist doctrine, then why would you really care if there actually was a Buddha? The important question is whether Buddhism, as a doctrinal body, actually helps you to escape suffering – the historical facts are at best elusive and irrelevant.

    Not the same as science, but the methods to escape suffering are supposed to be testable, by doctrine, and rejected if they fail. But historical or textual criticism? In a Buddhist mindset, it’s a distraction from the work at hand. Quite a difference from the Christian claim that Christianity is true, by faith.

  59. #59 j
    May 23, 2007

    “a great deal of the talk about NOMA…is saccharine diet soda.”

    Brilliant. I think I will steal that.

  60. #60 Mike Haubrich
    May 23, 2007

    I actually knew the meaning of the word “contumelious” from doing some research on blasphemy.
    (My blog.)

    But a couple of points for Chris:

    1. I can’t see how we can force a religion to be more “liberal” nor “humanistic” by accommodating it.
    2. In marriages, one partner may buy some time by shading the truth about their real feelings, but speaking from experience it ends up making things worse in the long run. You will find the same thing happens when accommodating on religious views.
    3. There is nothing wrong with standing firm on atheistic beliefs. If atheism is a passion, then that passion must be expressed and not buried in order to make things smoother.
    4. It is definitely not the job of atheists to re-shape religion in any manner. Our responsibility is to make a strong case for rationalism and skepticism, for those who have ears to hear.

    If it seems that I often parrot PZ in most of my responses, you must remember, Mate, that Aarr!

  61. #61 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    If you assume a general Buddhist doctrine, then why would you really care if there actually was a Buddha?

    Because the doctrines of reincarnation, the nature of suffering, and the possibility (and desirability) of escape from that suffering are based on his authority.

    What evidence is there that rebirth (in any sense) occurs?

  62. #62 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 23, 2007

    I’m not going to be able to answer all questions adequately here, so my apologies for being selective.

    PZ asks an important question and I’m thinking on it before answering. Carlie makes a point where I can dash off a quick clarification. Calie says:

    Chris – I think the “but they’re a minority” attitude is a dangerous one. The Christians I was referring to are the fundamentalist evangelicals, and the latest word is that there are over 80 million of them in the US altogether. That’s not a small minority, and they’ve made themselves even more prominent in society by being loud, brash, and figuring out how to be a strong force in politics.

    Carlie, I am trying to do nothing else in that remark about minorities than give an accurate evaluation of the facts of the matter. I also am refering to fundamentalist evangelicals — if you count 80 million of those then you are using the term fairly inclusively.

    Those 80 million include many of the folks who have made me welcome, treated me kindly, and spoken up in my personal defence in response to intransigent ratbags who express hate and distain everytime they speak of me. The owners of the Christian web forum where I engage are in that 80 million. They are extremely conservative; fundamentalist in theology; politically right wing; young earth creationist; the whole nine yards. But they don’t express the kind of hatred you described. The hatred can be found, to be sure; but in my serious opinion, with no attempt to spin or dissemble, when you talk with people you find the genuine haters to be a minority.

    I’ve had strong disagreements on the discussion boards; sometimes on matters of factual disagreement, sometimes critical of one another’s ethical behaviour. And always we come back to a mutual recognition that we are still friends. We like each other. We fool around on topics have nothing to do with religion. We share griefs and joys and human concerns.

    PZ asks about tolerance. If the word is holding people up, then call me a “milksop atheist”. I don’t much care; you can’t hope to capture all the nuances of our differences as a single word.

    Tolerance is a spectrum, and it is not always a virtue. There are somethings of which we should not be tolerant. I would have thought it was pretty uncontrovertial that PZ and I differ somewhat on what we consider to be the appropriate level of tolerance to religion.

    Cheers — Chris

  63. #63 frog
    May 23, 2007

    Caledonian: Because the doctrines of reincarnation, the nature of suffering, and the possibility (and desirability) of escape from that suffering are based on his authority.

    Explicitly not – in practice it may be so for the mass of Buddhists, but doctrinally it is not based on Buddha’s personal authority. In Buddhist myth, Buddha tells his followers to test his doctrines, and if the doctrine fails, to abandon it.

    The nature of suffering is supposed to be logically understood – whether it is correct logic is supposed to be individually recognized, at least in your more cerebral Theravada Buddhism. The desirability of escape is assumed – as all ultimate motivations must be. The possibility of escape is based on numerous figures (semi-historical), and on the examples of the living who are farther along the path – of course that is subjective, but to some Buddhist, their personal experience tells them that figure such as the Dalai Lama are bodhisatva, having escaped suffering and returned. Reincarnation is first a cultural assumption – not the same thing as faith, but in traditional cultures what everyone is so sure of that they never think to ask – and on personal experience. The personal experience is such things as memories of prior lives induced by meditation.

    Clearly, most of this is highly subjective, but that’s not the same thing as being based on faith. Faith is most clearly seen in the Abrahamic religions, and particularly the Roman derived variations, where the authoritarian state was fused with religion.

  64. #64 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    Those 80 million include many of the folks who have made me welcome, treated me kindly, and spoken up in my personal defence in response to intransigent ratbags who express hate and distain everytime they speak of me.

    That’s just swell. Peachy keen.

    But the nature of the people expressing the positions is irrelevant. Forget about the people: do you ‘tolerate’ their position?

  65. #65 QrazyQat
    May 23, 2007

    On my blog, Larry also asked if I am calling others intolerant. The answer is definitely “No”, I am not. By saying that I aim to be a “tolerant atheist”, I am not saying everyone else is “intolerant”, any more than “Democrats” are the only people who support democracy.

    If you are a tolerant atheist because your atheist position is different from mine, that leaves me with “not tolerant atheist” as my leftover “choice”. If you’re talking about starting a group with a trademark style name, like Democratic Party that’s another thing entirely and then your above comment makes sense. If that’s not your plan though and you’re talking about differentiating yourself by staking out that space and calling it small t tolerant, then the “Democrat” thing is a BS anaology.

  66. #66 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    One in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable in some circumstances, a poll says.
    [...]
    Although nearly 80 percent of U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings of civilians to defend Islam cannot be justified, 13 percent say they can be, at least rarely.

    And how many Americans say that torture is acceptable in some circumstances, that it can be justified, at least rarely, to defend “our way of life”? And in many instances, what these Muslims are talking about defending is Palestinians having their homes bulldozed by the IDF, or Iraqis having their oil stolen by multinational companies, whereas Americans are talking about defending their right as 6% of the world’s population to use 25% of its resources, and to enforce “free” trade agreements that allow Americans to enjoy cheap coffee, sugar, and chocolate grown on land where people are near or at starvation.

    I’m an activist atheist, but that doesn’t mean I support the demonization of — leading to the slaughter of — Muslims.

  67. #67 llewelly
    May 23, 2007

    So, which group is contributing most to this change: the “tolerant”
    non-confrontationists fighting their Quiet War of conciliation behind
    their Maginot Line of the Establishment Clause or the strident
    activists aggressively attacking and ridiculing the absurdity of
    religious/supernatural beliefs?

    Poor question. Any successful movement must appeal to a wide variety
    of audiences. Some audiences are better moved by diplomacy, others by
    aggression. Additionally, the aggressiveness of a speaker is judged
    in relation to the other speakers she is grouped with. If Carl Sagan
    was alive, and the only outspoken atheist, he would be judged an
    extremist. Add Dawkins to the mix and Sagan looks like a moderate. Add
    Hitchens and Dawkins seems moderate while Sagan seems
    conciliatory.

  68. #68 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    Sagan WAS conciliatory. Take a closer look at Contact – he thinks atheists are deluded by dogma and close-minded.

  69. #69 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    On my blog, Larry also asked if I am calling others intolerant. The answer is definitely “No”, I am not. By saying that I aim to be a “tolerant atheist”, I am not saying everyone else is “intolerant”, any more than “Democrats” are the only people who support democracy.

    Do you think we’re f*cking stupid? It’s hard to be more intellectually dishonest than that. “tolerant”, unlike “Democrat”, is a not a proper name. If you were to identify people with your political views as “democratic Americans”, that most certainly would imply that Americans with other views were not democratic.

  70. #70 PZ Myers
    May 23, 2007

    Those 80 million include many of the folks who have made me welcome, treated me kindly, and spoken up in my personal defence in response to intransigent ratbags who express hate and distain everytime they speak of me.

    Yes! Many of these people are decent human beings. That is not the issue. We are standing up against this one aspect, this religious nonsense, and some of us are not going to compromise on that. I am not arguing with you about whether there are good people among those deluded masses — there are — but I’m saying you can’t let someone who serves you a nice cup of tea distract you from the point of disagreement.

  71. #71 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    I’m an activist atheist, but that doesn’t mean I support the demonization of — leading to the slaughter of — Muslims.

    I read the article and found those statistics surprising. I didn’t realize I was demonizing Muslims by quoting the results of a survey.

    I don’t think there is an “authentic version” of the Muslim faith. Nor do I think the “Founding Fathers” had a group project to make religion kinder and gentler.

    Jefferson said this:

    I do not deny that a congregation may, if they please, agree with their preacher that he shall instruct them in medicine also, or law, or politics. Then, lectures in these, from the pulpit, become not only a matter of right, but of duty also. But this must be with the consent of every individual; because the association being voluntary, the mere majority has no right to apply the contributions of the minority to purposes unspecified in the agreement of the congregation.
    http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9116916/Document-Thomas-Jefferson-The-Sphere-of-Religion

    That tells me that he wanted meddling preachers to mind their own business. He goes on to refer to “the Marats, the Dantons, and the Robespierres of the priesthood.”

    He was doing his best to put restraints on religion because he realized how fanatical and overbearing the religious loonies could be.

    He cared about the ethics that religions were capable of fostering and did not think highly of religious dogma.

  72. #72 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    But they don’t express the kind of hatred you described.

    It was your viewpoint she said they hate, dodo. Love the sin, hate the sinner, and all that. Atheism is a sin in their eyes, and they believe that you will be damned to hell for an an eternity for it.

    Open your eyes.

  73. #73 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    Love the sin, hate the sinner

    Or something like that.

  74. #74 frog
    May 23, 2007

    CalGeorge, you do realize that you’re playing into a propaganda game, right, by quoting those stats without context? That this is being heralded all over the blogosphere as evidence that we must be at war with Muslim nations, that Muslims are untrustworthy and should all be in camps, and so forth and so on…? Right?

    That right now this is being spewed on every possible web page that the right can comment on? Naiviete is forgivable – hopefully that is all this is a case of. Be careful what you repeat without context – for example, that 50% of American Christians believe in torturing “terrorism suspects”!

  75. #75 Carlie
    May 23, 2007

    Chris – I guess then I’m honestly confused. I’ve gone over and read some of your blog, and I still don’t quite understand; what is it exactly that you’re being tolerant of? How do you know when to draw the line?

    There’s “intolerance” of religion as a whole – that one I think you’re clearly on the far side of. Ok, so we’re fine with people having religious beliefs. But how far does that go? Does it go as far as being “tolerant” of certain religious beliefs that are demonstrably untrue – the age of the earth, for instance. Am I intolerant of religion if I tell my religious relatives that particular belief is, in reality, untrue?

    What about “intolerance” of politics based on beliefs – am I being intolerant if I tell those relatives that they can believe the earth is young if they want, but I will not allow them to add that into the school curriculum?

    How about something stronger than a school board – am I being intolerant of their religion if I say no, they cannot make certain people’s lives mean less than others’ (say, 2/5 of a person?) because their religion says so?

    I guess what I’m asking is, if you and PZ both have friends who are religious, you both agree that religious people can be great to be around, and you say that you point out absolutely wrong tenets of religion when possible, then where exactly does your tolerance shift over into PZ’s intolerance? What’s the difference?

  76. #76 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    If you’re not willing to describe a stupid belief for what it is because you don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people expressing it, you’ve rejected the concept of an open and honest exchange of ideas, the very idea of a rational discussion that includes analysis.

    I will remind you that the sharing and analysis of ideas is necessary to the progress of science. Lone individuals can’t do much of anything.

  77. #77 Ichthyic
    May 23, 2007

    and it offers Guinness and a range of other fine beverages in lieu of sticky-sweet communion wine.

    you don’t have to drink it out of those tiny cups, do you?

    I’d definetly frown on that.

    no true religion of any kind would ever force its adherents to drink guiness from tiny paper cups.

  78. #78 frog
    May 23, 2007

    I think Chris is confusing tolerance with politeness. Yes, he is more polite than PZ. PZ’s postings very clearly imply that the mass of religious believers are either half-insane, imbeciles or con men. Chris gives them the benefit of the doubt – that is generally considered more “polite”, particularly at a cocktail party.

    And there is a time and a place for politeness, there is even an advantage to playing good cop/bad cop. But the word is clearly not “tolerance”.

  79. #79 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    Sagan WAS conciliatory. Take a closer look at Contact – he thinks atheists are deluded by dogma and close-minded.

    Did you read The Demon Haunted World? I loved Sagan, indeed he is one of my greatest childhood heroes, but by no means was he very tolerant of religion or any sort of supernatural notions. Indeed, toward the end of his life, he strongly feared that society as a whole, was on it’s way down the shitter, because of even the least of superstitious nonsense, as he saw it. I would give you a good direct quote, but I “loaned” my copy of The Demon Haunted World to my dad a few years ago.

    And though it’s probably been six years since I read Contact (never saw the movie), I seem to recall that being directed at a particularly close minded scientist, who didn’t believe in the notion of E.T.I.’s that might come to interact with us, I certainly don’t recall anything directed against atheism.

  80. #80 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    I didn’t realize I was demonizing Muslims by quoting the results of a survey.

    You must think people are stupid.

    I don’t think there is an “authentic version” of the Muslim faith.

    Nice strawman. The claim was that most Muslims say that “the more extreme elements of Islam” don’t represent the authentic version of their faith. That follows directly if there is no authentic version.

    But non-stupid people understand that, when someone says that something doesn’t represent the authentic version of their faith, they mean that it doesn’t represent what they consider the authentic version, and thus it doesn’t represent what they believe. Whether you or I think there is an authentic version, or whether there actually is an authentic version, is irrelevant.

  81. #81 H. Humbert
    May 23, 2007

    Frog said:
    Reincarnation is first a cultural assumption – not the same thing as faith…Why isn’t it the same thing? It’s accepting a premise as true based on an authority’s say-so.
    …but in traditional cultures what everyone is so sure of that they never think to ask – and on personal experience. The personal experience is such things as memories of prior lives induced by meditation.

    Clearly, most of this is highly subjective, but that’s not the same thing as being based on faith.Uh, yes it is. It’s no different than christians “testing” their faith by praying and waiting for a sign from god. It’s faith precisely because it is subjective–because rather than methodically eliminating personal biases it relies on them. This evidence-free approach to “knowing” is the very definition of faith.

    Faith is most clearly seen in the Abrahamic religions, and particularly the Roman derived variations, where the authoritarian state was fused with religion.What does State Authority have to do with “faith?”

  82. #82 H. Humbert
    May 23, 2007

    Damn, I posted instead of previewed. Here’s the same post with blockquotes.

    Frog said:

    Reincarnation is first a cultural assumption – not the same thing as faith…

    Why isn’t it the same thing? It’s accepting a premise as true based on an authority’s say-so.

    …but in traditional cultures what everyone is so sure of that they never think to ask – and on personal experience. The personal experience is such things as memories of prior lives induced by meditation.

    Clearly, most of this is highly subjective, but that’s not the same thing as being based on faith.

    Uh, yes it is. It’s no different than christians “testing” their faith by praying and waiting for a sign from god. It’s faith precisely because it is subjective–because rather than methodically eliminating personal biases it relies on them. This evidence-free approach to “knowing” is the very definition of faith.

    Faith is most clearly seen in the Abrahamic religions, and particularly the Roman derived variations, where the authoritarian state was fused with religion.

    What does State Authority have to do with “faith?”

  83. #83 Ichthyic
    May 23, 2007

    I am not arguing with you about whether there are good people among those deluded masses — there are — but I’m saying you can’t let someone who serves you a nice cup of tea distract you from the point of disagreement.

    yegods do I wish more people would realize that.

    anyone remember how well Alan McNeill treated Sal Cordova during the “debates” on his class blog?

    …at least until he finally figured out that doing so was simply allowing Sal to continue quotemining and lying.

    Look, if I’m at a party, and start to have an argument with the host about some aspect of science or history, there is obviously a fine line between risking your presence (and potential invites to future parties) and actually pushing for a coherent resolution to the debate. However, it should definetly be more often the case that a debate over issues shouldn’t necessarily take a back seat to some perceived notion of civility.

    Of course, that’s the view of a pragmatist, and I suppose it’s mostly wishful thinking on my part.

  84. #84 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    If you’re not willing to describe a stupid belief for what it is because you don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people expressing it, you’ve rejected the concept of an open and honest exchange of ideas, the very idea of a rational discussion that includes analysis.

    No, you’ve simply rejected the notion of being an asshole. It is entirely possible to explain how someone is wrong, why they are wrong and what is correct, without telling them that they, or their belief, is stupid. It is entirely possible to be gracious and polite, while engaging in honest and open discussion. Indeed, Dennet, Dawkins and Sagan, are/were quite good at it. Certainly, some people will still take offense, many others, however, will at the least listen to what you have to say – another requirement of open and honest exchange of ideas.

  85. #85 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    Let’s be crystal clear here. Here is what CalGeorge quoted, with emphasis added:

    Whenever I criticize the more extreme elements of Islam, I always stress that most Muslims say this doesn’t represent the authentic version of their faith.

    And here is his response:

    Uh-huh. From an article in the Columbia Dispatch today:

    We should expect, then, that the article contradicts what he quoted. But here’s what it actually says, with emphasis added to the part CalGeorge omitted:

    One in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances, though most Muslim Americans overwhelmingly reject the tactic and are critical of Islamic extremism and al-Qaida, a poll says.

    So CalGeorge, go to where hell would be if there was one.

  86. #86 Caledonian
    May 23, 2007

    No, you’ve simply rejected the notion of being an asshole. It is entirely possible to explain how someone is wrong, why they are wrong and what is correct, without telling them that they, or their belief, is stupid.

    And if the belief IS stupid?

    Diplomacy should not be indulged in to the extent that we begin “failing to mention” fundamental flaws in opposing arguments.

  87. #87 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    And in this I am actively trying to influence the shape of religion in the future, despite the fact that I am not religious.

    Sorry if this has been said already, but…

    Isn’t this a little bit presumptuous?

    Why do you think you can influence the shape of religion?

    Religious doctrine is decided in Vatican councils and all of the other equivalents to it. It’s not built from the ground up. You might be able to have some influence with the Unitarians but I think you are overestimating your ability to have an impact on the shape of religion. What do you feel you could do or say to change the doctrines that govern how the big religions are served up to the masses?

  88. #88 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    Diplomacy should not be indulged in to the extent that we begin “failing to mention” fundamental flaws in opposing arguments.

    I was quite clear that you should explain exactly what the flaws, fundamental and otherwise are. My objection is mocking them. Does Dawkins fail to mention the fundamental flaws in supernatural belief? Absolutely not. He does not however, engage in petty insults of those beliefs or the believer. On occasion people still take offense to what he says, but many more are willing to listen to what he says (myself included) becuase he isn’t an asshole about it. The same goes for Dennet, even more so. He takes believers and their beliefs, quite seriously and tries to approach the subject with the compassion of a man who is trying to disuade them from ideas that, for many, define a good part of who they are.

    I am not and have never suggested that anyone not be critical of theism and supernatural belief. I wish more people felt more free to be critical. Being critical does not however, require someone be rude, condescending or petty.

  89. #89 frog
    May 23, 2007
    Reincarnation is first a cultural assumption – not the same thing as faith…

    Why isn’t it the same thing? It’s accepting a premise as true based on an authority’s say-so.

    No, it’s different. It’s not based on a discrete authority – it’s not that Priest Bob says, or Spooky book says, it’s a common assumption. There are plenty of things we all believe as cultural assumptions – all the nonsense about “common senses” is just cultural assumptions. They may be mistaken, and it may be better to investigate our assumptions as best as possible, but that doesn’t make it faith. There are different criticisms for the two.

    …but in traditional cultures what everyone is so sure of that they never think to ask – and on personal experience. The personal experience is such things as memories of prior lives induced by meditation.

    Clearly, most of this is highly subjective, but that’s not the same thing as being based on faith.

    Uh, yes it is. It’s no different than christians “testing” their faith by praying and waiting for a sign from god. It’s faith precisely because it is subjective–because rather than methodically eliminating personal biases it relies on them. This evidence-free approach to “knowing” is the very definition of faith.

    No, Christians do not believe that they believe on the basis of testing. If the prayer fails, the religion hasn’t. But if a chicken sacrifice to Bombu the god of fertility doesn’t produce that man-child, it’s Bombu that comes into question. Once again, there are plenty of problems with systems that are inherently subjective, such as they’re generalizable at best to other people in the village. They have subjective evidence, which is different from saying that there is no necessary evidence, like Christians claim. That in fact asking for even personal evidence is a sign of lack of faith.

    Faith is most clearly seen in the Abrahamic religions, and particularly the Roman derived variations, where the authoritarian state was fused with religion.

    What does State Authority have to do with “faith?”

    Everything. There are a an endless stream of subjective systems of knowing. What differentiates the faith based ones is, well, faith – the claim that even your own personal subjective evidence is inferior to the claims of the authorities. That if the voices in your head don’t sound like the voices in the authorities heads, you are deluded while they aren’t. That’s quite different from saying I have my voices, and you have yours. Of course, trying to get away from voices in your head may be a better long term plan – but that doesn’t obliterate the distinction.

    There are differences among religion. If you want to understand them, it’s best to preserve that information, rather than simply calling them all fools – they may be fools, but they are different kinds of fools. One is to recognize the manner by which common assumption and subjective evidence became transformed into faith, in order to help keep the sheep in line.

  90. #90 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    No, you’ve simply rejected the notion of being an asshole. It is entirely possible to explain how someone is wrong, why they are wrong and what is correct, without telling them that they, or their belief, is stupid. It is entirely possible to be gracious and polite, while engaging in honest and open discussion.

    I reject the notion that telling someone that they, or their belief, is stupid is (necessarily) being an asshole, if they, or their belief, really is stupid. That it’s “entirely possible” to do something a certain way does not imply that it’s desirable to do it that way. That goes for every instance in which anyone has ever said “You could have said that without …”. In most cases, I find, such judgments are offered by pompous assholes.

    BTW, a rather large number of people at whom Dennett has aimed his witty polemics do not consider him to be “gracious” or “polite” at all. Dennett is very good a ripping people new ones with entirely “upper class” language.

  91. #91 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    Truth machine,

    Is this a more acceptable way to quote the stat?

    About 1 in 4 young adult American Muslims says suicide bombings against civilian targets “to defend Islam” can be justified rarely, sometimes or often, according to a new Pew Research Center poll — a finding that disturbed American Muslim leaders and thinkers across the country.

    “It’s something that the Muslim community should be aware of — it’s a phenomenon we should be concerned about,” said Farid Senzai, a Fremont resident and director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which helped shape the questions on the survey. “It is very troubling.”

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/05/23/MNGABQ00ET1.DTL

  92. #92 Ichthyic
    May 23, 2007

    bout 1 in 4 young adult American Muslims says suicide bombings against civilian targets “to defend Islam” can be justified rarely, sometimes or often,

    is that really the way the poll is worded:

    rarely, sometimes, and often being lumped together?

    yikes; seems like rather a poor pool to base a judgement on.

  93. #93 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    BTW, I wrote “And in many instances, what these Muslims are talking about defending is Palestinians having their homes bulldozed by the IDF, or Iraqis having their oil stolen by multinational companies” before reading the article, which says
    “Masmoudi said most supporters of the attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation — a term Muslims often use to describe the conflict with Israel” — critical context that CalGeorge didn’t see fit to provide. Perhaps he (like Sam Harris) is just too dense or ignorant to appreciate the political aspects of religious affiliation.

  94. #94 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine, the rules about who is or isn’t an asshole can’t be made up individually. That’s one of those group things. Politeness isn’t about desirability – it’s about following the rules. It may be desirable that people fart more often in church – but it wouldn’t be polite.

    On the other hand, ripping people a new one in upper-class language can be vicious, but is generally the polite way to go about it. It gives them the out of claiming that it went over their head – plausible deniability is an important part of politeness.

    Hey, it’s the rules – I didn’t make them up! If it’s desirable to be an asshole, be proud of it.

  95. #95 Ichthyic
    May 23, 2007

    er, poor POLL, not pool.

  96. #96 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    is that really the way the poll is worded:

    rarely, sometimes, and often being lumped together?

    No. “That sentiment is strongest among those younger than 30. Two percent of them say it can often be justified, 13 percent say sometimes and 11 percent say rarely.”

    yikes; seems like rather a poor pool to base a judgement on.

    Indeed it is, indeed it is.

  97. #97 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine, by CalGeorge’s responses, he’s not too dense – he’s trolling. Multiple people have pointed out the complete lack of context – standard right-wing troll behavior, to just repeat the same thing in different variations as a response to criticisms, rather than actually responding to them. This is rational, because the goal isn’t to actually convince people, but is a meme attack – repeat the same thing over and over, completely decontextualized until it seeps into the subconscious.

    Despicable. Scurrilous. And criminal, as it’s just a ploy to beat the drums of war in a failed, pathetic, incompetent and criminal war.

  98. #98 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine, the rules about who is or isn’t an asshole can’t be made up individually. That’s one of those group things.

    Oh, so there are laws defining who is an asshole?

    Really, that’s an incredibly stupid claim.

  99. #99 frog
    May 23, 2007

    And of course there’s the link bombing. It’s never good enough to drop the link just once. No, they’ve got to repeat it over and over, hoping to pump up their preferred analysis. PZ should just dump his comments.

  100. #100 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    And your comment about CalGeorge is intelligent, so I judge you, overall, as intelligent — in case you were feeling like getting offended.

  101. #101 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine: you do realize that there are social accords that aren’t laws, don’t you? Things like cultural rules that aren’t individually determined, but there’s no cop on the beat – examples are things like “appropriateness”, “coolness” and so on. Really, that was a stupid retort – being an asshole is something that a group decides is inappropriate, not an individual. Unlike, say, objective truth.

  102. #102 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    There are a an endless stream of subjective systems of knowing.

    Uh, no. Religion rarely produces knowledge, whereas science often does. For something to count as knowledge it must be true, but the methods of religion actually favor false claims over true ones — random sentence generation is more likely to produce truths than religion is.

  103. #103 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 23, 2007

    I can’t keep up with this. Neither can some others. PZ says:

    Yes! Many of these people are decent human beings. That is not the issue.

    Excuse me, but that most certainly WAS the issue that I was addressing in that comment.

    There are all kinds of different issues that show up here and too much shouting at each other without following the different ideas we consider.

    One point was that I need to get out more and see that “these people” hate my view point and see me as a threat for even existing. Except that I have a long term active and ongoing engagement with conservative fundamentalist Christians. I know the haters; and I know also the decent people with wacky ideas. Of the 80 million evangelicals Carlie mentioned, most are decent folks with wacky ideas; and the intransigent haters are a disproportionately visible minority.

    OK?

    This is one of the ways extremism of all kinds breeds. One person makes a claim that I believe to be incorrect, as a counterpoint to my essay. I respond, to refute their claim. And then someone else chips in to say that I’m right, but it isn’t the point.

    Slow down. There are many different points being raised here and I am trying to respond usefully to some of them, step by step. I don’t expect to persuade everyone to work lock step on one approach.

    Another misconception here seems to be that I am wanting atheists to keep quiet. A few people seem to think that’s part of my message… it isn’t.

    I’m inclined to agree (thanks, frog) that “tolerance” here may not be the ideal word. But it’s not completely wrong.

    I find it a bit weird to hear PZ asking for the difference. PZ, I am not saying you are an intolerant person, as if that was a simple label for which we can cleanly break everyone into two categories, tolerant and intolerant. But surely one characteristic of our differences is that I do tend to be a bit more tolerant of religion than you do? I’m not meaning that you are repressing anyone; you are not.

    I like it that atheists and scientists are not in lock step on our approaches to things. It would be ironic if we were! Trying to get a unified atheist would be as futile as trying to herd cats. I sometimes use rather the good cop, bad cop model. I’m the atheist who reads (dips into) theological books from time to time, who engages as a member in good standing of a Christian owned discussion board. That’s just me; not a model for everyone.

    On the other hand, this is not only a debate about tactics and style. There are also some genuine differences. For example, I have said — and I stand by this — that science is compatible with religion. It is possible to be wholeheartedly scientific without buying into my own form of philosophical naturalism, and retaining instead a theistic metaphysics. Some folks disagree with me. That’s not merely a tactical question; it’s a genuine point of substantive dispute. It’s one of a number of topics I hope eventually to take up with more care and detail on my own blog.

    Cheers — Chris

  104. #104 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    “truth machine: you do realize that there are social accords that aren’t laws, don’t you?”

    What I realize is that you saying something is a “social accord” doesn’t make it a social accord, nor does your saying what that social accord is makes it what it is. In the case of social accords about what makes one an asshole, I realize that you are wrong. Some people, in the same society, think that John Kerry is an asshole but Bush is not, and vice versa. Rather than my retort being stupid, it was provably true, and your claim is provably false.

  105. #105 Kent Kauffman
    May 23, 2007

    Instead of intolerant atheists, it could be christian atheists or muslim atheists. Same unapologetic statements of a world view, only without the bigotry and violence.

    Seriously, to a christian or muslim, atheists are going to hell. If you’re an atheist, you’re satan’s minion. It will always be us versus them, and being conciliatory leaves it as just them.

  106. #106 miller
    May 23, 2007

    Quote PZ,
    “Remember, we’re all tolerant atheists together here, and despite all rumors to the contrary, I do not think my fellow citizens are idiots if they go to church.”

    Agreed. I am rather convinced that you and other “extreme” atheists are not so intolerant as you are made out to be. Similarly, I don’t think the atheists you call “do-nothing” atheists are as useless as you make them out to be. This whole disagreement feels silly and contrived to me. It is self-defeating to call yourself “tolerant” just so you can loudly criticize everyone else as “intolerant”.

  107. #107 H. Humbert
    May 23, 2007

    Frog, thank you for your further clarifications.

    No, Christians do not believe that they believe on the basis of testing. If the prayer fails, the religion hasn’t.

    This is half true. I’d say that in fact christians claim it both ways–both that evidence backs up their faith claims, but isn’t dependent upon evidence when it inevitably doesn’t support what they claim.

    I guess I see no value in a religion which encourages its members to “test” its assumptions if either a) like christianity, the results of the tests don’t matter, or b) like the buddhist examples you mentioned, the tests aren’t run correctly.

    However, I can see your point, and will concede that problem “b” would seem easier to rectify. However, that makes me wonder why more Buddhists aren’t deconverted due to being taught proper critical thinking skills. I’m inclined to suspect there may be a bit of “a” involved with them as well.

  108. #108 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    BTW, frog, I have, in several occasions, overheard “conversations” that consist entirely of “You’re an asshole. No, you’re an asshole. No, you’re an asshole. …” Now, you and I can probably agree that both of these people are assholes, but they of course would disagree. Who is an asshole is no more determined by groups than whether vanilla is preferable to chocolate, and the claim that it is is akin to the arrogant claim by the religious that there is absolute morality — oddly enough, what is moral always coincides exactly with what is held to be moral by the individual who claims there is absolute morality.

  109. #109 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    “Masmoudi said most supporters of the attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation — a term Muslims often use to describe the conflict with Israel.”

    Since we are discussing it, these Pew poll points are also of interest:

    “Nearly half of Muslims in the U.S. (47%) say they think of themselves first as a Muslim, rather than as an American.”

    “In addition, the survey finds that younger Muslim Americans – those under age 30 – are both much more religiously observant and more accepting of Islamic extremism than are older Muslim Americans. Younger Muslim Americans report attending services at a mosque more frequently than do older Muslims. And a greater percentage of younger Muslims in the U.S. think of themselves first as Muslims, rather than primarily as Americans (60% vs. 41% among Muslim Americans ages 30 and older). Moreover, more than twice as many Muslim Americans under age 30 as older Muslims believe that suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified in the defense of Islam (15% vs. 6%).”

    I can understand why the kids would feel the way they do but it is not good that kids here are becoming more religious and more tolerant of extremists and less assimilated.

    It’s legitimate to be concerned by that.

    I’m betting that opinions will shift when the war ends (one more reason to end the war). Let’s hope so.

    http://pewresearch.org/assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf

  110. #110 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine -

    I reject the notion that telling someone that they, or their belief, is stupid is (necessarily) being an asshole, if they, or their belief, really is stupid.

    I have to agree with frog, that is being an asshole. If that us you’re desire, by all means do so – but accept it for what it is. Quite often that is the desired response, I engage it myself on occasion, when people are beig especialy stupid. But if one wants to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas, like Caledonian was implying, being an asshole will stop that cold.

    BTW, a rather large number of people at whom Dennett has aimed his witty polemics do not consider him to be “gracious” or “polite” at all. Dennett is very good a ripping people new ones with entirely “upper class” language.

    Believe me, I know. Few of the people at my church, who have actually read him, would consider him very gracious. I daresay many theists who have read him feel he’s a complete jerk. On the other hand, I find him quite engaging, as do quite a few of my more liberal theist friends. Indeed, I know more than one person who has questioned their faith to the point of rejecting it, largely based on his writing.

    If one wants to actually change the way people think, being civil is far more effective than being an ass about it. If one wants to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas, being civil is essential.

  111. #111 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine:

    There are a an endless stream of subjective systems of knowing.

    Uh, no. Religion rarely produces knowledge, whereas science often does. For something to count as knowledge it must be true, but the methods of religion actually favor false claims over true ones — random sentence generation is more likely to produce truths than religion is.

    Well, know you’re getting into metaphysics. If by truth you mean correspondence with objective reality, then you’re right. If by true all you mean is internally consistent, then you’re wrong. Most people say they mean the former, when in practice they mean the latter. But the problem is that there aren’t many good words to describe mental systems that are internally consistent, but completely divorced from objective reality.

  112. #112 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    “PZ, I am not saying you are an intolerant person”

    Methinks thou doth protest too much. Saying that people like you, as opposed to people like PZ, are “tolerant atheists” is saying that PZ is not a tolerant atheist — it’s a simple matter of logic. If that’s not what you mean to say, and if your intention is not to start a fight, then don’t use a judgmental label like “tolerant atheist”, where the negation of the term is pejorative.

  113. #113 Pierce R. Butler
    May 23, 2007

    Myers focuses particularly on the phrase “tolerant atheist”, while Ho-Stuart focuses primarily on his dialog project, regarding his label as secondary: no wonder they disagree.

    Within the context of Ho-Stuart’s experiment, “tolerant atheism” fits the approach being taken; from the outside, its implications about dissenters are as subtle and innocuous as those of the “pro-life” trademark. H-S has been living in a bubble of his own making if he doesn’t see why his nomenclature raises hackles.

  114. #114 frog
    May 23, 2007

    I think we can all agree that CalGeorge is not only a link-bombing troll, but also an asshole. Why do we agree on that, and is that agreement necessary for him to be an asshole? Obviously we disagree on that issue, depending on whether you accept a concept of groups being subjects as well as individuals. Some may think the entire effort at ethnolology is wasted.

    But at least we can agree on this: that half of Muslims put their religion before state, as do half of American Christians, many who actually have access to heavy weapons that could kill much of the human race. Pointing out one without pointing out the other is the sina qua non of a troll and an asshole. I would also expect that more than half of atheists put their principles above the state – relatively few American atheists are totalitarians.

    But I guess CalGeorge is a totalitarian on top of being a troll and an asshole.

  115. #115 DuWayne
    May 23, 2007

    I should be clear that “asshole” is a subjective notion. As are the ideas of “polite,” “rude,” and “civil.” I am defining asshole and rude, for the purpose of my point, as being condescending and/or mocking. However you want to parse it, these are ways of making an open and honest exchange of ideas, impossible. They also make it very hard to change people’s minds.

  116. #116 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    Well, know you’re getting into metaphysics.

    No, I’m getting into epistemology.

    If by truth you mean correspondence with objective reality, then you’re right. If by true all you mean is internally consistent, then you’re wrong.

    By truth I mean veridicality. According to you, it seems, if I say that the sky is blue, and blue is blue, then I’m right, but if blue is red, then I’m wrong — I can live with that.

  117. #117 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    “ethnolology”?

  118. #118 Blake Stacey
    May 23, 2007

    DuWayne:

    I would give you a good direct quote, but I “loaned” my copy of The Demon Haunted World to my dad a few years ago.

    I also “loaned” my copy of TDHW to a friend, along with my copies of Intellectual Impostures and Feynman’s Character of Physical Law. She was taking a philosophy of science class at Harvard and really needed an antidote. . . . I do recall, however, that the passage about some religions being safe from or “uplifted by” science is followed by a long litany of religious claims which can in principle or have already been empirically tested.

  119. #119 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    I have to agree with frog, that is being an asshole.

    Bully for you. I agree with myself that it isn’t.

    If that us you’re desire, by all means do so – but accept it for what it is.

    Ah, I see, I must agree with your assessment, not my own. Well, that makes you an arrogant asshole in my book.

  120. #120 CalGeorge
    May 23, 2007

    I think we can all agree that CalGeorge is not only a link-bombing troll, but also an asshole.

    I have an idea, let’s take a survey!

    That way, we won’t have to take your idiotic word for it.

  121. #121 frog
    May 23, 2007

    H Humbert: However, I can see your point, and will concede that problem “b” would seem easier to rectify. However, that makes me wonder why more Buddhists aren’t deconverted due to being taught proper critical thinking skills. I’m inclined to suspect there may be a bit of “a” involved with them as well.

    Maybe because the problem isn’t critical thinking skills in general? Buddhism explicitly rejects the importance of “objective” knowledge – what matters is the subjective state of the buddhist, how much they suffer. So, they’re given a set of tools to try to alleviate suffering. They’re more likely to deconvert because it has failed to alleviate their suffering, than because some of the beliefs aren’t objectively true.

    Christians really need to believe that their system is objectively true – at least the fundamentalist variety. Haven’t you heard that if the tomb is empty, the hope for resurrection is false? What’s even worse is that Christian then wants to claim that this objective truth is derived from “faith”, which is simply another word for authority.

    But if the Buddha never existed, a smart Buddhist would say, “so what? I don’t suffer.” And since that is subjective, empirical evidence will be irrelevant, at least until we stick them into MRI and start to measure their subjectivity objectively. And even then, they can always say the MRI doesn’t capture their real subjective states.

  122. #122 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    I think we can all agree that CalGeorge is not only a link-bombing troll, but also an asshole. Why do we agree on that, and is that agreement necessary for him to be an asshole? Obviously we disagree on that issue, depending on whether you accept a concept of groups being subjects as well as individuals. Some may think the entire effort at ethnolology is wasted.

    I think you’re being an asshole by trying to harness your position to acceptance of something uncontroversial. Groups are subjects but whether someone is an asshole is not a “social accord”, it’s a personal subjective judgment. And I don’t know CalGeorge well enough to judge him an asshole, but I do think he did something pretty foul.

  123. #123 frog
    May 23, 2007
    Well, know you’re getting into metaphysics.

    No, I’m getting into epistemology.

    Of course you’re right – I was playing loose.

    If by truth you mean correspondence with objective reality, then you’re right. If by true all you mean is internally consistent, then you’re wrong.

    By truth I mean veridicality. According to you, it seems, if I say that the sky is blue, and blue is blue, then I’m right, but if blue is red, then I’m wrong — I can live with that.

    I assumed that you meant correspondence – but that still doesn’t go to what word you can use for self-consistent but subjective systems of thought. Gotta give it a name, and religion won’t do because not all religions are self-consistent, in particular those that are faith-based and always have a vast irrationality at their heart, as opposed to rational (internally logical) religions that just don’t pay attention to external reality. And they use that word “knowledge”, at least the same stream of phonemes to mean something radically different.

  124. #124 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    whether someone is an asshole is not a “social accord”, it’s a personal subjective judgment

    A clarification: like all personal subjective judgments, there are bounds on the judgment that come from group experience that establishes the meaning of the word, but not what it applies to. If I say that Drano is “delicious”, we can agree that I’m misusing the word, but that does not make what is or is not delicious — as opposed to the meaning of “delicious” — a matter of “social accord”.

  125. #125 H. Humbert
    May 23, 2007

    Buddhism explicitly rejects the importance of “objective” knowledge – what matters is the subjective state of the buddhist, how much they suffer.

    Then why are the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhists always trying to bend over backwards to show how science (i.e. “objective knowledge”) affirms the teachings of Buddhism?

    So, they’re given a set of tools to try to alleviate suffering. They’re more likely to deconvert because it has failed to alleviate their suffering, than because some of the beliefs aren’t objectively true.

    So they don’t necessarily care if it’s real medicine or a placebo, so long as it “works?”

  126. #126 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth machine: I think you’re being an asshole by trying to harness your position to acceptance of something uncontroversial. Groups are subjects but whether someone is an asshole is not a “social accord”, it’s a personal subjective judgment. And I don’t know CalGeorge well enough to judge him an asshole, but I do think he did something pretty foul.

    It was a joke. Mellow out dude. Should I have put on smileys? (Now that’s being an asshole!)

    And usually, I don’t call someone an asshole in some essentialist way. But if someone does something assholish – I’ll call them an asshole. And CalGeorge is doing something assholish, by repeating the same crap again and never, ever responding to the questions of context. Particularly with such easily debunked nonsense like implying that Muslims are dangerous because half of them put religion above state. Well, 100% of Jehovah’s Witness do too – it’s one of their few redeeming features. So do all the Amish, but no one runs around screaming about that either, do they?

    CalGeorge is assholish. Is that better?

  127. #127 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    It does sometimes help to go to the dictionary:

    asshole: A thoroughly contemptible, detestable person.

    Non-assholes should agree that what is thoroughly contemptible, and what is thoroughly detestable is a matter of personal judgment, not “social accord”. While large numbers of people may agree that certain behaviors are thoroughly contemptible and thoroughly detestable, that still leaves a very large amount of room for personal variation.

  128. #128 frog
    May 23, 2007

    HH: Then why are the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhists always trying to bend over backwards to show how science (i.e. “objective knowledge”) affirms the teachings of Buddhism?

    I assume because they think it’ll lead to alleviation of suffering, not because the objectivity matters in any deep sense.

    So they don’t necessarily care if it’s real medicine or a placebo, so long as it “works?”

    I think that many Buddhist would agree with that. In one myth, the Buddha compares himself to all the other preachers who were arguing on the nature of the universe, time, etc, and says that he doesn’t care about any of that, since none of that objective knowledge would alleviate suffering.

  129. #129 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    It was a joke.

    The bit about believing that groups are subjects, and harnessing that to your position in an attempt to make it authoritative, was clearly not a joke, asshole.

    but that still doesn’t go to what word you can use for self-consistent but subjective systems of thought. Gotta give it a name

    If you’re a certain sort of fool you do, but many things are best described with multi-word descriptions.

    I’m tired of this game. Goodbye.

  130. #130 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth_machine: But didn’t you see that CalGeorge agreed with me, that it wasn’t up to my personal word whether he was an asshole? That we should take a survey?

    Now, if he is an asshole, we should dismiss his statement as another example of assholery, in which case you’re right. But if we dismiss his statement and you’re right, then I’m right to call him an asshole, as I see him as a contemptible person. On the other hand, if I’m right about assholeness being social accord, then he’s right that I shouldn’t call him an asshole until I find better social accord.

    Hmm, which argument do I surrender on… Which one…
    Okay, CalGeorge is still an asshole. It’s a more practical argument. I know I can win on that win – it’s almost purely empirical, with little theorizing involve. I’ll go with that!

  131. #131 Kagehi
    May 23, 2007

    religion itself is consistent with science

    In the beginning there where people trying to explain why dead people didn’t breath any more. Using the best tools of the time, they scientifically concluded that “breath” was “life”. A few thousand years later, someone wondered what the stars where, while someone else noticed that their friend, in a comma for a massive and unrecoverable head injury, still breathed but wasn’t exactly *alive* anymore. The first clown continued to believe that breath = life, but also made up stories about camp fires in the sky, this being of course based on the “scientific” evidence that fires flicker, and so do stars.

    Fast forward a few thousand years. One group of clowns has given up the camp fires in the sky stuff, but still think breath = life, and have invented alchemy and astrology. Again, science, using the best knowledge and tools of the time, have brought them a new understanding.

    Fast forward a few thousand years more. Now there are three groups. The ones that say “breath = life” is BS, because we know better, based on the best facts and tools we have, astrology doesn’t work, based on the same, etc., etc. But.. We have two other groups. One still practices astrology and has replaced alchemy with homeopathy. The other… Is still back in 8,000 BC babbling about “breath = life”.

    Its all science. The difference between religion and modern science is that modern science has spent thousands of years figuring out why all the past *understandings* where flawed, incomplete, and in some cases flat out stupid and wrong. Religion’s adherents, a practice which grew out of the fringes of evidenciary progress, has continued to abuse the things that it *must* accept, because they undeniably work, whine about how its explanation is better for anything science hasn’t yet figured out sufficiently, and demonize anything that they *think* isn’t well enough known for them to lose their grip on yet. Science has advanced from seeing distant camp fires in the sky to describing the rough chemical composition of the sun in some other solar system. Religion has fought tooth and nail to not adapt its views, ideas, opinions or explanations, and would still be sitting around a fire in animal pelts babbling about the camp fires of the dead, if it hadn’t been “forced” by shear incompetence vis a vie actually offering real day to day solutions that work to adapt the evil and unholy methods of the people that once went, “Heh Zog. What if those aren’t actually camp fires up there at all?”

    Been having a long and convoluted argument with someone about this very point. Both science and religion as based on the assumption of a describable universe. He argues that this somehow make them equal. I argue that this makes them about as equal as… Well, if the three little pigs had used the same identical concrete foundation on which to build a) a straw lean-to, b) a wooden frame gazebo, c) a one room mud brick hut or d) the Petronas Tower. They may all technically have the same “foundation”, and even be, more or less, chronologically adapted from each other, but that doesn’t make them “equal” in any respect other than that they are all *intended* to offer various degrees of shelter. Same with religion and science. Both *intend* to offer knowledge, wisdom and understanding, but one is a leaky 4′ high lean-to of soggy old ideas and questionable facts, while the other is 1483 foot tower of carefully derived/collected evidence.

    They think that they can just throw a few rocks at it, and it will just fall over. Theirs, you can blow away with a high wind, but its so easy to rebuilt using the same shoddy materials that it, sadly, might as well be indestructible.

  132. #132 Paguroidea
    May 23, 2007

    PZ’s post and the comments made me think of this quote.

    “We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but sail we must and not drift nor lie at anchor.”
    — Oliver Wendell Holmes

  133. #133 truth machine
    May 23, 2007

    Just one more comment, because I have a taste for blatant contradictions:

    Now, if he is an asshole, we should dismiss his statement as another example of assholery

    Only if you were lying when you wrote

    And usually, I don’t call someone an asshole in some essentialist way.

  134. #134 frog
    May 23, 2007

    truth_machine: I thought you were referring to linking CalGeorge’s assholery to my position. I did not see that you meant linking my idea to group subjects – I argue with libertarians also, who do see that as a controversial position, and who would be implying that in their arguments; clearly now you weren’t, you just weren’t explicit. So yes, that latter wasn’t a joke, the former was.

  135. #135 frog
    May 24, 2007

    truth_machine: Now, if he is an asshole, we should dismiss his statement as another example of assholery

    Now that is a joke. Can’t you see the absurdity in discussing CalGeorge’s assholery as some kind of syllogism, as a logic problem?

    I really have to start putting in smileys.

  136. #136 DuWayne
    May 24, 2007

    All right, I’ll drop the “asshole.”

    If your intention is to have a meaningful exchange of ideas, or to change someone’s mind about their beliefs, do you really think that saying they or their beliefs are stupid? Whether you think doing so is being an asshole or not, calling someone’s beliefs stupid, is going to make it quite hard to convince them they are wrong or have anything like a meaningful exchange of ideas. If however, you explain why you think they are wrong and offer evidence to support your point of view, it is far more likely they will listen to what you have to say.

    And while I am, somewhat too often, an asshole, I am not pompous about it. Really, I have little to be pompous about. If I come across that way, I can only offer my sincere apology – it is not my intent.

  137. #137 Ichthyic
    May 24, 2007

    If your intention is to have a meaningful exchange of ideas, or to change someone’s mind about their beliefs, do you really think that saying they or their beliefs are stupid?

    for your consideration, grasshopper:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=820

  138. #138 truth machine
    May 24, 2007

    Now that is a joke.

    I knew that.

    I really have to start putting in smileys.

    Not for me.

    It’s been fun; goodbye for real.

  139. #139 frog
    May 24, 2007

    DuWayne, it’s pretty standard to use harsh language on this board. It’s not boxing, it’s more of a club-fight. People come here to call most people stupid. Not quite the right venue for your position.

  140. #140 CalGeorge
    May 24, 2007

    Other statistics on that Pew Survey of U.S. Muslims:

    Homosexuality should be…
    Accepted 27%
    Discouraged 61%
    Neither/Both/DK 12%

    Fewer than one-in-10 U.S. Muslims (8%) say the Koran is a book written by men.

    … among Muslims who say religion is very important – 72% of all U.S. Muslims – an overwhelming majority (80%) says that Islam treats men and women equally well.

  141. #141 PZ Myers
    May 24, 2007

    People who hold truly stupid ideas are not amenable to logical argument. Avoiding calling their ideas stupid because you think that they might be persuadable is, well, stupid — it’s granting them a false deference in hopes of an unrealizable outcome. There are actually good reasons for being blunt:

    - it can rally support to your side far more effectively than making excuses for foolishness
    - it projects strength, and that is a positive value
    - while it antagonizes the target, it can sway uncertain onlookers
    - it can be a tool for ostracizing bad actors and ideas.

    Now of course, accusations of stupidity have to be backed up with evidence, but people who argue for a blanket ban on harsh criticism are actually acting as insulators, protecting bad ideas from the deserved brunt of the argument.

  142. #142 Colugo
    May 24, 2007

    A lot of these skirmishes are the ripple effect of the atheist testosterone surge from Dover.

    2001: 9/11 catalyzes New Atheist movement (e.g. Dawkins’ ‘Faith-Based Missile’)
    2005: Dover gives shot in the arm to evolutionists in general and atheists in particular
    2006: Beyond Belief draws intra-atheist battle lines
    2007: ‘Framing’ debate highlights differences over tactics; New Atheists’ new meme: “theistic evolution = creationism”

    Future court battles may involve the scientific status of God hypothesis (outside science or falsifiable?), the “evolutionary” rebranding of ID, and whether students can be instructed into belief in naturalism.

  143. #143 Ichthyic
    May 24, 2007

    A lot of these skirmishes are the ripple effect of the atheist testosterone surge from Dover.

    bah. if dover had gone the OTHER way, the reaction would have been even STRONGER.

    your oversimplified timeline is also completely bogus.

  144. #144 Colugo
    May 24, 2007

    “if dover had gone the OTHER way, the reaction would have been even STRONGER.”

    Maybe. A future court case may allow for that hypothesis to be tested. Especially if there is overreach and some form of theistic evolution, rather than ID, is at issue.

    I don’t doubt that the sense of siege during the Bush years has contributed to atheist stridency. (I wonder if having a Democratic president prone to occasional religious invocations will dampen the appetite among many to blast faith-headism.)

  145. #145 Ichthyic
    May 24, 2007

    I don’t doubt that the sense of siege during the Bush years has contributed to atheist stridency.

    LOL

    make up your mind. Is it our defeats or our victories that are causing all us deluded atheists to become so “strident”?

    yikes, without even knowing you, I’d say you are suffering from severe projection.

    I wonder if having a Democratic president prone to occasional religious invocations

    uh, you mean like CLINTON?

    or maybe you prefer CARTER?

    now take a look at that, and rethink your “hypothesis”.

    your proclamations fail to overwhelm.

  146. #146 Colugo
    May 24, 2007

    “deluded atheists”

    Deluded about what? About atheism, no. About the prospects for converting the world to atheism, yes.

    Right, Clinton and Carter did, in fact, invoke God quite frequently. And there was only a marginal hardline atheist movement during those administrations, since New Atheism is a post-9/11 phenomenon.

    “Is it our defeats or our victories that are causing all us deluded atheists to become so “strident”?”

    Dover had immediate and concrete policy applications while the Bush administration was perceived as a more diffuse and chronic phenomenon. (One, which, as fate would have it, resulted in the appointment of the Dover judge.) Very different psychosocial variables.

  147. #147 Mrs Tilton, FCD
    May 24, 2007

    I shall leave it to you atheists to decide what sort of atheists you are and what you should call each other. May I just say, though, that this:

    Hitchens’ F-eulogy of Falwell (Alan Wagner @ 16)

    is feckin’ brilliant.

  148. #148 Carlie
    May 24, 2007

    most are decent folks with wacky ideas; and the intransigent haters are a disproportionately visible minority.

    Yes, Chris, but the thing is, they all vote the same way. If your main concern with false religious beliefs is that those beliefs negatively impact society, then the fact that they are decent folks doesn’t matter. You don’t have to tell me how nice evangelicals are; I was raised as one. All of my family and most of the friends I’ve ever had are those very same friendly fundamentalists. I know they’re good people. I also know that they’d rip democracy to shreds in favor of a theocracy, because they honestly think it’s the right thing to do. I think it was correct farther up that you’re conflating tolerance with politeness. I’m unfailingly polite to all of them, but I will no longer be tolerant of the results of their beliefs.

  149. #149 csrster
    May 24, 2007

    While it’s true that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, it’s also true that you can incinerate even more of the little bastards with a flamethrower.

  150. #150 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 24, 2007

    No problem Carlie. I was mainly wanting to address your original remarks in comment #2 about how “they hate your viewpoint and see you as a threat simply for existing, regardless of how you act about it”. That’s simply not my experience; and I have a lot of experience interacting with Christians online.

    I know the haters are there; I meet up with plenty of those. But they are not the majority.

    It’s also true enough that Christianity in the USA is closely linked with reactionary right wing politics. But that’s a trend, not a general rule.

    When you say “they all vote the same way”, who do you mean? Can you really identify a religious demographic that all votes the same way politically? You can certainly identify strong trends and correlations, but you are — again — quite mistaken if you think this is universal. There are a substantial number of politically liberal evangelical Christians.

    I meet up with many Christians in the discussion forums who are politically liberal. And sometimes I get support from surprising places in individual topics. For example, I wrote quite a lot on global warming in response to some of the usual denialist nonsense; and by and large the result was very gratifying. I got a lot of support, and even some of those who identify as politically right wing came out as recognizing that much of the denialist rhetoric is irrational. The most intransigent denialists ended up being banned from the forum, I think because they were essentially spamming the discussions with endless threads on the subject without actually engaging with those of us who pointed out the errors. Recall… this was at a forum run by politically conservative Christians.

    Another interesting group I found was “Creation Care”… a group of conservative evangelical Christians who are trying to bring awareness of environmental issues into the evangelical Christianity. Now theologically these guys are as absurd as you could wish. Politically they are not much better. But they do demonstrate that the simplistic stereotypes don’t always work.

    It’s an interesting point how we should react to groups like this. Should we simply say that as irrational Christians their perspective on the environment is tainted and irrational, and so they are a part of the problem? Or should we be pleased that there is some movement within this generally reactionary demographic for comparztive sanity with respect to climate and the environment?

  151. #151 PZ Myers
    May 24, 2007

    Chris, you’re missing the point. I know that there are a range of political views in the Christian community; I know there are smart and good and decent Christians and Muslims and Zoroastrians and whatever. You are committing a persistent logical fallacy in bringing it up. If someone believes in leprechauns, it is not relevant to the debate about the existence of leprechauns to point out that he is kind to dogs or voted for Bush.

    This is a defense mechanism. Recognize it. The religious hold indefensible views about religion, so when the heat gets hot what they can always do is defuse the criticism by changing the subject to something they know you’ll find agreeable—respect for the environment, or liberal politics, or puppy dogs. They can even offer you a cup of tea. It has nothing to do with whether their religion is batshit insane or not.

    When you try to turn this into an argument about whether Christians are nice or not, you are playing right into religion’s hands, and you are arguing against a point I am not making.

  152. #152 Caledonian
    May 24, 2007

    Chris is an apologist for religion. He may not hold any religious beliefs himself, but he’s bending over backwards to excuse the religious beliefs of others.

  153. #153 PZ Myers
    May 24, 2007

    No. He’s an apologist for the religious. There’s a big difference. He does not share in their beliefs, but he’s working so hard to build bridges that he’s lost sight of that difference, and that’s why I called him a do-nothing atheist…it’s not that he’s doing nothing at all, but that what he is doing is more of a balm to Christians than it is a promotion of rational thought.

  154. #154 Caledonian
    May 24, 2007

    No. He’s an apologist for the religious. There’s a big difference.

    Not when you believe, as it seems the vast majority of people do, that supporting a person requires supporting the beliefs they have and the things they do.

    See also: “supporting the troops” as a codephrase for not saying bad things about the Iraq war.

  155. #155 AJ Milne
    May 24, 2007

    If someone believes in leprechauns, it is not relevant to the debate about the existence of leprechauns to point out that he is kind to dogs or voted for Bush.

    Quite. Very. Etc.

    Honestly, beyond all of the strategic considerations etc., I really do have to say to the various folk pleading for their precious civility that seeing them from even the slightest distance, the stated beliefs of the various major and minor religions really are just too irresistably comical (and alternately tragicomical–and yes, I’m afraid, I include there even the defensive hemming and hawing over allegedly instrumentally useful whether or not real sorta-believed-in-but-not-really placebo gods of their ‘mainstream’ sects) to do anything but guffaw loudly, shaking finger pointed incredulously in the direction of the source of my mirth.

    Sorry. Can’t be helped. Mebbe I’m just too easily amused. What can ya do.

  156. #156 Tulse
    May 24, 2007

    why are the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhists always trying to bend over backwards to show how science (i.e. “objective knowledge”) affirms the teachings of Buddhism?

    “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.” — Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

    That doesn’t sound like a religion to me.

  157. #157 Tulse
    May 24, 2007

    And CalGeorge, while we’re looking at polls, 51% of Americans think that “bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified”, far higher than Iranians polled (16%). Americans express greater support for attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria. More on this can be found at Glenn Greenwald’s column:

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/05/23/polls/index.html

  158. #158 CalGeorge
    May 24, 2007

    That’s terrible too. It’s all terrible.

  159. #159 CalGeorge
    May 24, 2007

    Someone needs to give me a lesson in how to quote statistics, because I don’t understand what I did wrong.

  160. #160 windy
    May 24, 2007

    CalGeorge: I’m sure you quoted the statistics right, but “1/4 of young Muslims think x” does not refute “most Muslims don’t think x” ;)

  161. #161 Jim Baerg
    May 24, 2007

    I think I’ll add my $0.02 into the discussion about tactics in talking with the ‘faithful’.

    I think I got it right when I was with 3 people & the discussion turned to religion & from the way they were talking they all seemed to be fairly devout christians. (I had on another occasion heard one of them making a favorable comment re: YEC). I was sitting silently, feeling a bit uncomfortable, until something was said on the topic of faith, & I said “Why is it ever good to take things on faith? Surely if there is no good evidence either way on some issue the thing to do is to say, I don’t know.” After that they made some comments in favour of faith including the biblical ‘evidence of things not seen’, but my impression was they all felt the answers were rather weak. I can hope for some healthy doubt to grow in their minds.

    ‘Faith’ is the fundamental error in all religion & the wrongness of faith is the point must always be calmly stated.

  162. #162 Tulse
    May 24, 2007

    More to the point, if 1/4 of Muslims think x, but a larger proportion of non-Muslims think something comparable to x, then that context is vital. Quoting a “scary” statistic without a comparable baserate is just fear-mongering.

  163. #163 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 24, 2007

    There’s a big difference. He does not share in their beliefs, but he’s working so hard to build bridges that he’s lost sight of that difference, and that’s why I called him a do-nothing atheist…it’s not that he’s doing nothing at all, but that what he is doing is more of a balm to Christians than it is a promotion of rational thought.

    Fact is, PZ, you don’t actually know much at all about what I do, or what impact I have, or how much I am promoting or hindering rational thought. You’re jumping to some pretty big conclusions in a pretty complex dynamic.

    For someone supposedly in favour of rational thought and the value of scientific thinking, that’s ironic.

    I operate in a quite different area to you. I have a background that lets me do what I do quite well, I think; and it is having an impact. But actually measuring that impact is hard work.

    Part of the problem, I suggest, is that you have such a binary view of what rational thought means that you fail to see some valuable and genuine shifts towards rationality.

    For instance; no matter how irrational you consider theism in general to be, don’t you think it is a shift towards rationality for a Christian to reject creationism, and adopt a position which seeks to reconcile their beliefs about God with what we know of the world by science? You don’t accept that this reconcilation is really possible; that is another topic I’ll be considering sometime fairly soon at my blog. But even so, isn’t a creationist who adopts a theistic position like that of Dobzhansky or Miller making a shift towards rationality?

    I’ll tell you something else. I think that when people make that shift, they are particularly prone to go on and lose the religious faith entirely within another year or so. Not always, but it happens often enough to cast doubt on your confident assertions about what is or is not effective.

    Interestingly, this is also recognized by many Christians. The creationists are quite right to warn of a slippery slope towards atheism should you allow any possiblity that the bible is not completely literally historically correct. I know many people who don’t slide that far; but many others do. For my part, I put more effort into the first part of that shift than the second. That’s a reflection of what I personally consider most important — a personal judgement made while being fully aware of the various differences between creationism, moderate religion accepting of the basic findings of science, and metaphysical naturalism.

    I reject completely your implications that I have lost sight of anything. We have some major differences in approach, and we have some genuine disagreements on the nature of science and of religion. There’s room to talk about those some more. My approach is not because I’ve lost sight of a difference between religion and science or a difference between religion and religious individuals. My approach is a deliberately chosen approach that fits my personality, my circumstances, and my particular skills as best I can manage.

    Cheers — Chris

  164. #164 poke
    May 24, 2007

    What I don’t get with the “honey over vinegar” approach is it’s just blatantly not true. Where are all the examples of people swaying opinion by being polite? There just aren’t any. You don’t have to be a particularly astute observer of the world to have noticed that it’s the loud ones who are comfortable with calling others stupid who hold sway over public opinion.

    It makes perfect sense too: people see the world in terms of groups and alliances; they don’t have well thought out chains of logic holding together their beliefs, and they’ll happily shift their allegiance if you make them feel embarrassed about belonging to a particular group. Shunning and ridicule are the tools you use to do this. This isn’t something you do by having a one-on-one conversation, of course; you’re unlikely to achieve anything with that approach. But every time someone like Dawkins or Hitchens goes on television and makes people feel uncomfortable for aligning with the other guys, they’re having an effect.

  165. #165 stogoe
    May 24, 2007

    CalGeorge, the framing of the statistics was wrong. You tried to show that Muslims are scary by showing that 3/4 of those polled think suicide bombings are never justified.

    I don’t understand the pile-on here, because usually I enjoy your comments.

    Chris Ho-Stuart doesn’t understand his own framing here. Just like ‘pro-life’ constructs the label for the Other (pro-death), ‘tolerant atheists’ nonverbally insinuates and broadcasts that the Other type of atheist is ‘intolerant’.

  166. #166 PZ Myers
    May 24, 2007

    Chris, you can’t expect everyone to be familiar with your track record. We’re going by what you wrote on your shiny new blog. If you’d chosen to describe your past successes in weaning away the religious from nonsense without making it a contest between “tolerant” atheists and brand X atheists, you would have gotten a very different reaction.

  167. #167 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    PZ’s post cuts to the chase, as so many times. The post it criticizes has its problems, but really fall apart in the end where the claim of the superiority of the conciliatory approach stands unsupported.

    Many of the problems is evident in the labeling used, trivial but preventing a common ground to discuss from.

    [Chris Ho-Stuart #33:] I do find it incredibly silly to fuss about the labels in this way.

    Chris, in spite of what he claims here, likes to label things. As commenter “Duas” on Moran’s blog he has discussed labeling of theistic evolution and of atheists. But for reasons some commenter here speculate in he isn’t very good at it. My own judgment on Moran’s blog is that he “suck at it”. :-)

    “Theistic evolution”:
    Chris defines it as “theism + evolution”.

    For him it is enough that theists declares that they are compatible with science.

    Not that they must in fact be so. In other words, it is only science that can be used to judge whether other ideas are compatible or not.

    “Hardline atheist”:
    Chris abstains from his “accurate” alternative “fundamentalist atheist”, which would be very magnanimous if it wasn’t due to “it hinders communication”.

    But a “fundamentalist” would be a person who believes he is absolutely correct and refuses any reasons to change. Activist atheists that judge theism as currently defined to be ludicrous, superstition, or improbable aren’t such.

    On “hardline”, it should be reserved for groups that are promoting aggressive agendas. What Chris is describing also covers atheists that either discuss religious claims such as TE’s, or are refusing religious special claims. There is nothing hardline about these groups.

    I don’t find “activist atheist” especially palatable, but it is more accurate than “vocal atheist” or more allitterative than “ardent atheist”.;-) So I can accept this description; tolerance and disrespect for theistic concepts. (Not to be confused with the persons, of course.)

    By Chris own words, the remainder use a conciliatory approach; tolerance and respect for theistic concepts. So “conciliatory atheist” would be a good description of chamberlanians.

  168. #168 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    PZ’s post cuts to the chase, as so many times. The post it criticizes has its problems, but really fall apart in the end where the claim of the superiority of the conciliatory approach stands unsupported.

    Many of the problems is evident in the labeling used, trivial but preventing a common ground to discuss from.

    [Chris Ho-Stuart #33:] I do find it incredibly silly to fuss about the labels in this way.

    Chris, in spite of what he claims here, likes to label things. As commenter “Duas” on Moran’s blog he has discussed labeling of theistic evolution and of atheists. But for reasons some commenter here speculate in he isn’t very good at it. My own judgment on Moran’s blog is that he “suck at it”. :-)

    “Theistic evolution”:
    Chris defines it as “theism + evolution”.

    For him it is enough that theists declares that they are compatible with science.

    Not that they must in fact be so. In other words, it is only science that can be used to judge whether other ideas are compatible or not.

    “Hardline atheist”:
    Chris abstains from his “accurate” alternative “fundamentalist atheist”, which would be very magnanimous if it wasn’t due to “it hinders communication”.

    But a “fundamentalist” would be a person who believes he is absolutely correct and refuses any reasons to change. Activist atheists that judge theism as currently defined to be ludicrous, superstition, or improbable aren’t such.

    On “hardline”, it should be reserved for groups that are promoting aggressive agendas. What Chris is describing also covers atheists that either discuss religious claims such as TE’s, or are refusing religious special claims. There is nothing hardline about these groups.

    I don’t find “activist atheist” especially palatable, but it is more accurate than “vocal atheist” or more allitterative than “ardent atheist”.;-) So I can accept this description; tolerance and disrespect for theistic concepts. (Not to be confused with the persons, of course.)

    By Chris own words, the remainder use a conciliatory approach; tolerance and respect for theistic concepts. So “conciliatory atheist” would be a good description of chamberlanians.

  169. #169 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Test post. [Sorry, posting difficulties on this thread.]

  170. #170 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Test post. [Sorry, posting difficulties on this thread.]

  171. #171 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Yet another test post to see if the queue/script is fixed.

  172. #172 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Yet another test post to see if the queue/script is fixed.

  173. #173 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Seems I’m always too impatient. Well, at least I didn’t repost the long comment. :-)

  174. #174 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 24, 2007

    Seems I’m always too impatient. Well, at least I didn’t repost the long comment. :-)

  175. #175 Caledonian
    May 24, 2007

    Fact is, PZ, you don’t actually know much at all about what I do, or what impact I have, or how much I am promoting or hindering rational thought.

    You’ve open stated that religion and science are compatible. That is a false statement, and your misrepresentations of the natures of science and religion are hindering rational thought about them.

  176. #176 Caledonian
    May 24, 2007

    Note for future reference: when people begin complaining about “binary” thinking, they’re usually rejecting the concept of the excluded middle. That means that they’re completely ignorant of the subtleties of reasoning.

    For instance; no matter how irrational you consider theism in general to be, don’t you think it is a shift towards rationality for a Christian to reject creationism, and adopt a position which seeks to reconcile their beliefs about God with what we know of the world by science?

    Since the deity of Christian is already ruled out by logic, trying to make scientific knowledge compatible with the fundamentally self-contradictory doctrines isn’t a step forward in rationality. It’s one step backwards and three sideways – in the direction of concern about appearances and the practice of compartmentalization.

  177. #177 Anton Mates
    May 25, 2007

    What I don’t get with the “honey over vinegar” approach is it’s just blatantly not true. Where are all the examples of people swaying opinion by being polite? There just aren’t any. You don’t have to be a particularly astute observer of the world to have noticed that it’s the loud ones who are comfortable with calling others stupid who hold sway over public opinion.

    Word. A huge factor in Christianity’s historical success has been the willingness of its preachers to argue that unbelievers are a) fools, b) evil, c) doomed to suffer eternally and d) endangering everyone around them by pissing off God. And Christianity’s not that unusual in that regard. Very few successful religions/political movements spend a lot of time explaining how, well, the other party has a lot of good points and, really, we’re all on the same side, aren’t we?

    I’m not interested in rudeness for its own sake, but the idea that we should avoid controversy and partisanship for popularity’s sake seems very naive to me. People like controversy and partisanship. And we have the advantage of being able to say various controversial and partisan things which turn out to be true.

  178. #178 Ichthyic
    May 25, 2007

    What I don’t get with the “honey over vinegar” approach

    also known as the sweet and sour approach.

    at least it’s a good sauce.

  179. #179 Allienne Goddard
    May 25, 2007

    Well, re: honey vs. vinegar, the goal of those aggressive preachers is not to convince unbelievers to believe but rather to intimidate those who are doubting their beliefs. It is a tool of to enforce conformity. I guarantee that the early christian preachers were not hanging out at the marketplace saying: “Hey, you idiotic polytheists, don’t you know how stupid it is to believe in more than one God almighty, who sent his only Son, to redeem you through the grace of the Holy Spirit? Idiots.” It just doesn’t work if you are trying to convince the established majority that they should give up their beliefs.

    If you are trying to reach believers, I think Chris has a better approach. If you’re trying to police scientific orthodoxy, PZ’s method is the way to go. I’d be terrified of PZ if I was a theistic scientist, but if I was just a theist, I’d just think he was an pompous asshole. Personally, I think theism is stupid, and if anyone talks to me about it, I say so. But all my friends and family are atheists, so I see my duty as stamping out the superstitious thoughts that creep in when thinking gets sloppy. That is, I’m the rationality police.

    Now my drink has gone all watery. Damn you all. Damn you all to hell.

  180. #180 Anton Mates
    May 25, 2007

    Well, re: honey vs. vinegar, the goal of those aggressive preachers is not to convince unbelievers to believe but rather to intimidate those who are doubting their beliefs. It is a tool of to enforce conformity.

    Not so. Aggressive preaching is also an effective tool at enforcing conformity, but it’s been exceptionally successful at convincing unbelievers. Look at the religious men who kicked off the most successful Christian breakaway sects: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Müntzer, Joseph Smith. Look at the figures responsible for the great religious revivals in America, from Jonathan Edwards (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) through Charles Finney to Dwight Moody.

    Hell, who started the most successful American religion other than the Church of Latter-Day Saints? The tolerant, kind, open-minded L. Ron Hubbard. And what about that Karl Marx guy, who said organized religion was the opium of the masses and preached global revolution? He seemed to win a follower or two.

    Aggression sells. Intolerance sells. They sell even to the undecided. I wish that weren’t the case, but it seems to be a constant of human psychology.

    I guarantee that the early christian preachers were not hanging out at the marketplace saying: “Hey, you idiotic polytheists, don’t you know how stupid it is to believe in more than one God almighty, who sent his only Son, to redeem you through the grace of the Holy Spirit? Idiots.”

    Are you kidding? That’s exactly what they did. That describes virtually every prophet and preacher of the Old and New Testaments to a T. Including Jesus, who loved to call his opponents vipers and hypocrites.

    If Jews and Christians hadn’t taken that attitude, the Romans wouldn’t have much cared–they were always happy to throw another god into the pantheon. It was the Judeo-Christians’ implacable hostility to the polytheistic religions that made them public enemies. They didn’t just quietly refrain from worshipping the gods of the state; they were loud about it, and obnoxious, and angry. They mocked the pagans and slapped down the heretics and burned blasphemous books, and that helped them win.

    If you want extra-Biblical evidence, just look up Hippolytus, or Polycarp, or Aristides.

    It just doesn’t work if you are trying to convince the established majority that they should give up their beliefs.

    So far as I can see, history says the opposite.

  181. #181 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 26, 2007

    PZ says

    Chris, you can’t expect everyone to be familiar with your track record. We’re going by what you wrote on your shiny new blog.

    PZ, that is really really really weak. YOU at least should KNOW that the term “do-nothing” atheist was totally inappropriate for me.

    You may disagree with my particular approach. That’s fine. You may speak up for the advantages you’ve seen in your own approach. But for you to presume to evaluate the impact of what I specifically do is out of line. You don’t have that information.

    If you were genuinely rational in looking at the available information from my new blog, you’ve have noticed that I am NOT hiding differences or ignoring conflict. I am explicitly identified as an atheist in my profile. My second blog article was on evolution from dinosaurs to birds, and giving notice of a second post, which came up later as Evolution of Wings; and I’ve had a number of other posts making fun of creationism. My first blogroll entry, from the day the blog went up, was the TheologyWeb forum where I have been very active now for a couple of years, always prominently and proudly atheist, debating matters of ethics, philosophy, science, politics and much else with explicit advocacy for my naturalistic liberal humanist perspective. People who check it out, and look for my forum-id “Sylas” (also explicit in the profile) will see it.

    My fifth post — to which you linked to help give me a big boost as I started — was poking fun at a creationist carnival. And, by the way, what ever else you do, that link was the best help you could have given me to letting me explain my position. I’m in your debt for that!

    Others may not know — but you should know — I was active in responding to the feedback column at talkorigins, where I was clear about my own unbelief when it became relevant.

    It is quite true that I don’t put a high priority in wiping out religion. But I don’t hide my disbelief or shy away from debate with those who are interested in engaging with me on the topic of God’s existence.

    Furthermore, if you choose to evaluate the effect of our disparate styles simply by whether people are led to turn away from religion as a result, I can tell you that I KNOW I am causing people to turn away from religion. Obviously not hordes of them; none of us manage that. But some of the people I have engaged at TheologyWeb have been shaken by my writings in particular, and have dropped their faith. Personally I salute ANYONE who goes to the hard work of thinking through their belief systems and re-evaluating everything they have thought about the world. I think the major credit for that belongs to them. I’m happy to have been a seed from time to time.

    But I continue to engage with mutual respect with plenty of other Christians who have remained unswayed by my writings, and even to learn things from them occasionally. That’s fine by me; I am happy to remain a part of that community and to continue engaging the many topics we debate there together.

    I will be taking this up on my blog eventually. I don’t want this issue to take over the blog; so I’ll have other posts in the meantime. But posts in preparation include a rewrite of my own defence of strong atheism — my reasons for being confident God does not exist; a personal autobiographical note that explains a bit of how I have come to prefer my concilatory style; some thoughts on “The God Delusion”; plus more on maths, on education, on cosmology and on evolution.

    I think you went way over the line when you called me a do-nothing atheist. It was unfair, insulting and inaccurate. But hey. Controversy sells. I continue to be a big fan and a regular reader, and if/when I take up the contrast between do-nothing and respectful-disagreement, I will try to do it constructively.

    I have taken on board the objections that people made about “tolerant atheist”. It was NEVER my intent to describe everyone else as intolerant; but rather to describe one quality of my style, which certainly DOES come across as more tolerant, and to propose that such an approach has advantages. Unfortunately, it appeared as a kind of label to divide atheists into two groups; not good. I have learned from that and will try and phrase myself more carefully.

    I think, frankly, that we have impacts on different demographics. I’m reaching folks whom you can’t reach so well. But you are presenting a loud and clear message which gets massive visiblity and traction. Kudos.

  182. #182 PZ Myers
    May 26, 2007

    Chris, it is not at all “weak” to point out that you’re being judged on that one post rather than your personal history, which is much, much clearer to you than to all of your readers, no matter how familiar we might be with your record. As far as the blogosphere is concerned, you’re a complete newbie — our posting history on talk.origins is mostly irrelevant, as is any activity on specialized forums. From that very shortsighted (and I admit that — one of the flaws of this medium is how transient any article’s appearance actually is), one of your first posts on a topic near and dear to the heart of the savage denizens of this lair of militant atheists was a conciliatory message to the people of faith that set yourself apart as more “tolerant” than those other guys out here. It’s simple social dynamics: if you want to set yourself up as a member of one of the warring factions, you first establish your bona fides as, in this case, one of us godless heathens, and then you can start distinguishing yourself. Most of these factions are blurry and fictitious anyway, but there is a lot of arguing on both sides about identity and goals…and you did the equivalent of strolling into Crips territory wearing a blood red bandanna. It doesn’t matter that we’re both vicious gangs, you took an accommodationist/appeaser stance, and you will get flamed for that.

    You also don’t get to complain that “do-nothing atheist” is insulting. You got the immediate reaction from Larry Moran to your choice of term — it’s also awfully insulting to imply that you are the tolerant one. Forget the gang analogy above; we’re all milquetoast chatterers on the internet, no one is proposing massive intolerance of Christians and Muslims here, and if they are, they’re regarded as pariahs.

    I also meant “do-nothing” in a very specific sense. Are you going to act to persuade others that godlessness is a better way, that religion is a delusion, or are you going to try to seek rapprochement with religion and compromise on the principle that god does not exist and attempts to organize human society to be in alignment with the whims of an imaginary deity are mistaken? We have a lot of hardliners on that matter here (including myself), and the message I took away from your post is that no, you’d rather sidestep the conflict than work through it. Maybe I’m completely mistaken, but that’s how you presented yourself to this new audience…and you must know by now that I’m the nasty kind of guy who, when I see a conflict, goes right for that difference with fangs bared, rather than trying to find some common ground off to the side of the argument where we can have a cup of tea.

  183. #183 Caledonian
    May 26, 2007

    Let’s not lose sight of some basic facts.

    1) Chris’ point, the one he himself said is central to his rhetoric, is incorrect. Science and religion are not compatible, not because of any particular results their espouse, but because their methods are mutually exclusive.

    2) It is sufficiently clear that this point is incorrect that we can reasonably expect Chris to be aware of this fact.

    3) Chris is therefore knowingly repeating a false statement for the rhetorical benefits this grants. In other words, he’s a liar.

  184. #184 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 26, 2007

    Responding to #176 by PZ…

    PZ, I’m in regular debate on a Christian forum, so I’m used to dealing with people who jump to unwarranted conclusions without bothering to check for available information, or who can’t distinguish their own metaphysical presumptions from an empirical test. I’m used to being flamed. I know all about folks who have sloppy reasoning like that.

    But you should have known better.

    Yes, my blog is very new. It’s my latest experiment in a long history of using different online media for engaging in debate on religion, on science, on philosophy, and so on. How the FUCK can you possibly tell that I am a “do nothing” atheist on the basis of a blog a few weeks old? I am still trying to sort out what I can do with the technical background to the thing. Sheesh, Paul!

    Sure, there will be people who flame me on the basis of insufficient evidence and wild unfounded conclusions. But if you want to set a standard for rationality you’ll not do the same yourself.

    As for the tolerance thing: I DID NOT call other people intolerant. When Larry asked if that was my meaning, I stated plainly that I was not calling everyone else intolerant. I’ve also acknowledged that the wording was bad and that I’m learning from it. But it is emphatically false that I labeled those who have a different approach to me as intolerant. You can try and read that into the post, but it’s not in the words and it is not in the intent, and I tried to clarify that as soon as people started to take it the wrong way.

    Tolerance is a quality that can be found in different degrees and in different contexts. We’re all intolerant of teachers wanting to insert creationism into a classroom. We’re all tolerant of the right of Christians to practice their religion.

    My style does differ from yours, however. You yourself recognize that you are “militant” or “hardliner”. Those are good words for your approach, and I don’t mean that to be insulting. But by comparison, my style of approach is regarded by others as “more tolerant”. And so it seemed a useful word to describe the kind of approach I use. It sucks rocks that you arseholes will throw around terms with negative connotations — like “Neville Chamberlain” atheist — and then get all offended if I propose an alternative term with positive connotations, as if it is personally insulting to you that I would dare to use positive descriptors for my approach.

    I didn’t take offense at “Neville Chamberlain” qualifiers. I know the reasons for it, though I think it’s a very bad simile, as I explained at Larry’s blog on that matter. I suggested an alternative positive phrase.

    I never insulted any of you or called you intolerant. I was focused on describing my approach. I disclaimed the “you’re all intolerant” reading as soon someone suggested it. You used the term “militant” above. It’s a good, powerful image. So what term are you going to let ME use for myself without taking offense? Are you going to carry on as if I am insulting you every time I use a positive term for my own position? Let me know if that is the case, and I’ll just give you a straight unambiguous insult direct at yourself to keep you happy.

    And now you have the hide to compare your direct and insulting accusations made specifically at me, by name, and say that I can’t complain about that because I insulted you all by using a positive term to describe my approach?

    Feel free to be critical of the approach. But here’s what I think. You’ve never done any empirical study to confirm that my approach is ineffective. You’ve never done any study of my posts to back up your slurs and insults. You’re just playing to your bully image, which sells well to some folks here and which is a bad betrayal of the standards of rational science you supposedly uphold.

    Go back and look at my post again. I state plainly there that I DO argue for the fact that God does not exist, and that I aim to be persuasive on that. It’s not all I do, but it is a significant and well recognized part of my engagement at Christian forums. I don’t need to do it here on this blog. (It IS one of several articles in the pipeline for my blog.)

    In Christian forums I wear my atheist label prominently and proudly, and regularly engage in debate on God’s existence, and philosophical naturalism, and the problems of God as a foundation for ethics, and much else. Here’s a paragraph from the conclusion of my blog article again:

    I can’t manage it myself; but I don’t charge that others who find a stable reconcilation [of science and religion] are necessarily being inconsistent. I’m not particularly concerned to persuade them to change, unless they want to engage in mutually respectful debate and discussion, in which case I will argue that there’s excellent reason to think no God exists. I do aim to be persuasive for that position, though relaxed if others are not persuaded.

    Another topic in my blog pipeline is consistency of science with religion. As I said in my article that you have seen, there are many religious ideas that are plainly refuted by science. But my position – widely shared by many other active scientists and philosophers, both theistic and atheistic – is that there is not a necessary inconsistency between science and God. Some believers manage to find a consistent reconciliation; and though I don’t find it at all persuasive I also don’t see any internal inconsistency. I am not lying when I make this claim, Caledonian. You may disagree with it or attempt to refute it, but your presumption that I am lying is false. This matter of consistency is a claim I will consider more plainly in my blog, eventually. It’s fairly low priority; I want to get some more science writing done first; and a few other posts are being planned that will appear first.

    The comments to a blog are a poor venue for this debate. I hope to engage some of these topics over the next few months in my own blog, where you and others will be welcome to refute or criticize, or respond here if you prefer. But I won’t let it take over my whole blog; I have other issues to take up as well; and limited time.

    I’m hoping dialog will continue; but I won’t rush it. I have other fish to fry. I think you’ve been unjust; but hey. I can live with it. Thanks for the engagement anyway; fair or unfair you’ve still taken my words and given them some comment, and that’s a good thing which I appreciate.

  185. #185 Austin Cline
    May 26, 2007

    As for the tolerance thing: I DID NOT call other people intolerant.

    When you use the label “tolerant” for yourself as a means for distinguishing yourself from others, then the necessary implication is that the others are “not tolerant.” If that wasn’t your intention, then you need to find a different label – but getting upset that others take your words at face value and interpret them as they plainly read is most definitely not the way to go.

    The most appropriate response in such a situation is something like “hey, my words do imply that – sorry, I didn’t realize this and was wrong to use that term.” Disclaiming the interpretation isn’t sufficient because it means you’ll be asking people to interpret your words in an unnatural and illogical way. The interpretation here is the logical one, so you have to either change the label or accept the interpretation.

    It’s a bit analogous to trying to call yourself one of the “tall atheists,” and then insisting that you don’t mean to indicate that other atheists aren’t tall as well. Unfortunately, that is an necessary implication of such a label: if you’re tall, then others must be short. You can’t use that label and insist that others act as if you aren’t implying that others are not tall.

    Tolerance is a quality that can be found in different degrees and in different contexts.

    True, but you don’t describe yourself as “more tolerant” by simply using the label “tolerant” without qualification. If you simply want to indicate that you try to be more tolerant than usual, you could try something like “extra tolerant.”

    Perhaps it would help to take some time to consider what, exactly, you mean by “tolerant” when you want to use that label. Tolerance isn’t a simple concept — it’s complex and can mean a lot of different things. Do you simply mean to say that you try to be fair? Objective? Sympathetic? Permissive? Indulgent? Lacking opposition? Those are all very different connotations of the concept “tolerance.”

    Perhaps if you can zero in on what you have most in mind, you’ll be able to come up with a label which does imply a “not X” about others which others would accept as fair and accurate.

  186. #186 LCaution
    May 26, 2007

    I would like us all, here in the U.S., to stop thinking that “religion” and “God” are universal terms understood equally by all people on the planet.

    The three primary religions in the West (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are not the only faiths in the world, and there is a considerable diversity of belief among even their adherents.

    With respect to science, it is only the fundamentalists in these three faiths who seem to have a problem separating the words of their holy book from what science teaches. We may accuse the others of being illogical in choosing what to accept from their faith and what not to accept, but from a public policy perspective, belief is not a problem in and of itself. It is only when believers want to impose their beliefs on society as a whole or on science that a problem exists.

    Now, let’s look at the rest of the world. Shinto in Japan is an animist faith. Do its believers reject modern science? Hindu cosmology is wrong on pretty much all counts, but it posits a contracting and expanding universe trillions of years older than ours actually is. So how do Hindus respond to the Big Bang? Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are both philosophies and religions. None of the three has a “God”. (Hinduism is a pantheistic faith.) I am unfamiliar with native African faiths but assume they are probably animistic.

    In short, I think we need to be more restrictive in identifying which faiths, and which particular sects in those faiths, are inimical to the modern world – and then, perhaps by evaluating how others manage to live quite nicely in the modern world, figure out the best way to corral those that don’t.

  187. #187 Ichthyic
    May 26, 2007

    You may disagree with my particular approach. That’s fine. You may speak up for the advantages you’ve seen in your own approach. But for you to presume to evaluate the impact of what I specifically do is out of line. You don’t have that information.

    well, gee, Chris, that’s kinda the problem here, isn’t it? NOBODY has “that” information. Not even yourself, apparently.

    Is everyone just supposed to visit your site and try to figure it out for themselves?

    not a very good way to present your argument, to say the least.

    Some believers manage to find a consistent reconciliation;

    no…. some believers manage to compartmentalize better than others. Even THAT breaks down eventually.

    Just take Francis Collins as a great example.

  188. #188 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 26, 2007

    well, gee, Chris, that’s kinda the problem here, isn’t it? NOBODY has “that” information. Not even yourself, apparently.

    On how much effect I have? That’s right. You’ll see in my blog article that I specifically said that it is a guess as to what is most effective.

    On whether I’m doing nothing? I do have that information and so does anyone who takes a bit of time to check out the links available from my blog. And if they don’t want to check that out then they have no business saying that I do nothing; they should try something less directly personally insulting.

    On the blog page in question I note that my primary engagement before now on the internet has been in a Christian owned discussion forum. I am visibly and vocally atheist. I actively take up debate, as an atheist, on a whole range of topics; some relating to belief in God and some not. In the article it is explicit that one of the things I do discuss from time to time is the existence of God, and that when I do I aim to give persuasive reasons for thinking God does not exist. The thing is that I don’t force that issue all the time; I look for others who want to share in that debate with mutual good will.

    One of the complaints made by “new atheists” is that atheists in the past have been too shy to speak up, trying not to rock the boat or avoiding identifying themselves as atheists. I agree. I am not shy and retiring about unbelief at all. Nothing in my post suggested that.

    Cheers — Chris