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September 16, 2011 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Varieties of irreligious experience - modern believers "may not accept the idea of God as an actually existing entity, so arguments for atheism will not disturb them"
posted by Gyan (932 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
If God does exist, He is an atheist too. That's how you make for a great religious discussion.
posted by Renoroc at 4:57 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem here is that atheists are defining god in a certain way, X which they say they don't believe in. Then you have he sort of erudite philosophical theists define 'god' in another way, Y and then claim that the atheists arguments are wrong because they don't have a good argument for the non-existence of Y (which is often some non-falsifiable philosophical mumbo jumbo)

The problem is that atheists aren't trying to say Y doesn't exist, they're trying to say X doesn't exist. So arguments about Y are irrelevant. There are plenty of people who do believe X to have a debate with.

I think the 'philosophical theists' here are a little upset about being left out of the conversation.
posted by delmoi at 5:04 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


There's the idea that the success of an extraordinary black man or woman says little about the actual racism of a society; you can't really claim that the society had addressed racism until mediocre black men and women do as well as their white counterparts. Similarly, religion won't be spent as a force in a society until it will be noncontroversial for the religiously disinclined to be tepid secularists rather than tepid church-goers (or temple-goers or mosque-goers or shrine-goers). I think that's what we should be working toward.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:07 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


The problem here is that atheists are defining god in a certain way, X which they say they don't believe in. Then you have he sort of erudite philosophical theists define 'god' in another way, Y and then claim that the atheists arguments are wrong because they don't have a good argument for the non-existence of Y (which is often some non-falsifiable philosophical mumbo jumbo)
I think what he's saying is that many public atheists define religion in a certain way and then refuse to acknowledge that actual religious believers are often operating with completely different ideas about how religion works and why it matters to them. And therefore these atheists come across as ignorant, bombastic and condescending, and they alienate not only religious people but also non-believers who have a more nuanced experience and understanding of religion.

That rings really true to me.
posted by craichead at 5:38 AM on September 16, 2011 [47 favorites]


Science fiction sucks because Transformers 3 sucks, and don't try to tell me Transformers doesn't really represent science fiction because I know lotsa people watched that movie. The TV wouldn't shut up about it.
posted by straight at 5:43 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I recently read The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene by Mary Midgley, and she made an interesting point. While some neo-Darwinists make claims about how they're bold enough to face a uncaring, purposeless Universe; in practice they're often very keen to see purpose everywhere. The sociobiologists can barely see any human behaviour at all without leaping to an explanation of how it serves an evolutionary purpose.

I thought of that when I saw this comment a while back:

From a biological point of view, it [having a baby] is the ultimate purpose of your life as an individual.

It's not at all clear to me how biology has a point of view or a purpose. A purpose is usually something that comes from a conscious entity: a person might have a purpose, or an organization of people; or a tool might have the purpose its creator designed it for. We'd find it quite odd to say "from a mathematical point of view, X is the ultimate purpose" or "from a chemical point of view, Y is the ultimate purpose".

So when people start to talk about how a purpose comes out of a non-physical concept like biology, this doesn't seem to me very different from some modern theological notions of God. In both cases we no longer have an all-powerful creator, but we do have an abstract non-physical entity with a purpose, which then shapes the lesser purposes of our individual lives.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:51 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


GRRAtheists is the new LOLXians.
posted by unsupervised at 5:53 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


The dead shall live, the living die. I kill what lives; I save what has died. And I will tell you this: there are things worse than I. But you won't meet them because by then I will have killed you.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


So when people start to talk about how a purpose comes out of a non-physical concept like biology, this doesn't seem to me very different from some modern theological notions of God.
Hmmm. Biology is pretty physical, actually. And the concept that "ultimate purpose" is reproduction doesn't come from abstract philosophical musings, but observation of physical reality. You can argue that there are other less visible purposes -- things that are subtler and more nuanced and more "deeply true" to humans -- but at the end of the day, it's not exactly speculative to say that humans are here to make humans. Heck, biological life is here to make more biological life. That's practically a truism.
posted by verb at 5:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anti-theists are primarily concerned with the religious believes that appear harmful in modern society. Any others are either ignored as non-problematic or actually supported. Sam Harris is actually pretty gung-ho about Buddhism, for example.

Umm, that sounds horribly incorrect, TheophileEscargot. Biologists are exceedingly clear that evolution has no ultimate purpose, merely the more transient "fitness".
posted by jeffburdges at 5:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


10 IF $SOMEONE_DISPUTES_CLAIM THEN MOVE_UP_ONE_LEVEL(ABSTRACTION_LADDER)
20 GOTO 10
posted by DU at 5:57 AM on September 16, 2011 [20 favorites]


Welcome to every metafilter conversation on the subject ever.

If your God is indistinguishable from no God, then it's ridiculous to object to atheists who say that God does not exist. We don't have to be able to disprove the God you deliberately constructed to be unfalsifiable. It's obvious that your God is itself just a sophisticated God of the gaps argument.

The problem isn't with the honest atheists, it's with the atheists in denial who are so attached to the label of God or of their religion that they can't admit the obvious. You're a theist like Marcus Bachmann is a heterosexual, okay?

It's like insisting that you believe in astrology and then getting mad at people who say astrology is bogus, because your personal understanding of astrology is that the stars have some influence on the rest of the universe.
posted by callmejay at 5:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [21 favorites]


modern believers "may not accept the idea of God as an actually existing entity, so arguments for atheism will not disturb them"

That's an atheist with a thing for stained glass and ritual. Why not be a goth instead?
posted by fleetmouse at 6:00 AM on September 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


I think what he's saying is that many public atheists define religion in a certain way and then refuse to acknowledge that actual religious believers are often operating with completely different ideas about how religion works and why it matters to them.

And I think that's a common straw man attack on atheists. Just because atheists usually complain about the most harmful versions of religion doesn't mean we've never heard of cafeteria Catholics or Unitarian Universalists. It's not like when you bring up those "completely different ideas about how religion works" we've never heard of them. It's that those beliefs are either so neutered as to be unfalsifiable (see my previous comment) or that they're just as clearly false as the "traditional" beliefs.

There also seems to be a lot of denial among these "different" theists about what their coreligionists believe, and in what proportions. More than half of Americans dispute evolution, but every time creationism is brought up on the Blue, some Christians insist that those people are a tiny minority and completely unrepresentative of the religion.
posted by callmejay at 6:03 AM on September 16, 2011 [30 favorites]


This topic is like a scab metafilter can't stop picking.
posted by oddman at 6:09 AM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anti-theists are primarily concerned with the religious believes that appear harmful in modern society. Any others are either ignored as non-problematic or actually supported.
That has utterly not been my experience and in fact is contradicted by two-thirds of the comments on this thread.
posted by craichead at 6:12 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looking beyond the concept of a personal God who does impossible things I settled on my current concept of God. My guess is that all of this has been hashed out previously by science fiction/fact speculators.

Arthur Clarke stated that the technology of a sufficiently advanced civilization would appear to be magic. I'll extend that a bit. That technology would be indistinguishable from miracles and a sufficiently advanced being would be indistinguishable from God.

In this universe, taking into account the reasonable assumption that other conscious entities have evolved, it is ridiculous to believe that we are at the forefront. If another creature started evolving into advanced consciousness say 6 million years ago instead of our 4 million (arbitrary numbers), this creature would be the equivalent of humans with 2 million extra years of evolution*. What would be the result of that evolution? I would argue cooperation and harmony. Why? Continued aggression and foolishness as technology made weapons of annihilation cheaper and more accessible would lead to extinction. Also if the entities lived in hostile antagonism to their world they would not continue to survive for so long once they had the advanced capacity to alter their environment worldwide. Therefore a sustainable harmony with their surroundings would be part of their character. Imagine what it will take for humankind to survive another 2 million years.

*Although the relative speed of evolution could favor or the other, evolution having so many steps, for the sake of simplicity, I made the broad assumption that we evolved at the same rate.

Why have we not had interactions with said creatures? This presumes that none of us have, but let's follow that presumption. Possibility one. The universe is large and space travel has difficulties that are not overcome with advanced technology. In the vast universe, the probability that advanced conscious entities are within 100 light years is small. Maybe the maximum rate of travel even with advanced technology is 0.5 light speed. Also, unless they have received signals from our planet there may be no reason to come here; informative transmissions have only been sent out from our planet for a century.

Over the millions of years that hominids have evolved into humans, only the small recent fraction of that includes written communication and a minute fraction of that fraction involves transmitting our communication (and bodies) beyond the bounds of this planet.

Possibility two. Evolution or experience has imparted on them the wisdom of non-interference. Just because they can find us doesn't mean they would decide to visit.

There are many variants to the notion that we have interacted with aliens, from personal visits with the requisite bodily probing to the idea that human religions were founded by them (Jesus was an alien). I don't find these particularly convincing, but that's me.

My conclusions are that beings exist in this universe that are indistinguishable from God, that they have continued to exist because they are benign, and that they do not personally interact with our lives.

Therefore a God (or God collective) exists.

Somehow this comforts me.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:13 AM on September 16, 2011


This topic is like a scab metafilter can't stop picking.

If only it were a scab. Look at the world. It's an on-going, perpetually-renewed, massive head trauma.
posted by DU at 6:17 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Hmmm. Biology is pretty physical, actually. And the concept that "ultimate purpose" is reproduction doesn't come from abstract philosophical musings, but observation of physical reality.

You can observe physical reality and see stars turning hydrogen into helium, or entropy always increasing, or radioactive decay chains turning elements into iron, or organisms dying, or a vast number of other processes going on. But observing a process doesn't mean that the process has a purpose.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:22 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you've demonstrated my point, dances_. It's not that you believe in God so much as you want to believe in God, so you have constructed an argument that lets you "believe" in God without really believing. Or lets you believe in "God" without believing in God, if you prefer.

Is it fair to criticize atheists for focusing on actual theists instead of on a million atheists in denial with idiosyncratic God-like creations of their own?
posted by callmejay at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


More than half of Americans dispute evolution, but every time creationism is brought up on the Blue, some Christians insist that those people are a tiny minority and completely unrepresentative of the religion.

To be fair, most of the world's Christians aren't Americans, and there are some things (like creationism and premillennial dispensationalism) which are much more common in American Christianity than they are in Christianity as a whole.

I liked the article, and not just for namechecking Swedenborg, whose writings I dearly love in all their elaborate bizarreness (in his heaven, only the really good angels got their own detached houses, and their contents and interior decoration reflected the internal states of the angels, although by 'angels' he meant... but this goes on for thousands of pages). It does a good job of arguing for complexity and nuance in the historical constructions of atheism and religion, instead of aiming for a polarised worldview where any deviation from absolute atheism or fundamentalist literalist religion is somehow selling out to the other side.
posted by Catseye at 6:24 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fascinating essay. It points to exactly what I can't bear about the Dawkinsite perspective on this, despite being much more of an atheist than I am anything else. Dawkins spends most of The God Delusion engaged in a splendid demolition of what he calls "the god hypothesis", without spending more than a handful of anecdotal pages establishing that the god hypothesis is what most religious people actually believe or have believed through history. For a rationalist, that's a stunningly irrational way to argue, and the same unwarranted assumption blights the vast majority of otherwise watertight atheist writing I come across.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:33 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


When the belief is simply that there exists something greater than oneself, the counter-argument starts to sound vain and silly.
posted by samsara at 6:38 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


When the belief is simply that there exists something greater than oneself, the counter-argument starts to sound vain and silly.

What does "greater than oneself" even mean though? I mean, Shaq, Terry Pratchett, Stephen Hawking, and the solar system are all greater than myself. But that doesn't really mean anything religious.

It's not at all clear to me how biology has a point of view or a purpose. A purpose is usually something that comes from a conscious entity: a person might have a purpose, or an organization of people; or a tool might have the purpose its creator designed it for. We'd find it quite odd to say "from a mathematical point of view, X is the ultimate purpose" or "from a chemical point of view, Y is the ultimate purpose".

Purpose from a biological point of view is very different from theological or philosophical purpose. I guess maybe biologists could have picked a better word. But biological "purpose" simply means basically the mechanism of evolution. You could also say the ultimate purpose of the Haber process is ammonia.
posted by kmz at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


You can observe physical reality and see stars turning hydrogen into helium, or entropy always increasing, or radioactive decay chains turning elements into iron, or organisms dying, or a vast number of other processes going on. But observing a process doesn't mean that the process has a purpose.

I hear what you're saying and am sometimes bothered by what feels like people genuinely anthropomorphizing physical systems of the universe, but I think it's also in a lot of cases just a matter of shorthand: people say "mechanic x has purpose y" in a system not because they believe that there's some imbued desire-to-accomplish-y at play so much as that accomplishing y is what keeps that system going.

So a person who says "reproduction is the ultimate biological purpose of animals" doesn't necessarily believe that animals get up in the morning and think "MY PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO BREED"; in a lot of cases they're just acknowledging that, when you look at sexual reproduction systemically in the animal kingdom, breeding and producing offspring is the fundamental cyclical mechanic that perpetuates that system. It's an informality of vocabulary as much as anything—glossing the derived ideas of emergent systemic behavior in simpler terms on the assumption that other people will rightly interpret it as convenient shorthand for "this is what keeps the cycle going" rather than an assertion of some patina of metaphysical intent or will on otherwise mindless physical systems.
posted by cortex at 6:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


This is a great article. Would anyone care to talk about it?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [16 favorites]


Given that Philo of Alexandria was arguing for the transcendence of God right about 2000 years ago, why are we having this conversation now? There is no next rung of "the abstraction ladder".

If you want to get all passionate and beat your breast while you tell me about a quasi-magical figure who looks kind of like Santa Clause from those old Coke adds only taller - get off my porch! If you want to get all passionate and beat your breast while you tell me that said quasi-magical figure who looks kind of like Santa Clause doesn't exist - get off my porch!

Don't get me started on my feelings about wild extrapolation on the nature of those on the other side of the debate from the behavior of a few individuals!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


While some neo-Darwinists make claims about how they're bold enough to face a uncaring, purposeless Universe; in practice they're often very keen to see purpose everywhere. The sociobiologists can barely see any human behaviour at all without leaping to an explanation of how it serves an evolutionary purpose... It's not at all clear to me how biology has a point of view or a purpose. A purpose is usually something that comes from a conscious entity...

Seems to me that this use of "purpose" falls under the category of convenient metaphor. It's like how computer programmers will talk about what a given program "knows" or "is trying to do" or "can figure out", or how an economist will talk about what the market "decides", or how gardeners talk about what a given variety of plant "likes". The people engaging in this sort of anthropomorphization know that they're speaking figuratively.
posted by baf at 6:59 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Thanks for posting this; good piece. I'm reminded of another great read on the topic, a combination of essay/book review roundup that appeared in the New Yorker a few months ago and which I linked and provided some relevant excerpts from in this thread.

Anti-theists are primarily concerned with the religious believes that appear harmful in modern society.

Possibly, but I'm not convinced. Or at least not convinced that this thinking is thorough enough. Since I read the article linked above I've been dwelling on a fundamental issue in that argument: that concern with humanism, in the end, doesn't matter, in a world in which no ultimate good is assumed. 'Ultimate good' is as abstract and unprovable as any conception of the divine. Yes, you might be able to reduce suffering and improve the quality of life through your actions, but it's still a wholly meaningless activity, completely arbitrary and pointless, in a universe in which nothing finally matters and humanity is really a pretty inconsequential bit of the whole thing.
The emphasis on “joy” and “fullness” inevitably asks secularism to provide what Bruce Robbins calls an improvement story—to bring the good news about the consolations of secularism. Yet Lily Briscoe’s (or Terrence Malick’s, or my philosopher friend’s) tormented metaphysical questions remain, and cannot be answered by secularism any more effectively than by religion. There are days when Philip Larkin’s line about life being “first boredom, then fear” seems unpleasantly accurate, and on those days I might be more likely to turn to a tragic Christian theology like Donald M. MacKinnon’s than to this book, in which the tragic or absurd vision is not much entertained. Thirty years ago, Thomas Nagel wrote a shrewd essay entitled “The Absurd,” in which he argued that, just as we can “step back from the purposes of individual life and doubt their point, we can step back also from the progress of human history, or of science, or the success of a society, or the kingdom, power, and glory of God, and put all these things into question in the same way.” Secularism can seem as meaningless as religion when such doubt strikes. Nagel went on to conclude, calmly, that we shouldn’t worry too much, because if, under the eye of eternity, nothing matters “then that doesn’t matter either, and we can approach our absurd lives with irony instead of heroism or despair.” This is impeccably logical, and impishly offers a kind of secular deconstruction of secularism, but it is fairly cold comfort in the middle of the night.
What constitutes 'good' for humans, too, is often pretty bad for other entities in existence, as well, so humanism might at best be morally a wash. The most enlightened thing we could do might be able to work toward taking the majority of humans out of existence.

It's not that you believe in God so much as you want to believe in God, so you have constructed an argument that lets you "believe" in God without really believing. Or lets you believe in "God" without believing in God, if you prefer.

This isn't a good argument either, and this is where we often get circular in discussions of theism. You have a certain conception of what "God" is supposed to be, a conception that you, perhaps rightly for that narrow conception, deny, but one which you have constructed and only you (or some third party you haven't defined) believe in. But there is no reason why anyone else should accept your conception of God, nor your argument against the existence of that God. To say nothing of any third party's statement about what they believe, your conception clearly has nothing to do with my own beliefs, and you can argue against your conception until you're blue in the face, but in the end you've said nothing about my religious experience at all - which is the point of the article in the post. To then say "well, but your religious experience is invalid based on my definition of God" doesn't get you anywhere. I was never referring to your definition of God in the first place - it's not something you can define for me. You can't tell someone else they don't believe in God, or suggest that whatever they believe in, it isn't God. The individual conception of the divine is not yours to define.

I find that a lot of athiests (not all by any means, but a lot of the people most vocal in the conversation) get caught up conceiving of 'religious experience' as either their own, perhaps quite negative and narrow, history of religious training, or as a foreign and somewhat cartoonish concept defined by some specific egregious examples of the failings of religious dogma or lack of critical thinking. While those things do exist in human religious activity, they are not the only dimensions of human religious activity. I join most athiests in arguing against those things. I part company when assumptions are being made about the validity of my own internal experience and how it determines my behavior.

There was also this thoughtful response to the New Yorker piece in this week's letters column in the magazine:
Atheism and theism are metaphysical stances, not empirically reasoned conclusions. In their intellectually honest forms (excluding fundamentalists of both stripes), they couldn’t possibly claim to have pat answers, but each does provide a metaphysical ground from which to explore these questions. Neither Sir Isaac Newton’s theism nor Percy Shelley’s atheism caused them to search the universe for easy answers. Instead they analyzed the big questions in a spirit of awe and wonder.
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


The people engaging in this sort of anthropomorphization know that they're speaking figuratively.

Unlike religious people, who are all literal-minded, fundamentalist boors with some kind of aphasia that makes them categorically unable to recognize metaphors and other figurative uses of language?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:07 AM on September 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


FROM THE ARTICLE: For another, not all believers are gullible fools, and intelligent religiosity might have more in common with intelligent infidelity than with ignorant faith.

I like what's going on here, because as a purported 'non-believer,' the author concedes heartily to opposing foundational beliefs. The other side of this, the "ignorant faith," would tend to see the more binary nature of the issue, but not in terms of the depth of belief of rationale. Merely: if you don't believe in Jesusivadonaisaiahyahweh, then you are heathen and should be staked.

As with anything, the lengths one is willing to go to flesh out their beliefs should, hopefully, allow a corresponding ability to envision and respect those of others'
posted by obscurator at 7:08 AM on September 16, 2011


concern with humanism, in the end, doesn't matter, in a world in which no ultimate good is assumed.

Humanism to me means "I am human, I (not God) get to decide what's important, and what's important to me is the welfare of humanity."

The notion that I need some external entity or cosmic purpose to validate my values seem bizarre and frankly a bit infantile.
posted by bjrubble at 7:09 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Unlike religious people, who are all literal-minded, fundamentalist boors with some kind of aphasia that makes them categorically unable to recognize metaphors and other figurative uses of language?

Yes, this kind of selling-short goes both ways, which seems like very much a contributing factor towards otherwise reasonable people ending up chewing on one another's ankles instead of finding some common philosophical ground despite their differences.
posted by cortex at 7:10 AM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


The notion that I need some external entity or cosmic purpose to validate my values seem bizarre and frankly a bit infantile.

Sure, but I take the point Miko raises above to mean that your decision to base your values on the welfare of humanity, given that there is no external or foundational reason to do so, is equally bizarre. (Though not wrong, since there don't seem to be any non-bizarre options here.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:14 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a great article. Would anyone care to talk about it?

Nah, but thanks for offering.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:15 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting essay. I initially rolled my eyes because I thought it was going to be another "atheists can't ___" piece like this one. But on an initial read it seemed to be fairly well-balanced.

Ree: ... may not accept the idea of God as an actually existing entity, so arguments for atheism will not disturb them ...

It's uncertain about what the author is referring to here. On one side, you have pragmatic and agnostic religious theology which argues that the ontology of god can't be determined and is largely irrelevant. On the other side, you have what I've heard called negative theology, which comes to the conclusion that ontological concepts like "exist" and "does not exist" do not apply to god.

kmz: Purpose from a biological point of view is very different from theological or philosophical purpose. I guess maybe biologists could have picked a better word.

Stephen Pinker addresses this in How the Mind Works, calling himself an evolutionary failure and declaring "If my genes don't like it, they can go jump in a lake." Granted, I think that evolutionary psychology is deeply flawed in many respects, but at a minimum they have a good grasp of the is/should problem.

Miko: 'Ultimate good' is as abstract and unprovable as any conception of the divine. Yes, you might be able to reduce suffering and improve the quality of life through your actions, but it's still a wholly meaningless activity, completely arbitrary and pointless, in a universe in which nothing finally matters and humanity is really a pretty inconsequential bit of the whole thing.

I've come to the conclusion that moral philosophy is a deep problem, but one that's largely irrelevant to the way we construct ethics. Similarly, you can't prove that the pythagorean theorem is ultimately true as applied to home construction and engineering, but abandoning trigonometry on this basis is probably a bad idea.

samsara: When the belief is simply that there exists something greater than oneself, the counter-argument starts to sound vain and silly.

Well, there the argument shifts to, "why call it god?" I'm willing to grant that a Tao, ultimate good, prime mover, and some varieties of pantheism are all plausible, but 1) I'm skeptical that they're necessary except as an aesthetic choice in metaphysics and 2) I'm even more skeptical that we can use god-language to understand them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:19 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


nuts, close-tag fail.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:20 AM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman: Unlike religious people, who are all literal-minded, fundamentalist boors with some kind of aphasia that makes them categorically unable to recognize metaphors and other figurative uses of language?

A does X, does not imply that not-A does not-X.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does "greater than oneself" even mean though? I mean, Shaq, Terry Pratchett, Stephen Hawking, and the solar system are all greater than myself. But that doesn't really mean anything religious.

For the bigger than "us" things, such as the earth, the solar system, and all the stars in the backdrop...these are the kinds of things that can bring forth a rational questioning on humanity's part in in all. My mentioning of "greater than oneself" is more of a humbling rationalization, that if we are not the highest hierarchy in the great order of things, then obviously *something* else is....which keeps going up and up the ladder to the point were we run out of the known physical things in the cosmos..and start theorizing about an ultimate power behind everything or a god. The god does not have to be a bearded man in the heavens, but if that helps you conceptualize things better then have at it. Belief in an ultimate power alone is also not what makes a religion complete however, but it's a vital part. There are commonalities however, such as: any belief that puts the person before a higher power, or gives a person their own power (such as wicca, new-age stuff, etc) should be looked at moreso as a "magical" belief than religious...which is the distinction often made when describing this in a philosophical debate. As for answers derived from these debates...who knows? There will always be a journey without destination...
posted by samsara at 7:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mentioning of "greater than oneself" is more of a humbling rationalization, that if we are not the highest hierarchy in the great order of things, then obviously *something* else is....which keeps going up and up the ladder to the point were we run out of the known physical things in the cosmos..and start theorizing about an ultimate power behind everything or a god.

My reaction to this is that the assumption that there is a hierarchy is not really well-footed. Humans aren't any more or less special than anything else in the universe; we're just an interesting-in-some-subjective-senses bit of mold on a giant crust of bread. There's no up or down, in other words; the difference between a universe where we exist and where we don't is superficial aside from how any given human might personally feel about the proposition.
posted by cortex at 7:27 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Thanks for the edit.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:29 AM on September 16, 2011


Yeah, this is a really fantastic article.

samsara: “When the belief is simply that there exists something greater than oneself, the counter-argument starts to sound vain and silly.”

KirkJobSluder: “Well, there the argument shifts to, 'why call it god?' I'm willing to grant that a Tao, ultimate good, prime mover, and some varieties of pantheism are all plausible, but 1) I'm skeptical that they're necessary except as an aesthetic choice in metaphysics and 2) I'm even more skeptical that we can use god-language to understand them.”

I don't know if that's really much of an argument. At most, it's a semantic argument; it seems more prudent to take this opportunity to shift the discussion in one's favor. That is: I think Spinoza generally agreed with samsara. Spinoza's approach (which would seem to be a successful one) was to say: "fine! Yes, absolutely, 'God' exists. 'God' is just another word for 'nature.' So by all means, go on believing in 'God' if that's likely to make you comfortable." And once he got people to accept it on those terms, he'd won; it took about two hundred years, but by then I think Spinoza had won that battle even in the most conservative of backwater churches.
posted by koeselitz at 7:34 AM on September 16, 2011


Well, there the argument shifts to, "why call it god?"

Culture. Upbringing. A convincing experience. Finding wisdom or powerful relevance in writings which call it god. Wanting to find common language with other people. Preferring the term. Why not call it god? It ultimately doesn't matter at all what you call it.

I'm willing to grant that a Tao, ultimate good, prime mover, and some varieties of pantheism are all plausible, but 1) I'm skeptical that they're necessary except as an aesthetic choice in metaphysics and 2) I'm even more skeptical that we can use god-language to understand them.

I don't think it's necessary, just think that a lot of people find meaning in framing things that way, and there's absolutely not a thing inherently wrong with that.
posted by Miko at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


your decision to base your values on the welfare of humanity, given that there is no external or foundational reason to do so, is equally bizarre.

I'm not basing my values on that, I'm saying that's what I consider valuable. I recognize that it's in some sense arbitrary, but I take responsibility for it. I think "God" is a huge dodge in that sense because you are still choosing to use God as the basis of your values. Invoking a "higher power" strikes me as an attempt to shirk the fact that you, personally, are ultimately responsible for your own values.
posted by bjrubble at 7:40 AM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I don't choose God as 'the basis of my values.' You are making a big assumption about other people there.

I'm not basing my values on that, I'm saying that's what I consider valuable

That's fine, but you have to accept that not everyone else agrees with or accepts your ideas about what's valuable. They are yours alone - I can't even see your values, let alone believe in them. You're basing your values on a concept you experience internally, and which you agree is arbitrary and ultimately meaningless to anyone other than you. Do you see the similarity?
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, also, in that New Yorker review I linked the author cited some other books as addressing this idea of being responsible for your own values in an interesting way. He's coming from the reverse position - arguing against the idea from theists that values originate from God - but the reasoning is the same. It points to the idea that whether or not you are a theist, you are still and always responsible for your own values, because you've chosen them.
....Many religionists assume that life without God would be life without meaning. Where secularists cherish autonomy and choice as qualities that make life meaningful, religionists often emphasize self-abnegation and submission to a higher power. This would appear to be a wide gulf. But Kitcher suggests that religionists and secularists actually agree about how to create meaning in a life. Many believers think of their submission to God not as compelled, he points out, but instead as "issuing from the choice of the person who submits." Life develops meaning because someone identifies with God's purpose. This identification must spring from an act of evaluation, a decision that there is value in serving a deity whose purpose is deemed good. Believers, then, make an autonomous choice "to abdicate autonomy in order to serve what the autonomous assessment has already recognized as good." Both athiests and believers are involved in making independent evaluations of what constitutes life-meaning. They draw different conclusions about what that meaning is, but they go about finding it in similar ways."
posted by Miko at 7:46 AM on September 16, 2011


Koeslitz:

If you believe that the people who populate "the most conservative of backwater churches" see god as a metaphor for nature you are terribly misinformed. They think they believe in a literal interpretation of the King James bible (never mind that this is completely impossible). They believe in the magic of the stories of the old testament and of Christ's "miracles". Most have never heard of Spinoza and are outraged by his ideas. People who believe in magic and miracles in the modern world are dangerous. These are the tea baggers and their sympathizers.
posted by txmon at 7:48 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


God is very much a real thing, I call it 'the real world', and it directly inspired all the main religions whose followers quickly missed the point by becoming followers. Buddhism gets closest by describing physical feelings and disavowing the grandiloquence of gods and souls, but if you're fine transposing meanings from metaphor even the Abrahamic religions shouldn't be troublesome.

Jesus knew even his disciples were morons. Atheists arguing with morons does nothing for me.
posted by fraac at 7:48 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm comfortable in my atheism because I don't think life has any purpose or that "good" has any meaning outside the brain of any given human. I want humanity to do well in general because my brain has altruistic components to it, not because it is "right" in any meaningful sense.

Does that make me a nihilist? I'm really asking.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:50 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Invoking a "higher power" strikes me as an attempt to shirk the fact that you, personally, are ultimately responsible for your own values

But without some sort of agreement on what constitutes values - what value does "responsibility" have besides what you put in it? Why should you feel that others should value "responsibility" as you have?

When you discard the concept of ultimate good - you are stuck in a quagmire of relativity.
posted by spaceviking at 7:50 AM on September 16, 2011


“[…] you are still and always responsible for your own values, because you've chosen them.”

Would it be rude of me to bring the concept of free will to this kind of party? ;)
posted by davel at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2011


While much of what you say may be true for many people, txmon, I would still be wary of speaking for others. It becomes so easy to reduce their thinking to the shallowest possible caricature.

We always end up talking about an imaginary other in these threads.

Does that make me a nihilist? I'm really asking.

Forms of Nihilism:

Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality; therefore no action is necessarily preferable to any other. For example, a moral nihilist would say that killing someone, for whatever reason, is not inherently right or wrong. Other nihilists may argue not that there is no morality at all, but that if it does exist, it is a human and thus artificial construction, wherein any and all meaning is relative for different possible outcomes. As an example, if someone kills someone else, such a nihilist might argue that killing is not inherently a bad thing, bad independently from our moral beliefs, only that because of the way morality is constructed as some rudimentary dichotomy, what is said to be a bad thing is given a higher negative weighting than what is called good: as a result, killing the individual was bad because it did not let the individual live, which was arbitrarily given a positive weighting. In this way a moral nihilist believes that all moral claims are false.

Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism.
posted by Miko at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops, I was quoting Bookhouse with "Does that make me a nihilist? I'm really asking." Sorry I forgot my itals.
posted by Miko at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2011


You're basing your values on a concept you experience internally, and which you agree is arbitrary and ultimately meaningless to anyone other than you. Do you see the similarity?

I'm saying that the notion that values are "meaningless" unless you can point to some external source is bullshit. Values always come from you, personally. Trying to farm it out to God or the Tao or evolution does nothing to change that.
posted by bjrubble at 7:54 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


“[…]you are stuck in a quagmire of relativity.”

Welcome to the real world. You makes your rules and you takes your chances.
posted by davel at 7:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


But without an external source, bjrubble, they really are meaningful only to you. I'm OK with that, and with the idea that mine are meaningful only to me.

Who do you see as "trying to farm it out?" It could as well be that people gravitate toward religious communities because of the consanance with their own self-established values, not in order to accept a package of values neatly delivered. In fact, in my case, that is quite true.
posted by Miko at 7:57 AM on September 16, 2011


When you discard the concept of ultimate good - you are stuck in a quagmire of relativity.
I think that anyone who's honest is stuck in a quagmire of relativity, because it's not like religions don't change their teachings about ultimate good.
Who do you see as "trying to farm it out?" It could as well be that people gravitate toward religious communities because of the consanance with their own self-established values, not in order to accept a package of values neatly delivered. In fact, in my case, that is quite true.
That's completely my experience, too.
posted by craichead at 7:59 AM on September 16, 2011


My mentioning of "greater than oneself" is more of a humbling rationalization, that if we are not the highest hierarchy in the great order of things, then obviously *something* else is....which keeps going up and up the ladder to the point were we run out of the known physical things in the cosmos..and start theorizing about an ultimate power behind everything or a god.

I would go further than Cortex and say that there is no hierarchy at all. It is a purely artificial construct that humans use to feel good about themselves.
Also, if extrapolating this artificial construct past all the reasonable bounds, why stop at "god" as the ultimate power? I mean, if physical reality is no longer a constraint, this hierarchy is only limited by one's imagination...
posted by c13 at 8:03 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Our moralities are biologically driven to support each other — to the point where we see ourselves as having sociological drives. So fortunately our morality isn’t entirely “relative” (meaning “arbitrary”).
posted by davel at 8:04 AM on September 16, 2011


Life develops meaning because someone identifies with God's purpose.

I've always found this a curious argument, though sincere. How do you identify God's purpose? It's not written in the rocks or the sky, so it appears, to me, to be socially constructed. How then is this philosophically, morally, different from a form of humanism that devotes itself to the public good? Is it simply a personification of that ideal?
posted by bonehead at 8:06 AM on September 16, 2011


(that's an honest question, btw. I don't pretend to know the answer).
posted by bonehead at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2011


But the biological drive as a definer of 'the good' is also arbitrary, because what does it matter in the grand scheme? It doesn't.
posted by Miko at 8:07 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


When you discard the concept of ultimate good - you are stuck in a quagmire of relativity.

This sounds like a practical argument for settling an ethical question. If "I" am discarding this or that, or "I" am stuck -- that seems to prove my point that "I" am the one making the choice.

Would it be rude of me to bring the concept of free will to this kind of party? ;)

I can see the connection, but I don't view free will that way, I think. Whether physical law dictates my behavior is on a different plane from whether my brain/body/environment can be treated as an autonomous agent.

Forms of Nihilism:

I think this falls into the same trap as theism -- it assumes that if there is no external basis for value then value is meaningless. I reject that, and moreover I think the converse is nonsensical, because the fact that the values are written somewhere out in the universe only "means" something because you, personally, are choosing to make them do so.
posted by bjrubble at 8:09 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today. [...] if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.
Angel - "Epiphany"

(In my ways the apex of Angel to me, even though there were still great storylines and episodes to come.)
posted by kmz at 8:10 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


it assumes that if there is no external basis for value then value is meaningless. I reject that,

On what basis?
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on September 16, 2011


Yes, it’s ultimately all “arbitrary”. But it’s best not to ruminate over that on a daily basis ;)
posted by davel at 8:10 AM on September 16, 2011


You know, I really get quite irked by attempts to suggest we atheists ("New" or otherwise) have not considered what "sophisticated, modern believers" mean when they bang on about god.

We have.

We have considered it and noticed a few things about it. A by no means exhaustive list of those things would include:

- that many of these "sophisticated, modern believers" play the game of the shapeshifter god. They retreat from any attempt to seek clarity on their notion of god. They play apophatic hide-and-seek.

- that others try to define god away, by equating him/her/it/them/whatever with the entire universe, or all of nature, or the laws of physics, or basically something that exists but in no way meets any traditional or independently meaningful concept.

- that still others claim they're only in it for the culture, or the ritual, or the sense of community.

We are perfectly justified in calling out these tactics of evasion as being weak, sneaky, empty and a number of other less-than complimentary things. In most cases the folk who go down this sort of route remind me of kids who just can't quite let go of the last little thread from their once much-loved security blanket.

Until you can come up with a clear definition for "god" which is not simply a renaming of something else, you're wasting everyone's time and you're getting in the way of the argument.
posted by Decani at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


On what basis?

To repeat myself again, because I find it contradictory -- I can't see a mechanism for deriving "meaning" that isn't ultimately personal.
posted by bjrubble at 8:15 AM on September 16, 2011


Where I have a problem is that the people defending gods are cherrypicking a tiny minority of philosophic types who defined the word "god" to mean something radically different from what most religious folk have meant by the term.

So, yes, there are now and always have been a tiny group of philosophers who say "god is X, Y, and Z" (always a different X, Y, and Z). So what?

Take that stuff to any megachurch, any Catholic church, any Muslim mosque, any Hindu temple, and they'll laugh you out the door. They don't mean some fuzzy collection of erudite philosophic concepts, they mean God in the traditional sense as described in their various holy texts.

Frankly I don't care about people who define the term god in such an obscure an fuzzy way that the majority of religious folk would damn them as heretics. If you are one such, I consider you to be not the problem and I have never addressed any argument against you.

But don't tell me for one single moment that your idiosyncratic and fuzzy philosophic definition of the term god is something most religious people would go along with. Try that stuff in 15th century Europe and see how far it gets you with the Inquisition. Try that stuff in modern day Saudi Arabia and see how long you last before the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice executes you for heresy. Try that stuff in a modern megachurch and see how long you last before you're asked to leave.

It isn't what anyone but a super tiny minority mean. If you're part of that super tiny minority, bask in your superiority to us mean atheists.

But that isn't the problem with religion, and it isn't why atheists are busy trying to tear down religion and god belief.

We address the existence of god, in the standard, traditional, religious sense because it's at the root of the problem.

The visible part of the problem is that religions have these ancient books filled with archaic rules that didn't even really apply well to a society back in the early iron age and certainly don't apply well in the slightest to a modern society, and they're insisting that "moral absolutism" that is morality derived from their not at all fuzzy idea of god but rather from the very specific dictates their god made in their holy text, requires that we ban homosexuality, oppress women, and generally act in a manner that is not something I want to see encouraged.

They base their dangerous beliefs on the idea that their particular book of ancient rules and rituals was authored by a god in the traditional sense and that therefore those rules are universal and must be followed by everyone or disaster will strike. Which makes god belief the root of the problem.

**THAT** is the problem with religion. That is why it is necessary to directly take on the traditional, standard, religious definition of the term "god". If you use that term in your own highly personal, completely heterodox, not even slightly traditional sense then fine. Enjoy feeling superior both to the traditional religious folk and to use unenlightened atheists who are just too stupid to see that you personally don't believe the same thing that Pat Robertson does.

Meanwhile us reviled atheists will be doing the thankless job of trying to prevent theocracy, and I'll remind you that you won't do so well in a theocracy either despite your super fuzzy and highly heretical to all religions belief in some sort of "god". Consider who your actual allies are here and maybe join the fight on the side of right. I'll guarantee you that if the theocrats win your fuzzy belief won't save you from their torture chambers.
posted by sotonohito at 8:16 AM on September 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


Until you can come up with a clear definition for "god" which is not simply a renaming of something else, you're wasting everyone's time and you're getting in the way of the argument.

Well, good luck with that. I think the definition for "god" is the argument.
posted by Mooski at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who believe in magic and miracles in the modern world are dangerous. These are the tea baggers and their sympathizers.

This statement is every bit as ignorant as anything a "tea bagger" believes.
posted by straight at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


We are perfectly justified in calling out these tactics of evasion as being weak, sneaky, empty and a number of other less-than complimentary things. In most cases the folk who go down this sort of route remind me of kids who just can't quite let go of the last little thread from their once much-loved security blanket.

Until you can come up with a clear definition for "god" which is not simply a renaming of something else, you're wasting everyone's time and you're getting in the way of the argument.


I disagree. First of all, I don't think I owe anyone a definition for god. Secondly, I still understand why you would care about these things you think theists do? What business is it of yours, if you don't want to entertain the concept at all?

sotonhito, I think again you trivialize the diversity of religious experience by conflating fundamentalists with all religious thinkers - back to the point of the FPP. It doesn't matter to me that I'd be laughed out of a Hindu temple (though some of the Hindus I know have a religious conception not all that far from mine, and find a place in their temples anyway). The fact that my beliefs don't align with a fundamentalist's doesn't make my beliefs either silly and immaterial, or your business in any way - I don't recognize the need to justify my beliefs, which are personal and really affect only me, to fit anyone else's cosmology.

Also, it's not only atheists trying to do the job of preventing theocracy. I certainly count myself among those doing the same, and I'm not an athiest.

And at the end of the day, I still have to ask, why is preventing theocracy a worthy pursuit?
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


How can you possibly argue that something exists if you can't even define it?
posted by c13 at 8:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


This sounds like a practical argument for settling an ethical question. If "I" am discarding this or that, or "I" am stuck -- that seems to prove my point that "I" am the one making the choice.

I guess my point is that if you think your choice is an arbitrary one then what's the point? Why not be evil as long as it provides you with benefit? Except evil really doesn't exist except as you conceive it.

It seems to me that under this system of choice, you are incapable of formulating a selfless value - Everything is bound to the self.

Interesting reading along these lines for those interested is the Euthyphro Dilemma.
posted by spaceviking at 8:24 AM on September 16, 2011


- that others try to define god away, by equating him/her/it/them/whatever with the entire universe, or all of nature, or the laws of physics, or basically something that exists but in no way meets any traditional or independently meaningful concept.

- that still others claim they're only in it for the culture, or the ritual, or the sense of community.


Of course, there are atheists who find meaning in the religion they were brought up in -- all religions have some good teachings -- and who find that the rituals and culture and family are important to them so they redefine the god in their religion to something nebulous like "love" or "people's goodness" which is pretty meaningless, so they can get their atheism to work with the culture they want to keep.

These are people who will self-define as atheists, though, but perhaps with less strong feelings about how bad all kinds of religion (including progressive ones) are than others.
posted by jeather at 8:24 AM on September 16, 2011


dances_with_sneetches: "In this universe, taking into account the reasonable assumption that other conscious entities have evolved, it is ridiculous to believe that we are at the forefront. If another creature started evolving into advanced consciousness say 6 million years ago instead of our 4 million (arbitrary numbers), this creature would be the equivalent of humans with 2 million extra years of evolution*.

[...]

*Although the relative speed of evolution could favor or the other, evolution having so many steps, for the sake of simplicity, I made the broad assumption that we evolved at the same rate.
"

You also made the assumption that evolution has a default direction that it sticks to, ie from lesser to greater complexity. It has no inherent bias in favor of intelligence, and a species could start to enter into what we would consider human-style "advanced consciousness" but then stagnate or evolve away from it depending on selective pressures.
posted by brundlefly at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2011


- that still others claim they're only in it for the culture, or the ritual, or the sense of community.

We are perfectly justified in calling out these tactics of evasion as being weak, sneaky, empty and a number of other less-than complimentary things.


How is it evasive to state you engage in an activity for the sense of community or out of a love of ritual? Inventing an elaborate notion of God to get around logical inconsistencies might be evasive, but just throwing your hands up and admitting you're there for the potlucks? That's not really sneaky at all.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


God is InternetArgumentsAboutGod.
posted by kmz at 8:25 AM on September 16, 2011


to brundlefly's poin, recently there was a terrific To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast on the evolution of intelligence discussion, and whether there is a teleology to evolution. It gets kind of fascinating when you hear how scientists disagree on this topic.
posted by Miko at 8:29 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think that the argument about the definition of "god" is entirely semantic. Rather it's more semiotic. "God" in my language and culture has strong connotations of supernaturalism and personalization. So if I use metaphoric god-language I have to immediately break the metaphor and say, "but not that god, or that one, or that one."

And I think there's a variety of reasons why this matters. First, I think this ambiguity leads to the kinds of misunderstandings in which Einstein, The Gaia Hypothesis, and the Higgs Boson are misrepresented out of context in favor of supernatural and personal gods. This is avoided somewhat if I talk about universe or mystery.

The second reason is that the prime mover or universal good are used to justify a jump to a fairly traditional flavor of monotheism. A typical flavor of argument is, "Atheists can't explain the origin of the universe, therefore, Christianity is reasonable."

The third reason is that this arbitrary choice in metaphor and language is not recognized as value neutral. The typical argument will admit to a leap of faith, but claim that I'm morally, psychologically, and/or philosophically stunted for not making it. So I have a great deal at stake in arguing that a naturalistic monism is a reasonable way of viewing the universe, and one that provides many of the "spiritual" benefits of religion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


How can you possibly argue that something exists if you can't even define it?

I'm usually not mounting an argument here that god exists (I've taken philosophy, I'm not dumb enough to play that game, and anyway, I doubt either side is ever going to deliver an ultimate conclusive proof on MeFi). "Does God exist?" isn't a question I'm even entertaining here, and neither are most people here taking the athiest position.

I'm arguing for a discourse on belief that allows for a variety of perspectives on the universe to exist without derision for any enlightened perspective that at heart, promotes the shared goals of peaceful civil society, and avoids errors of certainty.
posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oooh! Thanks, Miko. I'll have to listen to that on the way to work.
posted by brundlefly at 8:34 AM on September 16, 2011


Heck, biological life is here to make more biological life. That's practically a truism.

This is true the same way that the "purpose" of an avalanche is to get debris into the valley.

Or that the "purpose" of a supernova is to distribute metals into interstellar space.

Or that the "purpose" of a fire is to create ash.

See, purpose requires intention. Which requires an intender.
posted by General Tonic at 8:35 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just discussed these questions with my cat and my dog. They both told me they don't believe in god. They both seem quite happy.
posted by binturong at 8:36 AM on September 16, 2011


I agree that when it comes to evolution, it's much more defensible to talk about "effects" rather than "purposes."
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on September 16, 2011


We are perfectly justified in calling out these tactics of evasion as being weak, sneaky, empty and a number of other less-than complimentary things

Calling non-orthodox/fundamentalist/whatever beliefs 'tactics of evasion' is a bit of an odd phrasing. It implies that those beliefs are counter-moves people are making in direct response to some external challenge by non-theists or other theists or something, as if any belief about, say, the Biblical book of Revelation being metaphor rather than prophecy came with some silent "so ner, atheists!" on the end of it. Or as if every theist starts from a very specific of fundamentalist literalism, and any other viewpoint is something they've been beaten back to under the sheer force of unassailable argument by atheists. Or as if there's only, like, four non-orthodox-in-every-sense theists out there.

I think this is wrong, but more relevantly, it seems to be the kind of thing the original link is specifically discussing: that there's a huge amount of complexity in where various people now and in the past have positioned themselves in relation to religion and atheism, and that discussions which don't take that into account are doing themselves a serious disservice.
posted by Catseye at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


See, purpose requires intention. Which requires an intender.

You've never heard of anthropomorphism?
posted by kmz at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those who want to argue with garden-variety theists but not with Spinoza are like people who want to box, but only against one-armed opponents.
posted by No Robots at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


How can you possibly argue that something exists if you can't even define it?

Define love.

I don't think the problem is one of defining (in spite of my minutes-ago post), it is of agreement on the definition. For instance, I identify as agnostic (queue eye-roll from the atheists). I do this because while I'm pretty damned certain that humans have it wrong in the religion department, I also recognize I don't have enough information to intelligently rule out something that could be defined as god/all that is/what have you. I think this is fairly well reasoned-out, but I have close friends who use epithets to describe me after I make the argument for the nth time. And that's just the argument about not believing in God.

God's... just this guy, y'know?
posted by Mooski at 8:40 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, Beeblebroxism. Now that's a religion I can get behind.
posted by kmz at 8:42 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miko.

These people are not some abstract demographic I read about or imagine I know about. I live in Texas. I have lived in the south much of my life. I know these people. I talk with these people. I am not reducing their "philosophical" ideas to some artificial straw dog. None that I know would argue with my characterization of their beliefs. The utter simplicity is what attracts them to their churches. Most (not all) are deeply ignorant and prefer it that way. "Ideas" are dangerous!!! They are desperate that we all believe what they believe...otherwise they would just as soon see us all dead. You can be as generous as you want with regard to this segment of our culture...but don't delude yourself that they are rational beings in any meaningful way.
posted by txmon at 8:43 AM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have absolutely no less experience of fundamentalism than you, but I think you should just speak for yourself. If you want someone to represent their views here, maybe you could invite one of them to MeFi.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


modern believers "may not accept the idea of God as an actually existing entity, so arguments for atheism will not disturb them"

There is a phrase that can be used for people who decide this then use it as a basis for ... anything. "Not even wrong." You've just accepted that your God might as well not exist. So nothing should bother you about anything said about him. And if your God may not actually exist and you may not do anything with that premise, there's another word. "Irrelevant".

And I believe The God Delusion is being misread above. It writes about those who believe in irrelevant Gods. We all know you exist. This is not news to anyone. And if you were the invisible pink unicornists or pastafarians your beliefs are almost indistinguishable from there would be no problem. Some of us are fully aware of the theological differences between a Holy Spirit that Proceeds from the Father and one that Proceeds from the Father and the Son. And can chop theology about the Omphalos.

But there is only one reason your theological beliefs are relevant to ... anything. You hear what's being objected to and jump up and down waving your hands in the air and saying "We're not all like that, and you're attacking Christians" no matter how much time and effort has been spent to point out the subgroup that is being mentioned. Oh, and then you run textbook courtier's replies which do nothing more than try to muddy the waters.

When you discard the concept of ultimate good - you are stuck in a quagmire of relativity.

Or head back to the Golden Rule and Ghandi's "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I'll take either of them in preference to a made up ultimate good
posted by Francis at 8:47 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm arguing for a discourse on belief that allows for a variety of perspectives on the universe to exist without derision for any enlightened perspective that at heart, promotes the shared goals of peaceful civil society, and avoids errors of certainty.

Miko, that is a respectable position, but unfortunately it is more akin to arguing about physical properties of a spherical horse in absolute vaccum. The vast majority of people have a belief in a rather specific, albeit poorly defined god that specifically prohibits "a variety of perspectives".
Furthermore, once the idea of god becomes so ephimerial, why have it at all?


God is just this guy

"Just this guy" narrows down on the possibilities pretty well, don't you think?
posted by c13 at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


We are perfectly justified in calling out these tactics of evasion as being weak, sneaky, empty and a number of other less-than complimentary things.

But of course your evidence for their being "tactics of evasion" is... that they diverge from the definition of theism you're assuming in the first place, without any apparent justification. So your argument is circular.

It isn't what anyone but a super tiny minority mean

It's precisely this assumption that the "new" atheists need to start making at least some vague effort to provide evidence for, I think, if this discussion is to go any further in a fruitful way. And to be convincing, it really has to go beyond the specific region and time in history that you happen to find yourself.

The "new" atheist position seems to assume, first, that belief (as opposed to, say, practice) is the defining feature of religiosity, and second, that the concept of "belief" in that context means exactly the same thing as it does in the scientific context of, say, "believing in gravity", with the only difference being that there's tons of evidence for gravity and none for god. These are two massive assumptions that fit 20th and 21st century (American) Christian fundamentalism and modern Islamic fundamentalism way better than they fit the evidence of religious behaviour and thinking at almost any other point in the history of the world. So if your priority is to fight the manifest negative effects of those two modern fundamentalisms, maybe they're decent assumptions to start with. But in that case you shouldn't fool yourself that you are arguing against "religion" or "theism" in general in a meaningful way.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:54 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Buahahahhhaaa!!!

Miko...

Yeah no one should ever talk about the stated beliefs of others on MeFi. They should be invited to state their own beliefs here.

Well, all you fundamentalists, anti-intellectual, hate-filled, magic-believing religionists....please consider this an open invitation from me, txmon, to please come contribute to our discussions. C'mon now. I know you're lurking out there...
posted by txmon at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You've just accepted that your God might as well not exist. So nothing should bother you about anything said about him.


It doesn't bother me what people say about God. It bothers me what people say about me, and about other individuals who have a religious personal practice.

Miko, that is a respectable position, but unfortunately it is more akin to arguing about physical properties of a spherical horse in absolute vaccum. The vast majority of people have a belief in a rather specific, albeit poorly defined god that specifically prohibits "a variety of perspectives".

I'm really not sure I accept the truth of that statement for "the vast majority of people." In any case, as I said, my interest is not in promoting the ideas of fundamentalists but in promoting peaceful coexistence in civil society, which I believe is not chimeric.

Furthermore, once the idea of god becomes so ephimerial, why have it at all?

For those who will recognize no other motivations, the reason that still stands is: it has utility.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


We all know you exist. This is not news to anyone. And if you were the invisible pink unicornists or pastafarians your beliefs are almost indistinguishable from there would be no problem.

The writer of the original link (which honestly, I hate to keep harping on about this, but it's a really smart article and very much worth a read, as is the rest of his writing for NH) is an atheist, writing in a humanist publication, addressing "[o]pponents of religion – anti-clericals, humanists, rationalists or whatever we want to call ourselves". I see that you've got stuff to say here about the kind of theists you imagine would say the same he's saying in the pull-quote, but they're not him, and I don't think the points you're arguing with here are the ones he's making.
posted by Catseye at 8:58 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miko: I disagree. First of all, I don't think I owe anyone a definition for god. Secondly, I still understand why you would care about these things you think theists do? What business is it of yours, if you don't want to entertain the concept at all?

I get probably three or four "atheists can't ____" articles in my news feeds a week. Atheists can't appreciate the power of stories. Atheists can't have a coherent morality or ethos. Atheists are "as deaf to faith as others are to music, or as blind to the blessings of religion as still others are blind to color." Atheists have no room for mystery. Atheists can't deal with grief, disaster, or addiction recovery.

I really don't care about arguing against the 1001 varieties of theism. I do reasonably care when people make silly claims about my beliefs to make their own look better, and liberal religious advocates and agnostics are frequently the worst at this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:59 AM on September 16, 2011 [13 favorites]


God: extant? The answer may surprise you. This, and Andy Rooney. Next.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:02 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "new" atheist position seems to assume, first, that belief (as opposed to, say, practice) is the defining feature of religiosity, and second, that the concept of "belief" in that context means exactly the same thing as it does in the scientific context of, say, "believing in gravity", with the only difference being that there's tons of evidence for gravity and none for god.

I don't agree that the "new" atheist position assumes the first.

The second is what we're discussing in this thread. My point is that a lot of religious people who "believe" in whatever undefined way you are alluding to that is unlike believing in gravity are essentially atheists in denial. You'll twist and rationalize and throw out the entire notions of truth and believing and evidence and anything else necessary in order for you to be able to declare that you still believe. It's not our fault that we don't address your beliefs directly most of the time -- your beliefs cannot be addressed directly because they exist solely in the gaps between that which is possible to address. Indeed they are specifically designed that way.

That is not a flaw in the "new" atheists. You muddy up all the terms and then complain that we aren't using your muddy versions. Well, describe your idiosyncratic beliefs and we can address those. In the meantime, we'll address the traditional variety of religious belief.
posted by callmejay at 9:02 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


I bet that's true, KirkJobSluder. I do think there has to be the ability to talk about that stuff but there is an issue of tone and it's probably quite tiresome that there is indeed a constant stream of 'here's my revelation about why atheism is wrong' and 'here's my scientific/social-science/psychological argument about how atheism is wrong'.

re: the 'vast majority' question:
Although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
That Pew study is generally pretty fascinating.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2011


- that others try to define god away, by equating him/her/it/them/whatever with the entire universe, or all of nature,

That's nothing new. Many of the very earliest forms of religions--pantheist religions-- defined god in exactly this way. It's not just some kind of recent rhetorical trick some believers recently adopted to circumvent the air-tight, rigorous arguments of atheists. The very earliest human religions mostly equated god with all of nature/the universe/whatever in this way. That's not just a rhetorical dodge, but an actual, legitimate variation on religious belief.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm really not sure I accept the truth of that statement for "the vast majority of people."

Really? Why? Christians and muslims have not only a pretty specific definition of god, but also very specific instructions on how he wants them to behave and what to think of other religions. And together they include a whole lot of people...
The Pew study may indeed be fascinating, but the reality on the ground now and historically has been pretty damn different.
posted by c13 at 9:09 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


essentially atheists in denial. You'll twist and rationalize and throw out the entire notions of truth and believing and evidence and anything else necessary in order for you to be able to declare that you still believe

But you're still locating your argument in this focus on belief - you're demanding a factual claim. To be religious absolutely does not require the making and defending of a factual claim. If you want to argue against specific factual claims, which is essentially the argument for or against the existence of a god or gods, you can do that, but conflating people who don't make the claims with people who do produces errors and possibly offenses.
posted by Miko at 9:09 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


callmejay, it's more like new atheists are arguing against the existence of my mate Larry just because they haven't met Larry. It's a weird position to vehemently take.
posted by fraac at 9:09 AM on September 16, 2011


It's not our fault that we don't address your beliefs directly most of the time -- your beliefs cannot be addressed directly because they exist solely in the gaps between that which is possible to address.

Well, I'm not talking about my beliefs, but yes, I fear you may be right — that the essence of what's referred to as "spirituality" may precisely be non-conceptual, and thus not amenable to being exhaustively captured by language. And I see, of course, why this would look like a cynical act of evasion to avoid having to justify oneself in argument. Maybe it often is. But the real question is whether it intrinsically must be. That's a fascinating discussion, even if fascinating discussion proves unable to get us all the way to the core of the matter...
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:12 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW, Miko, I agree with you that there should be room in the world for all perspectives to be tolerated. The problem is, these people we're talking about do not believe the same. Freedom of religion means freedom for their religion NOT the religions or non-religions of others. They openly refer to atheists, agnostics, gays, Catholics (!), Presbyterians, etc. as "the enemy". They are acting politically to express their sentiments and beliefs.

If someone declares themselves to be your enemy you would be well advised to regard them as enemies. Otherwise they will eventually win. A one-sided fight can only come out with one result.

I have said here before...I would fight and die for the rights of others to believe whatever cockamamie thing they want to believe because that protects my right to believe what I believe (or don't). However, I do not respect their cockamamie bs because it is so clearly bs. The problem is they don't want me to have the right to believe what I believe. They want to eliminate people like me.

If you think these folks are just nice people who should join in our wonderful philisophical discussions, then you are wrong. You do not know them as well as I do. The word (philosophy) itself is anathema to them. Thinking critically is anathema to them. They will readily agree with these characterizations. Everything anyone needs to know is already written down in the bible.

Ignorance is real. Lies are real. Intent to do harm is real. Political correctness will not be an effective remedy for the survival of religious freedom.
posted by txmon at 9:13 AM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


You do not know them as well as I do.

Again, emphatically, I suspect that based on my life experience I know them better than you do.

But that's beside the point. Where we're in political opposition, I fully agree with you that we need to stand for tolerance against oppression.

But in our "nice philosophical discussion" I just don't see how they're relevant or what we're gaining by pointing at them and making statements that purportedly represent their thinking. I'm honestly not sure why we're talking about them or how they relate to the post topic specifically.
posted by Miko at 9:17 AM on September 16, 2011


If Metafilter didn't exist, we would have to invent it
posted by Flashman at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


txmon, do you think they'll get nicer if you attack their beliefs? Also you're exemplifying the point of the article. None of those religious are here but you still want to argue with them. I find that psychologically interesting.
posted by fraac at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The very earliest human religions mostly equated god with all of nature/the universe/whatever in this way.

Is there any evidence of that?

I'm familiar with lots of animism and polytheism in early human societies. They seemed to believe there were various distinct "minds" living and acting in the world. River minds. Tiger minds. Sky minds.

I don't know of any evidence of early peoples having such an expansive, universal view that equated their gods to all of existence, the way some modern people claim to do.
posted by General Tonic at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sitting here trying to imagine a world where the 40% of the U.S. population who are traditionalist, fundamentalist Christians are sitting around thoughtfully considering the works of Spinoza and recognizing that the Bible is actually a complex literary metaphor for man's relationship with the cosmos.

Holy shit is that laughable.

We live in a world where 40% of the US population believe that the universe was literally created, in toto, over a period of 6 days about 6,000 years ago and that the masculine entity which did this then later became a human man so that he could die and pay a debt which we owed him. And also that there is a fiery pit waiting for people who don't accept this sacrifice and continue to (among other things) believe incorrectly and put their genitals where they don't belong.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that most American and Western atheism is designed to counter these (extremely widespread) beliefs.
posted by Avenger at 9:21 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


It shouldn't surprise anyone that most American and Western atheism is designed to counter these (extremely widespread) beliefs.

If you're only arguing against 40% of Americans and their specific beliefs, then why not make more specific arguments? An argument like "Creationism isn't supported by science" is not the same as the argument "All religious believers are stupid and childlike."
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


But you're still locating your argument in this focus on belief - you're demanding a factual claim. To be religious absolutely does not require the making and defending of a factual claim. If you want to argue against specific factual claims, which is essentially the argument for or against the existence of a god or gods, you can do that, but conflating people who don't make the claims with people who do produces errors and possibly offenses.

I do not see anybody conflating those people. All the new atheists are aware of religious people who do not make factual claims. We simply do not believe that any gods exist. That we therefore argue against the gods' (factual) existence does not imply otherwise.

We may (and I do) have other objections about people who "believe" in God or who believe in "God" as well, but we do not confuse them with those who believe in God.
posted by callmejay at 9:25 AM on September 16, 2011


But Miko, what kind of philosophical discussion can you have about a subject you refuse to define, the existence of which you neither admit, nor deny, and the real actual consequences of the belief in this said subject you dismiss as irrelevant? Seriously, what is there to talk about then?
posted by c13 at 9:26 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


We live in a world where 40% of the US population believe that the universe was literally created, in toto, over a period of 6 days about 6,000 years ago and that the masculine entity which did this then later became a human man so that he could die and pay a debt which we owed him. And also that there is a fiery pit waiting for people who don't accept this sacrifice and continue to (among other things) believe incorrectly and put their genitals where they don't belong.

According to the study Miko linked to above, 70% of religious American believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. So, where is this 40% number you're referencing coming from?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:26 AM on September 16, 2011


Well, I'm not talking about my beliefs, but yes, I fear you may be right — that the essence of what's referred to as "spirituality" may precisely be non-conceptual, and thus not amenable to being exhaustively captured by language. And I see, of course, why this would look like a cynical act of evasion to avoid having to justify oneself in argument. Maybe it often is. But the real question is whether it intrinsically must be. That's a fascinating discussion, even if fascinating discussion proves unable to get us all the way to the core of the matter...

I don't think it's cynical in that I don't think it's conscious, necessarily, and we can never know people's unconscious intentions, but when I argue that X doesn't exist and then someone else starts talking about an X that isn't really X or that "exist" doesn't really mean "exist," you can see how it looks fishy.
posted by callmejay at 9:27 AM on September 16, 2011


I don't know of any evidence of early peoples having such an expansive, universal view that equated their gods to all of existence, the way some modern people claim to do.
If one were to substitute the word “Being” for “Lord” throughout the Bible, this would make for some startlingly fresh translations. Just to mention one, the central Jewish creed, the Shema, which is often translated as “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” (Deut. 6:1) would now read as, “Hear O Israel, Being is our God, Being is one.” In other words, rather than religion being the impetus for divisions between people and inciting hostilities among them based upon differences, this creed emphasizes the unity, not only among and between peoples, but with the entirety of creation.--"Richard Dawkins: Vox Populi" / Jason Giannetti. In Journal of Liberal Religion, v.8 no. 1.
posted by No Robots at 9:27 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miko,

We're talking about them because you didn't like the way I characterize them. We're talking about them because they are a group of people who pretty much represent a "laboratory" example of what happens when people believe in magic. If you'll believe that there is some magical other in the sky or in our minds or somewhere unverifiable that monitors our lives and determines our disposition in some equally unverifiable afterlife, you will believe in any kind of "magic" that appears to be congruent with your own magic. These kinds of people are horribly dangerous. They know that Muslims are evil and wrong and must be killed. They know that because someone else who is smarter than them but believes in their magic told them, we can cure our failing economy by reenacting the same policies that led to its near demise. The list is endless. You appear to be invested in the idea that these are reasonable people who just need to join in the dialogue...it's a fantasy.

Obviously, not all religionists fit this characterization. However, to whatever extent anyone believes in magic, that is the seed of ignorance and bigotry that all religion is founded on and seeks to expand.
posted by txmon at 9:32 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still have to ask, why is preventing theocracy a worthy pursuit?

Historically, they tend to end very badly for those who don't partake of the majority view, be they Cathars, Catholics, Jews or atheists. I suspect none of us would enjoy civil life in Iran, for example. Theocracy too easily becomes another word for totalitarianism.

I acknoledge that there's never been a Unitarian Universalist theocracy. That might be a nice place to live, but history is not on it's side.
posted by bonehead at 9:33 AM on September 16, 2011


I do reasonably care when people make silly claims about my beliefs to make their own look better

I think you've found some common ground between atheists and non-atheists, right there.
posted by The World Famous at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Haven't read the article or the whole thread but craichead wins it anyway ...

I think what he's saying is that many public atheists define religion in a certain way and then refuse to acknowledge that actual religious believers are often operating with completely different ideas about how religion works and why it matters to them.

My two-cents is that we get god/not-god issues all wrong when we think they're about being cordial, progressive, rational, open-minded etc (not that these aren't nice things). No, the root of it is that very, very many humans (and not all of them dumb) think that the truth that underlies Life-The-Universe-Everything can only be contained by a concept as big/vast/all-encompassing as GOD, which by definition (mine at least) means a power, an intelligence, a spirit that isn't just beyond comprehension it's beyond ability to ever comprehend ... hence faith.

And now, being the good agnostic I am, I shall read the article and the thread and hopefully prove myself wrong.
posted by philip-random at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2011


Is there any evidence of that?

Pantheism is the view that the Universe (Nature) and God (or divinity) are identical.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2011


callmejay: People are saying that it looks equally fishy that you try to conflate x' with x because you can only argue against x'. I would tend to say it's up to them to decide which is real and worth talking about, and which is a strawman. Otherwise you're talking about your belief rather than theirs. You say God for the one you wan't to discuss and "God" for the other one. Surely God should be on the terms of the religious, if it's them you want to talk to?
posted by fraac at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2011


So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.


Miitant atheist strategic failure, obviously.
posted by polymodus at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2011


Miko: If you're only arguing against 40% of Americans and their specific beliefs, then why not make more specific arguments? An argument like "Creationism isn't supported by science" is not the same as the argument "All religious believers are stupid and childlike."

In our nice philosophical discussion, I'm not certain how the latter argument is relevant either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2011


callmejay: People are saying that it looks equally fishy that you try to conflate x' with x because you can only argue against x'.

Who is doing that?
posted by callmejay at 9:42 AM on September 16, 2011


No Robots, the word used in Deuteronomy 6:1, which we translate as Lord, is YHWH. It doesn't even remotely mean "being."

saulgoodman, that wikipedia article seems to support my impression that there are no known early human societies which held a pantheist belief. The arguments of individual Greek philosophers don't count as the "very earliest forms of religions."
posted by General Tonic at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2011


Similarly, religion won't be spent as a force in a society until it will be noncontroversial for the religiously disinclined to be tepid secularists rather than tepid church-goers

I think this is already the case for most atheists, and probably a necessity for agnostics. You might see a lot more outspoken atheists by virtue of the fact they're outspoken, but a lot of us already look at the non-existence of God as sort of a non-issue. It really changes nothing about how I interact with people and it doesn't change anything about my day-to-day life, and I couldn't care less if you want to go to church or temple or whatevs.

I think the controversy exists solely between fundamentalists on both sides of this fight.
posted by Hoopo at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


the word used in Deuteronomy 6:1, which we translate as Lord, is YHWH. It doesn't even remotely mean "being."
Moses conceived the Deity as Being, that has always existed, does exist, and always will exist, and for this cause he calls Him by the name Jehovah, which in Hebrew signifies these three phases of existence.--Spinoza, TTP, chap. 2.
posted by No Robots at 9:50 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can readily allow, said Cleanthes, that those who maintain the perfect simplicity of the Supreme Being, to the extent in which you have explained it, are complete Mystics, and chargeable with all the consequences which I have drawn from their opinion. They are, in a word, Atheists, without knowing it. For though it be allowed, that the Deity possesses attributes, of which we have no comprehension; yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes, which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature, essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable; is a mind, which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or in a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of terms to give it that appellation; and we may as well speak of limited extension without figure, or of number without composition.

Pray consider, said Philo, whom you are at present inveighing against. You are honouring with the appellation of Atheist all the sound, orthodox divines almost, who have treated of this subject; and you will, at last be, yourself, found, according to your reckoning, the only sound Theist in the world. But if idolaters be Atheists, as, I think, may justly be asserted, and Christian Theologians the same; what becomes of the argument, so much celebrated, derived from the universal consent of mankind?
Hume was such a strident, shrill new atheist, a bit like that Dawkins fellow.
posted by pw201 at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


there are no known early human societies which held a pantheist belief

What, ancient Greek society doesn't qualify as an early human society in which pantheist beliefs figured? The Taoist cultures in the east don't count either?
They include some of the Presocratics, such as Heraclitus and Anaximander.[citation needed] The Stoics were Pantheists, beginning with Zeno of Citium and culminating in the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius. During the pre-Christian Roman Empire, Stoicism was one of the three dominant schools of philosophy, along with Epicureanism and Neoplatonism. The early Taoism of Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi is also pantheistic.[6]

In the West, Pantheism went into retreat during the Christian years between the 4th and 15th centuries, when it was regarded as heresy. The first open revival was by Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake in 1600). Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, finished in 1675, was the major source from which Pantheism spread (though Spinoza himself did not use the word). John Toland was influenced by both Spinoza and Bruno. In 1720 he wrote the Pantheisticon: or The Form of Celebrating the Socratic-Society in Latin.
If you mean, there were no completely heterodox pantheist societies, then, well, you could say that about any beliefs. There are no known early human societies which held any single set of beliefs as far as we know, excluding small, culturally homogeneous tribes.

Jesus, not believing God exists is one thing, but who knew Atheists don't believe in Pantheists either!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2011


No robots, I take back and apologize for my statement earlier. Apparently YHWH does mean being. Pretty closely, in fact.
posted by General Tonic at 9:57 AM on September 16, 2011


My problem with this article is that maybe it doesn't fully grasp the point of view of those atheists, either. Because their response upon reading this article would probably be that if you claim to be religious on one hand, and yet do not actually believe in God on the other hand, then that is logically inconsistent. And the significance of that is that while you and your in-group are free to entertain such a (blatant and obvious) cognitive dissonance, the rest of society should not be obliged to play along with your state of suspended disbelief. And moreover they would rightly and reasonably point out that if you can simultaneously hold such conflicting beliefs, then maybe you will engage in such kinds of self-denial thought processes in nonreligious issues as well.
posted by polymodus at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Historically, they tend to end very badly...Theocracy too easily becomes another word for totalitarianism.

Oh yeah, theocracy sucks (I'd say even a UU theocracy would suck). I guess, though, that by asking you why I should care that theocracy sucks, I'm referring back to the ultimate-point question. Theocracy sucks for the people stuck in it who aren't in the dominant group. But in the end, in a giant empty universe, who cares? It's a big so what. It doesn't matter one way or the other, it's just convenient for some, inconvenient for others.

But Miko, what kind of philosophical discussion can you have about a subject you refuse to define, the existence of which you neither admit, nor deny, and the real actual consequences of the belief in this said subject you dismiss as irrelevant? Seriously, what is there to talk about then?

I'm not here making any factual claims about god(s), so that's just not a discussion we're actually having. If you want to talk about my specific beliefs, that's one thing which we might be able to do privately if you are honestly very interested, but no one has asked me what they are or to make fact claims about god, and my individual beliefs aren't the topic of the thread anyway.

But to your general question, yes, certainly people can have philosophical discussions without making fact claims - they can have them by entertaining concepts and considering them from many angles. There's loads to talk about - like, what is good or bad? Where does morality originate? Do people have free will or are our acts predetermined by conditions physical or otherwise? What is reality? What does an ideal society look like? What is the origin of the universe? Is there a purpose to the universe? Not all discussions start with fact claims. The best ones start with questions.

In our nice philosophical discussion, I'm not certain how the latter argument is relevant either.

It's the topic of the FPP.
posted by Miko at 10:01 AM on September 16, 2011


callmejay: I apologise, you weren't conflating x with x'. You were deciding which gets to be called x. But if you're talking about someone else's beliefs, surely it's up to them to make the definitions.
posted by fraac at 10:02 AM on September 16, 2011


Thanks, GT. I have a lot of material on this subject, if anyone is interested.
posted by No Robots at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2011


Miko: The FPP doesn't call believers stupid or childish either, nor does it make the case that atheists do either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2011


if you claim to be religious on one hand, and yet do not actually believe in God on the other hand, then that is logically inconsistent.

Says who? You assume that "being religious" and "believing in God" are the same thing. Apart from the non-monotheistic conceptions of the world, it's important to make the point that being religious and positing God as a factual entity are not always the same thing.

Take this perfectly reasonable definition of religion:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
"especially," but not "always." And there is a lot more going on in this definition which someone could use to call themselves religious -ritual, community relationships, traditions, ideas about moral conduct - even if they only have questions about whether there is a God, not certainties, and even if by "superhuman agency" they mean a natural physics.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on September 16, 2011


KirkJobSluder, I'm not trying to put words into people's mouths, because these ideas are in the post and in this conversation, though maybe my rephrasing gave offense. What I'm referring to there is that in the posted article there's a discussion of William James as "hat[ing] the belligerent secularism that treats religion as a childish superstition which we will all put behind us once we reach the age of reason," as well as Decani's characterization of theists as " kids who just can't quite let go of the last little thread from their once much-loved security blanket."
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2011


callmejay: I apologise, you weren't conflating x with x'. You were deciding which gets to be called x. But if you're talking about someone else's beliefs, surely it's up to them to make the definitions.

Look, if I say I don't believe in elves, and then you come along and say, but I believe in elves, only by "elves" I mean emotions, is it fair to criticize my disbelief in elves? Is it fair to accuse me of conflating you with people who believe in elves by the common definition when I haven't done so?

For the umpteenth time, we get that people have all kinds of idiosyncratic versions of belief, and that some of those beliefs are non-falsifiable and others are things that we believe intoo but don't call them "God." We are not morons and we are not ignorant.

This idea that atheists think that only fundamentalists exist is a straw man. Do you really think Dawkins has never heard of Spinoza and Kierkegaard?
posted by callmejay at 10:15 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really enjoyed the illustrations, especially Nietzsche.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:19 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Says who? You assume that "being religious" and "believing in God" are the same thing. Apart from the non-monotheistic conceptions of the world, it's important to make the point that being religious and positing God as a factual entity are not always the same thing.

I'm well aware of this line of reasoning, but it doesn't apply because equivalence is being used the atheist's counterargument, not identity. That is, from the perspective of the rational atheists, the word God is used interchangeably to represent all the cases. They're equivalent. And if you don't see this, they would continue to argue that you are in denial. They might not take this kind of religiosity seriously, and perhaps rightfully so. It is perfectly rational for them.
posted by polymodus at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2011


Do you really think Dawkins has never heard of Spinoza and Kierkegaard?

See here for a critique of Dawkins' misunderstanding of Spinoza.
posted by No Robots at 10:22 AM on September 16, 2011


They might not take this kind of religiosity seriously, and perhaps rightfully so. It is perfectly rational for them.

On what basis should we accept their definition of religiosity over this one?
posted by Miko at 10:24 AM on September 16, 2011


Look, if I say I don't believe in elves, and then you come along and say, but I believe in elves, only by "elves" I mean emotions, is it fair to criticize my disbelief in elves? Is it fair to accuse me of conflating you with people who believe in elves by the common definition when I haven't done so?

This is not what's happening, though. To continue your analogy above, what's at issue here is exactly the definition of "elves" — and also the definition of "believe". This discussion does not begin from a point where there's one self-evident and obvious definition of the terms being used, however much some on the atheist side seem to wish it did.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:24 AM on September 16, 2011


"Look, if I say I don't believe in elves, and then you come along and say, but I believe in elves, only by "elves" I mean emotions, is it fair to criticize my disbelief in elves?"

Oh, so you think you get naming rights because you got there first! That's fine but why talk about it here? I'm not American so I've never met someone who believed the Earth was created in 6 days, and I've seen almost none of them on the internet. Do you know why so many new atheists feel the the need to assert their beliefs whenever topics like this come up? I'm not seeing all the Creationists you feel are attacking your prior beliefs. Is it like PTSD where they messed you up in school?
posted by fraac at 10:26 AM on September 16, 2011


Also, no one is criticizing the disbelief in elves. Disbelieve all you like. I don't think anyone on MetaFilter - at least not me - criticizes athiests for disbelief, if that's their honest position. What's being criticized is the trivialization of the thoughts of believers, even those for whom the definition of 'elf' or 'god'is expansive or metaphorical, or is used as a gateway for practice and inquiry as opposed to a truth claim, or admits other valid conceptions of the universe, or attempts to reconcile them with empirical reality.
posted by Miko at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Take this perfectly reasonable definition of religion:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe


Even taking this sociological neutral definition of religion, it's immediately obvious that the key criterion is the leap of faith, i.e. you are going to believe something that you don't even fully understand. So there's a fundamental bit on nonskepticism that happens. And atheists really object to that kind of thinking.
posted by polymodus at 10:29 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


you are going to believe something that you don't even fully understand.

So are you.
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is not what's happening, though. To continue your analogy above, what's at issue here is exactly the definition of "elves" — and also the definition of "believe".

This would only be true if the new atheists went around screaming "there is no possible definition of the words 'god' and 'believe' in which case believing in gods may be correct!" Every public atheist I'm aware of, including Dawkins, has explicitly said this over and over and over again.

He lays out explicitly the God he is arguing against in The God Delusion, for example:

I shall define the God Hypothesis more defensibly: there exists a super-human, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

THAT is the God he is arguing against. If your God is different, then his arguments do not apply to your God and it's silly to get up in arms about it.

As for "believe", that's a different conversation altogether.
posted by callmejay at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


So are you.

Wow, okay, care to elaborate? I'm predicting the response from the Dawkins' camp. I'm not talking about myself here.
posted by polymodus at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2011


What's being criticized is the trivialization of the thoughts of believers, even those for whom the definition of 'elf' or 'god'is expansive or metaphorical, or is used as a gateway for practice and inquiry as opposed to a truth claim, or admits other valid conceptions of the universe, or attempts to reconcile them with empirical reality.

What do you mean by "trivialization?" Is it just a matter of tone?
posted by callmejay at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2011


you are going to believe something that you don't even fully understand. So there's a fundamental bit on nonskepticism that happens. And atheists really object to that kind of thinking.

Is it? Does this mean an atheist who isn't intelligent enough to understand evolution is discouraged from believing in it because they don't understand it?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


THAT is the God he is arguing against. If your God is different, then his arguments do not apply to your God and it's silly to get up in arms about it.

That's exactly what I'm saying! Personally I don't have a God, but I really don't think it's unreasonable of me to ask Dawkins and others to provide some evidence that the Dawkinsite "God hypothesis" really refers to that which is essential — or at least statistically widespread through world history — about religiosity, instead of expecting me to go with "well duh it's just obvious".
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:36 AM on September 16, 2011


Even taking this sociological neutral definition of religion, it's immediately obvious that the key criterion is the leap of faith, i.e. you are going to believe something that you don't even fully understand.

I'm very curious about this statement. Do you fully understand everything you believe?
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2011


Is it? Does this mean an atheist who isn't intelligent enough to understand evolution is discouraged from believing in it because they don't understand it?


I think you're miscontextualizing what I said, looking at the way you cut off that sentence. I have been saying that

a) if religion means holding a set of beliefs about the universe (as proposed in Miko's defn)

b) it is self evident that we know very little about the universe

c) then how is it okay to hold beliefs about something we know very little about?

d) that this is not a rational way to go about thinking about things; it is unscientific and uncritical

e) that the above is how "the" atheists see it. (Maybe I wasn't clear on which atheists, is that your issue here?)
posted by polymodus at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2011


Unlike religious people, who are all literal-minded, fundamentalist boors with some kind of aphasia that makes them categorically unable to recognize metaphors and other figurative uses of language?

No, just unlike the people that Mary Midgley and TheophileEscargot apparently believe biologists to be.

Also: Dude. If you're a religious person, you've got some serious self-esteem issues if you read all that into what I said. My entire point is that no one is that literal-minded.
posted by baf at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2011


There are countless surveys about religious belief available. Several have been linked to in these comments and every time we have this discussion. Over and over again it's pointed out that yes, a very large number of people, certainly the majority, at least in America, believe in Dawkins's God Hypothesis. The empirical data is there. But no matter how many times we show it, people still insist that no, it can't be that many people who believe that nonsense. But it is!
posted by callmejay at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Who fully understands the universe? I'm not a science denier by any means. But I know a lot of athiests and almost none are primary investigators of the nature of the universe. And of the investigators I know of, none of those have the hubris to claim to fully understand the universe.

What do you mean by "trivialization?" Is it just a matter of tone?

I suppose so, or more accurately a combination of tone (by which I mean an effort to show basic respect for the humanity and intelligence of the other party, even if you take exception to their reasoning) and an absence of consideration for when and where this type of critical conversation is welcomed and when it isn't.
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2011


I think you've find that activists for anything are accused of having issues with "tone" and whether their criticism is welcome or not, from civil rights activists to feminists to the religious themselves. This seems almost to be a criticism of activism itself.
posted by callmejay at 10:42 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I guess, though, that by asking you why I should care that theocracy sucks, I'm referring back to the ultimate-point question. Theocracy sucks for the people stuck in it who aren't in the dominant group. But in the end, in a giant empty universe, who cares? It's a big so what. It doesn't matter one way or the other, it's just convenient for some, inconvenient for others.

The universe can be a great big meaningless so-what and people can still feel pain and possess empathy.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:43 AM on September 16, 2011


Who fully understands the universe? I'm not a science denier by any means. But I know a lot of athiests and almost none are primary investigators of the nature of the universe. And of the investigators I know of, none of those have the hubris to claim to fully understand the universe.

Why are you talking in terms of gaining a complete understanding? I've been talking about the opposite. I think you've misconstrued what I've said all along.
posted by polymodus at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2011


c) then how is it okay to hold beliefs about something we know very little about?

What if the beliefs are things like "in the absence of any contravening evidence that would make it bad, I believe it's right and good to try to take care of the physical environment and other living beings"?

Beliefs don't have to be fact statements: "XYZ is the Supreme Lord of all Creation." They can be personal convictions about behavior or intellectual pursuits.

The universe can be a great big meaningless so-what and people can still feel pain and possess empathy.

...so what?

In that universe, maybe I only want to care about avoiding my own pain, since I have no reason to care about others, in which case, making sure I'm the dominant one in the theocracy is the smartest possible thing to do. Empathy is pretty easily overcome and has no purpose anyway.

I think you've find that activists for anything are accused of having issues with "tone" and whether their criticism is welcome or not, from civil rights activists to feminists to the religious themselves.

I think those people have demonstrated beautifully what it means to insist on having a discussion respectfully, even when you disagree.
posted by Miko at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you've misconstrued what I've said all along.

Then please be clearer.
posted by Miko at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2011


@Miko "I think again you trivialize the diversity of religious experience by conflating fundamentalists with all religious thinkers - back to the point of the FPP."

Not at all.

I know perfectly well there are non-fundamentalist religionists out there. And I also know that they're utterly irrelevant in all ways save for the fact that they indirectly and perhaps inadvertently grant legitimacy to the fundamentalists.

So you're a religionist and you believe in some fuzzy erudite deep philosophic thing you want to call "God". Ok, fine. And this matters to religion as a force how? This matters to the political discussion the majority of the religious folks are pushing on us how? Answer: not in the slightest.

You're sidelined, your religious beliefs are utterly and completely irrelevant to anything at all precisely because they aren't what you'd term fundamentalist and I'd term "mainstream religious".

You, and Spinoza, and all the others haven't made even the slightest, tiniest, bit of change in mainstream religion. You and your deep philosophic musings on the fuzzy and irrelevant god you believe in simply don't matter to either atheists or mainstream religionists. Neither we, nor they, ever discuss you and the people of your tiny minority save for when you inject yourselves into the conversation.

I still have to ask, why is preventing theocracy a worthy pursuit?

Well, I oppose it because it would be bad for me personally and for the people I personally care about. If you've got to have some theoretical objective reason to care I can't help you. I don't think there is such a thing. If you require an outside agent to tell you what is important then you'll be stuck listening for voices in your head or some other religious nonsense.

I'm arguing for a discourse on belief that allows for a variety of perspectives on the universe to exist without derision for any enlightened perspective that at heart, promotes the shared goals of peaceful civil society, and avoids errors of certainty.

Great, and while you're doing that Pat Robertson's hordes will toss you in the gulag along with the atheists you so love to feel superior to.

You believe in supernatural BS, I'll deride it. Because **ANY** belief in supernatural BS will, somewhere down the line, inspire fundamentalism of some sort. Not in you, but in someone else. Once you say "it is not merely acceptable, but good and justifiable to have faith in a god" then someone will say "God told me to smite the infidel!" and we're back to the problem.

The only solution, in the long run, is to make belief in god so derided that no one ever takes it seriously enough to start a holy war, an inquisition, or pass laws based on it.

If that requires making some people feel uncomfortable in revealing their own highly idiosyncratic and individually harmless belief in "god" to the outside world, I'll willingly pay that price.

Your own personal (and oh so coyly kept secret) belief in some vague and undefined thing you term "god" I don't care about. I'll only deride it if you insist that I have to take it seriously. I have no intent of banning it, or doing anything but rolling my eyes and laughing when you bring it up. Keep it to yourself the same as you'd keep anything else shameful but ultimately not that bad and we'll get along fine.

craichead I think what he's saying is that many public atheists define religion in a certain way and then refuse to acknowledge that actual religious believers are often operating with completely different ideas about how religion works and why it matters to them.

I think both you and the author of the linked article are suffering from a debilitating condition called "never meeting the people who make up the majority of Christians".

Yeah, there are plenty of irrelevant people with idiosyncratic beliefs in some fuzzy think they all term "god" but by which they all mean something completely different from each other. So what? I've never denied that such people exist, merely that they matter in the slightest.

I'm concerned with the **MAJORITY** of religionists. The tiny minority who believes in something relatively harmless I only care about to the extent that they grant legitimacy to the majority.

So yeah, I know perfectly well that a tiny handful of religionists don't believe in the same god that the rest do and that the way they define "god" is so annoyingly vague and fuzzy that no one can ever really argue against it.

I'd appreciate it if you'd stop lying about atheists now. We know you exist, we just don't care because you simply don't matter to our arguments or the people we're arguing against.

To make an analogy, imagine that American style football was a massive and dangerous force that had a religous grip on the majority of the country. And so anti-footballists came about and started arguing against football. But you, such a special snowflake, mean something completely different when you say you like football.

Great! You aren't part of the problem, so we aren't talking about you. It isn't that we don't know you exist, we do. We just don't care.

I think the real problem is that you and Jonathan Rée have simply never experienced the reality of religion as it exists for the majority. You say "It simply isn't possible that so many religious people are so crazy, most of them must be like me and have a delightfully vague and fuzzy and oh so philosophically deep meaning when we say 'god' so obviously it's just that the New Atheists are idiots for failing to realize what most religious belief is like!"

No, we aren't idiots. Survey after survey shows that in America the God Hypothesis as defined by Dawkins is believed in by the overwhelming majority of religionists. Your desire to believe that the majority of religious folk aren't crazy is simply incorrect, they are.
posted by sotonohito at 10:49 AM on September 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


it can't be that many people who believe that nonsense. But it is!

First response: you mean in America, in the present day, after forcing literally the biggest subjects imaginable into yes/no opinion-poll questions, with all the many problems that entails.

Second response: even if those polls were a perfect representation of the genuine states of minds of most people through all history, this would still be one specific pragmatic argument for adopting a certain kind of atheism, based on wanting to try to defeat the social consequences of those literalist beliefs. I see that completely. But alongside the social/political discussion here in this thread there's a philosophical one — and in that philosophical strand, it's totally legitimate to ask atheists to take on the hard challenges of religiosity as well as the easy ones. To reject religiosity completely on this philosophical level, after all, you'd need to show how it cannot be a legitimate thing, not that it usually isn't in most instances.

But again, yes, if you want to talk solely about Americans who believe in creationism as scientific truth, Dawkins et al provide all the evidence you need to refute them.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:49 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


b) it is self evident that we know very little about the universe

c) then how is it okay to hold beliefs about something we know very little about?

d) that this is not a rational way to go about thinking about things; it is unscientific and uncritical


Really? It's unscientific and uncritical to hold any beliefs at all about anything unless it is completely and flawlessly understood? I'm having a hard time with that.

e) that the above is how "the" atheists see it. (Maybe I wasn't clear on which atheists, is that your issue here?)

I have a hard time believing that anyone capable of rational thought actually sees it that way. Do you see it that way, or are you talking about some nebulous, unidentifiable group of people who you think see it that way?
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2011


In that universe, maybe I only want to care about avoiding my own pain, since I have no reason to care about others, in which case, making sure I'm the dominant one in the theocracy is the smartest possible thing to do. Empathy is pretty easily overcome and has no purpose anyway.

Well, that's the universe I live in. I possess empathy, but I recognize that it's just a thing I possess. Sociopaths (speaking broadly) do not possess empathy. They are not "wrong." They just have different brains than I do. I do not want to be around them because I do not like to feel pain, and I don't want others to suffer at their hands because I possess empathy. The sort of argument you're posting sort of reminds me of the arguments fundamentalists make against homosexuality: if we don't say it's a sin, everyone will do it. It's worth noting those people are often closeted homosexuals.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you're miscontextualizing what I said, looking at the way you cut off that sentence. I have been saying that

a) if religion means holding a set of beliefs about the universe (as proposed in Miko's defn)

b) it is self evident that we know very little about the universe

c) then how is it okay to hold beliefs about something we know very little about?

d) that this is not a rational way to go about thinking about things; it is unscientific and uncritical

e) that the above is how "the" atheists see it. (Maybe I wasn't clear on which atheists, is that your issue here?)


What you said seemed like you were saying "you shouldn't believe in things without a full understanding" (I think my read was fair because pretty much everyone else thought you meant what I did). Obviously, a complete refusal to believe in things you don't understand doesn't leave much room for scientific orientated atheism among people who don't have the capacity to understand the science, which is what I was wondering about. What you were trying to say and what you communicated were fairly far apart there.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2011


No, just unlike the people that Mary Midgley and TheophileEscargot apparently believe biologists to be.

Religious types are also not always like the people atheists believe them to be.

Also: Dude. If you're a religious person, you've got some serious self-esteem issues if you read all that into what I said. My entire point is that no one is that literal-minded.

I'm not, FWIW.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2011


You, and Spinoza, and all the others haven't made even the slightest, tiniest, bit of change in mainstream religion.

Spinoza and others destroyed the intellectual foundations of mainstream religion. The new atheists are just coming on to the battlefield to shoot the dead.
posted by No Robots at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it? Does this mean an atheist who isn't intelligent enough to understand evolution is discouraged from believing in it because they don't understand it?


Ok I re-read this. I think this is just a corner-case. Sure, there are phenomena that some people know about better than other people, due to background or training or "intellect", as you put it. How you'd like to handle that situation, I'll leave it up to you. But I don't think it is incompatible with the points I raised earlier.
posted by polymodus at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2011


But alongside the social/political discussion here in this thread there's a philosophical one — and in that philosophical strand, it's totally legitimate to ask atheists to take on the hard challenges of religiosity as well as the easy ones.

We do and we have. I'm happy to debate it, amateur though I am, and the greatest of philosophers have attacked the subject as well. Why act like that doesn't happen? Obviously most of the energy will be directed towards the more common and more harmful forms of belief, but it's not like the philosophical strand has been ignored!
posted by callmejay at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2011


What you said seemed like you were saying "you shouldn't believe in things without a full understanding

I would never say such a thing. It is too naive a world view. :)
posted by polymodus at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2011


Really? It's unscientific and uncritical to hold any beliefs at all about anything unless it is completely and flawlessly understood? I'm having a hard time with that.

Well as a matter of personal practice I think it's okay to have opinions. That are subject to examination and change. But beliefs? What a loaded word.
posted by polymodus at 10:56 AM on September 16, 2011


Is this about majority rules? If we can show that most religious are Creationist then it's okay to dismiss the ones who have a deeper personal experience of God? Does New Atheism need everyone to believe the same thing, and its opponents be slayed by Dawkins or dismissed as a trifling minority?

I dislike that attitude for the exact same reason I dislike Creationism. I don't care what they believe but they're encroaching on other people's beliefs to legitimise themselves. Weak.
posted by fraac at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok I re-read this. I think this is just a corner-case. Sure, there are phenomena that some people know about better than other people, due to background or training or "intellect", as you put it. How you'd like to handle that situation, I'll leave it up to you. But I don't think it is incompatible with the points I raised earlier.

Well as a matter of personal practice I think it's okay to have opinions. That are subject to examination and change. But beliefs? What a loaded word.

Ah. So when you said "believe," you didn't actually mean what most people mean when they say "believe?" What did you mean?

Is there something that you fully understand? What?
posted by The World Famous at 11:00 AM on September 16, 2011


Is this about majority rules? If we can show that most religious are Creationist then it's okay to dismiss the ones who have a deeper personal experience of God?

Who is "dismissing" them?
posted by callmejay at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2011


Ah. So when you said "believe," you didn't actually mean what most people mean when they say "believe?" What did you mean?

When people profess a belief in God, or a belief in global warming it's clear that isn't an opinion. Convictions and beliefs leave no room for error. That's very much in keeping with modern Western attitudes. Perhaps what we've forgotten is that it is perfectly okay to say "I don't know", and it seems to me that given the body of scientific knowledge we have nowadays, it would be more honest and truthful to say "I don't know" more often.
posted by polymodus at 11:04 AM on September 16, 2011


We do and we have. I'm happy to debate it, amateur though I am, and the greatest of philosophers have attacked the subject as well. Why act like that doesn't happen?

I'm just trying to clarify why discussions like this get mired in so much confusion every time. We should really separate the strands. Otherwise, and not necessarily through anybody's fault, what happens is that those on the atheist side respond to "strong"/philosophical arguments against their assumptions with sociological data, while those arguing against the atheists respond to their sociological data by posing philosophical arguments.

I also don't think I'm alone in feeling that the best-known "new atheist" writers often deliberately muddy this water, implying that their arguments are against the strongest conceptions of religosity, philosophically speaking, when they're really only successful as arguments against the weakest.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


callmejay: when you put scare quotes around God, I thought that was a little dismissive.
posted by fraac at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2011


That's an atheist with a thing for stained glass and ritual. Why not be a goth instead?

I'm an atheist with a thing for stained glass and ritual. I used to be a goth, but it got awfully tedious. Now I wear colors and listen to upbeat music, but I still go to church once every couple of months, because I like the singing and the ceremony.

I don't think anyone would mistake me for a religious person, though.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2011


You have to be very strident to become best-known. I adore this clip of Neil Tyson appealing to Dawkins' better judgement. Dawkins gets the laugh and gets to keep believing he's right. Nothing changes.
posted by fraac at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think both you and the author of the linked article are suffering from a debilitating condition called "never meeting the people who make up the majority of Christians".
What is it with militant atheists and equating religion with Christianity? It's bizarre and offensive.
posted by craichead at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


@oliverburkeman "and in that philosophical strand, it's totally legitimate to ask atheists to take on the hard challenges of religiosity as well as the easy ones."

I disagree simply because the "hard challenges" are merely a side effect of random people defining the core term in an infinity of ways.

You say "ah, but there was this guy once five thousand years ago who defined 'god' to mean this particular pebble that's currently in the British Museum! Since that pebble exists you atheists are obviously idiots and wrong, ha!"

Every definition of the term "god" that exists falls into one of three categories:

1) Provably false (ie: "God is Thor and he makes the thunder with his mighty hammer Mjölnir").

2) Non-falsifiable (ie: "God is Thor and he makes the thunder, Mjölnir is a symbol for his actions at the beginning of the universe by subtly influencing things in a manner that is non-detectable but eventually resulted in thunder as a side effect of lightning, also he's non-detectable by all means but exists because I say so!")

3) Simply renaming something else 'god' (ie: "Thor is love!", "Thor is the universe!", etc).

All three don't seem that hard.

The first is already disproved.

The second doesn't matter. Anyone can, with only the work of a few moments and some creativity, invent all sorts of non-falsifiable things, that's the point of Russell's Teapot, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, etc. If you believe in a non-falsifiable god, congratulations I can't falsify it. BFD.

The third is jut a bit of rhetorical nonsense.

Debating either the second or the third could be fun if you're into that. I prefer to waste my time with video games or decent science fiction rather than ultimately pointless philosophic debates, but I've got nothing particularly against pointless philosophic debate. Everyone has some way of wasting time, if that's yours I don't share your interest in it but I certainly don't condemn you for it.
posted by sotonohito at 11:24 AM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


"God is love" is literally from the bible. I guess fundamentalists must believe it. Disprove that.
posted by fraac at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2011


sotonhito: You and everyone else don't seem to get that meaning and interpretation aren't about the formal physical reality of the world.

The same basic physical realities can have multiple, mutually exclusive interpretations given to them, and there can still be no way to falsify either.

Atheists don't seem to understand what meaning is.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry--I should have said "hardline athiests like Dawkins don't seem to understand what meaning is."
posted by saulgoodman at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman I'd say that meaning is, necessarily, the invention of sapient life. So far in our experience that means "humans".

If you want to say "god is meaning and interpretation" than we're back to my point three in my reply to oliverburkeman. There's already perfectly good words to describe those things, no need to muddy the waters by using other terms.

If you mean to say that religion often gives people meaning and a framework for interpretation events, I'll agree. I just happen to think it gives them a harmful meaning and framework, mostly because it relies on the idea that there is a single, solitary, true meaning that is only known because it was once revealed by a deity. And then they start holy wars, which brings us back to the problem that us New Atheists are up in arms about.

I'd say that I, and Dawkins, and most of the other New Atheists have a pretty good understanding of meaning is. It's a human invention.
posted by sotonohito at 11:49 AM on September 16, 2011


This thread has literally devolved into "I know you are but what am I!"
posted by dave78981 at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd say that meaning is, necessarily, the invention of sapient life.

....It took me a minute to get that you meant this in the sense of "only sapient life worries about the 'meaning' of things" as opposed to "the invention of sapient life" meaning "Some force was in a big lab somewhere and said 'presto! I have invented sapient life! The perpetual motion machine is next!'"

Anyway. I thought that was a funny thought I had.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd say that I, and Dawkins, and most of the other New Atheists have a pretty good understanding of meaning is. It's a human invention.

I disagree. I think the need to interpret meaning and the functional mechanisms of interpreting events within meaningful contexts is much more fundamental to healthy human psychological functioning than Dawkins et al seem willing or able to appreciate.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you mean to say that religion often gives people meaning and a framework for interpretation events, I'll agree. I just happen to think it gives them a harmful meaning and framework, mostly because it relies on the idea that there is a single, solitary, true meaning that is only known because it was once revealed by a deity. And then they start holy wars, which brings us back to the problem that us New Atheists are up in arms about.

In order for that to be true, you have to be using an incredibly narrow definition of "religion." Which I suppose goes back to the theme of the article.
posted by The World Famous at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2011


"I'd say that I, and Dawkins, and most of the other New Atheists have a pretty good understanding of meaning is. It's a human invention."

Fascinating. I'd say that confusion is a human invention. Meaning was there all along.
posted by fraac at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2011


I just happen to think it gives them a harmful meaning and framework, mostly because it relies on the idea that there is a single, solitary, true meaning that is only known because it was once revealed by a deity.

See the many previous points about how it seems unfair that militant atheists get to invent the specific versions of God they feel like disproving, while non-atheists are just stuck defending whatever version of God the more aggressive atheists decide they'd look most stupid believing in.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:02 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


@saulgoodman What has brought you to that conclusion? I've read pretty much everything Dawkins has written on the topic of atheism etc and I can't say I've ever seen him claim that finding meaning isn't an activity humans find both necessary and satisfying.

Unweaving the Rainbow was largely about the importance of finding meaning, though also the importance of finding meaning in truth rather than ignorance.

@The World Famous "In order for that to be true, you have to be using an incredibly narrow definition of "religion."

All religions tend to produce fundamentalism. I argue that it is an unavoidable, if undesirable to some/many practitioners, part of religion.

Start a religion, go away for a few thousand years and when you come back it will have spawned at least one holy war, or inquisition, or what have you. Once you say "it is good, proper, and necessary to believe in X" then someone will say "All people who don't believe in X must be put to the sword!"

Not that religion is the only cause of people being put to the sword, humans are able to come up with any number of excuses for that. But religion seems to do so reliably and in a particularly vicious way.

@fracac Please show me an example of non-human invented meaning.
posted by sotonohito at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


sotonohito: “The second doesn't matter. Anyone can, with only the work of a few moments and some creativity, invent all sorts of non-falsifiable things, that's the point of Russell's Teapot, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, etc. If you believe in a non-falsifiable god, congratulations I can't falsify it. BFD.”

Significant chunks of reality are non-falsifiable. That doesn't mean they don't matter. Indeed, it should be incredibly unsettling that conventional logic appears to have limits, since those limits indicate that we can't provide a foundation even for conventional logic itself.
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2011


Here's a list of some things.

Justice.
A right angle.
Human rights.
East.

None of these things is a physical object. Most of them can't be proven to exist, but only defined to exist. Yet many people believe in these things.

The difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist believes in one more invisible thing.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:06 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fascinating. I'd say that confusion is a human invention. Meaning was there all along.

eh? "Meaning" is an association, a mapping from observation to abstraction. How can the concept have any use outside the context of an association engine, such as a brain?

Sounds like you're going for Plato's theory of forms.

None of these things is a physical object. Most of them can't be proven to exist, but only defined to exist. Yet many people believe in these things.

What does that even mean? Those are all abstract concepts. You can apply them to your observations if it somehow helps you solve a problem. They don't "exist" in any concrete sense - they are abstractions!
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


All religions tend to produce fundamentalism.

Is that a falsifiable statement?

Once you say "it is good, proper, and necessary to believe in X" then someone will say "All people who don't believe in X must be put to the sword!"

Is it good, proper, and necessary to believe in the efficacy of the scientific method?
posted by The World Famous at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2011


Miko: What I'm referring to there is that in the posted article there's a discussion of William James as "hat[ing] the belligerent secularism that treats religion as a childish superstition which we will all put behind us once we reach the age of reason,"...

I don't recall the article as exclusively focused on James, rather, it seemed to me about the shifting definitions of atheism and anti-theism over historical time.

olivierburkeman: But alongside the social/political discussion here in this thread there's a philosophical one — and in that philosophical strand, it's totally legitimate to ask atheists to take on the hard challenges of religiosity as well as the easy ones. To reject religiosity completely on this philosophical level, after all, you'd need to show how it cannot be a legitimate thing, not that it usually isn't in most instances.

I think "god is meaning" is borderline self-refuting. If theistic claims are simply an aesthetic choice between one type of meaning and another, then they have little more than subjective and sentimental value. Such a form of religiosity can't be meaningfully legitimate or illegitimate.

But, here I'm going to point out that you're setting an impossible and unfair standard. The religious person is not obligated to deconstruct a million forms of meaning in order to assert his or her personal one as reasonable, why is an atheist required to deconstruct a million-and-one?

Instead, I'll assert the following: atheistic views of the universe can be rich in meaning, spiritually fulfilling, psychologically sound, and moral.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Atheists don't seem to understand what meaning is.

I'm not a hard-liner particularly (I term myself apatheistic, rather than atheist), but this is the same kind of insulting as "atheists can't be moral people". I've had both more or less said to my face by people who thought they were doing me a genuine favour. This is a genuine failure of imagination of anything but spiritual.

One of the great thing about scientific literacey is that it does exactly this: it offers a subtext, even multiple subtexts of reality. You can appreciate a watch all the more knowing how intricate and contained it is, how it harnesses and incredibly compact yet powerful spring, but discharges it in a smooth, regulated way. You may see a pretty bangle on a wrist; a clockmaker sees the equivalent of a mechanical symphony.

I see rainbows an still wonder at them, even though I check if they're reflective or transmissive, and think about Rayleigh scattering when I do. Indeed, those extra layers enhance the experience for me. I may not appreciate it as God's promise to man, but it reveals the beuaty of our world to me, just the same.
posted by bonehead at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


All religions tend to produce fundamentalism. I argue that it is an unavoidable, if undesirable to some/many practitioners, part of religion.

See, I look at the fact that there are fundamentalist factions of all religions and I draw the conclusion that "fundamentalism is ITSELF a character trait possessed by some people, which they then apply to other things - religion, as well as other things."
Because -- I've met people who've applied that fundamentalist mindset to non-religious things (feminism, the Democratic party, sports team affiliation, the ingredients of jambalaya, etc.).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


"@fracac Please show me an example of non-human invented meaning."

That you can understand? I don't know, but those squirrels in the back garden seem to know what they're doing and don't spend much time discussing it online. 'Invented meaning' seems, if not oxymoronic, then so abstract that it couldn't possibly be useful in describing God.
posted by fraac at 12:15 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you believe in a non-falsifiable god, congratulations I can't falsify it. BFD.

As I said above, it may well be ultimately that we're talking about things that can't be fully captured by language here. There's no reason to assume from the starting-gate that this isn't the case. And if so, this would indeed end the discussion, eventually — but that would provide no grounds for you to dismiss whatever-it-is-we-can't-discuss as unimportant. Just undiscussable.
posted by oliverburkeman at 12:15 PM on September 16, 2011


> Atheists don't seem to understand what meaning is.

I'm not a hard-liner particularly (I term myself apatheistic, rather than atheist), but this is the same kind of insulting as "atheists can't be moral people".


Hell, I'm a theist and I think this is a shitty thing to say. (If that helps.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


The difference between an atheist and a theist is that the theist believes in one more invisible thing.

oh, I get it, you are defining "god" as an intangible abstraction. The curious thing is that this is pretty much the same thing I mean when I say that "God does not exist". As a model of theism, it is not useful, since it offers little or no predictive ability regarding the behavior of theists.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:17 PM on September 16, 2011


Mars Saxman: so would you agree with the following statements?

Justice does not exist.
A right angle does not exist.
Human rights do not exist.
East does not exist.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:23 PM on September 16, 2011


TheophileEscargot: you actually provide a perspective that, if still kind of insulting to religious folks, might help re-frame the debate a bit. What if we think of religion as a social construct?

That is to say, we look at what beliefs/values/associations people of religious faith hold, including, but not limited to, the existence of God. Most importantly, like many things socially constructed, we shouldn't assume people are consciously aware of many of their beliefs, which is why I ten to react critically to overly-simplistic sociological studies that are self-reported.
posted by thegears at 12:30 PM on September 16, 2011


Living in the deep south of the USA, I think about fundamentalist Christianity a lot (and related issues: dominionism, theocracy, etc). I vote, write letters to my lawmakers, donate money, etc to causes and groups I believe fight them. Frankly, they scare the bejeezus out of me and the notion that someone with Michele Bachmann's beliefs could be president makes me crazy & angry. I learn a lot about these causes from my athiest and humanist friends but also from my friends who are in the tiny minority of non-crazy pants religious people.
I really DON'T want to give legitimacy to thethe fundies. So while I'm an agnostic and/or believer in some kind of deity (not anything a fundamentalist would consider sufficient, I am sure) I publicly define myself as non-religious. I think that there has to be a way that not only are people who believe similarly to me can not only be part of the problem but can also be part of the solution.
posted by pointystick at 12:35 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


@saulgoodman "See the many previous points about how it seems unfair that militant atheists get to invent the specific versions of God they feel like disproving, while non-atheists are just stuck defending whatever version of God the more aggressive atheists decide they'd look most stupid believing in."

That's because:

1) Those particular versions of god are the most significant in terms of change wrought in the world, and

2) Those particular versions of god are the ones embraced by a majority of believers.

However I'm arguing a third thing. I'm arguing that **ANY** version of god will, inevitably, grow a mutant fundamentalist branch or die out. Start with a nice, completely peaceful religion and it'll either die out (either due to conquest or defection), or it'll develop a mutant fundamentalist branch.

To me that argues that all religion should be regarded as potentially harmful. Your version of god may be a perfectly safe fuzzy philosophic thing that no one will start holy wars over. But if it survives then over the centuries it will eventually become something that people start holy wars over.

To my way of thinking, religions and gods are too dangerous to be played with.

@EmpressCallipygos I'll agree that a general tendency to fundamentalism exists in some/many people, and that this can latch onto just about anything. I think, however, that the nature of god belief is particularly susceptible to fundamentalism, and tends to produce some of the more dangerous varieties.

Since, as demonstrated here, "God" is a term that can be easily and endlessly redefined, but at the same time commands such reverence and obedience, I think it's fairly obvious how even the nicer versions can quickly become if not uniquely unpleasant at least especially unpleasant.

Getting fundamentalist about sports team affiliation or the ingredients of jambalaya might start fights or even a riot. Getting fundamentalist about the holy one who brings peace, goodness, justice, and the redemption from eternal damnation and anyone who disagrees is self evidently a servant of Satan might produce holy wars.

In a way I see my opposition to religion as a means of limiting the damage done by a general tendency in many humans towards fundamentalism.
posted by sotonohito at 12:40 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


TheophileEscargot: I think with all of those, you'd be hard-pressed to prove that they're little more than socially-constructed concepts that exist to make certain kinds of conversations easier.

Questions of justice and human rights are central to moral philosophy and no one has developed a watertight justification for either. Right angles are a special case in the study of triangles on a plane, (albeit a useful one) and the relationship between mathematics and any ontological reality is a big philosophical problem. And any measurement of "east" is going to involve certain types of error depending on what you use as your reference points, not to mention questions about how you define it outside of the context of the Earth.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:44 PM on September 16, 2011


Those particular versions of god are the ones embraced by a majority of believers.

I actually think the jury is out on whether the fundamentalist version of "God" is the one embraced by "a majority of believers."

(And before someone comes in with the "but the majority of X's believe in an afterlife/heaven/etc". -- belief in heaven/an afterlife/etc. is not necessarily the same thing as belief in the fundamentalist's picture of God.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:45 PM on September 16, 2011


thegears: I don't think I am insulting to believers.

I did this Teaching Company course, and I think I'm pretty much just recounting Immanuel Kant's line, as far as I can remember it. From the course notes:
For Kant, God is not an object in or above the world because we do not have sense impressions of God; therefore, we cannot know God scientifically and cannot prove the existence of God as an entity.

A. Although we cannot know that God exists, Kant claims that it is, in fact, rational to believe that God exists, that it is rational—indeed necessary—to postulate the existence of God.

B. With respect to theoretical reason, Kant treats this rational faith in God in terms of the regulative use of reason.
1. In addition to the categories of the understanding, crucial elements of reason for Kant are the regulative ideas—such as God, world, self—which bring unity at the highest level to experience.
2. Reason needs to postulate these principles in order to make sense of experience.
3. It is, therefore, legitimate—indeed necessary—to think God (which is different from knowing God) as the origin of all that is, but it is illegitimate to speculate about what God is like beyond this.
Kant is a very major and perfectly mainstream philosopher, the Catholic Encyclopedia is reasonably friendly to him. I think most Christian denominations find him pretty inoffensive.

In his view, God isn't a "social construct" though. God is just one of a number of concepts that has to be assumed rather than proved in a thorough system of philosophy.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:49 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Theophile: I'm not sure what it even means to say that those things do or do not exist. They are abstractions - idealized patterns. We can apply those patterns to things we observe or experience, if doing so makes it easier to think or to communicate about them, but as abstractions they are necessarily inexact approximations of the actual things.

The patterns themselves exist in the same sense that ideas like "three" or "blue" or "up" exist: they are useful ways to describe characteristics of situations or objects we encounter.

As far as the pattern "God" goes, of course the pattern exists in the sense that we talk about it, but so do abstractions like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or any other hypothetical entity. We can describe a pattern and then try to find things to which it might apply; this is basically what science is about.

The problem with the "God" pattern is that there is very little agreement on what goes into it, and so people use the same word while talking about different abstractions. When you dig in and try to find out which details go into someone's idea of the God-abstraction, it invariably turns out to be so vague as to be useless, or internally contradictory, or just plain nonapplicable to any phenomena I am familiar with.

So when I say that I am an atheist, I mean that I have found no use for the God-abstraction. It doesn't help me predict any phenomena I actually encounter, it doesn't provide a meta-structure for relating other systems of abstractions, and in general it does not apply to anything which actually exists in the world I experience.

The only use I have for the idea of "God", in fact, is in trying to understand the behavior of people who believe that it does apply to some concrete object in their universe.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:53 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


@TheophileEscargot Can you demonstrate please that the items in your list were not either invented by humans. I'm thinking especially of "justice".

I'm a great believer in justice, but I don't think there's any evidence to indicate that it isn't a human invention. It isn't as if there's a justice particle, or a justice force, or a pound of justice, or the universe enforcing justice.
posted by sotonohito at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2011


I'm not a hard-liner particularly (I term myself apatheistic, rather than atheist), but this is the same kind of insulting as "atheists can't be moral people".

It's only insulting if you view being an atheist as part of your identity. It's not insulting if you view it only as an intellectual/philosophical commitment. Doesn't it seem a bit odd to be thinking of an intellectual commitment as a fundamental part of your identity?

And as I already said in the subsequent comment, I meant to walk that original remark back a bit.

It's not meant as an insult at any rate, but an observation about one of the underlying implicit problems in this debate.

"Meaning" is something people do have a real, deep psychological need for, and its also something that a purely materialistic science cannot and never will be able to offer. Physical reality will always allow for the possibility of multiple competing theoretical interpretations. Some theories are falsifiable, but theories don't necessarily have to be falsifiable to be true.

Meaning is about telling stories. Narrative-weaving is fundamental to healthy human psychological function. Pure science will never be able to tell stories without resorting to the fuzzy stuff of human culture (even an idea like "purpose" which takes on a different sense in scientific contexts).

Raging indiscriminately against belief (or any abstraction, for that matter) can't be much healthier than indiscriminate belief at the end of the day, is my own take on it. A strategy of attacking "believers" less and more often attacking specific, clear-cut cases of social injustice carried out in the name of belief might be more productive and avoid offending potential allies.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2011


TheophileEscargot: I think with all of those, you'd be hard-pressed to prove that they're little more than socially-constructed concepts that exist to make certain kinds of conversations easier.

While we're on the subject, basically, anything I wouldn't want to have to acknowledge as real in order to make my argument is probably just a socially-constructed concept that exists only to make certain kinds of conversations easier.

But for the record, none of my favorite abstractions are made of such chintzy stuff.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on September 16, 2011


@saulgoodman For the record I didn't find your comment offensive. Strongly put, and wrong, but not offensive.

However I must point out that I don't know of any atheists, including Dawkins, who object to stories or belief in the very general sense you're using the term here. Have you actually read any of Dawkins' books? He uses stories to make points on occasion you know.

Attacking a specific belief, in this case god belief, is rather significantly different from "Raging indiscriminately against belief".

Narrative-weaving is fundamental to healthy human psychological function.

Agree strongly. It's probably one of the functions that drove our development of intelligence.

Pure science will never be able to tell stories without resorting to the fuzzy stuff of human culture

Somewhat disagree, at it's essence science tells a story, that's what a theory is after all, the story of why you think various observations happened.

But yes, in general stories informed by science relate to fuzzier cultural things. How could it be otherwise, cultural stuff is rather emotionally gripping and significant to us. That doesn't invalidate science, or validate god belief.
posted by sotonohito at 1:10 PM on September 16, 2011


Mars Saxman: So, in your ontology (philosophy of what-exists) there are now two classes of things.

1. Physical things, which can be proven to exist empirically.

2. Abstractions, which cannot be proven to exist empirically, and you're not yet sure whether exist or not.

But even in the New Testament, God is identified with abstractions, such as "God is Love" and "In the beginning was the Word [logos] and the Word [logos] was God."

Until you have a procedure that lets you determine whether an abstraction exists or does not exist, you can't definitely state either that "God exists" or "God does not exist".
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:12 PM on September 16, 2011


It's only insulting if you view being an atheist as part of your identity. It's not insulting if you view it only as an intellectual/philosophical commitment. Doesn't it seem a bit odd to be thinking of an intellectual commitment as a fundamental part of your identity?

That statement is so stunning, I can't even parse it. If I'm committing to a philosophical structure, it certainly integrates into my sense of who I am. Do you honestly mean to say that I can't, as an areligous person, really understand metaphysics? That my mind is built on sand? Do you really think that religion alone imparts a special solemnity and seriousness of purpose?
posted by bonehead at 1:16 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a fair bit and I have three objections to "philosophical gods" such as the one used by Kant here:

1) Tentatively assuming something in order to address a thorny problem says little about whether it's ultimately True. To use geometry as an example, assuming ideal lines and planes is reasonable and necessary for math, whether they actually exist is another question entirely.

2) I don't think the "origin of all that is" is the panacea that's claimed. This is something that Kant and Spinoza appear to see but most apologetics don't.

3) What is the purpose in using such a theologically and narratively overloaded "god" in order to describe that assumption. I don't think "god" is a necessary term to discuss these theoretical concepts, and I think it's one with a high potential for misunderstanding.

Until you have a procedure that lets you determine whether an abstraction exists or does not exist, you can't definitely state either that "God exists" or "God does not exist".

In other words, ignosticism, which renders god-language little more than an aesthetic choice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:17 PM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman: It's not meant as an insult at any rate, but an observation about one of the underlying implicit problems in this debate.

And easily solved now that it's been shown to be trivially false. But by all means, better to deny that I have stories than to ask what stories are important to me.

Raging indiscriminately against belief ...

As is raging indiscriminately against atheists.

While we're on the subject, basically, anything I wouldn't want to have to acknowledge as real in order to make my argument is probably just a socially-constructed concept that exists only to make certain kinds of conversations easier.

Well, in this case all four of the items mentioned are social constructions. Unless you can show:

1: a proof of moral philosophy
2: a proof of the ontological reality of geometric theorems
3: a proof that scientific theorems are objectively True rather than provisionally true

As #1 & #2 have stumped the best minds for over 3,000 years, and #3 has largely abandoned in the philosophy of science, such a feat would certainly be remarkable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:27 PM on September 16, 2011


And of course, the contrast between "science" and "fuzzy human culture" is something of a quaint and artificial dichotomy that appears to be more common among anti-atheist polemics than people who have participated in the sausage-making of science. And the idea that a guy who wrote two books titled, "The Magic of Reality" and "The Greatest Show on Earth" isn't comfortable with narrative strikes me as laughable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:36 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


My point, sotonhito, is that Dawkins and yourself, for that matter, don't seem to appreciate just how psychologically important and necessary precisely the kinds of unfalsifiable beliefs about the world you dismissed earlier are.

Even if not one iota of physical reality changes, what you believe the world's overarching story is--or whether you believe there is one at all--changes how you see yourself situated in the world, and effects how you view your own actions. All of which can have real-world effects.

Many, many things that even the most strident Atheist would admit to believing are unfalsifiable.

If I'm committing to a philosophical structure, it certainly integrates into my sense of who I am. Do you honestly mean to say that I can't, as an areligous person, really understand metaphysics? That my mind is built on sand? Do you really think that religion alone imparts a special solemnity and seriousness of purpose?

No. Religion isn't necessary for any of those things, but it isn't exactly friendly or socially positive to destroy someone else's core identity constructs and replace them with nothing at all just because that seems more "honest" to you. Some atheists seem to want to insist this is the only way they can possibly proceed from their commitments. I disagree.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:40 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


that appears to be more common among anti-atheist polemics than people who have participated in the sausage-making of science

I have never engaged in anti-atheist polemics. I'm not technically even a theist myself. I just think its silly to view one's atheist beliefs as an immutable part of one's identity. I also believe the same thing about other kinds of belief, like Christianity.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:43 PM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman: Which Dawkins are you talking about? Surely not the same guy who praised the King James Bible as the "official text" of the British Empire.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:45 PM on September 16, 2011


Justice does not exist.
A right angle does not exist.
Human rights do not exist.
East does not exist.


This right here sums it up for me: it's obvious that these things do not exist, at least not outside the context of human culture(s). The same is true for God(s). Frankly, as a pretty militant atheist I have no problem "believing in the existence" of God just as thoroughly as I "believe in the existence" of justice, right angles, human rights, and East -- the God-concept clearly has a massive effect on society, human behavior, etc, so only a madman would claim that it doesn't exist, just as the concepts of East, justice, human rights, and right angles exist within a given culture.

The problem is that many other people's definition of "believing in the existence" seems to involve actual, literal existence, or action/influence which is independent from human beings... but only of some things. I'd be laughed out of the church if I suggested that human rights, justice, right angles, and East are all "at work in the world" and "exist" on some unknowable plane the way God supposedly does, yet I'm supposed to believe that religious people "believe in one more invisible thing"? I disagree. Belief in religion seems, for most people at least, to be a different kind of "belief".

As for the nonsense about how atheists can't appreciate stories and/or narrative (much less "meaning"), it's just that: nonsense. Atheists tell stories all the time, and we even deeply believe in them, in the first sense above -- story and narrative is very close to the center of my own chosen meaning, for example, and there are few things I cherish more. I still acknowledge that they are stories, though, and as such do not exist outside those who tell them and hear them.

If I were to believe that the stories that matter to me literally existed or had influence independent of their writers and readers, then maybe we could talk about how theists "believe in one more invisible thing". Likewise if theists truly believed that their God(s) exist as cultural concepts rather than external forces. As it is, though, the two kinds of belief are not the same.
posted by vorfeed at 1:46 PM on September 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


At it's root, I think the belief in God/whatever is simply a response to a need to believe in God/whatever. Atheists might say that need is just a weird accidental twist in some of our brains, believers might say it's a sign that there actually is a God/whatever.

I suppose if we do become advanced enough to a) prove it's a biological twist b) develop a medical treatment for same, this argument will have an end and we'll have no more religious belief of any stripe.

I also think the pain it gives anyone holding any kind of belief in God/whatever to be told they're full of shit stems from trying to communicate the reality of the need that they feel (and I'm going to say categorically that this need is real to me, and appears to be so to at least some others) to people who seem never to have felt it or been able to successfully suppress it.

I have had trouble simply switching my worldview to "atheist" not because I fear hell or judgement or my family, but because of a nagging, constant desire for there to be a God/whatever out there. It's not about the arguments, for me, but about that need.

This frustrates some atheists in my life, who do not feel that need, who do not seek out meditation with others or use prayer as a means of bringing internal peace. I will say that I spent years trying not to need those things, and have come to accept, simply, that I do. But I make no claims as to my need=existence of God/whatever, because that would be presumptuous.

This is not very satisfying as an explanation to an atheist who finds this need baffling or even ridiculous, but it is not something I can change or help and overall, I function better when I include it in my life than when I don't.
posted by emjaybee at 1:47 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just think its silly to view one's atheist beliefs as an immutable part of one's identity.

In the interests of civilty, I'll simply note that's not exactly friendly or socially positive to [deny] someone else's core identity constructs ... just because that seems [silly] to you. This is, in my personal, direct experience, a also mode of thought common to religous leaders as well as the athiest strawmen you are currently excoriating. This line of though is distructive to the very line of discussion you seem to want to have. Accusing your interloqutor of bad faith from the start, as your statement appears to me to do, makes conflict inevitable.

I'll note too that science is a particular expression of culture as much as art or philosophy. I'd say theology too, but that would just be inviting trouble.
posted by bonehead at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman: I have never engaged in anti-atheist polemics.

Thus far, every single one of your posts has been based on trivially false strawmen and silly stereotypes of atheistic thought.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:59 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


athiest strawmen

To be fair, a lot of strawmen are pretty athy and in logically one of them has to be the athiest.




sorry.
posted by Hoopo at 2:00 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just think its silly to view one's atheist beliefs as an immutable part of one's identity. I also believe the same thing about other kinds of belief, like Christianity.

Odd, then, that you would accuse atheists of "destroy[ing] someone else's core identity constructs and replac[ing] them with nothing at all just because that seems more "honest" to you".

My point, sotonhito, is that Dawkins and yourself, for that matter, don't seem to appreciate just how psychologically important and necessary precisely the kinds of unfalsifiable beliefs about the world you dismissed earlier are.
Even if not one iota of physical reality changes, what you believe the world's overarching story is--or whether you believe there is one at all--changes how you see yourself situated in the world, and effects how you view your own actions. All of which can have real-world effects.


They certainly can. As above, though, I'd question whether the kinds of beliefs which are "psychologically important and necessary" are necessarily precisely the same "kinds of unfalsifiable beliefs about the world you dismissed earlier". I see very little evidence that religious belief is necessary (if it were, there'd be no atheists), as opposed to belief in "what you believe the world's overarching story is, or whether you believe there is one at all" -- and as I said above, these aren't necessarily the same kind of belief.
posted by vorfeed at 2:02 PM on September 16, 2011


As for the nonsense about how atheists can't appreciate stories and/or narrative (much less "meaning"), it's just that: nonsense. Atheists tell stories all the time, and we even deeply believe in them, in the first sense above -- story and narrative is very close to the center of my own chosen meaning, for example, and there are few things I cherish more. I still acknowledge that they are stories, though, and as such do not exist outside those who tell them and hear them.

Aarghh---I've got to be more careful. I've apparently completely misrepresented my own argument.

I only meant that some atheists don't seem to get that the broader context within which we construct meaning--even if that context doesn't matter to our scientific accounting of things--really does matter psychologically, and in ways that are much deeper and more necessary for the preservation of healthy psychological function than some in this debate seem willing to allow.

In the interests of civilty, I'll simply note that's not exactly friendly or socially positive to [deny] someone else's core identity constructs ... just because that seems [silly] to you

I thought Atheism was an intentional intellectual position people choose to adopt or reject, not a condition one's born and/or culturally habituated into (unlike many cases of strong religious belief)? If not, then I guess it's just another religion you want me to sign up for.

Like I said to the other guys: No thanks.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:02 PM on September 16, 2011


I'm going to step away as it starts to get to be a grind, but there's one final thing I want to mention.

It was interesting to me that callmejay identified himself with "activists," above. I suppose that some of those who take up the mantle of 'public athiest' are indeed acting as activists, though that's not always clearly stated upfront. But activists for what? It's always seemed a little strange to me, in that belief systems are personal and part of private life, that anyone else should be so wrapped up in the question of what's going on inside another person's head. The activism doesn't really seem to be about the irrationality of my personal beliefs, in and of itself, because after all humans - atheist and theist alike - are loaded down with irrational beliefs, from the idea that a birthday warrants a celebration and presents to the idea that a particular sports team deserves to win a particular title to the idea that we need to have perfect and correct understandings of the world in order to happily and helpfully navigate it.

I think that last is an irrational belief worth examining.

It often turns out, as exemplified in sotonhito's comments, that the activism is not against irrationality itself, since if it were we wouldn't single out religion alone among the uncountable irrational beliefs people have, but is meant to be against certain kinds of social ills for which the atheist activist sees religion as responsible.

The 'public athiest' project, then, seems to be to disabuse people of their religious notions so that they can, presumably, in their new enlightenment, shed their adherence to these social ills and bring about a new, empathetic, utopian age on earth.

I've heard this idea expressed many times, directly and indirectly - that religion is responsible for ignorance, oppression, hatred, bad politics, and so on, and that's why it's important to argue for atheism. It's a common enough idea that it's enshrined in song, and it is the source of the anguish that arises from the conflation problem, as those who don't promote those social ills are lumped in with those who do.

Because of this, the argument over atheism vs. theism tends to stray from a focus on the basic philosophical question 'what is the nature of the universe and does it have a purpose? Is there a sentience or teleology to the processes of the universe?', which could really be considered in cool blood and calmly, and wanders into this focus instead on the nature and conduct of human beings, as if the two were the same question.

It seems that those undertaking this public atheism project, which imagines that were people to drop all religious thought, these social ills would vanish, should examine their assumptions that the world's ills really come from religion, and that destroying religion will take away the world's ills. They should really be looking at another question: why do social ills arise, and is there anything people can do to reduce them? That's a project that both believers and non-believers can join together in, and in fact, believers in some cases who have developed powerful ways to address certain social ills. It may be that discusses about the uses and ends and values within religions are important parts of that discussion about reducing social ill, but taking the position that the social ills and the religious beliefs are one and the same is not a productive approach, in that it throws out both bathwater and baby, and doesn't recognize some fundamental elements in human psychology.

I don't deny that organized religions, particularly in the pre-Enlightenment age, were powerful structures for interpreting and organizing reality for people. I don't deny that there are systems still in place in which religion becomes tied up with power, oppression, and bias, in which religions participate in and perpetuate in negative forms of social control. There certainly are. That should be called out, examined, and deplored.

But it is not theistic belief in itself which is responsible for this. If all religious belief somehow evaporated tomorrow, if we all woke up with the shared understanding "This is all there is, and in the end, we'll all turn back into star stuff with no lingering memory of this world," would there still be tribalism? Inequality? Gender bias? Segregation? Atrocity? Acts of war? Political disagreement? There absolutely would.We would not suddenly see a blossoming of humanity which gives rise to a new and beautiful era of careful use of resources and universal respect for all, because the underlying psychologies which developed religions as one tool for social organization, self-understanding, and the deployment of power would still be present. I'm interested in discovering and working with that underlying psychology to bring about change for the better.

I see the question of belief as almost irrelevant to how we live. There's an obsession with rightness in much 'public athiest' rhetoric that I can never embrace, an obsession which seeks to trump all thinking from the religious based on the assumption that by one set of definitions, we believe we're right, and right makes might. Ultimately I don't think it means much of anything to be right or wrong about the nature of the universe. It certainly makes not one whit of difference to the actual nature of the universe what humans think about it, so who cares? In the end it absolutely doesn't matter one way or another. Those people may be right, and if they're right, congratulations! You figured it out! But what is it worth? What does it mean for people? In the end, to most people, not a whole heckuva lot.

It's not what people believe or don't believe, but how people act around each other, that is my primary concern. I sometimes wonder it's not more of a concern for the 'public athiest', as opposed to the extreme interest in what other people think inside their heads.

I certainly believe progress can be made on human rights and the improvement of the conditions of life for people, but not that the destruction of the inclination toward religious belief is essential to that progress or even helpful in that progress. I believe liberalism, civil society and secular government are worthwhile aims, and are aims which don't depend in the least on agreeing on a cosmology. In promoting and espousing those things I think I'm doing my part to bring about that better world, while not intruding into the private experience of people who choose to participate in religious experiences or embrace a religious narrative, potentially alienating them and depriving many of a profoundly useful tool they have for constructing for themselves a place in the world.

There are people who are fundamentally opposed to those values, and I stand with many athiests in opposition to those people. But I'll never see the need to deconstruct the very idea of belief itself in order to oppose their problematic thinking. The idea of belief can, and sometimes has been, just as adeptly used to deconstruct the problematic thinking as to construct it.
posted by Miko at 2:10 PM on September 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


So, in your ontology (philosophy of what-exists) there are now two classes of things.

1. Physical things, which can be proven to exist empirically.

2. Abstractions, which cannot be proven to exist empirically, and you're not yet sure whether exist or not.


No, these are things which absolutely do not exist in the same way that physical things do, but may be convenient concepts for organizing/describing the world. I'd call them "useful fictions."

But even in the New Testament, God is identified with abstractions, such as "God is Love" and "In the beginning was the Word [logos] and the Word [logos] was God."

So God is a useful fiction. I have no problem with that formulation.
posted by bjrubble at 2:10 PM on September 16, 2011


saulgoodman: Isn't it interesting that atheists are just stuck defending whatever version of atheism you decide we'd look most stupid professing?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:13 PM on September 16, 2011


I thought Atheism was an intentional intellectual position people choose to adopt or reject, not a condition one's born and/or culturally habituated into (unlike many cases of strong religious belief)? If not, then I guess it's just another religion you want me to sign up for.

Atheism is quite obviously a condition one is born into. In fact, it's the only condition human beings are born into. As nothing more than the lack of belief in god(s), it is not necessarily "an intentional intellectual position people choose to adopt or reject" nor "another religion you want me to sign up for". The unspoken assumption that religion is the default (and that atheists must necessarily adopt exactly the same kind of positive "belief" in order to reject it) is really annoying. We may as well accuse religious people of believing in a-atheism!
posted by vorfeed at 2:14 PM on September 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm just going to stand here and point to what Miko just said because, WOW.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:14 PM on September 16, 2011


In fact, it's the only condition human beings are born into.

I'd be really careful there, as we can't do the experiment but young children are pretty animistic.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not what people believe or don't believe, but how people act around each other, that is my primary concern. I sometimes wonder it's not more of a concern for the 'public athiest', as opposed to the extreme interest in what other people think inside their heads.

Interesting that you don't feel the same about racism, sexism, tribalism, and other forms of "problematic thinking". These beliefs -- which are clearly "what other people think inside their heads" -- can have a major impact on how people act around each other, yet we're supposed to believe that religion cannot?

I believe liberalism, civil society and secular government are worthwhile aims, and are aims which don't depend in the least on agreeing on a cosmology. In promoting and espousing those things I think I'm doing my part to bring about that better world, while not intruding into the private experience of people who choose to participate in religious experiences or embrace a religious narrative, potentially alienating them and depriving many of a profoundly useful tool they have for constructing for themselves a place in the world.

There are plenty of people -- millions if not billions, actually -- for whom liberalism, civil society and secular government are an intrusion, alienating them and depriving them of a profoundly useful tool they have for constructing for themselves a place in the world. Your opposition to tribalism seems to me to be quite equivalent to my opposition to religion; if you understand why it's OK for you to dismiss and attempt to dismantle once of the central forces of human organization, perhaps you'll understand why I don't hesitate to do the same.
posted by vorfeed at 2:26 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Interesting that you don't feel the same about racism, sexism, tribalism...

But I do feel the same about those things, vorfeed. I recognize that I can't control what other people think - I can only see, understand, and influence actions and external conditions, not thoughts. It's one of life's limits.

if you understand why it's OK for you to dismiss and attempt to dismantle once of the central forces of human organization, perhaps you'll understand why I don't hesitate to do the same.

I promote liberalism; I don't try to dismantle tribalism.
posted by Miko at 2:28 PM on September 16, 2011


I'd be really careful there, as we can't do the experiment but young children are pretty animistic.

They also tend to believe that things they can't see don't exist, and that everyone around them knows the same things they do. I'm not convinced that these behaviors are necessarily equivalent to (religious) belief, to say the least.
posted by vorfeed at 2:32 PM on September 16, 2011


They also tend to believe that things they can't see don't exist, and that everyone around them knows the same things they do. I'm not convinced that these behaviors are necessarily equivalent to (religious) belief, to say the least.

They're not equivalent to atheism, either.
posted by The World Famous at 2:37 PM on September 16, 2011


Since there will always be misery in the world, we shouldn't make any effort to stamp out things we know are causing misery right now, because it's pointless?
posted by maxwelton at 2:38 PM on September 16, 2011


Mars Saxman: So, in your ontology (philosophy of what-exists) there are now two classes of things.

No, not really. I would say that there are sensory experiences, and there are abstractions which simplify those experiences into manipulable concepts, and there are models which relate abstractions and allow us to generate predictions. "Existence" is a function of a model's predictive utility: that is, some abstract thing "exists" if incorporating it into my world-model gives me a greater ability to predict future sensory experiences. The abstract model is a description of real things which exist elsewhere. The abstraction itself has no existence except as a pattern of information inside my brain, and perhaps as an equivalent pattern of information inside your brain as well.

Until you have a procedure that lets you determine whether an abstraction exists or does not exist, you can't definitely state either that "God exists" or "God does not exist".

My procedure for determining whether the object described by an abstraction actually exists is simply to observe whether incorporating said abstraction into my world-model improves or reduces my ability to predict future events. If it is useful I keep it, if it is not useful I discard it.

I say that I am an atheist because the concept "God" is very poorly defined and does not apply to anything useful in my model of the universe. The only use of that abstraction is in predicting the behavior of theists. What's more, there are many specific religious propositions of a "God" which, if I accepted them, would substantially reduce my ability to make sense of the world: that is, their predictive utility is negative. I would say that any such "God" definitely does not exist. The entity most Christians of my acquaintance refer to as "God" is one of these.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:48 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing is that ontologically speaking: vorfeed, Mars Saxman and bjrubble have basically just reinvented Dualism.

There is one class of physical things that can be empirically proven to exist.

There is another class of non-physical things that Mars Saxman calls "abstractions", vorfeed calls "concepts" and bjrubble calls "useful fictions".

There's various hemming and hawing going on about whether the second class exists or not. Mars Saxman isn't willing to say. Vorfeed says they don't exist but he believes in them. Bjrubble says they do not exist "in the same way" but are "convenient."

But nothing there would trouble a Christian dualist. He'd use different terminology: to a Christian dualist, these two classes are just the "material" and the "spiritual" realms. But most Christian dualists would have no problem saying that God is a spiritual entity not a material entity, and that God exists in a different way to a material entity (being omnipresent, for instance).

Now, this problem isn't intrinsic to atheism. It's possible for an atheist to come up with a non-dualist system of philosophy that would trouble a Christian, and would allow certain abstractions/concepts/useful fictions/spirits to be said to exist while others do not exist. But doing that is a lot harder than you might think.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:50 PM on September 16, 2011


Miko: The 'public athiest' project, then, seems to be to disabuse people of their religious notions so that they can, presumably, in their new enlightenment, shed their adherence to these social ills and bring about a new, empathetic, utopian age on earth.

Well, that depends. Personally, I'm skeptical of this idea of a 'public atheist' project as everyone in that area has different agendas. Certainly I'd say that criticism of religion qua religion has been a big focus of the "new atheists." It's less an agenda for interfaith/transfaith atheists like myself who are primarily concerned with challenging false and negative views of atheism that fail to recognize the full diversity of atheist thought, or that identify atheists as psychologically, morally, or socially inferior for not taking a leap of faith.

Because of this, the argument over atheism vs. theism tends to stray from a focus on the basic philosophical question 'what is the nature of the universe and does it have a purpose? Is there a sentience or teleology to the processes of the universe?', which could really be considered in cool blood and calmly, and wanders into this focus instead on the nature and conduct of human beings, as if the two were the same question.

That's because the majority of what crosses my news feeds on this topic:
1) throws the towel on this these questions by treating it as a matter of faith, then
2) argues that atheists are bad people for not taking that leap of faith.

I don't care about the cosmology of other people. Or rather, I do care in that I would honestly love an environment in which we can share stories of meaning and spiritual experience. I don't think we can get there while I'm bombarded with these "Atheists don't __" and "Atheists can't ___" arguments.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:53 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


TheophileEscargot: Not really. Concepts can be explained in purely behavioral terms. I don't see anything in basic semiotics that inherently demands a dualsim, although it might be pleasing to think about it in that way.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:56 PM on September 16, 2011


That's because the majority of what crosses my news feeds on this topic:
1) throws the towel on this these questions by treating it as a matter of faith, then
2) argues that atheists are bad people for not taking that leap of faith.


What news feeds do you follow? They only things about atheism that ever come across my news feeds are strongly pro-New Atheist. But that's because of the feeds I follow.
posted by The World Famous at 3:02 PM on September 16, 2011


But I do feel the same about those things, vorfeed. I recognize that I can't control what other people think - I can only see, understand, and influence actions and external conditions, not thoughts. It's one of life's limits.

I don't really see the difference here. If you reserve the right to work against racist, sexist, or tribalist actions and external conditions, then you should have no problem with an atheist who works against religious actions and external conditions. I don't really care if someone has a strongly-held personal belief which has zero bearing on their actions -- assuming such a thing is even possible -- but I am not (at all!) convinced that this is what we're talking about when we discuss religion.

I promote liberalism; I don't try to dismantle tribalism.

This strikes me as semantics more than anything else. You clearly spoke against tribalism above; if you can do that, then atheists can speak against religion. Perhaps they're just "promoting" atheism rather than "dismantling" religion (and, frankly, many outspoken atheists are doing just that -- I may be an anti-theist as well as an atheist, but that's by no means required).
posted by vorfeed at 3:03 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


What news feeds do you follow?

A google news and google blogs search.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:04 PM on September 16, 2011


But nothing there would trouble a Christian dualist. He'd use different terminology: to a Christian dualist, these two classes are just the "material" and the "spiritual" realms. But most Christian dualists would have no problem saying that God is a spiritual entity not a material entity, and that God exists in a different way to a material entity (being omnipresent, for instance).
Not quite.

The concept of "a spiritual realm" in modern Christian belief is different than the concept of "useful abstractions" or even "platonic forms" that you seem to be hinting at. You seem to be angling for a positive "we're not all that different, not really" sort of take on this discussion, but as others have noted it requires contorting most popular religious beliefs into into lots of semantic awkwardness.

The sort of open-minded Christian Dualism you've described in several posts is actively attacked in many mainstream Christian circles. In suburban mega-churches, in small-town chapels, in online message boards and popular religious books, it's precisely the sort of view that is treated as a cancerous invasion of pseudo-belief.
posted by verb at 3:06 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


A google news and google blogs search.

For what? And if it comes up with such distasteful results on a regular basis, why follow it?
posted by The World Famous at 3:12 PM on September 16, 2011


[small children] also tend to believe that things they can't see don't exist, and that everyone around them knows the same things they do. I'm not convinced that these behaviors are necessarily equivalent to (religious) belief, to say the least.

They're not equivalent to atheism, either.


Again, atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s). Believing that rocks are alive, that things you can't see don't exist, and that everyone around you knows the same things you do is fantastic, but it's not necessarily the same thing as a belief in god(s). For one thing, the same form of cognitive category error (attributing one's own state to the outside world) can explain all three, and has nothing to do with god(s) or the kind of "belief" we're talking about when we discuss religion.
posted by vorfeed at 3:17 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


ugh.
posted by The World Famous at 3:20 PM on September 16, 2011


The World Famous: "Atheist" and "atheism." I'm torn on keeping those feeds because while it turns up a fair quantity of depressing crap. On the other hand, it's important to see what people are writing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:27 PM on September 16, 2011


There's various hemming and hawing going on about whether the second class exists or not. Mars Saxman isn't willing to say.

I am unwilling to answer your question directly because it is framed in a way which presumes dualism. I don't apply the notion of "existence" to abstract concepts the way you do.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:34 PM on September 16, 2011


The World Famous: "Atheist" and "atheism." I'm torn on keeping those feeds because while it turns up a fair quantity of depressing crap. On the other hand, it's important to see what people are writing.

FWIW, for atheism-related news, I just follow Dawkins' Twitter in my Google Reader list. There's not much depressing crap there. Some crap, sure. But it's mostly pro-atheism or lolXtians (which Dawkins seems to think advances his cause). And I suppose I'm not actually interested in getting a comprehensive update on all atheism-related news. I just like to see what Dawkins has to say or is interested in.
posted by The World Famous at 3:37 PM on September 16, 2011


And now that the thread is thoroughly derailed, it seems odd to me to respond to an article about the varieties of atheism and theism by grinding on "new atheists" and "public atheism."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2011


you should have no problem with an atheist who works against religious actions and external conditions

I don't if what they're working against is somehow a violation of human rights in the way that racist and sexist actions are. But there can be benign religious actions, and religious actions that violate human rights. I don't think anyone has much business working against benign religious actions. In other words, religion itself is not anything worth opposing. Some of its negative attributes may be, but in that case let's be clear that what you are opposing are the negative attributes, not the religion itself.

To me, it's profoundly illiberal to police someone's thought, and nonsensical to police benign and even helpful actions.

I don't have a problem with people 'promoting' atheism, if they want to. It's an absolutely fine way to believe. The only problem I have is with nasty and rude expressions of anti-theism and with the unhealthy degree of interest I think anti-theists are sometimes taking in the realm of other people's inner lives.

Again, atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s). Believing that rocks are alive, that things you can't see don't exist, and that everyone around you knows the same things you do is fantastic, but it's not necessarily the same thing as a belief in god(s).

So you're willing to entertain the idea that rocks are alive?

It's okay, I know you're not. But the process of refuting the idea that animating spirits reside in rocks is pretty much the same thing as refuting the idea that animating spirits reside in the universe. I really don't think there's much distinction here; animism is a component of much religion.
posted by Miko at 4:06 PM on September 16, 2011


I don't if what they're working against is somehow a violation of human rights in the way that racist and sexist actions are.

I don't think all racist and sexist actions necessarily violate human rights (changing rooms separated by sex come to mind, as does dating preference), yet we openly discourage racism and sexism, not just specific negative outcomes of racism and sexism... and good for us. The idea that human beings can or should restrict themselves to making moral judgements about actions rather than beliefs does not match my experience on this site or in society, to say the least.

[...] To me, it's profoundly illiberal to police someone's thought, and nonsensical to police benign and even helpful actions.

If by "policing" you mean banning or otherwise punishing, sure. If by "policing" you mean speaking against, I disagree -- dissent and vigorous disagreement can be benign and even helpful, after all. It's worth noting that religions do not restrict themselves this way, either -- many if not most religions place value judgements on thoughts or benign/helpful actions. Besides, atheists do not have the power to "police" religion in any meaningful way, at least not at the moment, so why should the "unhealthy degree of interest I think anti-theists are sometimes taking in the realm of other people's inner lives" matter? That strikes me as a case of opposing thoughts rather than actions...

I really don't think there's much distinction here; animism is a component of much religion.

Yes. It's a component of religion, but that doesn't make it a religion (and, in fact, the very first sentence you linked to makes the same distinction: "Animism is a belief held in many religions around the world, and is not, as some have purported, a type of religion in itself"). Altruism is also a component of much religion, and young children are as altruistic as they are animist; you may as well claim that toddlers are all Buddhists because they seem to express karuna.
posted by vorfeed at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's just not very friendly. There are more effective ways to communicate, if you dislike some effects of a person's beliefs, than to attack their beliefs. Demonstrating what you and they have in common would be a useful start.
posted by fraac at 5:20 PM on September 16, 2011


How did I miss this thread?!? I feel like the last guy to join a dog pile at a heated football game. Dammit!. Well as much as I want to wade into this quagmire, sharp elbows flying, I guess its too late.

It would be interesting to have a conversation where atheists discuss our closest equivalent to religious experiences, and then have theists discuss their experiences that have made them doubt their faith. I call it reverse common ground.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:46 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, vorfeed, are you telling us that if you met an adult espousing animism, you would not demand of this person some sort of proof of the spirits residing in (what I'm sure you regard as inanimate) matter, and would not ridicule them if proof were not forthcoming, because animism is not a religion?

Is it really that case that atheists require ironclad empirical proof only of theists, not of animists, nor of themselves when they're making unsubstantiated moral pronouncements?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:52 PM on September 16, 2011


Chekhovian: It would be interesting to have a conversation where atheists discuss our closest equivalent to religious experiences, and then have theists discuss their experiences that have made them doubt their faith. I call it reverse common ground.

Previous conversations on atheist spirituality and mysticism here have not gone over well, unless psychadelic drugs are involved. Then, it's a party.

Crabby: So, vorfeed, are you telling us that if you met an adult espousing animism, you would not demand of this person some sort of proof of the spirits residing in (what I'm sure you regard as inanimate) matter, and would not ridicule them if proof were not forthcoming, because animism is not a religion?

Not speaking for vorfeed, but my response would be to buy them a drink and start talking about what we do to get down with the natural world. Maybe even think up a good ritual together. What do you do when you meet an animist?

Is it really that case that atheists require ironclad empirical proof only of theists, not of animists, nor of themselves when they're making unsubstantiated moral pronouncements?

Of course not because we don't require that of theist either. But then again, you already knew that and this isn't an honest question.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:13 PM on September 16, 2011


Of course not because we don't require that of theist either. But then again, you already knew that and this isn't an honest question.

Congratulations, KJS. I think this is the most outrageous lie I've ever seen posted on MetaFilter.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2011


Beyond ‘New Atheism’
posted by homunculus at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2011


Me: Of course not because we don't require that of theist either. But then again, you already knew that and this isn't an honest question.

Crabby: Congratulations, KJS. I think this is the most outrageous lie I've ever seen posted on MetaFilter.

What, you mean you're honestly completely ignorant of what atheists like me really believe and were sincerely asking an ignorant question?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2011


Previous conversations on atheist spirituality and mysticism here have not gone over well, unless psychadelic drugs are involved. Then, it's a party.

I saw that movie. Dawkins was giving a talk at UMD I think, and one of the questioners asked him if he'd ever heard of the stoned ape "theory". Unfortunately the young gentlemen asking the question strongly resembled Jimbo Jones in both look and affect. Dawkins was exceptionally polite to the young stoner.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:32 PM on September 16, 2011


It often turns out, as exemplified in sotonhito's comments, that the activism is not against irrationality itself, since if it were we wouldn't single out religion alone among the uncountable irrational beliefs people have, but is meant to be against certain kinds of social ills for which the atheist activist sees religion as responsible.

The 'public athiest' project, then, seems to be to disabuse people of their religious notions so that they can, presumably, in their new enlightenment, shed their adherence to these social ills and bring about a new, empathetic, utopian age on earth.


For me, it is exactly those two issue: the irrationality and the social ills. You point out, correctly, that religion is not the only form of irrationality in the world and that the social ills in question may be addressed in other ways, but then launch into a straw man about the "new, empathetic, utopian age on earth."

Regarding irrationality, religion (and of course by "religion" I don't mean every single religion ever conceived, but rather the common variety) is uniquely problematic because it is not just irrational, but it promotes irrationality. It emphasizes faith as a virtue and trains children to be able to hold irrational beliefs even as they develop their intellectual capacity and critical thinking skills in other areas. This is hugely problematic and is a major contributing factor to problems not just in politics but in schools, in families, and in communities.

That brings us to social ills. You again use a straw man against the atheists by claiming that we take "the position that the social ills and the religious beliefs are one and the same." We do not. However, many social ills are directly caused by religious beliefs. Of course it's possible to alter people's religious beliefs without convincing them to be atheists, and many liberals working within the various religions do that, but it's also possible to teach people that the whole belief system is untrue. It may sometimes be easier to address the problems from within the religious framework, but taking on the framework itself is not just perfectly legitimate but has the advantage of being, again, true.

I keep coming back to the question of truth, because it matters to me, and I think it matters to the new atheists. People here are writing about what's useful or what's meaningful or what's good for society, but what about what is true? Does the truth have no value? Is it just childish or short-sighted to worry about the truth? Many here seem to imply it. Many of the philosophical theists seem willing to throw the very concept (and several related concepts) out the window if it means they get to keep identifying as theists.

To me, it matters. In the end it comes down to the idea that theism is not true, and the majority of America goes around insisting that it is true, and even the people who on some level know better like the philosophical theists on Metafilter contort themselves into pretzels to avoid saying what they must know deep down, that it is not true.

It's funny, because we Mefites have been talking about gaslighting in some other contexts recently, and it seems relevant here. Intentionally or not, the atheists in America are beeing gaslighted. (gaslit?) God's nonexistence is so obvious to us that it feels like the rest of the country is trying to gaslight us. Sometimes you just have to scream back There are four lights!
posted by callmejay at 6:34 PM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


None of us have access to the truth, we can only devise better models - ask mathematicians and the hardest of hard scientists, never mind rhetoricians. As a young kid I was the only atheist in my class at school because it was only logical to be so, now I believe in God because I found a better model.
posted by fraac at 6:48 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stoned Ape Theory
posted by homunculus at 6:53 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


And it's a spectacularly stupid question, because science is the process of making inductive generalizations and moral philosophy involves deductive application of rules. So demanding empirical "proof" (an oxymoron right there) would be the worst of both worlds.

None of the people I trust for a moral reality check are atheists at this time. I don't always take their advice, but constructive disagreement can be valuable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:00 PM on September 16, 2011


I'm not sure you can have it both ways, callmejay. They're not straw men. Either the absence of theism would make the world better, or it wouldn't. What do you believe about that? You seem to believe it's really important to make people embrace an objective truth where it's available. What do you imagine the result would be if this came to pass?

I'd say the truth matters in some important contexts. In other contexts, defining and limiting ourselves to an objective, empirical 'truth' really matters not at all - especially when it involves someone sticking their neck out to publicly shame or contradict others for not accepting whatever that is.

I don't care about the cosmology of other people. Or rather, I do care in that I would honestly love an environment in which we can share stories of meaning and spiritual experience. I don't think we can get there while I'm bombarded with these "Atheists don't __" and "Atheists can't ___" arguments.

And MeFi is terribly bad at being this environment. But it is a good thing to have. That's why I really like the radio show On Being - it just sets aside the one-upmanship and gets to interesting content about ethics, religion, and moral reasoning.
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on September 16, 2011


An atheist, an episcopalian, and a jew sit down at a table ....

... and have a business meeting!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


saulgoodman: Isn't it interesting that atheists are just stuck defending whatever version of atheism you decide we'd look most stupid professing?

Maybe so, kjs, but I guess I would just want to be clear that I am not opposed in any sense to atheistic belief systems, the scientific method, or even atheism as an intellectual commitment.

It's this notion that in order to view things atheistically one also has to become an Atheist, that it requires making a binding intellectual commitment and incorporating certain beliefs into one's sense of personal identity for now and forever--that's what I'm opposed to.

If nobody is doing that, implicitly or explicitly, then fine: it's a straw man. But it seems to me there's a lot of that kind of dynamic driving the whole debate.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:40 PM on September 16, 2011


I'm not sure you can have it both ways, callmejay. They're not straw men. Either the absence of theism would make the world better, or it wouldn't.

The straw man was that we believe the world would be a utopia. There's a world of middle between "better" and "perfect."

Personally, I think the world would probably be better, but obviously nobody can say for sure. It seems silly and bizarrely paternalistic to imagine that humanity is better off with untruths, though.

I'd say the truth matters in some important contexts. In other contexts, defining and limiting ourselves to an objective, empirical 'truth' really matters not at all - especially when it involves someone sticking their neck out to publicly shame or contradict others for not accepting whatever that is.

It's funny how this idea seems to apply to religion and nothing else. Nobody suggests that we tiptoe around people who believe in UFOs or astrology or Austrian economics. Religion gets this privileged status in America and I don't think it deserves it.
posted by callmejay at 7:52 PM on September 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Speaking of UFOs (to borrow that analogy) - I was thinking about this at Dragon*Con recently because there are both Paranormal & Skeptic programming tracks there - and sometimes debates have broken out between those groups. Personally, I would be a Skeptic in that debate. I don't believe in bigfoot or visiting spacecrafts from other planets or bending spoons with teh powerz of ur mind.
How I feel about UFO believers (in the "we have been visited" sense of believers) is like this:
- I wonder are they are harmless? I mean, who cares if people spend hours on the intarwebz looking at alien autopsy photos and being fascinated. No worse than gawking at leaked naked ScarJo pics.
- Then I think maybe not so harmless. I mean, if they believe in THAT maybe they are deny scientific facts in deference to their belief in UFOs. And that kind of thinking is not optimal at least and potentially dangerous. Might they also become anti-vaccers or believe that homeopathy cures AIDA? So possibly I should work to debunk and change minds on this type of thinking lest it lead to bad results.
- What if I encountered one of these types of believers who, motivated by their belief that we would soon be invaded and judged by Superior Alien Beings, decided to devote their lives to caring for the sick and poor and needy. Would I feel any differently about debunking to them? Would I just try fo rthe other UFO believers who weren't so charitable & doing good in my community? Would I say, screw it, they can be charitable without believing in UFOs?
- Would I recognize & acknowledge my own hypocrisy in my irrational or non-provable beliefs (being an agnostic, being terrified of spiders, that I'll meet a good man for me someday)?

tldr; I find it hard to balance the urge to stamp out harmful beliefs while being supportive of good actions that sometimes are intertwined and being kind to fellow humans especially when all these elements can be found in the same people or community.

callmejay, miko, emmajaybee, and others - thanks for the very good food for thought
posted by pointystick at 9:01 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Renoroc, that shit never works when you try to say it to His face, trust me.
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:52 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would have asked you to have faith in me but DADT won't be fully repealed until Tuesday.
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:54 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems silly and bizarrely paternalistic to imagine that humanity is better off with untruths, though.

I think it's better off with individual freedom of thought.

It's funny how this idea seems to apply to religion and nothing else. Nobody suggests that we tiptoe around people who believe in UFOs or astrology or Austrian economics. Religion gets this privileged status in America and I don't think it deserves it.

Well, my dad is an athiest, skeptical engineer who believes in the possibility of UFOs - in fact, he's read a lot of probability arguments from scientists that indicate it would be much more unlikely for the universe to contain living beings outside our galaxy than for this galaxy to be the single exception to the rule. I don't 'tiptoe' around his beliefs, I listen to them and give them the respect I think he deserves for having looked into the question much more deeply than I have, and arrived at his own indpendent conclusions.

I also know people who take astrology very seriously. I don't laugh at them or try to disabuse them of their use of it as a source for understanding their lives. Privately, I'm skeptical about it, but I don't see that as a reason to tell someone what they believe, which harms no one and helps them, is the wrong way to construe the world. Also, I don't have enough information to be sure - I haven't looked into it deeply enough, and sure, perhaps there are arguments about seasonality and daylight and the types of food available to mothers and newborns that correlate with, instead of are caused by, visible stars. I really don't know and it honestly doesn't interest me enough to do the required research to disprove. It isn't harming me.

Religious diversity plays a big role in my daily life. The city I work in, Salem, MA, is as you might imagine a Mecca for people of widely ranging belief systems. Every day I cross paths with pagans, Wiccans, and Satanists, evangelical Christians drawn there to save those'misguided souls,' and the usual smattering of athiests, agnostics, mainline Christians, Jews of various stripes (though not really any orthodox), Greek and Russian orthodox, and Hindus and a few Buddhists. Then, too, I work in a museum that engages with cultural communities with religious diversity - Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Pacific Islands, and Native American. Some of these cultural groups are Christian and some practice more traditional religions. There are people from each and every one of these groups contributing to the cultural richness and diversity of thought of our city and region. I'm thankful we're not in lockstep, because we are reminded through this diversity that there is, really, no one right way of making your way through life. There may the right way for you, and what you think is the right way for others, but if they have fully human status and freedom they can make their own decisions, even what I think are terribly wrong and ignorant ones, as long as they are not harming our collective community.

One of my favorite things about Salem is that in Halloween, there is a hejira of pagans, Wiccans, Satanists, and people just interested in dark and mysterious things to the city for the celebrations. Drawn by this delightful field to harvest, they are met by traveling groups of Christian evangelicals on youth missions, from all around the country, who are working very hard to save the souls of all they see. The evangelicals are very, very worried about the wrong thinking of the Wiccans and others. In their worldview, the wiccans and pagans are being seduced by the attractions of Satan into a life in which they don't appropriately submit to the will of God and become enamored of their own power, perhaps using it to do evil. The Wiccans, for their part, sometimes loudly confront the Christians on questions of free will and patriarchal monotheism, and before you know it we have a literal battle of good vs. evil out on the street where I am just heading out to grab some lunch. Then, like a cowpie, the flies are drawn in, and we get free-range nutsos like LaRouchePAC and a handful of riled-up drunks and a Guatemalan pan-pipe band or two. I'll tell you, I've seen enough certainty from all these groups combined that I'm pretty much done with it. The sun of reason is not about to dawn and make all these people see the world alike. I'm all right with that. I can't control everyone's thinking, nor do I want to. It's okay, fortunately or unfortunately, for people to be wrong. Without their ability to be wrong, we would have no ability to have debates and discussions - we'd all have the same point of view, and it might limit our creativity as a species. In any case, it doesn't accord with the value of intellectual freedom.

In my work I also encounter a lot of Native American people, working with the museum in various capacities as artists, residential fellows, and advisers. I can't speak for them but I can report some of the most commonly shared themes they have returned to with me and my colleagues over time. I've learned a lot from them. Religion is a hugely important topic in their lives. In this country, the Native American experience with religion includes a time when the indigenous religion was practiced in a unified social context, when understandings of how the people came to exist in a place often involved the supernatural, but were accepted deeply as factual history. These worldviews are so tightly bound up with cultural, ritual practice, family, and the seasonal round as to be inextricable. Their experience in the past few centuries, though, was that Westerners arrived with better ideas about how they should live and think. Through policies which encouraged and policies which forced, the agenda of 'Christianizing' Indians was pushed fairly hard down their throats. They were rounded up into praying towns and given the incentive to convert; children were pulled from families and sent to boarding schools to be reeducated; they were situated on reservations and compelled by law to stop performing their religious rituals. Some of it took; a lot of the indigenous people I work with today are Christian, at least in part. But some of it was strongly resisted. To many Native people, the white people's project of disabusing the Natives of their wrong thinking was the ultimate insult - an attempt not to just to colonize their land, but their very souls and minds; to remove them from a history that was stitched clear through everything in their enculturation and life experience; to substitute a foreign worldview with no place for their ideas for a rich heritage of thought and observance.

To many of them, today's project of confronting Native history with Western history seems no different. Some Native scholars have become adept at carrying two worldviews: "In the Western view, this. In my people's beliefs, that." Though they are able to switch frames based on the discussion on the table at the time, to them it is an important act of resistance and self-definition to, at times, reject the 'right thinking' that others seek to impose on them.

It well may be that there is no sentience or purpose to the universe. I am willing to entertain that belief but not willing to adopt and defend it. And I think that far more harm is done by those who consider themselves to be in possession of an important truth than those who are able to live with the uncertainty that is all of our birthright, and to respect the paths - direct or error-filled - of others toward making some sense of it all.
posted by Miko at 5:13 AM on September 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think what he's saying is that many public atheists define religion in a certain way and then refuse to acknowledge that actual religious believers are often operating with completely different ideas about how religion works and why it matters to them.
Right, but the problem here is that lots of people do view religion the way atheists think about it, and they are the most problematic adherents. (The Taliban, crazy evangelicals running the republican party)
Dawkins spends most of The God Delusion engaged in a splendid demolition of what he calls "the god hypothesis", without spending more than a handful of anecdotal pages establishing that the god hypothesis is what most religious people actually believe or have believed through history.
It seems pretty obvious, especially in history. I think that's what most people's experience with religious people (who want to discuss it) is.
Since I read the article linked above I've been dwelling on a fundamental issue in that argument: that concern with humanism, in the end, doesn't matter, in a world in which no ultimate good is assumed. 'Ultimate good' is as abstract and unprovable as any conception of the divine.
Well, humanism is separate from atheism. There are Atheists who are communists, atheists who are Ayn Rand devotees, and so on. It's completely beside the point.

The other problem with this argument is that it doesn't matter. When deciding the truth of something, you don't consider what the consequences would be or pick something that makes you feel more happy. For example, if the needle on your gas gauge is close to empty, it would be comforting to know that you actually have a full tank of gas. However, as nice as that would be, it won't change the amount of gas in the tank.

If there not being a god means that there is no ultimate good in the world, then that's just something that has to be accepted and dealt with.
Sure, but I take the point Miko raises above to mean that your decision to base your values on the welfare of humanity, given that there is no external or foundational reason to do so, is equally bizarre.
There is no 'ultimate reason' to eat food or avoid pain or have sex or anything else, but people do those things anyway.
"Does God exist?" isn't a question I'm even entertaining here, and neither are most people here taking the athiest position.
It's absolutely the question and the answer for atheists is "No"
It isn't what anyone but a super tiny minority mean
It's precisely this assumption that the "new" atheists need to start making at least some vague effort to provide evidence for, I think, if this discussion is to go any further in a fruitful way. And to be convincing, it really has to go beyond the specific region and time in history that you happen to find yourself.
Except, as I've said, atheists aren't even really trying to have that discussion. You're the one trying to have a discussion with us, so why don't you go out and try to prove your hypothesis about how many religious people only think of "god" as some sort of nebulous concept rather then the 'traditional' view.

The reason we don't bother to make to argument is because we see these type of people in our personal experience far more often then the sort of philosophical theists.
First response: you mean in America, in the present day, after forcing literally the biggest subjects imaginable into yes/no opinion-poll questions, with all the many problems that entails.
No, it's from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
It doesn't bother me what people say about God. It bothers me what people say about me, and about other individuals who have a religious personal practice.
Except we're not talking about people like you. You're defining the word "religion" in a different way then atheists. That's the entirety of the argument.

You can't have a 'philosophical' discussion without first defining the terms. If you have different definitions for words, then you have to resolve those before you can continue. An argument about which word gets which definition is just a waste of time.

----
I think it's better off with individual freedom of thought.
Atheists are not against freedom of thought. At the same time, though you have to admit that some people's thoughts are simply incorrect, and there isn't anything wrong with pointing that out.
posted by delmoi at 7:31 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Except, as I've said, atheists aren't even really trying to have that discussion. You're the one trying to have a discussion with us, so why don't you go out and try to prove your hypothesis about how many religious people only think of "god" as some sort of nebulous concept rather then the 'traditional' view.

OK, well this at least has the virtue of being upfront: the only kind of religiosity you are concerned to find arguments against is the one that you know "from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE", and your reason for thinking that this specific kind of religiosity is typical of religiosity across times and places (and/or the basic, traditional or essential definition of religiosity) is that this "seems pretty obvious."

I have absolutely no problem with any of that (and wouldn't have any right to do so) — so long as you realize that these are not remotely rational grounds for characterizing your arguments as arguments against religiosity in any broader, more general, or less historically contingent sense.
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:40 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Atheists are not against freedom of thought. At the same time, though you have to admit that some people's thoughts are simply incorrect

This may be true sometimes,

and there isn't anything wrong with pointing that out.

...and I couldn't disagree more.
posted by Miko at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2011


Miko: To accuse atheists in general of aspirations to cultural genocide, on the basis of disagreement. Strikes me as profoundly intolerant. I think religious people are wrong about god. They think I'm wrong about god. Sometimes we talk about it. Sometimes we don't. Disagreement and disrespect are two different things.

oliverburkeman: Ahh, the shell game again. If we're asked about this, we're challenged on that. If we address that, something else is brought up. Usually by people who insist on treating atheists as a hive-mind.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:17 AM on September 17, 2011


Way I see it, if someone is hurting someone else then they're messed up and at odds with nature. If they have a belief system that justifies their harmful actions, they found that AFTER being messed up to help maintain an internal consistency. The Bachmanns and Taleban (the main two, amirite) aren't dicks because they're religious, they're dicks because they're messed up. Religion is an excuse they found.

I'm not sure that arguing with someone's excuse does anything but annoy them. I do know it's cruel to forcibly remove a person's defences without any plan to heal the wounds underneath.
posted by fraac at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't it interesting that atheists are just stuck defending whatever version of atheism you decide we'd look most stupid professing?

Well, theists get put into the same boat as well, from what I've seen in here quite often....

Maybe that's common ground theists and atheists could find ("Doncha hate it when someone miscategorizes what you think about things?") which could lead to more productive discussions ("...Hey that reminds me, can you tell me what you actually believe, for the record, so I don't do that to you by accident? Thanks.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:09 AM on September 17, 2011


To accuse atheists in general of aspirations to cultural genocide, on the basis of disagreement. Strikes me as profoundly intolerant.

Bingo. Pointing out, at length, that anti-theists are wrong because they point out that others are wrong... good for you, I guess. As far as I'm concerned, freedom of thought must apply to those who are certain, militant, and loud, just as it protects those who "respect" all paths other than the certain, militant, and loud. I get real tired of "diversity" and "intellectual freedom" arguments which just happen to be supportive of every kind of diversity and freedom but mine.

If you have the right to say that my beliefs "do far more harm" than religion, then why should I stop suggesting that religion does far more harm than my beliefs do?
posted by vorfeed at 11:13 AM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are new atheists so vocal if they don't wish to change the minds of other people? It's that brutal, argue-your-opponent-down approach that seems counterproductive. I think they need some self examination, work out what motives are playing out.
posted by fraac at 11:33 AM on September 17, 2011


To accuse atheists in general of aspirations to cultural genocide, on the basis of disagreement. Strikes me as profoundly intolerant.
I don't think that most of us are talking about atheists in general. Most atheists, in my experience, are perfectly normal people who don't behave in the ways that we're talking about here. They don't equate all religious people with the Taliban. They don't try to convert religious people to atheism. They don't pick fights. They don't insist that I should be forced to work on Yom Kippur because it's not fair that I get special accommodations just because I believe in a sky fairy. (And yes, I have had people on the internet say that it's not fair that I can take vacation days on Jewish holidays, unless all my co-workers would be guaranteed to be granted a vacation day on the same day for any reason, including that they just wanted the day off.) We talk about the usual things that I talk about with people: how much I hate football season; whether there's any hope for the new Sarah Michelle Geller show; the fact that the new frozen yogurt place is pretty good. Similarly, most Christians I encounter are totally normal, and it's a very tiny minority who try to convince me that I already know that Jesus is my Lord and Savior or scream at me when I refuse to take their Bible tracts.

It just sort of sucks that in places I hang out online, including here, the shrill, bullying, obnoxious atheists are really loud and annoying. They're much louder than shrill, bullying Christians, who almost never pop their heads in here, and they're louder than the non-shrill, non-bullying atheist majority, most of whom I'm sure have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than have this same boring fight.
posted by craichead at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Miko: To accuse atheists in general of aspirations to cultural genocide, on the basis of disagreement. Strikes me as profoundly intolerant.

I absolutely did not do that. If you reread, I accused Christians of it, because it was actually one flavor of Christian that did it.

I don't object to atheism in the least. Or to religion in the least. I object, in both groups and in many other groups, to the illusions of certainty which cause people to feel compelled to push their worldview, unasked, onto others.
posted by Miko at 11:52 AM on September 17, 2011


saulgoodman: It's this notion that in order to view things atheistically one also has to become an Atheist, that it requires making a binding intellectual commitment and incorporating certain beliefs into one's sense of personal identity for now and forever--that's what I'm opposed to.

Why? Because it seems to me that it's a double-standard to say that theists use the concept of god to construct certain forms of meaning in the world, and then to insist that atheists cannot do the same thing. To remind you yet again. I'm not an atheist because I'm an anti-theist. I'm an an atheist because naturalistic monism is beautiful, moral, and spiritual.

fraac: Way I see it, if someone is hurting someone else then they're messed up and at odds with nature.

Not really. A fair amount of pain is self-inflicted by the attachment to having a world that works according to the rules you prefer. If the origin of that pain is pity for a person's beliefs, race, gender, or sexual orientation, then it's the pity that needs to be questioned.

fraac: Why are new atheists so vocal if they don't wish to change the minds of other people?

Why is it a bad thing to change the minds of people so that I'm treated respectfully as a human being?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:55 AM on September 17, 2011


Also, on rethinking, I think your objection to what you thought I was saying there speaks volumes. To ask that people stop believing what they believe, or to attempt to bully them out of it, is, quite functionally, to ask for them to abandon their cultural training and/or aesthetics, meanings, and values. If you believe it's your place to talk people out of their beliefs and bring them to your way of thinking, and you act on that belief by working to dismantle their existing beliefs without them requesting your assistance, what then is the difference between you and between those who supported Christianizing Indians?

This wasn't what I had in mind when I wrote the comment - my comment was meant to provide context for why I am wary of 'right thinking.' I meant only that the insistence on 'right thinking' is a similarity between people of great certainty, at any extreme point on the theistic spectrum, and that it is pretty damaging.

I get real tired of "diversity" and "intellectual freedom" arguments which just happen to be supportive of every kind of diversity and freedom but mine.

Yes, it really is hard work to live in a world in which you really do assume basic respect for each person's vision of the world, however fucked up you find it.

But I don't have an 'intellectual freedom' argument that doesn't support your freedom and diversity. I do support your freedom and your contribution to worldview diversity. What I don't support is intrusiveness, bullying, or fervent insistence that others adopt anybody's worldview, no matter what it is.
posted by Miko at 12:01 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead: I don't think that most of us are talking about atheists in general.

Well, that's a problem. Because we've had saulgoodman, Miko, fraac, and, of course, Crabby pull out all the old stereotypes, and when called on them, object with, "oh, we're not talking about atheists in general." Or "I have a relative that's an atheist." And it gets rather tiring to see people pull that repeatedly.

No, we don't have many shrill Christian bullies here. We have shrill, bullies who identify as none of the above, and grind an axe about tone and religious tolerance in hypocritical ways.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:54 PM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


But I don't have an 'intellectual freedom' argument that doesn't support your freedom and diversity. I do support your freedom and your contribution to worldview diversity. What I don't support is intrusiveness, bullying, or fervent insistence that others adopt anybody's worldview, no matter what it is.

Yet here you are telling people -- in all seriousness! -- that "to ask that people stop believing what they believe" on the internet means it's reasonable to go "what then is the difference between you and between those who supported Christianizing Indians". That's not supporting my freedom or my contribution to worldview diversity, to say the least. You are openly suggesting that people like me are wrong and are doing harm on the level of cultural genocide, all because we dare to suggest that other people are wrong and are doing harm.

You seem to have a major case of "right thinking" yourself. You've treated us all to one long rah-rah session for your worldview, complete with pages and pages on why your way of thinking is the best and should be adopted by others in order to prevent "harm", yet I'm supposed to stop suggesting that others follow my way of thinking because doing so is "bullying" and "supporting Christianizing Indians"? Give me a break.
posted by vorfeed at 12:55 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you have the notion that you want others to follow your way of thinking, whoever is saying that, atheist or religious, you immediately have a problem. People are damaged when they aren't allowed their own way of thinking.

You have exactly two options in any encounter with another person: love them or control them. That's it. Acting on a belief that particular beliefs are more important than others, rather than merely useful, is harmful. Whatever rhetorical tricks you manage to pull on yourself, you're still attempting to control rather than love that other person.

Or think of it this way: if you're right you'll win in the end. Forcing it shows weakness.
posted by fraac at 1:08 PM on September 17, 2011


Miko: I'm just following your argument that started with that it's wrong to openly express religious disagreement, and concluding with cultural genocide as a semi-Godwin. And that's one heck of a slippery slope.

To explain the differences and to paraphrase Zappa, this argument is about words. Words on advertising. Words on blogs. Words in books. Words in debates. You're not obliged to read them, listen to them, or think about them. To call that bullying, intrusion, or dismantling is to give them more power than they have. If you don't like what vorfeed or callmejay have to say, you don't have to read them, and you can openly disagree with them.

Frankly, I find your commitment to religious tolerance in this thread to be superficial. "I have friends who are atheists," and "obviously not all atheists" appear to serve little more as handwaving hedges around an argument that puts atheists into the impossible position of proving our good faith against ridiculous definitions of "bullying" that apply equally to your own rhetoric.

None of which has anything to do with what I consider to be the central theme of the linked article.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:09 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


fraac: Or think of it this way: if you're right you'll win in the end. Forcing it shows weakness.

How is your advocacy not another means of force?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2011


Miko and craichead, do you think it's fair to call arguing on the internet to bullying?

Religious groups, not all of them, but a good number, do bully people into following their religion or at least into professing belief for it. All atheists do, even the most vocal, is argue. Rationally. No emotional blackmail, like many religious parents and teachers and leaders do, no threats of social shunning, no manipulation whatsoever. No trying to shut down the conversation, the way YOU are doing. Just simple reasoned argumentation, even if it's not always welcome. That is not bullying, that is talking.

On the "all beliefs are valid" front, you know who I'm going to bet on in any debate? The side who doesn't feel the need to constantly undermine the very idea of truth, who doesn't put some beliefs on a pedestal and try to enforce a social norm that it's rude -- shrill, even -- to question them.
posted by callmejay at 1:16 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you have the notion that you want others to follow your way of thinking, whoever is saying that, atheist or religious, you immediately have a problem. People are damaged when they aren't allowed their own way of thinking.

Right. But "doing X is harmful" and "doing Y shows weakness" blah blah etc. This line of argument would be funny if it weren't so disturbingly common.

on preview: KJS, looks like I owe you yet another Coke!
posted by vorfeed at 1:18 PM on September 17, 2011


Odd, then, that you would accuse atheists of "destroy[ing] someone else's core identity constructs and replac[ing] them with nothing at all just because that seems more "honest" to you".

I was alluding to an idea in the field of psychology known as a "core construct." Core constructs according to the theory are unexamined beliefs and assumptions that you've been inculcated into (not that you've chosen, but that you acquired involuntarily through experience and picked up unconsciously from cultural cues). To put it crudely, these core constructs are literally the foundations of your identity--when they're destabilized, the effects can be profound, literally causing nervous disorders and mental illness. It's not the parts of our identities we choose but the parts we don't that I meant to refer to with the term "core construct" in the previous comment. Attacking a person at the level of a core construct, if you accept the theory, would arguably amount to an act of psychological violence. Anyway, don't go claiming your "gotcha" prize just yet. So on this particular objection, I think you're a bit off the mark.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2011


Core constructs for most people are fairly robust and not easily changed. To suggest that atheists can induce mental illness by simply stating, "I think you're wrong" seems laughable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:42 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


KSJ: I'm sorry but I don't have any relatives that are Atheists. My relatives are all just people. I don't really like to think of my friends in terms of their various tribal allegiances. My wife strongly self-identifies as Atheist--to me, by viewing her philosophical commitments part of her identity, she's making the same basic error as all the condescending self-identified Christians she has to take crap from. This is my own personal position. I'm more Atheist than not, for all practical purposes. But it seems odd to hold that up as a tribal banner. I have far more important things in common with believers and non-believers alike than that one set of philosophical commitments.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:45 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"How is your advocacy not another means of force?"

We're all equals here, we can talk about stuff. Do you feel forced? I don't need anyone to follow me. Everyone works it out at their own speed. Sometimes on their deathbed.

"Core constructs for most people are fairly robust and not easily changed. To suggest that atheists can induce mental illness by simply stating, "I think you're wrong" seems laughable."

Why do it then?
posted by fraac at 1:47 PM on September 17, 2011


I didn't say the Scary Atheists were breaking people down with a few well chosen phrases.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:51 PM on September 17, 2011


Why do it then?

Because we're all equals here, and we can talk about stuff?
posted by vorfeed at 1:57 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes but why try to change the ones who are committed to it as a defence mechanism by arguing with them? Either, most likely, it does nothing but annoy you both, or you roll a critical hit and their head explodes. I see no upside. What results have you had so far?
posted by fraac at 2:07 PM on September 17, 2011


What results have you had so far?

I spoke about this in detail here. In short: I've lost and gained some friends, made a bunch of people happy or angry on the internet, and had a couple of special moments which paid for all. I've been able to raise awareness of the idea that not everyone thinks religion is positive, and not everyone who thinks it's negative is a bad person... and, once in a long while, I've been able to make a difference.

To me, that looks more-or-less like the results of any attempt to talk to people in-depth. I'm not at all convinced that by talking to people I'm using my bullying X-Wing to assault the ~core construct~ sitting in the middle of people's Death Stars. Religion is no more or less special than any other belief... in fact, that's the entire point.
posted by vorfeed at 2:41 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Religion is no more or less special than any other belief" is an unproven hypothesis, and there's at least some body of evidence from psychology that religion might be a special kind of belief for some. So to me it just seems more ethical and probably more effective to take a cautious, non-confrontational approach to the subject.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:23 PM on September 17, 2011


saulgoodman: But it seems odd to hold that up as a tribal banner.

You just love arguing strawmen here.

Attacking a person at the level of a core construct, if you accept the theory, would arguably amount to an act of psychological violence.

I didn't say the Scary Atheists were breaking people down with a few well chosen phrases.

So to me it just seems more ethical and probably more effective to take a cautious, non-confrontational approach to the subject.

It's also difficult to argue with someone who lays out an argument over several posts, then denies making that argument, and returns to the exact same argument again. I'm familiar with psychological violence. Atheist rhetoric doesn't qualify.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


fraac: Why do it then?

Because deep relationships can handle disagreement. But let's be blunt here, when I say that naturalistic monism is rich with meaning, spiritually fulfilling, and morally grounded, I'm saying that certain people are wrong in their beliefs about me. How is it a bad thing for me to say what I live and experience?

Yes but why try to change the ones who are committed to it as a defence mechanism by arguing with them?

Why do you assume that we do?

What results have you had so far?

Well, with open-minded people, rich conversations about what we have in common. But, it's hard to get there when I'm treated as as "angry atheist."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:36 PM on September 17, 2011


"respecting the beliefs" of people who are already certain that their beliefs are correct. Like I said before, all that does is play into the same cultural norms which allow the religious to take their own correctness as a given

Vorfeed: If I could I would +1000 the older comment to which you link.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:10 PM on September 17, 2011


Atheist rhetoric doesn't qualify.

Strident atheist rhetoric in my opinion actually can cause believers to become more deeply entrenched in their beliefs because, for many of them, the rhetoric feels like a personal attack on the core of who they are, whether that attack actually threatens to throw them into an immediate psychological crisis or not. People have a tendency to respond disproportionately to perceived threats to their cultural identity. The US response to 9-11, more recent scientific studies on the resistance of personal belief to the influence of contradictory evidence, and lots of other examples I could enumerate appear to me to be consistent with my position. The more strident the irreligious rhetoric, the more it seems to focus on criticizing or dressing down believers rather than on undermining the institutions and power structures that foster antisocial/socially harmful extremes of religious belief, the more it actually hurts its own cause.

Also, KSJ, which argument am I allegedly denying responsibility for? I've offered a few clarifications (when I got started in this thread, I was pressed for time and really didn't do my arguments any favors in the telling), but unless I'm missing something, or unless we're both parsing the terms of the discussion differently somehow, I don't think I've contradicted myself.

And on the other side, I also think it's likely that atheistic beliefs can have roots way down deep in the core identity mix as well. So you won't get any argument from me that Christians and other believers likewise need to lay off the atheist bashing. The truth is, it really must be an awful time to view oneself as an atheist, because we have been seriously backsliding on matters of religious freedom and tolerance for non-belief. I can see that there's a need to push back against it, but my own preferences would be for adopting strategies that nudge people away from seeing these issues in terms of personal identity because, to my mind, intellectual commitments and ideology shouldn't be muddled up with personal identity, as that can lead to intellectual inflexibility and extremism.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:14 PM on September 17, 2011


Strident...why is it always this word? I've watched a damn lot of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennet, etc. I've never seen this terrible strident ranting behavior. Maybe its because anything I hear in an english accent automatically sounds polite to me, I don't know.

Can you give me a single example of any major new athiest being so rude? I've just never seen it.

Here's a clip of Dawkins himself discussing this issue.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:31 PM on September 17, 2011


@saulgoodman "My point, sotonhito, is that Dawkins and yourself, for that matter, don't seem to appreciate just how psychologically important and necessary precisely the kinds of unfalsifiable beliefs about the world you dismissed earlier are.

Even if not one iota of physical reality changes, what you believe the world's overarching story is--or whether you believe there is one at all--changes how you see yourself situated in the world, and effects how you view your own actions. All of which can have real-world effects."


I think you're quite wrong about what I do and do not know about the importance of narrative, stories, belief, etc. For a minor example, take the first few pages of Sam Harris' The End of Faith which are devoted to exploring exactly how important, how supreme, various beliefs are in people's lives.

And that dovetails neatly with my objection to Miko's central thesis.

Atheists, including atheists of the militant/new/whatever variety are perfectly aware of the significance and importance of belief, and meaning, and stories. That is exactly and precisely why we're worried about the prevalence of god belief.

What a person believes, the stories they use to interpret things, the meaning the assign to things is supremely important. Which is why it is incredibly dangerous for certain beliefs to exist unchallenged, or unmocked, or even widely accepted. Because belief does things, it determines how a person behaves. And some beliefs tend, with rather depressing frequency, to cause people to behave in a manner that I really want to try to minimize.

Which brings me to Miko.

@Miko "It often turns out, as exemplified in sotonhito's comments, that the activism is not against irrationality itself, since if it were we wouldn't single out religion alone among the uncountable irrational beliefs people have, but is meant to be against certain kinds of social ills for which the atheist activist sees religion as responsible."

Actually, I do tend to be against irrationality in a more general sense. God belief is, from my POV the most dangerous meme complex in existence, but others are on the list as well. Belief in a certain subset of conspiracy theory nonsense is causing outbreaks of diseases long thought safely under control due to vaccination. As a general rule when people begin expressing a strong belief in something that is either contradicted by available evidence or, at absolute best, for which there is no evidence I get nervous.

"The 'public athiest' project, then, seems to be to disabuse people of their religious notions so that they can, presumably, in their new enlightenment, shed their adherence to these social ills and bring about a new, empathetic, utopian age on earth."

There I think you're misrepresenting the views of the new atheists to such a degree it verges on strawmanning.

I don't think anyone is of the opinion that if religion vanished everything would be peachy keen fine and dandy. Some people will be jerks regardless of religion. Some people will be evil regardless of religion. But religion and some other sorts of unreason do seem to be strongly correlated with enhancing the propensity for evil or even simple jerkness found in some people. And in vastly increasing the willingness of non-actively evil people to tolerate evil done in the name of the religion.

To me it's about risk management, and risk minimization. I don't imagine that, absent religion, Osama Bin Ladin would be a nice guy. But I do think that he'd be less effective in his evil, and perhaps even less strongly evil himself.

It's possible to convince an atheist that it is necessary for them to give up their lives for a cause. But it's a lot easier to convince a guy who thinks he'll be spiritually teleported into a realm of eternal orgies if he dies fighting for God to do the same.

Again, note the distinction. It is not my view that without religion there would be no problems; it is simply my view that religion has a tendency to magnify what problems there are.

Just as any bad day can be made worse if you also had a cold, any bad situation can be made worse if it's mucked up with religion. That doesn't mean without religion there would never be bad situations, anymore than it means you'd never have a bad day if there were no colds; merely that they wouldn't be quite as bad.

Which brings us back to the extreme importance of belief, of narrative, of meaning, in the lives of people and how they behave.

Telling people that there is a god out there running things tends inevitably to produce people claiming to speak for that god, and that tends to magnify problems.

If, as you claimed, religion was purely a private matter I wouldn't care about people's religion anymore than I'd care about their sexual fetishes (between consenting adults anyway). But religion is demonstorably not a private matter. People take it out in public all the bloody time, and they try to use the force of law to impose their religious beliefs on non-believers all the bloody time, and they tend to kill people in the name of their religion all the bloody time. Religion is very close to being the polar opposite of a private individual matter. I'm baffled and confused as to how you can claim with a straight face that religion is personal and private.

I'm opposed to the meme complex we label "religion" or "god belief". It seems dangerous in the same sense that juggling live hand grenades is dangerous. Some people could do it with no trouble, but for most it causes problems. Therefore I wish to discourage the practice.

Not to forbid it. If for no other reason than that trying to forbid religion has, historically, been shown to be not only a self defeating practice, but also one that causes more misery than is caused by allowing religion to exist does.

But I do think it is a very good idea to do what I can, without using government power to ban religion, to try and encourage people not to harbor that particular meme complex. For some it isn't a problem, but in the population at large it does have a demonstrated tendency to magnify social conditions you and I both dislike.

On a complete side note: yes, there is also the issue of rightness. There is such a thing as truth, there is such a thing as correct and incorrect, there is such a thing as ignorance and knowledge. I think, on the whole, it is better for people to base their beliefs in truth, and correctness, and knowledge rather than lies and falsehood and ignorance.

I think this is, at most, a secondary issue. For me the primary issue is that religion and god belief are strongly correlated with a magnification of certain unpleasant personality traits.

But yes, I'll admit that I find the God hypothesis to be lacking in rightness, and I find it incredibly frustrating that a large percentage of my fellow humans are so wedded to something so evidently wrong. Imagine if we lived in a world where belief in the Tooth Fairy were near universal, where being an afairyist was a strange and bizarre thing widely derided and distrusted by the Tooth Fairy believing majority.

Living in such a world would, I'd imagine, be immensely frustrating for you. The seeming willful stupidity required for an otherwise intelligent and sane adult to maintain belief in the Tooth Fairy despite a) no evidence whatsoever for the Tooth Fairy existing, and b) pretty good evidence against the existence of the Tooth Fairy, would at times seem like a deliberate plot by the believing majority to annoy you.

I think callmejay's comparison to gaslighting seems a very good metaphor for how atheists often see the world. There are four lights, no matter how much the majority insists there are five, and the truth does matter.

Not as much as the harm amplified by religion, but it still matters.

So, no. I can't simply put aside the fact that religion is a major factor in increasing misery in the world and work with religionists to try and reduce the harm they are amplifying. It'd be like a pathologist cooperating with a person deliberately spreading a virulent disease in efforts to minimize the effects of that disease. We solve problems by addressing the source of the problem, not by addressing the effects caused by the problem.

And we can't address the true source (the simple fact that some people are evil, and many inclined to turn a blind eye to evil), but we can at least address the factors that amplify the core problem, no?

Which is worse, a person with racist tendencies, or a person with racist tendencies who is also deeply religious and uses their religion (as they did historically) to amplify and justify their extant racist tendencies? Remove religion from the equation and the problem doesn't vanish, but it does get smaller.
posted by sotonohito at 6:31 PM on September 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Good luck with the project.
posted by Miko at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2011


saulgoodman: Strident...

Bingo!
Failure of basic logic.
"Atheists don't seem to understand meaning."
Atheists only address silly god claims.
Atheists are tribal.
Atheists cause mental illness
And now "strident."

Congratulations, your inability to deal with atheists without resorting to cheap stereotypes and strawmen means that we all lose. I'll pick my consolation prize of five pounds of tofu on my way out.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:00 PM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know at least seven atheists and only four of them are strident, tribal, mentally ill, silly and incapable of understanding meaning.
posted by philip-random at 7:23 PM on September 17, 2011


I think callmejay's comparison to gaslighting seems a very good metaphor for how atheists often see the world. There are four lights, no matter how much the majority insists there are five, and the truth does matter.

The tone wars surrounding atheism are loaded with gaslighting, often from people who will turn around and talk about "religious tolerance." I've come to view "strident/militant atheist" as about the same thing as "strident feminist" and "in-your-face queer." It's a game of Calvinball. And unfortunately, it means that it's impossible to have a conversation about great articles like the one in the FPP.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:39 PM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's a fun game. Let's play another round.

People who oppose anti-theism:

Retreat from any attempt to seek clarity on their notion of god
Use evasive tactics which are weak, sneaky, and empty
Are like kids who just can't quite let go of the...security blanket."
Are wasting everyone's time
Are super fuzzy
Are atheists in denial
Are concerned with political correctness
Promote gnorance and bigotry
Assist in inspiring and promoting fundamentalism
Don't understand the reality of religion as it exists for the majority
Speak in rhetorical nonsense
Set an impossible and unfair standard
Promote something that is inevitably harmful
Employ strawmen and stereotypes
Use dishonest questioning
Are silly and bizarrely paternalistic
Are profoundly intolerant
Are shrill, hypoctical bullies who... grind an axe
Are handwaving
And, of course, are so evidently wrong

That's sure some enlightened stuff there, all right.

I'm really willing to take a few of you at your word that you're arguing in good faith, here. I'm just going to have to assume that you have absoutely no idea how to go about that.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


As much as I love the TNG reference, Betrand Russell does class it up a bit doesn't he?
"There can't be a practical reason for believing what isn't true."
posted by Chekhovian at 7:47 PM on September 17, 2011


Ack! Bertrand
posted by Chekhovian at 7:48 PM on September 17, 2011


He's wrong, at least if there are these theocrats who want to oppress and control the world. It's really practical for them. Downright pragmatic.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on September 17, 2011


That seems to be the story of modern world right? Political tactics/financial policies that are incredibly successful in the short term but leave you SOL in the long term. You win your elections by denying global warming and evolution. Then 50 years later half the nation is underwater and your fridge is full of newly evolved bacteria on all your meats...oops, no that already happened.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:06 PM on September 17, 2011


Okay, KSJ, since you took the time to list your points, here are my amplifications and corrections to your misleadingly summarized versions of my claims:

1) First comment was not part of any argument but a pot-shot at someone who seemed to be characterizing religious people generally (in contrast to the self-identified "new athiests") as literal-minded goons who're incapable of using figurative language and metaphorical anthropomorphisation to express complex abstract ideas and poetic truths.

2) I qualified "Atheists" in that phrase as "hardline Athiests" in the very next comment for a reason. I realized the claim was ludicrously overly-general and unfair, and then in the very next comment, immediately qualified it for that reason. Maybe I'm misrepresenting Dawkins' positions, but it sure seems like he wants to be identified as a hardline Atheist with no tolerance for religious nonsense. But, to be fair, I'm not arguing with Dawkins, and I can't pretend to be addressing any of his specific arguments, so I shouldn't have brought his name into it. It had already been brought into the discussion in previous comments; if I'd been making a proper argument, no I wouldn't have name-checked him, but I thought it would be a convenient short-hand for a certain species of extremely committed, self-identifying atheist that many of us sometimes encounter, for example, here on the blue.

3) The actual quote is "The more Aggressive Athiests only address silly god claims." And I stand by that observation. Aggressive people with many different kinds of intellectual commitments engage in underhanded rhetorical tricks. Is that a surprising claim?

4) No, the claim is meant to be that, for some, Atheism is a tribal affiliation, like any other, and I don't want to join a tribe, that's why I don't consider my own intellectual commitments regarding atheism/theism to be central to my identity. My claim is that all people tend to be tribal, and that the more extreme examples of individuals self-identifying as Atheist are examples of those more universal tribal tendencies.

5) I elaborated on this argument enough anyone not just cherry picking your comments out of the thread won't be fooled, so I'll let this point pass as not even wrong.

6) I'm not saying nor have I ever said all or even most Atheists are strident, and if you were arguing honestly or cool-headedly, you'd see that. All I'm claiming is that there are strident athiests--and to the extent they are strident and overly aggressive in promoting their own version of atheism, they are doing harm to their cause.

I'm afraid you're the only one stereotyping here--in your imaginary version of my arguments.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:07 PM on September 17, 2011


Miko: Most of those claims are directed at specific people and behavior demonstrated in this thread. It's not remotely unfair to criticize the use of strawmen, stereotypes, dishonest questioning, bullying and handwaving when that actually happens.

You want to have a good-faith conversation about atheism? What is your opinion on the thesis of the article in the FPP that both religion and atheism have changed over time? What common ground do you have with, new atheists, religious humanists, atheist interfaith/transfaith, agnostics, live-and-let live apatheists, secular Buddhists, etc.?

You want to have a good faith discussion? Talk about the atheisms described in the article. Talk about the atheism I experience. Talk about the atheism of my community. Talk about the interesting idea that it meant something different for Aristotle, Shelly, and today. Because those are the arguments that are relevant to me.

But this scolding isn't done in good faith. And it isn't even interesting because with a few exceptions, it's the only fucking thing we ever get to talk about. Yes, atheists should be reasonably civil in their relationships with others.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:12 PM on September 17, 2011


I thought the piece was particularly poorly written. It felt overly meandering and laden with obfuscation. Furthermore the tone of it seemed to be full of subtle condescension. C-

So his thesis was that both religion and atheism have changed over time. Sure I'll accept that.

Here's my improvement to the article: I'll tell you why both have changed.
I. The percentage of daily experience that religion explains has been consistently shrunk as science and technology have grown. Science actually accomplishes things.
II. Atheism advocates have become more vocal as it has become less dangerous for them to do so. That's conflated with the simultaneous rise of religious wackos putting out despicable ideas that need to be fought tooth and nail.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:37 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


vMiko: Most of those claims are directed at specific people and behavior demonstrated in this thread.

.....so? That makes them OK? Not buying that. In any case, actually, they're mostly aimed generally at points of view, not individual people espousing those points of view.

It's not remotely unfair to criticize the use of strawmen, stereotypes, dishonest questioning, bullying and handwaving when that actually happens.

Pfffft. There's criticizing, and then there's labelling and sneering. I can tell you're smart enough to know the difference.

You're asking some good questions now, questions actually inspired by the posted article. At the beginning of this thread, I was all over answering them, as you can see. Things started out in a direction for which I was really hopeful. Unfortunately, I'm now painfully aware that there is absolutely no chance of having this discussion here. There is too much hostility and too much defensiveness, and too many people who simply see a target that connects in whatever loose way to the point they always feel like making, and leap at it to take the latest opportunity.

Common ground. That is such a fascinating thing to discuss (check out that radio show I linked, On Being, for that kind of discussion). Yes, indeed, there's plenty - so much, really. I spend most of my time on common ground, in fact -- though I certainly won't be talking about how I've explored it here anymore, because I imagine that again I'll be told it's 'tiresome' to hear about conversations with people I know who are of different faiths. You've demonstrated already that there's no way to come out ahead in this game.

It's patently obvious and uncontroversial that both religion and atheism have changed over time; not much to say about that.

It seems like you really, really want to talk about the article. You keep mentioning that no one wants to talk about the article. Why don't you talk about the article, if you like? That's a choice you had all along. It's a different thing to talk about the article than to point out to others that the mote in their eye is that they're not talking about the article. You helped create, drive, and perpetuate the derail.

I thought the article was good food for thought, not groundbreaking, but a nice short analysis. I think there's much, much more to say about 'new athiesm,' and how the middle ground between religion and secularism is not only not any clearer, but has grown much larger, and how the paths moving between the 'camp of belief and the camp of disbelief' are noticeably not going in only one direction over time. Great topics there.

But honestly, it's just not interesting or rewarding conversing in this way with the group of people that is here. Too many want to play "gotcha!" instead of thinking about the complexities of belief and the realities of human nature. Which has been exactly my point in all of my comments, for which I get rewarded by being called a fuzzy thinker and handwaver. You'll have to forgive me if I decline to take up your sudden new interest in the post topic.

I've been criticized for objecting to tone, and evidently some people in the thread feel that 'tone' is used as a way to deflect the points they want to make. Unfortunately for them, we're talking about culture and belief, and I think they'll continue to find, as they already have, that all conversations on the topic will end the same way - "the only fucking thing we ever get to talk about" -- unless people pay more attention to the way they approach other people in the discussion.

It's a simple, reliable reality: sensitive topics require sensitivity to discuss productively.

I've given it a good try, and I haven't been met with equal effort. Perhaps that instinct to criticize the thought-flaws you think you are spotting needs to be curtailed a little in order to allow the possibility of listening.

If you'd really like to talk about meaning and belief, you might do better over in AskMe, because you'd enjoy the range of responses to questions like this, which aren't all that infrequent. Or you might need to go elsewhere on the internet, because as you observe, these days it ain't happening here on the Blue. IT's well known that nothing else ever really happens here; in fact, the only reason I even participated in this thread was that I thought the post and early discussion showed signs of this thread being less predictable; but I sure read the room wrong.

I hope, sincerely, that anyone who wants to have an earnest discussion about the topic will one day try again, and perhaps get a little further with it. I agree we should all be 'reasonably civil,' but will still say that folks probably need to be much more than reasonably civil when the hope is to draw people out in discussion of individual, personal experiences of worldview, rather than debate over abstractions and generalities. Otherwise it's Groundhog Day around here all the time. So here's to that future, really amazing thread.
posted by Miko at 8:48 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, now that you mention it, it's interesting to me that both of the historical atheists discussed in the FPP (Shelley and Spinoza) held beliefs more or less in line with my own (minus certain specifically Buddhist elements). If I were really opposed to the basic intellectual cause of atheism, I wouldn't be offering suggestions for how I think those who want to advance that cause should handle their PR. As far as that goes, the FPP article itself--though it may not be rigorously argued or offer any particularly groundbreaking thesis--seems to do a much better job of actually selling atheism as an idea (rather than a source of identity) to a potentially skeptical audience than a lot of the more serious efforts I've seen.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 PM on September 17, 2011


saulgoodman: Oh my digging yourself in deeper here.

1) First comment was not part of any argument but a pot-shot at someone who seemed to be characterizing religious people generally (in contrast to the self-identified "new athiests") as literal-minded goons who're incapable of using figurative language and metaphorical anthropomorphisation to express complex abstract ideas and poetic truths.

And this is just plain unreasonable because the post in question didn't mention religious people at all.

2) I qualified "Atheists" in that phrase as "hardline Athiests" in the very next comment for a reason.

Your qualifications are little more than rhetorical Calvinball as I can see no method of determining who's "hardline" and who's not. Certainly it's possible that there's a small number of atheists out there who don't recognize meaning. We can disqualify three of the four horsemen of new atheism off the bat, probably Grayling as well, and certainly authors like Vonnegut and Pullman. I don't see how it matters to the linked article. So it looks like we're talking about a vanishingly small and

Maybe I'm misrepresenting Dawkins' positions, but it sure seems like he wants to be identified as a hardline Atheist with no tolerance for religious nonsense. But, to be fair, I'm not arguing with Dawkins, and I can't pretend to be addressing any of his specific arguments, so I shouldn't have brought his name into it.

And here you close the coffin and and ask the undertaker to throw dirt on top of you. You didn't understand Dawkins', so you assumed his lack of views on meaning from his "hardline" atheism.

In spite of being wrong, this is a stereotype I see in publication about once a month.

3) The actual quote is "The more Aggressive Athiests only address silly god claims." And I stand by that observation. Aggressive people with many different kinds of intellectual commitments engage in underhanded rhetorical tricks. Is that a surprising claim?

And again, we have a Calvinball qualification. Even with that qualification, it's trivially falsified by pointing out that aggressive atheists have addressed both philosophical gods as well as anthropomorphic personal ones. Deism and pantheism were addressed here in this discussion, as well as philosophical god definitions. So what's the point in making a claim that's false for the current discussion?

Again, in spite of being trivially wrong, it's a claim I see made about once a month, and one reason why I generally try to avoid discussion about god-claims. There's always a different definition of god in the next post or response. So better to describe the virtues of a particular flavor of atheism.

4) No, the claim is meant to be that, for some, Atheism is a tribal affiliation, like any other, and I don't want to join a tribe, that's why I don't consider my own intellectual commitments regarding atheism/theism to be central to my identity.

I suspect here that "tribal" is another Calvinball category. This argument is deeply weird, because you repeatedly argue that religion views involve meaning-making, meaning-making is tied to a person's "core constructs," and disagreeing with a person's core constructs is a form of violence. Simultaneously, you argue that using atheistic philosophy to inform a worldview, and therefore, identity, is a bad thing for them. So you're professing a double-standard.

At which point, I'm going to point out that sure, if atheism is an identity concept similar to religion, you're obligated to give atheists the same kinds of respect.

5) I elaborated on this argument enough anyone not just cherry picking your comments out of the thread won't be fooled, so I'll let this point pass as not even wrong.

Well no, you denied you made the argument, and then posed it all over again in a watered down form. The basic claim is that atheist rhetoric is ethically wrong because of it's psychological effects on people with a religious core concept. Of course, you contradict yourself from post to post by first saying that atheist rhetoric destroys core concept in one post, and strengthens in in another. Your latter formulation is the correct one. But the former stereotype of atheists trying to kick the walker from under the old lady is one that I see much too often.

6) I'm not saying nor have I ever said all or even most Atheists are strident, and if you were arguing honestly or cool-headedly, you'd see that.

"Strident" is another flavor of Calvinball. The Brazos Valley Atheist Marching Vulvuzela band were called strident for singing Christmas songs, Military Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH) were called strident for organizing a concert, Silverman was called strident for appearing on a news program and talking about hurricane preparedness, and multiple organizations have been called "strident" for putting smiling faces an inoffensive slogans on billboards.

Sure, you're using words like "hardline," "aggressive," and "strident" as hedges. But since those terms are so strongly associated with anti-atheist stereotyping and rhetoric, (similar to "flamboyant homosexual" and "strident feminist"), I automatically question their objectivity for that purpose. Habitually making those people the focus of discussion serves to reinforce those stereotypes while evading more nuanced discussion.

And there, also, I refuse to play good atheist/bad atheist just as I refuse to play good queer/bad queer or good feminist/bad feminist. Largely because as you've demonstrated, you don't know what you're talking about, I'm not about to dive into the party of scolding phantom strawatheists just to gain favor as a religious and transfaith atheist. Dawkins deserves better criticism that to be used as a name-dropped bad atheist to contrast with the good atheist.

Hand-waving in a handful of dubious qualifiers in front of an argument that's just a bunch of stereotypes, and just plain wrong to boot doesn't help.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:39 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seduction (de Grasse-Tyson) vs Confrontration (Dawkins)
posted by Chekhovian at 9:45 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry one more video (I love these things):
Krauss and Dawkins on the same issue
posted by Chekhovian at 9:57 PM on September 17, 2011


Miko: I see the tone argument as directly parallel to how it's used against feminists.

If you start with "(some) atheists do this stupid thing" (which you did in the first post) you're immediately putting atheists in the position of playing good cop/bad cop. And I probably should just grow a thicker skin and realize that a person who is starting with such claims about what atheists do and don't do likely isn't interested in my flavor of atheism, or any flavor of atheism at all.

A key rule I think is important for anyone in religious discussions is that if you're tempted to make a claim about a group you don't claim to be a member of, you're probably better off sticking a sock in it or asking an honest question instead.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:48 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I've also figured out that anything titled, "An Open Letter To..." is probably going to be a lecture. )
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:57 PM on September 17, 2011


Is the condescension I read into the FPP post totally off base? I feel like he's trying to imply that new atheists have missed out on the grayer graduations of atheism he devotes considerable length to explaining. I've endeavored to read the article carefully, but something about his prose makes my eye roll back into my skull.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:20 PM on September 17, 2011


Anyway, I'm not really sure the 'fuzzy' theists in this thread are trying to argue. Obviously I can't summarize what they themselves believe, since they probably all 'believe' different things. The best I can do is to say it seems like they think of the natural universe itself as "god" instead of a supernatural deity that lives outside the natural, mechanistic universe.

On the other hand, atheists want to argue about the more naïve religion that they've seen people argue for in the real world, that seems to drive evangelicals Christians and the Taliban. Those are the religious people most often experience in the real world and the ones most often in the news.

So what about some arguments against fuzzy theism? Well, that's difficult for a number of reasons. First of all, there are probably lots of atheists who do belive in fuzzy theism, but call themselves atheists because they think the lack a belief in a supernatural deity and culturally identify more with Richard Dawkins then Michell Bachman -- so obviously they are not going to argue with someone they agree with.

Another problem is that "fuzzy theists" all believe different things. If you try to make points against how one person views the universe, another fuzzy theist will say that you're wrong, you're misunderstand the argument, etc.

The biggest problem, though is that fuzzy theists arguments usually aren't very coherent. A lot of times the arguments are semantic, as in they are arguments about how words should be defined rather then about the underlying universe. The words aren't important, you should define the terms right away and agree on them before you have a real discussion.

A lot of times the fuzzy theists will say that fuzzy theism will make people better somehow. If you want to make that argument, then you should actually figure out what you mean by 'better' and figure out a way to measure it. Then go out and measure the 'betterness' of people who are fuzzy theists and those who are not and report back. It may be true, who knows?
He's wrong, at least if there are these theocrats who want to oppress and control the world. It's really practical for them. Downright pragmatic.
It doesn't matter if the theocrat himself believes in religion, only that his followers do. (Obviously it would be helpful if the theocrat claimed to believe)
posted by delmoi at 2:17 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's nothing fuzzy about my theism. See all this thinky word crap? It's underneath that. It's the precise opposite of fuzzy. Either you know or you don't, so I don't preach. What's interesting is how much of my theism is universal in Christianity, Buddhism and probably the others. I can read the Bible and think "Omg! Jesus and I have noticed all the same stuff here. And WOW people are keen to misinterpret him." Pretty sure he was autistic, fwiw. As for the supernatural, it wouldn't surprise me if we created the universe. Although it would be an odd result to get this afternoon.

If calling it 'fuzzy theism' marginalises it sufficiently that it's not a threat to your atheism, maybe you could examine why you're feeling threatened in the first place. What are you holding onto? I know Dawkins would like to be slaying important dragons but he's using a blunt blade so it's a job for the marketing department. I guess that'd be you.
posted by fraac at 4:20 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know Dawkins would like to be slaying important dragons but he's using a blunt blade.

Can you point a specific example of Dawkins doing something that offends you, other than dare to criticize religion? I just really don't understand why he's come to occupy the"bad cop-boogeyman" role as if everything he says is some incendiary inflammatory atheistic fatwa. What did he do that so ruffled your feathers? Was it this?

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." -The God Delusion

But it sounds like you pick and choose the elements of bible that you like and disavow the rest right? So you ignore the primitive backward parts and just cherry pick the reasonable parts like Jefferson did?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:54 AM on September 18, 2011


Miko: I see the tone argument as directly parallel to how it's used against feminists.

I'm definitely a feminist with 'strident' in my tool belt, and I really don't think it's a well-placed concern here. There's nothing inherently wrong with stridency; the question is, where and when is it productive to employ it? The tone issue has actually been a significant one that has had to be dealt with in feminism and civil rights as well. It's not an empty concern, and has had to be addressed in order to make progress. There are some times and places when strident, militant activity is called for and helps to make strong statements, break through where there is a lack of awareness, and establish the extreme reaches of positions of a platform. And there are some times and places where an earnest and respectful dialogue aiming to defuse anger, reveal commonalities, and appeal to higher ideals is called for. I am not aware of any social movement in which both strategies were not necessary. And I would suggest that at this time, MeFi is not a place where there is a crying need to establish the outer reaches of the platform of atheism or to break through a lack of awareness. I believe the basic ideas and arguments are known well here.

There's nothing fuzzy about my theism, either - my tradition has a rigor of its own and, in fact, insists upon an ultimately agnostic approach to questions of God. It does entail certain shared beliefs - but the hard part of the atmosphere created here is that neither I, nor most others who profess a belief, are willing to detail personal and shared community beliefs in this kind of environment. The discussion descends into the toggle between "prove it/how can you believe that when you can't prove it" and I'm well aware that there are no proofs for most human beliefs, and that belief does not rest on material evidence. Alternatively, despite the fact that my tradition dates to the Reformation, because people don't really understand much about it, I'm often told it's not a 'real' religion and not the one the anti-theists are upset about, anyway. So, pointless to discuss.

However, I'm well aware that my beliefs rest on the same irrational and unprovable foundations as those of all other people who experience beliefs, which is why even apart from my own religious understandings, I have to count myself among the theists.

Unfortunately, I think the fact that this is not at all a comfortable or respectful place to bring out personal and community religious beliefs does leave a lot of anti-theists assuming that people like me have some soft-focus, light, shifting conception of the divine. While that's not the case, I'm not interested in volunteering myself as a case study until things really improve around here, and I'm not at all surprised that others don't want to either. Nor should any of you be. If that's something you want, the atmosphere really does have to change.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on September 18, 2011


Chekhovian, you linked to the same Tyson v Dawkins video I linked earlier in the thread! Maybe you took something different from it. Tyson eloquently makes my point: Dawkins is cutting off Hydra heads.
posted by fraac at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2011


Having had some time to reflect, I think I can finally sum up what I'm trying to argue in a way that's clearer and less likely to offend. One particular strain of atheist thought really does seem wrong-headed and counterproductive to the broader aims of atheist thought, and it's this idea that some seem to hold that a commitment to atheism requires rejecting even metaphysical belief systems that by definition don't conflict with scientific methods of thought--and such systems, contrary to the summary dismissal of this point earlier in the thread, really do exist and always have (as the FPP points out, even some early atheists held such metaphysical commitments). I have yet to see a single cogent argument for why people should not be allowed to hold such beliefs without being branded irrational or superstitious. I don't take any issue with atheism generally, just this latter, stronger version of atheism (which, if it's a strawmen, oddly enough has appeared in this thread). The stronger atheism is too dogmatic, and pushes people away from atheistic thought. It's one thing to reject any beliefs that are demonstrably inconsistent with specific scientific results, but to cut off even the possibility of holding such beliefs in principle, when admittedly, there may not be proof against them, goes too far and hurts the cause. Question my motives or my arguments all you like, but please address this one point: why should atheists care what non-falsifiable narrative frames others might depend on to gain a sense of meaning and purpose in life? It doesn't advance the broader goals of atheistic thought at all and only serves to divide different kinds of people who essentially share a common atheistic outlook on the natural world but understand those beliefs within the context of different metaphysical belief systems. It also just retrenches the hardcore believers in their positions.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


A more provocative person might suggest that 'atheism' is taking the function that 'religion' had in the brains of the trend-following masses. Hipster religion.
posted by fraac at 8:50 AM on September 18, 2011


As far as tone arguments go, all I can say is that the world seems filled with wimpy, mealy mouthed, accommodationist types who are all too willing to grant religionists the privilege they demand and to walk on eggshells around their tender sensibilities. It isn't as if there's a shortage of "well, I'm an atheist but I really hate those nasty, mean, argumentative, new atheist" Neville Chamberlain types.

The linked article is an example of exactly that. The entire point is to say that the mean, strident, atheists are foolish bullies who unfairly pick on the poor religious people and we should all just try to get along.

You want that, you can find it everywhere.

I happen to think that a less mealy mouthed approach is also beneficial and can help shake some people out of a complacency that the more wimpy approach can't.

@Miko When you do a coy fan dance about your religion it really shouldn't come as a surprise that people conclude you've got a fuzzy theism going. Either STFU about your oh-so-secret religion or come out and be direct about it or stop getting upset when we naturally assume you're indulging in fuzziness. Present me with your beliefs in a concrete way and I'll stop saying they're fuzzy. Keep playing your coy fan dance game and I'll continue to assume you've got fuzzy beliefs. If that bothers you than keep your beliefs out of the discussion until you're willing to actually discuss them.

As in so many things you're expressing a privilege that atheists simply don't have. Saying "I'm an atheist" pretty much puts us into blunt, solid, easily argued against territory. My beliefs are right out there where you can see them and criticize them. I'd argue that's because I'm confident in my beliefs and you aren't. I know my beliefs can withstand criticism precisely because they have been remorselessly criticized for years.

You want it both ways, you want us to pretend that you've got very concrete theism, but at the same time you want the shield of fuzziness so no matter what we say you can say "well, that's not what **I** believe so you atheists are just wrong and mean."

So yeah, I'm tired of your fan dance. You don't want to talk about your religion? Fine, stop injecting it into the discussion. You want to inject your religion into the discussion then drop the fan dance fuzziness and give us something concrete to discuss.

"Unfortunately, I think the fact that this is not at all a comfortable or respectful place to bring out personal and community religious beliefs "

And really? Persecution complex BS? You live in the USA, you are a religionist, therefore you are incredibly privileged over me and every other atheist posting here. Only in places like Saudi Arabia do religionists get more advantages over atheists than you get in the USA, and you've got the temerity to argue that it's just too hostile and mean around here for you to express your beliefs in a concrete way? You're going to tell **ME**, a man who lost a job because his Catholic boss just couldn't stand the idea of keeping an atheist around, that the environment is too hostile towards religionists? Cry me a river.

More to the point, why should I grant respect to BS? Respect is earned, not given away. If you believe nonsense why should I pretend to respect it?

@saulgoodman Because, like Miko demonstrates, they insist on injecting their known to be nonsensical beliefs into the public discourse and insist that we "respect" fantasy.

Yeah, I can't falsify a non-falsifiable god. B.F.D.

If someone believes in something, like gods, for which there is absolutely no evidence and which have to be carefully constructed so they're non-falsifiable, then yeah they are being irrational. That's kind of the definition of irrationality.

Yes, I argue that a commitment to atheism requires abandoning all metaphysical belief systems that are non-evidential and carefully constructed to be non-falsifiable. If a person wants to believe in fairies, the religionists are right over there and they'll take that person with open arms. If they want to claim to be a sane, rational, person then they'll have to drop the fairy BS.

I can't believe this is even an argument.

Or, rather, I can and I'm grumpy about it. The problem is that, in the past couple hundred years, it's gotten difficult to pretend to be a reasonable person and simultaneously believe self evident fantasy. The people who really want to believe in the fantasies don't want to accept the consiquences of that choice, they want everyone to say "no, really, it's ok for you to believe in the tooth fairy we'll still pretend you're a rational person".

But I won't. I refuse. I will not agree that you can believe in fantasies and still be rational. Just like the anti-vaxxers, just like the 9/11 truthers, just like the moon landing hoaxers, religionists believe in BS and therefore are automatically excluded from the ranks of sensible, reasonable, rational, people.

They believe in irrational stuff that means they don't get to claim to be a rational person, end of discussion.

If that makes any particular person feel embarrassed then I'm glad. People should feel embarrassed about believing in BS. Grown ups who believe in Santa Claus should feel embarrassed about that. If they want to be counted among the ranks of real grown ups then they should either abandon the belief or they should acknowledge that it automatically makes them irrational and keep quiet about it.

Like I said earlier, there is a huge majority of irrational people who will welcome theists with open arms and tell them comforting lies about how their irrational belief doesn't actually make them irrational. Such people don't need the atheist movement poisoning itself with accommodationism.

I'll work with the non-evil religionists, but I can not and never will accept that they're anything but irrational. If the reality of their irrational beliefs makes them uncomfortable than they should STFU about their irrational beliefs.

@fraac Yeah, we've heard the "atheism is just a religion" lie before. It wasn't true the last time a religionist embarrassed about their own belief in BS hauled it out either.
posted by sotonohito at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Miko: I'm definitely a feminist with 'strident' in my tool belt, and I really don't think it's a well-placed concern here. There's nothing inherently wrong with stridency; the question is, where and when is it productive to employ it?

That's not what you, fraac, and saulgodman argued up-thread where the tone argument was framed as not merely unproductive, but an ethical wrong. Strong statements about atheism have been compared to cultural genocide and psychological violence. Which makes them categorically wrong, not just ineffective.

Secondly, you're preaching to the choir because all these issues have been talked to death here. From my point of view, the tone argument is brought out in response to earnest and respectful dialogue, and generally just derails the entire discussion. In this case, it came out over certainty and adoption of figurative language. The latter is a situation where atheists just can't win, as I've seen atheists attacked here both for not understanding figurative language and for using figurative and spiritual metaphors.

And you're dancing around the problem that the tone argument is a form of bigotry used to justify discrimination. The student government at Southern Illinois University voted against an atheist student organization on the assumption that it would be disrespectful and divisive. The Department of Defense shouldn't consider military chaplains, because they wouldn't respectfully serve the needs of the religious. Perhaps the most ludicrous example of manufactured conflict lately was what do atheists do in the face of a hurricane.

Atheists are in a position where earnest and respectful attempts at dialogue are treated with suspicion and defensiveness. Accomodationists are wrong, not in claiming that civility is a good thing, but that civility will be received in kind by people who see atheists as a problem rather than as spiritual neighbors.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:15 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


sotonohito: you're clearly emotionally involved in a need to attack religion. That fits being fired for it but no one here has fired you. And you're putting yourself on quite a pedestal of Rationality - you're certain that none of your beliefs will sound like nonsense a hundred years from now? Even science just provides models. I found a more useful model than atheism. I'll update it as necessary.

KJS: what would be the point of an atheist student society? Isn't atheism a default? Atheism as a chosen set of beliefs that aren't innate, aren't religion, and don't exist to troll religious people... what is that? If that's you, I don't even know what that is. Can you clarify?
posted by fraac at 9:35 AM on September 18, 2011


You don't see how arrogant and repulsive it I'd to dismiss everyone else's interpretive narrative frames for life as BS without a single specific justification or benefit to the world other than a sense that you are more "right" than other people (including people as demonstrably not irrational and intellectually capable as, say, Spinoza)?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 AM on September 18, 2011


saulgoodman: One particular strain of atheist thought really does seem wrong-headed and counterproductive to the broader aims of atheist thought, and it's this idea that some seem to hold that a commitment to atheism requires rejecting even metaphysical belief systems that by definition don't conflict with scientific methods of thought

They do conflict with scientific methods of thought. Just because you can't disprove a claim doesn't mean it's scientific or rational to believe in it.

It's funny, in making this argument, you're actually demonstrating one of the great harms of even the most benign forms of (theistic) religion -- that it encourages holding beliefs based on utility or preference rather than those based on empirical reality. A lot of the people who learn to think that way aren't going to be vigilant about holding only those beliefs that haven't been falsified, either.

The power of denial should not be underestimated. It takes a lot of vigilance to see the truth as best we can. Believing things just because we can't currently (or even theoretically) prove them wrong is just asking for trouble.
posted by callmejay at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: Having had some time to reflect, I think I can finally sum up what I'm trying to argue in a way that's clearer and less likely to offend. One particular strain of atheist thought really does seem wrong-headed and counterproductive to the broader aims of atheist thought, and it's this idea that some seem to hold that a commitment to atheism requires rejecting even metaphysical belief systems that by definition don't conflict with scientific methods of thought...

Here you're putting the cart before the horse. As I've said above, I'm an atheist because those metaphysical belief systems that involve "god" are logically possible, but not compelling or necessary for me to construct meaning in the world. That was the realization that made me identify as an atheist, not the other way around.

Of course, this is a problem of definition. As the evolving trend of atheist philosophy involves skepticism of personal, supernatural, and metaphysical claims to god, it would strike me as rather odd for someone with a scientific pantheist (Einstein), agnostic (E. O. Wilson, Sagan), deist, moral-ground, religious humanist, or prime-mover (late Flew) theory to identify as an atheist in the 21st century when there are perfectly respectable alternatives for self-description.

Question my motives or my arguments all you like, but please address this one point: why should atheists care what non-falsifiable narrative frames others might depend on to gain a sense of meaning and purpose in life?

I don't care about those non-falsifiable frames. I care about the social, political, and psychological arguments that fall out of those non-falsifiable frames that atheists lacking a religious non-falsifiable frame lack meaning, morality, beauty, purpose, or spirituality. Here's an example that argues atheists are spiritually blind and deaf and here's an argument that assumes atheists lack meaningful narratives.

fraac: A more provocative person might suggest that 'atheism' is taking the function that 'religion' had in the brains of the trend-following masses. Hipster religion.

Sure, I'll gladly take the view that my wonderful, ecstatic, moral, spiritual, and beautiful naturalistic monism is something akin to religion, if that means that atheists are treated with the same kinds of religious respect and tolerance that leads people to embrace radically different religious views in the name of ecumenical fellowship. Unfortunately as demonstrated by Boteach in a previous link above, defining atheism as a religion is a game of rhetorical Calvinball. It is one when the issue is discrediting atheists; it isn't when the issue is giving atheists religious accommodation or respect.

fraac: ... and don't exist to troll religious people...

How strident of you.

But, if you were to crack open the pages of a periodical such as Free Inquiry or New Humanist you would find that atheists and humanists have a fair quantity to talk about beyond criticism of religion: educational policy, ethics as applied to dozens of political issues, different philosophies of knowledge construction and falsification, joy and grief, awe and wonder of nature, recent and forthcoming books. There's also activism WRT discrimination and prejudice against atheists. Ohh, and some campus humanist organizations are explicitly oriented to interfaith communication. (They have a web magazine, confusingly titled New Humanism.) One of my favorite blogs right now is a parenting blog, The Meming of Life, which mostly focuses on raising children in a mixed-faith family.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


callmejay: find the smartest scientist you can think of, ask them to find the smartest scientist they can think of, and then ask that person about the difference between utility and empirical reality.

I think, while we're in a reflective, summing up mood, the problem I see with argumentative atheists is they define themselves in terms of religion. Everyday atheists don't care about religion. I can get behind everyday atheism, it makes a lot of sense. Anti-theists might pop out of existence without someone to attack, and subconsciously they know that, so it's like they're permanently caffeinated. Makes honest discussion difficult.
posted by fraac at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2011


fraac: I think, while we're in a reflective, summing up mood, the problem I see with argumentative atheists is they define themselves in terms of religion. Everyday atheists don't care about religion. I can get behind everyday atheism, it makes a lot of sense. Anti-theists might pop out of existence without someone to attack, and subconsciously they know that, so it's like they're permanently caffeinated. Makes honest discussion difficult.

A perfect demonstration that the tone argument is merely a matter of convenience and "do as I say, not as I do."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:12 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't atheism a default?
I'm going to guess that you're not from the US, and if so you don't live anywhere near Southern Illinois University. Christianity is the only default in a part of Illinois that is closer to Nashville than it is to Chicago. I don't think it's terribly surprising that any non-Christian student would feel the need for support and sympathetic companionship. And even if an atheist organization was obnoxious and anti-religion, I'm not sure why that would be any more divisive than the people who hang out on college campuses and hand out religious tracts.

In a perfect world, of course, religious minorities on college campuses would work together to make the space more comfortable for all of us. In practice, that can be pretty difficult, and I think this thread demonstrates why.
posted by craichead at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


callmejay: find the smartest scientist you can think of, ask them to find the smartest scientist they can think of, and then ask that person about the difference between utility and empirical reality.

Maybe you misunderstood what I meant by utility. I mean things like religion gives people a sense of meaning, etc.

I think, while we're in a reflective, summing up mood, the problem I see with argumentative atheists is they define themselves in terms of religion.

The problem I see with feminists is they define themselves in terms of sexism.
The problem I see with civil rights activists is they define themselves in terms of discrimination.
posted by callmejay at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2011


But religion isn't sexism or discrimination. Wait, we've been here before.

KJS: if your naturalistic monism is the same as my theism except you want to be right, or acknowledged, or something, maybe you haven't worked it out yet in a way that fully convinces you.
posted by fraac at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2011


@saulgoodman I see nothing arrogant about proper classification. People who hold that sort of irrational belief simply are not rational people. They might well be good people, possibly even gooder than me. They might be smart people, possibly even smarter than me. They might be nice people, possibly even nicer than me. But they aren't rational people.

Once someone says "why yes, I do think I'll invest belief in a proposition which isn't necessary, which has absolutely no evidence supporting it, and is only non-falsifiable due to very careful phrasing!" that person has abandoned their ability to claim they are rational.

What puzzles me is why, since they so casually and easily toss aside rationality, you think somehow it's a bad thing for me to identify them as irrational. They obviously don't care about rationality, so why would it be offensive or arrogant to properly identify them as irrational?

@fraac "you're certain that none of your beliefs will sound like nonsense a hundred years from now?"

Actually I'm pretty sure that many of them will sound like nonsense one hundred years from now. I do the best I can with available data while trying to remember that everything I believe is based on imperfect data and can change when better data arises.

The real question is, one hundred years from now (assuming I'm alive then) will I be clinging desperately to the then proven to be nonsensical ideas, or will I have abandoned them to go with what is shown then to be more accurate? If the former, than I'd be as irrational as any religionist. I'd like to hope that I'm able to accept better data as it becomes available and change to fit it.

"I think, while we're in a reflective, summing up mood, the problem I see with argumentative atheists is they define themselves in terms of religion."

How can we not? We exist as a movement or force purely because religion does. Thus the term "atheist", as in not a theist. I don't define my **SELF** in terms of religion, but I do have to define my political beliefs and philosophy in terms of religion because of the environment in which I exist.

We are identified as atheists only because theism is normative.

We don't, for example, identify people who don't believe in astrology as a-astrologists. We don't identify people who don't believe in fairies as a-fairyists. We don't do that because neither a belief in fairies nor astrology is normative. There's no need for an a-fairyist movement, or for people to identify as a-fairyists. I'm fairly sure you are an a-fairyist and an a-astrologist, but there's no need to identify as such because no one assumes by default that you're a believer in either of those things. There's no need for a movement because there aren't laws based on astrology and fairy belief. Etc.

"But religion isn't sexism or discrimination. Wait, we've been here before."

No, but religion causes problems same as sexism or discrimination does. It fuels and amplifies both of those bad things, which (iirc) is a point I made a while back that no one ever bothered to reply to beyond a snide dismissive comment from Miko.
posted by sotonohito at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think the religion of anyone here causes problems like sexism. Why not talk to the people here, when you're talking here.
posted by fraac at 10:28 AM on September 18, 2011


No, but religion causes problems same as sexism or discrimination does. It fuels and amplifies both of those bad things, which (iirc) is a point I made a while back that no one ever bothered to reply to beyond a snide dismissive comment from Miko.
I think that's because it's impossible to refute within the terms which the atheists participating in this discussion have dictated. If I point out the ways in which my religion combats sexism and discrimination then you hand-waive it away by saying that my religion isn't real religion and that I'm just an unconscious atheist anyway. You set the parameters of the discussion so that the only real religions are those that are sexist and discriminatory, and then you challenge us to prove that religion isn't sexist and discriminatory. And I'm just not willing to debate religion with people who don't acknowledge that my religion exists. Sorry. It's pointless, as well as annoying.
posted by craichead at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2011


fraac: Something I find really annoying about this discussion is that we have a bunch of non-atheists lecturing atheists about the meaning of atheism and the problems of atheist discourse! How can you understand my point of view if you're too busy trying to lecture it to me! Watching you trying to describe my beliefs from a position of pure ignorance is giving me a headache.

if your naturalistic monism is the same as my theism except you want to be right, or acknowledged, or something, maybe you haven't worked it out yet in a way that fully convinces you.

I don't understand your theism, so I can't address this claim. From my experiences in talking about spirituality and mysticism with people from different religious traditions, I'd say my worldview is similar and different in key respects. While some people are blessed with visions of deity, I'm blessed with visions of ecological systems theory. Otherwise those visions are very similar. It's not a matter of being "right," it's what my experiences and reason have led me to.

In terms of being fully convinced, one thing that I think that liberal theology is entirely correct about is that worldviews without doubt and open questions are hollow and rigid. So I often find myself responding to "Atheists can't fully explain ____" with "I don't know! And isn't that wonderful?"
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I looked up naturalistic monism and I guess it's similar to mine. I just noticed that Jesus was talking about the same stuff so I call it theism because religious people refer to prophets a lot.

So, okay, because you aren't fully convinced you feel the need to defend it, and probably for that reason you identify with atheists. No one has attempted to describe your beliefs or their own; the environment is too hostile, that was Miko's point. Too much pre-emptive defending. So, drop acid and know everything you've learned so far, then join the party. :)
posted by fraac at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2011


fraac: So, okay, because you aren't fully convinced you feel the need to defend it, and probably for that reason you identify with atheists.

I feel the need to defend it, because people you refuse to recognize it, choosing instead to mischaracterize it.

No one has attempted to describe your beliefs or their own; the environment is too hostile, that was Miko's point.

Nonsense, every time you write a sentence starting with the word "atheists" that doesn't end in a question-mark, it's is a claim about my beliefs. They all happen to be laughably wrong. But that hasn't stopped you so far, and probably won't in the future.

So, drop acid and know everything you've learned so far, then join the party. :)

Why do you continue to assume that mystical and spiritual experiences are incompatible with atheism?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:28 AM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I write 'new atheism' or 'anti-theism' to be somewhat specific. I haven't seen anyone mischaracterise your atheism - you haven't offered it for discussion.
posted by fraac at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2011


@craichead So far the most vocal defenders of religionism have very coyly refused to express their beliefs in any concrete manner, if there's a failure to address your own personal brand of religionism blame yourself. Like Miko you've chosen to shield your own beliefs from criticism by hiding behind vague and fuzzy terms and refusing to ever set down in nice, concrete, terms what you really believe.

Complaining about a problem you actively helped to create seems disingenuous at best. In fact, I'd say it's a pretty despicable argumentative tactic.

Like I said, there may be particular instances of religion that are not, right now, actively contributing to the problem. BUT:

1) They both directly and indirectly legitimize the "bad" religions.

and

2) If the survive they will eventually spawn mutant versions that are bad.

Say something happened and every religion except Unitarian Universalism died out. I'll guarantee that in five hundred years there'd be at least one and more likely dozens of crazy evil fundamentalist version of UU.

I haven't set the parameters of the discussion, religion has. If you, personally, happen to believe in a perfectly safe and effectively non-existent deity then yeah, I'd argue that you're functionally atheist. What, really, is the difference between a deity that hides, never does anything, and never in any way interacts with the universe and a deity that doesn't exist?

However, by arguing that it's good and right and proper to believe, without any need or evidence, in such a deity you're creating something that, if belief in it survived that long, would be the fodder for crazy fundamentalists.

My argument is simple: this stuff is too dangerous.

Some people take religion and they get a nice peaceful buzz. Other people take religion and they go murderously crazy. I argue, therefore, that it is in our better interests to discourage people from taking religion.

I don't argue that religion should be banned, that's not merely counterproductive but also a human rights violation.

But I do argue that religion should be socially discouraged, that people hooked on it should be made to feel uncomfortable about their indulgence in religion. Because it's dangerous. I can't think, offhand, of any more inherently dangerous idea. Bad stuff happens when you get lots of people using religion.

I think heroin should be legal too. But I think it should be discouraged because it causes/amplifies problems. It helps enhance and magnify the bad aspects of people. I think it's a good idea to have a social stigma attached to the activity of being a junkie and in that same spirit I think it's a good idea to have a social stigma attached to being a religionist.

If that's making people who indulge only in the somewhat safer, somewhat less harsh and pure versions of religion feel embarrassed about their indulgence than I say that's fine. In fact I say that's good. The more people who feel a vague embarrassment about their religion the better. The last thing we need is respect for religion, that only encourages it to spread and infect others.
posted by sotonohito at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


fraac: I write 'new atheism' or 'anti-theism' to be somewhat specific. I haven't seen anyone mischaracterise your atheism - you haven't offered it for discussion.

I disagree with pretty much all of this. So I don't see any point in continuing this discussion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:46 AM on September 18, 2011


@craichead So far the most vocal defenders of religionism have very coyly refused to express their beliefs in any concrete manner, if there's a failure to address your own personal brand of religionism blame yourself. Like Miko you've chosen to shield your own beliefs from criticism by hiding behind vague and fuzzy terms and refusing to ever set down in nice, concrete, terms what you really believe.

Complaining about a problem you actively helped to create seems disingenuous at best. In fact, I'd say it's a pretty despicable argumentative tactic.
You think refusing to submit my beliefs for hostile interrogation is despicable? That's... interesting.
But I do argue that religion should be socially discouraged, that people hooked on it should be made to feel uncomfortable about their indulgence in religion.
So here's the thing, dude. I'm Jewish. My family has been Jewish for as long as anyone can document. If "being made to feel uncomfortable" was going to dissuade anyone from being Jewish, I can promise you my ancestors would have converted to Christianity more than a thousand years ago. I think you shouldn't flatter yourself about the effects that snide remarks are going to have on people who have proved their commitment to something.
posted by craichead at 11:57 AM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you've had a spiritual or psychedelic experience and your atheism is of the kind that has a pointed problem with theism then I apologise for the mischaracterisation. But that sounds unlikely, so I dunno. Did you just want to provide a moving target on the offchance someone wanted to take shots at you? Wouldn't you rather live in Miko's world where we can discuss the strange-sounding stuff we do believe without whatever any of this was?
posted by fraac at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2011


@craichead: No, I think refusing to define your religious belief and then criticizing atheists for not addressing your particular religious belief is despicable. You're sitting there saying "ha ha, you stupid atheists, you never talked about my religion (which I kept secret)".

Yeah, we never addressed your particular religion. That isn't my fault, it's yours. Blaming me for failing to read your mind is despicable, yes.
posted by sotonohito at 12:08 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You just said that all religion is dangerous. Why would a religious person want to talk to you? I think in cases like this, the person with the hostility is the problem. No?

"My argument is simple: this stuff is too dangerous."

It's not, though. The dangerous religious people come from a tradition of psychosexual abuse, same as the dangerous supermarket staff and the dangerous Albanians. They need to be healed. The stuff of their ideas is, literally, immaterial. Followers will follow anyone, Milgram taught us that.
posted by fraac at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


fraac: I'm not a moving target. I expressed my religious humanism and my unwillingness to attack specific religious belief early in this thread, and repeatedly over the last year.

Wouldn't you rather live in Miko's world where we can discuss the strange-sounding stuff we do believe without whatever any of this was?

IMNSHO an important part of building transfaith community or discussion is to talk about your own beliefs, and let everyone else speak for him or herself. Because if you're not a member of that group, if you haven't had those experiences, if you're not familiar with all the perspectives within it, then all you're doing is revealing your own prejudices born of ignorance.

And yes, this goes both ways.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:24 PM on September 18, 2011


@craichead: No, I think refusing to define your religious belief and then criticizing atheists for not addressing your particular religious belief is despicable. You're sitting there saying "ha ha, you stupid atheists, you never talked about my religion (which I kept secret)".
That's hilarious.

Every time I point out that a radical atheist's claim about "religion" is not how Judaism works (and in a lot of instances, it's not even how the most out-there, extremist Judaism works), they tell me to shut up because they're talking about real religion, normal religion, important religion, which is Michelle Bachmann and the Taliban. My religion is, apparently, fake. But now I'm supposed to explain my fake religion so that you can tell me why it's wrong and evil? Could you make up your mind whether Judaism is to be ignored or reviled? Or don't. I honestly don't give a shit, because if I enjoyed engaging with assholes who wanted to talk me out of my religion, I'd pop over to the megachurch down the road. I bet they at least have cookies and punch to go with the ignorance and condescension.
posted by craichead at 12:24 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


@craichead Until you define your religion (which, I note you're still keeping secret while simultaneously castigating me for not perfectly understanding), you can't say whether I'm ignorant or not about it.

Again: you're harshly criticizing me for failing to read your mind and know about your religion (you're "Jewish", a term that covers a wide variety of belief and practice, so I still don't know anything real about your religion except that you likely, though not guaranteed, don't eat bacon) despite your best efforts to hide it from me. You think that's not despicable?

As for telling people they're wrong and evil I've had people tell me that in this thread repeatedly. Grow some tougher hide, this is a discussion, we discuss stuff. If that hurts your feelings then stop discussing things.

I absolutely refuse to bow down to the preposterous notion that somehow a person's religion is super special and delicate and we can't discuss religion with the same rough and tumble that we do music, or food, or politics. If you can't handle discussion than stop participating in discussion. I won't walk on eggshells just because you think your religion should be off limits for discussion, if you expect or demand that I'll laugh at you.

@fraac "the person with the hostility is the problem. No?"

No. Hostility can be legitimate. I'm hostile towards religion because I have been directly and personally harmed by religion, which IMO legitimizes my hostility.

If religion really were the harmless stuff you claim it is then I'd never have been harmed by it, now would I? Therefore religion is not harmless. QED.

If religion was harmless then it wouldn't be making live miserable for billions of gay and lesbian people, now would it?

If religion was harmless there wouldn't be an atheist movement because we wouldn't care about it.

You've got this idea that somehow religion is sitting around, perfectly peaceful and harmless and completely legitimate and never, ever, doing anything wrong and a mean gang of mean atheists just decided to attack it for no reason whatsoever.

I think you suffer from a psychological condition called "not meeting a wide variety of religious people". You've decided that since you're religious, and you're harmless [1], and you know some religious people and they're harmless that religion can't possibly be a problem. You've decided that the majority of religious people must really be a minority because you don't personally believe what they do. Have you ignored every single study and survey linked in this thread?

There are people who take heroin and aren't dangerous. There are others who take heroin and get randomly violent. Do you want to tell me that heroin isn't dangerous?

Religion is dangerous. Maybe not yours right this second, maybe not to a particular religious junkie you've got in mind, but overall it is too dangerous to encourage casual use. But every single person who voted for Prop 8 (just to pick a recent example) is an example of the dangers of religion.

It's like you're denying that the sky is blue because you see a few clouds every now and then.

More likely it's like you aren't reading what I write.

I say that because I've acknowledged dozens of times that some religious people aren't bad. I've said repeatedly that it isn't so much that religion causes problems but that it amplifies existing problems and you seem to have ignored those statements.

Go find a Jewish/Palestinian person who just got mutilated by attacks from Jews/Muslims because of the religious amplification of the bad feelings resulting from the foundation of the modern state of Israel (which in turn resulted from a Christian pogrom against Jews in Europe) and tell me religion doesn't amplify problems, that religion isn't dangerous.

Acknowledge reality cousin: religion makes any given problem worse. Take a bad situation, mix in religion, and presto you get an even worse situation. Religion may not be the root of the problem, but it's certainly the fertilizer.

Given all that, can't you see how I might get a little hostile towards the thing that keeps making problems worse?

Can you please address those points instead of just telling me that I'm a meanie?

[1] Which I don't take, ahem, on faith. Did you ever vote for any measures to limit the rights of homosexuals? I don't know, but since you're religious I know which way to bet it.
posted by sotonohito at 1:01 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, drop acid and know everything you've learned so far, then join the party. :)
[...]
If you've had a spiritual or psychedelic experience and your atheism is of the kind that has a pointed problem with theism then I apologise for the mischaracterisation.


Ah, yes, the classic "if only you poor atheists could truly ~feel~ anything, then you'd be human enough to talk to!" argument.

This is hilarious, really, because psychedelic use and/or "spiritual" experiences are quite common among atheists ("new" and otherwise) and/or anti-theists -- this thread and this one are chock-full of interesting anecdotes. This atheists-are-logicbots head-trip couldn't be a worse fit with my own experiences, either... it seems like an attempt to dehumanize people and to draw a bright line around those who are allowed to "have a pointed problem with theism", nothing more.
posted by vorfeed at 1:42 PM on September 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Acknowledge reality cousin: religion makes any given problem worse.

You want reality? How about accepting that reality just ain't as simple as you want it to be? That is, BAD religion makes any given problem worse ... as does BAD politics, BAD psychology, BAD science, BAD music, BAD advice. The counter to this is someone like Mother Theresa who, acting in accordance with her faith, addressed certain problems (poverty for instance) and though she may not have solved them forever, her application of GOOD religion certainly alleviated some of the suffering that was going on.

Sorry, if this crosses with your beliefs about religion's inherent awfulness. But again, they are just beliefs and thus worth reflecting upon every now and then.
posted by philip-random at 1:58 PM on September 18, 2011


vorfeed: atheists with psychedelic and spiritual experiences often call themselves religious so they can make sense to each other. I'm one such. They certainly don't put "spiritual" in quotes like that - that's really weird. You needn't be so guarded of your turf. Religion creep must terrify you but it's just words to describe experiences and states of awareness.
posted by fraac at 2:05 PM on September 18, 2011


what is the meaning of "spirit" to an atheist? I ask as an ex theist and an ex atheist--- current agnostic.

Why go with "spiritual" if you believe there is no spirit beyond the world of physics? Or is the idea that there is a spirit,but it is contained within the principles of physics? My dad is an atheist and he cracks me up because his brand of spiritualism contains way more extrapolation of mystical and "beyond this reality" ideas than some religious people I know who think there is a god, you die and go to heaven and it's quite simple. Even myself, I believe in an animated force and it is within and beyond the principles of physics, and yet I don't "believe" anything because for crickeys sake none of us freakin know. He's willing to go way out there with this "recycling of spirit energy" and all kinds of things drawn from a multitude of faiths and despite that he is fine with all of these things despite that the laws of physics are not the basis of any of them---- he is not ok with God or heaven having any place in there. He is afraid of the idea of God. Because his dad sucked. If there is a spiritual anything beyond the world of physics I demand heaven.

This world is shit. If there is some vague spiritual 'ness'-- whatever you want to think of that is, I will be making a formal complaint with it if it does not deliver some thing that makes worthwhile all the suffering and misery and shit of this world for the people who live utterly horrific lives and die before ever knowing happiness. I am unimpressed with the idea there is a spiritualness but when we die our spiritualness blends into the great spirit and the material self blends into nothingness.

If we're going to make up our own nonsense I'm making up my own and I want heaven. I want to smoke and fuck and get drunk and do shitloads of drugs with no consequences and have a blast with everyone I love who will not be offended by all these troubling behaviors because it'll be heaven and we can do whatever the shit we want. I want rainbows and butterflies and fluffy clouds and to frolick and play and have great wonderfulness and beauty all without suffering.

And if that gets boring, well you can always visit earth again, suffering a plenty.

I don't see why agnosticism -None of us are sure-- wouldn't be the standard platform for discussion of various possibilities.

But uh, I'm an agnostic so there's my bias. ;)
posted by xarnop at 2:40 PM on September 18, 2011


atheists with psychedelic and spiritual experiences

So you took LSD or shrooms or peyote and had a weird experience. I believe you. But to extrapolate those experiences into the existence of some supernatural force takes unconscionable arrogance and irresponsibility. The obviously more like explanation is that you caused/experienced some glitch in the brain's software. These things happen, sometimes even without specific external stimuli. I've had a couple of those experiences without medical assistance.

The obvious analogy in science would the discovery of the neutrino. Back in the day people did all these experiments and discovered that mass and energy didn't seem to conserved during certain nuclear events. Some physicists were quite will to then throw out these bedrock principles, but cooler heads prevailed and determined that there must be as yet undetected form that accounted for the missing stuff. And we found the neutrino.

You've had these experiences. That doesn't mean we need to invoke explanations beyond those available in the natural world. Neuroscience is getting better and better at explaining these things and I suspect that we will eventually have a cognitive theory of religion that accounts the missing stuff in just the same way.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:16 PM on September 18, 2011


I put "spiritual" in quotes because, as I explained here, I don't buy the idea that these experiences are necessarily religious (and, in fact, they're quite often secular -- ask Carl Sagan or Sam Harris). As such, I don't agree that that they need to be put in religious terms, nor that doing so reflects the full breadth, religious and non-religious, of such experiences. As I said above, insisting on using religious "words to describe experiences and states of awareness" which are not necessarily religious strikes me as an attempt to exclude or co-opt people -- like xarnop says, why does "spirit" have to mean anything to an atheist, and why should atheists be lumped in with people whose experiences are explicitly spirit-ual? I'd rather discuss these experiences in their own context, rather than suggesting that having them means you should "call yourself religious so you can make sense to each other". If that's your choice, fine, but it's far from the only one people can make.

Saying "they certainly don't put "spiritual" in quotes like that - that's really weird" is extremely exclusionary, also. I am an atheist who has had psychedelic and "spiritual" experiences, though I don't use the latter word to describe them (thus the quotes). I am also an anti-theist. And I put "spiritual" in quotes, at least in this context. Don't presume to tell me what I "don't" do -- you needn't be so protective of your turf, after all. The idea that anti-theists have deep experiences just like every other human being must terrify you, but they're just words to describe experiences and states of awareness...
posted by vorfeed at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is, BAD religion makes any given problem worse ... as does BAD politics, BAD psychology, BAD science, BAD music, BAD advice

The point is that bad religion is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things. And most religions are at their core quite evil. We tend to ignore the lines like this: "Go, now, attack Amalek, and deal with him and all that he has under the ban. Do not spare him, but kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses.."

So maybe you don't believe that the bible is the literal word of god. Maybe your religion is some benign superposition of wicca, jesus-lite, and Voltron, defender of the universe. That's great. Here's the problem. Once you admit that you will believe something without cause or reason (ie purely on faith), then its possible that you could be persuaded to believe anything else given the right circumstances.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:28 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


fraac,

I grew up Orthodox Jewish, so don't tell me my opinions on religion don't apply to Judaism please.
posted by callmejay at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2011


vorfeed: what would you say was a religious experience?
posted by fraac at 4:35 PM on September 18, 2011


Chekhovian: So you took LSD or shrooms or peyote and had a weird experience. I believe you. But to extrapolate those experiences into the existence of some supernatural force takes unconscionable arrogance and irresponsibility. The obviously more like explanation is that you caused/experienced some glitch in the brain's software.

Careful, please, with the throwing down of "arrogance" and "irresponsibility", particularly when you're dismissing profound experiences that others have undergone as brain software glitches. I'm not saying they aren't but I certainly don't know with any sense of obviousness that they are; nor do you unless you're some level of higher being that I'm not aware of.

Chekhovian: The point is that bad religion is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things.

Recent history (the past hundred years) certainly does not bear this out and here I'll just casually throw out four names: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.

Chekhovian: Maybe your religion is some benign superposition of wicca, jesus-lite, and Voltron, defender of the universe. That's great. Here's the problem. Once you admit that you will believe something without cause or reason (ie purely on faith), then its possible that you could be persuaded to believe anything else given the right circumstances.

Again, careful again with the casual ridicule of stuff that people may profoundly believe. It really doesn't advance your interests, assuming your interests include having a successful conversation wherein people actually listen to and conceivably learn from each other.

For the record, I'm not a believer myself (call me agnostic), but one thing I have learned over the years is to take people's beliefs very seriously. Particularly smart people's beliefs (ie: the kind of people you tend to run into here at MetaFilter). Trust me that they believe what they do with significant cause and reason (ie: that leap of faith they're taking is far more complex and nuanced and considered than you're imagining).
posted by philip-random at 4:42 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thing about psychedelic experiences is, apart from teaching you whatever you were meant to know about your own situation, giving your the kind of knowledge that's substantially different to learned facts (you might call it 'faith'), you tend to see isomorphisms between things and appreciate other people's beliefs. So I find it odd that a psychonaut would put spiritual in quotes. I used to be anti-religious and by a street definition I'm atheist now, but there's a lot more subtlety going on.
posted by fraac at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2011


dismissing profound experiences that others have undergone as brain software glitches.

Until any of these "experiences" generate externally verifiable consequences they cannot be used as empirical proof of anything "transcendent". I never said people couldn't derive meaning from them. Whatever goes on in your own gray goo, that's cool. But when they become fodder for disputing what is observably true, to the extent of our observational powers, they become dangerous.

When your shrooms start reliably giving you next week's lottery numbers I will gladly subscribe to your newsletter and even give you part of the winnings.

Recent history (the past hundred years) certainly does not bear this out and here I'll just casually throw out four names: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.

C'mon, this tired old cliche? Disproving it is chapter 2 of every one of the new atheist's books. Here's my casual deflection of your casual and untrue assertion: Hitler (Roman Catholic all his life), his soldiers (all roman catholics and protestants long trained by the church to hate jews), Stalin (He replaced the czar's cult of personal worship with his own...Lysenkoism etc), and so on.

Again, careful again with the casual ridicule of stuff that people may profoundly believe

I'm not sure what the best medicine is for the virus of belief. Unless you can show some sort of peer-reviewed study on the loss of faith, neither are you. I won't stand for this claim that religion is special and must be treated with kid gloves. Like all human efforts it should be subjected to reason.

that leap of faith

That's the problem right there. It doesn't matter how complex and nuanced their system of belief is, it is still a house built on sand, to borrow from the bible.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:35 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You want empirical evidence of transcendence? Is one of us failing the Turing Test right now?

Nobody hurt anyone because of religion. They did it because they're messed up or following someone messed up. Vanish religion and you'll still have harmful damaged people and legions of latently genocidal followers.
posted by fraac at 5:59 PM on September 18, 2011


Nobody hurt anyone because of religion. They did it because they're messed up or following someone messed up.

Here's the funny thing that the newest sorts of research are teaching us. Most children are born with a nascent sort of morality. You don't have to teach the golden rule, its there, programmed into the brains of most people, sans the occasional pathological one. Maybe its mirror neurons, maybe its something else, but its there.

Then religion comes along and indoctrinates you to hate that which is different. Do you really want to start summing up the various historical causes of human suffering like some accountant for the damned? Religion won't come out favorably in that tabulation.

What makes religion different from other evils, tribalism, economic exploitation, etc, is its inherent necrophilia. It is obsessed with death, hence the frequent death cults, groups actively seeking some sort of apocalypse, etc. That is the problem of faith.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:11 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most children are born with a nascent sort of morality.[....]Then religion comes along and indoctrinates you to hate that which is different.

Actually, I'm not so sure "fear for what is different" isn't inborn to some extent itself.

Human beings have the capacity to be moral, and we also have the capacity to be total shits. Religion may help us find the phrasing for, and self-justification for, both that morality and that "be shits to each other-ness". But both those impulses are things we as humans bring to the table ourselves, ultimately.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"fear for what is different"

I should have stated this more powerfully, its true. But tell me this, how many human beings are born with the desire to end it all, to bring about the second coming using whatever means they can? Can you see that in a one year old child? You need religion for that.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:21 PM on September 18, 2011


Many of you just have what I would have to call an extremely naive conception of religion and how it works in people's minds and lives - in fact, how any concept in socialization and individual idea formation works in people's minds and lives. I suspected as much when I started thinking about whether the world would be different if the anti-theist project were successful, and after the last run of comments I feel far more justified in this estimation.

I'd prescribe less philosophy, more psychology.
posted by Miko at 6:33 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


(and more history and biography.)
posted by Miko at 6:34 PM on September 18, 2011


how many human beings are born with the desire to end it all, to bring about the second coming using whatever means they can? Can you see that in a one year old child? You need religion for that.

How many human beings are born with the desire to eliminate all members of an ethnic group different from them? Can you see that in a one year old child? You need tribalism for that.

How many human beings are born with the desire to wipe out everyone in their country that didn't ascribe to a narrowly defined mindset? Can you see that in a one year old child? You need politics for that.

No religion involved in those incidents.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 PM on September 18, 2011


vorfeed: what would you say was a religious experience?

I doubt I could come up with a definition that could satisfy you, or that won't simply be used to One-True-Scotsman away the experiences I and others have had (on preview: too late, guess I'm just not subtle or isomorphic enough!), but I think "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity" is close enough. I don't feel comfortable bloviating on the topic, but the only ultimate reality I've experienced is the world itself, the universe. Many with more extensive psychedelic experience than I have seem to be on the same page.

At any rate, I think of this as an "ask five people and you'll get six different interpretations" kind of thing. I don't see how that's "odd" or "weird" in the least.
posted by vorfeed at 6:40 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


an extremely naive conception of religion and how it works in people's minds and lives.

And I so thankful for my freedom from religion. I care so spectacularly little about how it work's in people's minds and lives, except for when these maniacs have nuclear weapons, sarin gas cannisters, box cutters, explosive-filled Ryder trucks, messianic delusions, say over what my children learn in school, theologies that damage the nature of my society, should I go on?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:11 PM on September 18, 2011


Chekovian, all of those things that you've listed are either a) already illegal, b) cause for imprisonment if someone is discovered with them, c) not actually having anything to do with religion or d) minority opinions which can easily be voted down if you and other like-minded people report to voting booths in sufficient numbers. Despite this being a nation in which the majority of people are theists.

Also, the Oklahoma City bombing was not religiously motivated. (Bringing it up was cheating.)

Be vigilant against Dominionist behavior, by all means -- I am as well -- but dude, we ain't living in a theocracy just yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 PM on September 18, 2011


Stuck my head in here and thought "Oh no, another MeFi religion thread". But I'm glad I read Miko's post. It says what I've been thinking lately better than I could. What I want from philosophy these days are good ideas on how we can treat each other better, not finer and finer dicing of whether or not there's a God.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:27 PM on September 18, 2011


Ohh, good grief. The gaslighting here of accusing atheists of not understanding spiritual experience, then cross examining us for having them is really thick, and personally depressing.

So I'll just link here:
One common understanding of transcendence is an encounter with a world beyond ourselves, beyond full comprehension. But why must this be interpreted as supernatural? A naturalistic world offers an abundance of experiences and understandings beyond our individual lives. There is deep time, extending unfathomably into the past and unfathomably into the future, with our entire lives constituting but a blip. There is deep space, with hundreds of billions of galaxies separated by incomprehensibly vast distances, in which Earth is but a speck. There are concepts of energy, mathematics, human history, and evolution. There is joy in the idea that consciousness even exists. There is the experience of love. Neither a deity nor a complete loss of individuality to a greater power is necessary to experience the grandeur of these great mysteries. There's an awful lot that is bigger than any of us. And when we get it, really get it, when intellect and emotions come rushing together, transcendence seems a powerful word for that experience. After he survived a heart attack, Abraham Maslow felt as if "everything gets doubly precious, gets piercingly important. You get stabbed by things, by flowers and by babies and by beautiful things...every single moment of every single day is transformed." Charles Darwin, in a letter to his wife Emma in 1858, described the following experience: "I fell asleep on the grass, and awoke with a chorus of birds singing around me...and it was as pleasant and rural a scene as I ever saw, and I did not care one penny how any of the beasts and birds had been formed."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:59 PM on September 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ohh, good grief. The gaslighting here of accusing atheists of not understanding spiritual experience, then cross examining us for having them is really thick, and personally depressing.

Or hilarious if you can step far enough back. Seriously, the way you put it here makes it sound like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
posted by philip-random at 9:41 PM on September 18, 2011


I even find shamanic voyage angle of it quite interesting. What I find personally depressing is that it seems like some nominal atheists feel personally compelled to defend Religion (and I mean with a capital R) because of the whatever astral journeys they've taken within their own skulls.

If your point is that these experiences can be very meaningful and important to people (and that perhaps we should study them so as to more easily subvert religious people), thats great, I will support your efforts. Don't tell me that your experience was the TRUTH and that you achieved some great external consilience between all faiths because of it...that's bullshit and just another form of religion. That it had personal meaning for you doesn't mean it had to be the one revealed truth behind everything in the universe.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:13 PM on September 18, 2011


I'm not sure children have morality or just herd instinct. I know that most people have very keen in- and out-group awareness that precedes their rational thought, and religious and any number of other institutions encourage it to the point of violence, but it's certainly not an innate feature of religion.

It looks to me like if you're having spiritual experiences or you're into monism you only don't identify as religious because you've already taken a side. Group identity - the most pernicious lie we tell ourselves.
posted by fraac at 2:33 AM on September 19, 2011


fraac: It looks to me like if you're having spiritual experiences or you're into monism you only don't identify as religious because you've already taken a side. Group identity - the most pernicious lie we tell ourselves.

You win. I'm gone.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:34 AM on September 19, 2011


Dude, you've spent the whole topic defending yourself from people worried about anti-theism but who have no problem whatsoever with naturalistic monism. It looks weird and smacks of over-identification.
posted by fraac at 5:24 AM on September 19, 2011


Dude, you've spent the whole topic defending yourself from people worried about anti-theism but who have no problem whatsoever with naturalistic monism. It looks weird and smacks of over-identification.
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:30 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


fraac, I'm totally confused. So you're a naturalistic monist but you've also found a more useful model than atheism.

Does not compute.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:52 AM on September 19, 2011


First time I took acid I learned that I was God and everything (not to the exclusion of anyone else, or preferably everyone else, also being God). It computes very elegantly.
posted by fraac at 6:59 AM on September 19, 2011


not to the exclusion of anyone else, or preferably everyone else, also being God

How magnanimous of you.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:05 AM on September 19, 2011


I guess I'm the only regular old sinner, utterly dependent on God's Grace (unearned mercy), here.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:21 AM on September 19, 2011


This was my first tardy step in this particular morass:

It would be interesting to have a conversation where atheists discuss our closest equivalent to religious experiences, and then have theists discuss their experiences that have made them doubt their faith.

But then we're all "It computes very elegantly" about our personal beliefs and no one seems willing to admit doubt. My tightly wound ball feelings is that all of existence is entirely physical and natural.

I've had medicinally unassisted experiences that differed from that perspective. A few times I've woken up from deep sleep with this tremendous feeling of unity and oneness with everything then been very unhappily compressed back into my singular self. Maybe the right fungus would allow me to bring that about on command. I'm deliberately not discussing "physical evidence here".

My takeaway was more a sort of longing.

utterly dependent on God's Grace

Have you ever had any experiences that differed from that?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:43 AM on September 19, 2011


The point is that bad religion is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things.

IMO, marketing in all its forms (including the various forms it takes in organized religions) "is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things." Religion is one of the many areas of life where we market ideas to each other, and so it offers a convenient set of ready made marketing channels. But if your looking for root causes, the practice of marketing ideas is the root cause. Organized religion is just one venue for marketing ideas (and despite the ostensible "higher purposes" of religious commerce, financial interest isn't often far below the surface in that realm, either).

My tightly wound ball feelings is that all of existence is entirely physical and natural.


My own sense is that this would be correct, but I can't for the life of me put my figure on what "physical" actually means in the absence of dualism. I think it's an empty concept if you fully embrace monism. Originally, it meant something like not-spiritual because we assumed spiritual and/or supernatural stuff existed, and it also kind of meant made of irreducible atoms. This is a crude simplification, obviously, but I think more or less a correct summary of the development of these ideas. The so-called "physical" world is in reality not "material" (because atomism has turned out to be wrong).

What we're left with, from my perspective, is a world that's not so much a combination of physical and non-physical components like we originally imagined, as something that's neither physical nor nonphysical (unless we take the term "physical" to mean something so broad as to be virtually meaningless like observable and not magic). Atoms are not like marbles after all. Not only is there less stuff than we thought in the universe, the stuff that there is turns out to be a sort of trick of the light created by the interactions of non-stuff (forces and fields) once we really dig into it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:09 AM on September 19, 2011


ergh. 'you're.'
posted by saulgoodman at 8:10 AM on September 19, 2011


@EmpressCallipygos Is it your position then that religion is a neutral force and does not in any way whatsoever contribute more to encouraging evil than it does to encouraging good?

I don't think anyone here has argued that absent religion the universe would be perfect and everyone would be happy. If so I'll agree that they're wrong. People can be jerks just fine without religion.

My only point here is that religion has a nearly unique ability to greatly magnify the already present tendencies towards evil behavior in some humans.

Religion seems to have a demonstrable ability to create/enhance some really bad stuff, and doesn't seem to have any real positive benefits that outweigh that ability to create/enhance really bad stuff. To me that indicates that we ought to be discouraging the use of religion because it's just too dangerous to be casually used.

I'm looking at religion, I'm seeing that it has this massive tendency to make already bad situations vastly worse, and I'm not seeing much benefit so I'm saying we out to be discouraging religion on that basis.

Note that I'm explicitly **NOT** claiming that if religion vanished tomorrow all of our other problems would as well. I'm explicitly **NOT** claiming that all problems, or even any problems, are caused by religion; merely that it tends to amplify extant problems.

Please explain why you think I'm wrong here. Please provide evidence that demonstrates that religion does not, in fact, make already bad situations worse.

@Miko "Many of you just have what I would have to call an extremely naive conception of religion and how it works in people's minds and lives"

So now we're back to "what you are saying isn't true of my (super secret and shielded by vagueness) religion so therefore you're idiots".

Nevermind statistics. Nevermind what **MOST** religious people think and do, since that isn't what you personally think and do (which is super duper top secret and you'll never ever tell anyone) we're idiots for criticizing religion.

Try again. This time try by addressing the statistical fact that most religious people aren't nice liberal types rather than insisting that the facts must be wrong because they don't match your own (super secret) religion.

I understand that you really, really, want religion to be a great thing and for anti-theists to just be a crazy bunch of meanies who don't understand the glorious truth of how wonderful religion really is. But the statistics show that religion causes/enhances problems. Your nice, philosophic, fuzzy, whatever concept of God is not the concept of God shared by most religious people in the USA. Your religious beliefs are not the majority religious beliefs.

Most Americans do, in fact, believe in the God Hypothesis as defined by Dawkins. You don't. Yay, you're a special snowflake and I acknowledge your special snowflakeness. Now that's out of the way can you please address religion as it is practiced by the majority and how that affects society?
posted by sotonohito at 8:23 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't for the life of me put my figure on what "physical" actually means in the absence of dualism

So we're going to argue the semantics of the word physical? I can't stop my eyes from rolling. What physical clearly means in this context is governed by the law of physics (within a self consistent mathematical framework). That's all you needed to say rather than some rambling incoherent nonsense.

marketing in all its forms (including the various forms it takes in organized religions) "is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things."

What non-religious ideas out there or multilevel marketing schemes make people want to bathe the earth in nuclear fire to bring Jesus back? Religion loves death. And here's the thing: If you make the leap of faith that your Religion is true, then what follows about bringing on the end times is perfectly rationally deductible, given that one original tainted premise.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:29 AM on September 19, 2011


So we're going to argue the semantics of the word physical?

Didn't mean to still be arguing, but rather, sharing there. Thought we had reached a "let's discuss our own beliefs" non-judgmentally sort of détente... Guess I misread.

What non-religious ideas out there or multilevel marketing schemes make people want to bathe the earth in nuclear fire to bring Jesus back?

That's not a religious idea but a symptom of mental illness. They had some pretty damn good multi-level marketing systems for rationalizing racism and eugenics that didn't originate in religious ideas but mangled and misunderstood scientific ones. Social Darwinism wasn't marketed through religious channels, and yet, its led to all sorts of terrible practices.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2011


Is it your position then that religion is a neutral force and does not in any way whatsoever contribute more to encouraging evil than it does to encouraging good?

Yep. Or, at least, the reason why people may respond with more zeal in either direction is because religion appeals to us at a more personal level than, say, political affiliation -- but that zealotry is still something inherant in the person rather than the dogma of the scripture itself.

In other words -- you know how some people are just really, really....intense about everything? Someone who's not that intense wouldn't go to either of those extremes no matter what religion tried to persuade them to do.

That's my position, anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on September 19, 2011


"let's discuss our own beliefs" non-judgmentally sort of détente... Guess I misread

You're right I did pull the trigger prematurely there, sorry. I guess I was primed by the first part of your comment.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2011


"My tightly wound ball feelings is that all of existence is entirely physical and natural."

Mine too, with the same caveat for 'physical' being Ultimate Physics, not whatever models we have at any particular point in time.
posted by fraac at 8:46 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


zealotry is still something inherant in the person rather than the dogma of the scripture itself

Have you ever read any of that scripture of 98% of those mainstream religions out there? Hell, even Buddhism lends itself to easy misinterpretation, and its the meekest of the meek out there. Clearly poor people are poor because they did bad things in previous lives. Their status is punishment so to interfere with it would be going against the structure of the universe. Its the eastern cousin to the prosperity gospel.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:47 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see how that happened--there are kind of two unrelated points there, and the first one is more related to the original, contentious subject... My fault.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:48 AM on September 19, 2011


So, in that video we both linked, you really took it to be Dawkins being awesome in the face of the pathetic apologist Tyson?
posted by fraac at 8:49 AM on September 19, 2011


you really took it to be Dawkins being awesome in the face of the pathetic apologist Tyson

I wasn't using that clip as ammunition. I just thought it was funny. The next clip I linked is Krauss (another physicist) discussing the same issue with Dawkins sans the obscene rebuttal.

I'm not sure what the most efficient way to lure believers out of their complacency is, but neither are you right? None of us can be without some sort of study (which would be very interesting). My feeling though is that to completely deny the claims of hard atheism is like the democrats completely ceding the ideas of the hard left, it doesn't work.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:55 AM on September 19, 2011


I realise I'm sort of shouting into a void here, but returning to this interesting thread over the course of several days I'm struck how it seems so stubbornly stuck in a rut. From my perspective, it's definitely the Dawkinsite atheists who are doing the rut-sticking.

Most Americans do, in fact, believe in the God Hypothesis as defined by Dawkins. You don't. Yay, you're a special snowflake and I acknowledge your special snowflakeness. Now that's out of the way can you please address religion as it is practiced by the majority and how that affects society?

There is a problem here. The original article gave reasons for doubting that "belief in the God Hypothesis" as Dawkinsite atheists appear to understand accurately describes the mental states of most religious people. There is even more reason to doubt that this understanding of belief in the God Hypothesis represents the "essence" or "basic definition" of religious practice. It is this premise that the non-Dawkinsites in this thread and elsewhere dispute — this is the content of the disagreement — and it is absolutely no good for Dawkinsites to pop up every 20 posts or so to try to enforce the shared acceptance of this premise as a basis for subsequent discussion.

Hypothetically, suppose that we had a thread on Metafilter where everyone agreed in advance, on pain of death, to discuss only the question "Is there convincing evidence for the empirical reality of a personal supernatural God, using the terms 'evidence', 'empirical' and 'reality' in exactly the same way that we would use them if asking for evidence of the empirical reality of trees?" 99% of us, I think, would agree there isn't. We're disagreeing here on whether or not that's the most interesting/pertinent/meaningful question to ask. You're welcome to believe that it is, but you'll get nowhere by insisting that everyone else has to believe that it is as a precondition of further discussion. OK, I promise that's my last attempt to make the point!
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Have you ever read any of that scripture of 98% of those mainstream religions out there?

Yes, I have. However, I"ve also noticed that the 'hard language" you're focusing on is either ignored by the majority of the followers of 98% of those mainstream religions, or is taken to be "a product of the time in which this religion was founded, and thus is not relevant today."

Or, rather, the people who would have had the instinct to be good towards other people ignore that hard language. The people who would have been shits to everyone tend to glom onto that language -- they're looking for what they want to see, though, rather than being all "tra la la I love everyone, oh wait the bible says I should hate these people, okay I guess I will".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2011


The original article gave reasons for doubting that "belief in the God Hypothesis" as Dawkinsite atheists appear to understand accurately describes the mental states of most religious people.

I really didn't get that from the article. As far as I could tell it never did anything like survey the religious people across the world and examine the nature of their faith. The consensus of little bit of discussion here that has occurred about the article seemed to be its thesis was "the definitions of theism and atheism have changed over the centuries".

If you have another article that actually claims what you think this article claims, I will happily read it and discuss that with you. I thought the linked article was a steaming pile of shit, not just because of my Dawkinsite tendencies.

I've also noticed that the 'hard language" you're focusing on is either ignored by the majority of the followers of 98% of those mainstream religions

So if we teach these things as the received word of god, but we're just implicitly supposed to ignore them, why teach them? You can add as many epicycles about what you're supposed to actually read from the bible, but the revolution here is to just ignore it entirely.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2011


"I'm not sure what the most efficient way to lure believers out of their complacency is, but neither are you right? "

I'm pretty sure the first step is admitting our own delusions. 'Be the change you want to see', etc.
posted by fraac at 9:13 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


the first step is admitting our own delusions

Says the man that claims to know he is god and one with everything and everyone...that's comedy gold right there.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:16 AM on September 19, 2011


utterly dependent on God's Grace

Have you ever had any experiences that differed from that?
I'm not sure what you're asking. When I was an atheist, I didn't realize that I was utterly dependent on God's grace.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:20 AM on September 19, 2011


Chekhovian, it's clear you have a lot invested in your position, you're very defensive about it. I mean you pretty much want to eliminate all religions. Tell me about your father.
posted by fraac at 9:25 AM on September 19, 2011


Have you ever had any experiences that differed from that?

Alright, let me try again. Do you have any feelings of doubt or uncertainty about anything related to your faith? Nagging questions, unsatisfied feelings? Or is all battened down and boring?

I was trying to put forth the feelings I've occasionally had that would differ from strict physical reality. I don't know what they mean, and I was trying to avoid arguing their strict interpretation as I think that would divert us from the more interesting questions.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:27 AM on September 19, 2011


I mean you pretty much want to eliminate all religions.
Was I somehow unclear about this? Should I have been more strident?

Tell me about your father.
A fellow primate like anyone of us, with his own graces and flaws.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:29 AM on September 19, 2011


Fraac, that "tell me about your father" is kind of an unfair question; not everyone who's passionate about their beliefs are that passionate because of some kind of psychological "dysfunctional-family" sort of reason.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2011


Chekhovian, from the article (just for starters):

Some of us however – including many who regard ourselves as non-believers – suspect that the new new atheism forces the pace, distorts the issues, and underestimates the intelligence of its enemies. If the older versions of atheism – from Moses and Socrates to Shelley and Nietzsche – were less straightforward than they might have been, the reason may be the complexity of religious phenomena rather than the obtuseness of those who sought to describe them. The difficulty is that people may commit themselves to a religion without buying into any particular theory as to what does or does not exist: they are simply throwing in their lot with some historic community, identified not by doctrines but by rituals, stories and a shared sense of the sacred. Religion as it enters the lives of many believers will not be damaged by a demonstration that it is not much good as science, any more than poetry will be threatened by the collapse of literary theory, or capitalism by a refutation of neoclassical economics. We atheists should not assume that theory always gets the last laugh.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My only point here is that religion has a nearly unique ability to greatly magnify the already present tendencies towards evil behavior in some humans.

First up, allow my inner grammar Nazi to point out that you can't qualify "unique". Something either is unique or it isn't. Second, let me thank you for qualifying unique here, because otherwise this statement would read even more inflammatory and WRONG than it already does.

Saulgoodman pointed out earlier that it wasn't religion per say that magnified "present tendencies towards evil behavior in some humans" but marketing, often employed by certain nefarious "Religious" interests, but also often employed by certain nefarious "Political" interests ... and so on. I think he's onto something here and would love to see discussions wherein we embraced this hypothesis and took the time to seriously examine our own backyards, rather than continuing to vainly hurl dung at each others highly fortified positions.

I also like the notion of adding marketers to the "those who will hang come the revolution" crowd.
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alright, let me try again. Do you have any feelings of doubt or uncertainty about anything related to your faith? Nagging questions, unsatisfied feelings? Or is all battened down and boring?

I have feelings of doubt and uncertainty about every aspect of my faith, except for my basic belief in God. Intellectually, I acknowledge the possibility that I'm deluded even in that. However, I am committed to my faith.

I was trying to put forth the feelings I've occasionally had that would differ from strict physical reality. I don't know what they mean, and I was trying to avoid arguing their strict interpretation as I think that would divert us from the more interesting questions.

The oceanic feeling is not uncommon, and, as the WikiPedia article notes, was "explained away" by Freud. Of course, I see no reason to accept Freud's authority in the matter. The experience is yours, only you can determine its meaning for you. For what it's worth, though, my feeling is that it's an indication to you that there is meaning for you in this existence that is beyond what may be inferred from scientific laws.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


This has become a really fascinating discussion. I'm particularly entertained by all of the unsupported, non-falsifiable, bullshit factual assertions being advanced by the folks arguing against religion.

The discussion of religious people gaslighting atheists is interesting, too, in light of the fact that Dawkins' most well-known popular book is called "The God Delusion." I mean, I strongly agree that religious people should not engage in gaslighting of atheists. And I think it happens, yes. Still. The entire raison d'etre of the new atheist movement seems to be to advance the thesis that everyone in the world who is not an atheist is delusional and dangerous. So maybe we could work to stop the gaslighting on both sides of the discussion.

As someone other than me said quite early on in this discussion: "I do reasonably care when people make silly claims about my beliefs to make their own look better."

I would like to suggest that, whenever we're about to make a claim about someone else's beliefs (and especially when making a broad claim about an entire spectrum of belief like "all religion" whatever that means), we should all take a step back and consider whether that claim is supported by the sort of empirical evidence and well-defined parameters that we would like to see others use when determining their own beliefs about God or, really, anything else. Most of the contention of the last two or three days of this thread could have been avoided simply by eliminating every factual assertion by an atheist that could not be supported by the sort of evidence that high-profile public atheists typically claim is missing where religion is concerned. It is my opinion that the great enemy of peace, civility, and reason is not the concept of "religion," but the willingness of people - religious or not - to rashly embrace, repeat, assert, and act on bullshit when they think that it will advance their personal agenda.
posted by The World Famous at 11:13 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


so yeah, people who " ... rashly embrace, repeat, assert, and act on bullshit when they think that it will advance their personal agenda ..." are now added to the list of those who will be strung up come the revolution (joining marketers, bankers and bureaucrats ... and Republicans).
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on September 19, 2011


The discussion of religious people gaslighting atheists is interesting, too, in light of the fact that Dawkins' most well-known popular book is called "The God Delusion." I mean, I strongly agree that religious people should not engage in gaslighting of atheists. And I think it happens, yes. Still. The entire raison d'etre of the new atheist movement seems to be to advance the thesis that everyone in the world who is not an atheist is delusional and dangerous. So maybe we could work to stop the gaslighting on both sides of the discussion.
Eh. How exactly would you gaslight a religious believer? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I'm going by this definition: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception."

A statement like, "Belief in God is delusional" doesn't seem to fall under the category of gaslighting; it's a bold assertion, but there is no attempt to deceive someone in order to destroy their perception of reality.
posted by verb at 11:35 AM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thank you verb, so much. I hope this gaslighting word fad goes away very very quickly.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


A really interesting (and tangentially related) long piece on NY Times about Dawkins to make amends for my earlier, lazy abuse of his name. Offers some insight into the man and his ideas, and humanizes him quite a bit for me. Especially interesting was this bit below:
Professor Dawkins feels more than a tinge of regret that he and Professor Gould did not appreciate each other more.

“Gould wanted to downgrade the conceit that it all progressed towards us, towards humans, and I fully approved of that,” he says now, even as he makes sure to add, “But evolution most certainly is progressive.”

There is a final cosmic joke to be had here.

The two men quarreled about everything save their shared atheism. But Professor Dawkins’s closest intellectual ally on progressive evolution and convergence is Simon Conway Morris, the renowned Cambridge evolutionary paleontologist.

And Professor Morris, as it happens, is an Anglican and a fervent believer in a personal God. He sees convergence as hinting at a teleology, or intelligent architecture, in the universe.

Ask Professor Dawkins about his intellectual bedfellow, and his smile thins. “Yes, well, Simon and I have converged on the science,” he says. “I should think in the world there are not two evolutionary scientists who could rival each other in their enthusiasm for convergence.”
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh. How exactly would you gaslight a religious believer?

By telling them they're delusional as part of a programmatic approach designed to convince them to doubt and abandon their beliefs.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.

How does what I just described not fit that definition? Richard Dawkins' novel The God Delusion is a key part of his programmatic approach designed to convince people to doubt their own perception. His diagnosis of all belief in God as a delusion is false information, given the breadth of his brush and his failure to utilize the scientific method in order to arrive at that diagnosis with respect to each and every one of the subjects of the claim.

it's a bold assertion, but there is no attempt to deceive someone in order to destroy their perception of reality.

Dawkins is smart enough to know that his diagnosis of every "religious" person in the world as delusional cannot possibly be an accurate assertion. And I don't think it can reasonably be disputed that the purpose of Dawkins' book (if not his life's work) is to cause people to doubt their religious beliefs (i.e. their perception of reality).

I hope this gaslighting word fad goes away very very quickly.

I hope that the practice goes away. I don't really care what word is used to describe it.
posted by The World Famous at 11:58 AM on September 19, 2011


@philip-random I'd argue that marketing only works if there's something there for it to work on. There's a tendency to get religious in people, we could pontificate on how that happened, evolutionarily speaking, but I'm more interested in how that affects society than in exploring the whys and hows of the development of that tendency.

It's iffy to talk about "human nature", there's almost always a counterexample. But I'll take the risk and assert that many humans do have a religious urge. Whether that's most or not I don't know.

Point is that there's this giant emotional hook present in a lot of people. That gives the marketing something strong to work with. Especially if the marketing can tie it into other strong emotional hooks. Such as tribalism.

Other hooks, altruism for example, can also be tied into the giant emotional pull for religion. But the effects there seem less, or maybe we're looking at the general human tendency towards laziness.

I note, for example, that it was much easier for the tribalism type marketing for Proposition 8 to hook into religion and create the tangible result of people voting for Prop 8, than it is for charities to get people to donate time or money by invoking religion.

Which is why I'm arguing that it's just too dangerous to play with casually. A comparison could be made with atomic weapons, we've got the capability, but I think we'd be a lot better off if we just didn't play with them. Some stuff is just too dangerous.

Marketing, in general, is pretty iffy I'll agree. But marketing to an audience already primed with religious memes seems more dangerous than just marketing.

@EmpressCallipygos "In other words -- you know how some people are just really, really....intense about everything? Someone who's not that intense wouldn't go to either of those extremes no matter what religion tried to persuade them to do."

I agree 100%.

But I think religion can act as a way to encourage someone with the personality type to go to extremes to go to further extremes. And it also seems pretty good at convincing the less intense people to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the more intense in the name of God.

Which is why I'm arguing that we should be trying to discourage religious thought rather than making the world a safe place to express religious thought (not that any work needs be done on that last, religious thought is privileged everywhere over atheist thought, Miko's claims to the contrary notwithstanding).

So, yes, Nathan Bedford Forrest (to pick a random example) would almost certainly have been a really unpleasant person and a racist regardless of religion. I'm not claiming otherwise. What I am claiming is that his religion amplified his already extant tendencies towards being extremely unpleasant and racist, and that it helped encourage apathy or even collaboration on the part of the less naturally unpleasant people he interacted with.

Even the supposedly good and hopeful parts of religion tend to produce bad outcomes. Religious faith among black slaves in America helped suppress outright rebellion by promising rewards in heaven.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, not exactly a raging atheist, explicitly said that religion encourages the population to be less concerned about executing innocent people since religion promises those wrongfully executed a place in heaven, while to an atheist the person is just plain dead.

To me that looks like evidence that religion is, from a memetic standpoint, similar to atomic or biological weapons, something that is just so dangerous we shouldn't be playing with it.
posted by sotonohito at 11:59 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception.
@The World Famous I think you missed the key word in the definition.
posted by sotonohito at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you missed the key word in the definition.

No, I addressed the fact that the "delusion" diagnosis is patently false and scientifically laughable bullshit. It sells books and looks good on the cover of the book. Ta-da! Marketing!
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 PM on September 19, 2011


Before any progress can be made, we have to let go of the notion that we have access to a better kind of truth than the guy we're talking to. You can't fact someone into seeing things your way.
posted by fraac at 12:07 PM on September 19, 2011


@EmpressCallipygos "In other words -- you know how some people are just really, really....intense about everything? Someone who's not that intense wouldn't go to either of those extremes no matter what religion tried to persuade them to do."

I agree 100%.

But I think religion can act as a way to encourage someone with the personality type to go to extremes to go to further extremes. And it also seems pretty good at convincing the less intense people to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the more intense in the name of God.


It strikes me that we've just discovered a new angle on the "nature vs. nurture" debate, and the jury is WAY far out on that still. In this instance, I'm leaning more towards "nature"; looks like you're leaning towards "nurture".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:07 PM on September 19, 2011


Dawkins is smart enough to know that his diagnosis of every "religious" person in the world as delusional cannot possibly be an accurate assertion.
On the contrary. A delusion is "a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence." That's precisely what Dawkins believes theism is, and he makes the case forcefully. You can disagree with him, but you're confusing mere disagreement with a campaign of deception.

Ironically, you're making the same kind of totalizing statement that Dawkins is guilty of: rather than simply saying that you and he disagree on what constitutes "delusion," you're insisting that he secretly does agree with you, and is lying to everyone else to trick them.

Telling people they're delusional is not gaslighting. Conflating the two indicates that you have either never witnessed someone genuinely trying to manipulate another person to break their spirit, or you're just throwing the word around for cheap rhetorical points.

Actually having known and watched someone who really did gaslight their family members also tends to raise the bar on usage of the phrase. There's a big difference between "Trying to convince someone that they believe something delusional" and "deliberately tricking someone into losing faith in their own perceptions, so they'll be easier to manipulate."
How does what I just described not fit that definition? Richard Dawkins' novel The God Delusion is a key part of his programmatic approach designed to convince people to doubt their own perception. His diagnosis of all belief in God as a delusion is false information, given the breadth of his brush and his failure to utilize the scientific method in order to arrive at that diagnosis with respect to each and every one of the subjects of the claim.
To reiterate, delusion is "a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence." The argument hinges on the nature of the evidence -- something that is rather central to most atheist critiques of religion throughout history. Simply asserting that Dawkins is wrong, and that he must know he's wrong, and that thus he must by deliberately lying, and that thus he's gaslighting, is a rather tortured attempt to make your point.
posted by verb at 12:09 PM on September 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've never seen someone tell another person they were delusional without it being gaslighting. It's an attempt to undermine rather than engage with their belief system. Whether Dawkins is consciously gaslighting or not is surely irrelevant, no?
posted by fraac at 12:13 PM on September 19, 2011


A delusion is "a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence." That's precisely what Dawkins believes theism is, and he makes the case forcefully. You can disagree with him, but you're confusing mere disagreement with a campaign of deception.

I don't think I'm giving Dawkins too much credit when I assume that he knows that not all religious believe is "absolute conviction."

The title of his book is a marketing move. Dawkins is not an idiot. He knows that.

Telling people they're delusional is not gaslighting.

Telling people you don't know and whose beliefs (and the depth thereof) you cannot possibly know that they are delusional, with the express purpose of causing them to doubt and abandon those beliefs, is, by definition, gaslighting.

Simply asserting that Dawkins is wrong, and that he must know he's wrong, and that thus he must by deliberately lying, and that thus he's gaslighting, is a rather tortured attempt to make your point.

I don't think it's tortured to assert that Dawkins is smart enough to know that the title of his book is marketing bullshit.

There's a big difference between "Trying to convince someone that they believe something delusional" and "deliberately tricking someone into losing faith in their own perceptions, so they'll be easier to manipulate."

I strongly agree with you. If I had said that Dawkins is "deliberately tricking someone into losing faith in their own perceptions, so they'll be easier to manipulate," I would have been mistaken.
posted by The World Famous at 12:19 PM on September 19, 2011


Funny aside: Dawkins' concept of the extended phenotype, as first described in The Selfish Gene, was such a revelation to me that it formed a crucial part of my religious epiphany. Brilliantly smart guy, should have stuck to biology.
posted by fraac at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2011


I've never seen someone tell another person they were delusional without it being gaslighting. It's an attempt to undermine rather than engage with their belief system.
The question, of course, boils down to whether the information being presented to the subject is false or not. If you tell a schizophrenic that they're delusional, are you gaslighting them? If you tell someone who sees invisible birds circling their head that they're delusional, are you gaslighting them? If you tell someone who hears voices in their head that they're delusional, are you gaslighting them? If you tell a cult member that their delif in the leader's immortality is delusional, are you gaslighting them?

No.

You could be wrong in labeling their beliefs delusional, and you could be an ass for arguing that they're delusional without weighing all possibilities, but that's not gaslighting. Words have meaning, and if you want to expand it to include simply "disagreeing with someone about whether their beliefs are based in reality," then we must accept that all religious evangelism is gaslighting.
Whether Dawkins is consciously gaslighting or not is surely irrelevant, no?
It's quite relevant. Please, once again, read the definition of "gaslighting" or use a less loaded word, like "belligerence."
posted by verb at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you tell a schizophrenic that they're delusional, are you gaslighting them?

That depends. Do you know they're a schizophrenic, or do they just happen to be one of the billion or so people you called delusional on the cover of your book?

If you tell someone who sees invisible birds circling their head that they're delusional, are you gaslighting them?

That depends. Do they hold that belief with absolute conviction?
posted by The World Famous at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2011


But if your looking for root causes, the practice of marketing ideas is the root cause.

It's hard not to notice that you're marketing an idea, here (and, amusingly, one which seems to have convinced someone else to call for the death of others). This, like Miko's argument about how "pushing your worldview" is bad, strikes me as a double-standard at best and a tautology at worst. I'd go so far as to say that discussion involves the practice of marketing ideas... and even the idea that this is false must, naturally, be marketed (or "pushed", or however else you want to label the attempt to spread an idea). One may as well claim (and I've seen it done) that "humanity" is the root cause of everything, therefore no other cause can be discussed.

At any rate, I don't think Atrocity: The Collectible Card Game has much bearing on atheism or religion, though it is fun to play. I think it's clear that religion both causes and magnifies atrocity, but since other things do, too, it's easy for theists to discount this argument. To my mind, most of religion's greatest harms are social and systemic, and persist whether there's an atrocity going on or not; likewise, I doubt anyone here would argue that [insert ideology here] can only ever be negative if and when its followers start throwing people into camps. Ideas affect society, though we may disagree on what those effects are.

If the act of spreading ideas is inevitable (or, at least, very difficult to avoid), and ideas have an effect on society, then the question is simply this: which ideas are best to spread, and why? Why is religion worth spreading? In particular, why do so many "believers of a post-superstitious persuasion" a la the article consider religion the idea worth spreading, defending, and belonging to, rather than their own "varieties of irreligious experiences"? I have yet to see an answer which doesn't also apply to non-religious life, other than the idea that religious concepts have actual, literal existence or action/influence which is independent from human beings.

Because we don't have a strong social framework for feelings of transcendent wonder, awe, joy, self-actualization, etc which aren't implicitly based on the supernatural, many of us tend to assume that the existence of these feelings necessarily implies the supernatural. But if not -- if these feelings are actually open and available to all of us due to our neurology -- then much of the argument for religion (as opposed to varieties of irreligious experiences) evaporates.
posted by vorfeed at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


@The World Famous So you have evidence indicating that there is a god? If so can you please present it?

If not, can you acknowledge that by all standards of correctness it is factual that there probably isn't a god, so therefore telling people that there probably isn't a god is, in absolutely no way, false?
posted by sotonohito at 12:34 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The question, of course, boils down to whether the information being presented to the subject is false or not."

No, it doesn't. Belief in the notion that your truth is more valid than theirs is precisely the kind of religious thinking that new atheists display. If you tell someone they're delusional, you're abusing them 100% of the time. Unless you want to stick around to rebuild their ego structure into something healthier, you have absolutely no business telling someone they're delusional. It's gaslighting.
posted by fraac at 12:36 PM on September 19, 2011


That depends. Do you know they're a schizophrenic--
I'm going to go out on a limb right now, and say this: if you believe that aliens are secretly communicating to you through your mind, you are delusional. That statement could be wrong, and I could later be proven incorrect, but am I "gaslighting" simply because I have not personally, individually interviewed every person who claims aliens are communicating with them through their fillings?
...or do they just happen to be one of the billion or so people you called delusional on the cover of your book?
The cover of "The God Delusion" includes the words "The God Delusion," and "by Richard Dawkins." Can you please identify which of those six words specifically referred to each of the billion or so theists in the world? If you want to make a big deal and say that "The cover of his book is gaslighting," you're going to need to try a bit harder.

I'm going to go out on a limb, again, and posit that you've never seen gaslighting in the real world. I'm talking about people allowing their children to be abused -- then telling those children that it never happened. I'm talking about a husband rearranging the kitchen while his wife is out then insisting it's exactly as she left it when she is disoriented. I'm talking about a group leader ordering their followers to deny that an embarrassing prediction was ever made -- in order to convince a troublemaker they'd simply "imagined" the prediction.

Writing a book saying, "Belief in X is delusional," and laying out the case for it in that book? Yeah. You can disagree with the case the person makes, but that is not gaslighting.
posted by verb at 12:38 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My point about conscious or not was: how can we know? If it looks like a gaslight and quacks like a gaslight...
posted by fraac at 12:38 PM on September 19, 2011


My point about conscious or not was: how can we know?
Perhaps by reading what 'Gaslighting' means.
posted by verb at 12:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, I shouldn't have said "marketing is the root cause" so much as marketing is the tool that most satisfies the original characterization of religion as history's most powerful tool for persuading good people to make evil choices.

This, like Miko's argument about how "pushing your worldview" is bad, strikes me as a double-standard at best and a tautology at worst. I'd go so far as to say that discussion involves the practice of marketing ideas

No, no--I'm concerned here with how we now have an extremely sophisticated body of knowledge and entire fields of scientific study that even go into the biology of manipulating people into doing/thinking what you want them to through indirect, deceptive or psychologically manipulative techniques.

We've gone well beyond the art of rhetoric in the marketing sciences. We study in the minutest details how to best trick people into feeling very attached to products/ideas they would otherwise care nothing about. We've raised psychological manipulation to high art through the modern practices of mass and niche marketing.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:41 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


accurately describes the mental states of most religious people

Dude, the article didn't prove that this is true. He said it could be true, but he didn't do a sociological study that established it to so. Apparently you feel very strongly that it is true, but that does not make it true or make the article well written (it isn't).

Religion as it enters the lives of many believers will not be damaged by a demonstration that it is not much good as science

Maybe not, but intellectual honesty and the fate of the planet demands that we try.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2011


It's true. The new religions that you should be worried about are already working on you. You don't hate them because you're their bitch. So long as you don't notice I guess it's okay.

verb: if you know for sure at what level of consciousness someone does something you're more perceptive than I am. I tend to look at behaviour and outcomes, just simpler.
posted by fraac at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2011


Maybe a better way to put it is something like "using the tools of communication for purposes of persuasion and manipulation." That's the root I'm trying to get at.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2011


fraac, I've never flagged a comment before, you're my first!
posted by Chekhovian at 12:48 PM on September 19, 2011


Those who find themselves liberated from the old superstitions believe themselves now to have freed themselves from all superstition, since in their ignorance of the true nature of superstition, they think that it may be overcome, and so go on arguing about it in purely negative terms, there being now nothing left to believe in....—Constantin Brunner / Spinoza contra Kant.
posted by No Robots at 12:53 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, though, my feeling is that it's an indication to you that there is meaning for you in this existence that is beyond what may be inferred from scientific laws.

Maybe. Thanks for the wiki link btw. This ongoing revolution in the science of the brain is going to be very interesting. no reason to accept Freud's authority. Does anyone accept anything that guy said as 100% truth anymore?

Saul, great find on the Dawkins article. Great lunch time reading.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2011


Dude, the article didn't prove that this is true. He said it could be true, but he didn't do a sociological study that established it to so.

My point isn't that it is true. My point is that it's what's at issue here — and that we'll get nowhere if Dawkins-type atheists just keep insisting, based on nothing, that it can't possibly be true, or that the only coherent basis for a discussion is accepting that it's not true and that their (the Dawkinsites') understanding of religious belief must be the basis of all debate.

(Whether a "sociological study" could establish the nature of people's beliefs is another matter. These are pretty complex areas in terms of the philosophy of mind and the degree to which people's verbal reports accurately describe their inner lives, etc.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 1:01 PM on September 19, 2011


verb: if you know for sure at what level of consciousness someone does something you're more perceptive than I am.
I've made no such claim, and I'd appreciate you not implying that I did. Thanks!

What I said was that characterizing a particular kind of belief as 'delusion' because you find insufficient evidence for it is not "gaslighting." English is a rich language with lots of different words you can use to describe things you disagree with -- even things you think are mean and can hurt other people. The fact that "gaslighting" is an inappropriate characterization of what's being discussed doesn't mean you have to agree with Dawkins or thing that he is a nice man.
I tend to look at behaviour and outcomes, just simpler.
It's simpler, but often incorrect. For example, in your above comments you've stated that any time someone says that another person is delusional, unless they stick around to "build up the person's ego afterwards," they are gaslighting. You're measuring simple behavior and outcomes, to be sure, but you're also making up fanciful definitions for words that have actual complex, nuanced meanings beyond what you describe.

It's perfectly fine to say that calling religious belief "delusion" is rude, belligerent, arrogant, and so on. To say that calling religious belief "delusion" is feeding false information to a person in order to undermine their own trust in their own perceptions? That's in impressive display of rhetorical overreach that even Dawkins might blush at.
posted by verb at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2011


"Those who find themselves liberated from the old superstitions believe themselves now to have freed themselves from all superstition, since in their ignorance of the true nature of superstition, they think that it may be overcome, and so go on arguing about it in purely negative terms, there being now nothing left to believe in...."

That's it exactly. People in this thread genuinely believe they have access to a higher form of truth. And they're totally blind to how illogical this is.
posted by fraac at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2011


That's it exactly. People in this thread genuinely believe they have access to a higher form of truth. And they're totally blind to how illogical this is.
So, just to be clear... are you gaslighting me?
posted by verb at 1:08 PM on September 19, 2011


I dunno, fraac. I do think that some people do have access to a higher form of truth. But part of that truth is that there is no absolute untruth, that there is only truth and distortions thereof.
posted by No Robots at 1:09 PM on September 19, 2011


@fraac "Belief in the notion that your truth is more valid than theirs is precisely the kind of religious thinking that new atheists display."

???

"your truth"?

There is no my truth. There is no your truth. There is truth.

Everyone gets their own opinion, but they don't get their own facts.

Either 2+2=4 [1], or it doesn't.

Either god exists, or god does not.

Either Nazi Germany carried out a program of genocide against Jews, or they didn't.

Either Obama became president on January 20, 2008 or he didn't.

There is no such thing as my truth and your truth. There is only truth. Only facts.

Sometimes finding the facts is difficult, sometimes we lack the tools to determine what the facts are, but always there is only one truth.

Once we get into opinions things change, which ice cream flavor is best? Answer: that's a matter of opinion, there's no such thing as a factual determination of such things.

But when it comes to facts there's no such thing as my truth or someone else's truth. I can't claim "my truth" is more valid than someone else's, because that's nonsense.

"That's it exactly. People in this thread genuinely believe they have access to a higher form of truth."

Nope, I just believe I've got access to better (ie: more accurate) information about what really is true. Probably a fair amount (or even most, or possibly even all) of what I think is true is wrong, if so we'll find that out as better information becomes available and I'll change my mind. But I don't believe I've got access to a "higher form of truth" because there is no such thing.

[1] Using base 10.
posted by sotonohito at 1:12 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


genuinely believe they have access to a higher form of truth

Oooh this is good! Let's rephrase. Is our understanding of the universe progressively improving?

fraac, look at the box in front of you, you know, the one with the glowing screen. Maybe your fingers are on some sort of studded grid. How does that box function? How does it connect you to so many people around the world instantly? Is it magic or revealed truth? Did you say a prayer to start it up (of course that may be a yes if you run windows)

Science has simultaneously increased both the breadth of our knowledge and its depth. And it will only improve, and we will eventually have a physical theory of the mind, including as a subset a physical theory for the origin of religion.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:13 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe a better way to put it is something like "using the tools of communication for purposes of persuasion and manipulation." That's the root I'm trying to get at.

And, again, this is what nearly everyone does. Anyone who attempts to convince someone else of an idea is "using the tools of communication for purposes of persuasion and manipulation".

The idea that we now have "an extremely sophisticated body of knowledge and entire fields of scientific study that even go into the biology of manipulating people into doing/thinking what you want them to through indirect, deceptive or psychologically manipulative techniques" is incompatible with the idea that that's what religious people 2,000 years ago or more were doing. Either ancient religious people were marketing -- in which case marketing cannot be a new and special phenomenon -- or marketing is a new and special phenomenon, in which case ancient religious people were not actually marketing.

I think you're conflating marketing, as in "the marketing sciences", with "the marketing of ideas".
posted by vorfeed at 1:13 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I dunno, fraac. I do think that some people do have access to a higher form of truth. But part of that truth is that there is no absolute untruth, that there is only truth and distortions thereof."

Hey, you don't need to tell me. I believe I'm God. I recommend this, btw. Means you needn't fear anyone else's beliefs.

verb: if the definition of gaslighting is "a conscious effort to..." then indeed the victims would always have to ask.
posted by fraac at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2011


we will eventually have a physical theory of the mind, including as a subset a physical theory for the origin of religion.

This is the core of the new progressivist physicalist superstition.
posted by No Robots at 1:16 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


verb: if the definition of gaslighting is "a conscious effort to..." then indeed the victims would always have to ask.
By your definition, you are in fact gaslighting me and everyone else in this thread who disagrees with you. By my definition, it's uncertain.

I'm curious to see which definition you go with.
posted by verb at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2011


So we have all of the history of science suggesting that it will be possible, what do you have?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2011


I have Spinoza: Omnia animata (everything thinks).
posted by No Robots at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


we will eventually have a physical theory of the mind, including as a subset a physical theory for the origin of religion.
This is the core of the new progressivist physicalist superstition.


As opposed to what? The idea that we can never have a physical theory of the mind? How is that not also a "superstition"?

I personally oppose the certainty that we will eventually have such a theory, since any number of circumstances could arise... but is the development of such a theory possible, and perhaps even likely? I think so, and saying so doesn't seem like superstition to me.
posted by vorfeed at 1:26 PM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone who attempts to convince someone else of an idea is "using the tools of communication for purposes of persuasion and manipulation".

No--I mean when they try to do it not by engaging the person on the other end of the dialogue directly and consensually, but by tricking them using communication that seems unrelated to the actual aims of the communication. Like how ads barely seem to tell you anything about the products, because their real aim is something else--to get you to associate certain kinds of images designed to evoke a feeling in you without your knowledge or consent to trick you into some behavior (brand loyalty) long into the future.

I'm telling you what I'm talking about directly and asking you to consider the merits of what I'm claiming here. I'm not, for example, putting together what appears to be a humanist dance troupe organization with the intent of undermining the leftist counterculture, or setting up a news outlet branded as "fair and balanced" solely as a political tool to create the perception that the media was previously biased.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2011


This "physical theory of mind" business comes up periodically on MetaFilter. Here it's a derail.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:29 PM on September 19, 2011


I'm not sure this thread was ever on the rail.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"using the tools of communication for purposes of persuasion and manipulation."

I'd drop persuasion, which for me carries no particular negative.

per·suadeVerb/pərˈswād/
1. Cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument.

And ...

Either 2+2=4 [1], or it doesn't.

What if it's two drops of water joining two other drops of water. That just equals one larger drop of water, doesn't it?

Certainty is a certain sign of inaccuracy.
posted by philip-random at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2011


What if it's two drops of water joining two other drops of water. That just equals one larger drop of water, doesn't it?

Yeah, and 2 cats + 4 oranges isn't 6 dogs. Clearly math is wrong.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2011


I'm not sure this thread was ever on the rail.

Actually, for a thread as full of passion as this one is, folks are, for the most part, doing a pretty good job of listening to each other ... for a MeFi religious thread.
posted by philip-random at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


verb: I don't think "the God delusion" is the same as "and they don't even know!" because where Dawkins wants to be right, I want to be wrong. I win when people engage honestly with me. And so do they. That act of engagement is everything.
posted by fraac at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2011


or marketing is a new and special phenomenon, in which case ancient religious people were not actually marketing.

I get your point, and I am muddling my own here pretty badly, but ultimately it's the urge or the desire to manipulate people through deceptive/manipulative communication that I'm meaning to characterize in the term "marketing." Probably not fair to the industry as a whole, but only a certain subset of it, but I can't think of a better term for it right now.

I'd drop persuasion, which for me carries no particular negative.

Your right. What I'm trying to put my finger on is not about persuasion, but about coercion that looks like persuasion.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2011


Ah, hell, it's just the will to power, isn't it? That's the problem. Not religion.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't hate them because you're their bitch. So long as you don't notice I guess it's okay

That act of engagement is everything


I guess you never specified that was supposed to be civilized engagement.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:38 PM on September 19, 2011


Actually, for a thread as full of passion as this one is, folks are, for the most part, doing a pretty good job of listening to each other ... for a MeFi religious thread.

I've noticed this too. I've been sitting here thinking, "yay us!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm telling you what I'm talking about directly and asking you to consider the merits of what I'm claiming here. I'm not, for example, putting together what appears to be a humanist dance troupe organization with the intent of undermining the leftist counterculture, or setting up a news outlet branded as "fair and balanced" solely as a political tool to create the perception that the media was previously biased.

OK, sure, but I see very little reason to believe that this is what "religions throughout history" were doing "to make otherwise good people do bad things". And that's what you claimed, not once but several times. You've got to really stretch to argue that religious persecutions and atrocities were all undertaken with "communication unrelated to the actual aims of the communication"... or, on preview, that they all involved "the urge or the desire to manipulate people through deceptive/manipulative communication" or "coercion that looks like persuasion". As far as anyone can tell, many religious leaders throughout history actually believed their own hype, and many of their followers were not coerced.

Also on preview: no, the will to power is the solution! \m/
posted by vorfeed at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: that's interesting. You have no problem with the abuser but react against the one pointing it out.
posted by fraac at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2011


Yes. Religious peoples of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your atheist oppressors!
posted by Chekhovian at 1:45 PM on September 19, 2011


Well, the communication channels and brand loyalty to Religion are what bad actors use to try to coerce/trick otherwise good people into doing bad things. But as with the example of Social Darwinism's influence on Eugenics programs in the US, it's not just religion that's exploited in these ways. It's also nationalism. Or family loyalty. It's any idea from any domain of human social existence that matters deeply to someone--including science--that those who want to impose their will on the world without first getting its informed consent use to get traction.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2011


It's more like there are those who have freed themselves from both religious dogma and physicalist dogma. It is of course in the interests of these two superstitions to make out they constitute the only two viable options.
posted by No Robots at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2011


both religious dogma and physicalist dogma
So you're free from everything that doesn't exist and free from everything that does exist?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:52 PM on September 19, 2011


Yup.
posted by No Robots at 1:55 PM on September 19, 2011


You all know that you can call McDonalds and have them strip search their staff, right?

Religion is not the problem. The problem is people being followers rather than gods.
posted by fraac at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2011


verb: I don't think "the God delusion" is the same as "and they don't even know!" because where Dawkins wants to be right, I want to be wrong. I win when people engage honestly with me. And so do they. That act of engagement is everything.
fraac, both you and The World Famous seem determined to tilt at this particular windmill. Not only are you inventing your own ridiculously broad definition for the word "Gaslighting" in order to piggyback on its emotional weight, you're getting tangled up trying to explain why your sweeping statements are different than other peoples' sweeping statements.

You're the one who insists that simply using the word "delusion" to refer to a belief is gaslighting because it makes an authoritative statement about another person's perception of reality. Yet, less than an hour ago you said that people who disagree with you in this thread "believe they have access to a higher form of truth," and are "blind."

Now, you defend that by saying that you'd love to be wrong, while Dawkins wants to be correct. This undermines your earlier claim that you don't pretend to know Dawkins' motivations. If we can only go by 'behaviors and outcomes,' then your speculation about Dawkins' motives and your insistence that you'd be happy to be wrong are equally irrelevant.

By your own definition, you're gaslighting.

You're digging yourself into a hole simply because you can't let go of a single loaded word: "gaslighting." It has a particular meaning, and when you and The World Famous were called on it, you engaged in strange contortions to justify its use. As I said earlier, there's nothing wrong with calling Dawkins arrogant, egocentric, blustery, antagonistic, or even 'wrong.' Those words have genuine meaning, and you're free to use them even though 'gaslighting' is an unfair and incorrect summary of both Dawkins' critiques of theism and the theistic critiques of his beliefs.
posted by verb at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


So you're free from everything that doesn't exist and free from everything that does exist?
Yup.


So this is like the philosophical equivalent of a quantum computer? Your new dogma would then be some sort of simultaneous superposition of all sorts of things. Can you diagonalize that matrix and tell me its eigenvalues? And shit, no wonder these fuzzy guys are so hard to measure!
posted by Chekhovian at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2011


you can't let go of a single loaded word: "gaslighting."
And please can't we at least use words related to modern experience? Have any of you ever seen a gaslight?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2011


Nietzsche, for all his brilliance, was a walking disaster who died institutionalized with neuro-syphillis after getting into a fight with some random guy he encountered in the street who was flogging a horse too hard. The will to power was his answer to everything. Funny that. Guy who may have had neuro-syphillis for decades walking around, thinking he sees a particular set of recurring, meaningful patterns everywhere he looks. Hard for me to take seriously anymore. Sorry.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:03 PM on September 19, 2011


Orwell: Politics and the English Language

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution ) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed . Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line . Another example is the hammer and the anvil , now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2011


oops. that was to vorfeed.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2011


I'd never heard of gaslighting before today and I'm only looking it up now. Okay. Dawkins calling his book that isn't gaslighting, but calling someone emotionally involved with you 'delusional' would be. You can't get out of it by doing it subconsciously. Though that's off-topic.
posted by fraac at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2011


I'd never heard of gaslighting before today and I'm only looking it up now. Okay. Dawkins calling his book that isn't gaslighting, but calling someone emotionally involved with you 'delusional' would be. You can't get out of it by doing it subconsciously. Though that's off-topic.
fraac, thanks. I appreciate that and am also happy to acknowledge that 'gaslighting' is a hot button for me, as people I care for have been subjected to it for years by their abusers. Using it as a stand-in for "rude, or even abusive language" minimizes something genuinely and intentionally manipulative.
posted by verb at 2:13 PM on September 19, 2011


@Chekhovian Completely off topic, but I did just yesterday. They're somewhat popular in the lawns of rich people in Amarillo TX, don't know why.
posted by sotonohito at 2:15 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: you don't take Nietzsche seriously, yet you're willing to state that the will to power "is the problem"? If you really think that a particular theory is no more than the result of "neuro-syphillis" and "a particular set of recurring, meaningful patterns everywhere he looks", I'd suggest not bringing it up out of nowhere as "the problem" with the world.

By the way, "any idea from any domain of human social existence that matters deeply to someone--including science--that those who want to impose their will on the world without first getting its informed consent use to get traction" equals "marketing"? Talk about seeing a recurring, meaningful pattern everywhere you look!
posted by vorfeed at 2:28 PM on September 19, 2011


sotonohito:

So you have evidence indicating that there is a god? If so can you please present it?

What do you mean by "evidence?" I will stipulate that the existence of God is not falsifiable and cannot be proved.

If not, can you acknowledge that by all standards of correctness it is factual that there probably isn't a god,

Probability does not follow from your initial premise. I'm afraid I cannot stipulate regarding the probability of the existence or non-existence of something fitting whatever definition of "God" you're using.

so therefore telling people that there probably isn't a god is, in absolutely no way, false?

I'm not sure how that's relevant to what we were discussing, which was the title of Dawkins' book "The God Delusion." If you cannot see the difference between telling someone that there probably is not a god and telling them that they are delusional, I'm not sure what the point is in discussing it with you.

verb:

I'm going to go out on a limb right now, and say this: if you believe that aliens are secretly communicating to you through your mind, you are delusional.

You're right that that is going out on a limb, given that your assertion is contrary to the definition of the word "delusional" that you previously provided. If you're going to insist on rigid adherence to a specific definition, you should adhere to your proposed definition (particularly when you cared enough about that definition to give it twice in one comment).

Writing a book saying, "Belief in X is delusional," and laying out the case for it in that book?

Dawkins does not lay out the case for all belief in God being delusional in The God Delusion. He lays out the case for why a specific set of arguments in favor of the existence of god are bad arguments.

I'm going to go out on a limb, again, and posit that you've never seen gaslighting in the real world.

I'll stipulate that there has been no gaslighting of atheists in this thread. How's that? If you disagree, then you can't really say I have never seen any, right?

What I said was that characterizing a particular kind of belief as 'delusion' because you find insufficient evidence for it is not "gaslighting."

Ah. Then you weren't disagreeing with me at all. Which is fine. Arguing about what is or is not gaslighting is sort of stupid. I thought it was interesting that people here were claiming that atheists were being gaslighted. You have now asserted that I have never seen gaslighting. That's fine. You and I agree that there has been no gaslighting of atheists in this thread.

It's perfectly fine to say that calling religious belief "delusion" is rude, belligerent, arrogant, and so on. To say that calling religious belief "delusion" is feeding false information to a person in order to undermine their own trust in their own perceptions? That's in impressive display of rhetorical overreach that even Dawkins might blush at.

I've already demonstrated how calling his book "The God Delusion" fits each of the elements of the provided definition of the term "gaslighting" above. I'm not going to do it again. You have not actually disagreed with what I actually wrote, and that's fine. I also pointed out the flaws in your application of the definition of "delusion" that you repeatedly urged me to use. But you ignored that and keep hammering away at something I didn't say. That's fine. I agree with your analysis of what I didn't say.

Calling all religious belief "delusional" is bullshit, particularly in the context of the definition of "delusion" that you, verb, offered twice in the same comment. If you cannot understand why, then I respectfully submit that you either do not understand the breadth of religious belief or that you are perhaps defining "religious belief" too narrowly to discuss reasonably.

fraac, both you and The World Famous seem determined to tilt at this particular windmill. Not only are you inventing your own ridiculously broad definition for the word "Gaslighting" in order to piggyback on its emotional weight, you're getting tangled up trying to explain why your sweeping statements are different than other peoples' sweeping statements.

Actually, I was applying the definition of "gaslighting" that you provided here. But I agree with you that nobody in this thread has engaged in gaslighting. My initial observation was not that Dawkins' book is engaged in gaslighting, but just that the discussion of gaslighting in this thread (which you and I agree is incorrect) is interesting in the context of the existence of Dawkins' unfortunately-titled book. When you offered your definition of "gaslighting," I responded by showing you how its elements may be satisfied. Then I showed you how your application of your definition of "delusional" was incorrect. But I agree with you. It's not gaslighting, there has been no gaslighting in this thread, it's pointless to argue about whether something is or is not gaslighting, and not all religious people are delusional. Ok?
posted by The World Famous at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2011


The entire raison d'etre of the new atheist movement seems to be to advance the thesis that everyone in the world who is not an atheist is delusional and dangerous. So maybe we could work to stop the gaslighting on both sides of the discussion.
Advancing the thesis that someone is delusional is not gaslighting. Presenting false evidence to them, in order to trick them into questioning their own memory and perception, is gaslighting. I'm sorry that you are confused by this.
When you offered your definition of "gaslighting," I responded by showing you how its elements may be satisfied. Then I showed you how your application of your definition of "delusional" was incorrect.
Your disagreement with Dawkins' conclusions and the means by which he arrives at them does not magically make his book "gaslighting." Again, I'm sorry that you find this confusing or frustrating, but you've made very clear on several occasions in this thread that you believe his book is part of a deliberate campaign of deception. The evidence you have produced thus far is that he named the book "The God Delusion."

Weaksauce.

Again, the irony is that you're doing precisely the same thing you accuse Dawkins of. He concludes that no rational person could believe in God, and declares it delusion. You conclude that no honest person could call believe in God delusion, and declare him a deliberate liar.
posted by verb at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2011


Advancing the thesis that someone is delusional is not gaslighting. Presenting false evidence to them, in order to trick them into questioning their own memory and perception, is gaslighting. I'm sorry that you are confused by this.

Is it gaslighting when you tell me I'm confused instead of conversing in good faith?

Your disagreement with Dawkins' conclusions and the means by which he arrives at them does not magically make his book "gaslighting."

I didn't say it does. I applied your definitions.

Again, I'm sorry that you find this confusing or frustrating

I don't find it confusing or frustrating. Why are you trying to convince me that I'm confused or frustrated? Are you trying to get me to doubt my perception?

but you've made very clear on several occasions in this thread that you believe his book is part of a deliberate campaign of deception.

I said no such thing. I said it's part of a deliberate campaign to convince people who believe in God to doubt that particular belief (i.e. their perception of reality). If you'd like to address what I actually said, that would be fine. But please don't pretend I said things I didn't.

Of course, as I stated above, you and I are in complete agreement that nobody in this thread has engaged in gaslighting, no atheists here have been gaslighted, I have not seen any gaslighting in this thread (unless you telling me I'm confused counts), and religious people are not all necessarily delusional. We also agree that fighting about the semantics of whether "gaslighting" is a term properly applied to the title of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a waste of time. Right?
posted by The World Famous at 3:19 PM on September 19, 2011


He concludes that no rational person could believe in God

He also calls belief in God "delusional," not just "irrational."

You conclude that no honest person could call believe in God delusion, and declare him a deliberate liar.

No. I conclude that Dawkins is a smart enough scientist to know that it is inaccurate at best to claim that everyone in the world who believes in God is delusional. Honest people could call belief in God "delusion." But not if they're also smart. I'm doing Dawkins a favor by pointing out that the title of his book is marketing. Because the alternative is that he's an idiot. I don't think he's an idiot. I just think the title of the book is marketing.
posted by The World Famous at 3:23 PM on September 19, 2011


Is it gaslighting when you tell me I'm confused instead of conversing in good faith?
No, I assume you're intelligent enough to understand what's being said, and that a simple misunderstand must be responsible for the bizarre linguistic contortions you're engaging in.
I didn't say it does. I applied your definitions.
My definition was copied and pasted from the Wikipedia article for "Gaslighting."
I said [Dawkins' book title is] part of a deliberate campaign to convince people who believe in God to doubt that particular belief (i.e. their perception of reality).
That's not the definition of Gaslighting, however, and given your insistence that you're simply applying the definition from Wikipedia, I can only conclude that you are confused. Either you didn't actually read the definition, or didn't understand it. "Working to convince someone that their belief is incorrect" is not "gaslighting." Even "lying to someone" is not "gaslighting."
We also agree that fighting about the semantics of whether "gaslighting" is a term properly applied to the title of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a waste of time. Right?
Not really. "Gaslighting" is, as I said earlier, something of a hot button for me. I've watched as loved ones endured it at the hands of sociopathic family members. Tossing it around willy-nilly because you take exception to the title of Dawkins' book is offensive. Perhaps not to you, perhaps not to others, but certainly to those who've had to endure the world-twisting, mind-bending task of holding on to reality as an authority figure works to tear it apart.

Words have meaning, and meaning is important. If you'd rather take it to memail, I'd be happy to continue.
posted by verb at 3:44 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since when are "convincing", "persuading", "marketing ideas", "pushing worldviews" etc. the ultimate in terrible horrible no good very bad things, anyway? Did I miss a memo?
posted by vorfeed at 3:54 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Working to convince someone that their belief is incorrect" is not "gaslighting." Even "lying to someone" is not "gaslighting."

I agree with you completely and without reservation.

That's not the definition of Gaslighting, however, and given your insistence that you're simply applying the definition from Wikipedia, I can only conclude that you are confused.

I was just correcting you when you misquoted (or mis-paraphrased) me. Now that I know that you want me to repeat the application of the definition, I'll walk you through it. But again, I think it's pointless to argue about this, and I agree with you that throwing around the word "gaslighting" here is counterproductive and that no atheists have been gaslighted in this thread.

According to both you and, apparently, Wikipedia, the following is what constitutes "gaslighting": "false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception." So let's apply that definition to Dawkins' The God Delusion.

Prong 1: False Information - The information presented by the title of the book is that belief in the existence of God is a delusion (with the implication that, if you believe in God, dear reader, you are delusional). So let's examine that information. You, verb, wrote "A delusion is 'a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence.'" Does everyone who believes in God do so with absolute conviction? No, they do not (in the interest of avoiding un-cited factual assertions, I offer myself as one example). Therefore, not all belief in God is a delusion, and, to the extent that The God Delusion's title states or implies that all belief in God is delusional, it is false information and we can move to the next prong.

Prong 2: Presented To The Victim - Yes, the book is presented to religious and non-religious people alike.

Prong 3: With The Intent of Making Them Doubt Their Own Memory And Perception - I don't think it is seriously disputed that Dawkins' intent is to make religious people doubt their perception that God exists. Is it?

Now, is The God Delusion an example of gaslighting? I don't know. Frankly, I don't care. But the definition you provided applies as illustrated above. You may disagree with me, and that's fine, too.

Tossing it around willy-nilly because you take exception to the title of Dawkins' book is offensive.

I'm not tossing it around. I pointed out that it was interesting that people other than me here were tossing it around. Then you told me that I was wrong about something I didn't assert and I responded by demonstrating that the title of Dawkins' book actually does fit the definition that you put forth.
posted by The World Famous at 4:30 PM on September 19, 2011


Well, this account hasn't been deleted yet so I'll explain what I meant above by "gaslighting." Perhaps "shifting goalposts" is a better term for it. It's also connected to why I think the "tone argument" is ultimately an unwinnable one. One thread of this conversation was:

1) Atheists don't understand spirituality. (We have spiritual experiences.)
2) Why do you identify as an atheist if you have spiritual experiences? (Those experiences don't necessarily involve a god.)
3) Why do don't you identify as religious rather than atheist? (Many atheists do identify as religious, they're not incompatible.)
4) Hey, I'm now a religious atheist and you're doing it wrong by using question marks!
5) Hey, I'm a religious atheist and you're just not seeing the isomporphisms!
6) If you object to being stereotyped as an anti-theist, you must have some latent identity with anti-theism.

This is an extreme example of what frequently seems to happen in discussions about spiritual atheism and religious humanism. Hokey pokey around the definitions of "god," "religious," and "faith" are also typical. I've been hit so many times with "this is spiritual... but not when you do it" that I've grown deeply paranoid about both my own perceptions and what my religious peers mean when they say it.

That's not a good doubt, that's a painful and crippling doubt.

The tone argument is the fallacy that we'd be heard if only we were nicer. In my experience, that just doesn't work. GRAR between anti-theists and advocates of religious tolerance appears to overwhelm any other topic under discussion here. It's spawned hundreds of posts even when atheism wasn't mentioned in the FPP. And, it ignores the problem of bias on the part of the reader/listener. That's not license for unintentional rudeness, just a disclaimer that atheists can't be held responsible for failing to change minds.

I've been pondering questions related to my spirituality and life for, well, my entire life and I'm reluctant to make conclusions about myself as an atheist. I've learned that every time I dare to say something about someone else's beliefs, that I'm oversimplifying at best and just plain wrong at worst. So most of this discussion reads like bullshit to me. People are attacking each other's beliefs, and the beliefs of non-participating strawmen, while generally refusing to talk about their own beliefs. And to me, it's pretty messed up to prefer to attack what you don't understand than to describe what you do.

I'm certainly part of the problem, so I apologize to anyone I've hurt in this. Which is winding up to the confession that this flavor of discourse hurts now. Five years ago, I would have found it fun. But I feel like I'm playing whack-a-mole on stereotypes and playing hokey pokey with arbitrary and changing boundaries. While this flavor of discourse might be good for something, it's not good for me. Maybe I'm getting old.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:44 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree with you, KirkJobSluder, except for the part where you say that you're part of the problem.

The most interesting thing about this thread has been how many really insightful and intellectually open and honest comments there have been on both (every?) side of the discussion. Really good stuff.
posted by The World Famous at 5:01 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since when are "convincing", "persuading", "marketing ideas", "pushing worldviews" etc. the ultimate in terrible horrible no good very bad things, anyway? Did I miss a memo?

Extrapolate and call it all propaganda and I'm thinking you can tie to an ugly little guy called Joe Goebbels, in Berlin circa 1926.

not that I'd want to Godwin the thread or anything
posted by philip-random at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2011


It survived your first Godwin-ing.

Kirk, good to see you back in the whirling 8 way battle.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:19 PM on September 19, 2011


Since when are "convincing", "persuading", "marketing ideas", "pushing worldviews" etc. the ultimate in terrible horrible no good very bad things, anyway? Did I miss a memo?

Sorry--I'm going cold turkey off nicotine at the moment, so I'm having some trouble formulating my thoughts. But as I tried to clarify upthread, it's not the direct, persuading-oriented stuff I had in mind, but the sneakier firms of emotional manipulation that are used to coerce desired outcomes like brand loyalty, which is ultimately the worst and probably most pervasive form of gaslighting.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:28 PM on September 19, 2011


It survived your first Godwin-ing.

well, I did it spread it around there. Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot -- does Godwin speak for them as well?
posted by philip-random at 5:30 PM on September 19, 2011


Not all belief in God is a delusion, and, to the extent that The God Delusion's title states or implies that all belief in God is delusional, it is false information and we can move to the next prong.
Making a bold philosophical claim on the title of a book, then arguing in support of that claim inside of the book, is clearly not what was being discussed. One might just as easily say that Pope Benedict XVI is a deliberate liar, as the title of his latest book, "God Is Near Us," is demonstrably untrue. If you'd like to argue that the one-sentence definition I copied and pasted from Wikipedia is insufficient, feel free to read the rest of it. What you're arguing now, though, is ridiculous.

The progression of the gaslighting discussion was pretty straightforward in this thread -- an atheist said that it's frustrating being surrounded by people who believe that the visible, observable world must be denied in favor of an imaginary one, and that it feels like "gaslighting." You chimed in and said that religious believers are also subjected to gaslighting. I asked for clarification, and you cited the title of Dawkins' book.

You've since admitted that you don't know what "gaslighting" is, and that you're simply picking at the single sentence definition I pasted in. Rather than finding out, you've attempted to equate the choice of a book's title with a form of carefully engineered psychological torture. You claimed that the gaslighting comment early in the thread was "interesting," but from your reaction it's clear that you have no interest in understanding why someone would say living in a predominantly God-believing society feels like "gaslighting."
posted by verb at 5:44 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


carefully engineered psychological torture

Just reading the word "gaslighting" has already become torture for me.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:51 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Making a bold philosophical claim on the title of a book

Ah. I assumed it was a factual claim. I guess that's one point where you and I disagree.

One might just as easily say that Pope Benedict XVI is a deliberate liar, as the title of his latest book, "God Is Near Us," is demonstrably untrue.

First, Pope Benedict XVI is certainly a liar, yes. That much is undisputed.

Second, the assertion that "God is near us" is not demonstrably untrue. It is non-falsifiable and cannot be proved one way or the other. But, on the off chance that I'm mistaken about that, I invite you to demonstrate that God is not near us. If you do that, you will have won a convert.

If you'd like to argue that the one-sentence definition I copied and pasted from Wikipedia is insufficient

No, I wouldn't like to argue about it at all, thanks. You said that the definition you pasted didn't apply, and I walked you through how it does apply - twice. And that was not because I thought it really was gaslighting, but just to respond to your assertion about that particular definition. I think that's enough of that, don't you?

You chimed in and said that religious believers are also subjected to gaslighting.

Actually, that's not what I said. But whatever. I agree with you. Ok?

I asked for clarification, and you cited the title of Dawkins' book.

I had already cited the title of Dawkins' book. You then provided a definition and told me that Dawkins' book didn't fit your definition. I showed you - twice - that it does. And then I told you repeatedly that I don't care if it does or not, that I agree with you, and that talking about this issue is a waste of time.

You've since admitted that you don't know what "gaslighting" is

Really? I don't remember that and I'm searching for what you could be referring to and not finding it.

and that you're simply picking at the single sentence definition I pasted in

You're criticizing me for discussing the issue on your terms, using the definition that you chose?

Rather than finding out, you've attempted to equate the choice of a book's title with a form of carefully engineered psychological torture.

I was answering your question: Eh. How exactly would you gaslight a religious believer? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I'm going by this definition: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to the victim with the intent of making them doubt their own memory and perception."

Please don't criticize me and tell me I don't know what it is when I was specifically and expressly using the definition that you said you're "going by" when I answered your question that included that definition.

You claimed that the gaslighting comment early in the thread was "interesting," but from your reaction it's clear that you have no interest in understanding why someone would say living in a predominantly God-believing society feels like "gaslighting."

Why do you say that? You, verb, have said in this thread that none of what has happened or been described here constitutes gaslighting. And that's fine. Since you don't think I know what it is and you do, I'm willing to take your word for it. You claim that I've never seen gaslighting. That's fine. Since you apparently mean something by that word other than the definition that you claimed you were using, I can't really disagree. But I can ask you to be internally consistent.

KirkJobSluder's follow-up comment here is really, really interesting and I tend to agree with it wholeheartedly.

I would, therefore, ask you this, verb: Do you agree with KirkJobSluder's follow-up comment, too? Or is there more about the subject that you would like to add? I really am interested.

Are you interested in knowing why someone religious would say that it feels like "gaslighting" when an atheist tells them they're delusional and dangerous?
posted by The World Famous at 6:12 PM on September 19, 2011


See, the thing is, people use religion to justify all sorts of terrible acts, but they just as often use other kinds of ideas to do that. Much colonial era oppression (not to mention the displacement and abuse of the native American population) was justified on the basis that the colonizers were more "civilized" than the "primitive savages," that the oppressors were more scientific and rational than the people they oppressed. So it's not like that kind of thinking isn't without very serious perils, too.

And that's why I somewhat flippantly brought up marketing. I meant specifically the kind of marketing that's not meant to appeal to people's reason, but to use various psychological tricks to effectively coerce and manipulate them. At the lower, unconscious levels, the brain has trouble, for instance, telling the images of happy families sharing a laugh over a meal in ads from reality. So a modern ad campaign might exploit that fact to create a vague, largely unconscious association between the feelings evoked by happy family memories like those depicted in the ad and a particular restaurant.

It's not really a form of persuasion, because such ads are specifically designed to bypass your critical thinking faculties and use your own psychological/biological makeup to trick you into feeling something you wouldn't otherwise feel and behaving in ways you wouldn't otherwise behave. To me, whatever motivates people to design ad campaigns like this, also motivates people to use religious symbolism and the faith of believers to advance destructive, anti-humanist agendas, because that's basically what they're doing: using the existing cultural language of religion as a tool to manipulate people in ways that go deeper than conscious awareness, that bypass critical thought. But people don't just do that with religion.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:17 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Extrapolate and call it all propaganda and I'm thinking you can tie to an ugly little guy called Joe Goebbels, in Berlin circa 1926.

Sure, because nobody ever tried to convince, persuade, market ideas, push worldviews, or even use propaganda before 1926. Or afterward, at least not without being a big fat propagandist Nazi, QED!

This kind of "extrapolation" (persuading == propaganda! arguing in favor of your ideas == Goebbels!) strikes me as a blatant attempt to conflate mere dissent with Something Terrible... but only in the case of dissent against one's most well-entrenched beliefs, of course. Few seem so quick to "extrapolate" between persuasion and propaganda when it comes to their own chosen causes.
posted by vorfeed at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2011


Recent history (the past hundred years) certainly does not bear this out and here I'll just casually throw out four names: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.

I don't think Hitler belongs in your list, phillip-random. Hitler and the Nazis actually did use a lot of Christian symbolism and rhetoric to promote their agenda. In fact, Hitler often identified National Socialism as a Christian movement, and propounded a particular, racialized, violence-loving form of Christianity called Positive Christianity closely related to the Christian Identity movement in the US.

In one speech, Hitler laid out the case that he was only doing his Christian duty in taking his aggressive military posture, as follows:
"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.
Was it all a lie? Empty manipulative rhetoric? Who knows. Probably. But Hitler did in fact use the Christian faith to advance his terrible cause, and he did it in ways that to me seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to the rhetoric we've seen coming out of our own right wing churches ever since 9-11, during the run up to the Iraq War and in the years since.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, vorfeed (is this thing on? tap-tap...), I meant specifically psychologically coercive/manipulative marketing techniques that don't appeal in an honest way to our rational faculties but that attempt to bypass or short-circuit them in various ways. That's not persuasion; it's mind rape.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:50 PM on September 19, 2011


For instance, this is not a Q&A about how to use marketing to "persuade" people to your point of view. It's an essay about how to mindfuck people for profit, and it's standard introductory level marketing fare. Whatever motivates people to think of their fellow human beings in the way the author of this essay does, it's more fundamentally to blame for the kinds of social harm that often gets blamed on religion than anything.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:57 PM on September 19, 2011


You keep bringing that up, but I still don't agree that it has much to do with the topic at hand.

For the record, I was not talking about your view of marketing, but about the ongoing suggestion that it's not OK to try to convince people -- in the ordinary sense -- to give up religion.
posted by vorfeed at 7:33 PM on September 19, 2011


but about the ongoing suggestion that it's not OK to try to convince people -- in the ordinary sense -- to give up religion.

Just to make sure I'm clear, I'm not saying that it's not OK to try to convince people - in the ordinary sense - to give up on religion.
posted by The World Famous at 7:35 PM on September 19, 2011


You keep bringing that up, but I still don't agree that it has much to do with the topic at hand.

Sorry. You may be right. I'm going to blame my present lack of coherence and general thickheadedness on the nicotine withdrawal again (and now the lateness of the hour where I am). I was trying to get at something I think could be a deeper cause of the kinds of social harm and other problems some atheists attribute to all religious practice in order to look for common ground between the harder-line non-believers and the less belligerent believers.

For the record, I was not talking about your view of marketing, but about the ongoing suggestion that it's not OK to try to convince people -- in the ordinary sense -- to give up religion.

Now that you put it that way, I'm not sure that's really what I meant. I think it's fine to try to convince people, using honest arguments, toward atheistic views as long as it's done respectfully and tactfully enough to avoid entrenching them even further in their religiosity and hostility to atheist thought in the process (if that's possible). And in those cases where a person identifies as religious in a way that puts religious faith before science and reason (so that if some scientific result were to directly conflict with their religion, they would choose to reject the science), I'd probably try to persuade them myself. But I think there's a real risk of pushing people further into their religiosity by taking too aggressive an approach, or proceeding without respect for the possibility of any other form of valid belief than the hardest forms of atheism.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:27 PM on September 19, 2011


Maybe it's about finding a lie you can live with. If other people are telling themselves different lies it's hard not to notice that yours maybe aren't much better.
posted by fraac at 5:06 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's fine to try to convince people, using honest arguments, toward atheistic views as long as it's done respectfully and tactfully enough to avoid entrenching them even further in their religiosity and hostility to atheist thought in the process (if that's possible).

I know I often come across as "leave religious views sacrosanct omigod" but I completely agree with this. Respect and tact is more what I'm advocating, rather than "preserve the sanctity of someone's beliefs".

Although, I also happen to count "knowing when the person you want to convince really is happy with what they've got, and backing off". I've heard of things like, a guy giving his devout Catholic mother a copy of The God Delusion for Christmas because he thought that'd be a good way to "convert" her.

And....that just seems tacky. However, it's tacky for the same reason that that guy's mother giving him a copy of The Lives Of The Saints for Christmas would be tacky. It's not only a passive-aggressive means of conversion, it sends the message that "I do not accept you the way you are right at this moment."

Mind you, though, if that guy struck up a conversation with his mother about "y'know, Mom, I did have a bad expeience with the church, but I've kind of got mixed feelnigs about it -- can you tell me how you deal with some of the stuff I'm not crazy about?" or if she struck up a conversation with him about "you know, I'm starting to question this, and I'm not quite sure how it feels to give up on God entirely, how do YOU handle that?" That's a sign that "i'm trying to understand who you are, and want to hear your take on this issue."

Because the great thing about having such discussions respectfully and tactfully is that, even if you don't end up convincing the other person, at least they understand how you got there, and maybe end up treating you with more understanding, and you get along better. Yay!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Exactly. We should be using advanced manipulation techniques from marketing to convert people.
posted by fraac at 6:29 AM on September 20, 2011


I don't see "respect and tact" as being a "manipulation technique" at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2011


Shows how good it is.
posted by fraac at 6:39 AM on September 20, 2011


Still don't agree with you there, but I think there's nothing to be done for that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2011


Well if you're trying to go into someone's head and change their opinions about something (which, I just don't see why you would ever want to if they aren't bothering you) then respect and tact would work as well as an advanced manipulation technique. The lies you can live with...
posted by fraac at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2011


No, the idea is you tell others what you think and why in the most honest terms possible and then give them the option to change something in their own minds if they decide to after they've heard your case for why they should.

There's a difference between that and trying to trick a person's brain into having no choice but to accept what you want them to without them realizing it.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011


I don't see that as manipulation, though. If you're taking the attitude that "I think this is great and think you'd like it too, but if you don't, no harm no foul," that's not manipulation, that's persuasion.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011


"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." -- William A. Ward

Jesus didn't tell people stuff, he used his connection to the real world to heal people and blow their minds. I find that if I'm inclined to tell someone something it's because I haven't embodied it myself.
posted by fraac at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2011


fraac, you may want to turn that thinking inward, because I'm not sure that you've been demonstrating what you claim to have embedded in yourself.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:33 AM on September 20, 2011


Where did I claim that?
posted by fraac at 7:38 AM on September 20, 2011


Oh, so your posts have all been supposed to counter examples of what you call good teaching? It makes sense now!
posted by Chekhovian at 7:41 AM on September 20, 2011


I'd like you to gain more self-awareness into why you're so anti-religious. Hint: it isn't because of them.
posted by fraac at 7:44 AM on September 20, 2011


Whatever my ultimate subconscious reasons are, I've given sufficient external criteria by which mainstream religion can be logically deemed dangerous. Maybe your personal religion is something squishy that makes you feel good, and for that, I'm happy. But you won't make it onto the threat radar until you have many followers and access to weapons.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:53 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus didn't tell people stuff

Whaa--?

"The Sermon on the Mount," all his speeches to the apostles, he wasn't telling people stuff or trying to convince people of something when he said "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Not to mention, debate and rhetoric have traditionally been at the core of Christian theological traditions like Scholasticism.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2011


You recognise that religion isn't the problem, it's crazy guys with followers and weapons. If you can let go of the word 'squishy', which legitimises your cause but you know is a cheap rhetorical trick, then you're there.

(I actually had many followers but they bored me. "We loooove you. What would you have us do?" If you love me, why are you making me work? I mean right?)
posted by fraac at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2011


saulgoodman: I guess you have to balance the words with the impressive stuff. Also I doubt he said those things in quite the way his followers described. They were followers, after all.
posted by fraac at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011


I actually had many followers but they bored me. "We loooove you. What would you have us do?"

Okay, I....think you need to come clean about whether you're just bullshitting us now, please.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2011


In the end I had them disperse to the far corners of the globe and find me cool shoes, and then wage unwinnable war. Anyone can have a cult. The real thing doesn't need followers.
posted by fraac at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2011


....Okay, I'll take that as a "yes."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know I often come across as "leave religious views sacrosanct omigod" but I completely agree with this. Respect and tact is more what I'm advocating, rather than "preserve the sanctity of someone's beliefs".

But the british new atheists do this dreaded stridency ever so politely, you know, with their charming british accents? But I'll agree, the proper level of tact is necessary in any honest discussion. But then again the other side will engage the worst sort of name calling, blame assigning, and evil at the first possible moment. Did you see The Daily Show's remembrance of Remember 9/13, The Day 9/11 Exploitation Began?

I don't know what is the best answer. What I find interesting though is that if you look at religion in America a large fraction of people change religions during their lives. As I understand it, this is usually because of a marriage or something similar.

If they strictly believed their religions this would be the craziest thing in the world for them to do, so why do they do it? If the specific religion isn't important, as this ease of religion changing seems to suggest, then perhaps they think the general idea of religion is important. Someone needs to be working on that angle, and I don't see anyone but the new atheists that are willing to take up that mantle.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:54 AM on September 20, 2011


But I think they're mistaken they can change it, and Stubbornness Increases the More People Tell You You’re Wrong (basically, mass communication techniques don't appear to work to change people's minds and in fact cause more inflexibility), so it's probably a much better idea to talk to your friends and relatives one on one about your atheist beliefs than to broadcast the messages through mass media channels.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on September 20, 2011


That is, if you don't want to make them more religious in the process.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2011


But I'll agree, the proper level of tact is necessary in any honest discussion. But then again the other side will engage the worst sort of name calling, blame assigning, and evil at the first possible moment. Did you see The Daily Show's remembrance of Remember 9/13, The Day 9/11 Exploitation Began?

Yeah, I saw it, and as I said in my comment above, I don't like that either. I speak out against that, just in other places.

I'm not taking EITHER side -- or, rather, I'm not seeing it as "atheists vs. theists" and I'm on the theists side, I'm seeing it as "jerks vs. non-jerks" and I'm taking the non-jerks side.

And I ask again -- yeah, I did see the Daily Show bit, and yeah, I think that kind of name-calling and blame-assigning against atheists is dickish. What I don't get is, if it pisses you off so much, why is that behavior you'd want to EMULATE? (I don't mean "you" personally, to be clear.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I ask again -- yeah, I did see the Daily Show bit, and yeah, I think that kind of name-calling and blame-assigning against atheists is dickish. What I don't get is, if it pisses you off so much, why is that behavior you'd want to EMULATE? (I don't mean "you" personally, to be clear.)

I don't think Daily Show style "name-calling and blame-assigning" is necessarily something I "want to emulate", but the idea that atheism can spread purely through ~respect and tact~ (not to mention whatever vow of silence fraac is on about) is flawed. Religion is already treated as sacrosanct; if all atheists restrict themselves to walking on eggshells around it, that'll only reinforce the idea that its special correctness is a given. Any social movement needs both outreach and hard-line members, and that's doubly true of minority movements.

As for the "Stubbornness Increases" link, it's describing what happens in one particular case: where you've made a choice and "an overwhelming number of people were shown as having made a different choice". I don't think I need to point out why this does not describe the social position of atheism and/or anti-theism, not even on metafilter. I think atheism is much closer to the "smaller social group" the article describes -- as in "being socially connected with others is important to humans, and we'll reverse an opinion if we feel like it'll let us belong".

As the article asks, "If 1,000 strangers recommend something, but four close friends differ, who would you side with?" Do you really think that the public face of atheism is closer to "1,000 strangers recommend something" than religion is? Maybe we can't all be "close friends" on the internet, but to my mind it's worth being open about religion, "tactful" or not... you never know when you'll have the opportunity to be somebody's fourth friend.
posted by vorfeed at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between actual tact and what you are perceiving as "tact", I suspect.

I don't think Daily Show style "name-calling and blame-assigning" is necessarily something I "want to emulate", but the idea that atheism can spread purely through ~respect and tact~ (not to mention whatever vow of silence fraac is on about) is flawed.

Well, all I mean by "tact" is "not doing the name-calling and blame-assigning, and stopping when someone says to back off". If you already are down with that, then congratulations, you're being tactful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2011


Also: it strikes me that your complaints are not as such against religion itself, but against the behavior of a certain subset of the religious. Maybe if we all made that kind of behavior the focus, you could also find some allies among the theists -- more than you'd think, I'd wager -- and then you wouldn't be a minority any more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


but the idea that atheism can spread purely through ~respect and tact~

How about logic and reason?
posted by The World Famous at 11:18 AM on September 20, 2011


against religion itself, but against the behavior of a certain subset of the religious

If by subset you mean the way that faith is represented in common discourse 95% of the time by the Jerry Fallwells, Michele Bachmans, et al. Virtually every time it comes up in daily life is a source of intolerance and hate. You seem to be in that %5 that doesn't use religion as a tool for evil and that's wonderful. Maybe you could argue that religion and politics as they appear in mainstream life do not represent the real distribution of religious experience, but then its up to your side to change that.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:32 AM on September 20, 2011


There's a difference between actual tact and what you are perceiving as "tact", I suspect.

Maybe so. But that's the problem with tone arguments, in a nutshell: one person's tact is another's grave offence. I've been told off for my "tone" way too many times, even around here, to defend the idea that atheists necessarily need to be "tactful" -- that's a recipe for giving ground in the face of a hundred advancing goalposts, until we don't have anywhere left to stand.

Also: it strikes me that your complaints are not as such against religion itself, but against the behavior of a certain subset of the religious.

No, actually. Like I said above, this is about ideas as well as behavior.
posted by vorfeed at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


why is that behavior you'd want to EMULATE? (I don't mean "you" personally, to be clear.)

I don't want to emulate the shameful behavior of most public religions figures, and frankly I think the new atheists seldom do. I'll go so far as to say that any argument our side makes that is based on facts, reason, and logical deduction could never be hateful or spite ridden. Could you do a mathematical proof in a hateful fashion?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2011


I'll go so far as to say that any argument our side makes that is based on facts, reason, and logical deduction could never be hateful or spite ridden. Could you do a mathematical proof in a hateful fashion?

I think that's absolutely right. If atheists stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic, they can avoid a lot of the issues that people often complain about.
posted by The World Famous at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2011


If by subset you mean the way that faith is represented in common discourse 95% of the time by the Jerry Fallwells, Michele Bachmans, et al.

I agree that 95% of the time, Jerry Falwell and his illk are aggressive. I do NOT agree, however, that 95% of all theists are LIKE Jerry Falwell. I think THAT is where we have a disconnect.

Virtually every time it comes up in daily life is a source of intolerance and hate. You seem to be in that %5 that doesn't use religion as a tool for evil and that's wonderful.

I would posit that perhaps the reason why it seems this way is because you are focusing exclusively ON Jerry Falwell and his ilk.

Maybe you could argue that religion and politics as they appear in mainstream life do not represent the real distribution of religious experience, but then its up to your side to change that.

My "side," as I've said before, is on the side of the non-jerks, not the side of the theists. By allying myself that way, I can see that, in fact, what you're seeing actually does NOT reflect "religion in mainstream life", but rather "religion amongst the jerks."

I do agree, though, that moderate Christians could do a hell of a lot more to tell Jerry Falwell to stuff it. I wonder how much attention the mainstream media would focus on that, however.

I'll go so far as to say that any argument our side makes that is based on facts, reason, and logical deduction could never be hateful or spite ridden. Could you do a mathematical proof in a hateful fashion?

....If someone doesn't want to be taught math at that exact second? Maybe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2011


they can avoid a lot of the issues that people often complain about

I hear a lot of these complaints but it they always seem to boil down to "so and so was too strident and shrill", which is the same tone business of moving goalposts that Vorfeed just made so clearly. I suppose the new atheists do sometimes mock religious stuff with jokes, but should that be verboten?

There's this Dawkins talk where produces a spoof scientific journal as it would have would been written by religious people eg "Professor Smith notes that through revealed truth, he is certain that an asteroid destroyed the dinosaurs". I'll try to find the video, its hilarious.

So is that type of talk the problem? Does proper "respect" for religion allow no satire?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:55 AM on September 20, 2011


I would posit that perhaps the reason why it seems this way is because you are focusing exclusively ON Jerry Falwell and his ilk.

I focus on them because they're the people that seem to be doing the crazy shit and persuading our leaders to do crazy shit. If religious people would stop killing abortion doctors and holding back important research, and well basically keep their faith out of the public sphere and go back into the box they were in 50 years ago, I would be totally happy with that.

Could you do a mathematical proof in a hateful fashion?
....If someone doesn't want to be taught math at that exact second? Maybe.

C'mon. That's bullshit.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:59 AM on September 20, 2011


I think that's absolutely right. If atheists stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic, they can avoid a lot of the issues that people often complain about.

Right. And if the religious stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic... oh, wait. They don't have to do that. At all.

Why should atheists (and atheists alone) have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments simply because these are "issues that people often complain about"? In my experience people often "complain" not because someone has behaved rudely, but because they're not comfortable with certain opinions.
posted by vorfeed at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I focus on them because they're the people that seem to be doing the crazy shit and persuading our leaders to do crazy shit.

Yeah, but that doesn't mean they speak for The Whole Of Theism. I agree with you that they're crazy. But they sure as FUCK don't represent any of the other theists I know.

Could you do a mathematical proof in a hateful fashion?
....If someone doesn't want to be taught math at that exact second? Maybe.

C'mon. That's bullshit.


Why is it bullshit?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:05 PM on September 20, 2011


I hear a lot of these complaints but it they always seem to boil down to "so and so was too strident and shrill", which is the same tone business of moving goalposts that Vorfeed just made so clearly. I suppose the new atheists do sometimes mock religious stuff with jokes, but should that be verboten?

I don't think mockery should be verboten. But I don't think it's productive. But my general distaste for mockery is in part informed by my belief in the teachings of a particular religious leader who was big on being nice to one's enemies.

Right. And if the religious stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic... oh, wait. They don't have to do that. At all.

They don't? Huh. I think they ought to, as well. But I guess you and I disagree on that.

Why should atheists (and atheists alone) have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments simply because these are "issues that people often complain about"?

I can't think of a single reason. Did someone say that?

In my experience people often "complain" not because someone has behaved rudely, but because they're not comfortable with certain opinions.

Ah. Has that been your experience with me?

There's this Dawkins talk where produces a spoof scientific journal as it would have would been written by religious people eg "Professor Smith notes that through revealed truth, he is certain that an asteroid destroyed the dinosaurs". I'll try to find the video, its hilarious.

I can't wait.

So is that type of talk the problem? Does proper "respect" for religion allow no satire?

Are you asking me? Because you seem to be quoting someone who referenced "respect" for religion, and I don't think I have said anything of the sort. See, I referred to sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic. Satire works best when it does that, too. Dishonest, unreasonable satire is, in my opinion, not a great way to make a point.
posted by The World Famous at 12:14 PM on September 20, 2011


"our side"

If you aren't with us you're against us?
posted by fraac at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2011


keep their faith out of the public sphere and go back into the box they were in 50 years ago

Religion has revived for a reason, a reason that Orwell identified just over 50 years ago:
Most Socialists are content to point out that once Socialism has been established we shall be happier in a material sense, and to assume that all problems lapse when one’s belly is full. The truth is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.--"As I please" / George Orwell. In Tribune, 3 March 1944
Modern man requires a Christianity purged of its superstitious trappings, restored to its primordial godlessness. There is no socialism without Christianity, and there is no Christianity without socialism: this basic formula goes a long way to circumvent the destructive rhetoric of both the religionists and the militant purveyors of progressive physicalism.
posted by No Robots at 12:30 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Religion is already treated as sacrosanct; if all atheists restrict themselves to walking on eggshells around it, that'll only reinforce the idea that its special correctness is a given.

If it's special to 90% or so of your fellow human beings, what gives you the right to declare it not special?

And why aren't you even considering the actual science (like the study I linked that supports the claim that impersonal, confrontational tactics are likely to cause people to dig in their heels more? If you only want more escalating conflict, then cool, let's start a war over it. You can't change minds; they have to change themselves. That's a pretty basic human right, and its perfectly reasonable for the minds you want to change without their consent to resist you.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2011


Religion is already treated as sacrosanct

I'm not quite sure what that means. Are you referring to the Western world's emphasis on preservation and respect for religious freedom? In the United States, the free exercise of religion and freedom from government establishment of religion is considered a fundamental right in large part because of the history of violence and oppression that atheists so often trot out as support for the thesis that religion as a concept is harmful. In light of that common recurring theme in atheist discourse, it seems incongruous to me for an atheist to then argue that religious freedom - i.e. the freedom to worship or not as one pleases and free from harassment and discrimination - is a bad thing.

Simply put, the cultural and societal treatment of religion generally as an area where people are due an elevated level of respect exists in large part as a measure to keep people from doing horrible things to each other because they don't like someone's religious beliefs. I would expect anyone who views the world's history of religious persecution as a bad thing to generally support the idea of respectful discourse instead of vitriol and insults.
posted by The World Famous at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2011


I'll try to find the video, its hilarious.
I can't wait.


Boom!
Richard Dawkins: If Science Worked Like Religion
posted by Chekhovian at 12:50 PM on September 20, 2011


Ah. Has that been your experience with me?

My experience with you is that you often respond with little more than "that's not what I said!" "did someone say that?" "who did or said that?" etc whenever someone mentions something they think you (or anyone else, I was thinking mainly of Miko here) are implying, rather than engaging with the idea or elaborating on what, exactly, it is you are saying or doing. You also lean heavily on asking short, pithy questions, and when people provide substantial answers you often ignore them or respond with another question.

As such, I've mostly stopped responding to you, because I may as well type M-x doctor in another window.

If you'd like further feedback, please me-mail me (or, failing that, type M-x doctor in another window).
posted by vorfeed at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the interest of being mildly amusing:

And if the religious stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic... oh, wait. They don't have to do that. At all.

I have the strangely perverse urge to introduce you to a Jesuit. I shall be nice, and suppress it, though.

(A friend was in a Jesuit seminary for a few years, and still retains his faith -- and honestly, the dude is a logic ninja. That's the kind of people who end up in the Jesuit order, actually.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


My experience with you is that you often respond with little more than "that's not what I said!" "did someone say that?" "who did or said that?" etc

Yeah, that's how I respond when you ask me questions about things that I didn't say as if I had said them.

rather than engaging with the idea

Look. When you pretend I said something that I didn't say and I fully, 100% agree with your disagreement with the thing I didn't say, why would I engage with the idea that both you and I disagree with? And why would you want to have a conversation that consists of you and me both flogging a straw man?

or elaborating on what, exactly, it is you are saying or doing.

I'm saying what I said. And I have elaborated on it. I can elaborate more if you like:

You said: Right. And if the religious stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic... oh, wait. They don't have to do that. At all.

I don't understand what you're saying there. I think that everyone should stick to facts, reason, and honest logic, religious or not. Are you saying that they shouldn't? What are you saying?

You said: Why should atheists (and atheists alone) have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments simply because these are "issues that people often complain about"?

I didn't say that atheists or anyone else should stop making moral, social, or utility arguments. I didn't say that those are issues that people often complain about. I didn't say anything about that issue. I said that atheists should stick to just facts, reason, and honest logic. I stand by that. Do you think that sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic means that they will have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments? If so, I disagree. I think it is not only possible to make moral, social, and utility arguments while sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic, but that it is imperative to do so if one wishes to make a decent argument.

You also lean heavily on asking short, pithy questions, and when people provide substantial answers you often ignore them or respond with another question.

I'm not sure what you're referring to. Can you point me to an example?
posted by The World Famous at 1:06 PM on September 20, 2011


If it's special to 90% or so of your fellow human beings, what gives you the right to declare it not special?

Because I'm a human being too. Seriously, the fact that 90% or so of my fellow human beings have declared something special is not a reason to refrain from "declaring it not special". If it were, we'd still have slavery, heliocentrism, human sacrifice, and a whole lot of other fun stuff. The same goes for the religious freedom argument -- "respectful discourse instead of vitriol and insults" has nothing to do with freedom of religion. The rest of the text of the First Amendment makes that perfectly clear, as does extensive case law.

And why aren't you even considering the actual science (like the study I linked that supports the claim that impersonal, confrontational tactics are likely to cause people to dig in their heels more?

I did consider it. Like I said above, I don't think your link supports your argument. Atheists are not "1,000 strangers recommending something", not when compared to religion. When compared to religion we are the minority option, and as such we don't need to behave as if results found when "an overwhelming number of people were shown as having made a different choice" apply to us rather than to the opposition.
posted by vorfeed at 1:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shouldn't you be more reasonable then? If there's only 4 of you, acting less like the 1000 strangers seems optimal.
posted by fraac at 1:21 PM on September 20, 2011


The same goes for the religious freedom argument -- "respectful discourse instead of vitriol and insults" has nothing to do with freedom of religion.

Just to be clear, it was not my intent to assert that respectful discourse is legally required under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. My reference to the Constitution was an illustration of the lengths to which modern societies have gone in order to emphasize the societal value of civility in spite of religious differences. I thought my second paragraph, which contains the language you quoted, made that clear.

I was not arguing that the First Amendment requires people to be civil, but that it reflects modern society's recognition of the tendency of religious differences to lead to incivility and the desire to avoid that incivility.

I agree with you 100% and without reservation that the text of the First Amendment and applicable case law make clear that the U.S. Constitution does not compel people to be nice to each other.

Because I'm a human being too. Seriously, the fact that 90% or so of my fellow human beings have declared something special is not a reason to refrain from "declaring it not special".

I don't understand what you're saying is "not special." Are you saying that religious beliefs are not special per se? If so, I agree with you completely. Are you saying that differences in religious belief (including the lack thereof) are not a subject that merits particular respect and delicacy between individuals in a modern society? If so, does that mean you don't think people ought to respect your lack of religious belief? I'm not necessarily asking you to answer those specific questions. I'm just trying to figure out what, exactly, you're declaring to be not special.
posted by The World Famous at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2011


Dawkins on a imaginary religious version of the debate about what made the dinosaurs go extinct:

Professor Haldley has been brought up to have total and unquestioning faith that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs.

Professor Hawkins has promulgated an official dogma, binding on all loyal Hawkinsians that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs.

(My favorite)
The President of the National Academy of Sciences has issued a fatwa against all who deny that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2011


Atheists are not "1,000 strangers recommending something", not when compared to religion.

But a broadcast or a mass market book like The God Delusion is. And the study was very clear about the fact that it found the attempts to persuade were only effective when people were communicating one on one with others in their in-groups, and actively counterproductive when directed indiscriminately at others outside those personal circles.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2011


Dawkins on a imaginary religious version of the debate about what made the dinosaurs go extinct:

I can't figure out if he's making fun of religion or trying to make a critical statement about the culture of the scientific community. Maybe both?
posted by The World Famous at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


When you pretend I said something that I didn't say and I fully, 100% agree with your disagreement with the thing I didn't say, why would I engage with the idea that both you and I disagree with? And why would you want to have a conversation that consists of you and me both flogging a straw man?

I didn't say I want to have a conversation that consists of you and me both flogging a straw man.

See how annoying that is? Treating disagreement over implications as if it were misquoting is obnoxious. saulgoodman's response here is a great example of how you can express disagreement over implication without accusing others of putting words in your mouth.

Do you think that sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic means that they will have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments?

Yes. Moral, social, and utility arguments are relative, and are necessarily subjective at bottom. "Sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic" means treating religion (much less public discourse!) as if it were mathematics or physics... which, I am told, it is not.

In practice, all "stick to the facts!" means is having to kick the ball wherever your opponent moves the goalpost, as I explained earlier. As with any other form of meta-argument, the natural disagreement over what does and does not constitute "sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic" makes it trivially easy to "refute" almost anything.

I was not arguing that the First Amendment requires people to be civil, but that it reflects modern society's recognition of the tendency of religious differences to lead to incivility and the desire to avoid that incivility.

Except, again, it has nothing to do with avoiding incivility. It has to do with avoiding the violation of unalienable rights.

I don't understand what you're saying is "not special."

Religion is not special. It is a topic which can be openly discussed just like every other topic.

Are you saying that differences in religious belief (including the lack thereof) are not a subject that merits particular respect and delicacy between individuals in a modern society? If so, does that mean you don't think people ought to respect your lack of religious belief?

No, I don't think differences in religious belief "merit a particular respect and delicacy", whether we're talking about religion or the lack thereof. I think it's up to the individual as to whether he or she wishes to afford religion special respect. The idea that I must respect others' beliefs simply because people "ought" to respect my lack of religious belief makes little sense to me, also. The fact is that most people don't treat my beliefs with respect and delicacy... and I prefer tit for tat with forgiveness to the Golden Rule.

Besides, I don't even think I'd want everyone to treat my beliefs with respect and delicacy. Conflict is essential.
posted by vorfeed at 2:35 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't figure out if he's making fun of religion or trying to make a critical statement about the culture of the scientific community. Maybe both?

Seems pretty clear to me that he's making fun of religion. Scientists don't issue Fatwas, and whole careers are made by proving older more respected scientists wrong. (I should confine my statement to hard sciences based on physical evidence. For all I know the soft social sciences could be full of Fatwas.)
posted by Chekhovian at 2:54 PM on September 20, 2011


Religion is not special. It is a topic which can be openly discussed just like every other topic.

Hmm.

Do you think there are any topics which should be discussed with a bit of care, though? I'm not thinking only of religion, by the way -- quite the opposite, in fact, I think that religion is one of a FEW topics that can be discussed, but becuase they're often personal that people should tread a little lighter. I'm wondering if you disagree with that notion, that "people should just tread a little more lightly when discussing personal topics".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:56 PM on September 20, 2011


"people should just tread a little more lightly when discussing personal topics"
*Suspects some sort of trap has been laid out*

I don't think people should be hurling around personally related invectives and harsh insults and generally be polite. My general feelings is that all arguments should be similar to mathematical proofs. You lay out some assumptions, produce some deductions from those assumptions, and draw a conclusion. Argumentation should then occur over the logic of those assumptions, deductions, and conclusions.

If you stick to the stipulations that I've laid out what would NOT TREADING likely look like?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:06 PM on September 20, 2011


But a broadcast or a mass market book like The God Delusion is. And the study was very clear about the fact that it found the attempts to persuade were only effective when people were communicating one on one with others in their in-groups, and actively counterproductive when directed indiscriminately at others outside those personal circles.

Aren't you the same guy who was just claiming that marketing is "history's most powerful tool for persuading good people to make evil choices"? How can that be, if indiscriminate attempts to persuade outside a small group are actively counterproductive? Besides, The God Delusion has actually changed some minds (and this person is not the only one; I've often seen The God Delusion mentioned as a game-changer for people who were on the fence about religion). How could it have done so if it's inherently ineffective?

Personally, I suspect there's a wide spectrum along which different kinds of communications can be productive or counterproductive, and that each person's position on the spectrum differs. This is why I oppose attempts to limit the dialogue: a technique which is slightly counterproductive against the many may be greatly productive against the few, and since all sorts of communications are going on, other methods may help to mitigate its effects on the many. No army would ever conclude that small-arms fire is the only effective option because artillery is "actively counterproductive" when forces are in contact -- you need both because their effectiveness, like all measures of effectiveness, is situational.

Besides, convincing those in the middle may be worth the risk of alienating people who have already decided against atheism. Many people simply aren't going to change their minds.
posted by vorfeed at 3:09 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


and whole careers are made by proving older more respected scientists wrong

FYI this how Dawkins made himself famous as a young scientist in Ev. Bio. circles. The NYT article Saul linked to has a good description of it.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:09 PM on September 20, 2011


vorfeed:

Me: Do you think that sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic means that they will have to stop making moral, social, or utility arguments?

Vorfeed: Yes. Moral, social, and utility arguments are relative, and are necessarily subjective at bottom. "Sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic" means treating religion (much less public discourse!) as if it were mathematics or physics... which, I am told, it is not.


That's an interesting viewpoint. I wonder if maybe I just didn't make myself clear when I referred to "sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic." I contend that it is possible to make even relative, subjective arguments while sticking to facts, being honest in one's logic, and refusing to abandon reason.

I find it truly fascinating that I, a religious person, am arguing in favor of facts, reason, and honest logic and you, an atheist, are arguing that moral, social, and utility arguments cannot be made unless one abandons facts, reason, and honest logic. I guess it's just a point of disagreement between us. It really is surprising, though.

In practice, all "stick to the facts!" means is having to kick the ball wherever your opponent moves the goalpost, as I explained earlier.

Ah. Well, when I said "stick to the facts," that's not what I meant. I meant that people should not be dishonest or base their arguments on false bullshit. Having now clarified my meaning, does that change your opinion?

As with any other form of meta-argument, the natural disagreement over what does and does not constitute "sticking to facts, reason, and honest logic" makes it trivially easy to "refute" almost anything.

Is there really a disagreement between you and I about what constitutes facts, reason, and honest logic? I'd be very surprised if there is.

Except, again, it has nothing to do with avoiding incivility. It has to do with avoiding the violation of unalienable rights.

I see that you genuinely don't understand what I was trying to say. I'm not sure there's any point in me repeating myself on this issue if I am really that bad at communicating it to you. I'm sorry I used the First Amendment as an illustration of my point, since it seems to have completely distracted you from the point itself, which is that modern western society values prevention of people killing each other over religious disagreements.

Religion is not special. It is a topic which can be openly discussed just like every other topic.

See, earlier in this thread (and, indeed, in virtually all discussions where atheists propose that religion is undesirable), it was proposed that religion is a bad thing because of its propensity to bring out the worst in people, be fuel for violent conflict, create worse contention and persecution than other concepts, and the like. To the extent that that contention is correct (and I would agree that it is), I would submit that religion is a topic which cannot be openly discussed just like every other topic, precisely because of its propensity to bring out the worst in people, be fuel for violent conflict, etc.

Do you disagree with those who propose that religion is a bad thing for those reasons? Is religion no more contentious a topic than any other?

I think it's up to the individual as to whether he or she wishes to afford religion special respect.

I guess I shouldn't have used the word "respect," since it seems to have implied something that I didn't intend. I don't mean respect for religion over non-religion, but respect in the sense of recognition that the subject has, historically, been one of the most contentious in the world and that, if one wishes to avoid really nasty conflicts, it's probably a good idea to tread lightly. In that context, atheism is included under the heading "religion" as a topic. In other words, atheism, as a subset of "religion" as a subject, is due exactly the same amount of respect as any other belief system that might exist within the larger set of "religion." Does that make sense?

Besides, I don't even think I'd want everyone to treat my beliefs with respect and delicacy. Conflict is essential.

I contend that it is possible - even desirable in a civil society - for conflict to nevertheless be respectful and, often, delicate.

Chekhovian:

Scientists don't issue Fatwas

Ah. I guess I should explain my prior comment better. I didn't think Dawkins was saying that the scientific community literally issues fatwas. I thought he was making a joke.
posted by The World Famous at 3:16 PM on September 20, 2011


I'm wondering if you disagree with that notion, that "people should just tread a little more lightly when discussing personal topics".

To be frank, I think this idea has created some incredibly poisonous attitudes toward certain "personal topics". The list of things we can't say seems to get longer and longer every day, yet the underlying issues are still there. As in relationship askmes, I think "keep talking, especially when it hurts" is a pretty good guideline.

And no, I don't always live up to that; we've all got our sore spots, and it's hard to let people poke 'em. But it's the only way they heal. Most feelings of offence that come up during discussion are an indication that the topic could use more sunlight, not less.
posted by vorfeed at 3:22 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


As in relationship askmes, I think "keep talking, especially when it hurts" is a pretty good guideline.

Sure, but "be a jerk about it if you want" is not, is it?
posted by The World Famous at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2011


I didn't think Dawkins was saying that the scientific community literally issues fatwas
There is this sort of perception out there that some science hierarchy/cabal exists that tells people what to think and what to research, and that this prevents us from finding the real truth on global warming and evolution and such. I thought the implication of your statement was that Dawkins was alluding to some sort of actual hierarchy or teasing scientists about some sort of implicit cabal...and that would be very much not true on every level.

Isn't the idea of a science fatwa the funniest thing in the world? (But the sad thing is that when religious wackos get in power they do issue science fatwas, like GWB banning stem cell research)

Seriously vorfeed, leave me some interesting things to say, wait, actually having you do the heavy lifting here is pretty damn awsome! :-)
posted by Chekhovian at 3:29 PM on September 20, 2011


You can't not argue subjectively and with some moral position. But you can recognise where you're coming from and be open about it. An 'axiomatic' discussion about religion is a snowjob, guaranteed.
posted by fraac at 3:32 PM on September 20, 2011


I thought the implication of your statement was that Dawkins was alluding to some sort of actual hierarchy or teasing scientists about some sort of implicit cabal...and that would be very much not true on every level.

Ah. My apologies, then. That was not my intent.
posted by The World Famous at 3:35 PM on September 20, 2011


I find it truly fascinating that I, a religious person, am arguing in favor of facts, reason, and honest logic and you, an atheist, are arguing that moral, social, and utility arguments cannot be made unless one abandons facts, reason, and honest logic. I guess it's just a point of disagreement between us. It really is surprising, though.

It's not at all surprising. As a religious person, you probably believe in absolute value(s). I don't. I mean, what is "honest logic"? What kind of arguments count, which don't, and why? In my experience, these kinds of meta-argument are rarely productive. You can go "is there really a disagreement about this?" all you want, but the slightest glance at any thread where someone accuses someone else of dishonesty suggests the answer is yes.

I meant that people should not be dishonest or base their arguments on false bullshit. Having now clarified my meaning, does that change your opinion?

No. You've told me more than once before that my opinions are inherently "dishonest" "bullshit" -- do you think I'm stupid enough to stand here and agree that I shouldn't speak, simply because you reject my ideas? Again: I do not support limiting the argument. If you think that people are dishonest or base their arguments on false bullshit, then you are free to point that out. Others are equally free to point out that they think you're wrong. That's how discussion goes.

Sure, but "be a jerk about it if you want" is not, is it?

Yes, it is. I mean, there are obvious consequences to being a jerk -- maybe you'll alienate people, maybe you'll get banned from metafilter, maybe you'll lead an army of jerks onward to snark down the bastions of "civil society" before falling to an even jerkier jerk -- but the idea that we should never, ever be jerks about anything is ridiculous. Do as thou wilt.
posted by vorfeed at 4:57 PM on September 20, 2011


As for whether religion is a contentious topic: of course it is. But contentiousness is not a reason for everyone to walk on eggshells -- again, if it were, we'd still have slavery and heliocentrism.

I meant it when I said that it's up to the individual to decide how he or she wants to treat the topic of religion.
posted by vorfeed at 5:04 PM on September 20, 2011


*Suspects some sort of trap has been laid out*

Not at all, why would you think that? Have I given you any reason to suspect I'm not discussing things sincerely and in good faith?

....that's a sincere question. If I've given that impression, please tell me how.

My general feelings is that all arguments should be similar to mathematical proofs. You lay out some assumptions, produce some deductions from those assumptions, and draw a conclusion. Argumentation should then occur over the logic of those assumptions, deductions, and conclusions. If you stick to the stipulations that I've laid out what would NOT TREADING likely look like?

You'll have to ask vorfeed what he meant by "religion not being special", as that's who I was addressing; but since you asked me this, I would suppose that empirically that's respectful, but if someone doesn't WANT to engage in such a discussion with you, bringing it up with great frequency would still be "not treading lightly" no matter how logical were one's arguments.

To be frank, I think this idea has created some incredibly poisonous attitudes toward certain "personal topics". The list of things we can't say seems to get longer and longer every day, yet the underlying issues are still there. As in relationship askmes, I think "keep talking, especially when it hurts" is a pretty good guideline.

I'm not asking whether there are things we shouldn't discuss AT ALL, though. I'm asking whether there are topics which should be broached with a bit more sensitivity than, say, discussing one's favorite breed of dog or something. Not because "we shouldn't talk about it at all mercy me," more like, "hey, people could have sore spots in this area, so let's go ahead, but EVERYONE proceed carefully." That's what I mean -- I believe there are a few topics like that, and religion is one of a few of them. I just wanted to know whether you agreed on principle.

I'm getting the impression that you don't, though, which is fair. I don't agree, but fair enough.

And no, I don't always live up to that; we've all got our sore spots, and it's hard to let people poke 'em. But it's the only way they heal. Most feelings of offence that come up during discussion are an indication that the topic could use more sunlight, not less.

Fair, but is it always clear at whom the sunlight should be pointing? There's a difference between my taking offense at something because of a psychological block on my part, and my taking offense at something because someone said something GENUINELY offensive. It isn't always all that easy to know which is which, either. What I mean is; if I react strongly to someone who says that the only way a woman could have formed her own company would be by sleeping with the former boss, my strong reaction is not a sign that I'm the one that needs to examine her beliefs. (note: I am not comparing ANYTHING you said to such a statement, I am simply providing an illustrative example for how "someone taking offense at something doesn't always mean the offended party is the one with the issues".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:13 PM on September 20, 2011


Penn Jillette: Oh God. No God and Hurricanes
Penn Jillette, half of the comedy and magic duo Penn and Teller talks about his new book on atheism, his inspiration, politics and God and the link between magic and theology.

Sean Carroll on social science vs. natural science
Sean Carroll, who writes for the physics blog Cosmic Variance over at Discover, has written an absolute must-read post on social science vs. natural science.
posted by kliuless at 5:27 PM on September 20, 2011


Slavery and heliocentrism were demonstrably inhumane and wrong, which strikes me as a different kind of contentious. I'm the kind of guy who gets stoned to death for saying unpopular true things but there honestly aren't any of those gnawing at my sense of righteousness on the larger subject of religion. If I was in an Islamic country I'd be all "Be nicer to women, you assclowns" and if I met Marcus Bachmann I'd ask which relative raped him. One time I went apeshit on some moneylenders. I can't count the number of fights I've almost provoked by saying to someone's face what other people are whispering; it's only the fact people hiding truths from themselves are cowards that's kept me alive this long.

But nothing about the wider subject of religion bothers me. And that tells me a lot. 'Followers' is the closest hotbutton. I just watched the episode of Law and Order SVU where Robin Williams gets a guy to sexually assault his employee, which is something that ALMOST ALL PEOPLE will do when told to. But then we have to look inside ourselves, which is painful.

I think a lot of atheists are shooting at the wrong target because they're scared to probe their pain. But I promise there is nothing to fear from the real world.
posted by fraac at 5:50 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aren't you the same guy who was just claiming that marketing is "history's most powerful tool for persuading good people to make evil choices"? How can that be, if indiscriminate attempts to persuade outside a small group are actively counterproductive?

Ooo ooh! You got me, vorfeed! Congrats! Except you didn't.

I have repeatedly been very, very clear (like, to the extent I explained it to you about a dozen times and you even said okay enough already I get it) about the fact I was talking about psychological marketing techniques that don't address their targets in ways they would recognize as rational arguments or attempts to persuade. Remember? How I clarified that like 20 times? And said that I was talking about attempts to use psychological coercion? Like in that article about psychological marketing techniques I linked to?

Well, no I guess you didn't notice for some reason. So you know what? Fuck it. If this conversation only has one side to it, it's not a conversation. Why should I read your comments carefully and give them actual careful thought (not just superficially scanning them for plausible-seeming flaws you can use to completely miss the point again).
posted by saulgoodman at 6:43 PM on September 20, 2011


Sorry that should have read:

Why should I read your comments carefully and give them actual careful thought when you're just superficially scanning mine for plausible-seeming flaws you can use to completely miss the point again?

You're basically just having a conversation with yourself at this point already, so I'm just going to make it official as far as my part goes, and leave you to it.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 PM on September 20, 2011


The point was that I don't (to say the least) buy the idea that the only mass communication techniques which aren't "counter-productive" are "psychological marketing techniques that don't address their targets in ways they would recognize as rational arguments or attempts to persuade". And they'd have to be, in order for your statements about The God Delusion to make any sense.

If you really believe that mass communication is necessarily counter-productive whenever it attempts to persuade rather than "use psychological coercion", fine, but I doubt many people will agree with you.
posted by vorfeed at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2011


But nothing about the wider subject of religion bothers me. And that tells me a lot.

It tells me that you think the settings on your personal botherometer belong to everyone, not just you. Common problem, sounds like you or a qualified technician will need to have a quick look inside yourself, probe your pain. Shouldn't run more than a thou.
posted by vorfeed at 6:59 PM on September 20, 2011


What about religion in general bothers you?
posted by fraac at 7:10 PM on September 20, 2011


Religion fetishizes death. If you believe in all the tenants of your average modern faith then it is perfectly rational for you to desire the end of the world, so as to bring about the Kingdom of God, it is perfectly rational for you blow yourself in holy war to move onto the heaven and its infinite pleasures, it is perfectly rational for you cut off your genitalia and beam your soul on to the passing UFO*

The whole point of Religion is to devalue our finite time on this planet.

*Not an average modern religion I know, but a good rhetorical example.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:50 PM on September 20, 2011


!!Ooops, blow yourself up!!

Sorry, that's what I get for trying to race vorfeed.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:52 PM on September 20, 2011


If you were shown that religion doesn't devalue our finite lives would you let go of your problem with religion in general? Or is there more?
posted by fraac at 7:59 PM on September 20, 2011


Religion fetishizes death.

That's not true of all religion. Not even close. Not even all forms of Christianity. Some forms emphasize trying to bring about what they call the "Kingdom of Heaven" right here on earth through good works, and de-emphasize the afterlife. A lot of them don't even believe in an everlasting hell. And some define Hell as a spiritual distance from god, rather than viewing it as a literal place. You might be surprised how diverse Christian theology is. I know. Growing up, my grandparents never could stand attending any particular church for long on account of all "the hypocrites," so I got to experience lots of different denominations and varieties of Christian faith first hand.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:32 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Food for thought.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:32 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or is there more?
I could go on and on, but this from Saul's article was real damn good.

“Religion teaches you to be satisfied with nonanswers,” he says. “It’s a sort of crime against childhood.”
posted by Chekhovian at 9:02 PM on September 20, 2011


Funny I'm not satisfied. If you were shown that religion doesn't devalue our finite lives and your other problems with religion in general were addressed, you would let go of your problem with religion in general, yes?
posted by fraac at 9:08 PM on September 20, 2011


If it's an article of faith for you I can stop pressing you on it. Would you prefer that?
posted by fraac at 9:45 PM on September 20, 2011


From saulgoodman's link:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I always liked that line but it reminds me of a friend who always felt compelled to add to it, " ... and be shit-faced."
posted by philip-random at 10:27 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Points that have piled up during my absence:
That's not true of all religion
If you were shown that religion doesn't...
and earlier EmpressCallipygos made or less the same point about the Falwells and Bachmans of the world and her unspecified faith.

I'm sure there are some peripheral faiths out there that contain very little essential crazy. What concern me are the mainstream faiths that comprise most of the religion for most of the people of the world (the major varieties of christians, the major varieties of islam, and yes even elements of buddhism, though generally on a substantially reduced scale). These faiths are the ones that are holding the world back, politically and socially), through their essential intolerance and hate (less so on the Buddhism).

Tacking back to the raised point:
Perhaps there are some minor faiths that aren't terrible like the mainstream ones. That doesn't immediately matter to me. What matters to me are the forms of crazy that are infecting our political process, infecting our schools, and preventing us from doing what needs to be done given the circumstances we face with regard to climate change and social justice.

There's this famous story about Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt.
He would say something to the effect of "We don't need to worry about environmental protection and conservation, as the rapture will happen before any of the matters".

If buy into his assumptions (Jesus, End Times, Kingdom of God on Earth), then his deductive logic is perfectly reasonable. Garbage in, garbage out. All I can do is question his assumptions as thoroughly and persuasively as I can.

So maybe your personal Juju is strong and good. It is a sideshow, an auxiallry issue. There are more abstract issues regarding the essential denial of rationality that the "leap of faith" represents, but thats rearranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:52 AM on September 21, 2011


Saul, your Galieo link gets everything exactly wrong. Here's some more nutritious food for thought.

This is what happens when Religions gain worldly power (from the wiki link):
He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life. His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:56 AM on September 21, 2011


Argh, Galileo link!
posted by Chekhovian at 12:58 AM on September 21, 2011


The Ancient Greeks had a whole pantheon of gods. Egyptians, Incans, Babylonians... I can't think of a society noted for making leaps in civilisation that bring their own gods. Religion appears to be ubiquitous.

Chekhovian, are you evading my question? If you were shown that religion doesn't devalue our finite lives and your other problems with religion in general were addressed, would let go of your problem with religion in general?

As a rational atheist you agree that you can in principle be shown evidence that can change your mind. That's fair to say?

vorfeed, if you could get back to me as well with your general problems with religion. I sense we're making progress.
posted by fraac at 3:18 AM on September 21, 2011


^ that didn't bring their own gods.
posted by fraac at 3:21 AM on September 21, 2011


What concern me are the mainstream faiths that comprise most of the religion for most of the people of the world (the major varieties of christians, the major varieties of islam, and yes even elements of buddhism, though generally on a substantially reduced scale). These faiths are the ones that are holding the world back, politically and socially), through their essential intolerance and hate (less so on the Buddhism).

Since you read my quote, I'm not sure how you missed my point that most members of those very mainstream faiths are not intolerant and hateful. You keep pointing at Jerry Falwell as being Typical Of Christianity. When we say he is the exception rather than the rule, it seems like you're just nodding and saying "yes, I know Jerry Falwell, is not like most Christians. But Christianity is hateful, and as my evidence, look at Jerry Falwell."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:12 AM on September 21, 2011


I, too, do not like the idea of politicians bringing their own personal religious beliefs into the calculus of governance. That's why I strongly believe in separation of church and state (hell, even Jesus believed in that).
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 AM on September 21, 2011


Chekhovian, are you evading my question?

Let me try and describe the overall structure of my last answer. I tried to explain things in order from most important to me to least important. The primary issue I have with religion is when it has direct negative effects on my life and the lives of my fellow citizens through these hate filled wackos out there.

is not like most Christians...But Christianity is hateful, and as my evidence

EmpressCallipygos, I'm sure there are plenty of peaceful christians walking down the street around me, not shouting out their gospels. You've agreed with me before that the way christianity generally comes across in the media is quite bad, right? All the tel-evangelists, all the crazy republican canidates, etc, they don't put a very good face on ole-timey religion do they? Your answer is that, "but that's not reflective of what religion really is", and perhaps you're right. Please allow me to reach for a metaphor that illustrates my confusion.

Here it goes: "Football as practiced by the NFL is not necessarily reflective of football as practiced by the majority of its players out there, as the numerical majority of them are probably in high school and college. I'm going to assume, purely for the sake of argument, that NFL football is played much more competitively and generates much more head injuries than college or hs level stuff. I would say then that "Football is bad because it causes all these people's brains to turn to mush", and you would say "but that's not what football really is!". And numerically you'd be right. But does that mean the NFL cannot be called football, and that it is not the most important form of it? I would guess that most people and certainly the media would disagree.

If you were shown that religion doesn't devalue our finite lives and your other problems with religion in general were addressed

Are you claiming that you should show that religion as a universal whole doesn't do any of this, or that you could show me a particular religion that doesn't do this? One, or even a few small exceptions to a rule, doesn't necessarily disprove the rule.

politicians bringing their own personal religious beliefs into the calculus of governance...even Jesus believed in that

I don't care whether he believed in it or not. I care what the people in charge believe, and the people that vote for them. We have a nominally representative government. If we elected religious lunatics, that does represent something about the people that voted them in. Sure the supreme court pushed GWB over the top, but 49-50% of the nation had already voted for him before they stuck their noses in.

The most important definition of anything comes through the primary effect it has on your life. My most generally referenced definition of gravity is "that thing that keeps me stuck to the earth", even though I know that it is also an inverse square, fundamental force, thing that makes the sun rise and set, etc. Those are also true, but not important to how much it hurts when I slip on ice and fall down.

If you want to table these issues and just talk about the philosophical estorica of religion, we can do that too. Another reason I loathe religion is because it fundamentally means that you subordinate your reason to irrational thinking. That's the definition of faith, believing something despite all possible evidence.

Watt did that, and you all just say, no he was just some crazy wacko. But if you're really a christian and really believe everything in the bible as written, then you must believe that the world will end eventually right, just at a later date? Between you and Watt then, there is only a difference of degree, not of kind. Watt's a bad guy, he's going to shoot you tomorrow, I promise I won't shoot you until next year!

Perhaps you'll say, well, "large parts of the bible [or whatever old religious book you want] are the foulest, blackest, filth". Yes, you've taken so many wonderful steps! Just take a couple more and come join me in the reasoning atheist camp!

I'll be busy for while now, sorry, one must eventually do one's work, but I'll check back this evening.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:06 AM on September 21, 2011


One, or even a few small exceptions to a rule, doesn't necessarily disprove the rule.

True. But you have not provided evidence to support your assertion that it is a rule. Until you do that, I don't know why we should take your assertion seriously. You made a broad, sweeping factual claim without any offer of proof and several people here disagree with it. The burden is on you to back it up with actual evidence. Not just evidence that some percentage of the world self-identifies as a member of a given religious group, but evidence that religion - as a whole (since that was your assertion) - does what you claim it does as a rule.

Another reason I loathe religion is because it fundamentally means that you subordinate your reason to irrational thinking. That's the definition of faith, believing something despite all possible evidence.

See, there are two more assertions that I disagree with and that you have not backed up in any way. (That's not actually the definition of "faith," by the way.) Why should I take your assertions seriously if you don't offer any evidence to support them?
posted by The World Famous at 8:15 AM on September 21, 2011


You've agreed with me before that the way christianity generally comes across in the media is quite bad, right? All the tel-evangelists, all the crazy republican canidates, etc, they don't put a very good face on ole-timey religion do they? Your answer is that, "but that's not reflective of what religion really is", and perhaps you're right.

I said that the way it comes across in the media is not good, but that that is also because the media likes to focus on what makes the most noise.

Please allow me to reach for a metaphor that illustrates my confusion. Here it goes: "Football as practiced by the NFL is not necessarily reflective of football as practiced by the majority of its players out there, as the numerical majority of them are probably in high school and college. I'm going to assume, purely for the sake of argument, that NFL football is played much more competitively and generates much more head injuries than college or hs level stuff. I would say then that "Football is bad because it causes all these people's brains to turn to mush", and you would say "but that's not what football really is!". And numerically you'd be right. But does that mean the NFL cannot be called football, and that it is not the most important form of it?

No, that doesn't mean "the NFL cannot be called football". Of course it's football.

But that doesn't mean "it's the most IMPORTANT form of football". Most visible doesn't mean most important, and most visible doesn't mean most typical, either. There are a hell of a lot more kids on peewee leagues playing football than there are guys in the NFL -- are you claiming that those kids aren't "important"? Or that the high schoolers on the high school teams aren't "important"? My hunch is no. The NFL is more "visible", yes, but "visible" doesn't always mean "important" or "typical".

Allow me to present another analogy. Let's take dogs. Pugs are a popular breed now; I've seen them a lot on the news. Now -- the pug's characteristics are a smaller size and a smooshed-in face. You wouldn't say that, because you see a lot of pugs on television, that pugs are more important than any other kind of dog, or that ALL dogs have a smooshed-in face, would you?

No. The characteristic "smooshed-in face" is a characteristic unique to PUGS, not to "all dogs." And moreover, the media focus on pugs doesn't necessarily mean that "pugs are more important than Corgis" or "more important than Great Danes" or "more important than shelter dogs". All it means is that "we have learned that pugs get people's attention right now, so that's what we'll give them".

I would guess that most people and certainly the media would disagree.

Most people DO disagree, when it comes to "is Jerry Falwell representative of the whole of Christianity". The media isn't trying to "agree", they're just showing us what they know will grab people's attention -- and someone saying outrageous things has proven to be something attention-getting. They are not trying to tell us what opinions to form ABOUT what they show us -- they're just showing us something they know we'll look at, whether we're looking to applaud or mock.

More people are looking at Jerry Falwell to mock him than you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian, I just wanted you to clarify what it would take for you to stop saying religion is bad. You still haven't.

It looks like you want to talk about professional religion, religion as a business or political entity, the NFL of religion, but you somehow expect to make sense to everyday religious people whose experience isn't of professional religion. I can see how you were talking at cross purposes. It should be easy to avoid this in future discussions by determining the religious experience of the people you're talking to, or by simply saying 'professional religion' or whatever subset you wish to describe.
posted by fraac at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2011


Who didn't just Google image search "smooshed-in face"?
posted by fraac at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2011


Chekhovian: “Saul, your Galileo link gets everything exactly wrong. Here's some more nutritious food for thought. This is what happens when Religions gain worldly power... ”

Actually – I don't really know what saulgoodman's link was about, but this clearly isn't true, at least in the case of Galileo. One of Galileo's biographers (I wish I could remember which) noted that Galileo was quite unlucky in his timing, since he came at precisely the moment when the Catholic Church was most sensitive to "protestantism" and dissension among the ranks. That's not to say that the Catholic Church was right on this issue; but it's clear that, had Galileo come a hundred years later or a hundred years earlier, he would have been accepted fully by the Catholic Church. Nicolaus Copernicus, for example, expressed precisely the same ideas as Galileo a hundred years before he did, and he was not only not censured by the Church but was in fact well-liked.
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2011


That's the definition of faith, believing something despite all possible evidence.

That's a subtle but nevertheless reckless translation of "choosing to accept something in spite of a lack of evidence", which I agree might work as a definition of faith.

Of course, it also applies to any number of scientific theories which by their definition (ie: presented as theories) still lack the necessary evidence to be called facts.
posted by philip-random at 8:33 AM on September 21, 2011


but nevertheless reckless MIStranslation
posted by philip-random at 8:46 AM on September 21, 2011


@EmpressCallipygos "When we say he is the exception rather than the rule, it seems like you're just nodding and saying"

Can't speak for anyone else, but when I hear you say he's the exception rather than the rule I simply think you are mistaken.

Look at the numbers by which every single state constitutional amendment against same sex marriage has passed. Usually it's well over 60%. That is strong evidence that contrary to your claims Jerry Falwell style religion is the mainstream and the nice and friendly version of religion you want to claim is the majority is the minority.

As of 2004 (latest polling I could find), 64% of Americans favored teaching Creationism in public schools. Again, that's not indicative of a majority of religionists being nice and friendly.

It would be very nice indeed if you were right and I was wrong. If most religious folk were pleasant people who had no intent of legislating their religion things would be great. If most religious folk were people who didn't want to cause harm to homosexuals I'd be a lot more relaxed about religion. But both my own experience and the available statistics indicate that religion is a threat, most religionists are not nice relaxed people, and my distrust of religion is fully justified by the harm they are trying to inflict on me and my friends, my family, and my nation.

The available facts tend to indicate that the majority of religionists are, in fact, more like Jerry Falwell than like you. Which is why I tend to criticize religion in general and argue that it's just plain too dangerous to encourage as a society.

If you can find and cite statistics that indicate that you are, in fact, in the majority I'd like to hear them. You'll also need to find some explanation for why, if nice religionists are the majority, they've been letting their not nice coreligionists dominate the conversation and do all the harm they've been doing?

Where are the nice religionists protesting outside Wall Street with signs citing Matt 19:24? Or marching in opposition to the same sex marriage bans? If they're a majority you'd think they'd be out there doing something instead of hiding and letting their not nice coreligionists dominate politics and pass all manner of very bad laws.

*******

I've also been thinking about your nature vs. nurture point. I'm not sure I agree completely with your framing as it being an issue of nature vs. nurture, but I think you are at least partially correct.

However, even if we fully agreed that my objections to religion are, at core, a question of nature vs. nurture, I don't think we have to come down fully on either side to see that it's likely to make a difference in people's lives.

Surround a person not naturally inclined towards racism with nothing but members of the KKK from birth until age 18 and, even if we think that nature is vastly more important, I think we'd also both agree that it seems likely that the person would emerge from their formative years with a degree of racism not found in a person raised in a less racist environment. Perhaps nature would win out and eventually they'd discard the lessons of their upbringing, but until exposed to non-racist viewpoints it would take an exceptional person to develop those non-racist viewpoints entirely independently. We can't count on everyone being exceptional and being able to throw off the shackles of evil that religious thought puts in their minds.

Similarly if we took a person with a natural inclination towards social justice and raised them by people advocating social justice, I think we can agree that regardless of whether or not such a person would likely become a greater advocate of social justice than they would if raised by KKK members (again, perhaps nature is paramount and they'd lean towards social justice even if raised by the Klan, but I'm sure you'd agree it'd take longer and that they might not be quite so gung-ho about social justice if raised that way).

A giant redwood has a natural inclination to be tall. But any given example of giant redwoods will be taller, or shorter, due to environmental factors. Plant on in a desert environment with little water and poor soil and it'll be a scrawny and short example of its species. Plant the same one in a soil mix optimized for tall giant redwoods and give it water optimized for producing tall giant redwoods and it'll be taller.

So even if we agreed (and I don't) that nature is paramount, we can't really claim that nurture is completely irrelevant.

Which is why I think that religion is inherently harmful, inherently dangerous. Again, I'm not seeking to outlaw it, but I do think that the inherent danger of religion is such that we should be socially discouraging it.

I think my heroin comparison is apt. Some people (a minority) can do heroin with no significant problems. Most get problems. Therefore, while I think heroin should be legal, I think we should be socially discouraging its use.

In a lot of ways I view religion in much the same way that a lot of the semi-liberal religionists view homosexuality. I tolerate it's existence, I don't want to see it outlawed, I don't want to see religionists prohibited from marriage or in any way legally barred from being fully equal citizens, but I do think it should be kept away from children and practiced only in private and never in public.
posted by sotonohito at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look at the numbers by which every single state constitutional amendment against same sex marriage has passed. Usually it's well over 60%. That is strong evidence that contrary to your claims Jerry Falwell style religion is the mainstream and the nice and friendly version of religion you want to claim is the majority is the minority.

Ah, but how do you know that those 60% all thinking thus because of religion?

As of 2004 (latest polling I could find), 64% of Americans favored teaching Creationism in public schools. Again, that's not indicative of a majority of religionists being nice and friendly.

1. How many people were in that sample and where was the sample done?
2. Did any of them ELABORATE on their answers?

And let me elaborate upon that second question. Because I would not object to Creationism being taught in schools -- but not for the reason you might think. I believe that discussing Creationism in school science classes will undo it. Think about it: "Okay, kids, Ken Hovind claims that the fossil record was caused by the global flood. But according to this experiment we just did, the floodwaters he's talking about couldn't possibly have done what he says they did. So...looks like that's another 'not likely' mark against Creationism; how many are we up to now?...."

How many out of that 64% may be thinking the same thing?

If you can find and cite statistics that indicate that you are, in fact, in the majority I'd like to hear them.

They get trotted out in every other religious thread. If you haven't been paying attention then, I'm not seeing why I should now.

You'll also need to find some explanation for why, if nice religionists are the majority, they've been letting their not nice coreligionists dominate the conversation and do all the harm they've been doing?

To be honest, that's something I also wonder myself.

Where are the nice religionists protesting outside Wall Street with signs citing Matt 19:24? Or marching in opposition to the same sex marriage bans? If they're a majority you'd think they'd be out there doing something instead of hiding and letting their not nice coreligionists dominate politics and pass all manner of very bad laws.

Oh, they're out there. They just mix in with the other non-religious protestors, so you're probably not seeing them as "indicative of religion." Because they don't wear their religion on their sleeve the way the wing-nuts do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2011


sotonohito: you mean 'American religion'. Scandinavian countries, for example, are often cited as having widespread religion while being highly civilised.
posted by fraac at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2011


Believe it or not, fraac has a point with that. What you're seeing, sotonohito, is something unique to the American landscape -- which also further indicates that something other than religion is at play here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2011


This is not to say that the interplay of religion in the public commons doesn't take on different aspects in other countries sometimes. But it's a far from uniform affect.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2011


Christian socialists should indeed become more militant; they should recognize however that their greatest enemies are not the religionists, but the progressive physicalists.
posted by No Robots at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2011


No Robots, you keep using this term "progressive physicalists". Did you coin it yourself? I'm curious about what it means.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:45 AM on September 21, 2011


Marx explains the basic idea as "abstract materialism":
The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.--Capital.
posted by No Robots at 11:00 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


vorfeed:

It's not at all surprising. As a religious person, you probably believe in absolute value(s). I don't.

I don't think I understand what you're referring to when you say "absolute value(s)." The only thing I can think of called "absolute value" is a mathematical concept. And can't figure out how it could make sense for you to be saying that you don't believe in absolute value in that sense. What do you mean?

I mean, what is "honest logic"?

Logic that is sound and not based on false premises.

What kind of arguments count, which don't, and why?

Arguments whose premises are factual and which employ sound logic, evidentiary support, and the plain, ordinary meanings of terms, including terms of art. Why? Because arguments that do not fit that description are fallacious, necessarily incorrect, and, in the case of arguments based on shifting or non-standard defined terms, impossible to understand or respond to.

No. You've told me more than once before that my opinions are inherently "dishonest" "bullshit"

I don't recall ever saying that your opinions, vorfeed, are inherently dishonest and/or bullshit. Can you point me to one of the instances that you're referring to?

To the extent that someone's opinions (you, me, or anyone else) are based on false premises, unsound logic, or misrepresentations, I do agree that they are dishonest and/or bullshit. I just don't remember ever saying that your opinion are inherently so.

-- do you think I'm stupid enough to stand here and agree that I shouldn't speak, simply because you reject my ideas?

I have never said and I do not believe that you should not speak simply because I or anyone else rejects your ideas. Moreover, I do not reject your ideas. I have fully and without reservation agreed 100% with many of the ideas that you have put forth in this discussion. I expect to continue to do so.

Again: I do not support limiting the argument.

Nor do I. I respectfully submit that unsound logic, false premises, and inconsistent or manipulative use of defined terms are counterproductive argument tactics. You're free to use them and only you can decide whether or not you want to argue that way.

If you think that people are dishonest or base their arguments on false bullshit, then you are free to point that out.

Thanks. I will.

As for whether religion is a contentious topic: of course it is. But contentiousness is not a reason for everyone to walk on eggshells

I absolutely agree with you, without reservation.

sotonohito:

Where are the nice religionists protesting outside Wall Street with signs citing Matt 19:24? Or marching in opposition to the same sex marriage bans? If they're a majority you'd think they'd be out there doing something instead of hiding and letting their not nice coreligionists dominate politics and pass all manner of very bad laws.

Let me make sure I understand what you're saying here. You're claiming that everyone who opposes same-sex marriage bans or Wall Street is an atheist? That's a bold claim that I'm not inclined to believe unless you can back it up with some very persuasive evidence. Thanks.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on September 21, 2011


Thanks, No Robots.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2011


vorfeed, if you could get back to me as well with your general problems with religion. I sense we're making progress.

I talked about this above, along with a link to further explanation.

That said, one of my problems with religion is this discussion we're having right now -- the idea that it cannot be considered negative. On mefi we generally see positive and negative as the kinds of things people can reasonably disagree about. People can be anti-capitalist, anti-communist, anti-government, anti-war, anti-peace, and even anti-human misanthropes, and we'll all happily discuss the general merits of capitalism, communism, government, war, peace, and humanity, allowing for many different opinions on the matter... but the moment the discussion turns to religion it's various forms of nuh-uh nuh-uh, you can't really be against it!

I get tired of playing Religion Is Generally (Pick One):
A) Awesome!
B) Just OK
C) C isn't a valid choice! If you pick C you have to prove it because lots of people disagree with you!!! Provide a three-page essay so that everyone who chose A and B can pick it apart!

Things that can't be considered bad are otherwise known as "blind spots", and religion is one of our biggest.
posted by vorfeed at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess the problem is 'generally' when you could easily be specific, and the fact you're talking to religious people. You're kind of saying people are bad to their faces. Presumably you aren't meaning to so there's a logical misstep lingering that annoys a lot of people, understandably.
posted by fraac at 11:30 AM on September 21, 2011


That said, one of my problems with religion is this discussion we're having right now -- the idea that it cannot be considered negative.

I don't understand what you're referring to. What comment has been made in this discussion that you interpreted as someone asserting that religion cannot be considered negative?

On the off chance that you believe for some reason that I have taken the position that religion cannot be considered negative, I would point you to my prior statement directed to you where I said:

it was proposed that religion is a bad thing because of its propensity to bring out the worst in people, be fuel for violent conflict, create worse contention and persecution than other concepts, and the like. To the extent that that contention is correct (and I would agree that it is)

I don't think anyone here is saying that religion cannot be considered negative.
posted by The World Famous at 11:44 AM on September 21, 2011


I don't think anyone here is saying that religion cannot be considered negative.

*raises hand* Some of the things I've said may give that impression.

But my argument isn't "it can't be considered negative" in the sense of "how dare you it is 100% a force of good", it's more "it can't be considered WHOLLY negative", as in, the evils people are attributing to it are coming more from the synthesis of the relgion and that particular evildoer.

In another sense: religous extremism doesn't reproduce asexually. You need both sets of DNA (the religion itself and the believer's own personality) in order to create religious extremism. If the believer in question doesn't have the personality that creates a negative effect, they're not going to have that same kind of reaction to religion.

That's more my point. But that can indeed look like I'm saying "religion cannot be considered negative."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on September 21, 2011


But my argument isn't "it can't be considered negative" in the sense of "how dare you it is 100% a force of good", it's more "it can't be considered WHOLLY negative", as in, the evils people are attributing to it are coming more from the synthesis of the relgion and that particular evildoer.

Ah. I mostly agree with that.
posted by The World Famous at 12:04 PM on September 21, 2011


I guess the problem is 'generally' when you could easily be specific, and the fact you're talking to religious people. You're kind of saying people are bad to their faces.

As opposed to telling other people to their faces that they must be "cruel", "damaging", "blind", "abusive", and "terrified" because they're arguing against religion? Give me a break.

It's not like religions don't tell people they're bad, either.
posted by vorfeed at 12:23 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What would convince you that religion isn't the problem?
posted by fraac at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


As opposed to telling other people to their faces that they must be "cruel", "damaging", "blind", "abusive", and "terrified" because they're arguing against religion?

I think the idea is that nobody should do that, on any side of the discussion.
posted by The World Famous at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2011


I just wanted you to clarify what it would take for you to stop saying religion is bad. You still haven't

If it would stop promoting all the terrible real world consequences which I've repeatidly listed (incompletely I might add), while simultaneously ceasing to impugn the fundamental quality of our finite existence on this earth, I could then forgive religion.

tl;dr I will stop saying religion is bad when it stops doing bad things.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2011


If I don't do any of those bad things, does that mean I'm not religious?
posted by The World Famous at 12:53 PM on September 21, 2011


Do you vote for people that support those terrible things?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:53 PM on September 21, 2011


Am I seriously the only one baffled that people who can use words longer than five letters don't know the difference between general and specific?
posted by fraac at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2011


I voted for Obama, so I guess sometimes I do.

Is there a way to vote without voting for people who support those terrible things?

Does having voted for Obama make me religious?
posted by The World Famous at 12:55 PM on September 21, 2011


I wan't to derail the thread, but can we make a deal? Please favorite this comment if you think this is the worst thing in the world. I have to laugh at it, or else I will weep uncontrollably:

Karl Rove took him under his wing and set Perry up for a run as a Republican against the liberal icon Jim Hightower. This was in a race for agriculture commissioner, a statewide post without a vast array of issues. Perry ran against a Hightower rule requiring farmers to get their workers out of the fields before they sprayed pesticide on them, and won.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:56 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to take you into my underground laboratory and run experiments on your brain.
posted by fraac at 12:57 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should have formatted against like this AGAINST
posted by Chekhovian at 12:58 PM on September 21, 2011


fraac, you're heading back into asshole territory. Can we walk it back a little?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:59 PM on September 21, 2011


sorry, also meant, don't want to derail the thread. You have my strongest apologies for the typos.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:01 PM on September 21, 2011


vorfeed: "That said, one of my problems with religion is this discussion we're having right now -- the idea that it cannot be considered negative."

Watching this all go down, the conversation really seems to be boiling down to this:
Atheists: Religion on the whole is bad for mankind and we would be better off without it.
Theists: But there is good in religion, too! Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!
Atheists: Baby can go fuck itself.
Theists: Noooooooooo!

(Feel free to replace the baby with great-grandma's rubber ducky or something if you don't want to taint atheists with committing infanticide.)
posted by charred husk at 1:07 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But my argument isn't "it can't be considered negative" in the sense of "how dare you it is 100% a force of good", it's more "it can't be considered WHOLLY negative", as in, the evils people are attributing to it are coming more from the synthesis of the relgion and that particular evildoer.
Ah. I mostly agree with that.


And that's what I'm talking about. I understand that no one is saying it's literally impossible to be against religion, yet the idea is constantly undermined just the same. We don't tell people that capitalism, socialism, war, government, or humanity requires "two sets of DNA" to be negative. We tend to agree that people can be against these things categorically, whether we agree with that position or not, yet when it comes to religion people go through all sorts of contortions. It's a blind spot.

The same goes for the baby/bathwater argument. This is a great reason for theists to disagree with anti-theism, but it's not a good argument against it. Since when isn't there a "baby"? Everything has its upsides; that doesn't mean we have to accept everything, nor that it's unreasonable to decide that the downsides outweigh the upsides.

What would convince you that religion isn't the problem?

I don't think religion is "the problem". I think it's a problem. If you want to know why, read what I wrote. If you want to try to convince me that religion isn't a problem, disprove what I wrote. I'm not going to stand here and serve you your rebuttal on a platter. Do you go around expecting an answer to questions like "what would convince you that global warming isn't the problem", "what would convince you that sexism isn't the problem", etc? The assumption that religion "isn't the problem" is part of the reason why it's a problem.

You may as well ask me what would convince me to stop beating my wife.
posted by vorfeed at 2:28 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't recall ever saying that your opinions, vorfeed, are inherently dishonest and/or bullshit. Can you point me to one of the instances that you're referring to?

To the extent that someone's opinions (you, me, or anyone else) are based on false premises, unsound logic, or misrepresentations, I do agree that they are dishonest and/or bullshit. I just don't remember ever saying that your opinion are inherently so.


Upon searching, it appears that you didn't -- I had you mixed up with somebody else. My apologies. You do seem to believe that one can't fairly call religion "foolish", "delusional", and the like, whereas I believe one can, but that's more of a meta-disagreement than anything else.
posted by vorfeed at 2:38 PM on September 21, 2011


I understand that no one is saying it's literally impossible to be against religion, yet the idea is constantly undermined just the same. We don't tell people that capitalism, socialism, war, government, or humanity requires "two sets of DNA" to be negative. We tend to agree that people can be against these things categorically, whether we agree with that position or not, yet when it comes to religion people go through all sorts of contortions. It's a blind spot.

Um....I don't think it's fair to say capitalism, socialism, government, or humanity is 100% negative either. The only reason I haven't made that clear in this discussion is that this is the first time anyone's brought them up.

But no, I don't tend to agree that you can be against those things "categorically". Particularly not "humanity".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:41 PM on September 21, 2011


I grew up being told that socialism was the same as communism and was therefore bad. I learned to shrug off that vile b.s., so it is not hard to shrug off the claim that Christianity is the same as Jerry Fallwell, and is therefore bad.
posted by No Robots at 2:41 PM on September 21, 2011


Okay, no robots, but what we're doing here is trying to discuss things with each other rather than writing off each others' opinions as "vile b.s.".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


And who is this "we" in whose name you speak?
posted by No Robots at 2:50 PM on September 21, 2011


...The...people in this discussion.

What are YOU trying to do by calling the opinions that vorfeed and chekhovian are expressing "vile b.s."?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:54 PM on September 21, 2011


I'll leave it those two individuals to take issue with anything that I might have said regarding them.
posted by No Robots at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2011


Upon searching, it appears that you didn't -- I had you mixed up with somebody else. My apologies. You do seem to believe that one can't fairly call religion "foolish", "delusional", and the like, whereas I believe one can, but that's more of a meta-disagreement than anything else.

No problem. I think you and I are nearly on the same page (aside from meta-stuff) when we communicate with each other well. Sure, I'm not an atheist. But actually I think my disagreements with atheists are probably fewer than one might expect.
posted by The World Famous at 3:06 PM on September 21, 2011


Um....I don't think it's fair to say capitalism, socialism, government, or humanity is 100% negative either.

To me, claiming that something is negative categorically or in general is not the same thing as claiming that it's "100% negative". I dislike country music as a category, but I approve of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. Likewise, one can think that capitalism is negative in general, yet be OK with worker-owned factories operating within a capitalist system, and one can be against government but accept the idea of a loose, state-like group of mutual collectives. Or, obviously, one could dislike humanity without necessarily hating everything to do with one's self. Finding one or more "good" things in a category doesn't make it impossible to dislike the category.

I think part of the problem here is English: it seems like every word for this concept (categorical, general, etc) can mean either "absolutely 100% of" or "for the most part". Just to make things clear, I'm talking about the latter.
posted by vorfeed at 3:21 PM on September 21, 2011


those two individuals to take issue with anything that I might have said regarding them

Well, this was my first instinct, but I'm glad cooler heads spoke first.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2011


To me, claiming that something is negative categorically or in general is not the same thing as claiming that it's "100% negative". I dislike country music as a category, but I approve of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.

Maybe that's the problem -- the objection isn't to people who say "I dislike country music," but rather to people who say "country music sucks dingo kidneys" or "people who actually like country music are redhick inbred hicks" or "people who like country music need an intervention" or "I'm stealing my mom's Johnny Cash records and replacing them with Metalica, for her own good," or "listening to country music lowers your IQ" or "we should do away with all country music because it's bad for the world".

that's all kind of different from "I don't really like country music, me."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 PM on September 21, 2011


that's all kind of different from "I don't really like country music, me."

I agree. That's why it'd be fantastic if religion had the same social impact as country music. Religion fans (calling them "religious" would just be crazy!) could do their "religion thang" with little or no blowback or interference from anyone, and other people (ditto "atheist") could live their lives without having to deal with religion so much as once in a lifetime, if desired. Religious opinions on things like abortion, suicide, euthanasia, gambling, drinking, drugs, promiscuity, the death penalty, and on and on might matter to religion fans, but they'd have about as much bearing on public policy and societal values as what Chet Atkins thinks of bad breakups and Chevy trucks.

Then it really would be quite unreasonable to say "we should do away with all religion because it's bad for the world". But whenever atheists suggest that we move toward such a society, we get pigeonholed as monsters who just want to make everyone stop playing country music forever... and the world spins closer to a major backlash against religion, which is the most realistic way that kind of baby-bathwater-and-bathtub scenario could actually come to pass. So it goes, I guess.
posted by vorfeed at 9:19 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


vorfeed, I think you missed my point. Perhaps I was unclear.

I'm talking about the difference between saying "I dislike [thing]" and "[thing] sucks." What [thing] is, is irrelevant to my point, which is that saying "I dislike [thing]" makes for much smoother conversations.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 AM on September 22, 2011


I want to say this again, since it was apparently ignored before.

There's this famous story about Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt.
He would say something to the effect of "We don't need to worry about environmental protection and conservation, as the rapture will happen before any of the matters".If buy into his assumptions (Jesus, End Times, Kingdom of God on Earth), then his deductive logic is perfectly reasonable. Garbage in, garbage out.

You counter to my claim that religion bad because of its nasty effects on society by saying that religion doesn't matter and bad people will do bad irrespective of faith. I'll agree that bad people are bad, but that's not the point. Look at what Watt said, if you buy into his starting assumptions then his conclusions are perfectly logical. You don't bother to repaint a sinking ship.

Perhaps you actually believe in what the bible says (as a specific example), but disagree with when the rapture will beam you up to heaven. This is a difference of degree, but not of kind. You'd be arguing that the ship is sinking more slowly than Watt thinks.

But the point is, whether Watt was a good person or a bad person, religion is still the problem with this logic. The mathematical equivalent would be Watt saying that 2+2 = 4, and you arguing that addition isn't to blame.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:28 AM on September 22, 2011


You counter to my claim that religion bad because of its nasty effects on society by saying that religion doesn't matter and bad people will do bad irrespective of faith. I'll agree that bad people are bad, but that's not the point. Look at what Watt said, if you buy into his starting assumptions then his conclusions are perfectly logical. You don't bother to repaint a sinking ship.

I agree with you that Watt has synthesized Christianity in keeping with that particular eschatological view.

But Watt is one man. And your attributing that particular view point wholly to religion completely ignores the many Christian ecological groups, who also draw their inspiration from the Bible -- the very same Bible James Watt was looking at.

So if you've got one guy reading a book and saying "screw the environment because God's coming back," and you've got a bunch of other people reading the very same book and saying "we need to take better care of the environment because God told us to," then...doesn't it stand to reason that maybe that book may not be doing ALL of the convincing one way or the other?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2011


one guy reading a book vs got a bunch of other people reading the very same book

I acknowledge that are christian ecological groups. But you've fudged your numbers here. The truth would be "a bunch of people reading a book and saying "screw the environment because God's coming back," and a very few people saying "we need to take better care of the environment because God told us to".
posted by Chekhovian at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2011


The truth would be "a bunch of people reading a book and saying "screw the environment because God's coming back," and a very few people saying "we need to take better care of the environment because God told us to".

Got some stats to back that up?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2011


And do those stats take into account that a lot of the Christians who support environmental reform....may not be self-identifying as Christian when they talk about the environment because they may not believe it's relevant?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on September 22, 2011


Chekhovian: click the Dispensationalist link in your James Watt Wikipedia link. Dispensationalism, the idea of the rapture, was a nineteenth century innovation in American Protestant Fundamentalism.

Why does that one particular nineteenth century innovation define Christianity? If we're going by nineteenth century theological innovators, why shouldn't liberal theologians like Kierkegaard (the "Leap of Faith" guy) or Schleiermacher represent Christianity just as well?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:59 AM on September 22, 2011


may not be self-identifying as Christian when they talk about the environment because they may not believe it's relevant

How can it be their faith be irrelevant to their environmentalism when they admit that "we need to take better care of the environment because God told us to". I'm sure there are christians that are coincidentally environmentalists, just as someone who likes 30 Rock might coincidentally like Bob Dylan. If someone liked 30 Rock because of Bob Dylan,

Got some stats to back that up?

You made the starting claim. It is ridiculous to assert things without proof, then demand proof of any counter assertions.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:01 AM on September 22, 2011


Why shouldn't liberal theologians like Kierkegaard (the "Leap of Faith" guy) or Schleiermacher represent Christianity just as well?

I would leap for joy if Kierkegaard and Schleiermacher were issues that frequently arose in modern public religious discourse.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:02 AM on September 22, 2011


Damn, I got distracted by updates and didn't quick finish that last part.

If someone liked 30 Rock because of Bob Dylan, and they were asked about their feelings on the show and how they came to like it, wouldn't they mention Dylan? (Just two random things I like, chosen out of a hat)
posted by Chekhovian at 9:05 AM on September 22, 2011


TheophileEscargot raises an interesting question. As I understand it, the atheist reply would be something like the following: Kierkegaardians and Schleiermacherists aren't the ones persecuting us. And, anyway, why are you getting so bent out of shape about us, we're not in any position to persecute you, so quit quibbling about (what we see as) rare exceptions.

I think this is true, to a good first approximation. But, from a theist's perspective, here's the problem. Religion is the most common avenue through which human beings come to have a relationship with God. That's the important part. Atheists attack religion generically, and they are making headway toward making religion, if not untenable for the average person, at least unfashionable. Which makes it more difficult for people to establish a relationship with God.

See, religion started out as something like a really great wonton soup. But almost immediately, people started pissing in it (as people will), so that before long it became a pretty foul brew. But there's still this one really great wonton left in there (i.e., a relationship with God). And if you destroy the soup, you destroy the wonton. Which means you have to find the wonton somewhere else, which is a lot harder (for most people). Don't try to push this analogy too far.

Can we purify the soup? Perhaps, but it will take a long time. Still, atheists can expect a lot of push-back from theists if they try to completely destroy the soup. They could be helpful with the purification efforts. If they want to.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:31 AM on September 22, 2011


You made the starting claim. It is ridiculous to assert things without proof, then demand proof of any counter assertions.
She claimed that Christian environmentalists existed and proved her claim by linking to a Christian environmentalist website. You counter-claimed that they were the minority and offered no evidence. She has proven her claim, and you haven't.
posted by craichead at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2011


See, religion started out as something like a really great wonton soup. But almost immediately, people started pissing in it (as people will), so that before long it became a pretty foul brew.

But in terms of Christianity: it existed for 1800 years or so before the dispensationalists appeared to start pissing in it.

A while ago I wrote this Brief and annoying history of religion in the west which has a bit more detail.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:36 AM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you saying that the dispensationalists were the first? Didn't the Inquisition pre-date the 19th century?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:42 AM on September 22, 2011


How can it be their faith be irrelevant to their environmentalism when they admit that "we need to take better care of the environment because God told us to".

For people who self-identify as Christian ecologists, they would mention it. For people who are Christian and who also just happen to also be ecologists, they may not, as Christianity may not be the only reason for their ecological mindset.

It's just like people who are homosexual do not have always have "I Must Always Keep My Gayness In Mind" at the forefront of their self identity ("I am going to buy this six-pack of Coca-Cola and drink it in a gay manner!"); so, too, do people who happen to be Christian not always associate Every Last Damn Thing They Do with their faith. Some people do, but even there you do not find a consistency amongst what Their Publically Proclaimed Christian Identity is making them do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2011


Kierkegaardians and Schleiermacherists aren't the ones persecuting us.

Bu atheists indiscriminately attack everyone, including Kierkegaardians/Schleiermacherists. Perhaps it's time for the latter to defend themselves.
posted by No Robots at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2011


No, no Robots, "atheists" do not "indiscriminately attack everyone". Just like "Christians" do not "always universally hate homosexuality".

It is the HARDLINE people on BOTH sides that are doing the things the rest of us find abhorrent. You are no more accurate in pointing fingers at "atheists" than some in here are in pointing fingers at "Christians".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2011


(wow. I don't think I've EVER had cause to speak up on behalf of both Christian AND atheist tolerance in the very same thread.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2011


@The World Famous "Let me make sure I understand what you're saying here. You're claiming that everyone who opposes same-sex marriage bans or Wall Street is an atheist?"

No, and I can't see how you got that out of what I actually wrote.

I'm saying that the majority of religionists are the people who vote for bans on same sex marriage and don't bother protesting Wall Street. I'm certainly not saying everyone on the side of right is an atheist.

I **AM** simply saying that the majority of religionists seem to be the people voting for the bad stuff.

Take, for an example, the Texas anti-gay marriage amendment. It passed with 76% of the vote. Exit polls showed that the tiny sliver of atheist voters in Texas were nearly unanimous in opposition to the bill, this means that of the 76% all but a statistically insignificant number were religionists.

Even if we assume that 100% of the people opposed to the bill were religionists that still means only 14% of voting Texan religionists were opposed to the bill.

Which is another way of saying that the majority of religionists were in favor of the bill. So claims that the majority religionists are nice people who don't want to impose theocracy are, I'd think pretty self evidently, incorrect. Most religionists are, in fact, wannabe theocrats who routinely vote to impose their religion with the force of law.

That's the exact opposite of what the various defenders of religion here have been claiming.

@EmpressCallipygos "How many people were in that sample and where was the sample done?"

It was a nationwide poll, and those are generally done with a random sample of somewhere near 2,500 and 2,900 respondants. If that seems low to you, and given that you asked the wrong question (ie: how many were in that sample) rather than the right questions (ie: how were the questions worded, how random was the sample) I'm going to guess that you most likely think that number is preposterously tiny.

If that's the case, I'm afraid this is not really the best place to elaborate on why polls with samples in the range of 2,500 to 2,900 are quite accurate for measuring the opinions of a nation with a population of about 300,000,000. That's the sort of thing that takes a semester or so in a statistics class with lots of experimentation before the understandable intuition that it can't possibly be right stops seeming correct.

If it makes you feel better about trusting those statistics ANY national poll of the US involves about that many respondents. More is simply unnecessary and a waste of resources.

Scientific polling relies mainly on telephone polling because it's the easiest way to get a very nearly random sample. Sample randomness is the critical factor. You miss people who don't have telephones which means your sample is automatically less than perfect, but so far it's the best approach anyone has come up with. Door to door polling is prohibitively expensive, and the pollster's personal traits (sex, color, etc) have been shown to have greater influence on results in face to face polls than in telephone polls. It's a trade off. Generally a properly done poll in the USA with a sample of 2,500 to 2,900 will be accurate to 3 percent or so.

"Ah, but how do you know that those 60% all thinking thus because of religion?"

Well, I know that 40% of Americans are believers in Young Earth Creationism. I don't think it's a stretch to suppose that pretty much the totality of that group will be in favor of teaching YEC because they're opposed to real science.

Creationism also correlates strongly with church attendance. In polls on belief in creationism 60% of regular church attendees (defined as attending at least once a week) belived in YEC, while only 2% of regular church attendees believed in secular evolution.

Again, not that means the *majority* (not all, but the majority) of regular church attendees in America are Young Earth Creationists. The 40% who aren't are the minority.

Which is why I keep harping on the fact that only a minority of religionists are on the side of good. Your personal experience, your personal church, may be different but the statistics don't lie.

re: a request for statsitics to back up your position: "They get trotted out in every other religious thread. If you haven't been paying attention then, I'm not seeing why I should now."

I've never seen anyone link to statistics showing that religious moderation was the postition of the majority of religionists. I ask, in the spirit of friendly discussion, if you can please back up your asertion that only a minority of religionists are the ones voting aginst same sex marraige, trying to force creationism into schools, etc. I think you'll have a hard time finding those stats because I don't think they exist.

If the majority of religious people in Texas weren't bigots then 75% of the population wouldn't have voted for the bill to ban same sex marriage. QED.

@CrabbyAppleton "As I understand it, the atheist reply would be something like the following: Kierkegaardians and Schleiermacherists aren't the ones persecuting us. And, anyway, why are you getting so bent out of shape about us, we're not in any position to persecute you, so quit quibbling about (what we see as) rare exceptions."

My response would be different.

I'd mention that the majority of Christians in America aren't Kierkegaardians and Schleiermacherists and that's the problem.

I'll also argue that even if the dispensationalists vanished tomorrow in a puff of logic in 50 years they'd have reformed from the Kierkegaardians and Schleiermacherists. Religion always and inevitably contains the seeds for the bad form of religion. To pick on the Bible, the parts where it describes God as a total murderous vile villain are there even if you and your congregation choose to ignore them or explain them away. Which means a person less inclined to be nice can always find those verses and rebuild fundamentalism.

To take your soup analogy, it isn't that people pissed in the soup, it's that the wonton is poisonous. As long as you're participating in the soup the best you can hope for is you get a bowl with less poison. Purify the soup and in a few decades the poison will have leeched back in.

Moderate religion breeds extreme religion, and offers cover to the extreme religionists. Moderate religionists don't like this I'm sure, but it's what seems to happen.

I'll also question the value of the "relationship with God" you claim is of value. I don't have such a thing and I've got no more problems than those who do have it. Further, it sounds like "a relationship with Harry Potter" to me. I'm really not trying to be deliberately offensive, but I can't think of a less blunt way to put it. To me they both look like characters in a book of fiction.

If all religionists behaved as the people over at fanfiction.net did, and kept their deep involvement with fictional characters to themselves and out of politics I'd have no problems with religious folk. But most religious folk can't seem to resist the urge to push their religion into law.

Perhaps because, unlike Harry Potter, religion is presented as factual rather than fiction? I don't know.
posted by sotonohito at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I know that 40% of Americans are believers in Young Earth Creationism. I don't think it's a stretch to suppose that pretty much the totality of that group will be in favor of teaching YEC because they're opposed to real science.

I remember you bringing up this statistic in another thread. Can you remind me where you got this information from? Becuase that seems rather suspect (and if memory serves I think we'd come to that conclusion earlier as well).

I've never seen anyone link to statistics showing that religious moderation was the postition of the majority of religionists. I ask, in the spirit of friendly discussion, if you can please back up your asertion that only a minority of religionists are the ones voting aginst same sex marraige, trying to force creationism into schools, etc. I think you'll have a hard time finding those stats because I don't think they exist.

Not of "religionists," no. But by "religionists," I'm defining that as "someone who strongly self-identifies as a member of that religion", rather than 'someone who checks a ticky-box when asked." What I mean is, I have a feeling you're lumping the "only goes to church on Christmas and Easter" people in with the "every Sunday and we tithe" people, and....I don't think that's accurate.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on September 22, 2011


Empress, what do you think about Westboro? Do they spew vile b.s.? Should their doctrines be attacked?
posted by No Robots at 10:12 AM on September 22, 2011


Empress, what do you think about Westboro? Do they spew vile b.s.? Should their doctrines be attacked?

Do they spew b.s.? Yes. Should they be attacked? Not the way you're attacking people in here.

And I wouldn't "attack" anyone from Westboro if they were to come in here either. Rational argument trumps "you're just talking B.S." discourse ANY day of the week, especially if you're talking directly TO someone and you actually want them to LISTEN to you.

If you just want to tell them off, that's different.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:15 AM on September 22, 2011


If you just want to tell them off, that's different.

Well, that's what I'm here for.
posted by No Robots at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2011


religion started out as something like a really great wonton soup. But almost immediately, people started pissing in it (as people will)

If I was order from the World's Best Wonton Soup restaurant, and the waiter told me that some people had pissed it, but they were reasonably certain that they'd mostly purified the soup, I would not order the soup.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2011


Well, [tellnig people off] is what I'm here for.

Fine, but that's really, really not helping the situation, and is kind of making you look like a dick.

If I was order from the World's Best Wonton Soup restaurant, and the waiter told me that some people had pissed it, but they were reasonably certain that they'd mostly purified the soup, I would not order the soup.

And that makes sense. But you're not arguing in defense of your OWn right to not have the soup, you are arguing to do away with ALL Wonton soup EVERYWHERE, in that and IN ALL other restaurants. That's the difference.

I agree that you have the right to not order the soup. I support that, in fact. I also agree with your right to explain why you don't want the soup. It's when you start talking about taking away MY right to make up my OWN mind about the soup that i get punchy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on September 22, 2011


So, Empress, what if Westboro protested at your brother's funeral? Would you make sure not to look like a dick?
posted by No Robots at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2011


do away with ALL Wonton soup EVERYWHERE, in that and IN ALL other restaurants
Just the wonton soup that has piss in it. Health codes you know.

It's when you start talking about taking away MY right to make up my OWN mind about the soup that i get punchy.
If you confine your religion to your own brain, your private meeting halls, and don't mutilate your children because of it, then do whatever you want.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:32 AM on September 22, 2011


So, Empress, what if Westboro protested at your brother's funeral? Would you make sure not to look like a dick?

There are legal means to keep them back away. I would pursue those means. But I would not leave the funeral mid-stream to scream in their face, becuase why bother?

If you confine your religion to your own brain, your private meeting halls, and don't mutilate your children because of it, then do whatever you want.

So it looks like you don't object to the religion itself, but only the people who try to enforce their views upon you.

Well, we agree. So why are you taking the additional step of trying to argue religion should also be taken away from the people who ARE leaving you alone? I'm not.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2011


@The World Famous "Let me make sure I understand what you're saying here. You're claiming that everyone who opposes same-sex marriage bans or Wall Street is an atheist?"

No, and I can't see how you got that out of what I actually wrote.


You said: "Where are the nice religionists protesting outside Wall Street with signs citing Matt 19:24? Or marching in opposition to the same sex marriage bans? If they're a majority you'd think they'd be out there doing something instead of hiding and letting their not nice coreligionists dominate politics and pass all manner of very bad laws."

You asserted that "religionists" are not "out there doing something," and gave the specific examples of two things that you asserted "religionists" do not do. I assumed that by "religionists" you meant non-atheists. Was I mistaken?

I'm saying that the majority of religionists are the people who vote for bans on same sex marriage and don't bother protesting Wall Street.

Ah. A factual assertion without evidence. I see. Unfortunately, I don't have faith in your unsupported claim.

I **AM** simply saying that the majority of religionists seem to be the people voting for the bad stuff.

If the vast majority of the people in the United States are religious, as has been asserted in this thread, and "the majority of religionists" vote for the bad stuff, how is it that the bad stuff does not win every vote by a landslide every time? You seem to be assuming, incorrectly, that a) every religious person votes in every election, and b) the results of a vote in Texas are indicative of the opinions of every religious person in the world. I respectfully submit that you are wrong.

Even if we assume that 100% of the people opposed to the bill were religionists that still means only 14% of voting Texan religionists were opposed to the bill.

Which is another way of saying that the majority of religionists were in favor of the bill. So claims that the majority religionists are nice people who don't want to impose theocracy are, I'd think pretty self evidently, incorrect. Most religionists are, in fact, wannabe theocrats who routinely vote to impose their religion with the force of law.


That is terrible analysis, unsound logic, and a bullshit conclusion unsupported even by the false premises upon which it is based. I'm not going to engage with such utter nonsense other than to point out what complete, unadulterated dishonest and moronic bullshit it is. If you truly think your analysis is even marginally valid, you're more delusional than the most strident, insane religious zealot.

If the majority of religious people in Texas weren't bigots then 75% of the population wouldn't have voted for the bill to ban same sex marriage.

75% of the population didn't vote for the bill, by your own prior admission. Be honest or I won't discuss the issue with you. That also goes for your dickish use of the word "religionists" as a label for every person on earth that is in any way even minimally religious.
posted by The World Famous at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2011


Actually, since The World Famous has quoted this a lot -- Chekhovian, could you clarify exactly what you mean when by the term "religionists"? I'm unclear whether you mean "people who strongly identify with a religion" or only "people only nominally claim that they follow a given religion."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2011


There are legal means to keep them back away.

Indeed. And there are also the rights to free expression that we can exercise to curb the power of our adversaries.
posted by No Robots at 10:48 AM on September 22, 2011


Indeed. And there are also the rights to free expression that we can exercise to curb the power of our adversaries.

And there are also responsibilities to comply with the codes set down by a privately-owned web site, of which this is one.

And there are also codes of courtesy to consider.

What I mean is, "my saying 'what you said makes you look like a dick and isn't helping' does not mean I CENSORED you, for fuck's sake."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:56 AM on September 22, 2011


sotonohito writes: Religion always and inevitably contains the seeds for the bad form of religion.

Debatable. Humans certainly contain the seeds for corrupting anything, including religion. But no human is able to interfere with another person's true relationship with God, without that person's consent.

To take your soup analogy, it isn't that people pissed in the soup, it's that the wonton is poisonous.

Well, I can't go along with you on this. From my perspective, the wonton is of God: God offers it to us for our salvation and so by definition it can't be poisonous.

I'll also question the value of the "relationship with God" you claim is of value.

Yes, I'm aware that atheists question this.

I don't have such a thing and I've got no more problems than those who do have it.

I'm surprised you're willing to concede that some people do have it. And it depends on what kind of problems you're talking about. It's a bigger topic than I have time to cover now.

Further, it sounds like "a relationship with Harry Potter" to me.

I sort of doubt that Harry Potter fandom will be much of a force in the world 2000 years from now.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:57 AM on September 22, 2011


If I was order from the World's Best Wonton Soup restaurant, and the waiter told me that some people had pissed it, but they were reasonably certain that they'd mostly purified the soup, I would not order the soup.

That's why I said "Don't try to push this analogy too far."
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2011


So if vorfeed, sotonohito, and I were to dress in white dress shirts with skinny black ties and go from door to door saying "Have you heard the Good News? Stephen Hawking and other brilliant physicists have now figured out that the universe could have begun without even needing a principal cause*? This frees us from the need to worry about man's place in the universe, or what is the meaning of life or any of those non-question", what would you say? Would we me strident shrill atheists taking away your wonton?

*It turns out that before the big bang what now see as time and space, matter and energy, could have been a singularity frozen free from the existence of time, which then through a quantum mechanical fluctuation could "unstick", to use sound mathematical language.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2011


Actually, since The World Famous has quoted this a lot -- Chekhovian, could you clarify exactly what you mean when by the term "religionists"?

Have I used the word "religionist"? Maybe you're thinking of sotonohito's posts. I personally think its an awkward sounding turn of phrase. Its pretty clear to me what I think it means, but as I haven't used it, I shouldn't be the one defining it.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2011


So if vorfeed, sotonohito, and I were to dress in white dress shirts with skinny black ties and go from door to door saying "Have you heard the Good News? Stephen Hawking and other brilliant physicists have now figured out that the universe could have begun without even needing a principal cause*? This frees us from the need to worry about man's place in the universe, or what is the meaning of life or any of those non-question", what would you say? Would we me strident shrill atheists taking away your wonton?

If you leave when I say "no thanks, I'm not interested," the way the Mormons do, then no, I'm good.

If you wait in ambush outside my front door and follow me to work pestering me with "why don't you want to listen, here just take this and read it" -- the way vanishingly few such evangelists do, by the way -- then I'm not good.

And if you're getting THAT kind of treatment from people, your quarrel is with THOSE PEOPLE specifically.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2011


If I was order from the World's Best Wonton Soup restaurant, and the waiter told me that some people had pissed it, but they were reasonably certain that they'd mostly purified the soup, I would not order the soup.

That's why I said "Don't try to push this analogy too far."


Dude, you made an analogy to food, and I talked about whether one should eat it. Evaluated strictly on the level of rhetoric I think this is reasonable. It was low hanging fruit its true, but that's not my fault.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2011


Have I used the word "religionist"? Maybe you're thinking of sotonohito's posts.

My apologies.

Its pretty clear to me what I think it means, but as I haven't used it, I shouldn't be the one defining it.

To me it sounds like "the people who strongly self-identify with a religion". But what I fear is being overlooked is that if you look at a graph of "how many Catholics/Methodists/etc." are there in the population, that that is NOT a reflection of how many of those people claming to be Catholics are also "Religionists". So to say that "[x]% of the country is Catholic, according to this survey, and religionists believe y, so therefore [x]% of people int the country believe y" may be garbling the data.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2011


I'd say "why was there a singularity frozen free from the existence of time (whatever that means) rather than nothing?"

Science requires some sort of initial condition or state different from Nothing, and some kind of rules that define possible transitions of that initial state to other states. Without those, there is only Nothing. And it's legitimate to wonder why that state and those rules existed in the first place, and why they were such that the Universe eventually evolved to include us.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2011


Where in important cases courtesy and clarity conflict, one should always choose clarity: with courtesy, one does not make culture.--Constantin Brunner
posted by No Robots at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2011


So if vorfeed, sotonohito, and I were to dress in white dress shirts with skinny black ties and go from door to door saying "Have you heard the Good News? Stephen Hawking and other brilliant physicists have now figured out that the universe could have begun without even needing a principal cause*? This frees us from the need to worry about man's place in the universe, or what is the meaning of life or any of those non-question", what would you say?

First, let's assume that I actually had time for a discussion about it when you came to my door.

Ok, I would respond as follows: "Yes, I have heard that good news. Thanks! But you have jumped from that good news to an illogical conclusion unsupported by the premise. It's hot out today and you guys look tired. Can I offer you a glass of water?"

Would we me strident shrill atheists taking away your wonton?

No. You'd be enthusiastic people with whom I partially agree. And you would be what I would consider to be religious proselytizers. Which is fine. I don't personally like the door-to-door approach and I don't think people should do it. But you're free to do so and I don't have a "no proselyting" sign on my door, so I can understand why you would think it would be OK to at least ask.
posted by The World Famous at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2011


Dude, you made an analogy to food, and I talked about whether one should eat it. Evaluated strictly on the level of rhetoric I think this is reasonable. It was low hanging fruit its true, but that's not my fault.

OK. So I'll have to be more careful about my analogies in a hostile environment from now on.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:15 AM on September 22, 2011


Crabby, this isn't hostile in here. Tense, maybe, but not hostile. No one is outright insulting each other (save for one guy who outright admitted to doing so).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2011


Without those, there is only Nothing. And it's legitimate to wonder why that state and those rules existed in the first place, and why they were such that the Universe eventually evolved to include us.

You're winking here and saying that "therefore god must exist right"?

This is where the anthropic principle rears its ugly head. If there were nothing, we could not observe it, because we would be nothing. Most scientists don't find this very helpful, but scientifically we haven't figured out a way around it.

Some more "out there thinkers" have postulated that there are an infinitely many other universes out there with different fundamental constants that may or may not support the existence of "things" and "life". We don't know. We're working on it.

Religion is fundamentally a "crime against wonder", because it shoves "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer. Isn't it more astounding to not know? Isn't that fascinating?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2011


I like the analogy, crabs. And, yeah, if the wonton is important enough, it has to be washed off and eaten.
posted by No Robots at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2011


OK. So I'll have to be more careful about my analogies in a hostile environment from now on.

C'mon, you set that baseball up on the stand and gave me all the time in the world to take a swing, and you're mad at me? I did it with a grin of mild bemusement, not anger, if that makes you feel any better.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2011


Religion is fundamentally a "crime against wonder", because it shoves "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer.

Not necessarily. Even when I was still actively Catholic, I still had a very strong sense of wonder at the world and the universe. In fact, it was a nun who introduced me to Forteana -- which in turn lead to an even greater sense of curiosity about science and "cool shit that we don't know about yet".

And before you pick up on that "when I WAS Catholic" -- it wasn't that scientific inquiry that lead me away from the church. I may have lapsed, but in my case the lapse was amicable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2011


religion: it has to be washed off and eaten
mea culpa mea mea cupla mea maxima culpa
posted by Chekhovian at 11:23 AM on September 22, 2011


Forteana, embarrassingly enough I am not familiar with him, but I like the phrase "calculated outrageous"
posted by Chekhovian at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2011


Forteana, embarrassingly enough I am not familiar with him, but I like the phrase "calculated outrageous"

*grin* Some of the stuff Sister Steven told me blew my mind, yo.

Granted, I was only eight, but still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2011


You're winking here and saying that "therefore god must exist right"?

No, I'm just saying that if you thought that was the slam dunk that utterly refutes theism, you probably need to keep looking. (And I was telling you what I'd say. You asked. :-)

Some more "out there thinkers" have postulated that there are an infinitely many other universes out there with different fundamental constants that may or may not support the existence of "things" and "life". We don't know. We're working on it.

I should, but can't seem to, resist the impulse to note that this is what Hugh Everett lost his career in theoretical physics over, back in the 1950s. But now that it's needed to make sure that we're not special in any way, it's wonderful science.

Isn't that fascinating?

Fascinating, but not particularly helpful to me, with my "all too human" concerns.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2011


Religion is fundamentally a "crime against wonder", because it shoves "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer.

My religious beliefs don't do that. Does that mean I'm not religious by your definition of the word "religion?" I ask that because I'm trying to figure out a way that you're not just completely factually wrong and the simplest explanation is that you are just using a really weird non-standard definition for the word "religion."
posted by The World Famous at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2011


Bread and wine are supernatural products,—in the only valid and true sense, the sense which is not in contradiction with reason and Nature. If in water we adore the pure force of Nature, in bread and wine we adore the supernatural power of mind, of consciousness, of man. Hence this sacrament is only for man matured into consciousness; while baptism is imparted to infants. But we at the same time celebrate here the true relation of mind to Nature: Nature gives the material, mind gives the form. The sacrament of Baptism inspires us with thankfulness towards Nature, the sacrament of bread and wine with thankfulness towards man. Bread and wine typify to us the truth that Man is the true God and Saviour of man.--The essence of Christianity / Ludwig Feuerbach
posted by No Robots at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


C'mon, you set that baseball up on the stand and gave me all the time in the world to take a swing, and you're mad at me? I did it with a grin of mild bemusement, not anger, if that makes you feel any better.

I'm not mad at you. (Yet. :-) I guess I should have used the word "adversarial" rather than "hostile". I don't have any problem with adversarial discussions.

I think it was clear from my remarks that I considered it possible to purify the soup. You don't. But arguing about that at the level of "soup" is not useful, because we both know we're not really dealing with soup.

But I'm not saying it wasn't fair. I should have made a better analogy. On the other hand, if I had decided to make a better analogy, I probably wouldn't have commented at all. I should be doing real work anyway.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2011


No, I'm just saying that if you thought that was the slam dunk that utterly refutes theism, you probably need to keep looking.

You're the one making the claim with no empirical proof to back it up, just a long series of historical annecdotes. Here's I do think the origin question is important though. What science is does is progressively extend our understanding of the physical world, backward and forward in time, up and down in temperature, larger and smaller in size etc. What room is left for god to do anything? No Robots is right to be paranoid about that.

My religious beliefs don't do that [explain what we don't understand by invoking god]. Does that mean I'm not religious by your definition of the word "religion?

In your personal religion did god do anything? Is he responsible for the begining of the universe or the origin of life, does he work miracles in your life? If you believe your god doesn't actually do anything, then umm, no I would not call you religious.

I should be doing real work anyway. Shouldn't we all?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:41 AM on September 22, 2011


ugh, the secretive work avoiding nature of these posts just kills my grammar. Embarrassing.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:42 AM on September 22, 2011


Atheists attack religion generically, and they are making headway toward making religion, if not untenable for the average person, at least unfashionable. Which makes it more difficult for people to establish a relationship with God. [...] But there's still this one really great wonton left in there (i.e., a relationship with God). And if you destroy the soup, you destroy the wonton. Which means you have to find the wonton somewhere else, which is a lot harder (for most people).

So? My point with the country music thing is that this scenario is already reality for non-religious people. If I have to walk past 300 wonton-soup stands and then go into the underground when I want my egg-drop fix, so to speak, then why should your desire to eat your wonton-filled soup on every damn streetcorner matter to me? Society caters to your wonton to the detriment of many other things, including the things I want out of society, so why shouldn't it be harder to get?

You guys keep talking about the baby in the bathwater, and all I can think of is the fact that Christianity spent hundreds of years systematically yanking other people's babies out of the bath. Now you want everyone to spare your precious baby, and your argument is "well it's already there, so to destroy it would be a loss"? Shoulda thought of that earlier. As far as I'm concerned, I live in what often seems like a nonsense society cribbed from a second-rate dystopian novel in which half the values are topsy-turvy and the people all have names like "John 3:16". I am not obligated to respect that simply because it exists, or because you think it's super-awesome.

If you really think your religion is that important -- so important that "no human is able to interfere with another person's true relationship with God" -- you should have no problem with attempts to get it out of everybody else's business. Instead it's the same old thing: oh, no, religion can't possibly become "unfashionable" to the average person! That'd be the end of everything!

Too bad. You have the right to believe; you do not have the right to be fashionable.
posted by vorfeed at 11:42 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you really think your religion is that important -- so important that "no human is able to interfere with another person's true relationship with God" -- you should have no problem with attempts to get it out of everybody else's business.

No, we just have a problem with your trying to get it out of EVERYBODY'S business.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on September 22, 2011


No Robots: the sacrament of bread and wine with thankfulness towards man

Have you seen the Ray Comfort video where he so praises the bananas many virtues in such an totally embarrassing aware manner? He says the banana is so great because god made it for man.

Here's the thing, we know that bananas before a long difficult domestication were small, probably bitter, hard to skin, and generally not the wonderful things they are today. Only the work of generations made them what they are today.

I would totally get behind a ritual that thanked our forebears for their struggles. Just keep the god out of it.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:47 AM on September 22, 2011


For the record, Chekhovian, a lot of the theists I know also think that Ray Comfort is truly ridiculous as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, ALL the theists I know who've seen that video think that Ray Comfort's a loon. (I know theists who haven't seen it, and so I don't know their opinion on the man.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2011


No, we just have a problem with your trying to get it out of EVERYBODY'S business.

What do we do that is so terrible? Dare to argue in online forums? Title books in provocative fashions that peoples eyes might just happen to glance upon? Speak in public when invited to do so?

Atheists attack religion generically, and they are making headway toward making religion, if not untenable for the average person, at least unfashionable. Which makes it more difficult for people to establish a relationship with God.

Sweet! This feels like reading the secret codes of the other side! You made my day. Let me make yours in return.

You DO NOT TALK about religion in public in Britain. Terribly un-british. Many people are still religious there.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In your personal religion did god do anything?

Yes.

Is he responsible for the begining of the universe

I don't think so. I could be wrong. But I don't personally have any concrete religious belief regarding that issue.

or the origin of life,

Define "origin," "life," and "responsible." Even then, I'm not sure I could definitively answer your question. I don't believe that I have any absolute or unquestionably correct understanding of any of that from a religious perspective.

does he work miracles in your life?

I think so. But I can't be sure. I believe, but I don't know, if that makes sense.

If you believe your god doesn't actually do anything, then umm, no I would not call you religious.

I don't believe that god (I don't think god is "my" god) doesn't actually do anything.

But that wasn't my question. You claimed that "religion" shoves "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer. I don't think that's true of religion as a concept, but only of certain specific religious belief systems, which I do not hold. So I am trying to find out whether you are using some alternate definition of the term "religion" that includes, as part of that definition, shoving "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer.
posted by The World Famous at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What do we do that is so terrible? Dare to argue in online forums? Title books in provocative fashions that peoples eyes might just happen to glance upon? Speak in public when invited to do so?

Ask Sontohito, he was the one I was talking to.

However, it strikes me that "speak in public when invited to do so" and "title books in provocative fashions that people's eyes may just happen to glance upon them" are some of the things that hardline atheists are complaining about THEISTS doing as something that infringes upon them. So....hey.

And before you raise this objection -- I know that a Dominionist subset is also lobbying for stronger political control, and I agree that needs to be curbed. However, I feel the best way to counter that is to focus on their Dominionism rather than the religion behind it. That's all. (Why make them feel like persecuted martyrs? That'll just encourage 'em!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2011


You claimed that "religion" shoves "god did it" down your throat anytime we don't know the real answer. I don't think that's true of religion as a concept, but only of certain specific religious belief systems, which I do not hold.

Great! The problem is that from my perspective those certain specific religious belief systems seem to the ones that have most of America in thrall. We could keep arguing the statistics of that, but I'm pretty lazy about looking up that data, and debating the specifics of polling strategies is so damn boring.

What we need you to do, whatever you are, those of who are actively opposing the loons, how ever many they are, is to do better in opposing them. It seems to me that the "religious middle" (if that is an acceptable term) is generally quite willing to let the loons run the show (in our current historical epoch). Perhaps this hasn't always been the case, but the Now is what matters now.

We're not your real enemy.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2011


I would totally get behind a ritual that thanked our forebears for their struggles. Just keep the god out of it.

That's just what Feuerbach is saying (and, as far as I'm concerned, what Christ is saying).
posted by No Robots at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2011


@EmpressCallipygos A quick answer to your question on the term "religionist" while I've got the time. Longer answers on other things coming later.

I use the term in large part because in prior discussions elsewhere I had used the term "theists" and got tired of people bringing up Buddhism as a ha ha take that since some sects of Buddhism are, technically, atheist.

I'm using it to include any person who takes part in a religion. C&E Christians count as religionists as I'm using the term, as do the more devoted Christians who go to church regularly every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.
posted by sotonohito at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2011


The problem is that from my perspective those certain specific religious belief systems seem to the ones that have most of America in thrall.

Brace yourself -- your specifiying that "those certain specific religious belief systems" are doing this is the only thing I've been asking people to do.

It seems to me that the "religious middle" (if that is an acceptable term) is generally quite willing to let the loons run the show (in our current historical epoch).

I agree with you on this as well, and I share your concerns that they don't speak up. In fact, I've outright said so to more conservative Christians I've met who say "we're just as bummed about Westboro as you guys". I once got into a discussion with a woman who said that her pastor had preached a sermon about how the WBC didn't reflect the Gospel to her church that morning, and I pointed out that he was literally preaching to the converted -- it would have been more helpful if he'd gone to the media with that statement. The problem we're facing, I'm afraid, is that the more moderate Christians are telling each other that "we're not like that", and haven't quite been brave enough to make the leap to telling the world that "we're not like that."

The only think I can thing is that it's a sort of wanting to "keep it in the family", so to speak -- if Uncle Sid is always getting drunk at the local bar and saying all sorts of outrageous shit all the time, the way most families handle that is by sending someone to get Uncle Sid and get him out of the bar and talk to him at home, rather than talking smack to him out in public. Of course, sooner or later you get to the point where you may have to blow up at Uncle Sid in public. I, and you, are the people trying to tell the family that it's okay to yell at Uncle Sid in public, but they're still struggling with that.

But that doesn't mean that the family isn't trying to deal with Uncle Sid behind closed doors, or that they approve of what Uncle Sid says.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm using [religionist] to include any person who takes part in a religion. C&E Christians count as religionists as I'm using the term, as do the more devoted Christians who go to church regularly every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.

Then I'm afraid you may be mixing some of your statistics unnecessarily and unawares, I'm afraid, because the C&E Christians may call themselves "Christian", but probably don't consider themselves "Creationist."

This is only some friendly advice to bear that in mind as you review data.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2011


The problem is that from my perspective those certain specific religious belief systems seem to the ones that have most of America in thrall.

I agree. So maybe instead of saying "religion" does this or "religion" does that, we could star saying "some major religions" do that. That way we can agree about what we actually agree about and not argue about what you said but didn't mean.

We could keep arguing the statistics of that, but I'm pretty lazy about looking up that data, and debating the specifics of polling strategies is so damn boring.

There's no reason to argue about the statistics of that. Just don't say something that's demonstrably not true and stick to saying what you actually mean.

What we need you to do, whatever you are, those of who are actively opposing the loons, how ever many they are, is to do better in opposing them.

That's a great idea. Maybe we could start by convincing atheists to stand along side the religious people who agree with them, rather than fighting against all of us and painting us with an illogically-broad brush. Then we can fight together.

We're not your real enemy.

You could go a long way toward convincing us that you are not our real enemy simply by refraining from making overbroad assertions about religion when you're fighting against a specific subset of it. You seem to go out of your way to convince people like me that you are, in fact, our enemy.

I'm using ["religionists"] to include any person who takes part in a religion.

Ah. That's going to cause problems. See, the word "religionist" actually already has a definition, which is to describe particularly strident religious zealots, not just any religious person. I suggest that you use the term "religious people" or "religious person" instead, since those terms actually have the definition that fits what you're trying to say. There's no reason to invent new definitions for existing terms. It just makes communication more difficult.
posted by The World Famous at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2011


Brace yourself -- your specifiying that "those certain specific religious belief systems" are doing this is the only thing I've been asking people to do.

And the only thing I'm asking you to do is admit that those "certain specific religious belief systems" represent the majority popular culture's depictions of "religion" and majority of the interactions with religious things that we nonbelievers have.

If for the sake of argument your intrepration of the statistics is correct, then the religious middle is doing a fabulously poor job of representing itself.

Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but I'm going to try it out anyway. Lets pretend we atheists run a family farm desperate to grow enough food to survive. Mice are eating too many of our crops, so we get some cats. Then you complain that our cats are also eating song birds, and the we should get rid of them because of the terrible effect it has on the birds.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2011


And the only thing I'm asking you to do is admit that those "certain specific religious belief systems" represent the majority popular culture's depictions of "religion" and majority of the interactions with religious things that we nonbelievers have.

I realize you're not talking to me there, but for the sake of discourse, let me say that I agree with you on the first account (re: pop culture's depictions) and that, as a religious person, I have no way of knowing what interactions you nonbelievers have other than to assume they're similar to my own, which are not that way.
posted by The World Famous at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2011


And the only thing I'm asking you to do is admit that those "certain specific religious belief systems" represent the majority popular culture's depictions of "religion" and majority of the interactions with religious things that we nonbelievers have.

I don't dispute that. But you seem to be arguing that the REASON that those certain systems get the most media attention is because they DO represent the majority. I am saying that no, they're just the ones making the most noise.

If for the sake of argument your intrepration of the statistics is correct, then the religious middle is doing a fabulously poor job of representing itself.

Oh, I agree with you there.

Lets pretend we atheists run a family farm desperate to grow enough food to survive. Mice are eating too many of our crops, so we get some cats. Then you complain that our cats are also eating song birds, and the we should get rid of them because of the terrible effect it has on the birds.

I'm....not sure what this analogy is meant to represent. Can you give me a cheat sheet?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:36 PM on September 22, 2011


Sorry, guess that was unclear.

struggling family farm = pale flickering light of our feelings and rights
mice = the religious baddies, Perrys, Falwells, pedophilic priests, etc
cats = new atheists
birds = religious middle
posted by Chekhovian at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2011


So....you're admitting that you SUPPORT the hardline atheists in what they do?

That's interesting, because the religious middle OPPOSES what the hardline theists are doing, and DOESN'T want to associate with people so hateful. Are you saying you DO want yourself associated with the people making moderate atheists look bad?...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on September 22, 2011


you're admitting that you SUPPORT the hardline atheists in what they do
Haven't I repeatedly said this over and over again? I didn't think I'd been unclear. Whether this is the most empirically sound strategy to win the war, I don't know (and neither does anyone else either way), but I feel like I have to do it. Maybe you don't agree that my metaphor represents the real state of things, but its how it feels to me.

I said I wasn't your enemy and proposed an alliance, but only as a measure of expediency, a sort of a USA/USSR WWII pact type thing. The main theater is elsewhere for now though, and our mutual enemies are too scary for infighting.

Maybe the religious middle is some sort of cowering timid lot, and the slightest "stridency" on our part will send them running back into cover. In that case, I won't sell out my essential values to placate your vulnerable egos.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:02 PM on September 22, 2011


Maybe the religious middle is some sort of cowering timid lot, and the slightest "stridency" on our part will send them running back into cover. In that case, I won't sell out my essential values to placate your vulnerable egos.

What you're not getting is that the people you support are pissing off "the religious middle", so you're hamstringing the very "WWII pact" you say you want. So, if that's what you were after....well, good luck with that, I suppose.

And it's also keeping you from seeing a lot of the people around you with honest eyes, and getting along with them as members of your community, but....eh, you don't seem to feel too shaken up about missing out on befriending people in the "religious middle" anyway. If you're comfortable with that, I'll just say I hope it works out for you, and say it was nice talking to you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2011


And what I'm saying is that the USA (ie. Christian socialists) should recognize that Germany (ie. religious fundamentalists) are substantially the result of the USSR (ie. militant atheists), and that therefore the latter should be the prime target.
posted by No Robots at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2011


@The World Famous Huh, that'll learn me. I hadn't thought there was a formal definition for the term "religionist". My mistake, thanks.

@EmpressCallipygos "So....you're admitting that you SUPPORT the hardline atheists in what they do?"

You make it sound like the new atheists are rounding up religious people and putting them into concentration camps, or eating babies, or something equally horrific.

Last time I checked the new atheists were being sharply critical of religion, that's not exactly something I think we should be gasping in horror about, and I'm still utterly baffled by your visceral reaction against sharp criticism of religion.

"I remember you bringing up this statistic in another thread. Can you remind me where you got this information from? Because that seems rather suspect (and if memory serves I think we'd come to that conclusion earlier as well)."

http://www.gallup.com/poll/145286/four-americans-believe-strict-creationism.aspx

It's pretty straightforward. 60% of people who attend church weekly are Young Earth Creationists. 40% of the general population are Young Earth Creationists.

You may not like those numbers. I certainly don't like those numbers. But the facts are what they are. 40% of Americans believe that the universe was created sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Your profile shows you live in a civilized part of the nation, so perhaps you don't have daily interactions with people who are comfortable expressing that opinion, if so please realize that's a privilege and not evidence that such people don't exist. Out where I live (Amarillo TX) they're the indisputable majority and not even slightly ashamed or uncomfortable in declaring that the universe was created spontaneously less than 10,000 years ago.

Do you think all the school boards trying to put creationism into science classrooms are aberrations, somehow not reflective of what the constituency in that area wants?

When 76% of the Texan population voted to prohibit same sex marriage do you think that somehow that just reflects a lot of moderate Christians staying home that day?

You are not the majority. Your nice style of religion is not the majority. If it were we wouldn't be talking about this. If most religious people were like you the entire new atheism movement would be nonexistent.

You represent a minority in the religious community. Every poll ever done in the USA shows this. Every election where religious laws are implemented shows this. How can you possibly think that your nice version of religion represents mainstream religion and that the majority who keep winning in elections are a minority?

If, as you claim, religious moderation were normative then same sex marriage would be legal in all 50 states. If, as you claim, religious moderation were normative we wouldn't have just won a historic victory over the forces of theocracy and painfully gained the right to serve openly in the military for gay people because it never would have been an issue and gay people would have been serving openly for decades. If, as you claim, religious moderation were normative we wouldn't be fighting to preserve science education.

If you want to convince me that religious moderation is normative you'll need to provide me with evidence to support that conclusion. Evidence that accounts for the visible and tangible wins by (what I contend) are the more normative serious religious people.

So far all you've done is merely assert, without any backing, that the statistics I cite are simply in error and that your intuitive and/or anecdotal based assessment of religious thought in America is correct. I hope you'll understand why I don't find that particularly compelling.

Please, show me the polls that demonstrate that all the theocratic laws passed are somehow aberrations and the mere result of laziness on the part of the true majority of moderate religious people.

If you are the majority, then I will ask, not so kindly, where you guys have been while your less moderate coreligionists have been riding roughshod over the nation and when you'll get off the couch and start fighting?
posted by sotonohito at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2011


Anti-theists attack religion in general (including "the more moderate Christians") rather than "those certain specific religious belief systems" partly because moderate Christians continue to act in complicity with religion in general, including those certain specific religious belief systems. Moderate Christians benefit from the public privilege of religion in general, and Christianity in particular. They often boost for "religion" and/or "Christianity" in general, and thus act to perpetuate that privilege. They even act as if an attack on that privilege is an attack on them, as many have done above... and in the same breath they insist that they're not with the other guys. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way.

Millions of people and thousands of groups have split from either Christianity or religion-in-general over the last two hundred years, because Christianity and/or religion-in-general no longer represents them. Not all (or even most!) are atheists, and many continue to revere Christ and other religious figures. If moderate Christians refuse to join them and choose to oppose those who argue against religion in general, then they are religion in general, and not in a we're-a-harmless-exception way.

As far as I'm concerned, if you wave the banner and wear the uniform then you're part of the army. You may be a perfectly nice person, but my enemy benefits from your support.
posted by vorfeed at 1:59 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian:

struggling family farm = pale flickering light of our feelings and rights
mice = the religious baddies, Perrys, Falwells, pedophilic priests, etc
cats = new atheists
birds = religious middle


To use that analogy, I think it's perfectly reasonable for the birds to complain when the cats eat them or when the cats say that all small animals should be eliminated because all small animals, including birds, are mice.

Maybe the religious middle is some sort of cowering timid lot

Or maybe it comes from a long tradition of being taught to keep politics and religion separate, to turn the other cheek, and that vocally opposing a religious majority opinion is historically a good way to end up being persecuted. Or maybe whenever we voice our opinion about religion, we're flanked on both sides by people who are ready to shout us down either because they are religious bigots against us or atheists who insist that we're part of the problem merely because we espouse any religious belief of any kind whatsoever.

sotonohito:

It's pretty straightforward. 60% of people who attend church weekly are Young Earth Creationists. 40% of the general population are Young Earth Creationists.

I'm not very good at math. Are you saying that enough people in the United States attend church weekly that 60% of those weekly churchgoers constitutes 40% of the total U.S. population? And that everyone who believes that god created man also agrees on every other religious tenet that you have a problem with?

Statistically speaking, 78.4% of Americans are "Christian." But not all Christian religions believe in young-earth creationism. Mormonism, for example, is not young-earth creationist, and it accounts for 1.7% of Americans, so just removing Mormons from that number reduces it to 76.7%. Religions other than Christianity account for 4.7%, with Judaism, which is not young-earth creationist, at 1.7% and 19% of self-identified American Jews also saying they don't believe God exists. Islam - also not young-earth creationist - accounts for .6%. And so forth. Non-religious (i.e. "unaffiliated") people account for 16.1% of Americans.

Given those numbers, I have a very, very hard time believing that such a big percentage of that 76.7% number actually personally believes in each of the tenets that you're referring to. But that's just me.

You may not like those numbers. I certainly don't like those numbers. But the facts are what they are. 40% of Americans believe that the universe was created sometime in the last 10,000 years.

What are you basing that on? The poll in the article you linked didn't ask people anything about the creation of the universe. In fact, the word "universe" does not appear anywhere in the article at all.

When 76% of the Texan population voted to prohibit same sex marriage

For crying out loud, voter turnout in Texas is not that high. 76% of the Texan population did not vote to prohibit same-sex marriage. 76% of the people who voted did, and there's no way to know what percentage of those people were motivated by their personal religious convictions.

If most religious people were like you the entire new atheism movement would be nonexistent.

Then the entire new atheism movement needs to start acknowledging that it is not actually opposed to religion, but only to certain popular religious practices and a subset of specific religious beliefs.

vorfeed:

Anti-theists attack religion in general (including "the more moderate Christians") rather than "those certain specific religious belief systems" partly because moderate Christians continue to act in complicity with religion in general, including those certain specific religious belief systems.

When anti-theists attack "the more moderate Christians," they are in complicity with the less moderate Christians who are also attacking us.

Millions of people and thousands of groups have split from either Christianity or religion-in-general over the last two hundred years, because Christianity and/or religion-in-general no longer represents them. Not all (or even most!) are atheists, and many continue to revere Christ and other religious figures.

Yes. And anti-theists join in attacking those people, too.

If moderate Christians refuse to join them and choose to oppose those who argue against religion in general, then they are religion in general, and not in a we're-a-harmless-exception way.

What does that mean? Are you saying that you think it's possible (and not cognitively-dissonant) to be opposed to religion as a concept but also still be religious? I actually sort of almost partly agree sort of with that, maybe.

As far as I'm concerned, if you wave the banner and wear the uniform then you're part of the army.

It often seems (for example, in a lot of this thread) that many atheists are claiming that everyone of the same nationality as the army is part of the army, uniform or not.
posted by The World Famous at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2011


the people you support are pissing off "the religious middle"

I've asked you repeatadly what it is we do that pisses people off so terribly. Naively I would guess it has be speaking up in casual debates like this, making provocative book titles, or speaking when invited to do so in major public settings. So are you saying that we cannot make our opinions known?

So you will support us as long as we are totally invisible? Its like white southerners being against racism "so long as the black people know their place". Or prefeminism men supporting a woman's right to vote so long as she knows she has to ask her husband who to vote for. I frankly find that more offensive that straight up oppression.

To use that analogy, I think it's perfectly reasonable for the birds to complain when the cats eat them or when the cats say that all small animals should be eliminated because all small animals, including birds, are mice.

Well the birds can avoid the farm, they can help get rid of the mice, or they can go fuck off.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2011


Well the birds can avoid the farm, they can help get rid of the mice, or they can go fuck off.

That's fine. Just stop pretending they're mice.
posted by The World Famous at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2011


If you have some suggestions that don't about to blah blah blah strident and shrill blah blah blah, I will gladly accept them.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2011


To lighten the mood, isn't Hitchens quite the mental cat? With both the good things and bad things that come with being a cat.

If you can suggest some effective "non-cat" tool that gets rid of the mice, we will use it.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:36 PM on September 22, 2011


@The World Famous "76% of the people who voted did, and there's no way to know what percentage of those people were motivated by their personal religious convictions."

If the best you can come up with is basically that the majority of religious people are moderate, but just can't be bothered to do anything at all about the religious people seeking to enforce theocracy, then I can't really see why I should bother with anything but contempt for the moderate religious people. With "friends" like that who needs enemies?

"Given those numbers, I have a very, very hard time believing that such a big percentage of that 76.7% number actually personally believes in each of the tenets that you're referring to. But that's just me."

So we're back to "I don't like the poll results, therefore something must be wrong with the poll but I don't know what".

I'll ask you the same thing I've asked EmpressCallipygos: provide statistics justifying your belief that the majority of religious people are not doing this sort of thing. If you can't do that then I'd recommend you start accepting the results from the studies done. If those results disagree with your intuitions about religion, I'd suggest the problem is with your intuitions, and that the problem is not with the scientific polling providing evidence you don't like.

"Then the entire new atheism movement needs to start acknowledging that it is not actually opposed to religion, but only to certain popular religious practices and a subset of specific religious beliefs."

Religion, even in it's moderate form, provides cover for the less moderate forms. Religion, in it's modern form, spawns the less moderate forms. To me that looks like the core problem is with religion.
posted by sotonohito at 2:38 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: “If you want to convince me that religious moderation is normative you'll need to provide me with evidence to support that conclusion. Evidence that accounts for the visible and tangible wins by (what I contend) are the more normative serious religious people.”

I've been following this discussion nominally – I don't know how personally involved I am in convincing others of my opinion on whether one should be opposed or in favor of religion – but this point is interesting to me, so I thought I'd chime in.

The disagreement on this issue – the question "what is normative religion?" and, an ancillary way, "what is normative Christianity?" – is a disagreement that I think probably can't be resolved here, at least not in a simple way. That's because the disagreement may appear to be a semantic issue (that is, it appears to be a simple disagreement over what we call religion) whereas, in fact, it is a disagreement about ontology and tradition.

Take me, for instance. I am what I would call a perennialist Christian. My belief is in fact that the Philosophia Perennis is woven deep in the woof and warp of Christianity itself, and is an essential part of the tradition. I can quote religious leaders and teachers from St Dionysius the Areopagite to St Aquinas on up to support this view, and I can adduce lines of scripture to show the importance of this to the teachings of the Church. The majority of Christians in the world today – maybe the majority of Christians who have ever lived, though I wouldn't necessarily count on it – disagree with me. That doesn't matter to me, because, as a Christian, I believe that the tradition is itself a coherent thing, a thing we live with year to year, a thing that needs interpretation than that can be forgotten or remembered. In short, I believe in Christianity as an existent thing, and therefore it's possible for me to believe that most Christians are in fact wrong about what Christianity actually is, though they participate in it

If a person doesn't believe in Christianity, this position is incoherent – or at least insupportable. If one believes that there is no such thing as a coherent tradition inhering within Christianity, one generally has to default to the view that Christianity is just an aggregate of what the majority of Christians happen to believe. If Christianity, in the popular mind and in the mind of almost all Christians, is characterized by opposition to abortion, it would seem that opposition to abortion is indeed a Christian characteristic, at least in this context.

So it makes sense that we see these kinds of debates, which always seem maddening to both sides:
ATHEIST: Christianity is bad, because being a Christian means hating Muslims.

CHRISTIAN: People who hate Muslims aren't really Christians.

ATHEIST: But most Christians hate Muslims! Here, let me quote a few prominent Christians who say they hate Muslims, and show you statistics proving that most Christians do in fact believe that hating Muslims is part of their religion...

CHRISTIAN: It doesn't matter. That's not real Christianity.

ATHEIST: That sounds like a 'no true Scotsman' argument to me.

CHRISTIAN: You don't understand.
The argument, while it seems to be a simple semantic argument about what "Christian" means, really boils down to an ontological argument about whether or not the Christian tradition is itself a valid and coherent thing. And if you aren't a Christian, I see no reason why you'd want to believe that it is.
posted by koeselitz at 2:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you have some suggestions that don't about to blah blah blah strident and shrill blah blah blah, I will gladly accept them.

Sure. Don't be illogical, don't jump from a correct premise to a conclusion that does not follow from it (see the three-missionaries-come-to-your-door scenario above), don't base conclusions on false premises, and don't make factual assertions about religion as a concept that are actually only true of a subset of it. If you're opposed to all religion as a concept, base that opposition on actual attributes of the concept itself, rather than on attributes of certain individuals or groups to whom the concept applies. And if you're opposed to religion because it is irrational, then oppose all irrationality - religious or not - with the same vigor and enthusiasm, since it is irrational to single religion out if irrationality is the only basis for attacking it. If the basis for your opposition is that you believe religion is responsible for social ills, then fight the social ills, regardless of whether they were caused by religion or something else.

I'm sure I can think of more suggestions, but that will do for the moment.

If the best you can come up with is basically that the majority of religious people are moderate, but just can't be bothered to do anything at all about the religious people seeking to enforce theocracy, then I can't really see why I should bother with anything but contempt for the moderate religious people.

That was not my assertion. I was questioning your statistical analysis, which appeared not to have any factual or rational basis.

But now you've got me curious. Do you have equal contempt for moderate non-religious people? How about moderate religious people who can, in fact, be bothered to do anything about the religious people seeking to enforce theocracy? Do you have contempt for them, too? I guess what I'm asking is: What, exactly, is the real reason for your contempt, given that your statistical analysis is incorrect?

So we're back to "I don't like the poll results, therefore something must be wrong with the poll but I don't know what".

I like the poll results just fine. I just don't think they say what you're asserting.

I'll ask you the same thing I've asked EmpressCallipygos: provide statistics justifying your belief that the majority of religious people are not doing this sort of thing.

I'll take a stab at it if you tell me, exactly and with specificity, what "this sort of thing" is, in a way that makes it possible to gather statistical information about it.

If you can't do that then I'd recommend you start accepting the results from the studies done.

I accept the results of the studies done. They don't say what you claim that they say, as I already pointed out.

Religion, even in it's moderate form, provides cover for the less moderate forms. Religion, in it's modern form, spawns the less moderate forms. To me that looks like the core problem is with religion.

OK, but now you're contradicting your previous statement that "If most religious people were like [me] the entire new atheism movement would be nonexistent." Which way do you want it? You can't have it both ways.

If you go with this most recent iteration (that Religion is a bad concept because its moderate forms "spawn" less moderate forms), are you opposed to every concept for which there are harmful, non-moderate forms? Sex, for example?
posted by The World Famous at 2:55 PM on September 22, 2011


koeselitz, where have you been all our lives?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:55 PM on September 22, 2011


@The World Famous Sorry that was unclear. What I mean is that if the majority of religious people really were moderate than that would mean moderate religion wasn't providing inadvertent cover and legitimacy for the less moderate, and that moderate religion wasn't spawning the less moderate.

If, in other words, religion were as harmless as you claim it is, I'd have no reason for my objections to it, and neither would anyone else. Because we'd be living in a very different world, a world in which religious voters aren't routinely denying homosexuals civil rights, a world in which science education isn't under constant attack, etc.
posted by sotonohito at 3:04 PM on September 22, 2011


When anti-theists attack "the more moderate Christians," they are in complicity with the less moderate Christians who are also attacking us.

As anyone who has ever played Starcraft can tell you, being attacked from two sides does not necessarily imply "complicity" between the two parties, especially not when the two are mutual enemies. Sometimes you manage to piss off two people at once, and sometimes you just happen to be standing on the most convenient or strategically-useful battlefield.

Acting under the same banner ("Christian", "religious", etc) is a different story.

What does that mean? Are you saying that you think it's possible (and not cognitively-dissonant) to be opposed to religion as a concept but also still be religious? I actually sort of almost partly agree sort of with that, maybe.

I think history suggests that this is possible, yes. New Age movements and the like are chock full of people/groups who are religious in all but name, yet do not identify as such. Many more identify as agnostic/unaffiliated/"not very religious"/etc, yet still believe, and back in the day deism let people express this idea without getting tarred and feathered. The very distinction between the words religious and spiritual suggests that this is a viable path.

Personally, I think this is the most likely outcome of this conflict: a major backlash against organized religion, after which "religion" either makes itself inoffensive (perhaps via the English or country-music models) or becomes anathema, after which what's left over -- the wonton, so to speak -- will probably be called something else.
posted by vorfeed at 3:08 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope you're right, vorfeed.
posted by No Robots at 3:12 PM on September 22, 2011


Ironically, I generally prefer hot and sour soup.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:13 PM on September 22, 2011


Wontons are great, and much better pan fried, than in soup form.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:21 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


If, in other words, religion were as harmless as you claim it is

I don't think I've ever claimed that religion is harmless.

As anyone who has ever played Starcraft can tell you, being attacked from two sides does not necessarily imply "complicity" between the two parties,

Nor does merely not doing as much as someone else wishes you would to fight a common enemy. But you said religious moderates are complicit with extremists merely because the only thing they have in common is that they are in some measure religious. That's not complicity, either.

Acting under the same banner ("Christian", "religious", etc) is a different story.

You're right. It's even less like complicity. If I believe that Jodie Foster exists, I am not an accomplice of John Hinckley, Jr. merely because we both are believers in the existence of Jodie Foster.

Personally, I think this is the most likely outcome of this conflict: a major backlash against organized religion, after which "religion" either makes itself inoffensive (perhaps via the English or country-music models) or becomes anathema, after which what's left over -- the wonton, so to speak -- will probably be called something else.

Ah. So it's just a matter of the word "religious?" That's fine, I guess. I'm willing to immediately stop referring to myself as religious.
posted by The World Famous at 3:22 PM on September 22, 2011


ATHEIST: But most Christians hate Muslims! Here, let me quote a few prominent Christians who say they hate Muslims, and show you statistics proving that most Christians do in fact believe that hating Muslims is part of their religion...

CHRISTIAN: It doesn't matter. That's not real Christianity.

ATHEIST: That sounds like a 'no true Scotsman' argument to me.

CHRISTIAN: You don't understand.
I'm very sympathetic -- the "But those people don't speak for me!" problem really is a big one. Some would say that is why 'God Told Me So' is the Doomsday Device of philosophy. Once you allow that basic idea onto the playing field of thought and discourse, the loudest and craziest will always win, because they want it more than you do.

The first target of angry fundamentalism is never the nonbeliever. Rather, it's the moderate believer, the "wolf in sheep's clothing," the milder-mannered competition for the much-sought-after job of God's Mouthpiece.

To some extent, many of the atheists I know believe that "moderate" religious believers are part of the problem because they are willing to give support to the underlying idea that also empowers fundamentalism: That There Is A God, And He Told You What's What.
posted by verb at 3:32 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


you said religious moderates are complicit with extremists

We push back against extremism and what we perceive as the ultimate source of the extremism. You say we can't do that, because its offensive.

Its like white southerners being against racism "so long as the black people know their place". Or prefeminism men supporting a woman's right to vote so long as she knows she has to ask her husband who to vote for. Frankly I find that more offensive that straight up oppression.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:34 PM on September 22, 2011


We push back against extremism and what we perceive as the ultimate source of the extremism. You say we can't do that, because its offensive.

I do not say you can't do that, nor do I say that "because it's offensive" is the reason for my opposition to that particular line of atheist argument. I say that the assertion about what the ultimate source of the extremism is is an assertion unsupported by the sort of evidence and analysis that new atheists claim should be applied with respect to the existence of God. The notion that religion as a concept is the ultimate source of extremism is simply not rational.

Its like white southerners being against racism "so long as the black people know their place". Or prefeminism men supporting a woman's right to vote so long as she knows she has to ask her husband who to vote for. Frankly I find that more offensive that straight up oppression.

I don't understand the analogy. Can you explain how my personal convictions are akin to those examples?
posted by The World Famous at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2011


unsupported by the sort of evidence and analysis that new atheists claim should be applied with respect to the existence of God.

I would enjoy debating that for a change, rather than whatever we have been debating. Instead we've been stuck in the same loop of "What is religion?" for ~0.8 kilocomments.

how my personal convictions are akin to those examples
If I have poorly characterized what you personally said, I am sorry. My comment was primarily directed to those that seem to object to our points solely as a why of stifling debate. eg. "you're to strident and shrill", "Okay show me a specific example of my shrillness", "well you've been criticizing religion".

I'll have to look back at your comments specifically to check.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2011


"To some extent, many of the atheists I know believe that "moderate" religious believers are part of the problem because they are willing to give support to the underlying idea that also empowers fundamentalism: That There Is A God, And He Told You What's What."

This is a fair concern. But say with Christians, you have Jesus saying I'm God And I Decide What's What, and either they can become like Jesus and be gods, or they can become like new atheists and be essentially the same as they are now, but blindly following different masters. That's why religion isn't the problem: it's just a grammar. You can model reality, or sell snake oil, in any language.
posted by fraac at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2011


ugh, why of stifling debate= way of stifling debate
posted by Chekhovian at 3:59 PM on September 22, 2011


they can become like Jesus and be gods

Is this like full on master of reality, Pi = 5 if so desire, godhood, or just superstrength, flying, and laser vision type demigodhood?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:01 PM on September 22, 2011


It's not hurting people because someone else wants you to godhood. Thinking for yourself and treating people as equals. If you believe in any authority above yourself, you're a very dangerous part of the problem.
posted by fraac at 4:05 PM on September 22, 2011


If you believe in any authority above yourself, you're a very dangerous part of the problem.

I believe in math. I'm not sure I'd call it an authority per say. The great thing about math though? Its true whether or not I believe in it. Frankly I'm not sure I believe that a 5 dimensional space time is holographically the same as a 4 dimensional conformal map. Isn't not knowing so interesting?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:24 PM on September 22, 2011


verb: “The first target of angry fundamentalism is never the nonbeliever. Rather, it's the moderate believer, the ‘wolf in sheep's clothing,’ the milder-mannered competition for the much-sought-after job of God's Mouthpiece. To some extent, many of the atheists I know believe that ‘moderate’ religious believers are part of the problem because they are willing to give support to the underlying idea that also empowers fundamentalism: That There Is A God, And He Told You What's What.”

Well, there are a couple of things there.

First of all, I have trouble with the word "fundamentalist." I view myself as a fundamentalist – of course. It would be hard not to. As a Christian, I believe my own opinions about the Faith reflect the fundamental basis of it. But that means that I believe that most self-proclaimed or derisively-so-called "fundamentalists" actually aren't.

I only mention this because – well, it's a matter of perspective. I know Christians who decry "fundamentalists," but in doing so they make unclear their own positions. Are they against "fundamentalism" because they believe that "fundamental Christianity" is false? Or because "fundamentalist" is just a label now having nothing to do with its origin?

In any case, there's that.

Second of all – on the issue of "There Is A God, And He Told Me What's What" –

It's hard for me not to dive off into stuff that presupposes a belief in Christian ontology. I am tempted, for example, to say that in traditional Christianity there is of necessity a space between the average believer and truth; we are not all Prophets, heaven help us, and therefore we are reminded that we don't have direct access to God, although with perfection our access becomes more direct.

But – well, St Thomas Aquinas, for one, warns us over and over again that it's pointless to argue with other people from premises that they themselves don't believe.

So I'll just say this, regarding the religious tendency toward faith: St Thomas also pointed out once that, even if you believe all religion is the worst kind of hogwash, faith – simple faith in other human beings – is absolutely a necessity for human life.
posted by koeselitz at 4:38 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe in math.

I do, too. But neither you nor I fight to eliminate math because we see it as the ultimate cause of everything from nuclear war to mortar shelling attacks to firebombing or any other thing that would be impossible without math. And math is an integral and indispensable part of all those things, whereas religion is not even arguably indispensable or integral to discrimination, oppression, extremist violence, etc. Religion is not even a but-for cause of extremism, let alone a proximate cause.
posted by The World Famous at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2011


Chekhovian, with respect, out of everyone in this thread, you're the most fervently unchallenged by new ideas. To the extent that you sound like you're playing a character written by someone who worships Richard Dawkins. I find engaging with people to be interesting, and when they're in thrall to someone else it lends a fakeness, a hollowness. It actually makes me angry because I know you can be so much more.
posted by fraac at 4:47 PM on September 22, 2011


stuff that presupposes a belief in Christian ontology
Damn my worthless technical education. I'll diagonalize the shit out of your Hamiltonians, renormalize some of your flows, etc, but then you say ontology and I get all worthlessly flustered.

simple faith in other human beings – is absolutely a necessity for human life. What you call faith in other human beings is just an emergent property of game theory. Learning algorithms will come across it, given the right experimental conditions and effective evolutionary landscape.

Religion is not even a but-for cause of extremism, let alone a proximate cause.
Have we established a working definition of Religion for the purposes of discussing it in this thread? If so perhaps we can move on to the next stage of this question, which the way things are trending will probably be debating the meaning of "is".

Put more seriously, I don't think we've really effectively discussed this point in this thread. So you saying that this just isn't so doesn't score any points. Prove to me that religion isn't a cause for extremism.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:53 PM on September 22, 2011


Prove to me that religion isn't a cause for extremism.

I'm not very good at proving negatives.
posted by The World Famous at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2011


I'm not very good at proving negatives.
And you will "one true scotsmanize" any proof I give you that it does cause extremism, so there we go. I guess it was the highest hubris to think that one might possibly fell an idea that has lasted so long.

Religion: a memetic soliton
posted by Chekhovian at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2011


"I guess it was the highest hubris to think that one might possibly fell an idea that has lasted so long."

No, you're a fairly typical 20 year old.
posted by fraac at 5:08 PM on September 22, 2011


Prove to me that religion isn't a cause for extremism.

If religion causes extremism, all religious people must be extremists. But The World Famous is religious and not an extremist, constituting a counter-example to the claim. QED
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:10 PM on September 22, 2011


Is that divine retribution for my piss-wonton joke?
posted by Chekhovian at 5:14 PM on September 22, 2011


I'm so bad about not engaging the trolls. But I've learned a new word: Absofraacing-batshit-crazy
posted by Chekhovian at 5:17 PM on September 22, 2011


And you will "one true scotsmanize" any proof I give you that it does cause extremism, so there we go.

I promise I won't.

But quick quips aside: Religion is a concept. Extremism is a concept. The one does not cause the other in any meaningful sense; which is to say that the concept of religion does not cause extremism any more than anything else in the world. Religion is often the subject of extremism. But being the subject and being the cause are two different things, are they not?

So before we get into analysis of causation, let's make sure we're on the same page. When you say "religion causes extremism," what do you mean? Do you mean religion causes extremism in the same sense that Star Wars, Atheism, Dungeons and Dragons, My Little Pony, Philosophy, Economics, College, Marijuana, Sex, Commerce, and Death Metal cause extremism by being the subject of extremism? Is there some sense in which you think the causal relationship is unique? Because if there's not, then the whole thing becomes meaningless, given that extremism, by definition, is just a word to describe a person or group's approach to some idea or concept in relation to the approach favored by the rest of society.
posted by The World Famous at 5:52 PM on September 22, 2011


existence of god... I would enjoy debating that for a change

No, you wouldn't. Or at least you didn't earlier. Let's try again:

Hear, Israel: Being is our god, Being is One!

posted by No Robots at 6:52 PM on September 22, 2011


When you say "religion causes extremism,"
Perhaps the more analytically correct phrasing would be "religious thought catalyzes extremism".

extremism, by definition...
I was using the term as lazy shorthand for explicit acts of violent terrorism, oppression of women and minorities and other "deviants", etc. And of course I'm not alleging that religion is always the cause anything bad happens, but in my view it is the preeminent catalyst of these nightmares. I hope we can avoid the accountant form of this argument, about what exactly "most" means etc. That discussion must be as boring for you as it is for me right?

Before going any further I should say that sotonohito's posts as well vorfeed's posts have more pretty much covered all of the points I could make in more or less the exact same fashion I would make them. And they actually have the wherewithal to look up the statistics and argue the details of sampling procedures, which just puts me right to sleep.

My main focus during this trench warfare has been on the internal logic of religious thought. And I should specify that I mean religious thought as expressed in numerically important forms of christianity and islam predominately. Again, the accountancy of that point is dreadfully dull.

So problem with the internal logic of these people is that it works. If you buy into their assumptions, then it makes perfect logical sense to do the things they do. As an example, if the bible says do not suffer a witch to live or stone adulterers, and the bible is the literal word of god, then what do you do?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:05 PM on September 22, 2011


I only mention this because – well, it's a matter of perspective. I know Christians who decry "fundamentalists," but in doing so they make unclear their own positions. Are they against "fundamentalism" because they believe that "fundamental Christianity" is false? Or because "fundamentalist" is just a label now having nothing to do with its origin?
Well, "Fundamentalism" is an actual defined branch of Christian theology, one whose practitioners deliberately named "Fundamentalism" set themselves apart from other theological schools of Christianity. It grew out of Evangelicalism and has been a pretty powerful force in Protestant culture over the past century or so.

A lot of the defining characteristics of that branch of Christianity, can be recognized in sects from other faiths, and other groups inside of Christianity's past and present. It's a fuzzy word, but a big part of the problem when discussing religion. Fred Clark of Slacktivist fame coined the term "Real True Christians" as a substitute for the easily Scotsman-able theological labels. It's easy to spot, too, and the "Christians" can be swapped out for almost any faith label. "Real True Christians" and "Real True Muslims" and "Real True Open Source Developers" and "Real True Clash Fans"crave the legitimacy and recognition to match their self-perceived unique claim to correctness; they fixate on internal heresy long before they turn their gaze outward, and that was the point I was getting at.
posted by verb at 7:09 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


existence of god...
No, you wouldn't.


To be more clear, I would definitely enjoy debating whether the existence of god is a scientifically approachable issue.

But if you want to this into some sort of poetry slam instead of making logically reasoned points I am woefully underqualified, here it goes!

The Great Figure
Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

William Carlos Williams
posted by Chekhovian at 7:13 PM on September 22, 2011


So problem with the internal logic of these people is that it works. If you buy into their assumptions, then it makes perfect logical sense to do the things they do. As an example, if the bible says do not suffer a witch to live or stone adulterers, and the bible is the literal word of god, then what do you do?

You either kill the witch, or you come up with a contorted meta-framework for reinterpreting a "literal text" without admitting that you're reinterpreting it. And then you piss off the fundamentalists, who target you as the enemy because you're perverting the truth and are just a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

The kicker, of course, is that atheism isn't just about fundamentalism. The fact that fundamentalism grows like cancer -- and turns out to be ridiculously well adapted to our controversy-fueled media culture -- doesn't mean it's actually the sole voice of faith. It wants to be, and it says that it is, but some of the "easy" arguments for the ills of religion boil down to arguments against literalism and Sola Scriptura.
posted by verb at 7:15 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


some of the "easy" arguments for the ills of religion boil down to arguments against literalism and Sola Scriptura
Wouldn't it be fun to debate the softer problems of religion for a change? But triage demands you stitch up the gushing wounds before you work on the superficial ones.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:22 PM on September 22, 2011


So problem with the internal logic of these people is that it works. If you buy into their assumptions, then it makes perfect logical sense to do the things they do. As an example, if the bible says do not suffer a witch to live or stone adulterers, and the bible is the literal word of god, then what do you do?

Well, you (our hypothetical crazy person) could a) keep reading til you get to the part where Jesus comes along and says not to do that, take that literally, and put the stone down; or b) keep reading til you realize that the Bible is self-contradictory and that the book itself purports to have been written by myriad different authors whose accounts of the same events are different and then have your head explode trying to reconcile that fact with the illogical concept of "literal word of god," whatever that means. As verb hints above, literalism and Sola Scriptura are problematic. I would argue that they are problematic in part specifically because they do not allow for any internally-consistent logic.

It doesn't make perfect sense to do the things they do, even if you buy into their assumptions. The problem is not that they're religious and logical. It's that they're power-hungry, scared, and stupid. Religion as a concept is merely any worldview that fits that extremely broad definition. Extremists are not extremists because they hold a worldview that somehow fits under the overarching rubric of "religion." They are extremists because they hold a specific, extreme worldview, regardless of whether or not it fits under that general rubric. Christian extremists would be just as dangerous if they believed that God does not exist and that the Bible is not true but that, out of some other moral or logical imperative, it is nevertheless necessary to strictly adhere to Jerry Falwell's interpretation of the Bible. It doesn't matter whether or not the suicide bomber actually believes in God, so long as he is willing - for some reason - to detonate the bomb.

To be more clear, I would definitely enjoy debating whether the existence of god is a scientifically approachable issue.

I think you'll have a really, really hard time finding anyone on Metafilter - religious or otherwise - who takes the position that it is.

But triage demands you stitch up the gushing wounds before you work on the superficial ones.

On the other hand, sewing the patient up on the surface when there are numerous internal issues might not be a great idea, either. Convincing the fanatic that god doesn't exist might not make him any less fanatical. After all, Paul didn't exactly become less strident when he was shown undeniable proof that his prior religious beliefs were wrong.
posted by The World Famous at 7:27 PM on September 22, 2011


So let me if I can boil that down correctly. Would you accept this as a one sentence summary of your comment? "Religion is just a random thing that otherwise naturally occurring extremists latch onto to justify their actions."
posted by Chekhovian at 7:35 PM on September 22, 2011


To be more clear, I would definitely enjoy debating whether the existence of god is a scientifically approachable issue.

I think you'll have a really, really hard time finding anyone on Metafilter - religious or otherwise - who takes the position that it is.


Btw, umm, I'll take that position. But lets not get sidetracked.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:54 PM on September 22, 2011


"Religion is just a random thing that otherwise naturally occurring extremists latch onto to justify their actions."

Not really. I mean, I don't entirely disagree with that statement, but I think "just a random thing" is taking it too far. I do acknowledge that religious ideas are often the catalyst for crazy and/or dangerous people developing their ideologies. But religion is an extraordinarily broad category that includes, but is in no way limited to, some dangerous ideologies. There are other, equally-dangerous ideologies that are not part of the broad category of religion. And extremism, by definition, spans across every concept in the world, so I'd say that religion is one of many such catalysts. And I think it's an excuse at least as often as it's a catalyst, so I don't think that merely showing the presence of religion in a given scenario is sufficient to show even a catalyst relationship, let alone a causal relationship.

The thing is, I don't think it makes sense rationally or logically to propose that people abandon their perception of reality and their worldview based primarily on the assertion that other people who share some sort of general, overarching aspect of that worldview with them sometimes use that worldview in justifying bad things. It is illogical and unreasonable to propose that Islam be eliminated based on the fact that there exist violent Muslim extremists.

To be more clear, I would definitely enjoy debating whether the existence of god is a scientifically approachable issue.

I think you'll have a really, really hard time finding anyone on Metafilter - religious or otherwise - who takes the position that it is.

Btw, umm, I'll take that position. But lets not get sidetracked.


lol. OK. Shoot. I'll take the other side and my opening argument will be: Please show me the hypothesis and how to test it. My rebuttal will be to analyze whether your proposed approach is scientifically sound and "approachable." Also, I think we need to define "god" first. Someone on Metafilter recently accused my own religion of not believing that Jesus is divine, so I suspect that some people might argue that I don't actually believe in god or know what "god" means to begin with. I'm going to have to settle on a defined term if I'm going to participate effectively in any organized debate on the topic.
posted by The World Famous at 8:00 PM on September 22, 2011


Please show me the hypothesis and how to test it.
In no way did I mean that it would an experimentally testable hypothesis, as bad ass as that would be...I'd be talking about theoretical physics, emergent phenonema, multiverses, that sort of thing. I suspect that we might both willingly converge on something like a dramatic Star Maker or Contact sort of thing, you know something as far beyond the provincial concepts of humanity as we can get.

Perhaps this flame could be passed on into some new thread to attract fresh voices, but then again we might just refight this thread, rather than really hit the interesting targets.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:20 PM on September 22, 2011


Nor does merely not doing as much as someone else wishes you would to fight a common enemy. But you said religious moderates are complicit with extremists merely because the only thing they have in common is that they are in some measure religious. That's not complicity, either.

No, I said that many religious moderates are complicit with religion in general, because they benefit from, boost for, and/or defend religious privilege. If you're willing to make an effort to support religion in general then you shouldn't be surprised when those who oppose religion in general see you as an enemy, no matter how moderate you may be.

As far as I'm concerned this is not just about "extremism": it's also about religion's position in and effect on society. And yes, I think most religious moderates (along with many moderate we-have-to-be-nice-and-the-status-quo-must-never-change atheists) are complicit in that.
posted by vorfeed at 8:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


And I think it's an excuse at least as often as it's a catalyst, so I don't think that merely showing the presence of religion in a given scenario is sufficient to show even a catalyst relationship, let alone a causal relationship

I disagree, but not strongly. Determination of ultimate causation is a damn challenging thing under most circumstances in most fields, depending on your S/N of course. I think that interesting work could be done from an econometrics careful cross correlative type perspective, but I can't guarantee that the result would be what I expect. Research is never that way, right?

There are other, equally-dangerous ideologies that are not part of the broad category of religion.
Here's where I put my foot down. The unique part of the dangerous religious ideologies out there is their wordly nihlism and necrophilia. Why not bathe the earth in nuclear fire and bring Jesus back? Sure there are other ideas out there that can cause terrible, terrible things, but generally the goal of these ideologies is to put some individual or some group in charge of the world, probably to exploit it terribly, but not to destroy everything.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2011


There are other, equally-dangerous ideologies
If there where an incredibly rich, literally globe spanning, long established corporation whose (all male btw) members were responsible both directly, and indirectly for the systematic rape of vast numbers of young children across the globe, what do you think would happen when that knowlege became public?

I'll tell you, Navy seals would be breaking in the house of the leader.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:20 PM on September 22, 2011


and shooting the leader in the face.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:22 PM on September 22, 2011


This is a propos of nothing in particular – I just notice people making lots of references to Anthony Flew's odd pseudo-fallacy, the "no true Scotsman argument," and though I've said this here before, I think it bears noting –

The fact that an argument bears the form of the "no true Scotsman" argument does not, on the face of it, indicate that the argument is in fact a fallacy. If one has an actual definition of what a Scotsman is, and one can articulate that definition, and can make exclusions rationally based on that definition, then it breaks no logical rules to say that someone is or is not a True Scotsman. Moreover, I think the promulgation of this pseudo-fallacy as though it were a true logical fallacy has done much more harm than good, because it has meant that people who try to make exclusions based on complex definitions – justice, morality, or religion, say – tend to get shouted down whenever they do so.

I don't think any shouting down has happened here, but it's worth, I think, dropping the nomenclature of the "no true Scotsman" argument so that we can actually talk about the core difficulty it's trying to get at – truly problematic shifting definitions that tend to change when presented with new information.

Again, there is nothing wrong logically – at least on the face of it – with speaking as though there were a true Scotsman, or a true American, or a true Christian. We just have to be at least relatively sure of what we think these things mean.
posted by koeselitz at 9:53 PM on September 22, 2011


Chekhovian: “To be more clear, I would definitely enjoy debating whether the existence of god is a scientifically approachable issue.”

The World Famous: “I think you'll have a really, really hard time finding anyone on Metafilter - religious or otherwise - who takes the position that it is.”

Chekhovian: “Btw, umm, I'll take that position. But lets not get sidetracked.”

The World Famous: “lol. OK. Shoot. I'll take the other side and my opening argument will be: Please show me the hypothesis and how to test it. My rebuttal will be to analyze whether your proposed approach is scientifically sound and "approachable." Also, I think we need to define "god" first. Someone on Metafilter recently accused my own religion of not believing that Jesus is divine, so I suspect that some people might argue that I don't actually believe in god or know what "god" means to begin with. I'm going to have to settle on a defined term if I'm going to participate effectively in any organized debate on the topic.”

Chekhovian: “In no way did I mean that it would an experimentally testable hypothesis, as bad ass as that would be... I'd be talking about theoretical physics, emergent phenonema, multiverses, that sort of thing. I suspect that we might both willingly converge on something like a dramatic Star Maker or Contact sort of thing, you know something as far beyond the provincial concepts of humanity as we can get.”

Even if it's not experimentally verifiable – even if we're talking about theoretical physics, etc – this is still something that unfortunately steps beyond what anything – even philosophy, which moves beyond what science can consider – encompasses.

To put it bluntly and simply, no matter what you prove, or demonstrate, or theoretically describe, a religious person can still sniff at you and say: ‘That's all well and good, but God just made it that way to test our faith. It's a miracle. Miracles don't have to make sense. They just are.’

I understand that this is a very annoying argument; but it's also extremely difficult to refute. Impossible, in fact. If people think the world isn't actually rational – and this is indeed what many religious people believe – then they have no reason to pay attention to rational arguments about the existence of God.
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 PM on September 22, 2011


We just have to be at least relatively sure of what we think these things mean.
koeselitz we did make some progress, after at least a day of strenuous argumentation we got people to actually read the dictionary definition of a word, whose meaning they clearly didn't know, that they had been mistakenly applying to a situation that clearly was not at all related to the word.

I refuse to ever mention the word again. Otherwise my PTSD will kick in.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:03 PM on September 22, 2011


Chekhovian: “I refuse to ever mention the word again. Otherwise my PTSD will kick in.”

Oh, come on now. Don't you think you might be havin g a slight overreaction about that?
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on now. Don't you think you might be havin g a slight overreaction about that?

You weren't there man, the carnage, it was terrible :-0

a religious person can still sniff at you and say
Maybe I should have said, have a "discussion", not a debate? I wasn't advertising that I would establish anything beyond a shadow of a doubt. I just think its an incredibly interesting open question, and I'm totally okay with open questions.

Miracles don't have to make sense. They just are
Interestingly the new work that would have formed the core of my argument shows how the universe could constructed with a total of zero input energy (if you balance negative gravitational energy with postive kinetic energy, as seems to be the case), and that since it cost no energy to make the universe it could have arisen as a quantum mechanical fluctuation from absolutely nothing.

So the universe and space and time can form without any first cause, and just be. No prime mover is needed to start the gears turning, no divine motivation for the big bang is required to trigger it,that's just fucking wild, huh?

All those centuries of work arranging angles on pin heads and in just a few years of serious science we end up here. How lucky we are to be alive to see this.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:40 PM on September 22, 2011


800 posts in and you're clinging to your blind devotion that religious people need a judgemental Creator who tells them to be mean.
posted by fraac at 11:59 PM on September 22, 2011


Since I'm already linking to old stuff I wrote, here's an ancient K5 article Is There a God (archive version) which deals with some basic philosophical issues around the question.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:27 AM on September 23, 2011


@The World Famous "I accept the results of the studies done. They don't say what you claim that they say, as I already pointed out."

I find that statement to be puzzling, in fact I'd say it looks a lot like denialism.

We have a nice, solid, scientific survey done by Gallup that shows 40% of Americans agree with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so".

From that you say that you disagree with my "claim" that the study shows that 40% of Americans are evolution denying Creationists.

Cousin, that's not a claim that's just what the study says. I'm at a loss as to how you can conclude it says anything else.

Further the study did a bit of demographic breakdown and found that of the people who reported going to church once a week or more 60% were in agreement with the Creationist statement.

Again, you seem to think that's a "claim" I'm making and that you can somehow disagree with it but not with the findings of the study.

Can you elaborate on what the heck you mean, because to me it looks like you're rejecting the findings of the survey because they disagree with what you want to think of your religious fellow citizens.

"I'll take a stab at it if you tell me, exactly and with specificity, what "this sort of thing" is, in a way that makes it possible to gather statistical information about it."

A tendency towards imposing religious views via law, starting wars based on religious teachings (ie: Bush stating that God told him to invade Iraq), etc.

You claim that the majority of religious people don't do that, I note that seems impossible given that religious laws are being voted in, by majorities, all the time.

You and the other defenders of the idea that the majority of religious people are moderates really need to explain why, if that's the case, we're even having this discussion? If you were correct there wouldn't be any anti-gay laws anywhere. Or, to pick a very minor example but a telling one, laws forbidding or limiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday more than it is limited on other days [1].

If you were right and I was wrong we'd be living in a very different world.

*******

As for the side issue of whether or not "god" is scientifically approachable I say it depends on how you define that term.

If the definition you offer includes a deity who interacts with the observable universe in any way than I argue that such a deity is, necessarily, scientifically approachable. Even if we can't observe the deity directly we can observe the effects that deity produces in the universe.

Which, naturally, is why most of the more clever definitions of god specify that god is very shy and hides and never, ever, does anything that affects the universe in any measurable way at all.

At which point I must ask two things:

The first is that if we're going with a hiding and completely non-interactive deity, what exactly is the point? Yes, I agree completely that would be a deity that is not scientifically approachable, but so what? It's a deity that does nothing and if it didn't exist the universe would be exactly and precisely the same as if it did, so why do we care?

The second thing is more important, but also takes longer to explain. Anyone with a few moments of free time and a bit of creativity can invent dozens of things just as non-falsifiable and non-scientifically approachable as the hiding and non-interactive god. The most famous is Russell's Teapot. Though these days the Invisible Pink Unicorn is coming in a close second.

The point of both the IPU and Russell's Teapot is that since anyone can, with only a tiny bit of mental effort, invent dozens if not hundreds of things that fall into the same category as the carefully non-falsifiable definitions of god, why should we favor any of those things over the rest?

Why, in other words, should we be impressed that "God" is not scientifically approachable when neither is the IPU, Russell's Teapot, or a multitude of other things? Why should we accord belief in a non-falsifiable god any more, or less, respect, intellectual effort, or what have you that we do belief in any of the other things?

Why would we pick, out of the giant (if not infinite) array of non-falsifiable things for which there is also no positive evidence or need, god belief and not teapot belief? And why do we give respect and political advantage and a crapton of money to god believers but we would toss a genuine teapot believer into an asylum?

Like the old joke goes, believing in God is normative, believing that you talk to God and he talks back is normative, believing that you talk to God and he talks back by tapping out Morse code on your window with raindrops is crazy. If the first two are fine, why is the third suddenly not fine? If the first two are fine, why would an adult professing a genuine and heartfelt belief in a non-falsifiable Santa Claus be an object of ridicule?

Either you define god in such a way that the definition is pretty much irrelevant to anything, and that god falls into a category of utterly absurd and silly things, or god is scientifically approachable.

@koeselitz Being non-religious myself I am quite cautious about declaring that a given person is not really [insert religion here].

My criteria for determining the religion of a person is simple: does the person say they are a follower/member/whatever of that religion? If so then I assume they are.

Furthermore, your discussion of the idea of a Christian tradition has problems. Pick your favorite raving at the mouth Christian and I'll bet they claim to be the *true* embodiment of the *true* Christian tradition and that you and your idea of the Christian tradition is really a wrong, and possibly Satanically inspired, falsehood.

So why should I go along with your idea of what a Real True Christian is, and agree with you that all the people doing bad things aren't Real True Christians when they make the same argument against you? Same goes for all the nice liberal interpretations of the Bible, yes they exist, but so what? You claim the nice parts of the Bible are important, transcendent, and nullify the unpleasant parts. The other guys claim that the unpleasant parts are important, transcendent, and nullify the nice parts.

What makes your position factual and true and theirs not true?

[1] In Texas you can't sell alcohol at all until noon on a Sunday, and you can only sell beer or wine after that; no liquor. Those restrictions don't apply to any other day of the week, just Sunday. While it's a very minor thing, much less significant than anti-gay laws or anti-abortion laws, it very neatly illustrates my point because that law pretty obviously has no reason to exist except for religion.
posted by sotonohito at 6:54 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


TE: I read you post. Very well done. One question:
In academic philosophy departments, empiricism is not taken particularly seriously. In some cases scientific theories are generally believed to be just another cultural myth.

That's really true? Surely these people must be empiricists when they go to the doctor, or when they shave, or when they decided to pay their taxes, why not be empirical about one more thing. And seriously, then can sit in front of magic boxes half full of quantum mechanics, use miraculous hand held gizmos to talk to basically anyone in the world at moments notice, and then go on to completely discredit empiricism? If so, then fuck those navel gazers.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:59 AM on September 23, 2011


sotonohito: “As for the side issue of whether or not "god" is scientifically approachable I say it depends on how you define that term. If the definition you offer includes a deity who interacts with the observable universe in any way than I argue that such a deity is, necessarily, scientifically approachable. Even if we can't observe the deity directly we can observe the effects that deity produces in the universe.”

First of all, I should say a few words about modern science.

People nowadays have an understandable tendency to see modern science as the encapsulation of all knowledge about everything that has ever existed. However, it is in fact a limited thing, at least in respect to time and to principles. That is: modern science is a set of premises about the world which provide a mechanism for study of that world. This is to say: modern science demands at the outset that we accept, without any proof or any evidence, certain assumptions about the way the world works. This is the price of admission. Since they are the foundation of science, there is no way that science can double back on itself and prove that they are true; they underlie everything a scientist does.

To get to the point – several of these assumptions are not necessarily held by religious people, at least not in an absolute way. There are scientists who are religious people, but those religious scientists tend to be open-minded about whether or not the premises of science hold absolutely in the world.

I say all this, sotonohito, because you're coming to this with a few of the assumptions of science in place. You say that, if a deity interacts with the observable universe in any way, that deity is necessarily "scientifically approachable." But this assumes that everything that occurs in the observable universe is characterized by simple cause and effect, and that all causes can be ultimately determined from their effects.

This is clearly not what even most religious people believe about God and his effect on the world. They seem to believe on the whole that God is inscrutable, that God's effects on the world are shrouded in mystery and ever shall be thus. Those effects are termed "miracles," and sometimes spoken of as though they constituted a kind of proof of his existence or power; but obviously this can't be simply true, because miracles seem to preclude investigation, and seem to be more about our own apprehension of some eternal truth than about actual demonstration.

“Which, naturally, is why most of the more clever definitions of god specify that god is very shy and hides and never, ever, does anything that affects the universe in any measurable way at all.”

I don't know if that characterizes the "more clever" definitions of God. It seems rather to characterize the range of Enlightenment definitions of God which stood more to marginalize and do away with religion than to bolster it. It makes sense that these definitions would make God seem to be completely separate from human life.

But, again, there's no reason to assume that the observable universe makes sense on this count. Indeed, David Hume made it clear that cause and effect are generally warrantless assumptions, and many years before he did the eleventh century Sufi scholar Al-Ghazali went even farther in his Incoherence of the Philosophers, arguing that, not only is it unwarranted to assume that a desk won't become a donkey instantaneously, but that furthermore the fact that the world makes sense at all to us is a miracle granted by an ever-active God.

“... if we're going with a hiding and completely non-interactive deity, what exactly is the point? Yes, I agree completely that would be a deity that is not scientifically approachable, but so what? It's a deity that does nothing and if it didn't exist the universe would be exactly and precisely the same as if it did, so why do we care?”

Again, I think you're mistaken about what type of person tends to make this argument. So far as I know, it was first made by the poet Lucretius in his The Nature of Things, although he might have been echoing the philosopher of whom he was a follower, Epicurus. Lucretius invokes Venus and the other gods and goddesses at the beginning of his poem, apparently as a matter of course, and then consigns them to a heaven where they do nothing and have no effect on the world. It's not for nothing that Lucretius and Epicurus are known today as atheists.

“The second thing is more important, but also takes longer to explain. Anyone with a few moments of free time and a bit of creativity can invent dozens of things just as non-falsifiable and non-scientifically approachable as the hiding and non-interactive god. The most famous is Russell's Teapot. Though these days the Invisible Pink Unicorn is coming in a close second. The point of both the IPU and Russell's Teapot is that since anyone can, with only a tiny bit of mental effort, invent dozens if not hundreds of things that fall into the same category as the carefully non-falsifiable definitions of god, why should we favor any of those things over the rest?”

I guess I should point out that invisible pink unicorns and Russell's teapot might indeed exist. I have no problem with their existence, in fact, so they're not much of an argument against the existence of God to me.

“Why, in other words, should we be impressed that "God" is not scientifically approachable when neither is the IPU, Russell's Teapot, or a multitude of other things? Why should we accord belief in a non-falsifiable god any more, or less, respect, intellectual effort, or what have you that we do belief in any of the other things? Why would we pick, out of the giant (if not infinite) array of non-falsifiable things for which there is also no positive evidence or need, god belief and not teapot belief? And why do we give respect and political advantage and a crapton of money to god believers but we would toss a genuine teapot believer into an asylum?”

You're talking as though there is no way to intellectually approach the world except through science. Clearly there have been many atheists who disagreed with this – the first that spring to mind are the aforementioned Lucretius and Epicurus.

“Either you define god in such a way that the definition is pretty much irrelevant to anything, and that god falls into a category of utterly absurd and silly things, or god is scientifically approachable.”

Or – the universe is a silly and absurd thing, and God is intellectually (if not scientifically) approachable.

“@koeselitz Being non-religious myself I am quite cautious about declaring that a given person is not really [insert religion here]. My criteria for determining the religion of a person is simple: does the person say they are a follower/member/whatever of that religion? If so then I assume they are. Furthermore, your discussion of the idea of a Christian tradition has problems. Pick your favorite raving at the mouth Christian and I'll bet they claim to be the *true* embodiment of the *true* Christian tradition and that you and your idea of the Christian tradition is really a wrong, and possibly Satanically inspired, falsehood. So why should I go along with your idea of what a Real True Christian is, and agree with you that all the people doing bad things aren't Real True Christians when they make the same argument against you? Same goes for all the nice liberal interpretations of the Bible, yes they exist, but so what? You claim the nice parts of the Bible are important, transcendent, and nullify the unpleasant parts. The other guys claim that the unpleasant parts are important, transcendent, and nullify the nice parts. What makes your position factual and true and theirs not true?”

I'm right, and they're wrong. That's what makes my position factual and true and theirs not true.

As I said above, you have absolutely no reason for accepting that. You don't (I don't think) believe that Christianity is a coherent and real thing; you don't believe that it's a spiritual Church made up of a long stream of human beings who carry the crucified Christ in their chests, meeting with that Christ and becoming friendly with him, the outward appearance of which is the Christian tradition. So – if you don't believe that's a real thing, why should you believe that a person can be "right" or "wrong" about it?

In short: I don't ask you to go along with my idea of what a Real True Christian is. I don't expect that you have any reason to. I only ask that you accept that it is in fact logically consistent for me to insist that there is such a thing as a Real True Christian.
posted by koeselitz at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is to say: modern science demands at the outset that we accept, without any proof or any evidence, certain assumptions about the way the world works.
Whether you accept those assumptions or not does not matter. Those assumptions just seem to be the most effective way to analyze the world and reproducible generate effects. People have made breakthroughs without understanding science or the scientific method, but generally those breakthroughs have come done to good luck and their practitioners have found it hard to get more subsequent breakthroughs. A good example is Lee de Forrest (did good stuff, but couldn't explain and extend it) vs Edwin Armstrong (his careful scientific practice spawned many further inventions) on early radio stuff.

But this assumes that everything that occurs in the observable universe is characterized by simple cause and effect, and that all causes can be ultimately determined from their effects.
Now this is interesting. Here's what we've learned: one can model the origin of the universe in a mathematical way that obviates the need for a first cause. In a singularity time ceases to exist, therefore cause and effect become meaningless.

arguing that, not only is it unwarranted to assume that a desk won't become a donkey instantaneously
That's just intellectual masturbation.

but that furthermore the fact that the world makes sense at all to us is a miracle granted by an ever-active God
Could a universe whose rules were not physically self consistent exist? I don't think so, unless god is intervening everytime you take a step to make sure gravity still works. This is the difference between a computer simulation (where you don't necessarily know what will happen) and a cg movie (every little thing is directly proscribed).

the first that spring to mind are the aforementioned Lucretius and Epicurus.
I would be content to house their works of "natural philosophy" under the big tent of science. I would swell with pride, in fact, to do so.

God is intellectually (if not scientifically) approachable
Mathematical accounting is the most rigorous and careful form of intellectual approaches available to us. It is our best tool to escape the bonds of ineffectual sophistry.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:18 AM on September 23, 2011


The fact that an argument bears the form of the "no true Scotsman" argument does not, on the face of it, indicate that the argument is in fact a fallacy. If one has an actual definition of what a Scotsman is, and one can articulate that definition, and can make exclusions rationally based on that definition, then it breaks no logical rules to say that someone is or is not a True Scotsman....

I don't think any shouting down has happened here, but it's worth, I think, dropping the nomenclature of the "no true Scotsman" argument so that we can actually talk about the core difficulty it's trying to get at – truly problematic shifting definitions that tend to change when presented with new information.
Here's the problem: those shifting definitions do happen, and are an inherent part of any discussion about supernatural religious belief. You may think that you're perfectly consistent, and are more than able to articulate a clear and effective description of who a True Christian is and who is just a pretender. (I'm going to focus specifically on Christianity at this point, not because other faiths don't suffer from many of the same tendencies, but because using more precise language helps keep us from the endless rounds of abstract nouns and arguments about whether they're specific enough.)

The difficulty with that, however, is real. First, there's the question of whether or not that kind of very clearly delineated definition is even possible from a theology/belief standpoint. That's a point of disagreement inside of Christianity, and even inside the world of Christians who think it is possible or desirable, there is deep disagreement about the actual definition. Coincidentally, most of the disagreement revolves around the idea that the definition should be strict, and should include the Christians that a given group doesn't like. Imagine trying to talk about "Western Culture" if every nation in Europe insisted that only it counted as "The West." You could have conversations about "Western Culture," but there would be an eternal, endless stream of people announcing that you're incorrect. Because after all, Frenchmen don't do the German things you're talking about. And Germans don't do the French things you're talking about...

The end result is that even when an individual speaker (or an individual school of theological thought) remains consistent, the "shifting definitions" occur when radically different groups exist under the "Christian" banner, each insisting they're the real deal. Attempting a broader definition angers some of the groups -- "Ecumenicalism is just two steps from atheism," as one old friend of mine said. Working with the very specific definitions that satisfy one group makes the others announce, "Oh, that's not really Christianity," and so on. For better or worse, that means that outside observers will use their powers of observation to decide what Christianity actually us. Again, for better or worse, that means that the loudest and most influential subgroup will dominate discussions.
As I said above, you have absolutely no reason for accepting that. You don't (I don't think) believe that Christianity is a coherent and real thing; you don't believe that it's a spiritual Church made up of a long stream of human beings who carry the crucified Christ in their chests, meeting with that Christ and becoming friendly with him, the outward appearance of which is the Christian tradition. So – if you don't believe that's a real thing, why should you believe that a person can be "right" or "wrong" about it?
This sentence is a perfect example of definition-shifting. You started out the sentence suggesting that the earlier commenter doesn't in fact believe that "Christianity" is a real thing. Obviously, that's not true. Christians in this thread have made the strongest arguments for the faith's fundamental incoherence by their insistence that no statements can safely b made about "Christianity" without individually evaluating each and every Christian believer.

Then, you shift -- about midway through your paragraph you stop talking about the tangible social and cultural structure that is the church, and you blend in language about the supernatural elements that many Christians believe are reality. One can believe that Christianity (or any supernatural religion) is a real, tangible thing while also believing that it is gravely and dangerously mistaken about the nature of reality. That is, in fact, the very nature of the objection that the "vocal" atheists seem to have.
posted by verb at 8:27 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


In short: I don't ask you to go along with my idea of what a Real True Christian is. I don't expect that you have any reason to. I only ask that you accept that it is in fact logically consistent for me to insist that there is such a thing as a Real True Christian.
What you're describing isn't just reasonable and consistent, it's a defining characteristic of supernatural religious belief, theism particularly. Everyone who holds to it says the same thing: "I'm right, and they're wrong." They can talk endlessly about the theological minutia that separate the various subgroups, but from an outsider's perspective the underlying similarities are far more striking: everybody says there is an invisible authority talking to them, and that the invisible authority says they're right and everyone else is wrong.

Being able to claim the authority of a deity stands behind one's belief or one's group is a powerful concept. It is a way of saying, "You can argue against me all you like -- but you really have to convince $deity." Some groups are more chill about it than others, but many atheists feel that any belief-group that buys into and supports this fundamental "I have a God in my pocket and he agrees with me" concept is part of the problem.
posted by verb at 8:41 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


@koeselitz I've heard the various arguments against empiricism before, and they all fall flat to me for one simple reason: the people putting those arguments forth eat, and breathe, and (for the more modern of them) when they get sick they go a doctor and get medicine.

If a person really, honestly, truly, believed that empiricism was merely a cultural myth and nothing real then it'd be just as reasonable for them to, for example, decide to inject themselves with a lethal dose of potassium cyanide as to get an antibiotic shot when they get a bacterial infection. Yet they don't.

Heck, on a lesser scale, I note that when the anti-empiricists get hungry they eat instead of, for example, throwing rocks at the wall, or petting a bunny, or standing on their heads and reciting the alphabet backwards. The philosophy they claim to believe would have us think that all of those activities are just as likely to end the hunger as eating, yet when hungry they eat. Funny that.

To me that indicates that they're just playing word games and not expressing anything that they actually believe to be true. We accept empiricism because it works. Eat, you stop being hungry. Get an antibiotic shot and the bacterial infection goes away. Flip the light switch and (assuming you've paid your bill and there aren't any service problems) the light comes on. Empiricism works, in rather stark contrast to prayer. At least I have yet to see a building lit by prayer, or a person fed by prayer, or a broken bone healed by prayer.

"But this assumes that everything that occurs in the observable universe is characterized by simple cause and effect, and that all causes can be ultimately determined from their effects.

This is clearly not what even most religious people believe about God and his effect on the world. They seem to believe on the whole that God is inscrutable, that God's effects on the world are shrouded in mystery and ever shall be thus. "


You've just used mystic language to paraphrase the bit about "and never affects the universe in any measurable way at all." To which I say "so you're agreeing with how I expressed things then?"

in fact, so they're not much of an argument against the existence of God to me.

Neither the IPU nor the Teapot are there to disprove or argue against the existence of any deity. They exist merely to observe that god belief has no more reason or gravitas than than IPU belief, or Teapot belief. The only reason god belief is privileged is a history of god belief. If the common belief was Teapot belief and that had been around for thousands of years, it's quite possible Russell would have invented god belief as his example of absurdity.

You're talking as though there is no way to intellectually approach the world except through science.

Yes. Exactly. Precisely. The other approaches seem to be nothing but some combination of mental masturbation and wishful thinking. "Wouldn't it be nice if there was a god who loved us all and cared for us and would whisk us up to heaven when we died to reward us for our suffering here?" Well, yeah, maybe. But wishing doesn't make it so. Personally, I'd rather not suffer at all and I'll question the goodness or love of a god who allows a universe where little girls are sold into sex slavery to be raped daily for years, but that's a different argument entirely.

To believe in a deity strikes me as nothing but an indulgence in childish un-thought. And an indulgence that discourages seeking after an improvement in the real world. Promises of pie in the sky after death have a nasty way of draining urgency from solving real problems. I'll note that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said:
So it is no accident, I think, that the modern view that the death penalty is immoral is centered in the West. That has little to do with the fact that the West has a Christian tradition, and everything to do with the fact that the West is the home of democracy. Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post–Christian Europe, and has least support in the church–going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next? The Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: “Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.” And when Cranmer asks whether he is sure of that, More replies, “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.” For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence. What a horrible act!
Emphasis mine.

So, yes, I see the pie in the sky by and by part of god belief to be quite dangerous to real progress. An impediment, in fact. For Scalia there's no real reason to fix a broken system of criminal justice that kills innocent people, he's confident that his god will solve all the problems later, so why should he bother?

"I don't ask you to go along with my idea of what a Real True Christian is. I don't expect that you have any reason to. I only ask that you accept that it is in fact logically consistent for me to insist that there is such a thing as a Real True Christian."

The problem with that is that it rather short circuits any attempt at discussion. And that's fine, but if you don't want to discuss things why are you posting?

Basically you're asking to have a koeselitz shaped exception to the No True Scotsman fallacy. If I say "look, here's a bad result of religion" you want the ability to say "nope, doesn't count because that guy isn't an RTC" and have me agree with you that religion is the best thing ever and no harm can ever from from RTC's and that if any harm ever does come from religion it isn't *real* religion so it doesn't count.

I'll hope you can see why I'd think that looks remarkably like a rather cheap rhetorical trick and not very much like a really rigorous or defensible intellectual position.

There's also the fact that when the belief you express, that there are RTC's and heretics and the RTC's are right and the heretics are wrong, has had a nasty tendency to create some really unpleasant intra-religious wars. I don't for a moment think that's what you want, but it does seem to be the standard result of your thinking becoming normative.

On preview, what Verb said. Especially the part about every single religious person saying that **they're** right and all the others are wrong.
posted by sotonohito at 9:00 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Small point but I can't let it go ...

You claim that the majority of religious people don't do that, I note that seems impossible given that religious laws are being voted in, by majorities, all the time.

You mean a majority of legislators? It's a bit of a leap to assume that equals a majority of folks in general.

Or are you speaking of a majority of voters voting for politicians who profess such views? In this case, you've got to factor in voter turnout which, in the 2008 Presidential elections was slightly more than 60%. So very quickly the official stats of who voted for who (or what) are a long way from representing the views of all the people.
posted by philip-random at 9:43 AM on September 23, 2011


@philip-random So you're asserting that moderate religious belief strongly correlates with not voting?
posted by sotonohito at 10:02 AM on September 23, 2011


We have a nice, solid, scientific survey done by Gallup that shows 40% of Americans agree with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so".

From that you say that you disagree with my "claim" that the study shows that 40% of Americans are evolution denying Creationists.

Cousin, that's not a claim that's just what the study says. I'm at a loss as to how you can conclude it says anything else.


*facepalm*

If you can type "the study shows that 40% of Americans are evolution denying Creationists" right after quoting the study's actual language, which says nothing about evolution or Creationism, I just . . . I mean . . . ugh. First you claimed that that same survey shows that "40% of Americans believe that the universe was created sometime in the last 10,000 years," even though the survey actually didn't mention the universe at all and said nothing about that. Now you've changed what you claim the study said, but your claim is still not what the survey said. Can you not see the difference between what you put in quotes above and what you then claimed the quoted part said? Really? Seriously? Come on! You're kidding? Please say you're kidding. Please?

On preview, what Verb said. Especially the part about every single religious person saying that **they're** right and all the others are wrong.

I don't think I'm right and all others are wrong. So I either just proved your hypothesis wrong or you're using some bizarre, non-dictionary definition of the word "religious" that somehow doesn't apply to me. Which is it?


A tendency towards imposing religious views via law, starting wars based on religious teachings (ie: Bush stating that God told him to invade Iraq), etc.

You claim that the majority of religious people don't do that, I note that seems impossible given that religious laws are being voted in, by majorities, all the time.

OK. Let's insert your definition of "this sort of thing" into the question that you actually asked, rather than using your alteration of it. You asked:

provide statistics justifying your belief that the majority of religious people are not [having a tendency towards imposing religious views via law, starting wars based on religious teachings, etc.].

I asked you to "tell me, exactly and with specificity, what 'this sort of thing' is, in a way that makes it possible to gather statistical information about it." I don't think you've done that yet. If you have, then please correct me by telling me how you think it's possible to gather statistical information about whether the majority of religious people (define that term, please) have a tendency towards imposing religious views (please define that) via law, starting wars based on religious teachings (please define the scope of "religious teachings"), etc. (for statistics gathering, you're going to have to define "etc." I'm afraid).

Thanks.

You and the other defenders of the idea that the majority of religious people are moderates

By the definition of the word "moderate," the majority is moderate, no matter what it does or believes. Moderate simply means "average in amount, intensity, quality, or degree." The average person is average. The majority is, by definition, moderate, no matter what. Or did you mean something else by "moderate"?

really need to explain why, if that's the case, we're even having this discussion?

We're willing to discuss the issue with you in spite of the fact that you are incorrect.

If you were correct there wouldn't be any anti-gay laws anywhere.

Really? Please explain the reasoning and factual basis behind that assertion.

Or, to pick a very mino