Pharyngula

Deep Rifts with the skeptics!

It’s been a long term issue: a lot of vocal skeptics want nothing to do with atheism. They see it as a difficult issue that could sidetrack campaigns to encourage critical thinking, even though a lot of prominent skeptics are also atheists. I’ve never quite seen the logic: they’re going to oppose the use of magic crystals to enhance your aura, but praying to a magical sky-primate to bring you a new bicycle…eh, it doesn’t hurt. It seems a little inconsistent.

Anyway, Rebecca Watson, a godless skeptic if ever there was one, wrote a bit in support of the Hitchens/Dawkins proposal to bring legal action against the perfidious pope, and she caught some flak for it — people claimed that opposing religion, even if it is a baby-raping religion, could ‘harm the cause’ (Oh, those three words…I have heard them so often). Watson has a good reply.

So is this effort going to somehow hurt the “skeptical movement?” You may notice that I use the quotation marks here, because I can’t bring myself to seriously consider a movement supposedly based on the defense of rationality that would turn its back on children who are raped by men they trust because those men claim a supernatural being gives them power, wisdom, and the keys to eternal life with a direct line to God’s ear. If we discovered that a world-famous psychic was leading a secretive cabal that protected child rapists, would we be silent? If a world-famous faith healer was using his heavenly persona to molest kids, would we say that it’s not our fight? You might. I couldn’t.

I would hope, though, that it wouldn’t take molestation of children to stir up a skeptic (although, apparently, even that won’t rouse some of them, if the culprit is a priest). Shouldn’t an organization that claims you’ll go to hell after you’re dead if you don’t give them money while you’re alive also be on every skeptic’s hit list?

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    April 12, 2010

    But if we object to religion, that makes us knee-jerk misanthropes, not skeptics. On that day the dictionary itself requires us to have only negative feelings for our fellow human beings. And therefor, we would be unable to have good motives for objecting to religion. Can’t you understand this?

  2. #2 samilobster
    April 12, 2010

    No cause would get anywhere if they listened to the people whining about how any attempt to challenge the majority on their bull**** is ‘harming the cause’.

  3. #3 herlathing
    April 12, 2010

    OK, so explain to me how a skeptic cannot be an atheist. Skeptics require evidence before accepting new ideas. So where is the evidence for any deity you care to name? Hmm? QED.

  4. #4 https://me.yahoo.com/a/DhjBEuJ8pt63x6eBKuPx0Jv9_QE-#7c327
    April 12, 2010

    A “flack” is a press agent. “Flak” is a German acronym for shrapnel. My father was a bomber crewman during WWII. As a journalist, I deal with flacks all the time. You strike me as a literate man. You really ought not make this simple mistake. I would appreciate it if you would make the correction. It really does matter.

  5. #5 John Campbell
    April 12, 2010

    I think it’s about picking your battles. If you had an army of 100 warriors, would the better strategy be to fight many battles you are likely to win, picking up additional recruits along the way until you had a large enough army to take on anyone, or to immediately go up against the biggest power in the land and most likely have your forces decimated, or at least diminished? If you choose option one, I don’t think that is necessarily inconsistent with being opposed to the big power and what it stands for.

  6. #6 Brownian, OM
    April 12, 2010

    Gah. Why don’t they just string all of us fucking atheists up and skepticism and evolution and religion can all give each other a good reach around like they’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because we 10-to-30-fucking-percent of the population is somehow in the way?

  7. #7 raven
    April 12, 2010

    The strength of the No Religions and Push Toxic Religion back into the Hellmouth movements is that they are mass movements. No real leadership except whoever wants to claim that position.

    Dylan said it long ago. “Don’t follow leaders.”

    The best allies of the movements are Xians. Their vaguely humanoid toad leaders, the RCC, the New Dark Age fundies, the xian terrorists and murderers.

  8. #8 llewelly
    April 12, 2010

    herlathing | April 12, 2010 6:13 PM:

    OK, so explain to me how a skeptic cannot be an atheist.

    Being skeptical is hard work. It requires practice and energy. Everyone has finite resources, so no one has the resources necessary to be skeptical of everything. Most skeptics, for example, are not very skeptical of peer-reviewed literature, especially if it is outside our area of expertise. Naturally, those of us who are skeptical of religion will be atheists. But it is quite possible for someone to expend all their available energy being skeptical of other things, such as So-Called Alternative Medicine (SCAM), or creationism, or AGW denialism, or pseudo-archeology, or any combination of things. Each of those topics has enough doubtful claims, dubious characters, and interesting history to consume a lifetime of study. So some skeptics will inevitably end up spending insufficient resources being skeptical of religion. Some of those will end up being religious.

  9. #9 Brownian, OM
    April 12, 2010

    If you had an army of 100 warriors, would the better strategy be to fight many battles you are likely to win, picking up additional recruits along the way until you had a large enough army to take on anyone, or to immediately go up against the biggest power in the land and most likely have your forces decimated, or at least diminished? If you choose option one, I don’t think that is necessarily inconsistent with being opposed to the big power and what it stands for.

    Who is going to decimate our forces? Are Vatican A-10s gonna come swooping out of the sky with anti-atheist bombs filled with holy water? Are we going to run back behind enemy lines to recover fallen comrades only to realise they’ve already been converted and are waiting for us with bibles and qurans?

    Option one is also not necessarily inconsistent with sitting on one’s hands. The problem with fighting tiny battles is that you can also earn a reputation for being afraid to take on the real baddies, and are simply content to fight town square nativity scenes once a year.

  10. #10 aratina cage
    April 12, 2010

    little john (7c327) #4,

    flack = flak. It’s an alternate spelling. Check your dictionary.

  11. #11 Bribase
    April 12, 2010

    Good on Rebecca for writing this but I reckon it’s a bit more complex than she puts it.

    Atheists can be atheists for stupid reasons, they may be the angry caricatures that apologists adore, they might be following a trend to appear intellectual and a whole host of other reasons. On the other hand they might be employing the tools of skepticism to see if something like a god manifests in reality, giving it some serious thought and realising that the answer is no!

    I don’t think that bringing up the institutionalised rape of children in Catholicism has much to with skepticism though, it’s for anyone with the vaguest sense of morality, the courts and the people in charge of turning the Vatican into the museum of roman Catholicism.

    B

  12. #12 Kel, OM
    April 12, 2010

    Honestly speaking, I’d prefer there be a distinction between scepticism and atheism. Not to say that critical thinking shouldn’t be applied to God, just that critical thinking shouldn’t hinge around the belief in God’s existence.

  13. #13 Utakata
    April 12, 2010

    I am a skeptic…perhaps a fairly vocal one. I am also an agnostic…a position that understandibley would get me tard and feathered in many circles, perhaps including here. That being said, I still want everything to do with atheist because they keep me on and everyone on my toes when it comes to religion and beliefs. Requiring peeps to give evidence and account for their beliefs and actions is not something that should ever be discouraged. And frankly, I don’t think there really is a a nice and polite way of doing that. Especially when what they believe and do effects so many lives, some horribley. So I have no issues with prominent “new” atheists, parody or otherwise, threaten to citizen arrest the Pope. Nor should anyone else who is even half a skeptic.

  14. #14 llewelly
    April 12, 2010

    The only difference between an agnostic and an atheist is the importance they place on Occam’s razor.

  15. #15 Bribase
    April 12, 2010

    If you say Rebecca is hurting “the cause” of skepticism because she’s unwilling to pander to theists then we might as well skip over the claims of homeopathy, accupuncture et al. What makes theism immune to skepticism? We may as well get every wacko on our side.

    Theism is the claim that a god manifests in reality, if this is true then it can be tested and is well within the purview of skepticism. If the claim is that a god exists but doesn’t manifest then what’s the fucking point of believing in one?

    B

  16. #16 nathanschroeder1
    April 12, 2010

    My favorite thing about Pharyngula is the almost complete lack of or acceptance of superstitions or their apologists.

    I try to always be polite but if you tell me about God I will question you until you seem stupid. I will call you on your lies. I wont let it pass. We don’t need to back off we are right! Superstition needs to be eliminated like the disease it is.

    Years ago I was in line at the market with my six year old son. My son was smelling some flowers when a grandmotherly lady started telling him about how god makes flowers smell good for us. My son said ?I don’t believe in God?. He said it like he was not to be fooled. Like a little boy might say I don’t believe in the tooth fairy. I was proud and added ?or Santa Claus?. The lady showed signs of great anger but said nothing. Why is it acceptable for her to teach superstition to my children but we are militant if we ask for evidence?

    That was my inspiration and I have been a ?militant? atheist ever since.

  17. #17 SteveM
    April 12, 2010

    re #4:

    you claim to be a journalist, try reading for comprehension:

    “… and she caught some flak for it…” would seem to be an appropriate use of the “shrapnel” meaning of the word. “and she caught some ‘press agent’ for it…” doesn’t really make any sense.

  18. #18 sandiseattle
    April 12, 2010

    Seems to me what (few) “rifts” I have seen in the skeptical realm are only among those who parade around as Capital S Skeptics. But of course there are going to be disagreements in an group of common interest. Remember “two whatevers, three opinions”

  19. #19 NewEnglandBob
    April 12, 2010

    ‘harm the cause’ is the modern day equivalent to ‘just following orders’. Neither statement is ethical and nothing but irrational dogma.

  20. #20 Lumberjohn
    April 12, 2010

    Who is going to decimate our forces? Are Vatican A-10s gonna come swooping out of the sky with anti-atheist bombs filled with holy water?

    The example was an extreme one to illustrate the point. I live in the South, where you are far more likely to get a receptive hearing to your argument on the importance of critical thinking if you don’t immediately bring up that you are an atheist or opposed to the local dominent religion. Many sceptical groups contain religious believers who are working through the application of skepticism to religion at their own pace. Taking a position against an organized religion as a group is likely to alienate many who are on their path to recovery. That is the negative side. The question is whether it is outweighed by the positive results that would flow from such a stance. And that, I don’t know.

  21. #21 BigMKnows
    April 12, 2010

    Malachi Z. York, founder of a cosmic cult called the Nuwaubians, was convicted of over 100 counts of child molestation and is currently serving 135 years in prison (http://bit.ly/9FF5wt).

    When will we pursue justice against established religions with the same fervor?

    (BTW, I remember when the Nuwaubians came on EFnet around 1996 and spouted their esoteric alien nonsense in channels like #bible-debate. Weird, weird people.)

  22. #22 SteveM
    April 12, 2010

    re #3:

    No, explain why a skeptic must be an atheist.

    skepticism and atheism are different philosophies that may overlap but does one necessarily imply the other?

  23. #23 Bribase
    April 12, 2010

    Utakata and Llewelly

    Keep in mind that agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m agnostic in that I have no knowledge about a god or gods but I’m an atheist in that I live my life without accepting that a god exists.

    B

  24. #24 Celtic_Evolution
    April 12, 2010

    I think it’s about picking your battles. If you had an army of 100 warriors, would the better strategy be to fight many battles you are likely to win, picking up additional recruits along the way until you had a large enough army to take on anyone, or to immediately go up against the biggest power in the land and most likely have your forces decimated, or at least diminished?

    How is this an apt analogy? We’re not talking about sheer force of strength in a physical contest, where you might have a point. No, we’re talking about opposition to a state of mind, to an idea, to an indoctrinated mental process devoid of critical thought. You don’t need sheer power of numbers to overcome it… you simply need to expose it to the light, as often and as starkly as possible. Your “battles” need to be consistent, not “picked”, if you are to be taken seriously. Religious indoctrination is as as legitimate a target as any other form of chicanery for skeptics. And it only takes a few to open the eyes of many.

    In my view, those who think otherwise are victims of pure cowardice.

    And, frankly, were I a “warrior”, and I found out that my commander had a habit of compromising his principles if the opponent was simply too large, I’d call him a fucking coward and go find another army.

  25. #25 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    April 12, 2010

    @Bribase #15: When someone starts talking about the “skeptical cause”, then they have stopped talking about skepticism and started talking about politics.

    In other words, the answer to your question of “What makes theism immune to skepticism?” is “Nothing, but they have political clout, so shush.”

  26. #26 davros
    April 12, 2010

    Isn’t this an ethical matter? People are voicing their thoughts that a vile cover up is being treated differently because of religion. Even many religious are agreed that the RCC is in the wrong here. I find it hard to see any argument that sceptics or anyone should suppress their views on this.

    There is the separate matter of tactics – is it better to concentrate on other ‘fights’? I can see room for different opinions on this, but it is quite a different matter compared to what your ethical position is regarding the pope.

  27. #27 VegeBrain
    April 12, 2010

    I agree with PZ: Skeptics distancing themselves from atheists doesn’t make sense. I regard atheism as a special case of skepticsim because atheism is just religious skepticism.

    I was a skeptic before I was an atheise and it was through reading skeptical literature like Skeptical Enquirer and Jame Randi’s books that I finally rejected my religion. I am eternally grateful to the skeptical community for helping me find my way out of religious craziness and find it disappointing to hear that at least some skeptics want to stay away from atheism.

    I am a skeptic and an atheist and proud of it.

  28. #28 Lumberjohn
    April 12, 2010

    ‘harm the cause’ is the modern day equivalent to ‘just following orders’. Neither statement is ethical and nothing but irrational dogma.

    That is completely ridiculous. We are all on the same team with the same goal. I suspect virtually all skeptics would like to see religion go away just as much as other irrational nonsense, but religion has a very strong and emotional hold on people and is a unique opponent. Those who speak about “harming the cause” are expressing concerns about the best method of reaching that goal — about what battles to fight and when along the way. To say they are unethical or to bring up the Nuremberg trials is absurd.

  29. #29 Celtic_Evolution
    April 12, 2010

    Taking a position against an organized religion as a group is likely to alienate many who are on their path to recovery. That is the negative side. The question is whether it is outweighed by the positive results that would flow from such a stance. And that, I don’t know.

    So? What’s more important? Adherence to your skeptical principles or fear of alienation? You really believe people turning your back on you can silence you, or make your skepticism less valid?

    No… it’s far more important to show that skepticism does not stop where the crowd of idiots reaches a size threshold… what kind of message does that send?

  30. #30 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 12, 2010

    Malachi Z. York, founder of a cosmic cult called the Nuwaubians, was convicted of over 100 counts of child molestation and is currently serving 135 years in prison (http://bit.ly/9FF5wt).

    When will we pursue justice against established religions with the same fervor?

    (BTW, I remember when the Nuwaubians came on EFnet around 1996 and spouted their esoteric alien nonsense in channels like #bible-debate. Weird, weird people.)

    Funny, I was just thinking about them. I drove past their compound back in 2001 on a first date of sorts with my wife. Really strange place full of pyramids and other odd iconography. I think it has since been razed.

  31. #31 Screechy_Monkey
    April 12, 2010

    lumberjohn@20:

    The example was an extreme one to illustrate the point. I live in the South, where you are far more likely to get a receptive hearing to your argument on the importance of critical thinking if you don’t immediately bring up that you are an atheist or opposed to the local dominent religion. Many sceptical groups contain religious believers who are working through the application of skepticism to religion at their own pace. Taking a position against an organized religion as a group is likely to alienate many who are on their path to recovery.

    But nobody’s saying that you should “immediately bring up that you are an atheist” in a discussion about, say, homeopathy. Or that skeptical groups should purge any religious believers from their ranks. The issue is whether atheists should refrain from criticizing religion on the same terms that they criticize other forms of uncritical thinking.

    Actually, it’s even worse than that. I have no quarrel with capital-S Skeptics who decide to focus on particular issues and mostly leave other issues alone. If a particular Skeptic decides that he or she just doesn’t want to write about religion, for whatever reason, it’s fine with me, just as I wouldn’t start complaining that, for example, Orac doesn’t write enough about astrology. But I do have a problem with the attempts to get other Skeptics to stop talking about religion, based on “hurts the cause” or similar arguments.

  32. #32 Lumberjohn
    April 12, 2010

    You don’t need sheer power of numbers to overcome it… you simply need to expose it to the light, as often and as starkly as possible. . . . . it only takes a few to open the eyes of many.

    I respectfully disagree with you on this. Numbers do matter. It is not enough for one person to make the rational argument and loads of religious believers will follow the best argument. We’ve seen time and again that doesn’t work. An apt analogy is the gay rights movement, which didn’t pick up significant steam with the public until gays started appearing on television in large numbers and in other than stereotyped roles. People had been making the right arguments for decades, but in the wrong fora. Of course that battle still wages, but to say that numbers don’t matter is incredibly naive.

  33. #33 Lynna, OM
    April 12, 2010

    The front cover of the April 2010 issue of The Scientist features this story, “Scientists?More Religious Than You’d Think.”

    And that, my friends, is why speaking up can only help, not hurt. Give the accommodationists an inch and they’ll provide fodder to religious fanatics every time. Whether they intend to provide cover for creationists and other religious fanatics is not the issue, because the wingnuts will seize anything and use it as cover. And the accommodationists ought to know this by now.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57235/

    The article is called “But for the Grace of Genes” and is labeled as “opinion” by Elaine Howard Ecklund and Conrad Hackett.
    Excerpt:

    Eighty percent of scientists who teach and do research at top US research universities were raised in a religious home and 55% were raised in a home where religion was important. Scientists show the most overlap with the general public in the realm of spirituality, with 62% of scientists considering themselves spiritual. A surprising 38% of atheist scientists say they are somewhat spiritual, as do 61% of agnostic scientists. Nearly half of all surveyed scientists say they attended religious services at least once in the last year.
    Although scientists who work at elite universities are less religiously conservative?and less committed to organized religion generally?than the public at large, most scientists think religion has some degree of truth. Many individual scientists have a positive attitude toward the idea of religious truth and think their colleagues have a positive or neutral attitude toward religion. Only a minority believes there is an irreconcilable conflict between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge. Since a majority of scientists are interested in spirituality, this may be an area where they will find fruitful terrain for talking about issues of science and faith with the public.
    Awareness that many scientists are not hostile to religion and emphasizing areas of overlap between scientists and the general religious population might help to advance constructive engagement between science and faith, lessening the threat factors on both sides.
    Ecklund is a faculty member in the sociology department at Rice University, where she is also associate director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life.
    Hackett is a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

  34. #34 Bribase
    April 12, 2010

    Naked Bunny with a Whip@#25

    I hope you don’t mind a bit of devils advocate

    There’s plenty of talk by theist apologists or at least the namby pambyer ones about the untestability of a god’s existence (outside of time, ground of all being blah blah blah).

    Of course as soon as a theist makes a claim about the efficacy of prayer, divine intervention or ensoulment, skeptics can fill their boots in testing whatever they assert. But maybe on the god exists claim skeptics should hold a rigid agnosticism. Like the bumper sticker:

    “Militant agnostic: I don’t know AND NEITHER DO YOU!”

    What do you reckon?

    B

  35. #35 Celtic_Evolution
    April 12, 2010

    Of course that battle still wages, but to say that numbers don’t matter is incredibly naive.

    Except that I don’t say that numbers don’t matter… that’s completely oversimplifying my point.

    I’m saying it’s a poor argument for refusing the battle, or for criticizing anyone else for taking it up.

  36. #36 Celtic_Evolution
    April 12, 2010

    We are all on the same team with the same goal.

    If your goals include deference to a specific group simply because their numbers are so large, even if the skepticism is warranted on all other counts, then I submit that we do not have the same goals. Not close.

  37. #37 Al B. Quirky
    April 12, 2010

    Exercising a little discernment would not go astray. If you mean ‘Catholicism’ when using the term ‘baby-raping religion’, you need to delineate it from Christianity, that is the ‘teachings of Christ’ (is there a more apt definition?), who’s founder stopped just short of advocating death by drowning for pedophiles. I’d settle for lethal injection.

  38. #38 Becca Stareyes
    April 12, 2010

    You know, the other day, I saw an old high-school friend on Facebook post the Sunday Times story about Dawkins wanting to arrest the Pope. He noted in the comments that he was a fundamentalist Christian but that:

    A) He thought the Church was in the wrong in this.
    B) Richard Dawkins is a smart guy and my friend would bet on him versus the Pope.
    C) My friend was surprised to agree with Dawkins, but he noted that you shouldn’t disagree with someone just because you don’t share his religious views.

    I mention this because this person probably is the exact opposite of my religious views, but he manages to grasp that those that shelter child molesters should be punished, regardless of their position.

    I don’t see it as a skeptical issue, mostly because it should be effing obvious to anyone with their morals screwed on straight. It should be more basic than even skepticism.

  39. #39 AJ Milne
    April 12, 2010

    I’d just like to say that if you disagree with this comment, you are Hurting The Cause™.

    Also, if all of you don’t send me a cheque for $200, each, right now, you’re also Hurting The Cause™.

    (/No… No… I mean it! Get that chequebook out! Right now! Stop Hurting the Cause™…)

  40. #40 Rorschach
    April 12, 2010

    Venn diagrams to the rescue !!

    So not all atheists are sceptics, and not all sceptics are atheists.It personally surprises me how a sceptic can not be an atheist, and using the get-out-of-jail-free card of agnosticism sure doesnt cut it.

    Be that as it may, I am sick of this hurting the cause business, especially since I dont think my cause is the same as the NCSE’s cause, and their attitude is incidentally the best the religionists could hope for.

    What is the NCSE’s argument wrt to criticising catholicism hurting any cause btw?

  41. #41 Jim Lippard
    April 12, 2010

    It’s not an either/or. I support both atheist groups criticizing the Catholics for covering up child molestation and skeptical groups that choose to steer clear of politics and religion–it doesn’t hurt to have groups that specialize, and it’s certainly a good idea to have groups that promote skepticism and critical thinking without having atheism as an implicit membership requirement.

    Atheism doesn’t entail skepticism, and skepticism doesn’t entail atheism.

  42. #42 Utakata
    April 12, 2010

    I kinda agree with that principle Bribase @ #23. Thanks for sharing that. :)

  43. #43 Skepdude
    April 12, 2010

    If it is any consolation, many of us in the skeptical movement do see atheism as a natural outcome of skepticism, but it is true that there is a lot of disagreement on this particular issue.

    http://tinyurl.com/y88fhsd

    AND

    http://tinyurl.com/y2e6uce

  44. #44 Bueller_007
    April 12, 2010

    “baby-raping religion” -> “child-raping religion”, please.

    Hyperbole it may be, but if Donahue or some other ignoramus comes after you for the comment, you can actually point to cases of child rape. AFAIK, there have been no incidences of baby rape.

  45. #45 Miranda Celeste Hale
    April 12, 2010

    You can’t legitimately and honestly claim to be a skeptic if you cling to an irrational and completely unevidenced belief in God. I know that some people try to get around this with all sorts of NOMA-esque nonsense, the core of which seems to be “God is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.” But that’s complete and utter bullshit. All supernatural claims are (and must be) subject to scientific scrutiny. It’s ridiculous to assert that God is a special case that shouldn’t be subject to the same rigorous investigation as any other supernatural claim. This kind of servile deference to the religious mindset is cravenly and incredibly tiresome. It seriously needs to stop.

  46. #46 Trouble
    April 12, 2010

    Isn’t the essence of Ratzinger’s letter that kicking out pedophile priests would Harm The Cause of Catholicism? It’s an argument that can be used to paper over some pretty nasty stuff.

  47. #47 Bribase
    April 12, 2010

    Jim lippard and skepdude

    Don’t you think it takes a badly reasoned form of skepticism to be a theist and a skeptic?

    And a badly reasoned form of atheism not to hold a skeptical view?

    For a non skeptical atheist it appears to me like a person is dismissing the god claim out of hand without thinking about it. And a theist skeptic is either cordoning off their pet belief from rational enquiry or opting for the most weak form of deism they can hold.

    There’s lots to be said for not having atheism as a membership requirement, after all skepticism is an approach and not a conclusion. But the atheism and skepticism are very much bound together. It’s simply a question of emphasis and rigour.

    B

  48. #48 xunatz
    April 12, 2010

    “Shouldn’t an organization that claims you’ll go to hell after you’re dead if you don’t give them money while you’re alive also be on every skeptic’s hit list?”

    I’m a former Catholic…the Catholic Church doesn’t actually teach or believe that…nor do they subscribe to the 10% tithe that so many Protestants are hardcore about.

    There’s about a million silly things to dislike about Catholic beliefs. I’m not sure why you had to pull that one out of the air?

  49. #49 MarianLibrarian
    April 12, 2010

    Have any of you seen this yet? http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100412/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_chile_church_abuse

    Of course the abuse was not caused by a culture of complicity and the creation of a safe-haven for abusers, unhealthy views about sexuality, and unrealistic demands for celibacy at the price of eternal torture. No, not at all. It’s teh gays!

  50. #50 KOPD
    April 12, 2010

    I think it’s about picking your battles. If you had an army of 100 warriors, would the better strategy be to fight many battles you are likely to win…

    If you have 300, all bets are off.

  51. #51 Louise
    April 12, 2010

    Lynna @ # 33. There is apparently a new book out by Ecklund. From an article today at scienceandreligiontoday.com

    Most of what we believe scientists think and feel about faith is wrong. That?s the argument Elaine Howard Ecklund makes in her new book, Science vs. Religion. Ecklund is the director of programs on religion and public life at the Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, and she focuses on science public policy at the school?s Baker Institute. From 2005 to 2008, she conducted the first systematic study of scientists religious views, surveying 1,700 of them and interviewing 275 in depth.

  52. #52 aratina cage
    April 12, 2010

    I did find it amusing when one of the guests for a talk on skepticism and race, which featured Stephanie Zvan as well as Girl 6, and LaVerne Knight-West, turned out to be a praying Christian-deist who pays heed to the pope. Stephanie did an OK job of boldly stating her atheism to counterbalance the statement of belief immediately put forth by the believer.

    If you want to gasp yourself when the deist (LaVerne) then subverts the discussion and comes out as a Christian of the Catholic persuasion, you can follow the link to the audio recording from Stephanie’s blog, Almost Diamonds. The faith-head then goes on to throw the definition of “skeptic” wide open to include a non-skeptic she looks up to and even Doubting Thomas himself. Again, Stephanie comes through to briefly counter the BS. I found the whole episode of a believer in a god and religion claiming to be a skeptic very strange indeed.

  53. #53 Caine, Fleur du mal
    April 12, 2010

    xunatz @ 48:

    I’m a former Catholic…the Catholic Church doesn’t actually teach or believe that…nor do they subscribe to the 10% tithe that so many Protestants are hardcore about.

    They certainly did believe and teach that for *generations*. They were still teachin’ and believin’ it in the ’60s, when I was in catholic school.

  54. #54 https://me.yahoo.com/a/DhjBEuJ8pt63x6eBKuPx0Jv9_QE-#7c327
    April 12, 2010

    @10:
    No, flack and flak are not alternative spellings, unless you’re using a recent dictionary that accepts illiterate, stupid mistakes as “alternatives.”
    The word “flak” has existed only since World War II.
    I understand the confusion, but it is too soon for intelligent people to accept the mistake.
    You will note that Dr. Myers fixed the misspelling. Is he an idiot?
    I’m not merely a journalist and the son of a bomber crewman; I am a copy editor.
    If you wish to be stupid, be my guest, but don’t insult me for using proper English (and German).

  55. #55 Orac
    April 12, 2010

    It’s been a long term issue: a lot of vocal skeptics want nothing to do with atheism

    More like I’ve come to realize that the religion-atheism wars are irrelevant to my life.

    I’m interested in science and critical thinking. I don’t really care about religion one way or the other. That’s been true for a while. What’s new is that I don’t really care that much about atheism one way or the other any more. The whole “militant atheism” thing now simply bores me as much as religion does, that’s all.

  56. #56 aratina cage
    April 12, 2010

    littlejohn #54,

    No, flack and flak are not alternative spellings, unless you’re using a recent dictionary that accepts illiterate, stupid mistakes as “alternatives.”

    *cough*

    flak
    /flk/ ?noun
    1. antiaircraft fire, esp. as experienced by the crews of combat airplanes at which the fire is directed.
    2. criticism; hostile reaction; abuse: Such an unpopular decision is bound to draw a lot of flak from the press.
    Also, flack.

    You are fucking welcome.

  57. #57 MarianLibrarian
    April 12, 2010

    You know, it’s not just non-atheist skeptics or people who identify themselves as skeptics before atheists who are freaking out about this. There are plenty of atheists who don’t know about a “skeptical movement” or don’t call themselves skeptics who whine about things like this. “Oh, let’s be nice to the religious people so they won’t think we’re anti-religion” is a common argument among a lot of (non-organized-skeptic) atheists, too.

    A good argument has already been made for atheists to stand up against religious organizations in this way, so I won’t repeat it, but I will say that this very much is a skeptical issue. The catholic church and the pope are getting away with committing and covering up horrible crimes, and have more immunity to it because they claim supernatural specialness for themselves, and somehow this makes them immune to justice.

  58. #58 MarianLibrarian
    April 12, 2010

    And as for the flak/flack argument, the trouble here is between prescriptive and descriptive linguistics. Since “flak” is a borrowed word, the borrowing language can change it to a spelling rule that makes more sense for that language. It happens to most words over time. Language is not a static, eternally unchanging thing. Prescriptive rules eventually have to change to reflect the way a language is actually used. “Flack” is now acceptable because it is spelled that way so frequently. All linguistic changes start out as common “mistakes.”

    Also, you can end a sentence with a preposition now, and you never have to use the word “whom.”

  59. #59 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 12, 2010

    The whole “militant atheism” thing now simply bores me as much as religion does, that’s all.

    I’ve got no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is “you militant atheists are hurting the cause.” Orac can be as indifferent as he likes and I won’t utter a word about him or his silence.

    It’s the folks like Lumberjohn in #25

    Taking a position against an organized religion as a group is likely to alienate many who are on their path to recovery.

    who I despise. “Oh noes, we can’t hurt the goddists’ feelings, they’ll get all whiny and we can’t have that.” Fuck the accommodationists. They can play their silly games if they want to, but I’m not going to play with them. I won’t pander to the goddists and I won’t pander to the goddists’ accommodationist lickspittles either.

  60. #60 MadScientist
    April 12, 2010

    ” … opposing religion, even if it is a baby-raping religion, could ‘harm the cause’ ”

    I agree that it could harm the cause, but the cause it harms is worth eradicating. At the very least the catholic church should take affirmative action to rout the rapists but at the moment they are at best playing silly political games that any intelligent kindergarten kid would see through. At the best of course people would simply stop believing these superstitions, but I doubt that would happen in my lifetime.

    One of my favorite religiotard phrases: “the godless disagree, therefore god!” It is quite funny how they do not see the great rifts of disagreement between any two religious sects – I guess it’s because there’s only One True sect and all the other superstitious groups are heretics and devil worshippers. Oh, for a world devoid of these antedeluvian superstitions!

  61. #61 Cath the Canberra Cook
    April 12, 2010

    Don’t be silly, PZ. You don’t pray to a magical sky-primate to bring you a new bicycle, you steal one and pray to a magical sky-primate for forgiveness.

  62. #62 SC OM
    April 12, 2010

    I’m interested in science and critical thinking. I don’t really care about religion one way or the other.

    What Orac means is that he’s focused on specific issues (SCAM and Holocaust denial), and somehow doesn’t appreciate that unscientific/antiscientific thinking doesn’t confine itself to one area and that the boundaries he believes exist (e.g., between religion and pseudoscience) are a figment of his imagination.

    That’s been true for a while. What’s new is that I don’t really care that much about atheism one way or the other any more. The whole “militant atheism” thing now simply bores me as much as religion does, that’s all.

    Thanks for sharing. Yet again. :)

  63. #63 Redhill
    April 12, 2010

    Sure, skeptics and atheists share a metaphysic: the universe is natural not supernatural and can only be investigated by natural means.

    Most skeptics probably are quiet atheists but what would skepticism gain by linking itself tightly to Noisy Atheism?

    After all, skepticism is about methodological naturalism and critical inquiry, not about the fascinating esoterica of religious debate. Skeptics are by and large happy to talk to anyone who uses reasoned argument rather than dogmatic assertion, whatever their metaphysics may be.

    And I think most skeptics would realise that most believers live their daily lives by the tests of reason and evidence. For example, in the Dover case, so-called intelligent design was thrown out by a Christian judge after an action brought by Christian parents.

    Would demagoguery about accommodation and baby raping have helped in that case?

    I think the secular framework of so much of today’s world, despite the ongoing religious beliefs of most of its inhabitants, is clear evidence that there is more hope of success in the skeptic project than in an anti-religion Noisy Atheist jihad.

    I wonder how many of today’s Noisy Atheists know Edward Gibbon’s words about the Roman Empire at the time Christianity gained a foothold:

    “A state of skepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds but the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision…so urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition” (from Chapter 15 of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

    Skeptics who know a little history may also find grounds for some skepticism about the project of replacing religion with atheism.

    Remember the “League of the Militant Godless” http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/roundtable/riding-the-godless-express.php
    and the “Cult of Reason” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_reason

    Despite these reservations, I acknowledge that the Noisy Atheists are doing a valuable service in calling out the lies and hypocrisy practiced by so many religious leaders.

  64. #64 Screechy_Monkey
    April 12, 2010

    Redhill:

    For example, in the Dover case, so-called intelligent design was thrown out by a Christian judge after an action brought by Christian parents.

    Would demagoguery about accommodation and baby raping have helped in that case?

    No, because they weren’t relevant.

    You know what else wouldn’t have helped in the Dover case? Arguments against racial discrimination. Ha ha, take that, you anti-racists: you’re HURTING THE CAUSE!

    Amazingly enough, “New Atheists,” like most people, are capable of making arguments that are relevant to the situation. The problem is that the Accomodationists think that there is no situation whatsoever in which religion should be criticized, lest it “hurt the cause.”

    Remember the context of PZ’s post: Rebecca Watson wrote a post supporting the prosecution of the Pope, and was greeted with hand-wringing about how she should avoid saying such things, not because they’re not directly relevant to the issue at hand — you know, that child-rape thing you hate us bringing up — but because they might backfire at some unspecified future point in some unspecified way. Like, one day Watson will be criticizing homeopathy, and someone will scream, “yeah, but she thinks the Catholic church should be allowed to rape children,” and everyone will then ignore what she has to say?

  65. #65 Screechy_Monkey
    April 12, 2010

    That should be “she thinks the Catholic church shouldn’t be allowed to rape children,” obviously.

  66. #66 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnb-E55g7vrnvH-3L1M6d7QuDYWoM_IDEM
    April 13, 2010

    It is logically impossible for an educated sane adult to believe in a deity, and be a skeptic at the same time.
    Utterly impossible.

  67. #67 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    April 13, 2010

    @Orac:

    I’m interested in science and critical thinking. I don’t really care about religion one way or the other. That’s been true for a while. What’s new is that I don’t really care that much about atheism one way or the other any more. The whole “militant atheism” thing now simply bores me as much as religion does, that’s all.

    It astounds me how blind you can be. I’m a regular reader of your blog, and I cheer out loud when I see you take down irrational thinking, woo, Jenny McCarthy, anti-vax stuff, you name it.

    But I cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around how you separate the concepts of “critical thinking” and science-based thinking from criticism of religious thinking, as if there were no epistemic tension or correlation. I cannot understand how you, of all people, don’t see the connection between habits of thinking that rely on faith, and habits of thinking that cause people to reject science-based medicine. How can you not see they are all of a piece? How can you not see that the problems of rejecting vaccines, of believing in homeopathy, etc., are due to the exact same cognitive problem that leads people to believe in supernatural religious fairy tales?

    You seem to have the same (in my opinion) blinkered, and ultimately self-defeating, attitude that the uber-accommodationists do: “If we can just get them to accept this one scientific fact (say, evolution, or the efficacy of vaccines), we’ll be fine.”

    No, we won’t. And you know that, because you’ve written about that epistemic problem many times when it comes to the science-rejection you’re concerned with: medicine. The problem is not that people selectively reject vaccines, or evolution, or germ theory, or the age of the earth. The problem is that they do not understand the difference between faith-based “thinking” and actual knowledge. They don’t understand, and they don’t value, the scientific (read: reality-based) way of seeing the world.

    Getting people to reject homeopathy, or to accept evolution, is nothing but a Band-Aid. You of all people, Orac, should know this, as you make the very same point in very eloquent terms when you rail against all manner of anti-rational thinking when it comes to medicine.

    So what gives? Why can’t you see the obvious connection between your concerns, and the concerns PZ and others have about religious thinking? I honestly don’t get you; it really looks like criticizing religion pushes some undisclosed emotional/cultural/familial allegiance with you, because your obvious distaste for criticizing religion is wholly at odds with your epistemological commitments to rational thinking as expressed in your own sphere of expertise.

  68. #68 Redhill
    April 13, 2010

    Screechy_Monkey

    Thanks for reminding me of the context of PZ’s post.

    I doubt that attacking the pope in this context will do skepticism much harm, even among roaming carflics.

    After all, who supports pedophilia?

    But it is a legal and moral issue, not a skeptical issue. It is something we should attack because we are ordinary human beings, not because we are skeptics or atheists.

    To me it is about an organisation that has allowed itself to be corrupted by its own self absorption & hubris. Its about the abuse of trust, not about superstition condoning child rape.

    Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour is not confined to people of a particular religious persuasion. At the risk of upsetting your sensibilities, there may even be atheists who are pedophiles. Luckily, there is not yet an atheist pope who would hide their behaviour.

  69. #69 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    At the risk of upsetting your sensibilities, there may even be atheists who are pedophiles.

    No, really? Next you’re going to tell us that there might even be atheists who are against gay rights (pfft), that are pro-life (pfft), that have committed adultery (pfft), or have even done something as horrible as murder… Nope, I think you’re completely mistaken. By recognising the non-existence of God (or at the very least realised there’s no good reason to suppose that God is anything other than non-existent) it automatically makes people morally perfect. If anyone ever does anything bad, that’s their remaining theism acting inside them…

    Are you seriously that much of a moron?

  70. #70 Redhill
    April 13, 2010

    Kel Om

    Yes, I am the kind of moron who shares your apparent belief that no one is perfect, not even atheists, not even skeptics, not even believers.

    We should all try a little kindness and look for the light of reason in one another.

    I worry when anything is elevated to the single test of a person’s worth, be it race, religion, or non-religion.

    A mob is a mob, whether it has god or godlessness on it side.

  71. #71 ambulocetacean
    April 13, 2010

    Meh. I see where both sides are coming from, and both have valid points.

    The argument seems pretty academic anyway. Individual sceptics will continue to focus their energies on the subjects they think are most important/urgent/interesting or on which they have the most expertise. It’s not like there’s one monolithic movement undergoing a schism here.

    What does it matter if folks like Orac focus on medicine and leave the anti-religion stuff to folks like PZ?

    I think there’s a difference between sleazy Templeton-licking collaborationism on the one hand and a general lack of noisy, overt hostility to religion on the other.

    I don’t think atheist sceptics should conceal their atheism but I don’t think they’re obliged to go on an anti-religion jihad either.

    I think we need a big tent. And when it comes to religion we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

  72. #72 Hurin
    April 13, 2010

    @13

    I am a skeptic…perhaps a fairly vocal one. I am also an agnostic…a position that understandibley would get me tard and feathered in many circles, perhaps including here. That being said, I still want everything to do with atheist because they keep me on and everyone on my toes when it comes to religion and beliefs.

    To be honest I don’t think there is minimal difference between atheism and agnosticism. Most atheists define atheism as a lack of belief in a god or gods (as the roots of the word would suggest) and agnostics by definition don’t believe, as they feel they lack sufficient information. Really the question boils down to how likely you feel a god could be, and what sort of god you think could possibly be compatible with a world like ours.

    Prior to reading the God Delusion I used to consider myself an agnostic, but Dawkins pressed this point quite acutely, and after considering it, I decided I was actually equally atheistic toward Yaweh, Odin and Posidon, and only slightly more agnostic toward a Deist concept of god.

    So I guess what I’m saying is the God Delusion is an awesome book for catalyzing a reappraisal of your ideas about religion, and comes highly recommended if you are interested in being challenged. And also we don’t tar and feather people here for agnosticism – at least not that I’m aware of.

  73. #73 efrique
    April 13, 2010

    SteveM @#22

    skepticism and atheism are different philosophies that may overlap but does one necessarily imply the other?< \blockquote>

    A skeptic worth the name should be prepared to say these two things about almost any claims:

    – “I’ll believe it when I see some evidence”
    – “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

    Skepticism applied to religious claims is therefore nothing other than atheism.

    To fail to withold belief from extraordinary claims is NOT consistent with skepticism.

    A non-atheist skeptic is only a sometime skeptic, an incomplete skeptic, someone who only uses skepticism on other people’s beliefs.

    That sort of skepticism is self-serving and dishonest.

  74. #74 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    April 13, 2010

    @ambulocetacean:

    What does it matter if folks like Orac focus on medicine and leave the anti-religion stuff to folks like PZ?

    That wouldn’t matter. But that’s not what the argument is about. The argument is about certain people (such as Orac) making remarks that disparage what other people (like PZ, and a lot of others) think are important topics to pipe up about. Let Orac just focus on medicine. Fine. But when he (or other acommodationists) make disapproving, dismissive remarks about atheist activism, and affect not to understand that the same lack of critical thinking skills underpins both the resistance to accepting evolution and the rejection of science-based medicine, then there’s a problem.

    There’s a real asymmetry here, amb, and you need to recognize that. It’s not simply some folks like Orac saying, “that fight’s not my cup of tea, so I’ll stay out of it.” They’re saying, “I think you’re getting upset about nothing, I won’t recognize the common problems in critical thinking that we’re both affected by, and I’m going to be dismissive about your pet project and look down on it (while failing to acknowledge that the same root problem – faith-based thinking – is responsible for both).”

  75. #75 Hurin
    April 13, 2010

    To be honest I don’t think there is minimal difference between atheism and agnosticism

    should read:

    To be honest I think there is minimal difference between atheism and agnosticism…

  76. #76 Redhill
    April 13, 2010

    ambulocetacean

    Agree with you about the big tent.

    A bit of division of labour in the humanist secularist rationalist skeptic atheist spectrum is no bad thing.

    We don’t need to become a monolithic movement. There is plenty of work for each of us that accords with our interests and gifts in the great marketplace of ideas.

    Non-believing skeptics may not see opposing religion as their main priority but they are of course hostile to explanations based on the supernatural. That should include hostility toward Templeton like efforts to conflate science with theism or deism.

    And we know that the mind set associated with skepticism is corrosive to religious belief in the long run.

  77. #77 Yogzotot
    April 13, 2010

    Back to the original issue: The debate was based on the (overhyped) “Dawkins wants to arrest Pope” news. Some skeptics were not comfortable with this approach of “activist atheism”, even if no one challenged the underlying issue, i.e. the privileges society still falsely holds for religions, even if they are only in our heads.

    So for me the whole discussion that also continued on Twitter was not skepticism vs. atheism — it was about skepticism vs. secularism. They are close, but not the same. Both want to avoid the privilege of belief, and I don’t think any skeptic (if atheist, agnostic or even theist (?)) wants to suggest that religions and religious people should be above the law.

    But for me the domain of skepticism is science, and the domain for secularism is the law. So I don’t see this debate as something “for the skeptical movement” at all.

  78. #78 jcmartz.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    Although a citizen’s arrest could be made against The PopeTM. That cranky uncle ratzi.

  79. #79 llewelly
    April 13, 2010

    Bribase | April 12, 2010 7:05 PM:

    Utakata and Llewelly

    Keep in mind that agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive.

    I agree with that. I think that most atheists are also agnostics, and agnostics are also atheists in the sense that they lack belief in god. However I do think that in the absence of social considerations, those who think the inability to know whether god exists is most important will tend to call themselves agnostics, while those who think Occam’s razor is more important will tend to call themselves atheists.

  80. #80 llewelly
    April 13, 2010

    Josh, Official SpokesGay | April 13, 2010 12:09 AM:

    Orac:

    I’m interested in science and critical thinking. I don’t really care about religion one way or the other. That’s been true for a while. What’s new is that I don’t really care that much about atheism one way or the other any more. The whole “militant atheism” thing now simply bores me as much as religion does, that’s all.

    It astounds me how blind you can be. I’m a regular reader of your blog, and I cheer out loud when I see you take down irrational thinking, woo, Jenny McCarthy, anti-vax stuff, you name it.

    Not everyone can have the same priorities. Furthermore, since everyone has finite resources, and therefor cannot care about everything, it would be a disaster if everyone did have the same priorities. Skepticism needs people who put health ahead of atheism. And it needs people who put atheism ahead of health. It needs people who focus on UFOs, people who focus on cryptids, people who focus on “free energy” machines, people who focus on cold-reading, on financial scams, on AGW-denialism – Skepticism needs all sorts. To demand everyone care most about atheism is to demand the impossible.

    It’s not blindness at all. It’s a recognition that we all have finite resources and must set priorities.

  81. #81 Rorschach
    April 13, 2010

    I cannot understand how you, of all people, don’t see the connection between habits of thinking that rely on faith, and habits of thinking that cause people to reject science-based medicine.

    What do you mean? What qualifications does a breast surgeon bring to the table wrt critical thinking skills that qualify him uniquely to make qualified statements about the toxicity of religion?

    It’s not just Orac, all these so-called sceptics that think the atheism-religion debate is irrelevant, and that applying the same tools to religion that they happily apply to alt-med, astrology or whatever woo is harmful to some cause, have some dissonance going on in their sceptic module.

  82. #82 ambulocetacean
    April 13, 2010

    Josh @74: Fair enough. I agree that nobody should be telling atheists to shut up. Not that we ever will shut up, of course.

    The world not yet being entirely perfect, I still think it’s good that religion-neutral sceptics are helping religious parents realise that they should take their kids to real doctors instead of quacks.

    If nothing else, it means there’ll be more roast babies for us next Athiest Thanksgiving.

  83. #83 Rorschach
    April 13, 2010

    Skepticism needs people who put health ahead of atheism

    Maybe.However, the point is that it is not IMO logically consistent to do so.
    You can have different emphasis on things, for sure, but as a sceptic to say that woo A and B are woo but woo X and Y are exempt from your sceptical inquiry because they don’t interest you is not logically consistent.
    But that’s why religionists love the accomodationists.

  84. #84 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    April 13, 2010

    With respect, isn’t “Militant atheism bores me” an admission that the fight isn’t his cup of tea, rather then saying “The fight is unimportant”? Or am I the only one who can’t watch C-Span without getting insanely bored?

  85. #85 peter.jeaiem
    April 13, 2010

    If a “cause” is harmed by being open and honest,… I would say fuck that cause.

  86. #86 vanharris
    April 13, 2010

    …praying to a magical sky-primate to bring you a new bicycle?

    Hey! I didn’t know i could do that. I wanna new specialist TT bike. Carbon frame & all the best components. Bwaaaaaaahhhhhhh! Oh great one.

  87. #87 jack.rawlinson
    April 13, 2010

    I don’t really worry too much about the “I’m an atheist but” crowd. I just regard them as part of the problem right along with the religious, and treat them accordingly.

  88. #88 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    I think it’s important to define what we mean by “accommodationist”.

    I am an “accommodationist” in the sense that I think we should be working with liberal and moderate religious believers against fundamentalists and religious conservatives. Encouraging liberal religious views is a worthwhile endeavour. If every Pat Robertson or Benedict XVI were replaced with a Rowan Williams or Katharine Jefferts Schori, we’d be living in a much better world, even if the number of religious believers were exactly the same.

    Fundamentally, if someone supports gay rights, accepts evolution and other established scientific fact, and acknowledges individuals’ rights to make their own decisions both about religion and about their private lives, then I don’t care if he or she maintains a private god-belief. It may be irrational, but there is no reason why I, or any other atheist, should give a toss about it either way; it’s just a harmless personal eccentricity. But when religion becomes a problem is when it starts invading the sphere of science, or being used as a justification to impose stupid and arbitrary laws or to oppress those who deviate from patriarchal norms of behaviour. Which is why atheists, agnostics, deists, and liberal believers should join forces to attack fundamentalism and religious conservatism.

    People like Sam Harris attack liberal and moderate believers for providing some sort of “cover” to fundamentalism, or for not sufficiently denouncing their more extreme co-religionists. But I don’t think that’s always true. Look at Barry Lynn – a Christian minister who’s devoted much of his career to fighting the theocratic religious right. Look at the Metropolitan Community Church, an entire Christian sect dedicated to fighting for full LGBT equality. Look at the liberal factions within the Anglican/Episcopal Church who actively worked, successfully, for the ordination of women and gay people to the priesthood. And look at the many liberal and moderate Christians, including some who comment here (Scott Hatfield and Leigh Williams), who are actively involved in pro-science organisations and supporting the teaching of evolution.

    I should add that I’m not defending the epistemology of liberal religion itself. It’s nonsense. Like all religious believers, religious liberals base their beliefs on emotion and wishful thinking rather than evidence, have no coherent epistemic basis for distinguishing between religious “truth” and “falsehood”, and cherry-pick bits of sacred texts and doctrine that they like while ignoring the inconveniently violent, bigoted or reactionary bits. As I said on another thread, “God” becomes whatever the individual believer wants him to be: believers who are good people tend to believe in a fluffy loving caring sympathetic God, while believers who are misanthropic and bigoted tend to believe in a violent reactionary God. So liberal religion is no more intellectually defensible than conservative religion – in fact, sometimes less so. But what I’m saying is that this doesn’t matter. I don’t give a damn whether people believe in a fluffy loving caring God because it makes them feel better – as long as they accept real science, respect the right of others to reject their beliefs, and don’t seek to impose crazy rules or institutionalise discrimination.

  89. #89 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    I think it’s important to define what we mean by “accommodationist”.

    I know damn well you’ve been around for the last couple of years, so you know perfectly well what it means.

    Look at Barry Lynn – a Christian minister who’s devoted much of his career to fighting the theocratic religious right. Look at the Metropolitan Community Church, an entire Christian sect dedicated to fighting for full LGBT equality. Look at the liberal factions within the Anglican/Episcopal Church who actively worked, successfully, for the ordination of women and gay people to the priesthood.

    Ah yes, the lesser evil is acceptable if it’s in conflict with the greater; the enemy of our enemy is our friend and so forth. Very pragmatic, in the short term. Unprincipled, and liable to bite your bum in the longer term, but hey!

    I don’t give a damn whether people believe in a fluffy loving caring God because it makes them feel better – as long as they accept real science, respect the right of others to reject their beliefs, and don’t seek to impose crazy rules or institutionalise discrimination.

    Sheesh, again, you’ve been reading here long enough to know that that’s the Pharyngula consensus anyway. Remember “a hobby, like knitting”?

  90. #90 shonny
    April 13, 2010

    Posted by: Rorschach Author Profile Page | April 13, 2010 2:22 AM

    Maybe we have to make a grading of skeptics:

    #10 skeptic – question absolutely everything
    #9 skeptic – question pretty well everything
    #8 skeptic – question almost everything
    #7 skeptic – question a lot
    #6 skeptic – question many things
    #5 skeptic – question some things
    #4 skeptic – question few things
    #3 skeptic – question things occasionally
    #2 skeptic – question things seldom
    #1 skeptic – question things when told to

    and then there’s #11, the industrial grade skeptic who question absolutely everything insistently and aggressively.

    #4 and down count as ‘not pass’ as proper skeptic, as they include the religious.

  91. #91 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    shonny:

    Maybe we have to make a grading of skeptics:

    I doubt that.

  92. #92 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    I am an “accommodationist” in the sense that I think we should be working with liberal and moderate religious believers against fundamentalists and religious conservatives. Encouraging liberal religious views is a worthwhile endeavour.

    Working together with and encouraging are not always simultaneous.

    If every Pat Robertson or Benedict XVI were replaced with a Rowan Williams or Katharine Jefferts Schori, we’d be living in a much better world, even if the number of religious believers were exactly the same.

    Problem is that is an unfeasible situation. Conservative Christian Fundamentalists are not going to evolve into liberal ones.
    The only thing we can hope for is that gradually, generations after generations soft liberal christians as well as conservative fundamentalist christians reduce their percentage of the population. And we can try to accelerate this process by a better education, rationalist secularist activism and atheist out campaigns.

    This is not about the atheist democracy making an alliance with the liberal christian democracy to conquer the fundamentalist christian theocracy. But it has all to do with avoiding the religious meme to pass on to the next generations and helping those who are on the fringe to abandon it within the comming years.

    You need to be realistic about what can be achieved.

  93. #93 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Working together with and encouraging are not always simultaneous

    I’d like to precise what I meant:

    we can work together with soft liberal christians on the things we both care about, political liberalism, social justice, maybe pro science activism and secularism. But we don’t need to encourage religious ideas that we’ve rejected for ourselves. This is just an inconsistent proposition.

  94. #94 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    Problem is that is an unfeasible situation. Conservative Christian Fundamentalists are not going to evolve into liberal ones.

    I disagree. Most of the major Christian movements are, at present, full of internal conflict between liberal and conservative factions. This process tends to be more visible in those Christian denominations that are run relatively democratically (Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc) than in those which are closed authoritarian structures (the Catholic Church and the LDS Church being pre-eminent examples), but the struggle between liberals and conservatives exist in the latter, too.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the major American Protestant churches have split, or are in the process of splitting, into liberal and conservative wings. The Baptists have the Southern Baptist Convention (conservative) and the Baptist Churches USA (moderate to liberal), as well as a whole host of smaller groups which are either more fundamentalist or more liberal than the mainstream. Similarly, the Lutherans have the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (moderate to liberal), and two crazy fundie offshoots, the WELS and the Missouri Synod. The same story is repeated with most Protestant movements – there has been a war between the liberals and the reactionaries for decades. And considering that the great majority of people in the world are religious, and that these churches are very influential around the world, it’s really important for society that the liberals, not the reactionaries, win that fight.

    The Anglican Communion has just about managed to stay together, but it, too, has an ongoing war between conservatives and liberals. In Anglicanism, it’s complicated by the fact that there are two distinct groups of conservatives – the Anglo-Catholics and the evangelicals – who dislike one another; but this is good, because it’s allowed the liberals to gain the ascendancy. At the moment, in most of the developed world, the mainstream of the Anglican Church has become much more liberal in recent years – disproving your suggestion that religious conservatives can’t be encouraged to become more liberal. People like Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are much more progressive than the bulk of their predecessors, and are much more concerned with fighting poverty and social injustice than with making up arbitrary rules about people’s sex lives. But it’s still important to fight to keep the gains that have been made – because the Anglican Church does also have a batshit insane troglodyte wing which opposes women priests, doesn’t like gay rights or abortion, and wants to return the church to an earlier reactionary age. And even for those of us who are atheists, this is important, because I’d rather see the church using its influence on society for good than for evil.

    The RCC, conversely, is still in the iron grip of reactionary conservatism. It made a few baby steps forward with Vatican II, but has regressed under the current Pope, who I despised even before the child abuse scandals. Since it’s an undemocratic structure run by a small elite, it’s a lot harder to change than a democratically-run Protestant church. But still, it’s encouraging that the vast majority of Catholic laity, and quite a lot of priests, are more liberal than the official views of the Vatican. And considering the massive influence that the RCC has on politics and society in many countries around the world, and the huge human suffering its current policies engender, the fight between liberals and conservatives in the RCC, as in other churches, really matters for the progress of human society.

    We, as secularists, can’t just shrug our shoulders and let different religious factions fight it out as if it were none of our concern. We can’t set ourselves apart from the global society in which we live, which, like it or not, still consists mostly of religious believers. Where the major churches stand on issues like contraception, gay rights, or women’s equality makes a very big difference to the world we live in, for all of us. And so, we need to take sides in internal religious conflicts, and we need to actively take the side of the liberals and moderates against the conservatives and fundamentalists. I am entirely outspoken about the fact that I don’t believe in any gods and think religion is bullshit. But in a fight between an idea of “God” that wants peace, justice and social inclusion, and an idea of “God” that dislikes gays and thinks women belong in the home, I’m supporting the good myth against the bad myth.

  95. #95 Rorschach
    April 13, 2010

    Walton, good on you mate.Good one.

  96. #96 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    Walton, you #94 is essentially a restatement of your #88.

    Substitute ‘con-men’ and ‘muggers’ in for “moderates” and “fundamentalists”, and by your same argument you’d take sides with the con-men — they do much less harm, right?

    Bah.

  97. #97 Carlie
    April 13, 2010

    Walton, your position is fine – for you. But riffing off of Josh’s comments, there is still a place for people who condemn the whole lot. It is still ok to tell moderates that even if their happy fuzzy version of a sky god isn’t quite as harmful to society as a whole as a vengeful jealous god, it’s still just as ludicrous. It’s not the working with moderates that’s being attacked, it’s the idea that everyone must defer to their beliefs simply not to offend them and anyone who doesn’t is “hurting atheism”.

  98. #98 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    consider these two statements of yours :

    If the claim is that a god exists but doesn’t manifest then what’s the fucking point of believing in one?

    In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the major American Protestant churches have split, or are in the process of splitting, into liberal and conservative wings

    I see no evidence that the conservative fundies are becoming more liberal. It’s not one merging into the other, but both drifting further apart.

    Fundies don’t become liberal christians. Each group wants to gain influence on their churches’ policies and that’s why they are spliting or in the case of the catholics for example one faction is gaining influence over the other. If anything both might abandon their religion and become atheist or non religious. Or their children will.

    The process is not one of gradual deterioration of faith. Note that fundies and liberals regard each other as untrue christians. Each considers that his/her faith is immuable and very strong.

    But still, it’s encouraging that the vast majority of Catholic laity, and quite a lot of priests, are more liberal than the official views of the Vatican.

    I see absolutely no evidence of this. All polls show that catholics are about split in half between conservative/authoritarian and more liberal factions. Each one gains successively hierarchical influence like a swinging pendulum. With Ratzi at the held, the more conservative and authoritarian faction is the one with currently the most influence. But that doesn’t mean in any way that the laity is becoming more liberal. Where do you get this idea from?

    The rest of your post is more of the same unevidenced based contradictory statements.

    You want to believe that the religious are becoming more liberal when what we see over the past 3 or 4 decades is both camps drifting further apart, maintaining their relative sizes, and losing more or less equally to atheists and non religious. This is a phenomena that is supported by countless evidence in most countries in the world.

  99. #99 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    sorry, mistake. This should read:

    consider these two statements of yours :

    Most of the major Christian movements are, at present, full of internal conflict between liberal and conservative factions.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the major American Protestant churches have split, or are in the process of splitting, into liberal and conservative wings

  100. #100 shonny
    April 13, 2010

    Accommodationism seems to have a lot in common with Lysenkoism; twisting science to suit the desired outcome.
    And those wanting to mix the two, accommodationists, will always be the quislings in one camp or the other. No if’s or but’s.

  101. #101 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    April 13, 2010

    @Bribase #34:

    But maybe on the god exists claim skeptics should hold a rigid agnosticism.

    I won’t even discuss a “god exists” claim as such. That’s far too vague. If someone wants to talk theism with me, they’ll have to define their terms before I even ask for evidence.

  102. #102 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    And so, we need to take sides in internal religious conflicts, and we need to actively take the side of the liberals and moderates against the conservatives and fundamentalists

    That’s the typical incoherent accomodationist stance: we need to be nice with the religious moderates and help them win against the conservatives.

    First, there is no evidence that we’ve got any influence on their internal conflicts. Second, there’s much evidence that when we do that, we are the ones who lose, not the conservatives. The only way to be consistent is to be outspoken and critical of both, for whatever reasons they deserve it from us. That’s simple, and it works. We win, and they both lose more or less equally.

    The notion that both non religious and moderate religious are going to win against the fundies is crazy and never worked in any country.

  103. #103 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    Walton, your position is fine – for you. But riffing off of Josh’s comments, there is still a place for people who condemn the whole lot. It is still ok to tell moderates that even if their happy fuzzy version of a sky god isn’t quite as harmful to society as a whole as a vengeful jealous god, it’s still just as ludicrous. It’s not the working with moderates that’s being attacked, it’s the idea that everyone must defer to their beliefs simply not to offend them and anyone who doesn’t is “hurting atheism”.

    Yes, I totally agree with you on that. Religious ideas should be open to discussion and challenge just like any other ideas, and we should be free to say clearly that we don’t see any evidence for the existence of deities. I am completely candid with my religious friends and family about my atheism, and often argue with them about religion. Certainly, in religion as in politics, we shouldn’t abandon rational discussion for the sake of avoiding “offending people”. No one has the right not to be offended, and everyone’s opinions ought to be open to rational criticism.

    That’s what I meant at the start when I said that it all depends what you mean by “accommodationism”. If “accommodationism” means forming alliances with liberal religionists and supporting them in their fight against conservative and fundamentalist religion, then I’m an accommodationist. But if “accommodationism” means hiding one’s atheism, or avoiding discussion of controversial religious issues so as not to “offend” the religious, then that kind of accommodation is total bullshit. I’ve seen the term used in both senses around here, which is why I thought it was important to make this point.

  104. #104 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    The notion that both non religious and moderate religious are going to win against the fundies is crazy and never worked in any country.

    Didn’t it? Here in the UK, for example, there is today a broad consensus in favour of the teaching of evolution, in favour of LGBT rights, and so on. Britain has its share of creationists, religious reactionaries and homophobes: but the wingnuts are losing the culture war, because the secular population and the moderate religious population are united against them, and secularists and moderate religionists together form the majority of the British population. If it were just the secular population fighting these battles on its own, we’d face a much harder struggle for science and equal rights.

    The only issue in British politics which really does pit secularists directly against religious believers is the public funding of faith schools – and on that issue, the religious are so far winning.

  105. #105 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    If “accommodationism” means forming alliances with liberal religionists and supporting them in their fight against conservative and fundamentalist religion, then I’m an accommodationist.

    More nonsense.
    There can be no such thing as an alliance between atheists and religious moderates to support them in their fight against the fundies.
    There are alliances over issues, for example pro gay rights activists, or pro women’s rights or pro evolution education or a pro green movement.

    But there’s no such thing as an accomodationist/ religious moderates alliance with a mission statement that reads : let’s be nice to each other and defeat the fundies.
    It’s a completely ill conceived notion.

  106. #106 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    Here in the UK, for example, there is today a broad consensus in favour of the teaching of evolution, in favour of LGBT rights, and so on.

    UK and most of Western Europe has seen the same thing : about half of the population are now non religious or more generally secularists, and the other half is split more or less equally between moderate religious and fundies.

    But it didn’t happen with the non religious and the moderates making an alliance and both winning over the fundies. Moderates lost as much if not more as the fundies to the secularists.

  107. #107 Redhill
    April 13, 2010

    Walton

    Agree with the thrust of your #94. I did get a bit lost among all those church groups & can’t comment on them but I understood you to be saying work with people who support secular values regardless of their metaphysics or religion because that is the realistic thing to do in political terms.

    Charles Bradlaugh, who founded the British National Secular Society and took atheism into the British Parliament in 1880, wrote “each religion is slowly but certainly modified in its dogma and practice by the gradual development of the peoples amongst whom it is professed”

    So the task is to keep that gradual development going by promoting secular and skeptical values.

    Those words are from one of Bradlaugh’s essays in his book, “Humanity’s Gain From Unbelief”. The title reminds me that atheists and skeptics could do more to promote the positive benefits of what Bradlaugh called the “tolerant indifference of skepticism”.

    If people like Charles Bradlaugh never existed western society would be a lot uglier. The faithful could still be burning witches and persecuting heretics.

  108. #108 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    There can be no such thing as an alliance between atheists and religious moderates to support them in their fight against the fundies.
    There are alliances over issues, for example pro gay rights activists, or pro women’s rights or pro evolution education or a pro green movement.

    Hmmm. Actually, you’re probably right on that point: I think I was perhaps conflating these issues and didn’t separate them clearly enough in my mind.

    I think we both agree that secularists should work with liberal believers to pursue common political, social or cultural goals, such as LGBT equality or science education.

    Conversely, you’re certainly right that we don’t have any ability, as such, to influence the internal workings of religious denominations in order to support the liberals against the conservatives. There’s no reason why any church would care what atheists think about its internal power struggles – especially as these often concern points of theology, which, by definition, we don’t consider to be meaningful at all – and it isn’t an arena in which we are equipped to become involved.

    But I think that it is right to focus primarily on promoting our specific common social objectives, rather than promoting atheism or non-religion as such. If we can convince former fundie Christians, say, to accept the truth of evolution, this is a really, really important step. I don’t care whether the former fundie becomes a liberal Christian, an atheist, an agnostic, a deist, or anything else. Accepting evolution is what counts – and this is an area where atheists and liberal Christians can work together. Similarly, if we can convince a Christian that gay relationships are not wrong or socially harmful – and some Christians have changed their minds on that issue while still remaining Christians; I personally know some who have done this – then this, again, is an important step.

    For this reason, I think NCSE, and similar issue-centred organisations, are right to have a specific outreach to the religious. And I don’t think it’s wrong that their strategy sometimes incorporates arguments based on theology and the Bible. Their job is, inter alia, to promote a understanding of evolution and of modern science generally. If they can help accomplish this by convincing some former creationists that Christianity and evolution are compatible, then, in my book, that’s fine. I don’t particularly care about converting Christians to atheism; but I do care about converting creationists to accepting evolution, whether or not they remain Christian.

  109. #109 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Redhill,

    Those words are from one of Bradlaugh’s essays in his book, “Humanity’s Gain From Unbelief”. The title reminds me that atheists and skeptics could do more to promote the positive benefits of what Bradlaugh called the “tolerant indifference of skepticism”.

    I don’t know how you understand “tolerant indiference of skepticism”, but it suffices to read Bradlaugh’s essay here to note that he was far from being what one might call an accomodationist:

    AS an unbeliever, I ask leave to plead that humanity has been a real gainer from skepticism, and that the gradual and growing rejection of Christianity — like the rejection of the faiths which preceded it — has in fact added, and will add, to man’s happiness and well-being.

    My allegation will be that the special services rendered to human progress by these exceptional men have not been in consequence of their adhesion to Christianity, but in spite of it, and that the specific points of advantage to human kind have been in ratio of their direct opposition to precise Biblical enactments.

    That sounds very much like what a ‘New Atheist’ would say today.

    And, one will note:

    This essay was immediately reprinted in various parts of America and Australia as well as here in England, and at once gave rise to a storm of controversy.

  110. #110 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    But I think that it is right to focus primarily on promoting our specific common social objectives, rather than promoting atheism or non-religion as such.

    Why must it be “rather than” and not “as well as”?

    People generally focus on what they think is important. It’d be a problem if all atheists only focussed on one thing, say LGBT rights and neglected all other issues. But in reality, different people focus on different things. There is no reason why they should only focus on promoting those objectives which are common with religious moderates and neglect those that might offend them.

    Unless you want to follow the argument that promoting atheism actually “hurts the promotion of the common social objectives by offending religious moderates”. Then you’d be welcome over at the Intersection.

    Again, the objective isn’t to help the religious moderates in their fight against the fundies, or not to offend the moderates, but to raise consciousness of a certain number of citical issues which we find dear.

  111. #111 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Walton,

    For this reason, I think NCSE, and similar issue-centred organisations, are right to have a specific outreach to the religious.

    So if I understand you well, all issue_centred organisations (NCSE, LGBT rights, Pro choice, etc…) should have a specific outreach to the religious and not promote atheism. But there shouldn’t be any group promoting atheism either, because it’s wrong to focus primarily on atheism.
    So let’s make sure nobody promotes atheism.
    PZ please stop now.

    Did I get the message correctly?

  112. #112 SplendidMonkey
    April 13, 2010

    “Atheist” is a skeptic merit badge

  113. #113 llewelly
    April 13, 2010

    Walton, if you have not read Dan Dennett’s Breaking The Spell, I strongly recommend it. It explains how religion has obtained many special privileges in our public discourse, most of them subtle, and how most people – including many atheists – are so accustomed to unthinkingly granting religion these special privileges, that they do not recognize what they are doing. Dennett goes on to explain how the special privileges are undeserved, and why religion should not be granted them, even if it is beneficial.

  114. #114 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 13, 2010

    I’ve just dropped back in after several days of being mostly nonpresent in these august virtual pages; at the risk of jumping into the middle of a conversation I haven’t read all of, I think Walton has put his finger on something:

    I think I was perhaps conflating these issues and didn’t separate them clearly enough in my mind.

    I think to a large degree this whole argument arises from our tendency to conflate the fight for a secular society with the fight for social justice. There’s a huge degree of overlap between the two, of course, but they are (IMHO) actually distinct fights. In the former, of course, there can logically be no talk of making common cause with theists of any stripe… but in the latter, I think it’s reasonable to find allies wherever we can on specific issues that are dear to us. Where would we be today if secular civil rights activists had refused to join with King because of his religious platform?

    I also think that, as hard as it is for us to imagine, it is possible to be religious and a skeptic, for two reasons:

    First, I think the sheer historical inertia of mainstream religion — the extent to which it’s been woven into the fabric of our culture over millennia — allows people to mentally (and unconsciously) segregate the religious part of their lives from the things they actually make choices about. They don’t apply rational decision making to religion, the way they might to almost everything else, because they don’t see it as something to make a decision about in the first place: It just is. (As an aside, I think breaking through this notion of religion as an inevitable backdrop for the rest of life is one of the key challenges facing anti-theists.) This seems crazy to committed rationalists… but I think that’s because we generally seriously underestimate the ability of the human mind to accommodate cognitive dissonance. You say it makes absolutely no sense to profess religious belief while condemning all other forms of woo? No problem; we can cope with making absolutely no sense… in fact, we’re good at that.

    Second, I think we tend to underestimate the number self-identified religious people who aren’t really theists. For some of the same reasons mentioned above, people often identify with religions and attend churches quite independently of what they may… or may not… believe about god(s). Because they’re the ones who get in the news for screwing around with textbooks and libraries and proms, and for generally ramming their god-belief down others’ throats, and thus get talked about around here, we tend to (I suspect) equate “Christian” with hardcore fundy evangelicals… but I think that’s a skewed perception. I can’t prove it, but I would be willing to bet that on any given Sunday, as many as 80% of the people sitting in church pews are people who don’t give two seconds’ thought to god or jebus when they’re not in church. I know that was the case with the Episcopal parish I grew up in: My parents were founding members, and personal friends of the founding pastor, and my mother’s artwork could be found in the sanctuary and the Sunday school classrooms (maybe it’s even still there?)… and yet I never heard one word about god or any other religious topic at home. Even our Christmas celebrations were all-Santa-no-creche secular. Church was a social club, a platform for charity, a connection (in my mother’s case) to family tradition… but it had nothing to do with god. The same was true later in my childhood when, having drifted away from the Episcopal parish, we briefly attended the local Methodist church, just ‘cuz my Dad (who was unremittingly cynical about religion in general) happened to like the preacher and my Mom was in Garden Club with some of the Methodist ladies. When I was invited, in HS, to attend the Church of the Nazarene with a close friend, I was frankly shocked at how much they talked about actual theology, because even though I’d been going to one church or another all my life, God had never really been part of the experience! (BTW, just ask a fundy about this: They don’t think most mainstream church members are real Christian, either, and it’s not just No True Scotsman® syndrome: From their theological POV, they’re absolutely correct.) Even the Catholic parishes I attended from the time I met my wife until a few years ago were far more social than theological (probably to the consternation of the priests and lay leaders), with members more interested in community, cultural heritage, or family tradition than in anything mystical.

    Which is to say, the vast majority of nominal Christians I have known personally have been, for all intents and purposes, nontheists in fact, attending church just because it’s what one does. And I have no reason to suspect my experience is atypical.

    So while I agree that there’s no sense in allying ourselves with even merely nominally religious people when it comes to fighting against the unfair privilege accorded to religion in our society, it’s also probably a miscalculation to write off everyone who identifies as religious as inherently irrational WRT to other forms of skepticism, or WRT to social-justice concerns on which we might agree.

    And, to put a slightly Machiavellian coda on this, to the extent that secularists making common cause with liberal religionists on issues like gay rights has the potential to cause Deep Rifts Within the Church™, it’s not entirely clear to me that’s a bad thing: Can a church divided against itself long stand? And wouldn’t we be happy if it fell?

  115. #115 Aaron Baker
    April 13, 2010

    ‘Tis Himself at #59: “Fuck the accommodationists. They can play their silly games if they want to, but I’m not going to play with them. I won’t pander to the goddists and I won’t pander to the goddists’ accommodationist lickspittles either.”

    Brave, brave Sir ‘Tis Himself. Whenever I read him, I know Orac feels.

  116. #116 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    I think that the distinction between knowing & believing is specious. Why would someone know something yet not believe it, or vice versa? I don’t know whether or not the supernatural exists, hence I neither believe or disbelieve in it. I call myself agnostic, not atheist. To my mind, calling oneself theist or atheist either one claims privy knowledge that no one possesses. Perhaps such knowledge is unobtainable or maybe no one has figured out a methodology for gaining such knowledge yet. I don’t know. I am without (a-) knowledge (-gnosis) about the matter, and have no belief about it either way. Perhaps the most parsimonious explanation for why something can’t be or hasn’t yet been directly observed or measured is because it doesn’t exist, but such lack of evidence doesn’t absolutely preclude its existence. My agnosticism may make me a “functional atheist” but I am not going to claim knowledge I don’t possess, and am not going to base belief on what I do not know.

  117. #117 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    Unless you want to follow the argument that promoting atheism actually “hurts the promotion of the common social objectives by offending religious moderates”. Then you’d be welcome over at the Intersection.

    Depends what you mean by “promoting atheism”. I’m entirely open with my friends and family about the fact that I’m an atheist. I talk about atheism, and the reasons for it, if it becomes relevant in a conversation; and I don’t hide the fact that I consider theism to be fundamentally irrational. Religious ideas are open to challenge like any other ideas, and I certainly don’t go out of my way to avoid offending religionists. I don’t subscribe to the absurd notion that atheists are being somehow “too militant” simply by publicly expressing our lack of belief in deities.

    But, on the other hand, if “promoting atheism” means “trying to convert other people to atheism”, then it’s a total and utter waste of time. Why would I want to evangelise for a lack of belief in gods? Like I said, as long as I can make common cause with people on the social, political and scientific issues that actually matter, I don’t care whether they continue to believe in an imaginary being. I think they’re wrong to do so, and I will say so if it becomes relevant, but I’m not interested in trying to convince people to abandon religion in and of itself.

    What does matter, on the other hand, is campaigning on issues that actually make a serious difference – LGBT rights, secular education (in the UK, we have a whole ridiculous system of state-funded church-run “faith schools”, which I consider to be a very poor use of taxpayers’ money), proper science, opposing “alternative medicine” and similar dangerous woo, and so on. On these issues, we should not only speak out, but should actively try to change policy and influence other people’s decisions.

  118. #118 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    Orac:

    I’m interested in science and critical thinking. I don’t really care about religion one way or the other.

    Wow. What a dumbass pair of sentences.

    Jesus, Orac.

    We have good scientific reasons to think that specifically religious claims are systematically false—even unfalsifiable ones that most people think are beyond the reach of science. (A very convenient misconception that the accommodationists try to exploit.)

    The lack of intersubjective agreement among religious people about basic claims and the proliferation of minor claims shows that religion is a fractal wrongness generator.

    (Religious people can’t even agree on whether there are any gods, how many gods there are, whether they’re persons, whether they created the universe, whether they did it ex nihilo, etc. Likewise they don’t agree on basic moral issues, beyond what secular humanism gets you. Logically, many basic religious claims of most religions must be false, and there’s no reason to think that any religion is an exception. True skepticism demands skepticism toward religion, even if religion limits itself to unfalsifiable claims. We know it’s typically wrong, and it’s increasingly clear why it tends to be wrong, so in lieu of extraordinary evidence, any religious claim must be viewed as likely false, or perhaps not even wrong. Scientifically speaking.)

    Basic intersubjective disagreements among the religious is evidence against the reliability of religious revelation and spiritual insight, just as the lack of intersubjective agreement among psychics is evidence against their supposed abilities, even when their claims are unfalsifiable.

    This is what accommodationists want to sweep under the rug.

    Science shows pretty clearly that supernaturalism is bogus, root and branch. We now have pretty good materialist explanations for everything religion was supposed to explain, including morality and religion itself. We also have good evidence that the supernaturalist paradigm generally doesn’t work—it systematically generates bullshit, for scientifically explicable reasons.

    Supernaturalist religion is clearly the biggest and most widespread failure of skepticism. It is exactly the sort of bullshit that skepticism is supposed to expose, and it’s by far the most important form of that bullshit.

    If there’s any two things we know that most people don’t know, and most people would consider important if they did know, it’s that there’s probably no god and that there’s almost certainly no immortal soul.

    Think about it. Which of these claims would most people find most interesting, and most important:

    1. Homeopathy is bullshit.

    2. Astrology is bullshit.

    3. Religion is bullshit.

    4. Your immortal soul is bullshit.

    If you happen to find the latter just boring you’re either a stunningly selective skeptic, with an advanced case of tunnel vision, or perhaps a disingenuous asshole defending his particular narrow priorities.

    Even given your narrow priorities, what you’re saying is simplistic and kinda stupid.

    Most people are dualists, and many if not most are vitalists. They believe in supernatural or supernaturalish stuff.

    That’s usually why they believe in BS like quantum woo and Chiropractic and crystal healing and so on. They think there’s a life force, or some spiritual “energy” or “vibration” or whatthefuckever, and that it can directly affect the high-level properties (like “health”) of high-level things (like bodies and minds).

    You’re never going to get rid of that sort of bullshit until people realize that that’s fundamentally not how bodies and minds work. Bodies and minds are fucking complicated machinery in operation, and that’s the one thing that the most people need to know in order to be appropriately skeptical of all sorts of woo.

    Most of the BS you do bother to fight is rooted in supernaturalist or supernaturalish paradigms, and religion is the biggest defender of that kind of paradigm, and the greatest opponent of the most interesting scientific truths.

    If you of all people find that boring, that’s just sad.

  119. #119 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog,

    I think that the distinction between knowing & believing is specious.

    Believing is simply considering a certain affirmation to be true.

    Knowledge is justified true belief, ie a belief that one knows is true (or at least sufficently true) for having provided or understood a sufficient amount of justification (empirical or logical deduction or inferences from other elements of knowledge).

    For example, one can say
    “I believe that my teacher will give me a good grade”. But you don’t know yet whether that’s true or not. Once you get your grade, if it’s a good one, you won’t say “I believe that my teacher gave me a good grade”, but rather “I know that my teacher gave me a good grade”.

    Now of course, if you are sufficiently confident that your teacher will give you a good grade (for whatever justification), you might say “I know that my teacher will give me a good grade”. Whether you are right or wrong in assuming this as an element of knowledge will depend on how solid your justification for holding such belief as true is.

    Supertitious religious beliefs are typically beliefs only, and not knowledge, as there is no sufficient justification for considering such beliefs true. One might hold such beliefs, ie consider them true based on “faith”, ie some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, intuition, or reference to a sacred text. But those are not acceptable justification to consider them knowledge.

  120. #120 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Walton:

    Like I said, as long as I can make common cause with people on the social, political and scientific issues that actually matter, I don’t care whether they continue to believe in an imaginary being.

    Whereas I would say I do “care whether [my fellow humans] continue to believe in an imaginary being,” because I think the net effect of continued religious belief in the world is negative… but that doesn’t mean I will turn away from natural allies on one issue because I disagree with them on another.

    So I may find (and in fact have found) myself standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the barricades with Episcopal (Anglican) priests and lay organization in the fight for equal marriage rights, I would just as readily find myself on the opposite side of the barricades when it comes to public funds for religious schools, invocations at public functions, etc., etc., etc.

    Here in CT, there was quite a lot of involvement by liberal Christians in the (ultimately successful) fight to first achieve and then sustain equal marriage rights; should I have refused to cooperate with them in this vital movement simply because I think their theology is crazy?

    In addition, the regrettable predicate assumption of most people — including the large middle of people who just don’t spend much time thinking about theology one way or the other — is that charity work and social justice activism is the natural province of, if not churchgoers per se, at least “spiritual” people. I wonder if having proudly self-declared atheists and secularists visibly joining with the usual religious suspects in fighting for social justice issues that are not specifically theological might not be an effective way of modeling to the vast uncommitted population that atheists are just as capable behaving morally and responsibly as religious folk. Of course that’s something we shouldn’t need to prove to anyone… but the world being “as it is rather than as it should be,” I’m afraid we do, in fact, need to prove it. And doing so may well erode the presumption of social privilege that religion currently enjoys, contributing (however incrementally) to the ultimate goal of a truly secular world.

  121. #121 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    To my mind, calling oneself theist or atheist either one claims privy knowledge that no one possesses.

    You’re simply wrong about the word “atheist.” Atheists generally do not claim to know that there is no god, for all possible definitions of “god.”

    “Atheist” generally means one of two things:

    1. Lacking belief in god. (What in the vernacular is called “agnostic” these days—popularly so-called “agnostics” are atheists.)

    2. Disbelieving in God or gods in the usual senses. (E.g. a creator god who is a moral authority.)

    So, for example, I readily acknowledge that our universe might have been created by an alien being—some kind of hyperdimensional entity, or a person who created a black hole that our universe is the inside of, or whatever.

    But that’s not what people mean by God. The kind of thing you should worship.

    If anybody asks me the simple question do you believe in God?, the answer is no, because if they ask that question that simply, as though it could have a clear answer, then it’s a near certainty that they mean specific things by “God” that are probably false.

    That’s why I’m an atheist in both senses. And so are you, I think.

    Don’t be misled by bogus definitions of atheism that never applied to any significant number of actual people—e.g., that atheists claim to know (for sure) that there is nothing that anybody might call “God” (or a “god”) for some reason.

    That’s not what atheism is or has ever been about.

    My agnosticism may make me a “functional atheist”

    It makes you an atheist in at least the weak sense, and likely some stronger version. Get used to it.

    but I am not going to claim knowledge I don’t possess, and am not going to base belief on what I do not know.

    Fine. But calling yourself an atheist wouldn’t be either of those things.

  122. #122 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Supertitious (sic) religious beliefs are typically beliefs only, and not knowledge, as there is no sufficient justification for considering such beliefs true. One might hold such beliefs, ie consider them true based on “faith”, ie some sort of warm fuzzy feeling, intuition, or reference to a sacred text. But those are not acceptable justification to consider them knowledge.

    Agreed. My point is that since faith, warm fuzzy feelings, etc., are not sufficient justifications for claiming knowledge, no such knowledge should be claimed. Belief, to my mind, is largely irrelevant. I am interested in what is (or can be) known, and not much in what is believed. Since I don’t know whether or not the supernatural exists, having no available evidence one way or the other, I claim agnosticism. Since I neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of the supernatural, the concepts of atheism versus theism do not apply.

  123. #123 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    If anybody asks me the simple question do you believe in God?, the answer is no, …

    This is where you and I differ, Paul. If someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is neither yes or no. My answer is that I simply do not know whether god exists or not, hence I have no believe one way or the other.

    One could say that since I have no belief in god’s existence, I am an atheist. But one could also say that since I have no belief in god’s nonexistence, that makes me a non-atheist. Since this is confusing & contradictory, I prefer to focus on knowledge rather than belief. I have no knowledge of the matter one way or the other; hence, I am agnostic about it.

  124. #124 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    My point is that since faith, warm fuzzy feelings, etc., are not sufficient justifications for claiming knowledge, no such knowledge should be claimed.

    Agreed. However, atheism claims no such knowledge. That’s why the atheist bus and billboard campaigns are careful to use the phrase “There probably is no god” instead of “There is no god”.

    It is a much more accurate definition of the atheist stance: that while a god of some sort is possible, it’s unlikely and completely devoid of any evidence. Atheism declares no specific knowledge of the existence or non-existence of god, simply a lack of belief given the evidence (or lack thereof).

  125. #125 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    This is where you and I differ, Paul. If someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is neither yes or no. My answer is that I simply do not know whether god exists or not, hence I have no believe one way or the other.

    OK, but I’m curious.

    What do you mean by “god” when you say that you neither believe nor disbelieve in it? Presumably the word means something to you, as it would to any interlocutor asking whether you believe in god. (Not necessarily the same meaning, of course.)

    My guess—I could be wrong here—is that the kind of god you neither believe nor disbelieve in isn’t quite the same thing as what most people who ask that question mean when asking it.

    Presumably you think beliefs in some gods are less likely to be true than beliefs in others. (Or at the very least that belief in a random particular god is less likely to be true than a belief in some unspecified god.)

    Most of us here are atheists in a fairly strong sense, in that we think the kind of god most people believe in presupposes something that’s probably false. (E.g., dualism and immaterial souls.) I don’t know if you’ve thought much about that stuff… most “agnostics” who think they’re significantly different from “atheists” haven’t.

  126. #126 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    My answer is that I simply do not know whether god exists or not, hence I have no believe one way or the other.

    Well, is you answer that YOU do not know due to lack of evidence, or that it’s impossible to know either way… it’s an important distinction.

    One could say that since I have no belief in god’s existence, I am an atheist. But one could also say that since I have no belief in god’s nonexistence, that makes me a non-atheist.

    No, that makes you a person confused about the definition of “atheist”, or of “agnostic”, for that matter.

    An agnostic believes that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know.

    It’s easier for me to state atheism the way I did above: Is it possible for god or gods to exist? Yes. But the most parsimonious explanation is that, based on the evidence we have, they probably do not exist, and certainly do not exist in any form that represents deities as described in any religion ever prescribed by humans to this point.

  127. #127 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Paul W.:

    If there’s any two things we know that most people don’t know, and most people would consider important if they did know, it’s that there’s probably no god and that there’s almost certainly no immortal soul.

    Yes, but I think the main reason most people don’t know those things is that they don’t realize there’s any question about them. As I alluded to @114, for a vast percentage of humanity, religion just is…. a fact of life as normal and unquestioned as one’s mother tongue, or one’s own name.

    I recall the shock I felt when I realized, upon being set upon by the good people of the Church of the Nazarene, that what I’d been doing up to that point — simply going through the motions of going to church — was somehow different that actual theological belief… and I was immeasurably more shocked, years later, when I allowed myself to think of not believing in god at all, not even in the casual sense of my youth, as possible.

    Think about it. Which of these claims would most people find most interesting, and most important:

    1. Homeopathy is bullshit.

    2. Astrology is bullshit.

    3. Religion is bullshit.

    4. Your immortal soul is bullshit.

    The reason the latter two claims are so much more interesting and important than the former two is precisely that they’re so much more difficult for most of us to even consider in the first place. For most people — even believers — homeopathy and astrology are within the realm of rational criticism; for many, the notion that religion and the soul should also be subjected to rational critique is quite literally unthinkable.

    There are, it seems to me, two separate tasks in this arena: Getting people to think of religion and related questions as being within the rational decision space, and then getting people to actually make rational decisions within that space. Perhaps you could say that the former is the mission of secularists, while the latter is the mission of skeptics; perhaps you would reject that distinction. Either way, it’s not obvious to me that lack of progress on the former is any reason not to proceed with the latter.

    IOW, the fact that somebody might not (yet) be reachable WRT the irrationality of their religion is no reason not to encourage them to think skeptically about everything they’re personally capable of thinking skeptically about.

  128. #128 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Okay, Celtic_Evolution, I see your point. I would contend that in the utter lack of evidence for god’s existence or nonexistence, the probability of its existence or nonexistence simply cannot be assessed. Therefore, the statement “There probably is no god” is unfounded. One cannot assess a probability on a sample size of zero.

    Perhaps it’s true that some forms of atheism declare no specific knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of god, and focus on lack of belief exclusively – although I have heard self-proclaimed atheists state unequivocally that god does not exist – but as I’ve stated in previous posts, it’s not belief that concerns me but knowledge, rather. If atheism claims no knowledge of god’s existence or nonexistence, then such atheism is better termed agnosticism. The term was good enough for Tom Huxley and it’s good enough for me.

  129. #129 Aaron Baker
    April 13, 2010

    # 115 type: I know HOW Orac feels.

  130. #130 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog,

    If someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is neither yes or no. My answer is that I simply do not know whether god exists or not, hence I have no believe one way or the other.

    Do you say the same thing if someone asks you if you believe in pink unicorns, leprechauns, and the green genie of the bottle?

  131. #131 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    An agnostic believes that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know.

    Not necessarily. An agnostic may claim that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know but I would contend that we don’t know whether or not the existence of god(s) is possible to know. Perhaps it is possible to know and it’s just that no one has invented the means of testing the null hypothesis of god’s nonexistence yet.

  132. #132 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    Therefore, the statement “There probably is no god” is unfounded. One cannot assess a probability on a sample size of zero.

    Well, only if you take the word “probably” and use it in the strictest mathematical vernacular… if you use it the way it is intended, as defined by Webster’s:

    probably: insofar as seems reasonably true, factual, or to be expected : without much doubt

    , it’s perfectly apt.

  133. #133 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    I have heard self-proclaimed atheists state unequivocally that god does not exist –

    You seriously need to reply to Paul W. Which god? It’s very relevant. If they’re talking about YHWH (which is the most likely case in western civilization when they say “god”), that’s a completely different case than whether they’re talking about some deistic entity. When you’re talking about how atheists claim things they cannot know, you’re conflating these different definitions of god.

    “it’s not belief that concerns me but knowledge, rather”

    Yes, and we can have knowledge that certain gods are contradictory entities and cannot possibly exist given the evidence we have available. This doesn’t mean a person that says “I know god doesn’t exist” denies the possibility of trickster deities or a deistic deity, they could simply be talking to a Christian who is telling them that Jesus died for us so God wouldn’t have to torture us for eternity.

    In short, you can’t really forward an honest argument here unless you start actually addressing statements like

    What do you mean by “god” when you say that you neither believe nor disbelieve in it?

    Also, I note the irony that you’re allowed to define atheism based on your understanding of the word, but when someone else does the same for agnostic you think it’s sufficient to simply give a counter assertion.

  134. #134 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    An agnostic may claim that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know but I would contend that we don’t know whether or not the existence of god(s) is possible to know.

    *sigh*… yes, it’s not possible to know if it’s possible to know if it’s possible to know if it’s possible to know… ad infinitum… but that’s not really a useful argument, now is it?

    That’s where parsimony comes in.

  135. #135 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    CE,

    An agnostic believes that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know.

    Not necessarily. That’d be a strong agnostic.
    A weak one would claim that we currently don’t know enough to justify either way.

    It’s easier for me to state atheism the way I did above: Is it possible for god or gods to exist? Yes. But the most parsimonious explanation is that, based on the evidence we have, they probably do not exist, and certainly do not exist in any form that represents deities as described in any religion ever prescribed by humans to this point.

    I agree with Llewely who said that the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is the importance they put on Ockham’s razor and the ability to use it to arrive to the statement “Gods most probably don’t exist”.

    Still, my question above is relevant, why do agnostics apply a different standard to Gods and Leprechauns.

    Maybe it’s because agnostics consider Gods, or souls, or after death as sufficiently important concepts if they exist for not rejecting them entirely from parsimony. Leprechauns are sufficiently harmless and irrelevant things even if they existed so they just reject them based on no evidence.

  136. #136 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Paul, I would define “god” as a hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness. What attributes or qualities such an entity (or nonentity) would possess, given that it exists in some sense, I am clueless regarding. Perhaps it would be pure experience. Perhaps it would interact with nature. Perhaps it has moved on, gone to sleep or died. Since no one knows whether or not such a thing even exists or once existed, how can we say anything about what it would be like if it was in some sense real?

    As for pink unicorns and leprechauns, negen, I would say that I don’t know if such things exist or not, and therefore have no beliefs regarding their existence or nonexistence, but I would probably say it with a grin on my face. Or perhaps I would say that they at least exist as concepts in the human mind.

  137. #137 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    Bill Dauphin #127 wrote:

    There are, it seems to me, two separate tasks in this arena: Getting people to think of religion and related questions as being within the rational decision space, and then getting people to actually make rational decisions within that space.

    Nicely put … the tasks of the ‘new atheists.’

    The accomodationist tasks are:

    1.) Getting people to think of religion and related questions as being outside of rational decision space.

    2.) Getting people to make rational decisions without regard to their religion.

    I think that the people you describe as being only nominally religious — those who are in it mostly for the community and personal validation — will respond well to the accomodationists’ proposal. But, for those who take religious beliefs seriously, the only thing to do is take their beliefs seriously.

    I agree with Josh, Paul, etc. When dealing with promoting skepticism and science, religion is not just the elephant in the room; it’s the ground from which irrational beliefs spring, and where they hide, and where they are encouraged. You may not choose to make it your specific “area” — but scorning it undermines the basic principles you stand on.

  138. #138 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    If atheism claims no knowledge of god’s existence or nonexistence, then such atheism is better termed agnosticism.

    Why? Because your inability to properly understand either term causes you to think so?

  139. #139 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    As for pink unicorns and leprechauns, negen, I would say that I don’t know if such things exist or not, and therefore have no beliefs regarding their existence or nonexistence, but I would probably say it with a grin on my face. Or perhaps I would say that they at least exist as concepts in the human mind.

    Would you also say it with a grin on your face for Gods? If not, what’s the difference which produces the grin on your face.
    Also, Gods and Leprechauns both exist as concepts in the human mind. We can even draw cartoons with them depicted. That wasn’t the question.

  140. #140 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    negentropyeater

    An agnostic believes that the existence of god or gods is impossible to know.

    Not necessarily. That’d be a strong agnostic.

    Fair point…

    Still, my question above is relevant, why do agnostics apply a different standard to Gods and Leprechauns.

    Yes… this is probably a better description of my point…

  141. #141 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Paul, I would define “god” as a hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness.

    Ok, there’s a start. Now, can you recognize that it was dishonest of you to say “I heard an atheist say that god doesn’t exist” and imply that they were talking about your specific definition of god? Your definition is extremely idiosyncratic, and goes against what at least 75% of the human population means when they say “god”.

  142. #142 Walton
    April 13, 2010

    Meh. Why do we make it all so complicated?

    Let’s all just start calling ourselves agnostheadeiskeptics. A god or gods might exist, but possibly or probably or definitely doesn’t, depending on how you define “god”, and some kinds of god are more plausible than others, and some of them are complete assholes if they exist, which thankfully they don’t. And one of them is a leprechaun sitting on a teapot in space. Or something like that. :-)

  143. #143 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Why? Because your inability to properly understand either term causes you to think so?

    No, because the distinction between belief and knowledge has been insisted upon. The assertion has been made that the atheist has no belief in god yet doesn’t actually know whether god, in some sense or by whatever definition, exists. I contend that what one believes or disbelieves is unimportant. What is important is what one knows. You, yourself, stated:

    Atheism declares no specific knowledge of the existence or non-existence of god, simply a lack of belief given the evidence (or lack thereof).

    Since what is of importance here is what one knows (gnosis), and you admit that no one does know, then you are more aptly & pertinently described as being agnostic than atheist. But if the label ‘atheist’ is so important to you, wear it with pride, my friend.

  144. #144 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Not necessarily. That’d be a strong agnostic.

    I thought it was a fair point to make. darwinsdog is conflating strong and weak atheism while making no effort to be clear that that is what he is doing. Why can we not to the same with strong and weak agnosticism? He’s demonstrating holding different standards when talking about atheists than he applies to agnostics.

  145. #145 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    Since what is of importance here is what one knows (gnosis), and you admit that no one does know, then you are more aptly & pertinently described as being agnostic than atheist.

    No… that’s what YOU’VE decided is important for the definitions you continue to insist we must use, and as has been pointed out, you use different standards of definition for agnostic and atheist.

    Again you continue to simply dismiss the role that parsimony plays for the atheist.

    The agnostic has no use for parsimony… there could be a god, we simply don’t know. To the agnostic, it’s as likely that there is as that there isn’t, because we just don’t know.

    The atheist takes it a step further using the principles of parsimony by saying that based on all the evidence we have for the reality in which we exist, there is no proof for the existence of god and therefor the most parsimonious explanation is that there is no god. Thus, the atheist caries a lack of belief in god as a matter of parsimony.

    But is it’s that important for you to pig-headedly redefine atheism as agnosticism using your own idiosyncratic definitions and standards to make yourself feel better, or right, do it with pride, my friend.

  146. #146 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Now, can you recognize that it was dishonest of you to say “I heard an atheist say that god doesn’t exist” and imply that they were talking about your specific definition of god?

    No dishonesty whatsoever. I have no idea what someone means when they say “god,” unless they spell out what they mean, which they usually don’t. Perhaps the atheist meant that the Judeo-Christian-Muslim Yahweh/Jehova/God-the-Father/Allah sort of god doesn’t exist, and maybe they didn’t. Maybe they had in mind more of an immanent nature spirit sort of a god, or the deity of some other religion. Maybe they meant a “hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness,” just as I defined it, doesn’t exist. Who knows?

  147. #147 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    The assertion has been made that the atheist has no belief in god yet doesn’t actually know whether god, in some sense or by whatever definition, exists.

    Not all atheists are the same. Some indeed just don’t believe in God and they haven’t taken the time to sufficiently justify that belief. That’s for example my mother, she just doesn’t believe in God because she thinks religions are stupid and harmful and never felt the need to believe in a God. Some others, for example Dawkins, have taken a lot of effort at justifying their disbelief in God and can write “why there almost certainly is no God”. So they claim at least partial knowledge about the inexistence of Gods.

  148. #148 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    Maybe they had in mind more of an immanent nature spirit sort of a god, or the deity of some other religion. Maybe they meant a “hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness,” just as I defined it, doesn’t exist. Who knows?

    I’m sorry, but this is just disingenuous…

  149. #149 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    The agnostic has no use for parsimony… there could be a god, we simply don’t know. To the agnostic, it’s as likely that there is as that there isn’t, because we just don’t know.

    The principle of parsimony has no application to the question of god’s existence or nonexistence. If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters. The reason that parsimony is inapplicable to the question of god’s existence or nonexistence is as I stated above; to whit, that it is impossible to assess a probability when no evidence whatsoever is available to base the calculation on. Indeed, the probability of god’s existence is the same as that of its nonexistence. In both cases the probability is undefined.

  150. #150 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Who knows?

    Who cares? We seeem to have this discussion here periodically by someone new. I’m not going to believe in any deity until somebody produces conclusive physical evidence for one. Until then, parsimony says that deities don’t exist due to lack of evidence. End of story.

  151. #151 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Perhaps it’s true that some forms of atheism declare no specific knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of god, and focus on lack of belief exclusively – although I have heard self-proclaimed atheists state unequivocally that god does not exist

    Maybe they meant a “hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness,” just as I defined it, doesn’t exist. Who knows?

    As I pointed out, dishonest. You cannot imply that atheists stating god does not exist (which god? you didn’t ask) is a counter-example to “some forms of atheism declar[ing] no specific knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of god [your idea of god, or someone else’s? a possible god? a specific god?] unless you know what they meant. You admit you do not.

    Your whole shtick in this thread is to either not define terms and use the ambiguity to make points that do not make sense when you get down to what the terms actually mean, or simply using your specific definition of terms as if they are the only definitions and argue as if everyone else is using them the same way. It’s tiring.

  152. #152 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    Drink!

    God, some people just don’t get the Razor…

  153. #153 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    The principle of parsimony has no application to the question of god’s existence or nonexistence.

    Wait… what???

    If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    Wait… what?????

  154. #154 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    This isn’t even wrong…

  155. #155 Jim Lippard
    April 13, 2010

    “Rebecca Watson, a godless skeptic if ever there was one, wrote a bit in support of the Hitchens/Dawkins proposal to bring legal action against the perfidious pope, and she caught some flak for it ? people claimed that opposing religion, even if it is a baby-raping religion, could ‘harm the cause'”

    Who has said this, and what did they mean? If they meant that skeptics as human beings should not support this proposal (or if this is another instance of saying that Dawkins should shut up because he’s harming science and skepticism), I would disagree with them. If, however, they said that CSI and the Skeptics Society shouldn’t issue press releases endorsing this proposal, I would agree with them. (CSH, on the other hand, I’d expect to jump on board, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear Michael Shermer personally give it a thumbs up.)

    This is a legal, ethical, political, and religious issue that doesn’t seem to me to fit into the normal scope of interest of “scientific skepticism.” It does fit into the broader scope of the “skeptical movement,” since the movement, broadly construed, includes not just advocates of “scientific skepticism” about empirically testable claims about pseudoscience and the paranormal, but groups like the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, which also tackles religion more broadly on more philosophical and ethical grounds.

    My view is that it is entirely reasonable for an organization to restrict its scope in the manner that CSI and most of the local and regional skeptical groups listed in the back of _Skeptical Inquirer_ do. Such groups aren’t atheist groups, and don’t tackle religious claims that aren’t empirically testable.

  156. #156 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 13, 2010

    The principle of parsimony has no application to the question of god’s existence or nonexistence. If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    “one” must mean something different on the planet you come from

  157. #157 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    “God did it” is not an explanation. An explanation would be how God did it. Moreover, it isn’t less parameters. A naturalist believes the laws of nature are sufficient to explain all natural phenomenae. A Goddiditter adds more parameters by suggesting there exists entities and phenomenae that can’t be explained by the laws of nature. Plus he doesn’t explain what God is, what he does, how he does it…

  158. #158 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Sastra (@137):

    Nicely put …

    We aims t’ please! ;^)

    …for those who take religious beliefs seriously, the only thing to do is take their beliefs seriously.

    I certainly agree with that, and…

    When dealing with promoting skepticism and science, religion is not just the elephant in the room; it’s the ground from which irrational beliefs spring, and where they hide, and where they are encouraged.

    …I think this is true (or, at least, I think it’s true that religion and other irrational beliefs all spring from the same ground). But I’m not sure this truth is necessarily reflected in people’s own internal emotional reality, and when it comes to persuasion, your target’s emotional reality might be more dispositive than truth.

    I’m no accommodationist, but I’m willing to be an opportunistic pragmatist when it comes to working together with liberal religionists on social justice concerns we share. That is, I don’t insist on deconverting people before I accept their help (or give them mine) in fighting for something like marriage equality or other similar issues.

    More to the point, if (hypotehtically) I knew someone who was foregoing potentially lifesaving medical treatments in favor of homeopathy or some other sort of quackery, I wouldn’t let my inability to talk them out of believing in God stop me from trying to talk them out of the other irrational belief that was killing them.

  159. #159 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    … but it does suddenly explain this entire conversation…

  160. #160 Jim Lippard
    April 13, 2010

    “I would hope, though, that it wouldn’t take molestation of children to stir up a skeptic (although, apparently, even that won’t rouse some of them, if the culprit is a priest). Shouldn’t an organization that claims you’ll go to hell after you’re dead if you don’t give them money while you’re alive also be on every skeptic’s hit list?”

    Sure, but that’s skeptics qua human beings, not skeptics qua skeptics. This is NOT a legitimate response to someone who argues that this ethical issue is not one that should be a concern of skeptical organizations that focus on empirically testable claims, unless that individual also claims that skeptics as individuals should not endorse this cause. But has anybody argued that?

    I seem to be seeing lots of straw men flying back and forth on Twitter, because of a failure to distinguish what skeptics do as individuals, what the “movement” does, and what individual skeptical organizations do. An argument that particular organizations (or even the “movement”) should restrict its scope are not arguments that nobody should be concerned about such things, nor that the person making the argument doesn’t care about them.

  161. #161 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Good post (#147) negentropyeater. Since you mentioned Dawkins, if I may be allowed a digression I will say this about him:

    I owe a lot to Richard Dawkins. I grew up reading Steve Gould’s essays (“This View of Life”) in Natural History Magazine and was pretty much convinced that Gould was the final arbiter of all questions re: evolutionary theory. Then, in the interval between college & grad school, Dawkins led me to George Williams and the rest, as they say, is history.

    I greatly enjoyed & benefited from Dawkins’ earlier works but since about the time he was appointed to his endowed chair at Oxford and stopped doing science, I lost interest in him. I think that “Unweaving the Rainbow” was the last book of his I read, when it came out. It isn’t that I am opposed to his advocacy of secular humanism & skeptical inquiry, it’s just that I find such things uninteresting relative to actual biology. To my mind Dawkins went astray when he ceased exploring questions of animal behavior, levels of selection, the mutual interactions of the organism with its environment, etc. I hope that the appeal of the fray won’t lead other professional biologists to follow this same dead-end route – and I won’t mention any names here.

  162. #162 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    I hope that the appeal of the fray won’t lead other professional biologists to follow this same dead-end route – and I won’t mention any names here.

    “Britain’s foremost public intellectual,” selling millions of books.

    Damn, I wish I could “go astray” into a “dead-end route” like that.

  163. #163 CJO
    April 13, 2010

    The principle of parsimony has no application to the question of god’s existence or nonexistence. If it did, the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.

    Yeah, we hear it from theists all the time, and it’s stupid. This would reduce parsimony to the level of a semantic game. You’re confusing simplicity of expression with simplicity of explanation.

  164. #164 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    *sigh*

    While not nearly as off-putting as some have been recently (ahem, Bird), darwinsdog is coming across as more and more of a self-important, self-assured, pretentious wank with every new comment.

  165. #166 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 13, 2010

    I get the impression the darwinsdog is a tone troll. Using the term atheist is too strong for him. He would like the whole movement to go toward the wishy-washy agnostic so nobody gets their poor little feelings hurt.

    Sorry, without even a hint of conclusive physical evidence for a deity, due to parsimony I am an atheist, and support those who wish to proclaim the same. Agnosticism is for wishy-washy wimps, and players of semantic games.

  166. #167 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    “God did it” is not an explanation. An explanation would be how God did it.

    How god did it is a separate question. I specifically said “…the most parsimonious explanation for natural phenomena would be “god did it,” since this involves the minimal number (one) of explanatory parameters.” If god uses supernatural means to effect nature, such an act would constitute exactly one explanatory parameter, from a perspective within nature. Hence, such an explanation would be more parsimonious, within the context of nature which is the only context which we, as humans, are privy to, than would be any explanation involving the observable & comprehensible concatenations of natural cause and effect. Dragging the issue of infinite regress – “if god’s the explanation then explain god” – into a narrowly defined proposition, is disingenuous, folks.

  167. #168 Jim Lippard
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog (#116) wrote: “I think that the distinction between knowing & believing is specious. Why would someone know something yet not believe it, or vice versa?”

    It’s not a specious distinction. One cannot have knowledge without belief, but one can have belief without knowledge. Knowledge adds additional requirements–that the belief be *true*, and that the belief be *justified* in some way that gives the believer rational grounds for believing it. Unjustified or false beliefs aren’t knowledge. (I’m leaving out lots of complications, like Gettier counterexamples to the definition of knowledge as justified true belief.)

  168. #169 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog,

    It sounds like you don’t know much about minds and consciousness if you think god is a consciousness, and is a simple thing that makes for a parsimonious explanation of stuff in general.

    Consciousness requires a mind. Minds are necessarily complicated things. Nothing simple can be a mind.

    If you posit a god to explain other stuff, you’re explaining something that’s maybe simple—the Theory of Everything in the physics sense, with something much, much more complicated.

    Then you have to explain where that came from, and why.

    God makes the problem worse, not better. Parsimony argues for their being no god, because God may be “one” thing in some sense, but it’s a very complicated thing that presupposes a lot of other stuff. (Perhaps another universe in which that God evolved.)

    God just pushes the interesting questions back a step without answering them.

    It’s also not a particularly plausible theory. Now that we know what minds are—information processing systems—we have reason to doubt that a mind could bring matter into existence anyway. (At least in the sense that most people assume a creator god would do—as opposed to, say, a powerful alien.)

    Science tells us how very simple things result in very complicated things like minds. Explaining the simple stuff in terms of minds is simply a huge step backward.

    It could be true—a mind might somehow be responsible for everything we see—but its general plausibility is based on dualism, which is apparently false in light of science, and it raises questions that are just as bad as the ones its supposed to answer, if not worse.

  169. #170 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Agnosticism is for wishy-washy wimps, and players of semantic games.

    I’d disagree here. Well, I don’t think I disagree with the sentiment, but I have a caveat.

    Militant (heh) agnosticism is for wishy-washy wimps. By militant agnostic I mean the jerks who run around atheist forums talking about how you have no way of knowing for sure so you’re really an agnostic and not an atheist (hi darwinsdog!), and the only reason you call yourself an atheist because “the term is important to you” (much like it’s important to them to be an agnostic and not one of those scaaaaaaary atheists who everyone hates, but they don’t acknowledge that).

    As a practical matter I’m a strong agnostic. I readily recognize that I have no way of telling I’m not a brain in a jar, and even if an actual honest-to-god deity came up and presented itself to me I would have no way of actually confirming its godhood (or that it was actually there as opposed to me hallucinating).

    However parsimony results in an atheist as a matter of belief. More accurately justified belief (or justified lack of belief if you prefer).

  170. #171 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    “Britain’s foremost public intellectual,” selling millions of books.

    Damn, I wish I could “go astray” into a “dead-end route” like that.

    Wouldn’t Steven Hawking be “Britain’s foremost public intellectual?” Even within his field Dawkins isn’t nearly as influential as Maynard Smith was, or Hamilton for that matter. But they’re dead now… I guess that it is easier to write books of mere opinion than to do original research and publish that. More lucrative too. Doesn’t add a thing to the sum total of human knowledge, though; hence, dead-end.

  171. #172 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Darwinsdog,

    It isn’t that I am opposed to his advocacy of secular humanism & skeptical inquiry, it’s just that I find such things uninteresting relative to actual biology. To my mind Dawkins went astray when he ceased exploring questions of animal behavior, levels of selection, the mutual interactions of the organism with its environment, etc. I hope that the appeal of the fray won’t lead other professional biologists to follow this same dead-end route – and I won’t mention any names here.

    “I find such things uninteresting, … To my mind…”.
    These are all things you personally believe in. Whether they are justified true beliefs, ie knowledge, is another matter.

    But you were the one who wrote in #143:

    I contend that what one believes or disbelieves is unimportant. What is important is what one knows.

    You should try to be consistent and apply the same standards to things you believe in about Dawkins and the route he followed. Why don’t you say the same thing as with belief in the existence of Gods: I don’t know whether it’s true or not.

  172. #173 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    One cannot have knowledge without belief…

    I disagree. When one has knowledge belief is superfluous.

    …but one can have belief without knowledge. Knowledge adds additional requirements–that the belief be *true*, and that the belief be *justified* in some way that gives the believer rational grounds for believing it. Unjustified or false beliefs aren’t knowledge.

    Agreed.

  173. #174 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    By militant agnostic I mean the jerks who run around atheist forums talking about how you have no way of knowing for sure so you’re really an agnostic and not an atheist (hi darwinsdog!)

    Hi Paul. When you state “…you have no way of knowing for sure so you’re really an agnostic and not an atheist” you’re exactly right. That is my point exactly. Thank you for restating it so succinctly so that I’m certain you understand.

  174. #175 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    Bill Dauphin:

    The reason the latter two claims are so much more interesting and important than the former two is precisely that they’re so much more difficult for most of us to even consider in the first place. For most people ? even believers ? homeopathy and astrology are within the realm of rational criticism; for many, the notion that religion and the soul should also be subjected to rational critique is quite literally unthinkable.

    I agree, with a caveat.

    For most people, basic religious beliefs are just not on the radar for questioning. They have difficulty taking seriously the idea that there’s no God, and often more specific beliefs like that Jesus is God. They can seriously question homeopathy or astrology.

    An anthropologist might say that God and Jesus are part of the culture’s “cosmology” (set of unquestioned background assumptions about how things work), but that homeopathy and astrology are “problematized.”

    The New Atheist task is largely one of “problematizing” religion—getting people to even conceive of questioning their culture’s “cosmology.”

    The caveat I mentioned earlier is this:

    One reason most people don’t question homeopathy or astrology as strongly as a scientific rationalist skeptic would is that they believe in dualism, and they have a very hard time imagining that not being true. They think it’s just a fact that people have souls and that souls are supernaturalish—they are not material or mechanistic, and can have direct effects on high-level properties of high-level phenomena like life and minds.

    They think there’s a lot that “science doesn’t understand,” and “science can’t address,” and in particular they think that about life and minds.

    They think there’s a life force, and a soul, so it seems reasonable to them to entertain the idea that a chiropractor can unblock their life energy and rebalance it, or that a homeopath can impose the proper “memory” on water partly by force of will, if she’s in the right frame of mind when banging a container of water.

    They don’t realize that science does address those things quite well, and that we have a pretty clear idea how things like life and minds really work, and a life force and/or a soul is just not part of the picture. There is no life force to unblock, and there is no force of will to control what water “remembers.” The universe simply doesn’t work that way.

    We scientific types know there is very good reason to disbelieve in the dualism or triplism that most people simply assume is true, and which is part and parcel of their religion.

    One reason is that they rarely hear what people like us think, even from people like Orac.

    Accommodationists soft-pedal the most interesting scientific truths—e.g., that we’re soul-free machines made out of meat—in order to appease the religious.

    And that’s why as long as accommodationism prevails, most people will be profoundly ignorant and therefore profoundly gullible about all sorts of woo.

    The believability of woo is largely a consequence of unquestioned dualism, and you’re not going to get rid of it until you get rid of dualism.

    That’s why they don’t find homeopathy and chiropractic clearly ridiculous in the way most of us do. Chiropractic and crystal healing and whatnot get a free ride on the dualism that pervades our culture, which is defended by religion, and tiptoed around by accommodationists.

    To me it’s funny-sad how organizations like the NCSE try to sell bowdlerized Darwinism, denying the most interesting and important implications of Darwinism. (E.g., that we’re machines evolved by an unguided process, and souls are bullshit, God included… and by the way, there was no Fall and you don’t need a savior.)

    I understand the strategy, and up to a point I’m glad there are some people pursuing it, but no way am I going to shut up about the very most interesting things that I know and most people don’t.

    The pervasive accommodationism in our culture has the effect of making people gullible because they have too much faith in other people’s honesty.

    People rarely question what other people don’t question, or seem not to question, partly because they trust that smarter or more knowledgeable people will tell them interesting and important things.

    For example, it’s not uncommon for undergraduates to get through several courses in psychology or philosophy without realizing that their professors are mostly atheists, and that their atheism is closely related to their study of philosophy and psychology.

    And it’s not uncommon for them to fail to see, the obvious implications of things that professors say, if the professors don’t spell them out. Or they may see them, but dismiss them.

    If the professor doesn’t spell it out, many students assume that the interesting implications that they do see aren’t actually true and worrisome, because if the implications were really that important and imporatant, the professor would have said so.

    For example, a philosopher friend of mine has taught a metaphysics and epistemology course in which the important arguments for the existence of God are analyzed and refuted.

    Many students assume that there must be other, better reasons to believe in God, and that the professor believes in God, and they shouldn’t worry about it—they assume it’s just an academic exercise to refute Aristotle and Aquinas’s old arguments for God.

    Surely, they think, she’d have told them if there were really no good arguments for God, or that she herself found the refutations sufficient to justify nonbelief in god, and she and most philosophers really didn’t believe in God because of such seemingly “academic” exercises.

    Likewise, a psych professor friend of mine teaches an overview of neuroscience and says (in so many words) that everything we experience is a product of the functioning of the brain—which he makes clear is an information processing machine made out of meat—still, many students don’t seriously question the concept of the immortal dualistic soul, or guess that the professor disbelieves in souls. Surely, they think, if neuroscience was really that interesting, he’d have said so. They may grasp a wide variety of basic mind-things that the brain does, but just assume that the soul is in there, too, doing something important. If he doesn’t spell it out, many students assume it’s not true that neuroscience undermines dualism, because they trust him not to hold back the most fascinating and important ideas.

    And that’s how accommodationism is often dishonest.

    There’s a general norm of truth-telling, and it’s not just a norm of not explicitly lying, but a norm of being cooperative communicators. You’re supposed to tell people important, interesting stuff they’d want to know even if they don’t ask. You’re not supposed to watch them stumble around getting it wrong, when you know better, and treat them like children or dimwits who aren’t fit to hear about the important stuff. You’re not supposed to condescend that much.

    Accommodationism is often dishonest in that way. We don’t tell people interesting stuff that they unconsciously assume we would tell them, if we really thought it was true.

    Given people’s propensity to trust other people—and especially experts—to tell them the interesting and important stuff, that’s lying by omission. People trust us not to withhold such fascinating knowledge, and we are betraying that trust.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that we are obligated to say there’s no soul and no god all the time. It does mean that there’s a problem if people systematically avoid or finesse the subject, because it keeps souls and God unproblematized in the minds of the majority. That amounts to intentional lying by omission that perpetuates gullibility about religion and woo generally.

    That’s what the “New Atheism” vs. accommodationism conflict is really about. It’s about whether, about what, and to what extent to tell the truth about very important and interesting things—and to what extent to intentionally perpetuate misconceptions, i.e. lie.

  175. #176 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Why don’t you say the same thing as with belief in the existence of Gods: I don’t know whether it’s true or not.

    But I have been saying exactly that negen. I don’t know whether it’s (god’s existence) true or not. I am agnostic about it. What I said about Richard Dawkins is my opinion. That I don’t know whether god exists or not is a statement of fact. I don’t know. Fact versus opinion. Try to sort out the distinction.

  176. #177 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    yep… self-important, self-assured, pretentious…

  177. #178 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Darwinsdog,

    If god uses supernatural means to effect nature, such an act would constitute exactly one explanatory parameter, from a perspective within nature. Hence, such an explanation would be more parsimonious, within the context of nature which is the only context which we, as humans, are privy to, than would be any explanation involving the observable & comprehensible concatenations of natural cause and effect.

    It’s a bit like saying that Thor hitting his hammer is more parsimonious an explanation for lighting, “within the context of nature (whatever that means)”, than the naturalistic explanation involving electromagnetism.

    Oh, it only involves a Thor and a hammer, that’s less parameters than are required by the laws of electromagnetism.

    I hope you were joking.

  178. #179 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    I disagree. When one has knowledge belief is superfluous.

    No, you’re falling prey to the dippy, specifically religious sense of “belief.”

    The primary sense of “belief” is about what you think is true.

    Things that you know are things that you justifiably believe, and which are true.

    Knowledge is justified true belief, so you can’t have knowledge without beliefs. Things that you know are a subset of things you believe.

    Don’t let religious folks tell you otherwise, and equate regular old believing with believing stuff on faith, i.e., for no good reason. You can do the former just fine while avoiding the latter; some beliefs are justified and others are not.

    Hmm… I believe I’ll have a beer. (And that belief is justified.)

  179. #180 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Hi Paul. When you state “…you have no way of knowing for sure so you’re really an agnostic and not an atheist” you’re exactly right. That is my point exactly. Thank you for restating it so succinctly so that I’m certain you understand.

    Hi Moron,

    You’re still using your own idiosyncratic, not universal definition. Why are you trying so hard to miss the point? You’re not the arbiter of the English language. You don’t get to tell us what we mean when we use words. Try actually paying attention to what other people say, instead of just dictating to them the proper meaning of the labels they use.

  180. #181 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Darwinsdog,

    I don’t know whether it’s (god’s existence) true or not. I am agnostic about it. What I said about Richard Dawkins is my opinion.

    But you don’t know either whether what you said about Dawkins is true or not. And you said that what one believes is unimportant. So why do you mention your opinion (or belief) about Dawkins? Or why aren’t you an agnostic about what Dawkins is doing?

  181. #182 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    Wouldn’t Steven Hawking be “Britain’s foremost public intellectual?” Even within his field Dawkins isn’t nearly as influential as Maynard Smith was, or Hamilton for that matter.

    You’ve failed to understand a key term. (“Public intellectual.”)

    That seems to be a pattern.

  182. #183 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    You don’t get to tell us what we mean when we use words.

    But aren’t you telling me what I must mean by “belief” in post #179?

    No, you’re falling prey to the dippy, specifically religious sense of “belief.”

    The primary sense of “belief” is about what you think is true.

    Didn’t you just tell me what “belief” means and how I must regard the term as being defined? You get to tell me what words means but I don’t get to tell you? “Do as I say, not as I do,” huh?

    Hmm… I believe I’ll have a beer. (And that belief is justified.)

    And on that we can agree!

  183. #184 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 13, 2010

    As a scientist I don’t worry about knowing something with 100% (absolute) confidence. That’s not the way science works. Even something established as Atomic Theory, we can’t say it is 100% certain. But I use it every day at work, along with hundreds of thousands of other scientists, and nobody sees any hints that it is false. So Atomic Theory is correct until new evidence comes along. There is no trouble in saying “I believe in the Atomic Theory”.

    The same is true for the god delusion. There is no physical evidence for a deity. Ergo, we can state with a 99%+ confidence level that a deity doesn’t exist. Always with the caveat that new evidence could be found. So, stating “I don’t believe in a deity” is both reasonable and sane. Absolute knowledge/truth is for bad philosophers, and seems to be Darwinsdog criteria.

  184. #185 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    You’ve failed to understand a key term. (“Public intellectual.”)

    Hawking isn’t a “public intellectual?” He doesn’t give interviews, publish popular books on cosmology, appear on television? John Maynard Smith and William Hamilton didn’t? Maybe you don’t consider them to be “intellectuals,” then.

  185. #186 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    Didn’t you just tell me what “belief” means and how I must regard the term as being defined? You get to tell me what words means but I don’t get to tell you? “Do as I say, not as I do,” huh?

    So, instead of understanding that what Paul W. is telling you is that the definition of the word carries a contextual dependency, and that you are ignoring it for a self-imposed, idiosyncratic and narrow definition that ignores any such context, you are just going to be a dickhead by playing word games.

    Noted.

  186. #187 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    @183

    Paul and Paul W. are separate people. You seem to be confusing us. By a strange 1 in 26 coincidence, I could accurately use the handle Paul W. but choose not to so there is a distinguishing factor (well, aside from the way that he writes essays and I write paragraphs).

  187. #188 negentropyeater
    April 13, 2010

    Paul W. #179,

    funny thing is that I explained more or less the same things as you in my post #119 and darwinsdog seemed to agree with it in #122.

    But now, we have to start all over again.

    btw I think his statement about supernatural explanations being more parsimonious than natural ones, which I highlighted in #178, is worthy of multiple facepalms.

  188. #189 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    is anyone else a little nervous that darwinsdog is going to break out Aquinas at any moment…

    *shudder*

  189. #190 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    When one has knowledge belief is superfluous.

    How do you know that you know, rather than merely believe, that you have knowledge?

    This blathering that we get from some people here that they don’t “believe”, they “accept”, displays the same sort of epistemological arrogance as the religious and New Agers who claim to “know” things. “belief” entails the possibility of error, and that is what people are trying to pretend they don’t have. All any of us can do is believe, with varying degrees of justification or accuracy.

  190. #191 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    is anyone else a little nervous that darwinsdog is going to break out Aquinas at any moment…

    Not really. At worst he might quote Huxley. He’s not a creotard (although that horrible abuse of Occam’s Razor is usually only committed by creotards), just an agnostic who is shocked, SHOCKED, that people who are agnostics according to his definition of agnostic are willing to call themselves atheist according to their definition of atheist. /sigh

  191. #192 Celtic_Evolution
    April 13, 2010

    Paul #191

    No, I get that… it’s his fuzzy and self-imposed definitions of “knowledge”, in addition to “belief”, “agnosticism”, and “atheism” (along with who knows what else) that have a familiar ring to it…

    It was really meant to be tongue-in-cheek…

  192. #193 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    @192

    Please, don’t take me too seriously :-). I just wanted to say …shocked, SHOCKED….and had to think of an organic way to work it in. I also wanted to call him a militant agnostic again, but he’s not interesting enough to get more than a paragraph at a time from me and something like that needs more explanatory text.

    With all his talk about how existence or nonexistence of a god has equal probability, the image here is my current mental image of darwinsdog. “All I know is my gut says maybe”.

  193. #194 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    It is logically impossible for an educated sane adult to believe in a deity, and be a skeptic at the same time.
    Utterly impossible.

    Unless, of course, it’s logically possible for an educated sane adult skeptic to make an error.

  194. #195 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    Hawking isn’t a “public intellectual?”

    Not as I understand the usual connotations of the phrase.

    Usually it means that somebody’s a pundit or social commentator of some sort, not just a public expert on a particular technical subject.

    So Hitchens, for example, is an even better example of a “public intellectual” (as opposed to simply a public expert) than Dawkins, who’s a better example than Hawking. That does not in any way imply he’s as smart or as expert on anything in particular, or as famous for what he does. (Though you do have to be moderately famous to be a “public intellectual.” Otherwise you’re just another intellectual.)

    Noam Chomsky is a classic example of a public intellectual. (Whether you think he’s right about anything or not, or really all that expert or brilliant on what he opines about.)

    Whether you’re a “public intellectual” isn’t about how smart you really are, or how good your expertise is in your area, or even whether you’re right about stuff you opine about. Hawking is a great scientist, and very famously excruciatingly smart, but still more of a public expert than a “public intellectual.” (Unless I’ve missed some more pundit-like activity on his part.)

  195. #196 Jim Lippard
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog (#173) wrote: “I disagree. When one has knowledge belief is superfluous.”

    No, because on the account I just gave, knowledge *is* a belief that has certain status, that satisfies epistemic norms. S’s belief that p is an attitude about a particular proposition p, either physically embodied by representations of some sort in S’s brain or tacitly as a disposition to assent to p. Knowledge is a special case of belief, not distinct from it, on the standard epistemological account.

    There are other senses of knowledge, such as knowledge as encoded in representations in other media besides brains, as well as “social knowledge” that’s spread across multiple brains. But individuals use knowledge most frequently and directly when it’s represented by beliefs in brains.

  196. #197 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    I think that the distinction between knowing & believing is specious. Why would someone know something yet not believe it, or vice versa?

    The question makes sense if phrased as “Why would someone claim to know something yet not claim to believe it, or vice versa?” Indeed, we almost never have warrant to claim that we do more than believe (the exception I would make is for claims about our own mental states, for which the determination of whether we have them rests in having them — e.g., one cannot be wrong about whether one feels pain.)

    But that doesn’t make the distinction specious, because it makes sense to say of others that they believe things that aren’t true, and thus do not know them. “believe” and “know” have different semantics, regardless of whether we have any basis for claiming that we ourselves know, rather than merely believe, something.

  197. #198 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Nerd, the way that science works is that a hypothesis is stated, preferably in null form for the sake of statistical tractability, a means is devised for potentially falsifying the hypothesis, and the hypothesis is either refuted or supported by means of controlled experimentation. Nothing in science is ever “proven.” Either the hypothesis is falsified by experimentation or it is not. If not, the hypothesis gains tentative support. The best that can be said of a hypothesis is that in null form, it has never been unambiguously falsified by a wide variety of well designed experimental tests.

    We as humans have devised no means of testing experimentally the null hypothesis that god does not exist. Perhaps such testing is utterly impossible. Perhaps it is possible and we have just thus far failed to devise the means of submitting it to potential falsification. This being the case, there is no way that you can assign confidence intervals to the probability of the hypothesis of god’s nonexistence being falsified. Your statement that “Ergo, we can state with a 99%+ confidence level that a deity doesn’t exist” is incorrect. We currently have, and perhaps never will have, any basis upon which to assign such a confidence level, or any other, by means of hypothesis testing. What about this is so difficult for educated people to understand? Since we cannot assign a probability to the potential falsification of the null hypothesis of god’s nonexistence, the principle of parsimony simply does not apply and hence can form no basis for belief or disbelief in god.

    Strong atheism posits unequivocally that god or the supernatural does not exist.

    Weak atheism posits that while we cannot know for certain whether god or the supernatural exists, there is no evidence for their existence and so belief in these constructs is not warranted.

    However, there is no evidence that they do not exist, either, and so disbelief in their existence is equally unwarranted. Since the admission that one does not know whether god or the supernatural exists is encompassed by the definition of weak atheism, “weak atheism” is seen to be synonymous with agnosticism. Since no additional information is conveyed in or by the definition of weak atheism over that of agnosticism, and confusion with strong atheism is possible by it, no benefit accrues from preferring the label of weak atheist over that of agnostic.

    Strong agnosticism posits that knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of god or the supernatural is impossible to attain.

    Weak agnosticism posits that knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of god or the supernatural may be possible, should the means of potentially falsifying the null hypothesis of god’s &/or the supernatural’s existence ever be devised.

    Since there is currently no evidence available for favoring either form of agnosticism over the other, the distinction between strong and weak agnosticism is moot.

    Since weak atheism and agnosticism are synonymous, and the distinction between weak and strong agnosticism is moot, the only meaningful distinction between categories is that between strong atheism and agnosticism. Since most of the self-proclaimed atheists on this forum have disavowed strong agnosticism, I posit that most of said atheists are actually better characterized as agnostic.

    The above states my position as precisely as I’m capable of stating it. Nothing that other posters have stated adequately refutes the logic of my position. The best that has been done is to appeal to subjective distinctions of semantics & definition. That several posters have resorted to ad hominem attacks suggests the weakness of their positions relative to my own, and their tacit acknowledgement of the relative weakness of their positions.

  198. #199 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    Didn’t you just tell me what “belief” means and how I must regard the term as being defined? You get to tell me what words means but I don’t get to tell you? “Do as I say, not as I do,” huh?

    You cannot possibly be serious. Please read that sentence again.

  199. #200 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Correction:

    Since most of the self-proclaimed atheists on this forum have disavowed strong agnosticism, I posit that most of said atheists are actually better characterized as agnostic.

    Should read: “Since most of the self-proclaimed atheists on this forum have disavowed strong atheism, I posit that most of said atheists are actually better characterized as agnostic.”

    Sorry.

  200. #201 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Paul W.:

    There’s nothing @175 that I disagree with. I want to be clear that I have been advocating neither accommodationism nor dualism in my comments.

    It’s just that conversations along this line (note that this is a general comment, not aimed at you personally) sometimes fall into their own peculiar form of false binarism: Someone will say (as someone did way upthread in this case) something like…

    It is logically impossible for an educated sane adult to believe in a deity, and be a skeptic at the same time.

    …which typically devolves into the premise that anyone who identifies with religion in any way is broadly insane, and the world is neatly (however falsely) split into atheists and crazy people, with nothing in between.

    But of course, we all know nominally religious people who are not otherwise crazy, and who are potentially persuadable on a wide range of other issues that are of interest to skeptics and secular humanists, whether or not we succeed in “problematizing” their religious beliefs. In part this is because (as I noted) some of them simply don’t spend enough time even thinking about theology to qualify as “believ[ing] in a deity” in the sense implied by the quote above; in part it’s because (as you pointed out)…

    An anthropologist might say that God and Jesus are part of the culture’s “cosmology” (set of unquestioned background assumptions about how things work)…

    …and our way of thinking about our “cosmology” is distinct from our way of thinking about things we perceive as “problematized.”

    I’m happy to agree that problematizing religion is, and should be, the great project of New Atheists… but I see it as a long and difficult project, and I’m not content to put the entire skeptical agenda on hold pending its completion.

  201. #202 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Knowledge is justified true belief, ie a belief that one knows is true (or at least sufficently true) for having provided or understood a sufficient amount of justification (empirical or logical deduction or inferences from other elements of knowledge).

    Uh, sorry, but this makes a hash of the philosophers’ “knowledge is true justified belief”. “true” in that definition really means true, as a reality independent of anyone’s mental states. Your “a belief that one knows is true” translates to “a belief that one justifiably believes is true and is true”. The point is that whether you know something rather than merely justifiably believe it has nothing to do with you, only with whether what you believe is actually true. No amount of providing justification can lift a justified belief up to knowledge — it either is knowledge (by virtue of being true) or isn’t knowledge (because it isn’t true).

  202. #203 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    darwins dog #198 wrote:

    We as humans have devised no means of testing experimentally the null hypothesis that god does not exist.

    Do we ever test any “null hypothesis?” I would say instead that the hypothesis for God’s existence contains many implications and predictions which have failed.

    The upshot of this whole atheist/agnostic debate is that most atheists are also agnostic, in that one term refers to the belief, the other refers to the confidence level. The terms measure two different things; they are not points along a continuum.

    Atheists who claim absolute certainty that there is no God are usually either using analytical arguments dealing with contradictions in the definition, or being a bit cranky. Though, pointing that out, is also a bit cranky.

  203. #204 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Noam Chomsky is a classic example of a public intellectual. (Whether you think he’s right about anything or not, or really all that expert or brilliant on what he opines about.)

    Ironically, I agree with most of Chomsky’s politics but very little of his linguistics.

    Sorry for my assuming that Paul and Paul W. were one and the same persons.

  204. #205 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    @198

    Since there is currently no evidence available for favoring either form of agnosticism over the other, the distinction between strong and weak agnosticism is moot.

    Nor is there evidence for favoring strong atheism over weak atheism (in fact, please, point out a strong atheist in current atheist movement. Just one). So why do you moot the distinctions between agnosticisms but not atheisms? I submit that the distinction between atheisms is moot, since nobody realistically holds to one of the two categories (except perhaps past versions of current evangelists).

    Since you recognize that atheism and agnosticism are “synonymous”, I submit that you are better characterized as an atheist. You’re also an ass for assailing atheists telling them “by my definition you’re really an agnostic” when they can just as easily turn around and say “by our definition, you’re really an atheist”.

    Nobody has performed an ad hom attack. Calling you an idiot and pointing out where you’re wrong is not an ad hominem. Nor does it mean anyone recognizes any strength to your position. It does generally mean they find you insipid and boring, though.

  205. #206 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Darwinsdog, I am a scientist, and have been for thirty plus years. Don’t attempt to lecture me with your sophist/semantic nonsense. I know better. I am also a skeptic. Putting non-existence of deities, fairies, unicorns, and other imaginary objects into the null hypothesis solves many problems. Mainly it forces those claiming existence to show actual evidence, not just belief. So, where is your physical evidence to shake the hypothesis that deities don’t exist? And parsimony say they don’t. Come on, just a little physical evidence. You can change my mind with evidence. But, until you are ready to present some, time to STFU. Welcome to real science, where evidence, not sophistry rules.

  206. #207 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    Bill Dauphin, OM #158 wrote:

    I’m no accommodationist, but I’m willing to be an opportunistic pragmatist when it comes to working together with liberal religionists on social justice concerns we share.

    Sure; but that’s not accomodationism. So would Dawkins, PZ, etc.

    The accomodationists like to pretend that this is what the new atheists are complaining about, when it’s not.

    More to the point, if (hypotehtically) I knew someone who was foregoing potentially lifesaving medical treatments in favor of homeopathy or some other sort of quackery, I wouldn’t let my inability to talk them out of believing in God stop me from trying to talk them out of the other irrational belief that was killing them.

    Well, no — same here. I don’t know who’d take the contrary position. But the fact that quackery can be a more immediate, personal, and pressing problem shouldn’t be a reason to hold back, as a policy, on the wider public debate re the existence of God. Which, I think, you also agree with.

  207. #208 SteveM
    April 13, 2010

    I’m getting lost in the philosophical distinction between knowing and believing, but to me it seems simple enough. One can believe something to be true without knowing it to be true. I think that is what “conjectures” are. But that is not what I wanted to get into.

    Once again I’d like to say that agnosticism and atheism are not just different gradations along a single scale. They are really orthogonal. Atheism is about belief, specifically the lack of belief in god. It is not a declaration of knowledge that there is no god or even a bald assertion that there is no god. It is simply a statement that one has no belief in god. Agnostism though, is indeed about knowledge. Whether it is about personal knowledge (doubt about the existence of god) or about whether knowledge is even possible it is about knowledge, not belief.

    Which of course gets back to the philosophical difference between knowledge and belief. Which I’ll leave to others to has out. But lets say we are playing poker. I can believe you have a winning hand without knowing it, maybe based on how you are betting, but until you lay down your cards I cannot know, but I can still believe.

  208. #209 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Since you recognize that atheism and agnosticism are “synonymous”, I submit that you are better characterized as an atheist. You’re also an ass for assailing atheists telling them “by my definition you’re really an agnostic” when they can just as easily turn around and say “by our definition, you’re really an atheist”.

    I recognize only that the weak atheist position is synonymous with agnosticism, by recognized definitions of the terms and concepts they represent. I also recognize that most if not all of the posters on this forum claim the position of weak atheism, i.e., of agnosticism. My reasons for preferring the agnostic label over that of weak atheist are spelled out in post #198 above. If you have cogent reasons for preferring to call yourself a weak atheist rather than an agnostic, please be specific as to what those reasons are. I don’t really care what people call themselves, I’m just trying to be precise in the use of language, altho not necessarily as precise as those arguing about “flack” versus “flak” towards the top of this thread!

    If I’m an ass for stating what others can “just as easily turn around and say,” does that not make us equally asses?

  209. #210 Feynmaniac
    April 13, 2010

    Either the hypothesis is falsified by experimentation or it is not.

    Well, if a hypothesis fails an experimental test, logically speaking, it’s still possible for it to be true. You can make rather unconvincing, but theoretically possible, arguments for the discrepancy. Just as no hypothesis can by 100% proven none can be 100% disproven as well. The best an experiment can do is to make a hypothesis extremely unlikely.

    Since we cannot assign a probability to the potential falsification of the null hypothesis of god’s nonexistence, the principle of parsimony simply does not apply and hence can form no basis for belief or disbelief in god.

    Under a Bayesian framework one can assign a probability to God’s existence. Hence your argument fails. The lack of evidence and the unparsimonious nature of the claim gives us confidence to say that it’s extremely unlikely.

  210. #211 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    But aren’t you telling me what I must mean by “belief” in post #179?

    No; he wrote The primary sense of “belief” is about what you think is true. If you want to be understood, you would do well to explain exactly what you do mean by a word when it differs from standard usage. You wrote

    Belief, to my mind, is largely irrelevant. I am interested in what is (or can be) known, and not much in what is believed.

    which doesn’t make sense to me because knowledge (in standard usage) entails belief (in standard usage), the difference being (in the standard philosophical epistemology, which I think is seriously flawed) that knowledge is belief that is true and justified, or in more common usage, belief that is so well justified as to be considered beyond dispute.

    You also wrote

    My answer is that I simply do not know whether god exists or not, hence I have no believe one way or the other.

    but the “hence” doesn’t follow, since one can believe things without knowing them in virtually any epistemology. I believe that I have more than $100 in my bank account, but it might have been stolen. I believe that I watered my philodendron on Saturday, but my memory might be faulty. While what counts as “knowledge” is rather tricky, it’s clear that beliefs vary in their degree of justification and reliability; some beliefs are almost certainly correct and some are far more tenuous.

  211. #212 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    We as humans have devised no means of testing experimentally the null hypothesis that god does not exist.

    The null hypothesis should be preferred until such time as there is positive evidence to examine. Otherwise we’re pretty much saying that we can’t talk about the non-existence of any worldly object. Can’t find bigfoot? Well that doesn’t prove bigfoot doesn’t exist. Can’t find the fairies at the bottom of the garden? We can’t write off fairies either. What about the invisible, incorporeal dragon in my garage? Nope, can’t call its non-existence either.

    Such statements like this are worse than useless, they are misleading as to the nature of inquiry when it comes to existence. Show me that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist and I’ll concede the point.

  212. #213 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog: So it took you twenty thousand words to resort to absolutely nothing but blatant special pleading? Replace all your references to god(s) with the Great Green Arkleseizure and read back what you wrote.

    Simply put, silly things HAVE to be reduced to the null hypothesis because common sanity, let alone useful science, would be rendered completely and utterly defeated. I would simply be unable to function if I could not make up my mind that no, I do not live in the Matrix, there is no lion in my wardrobe, I am not composed of thetans and there is no sadistic clown in the sky who needs me to believe in him, and also a lot of my money.

    Religion is not a special case in the wide, wide realm of loopy crap people have made up (probably whilst on meth or looking for ways to bilk others out of their money). Atheism is the default rational position.

    That several posters have resorted to ad hominem attacks suggests the weakness of their positions relative to my own, and their tacit acknowledgement of the relative weakness of their positions.

    This is tone trolling, whiny, arrogant, childish, asinine and patently untrue. Just because people are not nice to you does not make their arguments ad hominem.

    That you have resorted to this whining proves your utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy, and my superiority over you in every single way.

    See what a douchy and weasely thing to say that is? You seem much better than that.

  213. #214 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    Damn you Kel for scooping me! *shakes fist*

  214. #215 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    I recognize only that the weak atheist position is synonymous with agnosticism

    Uh, I note you dropped “weak” from agnosticism. Please explain why you can moot the difference between weak and strong agnosticism, but I cannot do the same between weak and strong atheism (and do please address the questions I posed in my previous post if you intend to discuss this seriously).

    If you have cogent reasons for preferring to call yourself a weak atheist rather than an agnostic, please be specific as to what those reasons are.

    I don’t call myself a weak atheist, I call myself an atheist. I repeat my question of your weak/strong atheist dichotomy. It may be on wikipedia, but I’m still waiting for you to point out any actual strong atheist figures in the atheist movement. With that lack, it is just as fair to drop the weak/strong modifier from atheist because atheists pretty much all fit into the one category (you know, just like you dropped weak/strong from agnostic in order to justify your continued use of the label). I do not find discussion in terms of “knowledge” helpful or interesting. Atheist emphasizes the lack of belief, and is much more relevant to anyone I care to discuss beliefs or epistemic standards (or anywhere we’d be discussing these sorts of labels) with. But mainly, I was pointing out that your reasons given were piss-poor and one-sided.

    If I’m an ass for stating what others can “just as easily turn around and say,” does that not make us equally asses?

    If a stranger comes into your house and shits on your rug, does saying “you shit too” mean you’re any less of a lout?

  215. #216 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Darwinsdog, I am a scientist… I am also a skeptic.

    Your adamancy and emotionality on behalf of your own essentially metaphysical position, apparent lack of grasp of probability and the principle of parsimony, and the incoherence of your writing, makes me skeptical of both claims, I’m afraid.

  216. #217 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Aaron Baker #115

    Brave, brave Sir ‘Tis Himself. Whenever I read him, I know Orac feels.

    Poor Aaron. You never have forgiven me for not being impressed by most philosophers.

  217. #218 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Show me that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist and I’ll concede the point.

    The primary productivity of Loch Ness would support precisely 1.7 adult sized plesiosaurs at four trophic levels. Hardly a viable breeding population. Close enough?

  218. #219 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    If a stranger comes into your house and shits on your rug, does saying “you shit too” mean you they‘re any less of a lout?

  219. #220 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Nor is there evidence for favoring strong atheism over weak atheism (in fact, please, point out a strong atheist in current atheist movement. Just one)

    There may be none by darwinsdog’s definition, Strong atheism posits unequivocally that god or the supernatural does not exist, but that “unequivocally” is a ringer, and means that the term “strong atheism” does not describe the views of people like Dawkins who believe (and argued in his book) that it is very unlikely that there is a god — people are generally considered, and consider themselves, strong atheists.

  220. #221 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    The primary productivity of Loch Ness would support precisely 1.7 adult sized plesiosaurs at four trophic levels. Hardly a viable breeding population. Close enough?

    Nope, that at best shows the unjustified nature of the belief but doesn’t disprove it.

    Just as we can look at the traits for God and realise that such ideas are unjustified. The mind evidentially is physical, we have big brains to generate what we call thinking and consciousness. Thus any claim about God having a mind (let alone being omniscient) is completely unjustified. And we could do this for a variety of claims made about God – for some reason they are all really anthropomorphic.

    In the same way that we can dismiss the implausible idea of God, we can dismiss the loch ness monster. It doesn’t prove that either doesn’t exist, just that they are unreasonable.

  221. #222 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    The primary productivity of Loch Ness would support precisely 1.7 adult sized plesiosaurs at four trophic levels.

    If you allow that as a counterexample:

    I would define “god” as a hypothetical non-corporeal consciousness.

    Consciousness does not exist without a mind. Mind is made of matter. Non-corporeal matter is an oxymoron.

    I’ve freed you from the shackles of your agnosticism! Rejoice!

    If you don’t accept that explanation, the Loch Ness advocate could easily point out that they have an advanced digestive system that allows them to subsist on fish flatulence and human suffering. Some people have a vested interest in keeping their ideas from serious rational evaluation.

  222. #223 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    Your adamancy and emotionality on behalf of your own essentially metaphysical position, apparent lack of grasp of probability and the principle of parsimony, and the incoherence of your writing, makes me skeptical of both claims, I’m afraid.

    Please let me know if you’re going to continue being this deliciously clueless and projecting, so I know whether to make some popcorn or not.

  223. #224 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    If you don’t accept that explanation, the Loch Ness advocate could easily point out that they have an advanced digestive system that allows them to subsist on fish flatulence and human suffering.

    Or better yet, a transdimensional being that pops out of our world the moment someone is about to get evidence to support its existence. The loch ness monster does indeed exist, just when no-one is looking. People can occasionally catch a glimpse of it off-guard but most of the time it is playing table tennis with a yeti in a different reality.

  224. #225 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    P.S.

    Even by darwindog’s definition, I am a strong atheist, at least in regard to the supernatural, which I consider, and have argued at length here, is an incoherent concept — and I’m not the only one. Of course, there are people such as Sastra who have a different notion of what “supernatural” means (in my view their notion makes the distinction between natural and supernatural arbitrary) and consider the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural to be an empirical question.

    As for god, I think that a natural creator of the universe is conceivable.

  225. #226 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    …the term “strong atheism” does not describe the views of people like Dawkins who believe (and argued in his book) that it is very unlikely that there is a god — people are generally considered, and consider themselves, strong atheists.

    I never claimed that Dawkins, or anyone posting in this forum, conformed to the definition of strong atheist. If they claim that label while not conforming to its recognized definition, that’s due to their own confusion of terms. I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence. Data is required before a probability can be assessed.

  226. #227 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 13, 2010

    I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence. Data is required before a probability can be assessed.

    The data is there, and a probably can be assessed. You just refuse to see it. And the data is all negative, giving the deity idea a very low probablity. Prove otherwise…

  227. #228 stuv.myopenid.com
    April 13, 2010

    I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence.

    And again, s/god/Great Green Arkleseizure and good luck. How does one cross the street in this world? You know, without being able to assess the probability of Zeus materializing a few landmines when I’m halfway across?

  228. #229 darwinsdog
    April 13, 2010

    Consciousness does not exist without a mind. Mind is made of matter. Non-corporeal matter is an oxymoron.

    Brain consists of matter. Mind is a conceptual construct that, as far as we know, is generated by the biochemical activity of a material brain. As far as we know…

    Take a raincheck on that popcorn, stuv. I’ve gotta go…

  229. #230 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    @220

    Interesting, TM, I wasn’t aware Dawkins called himself a “strong atheist”. I’ve only read parts of his books. My exposure to the term “strong atheist” (corroborated with Wikipedia saying “Strong (or positive) atheists explicitly deny the existence of deities”, for what it’s worth) has always made it seem like a strawman, only really occupied by the past versions of conmen and preachers trying for sympathy and credibility with their audiences.

    Obviously I don’t consider it a useful term.

  230. #231 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    The loch ness monster does indeed exist, just when no-one is looking.

    As opposed to the inverse, the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Albert Einstein to Abraham Pais: “Do you really believe the moon only exists when you look at it?”

  231. #232 Feynmaniac
    April 13, 2010

    I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence. Data is required before a probability can be assessed.

    See my comment @ #210.

  232. #233 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence.

    This is just nonsense. Are you the same way about fairies? Unicorns? Zeus? Thor? Souls? Ancestor spirits? Ghosts? I’m betting not. And as for evidence for and against? The bible… faith healing, power of prayer, miracles, the nature of God, etc. There’s plenty that has been put forward in terms of the concept of God.

  233. #234 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Strong (or positive) atheists explicitly deny the existence of deities”

    As do most people here.

  234. #235 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Even by darwindog’s definition, I am a strong atheist, at least in regard to the supernatural, which I consider, and have argued at length here, is an incoherent concept

    Well, his definition of god was poor. “Non-corporeal consciousness”? Meh.

    As for god, I think that a natural creator of the universe is conceivable.

    Agree. Which is why I can’t sign on to “strong atheism”. Just because his definition of god contains a contradiction doesn’t mean any definition of god contains a contradiction. Of course, until there’s evidence, atheism is well suited as the null hypothesis.

  235. #236 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Strong (or positive) atheists explicitly deny the existence of deities”

    As do most people here.

    Oo, you got me there. The definition I was looking at but didn’t quote was

    Strong atheism is a term popularly used to describe atheists who claim the statement “There is at least one god” is false.”

    I was less certain of the answer to that, here. While obviously most consider it likely false, and definitely provisionally false until shown otherwise, the word “unequivocal” tends to sneak in whenever anyone actually uses the term strong atheism (as it did when darwinsdog above did). I’ve always seen it framed that way, as “strong atheists believe unequivocally that there is no god”.

  236. #237 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Paul: Mind is made of matter

    Wrong, the mind is what the brain does; it is no more made of matter than metabolism is made of matter.

    darwinsdog: Brain consists of matter. Mind is a conceptual construct that, as far as we know, is generated by the biochemical activity of a material brain.

    Right.

    As far as we know…

    Name something that is not “as far as we know”. For instance, brains consist of matter, as far as we know. There is a brain in your head, as far as we know. Etc. ad nauseam.

  237. #238 Feynmaniac
    April 13, 2010

    Data is required before a probability can be assessed.

    We have tons of data. Now, let’s try to explain that data with two hypothesis: H1 (God* exists) and H2 (God does not exist). Both hypothesis are consistent with the data. So by Occam’s razor we choose the most parsimonious hypothesis: H2.
    __
    * Here I’ll consider the most likely kind of God: a non-interventionist, undetectable one. An interventionist God is extremely unlikely given that at this point we’d expect some evidence in favor its favor.

  238. #239 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    The definition I was looking at but didn’t quote was

    Strong atheism is a term popularly used to describe atheists who claim the statement “There is at least one god” is false.”

    I was less certain of the answer to that, here. While obviously most consider it likely false, and definitely provisionally false until shown otherwise, the word “unequivocal” tends to sneak in whenever anyone actually uses the term strong atheism (as it did when darwinsdog above did). I’ve always seen it framed that way, as “strong atheists believe unequivocally that there is no god”.

    Really? I’m looking for the word “unequivocal” in the definition you cite above that you say you’re less certain of the answer to, but I’m not finding it. Most people here would agree that “There is at least one god” is false. One of Dawkins’ pet observations is that Christians, who woud certainly deny the existence of Baal, Odin, et. al. are also atheists, he just goes further by one god.

    As for “unequivocal”, Dawkins is nearly so; he admits that there is some doubt, but it’s on a par with the doubt that there are no fairies at the bottom of his garden. And I think that’s true of most people here.

  239. #240 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    Really? I’m looking for the word “unequivocal” in the definition you cite above that you say you’re less certain of the answer to, but I’m not finding it.

    I did say “when people use the term” — I meant colloquially. If it was in the definition or on Wikipedia, I’d have pointed it out. But obviously I don’t have data here, so I should gracefully back out of that point.

    As for “unequivocal”, Dawkins is nearly so; he admits that there is some doubt, but it’s on a par with the doubt that there are no fairies at the bottom of his garden. And I think that’s true of most people here.

    I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. But the way this tangent started was darwinsdog was drawing a strong dichotomy between strong atheism and weak atheism that I do not consider helpful or informative. Since “weak atheist” isn’t posited to be “an atheist that doubts the existence of god somewhat less than that of the existence of fairies at the bottom of their garden”, I still maintain that strong/weak is not a useful distinction*. It ends up at best a word game where strong atheists “believe there are no gods”
    and weak atheists “lack belief in gods” (which somehow is different, even though this would not be the case if the subject under discussion were “meditation” or “people who can fly by flapping their wings”).

    Oh, and thanks for the correction on the mind/matter thing. I did intend to say that mind is a by-product of matter, fwiw. I need to proofread more.

    *Tangentially, this isn’t the case with agnosticism, where strong and weak delimits differences in epistemic standards — either you believe we can’t know, or we can know in theory but we just don’t yet…which was why I was arguing this in the first place. darwinsdog saw fit to exclude modifiers for agnostics, but considered strong/weak modifiers to atheism meaningful. I started out by just pointing out his different standards (something irritating that comes up a lot with agnostics who harp on atheists for calling themselves atheists).

  240. #241 WowbaggerOM
    April 13, 2010

    truth machine wrote:

    As opposed to the inverse, the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Albert Einstein to Abraham Pais: “Do you really believe the moon only exists when you look at it?”

    Hilariously, that’s what Deepak Chopra believes – or at least claims to, based on what he said in that debate with Shermer and Harris.

  241. #242 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    I am without (a-) knowledge (-gnosis) about the matter, and have no belief about it either way.
    […]
    My agnosticism may make me a “functional atheist” but I am not going to claim knowledge I don’t possess, and am not going to base belief on what I do not know.

    I presume you accept that theism is a belief that at least one god exists, and that someone holding such a belief is a theist.

    Since you claim you don’t “base belief on what [you] do not know”, you perforce are not a theist; hence (using your own linguistic argument) you are “without (a-) belief in god(s) (-theist)”, and therefore, you must be an atheist by the very same basis upon which you are an agnostic.

    Your denial of this and the equivocation by which you rationalise it are mildly amusing to me.

  242. #243 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    An interventionist God is extremely unlikely given that at this point we’d expect some evidence in favor its favor.

    Not only that, but there is strong evidence against it. See Dawkins’ arguments in “The God Delusion” for the empirical unlikelihood of god, as well as Victor Stenger’s “The God Hypothesis”.

    So by Occam’s razor we choose the most parsimonious hypothesis: H2.

    OR has been viewed as a purely methodological tool, in which case it has no bearing on a probability assessment. However, from information theory we can establish that the more parsimonious hypothesis is less likely to produce false predictions.

  243. #244 SteveM
    April 13, 2010
    I do, however, claim that the likelihood of the existence of god cannot be assessed, due to an utter lack of evidence for or against its existence.

    That is exactly the definition of not rejecting the null hypothesis. If there is no evidence of an effect, then that is not inconsistent with there actually being no effect. Science does not calculate the probability that an effect exists, it calculates the probability that you are wrong to reject the hypothesis. There is a huge difference between the two. The latter is perfectly applicable to the question of god as it is to any other question. In any experiment you can think of, it is reasonable to ask, and possible to calculate, the probability that you are wrong in rejecting the hypothesis that god does not exist.

    For example, you have a coin of unknown “fairness”, flip it N times. Based on the number of heads and tails you can assign a probability that you would be wrong to reject the null huypothesis that the coin is perfectly “fair”. You do not have to know, nor do you really say anything about what the “fairness” of the coin “actually” is.

  244. #245 Paul
    April 13, 2010

    @240

    I have no idea why I put “meditation” there. My brain appears to be elsewhere, so I think it’s time I bid adieu for a bit. Will be back later if there’s anything to answer to.

  245. #246 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Hilariously, that’s what Deepak Chopra believes – or at least claims to, based on what he said in that debate with Shermer and Harris.

    I’m not sure why that’s hilarious, as it would put him in extremely good company — many of the world’s leading physicists subscribe to the Copenhagen Interpretation. Of course, the difference between them and Chopra is that they understand the physics, which leaves them with either the Copenhagen Interpretation or Everett’s multiuniverses (the hidden variable theories that Einstein preferred being out due to Alain Aspect’s work).

  246. #247 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    darwinsdog was drawing a strong dichotomy between strong atheism and weak atheism that I do not consider helpful or informative. Since “weak atheist” isn’t posited to be “an atheist that doubts the existence of god somewhat less than that of the existence of fairies at the bottom of their garden”, I still maintain that strong/weak is not a useful distinction*

    It’s not useful the way darwinsdog does it, by throwing in the word “unequivocal” which leaves neither term fitting people who believe there are no gods but allow that they are not inconceivable. But that doesn’t mean the distinction isn’t useful — it is quite useful, to distinguish between not(believes there is a god) and (believes there is no god).

  247. #248 Feynmaniac
    April 13, 2010

    OR has been viewed as a purely methodological tool, in which case it has no bearing on a probability assessment. However, from information theory we can establish that the more parsimonious hypothesis is less likely to produce false predictions.

    Yeah, I just wrote OR because most are familiar with that. Not many are with the information theoretic formalizations of OR (e.g, the minimum descritption length (MDL) and the minimum message length principle).

    If anyone is interested there’s good paper on MDL here:
    http://homepages.cwi.nl/~paulv/papers/mdlindbayeskolmcompl.pdf

  248. #249 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    truth machine, OM #225 wrote:

    Even by darwindog’s definition, I am a strong atheist, at least in regard to the supernatural, which I consider, and have argued at length here, is an incoherent concept — and I’m not the only one. Of course, there are people such as Sastra who have a different notion of what “supernatural” means (in my view their notion makes the distinction between natural and supernatural arbitrary) and consider the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural to be an empirical question.

    Ah, he invokes my name, and calls up a hoary old argument from the grave…

    We’re trying to make the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ less arbitrary, not more. Richard Carrier just made the case very well, in a recent Free Inquiry article

    here

    for fun.

    That aside, I think tm’s ‘strong atheism’ would fit into what I said in an earlier post, in that it’s an analytical argument based on logical or coherency problems in the definition. Often, theists try to get around those by shifting the definition (in this case, they might claim that God is nature, or natural.)

  249. #250 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    As for god, I think that a natural creator of the universe is conceivable.

    Agree. Which is why I can’t sign on to “strong atheism”.

    But that’s a non sequitur. I’m a strong a-easterbunny-ist, but I think that a natural entity, a rabbit that carries around a basket of eggs and toys and gives them to children the night before Easter, is quite conceivable.

  250. #251 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Ah, he invokes my name, and calls up a hoary old argument from the grave…

    Um, we had another go at the argument quite recently, so it seems quite alive to me. But I wasn’t trying to have the argument here, just to characterize the different views.

    We’re trying to make the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ less arbitrary, not more.

    That’s certainly what you should be attempting if you want your view to be tenable.

    Richard Carrier just made the case very well, in a recent Free Inquiry article

    Thanks (I let my subscription lapse); I’ll take a look at it later.

    tm’s ‘strong atheism’ would fit into what I said in an earlier post, in that it’s an analytical argument based on logical or coherency problems in the definition

    True of mine, but not generally true of strong atheism, which is simply the belief that there is no god (vs. weak atheism, which is the lack of a belief that there is a god).

  251. #252 Ian
    April 13, 2010

    What a strange sub-text is here! Antony Flew’s What I Believe would be well worth reading, folks. The two most significant chapters in the context of this thread are ‘Why I am not a Christian’, which is followed by ‘Why I am not an atheist’
    But on what I thought was the main point from PZ that the pope should be arrested for at least tacitly allowing sexual abuse – the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality. Let me say that there are plenty of religious people who are ferocious for truth, justice, humanity. And who act for it.

    Any system which is to survive in the long term must endure revolution – if it won’t encourage renewal, repentance, reparation, reformation. So we have executed tyrannical monarchs (Charles vs English Parliament), impeached presidents, prosecuted some leaders for war crimes. Often these are actions from within the system, as well as being sanctioned from without.

    So, as a believer, and a member of the modern world, I have no qualms with the pursuit of any person for injustice, oppression, babarous practices, etc.

    As long as the pursuit is genuine rather than publicity – rich grandstanding.
    So, if this issue is really genuine, who else is on the list?
    There should be a huge number of national and tribal leaders, a raft of multinational CEOs and boards, a wide range of terrorism recruiters and co-ordinators, the people who’ve left behind land-mines to randomly disfigure the innocent…

    Start well, AND make sure the job is completed.

  252. #253 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    truth machine OM #251 wrote:

    But I wasn’t trying to have the argument here, just to characterize the different views.

    I know; I just wanted an excuse to point you to the link, since I thought you’d find it interesting.

    True of mine, but not generally true of strong atheism, which is simply the belief that there is no god (vs. weak atheism, which is the lack of a belief that there is a god).

    Unlike defining ‘supernatural,’ I have gradually come to the conclusion that semantic arguments over strong vs. weak atheism vs. agnosticism are of little practical (as opposed to philosophical) value. It’s like bringing up ‘which is the best Bible translation?’ in a Christian chat room. Bound to get a lot of furious attention, but the distinctions really aren’t all that significant from the point of view of an outsider.

  253. #254 truth machine, OM
    April 13, 2010

    the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality

    This goes beyond reading comprehension failure to fabrication.

  254. #255 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    Ian #252 wrote:

    What a strange sub-text is here! Antony Flew’s What I Believe would be well worth reading, folks.

    I wouldn’t bother to bring up Flew. He later renounced his original reason for ‘changing his mind,’ and he never really put anything in its place. His thinking is terribly muddled, poor old thing. If you think he (or his ghost writer) made a reasonable point which merits consideration, please do bring it up, so that we may examine it.

    But on what I thought was the main point from PZ that the pope should be arrested for at least tacitly allowing sexual abuse – the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality. Let me say that there are plenty of religious people who are ferocious for truth, justice, humanity. And who act for it.

    You’ll be happy to know that your assumption is mistaken. We atheists don’t claim to be “in sole possession of justice or morality,” so you have no quarrel here. With this particular issue, we are singularly unhampered by any concern that religious sensitivities be protected — but, of course, there are Catholics, as well as other Christians, who also condemn the cover-up. Many of them are voting with their feet.

    Do you agree the Pope ought to be arrested?

  255. #256 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 13, 2010

    Ian #252

    But on what I thought was the main point from PZ that the pope should be arrested for at least tacitly allowing sexual abuse – the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality. Let me say that there are plenty of religious people who are ferocious for truth, justice, humanity. And who act for it.

    If you got the impression we thought skeptics were the only moral people around then your reading skillls are poor. The point is that an organization which claims to be the supreme arbitrator of morality on Earth has been acting in a particularly immoral fashion. We are pointing out this immorality and its corresponding hypocrisy.

    There are religious people who are moral, etc. The Catholic Church’s hierarchy is not in this particular group.

  256. #257 Feynmaniac
    April 13, 2010

    Antony Flew’s What I Believe would be well worth reading, folks.

    Um, are you talking about Anthony Kenny’s ‘What I believe’?

    Antony Flew is the senile ex-atheist who was shamelessly exploited by religious people for PR purposes. Seriously, see here.

    the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality.

    Then you’re reading them wrong.

  257. #258 Kel, OM
    April 13, 2010

    the assumption in all the responses I read seems to be that the skeptics are in sole possession of justice or morality

    Reading – you’re doing it wrong. Very wrong, mind-numbingly wrong, completely wrong.

    Let me say that there are plenty of religious people who are ferocious for truth, justice, humanity. And who act for it.

    That’s a nice red herring you’ve brought to the table. Are you capable of gutting it yourself, or do you need someone to do it for you?

    So, as a believer, and a member of the modern world, I have no qualms with the pursuit of any person for injustice, oppression, babarous practices, etc.

    Great, but what’s your point? The discussion above is whether criticism of religion should happen under the skeptic hat or not. Do you have anything to say on that matter?

  258. #259 Paul W., OM
    April 13, 2010

    Jim Lippard mentioned Gettier problems, which are interestingly related to one (of several) reasons I answer no to the question of whether I believe in God.

    The basic idea of Gettier problems is that some justified true beliefs are not actually knowledge, but justifiable mistakes that coincidentally happen to be right. (The justification for believing it doesn’t have the right relationship to its actually being true.)

    If somebody asks me do you believe in Bigfoot?, my answer is quite simply no. I don’t think that the thing people think they’ve seen evidence of—footprints, grainy photos, tufts of fur—is actually an anthropoid unknown to science that lives in the woods. I think Bigfoot is myth, and the so-called evidence consists of various misinterpretations of various phenomena, and hoaxes.

    If that’s true, but it turns out that there is by some bizarre fluke some large, unknown anthropoid that lives in the woods—one which nobody ever actually noticed evidence of, or interpreted as Bigfoot—that would not mean that Bigfoot is real and that Bigfoot believers were right.

    In that case, Bigfoot is still mythical and nonexistent, and purely coincidentally, something resembling Bigfoot happens to actually exist. But it isn’t Bigfoot; it isn’t that mysterious anthropoid that people ask about, that they thought they saw footprints of, or grainy images of, or whatever. They were mistaken.

    Likewise, when somebody asks me do you believe in God?, I generally take the word “God” to implicitly refer to some particular entity that some actual people claim to have experienced actual effects of (through visions, divine revelations, spiritually sensing his presence, or inference from clear natural evidence), either directly or indirectly. (Perhaps by a long chain of word of mouth leading back to some sort of authentic experiences of God thousands of years ago, by somebody.)

    Whatever “God” people ask about, it’s almost invariably one that’s supposed to have affected people or someone else in some way such that they have detected its existence, and therefore believe in God. It’s implicitly some particular God, however vaguely described, and however misunderstood they acknowledge it might be. It’s at least the particular one whose existence causes their belief in its existence, in the usual way that could justify calling a belief knowledge. (Providing the evidence is credible enough.)

    (Knowledge generally isn’t just a wild guess that happens to be right. Knowledge of God certainly isn’t.)

    If it weren’t assumed that some particular god was under discussion, and in particular one that people had actually somehow encountered, people wouldn’t ask the question so simply—they’d realize it’s just not a simple, unambiguous question. They’d ask if you believed in any sort of possible more-or-less God-like thing, but maybe not any of the the particular God(s) that various people think people have encountered. They’d explain what they meant by “God,” because they’d realize it’s not clear what counts as a “god’ unless you assume that God is real and caused at least some particular accounts of God.

    They don’t do that, because that is not what they’re really asking.

    They’re asking if you think a particular God that some other people believe in is real.

    They’re asking if you believe that at least some existing accounts of some God describe something real that some people actually experienced, and isn’t better described as a delusion, or just an error.

    I don’t believe that. I think those people are all wrong, and believe in nonexistent stuff based on bogus “evidence,” just like the Bigfoot believers, Chiropractic nuts, etc.

    Even if by some bizarre fluke it turns out that our universe was created by some amazing intelligent being with amazing powers, I still don’t think God exists in any sense people mean when they ask about your beliefs—you know, that God, or any God that that anybody who “believes in God” is talking about.

    Given the presuppositions behind the seemingly simple question, the answer has to be no.

  259. #260 Redhill
    April 13, 2010

    Revisiting & scanning after a break (for sleep – I live in Australia)I see the conversation has become a bit convoluted and technical.

    At the risk of being a bit simplistic, I think Paul W touched on a central issue at #175 and at #118: the dualistic or supernatural mind set.

    People believe all kinds of stupid stuff because they have this mind set. It is the ground out of which religious belief and new age nonsense grow. It is a mind set that is profoundly inimical to science and to the practice of basing decisions on reason and experience.

    I suspect that most people who have this mind set were given it in infancy and have never questioned it – as Bill Dauphin suggests at #114 & #127, its just how they are. Often people who think this way find the stuff of this material realm too gross and long for their imagined finer less impermanent realm.

    If like most on this site you don’t have this mind set, the fact that otherwise intelligent people have these beliefs feels more than odd. How can they espouse such nonsense without embarrassment? It becomes almost a matter of taste and aesthetic judgement rather than a matter of logic.

    Going back to the original PZ post about whether skeptics were godless enough, I think skeptics and atheists have a clear common purpose in eroding this notion of a spooky realm that somehow affects our mundane universe.

    Perhaps it is the strategic target. No matter how many superstitions you knock over, so long as this mind set exists, new superstitions will arise.

    Most people are rational about most things most of the time in their daily lives. As I think Bill Dauphin suggests in his posts, the task is to find ways to shine the light of practical reason on that dualistic superstitious mind set.

  260. #261 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    Redhill #260 wrote:

    I suspect that most people who have this mind set were given it in infancy and have never questioned it

    The supernatural mindset may not have to have been “given” — it may be the prime default of an immature mind, fostered and encouraged by the cultural environment. We could be “natural-born dualists,” in Paul Bloom’s phrase. I read an interesting book once which pointed out that most people’s sense of “the divine” seems to resemble nothing so much as an infantile attachment to an internalized parent, one that is always watching, always concerned, and who doles out rewards and punishments based on what we do. “God” may be our ancient memories of our mother or primary caretaker(s), complete with the sense of dependency, gratitude — and the inherent naughtiness of our rebellions.

  261. #262 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    Sastra, though I consider magical thinking is the default human condition, I think monotheistic belief is indeed culturally inculcated and reinforced — the natural tendency is to see conscious agency where none exists, and for causality and natural forces to be anthropormised.

    Skepticism is that mindset which can pierce these cognitive intuitions.

  262. #263 Sastra
    April 13, 2010

    John Morales #262 wrote:

    Sastra, though I consider magical thinking is the default human condition, I think monotheistic belief is indeed culturally inculcated and reinforced ? the natural tendency is to see conscious agency where none exists, and for causality and natural forces to be anthropormised.

    I don’t disagree with this; I’m simply suggesting that the culturally-taught belief in the parent-like God is piggybacking itself onto a prior belief in a God-like parent. This could be one reason it apparently feels so familiar to people. Babies form their sense of self in relation to an all-knowing caregiver from whom all blessings flow — and by the time small children begin to suspect that their mommy can’t really read their mind and is not constantly vigilant, they are told that God can, and is.

  263. #264 John Morales
    April 13, 2010

    Thanks, Sastra. I see what you were saying, now.

  264. #265 sciencenotes
    April 14, 2010

    In re Anthony Flew’s senile conversion: I’ve known old geezers who would agree with the opposite of their firmly held convictions because someone was talking to them nicely and they didn’t want to admit they were quite deaf.

    MarianLibrarian links to an Etsy shop where you can buy Christ on a cracker pendants.

    Of course, people should put their energy where their interests lie and blog about what engages them. We can’t all cover all the bases. Simply ignoring religion shows that it’s irrelevant.

    The noticeable rise in atheism among 1st-world Christians may come from a new generation: it has been about 30 years since the news media started to admit that maybe Jesus didn’t exist. That’s enough time for young folks to grow up without a smothering assumption laid on their thoughts and for a few of the older ones to wriggle out of the strait-jacket they grew up in.

  265. #266 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnb-E55g7vrnvH-3L1M6d7QuDYWoM_IDEM
    April 14, 2010

    Posted by: Bill Dauphin

    “It is logically impossible for an educated sane adult to believe in a deity, and be a skeptic at the same time.”

    …which typically devolves into the premise that anyone who identifies with religion in any way is broadly insane, and the world is neatly (however falsely) split into atheists and crazy people, with nothing in between.

    Oh dear, logical FAIL there, ‘big time’.
    This ‘devolves’ rather obviously, that if a sane adult wilfully believes in a conventional diety**, despite the lack of evidence, and in face of evidence to the contrary, they are, ipso facto, not a skeptic.
    Just how is it possible to get from ‘a sane adult who believes in a diety’ to: “anyone who identifies with religion”??
    ‘Belief in a deity’ and ‘identity with a religion’ are so far apart that they are on different planets.
    No, sir: your straw-man built on false foundations is a bitter disappointment to me.
    I know that you are capable of far better reasoning.
    ____________
    ** I really thought that you pharyngulites were perspicacious enough to fill in the gaps of my patently clear assertion, but alas no, it seems that I was mistaken.

  266. #267 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnb-E55g7vrnvH-3L1M6d7QuDYWoM_IDEM
    April 14, 2010

    In the last 4 years, we ‘new’ atheists have garnered, via our staunch no-accomodationist stance, more progress than the accomodationists have acheived in the last 4000 years.

    Case absolutely closed!

    (Unless some delusional faitheist wishes to pipe up with another shoert-term wishful-thinking retry of a proven failed political tactic.)

    – Michael Kingsford Gray

  267. #268 Rorschach
    April 14, 2010

    google @ 266,

    Just how is it possible to get from ‘a sane adult who believes in a diety’ to: “anyone who identifies with religion”??

    You accuse Bill D of strawman-producing, when in fact you not only erect a magnificent one yourself with your theories of what devolves into what, but then you also knock it down with verve in the same comment.

  268. #269 Jim Lippard
    April 14, 2010

    #s200, 205, 215, etc. on strong v. weak atheism: Dawkins utterly confused matters by defining “strong atheism” as the 7 on his scale, meaning absolute *certainty*. That’s not what the strong/weak distinction is that darwinsdog is using, that has been common on the Internet for the last several decades. The common online usage is equivalent to what Michael Martin labels positive vs. negative atheism; the distinction between disbelief and nonbelief (or mere lack of a belief).

    I made a recent contribution to this terminological dispute here:

    http://lippard.blogspot.com/2010/01/definitions-of-atheism-and-agnosticism.html

  269. #270 Paul W., OM
    April 14, 2010

    Bill Dauphin:

    I’m happy to agree that problematizing religion is, and should be, the great project of New Atheists… but I see it as a long and difficult project, and I’m not content to put the entire skeptical agenda on hold pending its completion.

    I think we’re in basic agreement—you need to pick your battles to some extent, and sometimes you should avoid the religious discussion and do the less ambitious skeptic shtik, convincing people that homeopathy is bogus or whatever. And it’s also good that some people don’t limit themselves to that, and push full-blown rationalism and apply it to the elephant in the room.

    (We might disagree on where to draw the lines and exactly how to pick battles. IMO it’s a sadly reasonable strategy for some skeptic organizations to focus on non-religious forms of woo, but it’s unreasonable to call their individual skeptics out for criticizing religion occasionally or in other contexts. Nobody should have to be a full-time accommodationist, unless maybe they’re the leader of an accommodationist organization, and really not even then, quite.)

  270. #271 truth machine, OM
    April 14, 2010

    Jim Lippard mentioned Gettier problems, which are interestingly related to one (of several) reasons I answer no to the question of whether I believe in God….

    Excellent analysis (no surprise from you).

  271. #272 truth machine, OM
    April 14, 2010

    Dawkins utterly confused matters by defining “strong atheism” as the 7 on his scale, meaning absolute *certainty*.

    Gaak! You’re right, he does, sigh.

    That’s not what the strong/weak distinction is that darwinsdog is using

    But darwinsdog does the same thing: “Strong atheism posits unequivocally that god or the supernatural does not exist” — and later, “Since most of the self-proclaimed atheists on this forum have disavowed strong atheism…” — but it’s only the “absolute certainty” version that most atheists here have disavowed.

    that has been common on the Internet for the last several decades. The common online usage is equivalent to what Michael Martin labels positive vs. negative atheism; the distinction between disbelief and nonbelief (or mere lack of a belief).

    Quite so, as I noted in #247.

    I made a recent contribution to this terminological dispute here

    Nice. It brings up an interesting issue, though:

    [strong atheism is] a position which does have a burden of proof over mere nonbelief….I wish he had chosen a different term, as I think it’s a mistake to associate positive atheism/strong atheism with certainty, proof, or even knowledge.

    The phrase “burden of proof” is a misnomer; it should be more like “burden of demonstration” or even just “burden of argument”. Too late now, though, as this phrase is so well established. It is something to be on the watch for, however, when people indulge in “science hasn’t proved” strawmen.

  272. #273 Pierce R. Butler
    April 14, 2010

    Speaking of Deep Rifts: Josh Rosenau asks “Are the {New,Affirmative} Atheists “extreme”?“.

    The gist of his post is that he’s happy to have received a copy of Elaine Ecklund’s Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, which seems to be another “many scientists are believers not hostile to religion!” survey.

    Which wouldn’t warrant mentioning here, at least until he posts something more substantial, except for a potential personal peeve.

    Possibly due to a comment which some might construe as less than respectful to the NCSE staff guru, my last three attempts at replying to this more recent post over the last hour+ have all failed:

    An error occurred: Permission denied.

    Have I achieved the legendary (not mythical!) SciBlogs banhammer-without-warning, or might this be just another instance of Deepak’s dreaded “random selection” by a passing cybergremlin?

    As it (maybe) involves me, this is by definition a Shallow Rift at most. Still, FTR, here’s the comment which Rosenau &/or Random won’t allow through (4 times now):

    I want to see comparative analyses of how many scientists are alcoholics/comic book collectors/Cubs fans/dope smokers/good in bed/neurotic/overweight/sexist/Unix programmers/war-on-terror advocates/etc.

    Using these scientific? techniques, surely we can determine everything we need to know about how to make the best Science?!

  273. #274 Bill Dauphin, OM
    April 14, 2010

    Gee, I thought this thread was played out; sorry… didn’t mean to be ignoring anyone’s comments!

    Obnoxiouslylongurlbasedname (@266):

    Oh dear, logical FAIL there, ‘big time’.

    I think the actual FAIL is your own failure to understand my argument. I wasn’t claiming that “a sane adult who believes in a diety” is equivalent to “anyone who identifies with religion,” nor was I suggesting that anyone deliberately makes that claim. Indeed, this claim of yours…

    ‘Belief in a deity’ and ‘identity with a religion’ are so far apart that they are on different planets.

    …is pretty much precisely the position I’ve been promoting. The comment to which you’re responding was not about the underlying argument as much as it was about the conversation dynamics of the argument. That is, very few of us here would intentionally make the argument that church membership —> deep theological belief —> generally irrational about everything… but the ebb and flow of arguments sometimes leaves people inadvertently backed into that rhetorical corner. More generally, we are, I think, a bit too quick to think of a person’s cognitive approach to one issue as being broadly indicative of their cognitive approach to other things… and conversely, too reluctant to appreciate folks’ capability to encompass cognitive dissonance.

    My point is that people who simply go to church, or who have a casual, unexamined “belief” in god, are not necessarily unreachable on other issues dear to rationalists and skeptics. As Sastra quite correctly points out, few if any of us would intentionally take a position contrary to that, making my argument seem at first glance like a strawman… but I’m not suggesting that people intentionally take such a position: I’m suggesting that our conversations sometimes end up, unintentionally, drifting toward such a position because of the exigencies of argumentation.

    As Paul W. notes (@270), he, Sastra, and I are in substantial agreement. I’m not disputing any of their positions; I’m simply talking about the pragmatics of persuasion.

  274. #275 llewelly
    April 14, 2010

    Pierce R. Butler | April 14, 2010 3:57 PM:

    … my last three attempts at replying to this more recent post over the last hour+ have all failed:

    An error occurred: Permission denied.

    Have I achieved the legendary (not mythical!) SciBlogs banhammer-without-warning, or might this be just another instance of Deepak’s dreaded “random selection” by a passing cybergremlin?

    You need to delete your scienceblogs cookies and try again. There are about 10 or so blogs on scienceblogs which you can’t comment on so long as you have scienceblogs cookies that show you as being signed in to those sites which require it.

  275. #276 Pierce R. Butler
    April 14, 2010

    Pls disregard whining @ # 273 – I’m forgiven at last!

    llewelly @ # 275 – Thanks for the tip! I didn’t delete any cookies, and (since I didn’t have to re-sign in here) my status hasn’t apparently changed (lowly as ever). Rational consideration of the evidence at present clearly points to the Random Selection Gremlin &/or the infinite mercy of Josh Rosenau.

  276. #277 rinolj
    April 14, 2010

    Jim Lippard wrote:

    Who has said this, and what did they mean?

    Someone who’s trolling, I’ll warrant. I’ll bite once. Here’s what I wrote on JHU’s Skeptic mailing list, when this troll attempt was cross-posted there by the resident anti-religion ideologue:

    So is this effort going to somehow hurt the “skeptical movement?”

    Point of order: What specifically is anyone proposing?

    I see a lot of empty advocacy on blogs, waving about of celebrity names,
    and vague rhetoric, but literally nothing actually at issue.

    Some people claim that Hitchens and/or Dawkins is intending, or talking
    about, or talking about talking about, more-or-less unspecified legal
    action against Ratzinger. And the rest of us are supposed to — I don’t
    know — pick a side, say the almost-sort-of-hypothetical-lawsuit (which
    Dawkins has said is, itself, an Internet delusion) is a good or bad
    idea, or something like that.

    Myers wishes to conflate that idea with his broader idea that some
    unspecified group of skeptics should rant vaguely against one or more
    hypothetical supernatural god, which activity he apparently considers
    rewarding and wishes to have company in indulging.

    He doesn’t say what specifically the unspecified group of skeptics would
    achieve thereby, except for a vague handwave aobut ‘the defense of
    rationality’, and his notion that failing to back either or both of his
    ideas is ‘turning [one’s] back on children who are raped by men they
    trust’. And, in fact, he doesn’t actually bother to say what he thinks
    they should do, either.

    It seems reasonable to suppose that Myers would be articulating a
    specific proposal with a non-vague plan of action and rationale if he
    had one, so I infer that he doesn’t. But, to quote Miracle Max, ‘Have
    fun storming the castle’, PZ. Personally, I find vague ideological
    advocacy with no plan and not even a specific proposal an utter waste of
    time, and give it a pass.

    Rick Moen
    rick@linuxmafia.com

  277. #278 andrewblairesch
    April 14, 2010

    I thought the article expressed a perfectly reasonable opinion. Of course his opinion can also be safely ignored if you are PZ, Harris, or Dawkins or anyone else who moonlights as a PR stuntman. I personally don’t care what approach people take to the Catholic church. I know that I personally like to keep all my religious friends squeamishly well-informed about this whole scandal…

    But I don’t think that there is really any need to come down quite so hard on the “hurting the cause” argument in this case, because this isn’t a religious issue.* It’s an issue about thugs who happen to be religious leaders.** Everyone, including religious people (well not the ones with the funny robes, but the others), already knows what these guys did was terrible and they want something done. Having legal action threatened from outside seems spiteful. I say that the whole thing should be roundly mocked and used as cannon fodder for critiques of religion, sure. But there’s no reason to get directly involved in the politics of it. No atheist/skeptic constituencies were/are victimized: we really do not have a horse in this race. And don’t feed me crap about standing up for the children – everyone is already on that train. This has been front page news for years, and journalists, police departments and all kinds of whoevers are turning up new information all the time. A distinctive atheist voice is not really recessary, may do more harm than good.***

    *…Although celibacy probably makes it much worse, and it’s truly heinous that these people claim to be Jebus’s appointed whatevers while their up to it.

    **…Repetitive, I know.

    ***…Although how sweet would it be to see the Pope cross-examined by Dawkins?

  278. #279 Aaron Baker
    April 14, 2010

    RE ‘Tis Himself at #217:

    Wrong, ‘Tis Himself:

    I haven’t forgiven you for imputing to me opinions I obviously don’t have (smearing me, to put it a little more bluntly).

    I apologized to you when I hurt your precious feelings by quoting someone critical of economics. You’ll remain on my shit-list until you apologize for your much more grievous offense.

  279. #280 'Tis Himself, OM
    April 16, 2010

    I guess I stay on your shit list forever because I don’t have a clue about what you’re whining about. The last discussion you and I had was several months ago. I’m not apologizing for some nebulous butthurt you’ve apparently suffered but which I don’t remember.

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