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there is no god.
November 21, 2005 6:58 AM   Subscribe

this i believe: there is no god. the inimitable, outspoken penn jillette (of penn and teller fame) takes a hell of a brave stand in today's climate of blind faith.
posted by ab3 (247 comments total)

 
I just listened to that on the radio a few minutes ago. Bravo, Jillette! (non-snarky first comment.)
posted by matildaben at 7:01 AM on November 21, 2005


One more reason to keep Penn in my "people who don't suck" list.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:04 AM on November 21, 2005


Oh, yes. I am so glad his essay made it on. Let us allow room for reason, and wisdom, and a little kindness to each other in this world, instead of believing in an imaginary hereafter.
posted by Savannah at 7:05 AM on November 21, 2005


This believer applauds Penn, as well.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 AM on November 21, 2005


He just put into words what I've been trying to explain to myself for years. Thanks Penn!
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:09 AM on November 21, 2005


he'll be in heaps of trouble with all insurance agencies now.

nevertheless, serisously sweet it was.
posted by psychomedia at 7:11 AM on November 21, 2005


pfft. can't schpell scheriousschly.
posted by psychomedia at 7:11 AM on November 21, 2005


Excellent. Much better than Kathy Dahlen where she claims that "Gazing at that mass of gray nerve tissue, I was unable to reconcile the evidences I had known of self-sacrifice and forgiveness, or even this suicide, with the notion that a human life consists only of one's biology. "

It's a touch pill for some to swallow, but as Jillette points out "So, anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God. "
posted by cptnrandy at 7:12 AM on November 21, 2005


Hmm...

Is America so religious that this statement can be described as "brave" - or even "mildly controversial"?
posted by salmacis at 7:15 AM on November 21, 2005


"He is a research fellow at the Cato Institute..."

Oh man.
posted by brownpau at 7:22 AM on November 21, 2005


Um, what?

1. This is not new. Anybody who knows anything about Penn knows he's an Athiest. He's pretty vocal, so this is hardly groundbreaking stuff for him.

2. In what way is this brave? What risk is he taking? His friends are Athiests, so it's not like they'll abandon him. No one checks on a magician's religious affiliation before they buy tickets, so I doubt that his career would suffer. (Even if it did, he is wealthy enough that he need not worry about it) And this is hardly a theocracy; the Spanish Inquisition is not about to burst through his door dramatically and arrest him for heresy. Pat Robinson does not have theologically inclined ninjas that will take Penn out. In order to take a "brave stand", you actually have to risk something.

3. He's a pretty good magician, though. I wish he'd stop making awful cameos on shows like the West Wing, though. I still have nightmarish flashbacks of his loathsome appearance on Babylon 5.
posted by unreason at 7:25 AM on November 21, 2005


I BELIEVE
posted by Rothko at 7:26 AM on November 21, 2005


Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness...

Even if you do believe in God, that may be all we have.
posted by nervousfritz at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2005


I've really enjoyed the revival of the 'This I Believe' series. I really liked the one last week about feeding monkeys despite the fact that its theme is a polar opposite to Penn's essay this week.
posted by Alison at 7:30 AM on November 21, 2005


I loved hearing this this morning.

I thought that "...anyone with a love for truth outside of herself has to start with no belief in God and then look for evidence of God" can be taken as an invitation to find a true, deep spirituality.

The religious people that I respect (and there are rather a few) have found such evidence and can articulate it beyond the "faith" argument. I don't have to agree with them, but I can respect them. I also like it that most of these folks accept my non-faith and respect my position as well.

A civil society is possible. You just have to work at it.
posted by mmahaffie at 7:30 AM on November 21, 2005


It could really only be considered a "brave stand" if he was a Republican candidate for a U.S. political office.
posted by spock at 7:35 AM on November 21, 2005


this i believe: there is no shift key.
posted by Plutor at 7:39 AM on November 21, 2005


hee, that's great - my mom just sent this to me and now it's on metafilter.
posted by timory at 7:39 AM on November 21, 2005


It hit home with many people, I would guess. I sent this link to many of my friends too.
posted by Red58 at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2005


salmacis: Is America so religious that this statement can be described as "brave" - or even "mildly controversial"?

Yes. (Sad but true.)
posted by LordSludge at 7:45 AM on November 21, 2005


Agreed brownpau. For me, that is the most surprising part of the whole article.
posted by caddis at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2005


I like that he feels that there don't need to be any hands behind the curtains for the world to be beautiful... it sounds good coming from a magician.
posted by ny_scotsman at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2005


Yes, he is brave. He's an entertainer and makes a living by convincing as many people to come see his show as he can. While he's been public about atheism for years, this is very high profile and it will more than likely turn away some people who would otherwise go see his show. He can afford it, sure, but it will cost him.

He'll get a lot of hate mail and get solicited to convert and see the light by people who equate non-belief with evil. He's opening himself up personally to a great deal of criticism for voicing his beliefs. That's bravery.
posted by stevis at 7:51 AM on November 21, 2005


Wow, so brave of a celebrity to take a centures-old stand, and to use the most facile, flimsy arguments to defend it. He could even alienate his audience, who, since they watch a show with the word "bullshit" in its title, are obviously devout evangelicals. And no one will vote for him now, and all his outspoken atheist friends will shun him, and he'll be made to feel uncomfortable at parties.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2005


Nice, the guy's a piece of work and doesn't mind rubbing salt. So, is there a name for beyond atheism because the movement will never get off the ground without a good name for it, like Scientology but that's already taken.
posted by fenriq at 7:55 AM on November 21, 2005


I believe it's a damn shame for America that Penn Gillette is far to smart to ever pursue the presidency.
posted by davelog at 7:56 AM on November 21, 2005


It's great that Jillette has found a belief system that works well for him and involves being kind to people.

That said, there's no need for his sneering and derisive characterization of the thought process of (at least some) religious folk: "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do."

Lord knows there are more religious people out there, who have done more harm throughout history, who take such a dismissive view of the other side. That doesn't make it attractive when Jillette does it.

As to whether or not it's brave... I doubt that much of his audience consists of people who would boycott him over this sort of thing, but I could be proven wrong.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:57 AM on November 21, 2005


stevis - anyone who would stay away from his shows over this, would already be avoiding him. After all, he is a magician. For the fundamentalists, magic is right up there with Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons and Ouiji Boards as a gateway to Hell.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:57 AM on November 21, 2005


Fenriq: Secular humanism, maybe?
posted by boo_radley at 7:58 AM on November 21, 2005


fenriq - the word you're looking for is Bright. Of course, I think that won't really sell either.
posted by stevis at 7:59 AM on November 21, 2005


than likely turn away some people who would otherwise go see his show

Nah. He's popular enough that enough people will still go to his show. Remember, he tries to be edgy, and attract a young affluent crowd. It's not like his primary audience are Bible thumpers from the midwest. And given that he's rich, it's not that urgent a thing that he gets a big audience.

..and get solicited to convert and see the light by people who equate non-belief with evil

Oh noes! His PR agent will have to handle more mail! Poor Penn! How ever will he cope with this hardship!

He's opening himself up personally to a great deal of criticism for voicing his beliefs

But not from his friends, or from his audience, or from anyone he cares about. People like Darwin, who braved ridicule and embarassment, and Galileo, who braved actual persecution were brave. Penn is not brave for taking a risk that a few people won't go to his magic show for a couple of months. I respect his belief system, and I respect that he comes out and says what he thinks, but I see no signs of bravery.
posted by unreason at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2005


"It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more."

I like that....
posted by HuronBob at 8:02 AM on November 21, 2005


Somewhat OT: I am also reminded of how Muhammed Ali got in trouble with magicians because his Muslim beliefs required him to show the secret of all the tricks he learned as an amateur magician.
He felt that according to Islam, it was immoral to deceive anyone with magic tricks.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:02 AM on November 21, 2005


Penn's a libertarian dick, as well as an atheist dick and a straight edge dick. That doesn't change the fact that he's a great magician, it just makes his books hard to slog through because he's always telling you how great his beliefs are and that anyone who's ever smoked a cigarette deserves to have their stuff fucked with. When Teller writes he's much, much more interesting.
posted by klangklangston at 8:07 AM on November 21, 2005


bashos_frog: Don't you mean "illusionist"?
posted by basicchannel at 8:08 AM on November 21, 2005


I prefer atheists who disbelieve in a more subtle and less idiotic notion of God.
posted by sfenders at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2005


Why brave? He's not going to catch any kickback on this at all.
1 - he presents an apparently genuine reasoned explanation for how he feels, he's not tearing anyone else down, just offering his own view
2 - he's not saying anything that will rock anyone's world, nothing new or remotely shocking
3 - unless Larry King wants him on the tube, most are going to be completely unaware anyway
4 - professionally he's a Vegas kind of entertainer, he's supposed to be 'a little out there', a little 'dangerous' anyhow, even if his audience were aware it would hardly detract from his mystique as an entertainer
posted by scheptech at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2005


ibmcginty, I think it's kind of cool that he's so outspoken . Why should religion get such an easy ride? If more people were like him the US wouldn't be in such a theocratic lather. Besides which, if you don't believe in God, religion is ridiculous. And it must get really annoying being patronised by santimonious types on the basis of what you (perhaps not unreasonably) regard as a mass delusion.
posted by rhymer at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2005


Regardless of his dickiness, klangklangston, I think that this was well put and gives something of an antidote to George Bush's brand of Christianity.

And even if some object to the word "bravery" regarding this piece, I also think that it takes a certain amount of...something to go against Mainstream America. In this age of "Watch what you say," it's not easy and it's not popular.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:13 AM on November 21, 2005


unreason - You are correct, he is not brave as you have described it. I assumed we were using the standard definition. I'll be looking for your This I Believe essay to show us how it should be done.
posted by stevis at 8:15 AM on November 21, 2005


This I believe: nothing.

You believe in god? You believe in democracy? You believe in the family? You believe in yourself? You believe you'll have another beer?

Before you start tossing around words like "believe," figure out exactly what they mean.
posted by bshock at 8:16 AM on November 21, 2005


Perhaps it's because I'm not American, but why is that what yet another famous person has to say about religion, or anything else for that matter, attracts so much attention? Why are people so keen to shout "I agree with that!" as if they need someone in the public eye to validate, or worse - formulate, their opinion? He can write, and I like his show; but why does that lend his belief any credence?

"I believe there is no God" is not an earth shattering thing for an atheist to say. His emphasis on belief merely removes the one thing atheism has going for it: rationale. If you need a famous person's take on atheism, take Douglas Adams'.

Celebrity is becoming its own religion.
posted by nthdegx at 8:18 AM on November 21, 2005


In England we seem to have drifted from vague wishy-washy Anglicanism to vague wishy-washy Agnosticism - both of which I think betoken a desire not to have to think about things too much.

From nthdegx's link to the Douglas Adams interview.

This may be the big difference with the U.S. In this country we have militant Christians because they, too, have a desire not to have to think about things too much. "Christianity" is different in this part of the world these days.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:24 AM on November 21, 2005


is America so religious that this statement can be described as "brave" - or even "mildly controversial"?

a professed athiest couldn't be elected dog-catcher in this country... regardless of party.



Legend
A = Australia
C = Canada
D = Denmark
E = Great Britain
F = France
G = Germany
H = Holland
I = Ireland
J = Japan
L = Switzerland
N = Norway
P = Portugal
R = Austria
S = Spain
T = Italy
U = United States
W = Sweden
Z = New Zealand

[1]

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:24 AM on November 21, 2005


leftcoastbob: I also think that it takes a certain amount of...something to go against Mainstream America. In this age of "Watch what you say," it's not easy and it's not popular.

I disagree. In some circles, ie, here at Metafilter, it is easy and popular. As I said above, I don't think that Jillette will face much of consequence as a result of this essay. If John Murtha said it, that would be different.

I heard Jillette's thing this morning; later I listened to an evangelist talking about how if you believe in Jesus, you must be prepared to bear suffering. Everybody, from James Dobson to leftcoastbob, likes to imagine that they're a persecuted underdog. Not all minority groups are underdogs, nor are all minority groups persecuted.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:26 AM on November 21, 2005


Oh man I just read this great book called "The Brothers Karamazov," it's about this muder-mystery that takes place in the Lourve and eventually ends up about finding the hidden history of the Catholic Church. It also has this great couple chapters on debunking God and some love triangle.
posted by geoff. at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2005


Jillette doesn't believe in God or the shift key? Well, I'm halfway with him.
posted by LarryC at 8:31 AM on November 21, 2005


That said, there's no need for his sneering and derisive characterization of the thought process of (at least some) religious folk: "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do."

In a way I see your point (especially because, as I often note, not all religious folk are this way)--but unfortunately, I'm encountering this kind of thought process more and more these days (at uncomfortably high levels of government, no less) and it's as sneering and derisive as you claim Penn is in rejecting it.

Granted, I'm dealing on a daily basis with a fundamentalist who's convincing my husband's small children that this imaginary friend should receive more respect and obedience than their father, so maybe I'm bitter--but that's why it feels so good to hear it stated in such absolute terms. It's certainly the kind of terms we plan to use to countermand such brainwashing.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2005


Everybody, from James Dobson to leftcoastbob, likes to imagine that they're a persecuted underdog.
posted by ibmcginty


Wrong-o. I didn't say that I agreed with him in his atheism; merely that it's hard to go against Mainstream America in this. I am neither an atheist nor a persecuted underdog.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:48 AM on November 21, 2005


lcb: you are right and I was wrong. I'm sorry for writing that you were claiming to be persecuted.

I stand by the point that it is not hard for an entertainer like Jillette to go against Mainstream America in this matter. It would be different if he were a politician or, maybe, a CEO.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2005


Okay, ibmcginty, let's compromise on our positions. I agree with you that it is easier for an entertainer like Jillette to go against Mainstream American than it would be if he were a politician or a CEO or even some poor working stiff who had to listen to the holier-than-thou's he might come into contact with on a daily basis at work.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:57 AM on November 21, 2005


I heard this this morning and really enjoyed it. It was definitely a change from the usual feel-good pablum that "This I Believe" generates. I think Jillette has to have some degree of bravery to read it, even though his views are well-known to anyone who listens to him, but the real bravery was shown by NPR in broadcasting the piece. NPR is constantly demonized as being too liberal and antagonistic to religion, and this can only serve to further inflame that crowd; the same crowd that already calls for the end of government funding for NPR and the rest of public broadcasting.
posted by TedW at 9:01 AM on November 21, 2005


Penn's a libertarian dick, as well as an atheist dick and a straight edge dick [snip] he's always telling you how great his beliefs are and that anyone who's ever smoked a cigarette deserves to have their stuff fucked with.
posted by klangklangston at 8:07 AM PST on November 21


Yeah, that would explain the episode of Bullshit debunking the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Nice, the guy's a piece of work and doesn't mind rubbing salt.

How is this rubbing salt, fenriq?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:03 AM on November 21, 2005


*clap*




*clap*





*clap*




God, that was lame.
posted by brautigan at 9:05 AM on November 21, 2005


leftcoastbob: Absolutely! I dread the day religion comes up with my co-workers. That conversation would be heavy on the "believe, dammit!" part, and have little emphasis on the "be nice to the poor and visit people in prison" part of Christianity.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:07 AM on November 21, 2005


It's interesting that although he claims to go beyond "mere atheism," he doesn't actually offer an argument against the existence of God. Wouldn't that be a part of a rational position? Just a hint, a mere sketch of his thinking, would have been nice.

He's given us his conclusion without showing us how he got there. Wow, what a brave thing to do.
posted by oddman at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2005


God, that was lame.
posted by brautigan at 9:05 AM PST on November 21


That's a very substantive critique.

*clap*
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2005


Kierkegaard disagreed. Guess we will just have to chalk this one up to differences in personal belief and opinion. Both are free to believe as they want; neat how that works.
posted by dios at 9:18 AM on November 21, 2005


He could easily have attacked the hypocrisy of modern American evangelicism, the whores of Babylon and all of that. But he doesn't. He just lets all that slide, and says essentially what I believe. What I think most of us know in our hearts is the truth. What is just "too horrible" for most religious folks, whose lives must be held up by faith, that they reject the notion so vehemently.

There is no happy fun land heaven afterlife or a big imaginary buddy who makes universes and stuff. Always been like that. Always will be. That doesn't make it impossible to live. That just makes it even more important that we help each other.
posted by mooncrow at 9:20 AM on November 21, 2005


I much enjoyed hearing this on the radio this morning, despite my not being an atheist. I didn't think he was rubbing salt at all. I think he admirably articulated the feeling of being shut down by someone because their beliefs apparently trump yours.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2005


What is just "too horrible" for most religious atheist folks, whose lives must be held up by a rejection of faith, that they reject the notion so vehemently.
posted by dios at 9:24 AM on November 21, 2005


he doesn't actually offer an argument against the existence of God

He begins by saying that you can't prove a negative.
posted by stevis at 9:25 AM on November 21, 2005


Chief among my favorite atheistic statements of belief, by the way, is Julia Sweeney's story for the "Godless America" episode of This American Life.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 9:27 AM on November 21, 2005


the real bravery was shown by NPR in broadcasting the piece

I agree--although the next "This I Believe" is supposed to be someone defending belief in god (I think).

I honestly don't get these comments that suggest there's nothing brave about this piece. Have you looked in a newspaper recently? At a time when Democrats are taking shit for not blathering on about "values" to appease the Bible-thumping crowd and Republicans are stepping up the "government-sponsored nativity displays are awesome" rhetoric in time for the holidays/Alito confirmation hearings, I think anyone who is willing to stand up for reason in place of blind faith is brave. Yeah, it would be much more controversial if it were someone with more to lose, like a pol or CEO. That doesn't mean it wasn't a risk for Penn, or especially for NPR.
posted by 912 Greens at 9:29 AM on November 21, 2005


Both are free to believe as they want; neat how that works.
posted by dios at 9:18 AM PST on November 21


Did anyone ever say otherwise? Do you make up things just to argue against them elsewhere, or you just confine it to here?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:31 AM on November 21, 2005


That's a very substantive critique.

*clap*



And such eloquent disdain.

*clap*
posted by brautigan at 9:33 AM on November 21, 2005


He's given us his conclusion without showing us how he got there.

Well, perchance he didn't expect a herd of lost, enthusiastic, condescending, thrilled, mocking, excited sheep to skim through the article and then drivel around and about it for half an hour. Maybe he just liked the idea of extra publicity. Perhaps he wants the reader to go figure. He might be having apple tart at this very moment. Maybe, would you believe it, he wants someone to ask him about it so he can follow up with another aero-rticle.
posted by psychomedia at 9:34 AM on November 21, 2005


whose lives must be held up by a rejection of faith, that they reject the notion so vehemently.

dios, I don't reject vehemently other silly things like pink elephants since belief in these doesn't harm me or mine.

Religion in the US is different, with ~22+% of the population actively trying to establish laws & precepts from an obscure sheep-herd religion, well, at least the particular laws they find they want to see.

Not that I would particular miss lobster, mind.

I have no problem with people believing in God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Ghost, whatever the fuck he is supposed to be/do; they'll probably be happier in the long-run, though Penn does actually address some of the downsides of belief in the here-after, especially when combined with fundamentalist millenarianism ('we're refi-ing the house again, Marge, the End TImes are certainly coming!").
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2005


And such eloquent disdain.
posted by brautigan at 9:33 AM PST on November 21


You are ridiculous. You call something "lame" without giving any indication that you'd actually heard the spot or read the transcript. That's not helpful, nor is it interesting. It's just being contrary. Granted, there are plenty of responses that are simple statements of support, but it's a lot less annoying to say "I liked it," rather than "lame" with no reason why.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:46 AM on November 21, 2005


It's interesting that although he claims to go beyond "mere atheism," he doesn't actually offer an argument against the existence of God. Wouldn't that be a part of a rational position? Just a hint, a mere sketch of his thinking, would have been nice.

That is the very essence of belief, of faith. The piece wasn't titled "This I derive from reason."

That said, there's no bravery being shown here - I'm sure that Mr. Jillette would agree. If you want to hear bravery on NPR, the piece that comes to mind is Andrei Codrescu's Rapture bit, which I unfortunately can't find in its entirety.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2005


Feh. Smells like Fark in here.

I didn't hear a conclusion. I heard "I don't have a conclusion yet, either way. I'm starting with the hypothesis that there is no God (or anything else, for that matter) and I'm looking for evidence - in the meantime, I'm treating this as my only go-around." That sounds like a rational position to me.

Why, exactly, should he have "attacked" or "argued" anything?
posted by FormlessOne at 9:52 AM on November 21, 2005


"She needs to search for some objective evidence of a supernatural power"

He begins by admitting that you can't prove a negative, true, but the gist of that paragraph is that this is a challenge for the mere atheists. Penn, being beyond them, goes on to assert a great many things. Assert, not prove, not show, not argue for, just assert. This is relevant because he seems to think that if you only want to hold good beliefs, then you should believe something only after acquiring proper objective evidence for it. I didn't notice any objective evidence lying around in that transcript. Did I miss it?

(And, MMM, believing is exactly as rational as inductive reasoning, if you insist that induction is inherently faith based and therefore somehow irrational, so be it. Good luck gaining knowledge.)

So it seems that Penn is an agnostic (can't disprove the existence of God, doesn't except proofs for His existence) with a humanist moral code. Wow, groundbreaking, truly earth shattering. It's not like that position has been around for a few hundred years.
posted by oddman at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2005


salmacis: Is America so religious that this statement can be described as "brave" - or even "mildly controversial"?
Yes. (Sad but true.)


I guess they'll be coming to take him away any minute now, then.

And this was especially brave to post on MetaFilter, where any debunking of religion is likely to get one in great trouble! I salute you, ab3!
posted by languagehat at 10:20 AM on November 21, 2005



I have no problem with people believing in God the Creator, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Ghost, whatever the fuck he is supposed to be/do; they'll probably be happier in the long-run


Y,know, I used to say that. Until those beleifs started to dictate policy in this country. Now I feel like I can't afford those blinders anymore. Apparently whatever bizzare fictions other people choose to populate their worldviews with is going to affect me and my family for the rest of my life. So now I make it a point to argue with the religious whenever I feel like they might hear me.

Also, this is brave, but it's a species of bravery that Penn Jillette has been showing for a while now. If you want a real laugh watch the episode of bullshit about the bible.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:20 AM on November 21, 2005


"So, I'm saying, 'This I believe: I believe there is no God.' " and "Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future."

FormlessOne, you don't think these are conclusions? They certainly look like conclusions to me. The first sentence even has the handy dandy "so" to signal that it is, in fact, a conclusion. He should argue for them because he paints himself as a rationalist. You simply cannot posit a conclusion, be a rationalist, and fail to argue for the conclusion. Only two of those statements can be true of a single person at one time.
posted by oddman at 10:22 AM on November 21, 2005


Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force

I've got no particular axe to grind with Penn that I'm aware of, but this is some kinda facile definition of God he's so bravely rejecting.

Piece should be retitled: "This I believe: There is no God in the rigid sense propagated by the blinkered fundamentalist wings of the major monotheistic religions, particularly by the various strains of evangelical Christianity currently ascendent in the United States." Bit unwieldy as a title, I admit, but then the reader/listener would know going in that the only God being debunked is the one that's the least complex and easiest to deconstruct.
posted by gompa at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2005


Optimus, any affront to the organized religions by someone of intellect and means is rubbing salt in the open gash that is organized religion. Or maybe that's just me.

That and he's got his trademark Look-at-the-idiots-tone to the piece too. Anyone who refers to God as an "imaginary friend" isn't being complimentary.

stevis and boo_radley, bright works but isn't definitive, secular humanism is actually almost perfect. I think I might just become a secular human myself. Oh wait, already there!
posted by fenriq at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2005


So it seems that Penn is an agnostic (can't disprove the existence of God, doesn't except proofs for His existence) with a humanist moral code. Wow, groundbreaking, truly earth shattering. It's not like that position has been around for a few hundred years.

Yeah, nice try. First of all Agnosticism is the weak sister of Atheism. Agnostics might say that Christians are possibly right. If you can get that out of Penn Jillette I'll eat my hat. Because he's done this go-round a million times he starts out by saying you can't prove a negative. I can't prove there's no god. But that's not my job, or his job either. I can't prove there's no planet made from vanilla ice cream either. It's the job of people who believe in invisible superheros in the sky, or planets made of ice cream, to come up with some proof.

The belief part comes where people like Penn Jillette and I don't think that proof is ever going to come, for a big pile of reasons. Sure it's a belief, but for the future. For the present, there's no proof for god, so we live accordingly. Like people matter more than their 'souls'.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2005


Where is the bravery in stating something that requires nothing of Mr. Jilette other than the ability to open his mouth and let words fall out?

Those who believe in God do so with no ability to provide concrete evidence. It's what faith is all about, and to me it seems far more brave to hold on to faith in increasingly troubled times, when it would be far to easy to say "Screw it" and live however you pleased.
posted by genefinder at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2005


Gompa, he has done the complex debunking part. But it wasn't in the '3 minutes to sum up your worldview' format. You're asking for a super complex argument in a simplistic area. The other people who did "This I Believe" didn't get that restriction so neither should he.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:32 AM on November 21, 2005


Re: The bravery question and whether or not Jillette will be attacked for his position:

I don't know if the thought-police will be knocking on his door anytime soon (I think it depends on whether or not he has taken out any library books or something), but he's certainly taking a load of abuse on metafilter.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2005


I don't get it. Personally I disagree with Penn's conclusion but liked what he had to say anyway. In the very small space available he offers a few personal thoughts on his experience in life so far. I decided I liked him more now than previously because he comes across as a warm intelligent human being. For those complaining, what's the problem with him offering his thoughts exactly, and for those who figure he's being brave, what exactly do you think is going to happen to him as a result of sharing his view? My answers: nothing and nothing.

those beleifs started to dictate policy in this country


On the usual religious post derail: what's at the root of this stuff? Current American issues with Roe V Wade, the godwin of any post remotely connected with religion?
posted by scheptech at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2005


This I believe: Penn Jillette is a hell of an entertainer, but he can't tell an athiest from an agnostic.
posted by Eothele at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2005


and to me it seems far more brave to hold on to faith in increasingly troubled times, when it would be far to easy to say "Screw it" and live however you pleased

Arrrgh. I'm so tired of arguing this point. Look, as an atheist, I hold myself to a much higher moral standard than most of the religious people I know. You know why? Because the only forgiveness I get is from the people who surround me. If I screw up, magic daddy doesn't fix it for me. I don't get to feel self righteous that I've done the right thing even though I made everyone around me miserable.

If you were listening, you would know that he was pointing out that for us atheists we know this is the only life we get, and we have to make it count.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2005


Lest the Debate Club judge Jillette too harshly for his "flimsy" arguements, please note the submission guidelines specify "Between 350 and 500 words, or about three minutes when read aloud at your natural speaking pace." I enjoyed Jillette's piece, just as I enjoyed Newt Gingrich's piece - and I am impressed that TIB could present both speakers with such equanimity.
posted by Triode at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2005


# For those wanting more assertions on Penn's behalf, remember he only had 500 words.
# I heard this as well on the radio this morning. His talk was buffered by an producer introducing it with "he did a flip to make this a positive statement" and the NPR mouth saying at the end "next week another view...". So, yes, this is still a point of view that, in the US, departs markedly from the usual outlook.
posted by sohcahtoa at 10:41 AM on November 21, 2005


That Julia Sweeney piece grrarrgh00 linked to is a good one. Far better, I think, than the essay in the FPP.
posted by Pliskie at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2005


.... he doesn't actually offer an argument against the existence of God. Wouldn't that be a part of a rational position?

No. It would be part of a foolish position. Unless he's got some argument I've never heard before.

oddman: I didn't notice any objective evidence lying around in that transcript. Did I miss it?

Getting it all into two minutes might have been a bit of a challenge, even for a skilled illusionist. I imagine he had to cut a bit.

On courage: This took basically none -- well, no extra, at least. Not for Penn Jillette. And I doubt he'd disagree with me. There aren't many people in show biz with more chutzpah than Penn. He can probably take a metaphorical punch as well as anybody in the public eye.

Now, as for the monkeys piece being "opposite" to Penn's -- I don't really see that. The "feeding monkeys" piece was great. What was great about it was that it isn't really about believing that feeding monkeys literally keeps his family prosperous; it's really about the concept of honor for tradition and family and remaining conscious of your good fortune, without giving up on working for it.
posted by lodurr at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2005


Penn is God.

* Poof! *

oops. And I liked him so much.
posted by mouthnoize at 10:46 AM on November 21, 2005


So, is there a name for beyond atheism

The "strong atheist position" and "antitheist" are often used. "Bright" doesn't really fit, as it encompasses all forms of atheism, including the "weak atheist position".

I'm in the same boat as Penn; I believe that there are no gods. I consider this a rational position. Because one cannot prove an existential negative, the default position must always be that any entity X does not exist. Without evidence for the existence of X, it is rational to assume that X does not exist.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:48 AM on November 21, 2005


to me it seems far more brave to hold on to faith in increasingly troubled times, when it would be far to easy to say "Screw it" and live however you pleased

Two things:
1. People hold on to faith in troubled times because they're scared, not because they're brave. It is much much easier to find comfort in religion than in the benign indifference of the universe, or science, or whatever else you've got.

2. A huge point in Penn's piece was that atheism actually forces people to consider very closely how they treat other people. Seeking forgiveness from others, rather than a divine being. There's nothing about being an atheist that necessarily equates with "living however you please."
posted by 912 Greens at 10:52 AM on November 21, 2005


Not brave, although he makes a fine (if recycled) case for secular humanism. It is tiring, however, to hear the ritual denigration of the "religious" and their "imaginary friend," every time anyone feels the need to articulate their atheism.

Also, anyone who was inclined to curb their support for Penn Jillette for offense to religious sensibilities must have done so, oh, around the time The Aristocrats came out. The fundamentalists are not running in Penn Jillette circles.
posted by kosem at 10:53 AM on November 21, 2005


This I believe: Penn Jillette is a hell of an entertainer, but he can't tell an athiest from an agnostic.

I'm not sure that you can; the two positions are orthogonal. One can be an atheist agnostic ("I lack any belief in gods and believe that their existence is unprovable"), a theist agnostic ("I believe in one or more gods but believe that that their existence is unprovable" -- this was the position held by Thomas Huxley when he coined the term 'agnostic'), an atheist gnostic ("I lack any belief in gods and believe that their lack of exisxtence is provable") or a theistic gnostic ("I believe in one or more gods and believe that their existence is provable").
posted by solid-one-love at 10:53 AM on November 21, 2005


I've been doing this for a long time. It's 30 years, now, I guess, since I decided I was an atheist. I learned at the beginning, and haven't had a chance to forget, that there are few positions that will get you alienated from your present company more quickly than actually expressing the belief that there isn't a god.

And it's not the believers that end up bothering you the most. It takes a few years, but most of the atheists I've gotten to know have agreed that ultimately, the more annoying folks are the ones who try endlessly to convince you that you're not really an atheist -- you're actually an agnostic.

I am not an agnostic. Yes, I believe that it is impossible to prove the negative. It is broadly logically possible that the christian god is real. It is somewhat more possible that there is a god or gods who are interested in human behavior, and somewhat more possible yet that there are "gods" that aren't. That I admit those things really does not mean I'm an agnostic, unless you feel a crying need to force a suspiciously rigid definition of "agnostic."

What I am is an empiricist. Which is to say that if you want me to care whether or not there's a god, you've got to show me some kind of empirical effect that such a being would have on my existence. Then we can test it.

Now, belief in a god -- that has a big effect on the world....

How can this thread have gotten this far without anybody mentioning the dislexic agnostic? (He wasn't sure or not whether there was a dog.)
posted by lodurr at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2005


It's the job of people who believe in invisible superheros in the sky, or planets made of ice cream, to come up with some proof.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:29 PM CST on November 21


Why? Why can't they believe in what they choose without having to answer to you?

Personally I disagree with Penn's conclusion but liked what he had to say anyway. In the very small space available he offers a few personal thoughts on his experience in life so far. I decided I liked him more now than previously because he comes across as a warm intelligent human being.
posted by scheptech at 12:35 PM CST on November 21


I agree. I liked it, too, and I found him more likable having read it.

And this was especially brave to post on MetaFilter, where any debunking of religion is likely to get one in great trouble! I salute you, ab3!
posted by languagehat at 12:20 PM CST on November 21


I can't tell if this is sarcasm, but if it is not, then let me say I wholeheartedly disagree. Posting this on Metafilter is void of any quantum of bravery. The piece is merelyone person's opinion, and it doesn't advance the argument any further beyond where it sat over 2000 years ago. No new ground has been made on whether there is a god, and no new ground will ever by made. That another person shared their opinion, and it was posted here as if it was interesting or a new viewpoint and where it has a sizeable approving reception for the underlying point, is not an act of bravery but an act of soapboxing.

People saying "Look, another atheist! Look another proof of evolution! Look, another insult to people's beliefs by mocking them! How many times do we have to explain to you that Christians are insane?" is tired, brings nothing new to the table, and just revisits millenia old arguments that will not be proven here. The irony never ceases to amaze me that people, who accept their atheism as a matter of personal truism yell and shout at other people who accept their beliefs as a matter of personal truism, and in defense of such uncouth behavior, they argue "it is justified yelling at them because they are trying to impose their beliefs on me!" As if the two points of view were any different. Radical atheists are just as bad as radical believers: they both appear to have so much invested in the rightness of their personal belief that they demand others agree with them as an act of vindication. I find both extremes to be revolting to the free mind.
posted by dios at 11:02 AM on November 21, 2005


And, MMM, believing is exactly as rational as inductive reasoning, if you insist that induction is inherently faith based and therefore somehow irrational, so be it. Good luck gaining knowledge.

The word "belief" covers a relatively broad span. I believe, for example, that it's about 2pm ET as I type this. My belief is based on observation. Inductive reasoning is based on observation as well. Belief in the existence of God - or the absence of a God, for that matter - is quite a different thing. There is no observation upon which you can base your belief. (Occam's Razor is not an observation.) Surely you see the difference, and are simply pulling my leg, right?
posted by me & my monkey at 11:03 AM on November 21, 2005


lumpenprole, if you insist on taking him at face value, then, sure, he is an atheist. My point was that his actual position is agnosticism. Saying you are an atheist doesn't make it so.

Further, the position that "I live by what I can prove" is, frankly, bullshit. Can you prove that you existed five minutes ago? (You can't. At best you can say it is reasonable that if reality works the way we think it does and if there are other people, and there aren't some unusual circumstances, and reason works the way we think it does, then, ceteris paribus, you probably existed five minutes ago. That is a rather weak claim.) Do you live as if you didn't exist then? If you don't, why should you live as if God doesn't exist? In other words, you have no more empirical evidence (memories are not empirical evidence) for the past than you do for God why treat one differently from the other? At best you can claim some phenomenal evidence for the past (assuming it's accurate) and none for God. Of course plenty of people claim phenomenal experience of God, so this line of thought won't get the atheist very far. Lacking phenomenal experience is not normally thought to be evidence against the existence of a thing.

Triode (and lumpy) all I asked for was a bare sketch, a few sentences, alluding to his argument. A person who places reason and reasoning so highly should be able to give us that even in the restricted format of This I Believe.

(And now I bid you all adieu, I have a paper to write. Contact me via e-mail (in my profile) if you wish to continue the discussion.)
posted by oddman at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2005


Why? Why can't they believe in what they choose without having to answer to you?

Perhaps because they often set the ground rules in societies to the exclusion of others, along the course of history. Thus their framework for thought and action perhaps deserves a higher level of scrutiny and justification.
posted by Rothko at 11:08 AM on November 21, 2005


Metafilter: Void of any quantum of bravery.

solid-one-love, thanks for the summary. It gets even more fun when we have to keep track of the fact that a lot of those 'theist xgnostics' are really deists.

On prev: dios, i would dearly love to be able to just leave this whole damn argument alone. And I usually do. Too much annoyance; too much grief. And you're right (if I'm right that this is what you mean), it's tired on both sides of the table. Do you think there's a prayer in hell [sic] that folks will just drop this thread?

.... Neither do I. But I'm dropping it. Have fun if you stick around. [g /]
posted by lodurr at 11:09 AM on November 21, 2005


You are ridiculous. You call something "lame" without giving any indication that you'd actually heard the spot or read the transcript. That's not helpful, nor is it interesting. It's just being contrary. Granted, there are plenty of responses that are simple statements of support, but it's a lot less annoying to say "I liked it," rather than "lame" with no reason why.

posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:46 PM


Jeez O.C. Of course I read the transcript. My plodding applause and lame-calling was directed at Mr Jilltette and his self satisfied statements on being "beyond atheism". My personal opinion is that this column was a waste of words, a load of luke-warm air, lame.

Unless Matt appointed you as some sort of comment moderator then please refrain from pointing out to me what does or doesn't make for good response. Or if you have issues then take it to MetaTalk.

Apologies to others for taking up space with this. Carry on...
posted by brautigan at 11:12 AM on November 21, 2005


One last thought: Hardly any of us really try to live by what we can prove. But we all, without exception, live by what we have evidence for.

Without exception.
posted by lodurr at 11:12 AM on November 21, 2005


oh shit... god loses 200 points... the rpg may crash...

more seriously, going way back, isn't this what aristotle said v.s. plato? jillette provides a contemporary context for the aristotlean reasoning that we should focus on "what's real", versus plato's insistence on the absolute. so what jillette is saying is not really new, just provided for contemporary laymen in a format that is digestible and evokes thought (which is no small thing)
posted by ginbiafra at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2005


There is no observation upon which you can base your belief. (Occam's Razor is not an observation.) Surely you see the difference, and are simply pulling my leg, right?
posted by me & my monkey at 1:03 PM CST on November 21


You do realize that such a statement is mere ipse dixit? It is purely conclusory to discount any attempts for people to contemplate. I personally agree with Kierkegaard that there is nothing that can bridge the gap as a matter of "empirical" truth. But one can point to observations and two different people can come to their own conclusions about it. For instance, a believer might point to the uniqueness of human language as something that might indicate a higher being. To them, that observation is sufficient. But you claim to have a better understanding and argue that there is "no observation" upon which a person could base their belief. Such intellectual hubris!

The argument that there is no room for disagreement is equally off-putting on both sides of this topic. Radical theists demanding people who don't believe are confused and be saved is equally as annoying as people who sit there with their best William James impersonations saying that they know as a matter of empirical fact that people who believe are clearly wrong to do so and need to be enlightened.

And, in reality, what makes these discussions even more annoying is that people claim to know one way or the other for certain, despite the fact that this same argument has recurred since the dawn of thought, and reasonable and intelligent people disagree. But here we are, the latest person wishing to explain how they know the reality and other people are stupid for thinking otherwise.

The linked article is interesting to the extent that we see Penn's mind at work and get to know something about an interesting guy. But to the extent it is offered as if Penn is guy returning to Plato's cave with the light to show us reality, it really is a pointless excercize. Though, I will say, this discussion is one of the more respectful ones I have seen.
posted by dios at 11:21 AM on November 21, 2005


The irony never ceases to amaze me that people, who accept their atheism as a matter of personal truism yell and shout at other people who accept their beliefs as a matter of personal truism, and in defense of such uncouth behavior, they argue "it is justified yelling at them because they are trying to impose their beliefs on me!" As if the two points of view were any different. Radical atheists are just as bad as radical believers: they both appear to have so much invested in the rightness of their personal belief that they demand others agree with them as an act of vindication. I find both extremes to be revolting to the free mind.

Yeah, I was going to the bookstore the other day and there was a guy on the corner of Mill & University with a huge sandwich board sign that said "DON'T REPENT"; I tried to squeeze past him but he got right up in my face and said "Whether or not you believe in god you are not going to hell because there is no such place!!!" and then he shoved a blank piece of paper in my hand and said "LACK BELIEF IN GOD AND YOU WON'T BURN IN HELL!"

Then I was leaving and lo and behold, a different group on that same street corner, this time gathering signatures to make heterosexuality illegal.

It's a crazy world.

Unless Matt appointed you as some sort of comment moderator then please refrain from pointing out to me what does or doesn't make for good response. Or if you have issues then take it to MetaTalk.
posted by brautigan at 11:12 AM PST on November 21


Newsflash: people have been critiquing other people's comments here since you and I were knee-high to grasshoppers.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:22 AM on November 21, 2005


So who's gonna write in for This I Believe: The Flying Spaghetti Monster?
posted by iamck at 11:22 AM on November 21, 2005


It's interesting that although he claims to go beyond "mere atheism,"

I think the only reason for that was the guidelines of "This I Believe" are that you must present a positive belief, not just talk about what you don't believe in. I heard this on the radio this morning, and was looking forward to hearing an atheist make positive statements because it's such a bore to hear more about how dumb people who believe something else are... so I was kinda disappointed that he basically used a technicality to make his statement acceptable (to make "there is no god" a positive statement of belief rather than simply an absence of belief), but I did enjoy the second part where he got into the ramifications of his belief.

It didn't strike me as brave at all - it seemed kinda like a cop-out at first, focusing on what is really a lack of belief. I often like the series, even when I disagree, and I think part of that is that people have to find something they actually believe, which is personal and sort of vulnerable in a way that debunking other people's beliefs just isn't.
posted by mdn at 11:23 AM on November 21, 2005


I wouldn't call it a lack of belief, necessarily. One could argue that so called "believers" have a lack of belief in objective reality.
posted by iamck at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2005


I thought it was a wonderfully written essay, especially considering that it was limited to 500 words.

I don't think that he was trying to convince anyone else to become an atheist. I heard it as an explanation of why he's an atheist, why he believes there is no god, and why being an atheist doesn't mean he's immoral.

I kind of assumed there would be discussion about this piece online today, but I really thought it would be more about whether or not athiesm "makes sense" than about what Penn's motivation for writing the essay was. (i.e. bravery?)
posted by INTPLibrarian at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2005


I don't see anything brave about it. He's not telling people of faith anything. He's not out spreading this message to the religous majority. This message isn't for them. It's for his peers. It's for the hip, the so-called informed, the cool.

Points to remember:

1. say there is no God
2. wear your ironic trucker hat
3. wear your ironic high school athletics t-shirt
4. and don't forget to mention you don't watch television

Your ready for a bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn or a night with Penn Jillette...
posted by Shanachie at 11:39 AM on November 21, 2005


Brautigan: Optimus is incapable of respectful disagreement. Don't bother expecting it, you'll just find more evidence of churlish opinions and vestigial logic.

Optimus: "Yeah, that would explain the episode of Bullshit debunking the dangers of second-hand smoke. "

Yeah, that would be a non-sequitor. Read his books of dirty tricks and count how many times he positions himself as morally superior for never having drank or smoked, and note how he uses that to justify pranking people. That he went after second-hand smoke (while I haven't seen that episode, I find his "debunkings" to be generally junk science) probably has more to do with his libertarian dickishness than his straight edge dickishness.
posted by klangklangston at 11:40 AM on November 21, 2005


I guess they'll be coming to take him away any minute now, then.
Of all the people in the US, Jillette has perhaps staked out the strongest professional and personal position to make this statement.

Outside of the Vegas magician profession, making this kind of public statement would certainly be deleterous.

cf. the Beatles. I don't think this country has progressed much since 1966.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2005


Your ready for a bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn or a night with Penn Jillette...
posted by Shanachie at 2:39 PM EST on November 21 [!]


Someone who's obviously never been to a Penn and Teller show, else he'd know what kind of crowd that those shows attract. The strawmen being thrown around this thread are disgusting.
posted by Rothko at 11:48 AM on November 21, 2005


Brautigan: Optimus is incapable of respectful disagreement.

This is untrue.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:54 AM on November 21, 2005


dios: Though, I will say, this discussion is one of the more respectful ones I have seen.

You just had to say it, didn't you? (C'mon guys, prove me wrong and dios right. Please.)
posted by lodurr at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2005


Setting aside the question of whether it was "brave" or "new," I for one was genuinely surprised to hear something like this on the radio, even "liberal" NPR. While it's true that this is an old debate, religion seems to have had the upper hand for most of history. I'm a blue-stater who generally runs with a left-leaning crowd. Still, religion is so incredibly ubiquitous in my surroundings. I'm not saying that this is necessarily bad, but I do think that the essentially religious nature of American society affects us all, even those of us who aren't religious. And I for one am not always ok with that.
posted by 912 Greens at 12:03 PM on November 21, 2005


Shanachie writes "Points to remember:

"1. say there is no God
"2. wear your ironic trucker hat
"3. wear your ironic high school athletics t-shirt
"4. and don't forget to mention you don't watch television

"Your ready for a bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn or a night with Penn Jillette..."


What the hell is this? You're coming off as a complete moron, here.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:20 PM on November 21, 2005


What I Believe is that Penn did better with his 500 words than the entire membership of MeFi did in their est. 8000 words in response. Although I appreciated the links to the other commentaries. So let me add one more. And seeing the eloquent languagehat stooping to the use of sarcasm - as well as the LOL of dios seeming to fail to recognize it.

It's hard to see anything Penn says or does as exceptionally "brave" when his entire career is based on contrarianism. And P&T's openness in revealing how illusions are made certainly don't make them representative of "the Vegas magician population". And that's what I believe... I think.
posted by wendell at 12:23 PM on November 21, 2005


I wouldn't call it a lack of belief, necessarily. One could argue that so called "believers" have a lack of belief in objective reality.

well, consider it this way: would he specify a belief in no-god if hardly anyone in the world believed in god? It seems to me that his belief is more of a reaction to the beliefs of others than a positive belief in its own. If he had gone with "I believe the world is wholly accessible through my senses" or "I believe nature is the totality of being" or something, it would have been a positive statement, and it also would have required more reflection on his end - he'd have to figure out what he really believed - it's harder to come to terms with beliefs when you have to state them positively, and not just reject other people's conclusions.
posted by mdn at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2005


lodurr: And it's not the believers that end up bothering you the most. It takes a few years, but most of the atheists I've gotten to know have agreed that ultimately, the more annoying folks are the ones who try endlessly to convince you that you're not really an atheist -- you're actually an agnostic.

I just wanted to post that. Bears repeating.
posted by uncle harold at 12:35 PM on November 21, 2005


You do realize that such a statement is mere ipse dixit? ... But one can point to observations and two different people can come to their own conclusions about it. For instance, a believer might point to the uniqueness of human language as something that might indicate a higher being. To them, that observation is sufficient. But you claim to have a better understanding and argue that there is "no observation" upon which a person could base their belief. Such intellectual hubris!

I'd dispute your characterization of my opinion as intellectual hubris, since many people of faith would heartily agree. Many people of faith would argue that if you require rationality to support your faith, your faith itself would be without value. Pointing to something that "might indicate a higher being" is not sufficient to say that your belief is founded in rationality. Many people, whether they believe in God or not, would agree that empirical observation is completely unsuitable for answering metaphysical questions.

Further, the position that "I live by what I can prove" is, frankly, bullshit. Can you prove that you existed five minutes ago? (You can't. At best you can say it is reasonable that if reality works the way we think it does and if there are other people, and there aren't some unusual circumstances, and reason works the way we think it does, then, ceteris paribus, you probably existed five minutes ago. That is a rather weak claim.) Do you live as if you didn't exist then? If you don't, why should you live as if God doesn't exist?

While that may be a relatively weak claim in metaphysical terms, it's the best we poor humans can do. It may be weak, but it's exponentially stronger than any claim we can make about things beyond our experience and our senses.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2005


James Fenton's "God, A Poem"
posted by bardic at 1:00 PM on November 21, 2005


Wait a sec, these aren't two opposing "belief systems". Refusing to accept the existence of any god isn't a belief system. It's just someone saying "oh yeah? prove it". Believing there is a god that does X and Y and created us all - that's a belief system.

If I say I believe in a magical titty monster that lactated the universe into being, that doesn't automatically make you all part of a belief system that rejects the existence of the Lactating Titty God. It just makes you say "oh yeah? prove it".

Or, to be brutally frank: one person is being rational, the other is making stuff up with no proof.
posted by ralphyk at 1:05 PM on November 21, 2005


If you were listening, you would know that he was pointing out that for us atheists we know this is the only life we get, and we have to make it count.

I was listening, and I know that many atheists and agnostics are excellent, kind, loving people. I know a few myself you know. My statement is about what takes courage or bravery. To me, it seems easy to discount the notion that there is an "invisible friend", easy to poke holes in arguments based on faith alone. It is not easy, however, to hold true to your faith in difficult times. I believe that is brave.

Finally, who needs to make this life count more than someone who believes what you do with this life will be judged for all eternity? If an atheist screws up this life, they believe they are done. For a Christian who screws up this life, in the myriad ways it can be done, the price ranges from a long purgatory stint to eternity in Hell.
posted by genefinder at 1:14 PM on November 21, 2005


My point is that I find it a bit silly to look at Penn Jillette as some sort of stout hearted culture warrior. While I can appreciate where he's coming from, I find it frustrating that he is described as brave. It feels like there are a lot of people who are following the herd. Right now, if you want people to think you're smart it's hipper to be an atheist. I feel this thread has little to do with a quest for truth and the good of humanity and more to do with who's currently in fashion...
posted by Shanachie at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005


That god poem crashed my browser. And I found the essay profoundly uninteresting. I'm having a tough time here.
posted by xod at 1:25 PM on November 21, 2005


An exclusive preview of the hate mail the brave Penn Jillete will receive:

Dear Mr Jillette,
my name's Mandy, I'm 9 years old and I want to write to you to tell you how sad it makes me feel that you have no imaginary friend! I have one that I talk to when I'm sad and when I'm happy I tell him how happy I am! and when it's my birthday I write in my diary what I want for presents and then I get the presents. And then, when a girl in my class is cuter than me, I pray to my imaginary friend that he makes her ugly and he does! Lucy got boiling water on her face the day after I made a wish to be prettier than her. So you see my imaginary friend is really real. You MUST have an imaginary friend too, Mr Jillette, it's sooo much fun. If you want I can lend you mine!
Please write back soon!
Mandy
xxx
posted by funambulist at 1:26 PM on November 21, 2005


Actually, for a real sneak-peek into Penn's mailbag, take a look here. That's some of the mail that Bob Henderson, creator of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been getting.
posted by papercake at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2005


funambulist. LOL.
posted by Paris Hilton at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2005


"You can't prove a negative."

Arg! I wonder how many people who blurt this out have actually thought it through. (Penn is playing a con game when he says that you can't prove there isn't an elephant in a ca because someone can redefine what elephant means. The same would hold for proving a positive: you didn't just prove you were alive, because I just redefined life to mean a cheese sandwich.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:51 PM on November 21, 2005


Grumblebee, he's talking about an existential proof. Carrier's essay actually supports Penn.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:06 PM on November 21, 2005


And seeing the eloquent languagehat stooping to the use of sarcasm

I've tried earnest rebuttal, I've tried pleading, I've tried high-minded analysis, I've tried jokes, I've tried randomly opening fire with an automatic rifle—nothing stops these goddamn "religion is dumm" threads!
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't mean this to come off as a backhanded snark, but here's something I never thought I'd say: I agree pretty much wholeheartedly with dios.

He's right that this is an apparently irreconcilable debate as old as humankind's ability to look at the stars and ask each other questions about them. What are those? What are they doing there? Our inability to answer those questions beyond the shadow of a doubt has fuelled the debate from then until now.

And I'm with dios, too, in that I've yet to see someone make a case for atheism that isn't guilty to some degree of the same arrogant absolutism that characterizes the ardent theists who are allegedly so deluded. Which is to say that if you accept that there are limits to human knowledge - which there empirically are, and probably always will be - then you're bound by the same enlightened reason that makes you highly doubt the existence of something beyond your ken to accept that it's possible, however unlikely, that there may be forces shaping our existence that we can't perceive.

Maybe these forces are invisible benevolent bearded dudes, or flying spaghetti monsters, or a vast soap-operatic pantheon of fighting and fucking superheroes, or a singular plane of higher consciousness in which the interconnectedness of all life is made manifest. Or none of the above. Maybe consciousness is nothing but an extraordinarily elaborate series of chemical reactions and God nothing but a human invention to justify the strange thoughts of uniqueness those reactions cause. But if you believe that this last version is unassailably true, you're basing that belief on incomplete knowledge and a couple of enormous suppositions (show me "zero" in the tangible universe).

So if you're willing to concede that there are things even within our limited perception that are unknowable - which is pretty much where 500 years of Enlightened scientific investigation have brought us - then you're halfway down the path to Aquinas. And even the fallback response that science will fill in all blanks in time suggests a faith in a god called Science that is being invested with similar powers to the ones that Aquinas gave to his diety.
posted by gompa at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2005


I like Penn, and I'm glad someone is pointing out that atheists aren't necessarily depressed or depraved. But his essay is spin -- which is just a polite way of saying it's dishonest (or at least misleading).

He may be accurately describing his own feelings, but he also seems to be saying that his feelings are the inevitable (or at least likely) results anyone would obtain if they embraced atheism. I'm also an "atheist who has gone beyond atheism," but I disagree.

Most honest theists would admit that believing in God leads to both great joy and great hardship. Honest atheists should do the same. If atheism was 100% the party that Penn paints it to be, there'd be many more atheists in the world.

I'm not going to waste space here explaining the good parts of being an atheist, because Penn has already done that, and I agree with him. Here are some bad parts -- and I wish Penn had been REALLY brave. Really brave people look reality square in the face and admit it's a mixed bad. In a truly random universe, how could it be anything else?

-- When your wife/child/husband/dad/mom/lover/friend dies, you will NEVER see him (or her) again. He's gone.

-- Since no one is running the universe, there is no cosmic justice. Your "fate" is pure luck. So you can spend years being good and still wind up being hit by a truck and spending decades as a quadriplegic. And many horrible people will have a life of happiness. Of course, some won't. And some good people will get rewarded. But it's all random and arbitrary. Nothing you do will affect the outcome. The universe doesn't care if you're good or bad.

Every times someone says something like, "I know you're lonely, but don't worry... there's someone out there for everyone. You'll meet someone eventually...", all they can mean (unless they believe in fate) is that there are many people in the world, so the odds are in your favor. But you're not BOUND to meet someone. And, via the luck of the draw, some people won't ever find love. And you might be one of them.

-- There's no cosmic law. If you feel something is right or wrong, that's just your opinion. (Sure, it might be based on genetics or reasoning about what makes people happy or your culture -- but so are all opinions.) And if you force someone to live by your morals (i.e. if you put murderers in jail because you think murder is wrong), you are simply showing that might makes right (because you are able to force them into prison against their will). You are dominating other people based on your own opinion, nothing greater.

-- There's no free will. Perhaps some of the universe is random, but randomness isn't choice. If it's not random, and if there's no God magically allowing free will, then it must be determined. And if the universe is determined, there's no free will.

-- Life has no purpose. You might create some sort of feeling of purpose for yourself, but you're not part of some larger picture. You are just a happenstance.

Certainly there are atheists who would disagree with some of this, but most thoughtful atheists surely must at least grapple with some of these issues. And, of course, there's the social negative: as an atheist you're doomed to be part of a tiny minority. You either have to lie about your feelings or, to some extent, become a social pariah. (This will, of course, differ somewhat depending on the norms in your community.)
posted by grumblebee at 2:15 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm more than willing to concede that there are things that are unknowable, that hardly sets me "halfway down the path to Aquinas". Saying "we don't know what is really true" is not the same as saying "there is a magical being who created the world", it's not even close.

We don't need to "make a case for atheism", we have nothing to prove, it's not a thing that we have "faith" in, we just don't believe your story. You want to say that a giant bearded man made the world? Fine. Say it. We don't have to believe you.
posted by ralphyk at 2:22 PM on November 21, 2005


There's no free will. Perhaps some of the universe is random, but randomness isn't choice. If it's not random, and if there's no God magically allowing free will, then it must be determined. And if the universe is determined, there's no free will.

I don't see how this follows at all. It is completely backwards from the "conventional atheist wisdom". Because of chaotic effects and quantum mechanics, nothing at the fine scale is deterministic. Thus, free will is possible.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:22 PM on November 21, 2005


Carrier's essay actually supports Penn.

I realize this. But I hear "you can't prove a negative" at least once a week, and it's generally clear the speaker hasn't really thought through what he's saying. Penn is a smart guy, but if the only thing I'd ever read by him was that essay, I'd assume he either was ignorant or trying to con me (re: his elephant example).

No one should be allowed to say, "you can't prove a negative" unless they can explain what's wrong with this (which is why I linked to Carrier's more thorough essay):

A: I have no money in my pocket.
B: You can't prove a negative.
A (turns pocket inside out and shows that it's empty): See.
posted by grumblebee at 2:23 PM on November 21, 2005


That whirling sound you hear is C.S. Lewis spinning in his grave.
posted by spock at 2:23 PM on November 21, 2005


I like Penn. I've seen Penn & Teller live a few times. I like "P&T: Bullshit", although I dislike the selective editing techniques they sometimes use to make stupid people look even stupider.

I used to call myself an atheist. I no longer do. When asked about my personal beliefs, I tell people that I believe in chaos and probability, and that everything else is frosting and cotton candy.

A universe without a deity is a hard pill to swallow for many people. Some need to define that for themselves with labels. Some need the imaginary friend(s), the hypocrisy of religions, the flashlight in the darkness.

Some of us enjoy the darkness, and are quite content without labels.

Penn likes to talk about his belief in not believing. The religious like to wax poetic about their beliefs. I find both equally boring. In fact, I find what I have written above on the subject quite boring.

Meh. Time for a beverage.
posted by weirdoactor at 2:27 PM on November 21, 2005


this is some kinda facile definition of God he's so bravely rejecting . . . the only God being debunked is the one that's the least complex and easiest to deconstruct.

In my experience, "forward thinking" theists, otherwise rational, are quite fond of the argument that the god that I'm rejecting is a narrow and inacurate description of god, and that that's not the god that they believe in. They also usually refuse to define the god that they believe in, becuase that would be selling that god short.

Bullshit. You're clinging to your blankey. If something has no definition, then it's not a thing, its a nothing.

There, choke on that strawman.
posted by mikrophon at 2:27 PM on November 21, 2005


Which is to say that if you accept that there are limits to human knowledge - which there empirically are, and probably always will be - then you're bound by the same enlightened reason that makes you highly doubt the existence of something beyond your ken to accept that it's possible, however unlikely, that there may be forces shaping our existence that we can't perceive.

But without evidence for the existence of those imperceptible forces, there is no way to rationally accept even the possibility of their existence. Actually, the essay that grumblee linked to explained it much better than I could. There is nothing arrogant or absolutist about this viewpoint. Most Christians will claim "there is no Zeus" or "there is no Amaterasu Omikami", absolutely. The strong atheist position merely takes that one step further, and is inclusive of all entities for which there is no evidence.

It's really just the default existential positivist position.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:29 PM on November 21, 2005


solid-one-love, though free will CAN'T exist in a determined universe, non-determinism isn't enough for free will -- at least not a free will that acceptable to me (and, I suspect, to most people).

For me to have free will, I must be able to clearly see two possible choices and NOTHING should push me to make one choice over the other. It's fine for me to be lobbied (the devil and angel can sit on my shoulder and make cases for choice A vs choice B), but ultimately, I must be unimpeded from CONSCIOUSLY making either choice. (And the choice I make can't be based on randomness or some force that's so small and far back in the chain of causation that I'm unaware of it.)

I don't see how you can have this sort of free will without magic (and I don't see how any other sort of free will is "free" in the emotive sense people generally mean when they talk about freely choosing to do something).

First of all, this supposes that there's a me that can have a will. This Cartesian personality is, as I'm sure you know, pretty out of vogue.

But even if there is some sort of me, what aspect of me is making totally uncaused choices? It's fine -- I guess -- if the choices are influenced by my genetic inheritance, cultural baggage, laws of physics, etc. But after all this, there must be SOME thing (a soul?) that is capable of saying, "Yup, my genes and upbringing and thoughts and feelings are compelling me to do X -- but I'm going to thwart them all and do Y instead."

What is that thing if not magic?
posted by grumblebee at 2:35 PM on November 21, 2005


I also reject my inaccurate spelling.
posted by mikrophon at 2:35 PM on November 21, 2005


(Just to sidetrack a bit, while I like Penn's act, I find it hard to take anyone seriously who names his daughter Moxie Crimefighter Jillette.)
posted by solid-one-love at 2:36 PM on November 21, 2005


Saying "we don't know what is really true" is not the same as saying "there is a magical being who created the world", it's not even close.

But that's not what atheists, or Penn Jillette in this essay, say. Instead, they say "we believe that there is no magical being who created the world." That's what differentiates atheism - a belief - from agnosticism. Atheism is faith in the nonexistence of God.

Because of chaotic effects and quantum mechanics, nothing at the fine scale is deterministic. Thus, free will is possible.

The existence of chaos is no guarantee for the existence of free will.

But without evidence for the existence of those imperceptible forces, there is no way to rationally accept even the possibility of their existence.

Why not? After all, that's what "possibility" means - we don't have enough information to rule something out. Maybe we'll have more information in the future. When it comes to metaphysics, I kind of doubt it, but right here in the plain ol' physical world, there are plenty of historical examples that fit this pattern.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:39 PM on November 21, 2005


What is that thing if not magic?

As the creationists would say, what created the universe if not a Creator?

"I don't know" is always a more intellectually honest answer than "Its magic!" I don't have to prove "I don't know". You do have to prove "it's magic!" You can't. So I'll stick with "I don't know."
posted by solid-one-love at 2:40 PM on November 21, 2005


The existence of chaos is no guarantee for the existence of free will.

Good thing that I never made that claim. I said that it was possible, not guaranteed.

Why not?

I have adequately explained why earlier.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Most Christians will claim "there is no Zeus" or "there is no Amaterasu Omikami", absolutely. The strong atheist position merely takes that one step further, and is inclusive of all entities for which there is no evidence.

I agree with this, and the common theistic comeback is something along the lines of, "Well, if you reject EVERYTHING you don't have evidence for, then you must ultimately reject everything. Even science is based on assumptions about a material world..."

Maybe so. And maybe that's a problem for people who "believe" in science, but that still doesn't address the problem with theism. I think it's fine for theists to trust their feelings, but if they insist on using logic, I think they do need to grapple with the Zeus problem. And pointing out that non-theists share the problem doesn't solve the problem.
posted by grumblebee at 2:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Everybody just go read The Demon Haunted World, then come over to my house next week for a glass of bourbon and a chat.
posted by mikrophon at 2:49 PM on November 21, 2005


Atheism is faith in the nonexistence of God.

Maybe for some atheists. Not for me. I don't have "faith" in anything. I simply see no evidence for God's existence, so I don't believe in Him. If you show me some (compelling evidence), then I will believe in Him.

I think the "Zeus" issue is really key. You can call my lack-of-belief "faith" if you want, but I think you're abusing the word faith (which is a beautiful and powerful word), and using it to describe something mundane.

I don't believe that there's a green dragon in the house next door to me; I don't believe I will live to be a million years old; I don't believe that Metafilter only has two members. Would you say all of these are articles of faith? If so, fair enough, but then we need a new word for heavy-duty FAITH.

I simply go through a rule-based process of reasoning (evidence, Occam's Razor, etc.) and if something doesn't pass through this machine, I say, "I don't believe it." That's what I mean by belief/non-belief.

If an atheist says, "I don't believe in God and nothing you could say or do -- no evidence you could ever show me -- would convince me otherwise!" -- HE is an atheist of faith. But I don't know many atheists like that.

All of my beliefs are waiting to be overturned. But until they are, I believe them.
posted by grumblebee at 2:52 PM on November 21, 2005


Good thing that I never made that claim. I said that [free will] was possible, not guaranteed.

...

But without evidence for the existence of those imperceptible forces, there is no way to rationally accept even the possibility of their existence.


So free will is possible, although imperceptible, but a Creator is not? Or are you saying that free will, like a Creator, is possible but not enough to be rationally acceptable?

I have adequately explained why earlier.

I take issue with the adequacy of your explanation, I guess.

Let's travel back in time to, say, 1500 AD. What evidence do we have for, say, the existence of sub-atomic particles?
posted by me & my monkey at 2:52 PM on November 21, 2005


grumblebee, you come upon the core of the philosophical divide.

Theists generally believe in a god-given eternal soul, the seat of personhood, which is one very large reason why they want abortion criminalized (and I respect them for that, sorta, since to stand by and see millions of souls booted back to heaven must be heart-breaking).

Athiests see humanity as a collection of cell colonies. No spirit, no ensoulation, no magic other than an evolved performance envelop that our technology cannot yet match.

In short, an animal not removed (in category) from eg. pond scum.

Our individual value is what we contribute to the comfort, care, and education of our community, be it on the familial, local, or world level.

You are also correct that this is not really a winning "story" compared to the wealth of fairy tales that organized religion has spun out over the centuries.

Just today my fundie mom emailed me one of her revelations that "worry" is fear, and worry is rejecting God's power in one's life. I could see "revelation" can be simply the entwinement of the sensical into the existing religious dogmatic framework one subscribes to.

I also wanted to email her "Fear is the Mind Killer. It is the little death that brings total obliteration..." quote but she doesn't take well to me mocking her.

Another example is I learned recently that a friend is expecting. "I'll pray for you" is certainly more efficacious on the psychological level than "Good luck!" or whatever we athiests are reduced to offering.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2005


But that's not what atheists, or Penn Jillette in this essay, say. Instead, they say "we believe that there is no magical being who created the world."

Uh, no, we don't. We say "we don't believe in your magical being", we do not say "we believe that there is no magical being". Crucial difference. Again, rejecting your magical being idea is *not* a belief, it is a disbelief. You can't say that both positions are a belief or a faith. We have no position, other than "we don't know, and require some sort of proof of everything". You can't define us by whether we believe in your made up stories or not.
posted by ralphyk at 2:55 PM on November 21, 2005


So free will is possible, although imperceptible

I perceive that I wrote this post of my own free will. Not even the same sport.

Let's travel back in time to, say, 1500 AD. What evidence do we have for, say, the existence of sub-atomic particles?

I don't know. I'm no scientific historian.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:55 PM on November 21, 2005


That's what differentiates atheism - a belief - from agnosticism. Atheism is faith in the nonexistence of God.

Isn't the difference athiests remain totally unconvinced by the evidence -- and personal testimony is indeed evidence -- while agnostics allow some possibility that some non-null set of believers are on to something?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:56 PM on November 21, 2005


I simply see no evidence for God's existence, so I don't believe in Him. If you show me some (compelling evidence), then I will believe in Him.

I'm pretty sure that's agnosticism, not atheism. Not believing in the existence of a God is not the same as believing in the non-existence of a God.

I think the "Zeus" issue is really key. You can call my lack-of-belief "faith" if you want, but I think you're abusing the word faith (which is a beautiful and powerful word), and using it to describe something mundane.

How can anything be other than mundane to an atheist? What makes faith beautiful to you? I find that statement genuinely confusing.

I don't believe that Metafilter only has two members.

Not even after that dhoyt thing?

All of my beliefs are waiting to be overturned. But until they are, I believe them.

Faith is simply belief in things which cannot be proven or disproven. So far, human experience has not demonstrated any way to arrive at metaphysical truths, and there is no immediate prospect of doing so in the future. So, like it or not, you qualify in my mind at least as possessing faith in the absence of a God.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:00 PM on November 21, 2005


Uh, no, we don't. We say "we don't believe in your magical being", we do not say "we believe that there is no magical being". Crucial difference.

m&mm and you are both incorrect in different ways. Penn does in fact say "we believe that there is no magical being". As do I. So, some of us do hold to the 'strong atheist position'.

M&mm is also wrong in asserting that the strong atheist position is necessarily one of faith. I have explained already how it can be a completely rational viewpoint.

For some people, the strong atheist position *is* a position of faith, I will concede. But not for me. Nor, I suspect, for Penn.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:00 PM on November 21, 2005


solid -- I loved your orthogonality example above but I think "free will" is a construct that needs explanation.

Do computers have free will? Do animals? Plants? Microbes? That we can think we have free will may be good enough to meet your definition, but materialism does, AFAIK, posit that we are state machines with inputs and outputs.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:00 PM on November 21, 2005


rejecting your magical being idea is *not* a belief, it is a disbelief.

False distinction. Use that sense of disbelief in a sentence.

We have no position, other than "we don't know, and require some sort of proof of everything".

Again, this is Agnosticism, not Atheism.
posted by mikrophon at 3:00 PM on November 21, 2005


Free will is just an illusion. If you don't know why you made a certain choice, it's probably because it was your subconscious doing the calculations and deciding.

And please, fellow atheists, learn how to spell the word "atheist". You are causing me serious psychic pain when you butcher this word. Also, it makes you look like an ass.
posted by beth at 3:01 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm pretty sure that's agnosticism, not atheism.

And you'd be wrong. I outlined the orthogonality between atheism and agnosticism earlier in the thread:

One can be an atheist agnostic ("I lack any belief in gods and believe that their existence is unprovable"), a theist agnostic ("I believe in one or more gods but believe that that their existence is unprovable" -- this was the position held by Thomas Huxley when he coined the term 'agnostic'), an atheist gnostic ("I lack any belief in gods and believe that their lack of exisxtence is provable") or a theistic gnostic ("I believe in one or more gods and believe that their existence is provable").

One can substitute "I believe in the non-existence of gods" with "I lack any belief in gods" above in order to denote the strong atheist position rather than the weak atheist position.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:03 PM on November 21, 2005


False distinction. Use that sense of disbelief in a sentence.

Oxford's definition of disbelief includes both the act of denial and the lack of belief. There is no false distinction.

Again, this is Agnosticism, not Atheism.

Again, you're wrong. Agnosticism is the specific philosophy that the existence of gods is unprovable.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:05 PM on November 21, 2005


Just curious... is there a single member of the US Congress who is an avowed atheist?

When having these kinds of discussions with my friends/acquantances, I usually pull out this hypothetical. Put these minorities in order, of when you would expect someone from that minority to be elected President of the US: woman, racial minority (black, hispanic, etc.), open homosexual, atheist.

The vast majority (I'd say about 90%) put atheist last.
posted by starkeffect at 3:10 PM on November 21, 2005


agnostics allow some possibility that some non-null set of believers are on to something

I'd be inclined to say that agnostics accept that the existence of God (i.e. the ultimate meaning of life, the true nature of existence, the final incontrovertible Answers to all the Big Questions) will never be proven nor disproven because it is fundamentally unknowable.

Speaking just for myself as one agnostic (to be more precise: a long-lapsed Catholic who's found a lot to admire in Buddhism as a moral philosophy, and who some in this thread appear to have confused for a monotheist), I do think certain groups of believers are "on to something," which I gauge not by the logic of their beliefs but by the quality of their actions. It was the palpable warmth in the smiles of Tibetan monks, for example - particularly as compared to the (mostly) uninspiring Catholic priests of my youth - that piqued my interest in their worldview. When someone radiates joy and contentment, you're far more likely to believe them when they tell you which path to follow to find some for yourself.
posted by gompa at 3:17 PM on November 21, 2005


God and Country: the two most dangerous ideas on the planet.
posted by xod at 3:18 PM on November 21, 2005


dios & languagehat -

i certainly never thought i was doing anything brave by posting this here - i attributed any bravery involved to penn, and i'll stand by that - so i'm not sure why you both felt the need for an ad hominem attack. Neither was i soapboxing. no one here knows what my belief is on this subject, despite what you may think. I simply heard what i considered a well-stated opinion on a controversial subject, and thought it would engender some interesting debate and conversation here.

clearly, i was right.
posted by ab3 at 3:20 PM on November 21, 2005


Uh, no, we don't. We say "we don't believe in your magical being", we do not say "we believe that there is no magical being". Crucial difference. Again, rejecting your magical being idea is *not* a belief, it is a disbelief. You can't say that both positions are a belief or a faith. We have no position, other than "we don't know, and require some sort of proof of everything". You can't define us by whether we believe in your made up stories or not.

If I recall correctly, that's the "weak atheist" position. Penn's essay leads me to belief that he's a "strong atheist" - one who denies the existence of a God.

And, uh, they're not my stories, thanks. I'm pretty close to the "strong agnostic" position, although as a betting man I have a lot of faith that there is no God. I believe that metaphysical truths are unknowable, and that we're wasting our time trying to figure them out. I agree with grumblebee that nihilistic outcomes logically follow from atheism, and I'm generally ok with that, although I would find the existence of God very convenient just to have a useful system of ethics handy.

I don't know. I'm no scientific historian.

Do you have to be, to answer that question?

Isn't the difference athiests remain totally unconvinced by the evidence -- and personal testimony is indeed evidence -- while agnostics allow some possibility that some non-null set of believers are on to something?

Not necessarily. As a "strong agnostic," I believe that adequate evidence can never be produced one way or the other. Most agnostics and atheists alike believe that personal experience is insufficient evidence, I suspect.

M&mm is also wrong in asserting that the strong atheist position is necessarily one of faith. I have explained already how it can be a completely rational viewpoint.

And yet you find free will possible - is that therefore irrational by definition? If so, why don't you reject it outright?

Agnosticism is the specific philosophy that the existence of gods is unprovable.

It is not as simple as that. That describes the "strong agnostic" position. The "weak agnostic" position is that we just don't know right now, but we may know in the future.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:20 PM on November 21, 2005


I find this kind of thing reactive. Do folks like him look at the night sky and marvel, "there is no god"? Do they note that they have no need for an external meaning for their lives and shout, "there is no god"? Do they see that the extinction that comes with death doesn't rock their boat and exclaim, "there is no god"?

Every time one of these religion threads arises, the a-theists come charging out to their keyboards to defend what? What is the big deal here? What is the "position" that needs such strong defense if not a reactive one.

I'm not a Christian, don't know about this "god" stuff but find it amusing that there is this phat reaction.


Is it the politics of the fundy that causes it?

So many questions!
posted by stirfry at 3:23 PM on November 21, 2005


Every time one of these religion threads arises, the a-theists come charging out to their keyboards to defend what? What is the big deal here? What is the "position" that needs such strong defense if not a reactive one.

The position held by a very small, historically oppressed minority? The position that organized religion has caused great misery throughout human history? And what's up with the hyphen, there? Is that the "phat" spelling of atheist?

If the religious shut up about their beliefs and kept them out of the public sphere, so would we.
posted by me & my monkey at 3:34 PM on November 21, 2005


Do you have to be, to answer that question?

It'd sure help.

And yet you find free will possible - is that therefore irrational by definition?

Asked and answered.

It is not as simple as that.

I think it is. I don't buy Oppy's false distinction.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:36 PM on November 21, 2005


The position held by a very small, historically oppressed minority? The position that organized religion has caused great misery throughout human history? And what's up with the hyphen, there? Is that the "phat" spelling of atheist?

So the effort is a reactive one. That is my point. But I would think that I could tell the clumsy oaf to get off my foot without having to get into their personal philosophy or faith. I don't much base my view of life death and the cosmos on what someone else has to say about the whole deal. Although I will certainly listen as they are human too.

And what's up with the hyphen, there? Is that the "phat" spelling of atheist?

No sir (or maam, as the case may be). It is simply a way to point to the meaning.
posted by stirfry at 3:48 PM on November 21, 2005


It'd sure help.

OK. So you're saying that because you're not an expert in the history of science, you can't comment on the possibility that there's never been a case throughout human history in which we simply didn't have evidence for something that we now know is true?

Asked and answered.

You keep saying this, but try as I might I don't see a viable answer from you on this anywhere in the thread. Could you try again, using very small words if necessary? I'll restate my understanding of what you said - there's no evidence for or against free will, so therefore it's possible, and rational people can therefore believe in it. There's likewise no evidence for or against free will, and it's likewise possible, but is completely outside rational acceptance.

I think it is. I don't buy Oppy's false distinction.

Well then, what would you call people who hold what I characterize as the "weak agnostic" position? Or are you saying that there's absolutely no one who holds that position? I would have to disagree with that assertion, as I know several people who hold that position.

But I would think that I could tell the clumsy oaf to get off my foot without having to get into their personal philosophy or faith.

Well, that's fine, if someone's standing on your foot. If, however, they're trying to convince you to accept their metaphysical worldview - which is a common thing for religious believers to do - saying "get off my foot" won't help much, will it?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:54 PM on November 21, 2005


God is not the problem, it's his fuck-witted "believers"
posted by Joeforking at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2005


Well, that's fine, if someone's standing on your foot. If, however, they're trying to convince you to accept their metaphysical worldview - which is a common thing for religious believers to do - saying "get off my foot" won't help much, will it?

I'm only the boss of me, not others. My reaction in that situation is what I can controll. I can smile, I can laugh, I can ignore, or I can partake by getting all rational with belief. The first are play, the last is the usual waste of time.

I think we are on the same side. it is just that I don't much care what side I'm on.
posted by stirfry at 4:12 PM on November 21, 2005


Reading through this thread leaves me with one overriding conclusion - you Americans are weird.
posted by salmacis at 4:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Weird, armed and dangerous, salmacis! don't forget that part!
posted by funambulist at 4:22 PM on November 21, 2005


grumblebee,

-- Life has no purpose. You might create some sort of feeling of purpose for yourself, but you're not part of some larger picture. You are just a happenstance.

Life without purpose is freedom. I don't need any promise of an afterlife or reward to either live or be a "good" person. I've always thought that belief in an afterlife and a purpose to it all inherently devalues life and invalidates free will.

-- There's no free will. Perhaps some of the universe is random, but randomness isn't choice.

Er, what? How does the absence of god(s) negate transient purposefulness? I may have arisen by and exist in a random set of events but that doesn't mean that I can't evaluate my circumstances and formulate a decision by way of what we define as free will. Unless by free will you mean being able to control the parameters of each decision, which would be silly.
posted by effwerd at 4:48 PM on November 21, 2005


I have faith that Metafilter has two members. Me and Matt. So I guess that makes me right.

Hi Matt.
posted by iamck at 5:04 PM on November 21, 2005


i'm not sure why you... felt the need for an ad hominem attack.

I wasn't attacking you. I am merely sick unto death of the unstoppable parade of essentially identical "religion is dumb, atheism is good" threads. It doesn't matter what the link is, it always turns into the same damn irreconcilable debate. I don't think you're a bad person for posting it; on the other hand, you'd have to work mighty hard to convince me you're unaware that there have been many many many previous discussions on this exact topic. If you enjoy the billionth-and-first, that's your prerogative.
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on November 21, 2005


l-hat,

I just wish to say that I've always, in my long lurk status, appreciated and admired your non-following ways.
posted by stirfry at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2005


I'm not a Christian, don't know about this "god" stuff but find it amusing that there is this phat reaction.
Is it the politics of the fundy that causes it?


It's a major part of it at least here on MeFi. Something to do with reaction to American Southern Baptist Pro-ID Evangelical Extreme-Literal Dinosaurs-Coexisted-With-Mankind Fundamentalists. The big interest hooks: the current president is supposedly under control of them rather than either Cheney or Rove, there is a move afoot to teach creationism alongside evolution in the public schools in Kentucky I believe, and Roe v Wade is felt to be up for review somehow.

So - two thousand years of thought and argument on the more general subjects of theology and Christianity are more or less ignored while the wheel gets reinvented in the media and online against the current political backdrop. For example, there was a post a few days back where someone is actually setting up a website to, from scratch and on his own, deconstruct the bible instead of referring to the vast wealth of material already out there doing it.
posted by scheptech at 5:34 PM on November 21, 2005


The title remided me of this gem from Caddyshack:

Tony D'Annunzio: Another Rob Roy, Bishop?
Bishop: You never ask a navy man if he'll have another drink, because it's nobody's goddamned business how much he's had already.
Judge Smails: Wrong, you're drinking too much your Excellency.
Bishop: Excellency, fiddlesticks, my name's Fred and I'm a man, same as you.
Judge Smails: You're not a man, you're a bishop, for God's sakes.
Bishop: There is no God...
posted by zardoz at 5:35 PM on November 21, 2005


I define God as 'everything'.
I don't see a flaw in Penn's outlook. Would 'everything' need something more? No. So...
Anyway, most arguments here are from a judeo-christian foundation. American in general, as well. Pointless. I have no idea how people get along in a universe that small.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:57 PM on November 21, 2005


America, that should be. Man, my brain is just not on lately.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:58 PM on November 21, 2005


Wow, what a thread; the reason I started reading MeFi was that this sort of thing can be discussed here with a minimum of trolling and flaming. Having said that, I notice that a lot of the comments here are based on what the writer defines as others' beliefs; i.e. atheists believe this and they are wrong because.... In the spirit of the original post and the program that inspired it, why don't more people who criticize non-believers/freethinkers/agnostics/atheists/humanists/apostates/infidels come up with compelling affirmative explanations for their own faith? After all, even if you convince me that I am wrong, that still does not mean you are right.

For what it's worth, I think the universe is the product of a giant Chinese bakery. That is why I religiously save every fortune cookie I can find, and open them for guidance in times of need. I know that eventually, those lotto numbers will come up. This, I believe.
posted by TedW at 6:08 PM on November 21, 2005


I define God as 'everything'.
I don't see a flaw in Penn's outlook. Would 'everything' need something more? No. So...
Anyway, most arguments here are from a judeo-christian foundation. American in general, as well. Pointless. I have no idea how people get along in a universe that small.


Your military arguements make much more sense. Here, I don't understand what you are saying. "Everything" can't have anything more, although this sort of approach is too much of FRESHMAN WISDOM., if you catch my drift.
posted by stirfry at 6:11 PM on November 21, 2005


The currently popular god-concepts are as completely unsupported by reality as the thousands of other imaginary beings that man has believed in throughout history.

Just like Zeus, Santa Claus, and leprechauns, there is no support in reality for the existence of the currently popular god-concepts.

Rational people have no problem with stating that Zeus, Santa, and leprechauns are not real. The god-concept you hold so dear is no different.

If you disagree, all you have to do is produce the smallest shred of support that shows your god-concept isn't simply a figment of your imagination.

Good luck. Your deluded cohorts have failed to do so for millennia. There is a good reason for this.
posted by jsonic at 6:18 PM on November 21, 2005


I am merely sick unto death of the unstoppable parade of essentially identical "religion is dumb, atheism is good" threads. It doesn't matter what the link is, it always turns into the same damn irreconcilable debate.

Languagehat, you are often a welcome voice of reason in contentious threads; if you find participating in this one so burdensome, why do it? Of course no one here expects to solve the riddle of the existence and nature of god by the time this thread leaves the front page. But much great literature and philosophy has come from the debate. The fact that this thread is closing in on 200 comments without a MeTa callout or adult intervention from #1 is a reassuring sign that people are actually taking the discussion seriously, even if it is futile.
posted by TedW at 6:23 PM on November 21, 2005


I am with languagehat here. The religion is lame threads get pretty tedious. All the atheists (well only the narrow minded ones) get all holier than thou and start telling everybody else how ignorant they are. (yes, you can read that last sentence two ways)

You don't see too many people here on Metafilter telling someone that that they are stupid, lost or whatever for their lack of religion, although you do see a lot of people asking that their religious views be respected rather than persecuted. A little tolerance for "other" would be appreciated.
posted by caddis at 7:17 PM on November 21, 2005


remenber one thing.

I forget what it is, sorry.
posted by stirfry at 7:27 PM on November 21, 2005


OK. So you're saying that because you're not an expert in the history of science, you can't comment on the possibility that there's never been a case throughout human history in which we simply didn't have evidence for something that we now know is true?

That's not what you asked me. I see now what the point is that you're trying to make, and it's a strawman. Pass.

You keep saying this, but try as I might I don't see a viable answer from you on this anywhere in the thread.

I don't think I can make it any clearer, sorry.

Well then, what would you call people who hold what I characterize as the "weak agnostic" position?

I dunno. Bet-hedgers? But calling it the "weak atheist" position is like calling someone who refuses to eat fish the "weak baseball" position. It's not even apples and oranges. It's like apples and truck parts.

Now, to Languagehat: there have been damn few anti-religion screeds in this thread. Contribute or take a hike.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:22 PM on November 21, 2005


Contribute or take a hike.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:22 PM PST on November 21 [!]


Cute! You are truly the problem in these threads. Not you personaly, but numbnuts like you, of which you are one.

congrats!
posted by stirfry at 8:31 PM on November 21, 2005


Atheism and agnosticism are not incompatible. I don't believe in ghosts, many other people do believe in ghosts. Are all these people wrong, some say that they've seen ghosts are they crazy, liars? I don't know that there are no ghosts, but not knowing that ghosts don't exist is an uncompelling reason for believing that ghosts do exist. So I don't believe in ghosts, I don't necessarily think that there are no ghosts but I strongly doubt that there are ghosts.

There are some things that I specifically think are untrue, firebreathing dragons or the tooth fairy for example, I do think that these things do not exist. Most theists likely exercise a similar thought process on these subjects but when it comes to god they often stir up muck that not believing the god story is a very different thing from not believing the ghost story, it's not.

Historically belief in ghosts was common, many cultures believed in ghosts, you can't disprove ghosts you just haven't seen them, you believe in other things that you can't see, imagine a world with no ghosts where would the dead go, so many others believe in ghosts are they all wrong?? And still you think they are all wrong, and you're almost certainly right. Why do you not believe in ghosts? That's why I don't believe in god.
posted by I Foody at 8:38 PM on November 21, 2005


That's not what you asked me. I see now what the point is that you're trying to make, and it's a strawman. Pass.

I don't see how it's a strawman at all. You said,
But without evidence for the existence of those imperceptible forces, there is no way to rationally accept even the possibility of their existence.
I don't see how rational acceptance of possibility requires evidence. I can, for example, accept the possibility of time travel, even though I can't imagine how it would work, nor can I find any evidence that time travel (in any direction other than forward) does in fact exist.

Apparently, you have no trouble accepting the possibility of free will, another thing for which - assuming the denial of a God who granted us free will - you can find not one whit of evidence beyond your own experience. I realize that most people, whether they're religious or atheist or agnostic, find the idea of determinism very unpleasant, but by your own rigorous standards of logic you should obviously reject free will just as quickly as theism.

My strawman? Or your own logical inconsistency? Obviously, we disagree, but I advise you not to be so quick to label everything you disagree with as some rhetorical device or another.

I dunno. Bet-hedgers? But calling it the "weak atheist" position is like calling someone who refuses to eat fish the "weak baseball" position. It's not even apples and oranges. It's like apples and truck parts.

Well, we were discussing agnosticism there, not atheism. Some people believe that God's existence cannot ever be proven or disproven - that human knowledge is by its very nature simply incapable of answering that metaphysical question. Other people believe that God's existence cannot be proven or disproven now, but that we may be able to do so in the future. There seems to be a strong common element in these two positions - hardly the "apples and truck parts" you'd have us believe.

Now, to Languagehat: there have been damn few anti-religion screeds in this thread. Contribute or take a hike.

There have been very few defenders of religion in this thread, too. I suspect these two things aren't coincidental. Most of the arguing in this thread has been between people who don't believe in God. Can you really blame Mr. Hat for expecting the worst from this? Would this have been a good FPP if it pointed instead to a summary of, say, C.S. Lewis' justification for belief in Christianity?
posted by me & my monkey at 8:55 PM on November 21, 2005


Cute! You are truly the problem in these threads. Not you personaly, but numbnuts like you, of which you are one.

I and people like me are contributing. He is not. We are not the problem. He is, and so are you for defending folks like him -- the kinds of folks who come into threads about modern art and complain that they could have done it. The kinds of folks who come into threads about small countries and belittle the fact that they aren't the US. The kinds of folks who come into threads about some health issue to talk about how it's their own damn fault for being fat or lame or blind or whatever. He doesn't like threads about atheism. We get it. He can shut the fuck up now.

Congrats for getting it completely ass-backwards. Send us a postcard from Bizarro World.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:58 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't see how rational acceptance of possibility requires evidence.

And for the very last time, I have explained this adequately, in words that a five year old could understand -- and in fact, has. And it has been further explained in the Carrier essay linke to at 1:51 p.m., as I have also pointed to a couple of times.

Apparently, you have no trouble accepting the possibility of free will, another thing for which - assuming the denial of a God who granted us free will - you can find not one whit of evidence beyond your own experience.

This is hand-waving, a strawman in the same sense as the idea that we cannot prove our own existence because we cannot know if our senses are trustworthy, or that we cannot prove that other people are sentient or other such "brain in a jar" masturbatory irrelevancies.

My strawman?

Yes.

There have been very few defenders of religion in this thread, too.

So? That's not the point I was making, and I don't care to respond to defenses of theism. Partly, because it's pointless, and partly because it always results in the theist whining that he's being oppressed.

I'm done with you. You can feel free to get in as many last words as you like. I doubt your intent to debate reasonably or rationally.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:07 PM on November 21, 2005


Send us a postcard from Bizarro World.

Dear solid-one-love,

Mom says "Hi", dad says "hang in there", your kitty misses you and your fat friends all say "its your own damn fault".

Have a fine turkey day..
posted by stirfry at 9:10 PM on November 21, 2005


And for the very last time, I have explained this adequately, in words that a five year old could understand -- and in fact, has.

I admit I miss the certaincy of childhood. There are plenty of things that were patently obvious to me, when I was five.

This is hand-waving, a strawman in the same sense as the idea that we cannot prove our own existence because we cannot know if our senses are trustworthy, or that we cannot prove that other people are sentient or other such "brain in a jar" masturbatory irrelevancies.

For day-to-day things, experience is usually enough to guide us. For metaphysical claims, not so much. If you think that's a masturbatory irrelevancy, so be it, but there are plenty of things in the universe that we can't experience directly, and plenty of cases where our senses and our memories of sensations are not trustworthy. I don't see why I should trust your experience, or mine, as a demonstration of the obvious existence of free will, any more than I'd trust the experience of one who claims to have seen the face of God. Extraordinary claims, like the existence of God or that we are all "first causes," require extraordinary proof.

So? That's not the point I was making, and I don't care to respond to defenses of theism.

I think you missed the point I was making. Had there been religious people in this thread, it would likely have turned ugly long before now, and Mr. Hat was therefore sensible in expecting the worst.

I'm done with you. You can feel free to get in as many last words as you like. I doubt your intent to debate reasonably or rationally.

Like the aforementioned five-year-old, you're obviously cranky. It must be past your bedtime. When you reach adulthood, I hope you'll realize that not everyone who disagrees with you is unreasonable. So much for civility, I guess. Nighty-night!
posted by me & my monkey at 9:29 PM on November 21, 2005


There are four blind men who discover an elephant. Since the men have never encountered an elephant, they grope about, seeking to understand and describe this new phenomenon. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another explores one of the elephant's legs and describes it as a tree. A third finds the elephant's tail and announces that it is a rope. And the fourth blind man, after discovering the elephant's side, concludes that it is, after all, a wall.
posted by Shanachie at 9:59 PM on November 21, 2005


what about the one who grabs the elephant's pussy?
posted by stirfry at 10:09 PM on November 21, 2005


Smedleyman: Anyway, most arguments here are from a judeo-christian foundation. American in general, as well. Pointless. I have no idea how people get along in a universe that small.

caddis: I am with languagehat here. The religion is lame threads get pretty tedious. All the atheists (well only the narrow minded ones) get all holier than thou and start telling everybody else how ignorant they are. (yes, you can read that last sentence two ways)

Yeah, exactly, you know, I do understand why even the holier-than-thou kind of atheists (or rather braver-and-brighter-and-more-existentialist-than-thou) have that kind of reaction, and why someone like Penn announcing that the earth is round gets called brave for it, but perhaps when trying to prove how much brighter they are they could make a tiny effort to consider that the earth is indeed not limited to the US, and perhaps religion is not limited to aggressively proselytising virulent fundamentalists with political influence (and yeah that doesn't happen only in the US or only with US Christians but for a western country with a largely secular system and way of life, it is a peculiar phenomenon).

It's two sides of the same coin. I can see where the tedious, simplistic, arrogant defense of atheism is coming from in that context, I can sympathise with it. But when someone treats all religion itself, in all its countless manifestations across different times and places, as "stupid belief in imaginary friends", then it's also insulting to the history of atheism itself. Reinventing the wheel really but making it poorer and poorer.
posted by funambulist at 2:15 AM on November 22, 2005


Of course no one here expects to solve the riddle of the existence and nature of god by the time this thread leaves the front page.

No one expects to solve anything at all. They just enjoy preening themselves on how brilliant and sophisticated they are for rejecting religion.

But much great literature and philosophy has come from the debate.

But not here.

The fact that this thread is closing in on 200 comments without a MeTa callout or adult intervention from #1 is a reassuring sign that people are actually taking the discussion seriously, even if it is futile.

Do I really have to answer this? I guess I do. The fact that this thread is closing in on 200 comments without a MeTa callout or intervention from #1 is a sign that virtually everyone is part of the comfortable groupthink on this subject, including #1. The one time I made a MeTa callout about this crap I got thoroughly stomped for it. And I guess by "taking the discussion seriously" you mean "preening themselves on how brilliant and sophisticated they are for rejecting religion."

Now, to Languagehat: there have been damn few anti-religion screeds in this thread. Contribute or take a hike.

In the same spirit of broadminded and genial discussion that characterizes your contributions here and elsewhere: screw you, pal.
posted by languagehat at 5:33 AM on November 22, 2005


This is hand-waving, a strawman in the same sense as the idea that we cannot prove our own existence because we cannot know if our senses are trustworthy, or that we cannot prove that other people are sentient...

But we CAN'T prove our own existence. And we CAN'T know if our senses are trustworthy. And we CAN'T prove that other people are sentient.

Why is this stuff hand-waving/strawman?
posted by grumblebee at 5:36 AM on November 22, 2005


languagehat,

For the record, I'm a devout atheist with complete respect for religion -- so we're not all intellectual snobs. Having participated in many of these discussions, I've concluded that there are many theists and atheists who can't discuss this stuff rationally. I'm not sure that whether this is because they have a flimsy grasp on logic (many people have trouble following a logical argument) or because, while in general they are clear thinkers, this is such an emotional topic that it accesses their primal feelings and clouds their brains. Or both.

Both theists and atheists feel under attack and seem to think the other side is crazy (or dishonest) for feeling under attack. But both sides ARE under attack. I think you're right that theists are more under attack HERE. But elsewhere, atheists are under attack -- and so they get defensive. As someone fascinated by religion, it saddens me that people have such a hard time discussing it calmly.

I've noticed that both atheists and theists like to pretend (I assume they're pretending, but maybe I'm wrong) that their views only lead to a good life. This is my problem with Penn. He acts like being an atheist is 100% a ball of roses. Theists tend to act the same way -- as if being religious generates a perfect life. Both these views are hard for me to get. I can't see how any hard-thinking, honest person can avoid the conclusion that I life with or without God leads to both pleasure and suffering.

In my experience, theists tend to avoid confronting the holes that atheists claim are in theistic logic. On the other hand, atheists tend to be astoundingly ignorant about the history of religious thought. They hear the stupid stuff their religious dad/uncle/sister says and take that to be the "voice of religion." They are totally unaware that there have been centuries of complex, deep, intelligent religious philosophical thought.
posted by grumblebee at 5:48 AM on November 22, 2005


"If the religious shut up about their beliefs and kept them out of the public sphere, so would we."

So... The argument is that because they do something you don't like, you should do the same thing to them? I believe that's called the "tu quoque" fallacy.

(And the "free will" argument is not a straw man when it comes to metaphysics. See: Phenomonology, especially Husserl).
posted by klangklangston at 6:04 AM on November 22, 2005


Excellent points, grumblebee. If more people on both sides were as sensible, these threads would go a lot better.
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on November 22, 2005


I don't get what's so horribly disrespectful about this thread. Seems like most people are being pretty open-minded about it. I seriously doubt you could find a conversation about religion more civil than this elsewhere on the internets. And just because it's an old debate, does that mean we should just stop talking about it because it's been done already?

I admit there aren't a lot of folks here to represent for the theist side, but what are we supposed to do, convert?

The free will question is interesting. I've always thought that people make their own lives meaningful by assuming that free will exists even though there's no way to prove that it does.
posted by 912 Greens at 7:28 AM on November 22, 2005


I don't care if there is a god or not. It's utterly unimportant to my day to day life which, like that of most people, is so vastly complex that it takes a huge amount of effort and direction. This effort would not be increased or reduced if I took on any particular opinion regarding god.

I don't hate those who need religion to cope with life and I don't hate those who need to show disrespect to religion for imagined slights or it's social activism aspect. All I would like is to live my life in my own way. Whatever your opinion on religion is, you may as well keep it to yourself because it's basically not interesting to me or most other people*.

So, the question I have is - does my apathy make me atheist?


*I live in a country with extremely low church attendance rates and where our state religion is barely given lip service, by most people I mean people who I interact with on a daily basis which is a fairly large and random sampling - YMMV
posted by longbaugh at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2005


And just because it's an old debate, does that mean we should just stop talking about it because it's been done already?

Well, frankly, yes. At least on MetaFilter. That's why God put bars and dorm rooms on this earth.
posted by languagehat at 7:57 AM on November 22, 2005


"They are totally unaware that there have been centuries of complex, deep, intelligent religious philosophical thought."
posted by grumblebee.

Fair enough, grumblebee, as a gracious statement.
But when you get down to the core of belief, the distillation of all that fine, complex, philosophical thought and furrowed brows across the centuries, you essentially end up with Tennyson's dreadful, pompous, circular and empty lines about faith: And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answered, "I have felt."

posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:45 AM on November 22, 2005


The argument is that because they do something you don't like, you should do the same thing to them? I believe that's called the "tu quoque" fallacy.

My statement was positive, not normative. I was simply describing why these discussions happen, not saying that they should. I pretty much agree with languagehat about the usefulness of these threads, despite my own avid participation.

And to solid-one-love, I apologize for my snipe at the end of the night. I was, however, arguing in good faith, and I do think that the positions I was stating are, in fact, intellectually defensible.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:39 AM on November 22, 2005


No fair, languagehat. I'm new to MetaFilter, too old for dorm rooms, and I have no interest in what drunk people have to say. No offense to any drunk people out there.

Oh well, I enjoyed it.
posted by 912 Greens at 9:40 AM on November 22, 2005


<joke>
Did you hear how they drove the agnostic family from the neighbourhood?

They burned a giant "?" on their lawn.
</joke>
posted by Al_Truist at 10:10 AM on November 22, 2005


Free will is such an ugly, divisive topic....

Here's a nut for y'all: Pure determinism is identical in effect with free will.

In a purely deterministic universe, all things happen as immutable consequences of prior actions. But since it's impossible to actually know prior actions, you can't know what the "determined" future is. Ergo, you have, in effect, free will.

All of the arguments about free will versus randomness are really jsut so much wanking. It's not actually a question that's in any meaningful way relevant to the day to day existence of humans on earth. That's something that's been known, well, forever, by both enlightened atheists and thoughtful theologians.
posted by lodurr at 10:17 AM on November 22, 2005


languagehat -

perhaps it's you, and not this topic of discussion, which needs to find another place to go, as the rest of us are still clearly interested in it. i would suggest avoiding the comments pages of posts which might address issues you feel are played out, and if you simply can't avoid them, refraining from posting to them and ruining the fun for the rest of us. not everyone has quite as long and illustrious a MeFi career as you, and for some of us this debate is still thought provoking.
posted by ab3 at 10:45 AM on November 22, 2005


In a purely deterministic universe, all things happen as immutable consequences of prior actions. But since it's impossible to actually know prior actions, you can't know what the "determined" future is. Ergo, you have, in effect, free will.

That's not free will, it's the illusion of free will - something quite a bit different. I haven't seen the last Star Wars movie - if I do, is there a chance that Anakin won't become Darth Vader?

All of the arguments about free will versus randomness are really jsut so much wanking. It's not actually a question that's in any meaningful way relevant to the day to day existence of humans on earth. That's something that's been known, well, forever, by both enlightened atheists and thoughtful theologians.

If you consider the question "is ethical behavior possible" to be "so much wanking" I can only say that there are many people who'd disagree with you. Atheists and theists - by definition, people who've taken a position on the truth value of metaphysical statements - have no cause to claim that other metaphysical statements are pointless, do they? To accept that there are right and wrong actions, you must accept that you have free will, not just the illusion of free will.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:54 AM on November 22, 2005


Even to argue for justice or for rights or for democracy is to argue for free will. While on some practical levels, it becomes a distinction without a difference to determine whether or not we have free will or just the illusion thereof, in terms of setting up any system of government or society, it's incredibly important.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on November 22, 2005


All of the arguments about free will versus randomness are really just so much wanking. It's not actually a question that's in any meaningful way relevant to the day to day existence of humans on earth.

I'm not going to argue that thinking about this stuff will help you get work done. But I'm saddened that anyone would scoff at the desire to simply explore an idea for its own sake.

I listened to a Beethoven symphony last night. I can't point to any way in which this activity contributed to the stuff I need to get done on a day-to-day basis. I listened to it because it was beautiful and interesting. And that's enough for me.

Free will is a great mystery. I don't see how it can possibly exist, yet the feeling of it is (for me) inescapable. If it doesn't exist, that means that my feelings are fooling me. And that's a pretty interesting phenomenon to explore.

You say it's not meaningful. Does meaning have to correspond with utility? Not for me. If it does for you, I'm sorry. For me, life isn't all about nuts and bolts.

By the way, I've always suspected that -- though free will is an illusion -- it's an inescapable one. But psychologist Susan Blackmore claims she has rid herself of the illusion. She no longer FEELS like she has free will. I have corresponded with her a bit about it, and while I'm still skeptical, I certainly believe she's being honest. Losing the feeling of free will has greatly changed her life -- so the issue, at least for her, has GREAT meaning.

Even since hearing her, I've thought about trying to duplicate her experiment. I wonder if this would be healthy or unhealthy (it might be healthy to believe in a lie). Since I am actively pondering this and how it will affect my life, the question of free will is way more than mere wanking.

But even if it is wanking, what's wrong with wanking?
posted by grumblebee at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2005


longbaugh: I don't care if there is a god or not. It's utterly unimportant to my day to day life ...

same here, but I wouldn't call that apathy. It would be apathy if you did the opposite, ie. care more about the god or no god philosophical question than about your day to day life, no?
posted by funambulist at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2005


whether or not we have free will or just the illusion thereof, in terms of setting up any system of government or society, it's incredibly important.

Even though I just argued in favor of discussing free will, I'm not sure I agree. Can you explain this further?

I often hear people say, "If there's no free will, then we shouldn't punish criminals." But there's a contradiction in that sentence centered around the word "shouldn't." If there's no free will, then there's nothing we should or shouldn't do. If there's no free will, there's just stuff we will do or won't do.

So you don't need to discuss free will in order to decide what sort of government to set up. You will set up whatever sort of government you'll set up. You can't choose. You don't have free will.

And you also can't choose to discuss free will or not. You will or you won't.
posted by grumblebee at 12:35 PM on November 22, 2005


I'd like to rephrase the "is there such a thing as free will" question as "can this man control your thoughts"?
posted by funambulist at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2005


"Everything" can't have anything more,
although this sort of approach is too much of FRESHMAN WISDOM., if you catch my drift. - posted by stirfry


You spelled "arguements" wrong and mispunctuated your sentence., if you catch my drift.
(And since when have my military arguments made sense?)

So... you don't understand what I'm saying and therefore I'm the one who is stupid?

Here, learn something:
"We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature."

The way which can be uttered, is not the eternal Way.
The name which can be named, is not the eternal Name.

Thus, whatever one may say about the Tao, cannot but fall short of reality.

Please, go read wiki on Taoism and then come back to me like you know everything on the subject.
I also get along fairly well with Spinoza. I'm certain your familiar with all his work (I must assume from your comment you have at least a doctorate in theology or philosophy).

But in essence - God is a relative term. I prefer Tao (or Dao), since in using that term we know we cannot express it. This has analogies in judeo christian beliefs (I am the word "logos"- etc).

But, using God as our term since Penn is using it - God from my perspective is inexpressible. God is also everywhere and in all things. Given this - there can be nothing outside God. In a similar sense there is nothing outside infinity. I accept Penn's appreciation of his life and aspects of nature as a type of worship of God, even though he dismisses - as I do - personified deity as a human construction, because his life and those aspects of nature are part of God anyway.
That he doesn't worship God as a totality is irrelevent because no one can apprehend the totality of God anyway.

Apparently some people think they can, some even go so far as to interpret what God's will is. Believing God to be a being so small and understandable in his motives - given that the universe is billions upon billions of light years wide, (13.7 × 109) years old (roughly) has countless numbers of stars, planets, etc - is to me a bit conceited.
I see nothing in hyperreality worthy of metaphysical consideration since it is constructed by humans no matter how inspired. (google or wiki 'hyperreality' and 'metaphysics' if you must) I'm not discounting mystical experiance, but that is again, something inexpressible since, like jazz, if you get it, it doesn't need to be expressed, and if you don't, than nothing said can convince you.

But for some reason people do try don't they? I doubt their motives as anything larger than selling a product. For that my sentiments are somehow juvenile?

I await your response. Hopefully it will be on a higher plane than:
" remenber one thing.
I forget what it is, sorry.
posted by stirfry
"
(spelled remember wrong too)

or "fat friends" insults or anything to do with an elephant's pussy and so forth.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:18 PM on November 22, 2005


(13.7 × 109) should be 10 to the ninth power, 13.7 billion years. Crummy computer.

Also, I'd place longbaugh, funambulist, et. al. in that same position as I did Penn above. It's the idolaters that are the real atheists (or nihilists).
posted by Smedleyman at 1:25 PM on November 22, 2005


Grumblebee, the philosophy to essentially "let yourself be what you are" is a common one in philosophies, especially, I might add, religious philosophies. Although free will is a standard part of common christianity, the idea of "receiving the spirit" or trusting to your nature is found throughout more mystical strains and in lots of eastern religions. IN a sense this is giving up the 'illusion' of free will; what people mean by 'god' there is just the totality of being - they are what they are, a part of the whole, a receiver of the "oversoul" as Emerson described it.

I don't actually believe this, but I do generally try to live by this way of thinking - there's much less stress about choices you make if they're just the way things are. There's also less social anxiety and egotism, because each of us is just what each of us is; there's no need to feel proud or embarrassed by what you do, because you're just expressing the being that you are, the part of the universe you are.

This has always made sense to me with regard to creative stuff, because ideas are not really things that you do or make; they're things that happen to you - an idea comes to you, it just occurs, and there's hardly any way to control it (I mean, reading, sitting down, concentrating, yadda yadda, but when it comes down to it, you get an idea or you don't). I think of it as metaphoric reception of the oversoul; what it really is I have no idea... I find the spontaneity of thought truly amazing.

Which is all just to say that ridding oneself of the illusion of free will is very similar to the buddhist notion of emptying your cup or overcoming your ego, so susan blackmore isn't the first to think of it this way.
posted by mdn at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2005


I accept Penn's appreciation of his life and aspects of nature as a type of worship of God

Smedleyman, it sounds like you've defined God and worship in such a broad way that you're missing a useful distinction between someone like Penn and most theists. I get that you must think in a broad way, because your conception of God is so all-encompassing. But I still think you're glossing over an important point.

I won't speak for Penn, because only he knows what he actually believes. Instead, I'll speak of myself and my beliefs: Ultimately, the only major difference between a bottle cap and the universe is that the universe is much bigger.

I don't mean that one can find a whole universe within a bottle cap. I mean the opposite: that the universe is a mundane object -- like a bottle cap -- just a really, really big one.

That's not to say I find the universe boring. I find it beautiful and amazing and scary and awe-inspiring -- but ultimately I know it's just a big machine. It has no spirit or soul or intelligence or purpose. It doesn't care about me. It doesn't care about anyone. It has no relationship with me other than the fact that I happen to be inside it.

That's what I believe. There's no purpose. There's no right and wrong. There's no justice. Etc.


I think most theists (including you, if I understand you correctly) feel like there's more to it than that. There's some THING -- which may be indefinable -- that is greater than just a giant machine. The fact that theists believe this and (my type of) atheist don't is a pretty fundamental difference.
posted by grumblebee at 2:02 PM on November 22, 2005


"let yourself be what you are" is a common one in philosophies ... the idea of "receiving the spirit" or trusting to your nature is found throughout more mystical strains and in lots of eastern religions.

I think I'm saying something a little different. In fact, I think "will" is still creeping around in your comment. It's hard to escape.

You mention "let yourself" and I have to stop you right there. "Let" implies will. If you let yourself do something, that means you could choose to not let yourself do it. If we really dispense with free will, we don't need the world let. Same with "trusting your nature." We don't try to trust. We either trust or we don't.

If free will doesn't exist, it's silly to talk about embracing a philosophy that negates free will. You can't embrace anything. You may believe in free will; you may not. It's out of your hands.

I'm not suggesting we just "let things happen." I'm also not suggesting we "try to DO things." I'm suggesting that it doesn't matter whether what we do. Whatever will happen to us will happen.
posted by grumblebee at 2:10 PM on November 22, 2005


what about people who simply don't care whether there's a god or not?
posted by poweredbybeard at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2005


Also, I'd place longbaugh, funambulist, et. al. in that same position as I did Penn above. It's the idolaters that are the real atheists (or nihilists).

Which is? sorry, Smedleyman, I'm honestly not sure I understood what you mean there.
posted by funambulist at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2005


If you consider the question "is ethical behavior possible" to be "so much wanking" ....

I don't, and that's not implicit in anything that I said.

I'll put it for you another way: If you don't know and have no way of finding out whether or or not you have free will -- which, as far as I can see, is the case -- then you have the liberty to write off the irrelevant, high-level metaphysical questions of whether or not "free will" exists, and focus on the choices people [appear to?] make in the real world.

We all know that people are making those choices. We all know that people are influenced in the choices they make, by external facotrs. These choices and influences are completely removed from the metaphysical discussion. They are quite irrelevant to it. Nothing to do with it at all. Whether the actions of that con man who convinces you that you're being shot into space when you're really a rube on TV were determined when the first atom smashed or not has no bearing on whether and why you chose to believe him.

As for what's wrong with wanking...if that's what floats your boat, great: Just don't pretend that casting your seed upon the ground will cause little men to spring up from the earth in the spring.
posted by lodurr at 2:20 PM on November 22, 2005


what about people who simply don't care whether there's a god or not?

oh I think we have to wait for someone else to explain to us which position we hold, because we're too lazy to pick one! ;)

Seriously though, as far as I'm concerned actually it's not so much that I don't care about that question, what I really don't care for is defining myself according to a definitive belief or definitive non-belief. I just don't feel the need to do it and much less the need to argue about it, that's all.
posted by funambulist at 2:39 PM on November 22, 2005


well, grumblebee, by that logic susan blackmore is also inescapably running into free will - she rid herself of the illusion; she changed her life by getting over it, etc. Those are all actions of a free will, insofar as you consider a free will a reality...

Ultimately, the only major difference between a bottle cap and the universe is that the universe is much bigger... the universe is a mundane object -- like a bottle cap -- just a really, really big one.

right, but the bottle cap is just a little part of "the universe". So really there is only one "mundane object". Mundane just means "worldly". Obviously the world is a worldly object. So you're just saying the universe is universe-like. But the question is, and the reason people like Smedleyman call this god, is that it seems to have come from nothing, and it seems to be unified in certain ways, and it seems to actively continue to become. Noticing these aspects of it causes some people to need to rename it because when they thought of it as "the universe" it seemed much more random and ordinary.

That's not to say I find the universe boring. I find it beautiful and amazing and scary and awe-inspiring -- but ultimately I know it's just a big machine.

Why "just" a big machine? Just because we can make much less awe-inspring machines of our own, why does that make the natural machines less incredible? How did this enormous all encompassing machine (figure out how)(take metaphorically, not anthropomorphically) to become at all?

It has no spirit or soul or intelligence or purpose. It doesn't care about me. It doesn't care about anyone. It has no relationship with me ...

A lot of theologians or philosophers who talk about god are not talking about a personal god. A personal god cares about you and is conscious and all that. (That kind of god is really hard to make any sense of, in my opinion, and I think it's basically the result of combining the two fundamental philosophical mysteries, the beingness of being, and the source of the self, into one entity).

But for many philosophers, It can be intelligent without being conscious. It 'articulates' the world - It is made of things. The things of the world are "the thoughts of god" for Berkeley, Spinoza, Emerson, even Aristotle (by some interpretations) etc... don't take that metaphorically, either. The fundamental thingness of things is a kind of intelligence for these guys. intelligence =! Consciousness. - I think this is the source of a lot of the confusion around this issue. Differentiation, articulation, definition = intelligence. Reflective intelligence is like a second layer to the natural intelligence of the world, not a whole different deal.

Basically, I think deists and atheists aren't necessarilly that far apart if they get past the language, unless we're talking about strict skeptical atheists who don't believe we can connect now to 5 seconds ago, or believe in cause/effect, etc - a truly Humean outlook rejects the notions of deism, but we never live that skeptically: we "believe" in the basic regularity of the universe, etc -
ach, must run, am late for something, but I'll post this instead of saving / editing again 'cause I've spent too much time already :)...
posted by mdn at 3:12 PM on November 22, 2005


the reason people... call this god, is that it seems to have come from nothing

Not so much. I'm with QM on that. Taoism is not incompatible with it. Some eastern religions even predate the QM perspective.


"..but ultimately I know it's just a big machine.
It has no spirit or soul or intelligence or purpose.
It doesn't care about me. It doesn't care about anyone.
It has no relationship with me other than the fact that I happen to be inside it." - grumblebee


Do you have intelligence? Are you part of the universe? Do other people care about you? Do you discount the millions of years of evolution and environment that currently supports you as no relationship?

We often think very small when we think God for some reason. - All interaction - even hyperreality - all interreactions of everything, all thought, all modes of being, are part of that. Everything. Everything multiplied by everything. All you can think of and much more that you can't. Sure, it's purely physics.
Do we then eschew beauty as meaningless? Not go to museums, etc. Do we have soul, spirit or purpose?
It may be that one of our modes of being is to kindle a spark of meaning in the universe. (I am avoiding the term "reason for being here" as misleading) I don't discount it because it comes from us. We're part of that mechanism. The mechanism then has those properties.

There's some THING -- which may be indefinable -- that is greater than just a giant machine.

Which I do believe. The word you might use is Gnosis. Which is in some sense a Perennial Philosophy, but I'm (currently) using the term in the sense that something that becomes more than the sum of it's parts. ROYGBIV for example, becomes white coherant light. It is not merely "the universe" in the noun sense that I use the term, but in the verb sense, as something happening. There are the physical properties, and there is human intellect and there the results and interactions between them. And the interactions of interactions - to whatever iteration you want.
If that makes any sense.

As for something else apart from all that that is somehow "God" in and of itself, I wouldn't - strictly speaking - agree with that. Or rather, I'd see it as a human construct. As would be - I agree - good, evil, justice, etc.

On the worship point you have me. But Penn's point is similar to the Taoist perspective. Whether to call this life-affirming ethos worship is debatable. I choose to simply because anything that increases the apprehension and appreciation of it is similar enough to worship from my perspective, whereas going to church, sitting and listening to a sermon, etc, CAN be, I don't see it as much.


"Also, I'd place longbaugh, funambulist, et. al.
in that same position as I did Penn above.
It's the idolaters that are the real atheists (or nihilists)."
Which is? - posted by funambulist

Paragraph above touches on that.
But in essence - God is considered an Absolute from which all existence originated and to which all existence will return. In non-theistic religions ( Buddhism, Taoism) it's a bit different. Still, once you make that step to move God out of the realm of Absolute principle, you move outside the imposed finites, if you do this without becoming a pure materialist or nihilist or hedonist perhaps - I consider you ... well, worshipful. I can't think of a good word. Still in the eyes of God? It's a shame there's no language for this other than religious metaphor or philosophical notation.

Let me borrow from James Carse in Finite & Infinite Games -
Finite players play within boundaries, finite games cannot have fluid boundaries, for if they do it will be impossible to agree on winners.
This to me is analogus to the arguments on God. Once one is bounded - even by the term - it becomes something of a zero sum game -ultimately, believe my way or else.

Infinite players on the other hand play with the boundaries. Infinite games are internally defined, while finite players somehow veil the freedom they have to step off the field of play at any time.

Not sure that makes sense, but hopefully you see what I'm driving at.
In essence: finite games are played to win; infinite games are played to play.

King David danced before the Ark of the Covenant partly from joy, but partly from the expression of that principle. Dancing does not have an end in the sense that other things do (words, speeches, etc). There is the eternal dance of Shiva - many other expressions of it as worship. Playing to play. Not playing to win.

I would equate the recognition that: "no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have" as an expression of playing to play.
One can play to win by recognizing there is an afterlife and "I will go to heaven and you won't." One can play to play with one's conception of the afterlife too.
One can certainly play to play by accepting this life as the best I will ever have.
Particularly if one recognizes in reincarnation that's not "me" anymore.
Looks to me like Penn's not turning from the infinite to ego, and he is playing to play.

Hope that makes sense. Not being Joe Thinker I have to use unweildy length to make a point.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2005


Forgot. Infinite games is here

I couldn't find any online text.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:16 PM on November 22, 2005


We all know that people are making those choices. We all know that people are influenced in the choices they make, by external facotrs. These choices and influences are completely removed from the metaphysical discussion. They are quite irrelevant to it. Nothing to do with it at all. Whether the actions of that con man who convinces you that you're being shot into space when you're really a rube on TV were determined when the first atom smashed or not has no bearing on whether and why you chose to believe him.

If there is no such thing as free will, you cannot speak meaningfully about what anyone chose to do. To be able to talk about ethical behavior, rather than the illusion of ethical behavior, you need to acknowledge the existence of free will.

As for what's wrong with wanking...if that's what floats your boat, great: Just don't pretend that casting your seed upon the ground will cause little men to spring up from the earth in the spring.

While I can't speak for grumblebee, I don't think that this is wanking at all, any more than discussions of theism/atheism are in general. Assuming for a moment the existence of free will, we can observe that the idea of predetermination, and the fatalism that may result has made a big difference in some cultures.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:40 PM on November 22, 2005


"Even though I just argued in favor of discussing free will, I'm not sure I agree. Can you explain this further?"

Justice requires free will. If there's no free will, whatever I did to you was simply fate, not an action that can justly be rewarded or punished. To have any form of society with rights, we must believe that it is possible to choose to respect those righs. To have any form of government based on choosing a candidate or an issue or an idea, we must have free will, otherwise it's a diceroll.

(Further, though I plan to FPP, Blackmore's arguments about why there is no such thing as consciousness seem extremely specious to me.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:22 PM on November 22, 2005


Smedleyman, I think I sort of got the gist of what you mean but I don't think it's very fair to put people in a position they haven't put themselves in. Penn is saying very clearly he's an atheist. Now I couldn't care less about that but why do you have to go and imply that just because he says he enjoys life, believes in love and family and happiness etc etc, then that somehow counts as some kind of worship of a divine entity defined as everything there is?

It's a bit of a sleight of hand really, don't you think?

As for me, I don't mind, I don't really agree or disagree with what Penn has written, it just doesn't strike me as anything peculiar or worthy of my consideration. But I just wouldn't put myself in his same position. I have no answers, no stands to take, I just gave up thinking about that god/no god, as I feel it's a sterile endeavour, in my own life, not for others or in general.

I don't have opinions on what others do or should do with that question. Myself, I've had a religious upbringing and grew up to reject it and then come to terms with it and blah blah blah boring crap, then I just came to the conclusion it really is an unnecessary complication for me to even ponder the "big questions" as they only mess with my head and I have enough trouble dealing with actual tangible, mundane reality... I like and respect and am even fascinated by religious concepts in many ways, not least in cultural terms. But if you want to tell me I have some kind of taoist worship towards the universe or life, just because I haven't come to the conclusion it's all pointless nothingness, I don't know, if you like to see it that way go ahead, but I'm not sure I would say that myself. I don't even think there's anything wrong in being a materialist.
posted by funambulist at 3:51 AM on November 23, 2005


If there is no such thing as free will, you cannot speak meaningfully about what anyone chose to do. To be able to talk about ethical behavior, rather than the illusion of ethical behavior, you need to acknowledge the existence of free will.

You think I do. I've established that I don't. Your version of "free will" isn't relevant to the choices I make in my life, because it's unknowable. If it can't be known, it's not relevant to the choices you ["appear to"] make in your daily life.

... the idea of predetermination, and the fatalism that may result has made a big difference in some cultures.

That fatalism is the result of an error in reasoning. The offending thingers in those cultures think that the idea of predetermination is relevant to life.
posted by lodurr at 4:13 AM on November 23, 2005


You think I do. I've established that I don't. Your version of "free will" isn't relevant to the choices I make in my life, because it's unknowable. If it can't be known, it's not relevant to the choices you ["appear to"] make in your daily life.

"Unknown" is not equivalent to "unknowable." Science may well be able to solve this particular question over time. And, again, many people, including the author of the piece in the FPP link, are making choices (or appearing to make choices) based on their beliefs in unknown or unknowable things, such as the existence or nonexistence of a God. Why not pick on them for a while?
posted by me & my monkey at 5:30 AM on November 23, 2005


The only theory that I hold that could be construed as being of a spiritual nature is that the world, the universe and all around is pretty much just fucking awesome. I don't need a creator figure to see that. Random chance or design by a godhead - it's fundamentally irrelevant; everyday life is still stunning to me in all it's glory.

I don't care so much how I came to be here, more at simply revelling in the fact that whilst I am I will do the best possible job I can.

Kind of like belonging to MeFi really.
posted by longbaugh at 5:31 AM on November 23, 2005


Smedleyman, I'm a little confused about your stance. Let's imagine that there are four boys playing with G.I. Joe dolls. Which one do you most identify with?

Boy 1: G.I. Joe is a plastic toy.

Boy 2: G.I. Joe is a real person.

Boy 3. G.I. Joe is a plastic toy, but it's more fun to play with him if you pretend he's a real person. And when you get really into playing with him, you sort of forget he's a toy.

Boy 4. G.I. Joe is a plastic toy, but it's more fun to play with him if you pretend he's a real person. Of course, I'm just pretending. I never forget he's a toy.

Boy 5. It makes no difference what he is. The point is he's fun to play with.

Please understand that I'm NOT claiming God is trivial, like a plastic toy. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of how you think you and Penn are similar/different. I think there's a profound difference between someone personifies the universe (sorry if that's not a good term for what you're doing) and someone who doesn't. Even if they both find the universe awe-inspiring.

I guess I'm confused between whether you ACTUALLY believe in a spirit/God/intelligence or whether you just think that's a useful fiction -- or whether you discount the difference between reality and useful fictions.
posted by grumblebee at 6:53 AM on November 23, 2005



“Penn is saying very clearly he's an atheist. Now I couldn't care less about that but why do you have to go and imply that just because he says he enjoys life, believes in love and family and happiness etc etc, then that somehow counts as some kind of worship of a divine entity defined as everything there is?
It's a bit of a sleight of hand really, don't you think?”
posted by funambulist at 3:51 AM PST on November 23 [!]

Nope. The things he listed are “divine” in some sense. Love, truth, etc. I’m not laying my trip on him, just how I’m interpreting what he’s saying from my perspective. I wouldn’t then say “Well you’re worshipping a kind of God” when I’ve been using the term “God” as a conveniant term anyway. Native Americans speak about the great spirit, but use the term “beauty” for many things. In Native American thought there is no distinction between what is beautiful or functional, and what is sacred or secular. Design goes far beyond concerns of function, and beauty is much more than simple appearances. For many native peoples, beauty arises from living in harmony with the order of the universe. What then is worship? What is divinity?

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the “God” term. I see Penn as an infinite player for throwing off the (to borrow from P.K. Dick) brand name but still recognizing the values. Penn walks in beauty. To use the Navajo term. If he espoused say “truth” and was a liar or “love” and was hateful, he wouldn’t
be walking in beauty. As it is, his candor is obvious.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:16 PM on November 23, 2005


Nope. The things he listed are “divine” in some sense.

To you, not to him. He overtly refuses the notion of anything divine. End of story. The rest is all your own projection. Including the "he walks in beauty" part.

I'm not saying this because I care about Penn Jillette, I don't. I dont even like him. But you know when religious people tell atheists that they're not really atheists, or, they're atheists "but" still good people and deep down even if they don't know it god loves them, as if they were in a position to dispense such judgement? well sorry Smedleyman but despite your protestations of not doing that, it looks like you're doing just that.
posted by funambulist at 2:21 PM on November 23, 2005


“well sorry Smedleyman but despite your protestations of not doing that, it looks like you're doing just that.” -posted by funambulist

Aren’t you then doing the exact same thing you’re accusing me of doing?
I conceded it’s my interpretation. Call it a projection if you will. But I am not judging him. I’m decontextualizing the meaning of “God.” Penn is a handy example to use to do that. “Divine” just happened to be an associated term. Is he a “good” person for loving his family?
Are any of his concepts completely original and so without prescedent we have to create a new language to include them? I don’t think so. Exactly what language must I use to agree that what he’s doing is analogous to a variety of perennial beliefs?
-
‘I don’t eat. I refuse to eat. But I just invented Blorfnig! I blorfnig all the time.’
“Really? what’s that”
‘I take in sustainance in organic form.’
“Many people call that eating”
‘No way, I overtly refuse the notion of anything to do with eating.’
*goes off to blorfnig a sandwich*
-
He certainly doesn’t “believe” in “my” “God.” I doubt he has any knowlege of the concept. Part of the universe probably loves him though, since his wife and kids probably love him. I know for a fact part of the universe likes him because I like him.
So stop projecting personification concepts or religeous concepts on me.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:14 PM on November 23, 2005



“I guess I'm confused between whether you ACTUALLY believe in a spirit/God/intelligence or whether you just think that's a useful fiction -- or whether you discount the difference between reality and useful fictions.”
posted by grumblebee

I’m not going to escape into defining reality here.
One thing I don’t think you’re seeing - I’m not personifying the universe. Quite the opposite. Taoism, by definition, regards it as nameless, incomprehensible by necessity. (If it was finite in form and understandable, it would be hell for any conscious being - I think Frank Herbert pointed to some of that in the Dune series)

I actually believe in an intelligence, insofar as we ourselves are intelligent and part of the universe (part of ‘God’ if you will).
Or rather - intelligence is a feature of the universe (’God’) because we possess it.
There are people in the universe. Is recognizing that as a feature ‘personifying’ it? Recognizing people act and therefore the universe acts - personification?

The intelligence or consciousness or apprehension in the universe is not a thing in itself (to borrow Heidigger’s term - ding an sich - not his logocentrism). But I am closer to Jung on that point - psyche is direct expression of existence itself. Although we cannot directly experiance the universe - that is - we cannot become G.I. Joe or regard G.I. Joes as “real” without ultimately doing ourselves damage - we do experience at least one thing itself directly, we experience our own existence.
Because we can perceive our own existances, we can apprehend in some sense that infinity even if we can’t truly relate it - except to another on that level. Our minds are part of the universe, participants in the same laws that created the universe. That is in most respects, not a matter of ‘belief’ but observation. I’d place science in the ‘worship’ or walking in beauty category. The meaning we ascribe to it is a matter of believe, but I prefer to focus only on the knowlege which is knowlege of ourselves. The more we know, the greater harmony we can achieve - granting of course, we learn and don’t delude ourselves with attractive, even possibly useful, fictions. We can focus on the personal experience of being. It is a sort of flip side to the observation of phenomena. Jung used the term ‘noumenon’ I believe. Heisenburg - who is oft misquoted on the uncertaintly principle is an example of this. Certainly there’s the concept that says the observer influences the observation by measuring. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Einstein had told Heisenberg that what can be observed is really determined by the theory. He said, you cannot first know what can be observed, but you must first know a theory, or produce a theory, and then you can define what can be observed.
In some sense this recognizes what you’re saying about G.I. Joes. To me much of what you posed is asking: “Are you producing the theory to fit the facts as if it were real - if it’s a useful theory?”

I’m giving you - in some respects - Heisenberg’s answer to Einstein: could it not be true that nature only allows for such situations which can be described with a mathematical scheme?

See, you seem to be making the same assumptions as Einstein was.

You’re asking, given the situations, how can this be described given these terms.
How can - to use the physical terms - the orbit of an electron be (apriori) described with a mathematical scheme?

Well, by using such a word like "orbit", we assume already that the electron had a position and had a velocity.

Because by using such a word like "orbit" we already assume that the electron has a position and a velocity.

By turning it around, we can see that if we say nature only allows such situations as can be described with a mathematical scheme, then we can say, “well, this orbit is really not a complete orbit. Actually, at every moment the electron has only an inaccurate position and an inaccurate velocity, and between these two inaccuracies there is this uncertainty relation.” And only by this idea it was possible to say what such an orbit was.

The same idea applies to the “God” concept.

In essence: we are not simple subjects perceiving objects, ourselves included as objects. We are participant-observers in reality itself.


But aren’t the G.I. Joe playing children themselves subject to the same questions of identity? The child is the force controlling the doll. What is the force controlling the child? I would point to the infinite regress that is there.
Godel, Esther, Bach by Hofstedter touches on that a bit. It’s oversimplistic to say the boy is simply playing or it’s his brain or otherwise writing the child off as a phenomina completely separate from the universe. That it is natural for human children to play, natural for brain development, does not mean it is a thing apart from nature.
That’s not side stepping the question. The point is - you are asking me where I draw the boundries. I’m saying, there are no boundries except what we impose on ourselves. In a sense that’s boy 3. But I don’t discount the difference between reality and useful fictions (see the Navajo concept of “Beauty” in my prev. post).
I rather recognize the infinite in all things. Nifty post here (on Mefi) on the holographic universe. One of the concepts was that each part contained the whole. In a sense, that’s what I’m pointing to. Unfortunately, I’m forced to use words. Which, by their very nature, mask the reality underneath. Much like your children playing with the G.I. Joes. There is no G.I. Joe, it’s just plastic. We impose the form. Not only is there no spoon, there is no matrix. There is no ‘Neo’ there is ‘Neo-ing’ going on locally (locally - if one wants to impose the boundry of ‘space’, here I’d say locally as close to both of us as shared concept).
It is not the object or name “God” itself nor the useful fiction that is real, not even the child, it is the play.
In the same sense, Penn is discarding the G.I. Joe and recognizing that it is only the play that matters.
While he says “this is the only life ‘I’ have,” I’d argue that he is not saying he is the possessor of it in the egotistical sense because he recognizes the need for devotion to others. He says not having a God means less suffering in the future. This is play. Infinite play.

In a sense - boy 5 without the need for a G.I. Joe.
Hopefully those metaphors work to convey the idea. Lots and lots of info & reference concepts to translate. Paired it down best I could.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:15 PM on November 23, 2005


I’m decontextualizing the meaning of “God.”

yeah, well, but I'm not arguing with your right to believe in wahtever notion of "God" you like to believe. It's when you're talking about other people's beliefs, if you 'decontextualise the meaning of "God"' so much in applying it to their beliefs, then that concept ends up being vague enough and meaningless enough that you can say anything and its opposite about their position, no matter what they themselves said about it. It's wrong because it's just not your call.

No big deal, no one will die and planes will not crash because of it, but it comes off as a rather condescending attitude really.

I know for a fact part of the universe likes him because I like him.

Feeling modest today, eh?


So stop projecting personification concepts or religeous concepts on me.

Heh... I'm not, but, ok, nevermind. This is getting too weird indeed.
posted by funambulist at 4:39 PM on November 23, 2005


It's wrong because it's just not your call.

funambulist, it's not my call. There are, quite simply, analogues to what he's saying. The perennial philosophy comes to mind first, but there are other examples. But it's not a tight application.
I accept Penn's position that there is no God. Taoism is not theistic.
Taoism could be called atheistic. It has nothing to do with the existance of or faith in a higher being or beings.

Consistiently I've said most of the terms I've been using have been merely convenient for sake of conveyance.
When Penn says he doesn't believe in a higher power but does believe in people, love, truth, beauty, "and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have" - I'm saying there are similar philosophies out there. (In fact it's a very Taoist statement to make - natural dao = the way things reliably happen, it's scientific observation)

If you say "I'm a secular humanist" I will say "Ah, well there are other philosophies which concern themselves with testable experiances in life. Buddhism comes to mind."

This does not mean the secular humanist is a buddhist. Nor do all the goals match. But the buddist might find it convenient to translate some of the terms from secular humanism into terms used in buddism for clarity as to how they are similar.
I was asked questions. I answered.

"Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures."
- Kinda sounds like what I've been saying.

In taoism all these things are relative, not absolute. Which is why I have such an appreciation of Heisenberg, and quantum mechanics in general.

I don't know where I'd send you to see about Taoism, philosophical taoism in particular. Doesn't sound like your interested and I'm not really interested in teaching anyone about it. I'm sure you can dig up your own links on it. But here are a few anyway in the interest of the exchange of ideas and refinement of experiance.


I know for a fact part of the universe likes him because I like him.
Feeling modest today, eh?

- cogito ergo sum.
Not modest. Not prideful. Just existing. What, I'm not part of the universe?
posted by Smedleyman at 10:37 PM on November 23, 2005


ok Smedlyeman, fair enough, I understand your intention is not to re-classify an atheist as a believer in spiritual/religious notions, but it sounds like you're eluding the difference between saying 'there are similar philosophies out there', and claiming those mundane, ordinary things that person believes in are divine (as you said previously) so that person has some kind of 'worshipful' attitude towards the universe, even if they refuse the concept of worship of a divine entity.

That's switching from the area of philosophy to the area of spirituality/religion, and once you talk of a universe "liking" a human being, then it is a personified view of the universe as capable of feelings, just like you but on a bigger scale --- and yes I guess you can say "I'm part of the universe" but again when you're conflating universe with spiritual intelligence/entity, then it takes on a different meaning altogether than a literal "I'm part of the universe, ie. of all that exists, because I exist". That's where it looks like a sleight of hand.

You like Penn, other people like Penn, you all exist... so "a part of the universe likes him", but you translate that on a spiritual plane. Ok, that's how you see it, but it's still dragging someone else's words about themselves and their views into a context they explicitely refused. Other people dislike Penn, so you could say "another part of the universe dislikes him", right? but it's just some people and some other people having different views. I don't see the need to transfer things like feelings and opinions onto a spiritual/religious sphere.

If you're saying something like "the universe likes so and so" then saying you're only using words for convenience without actually meaning what they mean is... it's just pure vagueness. It means nothing, it just allows you to say of someone what they didn't mean, like you have a need to place them somewhere in your own context, rather than truly accept theirs and leave it at that. I'm not arguing with taoism, I'm arguing with how you talk about these things.
posted by funambulist at 4:58 AM on November 24, 2005


"you translate that on a spiritual plane"

Didn't mean to. I’m not sure what language one uses though to describe intelligence of an order other than the purely analytical. And I’m only personifying the universe in as much as there are persons in it.

“I'm not arguing with taoism, I'm arguing with how you talk about these things.”

I can certainly concede that point. I didn’t mean to recontextualize Penn’s position. Merely state that there are analogues to it in both philosophy and religious thought. And to clarify that not all existential thought must be either theistic or opposed to it. That I did it poorly is something I’ve previously stated. I don’t have the words.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:52 AM on November 25, 2005


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