The Thinking Atheist: 'Nothing More To Talk About'
April 20, 2011 10:37 AM   Subscribe

The Thinking Atheist: 'Nothing More To Talk About' (SLYT) - Many religious family members pray for their atheist and agnostic loved ones graciously, honoring personal boundaries and showing respect for the skeptic's right to form his/her own worldview... This video is not about them...
posted by MrBCID (381 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is this a preview for the next episode of Dateline? Because it really looks like a preview of the next episode of Datelline

Is Dateline still on the air?
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 10:39 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you still believe that a giant crazed swamp rabbit attacked and killed the 39th President of The United States while he was scouting locations for his post-presidential super villain fortress, we have nothing left to talk about.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:49 AM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


This video is not about them...

For some reason, I'm hearing that all in the voice of the guy who does the initial voiceover on Law And Order episodes. So now I'm all expecting to hear the "doink-doink" noise somewhere in the clip.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


While I definitely understand the frustration that is the cause of this video... It's not very engaging. Even as an Atheist who is tired of that kind of crap from believers from the get go.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dear Mom and Dad... Dear Sister...

*BANG* Oooh Whatchusayyyy...
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am an atheist and I agree with the points in the video...but the video still comes across as dickish.
posted by jnnla at 10:52 AM on April 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yes, what a pure, refined notion of civilization! If you disagree with me in any way that makes me uncomfortable – we have nothing more to talk about! Because every single one of us has the right to be totally free from the uncomfortable experience of disagreeing with another person.
posted by koeselitz at 10:53 AM on April 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


I have the feeling that reading that, without the tempered, tempo'd, talker, that this would seem like quite a harangue. With the repetition, and all. You all know, that repeating, without much alteration in language can cause the message to become belaboured, and lost. If a phrase, or phraseology appears, multiple times, through a speech, or text, with no change, can become annoying, or seem overly aggressive.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: As a spoken piece, to someone who already agrees, this is tolerable; to anyone else it may appear to be a counterstrike.
posted by LD Feral at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Relatives hardly need religion to be annoying or suffocating.

Also, when confronted with family drama, when has an over the top email ever helped?
posted by boubelium at 10:57 AM on April 20, 2011


Whatever happened to just passive-aggressively changing the subject until you've had too much to drink at a family reunion and then you let it ALL out, and for months afterwards no one so much as sends you an e-mail?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:00 AM on April 20, 2011 [44 favorites]


I think it should have been tightened up and shortened, and read with rising intensity in tune with new background music, which would be the Requiem for a Dream musical theme.
posted by Drastic at 11:01 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, what a pure, refined notion of civilization! If you disagree with me in any way that makes me uncomfortable – we have nothing more to talk about!

Did you even watch the video or read the original post? The video's premise is that the narrator and her family are past the point of civil disagreement. She is under constant harassment by people who do not respect her privacy or her right to her beliefs.

It's not a matter of "I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME WAAAH" as you've portrayed it.
posted by yifes at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


koeselitz:Yes, what a pure, refined notion of civilization! If you disagree with me in any way that makes me uncomfortable – we have nothing more to talk about! Because every single one of us has the right to be totally free from the uncomfortable experience of disagreeing with another person.

This is a gross mischaracterization of the video.

From the posters own description:
Many religious family members pray for their atheist and agnostic loved ones graciously, honoring personal boundaries and showing respect for the skeptic's right to form his/her own worldview. This video is not about them. This video is an open letter to the mothers, fathers, siblings and friends who attempt to rescue the atheist by sheer, constant, suffocating volume.
posted by Bonzai at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


...to anyone else it may appear to be a counterstrike.

Given the stated reason for the video, I think that's a feature, not a bug: This video is an open letter to the mothers, fathers, siblings and friends who attempt to rescue the atheist by sheer, constant, suffocating volume.
posted by DU at 11:03 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, with all the things that frustrate me about my family's attempts to inject a little God into my daily life, their belief in creationism doesn't even make the list.
posted by padraigin at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2011


Yes, what a pure, refined notion of civilization! If you disagree with me in any way that makes me uncomfortable – we have nothing more to talk about! Because every single one of us has the right to be totally free from the uncomfortable experience of disagreeing with another person.

No-- it means "we have nothing left to talk about in terms of you converting me, because you're not using any reason; you're irrational."
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you think this video presents something new and clarifying, we have nothing more to talk about.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Relatives hardly need religion to be annoying or suffocating.

I don't like thing A. Maybe I should change that. But I also don't like thing B, so never mind.

?

Also, when confronted with family drama, when has an over the top email ever helped?

I don't know about over-the-top, but a semi-ranting email definitely got my dad to take me off his spamlist. Oh and my crazy-religious aunt sending me spam about how evil John Kerry was.
posted by DU at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Almost everyone who has responded to this has said that it irritates them.

When I watched it, I was taken aback at the Scientology-commerical music and the defensive tone.

I believe this is trying to do two things at once, and that its execution of each of those things is weaker as a result. It is trying to respond to overbearing and overstepping family members who continually barge into a person's life, insisting that their lack of religious belief means that they are damned to hell and that they are a bad person. It is also trying to provide a number of reasons that belief in religion is unsupportable.

Those are two different projects. The shrill tone is appropriate for telling abusive family members to butt out of your business. The shrill tone probably weakens the rhetorical appeal of the argument that belief in religion is unsupportable.

Maybe these two things could be pulled apart from one another, and videos could be made for each of them.
posted by chanology at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


We have almost nothing more to talk about, but first I need to misrepresent your beliefs and condescend to you. Okay now we have nothing more to talk about.
posted by naju at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2011 [31 favorites]


Why is this more about what the believer believes than the Thinking Atheist? That thinking Athiest sure thinks about believers a lot.
posted by activitystory at 11:08 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I'll pray for you" is kind of the theist version of "I'll rub one out to you," innit?
posted by uncleozzy at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why is this more about what the believer believes than the Thinking Atheist? That thinking Athiest sure thinks about believers a lot.

This seems like a wind-up for the "Atheists have more faith than believers-- to look around at this splendor and say there is no God!?" pitch (if it isn't, forgive me; someone's bound to crap it out, so I'll just go ahead):

Atheism is a lack in belief in god. The lack is tentative, pending evidence of God. This does not require faith in the lack of God-- that's a naive inversion of Atheism.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, I believe in Leviathans ... so I guess we got nothing to talk about.
posted by philip-random at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2011


shit-- "lack of", not "lack in" typo
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2011


herbplarfegan: I totally agree; I was unclear, but what I was trying to refer to a thread in the video I couldn't really articulate, but which bothered me. It's basically a bunch of examples of the same type of claim that the Atheist finds unconvincing, and the laundry list of things believers shouldn't believe seems like an inefficient way to communicate this.

Naju and chanology got at I was thinking much more directly, just above, as I was typing.
posted by activitystory at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2011


Why is this more about what the believer believes than the Thinking Atheist? That thinking Athiest sure thinks about believers a lot.

Because this is about what believers are subjecting the atheist to in the name of caring for a non-believing family member.

I've actually had to have this conversation with my mother. She wasn't getting all into bad science and stuff with her conversations with me, but for 20 years after the pastor at their church (of which I was also a member) kicked me out of the congregation for being homosexual, she would routinely insert little knives into our conversation about the church and all the supposedly wonderful things happening there.

After 20 years of this, and my repeated recounting of the scenario which led to me no longer participating in her belief system (and her not taking my gentle reminders as the "shut up about this" they were intended to be), I finally had to be a bit harsh and firm with her about the way she was laying her patented years-long guilt trip on me.

She had hurt feelings for a month or so, and then finally settled down into a conversation mode which lets us know each other without the constant "but you aren't part of a church" background all the time.

So, yeah, I totally get this video. Not sure I would actually SHOW this video to someone in order to make a point with them about how they are interacting with me. But if I were a young person (or even an older person) who was dealing with the non-stop proselytization of family members, seeing that video might help springboard me into having the conversation on my own terms. And for that, I find this video useful and good.
posted by hippybear at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


yifes: “Did you even watch the video or read the original post? The video's premise is that the narrator and her family are past the point of civil disagreement. She is under constant harassment by people who do not respect her privacy or her right to her beliefs. It's not a matter of "I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME WAAAH" as you've portrayed it.”

Of course I watched the video and read the post. Disagreement is quite often not civil – that's how it is, and ever has it been thus. And since the dawn of time people have for various reasons had to deal with vicious disagreements with family; these most often have to do with religion, politics, and sex, for whatever reason. Everybody sort of has to find some way of doing it; for me, for example, it's meant making it as clear as possible to my parents that playing their inane "praise and worship" music in my presence is the fastest way to render me violently angry and make me spit expletives.

That's not the coolest way to handle the situation, I'll confess, but it sure as hell is better than this condescending, patronizing video, which mocks the beliefs of others whilst snootily insisting that the conversation is over. It isn't easy or fun for me to live with the fact that my family believes I'm 'on the wrong path.' It's never been easy or fun. But I accept it, because it's down to them to believe whatever the hell they feel like believing, and I can't change it. I set boundaries in the best way I know how – by telling them how I feel, by letting them know when certain conversations are over, etc.

And I didn't spend a decade and a half in a stupid Sunday school class just to miss the point: that if anything helps people set healthy boundaries about what is and isn't comfortable, it sure as hell is not snooty, viciously holier-than-thou videos narrated with a monotone disdain and disrespect for the viewer.

It's nice to see that the people who produced those obnoxious videos we used to watch in Sunday school still have gainful employment, anyway. Who would've thought they'd manage to take money from the atheists?
posted by koeselitz at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


We have almost nothing more to talk about, but first I need to misrepresent your beliefs and condescend to you. Okay now we have nothing more to talk about.

The problem is that religious beliefs are so inconsistent throughout history, and people interpret the same Bible differently depending on their culture, values, education, political affiliation, or what they want to have for dinner. The video isn't necessarily trying to represent your beliefs in the first place.
posted by yifes at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


activestory: I totally agree; I was unclear, but what I was trying to refer to a thread in the video I couldn't really articulate, but which bothered me. It's basically a bunch of examples of the same type of claim that the Atheist finds unconvincing, and the laundry list of things believers shouldn't believe seems like an inefficient way to communicate this.

Word. After I hit 'post,' I figured that to be the case; glad to be able to add that.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:26 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This post "nothing more to say" reminds of Winston Churchill's
famous quote
"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject".
posted by taxpayer at 11:31 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Every single video ever made by an Atheist seems to garner these same results. "Too strident!", "Not respectful!" along with abusive names and tons of false equivalences.

Makes me wonder how an atheist can talk about their opinions in this society with everyone coming down on them like a ton of bricks.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2011 [29 favorites]


I'm an agnostic. My tactic with relatives (and others) - some of who are ceaseless in their efforts to convert me - is as follows:

"(person's name, name here), I really, really appreciate your concern for the fate of my soul. I fully understand that concern comes from your belief that I must convert to your belief to be saved, and go heaven - and to be with you in the afterlife. In fact, this concern that you show for me makes me love you even more. However, I have my own beliefs about where we came from and where we might go after death. In spite of your gracious attempts to "save" me, I will never come to believe what you believe. That will not stop me from caring deeply for you as a human being dear (brother, sister, mother, etc.) I hope it will not change anything from your part, either. Again, never doubt my love for you, and may your god protect you, always"

Follow this little speech with a big, warm hug: then, let the chips fall where they may. Deliver a version of this speech whenever you need to, to remind or reinforce your stance. Things will usually settle down. If not, simply and politely refuse to engage on the topic of religion. Be consistent.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


A lot of things that may make sense in the context of personal family dynamics seem to make less sense as generalized examples. And that's all I have to say about that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "That's not the coolest way to handle the situation, I'll confess, but it sure as hell is better than this condescending, patronizing video, which mocks the beliefs of others whilst snootily insisting that the conversation is over. It isn't easy or fun for me to live with the fact that my family believes I'm 'on the wrong path.' It's never been easy or fun. But I accept it, because it's down to them to believe whatever the hell they feel like believing, and I can't change it. I set boundaries in the best way I know how – by telling them how I feel, by letting them know when certain conversations are over, etc."

I agree that the video is patronizing, but that was not your initial criticism when you said "Yes, what a pure, refined notion of civilization! If you disagree with me in any way that makes me uncomfortable – we have nothing more to talk about!". And it turns out you use the exact same tactic featured in the video: by ending a conversation when it's gone too far.
posted by yifes at 11:34 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Makes me wonder how an atheist can talk about their opinions in this society with everyone coming down on them like a ton of bricks.

Vibrissae's example seems perfectly fine to me.
posted by naju at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The video isn't necessarily trying to represent your beliefs in the first place.

This. I find it quite refreshing to hear a tight list of things that I don't believe-- regardless of whether they line up with any given proselytizer's denomination or deathcult.

This is the kind of stuff that I still haven't said to my Bible-believing parents, and I'm the only one out of two parents, two step parents, and 6 siblings/step-siblings (plus their spouses) who do not openly profess a continued, unshaken faith (which makes me the minority of 1 in a family of 16). I know they all know, but I've never said to anyone, "Look, I'm an Atheist," and I left the church 13 years ago.

I get the feeling that for the most part, they figure I'm the prodigal bound for a return, and truthfully, just thinking about saying what the voice-over in this video says is fantastically liberating, almost to a saccharine extent-- it's just an exhilerating prospect to even think about.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


yifes: “And it turns out you use the exact same tactic featured in the video: by ending a conversation when it's gone too far.”

A video that takes care to point out why the speaker is right, and to mockingly list all kinds of opinions and beliefs that the speaker thinks are silly, is not "ending a conversation when it's gone to far." It's "ending a conversation just after the speaker wants to keep having it, but before it's stopped being civil enough to talk about real issues."
posted by koeselitz at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And, yes, I'm sorry if I sound a bit upset. It's just that this brings back a lot of tough feelings for me; the last time I was lectured like this was back in Sunday school.
posted by koeselitz at 11:39 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's difficult not to be patronizing with grown adults who have invisible friends. Without caving to the delusion and agreeing with them, which would be the "nice", dishonest thing to do, how are rational folks *supposed* to handle them?
posted by LordSludge at 11:41 AM on April 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


A video that takes care to point out why the speaker is right, and to mockingly list all kinds of opinions and beliefs that the speaker thinks are silly, is not "ending a conversation when it's gone to far." It's "ending a conversation just after the speaker wants to keep having it, but before it's stopped being civil enough to talk about real issues."

Practically speaking, though, that's often the case when it comes down to it-- the beliefs that the video addresses, to an Atheist, are certainly not 'real issues', and the religious relative disagrees on this. That's the reason that the conversations stop being civil in the first place.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:42 AM on April 20, 2011


"A video that takes care to point out why the speaker is right, and to mockingly list all kinds of opinions and beliefs that the speaker thinks are silly, is not "ending a conversation when it's gone to far." It's "ending a conversation just after the speaker wants to keep having it, but before it's stopped being civil enough to talk about real issues."

Those points the speaker makes are to give the video context. A video that goes: "Mom and Dad. We have nothing more to talk about regarding your religious beliefs. Stop harassing me" Wouldn't make for much of a video.

Again, the problem you have with the video is its condescending tone, and that was not your initial criticism.
posted by yifes at 11:42 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's difficult not to be patronizing with grown adults who have invisible friends. Without caving to the delusion and agreeing with them, which would be the "nice", dishonest thing to do, how are rational folks *supposed* to handle them?

Absolutely this. That's why I took so much from this video-- I always have to just smile and enjoy a nice little awkward silence when anyone in my family describes "what God is doing." It's so difficult to peg when it's appropriate to go from doing that to holding an Atheist's inverse-intervention.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:44 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist (right, got that out of the way.) I have a problem with the tone of the video. Also a whale is not a fish.
posted by ob at 11:46 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like how a lot of the criticism here is that the atheist should grin and bear it. As always, the victim's complaints are the problem. Shoot the messenger. Blame the victim.
posted by DU at 11:49 AM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've always felt that it weakens an Atheist arguments when they misrepresent what they're attacking, namely calling the fruit an apple, calling the fish a whale, and putting an 'S' at the end of "Revelation."

I cringe because they somewhat leave the Atheist's argument open to attack ad hominem, IMO.

Typing the "he" with a capital letter though? Well, that's just an old habit; chalk it up to my grammar obsession. I stopped connecting it with the assertion of divinity, though, naturally.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:50 AM on April 20, 2011


yifes: “Again, the problem you have with the video is its condescending tone, and that was not your initial criticism.”

The condescending tone and the inability to put up with the opinions of a person who disagrees are one and the same. The sense is that the opinions themselves constitute harassment, that believing in a young earth or creationism or something like that is the same thing as harassing a person.

And I expressed some understanding for that feeling. I mean, I know that it's a little aggravating, knowing that your family believes that you're going to hell. But if I believe that people have the freedom to believe what they believe, and if I further believe that my own world is enriched when people disagree with me (and I do), then I am forced to accept that.

This is something precious – this disagreement, our ability to live with it, to be friendly with it. Nietzsche, whom I idolize far more than is healthy, said that it is our duty to become friendly with all people and all things; and in this he explicitly included priests and other religious people one might disagree with vehemently. I believe we should struggle mightily for that friendliness. And I believe it's more difficult to achieve than ever before. We all trumpet the wonderful way that the internet has connected us all – but one of the chief results of the ability to communicate so fluidly is the fact that all of us are now allowed to avoid entire groups of people with whom we disagree. Atheists don't have to talk to religious people – and religious people aren't required to talk to atheists.

I know my belief that this diversity is essential and slips away easily isn't a common one, but I can't escape from the conviction.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 AM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I like how a lot of the criticism here is that the atheist should grin and bear it. As always, the victim's complaints are the problem. Shoot the messenger. Blame the victim.

Actually, I'm all for proselytizing. I feel that everyone should be doing it; I also feel they should be doing it with the use of reason. That is probably why I'm so comfortable with it, because a bible-thumper is not arguing rationally. So.. gloves on? Alright. It's just going to be a short fight once I make it clear that a rational argument is expected-- no swings really get a chance to be made, in fact-- save for fallacious attempts at equating their own approach with reason.

It's also why I am no longer of the "everyone can believe what they want to" camp; I'm actually coming to think it pretty important that I do some Atheist proselytizing of my own-- for the very reason that I want my loved ones to have rational thought and start trying to realize the wonder of experiencing a fulfilling inward/outward/etc life based on reason and not on faith.

I'm very very early in that way of thinking, though. Absolute n00b/ bunker chalkboard stuff. This is just a chance, well-timed opportunity to think aloud about it. Then again, I haven't seen my family much since the crucial majority of this way of thinking kind of blossomed-- they're all on the East Coast; I moved to Seattle 6 months ago, during which the iceberg tip of this has occured for me.

I wonder how Memorial Day's gonna go....
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:00 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm an agnostic, and I have no problem with the tone of this video. I'm amazed, as someone previously mentioned, the care that we must handle Christian belief. I mean, I feel like I'm reading the Onion. While being told I'm going to hell for my non-belief I should be worried about tone? Please. Is this like the republicans demanding Obama be 'civil'?

(not that I believe the video is that well done, or doesn't look like something from a maury povich intro, or will change minds)
posted by justgary at 12:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


I like how a lot of the criticism here is that the atheist should grin and bear it. As always, the victim's complaints are the problem.

I'm not sure I'm seeing that. I'm seeing that the argument is more "there's a difference between telling someone 'what you believe is stupid' and telling someone 'you're acting like an asshole'." I could be wrong, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I believe we should struggle mightily for that friendliness. And I believe it's more difficult to achieve than ever before.

I shall earnestly keep this in mind. This is a case where it would be easy for me to become the enemy (the polemic proselytizer that is)....
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know about you guys, but the bit about churches taking out insurance against natural disasters made me lawl. That always gets me. "You see! You took practical measures/trusted science! You're totally contradicting a belief in God!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's funny to see this on a website where most of the "proselytizing" about religion comes from angry atheists, rather than religious people.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:10 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Makes me wonder how an atheist can talk about their opinions in this society with everyone coming down on them like a ton of bricks.

There are two options:

1) Shut the hell up and pretend to be religious.

2) Grudgingly admit that you're an atheist ("agnostic" is better) but insist that you're not one of THOSE atheists and never, ever say a bad word about religion. Criticize THOSE atheists as often as possible, though.
posted by callmejay at 12:17 PM on April 20, 2011 [22 favorites]


a semi-ranting email definitely got my dad to take me off his spamlist.

Same here. In addition to being a creationist, my father is a Randian, and embraces every conspiracy theory and quack medical idea he comes across on the Internet. The local paper stopped printing his letters to the editor, because they're so frequent and so insane.

I used to argue with him, but his beliefs on these matters are utterly unmovable by evidence or reason, and he approaches the whole conversation with an infuriating air of smugness and condescension (which only becomes more pronounced as the holes in his arguments become more obvious). So I stopped arguing, and started asking him (with increasing firmness) to stop including me on his email blasts.

That didn't work, either. Finally, I blew up on him over email, and told him that I absolutely, positively did not want to receive one of those emails ever again—and that if he refused to respect my wishes in this matter, he would be unleashing a fury the likes of which he cannot imagine.

That finally did the trick. I still don't think he understands, but he stopped sending those emails to me.

Apparently a family friend (who's still on his mailing list) recently blew up on him in a similar way, for similar reasons. He was repeating ridiculous claims he had read on some conspiracy website. She has some professional background in the field in question, and refuted his claims, with citations from the relevant literature.

Do you suppose he said "gee, you're right; I guess the guy who posted this in his conspiracy blog doesn't know what he's talking about"? No. No, he did not. In his brain, reading a rumor on the Internet makes him more of an expert on the subject than someone who has done years of dedicated study of the subject. That's how he is. He doesn't care about finding the truth; he cares about making himself feel important.

So, yes—it's simply not possible to have a civil conversation with some people, and sometimes those people insist on having the conversation anyway. Sometimes all you can do is look them in the eye, and say with absolute finality "this conversation is over, forever, period".

The sense is that the opinions themselves constitute harassment, that believing in a young earth or creationism or something like that is the same thing as harassing a person.

You've obviously never known someone like my father. He can't just believe in something. He has to make sure that other people know about this special knowledge that he has.

Anyway, the creator made it abundantly clear that the video is not directed at those Christians who do keep their beliefs to themselves and not proselytize.

All of that said, I think the video is too clever by half. The message is fine, but the delivery is melodramatic.
posted by ixohoxi at 12:22 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


We've had these discussions on AskMe before. I have always recommended the complainant tell the family members to talk to God and not to them. That way everybody's happy, and in my world view some good gets done. I fully believe that to argue with an atheist about God is not only wrong but counterproductive. (Unless the atheist WANTS to talk about God and even then sometimes I truly feel it is a waste of time.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:28 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


St. Alia, that can work with reasonable people. But I too have experience with a large family of fundamentalist Christians (definitely of a different breed than religious people who respect others' beliefs) and they're a lot like ixohoxi's dad. I tried asking them to talk to God when I was a teen and questioning their religion; they came back with, "we spoke to God and He told us we're your only hope for salvation. And that if you don't return like a prodigal child" (I'm a woman, they can't say "son"), "He may take you from us at any time, and you will go to Hell." I stopped responding to their attempts to rescue my soul after that, but they kept on, and on, and on. A few years later (I've told the next part of the story before on MeFi), when I did in fact nearly die from a burst ovarian cyst and had my life saved by the Helsinki Women's Hospital, my mother called me after the operation to ask why I hadn't died; why I hadn't let God's will be done.

In other words, my own. freaking. mother. thought I should die. Because she honestly believed God had told her so.

You. Cannot. Reason. With people like that. The conversation (it's not even a conversation when it reaches that point) has to stop. It's very unfortunate that some people hang on to beliefs to the point where they lose all perspective of the value of humanity outside.
posted by fraula at 12:44 PM on April 20, 2011 [25 favorites]


the wonder staggering despair of experiencing a fulfilling mostly meaningless inward/outward/etc life based on reason and not on faith

Based on your admitted neophyte status as an atheist, I FTFY. YMMV.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2011


Dang, fraula. Someone needs to tell your mother she was playing for the other team at that point. I am so sorry you had to deal with that!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2011


Another unbeliever here who thinks the video misses the mark. Yes there are some incredibly obnoxious believers. But most religious folk I know are not fundementalist literalists. They read scripture and look at their faith through the lens of metaphor, context, and history.

I think there's a great opportunity opening up between nonbelievers and believers to work on social justice issues as progressive religious folk walk away from churches or organizations because of their stances on gay issues and the like. But throwing down an opening salvo of unspeakable contempt isn't going to get anyone anywhere. It's my biggest problem with Richard Dawkins, I can find organized religion incredibly harmful (speaking as an ex Jehovah's Witness here) but I can see how it's helped people, and more importantly I've known some great religious folks.

So I don't believe in God, so what? Atheism doesn't mean you're smarter or quicker on the uptake than a religious person. It just means you don't believe God exists or in any version of the supernatural. It's up to you to fill yourself with knowledge and experience. I guess I come at this from having being spoiled on The Gospel of Carl Sagan. Also an athiest but one who was more concerned with looking up and taking sheer delight in the awesomeness of the universe than kicking believers in the shins.

So I will speak out strongly when religious people try to use their beliefs to hurt others but when they don't I think it's better to try to find a common ground. Such as taking care of one another, or even just looking up, you don't have to agree on how the stars came to be to find them beautiful and take comfort from them.
posted by Ruby Stevens at 1:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Based on your admitted neophyte status as an atheist, I FTFY. YMMV.

Since I don't know where you stand-- and since those are my words yanked out of context-- it's kinda impossible to tell how to take that.

I can't tell whether your commentary is
a) "correcting" what I would be saying to my christian relatives, from their perspective, with what they will be ascribing my words-- provided here by you to me as a heads-up concerning that oppostition that they would surely give me,

b) supportively jabbing my ribs as a fellow atheist with an all-around winky snark, or

c) actually giving me shit from a religious/apathetic/douche perspective.

Forgive me.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


FTFYs are unforgivable sins.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:06 PM on April 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


But most religious folk I know are not fundementalist literalists.

And, for the thousandth time—as noted in the FPP—this video is not addressed to "most religious folk". Please stop saying that. It's a dishonest representation of the video.

The video is speaking quite explicitly to those believers who do proselytize aggressively and unreasonably. It makes no sense to say "but not all believers are like that, therefore this video is BS!".
posted by ixohoxi at 1:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Atheism doesn't mean you're smarter or quicker on the uptake than a religious person.

As a rule, no...

It just means you don't believe God exists or in any version of the supernatural.

...which is by default a more intelligent and rational world view considering the complete absence of any evidence of god's existence. It's like saying that you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green.

you don't have to agree on how the stars came to be to find them beautiful and take comfort from them

But having the best available contemporary knowledge these things is pretty awesome, no?
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Forgive me.

d) Just me generally being a depressed douchebag.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:10 PM on April 20, 2011


This depends a bit on where you live. In California (SF and LA) most Christians I know/meet are reasonable, do not tell me I'm going to hell, etc. I can be an atheist and they can be religious and we all, like, just get along man. California (at least the liberal parts of it) is a very secular place, and religious people don't wield the kind of social power that they did where I grew up, in Georgia. There, I experienced the kind of wont-leave-it-alone harassment people are talking about, and it is indeed annoying.

(Both places have the other kind of Christians, too, but the dominant version is very, very different. Being an atheist in California is really easy, in Georgia not so much).
posted by wildcrdj at 1:10 PM on April 20, 2011


FTFYs are unforgivable sins.
good news: "unforgivable sins" is a fallacy.

d) Just me generally being a depressed douchebag.
then I'm one step closer to enjoying this as much as I should. :)
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:14 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's like saying that you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green.

But you really and truly cannot ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green. In fact, I'm looking out my window right now and I think the sky is neither blue nor green. Based on my perception of the color of the sky at this moment from my vantage point, what, if anything, can you ascertain about my intelligence?

Some of the smartest people I've ever met are theists. And some of them are atheists.

But that's true of the stupidest people I've ever met, too.
posted by The World Famous at 1:16 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


just thinking about saying what the voice-over in this video says is fantastically liberating, almost to a saccharine extent-- it's just an exhilerating prospect to even think about.

Really? Jesus Christ, man, you're an atheist. Why would you care?

I dunno, maybe it's my own conflict avoidance hangups talking, but I've never quite got that. I don't have any problem lying by omission about what I believe in order to pacify relatives. After all, I'm the one that doesn't believe in the Omniscient Umpire in the Sky calling balls and strikes, and who does believe that morality is a system which evolved to enhance human social cohesion. Of course, none of my relatives are strapping me to a dentist's chair every Sunday and forcing me to listen to an hour of hellfire and brimstone, so I suppose I have easy, but unless you're a minor it's not like you can't move.
posted by Diablevert at 1:16 PM on April 20, 2011


Some of the smartest people I've ever met are theists. And some of them are atheists.

I agree with that statement.

But you really and truly cannot ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green.

Okay, I'll admit my analogy sucked. How about I revise thusly:

"It's like saying that you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not [they believe as fact and conduct their life according to a collection of unverifiable, unproven myths which presuppose the existence of magic and alternate universes for which no evidence of even analogous occurrences has ever been offered or observed in an empirically verifiable manner] or [they do not do that]."
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:24 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green

But you might be able to conclude they are Japanese. ;)
posted by likeso at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It's like saying that you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not [they believe as fact and conduct their life according to a collection of unverifiable, unproven myths which presuppose the existence of magic and alternate universes for which no evidence of even analogous occurrences has ever been offered or observed in an empirically verifiable manner] or [they do not do that]."

I still disagree. Belief or non-belief in religion says nothing about a person's intelligence one way or the other, regardless of how some atheists would like to frame the issue.
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about this video. On the one hand, I think it's bad practice as a way of setting limits, much less trying to have a dialog with religious people. On the other hand, I do think there's certainly a time and a place for expressing frustrations without needing to be diplomatic about them.

But what do I know, I actually have good relationships with my religious relatives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2011


likeso: "you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green"

But you might be able to conclude they are Japanese. ;


Huh?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2011


Belief or non-belief in religion says nothing about a person's intelligence one way or the other

It certainly says something about their intelligence with regard to the specific questions answered by religion. Belief in religious myths is not the product of sound critical thinking.
posted by ixohoxi at 1:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I still disagree. Belief or non-belief in religion says nothing about a person's intelligence one way or the other, regardless of how some atheists would like to frame the issue.

If someone you knew was utterly convinced that flying unicorns existed in modern times, and based this belief on a really old book, this would say nothing to you about such person's mental capacities?
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Belief or non-belief in religion says nothing about a person's intelligence one way or the other

I'll defend the idea that someone's propensity for questioning beliefs is strongly correlated with intelligence (and, conversely, lack of).

Further, religion brooks little to no questioning outside the worldview it provides, which the believer must accept on faith.

This gives rise to the inference that intelligent people are less likely to be superstitious or have a supernatural belief system, on the whole.

I'm sure there are statistical aberrations, but if we're talking about generalities such as that put forward in the aforementioned cite, then a strong counterargument can be made.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It certainly says something about their intelligence with regard to the specific questions answered by religion. Belief in religious myths is not the product of sound critical thinking.

That first sentence does not follow from the second. The fact that someone may hold a belief that is not the product of sound critical thinking says nothing about their intelligence.

If someone you knew was utterly convinced that flying unicorns existed in modern times, and based this belief on a really old book, this would say nothing to you about such person's mental capacities?

Your hypothetical is incomplete and, therefore, unanswerable.
posted by The World Famous at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


unless you're a minor it's not like you can't move.

As I mentioned, I did move-- it was the breathing space that actually gave me the chance to finally get a grip on all of this.

I guess there's this silly part of me that finds some value in the people that I love the most actually having a clue about who I really am, and am not.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'll defend the idea that someone's propensity for questioning beliefs is strongly correlated with intelligence (and, conversely, lack of).

I agree 100%.

Further, religion brooks little to no questioning outside the worldview it provides, which the believer must accept on faith.

That assertion is overbroad and, I think, incorrect as a result.

This gives rise to the inference that intelligent people are less likely to be superstitious or have a supernatural belief system, on the whole.

I strongly disagree, not only with your conclusion but the logic upon which you base it.
posted by The World Famous at 1:42 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am an atheist and I agree with the points in the video...but the video still comes across as dickish.

This.

Oh, and:

The Dickish Atheist: 'Nothing More To Talk About'

There; fixed that for you.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2011


The World Famous:

Can you just answer this tendentious question of mine, please?

If I gave an IQ test to 1000 people, with a sample composed as follows: 500 people I was able to locate who believed in flying unicorns and 500 random people from a phone book, which scores higher? The flying unicornians or the random asshats?
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:47 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you just answer this tendentious question of mine, please?

If I gave an IQ test to 1000 people, with a sample composed as follows: 500 people I was able to locate who believed in flying unicorns and 500 random people from a phone book, which scores higher? The flying unicornians or the random asshats?


No, I can't answer that question. What does it have to do with the question of whether belief or non-belief in religion says anything about a person's intelligence? Are you positing that people believe in religion for exactly the same reasons that people believe in flying unicorns? Because if that's what you believe, I might be willing to draw some conclusions about your own intelligence based on that.
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Would it help if you just got them all together with a couple of beers and sat down to "The Big Lebowski"?
posted by Slackermagee at 1:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fact that someone may hold a belief that is not the product of sound critical thinking says nothing about their intelligence.

But it does show that their intelligence is lacking in that particular domain. Which is what I said.

Unless you're drawing a pedantic distinction between the concepts of "intelligence" and "critical thinking". To my mind (and I'm not attempting to use these terms in any technical sense), intelligence is the ability to think critically—i.e., to arrive at soundly reasoned and logically justifiable answers.

Someone who believes that they have a telepathic link with an invisible sky-man, and will live forever with him after they die—in the complete absence of evidence for those beliefs—is not arriving at soundly reasoned conclusions. They may be intelligent generally, but clearly their intelligence is failing them in this area (presumably because other, more powerful forces—fear, wishful thinking, whatever—are exerting more influence on their thinking than their intelligence).

N.B.: I'm not endorsing gagglezoomer's argument that religious people are generally less intelligent (though there is some research that supports that claim). I'm merely arguing that even coming from someone who is generally intelligent, religious belief is not the product of intelligent thought.
posted by ixohoxi at 1:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


That assertion is overbroad and, I think, incorrect as a result.

One could enumerate examples from the monotheistic options, but I think the recorded history of humanity provides a strong bedrock of evidence that defends my admittedly broad assertion. Organized religions do not really tolerate much exploration outside their frameworks, and they have dominated theology and theistic narratives since time immemorial.

I strongly disagree, not only with your conclusion but the logic upon which you base it.

You accepted that intelligent people are more likely to question their beliefs, the basis of their ideas. If you accept that religious people are generally content with the inherent contradictions and supernatural elements of their belief system, then intelligent people, on the whole, are less likely to comfortably hold belief systems based upon supernatural and superstitious claims. My logic is sound, I think, and I'd welcome an exploration of legitimate faults with it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops, sorry, Marisa Stole the Precious Thing, I stepped out for a minute.
It has to do with words for blue and green in language... hang on...

Here.
posted by likeso at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you positing that people believe in religion for exactly the same reasons that people believe in flying unicorns?

It's not the practical utility of a belief that makes it valid or invalid. It's whether or not that belief is supported by the best available evidence. In the case of flying unicorns, and in the case of God, the evidence is exactly the same: zero.
posted by ixohoxi at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


you can't ascertain anything about the intelligence of a person based on whether or not they think the sky is blue or green

But you might be able to conclude they are Japanese. ;)


Actually, no. While it's true that certain blue/green objects are not assigned the same color-value in English as in Japanese (i.e. a "green light" on a stoplight is a "blue light" in Japanese), the Japanese say 空は青い, "the sky is blue", same as we do.

The whole thing is a hold-over from millennia of having just one word for both blue and green (as many languages do); it's not really a disagreement on whether things are blue or green, it's just that "blue" is a larger category in Japanese, and that green was traditionally a shade of blue.
posted by vorfeed at 1:55 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


(i know, vorfeed. i was making a silly. trying to cut tension.)
posted by likeso at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2011


So did the Blue/Green argument come from taking things on Faith? Its hard to tell but people sure are informative today on The Teal.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:58 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone you knew was utterly convinced that flying unicorns existed in modern times

NOW THAT YOU PUT IT THAT WAY WE ARE SURE TO RESOLVE THIS ISSUE
posted by shakespeherian at 1:58 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


What does it have to do with the question of whether belief or non-belief in religion says anything about a person's intelligence?

Because my definition of intelligent includes as a necessary condition the formation of one's beliefs with respect to non-personally observable events through empirical inquiry and not group think and fear of mortality.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


But it does show that their intelligence is lacking in that particular domain. Which is what I said.

No, actually, it doesn't. There are far too many other plausible and likely alternative reasons for a person's belief other than lack of intelligence. Why discount all other possibilities and jump straight to judgment of intelligence?

Unless you're drawing a pedantic distinction between the concepts of "intelligence" and "critical thinking". To my mind (and I'm not attempting to use these terms in any technical sense), intelligence is the ability to think critically—i.e., to arrive at soundly reasoned and logically justifiable answers.

You're conflating ability and willingness.

Someone who believes that they have a telepathic link with an invisible sky-man, and will live forever with him after they die—in the complete absence of evidence for those beliefs—is not arriving at soundly reasoned conclusions.

What if they have had personal, firsthand experiences that lead them to believe that they have received evidence? Taking into account all possible (and more plausible) explanations for such experiences (medical conditions, emotional issues, etc.), can you, as an outsider without further information, reasonably and rationally arrive at any conclusion about intelligence about that person. Does not your own conclusion that they lack intelligence result from your own unwillingness or inability to think critically?

Organized religions do not really tolerate much exploration outside their frameworks, and they have dominated theology and theistic narratives since time immemorial.

Again, that assertion is ridiculously broad and, in my opinion, just not true.

If you accept that religious people are generally content with the inherent contradictions and supernatural elements of their belief system, then intelligent people, on the whole, are less likely to comfortably hold belief systems based upon supernatural and superstitious claims.

That wasn't the earlier assertion. If the assertion is that intelligent people are less likely than unintelligent people to comfortably hold belief systems based on supernatural and superstitious claims and that a person's contentment with and failure to question or attempt to reconcile contradictions and supernatural elements of belief systems says something about the person's intelligence, then I agree with you. But, again, that was not the assertion being discussed.
posted by The World Famous at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


For some reason, I'm hearing that all in the voice of the guy who does the initial voiceover on Law And Order episodes. So now I'm all expecting to hear the "doink-doink" noise somewhere in the clip.

Ummmm, it's quite obviously "donk-donk".
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because my definition of intelligent includes as a necessary condition the formation of one's beliefs with respect to non-personally observable events through empirical inquiry and not group think and fear of mortality.

That's more my definition of 'calculator.' My definition of intelligence has a lot more to do with humility, empathy, curiosity, and imagination.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Again, that assertion is ridiculously broad and, in my opinion, just not true.

But, again, that was not the assertion being discussed.

It is mechanically difficult to have a conversation with someone who does not share the same, common understanding of language. I'll wish you good luck on your travels.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:04 PM on April 20, 2011


gagglezoomer: It depends, can I have the test administered by the monkeys that fly out of my ass? They need a job now that they've finished replicating Shakespeare and Sondheim in the infinite typewriter pool.

Sure, there's some research studies that support a correlation (which you can get for almost any two variables given a large enough sample size) but, correlation is not causation, there are likely a half-dozen other factors in play, and the difference in means isn't that great.

And especially given the complete failure in this thread to frame the hypothesis at even a high-school science level or conduct a basic lit review via Google Scholar, this thread certainly supports the view that atheism does not necessarily mean an absence of stupid, ignorant, and pseudo-scientific claims.

Because my definition of intelligent...

Woooo!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's more my definition of 'calculator.'

Calculators are generally pretty accurate last time I checked. I thought this was a feature and not a bug.

My definition of intelligence has a lot more to do with humility, empathy, curiosity, and imagination.

These are all very noble aspirations, but are at best merely correlated with intelligence at certain times. Some of the world's foremost geniuses are many times its foremost assholes. I mean, Jesus, I'm sure Donald Rumsfeld could rock many of us on any metric that supposedly measures intelligence, but I don't think he has any of those four qualities.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:11 PM on April 20, 2011


Then maybe intelligence is a stupid metric.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever happened to just passive-aggressively changing the subject until you've had too much to drink at a family reunion and then you let it ALL out, and for months afterwards no one so much as sends you an e-mail?

I think this is the best approach I've heard so far. Intelligence is not really a good metric for gaging whether someone is religious or not. Gullibility most certainly is.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:18 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Any metric can be stupid when viewed as a calculation of an individual's worth, especially in isolation. Indeed, I think everyone understands that it is our actions and not our virtues that truly matter.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:18 PM on April 20, 2011


I just want to say that alt-tabbing between 'Me vs. God' and 'Weird Al vs. Lady GaGa' makes this a pretty damn good MeFi day.
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is mechanically difficult to have a conversation with someone who does not share the same, common understanding of language.

I'm not sure what the problem is, Blazecock Pileon. I agreed with your assertion and used your same terms in doing so.

But I'll attempt to explain myself better:

You said:

You accepted that intelligent people are more likely to question their beliefs, the basis of their ideas.

And you're right. I did and I do accept that. I do not accept the implied notion that the fact that someone is religious indicates that they do not question their beliefs, the basis of their ideas.

You then said:

If you accept that religious people are generally content with the inherent contradictions and supernatural elements of their belief system, then intelligent people, on the whole, are less likely to comfortably hold belief systems based upon supernatural and superstitious claims. My logic is sound, I think, and I'd welcome an exploration of legitimate faults with it.

I accept that many people, religious or not, are generally content with the inherent contradictions and supernatural elements of their belief systems. I do not accept that the fact that someone is religious is indicative of their inclusion in that group of people. As far as your conclusion (i.e. that intelligent people, on the whole, are less likely than non-intelligent people to comfortably hold belief systems etc.), I wholeheartedly agree. The fact that someone is religious says nothing about their intelligence, but the fact that someone is intelligent is a good predictor of just how comfortable they are about particular types of beliefs. The fact that someone is or is not religious does not, by itself, say anything about that person's intelligence. Any conclusion drawn from such limited information is the result of faulty and uncritical thinking.

Some of the world's foremost geniuses are many times its foremost assholes.

Some of the world's foremost geniuses have, have various times throughout history, been its foremost theologians or its foremost atheists. Causation? Nah. Just correlation.
posted by The World Famous at 2:20 PM on April 20, 2011


Indeed, I think everyone understands that it is our actions and not our virtues that truly matter.

This is true for the individual yes but it is also true for institutions and as an institution organized religion doesn't have a very good track record. But then again neither do most human institutions, science included.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:21 PM on April 20, 2011


Does it have to be a winner/loser argument? Can't we all get along to preserve the diversity of deductions/reasoning modes that exists within society?

The fate of humanity may rest on the capability of a small subset of the population to determine the best course of action through evidence or the larger majority of the population to leap to arbitrary faith based conclusions!

I think that TV show "V" is a good example of this. "The Aliens are good! They will yield many benefits to society!" "NO! The Aliens are bad, they will corrupt and harvest us even if we can't prove it just yet. Kill them all!"

The inverse example being just about every plague, famine, and disaster to befall Enlightened Europe in the past couple centuries. But it still helps to have a diverse range of thinking modes!
posted by Slackermagee at 2:22 PM on April 20, 2011


By science i don't mean the scientific method but rather the scientific institutions built up around the different disciplines.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2011


I think that TV show "V" is a good example of this.

You automatically win the thread, Slackermagee. I'm not even kidding.
posted by The World Famous at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2011


Didn't see the whole show though, just that part where the churches encourage people to kill the alien things. Which turned out to be a good suggestion as before every freaking commercial break there was some kind of dark, suspenseful "I'm up to no good" scene.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2011


Slackermagee: "Does it have to be a winner/loser argument? Can't we all get along to preserve the diversity of deductions/reasoning modes that exists within society?"

NO THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2011


Blazecock Pileon: My logic is sound, I think, and I'd welcome an exploration of legitimate faults with it.

It's an interesting hypothesis. Please come back when you 1) have a coeherent definition of an inclination to question beliefs and 2) some evidence to elevate your claims beyond merely a rhetorical hypothesis you just pulled out of your ass.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The only kinds of people in the world are fundamentalist Christian creationists, and atheists.

Given that incontrovertible fact, this video makes a ton of sense and is completely reasonable.
posted by edheil at 2:28 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]



Some of the world's foremost geniuses have, have various times throughout history, been its foremost theologians or its foremost atheists.


I'm sure Plato and Newton believed some pretty stupid shit by today's standards due to the huge advancements we have made in science and technology. So I don't think your statement holds much weight. I would seriously doubt any book about say, cell biology, by someone who believed the Bible was literally true.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:31 PM on April 20, 2011


The fate of humanity may rest on the capability of a small subset of the population to determine the best course of action through evidence or the larger majority of the population to leap to arbitrary faith based conclusions!

I think that TV show "V" is a good example of this. "The Aliens are good! They will yield many benefits to society!" "NO! The Aliens are bad, they will corrupt and harvest us even if we can't prove it just yet. Kill them all!"


V is deliberately written to support that particular conclusion, though, so it's a bad example. One may as well say that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure suggests that "the fate of one's history essay may rest on the capability of a small subset of the population to actually write it, or the larger majority of the population to leap back in time in George Carlin's phonebooth and kidnap Socrates."

Both solutions do ask us to Be Excellent to Each Other, however -- coincidence?
posted by vorfeed at 2:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm sure Plato and Newton believed some pretty stupid shit by today's standards due to the huge advancements we have made in science and technology.

Sure, I can believe that Newton probably wouldn't have placed as much stock in alchemy today as he did in his own era, but what about people like Gregor Mendel? You think "due to the huge advancements we have made in science and technology" he would have said, "hey, Catholicism isn't true, after all!" ? You really place too much stock in the role of "science and technology" (or its lack) in affecting religious belief.
posted by deanc at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2011


The World Famous: No, actually, it doesn't. There are far too many other plausible and likely alternative reasons for a person's belief other than lack of intelligence. Why discount all other possibilities and jump straight to judgment of intelligence?

Again: I'm using the word "intelligence" to mean "a demonstrated ability to arrive at valid and sound conclusions". Not a potential ability to arrive at those conclusions (does that even make sense?)—a demonstrated ability.

A person might score well on an IQ test while sober, well rested, and psychologically healthy—and that same person might score poorly while intoxicated, depressed, stressed, or underslept. According to the definition of "intelligence" that I'm using, that's because they're actually less intelligenti.e., statistically less likely to get the right answer—when they're intoxicated / depressed / stressed / underslept.

(Yes, I'm aware of the criticism of IQ tests. It's just an illustration.)

Exactly what is compromising a person's judgment, and why, is an interesting question—but that's tangential.

Using this sense of the word "intelligence", failing to arrive at valid and sound conclusions—whether in general, or in a particular domain—is by definition unintelligent. So, no, there aren't any plausible or likely alternative reasons for getting the wrong answer. If intelligence = a demonstrated ability to get the right answer, then getting wrong answers = being unintelligent.

You're conflating ability and willingness

No, you're imposing your own definitions on my terms.

We're arguing semantics. (I don't doubt that our differences that go beyond semantics, but still, we're arguing semantics.) I wish you well, sir, but I doubt there's much to be gained by continuing this particular argument.
posted by ixohoxi at 2:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


V is deliberately written to support that particular conclusion, though, so it's a bad example. One may as well say that Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure suggests that "the fate of one's history essay may rest on the capability of a small subset of the population to actually write it, or the larger majority of the population to leap back in time in George Carlin's phonebooth and kidnap Socrates."

Both solutions do ask us to Be Excellent to Each Other, however -- coincidence?


Well, I would have used a better example of faith based reasoning being pretty awesome... but I couldn't think of a real world example. It's best not to tempt fate though and keep it around in case its ever selected for/against by some strange catastrophe.
posted by Slackermagee at 2:37 PM on April 20, 2011


Intelligence is not really a good metric for gaging whether someone is religious or not. Gullibility most certainly is.

And—I promise I'll leave it alone after this—some of us, myself at least, are using a version of the word "intelligence" that necessarily implies "not being gullible".
posted by ixohoxi at 2:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This video feels like it's a response to all those annoying christian videos... you know the ones, something like this... Friend in Hell sends a Letter!
posted by fiestapais at 2:40 PM on April 20, 2011


I am an atheist and I agree with the points in the video...but the video still comes across as dickish.
posted by jnnla at 6:52 PM on April 20 [7 favorites +]


I don't think it comes across as dickish. More a bit... wet. But then I'm not one of those nice atheists. Even Hitchens comes a cross a bit wet sometimes, to me.
posted by Decani at 2:47 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You think "due to the huge advancements we have made in science and technology" he would have said, "hey, Catholicism isn't true, after all!"?

It's likely he would have. Also, not being completely ostracized by society for lack of belief of magic man living in sky might have helped.

You really place too much stock in the role of "science and technology" (or its lack) in affecting religious belief.

I place very little stock in it. It's up to each individual to cast away the restraints on free thought imposed by the sophistry and falsehoods propagated by the religions of the world. Science and technology are only ever improving tools that can be used to do so.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:48 PM on April 20, 2011


Friend in Hell sends a Letter!

Oh. My. God.
posted by naju at 2:49 PM on April 20, 2011


Science and technology are only ever improving tools that can be used to do so.

Eh, that seems pretty fallacious. No one is a scientist in the same way someone is religious. A professed atheist isn't suddenly someone who uses perfect logic and exact science to argue their position or frame their worldview.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:51 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: “You accepted that intelligent people are more likely to question their beliefs, the basis of their ideas. If you accept that religious people are generally content with the inherent contradictions and supernatural elements of their belief system, then intelligent people, on the whole, are less likely to comfortably hold belief systems based upon supernatural and superstitious claims. My logic is sound, I think, and I'd welcome an exploration of legitimate faults with it.”

That seems logical, but there are a couple of leaps. Mostly the part where you assumed "the supernatural" is inherently contradictory. Given that science itself is an attempt to come to an external and comprehensive understanding of nature – and is therefore itself "supernatural" – I don't think this is a very rational assumption.
posted by koeselitz at 2:52 PM on April 20, 2011


fiestapais: "This video feels like it's a response to all those annoying christian videos... you know the ones, something like this... Friend in Hell sends a Letter! "

I honestly could not tell if this was a parody or not. That said, it takes a read badass to be able to pen a letter whilst being dragged to the edge of a cliff and tossed into a lake of fire. That'll likely earn him some respect points in Hell.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This video feels like it's a response to all those annoying christian videos... you know the ones, something like this... Friend in Hell sends a Letter!

It's like a Chick Tract in horrible badly-produced video form!
posted by hippybear at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2011


Could a letter from a friend in Hell shaming you for not teaching him how to become a Christian be the ULTIMATE guilt trip? I think we have a strong contender!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2011


My logic is sound, I think, and I'd welcome an exploration of legitimate faults with it.

OK. I don't have time for anything approaching a complete exploration of the legitimate faults with the logic that was referenced in that comment, but I'll expand on my previous comment just a bit, since you asked. We'll go through your comment one assertion at a time.

Your Assertion #1: I'll defend the idea that someone's propensity for questioning beliefs is strongly correlated with intelligence (and, conversely, lack of).

As I noted above, I agree with you 100%. However, you did not provide any evidence for the assertion or explanation or definition of your terms. That said, I'm willing to stipulate to it for the sake of this exercise.

Your Assertion #2: Further, religion brooks little to no questioning outside the worldview it provides, which the believer must accept on faith.

As I noted above, this assertion is so broad that it is meaningless. It is also unsupported by any offer of proof, definition of terms, or even rational analysis. Frankly, I think your whole thesis completely falls apart with this compound assertion, but it's also so loaded and vague that I'm not sure how anyone could coherently argue one way or the other about it.

Your Assertion #3 (the conclusion that you claim follows from #1 and #2): This gives rise to the inference that intelligent people are less likely to be superstitious or have a supernatural belief system, on the whole.

When I criticized the logic of this conclusion above, that was sort of shorthand for the fact that there really isn't any logic of any kind that led you from assertions #1 and #2 to this conclusion. Accepting #1 as true by stipulation and attempting to make heads or tails of #2, it does not lead to the inference you claim. On the contrary, if we assume that, by "religion" in #2 you mean (using your words from #3) "organizations that encourage people to be superstitious or have a supernatural belief system," the logical inference is not that intelligent people are less likely to be superstitious etc., but that they are less likely to alert the religions you refer to in #2 to their propensity for questioning belief. But, again, #2 is preposterous and makes no sense, so it has its own problems.

I'm sure there are statistical aberrations, but if we're talking about generalities such as that put forward in the aforementioned cite, then a strong counterargument can be made.

There aren't even clear enough definitions in your logic for someone to figure out what statistics they should be compiling.

I would seriously doubt any book about say, cell biology, by someone who believed the Bible was literally true.

Well, setting aside your extreme example, would you seriously doubt scientific research and analysis by any scientist who is not an atheist? Because you're throwing a hell of a lot of baby with the bathwater if that's the case.

Again: I'm using the word "intelligence" to mean "a demonstrated ability to arrive at valid and sound conclusions". Not a potential ability to arrive at those conclusions (does that even make sense?)—a demonstrated ability.

I'm not sure why you say "again," since that's the first time you're asserted that. Anyway, the fact that someone does or does not hold religious belief does not, in and of itself, lead to any conclusion as to whether they have demonstrated the ability to arrive at valid and sound conclusions. To assert that it does is not a valid or sound conclusion, as it is based on woefully incomplete evidence.

So, no, there aren't any plausible or likely alternative reasons for getting the wrong answer.

Who said anything about "getting the wrong answer?"

If intelligence = a demonstrated ability to get the right answer, then getting wrong answers = being unintelligent.


No. That does not follow logically. If intelligence = a demonstrated ability to get the right answer (your definition), then demonstrating an inability to get the right answer = being unintelligent. Do you see the difference between what you wrote and what I wrote?

And—I promise I'll leave it alone after this—some of us, myself at least, are using a version of the word "intelligence" that necessarily implies "not being gullible".

I understand that. But it is not sound to conclude that everyone who is religious is, by definition, gullible.

[Also, for whatever it's worth, I didn't think the video came across as dickish. But then, I couldn't endure the whole thing; I gave up a few minutes in because it seemed to be a fight between two groups of which I am not a part.]
posted by The World Famous at 2:56 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm impressed with Josh's ability to write while being manhandled under duress.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:58 PM on April 20, 2011


No. Inherent contradictions AND supernatural elements. Not "supernatural elements ARE inherent contradictions."

Inherent contradictions are one source of potential discomfort. Supernatural elements are another source of potential discomfort. They are not necessarily the same source of potential discomfort.

Also, science is not supernatural. Not without an awful lot of undergrad philosophy handwaving. You know and I know and Blazecock Pileon knows what it means when Blazecock Pileon says "supernatural," and it isn't science.
posted by adipocere at 2:58 PM on April 20, 2011


A professed atheist isn't suddenly someone who uses perfect logic and exact science to argue their position or frame their worldview.

I never said that. I was arguing from the stance of the individual born into and indoctrinated with religious doctrine. In previous eras, you couldn't simply go on wikipedia and discover that the Bible is made up or pick up and read Science Tuesday (?) New York Times. You also got your head chopped off sometimes if you questioned the Pope.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:58 PM on April 20, 2011


Well, I would have used a better example of faith based reasoning being pretty awesome... but I couldn't think of a real world example. It's best not to tempt fate though and keep it around in case its ever selected for/against by some strange catastrophe.

By this reasoning, no human institution should ever be abandoned... and we should also bring back slavery in case slavery-loving aliens show up and vaporize everyone who doesn't keep slaves.

While I agree that variety is generally a good thing, that's not a reason to assume that institutions like religion are necessarily positive. Evolutionarily speaking, being well-adapted to "some strange catastrophe" is less important than being well-adapted to one's daily environment... and that's what we generally measure our institutions by, also.
posted by vorfeed at 2:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, setting aside your extreme example, would you seriously doubt scientific research and analysis by any scientist who is not an atheist?

In many fields, in the year 2011, yes. I firmly believe that even a cursory review of scientific knowledge ultimately insists upon some form of that position. But I'll burn all my physics and philosophy books tomorrow if Jesus descends from a cloud, I swear to God!
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:04 PM on April 20, 2011


Huh, when my friend in hell sent me a letter it just said the weather is not fine, wish you were here.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:05 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The World Famous, you continue to make weird misrepresentations of my comments—willfully or not; I can't tell.

Either way, I'm on a sunny patio waiting to tuck into a veggie burger and a rum & Coke, so I hope you'll forgive me if I leave this here.
posted by ixohoxi at 3:05 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bros, Josh wouldn't want us to fight like this.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:05 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, science is not supernatural.

If one considers its relationship with the idea of the existence Objective Truth, it can be a fair characterization.
posted by klarck at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2011


By this reasoning, no human institution should ever be abandoned... and we should also bring back slavery in case slavery-loving aliens show up and vaporize everyone who doesn't keep slaves.

While I agree that variety is generally a good thing, that's not a reason to assume that institutions like religion are necessarily positive. Evolutionarily speaking, being well-adapted to "some strange catastrophe" is less important than being well-adapted to one's daily environment... and that's what we generally measure our institutions by, also.


Uhhhh... yeah, we kinda did select against slavery at one point.

As for abandoning institutions, we do so all the time. The protestants abandoned the catholic institution as one example (by a small measure but all the same...). All the institutions we have give us some kind of benefit, peace of mind or security or something. These little things do help in the long term (like not panicking when everything goes to pot and you've got nowhere to turn to but that guy the other guy in the pulpit keeps going on about).

posted by Slackermagee at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2011


edheil: "The only kinds of people in the world are fundamentalist Christian creationists, and atheists.

Given that incontrovertible fact, this video makes a ton of sense and is completely reasonable.
"

This has been said several times already:

This video is aimed at a specific audience. It's not directed at all religious folks. It says that quite clearly in the description at the link, which was incidentally also quoted in part in the FPP. It's for atheists who wish to respond to theists that do not honor personal boundaries or show respect 'for a skeptic's right to form his/her own worldview.'

Given those conditions yes, the video does make sense and is arguably reasonable.

Whether people here use it as an excuse to trot out tired, predictable arguments disparaging all theists as non-skeptical and/or of diminished intelligence is rather besides that point.
posted by zarq at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whooaaaa... that link was totally not supposed to do that. Why did you do that link? Did I not pray enough to the hyperlink hyperion?
posted by Slackermagee at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2011


adipocere: “No. Inherent contradictions AND supernatural elements. Not "supernatural elements ARE inherent contradictions." Inherent contradictions are one source of potential discomfort. Supernatural elements are another source of potential discomfort. They are not necessarily the same source of potential discomfort.”

Why are supernatural elements a source of potential discomfort for intelligent people? I think that's a broad assumption that requires a certain amount of grounding.

“Also, science is not supernatural. Not without an awful lot of undergrad philosophy handwaving. You know and I know and Blazecock Pileon knows what it means when Blazecock Pileon says "supernatural," and it isn't science.”

Okay, "supranatural." I'll agree not to go down that rabbit-hole if you'd rather not, though. I see what you mean by "hand-waving," so I'll happily let the point drop.
posted by koeselitz at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2011


would you seriously doubt scientific research and analysis by any scientist who is not an atheist?

In many fields, in the year 2011, yes.


Wow. That's just bizarre and makes me wonder if you're just not aware of the scientific research and achievements currently being made by people who are not atheists.

Either way, I'm on a sunny patio waiting to tuck into a veggie burger and a rum & Coke, so I hope you'll forgive me if I leave this here.

Oh, sure, leave it with me jealous of you and your delicious, sunny meal. Actually, that's a good way to leave it. Cheers.
posted by The World Famous at 3:10 PM on April 20, 2011


ixohoxi: Again: I'm using the word "intelligence" to mean "a demonstrated ability to arrive at valid and sound conclusions". Not a potential ability to arrive at those conclusions (does that even make sense?)—a demonstrated ability.

Which just means you're creating a circular definition, not to mention begging the question of what constitutes a valid and sound conclusion. The astonishing inability of defenders of this hypothesis to come within the ballpark of a valid or sound conclusion about it doesn't speak well.

And woot! We have the "what about Newton" argument.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:13 PM on April 20, 2011


KirkJobSluder: "And woot! We have the "what about Newton" argument."

He got lucky? :D :D
posted by zarq at 3:19 PM on April 20, 2011


You demand boundaries of respect for your own worldview, while continuing to intrude and interfere, uninvited, into mine.

Ah, family!
posted by Greg Nog at 3:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Once we have established a sufficiently detailed definition of "religion" to reliably sort people into groups of "religious" and "non-religious," then perhaps we can begin to make statistical hypotheses about the intelligence of each group.

A lot of people who self-identify as "Christian" haven't actually been to a church since they were ten, and never read a Bible on their own. A lot of Buddhist tradition ignores the question of belief entirely. A lot of Protestant tradition is institutionally opposed to the idea that your priest knows more about God than you do, and is therefore supportive of anyone who wants to reinterpret scripture in accordance with modern science. Hell, the Catholic church's official line on Genesis is that it's a metaphor for the unspeakably complicated process that God actually had to go through to create the universe. So even dogmatic religions can get pretty vague on what they actually believe.

If you want to restrict the set of "religious people" to "people who believe in Invisible Sky Wizard" then... well, a lot of modern religion has a vaguely Deist slant to it, such that God isn't actually in the sky, nor does he magically intervene in our day-to-day lives. So you've restricted the set quite a lot. But, okay, if you really want to make a statement about the (surprisingly narrow) subset of religion that looks the worst to you, then you probably can find something bad to say about it.

I'd appreciate it if you didn't conflate that subset with the whole set... partly because you haven't defined the whole set yet, but also because it's a really basic logical error to conflate subsets with supersets.

I'm not sure what impulse it is that leads loud atheists to demonize the concept of religion, but I suspect it's the same one that makes certain fundamentalist Christians demonize the concept of evolution.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Whether people here use it as an excuse to trot out tired, predictable arguments disparaging all theists as non-skeptical and/or of diminished intelligence is rather besides that point.

Totally on your side there, zarq. I'd also not like to use any discussion about how an atheist should talk to their theist family as an excuse to trot out the canards about those of us on the other side of the debate as well.

The noise to signal ratio on MeFi seems to jump to weird degree any time a link to an atheist talking shows up. I actually find it kind of worrisome.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2011


Fundamentalism is so fucking stupid.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 3:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I prefer this video, actually. Works better at parties. ;) Ricky Gervais on Noah's Ark.
posted by airgirl at 3:31 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Supernatural elements certainly could be a source of potential discomfort for people (intelligent or not) because supernatural elements are, pretty much by definition, outside of explanation and repeatability. A bush burns but is not consumed and a voice issues from it. Your dead grandmother begins talking to you on the phone.

You can recreate these sort of things with some technical tricks, but then you start looking for "hey, how did that happen?" Velma and the gang figure out that it was the lighthouse keeper or it is a new addition to science, but if you cannot repeat it, then you have this THING that just kinda happened and won't happen again.

When you are left with the residue of the inexplicable and unrepeatable, the thing you just can't prove to your buddy Rick has happened, you could be having a psychotic episode. That is certainly a source of potential discomfort.

As an example, several years back, some friends and I were tromping around where we ought not to be in the dark. No moon, somewhat distant from various dwellings. Over a barbed-wire fence we all spy something a little odd: a pale, cloudy light a bit like moonlight issuing forth from a shallow indentation in the ground. Beamlike. My three friends run like hell. I manage to get a little less than ten feet away from it (but no further, fences generally mean me falling on my ass at some point). No visible lighting equipment. Swamp gas? Wrong color, the area was nowhere near water or even sogginess, and the beam was directional ... but not a completely impossible explanation. I moved back and forth along the fence, hoping for some kind of light source to become visible, but none did.

My friends begin driving off, so I cut my investigation short, but returned the next day and managed to get over the fence without killing myself. No wires. No signs that anything had been put there. The vegetation was pristine, nobody had walked there recently. Nothing smelled off, and I have a pretty good sniffer. I probed the indentation, looking for, well, anything but dirt. I spent perhaps half an hour looking for any sign of human agency, but found none. No anomalies with a compass, either.

Had I been alone that night, I would have mumbled, "we all go a little mad sometimes" and put it down to an acid flashback or some misfiring neurons, then incremented my "maybe I should see a shrink" counter by two or three, but we all saw it at once. It has not, however, been repeatable. I have returned to that location at least a dozen times under similarly unlit conditions and have never seen it again.

And I am definitely not comfortable with that, because WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!?
posted by adipocere at 3:36 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of people who self-identify as "Christian" haven't actually been to a church since they were ten, and never read a Bible on their own.

Then can we just ignore those people? They're just fucking up the analysis. When someone says to me, they're "Christian" it should mean they believe the Bible is true. Otherwise, what's the point of it all. Yet, if you've ever studied the Bible (or the Quran) and the accompanying legitimate research/literature, you'll see that it's mostly full of made up magical bullshit and fallacious historical narrative. So, yeah, if you consciously subscribe to that book as being actually true, then, in my opinion, you're dumb. If you just believe that Jesus was a good person and the Bible is a metaphor then why be a Christian at all? Why not just strive to be ethical and do good works and stop wasting time propogating an obsolete mythology?
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which just means you're creating a circular definition, not to mention begging the question of what constitutes a valid and sound conclusion.

Would you mind elaborating on this? I don't understand your point.

Some conclusions are true. Some conclusions are false. People differ in their ability to arrive at true conclusions (as opposed to false ones), and I've elected to use the term "intelligence" to refer to this ability. Which part of this is problematic for you? And where's the circular reasoning?

I mean, consider this:

All apples are fruit. Bob never eats fruit on Tuesday. Does Bob ever eat apples on Tuesday?

The only correct answer is "no". Some people will get that answer right; some (hopefully not many) will get it wrong.

The fact that intelligent people usually choose that answer is not what makes it sound. (If that were the reason, then yes, this would be a circular argument.) It's sound because it follows logically from the premises (and for the purposes of this exercise, we're presuming that the premises are true).

It's quite literally a math problem: the premises, and the question, can be expressed using elementary logical notation. And just like any math problem, some solutions are definitively correct, and some solutions are definitively incorrect. (And the only correct answer to some questions is "no solution".) This would remain the case even if no humans had ever been alive to judge the validity of the solutions.

And are you sure you're using the term "begging the question" correctly? (That's not snark; I'm just honestly not sure which sense of the term you intended.)
posted by ixohoxi at 3:40 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you just believe that Jesus was a good person and the Bible is a metaphor then why be a Christian at all? Why not just strive to be ethical and do good works and stop wasting time propogating an obsolete mythology?

That word "Christian" doesn't mean what you want it to mean. Nor does the word "true". Lots of people say they are Christian because they were brought up in a Christian tradition and appreciated it; lots of people say that things are "true" insofar as they are useful assumptions for dealing with the world, even if, like Newtonian physics, they break down when things get weird.

If your beef is with people not using words the way you want them to use words... well, go ahead and have that discussion instead.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:42 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh shitstorm. You're so shitstormy.
posted by clarknova at 3:55 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


lots of people say that things are "true" insofar as they are useful assumptions for dealing with the world, even if, like Newtonian physics, they break down when things get weird.

Which is why, of course, scientists stopped investigating the mechanisms of gravity, the nuclear forces etc when they discovered that on quantum and macro levels, these mechanisms disagree with Newtonian physics.

Also, what the fuck is a Christian then, if all it means is that you grew up an appreciated the tradition?
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm sorry, Josh. We let you down.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:00 PM on April 20, 2011


Then can we just ignore those people? They're just fucking up the analysis. When someone says to me, they're "Christian" it should mean they believe the Bible is true.

If you're concerned about accuracy, it would be wiser for you to stop defining the majority of Christians as something they're not. Most Christians are not bible literalists. Catholics aren't bible literalists. Most Protestant sects aren't either. Nor does belief in a god or gods automatically mean that a person is a bible literalist.

Otherwise, what's the point of it all.

If you aren't defining terms properly and are trying to argue in good faith, then the proper use of words matters a great deal. Some basic understanding of mainstream Christian beliefs would be helpful if you're trying to make a valid point.
posted by zarq at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you even watch the video or read the original post? The video's premise is that the narrator and her family are past the point of civil disagreement. She is under constant harassment by people who do not respect her privacy or her right to her beliefs.

Well, get caller ID or warn them that you're just going to hang up if they start in with the god talk. Then hang up when they start in with the god talk. OK, this might mean not having any good conversations with your folks for a few weeks/months/years, but they'll likely mellow out sooner or later. You can't win the argument. The trick is to just not have the argument.

As you can probably guess, I found this video twee and irritating, even though I'm an atheist myself. More to the point, it goes on and on and on, rather like people afflicted with excessive religiosity.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


When someone says to me, they're "Christian" it should mean they believe the Bible is true.

I can't believe I'm diving into this, but what do you mean by "true"? Do you mean they take the whole thing literally? Do you mean they believe in its inerrancy?

on preview: what zarq said.
posted by rtha at 4:05 PM on April 20, 2011


Most Christians are not bible literalists.

Why not? I would hope that if God only wrote one book, the least he could do would be to proof read it. By the way, the reason most Christians aren't Biblical literalists is because many of them aren't so dumb as to believe that the Bible's miracles so they rationalize their continued adherence to a disproven world view that happens to contain a nice dose of ethical guidelines by ignoring the "silly" parts of their holy book.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


lumpenprole: " The noise to signal ratio on MeFi seems to jump to weird degree any time a link to an atheist talking shows up. I actually find it kind of worrisome."

It's highly annoying.

I seem to continuously reiterate the same arguments in these discussions: Essentially, that all religious people are not cut from the same cloth(s); we don't all have the same level of belief or observance; we aren't all interested in proselytizing or convincing anyone that our way is better than theirs; and many of us are on the same side as non-fundamentalists when it comes to women's rights, education, free speech, anti-dominionism, etc., etc.

I feel like a broken record some days.
posted by zarq at 4:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


What the hell? Why just muddy the waters so much like that?
posted by Burhanistan at 4:08 PM on April 20, 2011


Meant for gagglezoomer.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:09 PM on April 20, 2011


I can't believe I'm diving into this, but what do you mean by "true"?

By "true" I'm applying the same standard as I would apply to any non-fiction historical narrative. If and when the book states that an event occurred, it occurred as stated. If that event did not occur, that part of the narrative is not true.

posted by gagglezoomer at 4:09 PM on April 20, 2011


Dude, you're not making any sense. Peace out.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm surprised some don't see the logic in the fact that reality can and does exist beyond the ability of our five senses to access it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2011


gagglezoomer, you may wish to modify your definition of intelligence to include something like "the ability to recognize that the world is a complex place and the ability to inform oneself of the basic social and historical context of a topic before coming to a conclusion regarding it".
posted by overglow at 4:12 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread has actually taken a somewhat surprising turn.
posted by The World Famous at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm big into ancient Greek philosophy, but that doesn't meant I believe in Zeus, Aphrodite and all the mythological stuff even though the mythology is historically intertwined with the philosophy. Lots of Christians parse the bible as metaphor or as an instance of some protean mytheme. Semantic pedantry is clearly platform-independent.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


By "true" I'm applying the same standard as I would apply to any non-fiction historical narrative. If and when the book states that an event occurred, it occurred as stated. If that event did not occur, that part of the narrative is not true.

Oh boy.
posted by rtha at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's funny how similar fundamentalists and people like gagglezoomer sound. They're both proselytizing, I guess is why, and both unable to see the value in other worldviews.

I am convinced that humanity would be much the poorer without the stories/mythologies we've used to help make sense of our world and our place in it. Myths, stories, art, music, poetry... tap into a part of our brain that logic can't reach. I feel sorry for people who don't see the value in that part of ourselves. I think it's one of the better parts about us.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, gagglezoomer, for stating clearly what you think a "believer" ought to believe.

Most people who call themselves "believers" in the bible do not believe what you think they ought to. Therefore, by your standards, they are incorrect to call themselves "believers".

Therefore, most modern religion actually doesn't exist.

Congratulations! You killed it!
posted by LogicalDash at 4:21 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


gagglezoomer: " Why not? I would hope that if God only wrote one book, the least he could do would be to proof read it.

Christian belief about the provenance of the Bible and the importance of various passages varies widely. My understanding is that most Christians do not believe their god wrote the bible.

By the way, the reason most Christians aren't Biblical literalists is because many of them aren't so dumb as to believe that the Bible's miracles so they rationalize their continued adherence to a disproven world view that happens to contain a nice dose of ethical guidelines by ignoring the "silly" parts of their holy book."

I'm Jewish. I can speak in general terms about Christians and Christian belief, but the moment we get into motivations and the reasoning behind various rituals and firmly-held beliefs, we're both better off if I defer to someone more knowledgeable. If you'd like to know why most Jews aren't bible literalists, I can explain my understanding of that if you would like.

On the other hand, if you're simply going to tell me why I'm an idiot for holding my own "silly" beliefs, I won't bother.
posted by zarq at 4:24 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that some of my statements up thread were hasty, are logically inconsistent and make me seem a little crazy. I freely admit that.

Furthermore, I don't have time to write a treatise critiquing Christianity at the moment, nor would I be qualified to, nor would I have the desire.

But, yes, SR, I was proselytizing. And, you're right, I simply am not able to see the value of the Christian belief system or any other major religion beyond the commonly taught ethical guidelines that most "good" people agree are best practices anyway, religious or not. I have struggled long and hard to see how Christians remain Christians knowing what we know, in an educated society, and I simply. cannot. understand. why. I'm convicted!

I DO see the value of studying art, myths, religion, etc. But to "follow" christianity to me is the same as to "follow" scientology. Why, why, why, oh god, why? I don't get it. I can't get it. Sorry.

I'll probably never get it.
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whether people here use it as an excuse to trot out tired, predictable arguments disparaging all theists as non-skeptical and/or of diminished intelligence is rather besides that point.

....Zarq, I think the theists shot first in this round.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2011


I'm surprised some don't see the logic in the fact that reality can and does exist beyond the ability of our five senses to access it.

Examples?
posted by LordSludge at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2011


I would hope that if God only wrote one book, the least he could do would be to proof read it.

Actually, someone who believes that every word of the Bible is literally true could not logically believe that God wrote the Bible, given the text's claim to have been written by a number of different authors, none of whom is God.

I have struggled long and hard to see how Christians remain Christians knowing what we know, in an educated society, and I simply. cannot. understand. why. I'm convicted!

Let me strongly recommend that your struggle to understand Christianity include some research into Christianity's beliefs and the variety and history of philosophy and belief in Christianity. I don't think you'll be converted or anything. But at least then you can start to understand a bit more of what it is you're rejecting.

....Zarq, I think the theists shot first in this round.

In fairness, the theists were firing shots at each other long before the atheists showed up to the fight.
posted by The World Famous at 4:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am convinced that humanity would be much the poorer without the stories/mythologies we've used to help make sense of our world and our place in it. Myths, stories, art, music, poetry... tap into a part of our brain that logic can't reach.

I think it is important to acknowledge the value of story and the like, but I also think the "part of the brain that logic can't reach" bit is somewhat... well, reaching. Even if I were to take it at face-value, I think it's obvious that religion is not the only source of "myths, stories, art, music, and poetry", and I think it's equally obvious that these things are not necessarily unrelated to logic.

One can have strong feelings, fanciful stories, and powerful outpourings of self-expression without religion. Attempts to conflate religion with emotion or art are no more reasonable than attempts to make us all into unfeeling atheist logic-bots -- both depend on a logic/emotion dichotomy which is not actually present.
posted by vorfeed at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


gagglezoomer: Then can we just ignore those people?

From circular argument to no true scotsman, I'm impressed.

ixohoxi: Would you mind elaborating on this? I don't understand your point.

Your argument is pseudoscientific bullshit. Is that understandable?

And where's the circular reasoning?

You define intelligence as reaching true conclusions.
Atheism is defined as a true conclusion.
Therefore, atheists are more intelligent than theists.

The shenanigans here is defining intelligence in terms of a trait you already associate with atheism, rather than pointing to the century of research on intelligence which might not be entirely valid, but is certainly reliable.

It's quite literally a math problem:

Sure, but what you've done here is taken a complex set of arbitrary signs and judged it as true according to a pre-assumed theory of truth. The correct answer, is "probably yes" because mathematical logic is the wrong tool for answering questions about human behavior.

Intelligence tests usually cover a fair bit more than logical syllogisms. The correct arrangement of a jigsaw puzzle is conventional, not logically "true." Vocabulary and verbal comprehension is likewise conventional (a definition of "dog" can be right or wrong, but it can't be true) , and tests of working memory are trivially true.

And the "begging the question" issue is that you're taking for granted that your epistemology for determining sound and true is, itself, sound and true. Or that furthermore, atheism is sound and true. As an ignostic, I tend to disagree that most logical arguments about gods can be considered sound given their dependence on claimed axiomatic definitions.

Modern atheism has largely shrugged its shoulders on that point, arguing instead that a lack of belief is a behaviorally safe bet. And I'm an atheist for that reason but I can't turn around and claim that atheism is little more than a reasonable and provisional hypothesis as a result.

My objection here is not to the claim that intelligence might be correlated with a lack of belief, or inversely correlated with dogmatic belief systems. My objection here is to stupid, ignorant, and pseudoscientific claims about the intelligence of populations. It's ideologically driven badness, not much different from those of young-earth creationists who don't lack for superficially plausible folk theories pulled out of their collective assholes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:47 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


In fairness, the theists were firing shots at each other long before the atheists showed up to the fight.

I was referring specifically to the "if you aren't that kind of Christian, this isn't directed at you" observation. Theists are tending to complain in here that "you can't paint all theists with the same brush" -- and it's a complaint that often gets made in here -- but this time, I think that it was the theists who jumped the gun with "this is what atheists think about all of us" complaints first.

Just like "not all Christians think alike," the "this isn't directed at all Christians anyway" message got lost. And I think it was the theists' fault this time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Organized religions do not really tolerate much exploration outside their frameworks, and they have dominated theology and theistic narratives since time immemorial.

This is a general social phenomenon, not just a religious one. Specific secular ideologies such as Nazism and Communism, Nationalism and (on a somewhat smaller scale) Objectivism all partake in it, to the degree they are able to bring coercion to bear. A general desire to control speculation in areas which are frightening or disturbing to your views is a natural, if unpleasant, aspect of human nature, I think.

Toleration is a distinct issue from secularization or the rise of science and 'rationality' generally - indeed, toleration in the Netherlands and the British Isles, where it first developed, was mainly a matter of necessity, and this may have been true in the United States (although formally codified in the Constitution, it probably also had to do with the wide range of mutually antagonistic Protestant faiths present at the time). At the same time, highly secular states have been quite hostile not only to religious but also non-religious groups or ideas they found threatening. Power never likes being questioned.

The distinction that seems to have emerged in this thread, and emerges in many of the threads I see here on this topic, isn't so much between atheism and theism as between scientific rationalism and what you might call science-plus. The latter is composed of people who don't agree with the idea that reason, or science, covers every element of reality, and view speculation about what it doesn't cover as perfectly acceptable and indeed a laudable element of mental life. Not all those people are theists - one can see a lot of this among postmodernists, for example, or people who don't believe in God but take up certain metaphysical views (mathematical Platonism, various Westernized forms of Buddhism, etc.) which extend reality beyond science.

Most of the atheists who are high-profile these days (Dawkins, etc.) are scientific rationalists first and foremost - their atheism proceeds from that, not the other way round. Theists tend to range from anti-scientific (Creationists, fundamentalists, some mystical groups) to science-plus (liberal mainstream churches, who don't have problems with science but speculate widely outside its present range). But the real point of contention isn't just 'is there a God' but rather 'what constitutes reality, and how far is it acceptable to speculate about reality?'

But that's the intellectual side of the debate. There's still this whole social experience of the conflict which can (and for many people, like the subject of this post) be tremendously alienating, brutal, and infuriating. That's where the real energy is coming from in this debate, I think, and why liberal Christians (such as those which are most likely to be found posting in a Metafilter thread, for instance) are a bit bewildered by the 'anger' shown by the atheists they encounter. They're looking at the intellectual debate and saying "hey, well, we can agree to disagree, or at least talk civilly about this." But the vast majority of them have not had to deal with the experience of being socially isolated or persecuted based on their beliefs, abandoned by friends or family.

Its the difference between the experience, for example, of Desiderius Erasmus and Martin Luther regarding the question of Church reform. For the former, a comfortable if critical member of the religious establishment, the question could be taken up - and therefore should be taken up - without bitter polemics or angry outbursts. For the latter, that option wasn't open, because the fight was being brought to him, day in and out.

Well, that went on longer than I expected....
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


That video is a compilation of all the atheist cliches, and they persuade no one.

I've had pretty good luck with saying, one relative at a time, "I don't believe it. Not any of it. If you don't stop talking to me about this, I will stop talking to you."
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:50 PM on April 20, 2011


Fundamentalism is so fucking stupid.

Are you just talking about religious fundamentalism, or also anti-religious fundamentalism? Because, just like religion can be wise if you don't take it literally but goes to shit when you think the universe is only 6000 years old, I think that a lot of great criticism of religion gets buried and ignored because its proponents are too stubborn to meet other people half-way. Gagglezoomer in this thread, for instance, who is so unwilling to let go of his "Christians are literalists" position that any legitimate arguments he's got to make aren't gonna get through to anybody who's not a literalist. And since literalists are so set in their thinking that simple derision will never change their minds (and especially not on MetaFilter), really you have a lot of people who're making arguments that nobody will listen to, and that's a problem if you want to talk about religion with sincerity.

You can't say that you're arguing in good faith if you know that your chosen tactics are not working, yet disregard all the people who choose not to respond to them. Saying that you're fed up with good faith, religion is absurd, there is no commonality to be found here, that's no excuse. But not many atheists here are willing to start off their conversations by asking the faithful of MetaFilter to define what they think it means to be religious, then to reach an understanding there, and only then to discuss more fun issues like "aren't fundamentalists silly?"

One of the things I realized this year that's taking me an especially long time to get my head around is that when it comes to wisdom, a lot of my religious friends are much more grounded than me. Around the time of my bar mitzvah, I decided that God didn't exist, people who thought God existed were ignoring all existing logic, and I kind of began treating people who subscribed to a non-joke religion like they were to be, I dunno, pitied. Because they were wrapped up in this mythology that I couldn't see the point to. But it turns out that I'm a hotheaded ass who refused to talk about serious issues, and my friends were asking themselves the questions I'm starting to ask now when they were a lot younger. They make me feel foolish and slow. It turns out their religion prepared them for a lot of discussion about morality, judgment, and purpose that I'm only now developing a framework for. Plus they managed to learn it without simultaneously thinking that I'll go to hell when I died. Win-win.

What is my responsibility to my fellow man, when I've been porn with privileges he lacks? Is it wrong for me to bask in my happiness, when I know that other people are suffering? Can I ever let myself relax and enjoy my life, or is that a crime against those others? How can I accept and love people who are different than me in some fundamental ways? How do I keep my self-respect and dignity without responding in some way to people who hurt me or treat me like shit? How can I stand up for my thoughts and beliefs without hurting others in turn?

These questions and more, many more, that I'm starting to find out for my own, and constantly realizing are questions at the heart of religion and philosophy -- areas I haven't really explored in depth. I find in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, thoughts that are profound to me, which are held as central, basic tenants to all their followers. And I find that each religion is based around a series of beautiful poetic insights. To say that you're part of a religion is really just to say that you identify with those insights that are at the heart of yours. Buddhists attempt to reduce suffering by acknowledging their limited consciousness. Christians (the good ones) try to look for the divine within the human, and point themselves and the world around them towards that divinity, away from our animal natures. These are ideas which are complex and nuanced, and which easily could demand an entire lifetime of observation.

The great thing about this is that once you understand and accept these ideas, and respect the religions which formed around them, suddenly you can argue your own morality on their terms. You can hold conversations in which their beliefs are respected rather than thrown to the side and stamped on. Suddenly you and they can progress in arguments, to new thoughts and ideas and developments, and each learn something in the process, and each come somewhat closer to an understanding.

Which isn't to say that people on the other side are going to always be open to discussion. Often they are, though. And if you're going to walk into every conversation ready for a fight, then the problem isn't (just) them. It's you. To quote my favorite Jesus/Buddha figure in literature, you're not wrong, you're just an asshole.

(This video is an asshole video. I hope that it helps somebody stand up to their families, and maybe it will do some good in the world, but it's still an overly stylized sneer. I find that most people looking to hold a legitimate, respectful discussion don't feel the need to graphic-design their YouTube videos as obnoxiously as this one's been designed; like all over-the-top graphic design, all the creators of the video are doing is saying: "The problem isn't my (oversimplified) ideas or rhetoric, it must be that you're too dense to understand what I'm saying. But if I animate my words so they dance along the screen suddenly you'll understand me.")
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:56 PM on April 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


many of us are on the same side as non-fundamentalists when it comes to women's rights, education, free speech, anti-dominionism, etc., etc.

That's certainly preferable to being fundamentalist, misogynist, and imperalist—but I don't just oppose theism because it often leads to morally repellent political views. I also oppose theism because it is based on false premises and invalid logic. Even if every theist on the planet were perfectly sweet and inoffensive, I would still oppose theism on those grounds alone.

I'm surprised some don't see the logic in the fact that reality can and does exist beyond the ability of our five senses to access it.

Uh, what? Where has anyone actually denied this? I, for one, agree with this statement emphatically. It's not just obvious; it's axiomatic in any sensible version of a scientific or atheistic worldview.

Speaking about no one in particular: it seems like the same arguments, counterarguments, and strawmen get trotted out in every single one of these conversations. It's only a matter of time before someone writes a computer program to have the conversation for us.
posted by ixohoxi at 4:57 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been porn with privileges he lacks

Maybe there is a God, after all?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:57 PM on April 20, 2011


it seems like the same arguments, counterarguments, and strawmen get trotted out in every single one of these conversations.

Same thing could be said about threads on politics, or music, or anything else we see here on Metafilter. But in addition to the same old, same old, something new and interesting usually crops up as well. Which is what keeps me coming back.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just like "not all Christians think alike," the "this isn't directed at all Christians anyway" message got lost. And I think it was the theists' fault this time

"Who started it" is a derail. It doesn't add to the conversation. There are specific accusations being levied in this thread. We're better off addressing them directly.
posted by zarq at 5:02 PM on April 20, 2011


A question: some in this thread have argued that the notion of religion as "believing in an invisible sky wizard" is a straw man.

I've heard this argument before, but I've never heard it explained to my satisfaction. Can someone please provide a sensible definition of religion that doesn't involve belief in an invisible supernatural being?
posted by ixohoxi at 5:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Religion is the set of traditions that people take very seriously.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


A question: some in this thread have argued that the notion of religion as "believing in an invisible sky wizard" is a straw man.

I've heard this argument before, but I've never heard it explained to my satisfaction. Can someone please provide a sensible definition of religion that doesn't involve belief in an invisible supernatural being?


From what I've gathered, most religious people would say:

a) God doesn't live in the sky, in most religious cosmology these days
b) He/She is not a wizard, in any of the sense of that term
c) He/She can be visible, either personally or in the effects caused, or via intermediaries or visions or dreams

d) the term 'invisible sky wizard' is deliberately structured to have satirical connotations

That combination of factual incorrectness and intentional directed humor is more or less equivalent to the "so you think a monkey fucked another monkey and had a human kid" some Creationists use.

As for "invisible supernatural being" - again, invisible probably could be taken or left, but yeah, belief in a supernatural being is unlikely to be considered a straw man, except perhaps by pantheists, Buddhist groups, and the various mystics who think all categories break down/become one at the most basic structure of reality.


Religion is the set of traditions that people take very seriously.

Except when a new religion is wholeheartedly flinging tradition over the side, I'd say. Christianity was considered distinctly unpopular in ancient Rome precisely because it wasn't traditional, and most breakaway sects in any religion get the same onus.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:11 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also oppose theism because it is based on false premises and invalid logic. Even if every theist on the planet were perfectly sweet and inoffensive, I would still oppose theism on those grounds alone.

This is probably the most fundamental explanation for my attitude towards religion. It explains my contempt because, to me, intellectual honesty to one self is very important. I don't think there are many atheists who are atheists because they don't want to believe in eternal life, god, meaning, etc. But I believe there are many Christians/Muslims/etc who believe such things because they DO. Overgeneralization, I know. Not all fall into that category.
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:12 PM on April 20, 2011


gagglezoomer, I don't want to derail, but I do want to offer my experience to you in case you're interested. I was raised in an atheist (basically) household, I started going to church as an adult, and I just got baptized finally a couple months ago after really going back and forth on the whole issue for about a year and a half. I don't believe in Hell, I don't believe God wrote any books at all, I don't believe in the necessity for a savior or intercessor of any kind. If you want to hear more about why I decided to get baptized in the face of those beliefs, shoot me a memail. (not a veiled attempt at conversion, I promise.)
posted by KathrynT at 5:16 PM on April 20, 2011


Except when a new religion is wholeheartedly flinging tradition over the side, I'd say. Christianity was considered distinctly unpopular in ancient Rome precisely because it wasn't traditional, and most breakaway sects in any religion get the same onus.

Still a pretty serious thing to do. But on your point, I wonder if there is, or needs to be, a crossover point from "sect" to "religion". Time doesn't seem to be a factor in the legal sense, in many countries, for whatever relevance that might have.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:16 PM on April 20, 2011


Still a pretty serious thing to do.

Ha. Good point.

I wonder if there is, or needs to be, a crossover point from "sect" to "religion".

Not sure - I mean, for many people, 'religion' is used for a sufficiently large or 'established' organization, whereas 'sect' is peripheral, small, non-mainstream. I think there's a lot of hazy middle ground, myself.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:22 PM on April 20, 2011


I also oppose theism because it is based on false premises and invalid logic. Even if every theist on the planet were perfectly sweet and inoffensive, I would still oppose theism on those grounds alone.

This is probably the most fundamental explanation for my attitude towards religion.


Why is it that the people who most loudly oppose false premises and invalid logic in the context of religion seem so capable of ignoring or even using it in other contexts? It strikes me as a false pretense.

It explains my contempt because, to me, intellectual honesty to one self is very important.

You're the one who thinks Christians believe God wrote the Bible.
posted by The World Famous at 5:25 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


What is my responsibility to my fellow man, when I've been porn with privileges he lacks? Is it wrong for me to bask in my happiness, when I know that other people are suffering? Can I ever let myself relax and enjoy my life, or is that a crime against those others? How can I accept and love people who are different than me in some fundamental ways? How do I keep my self-respect and dignity without responding in some way to people who hurt me or treat me like shit? How can I stand up for my thoughts and beliefs without hurting others in turn?

These questions and more, many more, that I'm starting to find out for my own, and constantly realizing are questions at the heart of religion and philosophy -- areas I haven't really explored in depth.


Again, I think it's pushing it to lay these ideas at the feet of religion. If you haven't explored these questions in depth, that's your fault, not some fault of atheism; I've been an atheist all my life, and an anti-theist for more than half of it, and I think I've considered all these questions in quite some depth (and I hope I'll never hit bottom, either).

I think the thing you're missing here is that it's quite possible to come up with answers to these questions which lead to (and/or from) dislike for religion and religious answers, just as it's possible for Buddhists to dislike suffering and Christians to dislike our animal nature. If we've all got to have discussions in which everyone's beliefs are "respected rather than thrown to the side and stamped on", what's to be done with the many, many people on all sides whose sincere beliefs include the idea that some answers are worthy of that response?
posted by vorfeed at 5:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This kinda has the rhythm and meter of blah blah blah, "you just might be a red neck".
posted by rmmcclay at 5:40 PM on April 20, 2011


d) the term 'invisible sky wizard' is deliberately structured to have satirical connotations

Satire can be among the truest, most honest ways to communicate and describe reality. It cuts through bullshit-as-philosophical-idea because it carries with it both literal and critical meanings that other forms of language deliberately try to avoid. When theists choose to denigrate the meaning and usage of "invisible sky wizard", it indirectly shines a light on the theistic privilege that drives the use of alternative and less critical terminology.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


You're the one who thinks Christians believe God wrote the Bible.

Okay, I'll bite, who do Christians think wrote the Bible? Let me guess, it is a collection of writings made by several authors over a long period of time, which texts were then combined, edited, condensed, expanded and otherwise conformed by different groups of clergy on several later occasions? The writings themselves, however, were divinely inspired. For some reason the divine inspiration came too fast, however, so when the authors transcribed it, they made a bunch of mistakes.
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:42 PM on April 20, 2011


who do Christians think wrote the Bible?

Do you actually want an answer to this? I'm happy to answer, but not if it's a semantic trap.
posted by KathrynT at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2011


Rory -- thank you for asking -- I'm of the opinion that any fundamentalism is inherently, essentially bad, a kind of evil. Religious fundamentalists and anti-religious fundamentalists are both cut from the same "I'm better than you are and here's why" cloth. Being completely unwilling to even entertain the notion that other humans could possibly adhere to different frameworks of beliefs (or the absence of beliefs) makes the opinions of fundamentalists worth less in a true, honest, and robust discussion.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your idea of the perfect Christmas dinner is serving your Christian relatives... to the lions: You might just be an Atheist...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:45 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


who do Christians think wrote the Bible?

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:47 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've ever had an argument over whether the current politically correct term for God is "Invisible Sky Wizard" or "Flying Spaghetti Monster": You might just be an Atheist...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you've ever written a letter to your best friend from Hell and listed the return address as "Nowhere": You might just be an Atheist...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there was only one set of footprints in the sand because you never go to the beach: You might just be an Atheist...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:01 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nun: Let me get this straight: you don't believe in God because of "Alice in Wonderland"?

Loki: No, "Through the Looking Glass". That poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," that's an indictment of organized religion. The walrus, with his girth and his good nature, he obviously represents either Buddha, or, or with his tusks, the Hindu elephant god, Lord Ganesha. That takes care of your Eastern religions. Now the carpenter, which is an obvious reference to Jesus Christ, who was raised a carpenter's son, he represents the Western religions. Now in the poem, what do they do? What do they do? They, they dupe all these oysters into following them and then proceed to shuck and devour the helpless creatures en masse. I don't know what that says to you, but to me it says that following these faiths based on mythological figures ensures the destruction of one's inner being. Organized religion destroys who we are by inhibiting our actions, by inhibiting our decisions out of, out of fear of some, some intangible parent figure who, who shakes a finger at us from thousands of years ago and says, and says, "Do it... do it and I'll fuckin' spank you."

Bartleby: [Bartleby is listening from a nearby seat]
[quietly]: Oh, geez...

Nun: The way you put it... I never really thought about it like that before. What have I been doing with my life? What am I...

Loki: Yeah, I know. Listen, my advice to you: you take this money that you've been collecting for your parish, go get yourself a nice dress, you know? Fix yourself up. Find some man, find some woman, that you can connect with, even for a moment, 'cause that's really all that life is, Sister. It's a series of moments. Why don't you seize yours?
[the nun hesitates, then smiles, nods, and leaves]

Loki: That-a girl. Ah.
[he turns around and sits next to Bartleby with a grin on his face]

Bartleby: You know, here's what I don't get about you. You know for a fact that there is a God. You've been in His presence. He's spoken to you personally. Yet I just heard you claim to be an atheist.

Loki: I just like to fuck with the clergy, man. I just love it, I love to keep those guys on their toes.
posted by bwg at 6:02 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Can someone please provide a sensible definition of religion..."

The word religion means "to tie" or "re-tie" a person to whatever spiritual foundation you want to attribute to the the universe. That might mean "reality". This is straight-up Buddhism, but here we are, arguing about the (lack of) existence of a god that no one can define, while life goes on all around us. We've become so distracted from our own existence that we need an outside force to help us focus on our lives. Arguably, this situation doesn't require the existence of a supreme deity.

My contention would be that if someone's idea of religion is convincing you that their version of "god" is the right one, they are not only barking up the wrong tree, but they haven't thought this through. This behaviour is evidence of a simplistic view of "god" that someone is using to advance an agenda, usually that of an institution to which they "belong".
posted by sneebler at 6:04 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're turning what should be a 12-hour work day into a 16-hour one because you're convinced that someone cares about your half-baked analysis of why religion is a crock...

you might be an atheist.
posted by gagglezoomer at 6:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


sneebler, that is not a sensible definition of religion.

That is, it's not a definition that's useful for sorting observed phenomena into categories labeled "religion" and "not-religion", and therefore not a definition that's remotely useful in these kinds of debates. And not a definition at all, really.

I've noticed this tendency among religious liberals and "spiritual-but-not-religious" folks: the habit of dismissing unsavory elements of religion as something other than religion. "That's not real religion, man, that's just a perversion of the One Universal Grooviness—those people just don't get it..."

Defining things in terms of your own value judgments is of limited utility, especially if you expect other people—who may not share your value judgments—to understand your definitions.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


One consequence of my simple behavioral definition of religion is that, when people describe art or science or philosophy or science-fiction fandom as their religion--they might be exaggerating, but they're not speaking figuratively.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2011


I've noticed this tendency among religious liberals and "spiritual-but-not-religious" folks: the habit of dismissing unsavory elements of religion as something other than religion. "That's not real religion, man, that's just a perversion of the One Universal Grooviness—those people just don't get it..."

Right, so what you're saying is that one person can't define what religion means to other people. Now take it to its logical conclusion, which is that just because a lot of people practice religion shittily and stupidly doesn't mean that the other people in that religion are either shitty or stupid.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2011


Blazecock Pileon: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

You'll note that that doesn't say anything about the Bible per se.
posted by koeselitz at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2011


"Who started it" is a derail. It doesn't add to the conversation. There are specific accusations being levied in this thread. We're better off addressing them directly.

Yeah, but it's the same accusations that get levied every time, and they're coming up because they are a defensive measure.

Sometimes "who started it" is important. Because maybe it's best to just drop it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2011


Right, so what you're saying is that one person can't define what religion means to other people.

No, that's not what I'm saying.

Now take it to its logical conclusion, which is that just because a lot of people practice religion shittily and stupidly doesn't mean that the other people in that religion are either shitty or stupid.

Unless the defining characteristic of religion—whatever that is—turns out to be shitty and stupid.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:29 PM on April 20, 2011


Unless the defining characteristic of religion—whatever that is—turns out to be shitty and stupid.

If you don't know what the defining characteristic of religion is, what makes you think there is one? This is something which has been debated for millennia, without a clear answer ever arising.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:31 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


ixohoxi: “That's certainly preferable to being fundamentalist, misogynist, and imperalist—but I don't just oppose theism because it often leads to morally repellent political views. I also oppose theism because it is based on false premises and invalid logic. Even if every theist on the planet were perfectly sweet and inoffensive, I would still oppose theism on those grounds alone.”

I used to have a professor in college who had a saying: "there is such a thing as irrationality in the pursuit of rationality." That's what this seems like every time I see it. Rationality stares at the abyss and can't say whether there's a god; the question about whether there's a god is, I believe, extra-rational. It's not something we can ever have evidence of or even really reason about, at least not its ground.

But some people feel the need to bend rationality into irrationality because they're trying so hard to praise it. I think what we have to confess is that there are limits to rationality. It's just fine if you believe it's silly to posit things willy-nilly beyond those limits – I think that's perfectly fair. But "it's irrational!" isn't really a valid criticism of religious ideas, because religious ideas accept that the universe is basically irrational by human standards.

And unfortunately there aren't many answers to that. I'm not being disingenuous when I say "unfortunately" – I have a philosophical bent myself, and it'd be much more comforting to spurn religion entirely – and I really would prefer to have an answer to these questions. But there seem to be some limits to what rationally can be determined. And I don't think it's internally inconsistent to believe that beyond those limits lies irrationality – or, rather, I don't think that internal inconsistency is necessarily irrational itself.
posted by koeselitz at 6:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is something which has been debated for millennia, without a clear answer ever arising.

Religion is that, without which: You might just be an Atheist.

Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:34 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


You'll note that that doesn't say anything about the Bible per se.

Ah, the whole "quoting-out-of-context" argument. Love it.

That part of 2 Peter is actually just one of a few bits in the New Testament that discuss the word of God, the main authority from which the Scriptures ("The Holy Bible", as such) derive their own authority. See 2 Timothy 3:16 and John 10:24-25.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:38 PM on April 20, 2011


Blazecock Pileon, your last link doesn't seem to have anything to do with the point you're trying to make.
posted by Dasein at 6:47 PM on April 20, 2011


me: “You'll note that that doesn't say anything about the Bible per se.”

Blazecock Pileon: “Ah, the whole "quoting-out-of-context" argument. Love it.”

Well, look, it's not just you, friend. In fact, I hardly ever say this stuff to atheists. Usually I'm tired and cranky and complaining to Christians that they're totally misinterpreting the Bible. Which frankly annoys me a hell of a lot more.

“That part of 2 Peter is actually just one of a few bits in the New Testament that discuss the word of God, the main authority from which the Scriptures ("The Holy Bible", as such) derive their own authority. See 2 Timothy 3:16 and John 10:24-25.”

Yeah, Christians quote those ones at me, too. And I note that it's incomprehensible to do so. I mean, John is a mystical book, as can be divined from chapter 10, and I don't see how anybody can take anything in that chapter as specifically applying to the Bible, in part or as a whole. And 2 Timothy 3:16 talks about scriptures – so there are two problems. First of all, a few verses earlier Paul says that they've been taught the scriptures since they were young, so these scriptures can't possibly be the letters or even the gospels. The obvious implication this verse is getting at is the Torah and the books of the prophets. Second of all, even that isn't certain; the word is "graphe," a frankly rather airy word related to "logos" and meaning something like simply "writing" or "writings," and frankly someone like myself (who tends to believe that these holy writings are saying more that people take them to be saying) is likely to see a whole lot more in that than a simple reference to the Bible.
posted by koeselitz at 6:48 PM on April 20, 2011


Rationality stares at the abyss and can't say whether there's a god;

Yes, but it can say there is no evidence that there is a god.

the question about whether there's a god is, I believe, extra-rational

Not really. There's just no available evidence that makes such a belief rational.
posted by gagglezoomer at 6:49 PM on April 20, 2011


I think what we have to confess is that there are limits to rationality.

I'd argue some finer points of that language, but yeah, I basically do confess that.

It's just fine if you believe it's silly to posit things willy-nilly beyond those limits – I think that's perfectly fair.

That is precisely what I believe.

Perhaps you're using the word "rationality" in a different way (and perhaps even a more technically correct way) than I am, but according to my understanding of the concept, believing in things without evidence is irrational. Celestial teapots, and all that.

I don't maintain that there absolutely isn't a god—at least not any more strongly than I maintain that there absolutely isn't a celestial teapot. If you want to be absolutely precise, I'm an agnostic—I believe that it's not possible to know whether there's a god—and I put those who maintain that there absolutely isn't a god in the same category as those who maintain that there definitely is a god. Both presume knowledge they don't really have.

But since there is no reason to believe in a god—no supporting evidence for the claim—we are bound to the default position, which is skepticism. The alternative—to accept unsubstantiated claims without evidence, even those that contradict each other—leads almost immediately to intellectual schizophrenia, and makes any attempt at a sensible model of the universe futile. So it seems to me that it's necessary to maintain skepticism as the default position (with regard to any claim—not just gods and teapots) for practical reasons, if nothing else.

because religious ideas accept that the universe is basically irrational by human standards.

The principles of logic are axiomatic. If you don't accept those axioms, then We Have Nothing More To Talk About. (only partly kidding :)
posted by ixohoxi at 6:49 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


(On the "scripture-is-god-breathed" thing: I mean, the main thing is that evangelicals love to quote all kinds of New-Testament verses about "scriptures," but it just doesn't make historical sense. The letter-writers clearly didn't view what they were writing as scripture as they wrote it; and in every case it's pretty clear they can't even mean the gospels. So there's a huge disconnect there. Just a pet peeve of mine.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:51 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, look, it's not just you, friend... Yeah, Christians quote those ones at me, too. And I note that it's incomprehensible to do so.

I'm not quoting out of context, friend. I'm actually quite surprised to learn that the idea of Biblical literalism would be controversial knowledge on Metafilter. To conservative Christians, the bulk of whom constitute modern Christianity, the Bible (as such) really is considered the literal word of God, even if transmuted through human beings: There really was a Noah's Ark. Jesus really did heal lepers. Etc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:56 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


me: “the question about whether there's a god is, I believe, extra-rational”

gagglezoomer: “Not really. There's just no available evidence that makes such a belief rational.”

Well, to put it in terms that might make more sense: I don't think the proposition "there is a god" is falsifiable at all. I don't think there could possibly be such thing as evidence for the existence of god, that is. And I really believe this; I can't think of any event or physical manifestation that I could credibly account as evidence for the existence of God. I mean, if a voice cried from heaven, "I am your god! I will now make it rain donuts!" and then suddenly it rained donuts, I'd think: "wow, some dude just got an airplane, a loudspeaker, and a whole lot of donuts." Even if I lack rational, non-God explanations for crazy events, I still assume that there are rational explanations. Heck, even if a voice said: "I am your god! I will now commence a series of unbelievable miracles which will serve as proof of my divinity!" and then actually proceeded to do so, I'd be looking for the smoke and mirrors, frankly. There is no possible evidence that anyone could show me that would be adequate evidence to prove that there is an actual, all-knowing, all-powerful god.

Blazecock Pileon: “I'm not quoting out of context, friend. I'm actually quite surprised to learn that the idea of Biblical literalism would be controversial knowledge on Metafilter. To conservative Christians, the bulk of whom constitute modern Christianity, the Bible (as such) really is considered the literal word of God, even if transmuted through human beings: There really was a Noah's Ark. Jesus really did heal lepers. Etc.”

Maybe we don't really need to go over this, since it sounds like you agree with me.
posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think what we have to confess is that there are limits to rationality. It's just fine if you believe it's silly to posit things willy-nilly beyond those limits – I think that's perfectly fair. But "it's irrational!" isn't really a valid criticism of religious ideas, because religious ideas accept that the universe is basically irrational by human standards.

The thing is, religion started out making rational claims. Early Christians believed there was actually a man named Jesus who actually (literally) rose from the dead. Many -- perhaps most -- Christians believe that to this very day. This is not a claim "beyond" rationality. It is just a claim that's obviously false (where "false" is understood to mean absurdly improbable.) They also believed/believe things like God literally thinks (and literally said!) that homosexual behavior is sinful, that Jesus is coming back (again) etc. These beliefs are now attributed only to fundamentalists, but they used to be just called "Christian." And "invisible sky wizard" is a completely reasonable satire of such beliefs.

Now there are a lot of people for various cultural and emotional reasons who still want to "believe" but don't actually believe, you know? And they insist that they are Christians and demand that nobody can say they aren't. And fine, whatever, call yourself what you will. Redefine "God" until it's synonymous with nature or until it's entirely "beyond the limits of rationality." Congratulations, nobody can prove you wrong now. You've attached old words to completely new, completely unrelated meanings. Protest when atheists confuse you with what "Christian" used to mean until you changed it. Protest when atheists confuse you with the other Christians who still believe the old claims of Christianity. Protest when other Christians insist that you aren't really Christian. But don't get offended when we criticize those old beliefs and pretend that nobody believes that stuff and it has nothing to do with Christianity.

Less than half of Americans believe in evolution. More than half of Americans, including the president and a supermajority of Congresspeople continue to oppose gay marriage. The literate, scientific, smart Mefi-Christians are exceptional. You do not represent Christians as a whole. The "fundamentalists" are not exceptions -- their numbers are greater than yours. Their beliefs are not straw men, they are the traditional and commonly accepted beliefs. They raise their children to believe those beliefs, they vote on those beliefs, and they govern with those beliefs. You do not need to stand up and shout that what atheists are criticizing is not what you believe, not every time, not when atheists explicitly declare that they aren't talking about your kind of beliefs.
posted by callmejay at 7:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


That is, it's not a definition that's useful for sorting observed phenomena into categories labeled "religion" and "not-religion"...

Part of the problem here is that people want universal, one-size-fits-all definitions that haven't actually helped anyone understand their personal reality since thousands of years ago ever. And look at us now, still trying to find and codify answers from other people's experience. Wikipedia has a workable definition of religion, although you won't find it very useful either.
posted by sneebler at 7:09 PM on April 20, 2011


Part of the problem here is that people want universal, one-size-fits-all definitions

No, I want definitions that actually mean something and are useful as definitions—definitions which can definitively state, to the extent possible, whether a given thing is or isn't religion, and which therefore have to power to establish what it is we are (or aren't) actually talking about. Not handwavey feel-good nonsense that does nothing to clarify the conversation.

The world "religion", obviously, can mean very many different things. And that's fine—that's how words are. The important thing, when involved in detailed and complicated discussions such as this one, is to be clear about what definitions you're using.

People have objected to my definition of religion as "belief in an invisible supernatural being". I asked for an alternative definition that would satisfy those objectors—not because I intend to accept that alternative at face value, but because I hope it will help me understand their objection. That's all.

Words have no intrinsic meaning; they only have the meaning(s) that we assign to them. (That said, assigning completely made-up meanings to words—such as saying that "religion" has nothing to do with belief in supernatural beings, in obvious contradiction of the way the word's been used for centuries—is just a dishonest rhetorical tactic.)
posted by ixohoxi at 7:23 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everybody sort of has to find some way of doing it; for me, for example, it's meant making it as clear as possible to
my parents that playing their inane "praise and worship" music in my presence is the fastest way to render me violently
angry and make me spit expletives
.
[..]
I believe we should struggle mightily for that friendliness. And I believe it's more difficult to achieve than ever before. We all trumpet the wonderful way that the internet has connected us all – [..] all of us are now allowed to
avoid entire groups of people with whom we disagree. Atheists don't have to talk to religious people – and religious
people aren't required to talk to atheists.
Koeselitz, that is so well expressed it has inspired me, thank you!


I'd like to describe a strikingly similar emotive context, that has happened to me in a field not often immediately related to religion.

At that time I was working for a person whose eloquence I knew I admired, and whose arguments were, imho, so well formed that they were worth being listened to just for the fashion in which they were exposed.

There also were some other agreement points between me and that boss of mine; that probably made me feel in a rather pleasant "comfort zone", which I think is (most of the times) uncounsciously seeked by humankind so as to avoid the stress of emotively expressed strong disagreement.

One day I was working on a project that required collecting some data and analyzing it, in order to reach some evidence-based conclusions; that, I think, relates to the work of many scientific minded people in Mefi and elsewhere.

On that occasion, I came to the conclusion that the data as we had it, was insufficient to drawn even a rough estimate of one dimension of the phenomenon being studied. Other colleagues either agreed with me, or thought that indeed there was too much
room for error to draw a sound conclusion, which of course was to be published ; therefore we also were a little bit worried about making statements we were not reasonably confident of.

There came the boss, who briefly commenented "feh, just add a few percentage points and be done with it, i think its underestimated". Many wouldn't think twice about pleasing the boss, but not people who had spent not less than a week troubling themselves
with the correctness of the estimators, the presence of interesting outliers, the normalization of the data and other statistics related concerns.

The argument of the boss was rather simple: "it's shit data anyway, so adding or subtracting some will not change much". What was striking was that he didn't care to reveal us that he tought the data was "shit anyway", and even more striking was the fact
that he choosed to use it anyway.

The explanation for this choice was even more disturbing to me: he cited Karl Popper, saying something along the line that he distrusted inductive conclusions (yet, he was asking us to draw them, with data he considered shit anyhow) and that, indeed,
"truth" doesn't exist, and reality as we know it only formed on a temporary consensus.

Ok so far, but if one thinks so, why did he nonetheless willingly used data he knew as unreliable? That didn't matter much, exactly because "truth doesn't exist anyhow" so anybody can utter anything.

That much managed to anger me; of course I could have just ignored the incident, for "business is still business" so who cares about what he thinks. Yet, it become evident to me I was working for a quack, using pseudo science to give a smell of credibility
to questionable statements.

Clearly, I can't blame but myself for becoming angry and starting to make snarky remarks, that eventually have escalated in a reciprocal mistrust. It has turned emotive, but exactly because we entered into some heated exchange I have a vivid recollection
of it; had it been an internet quarrel, I probably would have forgotten about it.

And because of the fact that circumstances had forced both us to work togheter even after the incident, we were also forced to find some way to communicate without quarreling, even if there was no formal reciprocal recognition of our deep differences, and
we both probably think we are damn right, so damn right. Unfortunately, the business environment is often unforgiving of differences, for everybody should be focused on "getting things done" to begin with and set aside differences, but that's pure theory, in pratice
differences will eventually emerge.

And indeed the internet age is allowing us to cage ourselves into our favourites environments, to avoid confrontation. Yet without going through confrontations, nobody really learns how to manage the emotive parts in "real life" and to conclude that
after all, we all are human beings...and that much should be a solid common ground, once one manages to understand this overlooked commonality.
posted by elpapacito at 7:48 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn formatting!
posted by elpapacito at 7:48 PM on April 20, 2011


Well, setting aside your extreme example, would you seriously doubt scientific research and analysis by any scientist who is not an atheist?

In many fields, in the year 2011, yes.


Gagglezoomer, this a statement betraying a heck of a lot of... inexperience with people. People are good at compartmentalizing, and for the most part, a person's achievements and beliefs about something just tell you about that particular thing. Achievements in science only tell you that a scientist is good at finding new results and writing lots of papers about them. A person who is a practicing Christian only tells you that they are good at adhering to the tenets of their faith. A person who is an atheist only tells you that the person lacks a belief in God. A person who is a chessmaster only tells you that they're good at chess, not that they're a master of strategy and logical thinking.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that "everyone would be an atheist if they could" [ie, in the absence of social pressure or expectation to believe otherwise]. People are perfectly capable of coexisting with theism alongside science and technology. Heck, scientists and technologists are perfectly capable of being theists, even if you think that is intellectually wrong: even if you think there's a contradiction, the human mind is perfectly capable of dealing with both simultaneously.
posted by deanc at 7:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then can we just ignore those people? They're just fucking up the analysis. When someone says to me, they're "Christian" it should mean they believe the Bible is true. Otherwise, what's the point of it all.

Wow. You're really not helping your hypothesis that atheists are smarter than theists.
posted by straight at 8:19 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Studies comparing religious belief and IQ. Personally, I could care less, I think spirituality or the lack thereof is more about the type of thinker you are than your raw intelligence.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:20 PM on April 20, 2011


People are good at compartmentalizing, and for the most part, a person's achievements and beliefs about something just tell you about that particular thing.

Yet I allow for some reason, and in spite of your comment continue to allow, my evaluation of an individual's opinions on a particular subject, especially an individual whose training requires extra-normal critical analysis, to "infect" my evaluation of a completely unrelated set of opinions by the same individual! Sociology, earth science, economist, etc: as to scientists in those disciplines, their scientific conclusions it really wouldn't matter to me whether or not they were theist/atheist. But for some things, physics, in particular, if you tell me you believe, based on your observations of the available evidence, there is a god, I would doubt your underlying, unrelated science. That's just my opinion. Kind of like when you find out someone is a member of the Tea Party, I guess. Doesn't mean anything they have to say about politics is asinine, but it makes you wonder...
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:20 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Satire can be among the truest, most honest ways to communicate and describe reality.

And it can also be a way to shut down debate by implicitly setting certain concepts and ideas beyond the pale of discussion. Given the emotional white heat that often surrounds these debates, take a wild guess how it's usually applied.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The overwhelming majority of text in the Bible neither is nor purports to be prophecy. There's historiography, popular legends, ritual and legal texts, wisdom literature, a bunch of at times somewhat crabby letters....
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:20 PM on April 20, 2011


Besides which, I thought the contention was around the idea that God physically scribed the Bible; even that text there doesn't say he did, just that the "Holy Spirit" had spoken through them.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:23 PM on April 20, 2011


Them = all those people that wrote the various passages and books that would eventually be assembled into a bible.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:24 PM on April 20, 2011


"No, I want definitions that actually mean something" TO ME.

Seriously, I don't think this is a fruitful approach. This is like saying, "I need a definition of animals before I can observe those creatures frolicking in the forest."

What I was trying to say above was that combination of belief, ritual, and personal experience that (re) engages you in your life/reality, while vague, is as close as you're going to get to a useful definition, as opposed to an absolute definition - of which there are plenty.
posted by sneebler at 8:26 PM on April 20, 2011


The thing is, religion started out making rational claims. Early Christians believed there was actually a man named Jesus who actually (literally) rose from the dead. Many -- perhaps most -- Christians believe that to this very day. This is not a claim "beyond" rationality. It is just a claim that's obviously false (where "false" is understood to mean absurdly improbable.)

Remind me how you calculated the probability of that.
posted by straight at 8:30 PM on April 20, 2011


What I was trying to say above was that combination of belief, ritual, and personal experience that (re) engages you in your life/reality, while vague, is as close as you're going to get to a useful definition, as opposed to an absolute definition - of which there are plenty.

I disagree, and I'd suggest that you should stop to think about how this definition looks to those who aren't religious. The idea that we're not "(re) engaged with life/reality" and/or that we don't have a "combination of belief, ritual, and personal experience" that does that for us is ridiculous.

It's not that powerful depths of life-connecting belief, ritual, and personal experience don't exist for us, it's that they're not religious. Unless your definition can account for that -- for the fact that we're not a bunch of empty half-people, frankly! -- it's not going to convince me, or anyone like me.
posted by vorfeed at 8:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Eh, the video wasn't that great. But it made me grateful I grew up in an open-minded family.

That's the problem with a hateful ideology like Christianity though -- it's based on the notion of the saved and the un-saved, the clean and the un-clean. Judaism and Islam have some of this, but they aren't as explicit in saying you go to hell if you aren't with us. Islam acknowledges Jesus and Abraham as prophets, Judaism doesn't condemn non-Jews to hell explicity (although not being "chosen" must kind of suck by definition).

Sure, atheists are shrill sometimes. While Christians run around telling me I will suffer for eternity because I don't worship the skygod of their choosing.

What's worse than shrill? Bigoted? Hateful? Godawfully annoying? Mind-blowingly ignorant of their own texts and traditions?

All of the above.

Sorry, but the burden isn't on me to be "serious" and "respectful" when a Christian comes to the table with a dipshit notion as laughable as "eternal damnation."
posted by bardic at 8:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Besides which, I thought the contention was around the idea that God physically scribed the Bible; even that text there doesn't say he did, just that the "Holy Spirit" had spoken through them.

*sigh*

Anyway, the Christian notion that the Bible is God's word made physical isn't an idea spun from whole cloth, e.g. Mormonism's golden plates, a.k.a. the "Golden Bible".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2011


But for some things, physics, in particular, if you tell me you believe, based on your observations of the available evidence, there is a god, I would doubt your underlying, unrelated science.

Could you accept that a physicist might believe in God, not based on available physical evidence (because none exists, I'm pretty sure) but because he believes there is something outside that evidence (outside science); that is, a spirit or force or organizing principle or vast-alien-living-intelligence-system which is beyond our ability to measure ... ?
posted by philip-random at 8:39 PM on April 20, 2011


Besides which, I thought the contention was around the idea that God physically scribed the Bible; even that text there doesn't say he did, just that the "Holy Spirit" had spoken through them.

The one time I really pursued this issue with a True Believer Christian friend was long ago and far away. But as I recall, he finally just pointed me to the third and fourth last verses of the Book of Revelations, which are also the third and fourth last verses of the whole Bible. They state as follows:

22:18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, may God add to him the plagues which are written in this book.

22:19 If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.


Of course, my immediate response was, "But are they talking about the whole Book or just the Book of Revelations?" My friend looked at me rather thoughtfully almost said something, thought some more, then finally shrugged.
posted by philip-random at 8:47 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could you accept that a physicist might believe in God, not based on available physical evidence

Of course I could accept that. All I'm saying is that it would affect their credibility with me. I myself believe all sorts of things for which I have no evidence. For example, I have no direct evidence that members of Metafilter earn more money than the average resident of the planet Earth, but I believe this to be the case. However, this isn't some fundamental claim about the nature of all things and worlds, so I feel I have a broader prerogative to casually make such assertions. When it comes to physics, I would expect that a person who makes it his or her profession to understand the fundamental nature of our universe would not rely on evidence "outside science" to explain anything with respect thereto, especially and including the CREATION OF ALL THINGS.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:54 PM on April 20, 2011


Anyway, the Christian notion that the Bible is God's word made physical isn't an idea spun from whole cloth

Of course it isn't; I was just under the impression this row arose over the question of whether or not most Christians believe God took pen in hand and wrote the bible. I just didn't see how a passage about divine inspiration was somehow proof that Christians believe God himself actually wrote the bible. But if that wasn't your intention in the first place, and it's the idea of a holy spirit existing, and then compelling men to write these texts, that you take issue with, alright.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:54 PM on April 20, 2011


> Can someone please provide a sensible definition of religion that doesn't involve belief in an invisible supernatural being?

Any definition of religion that claims to be sensible has to allow for non-theistic religions because there are a lot of groups of people with beliefs and practices we label as religions that don't involve belief in an invisible supernatural being. The most prominent wide-spread proselytizing religion that falls into this category is Buddhism, but if small-scale non-proselytizing ethnic religions count as religions, there are more of them.

(No, for the two millionth %#%$& time, Buddhists don't believe the Buddha is God. As I understand it, they believe that the Buddha was an ordinary person who "woke up." Part of his "awakening" involved realizing that the Hindu deities didn't exist. They believe this something they should try to emulate. Early Christian missionaries apparently thought the Cherokee would be easy converts because they 'didn't have a religion,' that is, the missionaries defined religion the way you do, and the Cherokee didn't believe in deities. They were wrong about that.)

There might be things you'd object to about Buddhism or any other non-theistic religion, but belief in the 'invisible sky wizard' is not one of them.

Various people, mostly anthropologists, have attempted to come up with definitions of religion that include everything we would label as religion, and tried to identify what they have in common. I'm not claiming that I can come up with something better or more sensible, but if you try to define religion inclusively, in a way that doesn't exclude a lot of religions, you end up with something like the following:
People who share a common religion ...

1) share a core set of beliefs and assumptions
2) share a common set of ethical beliefs or values
3) practice or participate in a common set rituals
4) identify themselves as [whatever the religion is called]
Even 4) is fuzzy. Not all religions have names. Being an Xian, where X is an ethnic group, can involve subscribing to core Xian beliefs and values and participating Xian rituals. But you can still be an Xian without subscribing to all the beliefs a practices being an Xian usually entails (even though doing so may make you a bad Xian in the eyes of other X's).

My point, though, is that belief in gods, goddesses or 'sky wizards' is not the defining characteristic of religion, because, while common, it's not not universal.
posted by nangar at 8:57 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


. But for some things, physics, in particular, if you tell me you believe, based on your observations of the available evidence, there is a god, I would doubt your underlying, unrelated science

Physicists lack a belief in God at roughly the same rate as other academic (hard and soft) scientific disciplines. Being an atheist doesn't mean that someone is a logic thinker. Being a physicist doesn't automatically imply someone's an atheist. You make the basic mistake of thinking that "religion is just what people use to explain things they don't understand and don't need it once they can understand something." Not to mention that non-belief in God isn't a belief system. I think you're making an attempt at trying to impose you view of the way you think the world should work ignoring the way it actually does work. People aren't required to be atheists to be scientists, nor does producing scientific results "naturally" lead to atheism, even if you would like both things to be true. Belief in God just is what it is-- if you want to engage a believer who happens to be a scientist, do that. It probably doesn't affect his scientific results and paper output except insofar as he might have some kind of "God wants me to be the best physicist I can and understand the universe" sort of thing.

Plus, at the end of the day, it's the physicist who understands physics, not you, so I'm going to put more trust in his scientific results than in yours, a non-scientist who happens to be an atheist.
posted by deanc at 9:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


callmejay: “The thing is, religion started out making rational claims. Early Christians believed there was actually a man named Jesus who actually (literally) rose from the dead. Many -- perhaps most -- Christians believe that to this very day.”

I'll just say: I believe this, too.

“This is not a claim "beyond" rationality. It is just a claim that's obviously false (where "false" is understood to mean absurdly improbable.)”

On the contrary, I really have a hard time seeing it as falsifiable. If people came to you and told you this guy rose from the dead, would you believe it? If I showed you scientific evidence, would you believe it? No – maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that a hell of a lot of people would say: "no, this is some new phenomenon we're seeing here, and it's interesting, but we should study it to find out the cause." And there would be no point at which science would give up and say: "that's it! There are no rational explanations! We're in the presence of a miracle, people!" – that's not what science does, is it? Should it be?

callmejay: “Now there are a lot of people for various cultural and emotional reasons who still want to "believe" but don't actually believe, you know? And they insist that they are Christians and demand that nobody can say they aren't.”

Look, this old line of argument doesn't work, I don't think. It presumes a lot of things. For one thing, it presumes that we have a whole lot more scientific knowledge about matters of faith than we did back in the old days. But we don't – almost all of this stuff that people see as "proof" that religion makes no sense has been around for centuries at least.

What's more important, there are many, many Christians – and rational people, many of them! – who believe in the same things, and in the same way, that Christians always have. And, to make a point that I'm forever making here one more time, because I think it's important: the teaching of the Church – the catholic church, the orthodox church, all the older churches – has always been that faith does not deal with matters that are observable. People don't seem to believe this, but it's true. It was St Thomas Aquinas' teaching; and in teaching it, he quoted St Gregory the Great; and St Gregory the Great, in turn, quoted the apostle Paul: "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." You may think that that's a silly interpretation of that verse (many do) but it's been the interpretation of the church regularly for two millennia.

So what I'm giving here is in no sense a modern equivocation to rationalize belief in an outmoded system. Said system never claimed to make statements about things which can admit of observation and scientific study. In fact, St Thomas Aquinas – a man whom I think I'm warranted in calling the most important theologian of the past two thousand years, and the guiding light at least of the Catholic Church's theology – went so far as to say that, if faith is of things which admit of scientific investigation, it is not faith, but rather conjecture, and probably bad conjecture.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Being a physicist doesn't automatically imply someone's an atheist.

Not quite automatically, but it would be a pretty good guess, especially if they are well regarded. A 1998 study published in Nature stated that 7% of scientists who were members of the National Academy of Science expressed a personal belief in God. If history is any guide, that figure has likely decreased even further in the past 13 years. Sorry, dude. God is dead.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:17 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


An idea I ran across a while ago was the distinction between religions of belief and religions of practice. It's probably a continuum between the two with one end of the spectrum being saved by faith Christianity and the other end of the spectrum Buddhist and Jewish humanists who say that living a virtuous life is more important than your opinion on metaphysics.

Then, of course, there are the philosophical pantheists who say that god is a useful hypothetical solution for certain problems in philosophy, rather like the way superluminal particles keep making a mess of theoretical physics, which probably best describes Einstein. A lot of liberal religious apologetics seems to bend toward philosophical pantheism rather than a personal God these days. And there's metaphoric gods as a way to wrap our minds around unnameable and indescribable mystical experience. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I'm not convinced that the teapot offers much more than an aesthetic argument against belief in some of these concepts. A prime mover certainly isn't exceptionally worse these days than branes, singularities, wormholes, or quantum foams which are all speculative and possibly unscientific hypotheses. The teapot says we shouldn't believe in them either, which makes any favoritism or bias beyond, "the fuck if I know" hypocritical.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


A 1998 study published in Nature stated that 7% of scientists who were members of the National Academy of Science expressed a personal belief in God.

I've only ever once met an NAS member in my life. And I know a lot of scientists. Across all academic scientists, you get about the same belief rate even as in the social scientists. My guess would be simply that you find high rates of unbelief at certain high levels of professional academic achievement, though I couldn't say for sure.

I'm thinking of this study, but results differ.

But a lot of atheists go through a stage where they are really, really sure that mankind will just "outgrow" a belief in God once we become scientifically and technologically advanced enough. This tends not to happen. Humans don't work like that.
posted by deanc at 9:29 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


gagglezoomer: “Not quite automatically, but it would be a pretty good guess, especially if they are well regarded. A 1998 study published in Nature stated that 7% of scientists who were members of the National Academy of Science expressed a personal belief in God. If history is any guide, that figure has likely decreased even further in the past 13 years. Sorry, dude. God is dead.”

Have you read that passage in Nietzsche? It's worth reading. It's a lament. Nietzsche basically calls anyone who's okay with the death of god an idiot, and describes a world in which vulgar fools laugh about religion and joke about "finding God" by saying: "what, is he lost?"

To Nietzsche, that world was a kind of nightmare. I don't think people take that to heart quite enough.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


For the record, my anecdotal experience with literature scholars and philosophers is that they are almost to the last man non-believers, while scientists tend to be a bit more diverse in that area-- so if anything, I'd argue the opposite, from at least the perspective practicing scholars. Humanist studies almost seem to select for atheism more because the "answers" people tend to "find" in religion are felt by academic humanists to be "answered" by their own studies, whereas scientists will be more likely to find something in religious belief that fulfills them that they can't "get" in their own field. That's all anecdotal.
posted by deanc at 9:34 PM on April 20, 2011


To Nietzsche, that world was a kind of nightmare.

A nightmare, yes, but not all nightmares are prophecy, as is the case with Nietzsche's lament, so we can see with historical clarity.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:46 PM on April 20, 2011


Also, this line of argument strikes as somewhat internally inconsistent. There is no branch of science whatsoever that would accept "a statistically-significant majority of smart people agree this is true!" as any kind if evidence. So why would it be an indication of anything in this case? Maybe we can get past this is we religious people admit that most religious people are misguided, and haven't even read the book they cling to. Neither is that an indication of truth.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 PM on April 20, 2011


To Nietzsche, that world was a kind of nightmare. I don't think people take that to heart quite enough.

To Nietzsche, nihilism was a nightmare. He made it perfectly clear that a life without God or religion is not necessarily nilhilistic, however. This is what he said about the death of God a little later on, for example:

"Are we perhaps still too much under the impression of the initial consequences of this event—and these initial consequences, the consequences for ourselves, are quite the opposite of what one might perhaps expect: They are not at all sad and gloomy but rather like a new and scarcely describable kind of light, happiness, relief, exhilaration, encouragement, dawn.

Indeed, we philosophers and "free spirits" feel, when we hear the news that "the old god is dead," as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart overflows with gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger; all the daring of the lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again; perhaps there has never yet been such an "open sea."
posted by vorfeed at 9:50 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


In my purely anecdotal experience, most religious studies professors are atheists or some watery mish-mash of faiths that would be considered "atheist" by most Christians. S'true.
posted by bardic at 9:55 PM on April 20, 2011


Sorry, dude. God is dead.

This always gets tossed into the same mental bucket as "the author is dead," "the Enlightenment is dead," "metanarratives are dead," and various other declarations made by small, usually mentally introverted groups of Western commentators.

No, actually, it's dead for you and the statistically miniscule number of people whose worldview you share. Yet for better or for worse, God (or gods, or the supernatural more generally) is alive and well for literally billions of people worldwide, and a living factor in decisions made from the Washington Beltway to the mountains of Kandahar Province. You can argue that that's a bad thing or a good thing or some mixture of both, but "God is dead" in this day and age comes across as just as hilariously naive as belief in God appeared to Nietzsche himself back in the day.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:57 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm. To be more clear, that first sentence should read For me this always gets tossed into the same mental bucket....
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:02 PM on April 20, 2011


Jesus Christ, "mentally introverted"? I'm not even sure what I meant by that, I'm going to sleep now....
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Me too. I hope you don't have any nightmares about godless Afghan mentally introverted nihilists, braving the Open Sea of Philosophy.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:06 PM on April 20, 2011


straight: Remind me how you calculated the probability of that.

Really? How I calculated the probability of someone rising from the dead three days later? Do you actually need to see my work to agree that it's wildly improbable? Come on.

koeselitz: On the contrary, I really have a hard time seeing it as falsifiable. If people came to you and told you this guy rose from the dead, would you believe it?

Not only wouldn't I believe it (we're talking about a Jesus-like actually dead for 3 days kind of thing, not a crazy scientifically hibernated guy and a defibrillator scenario) but I'd bet every penny I have and give you 1000-to-1 odds. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't all of us, if we're being honest?

If I showed you scientific evidence, would you believe it? No – maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that a hell of a lot of people would say: "no, this is some new phenomenon we're seeing here, and it's interesting, but we should study it to find out the cause." And there would be no point at which science would give up and say: "that's it! There are no rational explanations! We're in the presence of a miracle, people!" – that's not what science does, is it? Should it be?

If miracles were something that actually happened on a semi-regular basis, they would show up in the data, and eventually science would recognize that hey, sometimes miracles happen. Science as we know it has some kind of bias against the supernatural, but that bias is not an a priori assumption, but the result of thousands of years of observing empirical reality. The truth is that as soon as we start measuring things, the miracles (and magic, and psychic abilities, etc.) just poof! vanish. Calling the assumption that there's no such thing as the supernatural "reasonable" at this point is beyond an understatement. We know for a fact that humans are prone to believing in ridiculous shit, and specifically that they're willing to believe in all kinds of supernatural nonsense that's plainly not true. The fact that people take seriously the third-hand testimony of people living thousands of years ago that some guy rose from the dead as meaningful evidence is just insane. A Christian would never even consider a claim with identical evidence made about some other religion or superstition. It's just transparent wishful thinking.

So what I'm giving here is in no sense a modern equivocation to rationalize belief in an outmoded system. Said system never claimed to make statements about things which can admit of observation and scientific study. In fact, St Thomas Aquinas – a man whom I think I'm warranted in calling the most important theologian of the past two thousand years, and the guiding light at least of the Catholic Church's theology – went so far as to say that, if faith is of things which admit of scientific investigation, it is not faith, but rather conjecture, and probably bad conjecture.

Yeah, that's the claim, sure, but tell me how many early Catholics believe that Jesus didn't literally rise from the dead.

I mean just read the Nicene Creed. How can you say with a straight face that Catholicism "never claimed to make statements about things which can admit of observation and scientific study"? Is the whole thing supposed to be metaphorical? Or are you just being clever because we can't observe events that happened in the past so technically the resurrection (or the virgin birth) can't be investigated?
posted by callmejay at 10:13 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm surprised some don't see the logic in the fact that reality can and does exist beyond the ability of our five senses to access it.

This actually cuts right to the heart of the debate. This is an excellent point which illustrates the intrinsic differences which divide the theist and the non-theist. Disclaimer: Philosophically I tend to lean towards panpsychism, but in reality I'm just an old fashioned agnostic. To me, an agnostic, the atheist position is ultimately more convincing because it actually has a tool(the scientific method) which has a pretty good track record of reconstructing reality. Which is basically what science is: the posterior reconstruction of reality. Religion on the other hand has a horrible track record constantly having to revise it's view of reality, usually because the pesky scientists keep mucking it up.

Now reality does exist beyond our five senses but guess what? Science has given us new senses, new eyes, and new ideas for our project of understanding reality. Also, unlike religion, it is providing us with knowledge which is increasing exponentially as time goes on. Science admits from the start that humans are fallible and unreliable creatures which shouldn't be trusted, but rather challenged to prove(in so far as science can prove anything, but that's another debate) their claims by backing them up with easily reproduced evidences and experiments. Religion asks us to trust what some dude said 2000 years ago and was written down 40 to 90 years after dude said it by another dude. Sorry but that's just not good enough. Not only does it provide us with dubious evidence, but also make rather dubious claims about reality which have time and time again been proven to be false. So I am going to take the next logical step and claim that any god claimed to be attested to in the revealed religions is also false. Does that mean that no god exists? Obviously no, but so far there has been no evidence to point towards this existence other than the way some person feels about how this supposedly all powerful being has affected them. There may well be a "god" but until some proper evidence is presented I remain unconvinced.

Religion has always been a tool for understanding reality and our place in it. It is a set of beliefs, rules, and rituals which attempt to give humans a place and understanding of their place in reality. A way for them to explain their seemingly singular consciousness and why it exists. A way for our seemingly singular consciousnesses to form identity and group identity. Religion was a good start, and may in fact be partly responsible for our ability to become individual conscious beings which can ask questions about reality and create new tools to aid in the exploration, but over a long and torturous birthing process human consciousness created a new tool for exploring reality - science. As many have pointed out upthread it's the religious who are dragging us down and hindering our progress; scientifically, culturally, and morally. No I'm not talking about you Mr. Non-judgemental Liberal Christian guy, I'm talking about the obvious(by any standard of evidence) majority of religious people who have outdated beliefs based on outdated evidence upon which they base their outdated view of reality.

So believe what you want to believe, but never trust what someone else tells you to be true because they are probably full of shit. And for the love of god(pun intended) don't believe something because it was written in some book that some schmuck claims was inspired by god. I will leave you with a video that, in my opinion, gives a pretty good explanation of what knowledge and intelligence are and what their place in the universe may possibly be. I guess in this respect David Deutsch is the high priest of my own personal religion. ;)

David Deutsch: What is our place in the cosmos?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:20 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yet for better or for worse, God (or gods, or the supernatural more generally) is alive and well for literally billions of people worldwide

Actually, the mere fact that you feel compelled to make that distinction proves Nietzsche's point. He was not describing the death of religion as much as the death of the absolute, universal values God represents... and that's exactly what you're implying when you put "God (or gods, or the supernatural more generally)" on an equal footing, as if they are all equally true and valid. Like it or not, this idea (of many competing, subjective, human Truths rather than one objective, overriding, divine Truth) is an incontrovertible part of Western thought today, and so... God is dead. "Dead are all the Gods: now do we desire the Übermensch to live."

You can argue that that's a bad thing or a good thing or some mixture of both, but "God is dead" in this day and age comes across as just as hilariously naive as belief in God appeared to Nietzsche himself back in the day.

Not at all. Nietzsche was not stupid enough to think that religion would simply melt away in a single generation. "God is Dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we -- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too".
posted by vorfeed at 10:21 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


METAFILTER: godless Afghan mentally introverted nihilists, braving the Open Sea of Philosophy
posted by philip-random at 10:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, koeselitz plays this constant language game that goes something like this "All that wacky stuff in the Bible about unicorns and Lazarus is just as wacky as protons and electrons and neutrons because we can't see those either, man!

If the Bible can't be 100% true well neither can science, man!.

Except that's not at all how science works (or should work).

Truth-claims in science are valid up to and until another truth-claim comes along and displaces it. Newtonian physics was fine until a point where it wasn't shown to be wrong as much as it was shown to have less explanatory power than Einstein's physics.

Just because we don't understand the nature of the universe doesn't invalidate science by any means. And it definitely doesn't mean religious faith is on the same logical field as scientific inquiry. Just the opposite in fact.

To speak for myself, religious faith is fine with me. Spaghetti monster, Valhalla, Jesus Christos -- let a billion delusions bloom. What pisses us off though is when you "cross the beams" so to speak and come to the table asking to be taken seriously by people who have already applied centuries of rigorous self-censuring via the scientific method to questions of reality, evolution, the big bang, etc.

As mentioned, it's not our job to come down to your non-critical, faith-based level. It's your job to grow up and come to ours.
posted by bardic at 10:28 PM on April 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or just keep it to yourselves on Sundays (Xtian), Saturdays (Jewish), or Fridays (Muslims). But don't bring it into schools and universities and expect equal treatment. Indeed, expect to be ridiculed and mocked.

Or just send your kid to religious private schools. And don't whine when they never win a Nobel Prize or cure cancer or if they grow up to hate you for foisting ancient mythologies on them that require years of psychotherapy and/or medication to sort out.
posted by bardic at 10:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm struggling to see what you're objecting to, bardic, since I haven't challenged the validity of science and don't tend to on a regular basis. Seriously, I agree with everything you just said, discounting your snipes about FSM and "coming down to our level" and your weird assumption that I plan on pushing my beliefs on anybody. Really, yeah - that's how the scientific method works. What of it?
posted by koeselitz at 10:43 PM on April 20, 2011


What of it?

It's superior in every way to the "religious method."
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:45 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, I'll bite.

Which of the following statements is true:

a) I had an apple and a cup of coffee for lunch.

b) Jesus is the son of god who died and then came back to life three days later.
posted by bardic at 10:45 PM on April 20, 2011


Wait. They don't give Nobel Prizes to people who believe in God? And you think it's possible to cure cancer? This thread is crazy.

Also, with respect to the apple and coffee, what do you mean "had"?
posted by The World Famous at 10:53 PM on April 20, 2011


And you think it's possible to cure cancer?

Cancer is genetic so given some time yes we will cure cancer and probably all disease. Directed evolution is a hell of a drug. Not to mention the avenues that will be available to us once we begin to perfect nanotechnology.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:00 PM on April 20, 2011


Sorry forgot to add this link.

Nanoparticles With Honeycomb Cavities Containing Drugs Blast Cancer Cells
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:01 PM on April 20, 2011


Plenty of religious people have won Nobel Prizes, have exceled in sciences, and have had impressive academic careers. The first academics were, by definition, religious believers (being pre-Englightenment and all).

But to employ the scientific method properly yes, he or she would have to use some mental partitioning between empirical and faith-based knowledge and understanding to achieve any success.

Sorry I wasn't more clear.

For context, I was thinking of Liberty University (a USian Christian college) were the biology department proudly displays "evidence" that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

That's deeply offensive to me, and should be to anyone who takes either science of religion seriously.
posted by bardic at 11:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I used to be the sort of atheist who understood that silliness is silly and stupidity is stupid. But I mellowed out somewhat, surprisingly when I was in my twenties, on discovering that (for at least some clergy) the religious feeling is akin to a hankering for a return to the protected status of childhood. Since then, I have no more interest in talking to fervent Christians about Jesus than I would have in talking to six-year-olds about Santa Claus. Everybody's going to work it out for themselves. Maybe I'm still a condescending asshole, but I keep it to myself. I'm lucky to be Canadian: fewer people want to get in my face about being born again in the Blood of the Lamb than if I were American.

I'm a relative newcomer here, has this paper ever come under discussion: Believers' estimates of God's beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people's beliefs? It seems to me that religion is mostly harmless until it's applied as a justification for slavery, or genocide, or the subjugation/persecution of women, homosexuals, other innocents. Using the appeal to authority of God's Word to reduce science education and to continue the devastation of the environment seems rather unhelpful, but particularly so when that authority is a mere construct devised for the specific argument.
posted by fredludd at 11:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kind of related from Amanda Marcotte: "What atheists hear when people 'debate' theology"
posted by bardic at 11:45 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which of the following statements is true:

Neither?
Both?

My God (should he exist) isn't binary.
posted by philip-random at 12:08 AM on April 21, 2011


My God (should he exist) isn't binary.

Which has absolutely no meaning(that we are aware of) in reality.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:26 AM on April 21, 2011


small excerpt from "Letters From The Earth" by Samuel Clemons 1909

Letter III
One of his principal religions is called the Christian. A sketch of it will interest you. It sets forth in detail in a book containing two million words, called the Old and New Testaments. Also it has another name—The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God—the one I have been speaking of.

It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.

What shall we do? If we believe, with these people, that their God invented these cruel things, we slander him; if we believe that these people invented them themselves, we slander them. It is an unpleasant dilemma in either case, for neither of these parties has done us any harm.

That innocent Bible tells about the Creation. Of what—the universe? Yes, the universe. In six days!

God did it. He did not call it the universe—that name is modern. His whole attention was upon this world. He constructed it in five days—and then? It took him only one day to make twenty million suns and eighty million planets!

What were they for—according to this idea? To furnish light for this little toy-world. That was his whole purpose; he had no other. One of the twenty million suns (the smallest one) was to light it in the daytime, the rest were to help one of the universe’s countless moons modify the darkness of its nights.

Presently a serpent sought them out privately, and came to them walking upright, which was the way of serpents in those days. The serpent said the forbidden fruit would store their vacant minds with knowledge. So they ate it, which was quite natural, for man is so made that he eagerly wants to know; whereas the priest, like God, whose imitator and representative he is, has made it his business from the beginning to keep him from knowing any useful thing.

In that memorable moment immodesty was born; and some people have valued it ever since, though it would certainly puzzle them to explain why.

Adam and eve entered the world naked and unashamed—naked and pure-minded; and no descendant of theirs has ever entered it otherwise. All have entered it naked, unashamed, and clean in mind. They have entered it modest. They had to acquire immodesty and the soiled mind; there was no other way to get it. A Christian mother’s first duty is to soil her child’s mind, and she does not neglect it. Her lad grows up to be a missionary, and goes to the innocent savage and to the civilized Japanese, and soils their minds. Whereupon they adopt immodesty, they conceal their bodies, they stop bathing naked together.

----------------------------------------------------------

Okay, now it's me, my little say here. Anyone who has not read Clemons take on this needs to stop everything they're doing -- damn sure before they enter into any other conversation about this -- needs to stop what they are doing and read "Letters From The Earth." It's a short read, not but about 70 pages, it was written at the last of Twains life, after all the losses he'd endured -- his wife dead, his daughter dead, money problems, all kinds of problems, heartaches. He was at a place where he was able to see clearly and in a frame of mind where he was willing to write about what he saw. Regardless that, he still didn't want it published until long years after his death, a sadness, seems to me, but there it is. I know that I am fortunate to have found a copy of it in my hands, young. It was a huge help to me, and is a comfort and lots of fun in my life now, I always have a copy of it around, it's shaped lots of my take on this whole thing, de-bunked so much of it, called it how it is. And it's funny funny funny, it's funny as hell, savagely, bitterly, satirically funny.

You can find it free, a zillion places online. Google is your friend.

Why did these words written by Twain make such an impression upon me? Because I was raised by the same sort of sick fucks that the video is aimed at. What all you nice people who were not raised by and surrounded with these sorts of people just cannot possibly understand -- you wouldn't be all sweet about their mind fucks if this sort of thing had happened to you -- what you can't understand is that these people give no quarter, they hold others in contempt, they pity them, they hold themselves higher, they feel they have the right to grind dogshit into peoples face. And have no doubt about it, you can think what you want -- and they certainly think, on a topical level at least -- you can think that they are doing it to help you, as they see it. No. No. Bull-fucking-shit. They are doing it because they want you to do what they want you to do. They're fucking control freaks. Assholes.

Why do I call the people who raised me sick fucks? Because they were sick fucks, and some of them still are; they're sick, damaged, wounded people, uneducated, suspicious, scared. And: Judgmental, sanctimonious, self-centered, self-righteous, arrogant, inconsiderate oafs -- that's got to be taken into account, too, because it's damn sure there.

Twain wrote that "A Christian mother’s first duty is to soil her child’s mind, and she does not neglect it." Check. I read that, I was nodding my head, so glad to see someone on the outside knew about it, and, more, put words to it, bitterly sarcastic words, too. I do not know why so many christians -- or, really, so many fundamentalists of whatever stripe -- I do not know why they are so hung up on sex, but let's just say that they are. It seems that their world-view is covered in shit, and they want to make sure yours is, too, and they do make sure it is, to the best of their ability.

And they get to you while you're young, and scare the dog-shit out of you, they tell you you've a filthy soul and need cleansed, my goddamn mother is telling me when I'm four or five years old that Jesus is going to take away my sins, wash my soul clean, and I've never sinned in my goddamn life, I have no idea what it is she's saying, but she's saying it with all of her might, and then following that up with lakes of fire and satan and sex is horrible and cigarettes are satan and on and on and on and on... These people depend on poisoning people when they have no defenses, ruining them, scaring the hell not out but into them. Sick fucks? Yeah, you bet.

I'm 56, my mother is 89, these recent years I have been trying to cultivate a friendship with her, grownups, one to one; she is a good person, I do love her, I know she loves me, we can even have fun. But she can't have it. Won't. She keeps on bringing jesus and leviticus and hosea and any of these other jerkoffs into it, lakes of fire, blah blah blah; I open to her, we're talking, it's okay, then she absolutely insists upon shitting on it. Which is to say, shitting on me. So, I don't call her, hardly at all, and when I do call her I'm constantly ready to hang up the phone. A shame, really, a sadness. But I'm not interested in being treated like shit. And I won't be.

I have a sister and brother-in-law who are completely insane behind this whole thing, totally out of it, lakes of fire, devils, revelations, you name it, they know *all* about it. These are not stupid people, btw, or maybe let's say they are absolutely intelligent. They are poorly educated, for sure, and really scared, and really obnoxious, it's either their way or no way -- they *know.* I saw my brother-in-law tell his son one day that the reason that people lived so long in the old testament is that the air was different then -- I should have shot him in the face. I love them, I know they love me -- they came down when I had my huge health problems and died and all, they cried as they drove down here. But they refuse to even consider anything I have to say, what I have found out about life. My biggest hero is Marcus Aurelius, I love him, I've read him for years and years, he's given me so much to try to live up to, he's such a great person, he lives in his words, in my heart, he comforts me. I tell them about him, they hold up their bibles and I say "Hey, wait, listen here to Marc -- he's rockin'!" and they tell me, with patronizing smiles, that I don't know what the fuck I'm saying, or why, or anything else, and that they know all. Fuckers. Unbelievable arrogance.

Real fun for you here -- I'm not an atheist. Agnostic here; I don't know what it is but I do think that there is ... something. I can't name it nor do I try, nor do I care, it doesn't matter to me. To define it is to defile it, friend of mine said that once, it's stuck with me. I try to do things that experience has shown me work for me. I pray. Pray, meditate, I ask for help, guidance, peace, strengths. I sit in silence. Sometimes I go about berserk when sitting in that silence -- I often think of that John Prine line about the junkie was "climbin' walls while settin' in a chair" -- check. Still, I find the practice beneficial to me. Given what'd happened to me in that bizarre family scene, I was totally, absolutely dead set against any/all of it, but then I ran really, really hard into some stone walls, I got really, really banged up, broken up and broken down, ended up on my knees, and, goddamned if I didn't end up praying while I was there. What the fuck is this shit? I was furious that I had no where else to turn. But I didn't. I was broken.

What I've learned to do, how I've tried to live -- it has given me plenty. I don't drink anymore. I don't drug anymore. (Except these dang psych drugs for this pesky manic depression -- maybe if I was a *real* bona fide jesus jumper I could get healed of it!! Oh boy, I'm all excited now !!) I don't smoke anymore. No more car wrecks, hardly any, almost thirty years now -- cool; my old cars and trucks were all the time covered in whiskey dents -- no more.

I don't believe in unicorns in the skies. I have no idea why this stuff works for me, and neither does anyone else. You can talk about chakras but I've never seen one, probably I've got them by the fistful but I couldn't swear to it, and won't, though I think the word is cute -- chakra. It sounds to me like a nicely colored shirt, like batik.

So you'd think that these mopes would be happy that I'm back "on their team" and all, right? Oh. My. God. If you think that, you don't get it. At all. And you'll find that vid offensive, simplistic, wrong-footed, mean. It's not enough to do prayer or anything else. You have to do it THEIR WAY. It's The Only Way. They Know.

Going on here... It's cost me people who I've really loved. My mother; it's very, very strained. My sister, her husband. Wow. My brother, another fundie, lung cancer killed him last month, small-cell lung cancer, and it's not for me to take from him his comfort yet I had to be true to myself, a tiresome, painful walk, it was and is brutally hard anyways -- he was 63 -- it tore my guts out and is tearing them out, we cried like kids together and goddamned if I've not cried plenty since then, yet even in the heart of that shit I still had to be aware, alert, not let down my guard, as the kind of people that this vid is aimed at are always, constantly on the prowl. This is a guy I drank with, drugged with, ran around with, he knows the life, but he got hooked into all that jesus jive and I almost lost him and then did lose him....
posted by dancestoblue at 2:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


I'm sorry you guys have to deal with so much mad stuff in the name of Christianity. We have it in Europe too, but I think it's probably worse in America.
posted by KMH at 2:31 AM on April 21, 2011


"I used to have a professor in college who had a saying: "there is such a thing as irrationality in the pursuit of rationality." That's what this seems like every time I see it. Rationality stares at the abyss and can't say whether there's a god; the question about whether there's a god is, I believe, extra-rational. It's not something we can ever have evidence of or even really reason about, at least not its ground."

For a sufficiently vague definition of a god or gods, that's true. If the being is defined or described so poorly that no standard of evidence could ever exist, then one can't rationally rule it in or out. (It is however reasonable to be parsimonious about one's beliefs, forming a positive belief in something only when given a reason to suspect it might exist.)

However when one gets into the specifics of a given god or gods, it is not impossible.

If a religion claims that the Earth is physically carried on the back of a giant being, literally held up on its back, it's fairly easy to observationally refute the existence of that being. To maintain belief one then has to go into a vague alternative sort of viewpoint that it exists if you have faith that it does, but that can't be the case if you're going to maintain that the giant being is a physical reality and all one has to do is sail down to Antarctica to see the giant hands and shoulders for oneself.

Turning to the god of the bible, it's impossible to prove or disprove that god if one allows for the bible being a poorly translated mash-up of ancient myths which does not really represent the views or nature of that god.

But if one is going to look at god from a fundamentalist point of view, claiming that the bible is a completely accurate literally true document of history and the nature of the universe, then that particular god enters the realm of empirical testability. One can test specific claims about the Earth and biology scientifically. One can do historical and archaeological research and find errors in bible stories and explanations. One can even analyse the text by itself and note the existence of flagrant internal contradictions.

So I think one can rationally disprove the existence of a fundamentalist's god, not just for the bible but I suspect many other religions too.

So the key to maintaining agnosticism (i.e. a viewpoint that the existence and nature of god or gods is knowable) depends very much on how vaguely that god is described.

I maintain that a principle of parsimony is reasonable. Absent plausible reasons to believe in something, I generally don't believe in it. I'm sure that there may be things I believe in without evidence, but if I am made aware of these things I will either find evidence or accept that the belief is unproven and thus should not be relied upon.
posted by Mokusatsu at 2:54 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But for some things, physics, in particular, if you tell me you believe, based on your observations of the available evidence, there is a god, I would doubt your underlying, unrelated science.

....Even Sir Isaac Newton?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:16 AM on April 21, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah, but it's the same accusations that get levied every time, and they're coming up because they are a defensive measure.

Yes, but does that really matter?

Let me explain: those of us who have been on Metafilter a long time (you and I included) have gotten to know each other through our contributions a little more deeply than the average hit 'n run anonymous 'net forum. So yeah, we know that different people have intractable positions they'll take on certain topics. That's natural. But here on MeFi we have the ability and time to try and counter defensive reactions in ourselves and others through discussion, listening, reasoning and trying to keep an open mind. Defensive reactions can be brief. Yet the debate goes on. Sometimes that leads to deeper understanding, or can help us express ourselves more accurately.

The process is important, is what I'm trying to say.

Sometimes "who started it" is important. Because maybe it's best to just drop it."

Religion vs. Science is a really old argument, but it shouldn't be a static one. Personally, I've always liked Stephen J. Gould's view that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria, which has been alluded to a little above. But I sort of feel that's an incomplete assessment, too. So my understanding and feelings about what purpose each may (or may not) serve for me personally is constantly evolving. When these threads are constructive I do find them valuable.
posted by zarq at 6:36 AM on April 21, 2011


....Even Sir Isaac Newton?

Isaac Newton lived before an understanding of evolution or chemistry was developed into a systematic science.

Thus his theological musings and his life long work in alchemy are somewhat more forgivable than if a modern scientist did it.
posted by Mokusatsu at 7:13 AM on April 21, 2011


Defensive reactions can be brief. Yet the debate goes on. Sometimes that leads to deeper understanding, or can help us express ourselves more accurately.

And sometimes, as I have recently learned, it comes to naught, because you get piled on, and all your arguing and protesting actaully isn't doing anything to create better understanding. And that may be in part because you are yourself too stubborn to see that your own intractability may have been contributing to the problem all along.

And by "you," I'm referring to me, and that's what I mean by "it's important to acknowledge who started it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even Sir Isaac Newton

Actually, come to think of it, I do have a few doubts about Newtonian physics.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:25 AM on April 21, 2011


You know, there's a reason why peer review in the sciences is often conducted anonymously, because you're supposed to be addressing the hypothesis, theory, and evidence, not the beliefs of the author. You're entitled to your personal opinion of the researchers involved, but even completely sleazy people sometimes have the right idea.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:35 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Non-Overlapping Magesteria is a very pleasant fiction and is certainly good for keeping the peace. It isn't remotely accurate. Step back through history and look at all of those things once accorded to gods or God which are now firmly in the province of science. Pregnancy, plague, lightning, and so forth. Jack Chick's "God holds the atom together" gets whammied by the strong nuclear force.

The only way they don't overlap is because science keeps eating religion's territory.

Still, as fictions go, it is pleasant.
posted by adipocere at 9:01 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Non-Overlapping Magesteria is a very pleasant fiction and is certainly good for keeping the peace. It isn't remotely accurate. Step back through history and look at all of those things once accorded to gods or God which are now firmly in the province of science. Pregnancy, plague, lightning, and so forth. Jack Chick's "God holds the atom together" gets whammied by the strong nuclear force.

You may actually want to read Gould's observations on the subject, then; he has a different perspective on the issue. Rather than "science ate religion's territory," his perspective is that "the question of how the atom is held together isn't religion's territory in the first place, and only ever was because we didn't know better long ago".

It's like the common-wisdom idea of the right and left sides of the brain -- one is more logical, the other more emotional. If you're talking about a house, the logical, "left-brain" side may be dealing with things like how much it costs, how to make various repairs, how to build it, etc. -- all of which are important. The "right-brain" side, though, may be dealing with things like "it's pretty" or "I love the view of the woods through the picture window" or "the light in the afternoon makes the room look like it's spun gold and that makes me happy" or "my grandma lived in that house and now I own it and I am so proud". Those things are also important.

Gould's idea of non-overlapping magesteria is not so much that "the right brain deals with emotions only because the left brain took logic over". His idea is more like "you can't fix the clogged drain in your house by waxing rhapsodic over the afternoon light, and you can't find an episode of 'This Old House' that explains that catch you get in your throat when you see a deer in the woods through your back yard."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:42 AM on April 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Nicely put, Empress -

I don't go opening a holy book or drop down onto my knees in prayer to fix a broken plate. But I may well try both to reconcile a broken heart.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 AM on April 21, 2011


Thank you for explaining that better than I could have, Empress. Well said.
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on April 21, 2011


Are we talking about feeling good or understanding the world?

It seems like the more knowledge science uncovers, the less we know about god.
posted by gagglezoomer at 9:59 AM on April 21, 2011


adipocere: “Step back through history and look at all of those things once accorded to gods or God which are now firmly in the province of science. Pregnancy, plague, lightning, and so forth.”

I keep quoting the tradition, showing people that there's always been a divide recognized in Christianity. The saints have said over and over again that, if faith is about something which can be investigated by science, it is not faith. But still, there's this ignorance that persists which stubbornly demands us to believe that the Church is responsible for all sorts of weird superstitions about the world and about the scientific understanding of nature. I wish somebody could come up with a few actual examples. I keep looking through church doctrine and the bible for affirmative teachings about the nature of "pregnancy, plague, lightning, and so forth" – maybe I'm just dense or something, but I can't find them.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2011


Oh, I read it a long while back. I think I have a book on it somewhere.

But religion keeps trying to claim that territory, whether or not the land "belongs" to science. See Kansas, evolution, etc. Religion is still trying to say, "We can cure that case of the The Gay your kid has." Hurricane Katrina drowned sinful New Orleans.

N.O.M. doesn't fix that and it won't ever fix that. It works if and only if both parties agree to it. If one party has the sincere believe that God, the most absolute of the absolutes, says they are right, well, folks get a little unchained. There's not a lot of doubt when God is on your side.

That's why it is a pleasant fiction — it suggests we can placate the implacable.
posted by adipocere at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


koeselitz, I think the misunderstanding a lot of atheists have is they think that belief in something like the Virgin Birth was somehow more plausible before we had means of looking at sperm cells and seeing how eggs are fertilized, and that to continue to believe in it now requires turning a blind eye to advances in biology. When in fact, believers then just as much as now knew that a virgin birth would require God actively messing around with the way the universe usually works.
posted by straight at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


koeselitz, don't move the goalposts on me, man.

I am in no way suggesting that religion = Christianity or that Christianity = only that which is contained in the Bible and a handful of accepted doctrines. When I say religion, I'm casting my net back before Jesus, too.

It's not just in Hebrew and Greek, it's on the radio. It's the question (and I am old enough to remember it), "Will test tube babies be born with souls?" It's black cats and fan death. It's the Malleus Malificarum. Pick up a copy sometime and tell me if it doesn't have some suggestions about how the world works.
posted by adipocere at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It seems like the more knowledge science uncovers, the less we know about god.

That's an odd observation. I think it's exactly the opposite, actually.
posted by The World Famous at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


but I can't find them.

You need to look harder then.

I wish somebody could come up with a few actual examples.

Giordano Bruno

The more recent examples don't need repeating as most of the more prominent ones have already been mentioned up thread, but I guess you have chosen to ignore them.

The attempt to paint religion as something completely unrelated to science is just plain wrong. Religion and Science are part and parcel of the same human project - understanding reality and our place in it. I guess first we need a working definition of what religion is. I have offered one but I don't see any of the "religious" offering a working definition. I guess if you can dance around the issue of what religion is and what it's function in culture and society are it's easier to juke and jive the opposing arguments.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is my definition again so no one has to go searching.

Religion has always been a tool for understanding reality and our place in it. It is a set of beliefs, rules, and rituals which attempt to give humans a place, and understanding of their place, in reality. A way for them to explain their singular consciousness and why it exists. A mechanism for our singular consciousnesses to form identity and group identity.

Modern society has evolved and people are now able to explore various different options for building identity and explaining reality, but back in the day religion was the only game in town. Luckily for our species things have changed a bit.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not a definition. It's a description.

For the purpose of the present discussion, how about this: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods."

Some notable exceptions aside (which, as far as I can tell, aren't a meaningful part of the present discussion), I think that does the trick, doesn't it?
posted by The World Famous at 10:57 AM on April 21, 2011


I simply don't understand how the educated religious can assert that science and religion can be separate (NOM or otherwise) and in the same breath invoke the existence of the supernatural, a concept inextricably tied together with all major world religions, but fail to grasp the contradiction inherent in the statement that the belief in the supernatural makes about science. You can't say science is the best way for exploring our knowledge of the natural, except when it comes to the "supernatural" which I just believe cause I do. If you just want god = nature, then isn't science the best way for exploring that? And if you just want religion = set of morals and deep wisdom, then isn't whatever flavor of philosophy you like your best choice? Why keep feeding the religious institutions?
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:01 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Modern society has evolved and people are now able to explore various different options for building identity and explaining reality, but back in the day religion was the only game in town.

Again, I think that's overstating the case. People have always told stories, and not all of them were religious; we have always found place and meaning in family, in tribe, in sex and drugs, in nature, in war, and in ways of doing and being which are rooted in daily living rather than "the numinous". Some of these things were given religious aspects, certainly, but all of them? In every culture?

The idea that everything was religious in the old days probably comes mostly from the fact that religion was important, and only important things got recorded in ways that survived the millennia... but The Only Game In Town? If this were even remotely true, we would never have had non-religious philosophy or art, and it would have been impossible for society to "evolve" in the first place. Secular thought didn't come out of thin air.
posted by vorfeed at 11:11 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't say science is the best way for exploring our knowledge of the natural, except when it comes to the "supernatural" which I just believe cause I do.

Not that I would hold myself up as a super smart person or anything, but I'm both religious and educated and I agree with you on that point. I don't say that. I say science is the best way for exploring our knowledge of the natural, period.

I simply don't understand how the educated religious can assert that science and religion can be separate . . .

I agree with you there, too. I don't think they can be separate. I think science is the best tool for understanding reality. I don't think it's the only tool. And I think far too many people who claim to be scientific have an underdeveloped understanding of the limits of what any given scientific discovery actually are. The biggest mistake that religion makes is to be dogmatic and to think that it has ever settled any of the questions it seeks to answer. And science only works when it avoids that same trap.

If you just want god = nature, then isn't science the best way for exploring that?

Absolutely.

And if you just want religion = set of morals and deep wisdom, then isn't whatever flavor of philosophy you like your best choice?

Absolutely. What if the flavor of philosophy I like is religious?

Why keep feeding the religious institutions?

People feed whatever they want to feed. You don't have to feed anything you don't want to.
posted by The World Famous at 11:13 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if a religious institution is the flavor of philosophy you like best? I'm not getting the "go ahead and choose a moral code, a system of ethics, a personal code of behavior, but for the love of little green apples don't call it a religion!!!!!"
posted by KathrynT at 11:14 AM on April 21, 2011


That's not a definition. It's a description.

No it's actually a working definition which explains religion in a social and cultural context and gives us a base from which to explore the various functions and manifestations of religious thought throughout history.

"The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." is actually a description of one aspect of the religion phenomena which offers no further venues for exploring religion in context beyond the idea of a god. Religion is so much more than just the belief in a god. Furthermore your description of this one aspect is like tunnel vision which refuses to acknowledge the basic function of religion; which is the construction of social and cultural reality as opposed to physical and empirical reality.

Animism is by my definition a religion which performs certain cultural and societal functions. By your definition it is not. The fact that you think notable exceptions are not meaningful shows that you don't have any real understanding of what religion is outside of your own modern experience.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the idea of non-overlapping magisteria works very well. Is science irrelevant to "the free and responsible search for truth and meaning" and to understanding "the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part"? (I'm quoting from the Principles and Purposes of Unitarian-Universalism.) Are psychology and neurology irrelevant to spirituality, when psychē used to mean "mind" and nefesh meant "self"?

Religion and science have come into conflict because they do overlap, and because religions tend to be conservative and resistant to change, and insist that their own ancient speculations are absolute truths that can't be modified or questioned. (Religions do change of course, but they do so slowly.) Science has had conflicts with Christianity in particular because modern science developed in Europe, where Christianity is dominant, and because Christianity emphasizes salvation through belief. Religions which emphasize ethical and ritual practice. like Buddhism and Judaism, have had fewer problems with this.

(I don't object to Empress's formulation, but then she's not insisting they're not overlapping.)
posted by nangar at 11:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Only Game In Town? Sorry I should have been more clear. I meant the only game in town as far as explaining reality. Certainly other cultural institutions have historically performed many parallel functions to religion.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:21 AM on April 21, 2011


"The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." is actually a description of one aspect of the religion phenomena which offers no further venues for exploring religion in context beyond the idea of a god.

Well, first, it's the dictionary definition of the word "religion." Second, that little "esp." in there indicates that the worship of a god is not critical to the definition.

Animism is by my definition a religion which performs certain cultural and societal functions. By your definition it is not. The fact that you think notable exceptions are not meaningful shows that you don't have any real understanding of what religion is outside of your own modern experience.

I just pasted the dictionary definition and noted that the discussion in this particular MetaFilter thread seems to be primarily about religion that fits that dictionary definition. But thanks saying I don't have any real understanding of what religion is outside of my own modern experience. I'm sure you reached that conclusion about me through a thorough and accurate analysis of a good set of complete evidence.

Also, nangar, I only regret that I have only one favorite to give your comment.
posted by The World Famous at 11:23 AM on April 21, 2011


Part of the problem with this discussion is you are trying to pin down the definition of religion but using a really vague one for "science."

Which scientific disciplines do you think have relevant tools for studying religion? Physics? History? Psychology? Sociology?
posted by straight at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2011


Well, first, it's the dictionary definition of the word "religion."

Usually the first clue that it's not a good definition.

I'm sure you reached that conclusion about me through a thorough and accurate analysis of a good set of complete evidence.

Well given your posting history of which I am aware I believe that it's an accurate assumption, but point taken as I don't know you personally and am not privy to the inner workings of your thought process.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:27 AM on April 21, 2011


If you just want god = nature, then isn't science the best way for exploring that?

If God is merely nature, then God is sadistic f***ing bastard. Look no further than what happened last month in Japan.

And if you just want religion = set of morals and deep wisdom, then isn't whatever flavor of philosophy you like your best choice?

Because morals and deep wisdom need something to hang on and sorry, logic alone doesn't cut it, because hard as we try, we humans aren't entirely logical.

Religion continues to exist (thrive even) because science and philosophy continue to fall short of making sense of the immeasurable pain (physical and emotional) that sometimes afflicts us. Give mankind a science that can predict the next 9.0 earthquake (and cure cancer while you're at it) and a philosophy that can effectively reconcile things like heartbreak, loneliness, existential despair, and yeah, I guess we won't need God(s) anymore.

But I don't see it happening anytime soon.
posted by philip-random at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2011


Which scientific disciplines do you think have relevant tools for studying religion?

ummmm comparative religion? religious studies? Of course any good study of a religion will include anthropology, psychology, and sociology. Physics and philosophy are much more useful tools for exploring metaphysics than theology is.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2011


If the only definition the religion camp can give is "belief in god/supernatural power" than I guess pursuing the conversation is going to be futile so I await a proper definition until then good day mefites.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:34 AM on April 21, 2011


Usually the first clue that it's not a good definition.

I was just responding to your assertion that it was not a definition at all. I was also pointing out that the one shortcoming you thought was present in that definition was actually your misreading of it. I still don't know what you actually think is wrong with that particular definition.

Well given your posting history of which I am aware I believe that it's an accurate assumption, but point taken as I don't know you personally and am not privy to the inner workings of your thought process.

I see. How kind of you to base your personal attack on such thorough analysis.

But point taken, as I suppose that nobody in the world has any real understanding of anything at all outside their own personal experience, so I guess what you said about me was technically correct of both me and you.

If the only definition the religion camp can give is "belief in god/supernatural power" than I guess pursuing the conversation is going to be futile so I await a proper definition until then good day mefites.

For the purposes of the conversation, I'm happy to just use the lengthy descriptive narrative that you presented as if it is a definition. That's perfectly fine with me. Keep in mind that, pursuant to your "definition," science is also "religion." I guess that's OK if that's what you're trying to say, but it's not generally the way I use the term. It's a valid point you're making, though. I agree with you that science and religion really cannot be separated if religion is going to be used as a tool for interpretation and understanding of reality. And I would also agree with you that scientific observation and discovery trumps religious dogma in terms of reliability and accuracy.
posted by The World Famous at 11:39 AM on April 21, 2011


... and a philosophy that can effectively reconcile things like heartbreak, loneliness, existential despair, and yeah, I guess we won't need God(s) anymore.

Why do you assume that my beliefs don't deal with these issues? My objection to NOM (ohm nom nom nom) is that it tends to affirm the religious conceit that a life without god is lacking.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2011


Oh, I read it a long while back. I think I have a book on it somewhere. But religion keeps trying to claim that territory, whether or not the land "belongs" to science. See Kansas, evolution, etc. Religion is still trying to say, "We can cure that case of the The Gay your kid has." Hurricane Katrina drowned sinful New Orleans.

You mean, some religious people do that. Most religious people get that it doesn't work that way.

N.O.M. doesn't fix that and it won't ever fix that. It works if and only if both parties agree to it.

With all due respect -- "no duh." What you are describing above (creationists, "Katrina is a punishment for the sinful", etc.) is not a failure of the theory itself, but rather a failure of a subset of people to agree with the theory.

"It only works if both parties agree to it" is true of any theory, but that doesn't make the theory any less accurate. And, moreover, there are many who do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2011


The Only Game In Town? Sorry I should have been more clear. I meant the only game in town as far as explaining reality. Certainly other cultural institutions have historically performed many parallel functions to religion.

Again, I don't buy it. If you seriously think that, say, family was never, ever used to "explain reality", then, well... the fact that you think notable exceptions are not meaningful shows that you don't have any real understanding of what religion is outside of your own modern experience.

It's worth thinking about just how central the family was in Roman life, for example. It was the center of existence, to an extent which seems utterly foreign to us today, and was thus deeply connected to both religion and the state. One might even say it was religion... but then, as The World Famous points out, you're simply defining religion as The Only Game In Town, for every value of Game and Town. And that's fine, I suppose, but it doesn't explain why science isn't a religion, why philosophy isn't a religion, why Harry Potter fandom isn't a religion, etc.

If religion is anything and everything which "explains reality" in a given culture, where did this secular "social evolution" come from?
posted by vorfeed at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2011


I still don't know what you actually think is wrong with that particular definition.

It's not useful for understanding or analyzing religion beyond the aspect of belief in god/gods/supernatural forces. It's not a working definition.

How kind of you to base your personal attack on such thorough analysis.

I don't think asserting that someone doesn't have a proper understanding of a concept is a personal attack.

Keep in mind that, pursuant to your "definition," science is also "religion."

Nope. Science isn't a religion. Just because something performs a similar function doesn't mean it is the same thing. For example I don't think you would assert that a car is also a horse. They can both serve the same function, but one is much better suited to do the job of transportation because it was designed specifically to do so. Much like the difference between science and religion. Religion like the horse emerged organically without being purposefully designed. Science and the car on the other hand were both designed to serve a specific purpose.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:02 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


One might even say it was religion

Ancestor worship is a religion....

I don't buy it.

Ahhh I want to answer this properly but at this point I have to run. I suggest reading up on our earliest recorded religions(egyptian and mesopotamian) and get back to me. I think you will find that while there were certainly other cultural institutions that performed functions similar to religion you will find that they only have meaning in the overall theological/religious context in which they occurred. This is not to say, and I guess I overstated, that all cultures that have ever existed were this way. It seems to me, though, that the most well documented ones do in fact exhibit this characteristic of religion being the overarching explanatory model for reality cultural and physical, for the ancients that is. If you want to fixate on this one overstatement that's find but it doesn't really actually affect the definition that I have proposed.

but it doesn't explain why science isn't a religion

See my last answer to The World Famous.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:08 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I don't object to Empress's formulation, but then she's not insisting they're not overlapping.)

They do, and they don't. Meaning: science and religion can both address the same topics. But -- science and religions are both different perspective upon the same topics.

In another thread, I gave another example: snow. Science can tell me why it snows. Religion can help me frame the emotional response of awe I get to snow. So -- science and religion can both deal with snow. However, it is on me to know the difference between these two perspectives, and choose accordingly, depending on what I need at the moment -- I would be foolish for going to my local church and asking what the weather forecast is, and I would be equally foolish for going to my local university and asking the meteorological professor to speak to "the transcendent beauty of snow" (or, if it's later in the winter, asking him "how do I keep my spirits up when it just feels like it's going to snow forever"). We may need one perspective more so than another depending on our needs, wants, emotional states, etc. at any given moment, but both have things to say about snow.

So religion and science overlap in terms of the topics they can address -- but they are very separate in terms of the kind of perspective they offer ON those topics.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nope. Science isn't a religion. Just because something performs a similar function doesn't mean it is the same thing. For example I don't think you would assert that a car is also a horse.

Your definition was this:

Religion has always been a tool for understanding reality and our place in it. It is a set of beliefs, rules, and rituals which attempt to give humans a place, and understanding of their place, in reality. A way for them to explain their singular consciousness and why it exists. A mechanism for our singular consciousnesses to form identity and group identity.

Sorry, but "science" (or philosophy) fits quite nicely in for "religion" above, whereas "a horse" does not fit quite nicely into the definition of "a car", or vice versa. Yes, "just because something performs a similar function doesn't mean it is the same thing"... but if your definition fits things which aren't the same thing, then you need to come up with a more specific definition.
posted by vorfeed at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


True. How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning.
posted by koeselitz at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2011


... and a philosophy that can effectively reconcile things like heartbreak, loneliness, existential despair, and yeah, I guess we won't need God(s) anymore.

Why do you assume that my beliefs don't deal with these issues?


I was sloppy with my pronouns in that comment. What I intended to suggest was that though very many of us may find all the meaning we require in science and/or philosophy, there are also very many of us (some very thoughtful, informed, educated) who don't ... and not for lack of trying.

One recent trick I picked up recently in a Negotiation course was that when I found myself in a position of conflict/disagreement with someone, my first action should be not to defend my position but to thoroughly explore theirs. To the credit of all still hanging around in this thread, I see a lot of that going on here.
posted by philip-random at 12:17 PM on April 21, 2011


I don't think asserting that someone doesn't have a proper understanding of a concept is a personal attack.

That's not what you asserted. You said I "don't have any real understanding of what religion is outside of [my] own modern experience." But, as I conceded above, I suppose your assertion is true of everyone in the world, so I should have a thicker skin about it.

Nope. Science isn't a religion.

Oh, I agree with you that science is not a religion. And that's the problem with the lengthy description that you have advanced as if it is a definition. I think maybe there's just a linguistic problem, i.e. that you are using the word "definition" to mean something other than what I think of as just a definition. Maybe it's a point of contention that we should set aside.

Just because something performs a similar function doesn't mean it is the same thing.

I agree. But your proposed definition consists only of a description of the functions performed. That's the problem. Again, as I said above, I'm willing to use your definition for the sake of discussion. But don't complain about it when it doesn't actually define anything.

For example I don't think you would assert that a car is also a horse.

If I had stipulated to use a definition you came up with whereunder "car" was defined as something you ride to get somewhere, then I would tell you that your definition has some problems, such as being over-inclusive.

Ancestor worship is a religion....

Yep. See the dictionary definition of religion that I pasted above, which applies nicely to ancestor worship.

but it doesn't explain why science isn't a religion

See my last answer to The World Famous.


If your definition cannot stand on its own in defining its term, it is not a definition.

Let's use your definition - verbatim - to describe a few other things:

Science, culture, economics, an pop music have always been tools for understanding reality and our place in it. They are sets of beliefs, rules, and rituals which attempt to give humans a place, and understanding of their place, in reality. Ways for them to explain their singular consciousness and why it exists. Mechanisms for our singular consciousnesses to form identity and group identity.

See the problem?

Terms - particularly terms like "religion" already have definitions. Fighting about the invention of a new one just for the purposes of a MetaFilter thread is a waste of energy and only makes it seem like we disagree more than we actually do.

True. How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning.

Too broad. That's a broader set that includes religion, not a definition of religion.
posted by The World Famous at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2011


Sorry, but "science" (or philosophy) fits quite nicely in for "religion" above

If we're talking functionally yes but then also the horse fits "quite nicely" with the functional definition of a car. But they aren't that same things, and they perform their functions differently with varying levels of success. vorfeed I promise to get back to you but I really have to go.

How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning.

But doesn't moral reasoning fall under the umbrella of explaining reality and our place in it? How can we know what is moral or immoral if we don't have a frame of reference? I would agree that this is an important aspect of religion but again it is but one aspect. Ok I have to go. I look forward to reading when I get back.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:23 PM on April 21, 2011


If we're talking functionally yes but then also the horse fits "quite nicely" with the functional definition of a car.

No, it does not. Any description of a car that also applies to a horse is not a usable definition of the word "car."
posted by The World Famous at 12:25 PM on April 21, 2011


philip-random: I was sloppy with my pronouns in that comment. What I intended to suggest was that though very many of us may find all the meaning we require in science and/or philosophy, there are also very many of us (some very thoughtful, informed, educated) who don't ... and not for lack of trying.

Sure, I just get twitchy because it's an argument that's made with disturbing frequency.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2011


Ancestor worship is a religion....

Yes, but the family is more than just ancestor worship... and in ancient Rome, the latter could easily be said to follow from the former, not the other way around. That's my point.

You seem to want to reduce everything in the ancient world to "this characteristic of religion being the overarching explanatory model for reality cultural and physical", but ancient life was much more diverse and much more complicated than that. The only way to make it as uncomplicated as you seem to want it to be is to claim that anything and everything that ever explained the world was religion, right up to the development of science... at which point something totally new leaped fully-formed into the world -- a car rather than a horse, "designed to serve a specific purpose" -- with no predecessors and no intermediate steps. And I'm sorry, but it didn't happen that way.

Science was preceded by diverse secular traditions which also attempted to explain the world and our place in it, blooming in different places at different times all around the world: alchemy, philosophy, strategy, theater, mathematics, formal logic, debate, on and on and on. To many of the people who explored them, these were certainly about "explaining reality and our place in it"; to many, they were also deeply connected to "a basis for moral reasoning".

These, and a million pursuits like them, are a thread which runs through the center of the human story, just as religion does. We sell ourselves short when we pretend otherwise.
posted by vorfeed at 12:58 PM on April 21, 2011


True. How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning.

There are any number of non-religious things which fit this definition, though. By this standard every atheist is perfectly religious, save perhaps a few pure sociopaths, and the Golden Rule is the world's largest religion.
posted by vorfeed at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2011


vorfeed: There are any number of non-religious things which fit this definition, though. By this standard every atheist is perfectly religious, save perhaps a few pure sociopaths, and the Golden Rule is the world's largest religion.

You know, I don't really have much of an objection to this. If religious groups want to claim religion as primarily a moral or ethical system rather than a theological worldview, I can roll with it. It means that many religious people and groups will need to stop treating us as pitiful because our worldview lacks morality, ethics, comfort, or meaning without a deity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:34 PM on April 21, 2011


Remember The God Helmet? Fifty years ago, only religion could describe and explain that transcendent feeling. Now ... science might be able to explain your feelings about snow. Serious neuroscience might tell you how to keep your spirits up in a decade or two. There's where science is now and there is where science might go in the future. And instead of N.O.M., it's more like om nom nom, because that's science eating a little more of religion's lunch.

Love? Well, maybe. Maybe a little oxytocin, too.
posted by adipocere at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It means that many religious people and groups will need to stop treating us as pitiful because our worldview lacks morality, ethics, comfort, or meaning without a deity.

If it's any consolation, there are a lot of other religious people who want to punch those religious people in the teeth when they say things like that.

And (hey, look, I think I found the topic again!) I believe those religous people and groups are the ones being kvetched about in the video.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:40 PM on April 21, 2011


You know, I don't really have much of an objection to this. If religious groups want to claim religion as primarily a moral or ethical system rather than a theological worldview, I can roll with it.

I don't have an objection to it, per se, I just don't think it's remotely reasonable or useful as a definition of religion. Any definition has got to account for the existence of beliefs/systems/etc which are widely considered non-religious; otherwise we may as well say that human behavior is religion, and call it a day.
posted by vorfeed at 1:43 PM on April 21, 2011


Now ... science might be able to explain your feelings about snow. Serious neuroscience might tell you how to keep your spirits up in a decade or two. There's where science is now and there is where science might go in the future. And instead of N.O.M., it's more like om nom nom, because that's science eating a little more of religion's lunch.

Okay, adipocere, this is a serious personal question. When you feel the emotion of love, do you chalk it solely up to oxytocin? If yes, can you explain why you value it (presuming you do) if you know it is nothing more than a neurochemical? If no, can you explain what else there is to it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on April 21, 2011


Why would knowing the origin of something make it less valuable as an experience? Why would Love as a byproduct of a God's self-worship be more valuable than a chemical reaction?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:46 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would knowing the origin of something make it less valuable as an experience?

That's not really what I'm getting at. What I'm getting at is: there's a difference between explaining a feeling, and valuing a feeling. Adipocere seems to be hung up on "hah! Religion can even explain where emotions come from!" And I'm saying that "explaining where emotions come from isn't what religion is about anyway".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on April 21, 2011


Actually, now that I think about it, "why would knowing the origin of something make it less valuable as an experience" is kind of my point -- that science is there to explain the "how" of things, and religion -- or philosophy, or what have you -- is there to help you process and relate to the "why".

In this case -- science tells us "a neurochemical called oxycontin can contribute to what we experience as 'love'". But the expressing the experience of valuing that feeling falls under the aegis of religion/philosophy/whathaveyou.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Religion has always been a tool for understanding reality and our place in it. It is a set of beliefs, rules, and rituals which attempt to give humans a place, and understanding of their place, in reality ... A mechanism for our singular consciousnesses to form identity and group identity.

I absolutely agree with this.

> For the purpose of the present discussion, how about this: "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods."

I explained above why this definition doesn't work, and offered a rough alternative. I'm at least nominally a member of a religion that wouldn't count as one under this definition. (I'm Unitarian-Universalist.)
posted by nangar at 2:26 PM on April 21, 2011


I explained above why this definition doesn't work, and offered a rough alternative.

Your explanation above has to do with supernatural beings. The definition I hastily pasted refers to "a superhuman controlling power," not a being.

I'm at least nominally a member of a religion that wouldn't count as one under this definition. (I'm Unitarian-Universalist.)

I'm not sure it's a religion if it doesn't believe in or worship any superhuman controlling power. What tenet or tenets of your religion do you contend put it within some reasonable definition of "religion?"
posted by The World Famous at 2:40 PM on April 21, 2011


There's where science is now and there is where science might go in the future. And instead of N.O.M., it's more like om nom nom, because that's science eating a little more of religion's lunch.

Some biologists and physicists continue to make inherent assumptions of the exceptionalism of human beings, with respect to love, pain, free will and similar philosophical notions. Science is slowly and gradually eating away at the vitalist assumptions that lie behind some of our knowledge, replacing superstition with empiricism.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:45 PM on April 21, 2011


But the expressing the experience of valuing that feeling falls under the aegis of religion/philosophy/whathaveyou.

Or neuroscience; I mean don't we pretty much assign value to things at the rate they occupy our attention? I guess the post-hoc rationalization of why we _should_ assign value and/or laud something is metaphysical, but I'm not sure some field of science won't intrude there as well.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2011


I guess the post-hoc rationalization of why we _should_ assign value and/or laud something is metaphysical, but I'm not sure some field of science won't intrude there as well.

"Intrude" is an interesting word choice on your part -- because to my mind, science has as little business trying to suss out "what neurochemical triggers are making me feel that sense of awe at the universe" as religion has trying to suss out "what holds an atom together."

Do you truly not believe that there are some realms of human experience that science doesn't have anything to do with? Do you also feel the arts, say, can be reduced to a purely scientific approach?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 PM on April 21, 2011


BrotherCaine: I guess the post-hoc rationalization of why we _should_ assign value and/or laud something is metaphysical, but I'm not sure some field of science won't intrude there as well.

It's a classic is/ought limitation to science. Science can create credible explanatory models of how we experience Beethoven, it can't make a judgment about whether one should spend an evening at the concert hall.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:58 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you also feel the arts, say, can be reduced to a purely scientific approach?

I feel like the intersection of entertainment and art can be reduced to a purely scientific approach, and has already been rather crudely by evolutionary algorithms that produce images and music with human feedback as the fitness criteria (evolutionary art). At some point we may live in a future where the use of eye tracking and heat maps of human attention create feedback that makes movies evolve in certain directions in response to human appreciation. Using machines like FMRI may even let us quantify the enjoyability of certain types of expression.

As KJS says, science can't make a judgment about whether we should spend an evening at the concert hall, but it definitely could make a judgment about whether we would enjoy an evening at the concert hall more than any other activity we could be engaged in.

Other aspects of how art stimulates the human mind may at some point also be quantified, and used to enhance the moral impact of a piece in addition to its entertainment value. I feel like this is somewhat sinister though, as our culture may progress unthinkingly in disturbing directions driven entirely by subconscious control.

So I guess the answer is that science has to do with everything, but maybe there are a few areas where we should think very hard about the moral impact before developing tools that will gift/curse us with exactly what we wish for in our innermost thoughts.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:26 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


science has as little business trying to suss out "what neurochemical triggers are making me feel that sense of awe at the universe" as religion has trying to suss out "what holds an atom together."

Really? Would you deny the discovery of therapeutic options for sufferers of extreme OCD because the same part of their brain is over-stimulated as is stimulated in the brains of people who have a spiritual sense of oneness with the universe? I mean, I understand why you'd be creeped out by science offering to cure you of religion, but there are legitimate reasons to poke around in the human brain to alleviate the suffering of delusional/obsessive individuals that are not driven by a desire to modulate the experience of the numinous, but at the same time, may map out your spirituality to an uncomfortably precise degree.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:33 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine, don't be obtuse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 PM on April 21, 2011


I am obtuse when it comes to spirituality and art. I'm not a very spiritual person.

If you mean obtuse about not wanting people poking around in your head, or killing the romance for you; no I get that.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:55 PM on April 21, 2011


Sorry, I'm over-caffeinated today and it's got my brain driving faster than my ability to communicate. I digressed totally away from the point I wanted to get to: which is that even though I think science and religion and the progress of human culture would benefit from the fiction of non-overlapping magisteria, I see no evidence that scientists won't poke into metaphysics and fundamentalists won't fight against the scientific method. Which is kind of depressing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:05 PM on April 21, 2011


koeselitz writes "How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning."

Don't eat shellfish or pork. Stone women who commit adultery to death. Murder all gay people.

I say no.
posted by bardic at 10:13 PM on April 21, 2011


Moral reasoning is not the same thing as moral dogma.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:46 PM on April 21, 2011


me: "How about this as a definition of religion: a basis for moral reasoning."

bardic: “Don't eat shellfish or pork. Stone women who commit adultery to death. Murder all gay people. I say no.”

Telephone poles. The bottom of the ocean. Electric guitars.

I say yes.

posted by koeselitz at 11:00 PM on April 21, 2011


My apologies, Brother Caine; I see what you're saying now.

You're right that some scientists and some theists still seem compelled to overstep the bounds of non-overlapping magisteria, but I don't think that that necessarily makes the concept of non-overlapping magisteria itself a "fiction". What it is is an idea, and what you are describing is a failure of people -- on both sides -- to agree with that idea.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:05 AM on April 22, 2011


And that wasn't supposed to be all in bold like that. Sorry again; I'm pre-caffinated.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:06 AM on April 22, 2011


Christianity: Don't do it!
posted by bardic at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2011


BrotherCaine: So I guess the answer is that science has to do with everything, but maybe there are a few areas where we should think very hard about the moral impact before developing tools that will gift/curse us with exactly what we wish for in our innermost thoughts.

You've pretty much just admitted what EC and I were getting at, science alone cannot, and probably should not be a comprehensive answer to all questions of importance to human beings.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:32 AM on April 22, 2011


Science alone probably can at some point provide comprehensive answers to moral questions (I don't know about all questions). 'Should' is not really relevant, as we seldom have the wisdom to wait around after we get to 'can'.

I feel like there are tremendous possibilities for identifying the parts of our biology/mind that taint our moral reasoning with xenophobia, disgust, fear and selfishness, but at the same time, I feel like we'll go too far too fast when we reach a much deeper but still incomplete understanding of ourselves and how we reason.

I feel like our power to control and manipulate the world around us is increasing exponentially while our moral progress is linear. I'm kind of hoping that there will be some technological discovery that accelerates the pace of our moral progress. I think we might need it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:36 AM on April 22, 2011


'Should' is not really relevant, as we seldom have the wisdom to wait around after we get to 'can'.

Nonsense. "Should" is critically relevant to most of these questions.

I feel like there are tremendous possibilities for identifying the parts of our biology/mind that taint our moral reasoning with xenophobia, disgust, fear and selfishness, but at the same time, I feel like we'll go too far too fast when we reach a much deeper but still incomplete understanding of ourselves and how we reason.

Why are xenophobia, disgust, fear, and selfishness "taints" to our moral reasoning? You argue that these are emotional reactions that need to be mitigated, other people will argue that these are emotional reactions that are valuable parts of our moral framework. Both of these arguments are inherently non-scientific, because science can do nothing beyond create descriptive models of how these emotions happen.

Your feeling that "we'll go too far too fast" is likewise, not remotely scientific.

I'm kind of hoping that there will be some technological discovery that accelerates the pace of our moral progress.

It can't because engineering on its own is an amoral enterprise. Feynman described this quite well. Science can describe the economic, medical, and social effects of the fact that poor neighborhoods in Brazil don't have a safe water supply. Engineering can explain how existing water services can be expanded into those neighborhoods. Neither can explain why the absence of water is a moral problem.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:51 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Insert Scott Adams "no free will" ad hominem attack here]
posted by charred husk at 8:52 AM on April 22, 2011


Okay: All of your current arguments are unknowingly in direct response to comments I made above. In fact, this entire conversation has been directed from behind the scenes, just to get us all to this final point: It doesn't matter what you think you know about the universe, it only matters what the universe wants you to think about the universe. And for now, the universe wants you to buy my latest book, on sale now.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:56 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Both of these arguments are inherently non-scientific, because science can do nothing beyond create descriptive models of how these emotions happen.

Oh, I don't know. Science seems quite capable of developing pharmaceuticals that can have all manner of mood and temperament altering/influencing properties. I'm not saying these pharmaceuticals can affect the root of our emotions, but they can definitely influence how these emotions manifest (or not).

This is not necessarily a good thing by the way. One thinks of Soviet Russia where certain critics of the system were determined mentally ill and disappeared into deep dank "hospitals" where they were administered all manner of helpful cures.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on April 22, 2011


Telephone poles. The bottom of the ocean. Electric guitars.

I say yes.


I'm strongly considering converting to Koeselitzism. If you decide to dictate a holy book, I'd like to volunteer to work as your scribe. I'll only insert a few profanities, I promise.
posted by The World Famous at 9:51 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


philip-random: Science seems quite capable of developing pharmaceuticals...

No, science cannot. The reason is obvious when you look at the scientific method. Science is the inductive process of testing empirical hypotheses via the systematic collection of multiple cases. You can (and should) use science to evaluate the hypothesis that a treatment does or does not have a desired effect. But the synthesis of treatments (and for that matter, the formation of hypotheses) is almost always outside of its scope.

The reason for insisting on strict definitions of what science can and can't do, is that you get bad and stupid science as a result of muddying the waters.

... that can have all manner of mood and temperament altering/influencing properties. I'm not saying these pharmaceuticals can affect the root of our emotions, but they can definitely influence how these emotions manifest (or not).

Sure, but why should we influence mood? What forms of influence are acceptable? What forms of influence are unacceptable? How do we make decisions regarding the legal acceptability of Alcohol vs. LSD?

Science can't answer these questions because they're primarily deductive rather than inductive. If we're talking about treatment of major mental illness, the dominant ethical framework is a pragmatic utilitarianism. But that works on the prior assumption that the welfare of the patient is valuable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


>You seem to want to reduce everything in the ancient world to "this characteristic of religion being the overarching explanatory model for reality cultural and physical", but ancient life was much more diverse and much more complicated than that. The only way to make it as uncomplicated as you seem to want it to be is to claim that anything and everything that ever explained the world was religion, right up to the development of science... at which point something totally new leaped fully-formed into the world -- a car rather than a horse, "designed to serve a specific purpose" -- with no predecessors and no intermediate steps. And I'm sorry, but it didn't happen that way.

Science was preceded by diverse secular traditions which also attempted to explain the world and our place in it, blooming in different places at different times all around the world: alchemy, philosophy, strategy, theater, mathematics, formal logic, debate, on and on and on. To many of the people who explored them, these were certainly about "explaining reality and our place in it"; to many, they were also deeply connected to "a basis for moral reasoning".

These, and a million pursuits like them, are a thread which runs through the center of the human story, just as religion does. We sell ourselves short when we pretend otherwise.


You are putting words in my mouth. I haven't claimed that science or even religion "leaped full-formed into the world." I also haven't claimed that other forms of cultural and societal expression are not valid ways of exploring reality. What I do claim is that for ancient man religion was the pillar upon which all these other endeavours was based. Music, for example, does not inform a person about where the universe came from. There may be songs about it but they are informed by a cosmology constructed by religion. It is through these cosmologies that humans are informed about their place in the world. Not to say that music, art, and literature don't contribute to that, but religion is central.

"Alchemy, philosophy, strategy, theater, mathematics, formal logic, and debate" certainly have been used as tools for exploration but again the were based on some cosmology that was based on either a religious or scientific tradition. This is not to claim that there has never been a culture that doesn't use one of these two tools for building a cosmology, but I am as of yet unaware of one.

>Yes, but the family is more than just ancestor worship... and in ancient Rome, the latter could easily be said to follow from the former, not the other way around. That's my point.

I don't see the significance of quibbling about which follows from the other as that has nothing to do with my definition of religion. Either way here is a selection that talks about just this subject:

I will choose the issue of religion’s frequently supposed autonomy from other social domains to illustrate this way of theorizing religion for the study of antiquity. Fortunately, there is now wide recognition that religion was organized differently in antiquity as compared to western modernity. A division into semi-autonomous domains such as the economy, politics, high culture, and religion characterizes modernity. It is from this large-scale field and individual life-sphere arrangement of modernity that we get the idea that religion is something essentially separate from areas such as the economy and politics. In antiquity, religion was embedded in a rather seamless social and cultural whole. This means that religion was not a matter of meaning for the individual in a distinct portion of a person’s life. It has been typical in modernity to view religion as a sphere of meaning and economy as a sphere of instrumentality, two opposites.

But what happens when we consider the religion of the ancient household and take seriously our way of theorizing it as a class of practices that are continuous with other practices and patterns of human thought? Most economic production in antiquity took place within the household and on land owned and/or worked by members of households, including slaves. Households in the Greek and Roman worlds were organized so that the work of women, children, slaves and other dependents supported the leisure of male heads of households so that they might have freedom for management, cultural (e.g., religion), and political activity. The house was not a place of leisure that one came home to after work at the office, but the center of work and production. Moreover, the domestic economy, based on the idea of non-market exchanges of goods between members of the family, was the ideal model for the outside economy of equals and citizens.

Religious practices and economic practices were intertwined in antiquity and to adequately theorize ancient religions the scholar must understand how practices that made reference to gods and similar beings also involved the economy and politics and so on. It is no accident that the most important religious practices and institutions had to do with land, the wealth from the land and food. The central religious practices in the historical period of the ancient Mediterranean concerned the fruits of the land that landowning heads of households offered back to deities who gave the products and legitimated the ownership and social order. As places of animal, plant and other offerings, temples were centers of massive consumption, redistribution and storage of wealth that competed with households, the other major locus for economy and religion. Scholarship from the social sciences on gift giving, reciprocity and non-market economies are highly relevant, but underexploited by scholars of antiquity, and especially of religion. One could take art or politics and also show how the practices that comprise these categories of social analysis were also embedded with religious practices.
(Stowers, S., Theorizing the Religion of Ancient Households and Families, pgs. 10-11)

>Any description of a car that also applies to a horse is not a usable definition of the word "car."

You are wrong. A car is a tool used for transportation. A horse is a tool used for transportation. These are functional definitions as is my definition of religion. Similar functions do not equate to similar things.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2011


Music, for example, does not inform a person about where the universe came from.

Nor do many religions. Mine, for example, does not inform anyone about the origin of the universe.

You are wrong. A car is a tool used for transportation. A horse is a tool used for transportation. These are functional definitions as is my definition of religion. Similar functions do not equate to similar things.

OK, I think I see where we're talking past each other. See, when I read the word "definition" above when you set forth your narrative description, I thought you meant "definition" in the sense of a statement of the meaning of the word. But apparently you weren't trying to set forth a definition of the term "religion," but instead only a non-exhaustive description of functions of religion - a "functional definition," as it were. The problem is that the first time you even hinted that you were offering not a definition but a "functional definition" was here.

You first posted your "definition" of the term "religion" at 10:20 PM on April 20, with no real assertion that it was, in fact, a definition rather than merely a non-exhaustive description of certain functions. Then, more than 12 hours later, at 10:53 AM on April 2, you for the first time identified that non-exhaustive descriptive list as your "definition" - again with no mention that it was a functional definition and not an actual definition. And then the first time you even hinted that your "definition" was not actually a definition but merely a functional definition was another 13 or so hours later at 12:23 PM on April 21.

So yes, to the extent that you're not actually proposing a definition, but only a "functional definition" in the sense of a non-exhaustive and non-exclusive list of certain functions of religion, you're right. But what a pointless discussion this has been if that's what you meant all along.
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on April 22, 2011


In fact, I and others complained repeatedly that what you were offering was not an actual definition but only a non-exhaustive and non-exclusive list of functions. Are you agreeing with us now? I don't understand your point, given that you did not openly agree with our criticisms of your definition.
posted by The World Famous at 10:52 AM on April 22, 2011


Just to clarify this is not to say that my definition of religion is the only valid one there is. There are many definitions which are used in the academic literature depending on what one is trying to analyze. I think that in the context of this discussion(the differences and or similarities between religion and science) my definition is adequate. Here is a nice little survey of the various definitions of religion. Looks like my definition isn't all that original.

Existing definitions of religion cover a wide spectrum and range from simple definitions such as that provided by Edward Tylor that religion is composed of ‘the belief in spiritual beings’ (1958:8, cited in Bowie 2000:15), or Émile Durkheim’s sociological view that religion ‘is a set of beliefs and practices by which society represents itself to itself’ (Cladis 2001:xx), through to much more complex ones. An example of the latter is provided by Byrne (1988:7): ‘a religion is an institution with a complex of theoretical, practical, sociological and experiential dimensions, which is distinguished by characteristic objects (gods or sacred things), goals (salvation or ultimate good) and functions (giving an overall meaning to life or providing the identity or cohesion of a social group)’. Whilst a mid-point between the two is provided by Durrans’s (2000:59) definition that religion is ‘a system of collective, public actions which conform to rules (“ritual”) and usually express “beliefs” in the sense of a mixture of ideas and pre-dispositions’.

We can also define further elements frequently associated with religion, thought of either as subsumed within religion or operating in parallel with it, as in Paden’s (1994:10) definition that religion is ‘a system of language and practice that organises the world in terms of what is deemed “sacred”’. The notion of the ‘sacred’ being itself defined by Hinnells (1995: 437) as derived from the Latin sacer meaning ‘consecrated to a divinity’, and couched in more human terms by Geertz (1968:98) with regard to religious beliefs as ‘a light cast upon human life from somewhere outside it’. Whereas in contrast ‘holy’, another term frequently used in conjunction with religion, was derived from languages of North European origin and has its root in terms standing for ‘health’ or ‘wholeness’ (Hinnells 1995).

So what then is religion? In many respects it is indefinable, being concerned with thoughts, beliefs, actions and material, and how these are weighted will vary; but, in general terms, the simpler the definition the better. The important point to make is that regardless of all the complexities of definition which have been attempted—we have to recognise that religion also includes the intangible, the irrational, and the indefinable. Religion does not only function within a logical framework, it is also ‘a system constructed by a long tradition of thought about fundamental human problems—life, love, good, evil, death’ (Meslin 1985:39); in other words, the essential concerns of the human condition. Clifford Geertz (1968:95), though essentially anti-definition, also provides a thoughtful overview of what religion is in that it has a ‘formative impact upon common sense, the way in which, by questioning the unquestionable, it shapes our apprehension of the quotidian world of “what there is”’.
(Insoll, T., Archaeology, Ritual, and Religion, pgs. 5-7)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2011


FWIW, I think your definition is perfectly serviceable as a functional definition.
posted by The World Famous at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2011


The problem is that the first time you even hinted that you were offering not a definition but a "functional definition" was here.

Nope, it was here. My next post after the first time you actually commented on my definition. In fact after re-reading you were the first person to comment on my definition.

Nor do many religions.

Examples? Not to say there aren't any. I am sure there are some that don't describe the creation of the universe but if not they still have a cosmology which puts human beings at a certain place in the grand scheme of things.

Mine, for example, does not inform anyone about the origin of the universe.

But you do have a cosmology which informs the adherents of your religion about their place in the universe.

Again this whole discussion is actually getting away from my original point which is that in so far as science and religion perform a similar function science is the superior tool for understanding reality and our place in it.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:24 AM on April 22, 2011


FWIW, I think your definition is perfectly serviceable as a functional definition.

Ah, ok then we can agree that science is better suited to explore and explain reality than is religion?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2011


Ah, ok then we can agree that science is better suited to explore and explain reality than is religion?

Not only can we agree on it, I've already said so several times in this thread.

I said: "It's a valid point you're making, though. I agree with you that science and religion really cannot be separated if religion is going to be used as a tool for interpretation and understanding of reality. And I would also agree with you that scientific observation and discovery trumps religious dogma in terms of reliability and accuracy."

I also said: "I say science is the best way for exploring our knowledge of the natural, period."

And I also said: "I think science is the best tool for understanding reality. I don't think it's the only tool. And I think far too many people who claim to be scientific have an underdeveloped understanding of the limits of what any given scientific discovery actually are. The biggest mistake that religion makes is to be dogmatic and to think that it has ever settled any of the questions it seeks to answer. And science only works when it avoids that same trap."
posted by The World Famous at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2011


I said: "It's a valid point you're making, though. I agree with you that science and religion really cannot be separated if religion is going to be used as a tool for interpretation and understanding of reality. And I would also agree with you that scientific observation and discovery trumps religious dogma in terms of reliability and accuracy."

Well than I have to ask the question, what is the value of religion?

And I also said: "I think science is the best tool for understanding reality. I don't think it's the only tool. And I think far too many people who claim to be scientific have an underdeveloped understanding of the limits of what any given scientific discovery actually are. The biggest mistake that religion makes is to be dogmatic and to think that it has ever settled any of the questions it seeks to answer. And science only works when it avoids that same trap."

I agree and I think the scientific method does avoid this "trap" for the most part. Academia, not so much.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2011


What I do claim is that for ancient man religion was the pillar upon which all these other endeavours was based.

And what I'm claiming is that this is an overstatement. Yes, religion was intertwined with other endeavours, but that doesn't make it "the pillar upon which things like mathematics and strategy were based". How could it be, if "in antiquity, religion was embedded in a rather seamless social and cultural whole" and "was not a matter of meaning for the individual in a distinct portion of a person’s life"?

It's one or the other: either religion was distinct, in which case I'd continue to argue that there were non-religious pursuits and even cosmologies which served to explain the world to the ancients, and still do today; or religion was part of a seamless whole, in which case you cannot simply pull it free and claim that it was necessarily any more "central" to meaning than everything else.

This is not to claim that there has never been a culture that doesn't use one of these two tools for building a cosmology, but I am as of yet unaware of one.

I'd personally say that Confucianism is a philosophy which builds a human-centric, non-religious cosmology. However, you've basically defined religion as that-which-builds-a-cosmology-and-isn't-science, so then Confucianism becomes a religion, too... and like I said, I find that quite over-broad.

Your "functional definition" can't distinguish between things which are commonly said to have religious function, and things which are not (like science -- which does "put human beings at a certain place in the grand scheme of things", it's just that we don't tend to like what that place implies -- and philosophy). For that reason, I don't think it's a good definition.
posted by vorfeed at 12:46 PM on April 22, 2011


Well than I have to ask the question, what is the value of religion?

Not to be coy, but that depends on your definition of the term "religion." Of course, any normative judgment about the value of something is going to be subject to personal interpretation and cascading other value judgments. But, as a starting point, I think your own functional definition proposed in this thread could lead to some really good discussion about the various ways in which religion has value.

I agree and I think the scientific method does avoid this "trap" for the most part. Academia, not so much.

I agree. Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever encountered anyone who is capable of sticking to the scientific method in anything other than a clinical setting (and even then . . . ).
posted by The World Famous at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2011


Well than I have to ask the question, what is the value of religion?

Does knowing HOW something happens, or knowing the CAUSE of something, always 100% of the time help you COPE with that thing happening?

In other words -- it's one thing to know that sadness/love/this emotion/that emotion are caused by neurochemical reactions. But is simply knowing that they are neurochemical reactions enough, all the time, to help you to withstand and experience those emotions?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on April 23, 2011


It can't because engineering on its own is an amoral enterprise.

As long as we have no universal moral calculus, yes.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:41 PM on April 23, 2011


I do think even if we don't develop a universal moral calculus, we will still be able to model a moral consensus for a given population. We'd never know if that moral consensus was optimal though; which is I guess the difference between can and should for me in terms of turning to science and technology as a tool to apply to moral reasoning.

I'm a bit off mentally today. I hate to address your points without more thought and/or better articulation of what I'm trying to say, but I'll try to drop in on this thread later this week to explicate.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:47 PM on April 23, 2011


And what I'm claiming is that this is an overstatement. Yes, religion was intertwined with other endeavours, but that doesn't make it "the pillar upon which things like mathematics and strategy were based".

Well let me phrase it another way then. Religion was the ontological lens through which ancient man viewed the world. The basis for all modern mathematics was developed independently in 4 regions: Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China. In all four cases the earliest mathematics was done in the context of divination and astrology/astronomy. Both of these being religious in nature. In the case of mathematics it does seem that it was based on religion in all of its earliest contexts.

I'd continue to argue that there were non-religious pursuits and even cosmologies which served to explain the world to the ancients

Since you have yet to provide any alternative viable cosmologies developed by ancients outside of the religious realm I think you will have a hard time arguing this point.

I'd personally say that Confucianism is a philosophy which builds a human-centric, non-religious cosmology.

Except that Confucianism was informed by a religious tradition and cosmology stretching back thousands of years.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:13 AM on April 26, 2011


religion was the ontological lens through which ancient man viewed the world

According to your own link, ancient man viewed the world through a seamless social and cultural lens which included things we modern people think of as religion and things we think of as secular, all mixed together into a single, holistic worldview. That makes quite a bit of sense. Claiming that religion was the lens does not. It's a vast overstatement.

For one thing, do you think that religion developed before ancient humans could "view the world"? If so, I hope you can provide evidence of primate religions. The idea that religion made man rather than the other way around does not stand up to the anthropological evidence, to say the least.

Except that Confucianism was informed by a religious tradition and cosmology stretching back thousands of years.

"Informed by" is quite some distance from "central to" and/or "the pillar upon which this was based". This is especially true in the case of Confucianism, which was distinguished by its radical transformation of a thousand-year-old Heaven-based cosmology into a set of ideals which were rooted in human action and behavior. By this standard, Western secular thought is religious today, since it also continues to be informed by a religious tradition and cosmology stretching back thousands of years.

"Done in the context of" is also far from "the pillar upon which this was based", especially since mathematics became less divinitory/astrological and more practical and self-motivated as it went on, even during ancient times.

Since you have yet to provide any alternative viable cosmologies developed by ancients outside of the religious realm I think you will have a hard time arguing this point.

If I accept your line of argument, then I can't even provide any alternative viable cosmologies developed by modern people "outside of the religious realm" -- the early origins of science and philosophy were no less religious than the origins of Confucianism and mathematics were, for instance. On top of that, punk rock, Marxism, capitalism, and just about anything else you can think of have all been "informed by a religious tradition and cosmology stretching back thousands of years". Yet science, philosophy, punk, and economics are still considered to be outside the religious realm.

This suggests that your line of argument is flawed.
posted by vorfeed at 12:34 PM on April 26, 2011


At any rate, for someone who wants to "clarify this is not to say that my definition of religion is the only valid one there is", you sure seem reluctant to let me have a definition of religion which doesn't include Confucianism...
posted by vorfeed at 2:55 PM on April 26, 2011


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