Pharyngula

How peculiar — I’ve gotten several requests in email to comment on this plaint from Theodore Dalrymple, a fellow who doesn’t like those “New Atheists” like Sam Harris and Dan Dennett. It’s peculiar because I’m here at a conference with Sam Harris and Dan Dennett (and others who do not consider themselves “New Atheists”)— should I just ask them what they think? Actually, if anyone wants to pass along any brilliant questions that I can use to dazzle the luminaries with my insight, go ahead, toss them into the comments.

It’s one of those annoying opinion pieces by an unbeliever who wants to make excuses for belief: the premise is “To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.” It contains many strange arguments, like this one.

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

For my own part, I think Western civilization was built on the talent and hard work and ideals of its people, and that if you stripped religion from its greatest artists and heroes and leaders and thinkers, they still would have been great.

I detest the argument about gratitude. It’s a deep error: we should exult in our life and a community of purpose that we build, but there is no one to be grateful to, and displacing our sense of obligation to our human aspirations onto a nonexistent deity represents an abandonemnt of rationality. And the reduction of reason to a mere “shopping spree” or feelings of entitlement is simply the old canard that atheists are amoral hedonists in more high-falutin’ pious language.

You can all discuss this for a while. I’m going to go listen to philosophers and historians explain the Enlightenment to me.

Comments

  1. #1 Greta Christina
    October 31, 2007

    “To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.”

    Nope.

    I’m with firemancarl on this one. To regret religion is to regret the fact that, for centuries, the overwhelming majority of creative and intellectual endeavors had to be channeled through the narrow lens of belief in non-existent supernatural beings.

    Also… why Western? Why not just “civilization”? Does this guy not realize that religion — and thus religious art — isn’t purely a Western phenomenon? I mean, what’s Chinese history — chopped liver?

    And I don’t need God to feel gratitude. I feel it towards other people. Alive and dead. I feel an intense gratitude for everyone who worked hard to make my life, and the lives of those around me, easier and better. And that sense of gratitude instills me with an equally intense sense of obligation to do the same for others.

  2. #2 Brownian, OM
    October 31, 2007

    Of course, no painter would have seen a mother nursing a child as a thing of beauty unless instructed to do so by the church. No composer could have explored the possibilities of the human voice without first accepting the Nicene Creed.

    Nicely said, Don.

    Does this then mean we can blame religion every time we’ve got to sit through some relative’s boring slideshow of their Caribbean cruise?

    ‘Cause clearly Aunt Gladys would never have taken 15.6 billion photos of Raul, the Lido deck Lifeguard, if it weren’t for the gratitude she feels due to her belief in God.

    This guy is five flavours of dumb.

  3. #3 Brownian, OM
    October 31, 2007

    Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

    I hope he’s grateful for all the contributions to medicine made in the name of religion.

  4. #4 Reginald Selkirk
    October 31, 2007

    Maybe i’m confused, but how can this guy claim to be a non believer and then make excuses for religion?

    Richard Dawkins on “I’m an atheist buttery.”

  5. #5 Sastra
    October 31, 2007

    Once again, people are trying to divide the world into science and religion, and they forget the little area called philosophy. Atheists call dibs on secular philosophy, secular ethics, secular aesthetics, and secular epistemology. That’s the wisdom, morals, beauty, and understanding of the natural universe – absent the stuff that is specifically attached to belief in the supernatural. In other words, that’s pretty much the entire Western canon, including anything in religion that ever made sense in the world, too.

    Ours!! It belongs to us! The religious can use it if they want, that’s okay. Of course they can. It’s secular ground where everyone can stand. But don’t start going on about love and meaning and ethics and art and history and tradition and forget that atheists have and have always had and always will have the discipline called PHILOSOPHY on our side. Thank you very much.

  6. #6 Lassi Hippeläinen
    October 31, 2007

    #9:

    I far as I can tell, there are three reasons for the development of religion:
    1. To explain what goes bump in the night
    2. To alleviate the fear of death
    3. To compel people to behave

    You just confirmed my theory that religion was invented at a stone age campfire, to keep the kids close.

  7. #7 Sastra
    October 31, 2007

    Colugo (#41) wrote:

    There is no alternative to a structuring, value-laden mythic system – no matter how secular or “scientific” – which is partly non-naturalist in derivation, based on tradition and ultimately, unprovable assumptions.

    I’m curious here — I’ll grant the “unprovable assumptions” part on the assumption that you’re working off values and irreducible fundamentals — but what do you mean by derivations which are “non-naturalist?” Supernaturalist? I don’t think you mean that …(And, come to think of it, what do you mean by ‘mythic systems?’)

    The myth of eternal progress, of advancement towards greater social perfection, of the acquisition of knowledge that will allow us to transcend earthly suffering – these may be “true” myths, but are myths nonetheless.

    I’ll agree those are certainly myths if the belief is “this is what is going to happen because this is the way it must happen.” But falsifiable hopes don’t sound like myths to me. “We can try to do better, and might fail, but might succeed.” That doesn’t sound like much of a “substitute” for the explanatory reassurances of religious faiths.

    Of course, it might depend on what you mean by “myth.”

  8. #8 Sastra
    October 31, 2007

    mzed wrote:

    What if I were to argue that the evils of religion had nothing to do with religion–that it was all just human behavior? How would this argument be any different than the reverse–that all human good is independent of religion?

    The difference lies in conflict between how an action is labeled. What the hypothetical “reasonable secular person” would consider secular evil coming from religion is usually considered a religious good by the religious person doing it. They have different “facts” from a supernatural source which reveals truths above the common ground, and these facts aren’t shared with either atheists or people in other religions (or with different interpretations of the same religion).

    However, in most cases the reverse is not true. A non-believer will agree with the religious person on what’s good. If they don’t, then we’re back to the first situation.

    In other words, your question assumes an agreement on what is “good” and “evil” in religion from a secular stance, independent of religious interpretation. The religious themselves need not take that stance.

    It comes back to Christopher Hitchens’ question on “is there any good which a believer can do which a non-believer would not?” and the same question on evil. He says nobody has answered the first, but they can answer the second.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    October 31, 2007

    In Brainstorms, Dennett describes his adoration for Brahms, and from personal conversation, I know he’s read and enjoyed Borges. Dawkins praises the big names of art and literature repeatedly throughout The God Delusion, and in fact he spends more time eulogizing his friend Douglas Adams than he does calling people “Neville Chamberlain atheists”.

    So, yes, I’d say that Dalrymple is another critic who has read the books of the Uppity Atheists with his eyes closed. Perhaps Dawkins should feel honored that people are treating his book the same way that they treat the Bible?

  10. #10 Colugo
    October 31, 2007

    Sorry, I meant to put Sastra’s name before the question posed before my reply. My bad.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    October 31, 2007

    I challenge anyone to prove that they believe in God. Cause they don’t.

    not that i disagree with the premise (false faith), but I’m curious as to what proof would satisfy you that someone believed in a deity?

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    October 31, 2007

    Ok, but thinking back to those “halcyon” days, how would you prove to someone else that you “believed”?

    I keep hearkening back to the Inquisition, and wondering what the hell I would say to “prove” I was a “good xian”.

    I think I would have lived a rather short life, with either nooses or much fire at the end (doubt i would have made it to “drawn and quatered” status).

    :p

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    October 31, 2007

    Isn’t that how you prove belief? Repeatability?

    AFAICT, that’s about right.

    I can’t figure out how one could disprove someone doesn’t believe in the flying spaghetti monster, for that matter.

    It’s obvious on the face of it, merely by looking at the details of the construct itself (the FSM being specifically constructed as a satire on belief), but how would one go about proving it independent of the construct itself?

    In fact, what makes the whole FSM thing “work” is because of the fact that one can’t independently prove that a follower of the FSM isn’t just as much a “true believer” as any xian is.

  14. #14 Marcus Ranum
    October 31, 2007

    Ichthyic writes:
    I’m curious as to what proof would satisfy you that someone believed in a deity?

    Since beliefs aren’t tangible or observable, I don’t think a strong proof is possible. But one could make a good argument to appear to believe in a diety if one absolutely scrupulously, literally, and always did exactly what was consistent with that belief. Of course that’s problematic with the abramahic religions because then you get to argue about whether god really hates seeing the top of men’s heads and so on and so forth.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    October 31, 2007

    and always did exactly what was consistent with that belief

    but that would be an easy test, no?

    If I refined a belief in a deity down to the point where I say that all i need do to demonstrate my belief is to snap my fingers in a generally Westerly direction once per day…

  16. #16 Sastra
    October 31, 2007

    Colugo (#74) wrote:

    I mean by “myth” a meta-narrative that informs, structures, simplifies, a totemic story that is not just just descriptive but prescriptive. It relates future aspirations to past struggles and accomplishments. A myth is not simply a social model but is infused with heroic and romantic themes. It can be secular or religious, nationalist or universalist, progressive or reactionary…

    Thanks. Given this definition of “myth,” I agree that we’ll probably always have — or create — myths. The concern here is that specifically religious myths arrive at their prescriptions by describing states of affairs which can’t be cross-checked. Interpretations can evolve along with a culture, but there is no way to definitively throw out “wrong” supernatural facts. If these facts drive a culture, watch out.

    Evan (#82) wrote:

    To regret slavery is to regret western civilization.

    Heh. I can imagine someone making this argument seriously. Also an argument for the value of monarchy or war.

    Or — even closer to the issue — pseudoscience. Not only have false beliefs about the way the world works shaped our current culture, but there are plenty of people around today who use the “sciences” of astrology, tarot cards, energy healing, and psychic powers to comfort themselves and others, finding joy, meaning, and strength from their encounters with channeled space aliens from Atlantis. Or whatever.

    You can become a better person through pseudoscience just as you can become a better person through religion. And when people only use the nonsense to prop up otherwise sensible advice it can look benign. But an ability to appreciate the power of belief to move human actions doesn’t mean one should not criticize what’s not actually true. Someone has to care, and say it. Nonsense isn’t always used to prop up otherwise sensible advice.

  17. #17 Ichthyic
    October 31, 2007

    You can become a better person through pseudoscience just as you can become a better person through religion

    The manual for Alcoholics Anonymous would certainly agree, and has a proven track record in support.

    A crutch can certainly help to heal a broken leg.
    it’s just that if one ends up worshiping the crutch…

  18. #18 negentropyeater
    October 31, 2007

    I think there are different kinds of people, not everybody’s brain funcions the same way, education received varies a great deal, etc…

    For the more rational, educated people, the PZ, Dawkins, Dennett approach works best.

    But what about the rest ? There are many people in this world who are not interested in finding the answers by themselves, they’d rather be told. Maybe here a religious format will work best, when religion is more tolerant, adogmatic and absent of nonsensical supernatural beliefs. By and large this is what is taking place in the more secular west European countries.

    It is because in the USA, the “religious right” went the other way (ie less tolerant and more nonsensical), that atheists have no choice than to become more vocal, to wake up the more tolerant and socially conscious parts of religion.

    There was a good article by D. Kirkpatrick in the New York Times Magazine : “End Times for Evangelicals”. He claims that the more conservative religious leaders that emerged in the 80s have had their years of glory and are now losing out and being supplanted by a more tolerant, progressive breed.

  19. #19 heddle
    November 1, 2007

    Armen,

    How do Dennet and Harris break the ice with religious individuals? Obiously, they probably don’t start hostile questioning, but how would they suggest one opens a conversation and enlightens the religious? Is it easier to provide evidence against their beliefs, or would that just have them automatically on the defensive?

    Why do you think we would be on the defensive? I talk to atheists all the time who attempt to provide evidence against my beliefs. There is absolutely no reason to be defensive. Why? Because neither side has an argument that the other hasn’t heard a gazillion times before. Take your pick: Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, … not one has a new argument for atheism. It’s just repackaging (in most cases not even that) of the same-old, same-old Religious people are stupid; Religious people are simply afraid of death; Religious people were indoctrinated by their parents; Everything really bad is due to religion; The religious are hate-filled bumpkins; There have been more wars fought over religion; Blah, blah blah. That goes both ways: no Christian has a new argument for Christianity. It is not that talking to an atheist is so threatening that we go on the defensive–the real problem is that is usually as boring as watching a Seinfeld rerun for the nth time.

    In fact, here is the question I would ask the luminaries; maybe PZ will pass it along for me: Would you make available a collective list of any new arguments for atheism or especially against Christianity that you have developed?

    I hope such a list is not the empty set–then at least the conversation would be interesting.

  20. #20 negentropyeater
    November 1, 2007

    Heddle,

    it’s not about the arguments. I am an agnostic, ex Jesuit, but I totally support the new atheist movement in the USA as a call of reason against the rise of the conservative religious right, its intolerance, its nonsensical televangelists and megapreachers, its reading of the bible as a science textbook, its neverending false manipulations of the gospel of christ.
    Because, if they don’t do it, who will ? Where are the cries of the more tolerant, highly educated, progressive clerics ?

    Having said this, I do distinguish between two groups within the new atheist movement.
    On one side the PZ / Dawkins / Dennett who, to me, sound true. I don’t necessarily agree with everyting they say or write, but I understand why they do, and I give them my both thumbs up (for what it’s worth).
    On the other side, I give my thumbs down to Harris and Hitchens. They both sound false, oh they talk well, they have the verve of the best politicians, but I see them as the Robespierres of the New Atheist movement. They want to go for the kill, and I view them as even more dogmatic than the religious right. I shall have nothing to do with these two. They always give me the impression of beautiful rethoric but with no actual substance.

  21. #21 Sastra
    November 1, 2007

    heddle wrote:

    I talk to atheists all the time who attempt to provide evidence against my beliefs. There is absolutely no reason to be defensive. Why? Because neither side has an argument that the other hasn’t heard a gazillion times before.

    Depends on who you’re including on each “side.” Sounds like it’s debaters, which is a whole other kettle of fish. Although plenty of theologians, apologists, and educated laypeople have studied arguments against the existence of God, the vast majority of a believing public not only hasn’t studied them, they don’t seem to be aware that there are any. They apparently think atheism goes no deeper than “some religious people have upset me” or “I don’t like being held accountable by a Higher Power.” The existence of God is taken as either self-evident, rationally inescapable, or aligned with the ability to feel and believe in things like love. And they generally think science has lead to confirming it.

    Atheists have not been on the public radar; they’re not seen as regular citizens with a legitimate viewpoint which allows them to be considered reasonable and normal. And they will stay off that sort of public radar as long as not believing in God is seen as unaccountable and perverse.

    As a Christian, you think atheists are wrong. But I suspect that your contact with atheists and their views has given you a certain modicum of respect for the position itself. Atheism does not merit only a simple or easy rebuttal, taking a few minutes or a couple quips. You recognize that it needs to be painstakingly taken apart and shown to be wrong.

    For many theists, it’s not even at that point.

    Getting it there is an advance.

  22. #22 negentropyeater
    November 1, 2007

    Sastra,
    you say :
    “Atheists have not been on the public radar; they’re not seen as regular citizens with a legitimate viewpoint which allows them to be considered reasonable and normal. And they will stay off that sort of public radar as long as not believing in God is seen as unaccountable and perverse.”

    Please, this refers in particular to the USofA. Not to western Europe. I can give you countless examples of famous, respected and reverred people who have been very clear about their atheism.

    On another note, one question that will never stop to facinate me :
    “Why is it, that it is on the very question, that we know the very least about, ie the existence or non existence of God, that there is so much certainty, be it yes or no.”

  23. #23 Sastra
    November 1, 2007

    negentropyeater:

    Yes, you’re right. I was thinking of the US — though I’d be a bit surprised if the average person in Europe was familiar with philosophical arguments. Being non-religious is sometimes simply part of the landscape. Same as being religious, for some people. Not everyone cares enough to think through.

    On another note, one question that will never stop to facinate me :”Why is it, that it is on the very question, that we know the very least about, ie the existence or non existence of God, that there is so much certainty, be it yes or no.”

    How do you know that’s a question “we know the least about?” Are you certain it is? ;)

    I think it depends on how you define God. If it’s defined as “that Great Mystery which lies beyond our understanding” then even the most convinced atheists will be agnostics on that one.

    But then they keep on trying to describe what it’s like and tell us what it does.

  24. #24 uncle frogy
    November 1, 2007

    when I hear “western Civilization” I remember a quote I may not get completely correct. When asked about western civilization Gandhi said he thought it would be a good idea.

    I tend to go nuts in these discussions. I have no idea what is meant by most of the terms used, seems to me that there are no agreed meaning for all participants. If we were discussing cranial nerves or gill slits or granite or combustion or oak trees we would know what we were talking about. In these threads one person seems to mean one thing while another seems to mean something else all using the same words. I like the question how do we know anyone believes anything just because they say so. I would add how do I know what the —— you mean by that anyway. what is belief or unbelief?
    keep it going these are important questions and I must admit I kind of like going a little nuts anyway!

  25. #25 heddle
    November 1, 2007

    Sastra,

    You are correct; I do have respect for intellectual atheism. Why strikes me, however, is that today’s spokesmen for atheism do not possess the gravitas of their predecessors. None of the “new atheists,” in my opinion, are in the same league as, say, Bertrand Russell. They are more popularizers than intellectual atheists. As I’ve written in the past, this is not a bad thing. If they make it acceptable for atheists to come out of the closet, everyone wins.

    You wrote:

    You recognize that it [atheism] needs to be painstakingly taken apart and shown to be wrong.

    Actually, I don’t think atheism (any more than theism) can be shown to be wrong. To me, the only intellectual stimulating argument is to accept the other side’s premise and then address self-consistency. That said, I don’t really know how to show an atheist that his position is not self-consistent–though I think the most difficult question for “materialists” is that of free will–but even there I know of nothing new being argued. I am more interested in atheists pointing out where I, as a Christian, am not self consistent. If that is done smartly–like Russell was able to do–then Christianity can learn and advance from addressing those criticisms. But worn-out arguments like “If God designed everything, who designed God?” which Dawkins, for example, likes to make–these are useless.

  26. #26 Owlmirror
    November 1, 2007

    But worn-out arguments like “If God designed everything, who designed God?” which Dawkins, for example, likes to make–these are useless.

    No, not really. It points out a fundamental contradiction of ideas.

    The whole point of the argument from design is that it is impossible for complexity to arise without an intelligence to create it.

    Since intelligence is itself complex, their whole idea is self-negating, since by the logic of their own premise, such an intelligence could never have arise spontaneously.

    Therefore, God cannot exist, by the very logic that says that complexity cannot arise without intelligence.

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 1, 2007

    With regards to Dalrymple’s “graditude”, Myers says “there is no one to be grateful to”. But why does one need to be grateful to anyone in order to feel gratitude? Why is it so unthinkable, for example, that someone could be grateful towards an inanimate object like the cosmos?

    Because it makes no sense.

    You seem to have confused “happy” with “grateful”.

    For example, it is safe to say that the extremes of socialism and libertarianism have been historically falsified.

    Ouch! The extreme is communism, not socialism.

    Aah, the great myth of the “proven” track record of AA. For sure.

    P.S. Theodore Dalrymple is a right wing nutjob.

    The links don’t work. Please try again: <a href=”URL”>text</a>.

    Please, this refers in particular to the USofA. Not to western Europe. I can give you countless examples of famous, respected and reverred people who have been very clear about their atheism.

    Really? I can’t think of any.

    But probably that’s because it’s simply not considered newsworthy what anyone believes in or not. (Well, except if they’re Muslim. Erm.)

  28. #28 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 1, 2007

    With regards to Dalrymple’s “graditude”, Myers says “there is no one to be grateful to”. But why does one need to be grateful to anyone in order to feel gratitude? Why is it so unthinkable, for example, that someone could be grateful towards an inanimate object like the cosmos?

    Because it makes no sense.

    You seem to have confused “happy” with “grateful”.

    For example, it is safe to say that the extremes of socialism and libertarianism have been historically falsified.

    Ouch! The extreme is communism, not socialism.

    Aah, the great myth of the “proven” track record of AA. For sure.

    P.S. Theodore Dalrymple is a right wing nutjob.

    The links don’t work. Please try again: <a href=”URL”>text</a>.

    Please, this refers in particular to the USofA. Not to western Europe. I can give you countless examples of famous, respected and reverred people who have been very clear about their atheism.

    Really? I can’t think of any.

    But probably that’s because it’s simply not considered newsworthy what anyone believes in or not. (Well, except if they’re Muslim. Erm.)

  29. #29 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    Out of curiosity, what would you accept as proof that I (or any other alleged believer) actually believes in God?

    cycle back to #78, lather, rinse, repeat.

  30. #30 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    You got nothin’!

    actually I never claimed I did (I’m an atheist, remember?)

    It’s not the premise of your argument that I disagree with, it’s that I can’t see how one could objectify the response to your question.

    still can’t.

    And I lowered the bar from “proof” to just convincing me, which should be much easier, since I’m fairly credulous.

    what’s the point? wouldn’t that be entirely subjective, then?

  31. #31 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    … er, not to cut in on your dispute with Heddle (please, feel free to rip him as many orifices as you wish, as he can commonly be found to be full of shit), but in this case he has the same issue with your question as I do, and it has nothing to do with whether one is a believer or not.

    Maybe if you rethink exactly what it is you wish someone to prove?

  32. #32 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    hmm, let me try this:

    for example, if I claim a belief in the efficacy of evolutionary theory, I can imagine you might find things like me citing papers, and using it in my own research to be supportive of the fact that “I believe” in the ToE.

    but wouldn’t someone who writes papers oriented theologically, and who attends church on a regular basis, similarly be a “believer” in whatever deity motivates them?

    I’m just confused about what it is, really, that you want to see as answer, so am wondering if it’s really the right question to begin with.

    I mean, the standard question of comparison is “how can you believe when there is no evidence”?

    right?

    so is perhaps the more relevant question “how can one define “faith” as anything more than a verbal game?”

    maybe it’s just a matter of semantics to you, but AFAIK, there is a difference between “belief” and “faith” in most religious ideologies.

    If that’s the case, that you’re really looking for a justification for “faith”, Heddle’s response should be along the lines of his specific religion not needing justification for it.

    IOW, it won’t satisfy you, but it won’t bother Heddle in the slightest.

    also, if I surmise correctly what you seek, a creationist is exploring the same question you are, but from the angle that they NEED justification for their faith, and so invent it in the world around them.

  33. #33 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    Before I will even debate the existence of God I have to be convinced the person maintaining God’s existence believes it himself

    the point is, how would you be able to tell if someone was sincere beyond accepting their say-so on the matter?

    All of my life, when people have told me they believe in God, I have thought they are lying. If they told me about their belief in any other thing in the same terms and in the same way, I would think they were lying.

    maybe it would help if you defined what specifically makes you think they are lying.

    Why debate from a dishonest stand? It’s useless

    ever played devil’s advocate (pardon the pun) in any given debate?

    it’s hardly pointless, as the debate still can proceed. It’s just the goal of conversion becomes pointless.

    However, the tenets of the xian faith itself would likely say that if one is able to be converted by debate out of believing in god, then they had no faith to begin with, right?

    so why would anybody who professes to be a believer ever answer your question for you?

    AFAICT, that’s WHY the issue of “faith” is constructed in the way it is for most religions: by default, those who are truly “faithful” require no justification for their faith.

    so, a theistic evolutionist still claims to be “faithful”, even if they have a different interpretation of the writings that form the basis of their religion to begin with.

    yes, I understand the logical catch 22, but what I’m saying is that you will never get the answer you wish from the question you are asking.

    does that help any?

  34. #34 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    well, we got a “true believer” on the other thread in the form of Leigh, who i just directed over here to answer your question.

    *evil laugh*

    (apologies, but I just had to)

  35. #35 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    I’m not sure Leigh is actually intelligent enough to click on a link, but if not, you should go grab him in the other thread.

    that should be good entertainment for you. heddle won’t satisfy, trust me.

  36. #36 Sastra
    November 1, 2007

    I don’t quite understand where Mooser is coming from. It almost sounds like a noncognitivist argument (the concept of “God” has no coherent meaning, so nobody can believe — or not believe — in what amounts to gibberish), but I’m not sure. Earlier I think he talked about people not living up to the standards one would expect them to live up to if they really believed there was a God, which is a different issue.

    I have often heard the trite “there are no ‘real’ atheists: deep down, everyone secretly knows there is a God” and of course there is no way to debate this. Perhaps Mooser feels that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    If someone said “I believe that everything happens for a mysterious but good reason which will be revealed to me one day” or “before we were incarnated into this life our souls selected every event so that we could learn a lesson” I might doubt that they really believed it, deep down, because given a real tragedy it’s rather hard to maintain this sort of Panglossian optimism. Maybe this is Mooser’s point.

    Or he could be a hardline advocate of Dennett’s “belief in belief” — only he thinks it goes for everyone, not just some, as Dennett does. At any rate, it’s sounds suspiciously like a presuppositional atheist argument.

  37. #37 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    frankly, I’m rubbing my hands together waiting for Leigh to jump in here from the other thread.

    *hangs (smiling) head in shame*

  38. #38 Ichthyic
    November 1, 2007

    mooser, meet leigh.

    leigh, meet mooser.

  39. #39 Sastra
    November 1, 2007

    Mooser wrote:

    I’m making only the statement that “When a person says they believe in God, they are lying”, and just a little investigation or rather discussion will make that obvious.

    All of my life, when people have told me they believe in God, I have thought they are lying. If they told me about their belief in any other thing in the same terms and in the same way, I would think they were lying. I would say “You don’t really believe that, do you”.

    What is it about the concept of “God” which makes it different from souls, ghosts, angels, reincarnation, energy healing, karma, or ESP? Although we probably agree that none of those things exist either, they seem to be accepted on similar terms and in a similar way. Or do you think nobody sincerely believes in them, either?

  40. #40 Sastra
    November 1, 2007

    Well, it’s late. I’ll let Mooser and Leigh play and Ichthyic can pop corn and watch.

  41. #41 Mooser
    November 1, 2007

    Or do you think nobody sincerely believes in them, either?
    Sastra

    I wouldn’t know, Sastra. Haven’t had much experience with those things. The “belief in God” thing, unfortunately, has been something I have had experience with, and they are lying. The other things you mention don’t affect me much. The lies about believing in God affect me much more, and it has been necessary to try and find out if they are telling the truth. They are not.

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    November 2, 2007

    leigh, meet mooser

    mooser, meet leigh

    30 posts later….

    and I’m all outta popcorn.

    ROTFLMAO

    thanks.

  43. #43 Sastra
    November 2, 2007

    I was going to write that I think Leigh “won” this one, but then the fact that I had to put that word in quotes made me think some more and take it back. This wasn’t a debate. Or even an argument.

    The purpose of a debate is to persuade the other side. But “you’re a liar” is an accusation. You can (in theory at least) say “you’re deluded” and then proceed to make a case which eventually makes the other person go “hey, you’re right — I have been kidding myself! Thanks.” But you can’t bring someone else around to the realization that they’re a deceiver. They would already know that.

    In all these posts, Mooser hasn’t brought out anything special about why “I believe in God” is any different than “I love my mother.” God could exist, or not exist, and the accusation wouldn’t change. This really has nothing to do with the existence of God.

    I’m an atheist, but I see nothing extraordinary about the assertion that other people believe things I don’t. As I said before, the only legitimate way I can see to deny this would be to point out that what they “believe” in is so vague, incoherent, and contradictory that nobody — including them — would know what it would look like if it suddenly stopped existing, or really existed but with opposite properties. You can’t actually believe in that sort of thing — you must mean something else. But that doesn’t seem to have been Mooser’s point.

    M: I came here for a good argument.
    A: No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument.
    M: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
    A: It can be.
    M: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
    A: No it isn’t.
    M: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
    A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
    M: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
    A: Yes it is!
    M: No it isn’t!
    A: Yes it is!
    M: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
    (short pause)
    A: No it isn’t.
    M: It is.
    A: Not at all.

  44. #44 Brownian, OM
    November 2, 2007

    I don’t agree with everything Lee Strobel does but that’s OK, we agree on the essentials and he is free to choose to believe whatever he chooses, just like you and I currently are but many devout athiests want us not to be.

    What a wanker. Have you guys seriously been entertaining this clod?

  45. #45 David Marjanovi?
    November 2, 2007

    So all you have to do is die and I’ll see you then Mooser. I’ll wave at you or something so you’ll spot me. I’ll be with the crowd not being thrown into the lake of fire.
    Simple eh? And I don’t have to prove anything you’ll do it all by yourself.

    Not exactly a repeatable observation, which is what would be required for science.

    But I don’t expect coherent thinking of someone who is too stupid to sleep.

    The many of people tortured & murdered over the many years by men such as Stalin (athiest), Hitler (Athiest), Pol Pot (Athiest), the many Popes (pretend Christians)

    Stalin: Communist. Believed, religiously, in doing the best for the future of mankind. Communism is a salvation religion, with the only major difference to Christianity that its kingdom is of this world.
    Hitler: You don’t know what you’re talking about. The man was a devout Christian, even though what he believed in was a quite bizarre distortion of Christianity.
    Pol Pot: See Stalin.
    Any pope: Meet the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    It’s already been done (Crucifixion) and you don’t accept it and the funny thing is that Jesus told us about exactly this situation!

    That proves it then.

  46. #46 David Marjanovi?
    November 2, 2007

    So all you have to do is die and I’ll see you then Mooser. I’ll wave at you or something so you’ll spot me. I’ll be with the crowd not being thrown into the lake of fire.
    Simple eh? And I don’t have to prove anything you’ll do it all by yourself.

    Not exactly a repeatable observation, which is what would be required for science.

    But I don’t expect coherent thinking of someone who is too stupid to sleep.

    The many of people tortured & murdered over the many years by men such as Stalin (athiest), Hitler (Athiest), Pol Pot (Athiest), the many Popes (pretend Christians)

    Stalin: Communist. Believed, religiously, in doing the best for the future of mankind. Communism is a salvation religion, with the only major difference to Christianity that its kingdom is of this world.
    Hitler: You don’t know what you’re talking about. The man was a devout Christian, even though what he believed in was a quite bizarre distortion of Christianity.
    Pol Pot: See Stalin.
    Any pope: Meet the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    It’s already been done (Crucifixion) and you don’t accept it and the funny thing is that Jesus told us about exactly this situation!

    That proves it then.

  47. #47 Colugo
    November 2, 2007

    David Marjanovi?: “Communism is a salvation religion, with the only major difference to Christianity that its kingdom is of this world.”

    Communism is driven by a mythic imperative, and myths can be entirely secular, scientific, and “rationalist.” They can be either moderate or extremist – that is, apocalyptic, Utopian, and eliminationist. A religious myth can be moderate. A secular myth can be extremist.

    As I wrote in #74 above:

    “I mean by “myth” a meta-narrative that informs, structures, simplifies, a totemic story that is not just just descriptive but prescriptive. It relates future aspirations to past struggles and accomplishments. A myth is not simply a social model but is infused with heroic and romantic themes.”

    Many atheists, notably the “New Atheists,” misdiagnose the role of religion in the atrocities and miseries created by fanaticism. The relevant factor is not supernaturalism vs rationalism/naturalism, nor is it the absence or presence of theism – which excludes Buddhism (and certainly not monotheism vs polytheism, as the “monotheism is especially bad” school of thought asserts). Atrocities arise when the mythic imperative instills in believers a sense of mission that is both fanatically dire in its urgency and dangerously intolerant of any rival worldview.

    There is no need to redefine Communism as a religion. Where is the supernaturalism, much less the theism? I certainly see the parallels between Communism and fundamentalism in the fanaticism and the inerrant sacred texts. But those features are not universal in religion (especially not contemporary milquetoast variants of Judeo-Christianity) nor are they unique to religion.

    Many atheists seemingly cannot decide whether religion is bad because of its supernaturalism or because of its propensity for fanaticism and associated atrocities. If it is the latter, their real target includes more than religion and does not even include all religions. If it is the former, then their target is all religion and mysticism.

    If it is both, then atheists ought to engage in a self-critique of any unwarranted metaphysical certainties of their own. How secure is our ontological knowledge? How much of our belief system is based on undecidable philosophical preferences, even aesthetics? In addition, we should check ourselves for any incipient totalizing tendencies. Is raising a child in a faith system really a form of child abuse? Should regular science declare the nonexistence of God and the soul?

  48. #48 Brownian, OM
    November 2, 2007

    Colugo:

    Many atheists, notably the “New Atheists,” misdiagnose the role of religion in the atrocities and miseries created by fanaticism. The relevant factor is not supernaturalism vs rationalism/naturalism, nor is it the absence or presence of theism – which excludes Buddhism (and certainly not monotheism vs polytheism, as the “monotheism is especially bad” school of thought asserts). Atrocities arise when the mythic imperative instills in believers a sense of mission that is both fanatically dire in its urgency and dangerously intolerant of any rival worldview.

    I really enjoyed your post, and I think you made some very good points. I’m still thinking through some of them, but the paragraph I quote above touches on the heart of the matter (I think, at least.)

    I agree absolutely with the statement I’ve bolded. However, I think you may be incorrect in suggesting “[t]he relevant factor is not supernaturalism vs rationalism/naturalism”, or at the very least, you’ll have to provide more evidence (or rationale) for why it is not relevant factor.

  49. #49 Colugo
    November 2, 2007

    Brownian: “you’ll have to provide more evidence (or rationale) for why it [supernaturalism vs naturalism] is not relevant factor.”

    Two notable examples of fanatical mythic imperatives are Marxism (excluding watered-down social democratic variants) and Haeckel’s Monism. Fascism has many confessional variants, from the anti-clericalism of Futurist-identified early Fascism to the Catholic Ustasha and the Orthodox Iron Guard, but they shared a core ethos. Modern neo-Nazism ranges from the theistic Christian Identity to atheistic Creativity and White Aryan Resistance.

    “Rationalism” is trickier concept. Who proudly announces that they are irrational, after all? But more narrowly, rationalism suggests materialism, valorization of science (AKA scientism), and typically but not obligately, determinism. Marxism and Objectivism are twin rationalist ideologies, however dubious their rationalism in the vernacular sense. Fascism can be non-theistic but is generally antirationalist; not that it is necessarily more crazy than communism, but in being voluntarist (as opposed to determinist) and vitalist (as opposed to materialist).

    The wide-ranging support for eugenicist policies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – shared by many progressives and conservatives, scientists and politicians, theists and atheists – was founded on what at the time were regarded as wholly rationalist, secular, scientific principles and apparently logical and ethical goals, including the reduction of poverty and crime. The rationalist, socialist Fabian Society advocated the project along with Leonard Darwin, Leon Trotsky, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Margaret Sanger, and – not irrelevant to the Watson controversy – Harry Laughlin of both Cold Spring Harbor and the Pioneer Fund. Yet in hindsight, the eugenics movement was a mass delusion, a projection of elitist prejudices, and a grievous injustice, even when it led only to the involuntary sterilization of genetic “inferiors” rather than mass murder.

    Transhumanism is generally professedly secularist and rationalist, but also clearly transcendentalist, and often millenarian and Utopian. Read about the recent transhumanist meetings in Chicago to get a flavor of the mythic imperative of that movement – as well as some of the illustrious figures involved in it, including Marvin Minsky.

    But having noted the fanaticism of certain supernaturalist and secular movements alike, let me note that sometimes zeal has its place. The abolitionist movement and the still-controversial figure of John Brown, for example, or the anti-British militant patriots of the immediate pre-Revolutionary War period.

  50. #50 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 2, 2007

    Communism is driven by a mythic imperative, and myths can be entirely secular, scientific, and “rationalist.” They can be either moderate or extremist – that is, apocalyptic, Utopian, and eliminationist. A religious myth can be moderate. A secular myth can be extremist.

    Er… yes. I said nothing against that. Except the “scientific” part: myths cannot be scientific by definition. And indeed, there are holy scriptures in communism which must not be questioned, complete with different denominations fighting over the correct interpretation… Again, all that’s missing is the afterlife: only Kim Il-sung, who is still president of North Korea, has so far got one. Oops, I forgot Mao’s apotheosis: some people in China sacrifice things like oranges to Mao in temples. It probably helps that Chinese gods are not automatically assumed to be omnibenevolent.

    Should regular science declare the nonexistence of God and the soul?

    Nope, because they aren’t falsifiable. OK, I haven’t read Stenger’s book, but I can’t see how he can falsify a sufficiently ineffable deity.

    Atrocities arise when the mythic imperative instills in believers a sense of mission that is both fanatically dire in its urgency and dangerously intolerant of any rival worldview.

    I agree.

    There is no need to redefine Communism as a religion. Where is the supernaturalism, much less the theism?

    I don’t define communism!

    The supernatural is in there, though. For example historical inevitabilities like the march of progress from the slaveholder society over the feudal society, the capitalist society, and the socialist society to the communist society. Or the creed that all problems between the nationalities had been solved in the best possible manner — heresy against that point was punished, at least in Yugoslavia and the USSR. Or the miracles that reading the Little Red Book was supposed to work: things like increased harvests. All those things had to be taken on faith.

    Stalinism, Maoism and Kimilsungism go very far towards theism, outright reaching it in some Maoist cases (see above).

    If it is both, then atheists ought to engage in a self-critique of any unwarranted metaphysical certainties of their own.

    I’m an apathetic agnostic, muahah. B-)

    Marxism and Objectivism are twin rationalist ideologies, however dubious their rationalism in the vernacular sense.

    Maybe they should be called rationalist but not rational: they claim to hold rational thought in the highest regards, but don’t apply it to some of their core concepts.

  51. #51 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 2, 2007

    Communism is driven by a mythic imperative, and myths can be entirely secular, scientific, and “rationalist.” They can be either moderate or extremist – that is, apocalyptic, Utopian, and eliminationist. A religious myth can be moderate. A secular myth can be extremist.

    Er… yes. I said nothing against that. Except the “scientific” part: myths cannot be scientific by definition. And indeed, there are holy scriptures in communism which must not be questioned, complete with different denominations fighting over the correct interpretation… Again, all that’s missing is the afterlife: only Kim Il-sung, who is still president of North Korea, has so far got one. Oops, I forgot Mao’s apotheosis: some people in China sacrifice things like oranges to Mao in temples. It probably helps that Chinese gods are not automatically assumed to be omnibenevolent.

    Should regular science declare the nonexistence of God and the soul?

    Nope, because they aren’t falsifiable. OK, I haven’t read Stenger’s book, but I can’t see how he can falsify a sufficiently ineffable deity.

    Atrocities arise when the mythic imperative instills in believers a sense of mission that is both fanatically dire in its urgency and dangerously intolerant of any rival worldview.

    I agree.

    There is no need to redefine Communism as a religion. Where is the supernaturalism, much less the theism?

    I don’t define communism!

    The supernatural is in there, though. For example historical inevitabilities like the march of progress from the slaveholder society over the feudal society, the capitalist society, and the socialist society to the communist society. Or the creed that all problems between the nationalities had been solved in the best possible manner — heresy against that point was punished, at least in Yugoslavia and the USSR. Or the miracles that reading the Little Red Book was supposed to work: things like increased harvests. All those things had to be taken on faith.

    Stalinism, Maoism and Kimilsungism go very far towards theism, outright reaching it in some Maoist cases (see above).

    If it is both, then atheists ought to engage in a self-critique of any unwarranted metaphysical certainties of their own.

    I’m an apathetic agnostic, muahah. B-)

    Marxism and Objectivism are twin rationalist ideologies, however dubious their rationalism in the vernacular sense.

    Maybe they should be called rationalist but not rational: they claim to hold rational thought in the highest regards, but don’t apply it to some of their core concepts.

  52. #52 Colugo
    November 3, 2007

    David Marjanovi?: “I don’t define communism!”

    You’re right, I should have written “there is no need to redefine religion to include secular ideologies like communism.”

    Was communist doctrine a deluded naturalism, a pseudoscience, than supernaturalism? (And what is the difference? Is all religious faith just a poor science based on the wrong methods?) However, I definitely see the religiosity of communist belief, as well as of other secular ideologies.

    Frida Kahlo’s ‘Marxism Will Give Health To The Sick’ certainly looks like religious iconography.
    http://flametree-studios.com/paintings.php?ref=2108

    But how far can the concept of religion be extended? Not all supernaturalist religions are apocalyptic like communism was. Is the Lincoln Memorial an idol of a civil religion? What about restoring The Beagle and other relics?

    Note the spiral mandala in this image:
    http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/foundation,growingUpDVD

    Compare with Dore’s illustration of Dante’s Paradiso:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Paradiso_Canto_31.jpg

    In an expanded concept of religion that includes secular, civic, and scientific “religions,” – faith in something, veneration, icons, ritual – is religion as inevitable as any feature of human life?

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