Pharyngula

Gray vs. Grayling

I’ve taken a swipe or two at John Gray in the past, and now he has a plodding review of AC Grayling’s Ideas that Matter…a review that is of no account except for the fact that it motivated Grayling to write a delightful rebuttal. I groaned at the boring and predictable Gray, I laughed at the way Grayling punctured him.

Comments

  1. #1 MadScientist
    April 26, 2010

    I always find Grayling interesting (maybe I don’t read enough to see his boring stuff), but who the hell is Gray?

  2. #2 Lets Get Surgical
    April 26, 2010

    Wow… Grayling has an unrivaled knack for saying “fuck you, you stupid prick” while sounding completely eloquent and polite.

    Wow.

  3. #3 WowbaggerOM
    April 26, 2010

    Not to diminish how great it was to hang out (and booze up) with PZ and the other Pharyngulites, I have to say that seeing AC Grayling speak – and then, later on, getting to chat to him in person – was, for me, the highlight of the GAC.

    He’s also an illustration of the vacuity of the tone ‘argument’; there’s no-one on the planet who presents his arguments in a less ‘strident’ (their word, not mine) way than Grayling and yet the responses are just as insubstantial.

  4. #4 Jerry Coyne
    April 26, 2010

    Except for the part about Gray having his knuckles “wrapped.” In what?Saran Wrap?

  5. #5 maureen.brian#b5c92
    April 26, 2010

    I had the wrapped / rapped thing down as yet more evidence of educational failure and the decline of empire.

  6. #6 martha
    April 26, 2010

    When I saw John Gray’s name I thought it was the John Gray that wrote Men are from Mars, Women from Venus. He is another guy from the transcendental meditation brain wash school, like Deepak Chopra. But he doesn’t know enough big words to be the John Gray Myers is talking about.

  7. #7 Lets Get Surgical
    April 26, 2010

    Except for the part about Gray having his knuckles “wrapped.” In what?Saran Wrap?

    He’s saving that knuckle sandwich for when he sees Grayling :D

  8. #8 Rorschach
    April 26, 2010

    Grayling has an unrivaled knack for saying “fuck you, you stupid prick” while sounding completely eloquent and polite.

    To be fair, British English is perfect for that purpose, and I envy the native English speakers who have that ability.

  9. #9 Crudely Wrott
    April 27, 2010

    Imagine how much more fun everything would be if we all could speak and write like Grayling. He has a talent that I have long admired in the precious few who also have a wicked way with words.

    Literacy. It’s more than just amusement; it’s powerful juju, too. And, well, just powerful.

  10. #10 GregGorey
    April 27, 2010

    AC Grayling is such an underrated philosopher. He, along with Peter Singer and Graham Oppy, is my favorite living philosopher. His books are all just a pleasure to read.

  11. #11 davros
    April 27, 2010

    delightful, just delightful, made my day

  12. #12 bassmanpete
    April 27, 2010

    The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist religious regimes that claimed a scientific supernatural basis for their policies. This fact is mentioned nowhere in Gray?s dictionary, and throughout his writings he is adamant in denying that the crimes of Nazism Christianity and Communism Islam had anything to do with atheism religion. Instead, he asserts, they were due to the repressive character of the regimes.

    This is my first attempt at such complex (for me!) html. Hope it shows up as FIXED. If not, please don’t be too harsh on me.

  13. #13 vanharris
    April 27, 2010

    While we’re on the topic of lying for gods, i listened to BBC Radio 4′s execrable ‘Thought for the Day’, (that really ought to be called ‘Religious Thought for the Day’), this morning.

    Yet again i heard a religious ass, this time the Muslim Chaplain at Oxford University, refer to our capacity for altruism as a miracle. The implication being that it needed his djinn of the koran to bring this about.

    It’s too bad that A C Grayling is at the University of London, otherwise he might be persuaded to drop in on the ignorant chaplain to teach him a lesson.

  14. #14 BigKnuckleDraggingJarhead
    April 27, 2010

    Thaks, PZ!

    I’m up way too early in the morning given it’s my day off, but that put now I’m grinning ear to ear and the coffee isn’t even done brewing. Poor Gray must be a closet masochist… lol

  15. #15 ussromantics
    April 27, 2010

    I happened to read John Gray’s ‘Straw Dogs’ a few years back and found it repellent and lazy. He’s more a rhetorician than a philosopher, and, as P Z says, in his earlier critique, he’s indiscriminate in his lumping together of secularism, science, humanism, etc, and taking aim at them as soft targets, inflated by his own self-serving and protean definitions. The book should’ve been called ‘Straw Men’, if that isn’t sexist, or slightly off the mark. Straw ideas, perhaps.
    At that time I’d never heard of Grayling, who has since become my favourite philosopher. He clicked with me immediately. I write all this before reading Gray’s review of Grayling, and Grayling’s rebuttal. so off I go, like a kid to the sweet shop!

  16. #16 jack.rawlinson
    April 27, 2010

    Ah, the succinct puncturing of the over-inflated windbag. A needle is so devastating to a balloon. Grayling has a lovely way with the casual barb.

  17. #17 greg.bourke0
    April 27, 2010

    What’s a more eloquent way to say “PWNED!”?

  18. #18 SteveV
    April 27, 2010

    vanharris #13
    Heard that while driving to work. Is he not the Islamic Chaplin at Cambridge? Whatever, whether he is at Oxford or Cambridge, he should be aware of W D Hamilton’s work on the evolution of altuistic behavior don’t you think?
    At best ignorant at worst a liar

  19. #19 tobybarrett.myopenid.com
    April 27, 2010

    I want to write like AC Grayling when I grow up.

    vanharris said:

    While we’re on the topic of lying for gods, i listened to BBC Radio 4′s execrable ‘Thought for the Day’, (that really ought to be called ‘Religious Thought for the Day’), this morning.

    Do make sure you read the excellent Platitude of the Day site which always cheers me up when I have had to suffer a particularly ridiculous “thought”.

  20. #20 christophe-thill.myopenid.com
    April 27, 2010

    Gray is pathetic. even the other one, the Mars and Venus guy, would have written something better.

    The only trick he knows is to spit on what he disagrees with. On history, and history of philosophy, he’s just ignorant.

    Grayling is right not to waste too much time refuting this stupid review in detail.

  21. #21 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    April 27, 2010

    @Rorschach

    To be fair, British English is perfect for that purpose, and I envy the native English speakers who have that ability.

    Sadly not all of us quite have the ability that AC Grayling has with the language! Self-deprecation and understatement are lethal weapons for puncturing pomposity. As they’re staples of day to day conversation over here most natives have a pretty well-tuned instinct for it.

    It’s also a nigh-on mortal sin for someone to be too self-important. Where snark is a national institution it pays to beware.

  22. #22 agenoria
    April 27, 2010

    Also on Radio 4 – In Our Time, where AC Grayling has been a guest several times. eg Materialism

    which opens with this quote:

    Baron D?Holbach, The System of Nature, 1770: “If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them.”

  23. #23 Spiv
    April 27, 2010

    dang it, when you said Gray vs Grayling in thought Asa Gray. Which would have likely been an intelligent (psuedo) discourse.

  24. #24 Free Lunch
    April 27, 2010

    Self-deprecation and understatement are lethal weapons for puncturing pomposity.

    Well, John Gray’s review left a target that was unmissable. Presumably that was why he took on Bertrand Russell in the review as well, Russell may have already shown that Gray was wrong, but he’s not around to show Mr. Gray how wrong he is.

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    April 27, 2010

    Quoth Grayling:

    I am delighted to have been reviewed at such length in The National Interest by John Gray, whom I was beginning to suspect of too impervious a dignity ever to respond to the repeated bashings I have had to give his views over the last several years.

    Aaaaah. That’s how to do it :-)

  26. #26 shonny
    April 27, 2010

    POW!

  27. #27 mfd512
    April 27, 2010

    Both Gray and Grayling are non-believers, but Gray is the bigger skeptic.

    Grayling hardly responded at all, and dodged Gray’s major point, which is that human beings want to believe in something, and rationalism does not stir the blood in any way near to the velocity that irrational religion does. Thats human beings for you. Its unchangeable, unperfectable.

    I think its a stretch to characterize Gray as blaming atheism for the holocaust and other WWII era horrors, as PZ does in a previous post. Gray certainly points out how Russian Communism was officially atheist, how Marxism is essentially religious, and how belief in Marxism served to feed the religious need the most, if not all people have. Thats a much more subtle point, and much more realistic about human behaviour.

    To rid the world of religion, you will have to rid humans of their imagination.

  28. #28 stevieinthecity#9dac9
    April 27, 2010

    I disagree. To rid the world of religion you have to rid humans of their ignorance and gullibility. It’s their lack of imagination and thought that makes them vulnerable to religion. Religion doesn’t take imagination, it takes lack of will power to resist clearly absurd ideas.

    It’s a lack of understanding that causes people to come up with silly explanations. I don’t call that imagination.

  29. #29 naddyfive
    April 27, 2010

    So, being a “skeptic” now means that you spinelessly bend in order to accommodate sky fairies?

    Gray’s argument amounts to: Godwin’s Law being invoked, a bunch of tedious and tendentious bullshit about 20th century history, the contention that societies with athiest leaders weren’t exactly utopia (duh), and some griping about how Grayling’s books are long and boring. Oh yeah, and the old American creationist bugaboo, “it exists in humans, so it must be an immutable natural need. Take that Darwin!” In fact, the entire essay reads like something that one of the more high-minded members of Focus on the Family might have written. One of Dobson’s stable of “PhD”s that periodically gets whipped out to drop some ‘science’ on the flock.

    Really, this whole pathetic tendency to want to argue: imagination, therefore, Religion, has to end somewhere. Please, someone, tell me the apologists will stop proffering this absolutely wishy washy non-sequitur as an argument for gods sometime soon? Please.

    I use my imagination all the time– at work, at home, in research, when I read, when I interact with others– and I still have absolutely no use for or any time for ridiculous fairy stories being imposed on me by large fractious groups of simpletons.

    Soppy, half-baked, New Agey post-modern attempts to whistfully conflate imagination with religion bore me to tears. Long before Grayling’s work ever could.

  30. #30 shonny
    April 27, 2010

    If they checked it out I think that atheists have more imagination than the religious, because we use our brains, and hence our imagination to query things, and don’t take the word of others as gospel. And without imagination, i.e. the ability to see other solutions and explanations, you wouldn’t be able to do that.
    Maybe some of the reason why the religious come across as rather ignorant and shallow is just their lack of initial imagination?

  31. #31 Michael X
    April 27, 2010

    Sadly, today brings Andrew Sullivan shilling for Gray.

  32. #32 Neil Schipper
    April 27, 2010

    maureen.brian (#5): funny, well done.

    Gray:

    The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.

    I find this uncontroversial. I can understand not wanting it used as a basis for some conclusions you (and I) don’t favor, but I think it stands on its own.

    Among people born in Europe in say 1890, a good number of them came up in a highly secular science-positive intellectual environment. They took their places — in the professions or the civil service or business, etc. — and later, for various reasons, enthusiastically adopted scientific sounding ideologies. And you get a pretty endarkened century.

    Monday morning quarterbacking can be fun, but one ought to be honest about what transpired in the first few plays.

  33. #33 spurrymoses
    April 27, 2010

    The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.

    Neil,
    I’m not so sure, what exactly is an atheist regime? What if the leaders think they’re christian, or what if they have a supernatural deity that you don’t know about?

  34. #34 mfd512
    April 27, 2010

    —To rid the world of religion you have to rid humans of their ignorance and gullibility.

    Oh, well. Lets get crackin. Should be done by lunch tomorrow.

    —It’s their lack of imagination and thought that makes them vulnerable to religion.

    Newton, St Augustine, Maimonides, hell even Nietzsche thought we needed to replace Christianity with some new myth. These men did not lack imagination or thought.

    —Religion doesn’t take imagination, it takes lack of will power to resist clearly absurd ideas.

    The myriad greek gods, the Saints and minor angels of Catholicism, the parables of the New testament, the endless tales in Hindu of gods begating gods. This is imaginative stuff, parables meant to shape human behavior. Your cast of mind may not cotton to it, fair enough. Mine neither, though I wasnt born that way and its constant work to try to stay rational. I often fail, id bet you do to on occasion. Most people dont even try.

    –It’s a lack of understanding that causes people to come up with silly explanations.

    How did the life on earth come to be?

    Why are we here?

    What is our purpose?

    We may truly answer the first question one day. I do hope so. It still wont be enough ‘understanding’ to fill the religious hole in mans brain.

    Youve read a bit of Vonnegut I presume.

    Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
    Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’

    Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
    Man got to tell himself he understand

  35. #35 WowbaggerOM
    April 27, 2010

    mfd512 wrote:

    How did the life on earth come to be?
    Why are we here?
    What is our purpose?
    We may truly answer the first question one day. I do hope so. It still wont be enough ‘understanding’ to fill the religious hole in mans brain.

    What we really need to do is impress upon people that lying about having answers to these questions – which is exactly what religions do, only in a more fanciful and long-winded way – is no more satisfying than honestly answering ‘I don’t know’.

    I live without religion. Why should I assume that my fellow humans are any less capable – given the right circumstances – of understanding that than I?

  36. #36 John Morales
    April 27, 2010

    mfd512, all humans possess imagination (it’s part of what makes us human), yet many of us are not religious.

    * How did the life on earth come to be?

    Conditions on Earth were amenable (and there was time enough) such that aspect of the possibility-space of reality was instantiated.

    * Why are we here?

    See above.

    * What is our purpose?

    What makes you think there’s a purpose¹?
    I don’t — I just am.
    There’s no need to invoke a ‘purpose’.

    We may truly answer the first question one day. I do hope so. It still wont be enough ‘understanding’ to fill the religious hole in mans brain.

    My answer just as informative as any religious conceit; if you refer to the mechanics of it, you might note that research into possible mechanisms for abiogenesis proceeds even now (cf. autocatalytic reactions).

    You might have a “religious hole”, but I don’t. Hence, your claim is (by counter-example) shown to be an unjustified and hasty generalisation.

    ¹ For there to be a ‘purpose’, you must invoke some external agency such that we are the means to an intentional goal.
    (I note that the only goal-seeking entities known are life-forms on Earth.)

  37. #37 mfd512
    April 27, 2010

    —My answer just as informative as any religious conceit

    informative dont stir the blood, conceits are another story

    —What makes you think there’s a purpose¹?

    Im human, so I want to believe it. Personally my life to this point has largely been about convincing myself there isn’t one. Most human beings arent like me, and Im alright with that. You?

    —You might have a “religious hole”, but I don’t.

    Do you believe that one day the world can be socially just?

    Do you believe that one day we can have a world without war or without tragedy (used here to mean a conflict between two goods, or a forced choice between two evils)?

    Do you believe whats stands between the world of today and this world I conjure is all a mere matter of international law, and a new, uniform, rational consciousness shared by all human beings?

    If you do not, then I may believe you dont have a religious hole to feed.

  38. #38 John Morales
    April 27, 2010

    mfd512,

    informative dont stir the blood, conceits are another story

    Maybe, but anyone who mistakes a conceit for truth is just being silly.

    Im human, so I want to believe it. Personally my life to this point has largely been about convincing myself there isn’t one [a purpose to it]. Most human beings arent like me, and Im alright with that. You?

    I’m human too, and I never felt either a want nor a need to believe it. Most of my childhood was largely about trying to convince myself there was one — I got over it by the time I was pubescent.

    Yeah, I’m alright with that.

    [1] Do you believe that one day the world can be socially just?
    [2] Do you believe that one day we can have [a] a world without war or [b] without tragedy (used here to mean a conflict between two goods, or a forced choice between two evils)?
    [3] Do you believe whats stands between the world of today and this world I conjure is all a mere matter of international law, and a new, uniform, rational consciousness shared by all human beings?
    [4] If you do not, then I may believe you dont have a religious hole to feed.

    [1] What social justice entails is rather subjective, and I can’t see any time when everyone adjudicates what it constitutes to be the same. So, no.

    [2a] Yes (as a possibility, in the long-term, much as we’ve had nations without civil war).

    [2b] No, if by ‘tragedy’ you refer to events resulting in loss and misfortune.

    [3] If you mean do I think some sort of Utopia is achievable, then no. That said, striving to create one is, I think, a laudable goal.

    Progress has occurred; I suspect your average human from (say) a millenium or so ago would consider most of our societies rather Utopian, by comparison to theirs.

    [4] Having hopes and aspirations is not being religious, though religion may engender such.

    My point: that not everyone is religious shows empirically that religiosity is not a necessary aspect of the human condition.

  39. #39 Neil Schipper
    April 27, 2010

    spurrymoses, I haven’t been able to decode that.

  40. #40 mfd512
    April 27, 2010

    John,

    I dont think we disagree on too much, my definition of religious is a bit more elastic than yours. For you a literalist definition, I classify Dead-heads as religious.

    Striving towards utopia is often, maybe even mostly, dangerous. See Stalin, Mao. Can you provide me with contrary examples?

    Gray’s point is that the communists officially left God, left religion, unsatisfied with the fatalism about the natural world that religions furnish (Which I completely understand), but the key point is they tried to replicate those visions of heaven on earth, and replace God with themselves. They failed. This is an old point, made many times in books like, well, The God that Failed.

    I get humanists frustration and even disgust at religions lowest-common-denominator fatalism towards the natural world. Yet, for your talk of progress, and yes, we have made incredible, rational, scientific progress for which I am ever grateful, yet for all that, the last century was the bloodiest human century. We’re better at living, and we’re better at killing, and we kill for the same reasons we did all those centuries ago.

    I dont see that changing much.

  41. #41 Kel, OM
    April 27, 2010

    Why are we here?

    Parents had sex, offspring resulted.

    It’s really not that hard to answer that question, I wonder why people keep bringing it up as if it has some profundity.

  42. #42 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 27, 2010

    There is no need for imaginary deities for anything: tales, morals, or why we are here (I’ll second a very inane question). Some delusional folks may need their myths. We can invent better, more cogent, and more consistent myths than religion does.

  43. #43 John Morales
    April 27, 2010

    mfd512, me, literalist? In the sense that I employ the generally-accepted main sense of words, I suppose so.

    Regarding what constitutes religion, I’m happy enough to go with Wikipedia‘s entry:
    A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

    Striving towards utopia is often, maybe even mostly, dangerous. See Stalin, Mao. Can you provide me with contrary examples?

    Pretty much anyone who sought to improve the human condition by advancing its knowledge base without thereby imposing an ideology is a contrary example. :)

    Gray’s point is that the communists officially left God, left religion, unsatisfied with the fatalism about the natural world that religions furnish (Which I completely understand), but the key point is they tried to replicate those visions of heaven on earth, and replace God with themselves. They failed.

    Glad you think you get Gray’s point; to me, it looked like a little diatribe against Grayling.

    I’ll just say that, by the definition I’ve quoted above, the communists merely changed from a supernatural religion to an ideological one, which they called scientific. It wasn’t.

    Yet, for your talk of progress, and yes, we have made incredible, rational, scientific progress for which I am ever grateful, yet for all that, the last century was the bloodiest human century.

    Well, you’ve got to consider the population base… numerically, yes, the bloodiest.
    Proportionally, I suspect earlier periods had a greater toll in wars, and greater still in natural disasters such as plagues.

  44. #44 Kel, OM
    April 27, 2010

    I dont see that changing much.

    Then you’re focusing on the wrong things. Of course we are not living in a utopia where everything goes right and nothing bad ever happens. Of course there are those who can so easily at the push of a button cause great devastation halfway around the world. But are you honestly saying you haven’t seen a great shift in how individuals and societies behave in the last few hundred years?

    To argue its perfect is wrong. To argue that it was perfect before modern science was wrong. But to argue that they are somehow equivalent is wronger than wrong.

  45. #45 WowbaggerOM
    April 28, 2010

    Kel wrote:

    But to argue that they are somehow equivalent is wronger than wrong.

    Can it be über-wrong? I like the sound of that.

  46. #46 truth machine, OM
    April 28, 2010

    I find this uncontroversial.

    You seem not to know what that word means.

  47. #47 truth machine, OM
    April 28, 2010

    But are you honestly saying you haven’t seen a great shift in how individuals and societies behave in the last few hundred years?

    One can honestly say it, but only by being quite ignorant.

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html

    A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE

    In sixteenth-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. According to historian Norman Davies, “[T]he spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized.” Today, such sadism would be unthinkable in most of the world. This change in sensibilities is just one example of perhaps the most important and most underappreciated trend in the human saga: Violence has been in decline over long stretches of history, and today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.

    In the decade of Darfur and Iraq, and shortly after the century of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, the claim that violence has been diminishing may seem somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene. Yet recent studies that seek to quantify the historical ebb and flow of violence point to exactly that conclusion.

    Some of the evidence has been under our nose all along. Conventional history has long shown that, in many ways, we have been getting kinder and gentler. Cruelty as entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, conquest as the mission statement of government, genocide as a means of acquiring real estate, torture and mutilation as routine punishment, the death penalty for misdemeanors and differences of opinion, assassination as the mechanism of political succession, rape as the spoils of war, pogroms as outlets for frustration, homicide as the major form of conflict resolution?all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. But, today, they are rare to nonexistent in the West, far less common elsewhere than they used to be, concealed when they do occur, and widely condemned when they are brought to light.

    [...]

  48. #48 John Morales
    April 28, 2010

    tm, thanks for that link to the Pinker article.

    It articulates that which I’ve only inchoately sensed.

  49. #49 spurrymoses
    April 28, 2010

    Neil Schipper,

    How do know when a regime is an ‘atheist regime’ and how can you verify or be sure about it?

    For example, do you assume the Nazi’s were an “atheist regime”, and if so, why?

  50. #50 ussromantics
    April 28, 2010

    Gray seems to be stuck on cliches. He’s been pushing an outdated anti-humanist line, a line that was a cliche thirty years ago. He also seems to be full of loathing, possibly posed. Probably beginning with self-loathing. In Straw Dogs, he appears to take delight in the idea that the human population will collapse, sooner rather than later, like a bacteria colony in a petri dish. Can’t quite work out what motivates him to go on writing.
    In his review he adopts the cliche of the bien-pensant, and shapes Grayling’s work to fit. It’s just meaningless, as it doesn’t come out of any analysis of Grayling’s work. He lazily accuses Grayling of repetitiveness, and Grayling nicely skewers him with Pater’s remark ‘it is only the dullness of the eye that makes any two things seem alike’. In fact, Grayling skewers Gray a number of times in a very short piece, but not at all repetitively.

  51. #51 spurrymoses
    April 28, 2010

    Sorry Neil Schipper

    You found the statement below uncontroversial.
    I think it is controversial, because I don’t think we can define a regime as an ‘atheist regime’ without introducing some controversy

    Neil Schipper said:

    I find this uncontroversial:
    “The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.”

  52. #52 Neil Schipper
    April 28, 2010

    spurrymoses & tm: you’re both right, the claim is clearly controversial. I should have said it ought to be uncontroversial.

    spurrymoses:

    How do know when a regime is an ‘atheist regime’ and how can you verify or be sure about it?

    Some regimes are founded on ideologies with foundational texts that explicitly state it. In other cases, it only emerges after weighing multiple lines of evidence (see below).

    As for being sure, well, I’m extremely confident that I can be sure of nothing.

    For example, do you assume the Nazi’s were an “atheist regime”, and if so, why?

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1; I do know H used some god talk in his rhetoric, made nice with popes and such (as Gray mentions), and there was something about god on the insignia on official belt buckles. That’s not a slam dunk. The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much (just like, by the way, Bush didn’t have it on his mind as much as his detractors claim; nor do I think, btw — without being sure — that Ahmadinejad has Islam on his mind all the time).

    Nazi ideology was mostly about race and nation, as I’m sure you know; the way the Poles painted their churches and the way the French worded their Hail Marys were not prominent features of the thought system.

    I hope it’s clear that I’m not making the “atheism causes societies to be violent” claim, and I don’t like it when xtian apologists do. But I’m also unimpressed by some of the common atheist responses.

  53. #53 John Morales
    April 28, 2010

    Neil Schipper:

    I do know H used some god talk in his rhetoric, made nice with popes and such (as Gray mentions), and there was something about god on the insignia on official belt buckles. That’s not a slam dunk. The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much

    Hm. Maybe not, but (leaving aside the concordat with the Catholic Church) it was part of their populist platform (my emphasis):

    We demand freedom for all religious denominations in the State so far as they are not a danger to it and do not militate against the customs and morality of the German Volk. The Party as such stands for Positive Christianity, but does not bind itself in the matter of creed to any particular denomination. It fights the spirit of Jewish materialism within and outside of our ranks and is convinced our nation can achieve permanent health from within only on the principle: “Common welfare comes before individual welfare.”

    (Alfred Rosenberg, editor, Das Parteiprogramm: Wesen, Grundsätze und Ziele der NSDAP, 21. Aufl. (Munich: Parteidruckerei, 1941), p. 15.)

  54. #54 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 28, 2010

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1; I do know H used some god talk in his rhetoric, made nice with popes and such (as Gray mentions), and there was something about god on the insignia on official belt buckles. That’s not a slam dunk. The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much

    Even accepting that last sentence that still doesn’t make the Nazi Germany an “atheist regime”. Secular =! atheist. Do you have any evidence whatsoever that makes the claim that Nazi Germany was an “atheist regime” credible enough to warrant a truth value of “0.7 +/- 0.1″?

    Oh, by using your reasoning we can say that the USSR wasn’t really an “atheist regime” just because they said it on paper or in public. That’s not a slam dunk. For all we know they could all have been secret Christians. Or secret Muslims. Or secret scientologists from the future. However, serious people don’t make these claims or even give these claims serious thought unless there’s good evidence.
    _ _ _

    “And now Staatspräsident Bolz says that Christianity and the Catholic faith are threatened by us. And to that charge I can answer: In the first place it is Christians and not international atheists who now stand at the head of Germany. I do not merely talk of Christianity, no, I also profess that I will never ally myself with the parties which destroy Christianity. If many wish today to take threatened Christianity under their protection, where, I would ask, was Christianity for them in these fourteen years when they went arm in arm with atheism? No, never and at no time was greater internal damage done to Christianity than in these 14 years when a party, theoretically Christian, sat with those who denied God in one and the same Government.”
    Adolf Hitler, speech delivered at Stuttgart, February 15, 1933

  55. #55 Kel, OM
    April 28, 2010

    But I’m also unimpressed by some of the common atheist responses.

    You’re unimpressed that totalitarian regimes acted like totalitarian regimes but it should be highlighted that a particular subset of totalitarian regimes are atheist? Come off it!

    It’s a pretty simple thing to grasp. There are plenty of totalitarian regimes around the world, now and in history. Yet the highlighting of those one can blame on atheism (and if you’re looking at Nazi Germany, you’re gravely mistaken) is purely to link the monstrosities of a totalitarian regime to an unfavourable idea. Otherwise there’s no reason to highlight it.

  56. #56 Rorschach
    April 28, 2010

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1;

    Good for you.
    However, who gives a shit about your regards?
    Facts are not a matter of opinion, luckily.

    I find this uncontroversial:
    “The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.”

    Well, I find it quite uncontroversial that you’re wrong.

  57. #57 WowbaggerOM
    April 28, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    But I’m also unimpressed by some of the common atheist responses.

    Why use a battleship to stop a duck?

  58. #58 truth machine, OM
    April 28, 2010

    I should have said it ought to be uncontroversial.

    Yeah, everyone ought to agree with you, even though you’re wrong.

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1

    I regard you to be an ignorant and intellectually dishonest fool.

  59. #59 truth machine, OM
    April 28, 2010

    The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much (just like, by the way, Bush didn’t have it on his mind as much as his detractors claim; nor do I think, btw — without being sure — that Ahmadinejad has Islam on his mind all the time).
    Nazi ideology was mostly about race and nation, as I’m sure you know; the way the Poles painted their churches and the way the French worded their Hail Marys were not prominent features of the thought system.

    So by your reasoning, the U.S., Iran, Poland and France are/were (0.7 +/- .1) atheist regimes.

    Idiot.

  60. #60 truth machine, OM
    April 28, 2010

    I hope it’s clear that I’m not making the “atheism causes societies to be violent” claim

    No, that’s not clear at all:

    They took their places — in the professions or the civil service or business, etc. — and later, for various reasons, enthusiastically adopted scientific sounding ideologies. And you get a pretty endarkened century.

    Aside from your loonytunes take on social history, if you don’t mean to imply that one resulted in the other, then don’t write as if it did.

  61. #61 Neil Schipper
    April 28, 2010

    Interesting quotes, and agreed that Secular =! atheist.

    The 0.7 comes from what the Nazi intelligentsia were reading and thinking and saying to each other, given a population that retained much theism.

    For the Soviet Union, I’d say 0.9.

    For similar reasons, for the Jewish settlement in Palestine, I’d say 0.9. Early Zionism was largely atheistic. I certainly don’t say this as a slur.

    The heart of the matter is that ideology is often a thin skin around, a rationalization for, the urge to pursue a struggle for resources. An aggressive ideology can emphasize supernatural authority, monarch, ethnicity, race, parentland, or scientific theory, and some combination of them.

    It so happened that although the enlightenment went some distance in providing “new” (can’t forget the Greeks) intellectual tools to free minds from superstition, it more importantly provided new intellectual tools to free up energy stored in chemical bonds (first trees, then coal and oil) enabling a dramatic increase in natural resource exploitation. Population surged and this placed pressure on land requirements.

    The queen bee uses pheronomes to send out signals to the workers. While the signals are ultimately directed at survival, reproduction and resource exploitation, the pheronomes will have different flavors at different places and times.

    Similarly does birdsong evolve: female birds respond to the songs of the males of their time, what’s “on the charts”, more so than from song of prior decades. But it’s still all about getting laid.

    So the pheronomes and the birdsong of the 19th century, influenced by the successes in science and technology, were vastly more naturalistic and atheistic than prior times. You find influential works of philosophy and cultural products (which become building blocks for political ideology). A common theme was the psychological struggle with the loss of their certainties. (Of course, many retained much superstition.)

    I think it should be uncontroversial to say that the totalitarian regimes of the 20th C emerged from minds steeped in self-consciously non-supernatural pro-science ideas. And it’s historical bad luck that the pheronomes and birdsong of the times contained some key elements that you and I might find pleasing, namely, rejection of the Abrahamic god.

    But atheists tie themselves in knots when they look at opportunistic political manoeuvres, seize upon occurrences of the word Christian, in order to deny that a regime’s main self-talk was post-Abrahamic.

    The urge to proclaim “with real atheism, only good things happen” is childish.

  62. #62 mfd512
    April 28, 2010

    John Morales,

    —Pretty much anyone who sought to improve the human condition by advancing its knowledge base without thereby imposing an ideology is a contrary example. :)

    Thats a mighty fine definition of ‘striving for utopia’, one that I can agree with. Perhaps Henry Ford sought to improve the human condition and advance its knowledge base, or maybe he wanted to get rich, but either way we got a little closer by your definition.

    Must say you’ve hung quite a bit on the clause following ‘without’, something most utopians would disagree with. Not me though. Cheers to ‘without imposing’

    —But are you honestly saying you haven’t seen a great shift in how individuals and societies behave in the last few hundred years?

    Kel, Notions of morality change through time. Looking back at cat-torturing and wagging our finger, it seems obvious we’re less cruel. Are we now just differently cruel though?

    The Pinker article is fascinating and hopeful, though full of caveats. He’s a respected and provocative thinker but I think even I can detect a bit of confirmation bias in his examples, both in time (since the 1950′s) and space (European). Nonetheless I think he and Singer are on to something when they speak of modernity and the shrinking of the world and a corresponding rise in human empathy.

    Regarding the biases I detect, after centuries of bloody war, without hardly a whit of this notion of ‘shared heritage of western civilization’ which many conservatives are now so fond of speaking, the European nations have now bashed themselves into peace. With the implementation of the the EU, Germany, I think it can be fairly said, has finally won its place at the head of the continent. Progress, yes, but not rational. Not planned. No one could’ve predicted it 100 years ago and full of unintended consequences. Yet, if you were to pick a ‘winner’ from any Euro

    Internationally we have lived in a Pax Americana since the end of WWII, with the violent exceptions related to American military failure. Vietnam was quite violent and still an ideological disagreement, and the Korean War and resulting armistice, while not as deadly as Vietnam, still bodes a high chance of more violence. Do folks think Taiwan will be solved peacefully?

    How long will American international dominance last? Not forever, and what replaces it will be very different. Do you think it will be a U.N. led, or some other benign body, international peace? As close as we are in the modern world, there are still great gulfs in ideology. Perhaps America will not fight for democracy and freedom in Taiwan, personally im lukewarm at best to the idea. People argue that America and China are wrapped in an embrace of mutually assured economic destruction, and therefore will work out the differences. Maybe, but thats assuming we’ll behave rationally as societies. My money is still on bloody international transformation.

  63. #63 Rorschach
    April 28, 2010

    The urge to proclaim “with real atheism, only good things happen” is childish.

    Poor strawman is hurting !!

    I think it should be uncontroversial to say that the totalitarian regimes of the 20th C emerged from minds steeped in self-consciously non-supernatural pro-science ideas.

    Yes, you’ve said that.It was wrong the first time.

  64. #64 mfd512
    April 28, 2010

    ugh, sorry didnt proof-read.

    —Yet, if you were to pick a winner, or perhaps ‘strongest’ is a better term, from any European nation from pretty much any random time in the last couple centuries, it would be Germany.

  65. #65 mfd512
    April 28, 2010

    This is an excellent review for anyone who hasnt’ read him. It strikes me as a little odd that this blog full of hard nosed skeptics aren’t a little more receptive to Gray

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/john-gray-forget-everything-you-know-641878.html

    Gray poses the question, “But what if science were to show that religion serves needs that do not change with the growth of knowledge?the need for meaning, for example?”

    Daniel Dennett, a thinker who recieves much praise on this blog, poses quite similar questions, not quite so loaded, about the evolution of religion.

    Folks here get their dander up, see my earlier posts, when people wonder aloud about ‘meaning’. As if we arent supposed to, dont need to. That kind of thinking is out of touch with the way non-scientists think, which is to say most of humanity.

  66. #66 Neil Schipper
    April 28, 2010

    As tempting as it is to submit to Rorschach’s penetrating rebuttals, I’d like to try to place a bit of flesh on the crude notion that one can try to assign a numeric probability to the proposition we’re talking about.

    Say you can estimate self-talk and talk among trusted political confidantes as being on a spectrum between perfectly theistic, represented by 0, to perfectly atheistic, represented by 1. Call the variable A.

    Now, A is not based on a simple summation of sentences thought or spoken (which would include “did I bring my briefcase home or leave it at the office?” and “I’m thirsty”), but talk about things like “what is man?” and “what offends or attracts me about present living conditions?” and “what political paths do I want to energetically pursue?”.

    So on this basis, we might say that the category “U.S. military officer (in 2010)” has A = 0.2 or 0.3 (of course we can argue about that), while a Chinese military officer has A = 0.8.

    It seems to me plausible to determine a composite A value for a regime. As a first iteration, I assign an equal weight of 0.2 to each A value for the following people or groups that comprise a regime:

    – leader
    – leader’s trusted officers (party, cabinet)
    – party activists (produce literature, organize rallies)
    – party supporters (donate $, attend rallies)
    – everybody else

    The first bullet refers to a single agent, while the last bullet refers to millions of them. (Active opponents to the regime are swamped within the last category.)

    This is of course very crude given the feedback loops of untold complexity within a single mind, let alone among a mass of minds.

    But it’s a refinement to conventional historical & political argument, which tends to pull out as evidence factoids favorable to a case one wants to make. (It also tends to make use of subtle or explicit insult, but never mind that.)

    This approach doesn’t eliminate bias, but reduces it, because fine-grained claims are in principle easier to wrangle over. (Check out articles about political scientist Bruce Bueno De Mesquite).

    I didn’t actually carry out this analysis when I offered 0.7 +/- 0.1 for the proposition in question, but it was in the back of my mind.

    I make an effort to be watchful that “defend the good name of atheism” does not overly influence my thinking.

  67. #67 Kel, OM
    April 28, 2010

    Kel, Notions of morality change through time. Looking back at cat-torturing and wagging our finger, it seems obvious we’re less cruel. Are we now just differently cruel though?

    Perhaps, though I would like to see how exactly. It might be so, but it looks like little more than rhetoric.

    At this point in history, there is less risk than ever before of dying through another’s deliberate hand. At this point in history, we have mass vaccination programs and health initiatives that mean people life longer and in much less pain than ever before. Even in war, there is a focus on moving away from civilian casualties. Slavery is now outlawed.

    Sure standards have changed, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any progress at all. There are some objectives in terms of human suffering and human dignity that are looked after better than ever. Like I said, it’s not perfect. But you’d have to be incredibly misinformed to say that now and a few hundred years ago are equivalent.

    Just think, the current great moral debate right now is whether to grant homosexuals equal rights. 100 years ago women could only vote in a few countries. A few hundred years ago, women were being tortured and killed for the crime of witchcraft. Are you honestly saying you can’t recognise that we are better off than at any other time in history?

  68. #68 Kel, OM
    April 28, 2010

    I think it should be uncontroversial to say that the totalitarian regimes of the 20th C emerged from minds steeped in self-consciously non-supernatural pro-science ideas.

    One word: lysenkoism.

    The urge to proclaim “with real atheism, only good things happen” is childish.

    Who is arguing that? Who has the urge to argue that? Come on, show that you’re not just arguing a straw man. Because that’s what it seems like, you’re attacking a fictional idealised form of an opponent when no-one is actually arguing it.

    Again, there’s no point in bringing up that there were atheist totalitarian regimes unless you’re trying to link atheism to monstrosities. Do you think that people are honestly under the delusion that not believing in an interventionist deity makes someone a moral exemplar? That people here refuse to think that an atheist could do something horrible to other people? If not, then why are you persisting in arguing this straw-man?

  69. #69 Kel, OM
    April 28, 2010

    That kind of thinking is out of touch with the way non-scientists think, which is to say most of humanity.

    Who is to say that we don’t wonder about meaning? The fact that you’re questions were misguided does not mean that there is no such thing as meaning. Just that meaning is probably not universal, so your questions miss the mark.

    Remember, scientists are people too…

  70. #70 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 28, 2010

    The 0.7 comes from what the Nazi intelligentsia were reading and thinking and saying to each other, given a population that retained much theism.

    Provide specific evidence.

    Also, what’s the “truth value” that Nazis were really time travelling scientologists from the future?

    The urge to proclaim “with real atheism, only good things happen” is childish.

    Yeah, and no one here is making anything remotely like this arugment.

    Gray poses the question, “But what if science were to show that religion serves needs that do not change with the growth of knowledge?the need for meaning, for example?”

    Many people live fine, happy lives without religion. So not all people need it.

    Are there always going to be people susceptible to religion and religious thinking? Maybe, maybe not. However, I think recent history has shown we can definitely decrease religion’s hold on society. That’s good enough for me.

    I’d like to try to place a bit of flesh on the crude notion that one can try to assign a numeric probability to the proposition we’re talking about.

    Are you assigning probability or truth value you assign a 0.7 to the claim that Nazis were secret atheists? The two concepts are distinct.

    Either way, the historical evidence does NOT support the high value you arbitarily assigned.

  71. #71 John Morales
    April 28, 2010

    mfd512,

    Gray poses the question, “But what if science were to show that religion serves needs that do not change with the growth of knowledge?the need for meaning, for example?”

    There is no such need.

    Being charitable and assuming it’s meant in the sense of ‘desire’, then I have no such desire, so clearly it’s not universal.

    So, sure, perhaps science might show that religion serves some people’s desires¹; that would then invite the additional questions of whether only religion (and not, say, philosophy) can satisfy such desires, and if so, whether religion so doing outweighs its negative aspects (promotion of magical thinking not least of all).

    From your linked article:

    on atheism: ‘Secularism is like chastity, a condition defined by what it denies.’
    [...]
    ‘I don’t believe in belief. I’m not being flippant. If one aims simply to see, as I put it at the end of the book, then beliefs – especially spiritual beliefs – are just an encumbrance. Best to have none, if you can manage it.’

    Oh boy. Conflating atheism and secularism, defining his position on belief by what he denies, while advocating (actual) atheism.

    Good going, there. ;)

    ¹ Duh. But only for those to whom ad hoc, unfalsifiable and mutually-inconsistent ‘answers’ suffice.

  72. #72 Kel, OM
    April 28, 2010

    Also, what’s the “truth value” that Nazis were really time travelling scientologists from the future?

    Now you’re just being silly. Parallel universe maybe, but by the time we have time machines we know that neomormonism will be the sole religion left on earth.

  73. #73 Mr T
    April 29, 2010

    Neil Schipper:

    I didn’t actually carry out this analysis when I offered 0.7 +/- 0.1 for the proposition in question, but it was in the back of my mind.

    Yet you offered it anyway, as if it meant something (NB: it doesn’t). Why bother giving it a +/- 0.1 margin of error when you pulled the 0.7 out of your ass in the first place?

    I make an effort to be watchful that “defend the good name of atheism” does not overly influence my thinking.

    Whatever, next time try defending the truth. Make an effort to be watchful that making shit up does not overly influence your thinking.

    mdf512:

    Gray poses the question, “But what if science were to show that religion serves needs that do not change with the growth of knowledge?the need for meaning, for example?”

    Music and the arts are very meaningful to me (except for all of the crap, which is practically everything). There are all sorts of other meaningful things too: relationships, personal goals, learning things, and appreciating natural beauty. So, religion has no monopoly on “meaning”. Perhaps this refers to some kind of “spiritual meaning” about the deepest of metaphysical deepities. Philosophy does just fine on this front, usually without absurdities like unmoved movers, divine crackers and magic underwear. If there is no meaning to be found, a meaningless answer adds nothing.

    It would be absurd to say that our “need for meaning” does “not change with the growth of knowledge”. Sure, religions often don’t adapt to new knowledge — that’s one of their biggest problems. Our needs have changed (as well as our sense of meaning) and will continue to do so precisely because we gain knowledge. Having knowledge allows us to determine what is meaningful and meaningless. How else can something be meaningful, if it doesn’t depend on knowledge?

  74. #74 Neil Schipper
    April 29, 2010

    Mr. T,

    If you look at the comment where I first stated that, you’ll see I used “oh” so as to convey that I was making a rough estimate.

    Kel, Feynmaniac:

    In saying

    The urge to proclaim “with real atheism, only good things happen” is childish.

    I didn’t indicate any individual. I was reacting, perhaps with some hyperbole, to the general boastfulness I find here (comments #12 & #28, for instance).

    I spent some time on
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany
    There are elements that people on either side of a shouting match could pull out.

    If the analysis I suggested was carried out, I expect the number would go down somewhat, and quite possibly below 0.5, but not by much.

    I’ve heard no one propose an alternative to my number, nor to the proposed approach.

    Zooming back out to the core issue: the 20th century did indeed present to the world instances of atheists in power. Is it proof of similar future outcomes? Certainly not.

    As I indicated earlier, by the criteria I’ve been using, Israel started out pretty atheistically and some North European countries are so today.

    But I also consider the Stalin/Mao regimes to be heavy baggage, as do many in the world. When Pharyngulites get a whiff of this, they usually respond by rolling their eyes and trotting out some faux-logic (which, frankly, I’m now expecting).

    Fleeing one superstition only to land directly into the arms of another is an observed pattern. There may also be a broad connection between not being good at “hearing the music” of religion and not being good (relatively) at forming robust face-to-face trust networks. (We are material machines, remember?) Such networks are crucial in moments of upheaval.

    Enough. G’nite.

  75. #75 Kel, OM
    April 29, 2010

    I was reacting, perhaps with some hyperbole, to the general boastfulness I find here (comments #12 & #28, for instance)

    I read both those comments, the attitudes have nothing to do with what you’re complaining about. Even if you’re going after the “general boastfulness”, you’re still arguing a straw-man. And for what?

    Again I stress that the only reason to bring up the argument is to try to link atheism with bad things. That’s it, there’s no other reason for it. Yet you persist in arguing it. Why? Do you need us to pat you on the back and say “Yes, people in Nazi Germany would have done good except for the fact they rejected God and it reflected in their policies…” Otherwise there is no reason to point to a link between atheism and what happened in Nazi Germany. Atheism is the rejection of interventionist deities, so unless you’re arguing that leaders in Nazi Germany acted because they had rejected God, then you’re arguing nothing.

    You have no reason to persist in that straw-man, yet you do. Why?

  76. #76 John Morales
    April 29, 2010

    Neil,

    I’ve heard no one propose an alternative to my number, nor to the proposed approach.

    Could it just be that it’s incoherent and arbitrary? :)

    Not only are you’re confusing probability with reliability, but your proposed ad hoc metric is entirely subjective so far as I can see.

    Here’s some historical : photos of your “0.7 ±0.1 atheist regime”.

  77. #77 Rorschach
    April 29, 2010

    But I also consider the Stalin/Mao regimes to be heavy baggage

    For who?
    The argument laid out here or elsewhere by religionists with an agenda most often in this context is Mao/Stalin/Hitler/*random evil person X* were atheists, therefore god.

    Does.Not.Follow.

  78. #78 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 29, 2010

    What Morales said.

    Except I’ll also add that Neil has yet to indicate what the 0.7 (or 0.5) really means. He has said both probability and truth-value, which are two distinct concepts.

    Arbitarily assigning probabily/truth-values in NOT a substitute for evidence. If you want to back your claims cite historical events or point to evidence.

    I spent some time on
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany
    There are elements that people on either side of a shouting match could pull out.

    If the analysis I suggested was carried out, I expect the number would go down somewhat, and quite possibly below 0.5, but not by much.

    Then you read it wrong. It only mentions ‘atheist’ once in that whole article. Even if you grant that the Nazis were anti-clerical or even anti-Christian (quite debatable) anti-Christian, anti-clerical =! atheist.

    Also, it says a lot that you were arguing that Nazi Germany was somewhat of an “atheistic regime” when you were so ignorant on the subject you had to turn to a Wikipedia article to learn about it.

    But I also consider the Stalin/Mao regimes to be heavy baggage, as do many in the world.

    Yeah, to Communists, especially of the vanguardist variety.

    Also, it’s no surprise that the 20th century was the bloodiest one. There were better technological means to kill people and there were more people to kill. Even if the percentage of people who die in war were constant the 20th century would be the bloodiest since it had so many more people in it that previous centuries. This counting of bodies is naive. That’s why people roll their eyes at your nonsense.

  79. #79 Kel, OM
    April 29, 2010

    Also, massive case of Godwin going on here. When someone is trying to argue the holocaust (for no discernible reason other than perceived boastfulness) then what can one do but shrug?

  80. #80 mfd512
    April 29, 2010

    Mr T:

    —So, religion has no monopoly on “meaning”. Perhaps this refers to some kind of “spiritual meaning” about the deepest of metaphysical deepities. Philosophy does just fine on this front, usually without absurdities like unmoved movers, divine crackers and magic underwear. If there is no meaning to be found, a meaningless answer adds nothing.

    While specific religions do claim monopolies on meaning, neither Gray, nor I FTM, argue religion monopolizes meaning. Humans attempt to get to the same place through philosophy and ethics. And how many disciples has Kant?

    And so I must disagree, philosophy does not ‘do fine’ on this front. My evidence is the amount of worshipers of Nietzsche, or Socrates, or Rorty or ________. vs pick your Abrahamic religion or eastern ‘philosophy’.

    Now, I suspect you will use irrational religious worship as evidence against these same worshipers, and disqualify their actions as prima facie absurd.

    That is precisely the point. As you go on to say,

    —Our needs have changed (as well as our sense of meaning) and will continue to do so precisely because we gain knowledge. Having knowledge allows us to determine what is meaningful and meaningless.

    Yes, knowledge and technical proficiency have increased dramatically around the world, and religion is growing worldwide like never before, especially in places like Africa, South America ,rural China and Utah of all places, where technical knowledge is flowing in as never before.

    So this increase in irrational, absurd religious worship is evidence to Gray, and I agree with him, that there exists a spiritual need in humans that must be fed and religion fits the bill more easily than rational humanism. It makes people feel good, its just that simple.

    The final point is the idea of outrunning or escaping oblivion. People dont want to die. The notion of infinite blackness, a blip of life, followed by infinite blackness is a bit dour to the average person. Just about all religions, save Judaism, promise some sort of eternity, heaven, reincarnation. Though Id suspect here it would be phrased as ‘preying on man’s fear of the dark’.

    And what does technical humanist striving promise? The Singularity nerd rapture talks foremost of immortality, an escape from oblivion. Kurzweil rightfully gets a thrashing on this site, which is why Im surprised Gray’s thinking isnt a little more welcome.

    Using the nerd rapture as an example, we’d probably agree if significant life-lengthening technologies ever did become widely available, religions would morph to reflect the implications of how life would then be lived. But cant you all see how religion is a mental salve against the angst of oblivion? Perhaps you all have sturdied yourselves so well against that worry, but can you find a bit of empathy for those who cannot? It doesnt mean you have to respect holy crackers and papal authority and all the rest.

    I dont expect anyone here to like or respect any religious particularity, but to entertain possibility that because so many have done it for so long in some form or another, acknowledge its human.

  81. #81 Neil Schipper
    April 29, 2010

    Kel said:

    Again I stress that the only reason to bring up the argument is to try to link atheism with bad things.

    Right, where the bad thing is the biological human condition, something overconfident liberalism tends to brush off, which in turn exposes the zeitgeist to fascism. Not simple physical law, but a tendency. And it’s taken more seriously by conservative thinkers.

    John Morales said:

    Could it just be that it’s incoherent and arbitrary? :)

    Not only are you’re confusing probability with reliability, but your proposed ad hoc metric is entirely subjective so far as I can see.

    You are hiding from a fairly straightforward proposition. Examine your discomfort.

    As to the photos, thank you. This supports my point: the guy who made the site is an ideologue, blind to nuance, and is using history as a blunt weapon. No mention of the thousands of priests in concentration camps. No mention of Hitler’s brilliance as a politician. The guy behind that site want you to come away with “Hitler and the Nazis were profoundly Christian,” and nothing more.

    It seems difficult for you to see any evidence for the Nazi leadership being atheistic and scientistic at its philosophical core. Not exclusively so, but again, in its formative self-talk and group-talk, and despite accommodations opportunistically made, and mythologies woven to prey upon ubiquitous gullibility.

    Rorschach:

    The argument laid out here or elsewhere by religionists with an agenda most often in this context is Mao/Stalin/Hitler/*random evil person X* were atheists, therefore god.

    If you really think that’s my argument, maybe you should chat with John Morales off-line and he’ll set you straight.

    Feynmaniac:

    … Neil has yet to indicate what the 0.7 (or 0.5) really means. He has said both probability and truth-value, which are two distinct concepts.

    I first said:

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1

    Pretty clear, I thought. Yes, in #66 I used probability. Sloppy of me; should’ve said truth-value as earlier. But was it really not clear that the intent was along the lines of how a detective might say, “the shooter was probably standing near the window”? Is it possible you’re seizing on trivialities to avoid substance?

    it says a lot that you were arguing that Nazi Germany was somewhat of an “atheistic regime” when you were so ignorant on the subject you had to turn to a Wikipedia article to learn about it.

    Hah!

    it’s no surprise that the 20th century was the bloodiest one.

    and it happened in a pro-science and increasingly god-free zeitgeist. See my reply to Kel.

    There were better technological means to kill people and there were more people to kill.

    Does this compel you to anticipate a bloodier 21st century?

    A gripe I have with Pharyngulites is their hyperfocus on the religion-atheism axis, and their exuberance about advances along that axis. More careful thinkers examine other axes, ones offering more explanatory and predictive power.

    This counting of bodies is naive. That’s why people roll their eyes at your nonsense.

    I think counting of bodies is naive as well, and I didn’t do it. People roll their eyes at my nonsense for other reasons.

    Kel, “Godwin” is about introducing a subject.

  82. #82 Neil Schipper
    April 29, 2010

    Note flub in section directed at John M:

    “.. so far as I can see.You are hiding from ..”

    Up to the period is still JM being quoted; my remarks follow.

  83. #83 Mr T
    April 29, 2010

    mfd512:

    So this increase in irrational, absurd religious worship is evidence to Gray, and I agree with him, that there exists a spiritual need in humans that must be fed and religion fits the bill more easily than rational humanism. It makes people feel good, its just that simple.

    It makes them feel good. It makes no sense. It isn’t true. Therefore, it’s “meaningful”?

    The final point is the idea of outrunning or escaping oblivion. People dont want to die. The notion of infinite blackness, a blip of life, followed by infinite blackness is a bit dour to the average person. Just about all religions, save Judaism, promise some sort of eternity, heaven, reincarnation. Though Id suspect here it would be phrased as ‘preying on man’s fear of the dark’.

    People don’t want to die, but they’re in a hurry to get to heaven. So? Everyone does die, and no conceivable technology will change that. No one has any evidence for any kind of afterlife, and that’s not going to change either. This is the reality of our situation, and it does mean something. Among lots of other things, it means you have to appreciate life and make the most of it while you can. It also means things like pain, boredom and sadness won’t last forever.

    Perhaps you all have sturdied yourselves so well against that worry, but can you find a bit of empathy for those who cannot?

    Some want to believe they’re gods and want to live forever like gods. Even though it’s based on false assumptions, I can (almost?) understand the motivation. It’s like wanting to be a superhero or a wizard, and that seems innocent enough. But obviously we’re not gods, demigods, wizards, or anything remotely like that. The fact is, people do all sorts of evil shit because they believe such crap. It’s been the cause of genocide, bigotry, patriarchy, and all sorts of tyranny throughout history. It’s not only that they think they’re more important than other people (perhaps because those others aren’t “godly” like they are), but that to them this life is not important. What’s important to them is the “next” life (whatever that’s supposed be), which means they can do anything they want to those ungodly heathen brown people. I’m not the least bit sorry that I don’t empathize with that.

  84. #84 mfd512
    April 29, 2010

    Mr T,

    you bring up another role religion plays in human affairs: in/out group identification. Realms of evo-psych to be mapped out in that direction.

    And I agree, lots of ugly business extends from that. Correct me of im wrong, but by identifying religion as the ’cause’, you imply that once people are disabused of religion, genocide and the rest will end?

  85. #85 Mr T
    April 29, 2010

    Correct me of im wrong, but by identifying religion as the ’cause’, you imply that once people are disabused of religion, genocide and the rest will end?

    No, I’m sorry for the ambiguity. “It’s been the cause” in this case means it has been a cause, not it is the one and only cause.

    I’m also not saying belief in an afterlife necessarily leads to devaluing life. It is logically possible to appreciate life and respect others’ rights, while at the same time believing one will continue to experience some kind of existence after death.

    How it usually works out in practice is a different matter. Those kinds of beliefs do enable and often encourage such rationalizations. It allows those in power to manipulate others accordingly. All of that can easily lead to not just unethical but horrific acts, for no better reason than a superstition built on fear and this desperate “need for meaning” where there is none.

  86. #86 Kel, OM
    April 29, 2010

    Right, where the bad thing is the biological human condition, something overconfident liberalism tends to brush off

    And who is arguing that here? Or are you going on another straw-man?

    Yes, in #66 I used probability

    The critique is not that you used probability, but that you chose an arbitrary value. Why 0.7? Why ±0.1? Why are you persisting with arguing that straw-man?

  87. #87 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    April 29, 2010

    Why are you persisting with arguing that straw-man?

    I suspect it is because, like our Mendacious Delusionalist, he has nothing cogent to argue with except his obviously made up factoid…

  88. #88 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 29, 2010

    Pretty clear, I thought. Yes, in #66 I used probability. Sloppy of me; should’ve said truth-value as earlier. But was it really not clear that the intent was along the lines of how a detective might say, “the shooter was probably standing near the window”?

    Your example is using probability and NOT truth-value!

    Look, let’s make this simple. Which (if any) are your argument:

    1) There’s an X (where X is 0.7 or 0.5 or whatever number you’ve arbitarily chosen) chance that the Nazis were an atheistic regime.

    2) The truth value that the Nazis were an atheistic regime was X (meaning they were somewhat theist and somwhat atheist).

    Let’s use an example. Clearly if I say that I’m half white it’s different than saying there’s a 50% chance I’m white.

    In any case, what’s much more troubling is that either way you’re not showing any evidence whatsoever that Nazis were in any way atheistic.

    and it happened in a pro-science and increasingly god-free zeitgeist. See my reply to Kel.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because it happened in that enviroment that doesn’t mean it was because of “pro-science and increasingly god-free zeitgeist”. It’s akin to saying that since Hitler and Stalin had moustaches that facial hair leads to totalitarianism.

    Look at European history over the last 500 years. Those Europeans loved killing each other over anything. In the Thirty Years’ War they manage to reduce parts of (what is now) Germany by a third. In the Napoleanic War there were ~5 million causalties and they did that with muskets and horses. Of course once they had tanks, machine guns and plans things were going to get bloodier.

    There were better technological means to kill people and there were more people to kill.

    Does this compel you to anticipate a bloodier 21st century?

    Possibly. There’s many factors involved. Human socities are really complicated.

    And it’s taken more seriously by conservative thinkers.

    One more reason to discard it.

  89. #89 Neil Schipper
    April 30, 2010

    Why the hysteria about my word use error when the intent was contextually discernable, and subsequently cleared up?

    And why the hysteria about 0.7 when it was first offered casually (as in: tentatively, subject to revision, open for discussion), and then followed up with a mechanism to refine it?

    Yet, no one says a word about the ‘formative self-talk and group-talk’ idea. People seem uneasy with that. If the wikipedia article leaves you without the idea that the Nazi leaders were pretty much as post-Abrahamic as you and I, you’re reading with the filters of an ideologue (like those worn by the guy who made that ‘nazis loving christians’ website).

    And no one offers a numeric counter-proposal for the composite A value. People sure do like their 0′s and 1′s.

    Together with the accusations of ‘body counting’ and ‘Godwin’, there’s a pattern of unwillingness to argue in good faith.

    (And how cheerfully Feynmaniac, after giving a logic class, goes from “things were going to get bloodier” to “Possibly. There’s many factors involved. Human socities are really complicated.” Were you going for comedy?)

    You know, when I first jumped in, I thought to myself, “I wonder how long before someone howls out the dictator – moustache causality line?”

    I don’t think anyone here thinks ideas have no consequences. I’m curious about historical associations and even weakly causal linkages. Can a good idea be a bad fit for a certain kind of mind or culture? Are there identifiable patterns when unprepared minds or cultures are exposed or overexposed to certain ideas?

    I don’t expect simple answers. Neither do I presume the questions have no merit.

  90. #90 Kel, OM
    April 30, 2010

    I don’t think anyone here thinks ideas have no consequences.

    Of course not, but you’re continually moving the goal-posts to persist with this straw-man attack. You’re arguing against a concoction of your own mind, then wondering why people here are rallying against you.

    Frame your argument as people here are arguing it. “general boastfulness” is no excuse for persisting in arguing against your own mind’s creation.

  91. #91 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 30, 2010

    Neil, can you start providing historical evidence?
    For example, here are some quotes from Hitler:

    “Today Christians … stand at the head of [this country] … I pledge that I never will tie myself to parties who want to destroy Christianity … We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press?in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past … [few] years.”
    The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922?1939, Vol. 1 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871?872.

    “Whoever would dare to raise a profane hand against that highest image of God among His creatures would sin against the bountiful Creator of this marvel and would collaborate in the expulsion from Paradise.” – Mein Kampf

    “I know that here and there the objection has been raised: Yes, but you have deserted Christianity. No, it is not that we have deserted Christianity; it is those who came before us who deserted Christianity. We have only carried through a clear division between politics, which have to do with terrestrial things, and religion, which must concern itself with the celestial sphere. There has been no interference with the doctrine of the Confessions or with their religious freedom, nor will there be any such interference. On the contrary the State protects religion, though always on the one condition that religion will not be used as a cover for political ends.
    There may have been a time when even parties founded on the ecclesiastical basis were a necessity. At that time Liberalism was opposed to the Church, while Marxism was anti-religious. But that time is past. National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.
    The Church’s interests cannot fail to coincide with ours alike in our fight against the symptoms of degeneracy in the world of to-day, in our fight against the Bolshevist culture, against an atheistic movement, against criminality, and in our struggle for the consciousness of a community in our national life, for the conquest of hatred and disunion between the classes, for the conquest of civil war and unrest, of strife and discord. These are not anti-Christian, these are Christian principles.” Adolf Hilter, Koblenz 26 August 1934

    “This is probably the first time and this is the first country in which people are being taught to realize that, of all the tasks which we have to face, the noblest and most sacred for mankind is that each racial species must preserve the purity of the blood which God has given it” – Adolf Hitler, speech before the Reichstag 30 January 1937

    “This State has only once intervened in the internal regulation of the Churches, that is when I myself in 1933 endeavoured to unite the weak and divided Protestant Churches of the different States into one great and powerful Evangelical Church of the Reich. That attempt failed through the opposition of the bishops of some States; it was therefore abandoned. For it is in the last resort not our task to defend or even to strengthen the Evangelical Church through violence against its own representatives…. But on one point it is well that there should be no uncertainty: the German priest as servant of God we shall protect, the priest as political enemy of the German State we shall destroy.” – Adolf Hitler, speech in the Reichstag 30 January 1939

    “If positive Christianity means love of one’s neighbour, i.e. the tending of the sick, the clothing of the poor, the feeding of the hungry, the giving of drink to those who are thirsty, then it is we who are the more positive Christians. For in these spheres the community of the people of National Socialist Germany has accomplished a prodigious work.” – Adolf Hitler, Munich 24 February 1939

    Only when the entire German people become a single community of sacrifice can we expect and hope that Almighty God will help us. The Almighty has never helped a lazy man. He does not help the coward. He does not help a people that cannot help itself.
    The principle applies here, help yourselves and Almighty God will not deny you his assistance.” – Adolf Hitler, Berlin 3 October 1941

  92. #92 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 30, 2010

    Neil,

    If the wikipedia article leaves you without the idea that the Nazi leaders were pretty much as post-Abrahamic as you and I

    You weren’t saying they were a “post-Abrahamic regime” (still contestable and depends on what your definition of ‘post-Abrahamic’ is). You wrote specifically that they were an “atheistic regime”.

    Yet, no one says a word about the ‘formative self-talk and group-talk’ idea.

    Don’t talk about it, provide the “self-talk” and “group-talk” that you think proves you right.

    And no one offers a numeric counter-proposal for the composite A value. People sure do like their 0′s and 1′s.

    Look fool, we’re all familiar with the inherent uncertainties of any empirical investigation. However, that doesn’t merit you to make claims without any sort of evidence.

    If it makes you happy my counter proposal is 0.01254987324231565214652116. It represents my truth-value (on an scale of 0 to 1) that the Nazis were an “atheistic regime” and was chosen completely arbitarily. I hope you get something out of it, but I can’t see how you will.

    And how cheerfully Feynmaniac, after giving a logic class, goes from “things were going to get bloodier” to “Possibly. There’s many factors involved. Human socities are really complicated.”

    Yeah. In one scenario I was analyzing historical events and in the other I was being asked to give a prediction. The former is, in general, much easier than the latter (but it’s by no means always easy). Anyway, do you contest the claim tha more leathal weapons led to more deaths?

    I don’t think anyone here thinks ideas have no consequences. I’m curious about historical associations and even weakly causal linkages.

    Good. If you think you know enough about the history start providing evidence to back up your claims. If you don’t, go to do some reading. Either way, if all you have is a made up numbers and outrage then know that I won’t even bother responding.

  93. #93 Neil Schipper
    April 30, 2010

    Feynmaniac, what does your evidence establish? It supports the claim that pro-Christian anti-atheist rhetoric was employed by one of the most successful politicians in modern history, someone with deep insight into the psychology of the population, in order to achieve political goals. That is an excellent claim.

    There’s a metaphor that’s been used about a dozen times in this thread, a human figure made from the stalks and stems of grain after threshing. I can’t quite bring myself to use it.

    Many Nazi leaders subscribed either to a mixture of then modern scientific theories (especially Social Darwinism), as Hitler himself did, or to mysticism and occultism, which was especially strong in the SS. The existence of a Ministry of Church Affairs [...] was hardly recognized by ideologists such as Alfred Rosenberg or by other political decision-makers.

    In 1941, Martin Bormann, a close associate of Hitler said publicly “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable”. In 1942 he also declared in a confidential memo to Gauleiters that the Christian Churches ‘must absolutely and finally be broken.’ Thus it is evident that he believed Nazism, based as it was on a ‘scientific’ world-view, to be completely incompatible with Christianity.

    Nazi party leaders viewed Christianity and National Socialism as competing world views (even though some Christians did not see a conflict) and Hitler planned to eliminate the Christian churches after securing control of his European empire.

    From the mid 1930s, anti-Christian elements within the Nazi party became more prominent – they were restrained by Hitler, who thought religion would die by itself as science advanced. Nevertheless the Party began to suppress religious teaching, closed religious youth movements and excluded religious instruction from the Hitler Youth. The public collection of money for religious charities was forbidden.

    Feynmaniac, earlier you wrote

    It only mentions ‘atheist’ once in that whole [Religion in Nazi Germany Wikipedia] article.

    Triumphant argument by word search! I find it interesting that Jesus gets the same number of mentions, Jesus being a figure that some people regard as having some relevance to Christianity, the nominal religion of the overwhelming majority of Germans.

    You say you want evidence, but in fact, you want to play a child’s game of slinging about selective evidence with no honest effort at historical thinking.

    An estimate of A = 0.01 can only be made by an ideologue.

    From http://www.theatlantic.com/past/issues/2003/05/ryback.htm:

    Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and the “governor” of Nazi-occupied Poland, recalled before his 1946 execution at Nuremberg that Hitler carried a copy of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation with him throughout World War I.

    Wikipedia says Schopenhauer “was a German philosopher known for his atheistic pessimism and philosophical clarity.”

    Also from Ryback:

    Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler’s spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. “The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility,” Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God. When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a ‘man of destiny’ who would bring about Germany’s ‘salvation,’” he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden?racial purity and territorial expansion. “He didn’t believe in anything but himself,” Weinberg told me last summer. Most historians tend to agree.

    Some non-historians, however, have different views. …

    Ryback also writes about Hitler’s interest in spiritual writings. So, it’s a mixed bag. Who would’ve thought?

    Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Nazi_ideologues
    Visit some of the names. With a few exceptions, you will find little mention of god, religion, christ, jesus, etc (‘tho lots of mention of jews).

    Kel, goalposts.

    I generally dislike when arguers start running to dictionaries for definitions of commonly used words; it almost always goes along with arguing in bad faith. And while I won’t do that, a few comments are in order.

    By the criterion that an atheist is exclusively someone who would say “I am an atheist”, my case is weak.

    You wouldn’t accept that a dickhead is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a dickhead”. Nor that a genius is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a genius”. Ditto “a physicist”, “musical” and on and on.

    Don’t we often wrangle with religious apologists about the validity of population surveys on religiosity precisely because people frequently answer according to “that’s what my parents told me I was”?

    So, there are other criteria. And intellectuals are supposed to look under the surface of things.

    And I say that it’s relevant how many times in a year an adult has a conscious “believing moment”. If I encounter a person who never goes to a house of worship, never prays at home, doesn’t consider ancient creation myths true, doesn’t care about religious labels when considering political choices (or does so only insofar as they represent economic, ethnic, etc. groupings), but, self-reports “I’m Catholic”, “I’m Anglican”, etc., I see a basis for assigning to him a robust A value, say 0.7.

    (Imagine such a person is known to you, and a certain intimacy established. Might you say to them, “Dude, you’re pretty much there. It seems you’re just uncomfortable with the A word”?)

    If the above person also on occasion has a vague notion of things supernatural (a few times a year, like when making a significant decision, or grieving), I claim a basis for assigning a nonzero A value, say 0.3.

    These aren’t the only places to set the goalposts, but plausible, and potentially more useful than binary labeling.

    (An aside: I observe that when Dawkins says he’s a 6.9 on a 7 point scale, the Mollies don’t get in a tizzy about numbers being pulled out of asses.)

    Just for closure, my analysis of the issue at hand.

    It’s based on casual reading of historical books and articles, watching documentaries, etc. over the years, enriched by some recent reading as per the above links. It’s pedestrian, and contains confirmation bias.

    Constituent A values of nazi regime:

    leader: 0.8
    leader’s trusted officers: 0.7
    party activists: 0.4
    party supporters: 0.2
    german population at large: 0.1

    Composite: A = 2.2/5 = 0.44

    Into my ass goes my finger, and out comes an error window, thus: A = 0.44 ± 0.1.

  94. #94 Kel, OM
    April 30, 2010

    By the criterion that an atheist is exclusively someone who would say “I am an atheist”, my case is weak.

    Again, that’s not what anyone is arguing for. My definition of an atheist is anyone who doesn’t believe in God. This doesn’t necessitate self-recognition.

    You wouldn’t accept that a dickhead is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a dickhead”. Nor that a genius is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a genius”. Ditto “a physicist”, “musical” and on and on.

    I wouldn’t say that the intellectually dishonest is someone who self-recognises as intellectually dishonest, but again I’m not asking for that. In fact, I went out of my way to frame it without referring to the self. I made sure to ask “how would a belief in God have changed what they did?”, which I think is the important question here. How does non-belief affect behaviour?

    So, there are other criteria. And intellectuals are supposed to look under the surface of things.

    As soon as you show any form of intellectual honesty, I’ll accept that’s what you’re trying to do. But I maintain your posts here have been nothing but ridiculous straw-men attacks arguing against something that no-one here is advocating. In a justification, you cited “general boastfulness” as a reason for doing so, and your focus as been on the often repeated claim that atheists / atheism caused the holocaust.

    Your argument is a concoction of your own mind, trying to argue something completely alien to what any claims are about. And for what? Because some people said bad things about religion, it makes you justified to say bad things about atheism. Again, you’re arguing against a concoction of your own mind’s making. That’s neither being an intellectual or being honest.

    An aside: I observe that when Dawkins says he’s a 6.9 on a 7 point scale, the Mollies don’t get in a tizzy about numbers being pulled out of asses

    Dawkins made a scale from 1 to 7 where he specifically defined what the numbers meant. The 6.9 isn’t an arbitrary figure, it’s him saying he’s stopping short of absolute certainty. Are you that thick you can’t recognise that?

  95. #95 Neil Schipper
    April 30, 2010

    Kel,

    You’re trying to bludgeon me into defending “atheism causes genocide” or at least “atheism caused genocide”. Well I won’t. My claims have been much milder, and you can’t seem to handle the mildness.

    Eat this straw: All I claim is that overconfident atheist thinkers and actors, believing themselves to be very advanced, rational and scientific, played major roles in the bloody 20th century.

    (And it hasn’t been the focus of the discussion because discussion was dominated by another more specific claim.)

    Mere coincidence? Subtle causality related to minds? Ideas adopted too quickly? Do I say that I know?

    In Europe by the mid-19th century, a lot of imperial war-making had died down; slaves and serfs nominally freed; greater legal protections for individuals; in places, people were getting used to democracy. A form of often god-besotted liberalism was fairly entrenched in some places and gaining ground in others. Religious power (and superstition generally) were in decline. People believed in progress. Not so bad.

    Hyper-confident atheists shook up philosophy and culture, pushing radical theories of history and economics.

    I know that I have no way of knowing whether resource competition and imperial ambitions would have led to outcomes that were similar, perhaps worse, in the absence of “dialectical materialism”, and “scientific racism” and what not.

    It’s not dumb to ponder these things; it’s repulsive to not ponder about them.

    Because some people said bad things about religion, it makes you justified to say bad things about atheism.

    It’s unbelievable that you would make up something like this.

  96. #96 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    April 30, 2010

    Neil,

    Well at least now you’re actually providing evidence. However, it’s at best evidence for the Nazis being secular, anti-Christian or anti-clerical (none of those things are the same as being atheist).

    The closest you came was with this:

    Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer and the “governor” of Nazi-occupied Poland, recalled before his 1946 execution at Nuremberg that Hitler carried a copy of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation with him throughout World War I.

    Wikipedia says Schopenhauer “was a German philosopher known for his atheistic pessimism and philosophical clarity.”

    and that’s extremely weak. First of all, it may surprise you but the Nazis weren’t the best of scholars. They didn’t read a lot of the German scholars they hailed and if they did they most likely misunderstood them or didn’t research them much. For example, they also regarded Nietzsche very well (his sister became a member of the Nazis and she probably didn’t understand his work either), but he was very much against German nationalism and anti-antisemitism. His friendship with Wagner even suffered because of it. See here for more details.

    Second, I haven’t read ‘The World as Will and Representation’ but even if its author was an atheist it hardly looks (going from the description) like a book about atheism. Many American Christian conservatives whack off to Ayn Rand’s selfish ideology but that doesn’t make them an atheist. Many aren’t aware that she is one or if they are they like her despite of that.

    For the record, my position is, and has been, that the Nazi regime were a mostly secular (again, secular =! atheist) organization, made up primarily of Christians (with some pagan-like elements), made uses of Christianity but were mostly interested in power and their racist bullshit. If there were an any atheist-like elements they were extremely small.

    I find it interesting that Jesus gets the same number of mentions

    Yeah, but ‘Christian’ gets mentioned 61 times.

    An estimate of A = 0.01 can only be made by an ideologue.

    Well I didn’t make an estimate of 0.01, it was 0.01254987324231565214652116 and said I chose it arbitrarily.

    I study math and physics. I know how helpful numbers can be in describing the world. In history it can be very helpful answering concrete questions, like what percentage of the population believes X. However, for something like measuring how much of an “athestic regime” was an organization, it seems like assigning a single number is quite an oversimplification of a complex event. What’s more, your metric for arriving at the number seems quite arbitrary.

    (An aside: I observe that when Dawkins says he’s a 6.9 on a 7 point scale, the Mollies don’t get in a tizzy about numbers being pulled out of asses.)

    Because he never wrote such a thing. Dawkins wrote in TGD pg. 51:

    I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 – I am agnostic only to
    the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    It’s very clear what his scale was measuring, simply the degree of belief in God. You’re measuring something much more complicated (even though I’m not entirely sure what it is). Also, you never answered my question. Which, if any, are you saying A represents:

    1) There’s an A chance that the Nazis were an atheistic regime.

    2) The truth value that the Nazis were an atheistic regime was A (meaning they were somewhat theist and somewhat atheist).

    These two things are NOT the same.

    Into my ass goes my finger, and out comes an error window, thus: A = 0.44 ± 0.1.

    So your initial value overestimated by almost 60%.

  97. #97 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    You’re trying to bludgeon me into defending “atheism causes genocide” or at least “atheism caused genocide”. Well I won’t.

    No, I’m saying that you’re persisting with a loaded argument which you know to be used that way.

    The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies.

    I find this uncontroversial. I can understand not wanting it used as a basis for some conclusions you (and I) don’t favor, but I think it stands on its own.

    What is an “atheist regime” exactly? “The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much.”
    That’s how you derived atheist regime with 0.7±0.1? That’s how you derived atheist regime? By this standard of argument, you could claim that the child rape by the Vatican was committed by an atheist regime because surely most of their decisions aren’t made in the interests of Christianity. Pope child-rapist protector Covering up for the good of the Church must surely not have the interests of Christianity at heart…

    So while you might find the statement “uncontroversial”, but surely you could see why people are calling you on it. Your defence of an absurd statement.

    It’s unbelievable that you would make up something like this.

    It was in response to your claim it was about the “general boastfulness” on here. Though perhaps I’m mistaken about the context of that claim, the general boastfulness was more about the other ridiculous straw-man arguments you made and not about the original claim. If I was wrong I apologise and retract the claim.

  98. #98 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Because he never wrote such a thing.

    I believe the 6.9 was from an interview on Real Time With Bill Maher. When he was asked about it, he mentioned 6.9

  99. #99 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    May 1, 2010
    Because he never wrote such a thing.

    I believe the 6.9 was from an interview on Real Time With Bill Maher. When he was asked about it, he mentioned 6.9

    I take that back then. However, it he was clear about what the number represented and he was using it to measure something simple (i.e, degree of belief in God).

  100. #100 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Guys,

    I’m starting to get a very weird feeling. I am amazed at how quick you both are in replying and chasing down factoids. With speed and wicked precision you scan to identify faults — a good thing — and you react.

    But it seems like you don’t read some of my most relevant comment with comprehension. I’m surprised at what you choose to comment on and what you ignore.

    I am trying to raise some aspects about atheism in history that don’t normally get a fair hearing, here in particular.

    I can handle being disagreed with, corrected, called an idiot. But I’m not getting the feedback that would indicate the position is being reasonably understood. (And it might very well be a problem at my end.)

    I’m ready to stop after this. If you want to reply, I suggest that you try not to feel the pressure to rush that this medium normally imposes.

    Feynmaniac,

    I’m surprised to hear you say that the Schopenhauer bit was more compelling than some of the other bits (like that Hitler thought religion would die by itself as science advanced).

    You seem tied to the notion that an atheist is someone who’s read (a good chunk of) a canon and made a declaration, even if only in private.

    That’s a fine definition, but I spent some time making a distinction between
    “I (the person named X) am Y”
    vs.
    Evidence exists that X is Y (whether or not X would say so).

    I pointed out that the approach comes with both benefits and constraints. Please have a look at the latter #93 (the section erroneously addressed to Kel, esp. about conscious “believing moments”).

    In this view, anti-clerical vs. secular, etc. does not come into it. I’m not talking about political behaviours or programs; a claim of atheism as being part of Nazi official policy or even rhetoric would be very weak. I agree that ‘secular’ is a better description for their public face (although any Jew would be likely to cringe upon hearing it).

    However, for something like measuring how much of an “athestic regime” was an organization, it seems like assigning a single number is quite an oversimplification of a complex event.

    I agree, but it’s a refinement over binary stop-go. I have discussed this.

    What’s more, your metric for arriving at the number seems quite arbitrary.

    I spelled out the limitations, and invited substantial comment. One reads, has conversations, accumulates and refines and rejects notions with time, etc.

    It’s very clear what his scale was measuring, simply the degree of belief in God.

    Well I’m mostly just mapping his 1..9 to 0..1; maybe also replace ‘belief in god’ with ‘belief in any supernatural claims’.

    You’re measuring something much more complicated (even though I’m not entirely sure what it is).

    I thought I did OK in #93. But I’ll try again:

    A representation of the atheist tendencies of a regime, obtained by composing (accumulating) the atheist tendencies of relevant constituent groups weighted according to group influence on the regime.

    If you’re not satisfied, we’ll just have to end off.

    Also, you never answered my question.

    I really thought I had clarified this.

    Answer 1 presumes ‘atheist’ as a binary property, and that’s not the way I’m using it. So: 2.

    your initial value overestimated by almost 60%

    Yes. If there’s any merit to my analysis, I seriously over-estimated.

    Can I also put it this way? Judging by the early reaction, most people commenting here would have gone for A = 0, and been out by close to 0.44, while I was out by 0.26 (again, only if the value is any good).

    And Feynmaniac, please look at #95. I deal with a higher level issue there: why am I taking such an obnoxious (to Pharyngulites) position.

    Best.

    Kel,

    I’m saying that you’re persisting with a loaded argument which you know to be used that way.

    Please, loaded how? I said right off the hop I don’t like how the statement is often used. And, in my last post, I gave a summary of my underlying non-Pharynguloid thinking.

    What is an “atheist regime” exactly?

    I’ve really tried. Posts #66 & #93.

    “The Nazi leadership and intelligentsia did not have Christianity on the mind all that much.” That’s how you derived atheist regime with 0.7±0.1? That’s how you derived atheist regime?

    It was crude. A more rigorous approach was set out. It got refined. It’s all there.

    Much more than that, I tried reading objections you made in #75 & #94 in their best light, as challenges to why I think it’s a conversation with any value. But you’re not reacting to the replies in my previous post. You’re sort of raging at my very early posts. That confuses me.

    btw, I would have liked to hear vigorous critical comment on the equal weighting of the 5 categories (post #66). Does it strike you as being reasonable?

  101. #101 John Morales
    May 1, 2010

    Neil,

    I’m ready to stop after this. If you want to reply, I suggest that you try not to feel the pressure to rush that this medium normally imposes.

    Your suggestion is noted and filed where it belongs.

  102. #102 John Morales
    May 1, 2010

    Neil, I note you conflate a political regime with its officials and its populace, and judge the former on your perception of the latter.

    “The Party as such stands for Positive Christianity, but does not bind itself in the matter of creed to any particular denomination.” – Official Party Printer

    As to the photos, thank you. This supports my point: the guy who made the site is an ideologue, blind to nuance, and is using history as a blunt weapon. No mention of the thousands of priests in concentration camps. No mention of Hitler’s brilliance as a politician. The guy behind that site want you to come away with “Hitler and the Nazis were profoundly Christian,” and nothing more.

    Regardless of the motive of whoever collated that set of photos, the reality of Nazi officials, from the highest ones down, hobnobbing with clerics, praying, attending church services etc. cannot be denied. The images of masses of troops attending masses (heh), those troops swearing oaths to God, none of those are the actions of an atheistic regime.

    It doesn’t matter whether “Hitler and the Nazis” were atheistic or not, the regime clearly was not.

    Sheesh.

    Since your sophistry is refuted by the documentary evidence, and you refuse to acknowledge it, I can only conclude that you’re arguing in bad faith.

  103. #103 John Morales
    May 1, 2010
  104. #104 WowbaggerOM
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper, you first need to demonstrate how atheism can motivate people to act. It’s simply the lack of belief in gods – how, precisely, can that be proscriptive?

  105. #105 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    It was crude.

    No, it was wrong. You’ve taken your own arbitrary scale, then proceeded to use your own definitions. That’s why I said it was loaded, you’re using the words “atheist regime” in your own context but ignoring how people use those words. If you want to call orange pink, that’s fine. But if you’re trying to convince other people that orange is in-fact pink, then it should be obvious why people would be in disagreement with you. “atheist regime” has its own usage, which is why people here are reacting to it. You’re using the term, but trying to define it in your own way. Are you ignorant of its usage, or are you trying to rile people up?

    Your scale is like saying that a Christian is 0.8±0.1 atheist because ~80% of what she does and what she thinks is completely external to God. She might go to Church, she might thank God for her meals. But when she showers, she doesn’t do it out of any regard for Christian ideals. When she cooks a meal or meets with friends or plays with her child, these things aren’t done for Christian ideals. She is 0.8±0.1 atheist…

  106. #106 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Language is a means to share meaning between individuals. When using words, there must be at least some agreement between what the speaker and the listener think a word or sentence means, otherwise meaning is lost or taken the wrong way. This is why it is so important that if there is already an agreed upon meaning of a particular word or phrase, one uses that to convey said meaning. It might be the speaker who has their own definition, it might be the listener. The point being that if one is aware of the disparity between the one trying to convey meaning and the one who is trying to receive it, it’s important to resolve it.

    Neil, I wonder why you’re using your own definition of a phrase you surely are aware has negative connotations. Are you trying to rile people up? Do you think people here have the wrong impression of what the words mean? Are you trying to convey a point that can’t be expressed for lack of better words? This is one reason why I’m accusing you of making an argument of your own mind’s creation. You’re arguing against something and then calling it something else – something else that is loaded with meaning.

  107. #107 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    John Morales,

    A regime is a hierarchical trust network. All I’m claiming is that the regime in question contained influential agents imbued with post-Abrahamic science-embracing thought patterns, and did so to a non-trivial degree.

    It really should be clear from my earlier comments that I don’t in any way deny evidence of Christianity-friendly features of the regime.

    WowbaggerOM,

    you first need to demonstrate how atheism can motivate people to act

    Mr. Vesalius, you first need to demonstrate how autopsies on humans can provide any insights to medical treatment beyond what we already know from Galen.

    Mr. Darwin, you first need to demonstrate how morphological features can be modified from one generation to the next. Until then, you should not start a conversation about significant morphological change over time.

    Kel,

    Can we say that an Iranian cabinet in which 0 out of 20 members ever thinks that strictly enforcing Sharia is worth consideration different from one in which 6 out of 20 routinely say to trusted fellows “our strict enforcement of Sharia is holding our nation back”?

    Everyone: why not the slightest engagement with post #95? You’re smart and well read. Where am I falling down in how I’m thinking about history?

  108. #108 Mr T
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper, do you have a point?

    All I’m claiming is that the regime in question contained influential agents imbued with post-Abrahamic science-embracing thought patterns, and did so to a non-trivial degree.

    It really should be clear from my earlier comments that I don’t in any way deny evidence of Christianity-friendly features of the regime.

    According to that standard, George W. Bush led an atheist regime. Now for some arbitrary numbers to prove my point…

    Constituent A values of G.W.B. regime:

    leader: 0.8
    leader’s trusted officers: 0.7
    party activists: 0.4
    party supporters: 0.2
    u.s. population at large: 0.1

    Composite: A = 2.2/5 = 0.44

    Wow, I certainly didn’t expect that! They turned out to be exactly the same! Congratulations, Neil! You must have discovered something really DEEP about the nature of the universe!

  109. #109 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Mr T, I have a vague notion of how shallow I am. If we could agreeably devise a shallowness scale, I could assign a number to that self-assessment. Then, someone such as yourself could make a more objective assessment, and inform me of the amount by which my actual shallowness exceeds my self-perceived shallowness.

  110. #110 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Kel,

    Your scale is like saying that a Christian is 0.8±0.1 atheist because ~80% of what she does and what she thinks is completely external to God.

    This path has been well trod. Again, we could agree that having a conscious “believing moment” once or more per week is the criterion for A = 0. Someone else might argue for setting the threshold at monthly, another for bimonthly.

    I’ve repeatedly said it’s imprecise. People negotiate. Psychologists and psychiatrists do something along these lines constantly for conditions they’re trying to diagnose; no one thinks it’s fantastically precise, just that it offers benefits over not doing it.

    Fuck, Revenue Canada does this. It’s how taxpayers determine eligibility for this benefit or that. Should they just have checkboxes for “I’m rich; no benefits.” and “I’m poor; all available benefits.”

    Why am I trying to explain to a well-educated person what a cutoff is? With respect, you’re not making strong arguments. Do you not know this? It feels like you’re just trying to wear me down.

    An argument you could be making is that even with an agreed upon scale and thresholds, it’s a pointless exercise because we have no access to reliable data.

    And who knows? My reply might be: “you win, I lose, now I’ll STFU.”

  111. #111 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    By the criterion that an atheist is exclusively someone who would say “I am an atheist”, my case is weak.

    You wouldn’t accept that a dickhead is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a dickhead”. Nor that a genius is exclusively someone who proclaims “I am a genius”. Ditto “a physicist”, “musical” and on and on. – Neil Schipper

    Bloody hellfire, you’re stupid. Do you really not see the difference between what someone says about their beliefs and what they say about their mental qualities? In the former case, if they are being sincere, there is at least a very strong case for taking their word; in the latter, very much weaker.

  112. #112 Mr T
    May 1, 2010

    And who knows? My reply might be: “you win, I lose, now I’ll STFU.”

    Then perhaps you should just do that, to save the rest of us all the trouble.

    it’s a pointless exercise because we have no access to reliable data.

    That’s not even the half of it. It’s also a pointless exercise because it’s based on false premises. Atheism isn’t a necessary condition, nor is it a sufficient condition, for a fascist regime responsible of genocide. You may not think you’re making such a claim, but I don’t see how it isn’t implied.

    Even if atheism were a cause of Nazism, it would still be only one cause out of many. Calling it an “atheist regime” is at best a very shallow interpretation of history, dependent on a gratuitous amount of hand-waving and special pleading. What you have are a few anecdotes, taken out of historical context, while ignoring the vast amount of evidence that contradicts your claim. Then, all of that is subjected to your own speculation about their secret psychological motivations based on some loose interpretation of historical trends during the enlightenment. After you’ve done all of that (which is quite a feat in itself), you make the ridiculous leap in which you suggest something in your made-up “data” is quantifiable. In short, it’s a bunch of bullshit, which is why I don’t take your argument seriously.

  113. #113 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    Why bother giving it a +/- 0.1 margin of error when you pulled the 0.7 out of your ass in the first place? – Mr. T

    I’m sure you know the answer, Mr. T, but I’ll give it anyway: he did it because it looked sciency.

  114. #114 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Knockgoats,

    if they are being sincere, there is at least a very strong case for taking their word

    I think that a person who says or thinks things like:

    . Thank you, god, for providing …
    . Thank you, god, for protecting …
    . Please, god, help me (or us) to…

    several times a day (say 2000/year) has a different kind of mind from someone who says or thinks such things zero times per year.

    And I think the difference continues to matter if the latter person says “I believe in God” when asked.

    (And by “different kind of mind”, I know I’m saying something I only understand vaguely.)

    But yes, yes, yes, I am among the stupidest people I know.

  115. #115 WowbaggerOM
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    Mr. Vesalius, you first need to demonstrate how autopsies on humans can provide any insights to medical treatment beyond what we already know from Galen.

    and

    Mr. Darwin, you first need to demonstrate how morphological features can be modified from one generation to the next. Until then, you should not start a conversation about significant morphological change over time.

    You’re trying to compare how we understand actual physical reality – physiology and heritability – to understanding how abstract philosophical concepts affect behaviour? Really? No wonder people are describing your logic as incoherent and accusing you of arguing in bad faith – you should have just admitted that there isn’t one; that way you’d have just been wrong while now you’re both wrong and demonstrably intellectually dishonest.

    Or is it your premise that the absence of belief in gods creates in the brain of the non-believer some observable change that leads to antisocial behaviour?

  116. #116 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Can we say that an Iranian cabinet in which 0 out of 20 members ever thinks that strictly enforcing Sharia is worth consideration different from one in which 6 out of 20 routinely say to trusted fellows “our strict enforcement of Sharia is holding our nation back”?

    What you can’t say is that if 6 out of 20 consider the enforcement of sharia law and 14 consider implementing what works best that it’s a 0.7 atheist regime.

    With respect, you’re not making strong arguments.

    With respect, it’s hard to make arguments against you arguing a caricature. I’m spending my effort trying to correct the straw-man you’ve erected instead of trying to defend it. I’ll say it again, you calling it an atheist regime is loaded with explicit meaning that people here are reacting to. You’re asking us to argue against you when people are busy arguing against your definition.

    An argument you could be making is that even with an agreed upon scale and thresholds, it’s a pointless exercise because we have no access to reliable data.

    I know you’re not a fan of dictionary definitions, but just what do you think people meant when they have repeatedly told you your scale is arbitrary?

  117. #117 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Mr. Darwin, you first need to demonstrate how morphological features can be modified from one generation to the next. Until then, you should not start a conversation about significant morphological change over time.

    Category error their Neil. Atheism is a purely descriptive word for a negative position. It’s like saying that someone’s lack of belief in astrology led them into a crime. The only positive position atheism entails is the lack of belief in interventionist deities.

    Now the fact that one rejects the notion of interventionist deities may have some consequences if having belief in interventionist deities also entails other beliefs that have real-world values. If morality is tied to belief in an interventionist deity, then the lack of belief would mean a lack of morality. If meaning is tied to belief in an interventionist deity, then the lack of belief would mean a lack of meaning. One of the things the “new atheist” movement is doing is trying to argue away from culture and towards these qualities as being innate in our species – that not having religion is not akin to being an amoral existential nihilist.

    As I see it, if one wants to argue that the lack of belief in interventionist deities causes something, they have to show that there’s a positive trait that believing has which the absence thereof would cause problems. Otherwise we’re turning a purely descriptive term into a prescriptive one. As soon as atheism becomes prescriptive I’m no longer going to identify as one – for it’s turning atheism into a religion. Atheism does not nor should it give any indication how ought to behave. It shouldn’t be a motivating factor any more than a lack of belief in unicorns does. It’s the negative position!

  118. #118 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    I wrote this blog post on the matter.

  119. #119 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    religion is growing worldwide like never before – mdf512

    Garbage. Until the 20th century, religious belief of some form was almost universal. It is, on the contrary, the number of those free from religion that is growing worldwide like never before. You’re surely not naive enough to believe the propaganda of Leninist regimes that claimed to be on the way to eliminating religion? When you talk of religion growing in Brazil, this is total tosh: simply, a large number of Catholics have become evangelical Protestants. The case of China is more complex, and estimates of the number of adherents to various religions vary wildly, but except for the short period of the cultural revolution, Chinese folk religious practices have remained extremely widespread.

  120. #120 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    It seems difficult for you to see any evidence for the Nazi leadership being atheistic and scientistic at its philosophical core. – Neil Schipper

    The reason being, that they very clearly were not. In the case of Hitler himself, there is abundant evidence he was a theist, though certainly not an orthodox Christian, and no evidence at all that he was an atheist. He sought a fusion of “spiritual” and pseudo-scientific (racist, eugenicist) ideas. I have a fascinating book called Hitler’s Private Library by Timothy W. Ryback. I quote:
    “The surviving books in Hitler’s library on spiritual and occult matters, of which there are scores, are perhaps the most articulate witnesses of Hitler’s lifelong preoccupation. Many of the books were acquired in the early 1920s, and others are from the final years of his life.”
    Incidentally, Ryback debunks the claim that Hitler carried Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea through WWI – it would have been a sizeable tome, and he couldn’t even spell “Schopenhauer” correctly in notes for speeches in 1921.

    The antisemitism at the core of Nazi ideology, although given a pseudo-scientific veneer, derives without the slightest doubt from Christian antisemitism. Thomas Aquinas warned of the Jews intending to take over the world, while Luther, extravagantly praised by Hitler, wrote a charming tract entitled On the Jews and their Lies.

  121. #121 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    And no one offers a numeric counter-proposal for the composite A value. – Neil Schipper

    That’s probably because most of us realise that inappropriate quantification is a sign of pseudo-scientific garbage. If you want to argue that there were atheistic elements in Nazism (and of course that’s not the same as “post-Abrahamic” elements), then identify them specifically and with evidence.

  122. #122 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    In Europe by the mid-19th century, a lot of imperial war-making had died down – Neil Schipper

    Jesus wept. It’s true there were no general wars in Europe between 1815 and 1914 – although Russian and Austro-Hungarian expansionism in the Balkans, and the unification of Germany and Italy, were not exactly peaceful affairs. However, this was largely because, for the established powers, there were richer pickings to be had elsewhere: the 19th century was the heyday of European (and European-derived) imperialism – ask the native inhabitants of the Americas and Australasia, Africa and much of Asia – and this remained the case throughout the century.

  123. #123 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    I observe that when Dawkins says he’s a 6.9 on a 7 point scale, the Mollies don’t get in a tizzy about numbers being pulled out of asses. – Neil Schipper

    Actually, I think that was a pretty stupid thing to say. It adds no information whatever to his qualitative statement that he’s agnostic about gods only to the extent that he is about there being fairies at the bottom of his garden.

  124. #124 MAJeff, OM
    May 1, 2010

    It’s true there were no general wars in Europe between 1815 and 1914 – although Russian and Austro-Hungarian expansionism in the Balkans, and the unification of Germany and Italy, were not exactly peaceful affairs. However, this was largely because, for the established powers, there were richer pickings to be had elsewhere: the 19th century was the heyday of European (and European-derived) imperialism – ask the native inhabitants of the Americas and Australasia, Africa and much of Asia – and this remained the case throughout the century.

    And, when the Imperial wars returned to European soil in the twentieth century, the tactics and weapons that they had developed in those regions were imported for use on Europeans. Concentration camps didn’t originate in 1930s Germany….

  125. #125 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper@114,
    I simply note that you have completely ignored the point I made in #111. Ludicrous parallels such as the one I pointed out there seem to be a bit of a speciality with you.

  126. #126 Knockgoats
    May 1, 2010

    MAJeff,OM@124

    True – and genocide as well – but presumably the monarchies of Imperial Germany and of Belgium were “atheist regimes” as well. Who knew?

  127. #127 a_ray_in_dilbert_space
    May 1, 2010

    Neil says, “All I’m claiming is that the regime in question contained influential agents imbued with post-Abrahamic science-embracing thought patterns, and did so to a non-trivial degree.”

    Huh? I’m sorry, but the Nazis and the Stalinists were about as anti-science as it gets. German scientists had to develop all sorts of subterfuges to get around the fact that the regime rejected relativity and quantum mechanics as “Jewish physics”. And Stalin? Hello, anybody remember Lysenkoism.

    There is a difference between claiming to be scientific and actually embracing science.

    And as to atheism–you’d have an easier time making the case that several of the founding fathers were atheist or agnostic based on their writings than you would with the Nazi brass. Get real.

  128. #128 Kel, OM
    May 1, 2010

    There is a difference between claiming to be scientific and actually embracing science.

    Nonsense. Next you’re going to say that if you reject religion as a different way of knowing that it’s not engaging in scientism… absurd!

  129. #129 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Mr T (#112):

    it’s based on false premises. Atheism isn’t a necessary condition, nor is it a sufficient condition, for a fascist regime responsible of genocide.

    I mainly agree. I think of the Franco regime and some of the South American dictatorships in that way: fascist and “old style” Abrahamic (Catholic).

    However, their fear of Marxism may be relevant to my line.

    You may not think you’re making such a claim, but I don’t see how it isn’t implied.

    In saying that the reaction I’m eliciting is based on people not seeing “how it isn’t implied”, you and I are in complete accord.

    I’ve touched on my interest in the plausibility of a nebulous kind of
    atheism –> 20th C tot’n
    link in prior posts, most notably #95.

    It’s certainly not an “atheism causes genocide” claim.

    I do wish (stupidly) that the heat could come down. Don’t forget that as science-oriented folk, you all accept as plausible the claim that the flapping of a butterfly wing in Venezuela is able to cause a hurricane in where-ever.

    And yeah, my claim is a bit stronger than that, but the very notion of a contribution to a causal chain should not freak you out.

    Even if atheism were a cause of Nazism, it would still be only one cause out of many.

    I’m surprised you would write that, but I agree.

    Calling it an “atheist regime” is at best a very shallow interpretation of history, dependent on a gratuitous amount of hand-waving and special pleading.

    Recall that my first offensive claim was about the legitimacy of using “atheist regime” as a rough catch-all for the genocidal regimes of the 20th C.

    I wish we’d been able to stay focused on that, but I did ask for trouble when I loosely opined that the statement ‘the Nazi regime was atheist’ had a truth value 0.7.

    When I wrote it, I believed it. It was based on my impression — from books, articles, memoirs, films, etc. — that the sincerely felt passions driving the Nazis, and the central thrust of their appeals for support, was overwhelmingly the nationalist and racial-science-y shit, with only a few scant bones thrown to old-style Jesus&god-centered Christian belief (a demographic increasingly scared out of their wits, for good reason).

    It was also based on my impression of the large impact of enlightenment philosophy and cultural output, plus the successes of science (& tech).

    It was also based on my notion that it’s not hugely relevant who does or does not say “I am an atheist”. It’s more relevant who lives a life talking to or “smelling” or “hearing” a supernatural thing-a-ma-bob.

    I had never made a meticulous study of the issue, but my impressions had built up over the years.

    So anyway, in picking 0.7, I got the trouble I asked for and deserved.

    It pressed me to refine my thinking, entailing some reading, and also, trying to devise a way to settle the issue with something like objectivity and avoiding black and white thinking.

    I had been impressed reading about approaches to political predictions taken by Bruce Beuno de Mesquite (profiled in a NYT article, easy to find), so I decided to take a weighted composite approach.

    This was done in public view, and I stated limitations and solicited feedback.

    (In parallel with all this, I was also meeting what I felt were largely emotional & ideological objections to the whole project.)

    I did the analysis, and I got 0.44.

    I’m not super happy that I had to revise my number so much; I’m also not super happy that no one here seems to think the process has any potential validity after suitable calibration.

    But 0.44 does support my bias that the absence of belief (dare I say, of sincere belief?) was a significant component of the zeitgeist of the time: I think of the strong healthy body worship; using rulers to measure Jewish noses, the idea of there being something special about Aryans, a race ancestrally remote from Christendom. All this comprises an outlook that might appeal much more to non-supernaturalists than those who read the New Testament.

    And I feel a bit gratified that my analysis was not dominated by selected bits of nazi rhetoric and deals with churches. It was based on (quick and dirty) perusal of the backgrounds of nazi founders and higher-ups. I found some names openly hostile to Christianity and superstition, but less than I expected.

    One person noted the largish discrepancy between my original seat-of-the-pants value and the later one (and I concurred).

    But no one mentioned that the revised value is below 0.5.

    In other words, transforming the number back to a more conventional binary statement, my conclusion is just what you all believe: the nazis were not an atheist regime.

    What you have are a few anecdotes, taken out of historical context, while ignoring the vast amount of evidence that contradicts your claim.

    You mean my #93? A few anecdotes? I think you’re arguing in bad faith. See what I wrote to John Morales in #107.

    Then, all of that is subjected to your own speculation about their secret psychological motivations based on some loose interpretation of historical trends during the enlightenment. After you’ve done all of that (which is quite a feat in itself), you make the ridiculous leap in which you suggest something in your made-up “data” is quantifiable. In short, it’s a bunch of bullshit, which is why I don’t take your argument seriously.

    OK, but which argument? The A = 0.44, or the causality of my #95?

  130. #130 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Don’t forget that as science-oriented folk,

    Science is evidence basede, not claim based.

    my claim is a bit stronger than that,

    Your claim (just opinion) not supported by hard evidence. Ergo, it is meaningless. It is just an inane opinion. That has been our point since your first post.

    my analysis

    What analysis? Cite your paper in the peer reviewed journals. Otherwise, just inane opinion.

    0.44

    A meaningless number, without rigor. Drop it if you try to play the science game.

    We are still waiting for your smoking gun. Doesn’t appear to be coming. In fact, your ideas become more ethereal and inane with each refutation…

  131. #131 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    I don’t know if/when I’ll catch up, but this is a quick post to say that:

    in my prior (longish) remarks, I draw attention to a change to one of my claims. The change has been public, but unnoticed, since comment #93.

    I consider it not the primary claim, but it may have been the most contentious.

  132. #132 WowbaggerOM
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    I do wish (stupidly) that the heat could come down. Don’t forget that as science-oriented folk, you all accept as plausible the claim that the flapping of a butterfly wing in Venezuela is able to cause a hurricane in where-ever.

    The butterfly-caused hurricane theory at least has a mechanism which – however flawed it might be – underlies the assertion.

    Your assertion, on the other hand, involves no underlying mechanism; you have not produced any kind of rationale, hypothesis or speculation to explain exactly how atheism can lead to the behaviours you keep insisting it leads to.

    Hence our dissatisfaction with your continued flailing.

  133. #133 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    WowbaggerOM (#115),

    You’re trying to compare how we understand actual physical reality – physiology and heritability – to understanding how abstract philosophical concepts affect behaviour? Really?

    Really, really.

    Abstract philosophical concepts don’t affect neural connectivity or and rates of production and exhaustion of serotonin, dopamine, etc..

    Contemplation, internalization, and acceptance or rejection of such concepts do.

    (pssst.. do the other folks around here know you’re a stealth dualist?)

    Or is it your premise that the absence of belief in gods creates in the brain of the non-believer some observable change that leads to antisocial behaviour?

    (OK, you do get materialism. Close call, though.)

    Premise is a very strong word here, but for now, let me quote someone calling hisherself Knockgoats writing in a different context (#119):

    Until the 20th century, religious belief of some form was almost universal.

  134. #134 Mr T
    May 1, 2010

    in my prior (longish) remarks, I draw attention to a change to one of my claims. The change has been public, but unnoticed, since comment #93.

    I consider it not the primary claim, but it may have been the most contentious.

    Well, that’s awfully helpful. Give me a moment to sort it all out. I need to remember where I left my secret decoder ring….

    Perhaps it has something to do with this:

    But no one mentioned that the revised value is below 0.5.

    In other words, transforming the number back to a more conventional binary statement, my conclusion is just what you all believe: the nazis were not an atheist regime.

    There is a method to his madness. The method sucks, but… well, fuck it, at least it’s a method.

    Neil, I’ve been wondering something for a long time. Would you please punch in the numbers for Julius Caesar into your atheist regime fever-dream machine? The timing would be all wrong for your post-Abrahamic zeitgeist theory, but I remember reading somewhere that Caesar wasn’t particularly superstitious. Also, he did kill a whole bunch of people and make himself dictator. (We’re just counting the really bloodthirsty tyrants to see if they’re atheists, right? I mean, just to save time during computation?) Anyway, let me know, if and when you find the time.

  135. #135 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 1, 2010

    Yawn, still garbage and word salad in, garbage and word salad out. Still no evidence. Just word salad, which combined with a buck fifty, will get you a cup of coffee. Same price without the word salad.

  136. #136 Mr T
    May 1, 2010

    I save a bit of cash by grinding my own coffee. I’ve never really had a taste for word salad though. But, of course, de gustibus…, etc.

    Neil, this right here seems to be part of your problem:

    But 0.44 does support my bias that the absence of belief (dare I say, of sincere belief?) was a significant component of the zeitgeist of the time: I think of the strong healthy body worship; using rulers to measure Jewish noses, the idea of there being something special about Aryans, a race ancestrally remote from Christendom. All this comprises an outlook that might appeal much more to non-supernaturalists than those who read the New Testament.

    Citation fucking needed. I almost want to call ‘Poe’ now, and if that’s so, you should be ashamed at how well you do it.

  137. #137 Rorschach
    May 1, 2010

    It’s true there were no general wars in Europe between 1815 and 1914

    I lost interest in Schipper’s ramblings about a week ago, but I dont know if the above statement can stand.It seems to be ignoring wars with major implications for the landscape of Europe, politically and geographically : The franco-prussian war of 1870 , and the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

  138. #138 WowbaggerOM
    May 1, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    Abstract philosophical concepts don’t affect neural connectivity or and rates of production and exhaustion of serotonin, dopamine, etc..
    Contemplation, internalization, and acceptance or rejection of such concepts do.

    Then demonstrate it. Cite – or, better yet, link to – the research that supports your claim. Cite or link to the studies that led you to your conclusion. Cite or link to those neuroscientists who are making similar claims to those you are making.

    Three simple words: show, don’t tell.

  139. #139 Neil Schipper
    May 1, 2010

    Kel, OM (#116),

    What you can’t say is that if 6 out of 20 consider the enforcement of sharia law and 14 consider implementing what works best that it’s a 0.7 atheist regime.

    Agreed, if that was all we knew.

    But what if we also knew that heavy hitters among the 14 didn’t go to a mosque for 10 years prior to entering high office, and only do so presently for the sake of appearance, and were known to read a bunch of Nietsche or Darwin, etc, in their formative years, and were known to say at certain gatherings “those crazy mullahs with all their obsessive quoting from the Hadith.”

    Would you still want to say Iran’s A = 0?

    just what do you think people meant when they have repeatedly told you your scale is arbitrary?

    Call it unreliable. Call it unusable until calibrated.

    But to call it arbitrary is to close the door on social science in principle.

    Kel, buddy, (short for Kelvin? an acronym?), do me a kindness and kick the shit out of this paragraph until it’s bloody goo, from my #93.

    And I say that it’s relevant how many times in a year an adult has a conscious “believing moment”. If I encounter a person who never goes to a house of worship, never prays at home, doesn’t consider ancient creation myths true, doesn’t care about religious labels when considering political choices (or does so only insofar as they represent economic, ethnic, etc. groupings), but, self-reports “I’m Catholic”, “I’m Anglican”, etc., I see a basis for assigning to him a robust A value, say 0.7.

    and when you’re done, also cut this one to shreds, leave it in tatters:

    Imagine such a person is known to you, and a certain intimacy established. Might you say to them, “Dude, you’re pretty much there. It seems you’re just uncomfortable with the A word”?

  140. #140 Neil Schipper
    May 2, 2010

    People here know about confirmation bias, right? They know that avoiding ideological blinders is “a good thing”, and, waving around selective evidence is not such a good thing.

    Knockgoats(#120),

    You start out with:

    In the case of Hitler himself, there is abundant evidence he was a theist, though certainly not an orthodox Christian, and no evidence at all that he was an atheist.

    no evidence at all that he was an atheist
    Pretty confident, there. You must know a lot about the subject.

    You say “certainly not an orthodox Christian”.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler:

    Hitler had a general plan, even before the rise of the Nazis to power, to destroy Christianity within the Reich.[319][320][321] The leader of the Hitler Youth stated “the destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement” from the start, but “considerations of expedience made it impossible” publicly to express this extreme position.[319] His intention was to wait until the war was over to destroy the influence of Christianity.[314]

    Most unorthodox, indeed.

    OK, then you quote from Ryback. You provided a quote about the spiritual and occult material in his library. Interesting stuff.

    I also quoted Ryback (#93), and I acknowledged Hitler’s interest in spiritual writings. What I quoted:

    Experts since then have been of two minds on the matter of Hitler’s spiritual beliefs. Ian Kershaw argues that Hitler consciously constructed an image of himself as a messianic figure, and eventually came to believe the very myth he had helped to fashion. “The more he succumbed to the allure of his own Führer cult and came to believe in his own myth, the more his judgment became impaired by faith in his own infallibility,” Kershaw writes in The Hitler Myth (1987). But believing in a messianic myth is not the same as believing in God. When I asked Kershaw in 2001 whether he thought Hitler actually believed in divine providence, he dismissed the notion. “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort, only in himself as a ‘man of destiny’ who would bring about Germany’s ‘salvation,’” he declared. Gerhard Weinberg, who helped sort through the Hitler Library back in the 1950s, likewise dismisses the notion of Hitler as a religious believer, insisting that he was driven by the twin passions of Blut und Boden?racial purity and territorial expansion.

    So, you provide a quote about books in his library, but you omit where Ryback deals directly with Hitler’s god-belief. It’s a problem.

    Does Kershaw have an axe to grind?
    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Kershaw we read:

    “He is noted for his monumental biography of Adolf Hitler, which has been called “soberly objective.””

    So, to recap:

    Experts (according to Ryback): “of two minds”

    Kershaw: “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort”

    Knockgoats: “no evidence at all that he was an atheist”

    Hmmm..

    Experts (according to Ryback): “of two minds”

    Kershaw: “I don’t think that he had any real belief in a deity of any sort”

    Knockgoats: “there is abundant evidence he was a theist”

    Some tension, there.

    I can’t help but note the moderation in the voice of the world-class historian, not that mere tone matters, of course. But so different from the confidence shown by Knockgoats.

    So, somebody please, just tell me that Knockgoats is also “soberly objective”, then things will be, you know, even.

    But until you do, I might just nurse the illusion that Pharyngula is home, sweet, home for a certain kind of ideologue.

  141. #141 Kel, OM
    May 2, 2010

    But what if we also knew that heavy hitters among the 14 didn’t go to a mosque for 10 years prior to entering high office, and only do so presently for the sake of appearance, and were known to read a bunch of Nietsche or Darwin, etc, in their formative years, and were known to say at certain gatherings “those crazy mullahs with all their obsessive quoting from the Hadith.”
    Would you still want to say Iran’s A = 0?

    Okay, replace atheism with astrology. Now if 14 of the 20 were known not to read horoscopes, would I say their N.A. = 0.7? Again, of course not. Firstly you don’t even have a case that they are atheists, you have some anti-religious sentiment and at best behavioural atheist traits. I’ve heard plenty of Christians mock fundamentalists for the way they portray the bible, does that mean they are atheists? No!

    Call it unreliable. Call it unusable until calibrated.

    I’ve called it wrong, because the way you are using it doesn’t reflect the reality of the meaning you’re trying to ascribe it to. I don’t get your obsession with labelling something an atheist regime with a definition completely unlike how else it is used, then trying to justify it with little more than an arbitrary set of parameters to justify your use of the term.

    But to call it arbitrary is to close the door on social science in principle.

    On the contrary, I think it’s good to put something as arbitrary until there is a solid understanding of what it is. I don’t think you have that yet (I could be wrong), so to assign any values at all with it is an arbitrary exercise. It would no longer be arbitrary when you refine it so as to make meaningful distinctions between causal factors in events where it would accurately reflect situations. Until then it’s pointless to put any value in at all. The fact that you’re persisting with it despite it having little in the way of meaningful reflection on the situation to me suggests that you’re merely trying to defend an indefensible assertion.

    And I say that it’s relevant how many times in a year an adult has a conscious “believing moment”. If I encounter a person who never goes to a house of worship, never prays at home, doesn’t consider ancient creation myths true, doesn’t care about religious labels when considering political choices (or does so only insofar as they represent economic, ethnic, etc. groupings), but, self-reports “I’m Catholic”, “I’m Anglican”, etc., I see a basis for assigning to him a robust A value, say 0.7.

    Okay, to “kick the shit” out of this…

    If someone spends their day going to work, evenings in front of the television, going out with friends on the weekend, but spends that 90 minutes every week in the pews, would we say they have an A value of 0.6? After all, apart from the 90 minutes a week they spend in church, they are doing nothing in respect to religion whatsoever. They may go to church for the social value of it, that they might think they are going because of belief but really it’s a chance to interact with their community. Would that put the value to 0.8? Maybe even to 1.0? They might say they are Anglican but that’s only a social label.

    Now I see a problem with this because it’s basically saying that the more time one spends thinking about the real world, the higher the atheist value is. But that’s not what atheism is at all, an atheist is simply one who doesn’t believe in interventionist deities. Furthermore, it’s only a position on religious notions. Making a decision that benefits one’s country may be made purely for the country itself, but it is not an atheist decision. It simply has no respect to religious belief at all. If we want to call that atheist, we’re making a category error. Just as we would be making a category error to say that one is heading towards atheism when choosing what to cook for dinner. Is it nutritious? Does it taste good? Is it filling? These questions have no respect to God…

    The distinction I think that needs to be made is between the behaviour and the motivation for one’s behaviour. If someone is compelled to martyr themselves because of their religion, then there’s a clear link between the religion and their behaviour. Can atheism have this motivating factor? This is the difference between what others seem to be talking about and what you seem to be talking about. I’d contend that it can’t be, unless there is something in belief in an interventionist deity that is inherent to the belief. A lot of people who argue this argue that atheism is existential and ethical nihilism and that’s the compelling factor. This to me would be fine if it were true. Does one need belief in gods for any sort of morality and meaning. If not, then they argument has no merit.

    Imagine such a person is known to you, and a certain intimacy established. Might you say to them, “Dude, you’re pretty much there. It seems you’re just uncomfortable with the A word”?

    I wouldn’t, because beliefs and behaviour are two different things. One can take medicine while believing that God has the power to heal them. Just because Kings 1 has the story of God setting the fire to cook the sacrificial bull, it doesn’t mean one should wait for God to light the gas stove for them. They should eat as opposed to waiting for God to give them manna. That instead of praying for the answers to a test, they should study. That God might be able to make a woman pregnant, but she still should have sex.

  142. #142 John Morales
    May 2, 2010

    Neil,

    So, somebody please, just tell me that Knockgoats is also “soberly objective”, then things will be, you know, even.
    But until you do, I might just nurse the illusion that Pharyngula is home, sweet, home for a certain kind of ideologue.

    Your would-be button-pushing is futile.

    Go ahead and nurse your illusions all you want.

    Oh yeah, and your argumentum ad verecundiam is noted. You have failed to note KG quotes as a form of adducing evidence, not of borrowing opinion, as you do.

    Primary sources (diaries, speeches etc) are rather easy to access, you know. :)

  143. #143 Neil Schipper
    May 2, 2010

    Knockgoats, #125, speaking to my #114:

    I simply note that you have completely ignored the point I made in #111. Ludicrous parallels such as the one I pointed out there seem to be a bit of a speciality with you.

    Yeah, I did miss the point. I think I got it now.

    You say people are more reliable self-describing their beliefs than their mental qualities (if they’re sincere), and so I shouldn’t have mixed the two categories of self-description when making the point that self-descriptions are unreliable.

    If I do understand the point now, it might be a reasonable generalization.
    “I’m an extrovert”
    “I’m Eastern Orthodox”
    You say the first type is more reliable than the second, right?

    Well, I’m not sure. There are millions of people who just answer on religion by family tradition. They just fetch a string from memory.

    How is any of this more than a distraction. The issue at hand is how reliable people are when they self-describe religion. I made the point that there are people who live largely atheistically, but not in a self-conscious intellectualized way.

    Ask them about their religion, and they misinform, in all sincerity. Is the self-labeling so important compared to the way they live life?

    I made a similar point back in #93:

    Don’t we often wrangle with religious apologists about the validity of population surveys on religiosity precisely because people frequently answer according to “that’s what my parents told me I was”?

    So, not super relevant.

    You also said “Bloody hellfire, you’re stupid.” I think I got that one right in my reply.

  144. #144 Feynmaniac, Chimerical Toad
    May 2, 2010

    Neil,

    I’m surprised to hear you say that the Schopenhauer bit was more compelling than some of the other bits (like that Hitler thought religion would die by itself as science advanced).

    I thought it was the only one that even hinted that there’s were anything atheist about the Nazis (and even there it was extremely weak).

    By Goebbels own account:

    “The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race.”

    I’ll this again: ANTI-CHRISTIAN AND SECULAR ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING ATHEIST.

    You seem tied to the notion that an atheist is someone who’s read (a good chunk of) a canon and made a declaration, even if only in private.

    That’s not my position at all. However, all we have to go on on what someone believes is the information we got. It could very well be that will that person X claims to believe Y and all evidence indicates they believe Y, but they don’t really. However, we don’t have access to their inner monologue and have to go on the information we got.

    Look, someone here tried to claim that Obama didn’t really believe in Christianity and may be an atheist. I thought this was ridiculous since all the evidence indicates otherwise. Is it possible he doesn’t? Of couse, but it’s extremely unlikely. If I had to consider all possible-but-extremely-unlikely things out there I would never get anything done.

    A representation of the atheist tendencies of a regime, obtained by composing (accumulating) the atheist tendencies of relevant constituent groups weighted according to group influence on the regime.

    Alright, good. Now what’s your definition of “atheist tendencies”?

    btw, I would have liked to hear vigorous critical comment on the equal weighting of the 5 categories (post #66). Does it strike you as being reasonable?

    I’m not sure there’s much value of what you’re calling A so I didn’t bother in criticizing the finer details of how it was obtained.

    All I claim is that overconfident atheist thinkers and actors, believing themselves to be very advanced, rational and scientific, played major roles in the bloody 20th century.

    So what?

    (And it hasn’t been the focus of the discussion because discussion was dominated by another more specific claim.)

    Mere coincidence? Subtle causality related to minds? Ideas adopted too quickly? Do I say that I know?

    Then why bring it up?

  145. #145 Neil Schipper
    May 2, 2010

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space, #127:

    Nazis and the Stalinists were about as anti-science as it gets.

    ..”Jewish physics” .. Lysenkoism ..

    There is a difference between claiming to be scientific and actually embracing science.

    I agree. Given an adopted ideology, and then actual power, it would have been tough for science to be allowed to challenge the ideology.

    But the very pushing of things like ‘scientific racism’ and ‘scientific marxism’ was fairly novel. It says something about the (aspiring, later empowered) dictators, as well as the zeitgeist governing broad swaths of the people they were trying to appeal to.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany

    The number of Kirchenaustritte (people opting to be taken off the church rolls) reached its “historical high”[17] in 1939 when it peaked at 480 000. Granzow et al. see the numbers not only in relation to the Nazi policy towards the churches,[18] (which changed drastically from 1935 onwards) but also as indicator of the trust in the Führer and the Nazi leadership.

    Taking action to leave the ancestral church is a pretty big move. I presume the main reason was the pressure they felt to get in good with the Party.

    I don’t think these millions (literally) of church-leavers would have called themselves atheists, but I’m not aware of them “converting” to something else.

  146. #146 John Morales
    May 2, 2010

    “None so blind as those who will not see” — Matthew Henry

  147. #147 Mr T
    May 2, 2010

    Kel:

    A lot of people who argue this argue that atheism is existential and ethical nihilism and that’s the compelling factor. This to me would be fine if it were true. Does one need belief in gods for any sort of morality and meaning. If not, then they argument has no merit.

    Yes, thank you, Kel. Hence my sarcasm above about selecting only violent regimes for this kind of analysis. It’s often implied that atheism is some type of worldview that has a bunch of attributes other than non-belief in gods or the supernatural. It simply doesn’t, so if you assume otherwise, all you’re going to do is come up with non sequiturs.

    A perfect example: I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say the most absurd thing I’ve read in a long time is that “using rulers to measure Jewish noses” might appeal to atheists more than theists (or not even that, just those who read the NT, as if I’ve never done that). You heard it here first, folks. Neil, what the fuck do you think atheism is? Think really hard about how utterly absurd that sort of claim is, and how completely irrelevant it is to the topic which you have raised. It’s so stupid, it’s not even worth refuting.

    And yes, this whole line of argument clearly upsets me. I try to be somewhat civil, just pointing out your stupid errors, giving you the benefit of the doubt, because I assume maybe you haven’t gone through this discussion a hundred times. Others are more knowledgeable and polite than I am anyway, so I try not to raise my blood pressure. I want you to consider why I’m upset.

    All you really need to do is remember this: a lot of people suffered and died in the holocaust. It was the most horrific kind of evil humanity may have ever seen. Meanwhile, here you are trying to connect that to atheism, pretending as if you’re performing some kind of distanced, intellectual exercise with the most irrelevant details and the most twisted logic you can muster. There’s nothing whatsoever inherent in atheism that leads to fucking nazism, fascism, communism, capitalism, anti-semitism, destroying christianity, or any other kind of genocide, etc., ad nauseum.
    If your claim isn’t about atheism (it quite obviously isn’t), but something else entirely, then for fuck’s sake don’t just call it “atheism” and go on your merry way. You need to start over. Figure out what your claim is first, before you continue to piss everyone off.

  148. #148 Mr T
    May 2, 2010

    ugh, sorry, the bold text was only supposed to go to the end of the sentence. I’m going to try to calm down now.

  149. #149 Kel, OM
    May 2, 2010

    I’m going to try to calm down now.

    What does your horoscope say? Perhaps it has information on how to calm yourself. Just remember, rejecting horoscopes could be one factor in turning you to killing Jews… Though if you stay at N-A: 0.6 you should be fine. It’s the 0.7 which leads to mass extermination!

  150. #150 WowbaggerOM
    May 2, 2010

    Neil, even if we for the sake of argument say Hitler was – despite the vast amount of evidence to the contrary – really an atheist, you still haven’t managed to explain – or even appear have the courage of your convictions to attempt to postulate – how atheism, being nothing more than the lack of belief in gods, can have inspired him to do what he did.

    Give us a hypothetical analysis of the thought processes involved. How does one go from sitting around not thinking about gods to planning genocide?

  151. #151 Neil Schipper
    May 2, 2010

    WowbaggerOM, #132

    Your assertion, on the other hand, involves no underlying mechanism;

    You already said this in #104. I’m satisfied that my reply demonstrated that it was quite weak, indeed reactionary.

    How can you in good faith argue that looking for correlations & patterns is an inappropriate way to inquire? I’m thinking I’ll stop replying to you.

    you have not produced any kind of rationale, hypothesis or speculation to explain exactly how atheism can lead to the behaviours you keep insisting it leads to.

    “Keep insisting”? I think I’ve only made mild, tentative observations.

    But we have established that I’m stupid, and I could be wrong.

    So, let me gather in one place the relevant chunks.

    #61

    I think it should be uncontroversial to say that the totalitarian regimes of the 20th C emerged from minds steeped in self-consciously non-supernatural pro-science ideas. And it’s historical bad luck that the pheronomes and birdsong of the times contained some key elements that you and I might find pleasing, namely, rejection of the Abrahamic god.

    I’ve been wanting to correct that.

    “And it’s historical bad luck ..”

    should say:

    “And it may or may not be historical bad luck ..”

    #74

    But I also consider the Stalin/Mao regimes to be heavy baggage, as do many in the world. When Pharyngulites get a whiff of this, they usually respond by rolling their eyes and trotting out some faux-logic (which, frankly, I’m now expecting).

    Fleeing one superstition only to land directly into the arms of another is an observed pattern. There may also be a broad connection between not being good at “hearing the music” of religion and not being good (relatively) at forming robust face-to-face trust networks. (We are material machines, remember?) Such networks are crucial in moments of upheaval.

    #81

    the bad thing [that may be linked with atheism] is the biological human condition, something overconfident liberalism tends to brush off, which in turn exposes the zeitgeist to fascism. Not simple physical law, but a tendency. And it’s taken more seriously by conservative thinkers.

    By “brush off”, I meant, “not concern itself sufficiently with”. Overconfident liberalism may be associated with society becoming less culturally resilient, less vigilant about costs of self-indulgence.

    This one may not immediately appear to be relevant to the ‘causal chain’ issue, but it’s a keeper:

    A gripe I have with Pharyngulites is their hyperfocus on the religion-atheism axis, and their exuberance about advances along that axis. More careful thinkers examine other axes, ones offering more explanatory and predictive power.

    #89

    I don’t think anyone here thinks ideas have no consequences. I’m curious about historical associations and even weakly causal linkages. Can a good idea be a bad fit for a certain kind of mind or culture? Are there identifiable patterns when unprepared minds or cultures are exposed or overexposed to certain ideas?

    I don’t expect simple answers. Neither do I presume the questions have no merit.

    And then #95, which is too long to re-post, but shows how I sometimes think about the last 150 years broadly.

    And now I’m actually too tired to say much more.

    “you have not produced any kind of rationale, hypothesis or speculation”

    Those seem like extremely big words at this particular moment.

  152. #152 Neil Schipper
    May 2, 2010

    One last thing.

    WowbaggerOM, your reply at #138 is unforgivable. I employ one of the most basic concepts of neuroscience, science at the level of articles in a daily newspaper, and you insist on citations. Just, wow.

  153. #153 John Morales
    May 2, 2010

    Neil, I think your semantics are confused.

    Atheism and religion are not antonyms; theism and religion are neither synonyms nor antonyms nor co-dependent; atheism and theism are antonyms; secularism and atheism are not synonyms; secularism and theism are not synonyms; secularism and religion are not synonyms.

    Of the set above, only atheism and theism are mutually-exclusive.

  154. #154 gbyshenk
    May 2, 2010

    There seems to be a confusion in Gray’s original article. In discussion Grayling’s criticism of fideism, Gray writes:

    Both claimed to be founded in science-”dialectical materialism” and “scientific racism.” Of course these sciences were bogus, but they show what horrors can be justified by appeal to reaso
    n.

    And the problem is contained already within these two sentences.

    The problem is that, as ‘a_ray_in_dilbert_space’ notes above in this thread, there is a difference between claiming to be scientific and actually being so. And, since Gray states outright that the so-called “sciences” in question are “bogus”, then he is not discussing horrors that (actually) “can be justified by appeal to reason.” Rather, he is discussing horrors that claim the justification of reason without actually being so justified.

    And this is in contrast to fideism. If fideism is accepted as a legitimate form of ‘justification’, then it would seem that just about anything can actually be justified thereby. Which seems to be Grayling’s point.

  155. #155 WowbaggerOM
    May 2, 2010

    Neil ‘soft shoe shuffle’ Schipper wrote:

    You already said this in #104. I’m satisfied that my reply demonstrated that it was quite weak, indeed reactionary.

    No, you didn’t. You avoided it then like you’re doing know. That you yet again have to handwave away what is a massive hole in your ‘argument’ is telling.

    “Keep insisting”? I think I’ve only made mild, tentative observations.

    No, you’ve repeated your unsupported – and flying in the face of vast amounts of evidence – assertion over and over again. Hence my apt use of the expression ‘keep insisting’. Because if you had tried even once to back up your wild assertions with anything resembling evidence or compelling argument I wouldn’t have described it thus.

    But we have established that I’m stupid, and I could be wrong.

    Your stupidity can be cured and your wrongness corrected – but it’s your rank intellectual dishonesty that is more of a concern to me. You’re lying, lying about lying, and arguing in bad faith.

    Why?

    WowbaggerOM, your reply at #138 is unforgivable.

    I probably shouldn’t be surprised that, to someone making spurious and baseless claims, a demand to produce something substantial results in such a hyperbolic response.

    Would you like a spell on the fainting couch?

    Oh, and I you should, by now, realise that I don’t give a tinker’s cuss whether you ‘forgive’ me or not; I can quite happily live with the antipathy of a blathering, dishonest flake.

    I employ one of the most basic concepts of neuroscience, science at the level of articles in a daily newspaper, and you insist on citations. Just, wow.

    Really? Neuroscientists have demonstrated statistically significant differences in the cognitive functioning relating to moral and ethical decision-making processes between atheists and theists, and this has been published in a daily newspaper? Are you sure?

  156. #156 Knockgoats
    May 2, 2010

    Neil Schipper,

    The issue at hand is how reliable people are when they self-describe religion. I made the point that there are people who live largely atheistically, but not in a self-conscious intellectualized way.

    Bilge. People clearly can and do believe in all sorts of things without it much affecting their everyday lives. It’s simply sophistry to identify not being religiously observant with atheism. Most non-religiously-observant people in the UK, for example, will still say they “believe in a higher power”, “there must be something beyond this life”, etc. etc. Such people are not atheists.

    We can of course take the word of the leader of the Hitler Youth that Hitler intended to destroy Christianity – such a person would never lie, would they? Your link doesn’t work, so I don’t know when this was said but if, as I suspect, it was after the war, when Baldur von Shirach was facing trial at Nuremberg, there was a concerted effort by the western Allies to distance the Nazis in every way possible from Christianity – and von Shirach would have been eager to curry favour in every way possible. However, even if the Nazis did intend to destroy Christianity, so does Osama bin Laden. Is he an atheist?

    You did indeed cite Ryback (I missed that comment when reading through the thread quickly) – although you apparently missed his debunking of the Schopenhauer myth – but neither you nor he gives any actual evidence that Hitler was an atheist. Do you have any? Does Kershaw (whom I have not read)? Despite what you say, Kershaw does of course have an axe to grind: he’s a Catholic. In the very passage Ryback and you quote, Kershaw says Hitler regarded himself as a “man of destiny”. Such a concept makes absolutely no sense without a belief that there is some superintending agency that has laid down this “destiny” and will ensure that it is fulfilled.

    If you can actually produce any evidence Hitler was an atheist, I will of course withdraw my claim that there is none. In his writings, his speeches, in what we know of his private conversations (and bearing in mind the extreme unreliability of “Hitler’s Table Talk”, which was edited by the strongly anti-Catholic Martin Bormann), he refers again and again to “The Lord God”, “providence”, a “creative power”, etc. Ryback cites the view of Traudl Junge, one of his “longtime secretaries”, that she was certain he believed in “the presence of a deeper intelligence, or as he himself said, a `creative force’” that gave shape and meaning to the world. He even quotes (p.168) Hitler:
    “That which distinguishes the human being from the animal, possibly the most remarkable proof of the superiority of the human being is that he has comprehended the existence of a creative force”.

    I think I’ve only made mild, tentative observations.

    Delusional as well as stupid.

    All I claim is that overconfident atheist thinkers and actors, believing themselves to be very advanced, rational and scientific, played major roles in the bloody 20th century.

    I’m afraid that can only be characterised as a lie. If you were talking about Lenin, say, few here would dispute what you say. What you are, absurdly, claiming, is that Hitler and the Nazi regime were atheistic.

    I think of the strong healthy body worship; using rulers to measure Jewish noses, the idea of there being something special about Aryans, a race ancestrally remote from Christendom. All this comprises an outlook that might appeal much more to non-supernaturalists than those who read the New Testament.

    Who’s that I see waving at you from his grave? Ah, it’s Hendrik Verwoerd!

    But to call it [assigning real numbers to the extent to which regimes are atheistic] arbitrary is to close the door on social science in principle.

    By the cringe – someone who still thinks quantification is the be-all and end-all of science. Using numbers where they are inappropriate is, as I’ve already noted, a strong indication of pseudo-science. There are plenty of areas of social science where their use is appropriate. However, if you need to pull them out of your arse rather than base them on actual, you know, measurements, then avoid them if at all possible and if not possible (e.g. in some kinds of computational modelling), test the sensitivity of your conclusions to changing them. At worst, they’ll mislead you into committing idiocies like applying statistical testing to sets of your made-up numbers.

    Oh and by the way, when I said Hitler was “certainly not an orthodox Christian”, that’s what I meant. I did not mean “certainly an unorthodox Christian”, as your response implies you thought.

  157. #157 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    May 2, 2010

    I employ one of the most basic concepts of neuroscience

    Nope, nothing you do would be what I would call science. I should know, I’ve been doing science for 30+ years. You are just a semantically meandering idjit with inane meaningless analysis since it lacks rigor, and trying to pretend your ridiculous number that you pulled out of your ass number is anything other than a purposely manufactured factoid is delusional. You need to stop using the word science, as you have no idea of what it means or how to do it, along with attempting to pretend your arbitrary number is anything worthwhile.

  158. #158 Neil Schipper
    May 3, 2010

    WowbaggerOM insists that I “first need to demonstrate how atheism can motivate people to act”.

    I say, with zero originality, that gathering and correlating observations has been shown time and again to be the first stage in opening avenues of inquiry towards scientific discovery. So his is a highly reactionary position.

    He goes on to insist that any means to “understanding how abstract philosophical concepts affect behaviour” cannot be compared to means to “understand actual physical reality”.

    Nerd of Redhead, OM, cheers WowbaggerOM on with much aplomb: “I should know, I’ve been doing science for 30+ years.”

    Kel similarly argues that “Atheism is a purely descriptive word for a negative position.”

    This is the Pharyngula line, heard time and time and time again: logically, one cannot speak of atheism being the cause of any human behavior.

    There’s an appealing fairness to this line: can’t take credit for nuttin’ good; can’t take blame for nuttin’ bad.

    There’s also a political appeal. In certain times and places, the person in the street has for one reason or another a negative view of atheists, and the politician is quite shy of association with an atheist.

    Good for the Pharyngulist to be able say: people with such views are not being logical.

    A materialist understands these:

    When a living breathing primate thinks about ‘circle’ or ‘fairness’, something neuro-chemical is going on, something that would not be going on if he were not thinking about that thing.

    Similarly, when a primate does not think about ‘what’s 12 + 8′ or ‘i hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow’, something that might be happening neuro-chemically, is not.

    Believing in some thing means no more than: “when the notion of the thing comes to the fore of consciousness, I regard it as true” (where “true” is short for “too likely to consider otherwise”). So, believing in some thing consists of one or more episodes of some neurological activity.

    Not believing in some thing means no more than: “when the notion of the thing comes to the fore of consciousness, I regard it as false” (where “false” is short for “too unlikely to consider otherwise”). So, not believing in some thing consists of one or more episodes of some neurological activity.

    It’s nonsense to talk about not believing in a thing that never comes to the fore of consciousness.

    Quick! Answer this: “Do you believe a ponvib is a kind of drafmak?”

    Quick! Answer this: “Do you believe that the person who was Rotterdam’s fire chief in 1850 was left-handed?”

    It’s nonsense to say that before a notion comes to mind, there could be belief or non-belief in the notion.

    And so, both believing and not believing a thing consist of one or more episodes of some neurological activity.

    All that needs to be said to refute the claim “being an a-leprechaunist can have no bearing on whether one is a motorcyclist” has been said.

    All that needs to be said to refute the claim “being a non-Hindu can have no bearing on whether one is for stricter environmental standards” has been said.

    The door is open for empirical inquiry. Correlations with significance may or not be found, and if they are, causalities hypothesized and tested. The complexities involved may be far beyond present capacities.

    But only the faux logician insists that in principle the causalities are indeterminate.

  159. #159 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    There’s an appealing fairness to this line: can’t take credit for nuttin’ good; can’t take blame for nuttin’ bad.

    Nonsense. The negative position on vaccines for example has nothing but negative consequences. One can blame the negation of the efficacy of vaccines for their real-world consequences. Similarly the negation of global warming is leading to inaction on fixing the problem. Just because it’s negative, it doesn’t mean it cannot have positive or negative consequences.

    What I was arguing was that if one wants to put something on atheism, it has to show what theism has which the denial of would have negative consequences. That’s what I was arguing for, if you can demonstrate that there’s something inherent in belief in gods is removed, then I would agree that atheism can be blamed therein.

    This is what I’m thinking Wowbagger is alluding to when he’s asking for a causal connection. It’s asking what atheism itself has to do with what happened. If there’s no causal connection, then implicating atheism in those horrible events is unjustified. If there is a causal connection, one needs to show it. I’m saying that if there’s a causal connection, it needs to reflect the accuracy of the term. Atheism is not a doctrine of behaviour, it has no tenets, it is a descriptor for those who don’t believe. Like I said above, just because one doesn’t consult astrologers to know their future it doesn’t say anything about what they do – if they do anything at all.

    In respect to gods, I am the same way as I am in respect to astrology. I don’t believe either reflects reality. The behaviour that is going to exhibit from me is not to take either seriously as a means to understand the world. If I go out and punch someone in the face tomorrow, would we chalk that up to my lack of belief in astrology as much as my lack of belief in gods? I’m betting not, there’s an infinite number of things I don’t believe in and that would be stupid. The link between morality and gods is one reason why we look at atheism as a motivating factor. Religion is in the business of morality, so if an atheist rejects religion then they are rejecting morality. Or so it seems. If morality really were contingent on religion, that argument to my mind would hold. The denial of gods might consequently lead to moral subjectivism or even moral nihilism. And that’s why we are having this conversation now about atheist regimes as opposed to non-astrologist regimes.

  160. #160 Walton
    May 3, 2010

    While we’ll never know for certain what Hitler himself really believed, I don’t think the Nazis can be called an “atheistic regime”. Although many of the senior Nazis were very hostile to Christianity, most of them (especially Himmler) were heavily into various forms of occult mysticism and esoteric religion. (Himmler was interested in Theosophy and the philosophies of Madame Blavatsky.) Some SS members started their own ethnocentric religious movement based (loosely) on Norse paganism. So while they may have been opposed to orthodox Christianity, that doesn’t make them atheists; they were religious believers, albeit of a bizarre kind. (And it should be remembered also that, while the Nazi leaders were privately contemptuous of Christianity, many rank-and-file members of the party were Catholic or Lutheran, and there was a Lutheran “Reich Church”.)

  161. #161 WowbaggerOM
    May 3, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    I say, with zero originality, that gathering and correlating observations has been shown time and again to be the first stage in opening avenues of inquiry towards scientific discovery. So his is a highly reactionary position.

    Do you seriously think for a second that if your theory had merit, the more honest (as opposed to your demonstrably dishonest) anti-atheists wouldn’t have been looking into it by now? Are you really so arrogant as to think you’re really the first to come up with such a cockamamie theory? Actually, I don’t know why I’m bothering to ask; your demonstrated cluelessness and matching invulnerability to reason (definitely a Dunning-Kruger case) makes it obvious that you are.

    The thing is, anyone else would have, after only an elementary reflection upon the issue, realised that it was wholly without merit and not worth the effort of pursuing. And considering what intellectual paucity we’ve seen from the religious crowd over the years it reflects very badly on you that you’ve managed to plumbs depths to which even a delugionist wouldn’t stoop.

    But only the faux logician insists that in principle the causalities are indeterminate.

    Well, as soon as you can get yourself some funding to do proper neuropsychological research that shows results to support your claim, post it here and then we can discuss it.

    Until then you’ve got less weight behind you than the Intelligent Design crowd – and far more intellectual dishonesty.

  162. #162 Neil Schipper
    May 3, 2010

    Kel,

    A thoughtful reply, but one that remains entirely in a context I won’t enter, convinced as I am that it cannot bear fruit.

    Atheism is not a doctrine of behaviour, it has no tenets

    This seems like evidence that you haven’t internalized my argument.

    We’ll only be talking past each other until you leave the sanitized flatland of abstractions and logical propositions, and engage with questions about physical minds, living blood & meat, in the world.

    Walton,

    Interesting, but no one in this thread presently thinks the Nazis should be called an “atheistic regime”.

    I say this with a degree of earned shame.

  163. #163 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    To elaborate a little more.

    It would be hypocritical to say that one can argue that religion is a motivating factor at the same time as taking away religion can’t be. If religion can have behavioural consequences, then losing religion should have too. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

    What I would say is that atheism itself isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. It doesn’t guarantee that one won’t be dogmatic, or that they won’t be susceptible to superstition or ideology. It’s just that they don’t believe in interventionist deities.

  164. #164 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    Interesting, but no one in this thread presently thinks the Nazis should be called an “atheistic regime”.

    Of course not. Unless you can chalk up what the Nazis did to implicit or explicit rejection of the concept of deities then it makes no sense to call it an atheistic regime any more than calling the Vatican one.

  165. #165 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    This seems like evidence that you haven’t internalized my argument.

    This seems like evidence you haven’t taken on board my objections.

    Interesting, but no one in this thread presently thinks the Nazis should be called an “atheistic regime”.

    My problem is over the use of the word atheistic. As I’ve explained ad nauseum: you’re use of the word atheistic is wrong. Forget your arbitrary justification system, it’s useless to even consider until you start to argue for something coherent!

  166. #166 WowbaggerOM
    May 3, 2010

    Kel wrote:

    Forget your arbitrary justification system, it’s useless to even consider until you start to argue for something coherent!

    Neil Schipper’s argument made coherent: I don’t like atheists and in order to make them look bad, I’ll concoct fanciful, baseless theories – and I won’t let facts, reality or intellectual honesty get in my way.

  167. #167 Neil Schipper
    May 3, 2010

    WowbaggerOM,

    I think I’ve already said that I consider my claims mild and tentative. And that I was stupid.

    I will also admit to being arrogant, clueless, invulnerable to reason, and intellectually dishonest, but only mildly and tentatively so at present, perhaps more so in future.

    Do you acknowledge that “atheism cannot be linked to causality” is faux logic? Will you contribute to its no longer being thrown about incessantly and boastfully?

    This is a small example (and perhaps an unimportant one — I haven’t read the actual paper) of what I’m trying to understand and perhaps share.

  168. #168 Knockgoats
    May 3, 2010

    The Lutheran “German Evangelical Church” was fully in support of the Nazis, and only a minority left for the “confessing Church” of Niemoller. The Vatican signed a concordat with Hitler, as it had earlier with Mussolini. The vast majority of those supporting Hitler regarded themselves as Christians. In the light of such facts, along with the known supernatural beliefs of many leading Nazis, the claim that the Nazi regime was “atheistic” is simply absurd.

    Believing in some thing means no more than: “when the notion of the thing comes to the fore of consciousness, I regard it as true” (where “true” is short for “too likely to consider otherwise”). So, believing in some thing consists of one or more episodes of some neurological activity. – Neil Schipper

    Garbage. Belief is a dispositional property; it need not involve any “neurological activity” at all; simply that one would behave in certain ways (primarily, but not exclusively, that one would assent to or deny particular claims if they were made).

  169. #169 Knockgoats
    May 3, 2010

    Neil,

    Quick: do you believe 10107654 is more than 10107653?

  170. #170 Knockgoats
    May 3, 2010

    Neil,

    Quick: do you believe there are hippopotami on Mars?

  171. #171 Knockgoats
    May 3, 2010

    Neil,

    BTW, your own examples of course prompt an instant “don’t know”. That is, I believe (and believed even before you asked, as belief is a dispositional property), that I don’t know the answers to your questions.

  172. #172 WowbaggerOM
    May 3, 2010

    Neil Schipper,

    Do you acknowledge that “atheism cannot be linked to causality” is faux logic?

    No, I don’t.

    It’s sound logic in the sense that atheism alone cannot be linked to causality; it is the absence of belief in gods and that cannot determine a course of action because it provides no guidance, no motivation, no suggestion, no moral teachings, no parables – nothing. An absence of something cannot, in and of itself, proscribe action.

    If you want to say that an atheist can decide that the theistic concepts of post-mortem punishment or reward and null and void and that, as a result, they are free to act however they wish because they no longer fear eternal damnation and/or desire eternal bliss, then I will acknowledge that atheism can be one piece of an intricate, complex psychological ‘puzzle’, yes.

    But they aren’t the same thing. Hence my attempts to coax out the mechanism of what you’re asserting – because the second you start stepping it out it will become obvious that the atheism per se is far less important than the (mis)perception that atheism means a freedom to act with impunity – a perception that atheism itself does not, can not (logically), engender.

  173. #173 John Morales
    May 3, 2010

    Wowbagger, that’s twice you’ve used proscribe/proscriptive when you meant prescribe/prescriptive.

    Be aware of the difference.

    </pedant>

  174. #174 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    Do you acknowledge that “atheism cannot be linked to causality” is faux logic?

    I will, in fact I’ve already laid out just how one could be justified in making a causal link between atheism and actions. And your argument doesn’t even near come close to making that justification. Your scale makes as much to do with atheism as it does with non-astrology. How many people were non-astrologers who were Nazis? I’m going to bet most of them. Does that make their N-A quotient 0.75? How about 0.8? Should we call the Nazi’s a non-astrological regime?

    Of course not, that’s just stupid. The insistence to label atheism with what a regime did is to invoke a causal link between their lack of belief and their actions. Your scale is little to do with anything relevant to the label you are placing!

  175. #175 WowbaggerOM
    May 3, 2010

    John Morales wrote:

    Wowbagger, that’s twice you’ve used proscribe/proscriptive when you meant prescribe/prescriptive.

    Thanks John. I do tend to get the two mixed up – though at least I’m consistent…

  176. #176 John Morales
    May 3, 2010

    [meta]

    Wowbagger, no worries.

    Interesting thing is you could’ve plausibly defended your usage (it works either way)…

    Such honesty is worthy of an OM. Kudos.

  177. #177 Neil Schipper
    May 3, 2010

    and believed even before you asked, as belief is a dispositional property

    It’s sound logic in the sense that atheism alone cannot be linked to causality; it is the absence of belief in gods and that cannot determine a course of action

    Knockgoats and WowbaggerOM demonstrate how abstract philosophy is employed by the highly intelligent to deny how things go in the world, fuels a mindset that is spiritualist rather than materialist.

    atheism can be one piece of an intricate, complex psychological ‘puzzle’

    Gradually does the fog begin to clear.

    Kel, OM

    You’re talking about the scale and nazis and regimes why?

    Read the argument (perhaps several times) with an urge to comprehend, an attitude that must overcome any disgust you feel about prior remarks of mine, or conclusions that you anticipate to be disgusting.

    All,

    I observe no comment by anyone about the linked article.

    What I’m asking people to do is difficult; there’s an associated cost in prestige, even perhaps of self-admiration.

  178. #178 Neil Schipper
    May 3, 2010

    I say both believing and not believing a thing consist of one or more episodes of some neurological activity

    Knockgoats says Belief is a dispositional property.

    It is known that the very first time a belief is believed (or not believed) consists of quite different neurological activity from that of subsequent times.

    Does Knockgoats wish to promote philosophical notions that obscure empirical knowledge (which has been obtained with great effort, intelligence and cost) to revelation-like importance?

    I have little training nor patience for philosophical sophistry. Never forget how stupid we are all certain I am.

  179. #179 Kel, OM
    May 3, 2010

    You’re talking about the scale and nazis and regimes why?

    For this reason:

    For example, do you assume the Nazi’s were an “atheist regime”, and if so, why?

    I regard the statement as having a truth value, of, oh, 0.7 +/- 0.1;

    It’s called reductio ad absurdum.

    Read the argument (perhaps several times) with an urge to comprehend

    I have comprehended your argument, I’ve made several long posts in reply which you’ve either ignored or refuted one minor thing of what I’ve said. My long reply at #141? Nothing at all. My reply at #159?

    We’ll only be talking past each other until you leave the sanitized flatland of abstractions and logical propositions, and engage with questions about physical minds, living blood & meat, in the world.

    Which only suggests you haven’t internalised my objections. We can talk about physical minds, living blood & meat, in the world – if you would like. But the problem is that you’re using abstract concepts in relation to the physical world. So if you don’t get the abstract concepts right, then your argument makes no sense. And if you hadn’t noticed, this is why wowbagger is asking for a causal connection between the abstract idea of atheism and what events transpired. It’s also why I went to lengths to explain the relationship between a negative position and consequences and laid out exactly how one could implicate atheism in those terrible events.

    Of course if I’m talking past you, I’ll say this. Atheism has no dogma, no tenets, it prescribes nothing at all beyond the rejection of interventionist deities. Show me how the rejection of interventionist deities was the driving force in the Nazi regime and I’ll concede it was religious. Communism I could understand, but Nazism is an awful stretcher…

  180. #180 WowbaggerOM
    May 3, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    Gradually does the fog begin to clear.

    Sadly it appears the prevailing weather conditions have not extended themselves to the region of cowardice and intellectual dishonesty you’re currently occupying.

    My point was that if atheism is only part of a complex process that results in antisocial behaviour, it may be not be the deciding factor, any more than liking bananas, hating Céline Dion, or having read Rudyard Kipling as a child would be.

    Correlation, after all, is not causation.

    As I have so carefully pointed out – and which you have just as carefully (and reprehensibly) avoided acknowledging – is that, by virtue of being, in and of itself, the absence of belief, it cannot, logically, provide motivation.

    But I’ll simplify it for you in the hope that you might develop the fortitude to at least attempt to respond to it: perceiving atheism to mean freedom from consequences ≠ atheism, since it necessarily includes a perception unrelated to atheism itself.

    Perhaps an example will help you: let’s use moustaches.

    A person who lacks a moustache can only interpret being moustache-free as a justification for action if that person believes that moustaches possess the ability to effect consequences.

    There are two steps there – count ‘em, two. Step one: acknowledge lack of moustache. Step two: rationalise that lack of moustache allows freedom to act as desired.

    Let’s look at that again: two steps. Not one. Two. What does lacking a moustache alone prescribe? Nothing. Interpreting the lack of a moustache, on the other hand? Whatever you damn well choose to interpret that to mean – but it is not the lack of the moustache prescribing behaviour, it is the perception that that allows freedom to act as desired.

    Plain enough for ya?

    Now, if you can illustrate, with evidence or argument via a similar example, stop flailing and evading and handwaving and tapdancing and do so.

  181. #181 Neil Schipper
    May 4, 2010

    Kel,

    You start by quoting an early statement of mine which was negated by me three days and 80 posts ago. You yourself have posted 17 times since then.

    This appears not to be good faith argument, but I try to look for broad patterns, to get under the skin of things.

    You say you’ve comprehended my argument, but I’ve made (at least) three separate claims, and you frequently mix them up, either out of incomprehension, or to suit your rhetorical goal of bludgeoning me to hold to strong claims I haven’t made.

    However, I opt, tentatively, for my own kind of denialism, by ignoring evidence that you argue in bad faith.

    I went to lengths to explain the relationship between a negative position and consequences and laid out exactly how one could implicate atheism in those terrible events

    by which, reading you in the best light, I believe you refer to:

    What I was arguing was that if one wants to put something on atheism, it has to show what theism has which the denial of would have negative consequences. That’s what I was arguing for, if you can demonstrate that there’s something inherent in belief in gods is removed, then I would agree that atheism can be blamed therein.

    Now take a deep breath.

    I agree with this.

    Nothing I’ve written is at odds with it, and it is certainly not at odds with my more general:

    both believing and not believing a thing consist of one or more episodes of some neurological activity.

    which leads to the falseness of all claims of the class:

    “being an a-leprechaunist can have no bearing on whether one is a motorcyclist”

    Reading for comprehension and in good faith can help identify points of agreement.

  182. #182 Neil Schipper
    May 4, 2010

    WowbaggerOM,

    Thanks for taking the time, and I appreciate the effort (including all those bolds and italics).

    In repayment, I offer you the chance to change your intellectual life, to reorient it in a direction of truth-seeking rather than denial.

    First, I’ve never claimed atheism was a “deciding factor” of anything. Nor have I ever said anything about “freedom from consequences”.

    Tossing in my face counter-claims to claims I never made is a real problem.

    But as I’ve done with Kel, I’m opting, for now, for my own form of denialism.

    You claim, of atheism, that:

    by virtue of being, in and of itself, the absence of belief, it cannot, logically, provide motivation

    (I love how you decorated this btw. Great underlines.)

    This is a classic statement of the faux logic Pharyngula position.

    I wish to engage in good faith, and examine this claim in its best possible light.

    First, I note that you have not indicated whether it contradicts any aspect of #158. Your #161 and #166 speak to #158 with kind words to build my self-esteem, but zero content, engaging not a single statement of the argument. Possibly, there is fear of its power.

    You and I are programming crude robots and watching them interact. None of the robots are programmed with any notion of the supernatural.

    We agree that no robot will make any decision in respect of its “atheism”.

    Now we write additional code that gives a robot some notion of belief in the supernatural. The new code alters decision-making about tribe formation, aggression, cooperation, etc..

    We observe how robots with the new supernatural-aware generation of code interact with agents with the earlier supernatural-unaware generation.

    Only now is it sensible to speak about an agent deciding on something “because it’s an atheist.”

    WowbaggerOM, please state whether or not you agree that I have demonstrated an understanding of the claim in your argument.

    In human societies that contain both theists and atheists, we observe numerous patterns of behaviour that distinguish the two groups.

    For instance, in our time, we observe differences in frequency of visits to places of worship, and differences in frequency of visits to science fiction book stores.

    We acknowledge that we should not say things like, “atheism prescribes (or motivates) visits to science fiction book stores” or “atheism is a cause of reduced attendance at places of worship”.

    We acknowledge that if we do commit such logical atrocities, we are really making statements about correlations, not causality.

    However, we like to say things like “atheism is a cause of reduced attendance at places of worship”.

    Ought we to be saying something more like “reduced acceptance of ancestral theistic claims is a cause of reduced attendance at places of worship”?

    Sure. None of this prevents us from noticing or commenting on the patterns. And harping on the distinction is obnoxious and whiny — Faux logic — using logic as a ploy to feed the reactionary urge to shut down conversation.

    There seems to be a deep abiding terror towards any discussion of patterns of behaviour that distinguish theists and atheists. Is this a strength or a weakness of living human atheists?

    Humans are at a specific stage of development of their intelligence. Early rejectors of ancestral belief systems have some patterns of behaviour that are laudatory, others less so. People know this experientially and intuitively.

    If you wonder why the Stalin/Mao association has such a deep resonance among so many people, including those with no supernaturalist tendencies whatsoever, it may have to do with behavioural styles that people recognize in atheists they’ve known.

    All perceptive people are to some degree walking intuitive sociologsts. A key pattern they seek is suitability for entry into cooperative trust networks, a key feature of successful primate groups.

    Do you ever wonder why a “worldview” or stance that’s at least 2400 years old still finds itself on the defensive (without merely complimenting your own intelligence)?

    Neither you nor Kel have been able to bring yourself to acknowledge the existence of the linked article in #167. This is what denialists do.

    The article title is: Researchers find brain differences between believers and non-believers

    In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task – a well-known test of cognitive control – while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity.

    Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

    The article says “correlations remained strong even after controlling for personality and cognitive ability”.

    I don’t claim this is the last word on the subject.

  183. #183 Kel, OM
    May 4, 2010

    You say you’ve comprehended my argument, but I’ve made (at least) three separate claims, and you frequently mix them up, either out of incomprehension, or to suit your rhetorical goal of bludgeoning me to hold to strong claims I haven’t made.

    As far as I can tell, these are the claims you’re making.

    Claim 1: an atheist regime is either one filled with atheists or one with atheistic ideals.

    Claim 2: that there is a distinct difference between believers and non-believers neurologically.

    Claim 3: that one who is behaviourally atheist is in-effect atheistic to some extent.

    Claim 4: the rise of science and demise of belief in God is one of the causal factors of the horrors of the 20th century.

    However, I opt, tentatively, for my own kind of denialism, by ignoring evidence that you argue in bad faith.

    Honestly speaking, I’d say you’re the one arguing in bad faith with the way you’re using the word atheism. You’re essentially redefining the word to something that people here disagree with, it’s playing word games.

    Neither you nor Kel have been able to bring yourself to acknowledge the existence of the linked article in #167.

    I acknowledge the existence of the article in #167. I can go one further, I’ve even read it (the article, not the paper – link me the paper and I’ll read it). Given the post was addressed to Wowbagger, I didn’t realise you needed me to explicitly state that I’m aware of its existence.

  184. #184 WowbaggerOM
    May 4, 2010

    Neil Schipper wrote:

    I love how you decorated this btw. Great underlines.

    That it finally prompted you to stop your combination shuck & jive tapdance routine for long enough to acknowledge that there was, in fact, an elephant in the room means I did the right thing.

    Think of it as a dog whistle. Good boy!

    WowbaggerOM, please state whether or not you agree that I have demonstrated an understanding of the claim in your argument.

    Partially. You are – conveniently, no doubt; I strongly suspect this brief foray into intellectual honesty will turn out to be little more than a preface to further disingenuous sophistry – ignoring the existence of the significant proportion of atheists who have never been theists, and who are living in societies where theism does not have a strong presence.

    Every atheist is not a ‘reactionary’ atheist; many are those who have never been raised to believe and who barely register the existence of religion in their daily lives.

    Are you saying that only atheists raised to believe can become the genocidal monsters you insist they become? Because that would be a great argument – for abolishing religion. Because if someone will turn out be an atheist no matter what, and raising them as a believer makes them genocidal, how can humanity take the chance that the next altar boy is, at heart, an atheist, and that each communion just fills him with more and more hatred?

    If, however, your argument is that atheism can provide a means to differentiate an in-group from an out-group then I am completely and in 100% agreement; obviously, someone can think that being an atheist makes them different from someone who is a theist.

    However, that is once again unrelated to atheism in particular, since any quality at all – hair colour, eye-colour, skin colour, gender, height, musical taste, shoe size etc. – can be used to provide an in-group and an out-group which can then be sorted, thanks to a perception, into good and bad.

    And once again it is not atheism that prescribes such differentiation; it is the perception that the difference is significant – not the quality itself.

    Perception of atheism being superior ≠ atheism.

    Neither you nor Kel have been able to bring yourself to acknowledge the existence of the linked article in #167. This is what denialists do.

    I read the paper. In fact, I think I’d read it before you linked to it; I suspect it’s been linked to by posters prior to you.

    But I didn’t bother to refer to it because – unlike you, who seem to think it’s some kind of smoking gun in the hands of atheists – I saw it as no more relevant than a study that found that people who like ABBA and those who don’t like ABBA, or those who read Harry Potter and those who don’t read Harry Potter, or those who are ticklish and those who aren’t might show significant difference in brain activity.

    It’s something no-one should really be all that amazed by – well, unless the person is desperate to make a point in an argument they’re continuing to lose and have started grasping at straws in a pathetic attempt to plump up a sadly undernourished straw-man.

  185. #185 Neil Schipper
    May 4, 2010

    WowbaggerOM,

    A few years back, I had the occasion to meet Richard Dawkins at an atheist conference. (I believe there were about 800 attendees). I asked him, “how many ‘pure’ 3rd generation atheists — 2 atheist parents, 4 atheist grandparents — do you think there are at this conference?”

    He paused and said he suspects it would be very few, much as I had also figured. I asked him if he had some explanation as to why this might be, and he didn’t (to be fair, time was limited).

    A few months back I attended a talk by P.Z. Myers and raised the same question. He said something about religion having a certain powerful appeal.

    Some 2400 years ago, some thoughtful Greek philosophers spelled out the rejection of supernaturalism, without the benefit of modern scientific knowledge, mind. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were earlier ones of which I’m not aware).

    I ponder the failure of the human bearers of this stance to flourish over the centuries, or to at least maintain themselves as a respected and unhidden minority.

    Look at their advantages: superior intelligence; avoiding the considerable time and resource costs associated with organized religion; life without fear of the celestial dictator!

    There are several plausible explanations I toy with as I observe the world.

    One is that atheists include a relatively high incidence of toxic personalities, infused with an outlandish sense of superiority, alienating to many people they encounter (not least their own children), tending to magnify petty differences, and having a limited capacity to explore life in the company of others and find common purpose with them.

    Perhaps you’re aware of such people.

  186. #186 John Morales
    May 4, 2010

    Neil,

    “how many ‘pure’ 3rd generation atheists — 2 atheist parents, 4 atheist grandparents — do you think there are at this conference?”

    Do you draw a distinction between admitted atheists and closeted atheists? :)

    (Hint: a profession of atheism was a very brave social stance, two and three generations ago.

    It still is, in many cultures.)

  187. #187 Kel, OM
    May 5, 2010

    One is that atheistsmensa members include a relatively high incidence of toxic personalities, infused with an outlandish sense of superiority, alienating to many people they encounter (not least their own children), tending to magnify petty differences, and having a limited capacity to explore life in the company of others and find common purpose with them.

    Plenty of people are like that, the question is whether atheism causes one to be that way or not. That there might be atheists who are that way doesn’t mean that being atheist makes one that way. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

    Next are you going to look at the correlation between those who think astrology is baloney and their personalities?

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