Pharyngula

Loyal Rue vs. (?) PZ Myers

At some time, a recording of our ‘debate’ will be available online, so I won’t try to do a play by play now. I will say that I found this one pretty much impossible to prepare for — there was no way this debate could be shoe-horned into a good vs. evil or smartness vs. ignorance conflict, making it a much more complicated discussion, rather than a television wrestling storyline. We’d had a few conversations in email and there were several points of disagreement, and in fact Dr Rue showed those points in a slide, but you know, he had good reasons for all the stuff he got wrong. I read his book, Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which is actually very good: he doesn’t advocate the abandonment of religion, but rather the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C. We have our differences, but I couldn’t help but feel that I’d be quite content if all the reactionary religious nuts would convert to Rue’s religion, even if they did fall shy of the perfect ideal of atheism.

So we had a discussion rather than a debate, a discussion that revolved around some of our differences, but our intent was more mutual enlightenment than mutual evisceration. We got good probing questions from the audience, too, so I think a lot of us had our thinking caps on. I had a good time. I had two dark ales afterwards to celebrate a pleasant evening.

Some of you loyal readers were there, feel free to chime in with your impressions in the comments. Maybe it looked completely different from the bleacher seats…?

P.S. Greg Laden was there, and he made some really good points about how morality isn’t a product of religion at all in most cultures. We should have dragged him up on the stage to give his perspective, but maybe he’ll expand on that on his blog.

Comments

  1. #1 GodlessHeathen
    February 8, 2008

    Oh good! This is more the sort of thing I like: Nothing like discussing disagreement to make for broadening one’s horizons.

    As opposed to trying to convince someone who’s not at all interested in any opposing (or even just different) views to listen.

  2. #2 Lorax
    February 8, 2008

    I was in attendance, but sadly couldnt make the warm-up or cool-down refreshments. I enjoyed the discussion a great deal and will put a post on it myself sometime later today. I was particularly impressed with Loyal Rue, who I was not familiar with prior to last night. As he was talking, I was jotting down thoughts/questions that I thought truly destroyed the premise he was making only to have him address that thought a few minutes later, have the same concern I had, and address it clearly and logically, resulting in a premise I could no longer eviscerate. I am interested in reading some of his work now. Kudos to you both.

  3. #3 Eric
    February 8, 2008

    I would first like to thank PZ and Loyal Rue for donating their time. I really enjoyed the event and I’d like to attend more events like this in the future. I’m a big PZ fanboy, but I also thought Loyal Rue was intelligent, reasonable, and a pretty cool guy too. I would have enjoyed to hang out at Grandmas (the restaurant they met up at after the event) and shared in conversation with the both of them. Maybe next time?
    I’m not really sure this should have been called a debate. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly they were debating about. Is Loyal Rue an atheist? He sure sounded like one, which makes me a bit confused as to what position he was attempting to take. OK… Religion is myth, and myth is a story… so why compare religion with science? Why not compare or classify religion with literature (art)? Loyal’s own personal views might be that the significance of religion is primarily in literary and cultural terms, but try telling that to the people over at Ray Comfort’s blog who believe that the Christian Bible is the one and only divinely inspired word of god. Heck, try telling that to more than half of the population of the United States. Heck… try telling that to every single one of the Republican Presidential candidates! You’d be laughed out of the building and possibly stoned outside of it. To them… RELIGION IS SCIENCE! If science (what science they are forced to accept – for example: gravity) ever has a conflict with religion, religion wins by default.
    What is science? My simple definition would be that science is a method for understanding the universe that we live in. Early man had this desire, but did not have our current hard-earned knowledge. So he made things up. Where did we come from? Why does the sun rise? Why do storms occur? Why do crops go bad? Why do people die? Etc. As PZ pointed out, as far as science goes, the Christian bible is very lacking. Supposedly the bible was written as a result of divine intervention. The authors of the bible had god’s full attention and all they could come up with was a couple of pages on the origins of life and the “secrets” of our universe. What an epic waste of an opportunity! Can you imagine the questions Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers would have for god if they were granted a mere hour of his time for an interview? Was Loyal Rue was trying to make an argument that religion was somehow an early and now antiquated precursor to science? The scientific method is public domain and open to the challenges of those who are qualified to practice it. The scientific method is not dogmatic. Science readily changes and adapts as new evidence is revealed. Science does not start with all the answers and work backwards. Not one of those statements applies to any of the Abrahamic religions in practice today.
    Loyal Rue then seemed to suggest that religion is a source of morality. Some people like to make the argument that the bible is the sole source of their morality. Do they seriously admit that the only reason they aren’t out murdering, raping and stealing is because it could jeopardize their one-way ticket to heaven? If so, that really scares me! I’m an atheist and I try to base my morals on the idea of reducing the amount of pain and suffering around me and increasing the happiness and goodwill of the people that I come in contact with during the span of my life. That is really what has made me the happiest and most fulfilled in my short and insignificant (in the scheme of things) life. Sure, I reserve a greater effort for those people in my “tribe”, but if I had the energy and time, I would apply those same guidelines to all that crossed my path. Of course, like everyone, I’m not perfect, and I have my fair share of days when I feel like telling the world to “go to hell”. My morals are a product of the experiences and lessons from my parents, teachers, peers and respected elders. My morals are not absolute and have evolved over time. In my understanding, this does not fit in with the argument of morality derived from religion. With religion, morals ARE absolute. Absolute, but confusing? Thou shalt not kill. Unless of course the person is a homosexual, an adulterer, or someone who worships a different god. Then start warming up your stone-throwing hand… The Christian religion says that homosexuality is immoral (an abomination to be exact). I can imagine the Iron Age rationale that painted that picture: “A man and a woman results in a baby, which makes sense because that is how the species is perpetuated. A man and a man results in zero babies, which makes no sense because if all the men had sex with men only, the species would die out.” Science, on the other hand does not start out with the conclusion that homosexuality is immoral or even abnormal, but instead attempts to examine the behavior, explore its genetic implications, and looks for parallels in the animal kingdom. What the heck do we need religion for?
    One final point that Loyal Rue made was that we need to give them (the religious people) a new tradition/story to accept (not his exact words, but close). I’d like to direct him to Ray Comfort’s blog and let him try to sell his new story to Ray and his flock of sheep. These people don’t care what science has to say. It’s much easier for them to say “that’s too complex for me to understand or scares me because it challenges my belief system, so I’ll just say… the answer to all of life’s mysteries is… God did it!”.

  4. #4 Jeff
    February 8, 2008

    I was there and quite enjoyed the conversation. I was expecting more disagreement, but was quite happy with how things turned out.

  5. #5 pfc
    February 8, 2008

    Yep – it was a lot more like a friendly discussion (audience included) than a “debate”, and that made the arguments more nuanced, in-depth, and the whole thing more productive than it might otherwise have been. I felt like I was actually learning something rather than watching a football game (“yay, my team scored a point! the other team sucks!”)

    I thought the three-way discussion with GL was helpful, but it never answered a question that interests me quite a bit, which could be simply stated as “Then, wherefrom morality?” Using Loyal’s framework, if science provides the cosmology (which it does a damn sight better than anything else), where does the morality, “things that matter” come from, to form a new story? I heard a few ideas of possible sources:

    1. Genetics – Hmm, not sure. Loyal only liked it for small groups, and GL didn’t like it at all. Seems too simple.
    2. Religion – True, but no thanks!
    3. The Efe – According to GL, they have a social code of conduct that is *not* informed by their religious beliefs. But how did that code arise?
    4. Rational inquiry – I didn’t hear this explicitly stated, but several people seemed to hint at it. But I’m not sure of its efficacy, given some of the fundamentally irrational tendencies of human behavior.

    I wonder where (or if) we’re going to obtain our own code of conduct in this global 21st century. Hopefully something that’s as powerful as the half we already have. For those of you who were there, or at least understand what I’m talking about, any thoughts/opinions?

  6. #6 Chris
    February 8, 2008

    Joseph Campbell once said that a religion doesn’t have to be true, just comfortable like an old shoe. The problem comes when that shoe wearing zealot wants to beat you over the head with his shoe and keeps telling you one size fits all.

  7. #7 mindcore
    February 8, 2008

    I agree with you about the religion think PZ.

    Dennett says that religion will most likely just evolve through meme selcetion into an unrecognizable form, like how birds are modern day dinosaurs.

    I think if religion embraces present day science, its a different and better world.

    But how I reconcile this with my mutual agreement with the Dawkins and Harris arguments against religion is that the more fronts we fight this culture war on the better.

    Thanks for your awesome blog.

  8. #8 Jason W
    February 8, 2008

    It bothers me that the word ‘debate’ has such negative connotations any more. I blame the ‘Crossfire’ style pundits, who decided that ‘debating’ an issue was all about who could yell the loudest or be the nastiest to their opponent. It sounds like the debate the PZ and Loyal Rue had is the sort of debate that I actually enjoy; wish I could’ve been there.

  9. #9 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 8, 2008

    (through a greenish fog) PZ, I am so jealous.

    First of all, TWO dark ales? I had choir rehearsal last night, so beer was out.

    Second of all, authentic, nuanced dialog between reasonable people who hold different views? And on topics near and dear to my heart? I live in (ahem) Fresno, so opportunities like this don’t just come down the pike for me. I am, frankly, deeply grateful for some of the skeptical friends I’ve made, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that they seem capable of dialog where others aren’t.

  10. #10 Phoenix Woman
    February 8, 2008

    O/T, but priceless –

    Guess what Ken “Waaaah! Why won’t they take my Creation Museum seriously?” Ham is doing now?

    Just guess:

    LOUISVILLE – The founder of a popular Kentucky Christian museum that rejects evolution says in a new book that Darwin’s theory fuels racism and genocide.

    Ken Ham, who opened the Creation Museum last year, and co-author Charles Ware, president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, have written “Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots,” arguing that the theory inspired the Nazi belief in racial superiority and the murderous policies of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

    “What Darwinian evolution did I would say is provide what people thought was a scientific justification for separation of races,” Ham said in an interview.

    Ham is not the first to try to tie Darwin with racism. The charge has been made for years.

    It came up last month in arguments over science curriculum at a South Carolina state school board meeting. In 2001, Louisiana’s state legislature considered a bill that said Darwin supported racist ideologies.

    David L. Schultz, associate professor of biology at Nicholls State University in Louisiana, said Darwin was egalitarian and had a history of speaking out against slavery.

    “Darwin was not a racist,” he said.

  11. #11 Phoenix Woman
    February 8, 2008

    Aw crap! Didn’t mean to blow up the HTML. Maybe it was the subject matter that did it.

  12. #12 Raynfala
    February 8, 2008

    It bothers me that the word ‘debate’ has such negative connotations any more. I blame the ‘Crossfire’ style pundits, who decided that ‘debating’ an issue was all about who could yell the loudest or be the nastiest to their opponent.

    Oh, tosh! There’s plenty of examples of debating without all of that yelling. Here’s a fine example…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFZB7dKJk5c

    :^)

  13. #13 Leart
    February 8, 2008

    Recently, the United Church of Christ sent out a letter in which it advocates “the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C”. I had blogged about this a week ago since I was quite surprised by it.

    http://thoushallthink.blogspot.com/2008/02/rev-john-h-thomas-should-be-pope.html

    I think religion MUST go that way or it will perish to the sidelines (which is in fact a more desirable choice). I am looking forward to the audio of the discussion. I suspect PZ will give us the heads up on his blog when this becomes available.

  14. #14 tgb
    February 8, 2008

    You guys went to Grandma’s afterwards?? You mean the Grandma’s right next door to one of the best brew pubs in the Midwest (Town Hall)? That’s a cryin’ shame….

  15. #15 Marcus Ranum
    February 8, 2008

    @#3 – You know, “religion as art” is not a bad approach. My father pretty much approaches his faith that way. He attends a couple of ceremonies a year at a very traditional episcopal church because he:
    - likes the music
    - enjoys being in a room full of people singing together
    - digs the incense and the ritual
    - finds it very relaxing
    - enjoys supporting the choir
    - likes to support the parish because the church building itself is beautiful and needs repair

    So for him it’s got very little to do with the great sky daddy and a whole lot to do with the music and the company and celebrating a shared idea.

    Maybe if we built a cathedral to science and had inspirational lectures (with incense and bizzatchin jacob’s ladders and cool neon) by great scientists, and beautiful musical interludes, with great acoustics, and a big pot-luck dinner afterwards… Y’know? I’d never miss a single event!!

    As a nihilist, I am still profoundly moved every time I walk into Notre Dame De Paris Cathedral and hear the sound of the stones and feel the weight of the years. You don’t need superstition to utterly dig a work of art such as that building, any more than you need to believe in druidism to be amazed by Stonehenge.

    Yeah, I think I could claim that religion is an art-form. You can then quibble indefinitely about the brush-strokes of the individual techniques but as performance art you couldn’t really stake a claim to any one thing or another being better or worse.

    Unfortunately, religion seems to me less to be art and more to be an episode of “Jackass.”

  16. #16 Eamon Knight
    February 8, 2008

    We have our differences, but I couldn’t help but feel that I’d be quite content if all the reactionary religious nuts would convert to Rue’s religion, even if they did fall shy of the perfect ideal of atheism.

    Hey, you’re getting soft in your old age!
    ;-)

  17. #17 Eric
    February 8, 2008

    Makes me wish I lived up that way so I could have seen this. I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed it quite a bit.

  18. #18 Uber
    February 8, 2008

    which could be simply stated as “Then, wherefrom morality?”

    I am at times baffled by this question in so much as ‘morality’ really is just a set of opinions on behaviour. People toss the word around as if there need be some well spring of morality somewhere.

    We behave as members of a primate group. Other primates throughout time enforced opinions on the behaviour of other primates to maintain a survivable order. These views change over time and with varying situations.

    There is no ‘morality’ per se, it’s simply opinions over a wide range of behaviour used to ensure our species is successful(more or less).

    Asking where ‘morals’ come from is akin to asking a lion why it hunts zebra. It is a behaviour. That we can comment on it doesn’t change the fact.

  19. #19 Lilly de Lure
    February 8, 2008

    Hi Marcus

    This seems very much my experience of religion as well – it looks and sounds great but it’s when you get underneath to the nitty-gritty the problems start! You also have the problem as to whether religion is the inspiration behind the music/art or whether it simply has a lot of money to hire artists and musicians.

    Having said that however I agree with P.Z – religious people who sincerely believe are not the problem so long as they keep their religions out of science and other evidence based disciplines such as medicine/archaeology e.t.c. where they do not belong. However they might do themselves more favours if they spent less time telling us to be more polite and more telling their co-religionistas to be less insane.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    February 8, 2008

    he doesn’t advocate the abandonment of religion, but rather the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C.

    So, the religion which is compatible with science is a religion which has not been invented yet.

  21. #21 David P.
    February 8, 2008

    I think your impressions were spot on, PZ. It was great to see a conversation between two reasonable and reasoning people who have so obviously thought things through. The frustrating part about so many debates on this kind of topic is that they start out with (varying levels of) rationale and reasoning, but at some point one of the sides just ends up saying, basically, “this is true because my religion tells me so.” That may be phrased in several ways (e.g. “The Bible says so,” “I have faith in this,” or “God tells me so in prayer”) but no matter how it’s expressed it’s an intellectual dead-end. It’s the equivalent of saying “thinking any other way than the way I do now would invalidate one of the basic tenets of my belief system, therefore I refuse to acknowledge any facts or reasoning that might change my mind.” Not much point in continuining the debate at that point.

    Eric: in conversations after the debate, Loyal Rue described himself as a “non-theist”, and we had some lively discussions about exactly what that meant (vs. “atheist” and “agnostic”), but the impression I get is that he just feels humanity can’t really make a definite statement one way or another re:existence or non-existence of god(s).

    pfc, I’m not sure I understood whether you were making the point that morality comes from religion (#2 on your list). If so, I would respectfully disagree: I would suggest that, in the Abrahamic tradition at least, religion provides an interesting post-facto back-story that is slapped on top of a morality to give it a semblance of an inspired source. In other words, you don’t get a religion first and then try and figure out what your gods think is moral behavior: you get a moral code first and then you make up a “sticky” (in the memetic sense) story that tells how your god ordered your tribe to follow that moral code, usually at some point in the distant past. It serves as a useful shortcut way to avoid answering the question of where the moral code really came from, which is something we’re still working on understanding.

    Personally I’m an evolutionary moralist: our moral code and values are the ones we would expect to have in our developmental history in order to be successful as a species. It’s more complex than the animals’ “code”, but that’s because we take into consideration both the long term and remote implications of our actions, which cannot be handled by a simpler set of values. Moral codes evolve alongside (and are minimally sufficient for) the brains of the creatures that they evolve in.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    Blake: I actually think that was one of Loyal’s points. We need a better story (= myth (= religion)) for the “global” world, and we don’t have one yet. What we are seeing today is the conflict between people who have reached the conclusion that the current story is insufficient, and those who are unwilling to give it up in the absence of a good replacement.

    Thanks to CASH for setting up the debate, and thanks to all for the great discussions at Grandma’s afterwards.

  22. #22 Bob Carroll
    February 8, 2008

    On reading your P.S.

    “With Rue my heart is Laden”

    from A Shropshire Lad – A. E. Houseman

  23. #23 Dunc
    February 8, 2008

    Then, wherefrom morality?

    From the simple observation that other people really are people, just like you, with their own motivations and desires, combined with the simple idea that if you want other people to respect your motivations and desires then you need to respect theirs. Combine the elementary principles of equality and fairness and you can work it all out from there, purely on the basis of rational self-interest.

    You can’t rely on being able to exert power over others, because there’s always someone with a bigger stick – or there eventually will be as you get old and slow. So coming up with a fair moral code that everyone can get behind is very much in your own interests.

    For a thorough treatment of this idea, you might want to consider reading John Rawls’ “Justice As Fairness” – although it’s heavy going.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2008

    Bob:

    “With Rue my heart is Laden”

    Bob, that’s funny. Kinda weird, but funny.

  25. #25 uncle frogy
    February 8, 2008

    “Recently, the United Church of Christ sent out a letter in which it advocates “the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C”.”

    From my point of view is, regardless of any advocacy, that this is what is happening. It is a natural process and if history is examined that similar things will been seen to have happened before every time new ideas or understanding overturns the existing ideas or understanding. Cultural understanding and ideas seem to have a kind of “generational inertia”. The old religions have passed away in Europe to be replaced by the new christian religion> It was not instantaneous but took a long time and was very difficult to say the least.
    Or is all that just an illusion. the old religions have not really gone just morphed by changing the words that they use. That the real “religion” and focus of “religion” is power and control all the rest is just window dressing!

  26. #26 uncle frogy
    February 8, 2008

    “Recently, the United Church of Christ sent out a letter in which it advocates “the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C”.”

    From my point of view is, regardless of any advocacy, that this is what is happening. It is a natural process and if history is examined that similar things will been seen to have happened before every time new ideas or understanding overturns the existing ideas or understanding. Cultural understanding and ideas seem to have a kind of “generational inertia”. The old religions have passed away in Europe to be replaced by the new christian religion> It was not instantaneous but took a long time and was very difficult to say the least.
    Or is all that just an illusion. the old religions have not really gone just morphed by changing the words that they use. That the real “religion” and focus of “religion” is power and control all the rest is just window dressing!

  27. #27 pfc
    February 8, 2008

    @ Uber #18

    Asking where ‘morals’ come from is akin to asking a lion why it hunts zebra. It is a behaviour. That we can comment on it doesn’t change the fact.

    I think we’re agreeing here. I’m not implying some sort of moral absolutism (even from say, outside of the current religious traditions), just that it’s an interesting set of behaviors and I’ve not seen a great deal of *rational* inquiry into their origins. Perhaps I’m just not widely read enough. I suppose that would be the domain of philosophy, but most philosophy books put me to sleep :)

    @ David P. #21

    It serves as a useful shortcut way to avoid answering the question of where the moral code really came from, which is something we’re still working on understanding.

    Point taken on religion justifying a preexisting morality – of course, that still doesn’t answer how the morality arose in the first place. That’s the real topic of interest. Your suggestion may well be the default path, but I think it probably goes both ways.

    I’d have to say I agree with you on the evolution of morality (I was going to mention this, but thought my last post was getting too long.) What GL said was that in the case of the Efe, there’s apparently no “design” to it. To me, it simply seems like a set of complex behaviors that A) evolved, B) works for their culture, at least for now, and C) is probably stable to small perturbations. I think that’s a strong hypothesis with a good deal of explanatory power.

  28. #28 HP
    February 8, 2008

    “Then, wherefrom morality?”

    Pleasure, pain, empathy, memory, reason.

    If you choose the course of action that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain over the long run, for both yourself and others, by accurately predicting the consequences of your actions so you can avoid future regret, you will lead a moral life. Eschew transient pleasures with painful consequences. Endure transient pains with pleasant consequences. Value your friends.

    It’s pretty simple, really.

    Reified moral codes are for people who can’t be arsed to do the moral calculus. Sure, you can look up an approximation in a handbook, but it’s no substitute for doing the math yourself.

  29. #29 David P.
    February 8, 2008

    HP:

    Eschew transient pleasures with painful consequences.

    That’s going on a t-shirt.

  30. #30 Holbach
    February 8, 2008

    The many comments on PZ’s discussion with Loyal Rue are
    certainly varied, but to me are not interesting nor will I
    take them to heart, for I am still intransigent in the
    matter of religion in all its myriad ideas and to which
    so many people still cling to for that little comfort and
    association with the mildly ethereal that they just
    cannot seem to relinquish. I will not acknowledge any form
    of benefit to the use of mankind, but maintain that all
    religions sprung from the need of early humans to explain
    the then known world in all manner of superstition. We
    should be past that stultifying era in human history,
    especially since we are living in an age of science and
    reaping all its rational applications. We do not need any
    form of religion no matter how falsely comforting a great
    proportion of humans unreasonably claim it to be. It is a
    waste of time to argue with reason with any person that is
    afflicted with this unsound mind-set. So many people want
    to interject their ideas of the comfort or use of religion
    in their everyday lives, and try to persuade others who
    disagree that there is something of value in their lives
    because of religion. This is not so much as being damn
    disingenuous, but just not letting go of that needless and
    pathetic state of myth appeal. Years ago I threw out every
    book I had by Joseph Campbell as I just could not stomach
    his phony “scholarship’ of that superstitious crap. I make
    note of this as a reply to Chris @ # 6 who I would hope
    will read better fare than that driveled by Campbell.
    And to # 15 who feels elated and almost swoons with the
    “aura” excreted by that pile of stones, I suggest you
    should visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater or any of
    his great houses if you want to have a sense of design.
    If I ever visit that stone pile erected to glorify a non-
    existent thing, it would be only to view that part of the
    great city of Paris from it’s observation deck. All else
    has absolutely no interest to me whatsoever.
    I am totally adverse to religion in all it’s form, creations, and allusions to art and culture. You want
    culture, architectural beauty, substance, and a lasting
    paean to humankind, then visit the Jefferson Building of
    the great Library of Congress in Washington,DC. As far as
    I’m concerned, the stones used to build those edifices of
    superstitious crap are wasted on such heaps and should have
    been used to build libraries, universities, and scientific
    laboratories which will have a more useful and profound
    benefit to humans, at least to the percentage that are able
    to shuck off the superstitious garbage that have afflicted
    us for so long. I have no delusions in thinking that we
    will ever be free of stultifying religious nonsense as
    long as there are humans of unsound minds to perpetuate
    this crap forever.

  31. #31 HP
    February 8, 2008

    the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology

    Did anyone else read this and think of Mary Baker Eddy and L. Ron Hubbard?

  32. #32 gerald spezio
    February 8, 2008

    Holbach, your no nonsense-gloves off-go for the throat content and delivery is much appreciated.
    Any person who detests pompous Joe Campbell and his farcial and phony scholarship is worthy of the heritage of Baron Paul Henri Thiry D’Holbach.

    I reacted identically to #6′s invocation of Campbell’s Jungian nonsense about myth.

    Joe Campbell’s phenomenal success and his continued reverence in many circles illustrates the effectiveness of literary and religious blather masquerading as scientific explanation and scholarship.

    Campbell is the premier modern example of literary license gone bonkers.

  33. #33 danley
    February 8, 2008

    Good deal. Maybe the general public can endorse non-partisan pantheism.

  34. #34 CJO
    February 8, 2008

    From a couple of the comments (sorry no attribution)

    There is no ‘morality’ per se, it’s simply opinions over a wide range of behaviour used to ensure our species is successful(more or less).

    But this doesn’t work evolutionarily. In a population of ‘cooperators’ whose behavior benefits the species, there is an opportunity for ‘defectors’ to gain an advantage by behaving in ways that benefit themselves. To the degree that the variance in behavior is inherited, selection will favor the defectors. Evolved morality the beneficiary of which is ‘the species’ will be stillborn. Of course, by using the informal language of Game Theory, I admit that there are many intriguing solutions to the problem. But ‘the good of the species’ is not an operative rationale for any evolved set of behaviors in the absence of group selection, and consensus is, group selection is swamped by individual selection in all but a small set of circumstances.

    Personally I’m an evolutionary moralist: our moral code and values are the ones we would expect to have in our developmental history in order to be successful as a species.

    “Our moral code,” but which one? There are precious few human moral universals –incest taboos might be close, but there’s an obvious evolutionary rationale there, and the evidence shows pretty clearly that we’re programmed by evolution not to feel attraction toward those near our own age who shared our household in childhood.
    “Thou shalt not kill” is doublespeak: moral codes are concerned with who is allowed to kill whom, and they vary widely on the subject. Think of honor killings, duels, things like that.
    And, once again, we get “in order to be successful as a species.” I suppose it’s okay as shorthand, but when the potential evolutionary rationales for human behavior are the main topic of discussion, I wish people would be more precise and deal with the main conundrum: how does collective “selfish” behavior add up to a stable community in groups of animals such as ourselves? “The good of the species” is no more helpful an answer than “Sky Father said so.”

  35. #35 Kagehi
    February 8, 2008

    Rational inquiry – I didn’t hear this explicitly stated, but several people seemed to hint at it. But I’m not sure of its efficacy, given some of the fundamentally irrational tendencies of human behavior.

    The error you make in assuming this Pfc is that a) some of it is clearly genetics, since basic behaviors we exhibit do appear, even in species that lack the cognitive capacity to form rational based behaviors, and b) the moment you can show me any person with a 100% totally consistent and rational stance on *any* subject, you can tell me that I am full of it with respect to the idea of using logic and rational inquiry to reach moral conclusions. However, since no person is ever 100% rational, its not a reasonable argument to claim that this isn’t a valid source, based on the fact that there are irrational behaviors in humans.

    Part of the problem is, of course, that when the society you are in has been built almost exclusively on the irrational behaviors and ideas of prior systems, you get stuck with many irrational views, even though your intent is to form a more rational one. I.e., it doesn’t happen over night, even for specific individuals, because its nearly impossible to divorce oneself from “all” irrational motives and ideas that you grew up learning to perceive as normal.

    The other options are, 2 – the source of most of those old irrational ideas, which we can’t get rid of as easily as we would like and 3 – which is just nonsense, since, as you say, you need a mechanism, and 1 and 4 *provide* the only known alternate mechanisms to religion that can generate such a thing.

  36. #36 Flex
    February 8, 2008

    FWIW, I’ve sometimes found that avoiding the word ‘morality’ also avoids the religous baggage (inappropriately) attached to the word.

    I prefer to discuss ‘ethics’, which has a nice long, largely secular, tradition.

  37. #37 Great White Wonder
    February 8, 2008

    I was doing my regular checking up on the cast of characters and noticed this:

    1) Still no sign of “rising star” Hannah Maxson. Where did she disappear to after “anonymously” accepting that reward?

    2) On January 15 Dr. Caroline Crocker (LOL!) was named first Executive Director of the IDEA Center, leading to the first IDEA Center press release in nearly two years.

    http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1454

    “Caroline Crocker is the ideal person to come on board as the first Executive Director of the IDEA Center,” said Casey Luskin, president emeritus and co-founder of the IDEA Center. Luskin continued, “Dr. Crocker has top academic credentials, and she received rave reviews as a professor working with students at George Mason University before the university ousted her because she mentioned intelligent design in a class.

    BOO HOO HOOO HOO HOOO!!!!!!

    3) Dr. Crocker’s website shows that she has a book coming out in 2008

    http://www.intellectualhonesty.info/index_files/Mybook.htm

    Science Censored: How I was Shut Down for Opening Minds

    It is the true story of a university biology professor who encouraged intellectual honesty in her students and was punished by being deprived of her job, her legal counsel, and her lifelong dream of being a tenured professor.

    BOO HOO HOO HOO HOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

    Crocker is available to speak to groups about her sad pitiful story for a mere $1,000 a crack, plus travel expenses.

    Please be aware that, in the interests of promoting honest intellectual discussion, neither Mr. Evenbly nor Dr. Crocker will respond to abusive correspondence.

    ROTFLMAO!!!!!!

  38. #38 Noadi
    February 8, 2008

    I’ve considered religion as art for quite some time, it fits much better. I have to say I’m really hoping a recording of this is available soon, sounds like it’ll be a great listen.

    Honestly Holbach, is your vitriol any better than that of a fundie? Think about it a little bit. You write off everything about religion just because it’s religion, and they write off everything about science and atheism just because it’s science and atheism. Don’t sink to their level, nothing is accomplished that way.

  39. #39 Michael X
    February 8, 2008

    Speaking as an artist, I’ve never found religion to be an art, but more an institution that usurps art for its own purposes. Not to devolve this into a discussion on “what is art?” as we could be here forever in doing so, but I am of the mind that art requires intention. As it has been pointed out by commenters here and Dan Dennet in particular, religion evolves less by intention and more by meme.

    In the end, to call religion art, is to abuse the word “art.” And it makes a mockery of what any typical believer would consider religion.

  40. #40 Uber
    February 8, 2008

    just that it’s an interesting set of behaviors and I’ve not seen a great deal of *rational* inquiry into their origins. Perhaps I’m just not widely read enough. I suppose that would be the domain of philosophy, but most philosophy books put me to sleep :)

    The opinions themselves? Perhaps philosophy as to why certain opinions are valued above others but really I think it’s the realm of biology, animal behaviour to be specific.

    But this doesn’t work evolutionarily. In a population of ‘cooperators’ whose behavior benefits the species, there is an opportunity for ‘defectors’ to gain an advantage by behaving in ways that benefit themselves.

    Sure it does. Individuals may gain but the group as a whole gains advantages.

    To the degree that the variance in behavior is inherited, selection will favor the defectors. Evolved morality the beneficiary of which is ‘the species’ will be stillborn. Of course, by using the informal language of Game Theory, I admit that there are many intriguing solutions to the problem. But ‘the good of the species’ is not an operative rationale for any evolved set of behaviors in the absence of group selection, and consensus is, group selection is swamped by individual selection in all but a small set of circumstances.

    It’s a broad picture. It doesn’t change the fact that we are talking about behaviour and the opinions of each. Thats all morality essentially is as used in the modern sense- normal animal behaviour + opinions.

    I wish people would be more precise and deal with the main conundrum: how does collective “selfish” behavior add up to a stable community in groups of animals such as ourselves?

    You just answered your own question. The apparently ‘selflish’(which is simply an opinion of a behaviour) is really not so. Within the group the degree of ‘selfish’ behaviour is reduced which gives group A an inherent advantage over group B and provides more for all in the group from food to protection.

  41. #41 alchemist
    February 8, 2008

    Jumping on the bandwagon…

    didn’t read everybodies comments, but it sounds like the type debate I like (and don’t hear anymore). I’m really excited to hear the recording.

  42. #42 Noadi
    February 8, 2008

    Any study of art history will tell you that while art requires intention it also evolves by memes.

  43. #43 pfc
    February 8, 2008

    @ Kagehi #34

    In that first post I just intended to summarize the ideas I heard discussed at last night’s meeting – the descriptive approach. They’re all sources of morality (or, a “shared system of human ethics”) at one time or another.

    a) some of it is clearly genetics, since basic behaviors we exhibit do appear, even in species that lack the cognitive capacity to form rational based behaviors

    No debate there. The parts that are interesting to me are the aspects of morality that go beyond what the genetic argument can explain. In this remainder that is presumably unique to humans (due to our big brains, complex social structures, or what have you), some behaviors are widely shared, but others are localized to certain groups – in the sense that “it could be another way” and the group could still survive and prosper.

    you get stuck with many
    irrational views, even though your intent is to form a more rational one.

    Amen! We all know how good people are at tolerating contradiction. That inertia certainly acts as an impediment to actually improving things.

    3 – which is just nonsense, since, as you say, you need a mechanism

    I disagree though. As David P. stated earlier (and I essentially agree with), an evolutionary argument can provide the mechanism for #3, without invoking any of the other sources.

    What I meant about efficacy of #4 isn’t so much individual but group irrationality. In this last subset of behaviors, it’s not immediately obvious *how* to rationally choose between alternatives.

    To take an example, why are a culture’s kinship relations the way they are? Is it just chance and history, constrained in certain ways? Is there a way we can develop a “better” set of kinship relations through rational inquiry? Using what criteria? Which criteria are important for this evaluation? (values again!) Should kinship relations even be decided via that method?

    But in the end, if we don’t use #4, someone will probably come along with a far less palatable option – like #2′s hobby horse of “one man, one woman, lots of kids, or all you go to hell…”

  44. #44 Brownian, OM
    February 8, 2008

    “Our moral code,” but which one? There are precious few human moral universals –incest taboos might be close, but there’s an obvious evolutionary rationale there, and the evidence shows pretty clearly that we’re programmed by evolution not to feel attraction toward those near our own age who shared our household in childhood.

    I’m a few books behind in this subject, but I’d suggest that Chomsky’s model of language acquisition might be applicable here.

    Using this model, we’d be born with an innate and crude ‘universal morality’ which provides a basic framework from which we pare down some behaviours and reinforce others to construct a moral grammar based on stimuli from and interaction with the community around us.

    Oops. Upon further research, I see this is one of the claims Marc Hauser makes in Moral Minds. I’ve got a copy, but it’s still a few books down in my queue. Damn, now I’ll have to read the book extra-critically since I’m going to be predisposed to agree with it.

  45. #45 Chris
    February 8, 2008

    To #29 Holbach and #31 gerald. I can feel your disdain of Campbell oozing from my monitor. Alas, I am incapable of reading “better fare than that driveled by Campbell.” And I rather enjoy his “literary and religious blather masquerading as scientific explanation and scholarship.”

    I fear you may have missed the point of what I wrote, so without invoking Campbell or using big words, I’ll rephrase what I wrote in plain English: I don’t care if people want to believe lies, as long as they don’t try to impose those lies on me. If, for example, Creationists wanted to impose the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools in my area, I would oppose it.

  46. #46 Holbach
    February 8, 2008

    Gerald @ #31 My thanks for your complimentary comments.
    It was good of you to expand what I did not say about
    Campbell as I detest that character so much I might have
    wound up by puking on my monitor.

    As for Noadi @ #37, I find extreme offense even comparing
    me to a fundie. My thoughts have been formed a long time
    ago and remain unequivocal concerning religion, and I
    always emote that term used in architecture; “Form Follows
    Function”. What is a library for? To house books of living
    and dead persons who have bequeathed their thoughts both
    for the good and evil and for us to utilize in a free and
    ready manner. What is a church for? To supposedly house
    non-existence superstitious creations that have absolutely
    no connection to reality or human intervention. Simple as
    that. I can go into a library and read the great Shakespeare speaking to me from hundreds of years past and
    elate me with such earthy and poignant words and being able
    to judge these words as far superior and worthy than all
    the irrational mouthings that have poured forth from
    unsound minds proffered to non-existence insanities that
    are mumbled inside churches or in public. The utter and
    total incredible uselessness of it all just staggers the
    sane mind with abject incredulity.
    Don’t be misled by the fundies writing off science, as they
    are recipients of all it offers as much as sane people.
    They may excoriate science in speech and rantings, but when
    it comes to blatant need they are as much the consumers as
    anyone else, sane or mad. Why do they accept the services
    of a full hospital when the need arises and don’t dare of
    checking into a “hospital” where they just pray over you
    without need of medical science? Science is real; prayers
    are useless supplications to the non-existence. The latter
    is all too chancy even to the most religiously deranged.
    Religion is art to just the religiously inclined and who
    cannot equate nonsense when executed as such. A painting
    of a tree is real and cherished for its likeness. A painting of a saint is not real and should be dismissed
    for its pretensions at reality, even more so because of the
    emotional harm it does to it’s adherents who cannot reason
    between fact and fiction. Religious art represents nothing
    more than the perpetuation of superstitous nonsense
    Yes, I write off everything about religion because I can
    write and THINK. As for sinking to their level, that is
    impossible with me as levels are used to denote degress of
    mental illness and I know I will never sink that low as
    long as I keep a sane mind, unfettered by religion.

  47. #47 wonderer
    February 8, 2008

    An outstanding book on the origins of our morality is Frans De Waal’s “Our Inner Ape”.

    I’m reading it right now, I’ve read other books on the subject but this one is outstanding at showing the fundamentals of social primate nature that underly our morality.

  48. #48 pfc
    February 8, 2008

    An outstanding book on the origins of our morality is Frans De Waal’s “Our Inner Ape”.

    Excellent! Have to add that one to the (already long) list.

  49. #49 Sinbad
    February 8, 2008

    I can go into a library and read the great Shakespeare speaking to me from hundreds of years past and elate me with such earthy and poignant words and being able to judge these words as far superior and worthy than all the irrational mouthings that have poured forth from unsound minds proffered to non-existence insanities that are mumbled inside churches or in public. The utter and total incredible uselessness of it all just staggers the sane mind with abject incredulity.

    Parody anyone?

  50. #50 David P.
    February 8, 2008

    Personally I’m an evolutionary moralist: our moral code and values are the ones we would expect to have in our developmental history in order to be successful as a species.

    “Our moral code,” but which one? There are precious few human moral universals

    I’m guilty of stating myself incorrectly here. When I spoke of “moral code”, I’m actually not referring to any one set of codified values, and I’m wasn’t trying to imply that there is such a thing as a “universal” one. I’m was actually, in my own obfuscated way, referring to the underlying evolved capacity that we seem to have to seek and develop a set of values/ethics/moral codes.

    Which set you end up with is determined almost entirely by the context/culture in which you grow up. Most people never find a reason to question that contextually pre-built set too deeply, and that’s not always a bad thing: it would be very hard to imagine a functioning world in which everyone had to create their own ethical framework from scratch. As children, no less. It does become a bad thing when the pre-built set also includes intolerance or hatred towards those who have a slightly different set, and when it discourages inquiry, analysis and change of the set itself (which are two of the main problems many of us have with organized religions, since they seem to be created to do exactly that).

    We do seem to have some quasi-universal values that pop up regardless of context or culture, and I would note that those will tend to be ones that have more immediate consequences to the successful propagation of your genes, and therefore can be attributed to earlier stages of our evolution (taking care of your progeny, not harming those that help you survive, incest will cause problems to your genetic line, rooting for the NY Giants). I’m not an anthropologist, so my anthropologies if I am way off-base here.

    It’s in the more far-reaching (distance, size, implications) values where we start running into serious discrepancies across cultures, and in my opinion that is because all we receive (genetically) is the embedded desire to *have* a moral code. What that code actually ends up being is almost purely contextual and cultural: it’s to a very large degree whatever your local “tribe” has decided it should be.

  51. #51 a dramaturg
    February 8, 2008

    Holbach @ 45

    You might want to rethink that veneration of Shakespeare, you know. He was a Christian after all, possibly even a closet Catholic. It’s Kit Marlowe who was an atheist.

  52. #52 Brownian, OM
    February 8, 2008

    I’m not an anthropologist, so my anthropologies if I am way off-base here.

    Well, my knowledge of past events is far from complete, so I suppose I should proffer an “I’m historry” too.

  53. #53 CJO
    February 8, 2008

    It does become a bad thing when the pre-built set also includes intolerance or hatred towards those who have a slightly different set

    But they all do. “Tolerance” is a modern, post-Enlightenment virtue, often paid lip-service, but a largely incoherent concept in the context. Should I be tolerant of honor killings? A moral code, practically by virtue of existing and being differentiated from other codes, is intolerant of conflicting systems. I guess the “slightly” qualifies matters some, but how divergent is too divergent? i.e. it would be immoral for a Southern Baptist to be intolerant of a Methodist, but any Christian can freely fail to tolerate the Hindu practice of burning widows with their husbands’ corpses?

  54. #54 David P.
    February 8, 2008

    Hmmm. Re-reading my comment above this one, I would like to point out that I am most definitely *NOT* a cultural relativist (defined as one who believes that all morality or ethical constructs are local, and cannot be judged by one who is remote).

    I do believe that morality and ethical constructs are informed locally, but that statement makes no judgment call on whether or not they are “right” or “wrong”. That’s a different discussion.

  55. #55 LeeLeeOne
    February 8, 2008

    Does a teacher have “arguments” in class or discussions? Arguments when appropriate, discussions when appropriate. It is up to the teacher to decide which method will yield the best results.

    For this circumstance, this alleged ‘debate’ now termed discussion with “Loyal Rue”; is it not more enlightening, more educational, and thus more befittingly appropriate for all to have discussions, versus debate?

    My reasoning – with an argument, you have “black” versus “white”; ideals where one must try to overcome or convince the other within their preconceived ideals and personal boundaries. Rarely does black/white, under these circumstances, lead to either black or white results. They usually lead to anything other than even gray. They usually lead to a affirmation of the black stance or the white stance initially demonstrated. Rarely is any side convinced (or even gray-wise) to convert to one side or the other.

    With a DISCUSSION, there is a lot of “gray” space versus “black vs white” boulders; that is, ideas are discussed with no need for pettiness. No one has slammed any doors with 100% certainty, shutting out discussion.

    The way I feel about this ultimately is that, while PZ has his affirmation on the probability of anything supernatural, he may, like me, understand the adversary’s need for ‘common ground’ to recognize (but not affirm) their position. and fully allow this ‘human concession.’

    This is with the understanding that chipping away at ‘common ground’ is easier and more productive versus an attempt to voraciously disassemble alleged “absolute knowledge.”

    Like the old song “Nice and easy does it, every time!.”

    Or Perhaps “You can get more bees with sugar than with vinegar.”

  56. #56 Scott Hatfield, OM
    February 8, 2008

    Actually, this is parody.

    I can enter a comment thread and point to a modified subject with a not-terribly-enlightening locator and verb me with two oddly-disjointed adjectives for subject’s words, running on to an irrational secondary clause which apparently flows from nutty brains given to non-sequitur insults that run into buildings I have no use for or also in public. The hyper-complete but entirely banal usefulness of such sentences staggers the mind that I possess (though not lesser minds) with hyperbolic overkill.

    ity.

  57. #57 Holbach
    February 8, 2008

    Dramaturg @ #50 Yes, I am well aware that Will was a
    christian, but he was not a rabid one as his works all
    but clearly attest to. Kit Marlowe was an atheist all to
    be admired, and though their is confusion which wrote
    that memorable stuff, it is Will who is more read and
    attributed to. Besides, there are several quotations of
    his that I appropriate when referring to the religiously
    clouded. A favorite is from King Lear: “You are not worth
    the dust which the rude wind blows in your face”. Any
    person who is capable of thinking rationally and subverts
    that ability by subjugating reason to irrational reasoning
    is duly justified to be demeaned by rational minds. Will
    may not have intended that quote to be used in the manner
    that I applied to the irrational, but I find it so apt to
    express my contempt for anyone who embraces religion in
    any guise or thought.

  58. #58 Holbach
    February 8, 2008

    # 55 I have to admit I do like it! No further comment!

  59. #59 David P.
    February 8, 2008

    It does become a bad thing when the pre-built set also includes intolerance or hatred towards those who have a slightly different set

    But they all do.

    Does yours? Mine doesn’t. I accept slightly different sets of moral codes: I accept that some people believe that veganism is an ethical imperative, even though I don’t happen to believe that myself, for example.
    Well, mine doesn’t *always*. I’m far from perfect, despite what my legions of fans say on YouTube.

    But your point is valid in that many value sets do include this intolerance, and that’s one of their core problems. It’s why you have sects killing each other because one of them changed the order in which the beads were chanted over, seven hundred years ago. But there’s nothing implicit in the definition of the Platonic ethical code that demands intolerance towards other slightly different code sets.

    And yes, the word “slightly” is used advisedly and purposefully here.

    “Tolerance” is a modern, post-Enlightenment virtue, often paid lip-service, but a largely incoherent concept in the context. Should I be tolerant of honor killings?

    If I had to make a firm statement on the matter (which is a precarious thing to do), the beta version of it would be: “Your moral code should include tolerance of differences where the differences are reasoned and reasonable, and where the differences do not result in infringement upon the human rights of others.”

    And also note that “tolerance” is not equal to “acceptance” or “approval”, in the same way “intolerance” is not equal to “burn the heretics at the stake”. There are degrees to all things.

    A moral code, practically by virtue of existing and being differentiated from other codes, is intolerant of conflicting systems.

    I disagree (see above). It seems that this is the way they usually turn out in practice (especially those codes that are religiously based), but there’s nothing in the pure definition of a moral code that implicitly makes it intolerant of differing systems.

    I guess the “slightly” qualifies matters some, but how divergent is too divergent?

    Ah, I hereby take the opportunity to pull out the most valuable weapon in my armory: the answer is to most questions in this field is “It Depends”. I would point to my position above as a first, incomplete stab at my answer to that question. Granted, one that raises more definitional questions… (how “reasoned” is “reasoned”?).

  60. #60 Blake Stacey
    February 8, 2008

    On the question of the godless enjoying Shakespeare:

    When someone weeps over a dead child or creates a great poem, it should matter not at all what some priest imagines his pantheon is doing. Take your eyes off your hallucination of heaven — what’s real are that woman’s tears, that child’s triumph, that grain of sand, that bird on wing. The meaning is derived from the reality of what we see and feel, not some convoluted vapor and self-serving puffery about an abstract concept like “god”. [...] I can respect the beauty of religious literature and the struggle put into it while at the same time realizing that falling back on the will of an imaginary being is an admission of failure. I don’t consider the believers to be simple-minded — I think life can be hard, and that the great minds of history have endeavored to articulate some sense of meaning to pain and beauty, because that’s what human minds do.

    PZ Myers

    I have no reason to doubt that Raphael and Michelangelo were Christians — it was pretty much the only option in their time — but the fact is almost incidental. Its enormous wealth had made the Church the dominant patron of the arts. If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn’t he have produced something at least as inspirational as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven’s Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart’s opera The Expanding Universe. And what a shame that we are deprived of Haydn’s Evolution Oratorio — but that does not stop us from enjoying his Creation. To approach the argument from the other side, what if, as my wife chillingly suggests to me, Shakespeare had been obliged to work to commissions from the Church? We’d surely have lost Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. And what would we have gained in return? Such stuff as dreams are made on? dream on.

    — Richard Dawkins

  61. #61 Dahan
    February 8, 2008

    Michael X @ 38,

    As a fellow artist/dsigner I couldn’t agree with you more. Well said.

  62. #62 Marcus Ranum
    February 8, 2008

    Holbach writes:
    A painting of a saint is not real and should be dismissed

    Not if it’s a good painting in its own right. I’m sorry, but if you’re saying – for example – that Michaelangelo’s “David” sucks because it portrays a mythological character, or that Caravaggio’s paintings are trash because they portray religious myths, then you’re just a barbarian.

    Remember: Homer Simpson isn’t any more real than Jebus. Nobody seems to have a problem with his nonexistence.

  63. #63 Marcus Ranum
    February 8, 2008

    In #38 Michael X writes:
    In the end, to call religion art, is to abuse the word “art.” And it makes a mockery of what any typical believer would consider religion.

    That was exactly what I was getting at. If you treat religion as peformance art, it’s not as good as reruns of “Jackass.”

    Consider my little experiment in framing and sarcasm as an utter failure.

  64. #64 Louise Van Court
    February 8, 2008

    I guess I agree with Marcus.

    Holbach @ #45 “Religion is art to just the religiously inclined and who
    cannot equate nonsense when executed as such. A painting
    of a tree is real and cherished for its likeness. A painting of a saint is not real and should be dismissed
    for its pretensions at reality, even more so because of the
    emotional harm it does to it’s adherents who cannot reason
    between fact and fiction. Religious art represents nothing
    more than the perpetuation of superstitous nonsense
    Yes, I write off everything about religion because I can
    write and THINK. As for sinking to their level, that is
    impossible with me as levels are used to denote degress of
    mental illness and I know I will never sink that low as
    long as I keep a sane mind, unfettered by religion.”

    If you get hung up on “A painting of a saint is not real and should be dismissed for its pretensions at reality . . .” then you might also want to dismiss other works of art that are abstract or “not real” as well. Salvador Dali’s paintings for instance.

    It is hard to believe that a person looking up into the vast domed ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to see the beams of light streaming down would not appreciate the architecture of that building despite the religious setting. It is breathtaking!

  65. #65 Michael X
    February 8, 2008

    Noadi, you are of course correct to state the place of memes in art history. As I’m quite familiar with art history myself I would also interject the fact that religion is not included in the study of it, and for good reason. The day that a preacher claims that his religion was created by man made intentions, then I think religion could be called art.

    Just as when we speak with natural pitch and tone we don’t consider ourselves to be making music, so too do the average believers not consider their religious rituals theater or performance art. And good thing too. They’d get panned in the papers…

  66. #66 truth machine
    February 8, 2008

    If there was no disagreement than Loyal Rue won the debate, since the question was whether science and religion are compatible and it’s his view that they are. Of course he cheats by divorcing the word “religion” from the supernatural and talking about “naturalistic religion”.

    As I noted in the other thread, this was a poor debate topic, and especially with this debater. Since it was “our” turf this time, the opportunity should have been used debating whether, say, moderate Christianity is harmful to scientific thinking, with the opponent being some scientist who is a moderate Christian.

  67. #67 truth machine
    February 8, 2008

    Egads … make that

    “If there was no disagreement then Loyal Rue won the debate”

  68. #68 MAJeff
    February 8, 2008

    TM,

    you reminded me of my favorite student evaluations:

    “He’s more interested in showing off how much he knows then in teaching.”

  69. #69 leeleeone
    February 9, 2008

    touche, S.H. OM

  70. #70 bernarda
    February 9, 2008

    A bit OT, but maybe you thought that xian fundies were the nuttiest people around. Well, you should see this video of a meeting of scientologists. A lot of blah-blah, pseudo-scientific of course. He talks about “LRH technology”!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8sDa84AJ7c

    The worst thing is the number of people in the room, and their reactions. Well there is also the incredibly tacky backdrop.

  71. #71 SteadyEddy
    February 9, 2008

    My thinking cap was definitely on that night. Thanks for the thoughtful evening.

    I recorded about 95 minutes of the talk on my .mp3 player. Problem is, it’s 22mb and I can’t email it due to space limitations on yahoo email. Does anyone have a place I can upload it to so it can be shared?

  72. #72 QrazyQat
    February 9, 2008

    Can you imagine the questions Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers would have for god if they were granted a mere hour of his time for an interview?

    Klaatu: You have faith, Professor Barnhardt?
    Barnhardt: It isn’t faith that makes good science, Mr. Klaatu, it’s curiosity. Sit down, please. There are several thousand questions I’d like to ask you.

    And that was just some guy in a spaceship.

  73. #73 SteadyEddy
    February 9, 2008

    Okay, I uploaded the discussion between PZ and Loyal onto badongo.com. Here’s the link.

    http://www.badongo.com/file/7708491

    It’s about 24mb and is recorded on my little Sandisk Sansa m250… so cut me some slack on the quality factor. I didn’t catch the introductory statements but pretty much got all the meat of the discussion and Q&A.

  74. #74 Holbach
    February 9, 2008

    PZ @ # 59 PZ: Though I highly regard your expertise
    on many matters as expressed on this site, I will not
    agree with your stance on respecting the beauty of religious literature. This literature is produced by the
    mind that has formed all religious thinking and all the
    states that currently exist. As atheists, we are in one
    voice and mind to hold in contempt those minds that engage
    what we all agree to be irrational. It is these minds that
    have produced and perpetuated all religious literature.
    How can we separate the allure and respect for this type
    of literature from the mind that created it? This is best
    borne out in the current blog, “Institutionalized Misogny”
    of the contant assault on people in the Arab world who are
    in violation of islamic law that is expressed in their
    sacred religious literature and can even be put to death.
    Where is the beauty of this literature and how can one
    show respect for such actions proscribed by this same
    literature. I do not find beauty in any literature that
    purports to demean, torture, and kill the violators of it’s
    tenets.
    True, the grief shown over a dead child can be expressed
    in both secular and religious outporing, but would the
    omission of the religious incantations be any the less in
    outcome for the bereaved? I think not. Human grief is still
    grief and will not be affected by the show of unnecessary
    additions of a religious nature. As I have expressed before
    my life is totally devoid of religion and all its trappings
    because it is absolutely unnecessary to live a sane life.

  75. #75 truth machine
    February 9, 2008

    As atheists, we are in one
    voice and mind to hold in contempt those minds that engage
    what we all agree to be irrational. It is these minds that
    have produced and perpetuated all religious literature.
    How can we separate the allure and respect for this type
    of literature from the mind that created it?

    This is a genetic fallacy. I have contempt for such sloppy thinking, as well as for silly claims about a disparate group of people being “in one voice and mind”; atheists are anything but.

    Religion is only one source and form of irrationality, and everyone is subject to irrational thinking. The key requirement for minimizing it is to be self-critical.

  76. #76 DiscoveredJoys
    February 10, 2008

    Jon Haidt (“Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion”) suggests that there are five psychological foundations for morality:
    harm/care
    fairness/justice
    ingroup/loyalty
    authority/respect
    purity/sanctity

    These modules underly the cultural expression of morality(ies) which is in a large part about binding people together. Interestingly the first two are biased towards the individual and the last three towards conservative society.

    If there is some genetic component of the five modules then individuals who benefit from the advantages of living in a group or troop will pass on their genes to their offspring. This is not group selection as such, but individuals exploiting a local environment consisting of similar cooperative individuals. The moral modules, expressed as culture, provide some cultural policing of the activities of the selfish and cheaters. After all if you have just stoned someone to death for adultery they are unlikely to have more kids.

    Perhaps if the genes behind the authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty and sanctity/purity modules are positively selected for you end up with religion or politics…

  77. #77 Keith Douglas
    February 16, 2008

    Chris: The other problem is giving it up for recycling or trash when the holes in it get too large.

    Brownian, OM: Actually, Chomsky himself has speculated on the same lines. (re: morality and UG.)

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