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Even The Sinister Dali Lama
January 16, 2006 8:06 AM   Subscribe

The Root of All Evil? is Richard Dawkins' new programme on Channel 4 in the UK, where the noted scholar says we must abandon all religion to advance human kind. RD notes that he is technically an agnostic, but his bold show suggests that declared atheism is the correct political stand. Reminds me of the recent NPR piece on what Penn believes. Are popular-media pieces of this sort a bellweather for a new anti-theism?
posted by re6smith (191 comments total)

 
Am I going to be the first to say it? Good for Dawkins, and good for Channel 4, to speak out against blind faith (literally). Unfortunately, atheism is politally unfashionable at the moment. The dark age cometh.
posted by londonmark at 8:15 AM on January 16, 2006


I sure hope so. I feel like I am surrounded by flat earthers. It is sad.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:18 AM on January 16, 2006


Atheism is not really controversial in the UK. Hardly anyone goes to church here any more.

Ironic considering that in terms of laws and institutions, the UK is a hundred times more theocratic than the US.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:19 AM on January 16, 2006


I am an agnostic, and I would suggest that Dawkins is in fact an atheist. Given his past work, and the defn of agnostic:

a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

In any case, I would suggest that the shows and books by people like Penn and Dawkins are not the way to go to bring the world to a more rational place. The harder you push people of faith, the harder they'll push back. And the fundamentalism aside, there are some people for whom religion is the only way they can get through the day. You can't kick the crutch out from underneath someone and expect them not to get angry and defensive about it.
posted by Zinger at 8:20 AM on January 16, 2006


Hoverboards -- a couple of years ago I would have agreed with you. Now my office is running lunchtime prayer meetings, Woolworth's won't stock Jerry Springer: The Opera, and Burger King withdrew an ice-cream under threat of jihad because the logo (a swirl) apparently resembled a muslim symbol. I think it's creeping back.
posted by londonmark at 8:28 AM on January 16, 2006




Dawkins' work is lucid on the page, but he's a little hard to watch, if only because he gets so worked up by other people. Whilst I totally understand that it's just groovy post-modernism that says that we should respect each other's beliefs as valid, it's courteous to have dialogue with those you disagree with. Dawkins sometimes comes across as 'fundamental' in his beliefs as some of the people he speaks up against.
posted by flameproof at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins is a bit of a crank, w.r.t religion. I don't think he's looking at the effect of religion on people objectively, rather focusing on the problems.

My personal feeling is that people mostly just do whatever the hell they want to, and then excuses based on whatever worldview they hold. I'm not sure removing religion would improve things, although it would make the world much less annoying.
posted by delmoi at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2006


The reaction to this programme in the UK has largely been negative. IIRC, the reason for this has been that his arguments have been viewed as simplistic.


In saying that, it is healthy that programmes like this are on mainstream tv stations.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2006


I'm not saying all Brits are atheists. Just that atheism isn't that controversial. I don't think we're at the point where atheism would be perceived as a positive attribute of a prime ministerial candidate, but I think it's not out of the question for one to be elected.

I think the Woolworths and Burger King examples are more to do with political correctness than a lingering love of religion. Not sure if I can explain the lunchtime worship though :)
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:35 AM on January 16, 2006


Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?
posted by oddman at 8:38 AM on January 16, 2006


Sorry, my misunderstanding, I get you now.

Oh, and more celebrity atheists!
posted by londonmark at 8:40 AM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins and Penn are not unfailingly good.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:41 AM on January 16, 2006


Hm.

Part of me really agrees with Dawkins - that, at least in the public sphere, the religion needs to be toned down enormously. That things like what londonmark is saying are happening presages scary things.

But the other part says that you can have my religion when you rip it from my cold, dead hands. Is it a crutch? Maybe. But whose business is that when I don't evangelize, I don't ask others to covert and I don't even require every other Saturday off at work, because I have to go to service, but instead work around my job. I wind up answering a lot of questions because my religion is very nontraditional and rather Hollywoodized in the popular mind, but I separate myself from the more out-there Christians, and the Evangelicals especially.

Dawkins' belief, quite frankly, sounds like just the other side of the coin. I can't be a voodoo serviteur, of course! It's serving the devil/a crutch that's holding me in a medieval dark. And I do believe that there needs to be something else there - that to take away a culture's ideology, even if it is replaced by something as awe-some and exquisite as science, makes a culture sick. Right now religion is acting as a cancer, but it does no good to forever banish every religion.
posted by kalimac at 8:42 AM on January 16, 2006


The Soviet Union and Communist China already did this. Worked great. Big advance.
posted by benjonson at 8:43 AM on January 16, 2006


Without religion, how do you know who is moral?
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:44 AM on January 16, 2006


Same way you know with religion - judge people by what they do, not what they tell you to do.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:46 AM on January 16, 2006


Imagine.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2006


My personal feeling is that people mostly just do whatever the hell they want to, and then excuses based on whatever worldview they hold.

That's what, IMHO, most people mostly do. Unfortunately the extremely vocal minority colors the entire perception of religion and you get what we had here last week, which was a failure to communicate.

As an Ethiopian Muslim cab driver told me the other day (while relating the story of the Eid feast), it's all the same book, and people from Argentina to Canada to Texas can apprecaite some fine cooked meal.

Just shout down the fundies and things will get better. Baby/bathwater and all that.
posted by wah at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2006


It's easy if you try.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:47 AM on January 16, 2006


Without religion, how do you know who is moral?

Without spark plugs, how does a car engine keep running?
posted by wah at 8:48 AM on January 16, 2006


Without religion, how do you know who is moral?
When did they give the patent for moral behavior to religion? Some of the most moral, ethical people I know are athiests and agnostics.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:49 AM on January 16, 2006


I am very morel, also - but kids today aren't educated enough to recognize it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:52 AM on January 16, 2006


Hatred is an insidious virus of the mind.
posted by brownpau at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2006


Yes! Here's a modest proposal - let's have something like a reverse Inquisition, where we torture people until they admit there's no God. Should be easy!
posted by fungible at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2006


Zappa died for your sins.

I was going to make this link a front page post, but saw it'd been posted before (albeit not in an FPP). I figured a worthy topic would come up that would give me good opportunity for a comment. In 1986 Frank Zappa claimed on CNN's Crossfire that America was turning into a "fascist theocracy." Laughed at from all sides, I think the comment would garner a little more thought today, though maybe not on Crossfire.

[my link is to a ~38Mb QT movie, previous thread links to an ifilm page (where there's an '87 FZ Crossfire appearance as well)]
posted by bigmike at 8:59 AM on January 16, 2006


"Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?"

Because, unlike faith, when skepticism and rational investigation actually are skepticism and rational investigation they are accountable. Such positions can be held up to scrutiny, tested, examined and argued and so retained or discarded to the extent that they are functional. Faith amounts to 'because I say so'.
posted by anglophiliated at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2006


Is a person who only does the right thing because a (metaphysical) gun is held to their head truly moral?
posted by LordSludge at 9:01 AM on January 16, 2006


Diesels run without sparkplugs.
posted by leftoverboy at 9:01 AM on January 16, 2006


Without religion, how do you know who is moral?

With religion, how do you know who is moral? Can a person "be" moral? Or must she/he *act* moral? Since there are many religions, we could take a comparative approach, as many have attempted. Oh sure, you find the same big truths -- incest taboos, notions of cleanliness and uncleanliness, strict rules about when it's ok to off someone to whom you are related, blah blah. But contra the hippie nonsense one hears, there ain't nothing universal about turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor -- there is, however, an intriguingly universal *hypocrisy* characteristic of the religious mind of all faiths.

One man's mercy killing is another man's murder. One woman's female genital mutilation is another's sacred cultural tradition. Religion proposes to reveal the hidden universally moral truths and propagate them, conveniently requiring the rape, pillage, conquest, genocide, occupation, and subjugation of heathen others until they see the light of your shining morality. Some model for the existence of universal codes of morality we have in the historical record, huh? No, it's a record of universal venality covered in glittery robes of doth-protest-too-much righteousness dem call religion, faith, belief, spirituality, blah blah. (MeFi tagline or what?)

So the only question left is, if you believe religion is a revelation of moral truth, how do you decide which religion has it right? Why is the religion into which you happened to be born, or happened to stumble upon in your own spiritual quest, the right one? And that returns us to the ground of conduct, where one must ask "which religion has been a force for improvement in human life, on balance?" Good luck with that argument, sucker. It's a matter -- much like the existence of an ahh'mighty skyman -- of pure speculation, or, if you prefer, fantasy wish fulfilment.

Rastafari, hare krishna, lord have mercy, alhamdullah.
posted by spitbull at 9:03 AM on January 16, 2006


Vin Diesel could kick The Dali Lama's ass.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:04 AM on January 16, 2006


People WANT to believe, and by and large believers build stronger and more prosperous societies.
Eliminating religion from a developed country will only serve to have it infected by the more religious from elsewhere.

Not possible to even consider until the world is equally developed.
posted by HTuttle at 9:04 AM on January 16, 2006


Thorzdad: When did they give the patent for moral behavior to religion?

Well, to be fair, this is an unanswerable question because the concept of "religion" is a chimera, a shell game, a bit of a bait and switch. For the same reason, it's difficult to argue for strong atheism (the claim that deity cannot exist) because the definition of deity will change to something vague and ephemeral.

So I suspect the people making this argument gave the patent for moral behavior to religion in either one of two ways:

1: Believing that without some sort of deity there can be no true morality.
2: Defining religion so broadly as to include any system of organized philosophical thought and practice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:05 AM on January 16, 2006


In other words, since you can choose your religion -- and thus your moral code -- of your own free will, you must just as well choose your morality without the middleman. It need not be motivated by any ultimate cause outside your own sense of well being. Why do I need someone else to tell me how to be? What's so damn hard about figuring it out for yourself?
posted by spitbull at 9:06 AM on January 16, 2006


Pointless flamewars aside for a moment, Richard Dawkins certianly knows his stuff in his own field. The Selfish Gene is a classic, and in case there's anyone who doesn't know yet, it's the modern origin of the meme meme.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:07 AM on January 16, 2006


The funny part is, when the show tanks and gets cancelled, Dawkins and his congregation will no doubt pin the blame on the evil religious folk who pulled strings to get him off the air because he was too dangerous -- without casting an eye back towards his own spittle-flecked, invective-ridden dearth of nuance.

Almost like fundamentalists who blame Satan.
posted by brownpau at 9:10 AM on January 16, 2006


Why do I need someone else to tell me how to be? What's so damn hard about figuring it out for yourself?

And...

Pointless flamewars aside for a moment, Richard Dawkins certianly knows his stuff in his own field. The Selfish Gene is a classic

As to the questions...Dawkins would say that it's just easier to take someone else's than make up your own.

At least with a literal reading of his most famous book's title.

BTW, figuring it out yourself, while possible, is a lot more difficult and takes a lot more time than most people are willing to give to the problem. Plus, you just end up (mostly) where others have ended for thousands of years.
posted by wah at 9:11 AM on January 16, 2006


Also, I certainly don't make claims that skepticism and rational investigation are always good. I just make the argument that when someone says that I need to change the way I live my life because of some principle, that it is reasonable to practice skepticism until that principle is supported by the weight of evidence.

hoverboards: I actually think that the meme meme is one of Dawkins' worst ideas because he brushes over the problem that evolution works because of certain properties of genes that are not shared with units of cultural transmission. He's generally brilliant in his own field though.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:14 AM on January 16, 2006


spitbull: you nailed my point of view on the 'morality' question. Well and forthrightly said.
posted by Miko at 9:14 AM on January 16, 2006


I heard an interview with Dawkins on Irish radio and was not impressed.

Not all people are educated to a high enough level to be able 'see through' religion, it is unrealistic to suggest that the most people with a religious faith could or should know better.

Also I didnt hear him make any acknowledgement of the comfort offered by religion to people with very little nor the fact that most of the evil which has its origin in religion is due to its basic principles being perverted.
posted by kenaman at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2006


Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?
posted by oddman at 6:38 PM EET on January 16 [!]

The Soviet Union and Communist China already did this. Worked great. Big advance.
posted by benjonson at 6:43 PM EET on January 16 [!]

Without religion, how do you know who is moral?
posted by The Jesse Helms at 6:44 PM EET on January 16 [!]



Dawkins makes the mistake that he equates religion=bad deeds done in it's name. People are just as capable of doing good or bad things with or without religion. Thus also morality in itself has nothing to do with being religious or organized religion.

I think that the main reason why Dawkins has embarked on his "crusade against reliogion" is his field of study; if you'd have to devote considerable amounts of time to debunk IDers or creationists, I think most of us would do just the same.

Dawkins's main point is valid in the sense that religion should not have any function when considering things like education, gender/sexual equality or science. The problem is that many religions, and religious people, consider these things already explained by their beliefs. Many enlightened clergyman probaby hold the same views on the role of religion as Dawkins - What we should get rid of is uneducated, unenlightened and untestable opinions. People tend to have those in spite of their views on faith (or lack of).

(I'm an atheist.)

posted by hoskala at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2006


I had looked forward to this programme, but came away rather disappointed.

The main problem is the host. Dawkins is a bright guy, but he is *so* much the Oxford don talking down his nose at all the stupid people. Perhaps I wouldn't mind that so much if he was producing a really nuanced argument, but he smashes together the valid arguments against fundamentalism and religion in public life with invalid arguments that, essentially, people just need to get a bloody grip and shape up.

Everyone he meets get the Zarathustra treatment: "Could it be possible! This old saint has not yet heard that God is dead!". It gets very wearing after a while.

That said, I will be watching the concluding part tonight.
posted by athenian at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2006


Even when you've settled on a particular religion, that doesn't really give you morality. Just as an atheist can never finally and satisfactorily (as best I can tell) answer the question, "Why do x?", neither can the believer:

"Why not murder?"
"God has forbidden it."
"Why take God's counsel?"
"Abraham promised to." (e.g.)
"Why honor that?"
"'Cause."

posted by grobstein at 9:17 AM on January 16, 2006


Without religion, how do you know who is moral?

I'm an atheist and agnostic and don't believe religion is particularly damaging or dangerous. We'd probably be in pretty much the same boat without. The reason is that practically no one actually has religion affect the way they live in any meaningful way. People generally do not behave as though the any religious text is the literally word of god. This is not a failing of a corrupt will but the success of a largely sane mind. Religion makes people moral in the exact same way that a child's security blanket keeps a full grown man warm.

That said I don't I think its a bad thing to for atheists to be vocal or critical of the religious. I really don't. I think making atheism increasingly visible goes a long way towards showing people that its normal. I have friends that go to church or synagog 2 or 3 times a year that still cringe a little when they hear I'm an atheist. I can't imagine these people honestly believing that the god they claim to love actually exists as they describe him and being so flippant about it. I also know many atheists who wouldn't call themselves atheist. Atheist means someone that doesn't believe in god. That's all it means. Believing is a verb, and if you don't do it (with regards to god) you are an atheist.
posted by I Foody at 9:21 AM on January 16, 2006


(On postview: what spitbull said.)
posted by hoskala at 9:22 AM on January 16, 2006


KirkJonSluder: I don't think Dawkins intended "memetics" to be a branch of biology as much as an interesting analogy that sheds light on ideas. An imperfect analogy perhaps, but it's still a useful frame of thinking.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:23 AM on January 16, 2006


People should be able to believe what they want, but I think that all political leaders should be athiest. Why? It scares the living crap out of me that the people running my country belive that there's going to be an apocalypse.

I think that the people who believe in an apocalypse aren't afraid of the apocalypse at all. What they're really afraid of is life on earth continuing in perpetuity. They're afraid of having to deal with the consequences of their actions. They're afraid that future generations may have to deal with their bad decisions. They're afraid that they'll have to start thinking of boring-ass things like sustainability, diplomacy, and environmental protection. Much easier to believe in a system where God just says, "Fuck it, let's start over," and YOUR people, quite conveniently, make it into the bonus round.

Which makes it even stranger that, time and time again, when people are asked, atheists are the group of people that they would LEAST like to hold public office. Why? Why do people want leaders that believe in the end of the world?
posted by Afroblanco at 9:25 AM on January 16, 2006


Don't tell me I'm not moral because I'm not religious. I'm not the one who tries to force others to live by my subjective code of medieval and contradictory restrictions. Believe in god if you will, if it helps you get through the day and face up to your own death. But don't pretend that gives you a monopoly on morality. Chances are, I'm MORE moral than you, because I consider my actions, not just blindly follow someone else's warped (and probably conflicted) interpretations of a 2000 year-old novel written by a committee of terrorists.
posted by londonmark at 9:34 AM on January 16, 2006


HTuttle: People WANT to believe, and by and large believers build stronger and more prosperous societies.

While I agree that a lot of people want to believe, I'd like to hear more about the stronger societies. Any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise? I would think a strong society mostly depends on people being reasonably happy with the way things are, and the institutions being able to adapt to a changing world.

Anyway, can't we just agree to treat religion as a personal preference? I like vanilla ice cream and my wife likes the strawberry kind. I don't try to convert her to my flavor or institute vanilla-slanted rules in our house. We don't talk much about ice cream and we get along fine.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2006


"Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?"

Putting aside your "unfailingly", you realize, don't you, that your question cannot be usefully answered? And if we include your "unfailingly", I think your question can be easily and quickly answered by "they're not".

The useless and most obvious tautological proof of the utility of reason would amount to a form of Occam's Razor—that it's impractical to not assume the utility of reason.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2006


For those of you asking "without reglion, how do we know what is moral," I ask, what does it matter?

The question, as posed, pre-supposes an outside order. Something dictating Right and Wrong. This is, of course, perfectly consistant with Biblical theology. But why do you want that? A cursory glimpse of history suggests morality *is* a fluid thing and, in fact, most of the periods of real horror occur when one small group declares that they have a monopoly on truth and inflict it on everyone else.

It fully appears that, even if there were a codified set of immobile moral laws, humanity could not possibly abide within them. Instead, you'd just get another Spanish Inquisition, or more witch trials.

So consider the alternative - that morality is *necessarily* fluid. That what is good and just TODAY will probably not be so in one hundred years. For example, let's look at the Code of Hammurabi. Is "an eye for an eye" moral today? I certainly don't think so. Or how about how so many of his laws end with "be put to death?" Increasingly, countries are abandoning the death penalty all together. And let's not even talk about Hammurabi's views on slavery.

And yet we hold the Code up as a good thing. Why? Because it was the first codified series of laws that was enforced uniformally. Even though many provisions of it are horrific now, they were better than what came before, and thus it represented a real step forward in human societal development.

And so it has been throughout history. Those few - oh so few - moral laws which have not changed over time, such as 'Thou Shalt Not Kill', have not changed because they're the easiest to derive logically. But all the others have been constantly in flux, with different versions being tried out, until we hit upon combinations of laws and permissions that created the smoothest flow of society.

Inflexible morality is only a path leading backwards. The future requires change.
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:40 AM on January 16, 2006


"Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?"

I can prove they are unfailingly good for forty dollars. No refunds.
posted by I Foody at 9:43 AM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins isn't an expert on religion any more than Jerry Falwell is an expert on biology.

And I apologize for comparing those two.
posted by Foosnark at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2006


People should be able to believe what they want, but I think that all political leaders should be athiest.

Yes, yes. Brilliant idea. Religious freedom for the masses, but the power to govern given only to those who subscribe to one set of religious beliefs! Brilliant, fair and just. Imagine the wonderful peace in the world if the religious people were barred from holding political office by virtue of the fact that they're religious!

Yes, worship however you like, and surrender the right to participate in political leadership. Maybe we should write some kind of manifesto about this. I bet it'd be a hit.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2006


I don't think we have nearly enough posts about Richard Dawkins.

I predict that there will be at least three more Dawkins articles posted to MetaFilter this year. Each one will generate 40+ comments. The choir will enjoy each sermon and wait with bated breath for the next.

although I'll admit that the Douglas Adams lament was really lovely
posted by the_bone at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2006


“Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?”

I’d add to Ethereal Bligh’s comment that the tools of provability and scientific observation made possible you typing on a computer to make that statement in a way that “THEN A MIRACLE HAPPENS” does not.

That said I think Dawkins has a point. It is the lack of community that is leading to greater interest in religion. What is disolving communities is not science however.
Who benefits from instilling you with a sense of helplessness and need and offering comfort and belonging if only you do/buy “X”?

Hmmm.... boy I could go for a happy meal about now.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2006


Where's your "no God", now?!</Colbert>
posted by basicchannel at 9:50 AM on January 16, 2006


People WANT to believe, and by and large believers build stronger and more prosperous societies.

Both these claims are pretty suspect.

The latter claim has already been disproven. Recent studies suggest that communities with a large religious component are often less propserous and less cohesive than communities without the religious component.

As for the first claim, it just doesn't make much sense. There's no reason to believe that the development of religion is "inevitable" for human societies. Historically, it's been the case that many societies have relied on religion to fulfill various social needs, but it's not clear why this should always be the case. Historically, as social needs have changed, all sorts of institutions and common beliefs have fallen away. At it's base, the notion that people need religion (or any other social phenomenom) is just a poor argument for a transcendent human nature.

This is also where Dawkin's argument falls apart.

The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

This statement just doesn't make any sense. It makes it seem like Dawkins is just trying to "out-believe" the fundamentalists and we all know how well that'll work out.
posted by nixerman at 9:55 AM on January 16, 2006


I think that whenever someone generally cites "recent studies" with no reference to an actual recent study, well . . .
posted by JekPorkins at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins :

What I'm trying to say is this - I don't care if people in general are religious, but I would prefer my political leaders be atheist or agnostic. I'm not saying that this should be enforced by law or anything. I'm just stating my preferences.

It never ceases to astound me that people want to have political leaders that believe in the end of the world. Likewise, I don't understand why people are so afraid of having leaders that DON'T believe in the end of the world.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:00 AM on January 16, 2006


Ahem. One of the problems with anti-religious arguments is radical over-simplification of the debate. For example, not all Christians believe in a literal armageddon, much less believers of other religions.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:03 AM on January 16, 2006


grobstein: Just as an atheist can never finally and satisfactorily (as best I can tell) answer the question, "Why do x?", neither can the believer.

I think an atheist can answer that question. The ethic of reciprocity can tell him what to do. And why do it? Because the world would be a better place if everyone followed that simple rule.
The rule is part of most religions and non-religious moral codes. In Christianity they call it "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you".
posted by Triplanetary at 10:03 AM on January 16, 2006


Afroblanco:

I, too, believe that the people I think should be in power should be in power. That's why I vote for them.

Since there are very few politicians who share my views regarding religion, I rarely, if ever, consider the religion of a candidate when making my decision. Interestingly, I don't know that I've ever seen someone criticize the current senators from New York for not being atheist. Have you taken any active role in trying to get your current senators ousted in favor of atheist or agnostic ones? Have you publicly criticized them for their strong religious beliefs?
posted by JekPorkins at 10:05 AM on January 16, 2006


What I'm trying to say is this - I don't care if people in general are religious, but I would prefer my political leaders be atheist or agnostic.

I don't see why it matters. This is the same, all-too-common essentialist mistake Dawkins makes. Why can't you accept political leaders who may believe all sorts of crazy things but who won't let their crazy beliefs influence policy decisions? If you're going to hide behind the language of preference then all you've done is validated the fundamentalist tactic of screening political leaders who meet certain belief criteria.

JekPorkins, I'm too lazy and busy to find links right now but I may do so later if I have the time. I remember reading something a couple of months ago but can't at all remember where. For the purposes of the conversation, you can assume the statement that religious communities are less cohesive and poorer to be as baseless as the claim that they're more cohesive and richer--until I manage to dig up some links.
posted by nixerman at 10:08 AM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins' work is lucid on the page, but he's a little hard to watch, if only because he gets so worked up by other people.

flameproof, to be fair, he got rightly worked up by extremely creepy people -- the Muslim Uber-Jihad fundamentalist guy in Jerusalem and the US evangelical creationist mega-preacher guy of the kind who makes Scientology look like a fantastic alternative. They were really revolting, and honestly, I thought Dawkins was even too restrained there. He did try to engage in dialogue, he remained patient and civil. The scorn was a lot bigger on the other side, and multiplied by real scary hatred.

But... he did pick those targets himself. He specifically chose representatives of those extremes which which no dialogue is possible. It's easy to conclude religion is the root of all evil after seeing that kind of specimens (apparently he didn't choose the "root of all evil" title himself though). That's a precise target, but in practice, he goes and treats it like that's the end all of everything to do with religion, without paying too much attention to differences in the practical manifestations of it across different regions, cultures, etc.

I think his take in the programme is absolutely spot on in terms of attacking religion as an ideological and political tool, looking at the bigger picture and at the most worrying parts of the clash between religion and modernity. But yeah, it comes off as simplistic in other aspects; then again, obviously, those other aspects are not a concern. I appreciate the fact it is meant to be provocative and his disdain of religion is very impassioned (and indeed, understandable considering his field of study and probably his personal experience with religion?).

He's preaching to the choir though, if this is only showing in the UK, no?
posted by funambulist at 10:11 AM on January 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder - I agree, I may have been over-simplifying by assuming that all Christians believe in the EOTW. (although it is in the bible, right?)

However, I think that pro-religion side of the debate should take a moment to see how they appear to the other side.

To a non-believer, a religious person appears to engage in what psychologists refer to as magical thinking. Magical thinking is one of the strongest symptoms of schizophrenia.

Right now, we have the leader of the world's remaining superpower telling people that "God told him to invade Iraq." To the non-believer, this is the equivelant of saying that "Our political leader hears voices that tell him to kill people."

It scares the living crap out of us. And I, for one, don't understand why people are so afraid of having a leader that DOESN'T hear voices telling him to kill people.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:13 AM on January 16, 2006


nixerman: fair enough.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:13 AM on January 16, 2006


Ever since I read this masterpiece I concluded that war is the only way humans can truly successfully sort out their differences in the long term and religion is the only way they can consolidate the gains.

From a historical perspective, the problem confronting worldwide peace is not the existence of religion - the problem is that we don't all follow the same one.

On the other hand, if Dawkins is arguing for truth rather than peace, I'm afraid I am not sure the two are compatible on a global scale unless we could weed off that majority lacking the ability to comprehend the nature of science.
posted by DirtyCreature at 10:20 AM on January 16, 2006


By the way, there was an excellent series of programmes the BBC did on atheism - The Atheism Tapes, which also featured Dawkins, and a fine interview with Arthur Miller.
Torrents available at the usual places.
posted by funambulist at 10:21 AM on January 16, 2006


It's not the religious beliefs that bother me, it's when those beliefs creep into policy. That, as they say, is fucking bullshit.
posted by zerolives at 10:22 AM on January 16, 2006


How about this: instead of railing against religion, why don't all the atheists get together and do some good stuff? Make atheism attractive. Be such moral, ethically amazing people that all the religionists will be forced to look at you and say, "Wow, those people are truly good people. I must be like them."

(I hate to give you non-believers a peek into the religious playbook, but all the proselytizing and preaching doesn't really gain converts. We know this. We just do that to get our names out there. It's the examples set by good religious folks that convince other people to investigate it, because it inspires the members to act in a good manner.)

The fact is, regardless of the truth about God, the afterlife, and morality, the reason religion is such a powerful force in the lives of so many people is that it demonstrably makes people happy. I guarantee you, nobody has ever said, "Gee, my life is perfect. I need to find something to make it worse!" and then gone out and got religion. Religion, whether by being a community crutch, a code of behavior, or eternal truth, causes people to act in a manner that--on the average--makes them happier than not, and thus religion continues.

So go ahead and present the alternative, atheists! As soon as you do, I guarantee you, people will flock to it, because people want to be happy.
posted by Fontbone at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2006


nixerman and JekPorkins :

Religious preference is not the determining factor behind whether or not I vote for a given candidate.

What I'm saying is this - every year the Gallup organization asks people, "Who would you be most likely to vote for?" and then proceeds to list various groups of people (women, Roman Catholics, blacks, Jews, atheists, etc.). Atheists, year after year, come in last. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Given the choice, I would much rather our religious leaders be secular then non-secular.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2006


“For example, not all Christians believe in a literal armageddon, much less believers of other religions.”

I’d add to Afroblanco‘s comments and say there are zero athiests who believe in a literal armageddon. There are some Christians who do. There are some Islamic folks who do. Some of them have a great deal of power.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:30 AM on January 16, 2006


Afroblanco: Atheists, year after year, come in last.

IMHO, atheists have some serious public relations problems, starting with the tendency of publicly self-proclaimed atheists like Dawkins and Penn to be sophmoric and jerky in their proclamations of the superiority of atheism.

What people don't like is zealots, and when the term 'atheist' is used, I think most people assume that a certain amount of atheist zealotry is implied.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:35 AM on January 16, 2006


Silly, because religion ain't gonna go away, no matter what Richard D or anyone else says. It's here to stay. We might as well say "Hey, I got an idea to bring world peace. Why don't we just all try to be real nice to one another." Yup, good idea. Never happen.
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins is dead right.

Religion is a sort of viral mental illness, spreading from afflicted person to afflicted person. It is however, curable by the careful application of reason and a strong desire to face reality as it is, avoiding the crutch of "faith" at all costs.

I disagree with Dawkins on one point, and that is his claim that "declared atheism" is the "correct" stance; I think that agnosticism (perhaps leaning strongly towards atheism, but leaving the possibility for a change in belief pending actual evidence) is a perfectly reasonable position to adopt.

But he is correct in general. Religion, and the concommittant rejection of the necessity of evidence, and the turning away from reality, is at the heart of human suffering. It is much like an addict, whose affliction causes them to engage in behaviors that are clearly detrimental to themselves and those around them; religion causes those who suffer from it to ignore those things that can really help with the human condition (self-reliance rather than prayer, secular humanism instead of "faith", reality instead of mumbo-jumbo) in favor of things which offer illusory comfort and hope.
posted by spincycle at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2006


JedPorkins -

There are far, far more Christian zealots in the US, and nobody thinks of Christianity as having "serious public relations problems."
posted by Afroblanco at 10:38 AM on January 16, 2006


Vin Diesel could kick The Dali Lama's ass.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson

Really?
posted by notsnot at 10:40 AM on January 16, 2006


The fact is, regardless of the truth about God, the afterlife, and morality, the reason religion is such a powerful force in the lives of so many people is that it demonstrably makes people happy.

I don't buy this. In my own experience, religion is often a a tremendous source of anxiety and/or repression. In fact, after 9/11 (hell, after the 20th century), I'm a bit shocked that anybody would so blithely assume that religion is nothing more than a happiness generator.

Religion, whether by being a community crutch, a code of behavior, or eternal truth, causes people to act in a manner that--on the average--makes them happier than not, and thus religion continues.

This is a nice just-so story but it's not anything more than a just-so story. It's more likely religion continues only out of the blind force of habit. People tend to do behave just like their parents.

I hate to give you non-believers a peek into the religious playbook, but all the proselytizing and preaching doesn't really gain converts.

The way to get converts is generally to give people a choice to convert or die and then follow through with the threat.

What people don't like is zealots

Actually, people love zealots. This is pretty much the appeal of fundamentalism. Atheism is unpopular because it's a principled stand about a subject where people don't want principles involved. Most people see atheism and relativism as the same thing.
posted by nixerman at 10:40 AM on January 16, 2006


In my estimation the zealot to non-zealot ratio among christians is far lower than that among atheists. I mean, in order to make the leap from agnostic to atheist, zealotry seems to me to be definitional requirement.

It's not about sheer numbers, but about the percentages. What percentage of self-proclaimed Christians are zealots? I'd say a very, very tiny portion, considering how many Christians don't actually do much, if anything, about their religion.

On the other hand, there are really no "non-practicing Atheists," are there? Are there vast numbers of people who formally claim to be Atheists, just because their family has been Atheist for generations, but that don't really practice Atheism with any genuine fervor? I don't think so.

I don't mean any offense to Atheists by this, but I think that all Atheists are, by definition, zealots of Atheism. If I'm wrong, please let me know.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:43 AM on January 16, 2006


You're wrong.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:48 AM on January 16, 2006


yep.
posted by spincycle at 10:50 AM on January 16, 2006


I mean, in order to make the leap from agnostic to atheist, zealotry seems to me to be definitional requirement.

Yeah, you're wrong. You seem to be confusing atheism as another religion.

Though, I have to admit, I like the phrase "non-practicing atheist." It doesn't make any sense, but I think it'd work on a bumpersticker.
posted by nixerman at 10:51 AM on January 16, 2006


Arriving too late probably, but here goes.

oddman "Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?"

Well, in the first place, by asking for a reason, you're being skeptical and rational. Congratulations. If you proceeded on faith alone, you would be presumably just slaughtering the infidels, or living in a hole in the desert, or some other arbitrary thing, instead of engaging in a discussion.

In addition to anglophiliated's and Smedleyman's answers: rationality proceeds by trial and error and progressive correction. So it is often wrong in particular cases but is the only means of improving knowledge and good results; it is always right in the long run. Faith, on the other hand, is arbitrary, has no tendency to improvement of anything, and impairs rationality, which is our only means of progress.
posted by jam_pony at 10:53 AM on January 16, 2006


Umm, my lack of belief doesn't affect my day-to-day life any more then your average Christian's belief affects his life. I'm what you could call an "everyday nonbeliever." I think I could say the same for most other non-believers that I know.

Atheist/agnostic points of view may stick out more because you're not expecting them.

It's really funny though. Whenever I hear BOR and other pundits talking about how "Christmas is under attack," and Christians in America are somehow being oppressed.... I just laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh. Not to say that I feel personally oppressed by Christianity (well, at times I do, but that's another story), but whose minority viewpoint is being degraded by most of the population?

If 49% of people refused to vote for a black candidate because of their race, you would call them racist, would you not?

This article has some interesting things to say on the subject.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:54 AM on January 16, 2006


is that it demonstrably makes people happy

Then demonstrate it. Think of it as an equation that needs balance. I KNOW I can demonstrate where religion has made innumerable people very very unhappy... and dead. Are there more happy people than unhappy because of religion? I think there is more un-happiness. But I can't think of a mathematical way to prove that.
posted by tkchrist at 10:54 AM on January 16, 2006


Count me as an Atheist who doesn't care what other people believe. I only care how they behave. And I have yet to see any evidence that misbehaviors historically associated with either religious or secular rule will not simply be transferred to the new flavor of population control.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:55 AM on January 16, 2006


Anti-theism as a movement is unlikely to get much traction because there is no there there. Plenty of interesting intellectual discourse can be built around it, some of it on this page, but it won't become a movement that attracts adherents in great numbers, because essentially it argues for a void.

A strong ethical/philosophical movement could perhaps make inroads against religious beliefs, but would carry with it some of the same dangers that attend religion.

By the way, those who argue for atheism and profess themselves atheists should really learn to spell the words, which are among the most-frequently-misspelled on this site. Via the handy Yahoo/Metafilter search, the collective score hereabouts is: Athiesm 32, Athiest 299 (including 3 on this page), vs. Atheism 626, Atheist 1760. (It's one of those pesky exceptions to the "i before e except after c" "rule.")
posted by beagle at 10:56 AM on January 16, 2006


Societies seek stability. Religion can provide that. A shared set of beliefs and standards made stronger by participation in shared ritual? Surely you can see potential benefit in that. For most of human history, religions were pretty local and made sense in the cultural context they came from.
Missionizing--transplanting the beliefs and laws from a particular time and place to far flung locations around the world--is bound to have some strange consequences.

It's true that mystical experience--sense of identification with the universal/divine--can't be limited to a particular group of people, time or place, but relatively few "religious" people seek mystical experience at all. They toss a few coins the collection plate, or light a joss stick and go about their business.

What makes religion so potentially damaging is its inflexibility. Societies change and evolve. Religion can adapt, but it does so slowly and reluctantly. It's too bad, because I am often stuck by the power and beauty of religious practice, and I, myself, have felt what I would describe as "religious feeling."

How to determine right from wrong without religion? Any variation of "do unto others" usually works. Not because some big eye in the sky is watching, but because you should try to create the kind of world that you want to live in, starting with you.
posted by apis mellifera at 11:01 AM on January 16, 2006


wah: "Unfortunately the extremely vocal minority colors the entire perception of religion ... As an Ethiopian Muslim cab driver told me the other day (while relating the story of the Eid feast), it's all the same book..."

Well, no, it's actually more or less "the same book" for the adherents of the patriarchal, monotheist, anti-sexual, exclusivistic religions out of the Mediterranean area which derive from the superstitions of the ancient Hebrews. For the rest of the world, it's not the same book at all. For some it's better or worse "books" and for others it's not even what the monotheists would recognize as religion.

Sure, let's not let ugly minorities warp our perception of the three major brands of Hebrew-based monotheism. Threre are plenty among that contingent who interpret their "book" vaguely enough that they're not so hateful as if they took it literally. Let's also respect the rest of the people whose "books" don't necessarily feature ethnocentrism, genocide, mutilation, slavery, misogyny and anti-rationalism.

Excuse me for ranting. Don't take it personally, I'm not sure you meant to advocate the driver's view. However, it is extremely common for people here in the USA to identify religion in general with that one class of religions, as an unquestioned premise in all their thought about religion, unless the fallacy is specifically pointed out.

I wonder whether Dawkins too falls into this fallacy to some degree. What is his take on Unitarians or Ethical Culture Society, for example, or Shinto or deists? Presumably he considers them less harmful. I'll be looking for a copy of the show on this side of the pond.
posted by jam_pony at 11:02 AM on January 16, 2006


Umm, my lack of belief doesn't affect my day-to-day life any more then your average Christian's belief affects his life.

Purely anecdotal, but in my observation, your average Christian doesn't have any more faith in God than your average Atheist. And if your belief in religion or atheism is strong enough to motivate you to try to convince someone who believes otherwise that they're wrong and you're right, I'd say you're rapidly approaching zealotry. In fairness, i don't know that I've ever seen you try to convince anyone that their beliefs are wrong or that yours are right. But Dawkins and Penn fall squarely within the zealot camp, and that's why they aren't making much headway with the masses.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:04 AM on January 16, 2006


Was it zealotry to insist that the earth revolves around the sun - to correct what IS a mistaken belief? I don't think so.
posted by tkchrist at 11:08 AM on January 16, 2006


That would depend on the manner in which they did the insisting, now, wouldn't it?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2006


your average Christian doesn't have any more faith in God than your average Atheist

I don't understand this statement. If an atheist by definition has zero faith in a god, and the average Christian has no more faith than this, then 50% of Christians have zero faith in a god....doesn't this make them atheist?
posted by agent at 11:11 AM on January 16, 2006


That would depend on the manner in which they did the insisting, now, wouldn't it?

I think they did it by getting locked up in a tower for twenty years and refusing to renounce the facts and telling the jailers they were wrong wrong wrong.
posted by tkchrist at 11:12 AM on January 16, 2006


Agent: Bingo. Most self-proclaimed Christians are also, by definition, Atheists, in my observation. Most people who claim to have faith in God do not actually have faith in God.

tkchrist: Then they weren't zealots. On the other hand, if they did in a way that was excessive to the point of being harmful to others, oneself, and their own cause, then thew would have been, by definition, zealots. Like Mr. Dawkins, I think.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:15 AM on January 16, 2006


nixerman: I don't buy this. In my own experience, religion is often a a tremendous source of anxiety and/or repression. In fact, after 9/11 (hell, after the 20th century), I'm a bit shocked that anybody would so blithely assume that religion is nothing more than a happiness generator.

I bet that, if you ever did practice a religion, you didn't really believe it. And if you don't believe something, but act in a way that seems--without the religious reasoning and belief to back it up--to be unnecessary or weird, then yes, you're going to be anxious about it.

When I referred to examples before, I wasn't referring to Christians who go to church on Christmas and Easter and act however they want in the inbetween, or Jews who haven't been to Temple in years and don't eat kosher, or whatever. I was referring to people who actually believe their religion, and act accordingly. It's real belief, and, more importantly, the good actions that follow from it, that convert others. When you really believe something--and I speak from personal experience--it's a very comfortable place to be. It doesn't cause any anxiety whatsoever.

And if you're repressing an action/feeling, then you're not changed. The religions I know about espouse change. Repression is feeling the same thing, but pretending not to--obviously that would cause anxiety. Change means you DON'T feel that way, or DON'T want to perform an action anymore. No anxiety there.

It's more likely religion continues only out of the blind force of habit. People tend to do behave just like their parents.

Tell that to the millions of people each year who convert to a religion. As much as you'd like to easily dismiss it as habit, it's not just that--that's a contributing factor, obviously. But when you're talking about REAL converts, habit bred into you by your folks ain't enough. Again, I speak from experience.

The way to get converts is generally to give people a choice to convert or die and then follow through with the threat.

Awww, real cute! :)

tkchrist: Then demonstrate it.

I can demonstrate it in the form of 11 people this year that I know personally who joined the congregation I'm a member of specifically because they saw how happy one of their friends were, asked them why, investigated the religion for themselves, and decided that they would be happier for it. And, speaking to them as they continue to live by the precepts they've adopted, they continue to be happier than they were before.

A huge sample set? No. But it's my personal experience for this year.
posted by Fontbone at 11:19 AM on January 16, 2006


I personally know a lot of people who are happier because they are on drugs.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2006


However, it is extremely common for people here in the USA to identify religion in general with that one class of religions, as an unquestioned premise in all their thought about religion, unless the fallacy is specifically pointed out.

jam_pony- I know what you mean. I'm always a little offended when people ask me the question, "Do you believe in God?" So many, many assumptions.

But Dawkins and Penn fall squarely within the zealot camp, and that's why they aren't making much headway with the masses.

JekPorkins - I don't think that we athiests and agnostics need to tone down our rhetoric in order to be accepted by the other side. When has that ever worked?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: religion is such a powerful force in the lives of so many people [because] it demonstrably makes people happy.

There seems to be some scientific evidence for this, for example in the work of Richard Layard. Or at least people who are inclined to religious also have characteristics that make them happier, such a sense that they have a special place in the world.

Alas, I'm still an atheist!
posted by alasdair at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2006


Then they weren't zealots.

Good to hear. And this is exactly what Dawkins is doing. Sticking to his guns.

However the dominant paradigm remains fully in control of "the truth" to the point of imprisonment or ghettoizing the purveyors of any fact that conflicts with current dogma. To the point self-contradictory uses of the term"zealot."

That'll teach those uppity over-rational "zealots".
posted by tkchrist at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins: Then there are at least as many atheists calling themselves Christians as Christians-who-are-Christians. Since these atheist-Christians (heh) are not likely to be self-professed atheists, they are highly unlikely to be zealots. If so, then there are necessarily fewer zealot atheists than there are zealot Christians.
posted by agent at 11:27 AM on January 16, 2006


I don't think that we athiests and agnostics need to tone down our rhetoric in order to be accepted by the other side. When has that ever worked?

It worked for the Republicans in the U.S.A. in the last couple of decades. It will work for the Democrats, if they can figure out how to do it.

As long as the rhetoric includes, as a talking point, "everyone who disagrees with me is stupid," it could stand to be toned down a bit in order to be more effective. Zeal is, by definition, counterproductive.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:28 AM on January 16, 2006


agent: Then there are at least as many atheists calling themselves Christians as Christians-who-are-Christians. Since these atheist-Christians (heh) are not likely to be self-professed atheists, they are highly unlikely to be zealots. If so, then there are necessarily fewer zealot atheists than there are zealot Christians.

I believe what JekPorkins is saying is that there are fewer zealots who self-identify as Christians than there are zealots who self-identify as Atheists.

I personally think there's probably a similar percentage of each belief system (including atheism, which I would say isn't a religion but is a belief system) that could be called zealots. However, because there are so many Christians (at least in the US) and Christianity is considered the "mainstream", Christian zealots aren't as noticeable. At least not until recently, when they started gaining political power as well.

Atheist zealots tend to be louder, because they're fighting against The Man, and so there seem to be more of 'em. Totally off-the-cuff guess.
posted by Fontbone at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2006


Go Dawkins, my son. I'm right there with you, you militant atheist beauty. And fuck the cringing, hand-wringing, thin-blooded collaborationist bastards who call themselves atheists but don't want to actually attack the insanity of religion. We need more of this, much more. Full on. Tolerating madness is not a virtue.

Erm... I haven't actually seen the programme, being in the States, but I'm pretty sure I'd love it.
posted by Decani at 11:42 AM on January 16, 2006


You can't kick the crutch out from underneath someone and expect them not to get angry and defensive about it.

Is anyone expecting that? I'm not. Let them get angry and defensive. They should damned well be ashamed of their irrational weakness, and shame often manifests itself as anger and defensiveness. But shameful things should be exposed.
posted by Decani at 11:45 AM on January 16, 2006


But shameful things should be exposed.

Like intolerance and contempt for the 1st amendment?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2006


Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?

Did someone make that claim?
posted by Decani at 11:48 AM on January 16, 2006


Like intolerance and contempt for the 1st amendment?

I reject the suggestion that intolerance is always shameful. Intolerance of dangerous and damaging ideas is quite the reverse. Also, has anyone advocated contempt for the 1st amendment?
posted by Decani at 11:49 AM on January 16, 2006


It worked for the Republicans in the U.S.A. in the last couple of decades.

Wha? If anything they tuned UP their rhetoric. At least they created a new set of media shills to do it far more intensely than ever before.

Religion SHOULD be about meaning. But it's really not.

Perhaps to each individual it approaches defining meaning - starts that way and that is source of great satisfaction.

But eventually, when the individual is part of a group of believers, it becomes about control of the group - defining who is, and who is not a member and the rewards and punishments that result. And then the satisfaction is more about the sense of unquestioned community with rules in place and meaning made for you as part of the group.

The larger the group gets and the more it comes in contact with other groups the LESS the belief system is about meaning.

And that is where you get trouble. Trouble that is inevitable. So it's not belief in an imaginary being or deity that get's you problems, it's attempting to control adherence to the coda of the group over time and in a community of conflicting belief, beliefs neither group can actually prove eachother.

This is dogmatism. THIS is Zealotry.
posted by tkchrist at 11:52 AM on January 16, 2006


Decani: "Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?

Did someone make that claim?"

I will. Why? Because the semantic and philosophical alternatives, by definition, are gullibility and irrational supposition. Which aren't easy to defend, no matter where you shine on the religious/non-religious spectrum.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:54 AM on January 16, 2006


The funny part is, when the show tanks and gets cancelled, Dawkins and his congregation will no doubt pin the blame on the evil religious folk who pulled strings to get him off the air because he was too dangerous

The funny part is, your desperate need to make uninformed assumptions. It's just a two-parter and it isn't being cancelled. And in Britain, unlike in the US atheists are not treated like the Great Satan. Thsi show will not be especially controversial. I'm sure you'd love it if your lazy attempt at dismissive clairvoyance came true but I'm afraid your predictive powers aren't quite Christlike yet.
posted by Decani at 11:55 AM on January 16, 2006


I will. Why? Because the semantic and philosophical alternatives, by definition, are gullibility and irrational supposition.

And I'd agree.
posted by Decani at 11:56 AM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: I think it would be impossible to get accurate numbers on the number of zealots per belief system. Even if accurate numbers were available, the question is charged to the point that people would never agree that they were accurate. Personally, I think the question of "how many zealots are there" is pointless because of this.

Relatedly, I think it's dangerous reasoning to say that "atheist zealots are louder" for the same reason that I shy away from saying that "Christian zealots are louder" -- we, in general, are much more likely to identify as zealots people speaking against our own beliefs. Our own confirmation biases tends to amplify these numbers.
posted by agent at 12:01 PM on January 16, 2006


And I have yet to see any evidence that misbehaviors historically associated with either religious or secular rule will not simply be transferred to the new flavor of population control.

Better the devil you know, huh?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:03 PM on January 16, 2006


agent: Relatedly, I think it's dangerous reasoning to say that "atheist zealots are louder" for the same reason that I shy away from saying that "Christian zealots are louder" -- we, in general, are much more likely to identify as zealots people speaking against our own beliefs. Our own confirmation biases tends to amplify these numbers.

I can agree with that. Definitely makes sense... our own beliefs begin to form a sort of background noise, the things we expect to hear. Anything other than the norm is naturally going to be given increased attention in our hearing, so will seem "louder".
posted by Fontbone at 12:04 PM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins: On the other hand, there are really no "non-practicing Atheists," are there? Are there vast numbers of people who formally claim to be Atheists, just because their family has been Atheist for generations, but that don't really practice Atheism with any genuine fervor? I don't think so.

What is "practicing atheism?" Do we gather around bonfires on Carl Sagan's birthday and burn copies of the Koran and the Bible? Do we say a prayer to nothing over our morning wheatabix?

And if your belief in religion or atheism is strong enough to motivate you to try to convince someone who believes otherwise that they're wrong and you're right, I'd say you're rapidly approaching zealotry.

Well, that's funny. I'm not that interested in convincing other people that is no god. I'm just have my hands full trying to counter the myths claimed about me and my beliefs. "Practicing atheism" being one of them.

It's Raining FH: Because the semantic and philosophical alternatives, by definition, are gullibility and irrational supposition. Which aren't easy to defend, no matter where you shine on the religious/non-religious spectrum.

To me, this is a bit of a false dilemma. We can't engage in a rational inquiry over every single matter that affects our lives because we have limited time and attention. For example, I don't have the resources or time to investigate the claim that Sri Lanka exists. In general, I'm content to rely on the authority of others in this matter because the existence of Sri Lanka is plausible, and the notion of a vast conspiracy to fabricate large quantities of documentation about Sri Lanka is implausible.

At some point in scientific inquiry, you have to also set a point of probability below which you can say that your skepticism is satisfied. This confidence limit is almost entirely arbitrary.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:08 PM on January 16, 2006


The day atheists start to proselytise in evangelical fashion with the promise to make people "happy" a la Joel Osteen, is the day atheism loses its meaning altogether.

For the vast majority of people religion is not something chosen, it's not a matter of being converted, it's a matter of being born into it.

Depending on which religion and which form of religion and which way of being educated in that religion and which part it playes in your life and especially how you see it manifested in the people representing that religion around you, it can indeed be a happy experience, or an unhappy one, or a neutral one, or anything else in between. There are so many personal non-religious reasons you can stop believing in God, or simply stop caring enough to keep practicing the religion you were taught.

But only a minority of people make the choice of embracing a religion in their adult life. So for most people it's not about choosing religion as a way of wanting to be happy, however you define happy. It's about traditions you receive and pass on, as a way of belonging to a sort of community. Religion is not a single entity, and it's almost never an abstract decision, it's many different cultural and social manifestations of something that we refer to with that shorthand "religion". You can't look at manifestations of religion in a culture without looking at the non-religious trends and mentalities in that culture. Why are creationists and evangelicals with mega churches so powerful in the US and not in the UK or Germany? How did Muslim fundamentalism come about? It's not like a religion springs up out of nowhere and creates its own manifestations. It absorbs them from the culture and political context it develops in and in turns reinforces them.

That's the limit of considering religion as a source of anything, good or evil. It's more of a conduit.


I wonder whether Dawkins too falls into this fallacy to some degree. What is his take on Unitarians or Ethical Culture Society, for example, or Shinto or deists? Presumably he considers them less harmful.

Yes, I think that's the point - on the one hand, it is a fallacy, because it is a selective and reductive view of religion he takes, focusing on religious ideological extremisms; on the other hand, those are precisely the aspects that are of great concern at social and political level. So... it's taking a part for the whole (which is not even a single coherent whole), but it's still a pretty significant part.
posted by funambulist at 12:09 PM on January 16, 2006


Oh, by the way, does anyone remember The Brights? Anyone? How about that much-acclaimed literary masterpiece of even-handed memetic allegory, Gerin Oil?

Yeah, me neither.

Decani - oh, my mistake. I thought this would be an ongoing thing. Anyway, we definitely need more atheists like you -- that way more people will want to become Christians instead.
posted by brownpau at 12:11 PM on January 16, 2006


Jon Mitchell: "And I have yet to see any evidence that misbehaviors historically associated with either religious or secular rule will not simply be transferred to the new flavor of population control.

Better the devil you know, huh?"

Not really my point (although I appreciate the cleverness of the phrase in the context provided). My point was that it is specifically behavior, not belief (or lack of it) that should be condemned. And that there is no historical evidence I am aware of that secular populations are any less inclined to ignore their basic ethical precepts than religious populations. So really, the statement would be more like:

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:12 PM on January 16, 2006


Count me as an Atheist who doesn't care what other people believe. I only care how they behave.

Yep, that should be the point...
posted by funambulist at 12:18 PM on January 16, 2006


funambulist: The day atheists start to proselytise in evangelical fashion with the promise to make people "happy" a la Joel Osteen, is the day atheism loses its meaning altogether.

You mean like when there's an atheist programme on Channel 4 in the UK, where the noted scholar says we must abandon all religion to advance human kind?
posted by JekPorkins at 12:21 PM on January 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder: "We can't engage in a rational inquiry over every single matter that affects our lives because we have limited time and attention. For example, I don't have the resources or time to investigate the claim that Sri Lanka exists. In general, I'm content to rely on the authority of others in this matter because the existence of Sri Lanka is plausible, and the notion of a vast conspiracy to fabricate large quantities of documentation about Sri Lanka is implausible.

At some point in scientific inquiry, you have to also set a point of probability below which you can say that your skepticism is satisfied. This confidence limit is almost entirely arbitrary
."

Not a false dilemma at all. The issue is not whether you or I personally derive or verify every fact. The issue is whether the sources we choose for our information derive their authority based on rational inquiry, as opposed to merely repeating supposition. This is why your belief in Sri Lanka is credible, while a belief in a flat Earth is not. A preponderance of the evidence is still evidence.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:25 PM on January 16, 2006


The funny part is, when the show tanks and gets cancelled, Dawkins and his congregation will no doubt pin the blame on the evil religious folk who pulled strings to get him off the air because he was too dangerous -- without casting an eye back towards his own spittle-flecked, invective-ridden dearth of nuance.

If you'd checked the links you'd have seen it's a two part series, and if it had got cancelled after one episode had been shown I think Dawkins would have been justified to look at 'evil religious folk' as a cause, especially after the reaction to the BBC screening of Jerry Springer the Opera by various Christian groups.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 12:26 PM on January 16, 2006


funambulist: Well, I think one of the concerns I have with Dawkins is that his vision of religion seems to simplify down to belief in God or gods. If you ask religious scholars what their religion is you will usually get three different interconnected parts:

1: A system of belief.
2: A set of ritual practices. This includes the bells and smells things like marriage and baptism as well as the more simple things like potlucks.
3: An organized community engaged in 1 and 2.

Perhaps the most succinct summary of these for Christianity is the Apostle's Creed widely used. (Lower-case catholic means, "including all Christians.") Buddhism has the Buddha (teacher), Dharma (teachings/practice) and Sangha (community).

What frustrates me about Dawkins in his analysis of religion is that he tries so hard to reduce things to something analogous to the genetics and evolution he knows. The end result is that he sometimes chases is tail painfully trying to develop an evolutionary psychology of religion while ignoring Social Psychology and Sociology of Religion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:26 PM on January 16, 2006


It's Raining FH: Not a false dilemma at all. The issue is not whether you or I personally derive or verify every fact. The issue is whether the sources we choose for our information derive their authority based on rational inquiry, as opposed to merely repeating supposition.

If you are taking anything by authority, (no matter how much rational inquiry goes into that source,) then by definition you are neither practicing skepticism or rational inquiry. Hence the dilemma.

And again, the point of reasonable certainty chosen in most scientific inquiry is arbitrary dependent primarily on the researcher's tolerance of risk. If you unpack how that knowledge actually is discovered/constructed, you find that a lot of decisions regarding research questions and methodologies can only be rationalized, not rationally justified.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:32 PM on January 16, 2006


Is anyone expecting that? I'm not. Let them get angry and defensive. They should damned well be ashamed of their irrational weakness

As should you be ashamed of your total bastard nature, but you're clearly not.

Assuming that you actually have the faintest idea what you're talking about when it comes to spiritual experience -- and I suspect you don't, since you demonstrate no understanding of why sincere people are actually involved in religion -- your recommended course of action has all the strategic value of a two year old throwing a tantrum. You wanna declare war on religion? Guess what? The fundamentalists are already more than prepared to meet you on that playing field, and you're only going to push non-fundie believers onto their side with that tack.

fuck the cringing, hand-wringing, thin-blooded collaborationist bastards who call themselves atheists but don't want to actually attack the insanity of religion. We need more of this, much more. Full on. Tolerating madness is not a virtue.

Because only when we're willing to be unrestrainedly uncivil with other members of our society will we be able to have a civil society.

Wrong substantially and strategically, Decani. And if you find this comment gets your dander up, maybe you oughta think extra hard about how yours are going to affect those you target.
posted by namespan at 12:44 PM on January 16, 2006


It's Raining Florence Henderson: My point was that it is specifically behavior, not belief (or lack of it) that should be condemned.

Believe what you want, just don't act on it?

Seems like acting on your religious beliefs would be covered under the whole "free exercise thereof" bit of the First Amendment.

(Yes, I understand you're not the Congress. Yes, I understand the difference. Etc., etc.)

And it seems like Decani would have us not even believe what we want to believe, because it's "madness". So that's pretty much that whole first sentence, right out the window!

Beyond that, I've yet to see anyone say anything that makes atheism more attractive than religion. I've got demonstrable proof, in myself and my happiness pre- and post-getting religion, that religion (or at least, one specific religion) can help a person be happy. This is, of course, completely aside from the fact that I ALSO believe the things my religion teaches are true.

I've seen a lot of attacks on religion in this thread, but not much in the way of promotion of atheism. I'm honestly curious. What is it about atheism that should attract me? I'm perfectly capable of being skeptical and rationally investigating a religion and still coming away believing it's true. So... what else is there to attract me to atheism, besides skepticism and rational investigation?
posted by Fontbone at 12:54 PM on January 16, 2006


Atheism is not Anti-theism. People on all sides of the argument seem to forget this regularly. Anti-theism suggests that the belief in a god or gods is wrong, corrupt, and in fact immoral, in very plain, black and white terms. Atheism means "without god," not "against god." One can argue that atheism is really apatheism, but that's another imprecise conflation. Apathy suggests a lack of concern, where as atheists may be strongly concerned with what have been traditionally considered "spiritual" matters. Matters of motivation (the "human spirit" or the will to power), of community and societal norms, and morality can all be entertained without the invention of the holy, the intangible, and external law/commandments. I'd argue that anti-theism is actually not a form of atheism precisely because it does entertain the concept of a god by condemning the concept as immoral; or in other words "sinful." It's not a game you can win playing by someone else's rules.
posted by Eideteker at 12:57 PM on January 16, 2006


Dawkins was on BBC Radio FiveLive the other day, talking about his Channel 4 show, and his opinions in general, in a half-hour interview by Simon Mayo. It's pretty good; more interesting than the TV show, I think. Mayo asks the right questions, and Dawkins actually engages, rather than merely dismissing him. A couple of audio clips from the TV show are played at strategic intervals, so you don't need to have seen the show to follow the discussion.

You can listen to the programme on the BBC website. Go to the Five Live homepage, click on the Listen Again link (blue, right-hand column, below Listen Live). When the BBC Radio Player pops up, scroll down to "Prof. Richard Dawkins." (Note: RealPlayer embedded).

It might only be available to UK listeners. Give it a try though. Also, it'll probably disappear from the site in a week or so, so and go and listen now!
posted by matthewr at 1:04 PM on January 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder: Ah, so you're breaking out the old "skepticism is really just another kind of faith" canard. Okay - never mind. That one's been disposed of so many times by people so much smarter than I that I really don't want to play. Considering that my points here have been essentially that I have no particular interest in changing anybody's belief system, I really don't see the point of defending my own, either.

But out of basic courtesy, I will provide this simple response: all knowledge is cumulative. And the value of an idea is best determined by the method of its derivation. I practice skepticism and rational inquiry by being skeptical of pretty much all sources of authority, especially the ones that seem to back my preconceptions. That doesn't mean that I never "take anything on faith." It means that I do so only reluctantly, that I choose my sources according to their history of rational inquiry, and that I never assume I will have made the right decision in doing so. In other words, my inability to apply perfect skepticism and rational inquiry says absolutely nothing about the inherent values of skepticism and rational inquiry. Truth does not require our approval.

Similarly, on preview, Fontbone, truth is not required to be attractive or make you happy. However, if your version of the truth makes you happy and you can keep from infringing on my right to disagree with you, then I really couldn't care less what you believe.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:04 PM on January 16, 2006


It's Raining FH: my right to disagree with you

First, let me say that I think I understand your point, and I respect it.

Second, just where do you think the "right to disagree with someone" comes from? If human rights exist, what is their source, or, in other words, why do they exist, who decides what rights there are, and why does that person or group get to be the one who decides?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:08 PM on January 16, 2006


Beyond that, I've yet to see anyone say anything that makes atheism more attractive than religion.

So, let me get this straight - an idea is only worthwhile.... if it makes us happy?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:08 PM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins: Inalienable human rights conform to my personal code of ethics, but I do not assume they are granted in any but the most practical terms, from a society to her citizens. In my country, that right is determined by The Constitution, if somewhat ambiguously.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:17 PM on January 16, 2006


But if a right is inalienable, that means it exists even if it is not granted by society or by any government or constitution.

Are there actually any inalienable rights, or are rights actually defined by the sovereign?

If there are inalienable rights, where do they come from? How can they really be inalienable?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:21 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: Seems like acting on your religious beliefs would be covered under the whole "free exercise thereof" bit of the First Amendment.

Well, to me this is a fairly deceptive argument. The number of people out there who would be willing to bulldoze all the churches and make religious practice a criminal act is vanishingly small. We might believe your religious conviction are wrong, but most are willing to let you be wrong. Have the hanging of the green at every advent and the creche on the front yard. Wear your t-shirts, and crosses openly. Put the fish on your bumper and the worshiping Calvin in the back window of your truck. Say "Merry Christmas" from October to February with joy and well-intentioned good cheer.

What most of us don't like, (and many people of faith would agree for reasons going back to the founding of the US) is to make the liturgy, prayer, and scripture of your cult a part of the process of public life. Don't demand that our children say an oath to your god in schools. Don't demand that they pray in schools. Don't demand that our lawmakers pray before getting to work. Don't dismiss us from jobs because of not practicing the same religion or no religion. If I say to you "Happy Holidays" with joy and well-intentioned good cheer, take it in the kindly spirit it was meant.

It's Raining Florence Henderson: Ah, so you're breaking out the old "skepticism is really just another kind of faith" canard.

No I'm not, read more carefully.

The problem with radical skepticism is that there it provides no endpoint at which you can say, "it is reasonable to consider this a true statement about the world we live in." You can seek out more evidence, but then you have to worry about whether your instruments for collecting that evidence really say what you think you say. Packing open that question leads to another round of questions, etc., etc..

So pragmatically, we end up setting some reasonable but arbitrary endpoints at which we claim that it's "good enough." In statistics, you decide on a probability that you could be wrong of .05, .01 or even .001 depending on your tolerance for risk. In criminal law, it's "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" while in civil law it's "preponderance of evidence." None of these endpoints can be strongly justified using rational inquiry. That does not make them "just another kind of faith" however.

In other words, my inability to apply perfect skepticism and rational inquiry says absolutely nothing about the inherent values of skepticism and rational inquiry.

I've not challenged the values of skepticism and rational inquiry. I've only pointed out that you've raised an artificial dilemma in which the only alternatives to skepticism and rational inquiry are gullibility and supposition. We both agree that skepticism and rational inquiry are good things. I however am skeptical about whether skepticism and rational inquiry are sufficient and complete on their own.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:23 PM on January 16, 2006


Don't demand that our children say an oath to your god in schools

Assuming you're referring to the pledge of allegiance, as I recall, it expressly states that it is an oath to a flag, not an oath to anyone's god. And it's probably unconstitutional in its current form. But then, who really thinks that the constitution should be interpreted literally, anyway?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:26 PM on January 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder: Okay. Absolutes suck absolutely. I was responding in kind to an overblown statement, not arguing Nihilism.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins: I said that inalienable human rights conform to my personal code of ethics, not that they exist external to our will to make it so.

Yes, it is humanity who puts the "alien" in inalienable. Now that's a dilemma!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2006


Wow, it's intro to philosophy class all over again.

Honestly, I don't regret the years I spent thinking it might be true--that some anthropomorphic daddy-figure controlled everything, made everything, could be blamed for my own failings. But I grew up, got over it, and read lots of good books both for and against.

(And anecdotally, why do Christians, moreso than other believers, tend to be so ignorant of their own texts? If your skygod is so important to you, the least you can do is read the Hebrew and Christian Testaments in their entirety, along with the Apocrypha. And it wouldn't hurt to read some philosophy either, especially Kierkegaard and Hegel.)
posted by bardic at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2006


JekporkinsYou mean like when there's an atheist programme on Channel 4 in the UK, where the noted scholar says we must abandon all religion to advance human kind?

Haha. No. But I knew someone would take that bait :)

That was a documentary, dude. With interviews and all, you know? And more than half of it was religious people speaking to the camera.

Call us back when the evangelicals start distributing proselytising material where they let atheists and people of other religions speak freely about their own views.

(Again, apart from the pro gay-marriage liberal Anglican bishop, he picked the nutters again, and I thought he couldn't find creepier ones than in the first episode, but apparently the US has an unending supply of them... the Hell House people were particularly, um, interesting...)
posted by funambulist at 1:42 PM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins wrote: who really thinks that the constitution should be interpreted literally, anyway?

I sincerely hope you aren't an American citizen.
posted by bardic at 1:43 PM on January 16, 2006


bardic: controlled everything, made everything, could be blamed for my own failings

Wow. What religion believes that God controls everything, made everything and could be blamed for man's own failings?

I sincerely hope you aren't an American citizen.

First, my comment re: literal interpretation of the constitution was sarcastic. Second, do you think it should be interpreted literally? If so, does that mean you think Roe v. Wade was decided incorrectly?

And why did you respond that you hope that I'm not an American citizen?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:51 PM on January 16, 2006


Afroblanco: So, let me get this straight - an idea is only worthwhile.... if it makes us happy?

For certain values of "worthwhile", sure. From a religious point of view, the truth, if followed, will make you happy. If it's not a true idea, it's not worth believing and following.

From an atheist point of view, since there is no eternal consequence for incorrect actions, then what does it matter whether an idea is true or not, as long as it makes us happy? Isn't happiness in this life (and possibly making happiness for descendants and others, as well) the only possible worthwhile goal for an atheist?

To quote Sports Night (or perhaps paraphrase, it's been awhile since I've seen this episode), "the truth isn't this all-fired holy thing." Unless you're religious, of course. ;)

This is not to say that religion is the only way to happiness. Like IRFH, I have no problem with other people believing whatever they want to believe as long as they allow me the same privileges, and I agree with everything KirkJobSluder said in the last paragraph of his response to me about not putting God in secular society. But the whole point is to question why people like Dawkins and Decani believe that religion needs to be eradicated. If there truly is no God, and nothing beyond this life, then what's the point of being disabused of some belief in favor of the truth if you're happy believing the falsehood?

Atheists, please explain to me what other possible "meaning" or point to life there could be than happiness under your worldview.
posted by Fontbone at 2:02 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: What is it about atheism that should attract me? I'm perfectly capable of being skeptical and rationally investigating a religion and still coming away believing it's true. So... what else is there to attract me to atheism, besides skepticism and rational investigation?

Well, for me, atheism gives me a joyful relationship with the universe as it is, without anthropomorphism. It may not be important to you, if it's not, go and worship in peace. For me, it's pretty critical.

JekPorkins: Are there actually any inalienable rights, or are rights actually defined by the sovereign?

Um, what does this have to do with atheism? I think that within atheism you will find that there are dozens of different philosophies regarding the nature of rights, morality, politics, aesthetics, etc. etc. Just as there are dozens of different philosophies regarding these issues in the wide varieties of religious practice. I don't think that Emma Goldman, John Dewey, and Bertrand Russell agreed on these issues.

It should be noted that the concept of inalienable rights was a radical statement in the Christian world. The last gasp for a Christian theological caste system based on the divine rights of kings was the execution/murder of the Romanovs in the 20th century. To a large part, the Declaration of Independence was made possible because the British monarchy had been substantially weakened by civil wars, changes in dynasty, and the unstable mental health of George III.

It just seems to be a frequent frustration that someone will say, "well what about X." Where X is some philosophical claim such as human rights, or epistemology. They will then pit their own monolithic straw man against another monolithic strawman and claim victory. Atheists do this also in using biblical fundamentalism as a proxy for all religious faith.

JekPorkins: Assuming you're referring to the pledge of allegiance, as I recall, it expressly states that it is an oath to a flag, not an oath to anyone's god. And it's probably unconstitutional in its current form. But then, who really thinks that the constitution should be interpreted literally, anyway?

Well, I would say the "under god" part implies a theological statement that made me cringe even as a Christian after I read some of the history of religious freedom movements that led to much of the colonization of North America. My founding fathers put limits on such pledges because of the way they were used in Europe as a tool of religious discrimination.

The applicable parts of the constitution dealing with the pledge to the flag come not only from the first amendment, but also from Article VI, "...but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

I find it hard to think of an interpretation of the Constitution that is friendly to religious discrimination.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:10 PM on January 16, 2006


Wow, two mediocre theists babbling at once.

JekPorkins: As we've discussed before, I'm happy you've found Christ, but most Christians would not consider you to be a fellow traveller. Genesis and John, to site two references, kind of make it clear that the Christian skygod is omnipotent. He made the universe, he controls it. I suggest you try Buddhism (seriously) as it seems more akin to what you want out of your mythology. I'll cop to not seeing the full context of your stupid comment about the Constitution, but yeah, as an American, I read the damn thing literally. Nation of laws not men and all that. Call me crazy. (And Roe? The right decision, poorly argued, much like Brown v. Board. I hope in my lifetime judges with balls realize the 4th amendment is a right to privacy, despite what Scalia and Thomas think).

Fontbone: Why the immature need for absolute values? Why not just recognize that life is short, people are limited, and as a race humans need to treat each other as well as possible precisely because there's no blue ribbon, gold in the pinata, pearly gates, etc. It's tough, I realize, but also part of being an adult and a fully engaged human. Try it some time.
posted by bardic at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2006


Speaking of the Anglican bishop - I think there's a big tactical mistake in dismissing liberal moderate believers as "fence sitters". One may dislike the very notion of religious beliefs and prefer it to disappear altogether, but picking and choosing and liberal interpretations of texts written centuries ago by people living in completely different societies is not 'fence sitting' -- ok, at the level of principle yes, it probably is, but not in practice... it's how religious traditions evolve... More so if you are an atheist, you have to root for the religious moderates, not just dismiss them by saying they may as well do without religion altogether, or all religion would be left to the nutters, no?
posted by funambulist at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: I don't believe that life has a "point," per se. I personally try not to limit my sense of value to goal-oriented ends.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:18 PM on January 16, 2006


what other possible "meaning" or point to life there could be than happiness

I can live without being happy. I cannot live without being free.

/dramatic drum rolls
posted by funambulist at 2:21 PM on January 16, 2006


(Neil Peart approves of this thread.)
posted by bardic at 2:31 PM on January 16, 2006


My compromise egoistic position on religion is:

Given the amount of repressed anti-social behaviour I see from religious people, I prefer that sort of people believing there is a metaphysical gun pointing at their head. Convincing nuts there is an invisible gun pointing at their head is an almost effective way to force them to behave socially. Given what they do when they actually believe they'll be punished for being bad, I wouldn't like to see them acting without that restraints... But, yeah, religion could use some new rules like "don't drive a fucking airplane on a building, or the devil will drive that airplane up your ass in hell".

That said, many religious rules are quite reasonable (specially, the J guy was, except for some wild theories about his ancestry, quite reasonable). Also, most reasonable religious people follow these rules because they understand they are specific instances of be right to each other, it is good for you and for society, compared to the religious nuts, who won't cut their hair in the shape of a bowl because God said so.
posted by qvantamon at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2006


matthewr: many many thanks for that link to the BBC Radio 5 interview, it is good (and very enlightening as to the choice of subjects interview in the programme!)
posted by funambulist at 2:46 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: From an atheist point of view, since there is no eternal consequence for incorrect actions, then what does it matter whether an idea is true or not, as long as it makes us happy? Isn't happiness in this life (and possibly making happiness for descendants and others, as well) the only possible worthwhile goal for an atheist?

Well, just my opinion, I think the whole discussion depends on that caveat, "if it makes you happy." For me, a part of my rejection of religion comes from the fact that some of its claims make me profoundly unhappy. If some Buddhist visions of the afterlife are true, then some I care about are likely animals, demons or hungry ghosts. If most Christian visions of the afterlife are true (excluding the Universalist heresy), these people and companion animals that I loved are, or will be in hell. I find most visions of the afterlife to be, well, fucking terrifying. To quote Vonnegut in his parody of an apocalyptic mass:
Merciful Time who buries the sins of the world,
grant them rest.
Merciful Elements from whom a new world can be constructed, blue-green, moist, fertile,
grant them eternal rest.
I would say that the belief that the universe cares about you can result in profound unhappiness when it does not live up to your expectations. I see this sometimes with neopagans who anthropomorphize the heck out of the universe and then sometimes get smacked in the face when the universe doesn't work according to their gendered dualities. There are organisms in the dirt sticking to your shoes that have five sexes, and yet neopagans try to see everything in terms of goddess and god. So I would argue that seeing the universe on its terms, and not trying to look for gender polarities, the forces of karma, or the hand of the creator has opened my eyes to some tremendous beauty out there.

The deep-time narratives provided by modern cosmology make my heart sing and fill me with passion. I grew up in a place where every rock has fossils of creatures from an unimaginable distant past. Once I realized that Genesis couldn't be taken on face value as natural history, I had a hard time taking the Gospels on face value as political history. Trying to work around the cognitive dissonance of deciding this part of the Bible was myth, that was metaphor, but that was history made me profoundly unhappy.

Fontbone: Atheists, please explain to me what other possible "meaning" or point to life there could be than happiness under your worldview.

Well, here is another case where there are probably dozens of answers to this question coming from different types of atheism. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in god. It doesn't force people to believe this or that regarding politics, ethics, or aesthetics. Likewise, it would be absurd to demand of all the many varieties of theism about the meaning of life.

But to get to what I think might be your main point. I'm not terribly interested in trying to convert anyone. I just find the idea that atheists are drowning in some existential angst, terminally unhappy because the meaning of life is not handed to them on a silver platter to be kind of silly. In particular, my reading of Genesis and the Bible in general strikes me as a hugely sadistic worldview without much comfort to be found.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:52 PM on January 16, 2006


Seems like the UK has come a long way in the past 20 odd years. When I attended boarding school there in the early 80's, attending chapel every day was mandatory (regardless of one's religion or lack thereof) and I never once heard a teacher or a student question Christianity or faith in general.
posted by Devils Slide at 3:41 PM on January 16, 2006


KirkJobSluder: I find it hard to think of an interpretation of the Constitution that is friendly to religious discrimination.

Then you and I agree.

And bardic: You say you read the Constitution literally, but then you say that the 4th Amendment, which literally is a right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures, is a right to privacy that would encompass the right to have an abortion. What relationship do you see -- in the literal text -- between searches and seizures and an abortion?

I'm not saying there's no right to an abortion -- maybe there is -- but a literal reading of the 4th amendment restricts the reader to a right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and a warrant requirement. If restricting an abortion is an unreasonable search and seizure, does that mean that the warrant rule applies to it, too? How would that work?
posted by JekPorkins at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2006


This thread is an excellent example of why the comment count should list not only the number of comments, but the number of unique commenters. When you see (150 comments, 20 unique), you know that it's just a flame war going back and forth and won't bother to check for actual content.
posted by Eideteker at 3:56 PM on January 16, 2006


bardic: Why the immature need for absolute values? Why not just recognize that life is short, people are limited, and as a race humans need to treat each other as well as possible precisely because there's no blue ribbon, gold in the pinata, pearly gates, etc. It's tough, I realize, but also part of being an adult and a fully engaged human. Try it some time.

Why the immature need for name-calling ("mediocre theists babbling", calling me immature, sarcastic suggestion I need to grow up and become "fully engaged", whatever that means)? :)

And you're giving me my own arguments back to me in an attempt to refute my arguments. I'm saying that there is no reason for an atheist to want a theist to become an atheist, precisely because atheists believe that there's nothing beyond this life, and thus happiness on this earth is the only thing of importance. So if a theist is happy, why would you (where you equals people like Dawkins, assuming you're not like him) ever want them to stop being a theist?

If happiness on this earth isn't the only thing of importance, what is? What could possibly cause an atheist to hold the viewpoint that Dawkins has? Note: I'm in the US, and haven't been able to watch the show. I'll try to listen to the radio program tonight when I'm not at work. Maybe he explains it all right there... let me know if that's the case and I'll stop babbling.

funambulist: I can live without being happy. I cannot live without being free.

Because... being free makes you happy? ;)

KirkJobSluder, thanks for the enlightenment in re: your views of the universe and what makes you happy. While I disagree with some of it, I appreciate the candor. I'm honestly curious about this sort of thing.

Well, here is another case where there are probably dozens of answers to this question coming from different types of atheism.

Oh, absolutely. I'm just looking for specific examples; since it seems there are plenty of people here who hold an atheist worldview, it seemed like a good place to ask the question. While I'm not looking to be converted, I want to understand people.

I just find the idea that atheists are drowning in some existential angst, terminally unhappy because the meaning of life is not handed to them on a silver platter to be kind of silly.

And I don't think they are! The basic point of the question is, it seems to me that when you work within an atheistic worldview, there can't be any meaning assigned to a choice that extends beyond your life, except as it affects other life. So why NOT choose a religion, assuming one doesn't have the same objections you do? Why is believing something incorrect such an abhorrent thought to so many atheists, when the truth doesn't MATTER?

I understand that you specifically, KJS, aren't trying to convert anyone, but people like Dawkins are. And for all that he espouses the use of reason, I'm failing to see what the reason of it is. I understand the religious desire to convert, but I don't understand the anti-religious desire to convert. That's the whole point of my questioning.
posted by Fontbone at 3:59 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: It matters because of power dynamics. When people who believe in the inevitability of Armageddon control the means to bring it about in real life; when people who do not fundamentally believe in science control the means to support or deny it; when a majority of a population relies on magical thinking and discriminates accordingly, it seems to be in the best interests of the minority opinion to fight the underlying assumptions. Is that effective? Not the same question.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: Atheists have children too. Is it so shocking that they want the world, this world, to be a better place?
posted by bardic at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2006


IRFH: Okay. So it's a political objection, not a philosophical objection? That makes sense, if you live somewhere with a state-sponsored or otherwise enforced belief system. But in a place like the US, where--as long as everything is functioning as it should, and leaders aren't taking advantage of power to act against the precepts of the Constitution, which is a totally different discussion--it shouldn't matter what your neighbor believes, there should be no reason for an atheist to try to convert a theist. Correct?

If that's the case, I still don't see an argument for the complete eradication of religion. Checks and balances to make sure everyone has their proper freedoms? Absolutely. Complete eradication of a certain set of beliefs? Nope, don't see it.

bardic: No, it's not shocking at all. You'll note that I already said that here, when I said that the point of life was making happiness for themselves, their descendants, and others. What would be shocking is if they think that religion needs to be eradicated for the world to be a better place. Which, if you recall, is the premise of the original post. :)
posted by Fontbone at 4:34 PM on January 16, 2006


"Can one of you espousing the virtues of skepticism and rational investigation, explain to me why you believe that these two tools are unfailingly good?"

No. But if you've got something better, religion boy, where are your airlines? where are your microwave ovens, blood transfusions, antibiotics & computers?

Is there anyone posting on this board who calls themselves a "christian" that would get on an airplane designed by a bunch of other "christians" who designed it through prayer & studying the word of god? If not, stfu about your ways of viewing the world being as valid or as worthy of respect as those of science. Or just stop flying, etc. altogether, if you think science & scientists are somehow deficient.

I don't think there acually are any christians in the world today. Well, maybe a handful among the Amish & the Quakers. What there is is a bunch of pharisees.

I've read the new testament many times. I once memorized the entire book of romans, and also most of acts. So I guess I have some idea what christianity is about. And I've only met one person who was possibly a true christian. He believed the New Testament was filled with secret messages about marijuana and travelled around teaching from the bible & giving people free pot. Now, immediately all you pseudo-christian pharisees are thinking "Pot! No way could he be a christian!" But let me tell you something else: he also sold all he owned and gave it to the poor. And it was a lot to give. He was heir to a very large fortune. It was in a trust fund, so he couldn't give it away all at once, but as it came in he gave it away -- buying homeless people dinner, clothes, medical care...and pot. He was barefoot, wore white robes, and slept outside or in the same shelters as the homeless people he took care of. His only possession was a big bible.

He was probably just schizophrenic. But at least he was sincere.
posted by lastobelus at 4:49 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: "as long as everything is functioning as it should, and leaders aren't taking advantage of power to act against the precepts of the Constitution, which is a totally different discussion--it shouldn't matter what your neighbor believes, there should be no reason for an atheist to try to convert a theist. Correct?"

Correct, to the extent that this is an accurate representation of how I feel, and what I've said repeatedly in this thread. Although, that's a Hell of a big "if" you're sporting there. But, no - Dawkins doesn't speak for me.

I do think the world would be a better place if more people had a better grasp of rational thinking, but I don't personally make the leap that fewer people believing in God would equate to more rational behavior. That feels like wishful thinking to me. I think there are degrees of rational thinking in most belief systems, and I'm more concerned with the shitstorms created by the fringe elements than I am with the existence of opposition of thought in general.

Although, to play devil's advocate for a moment, I think the fact that an overwhelming majority of the world believes in some form of God probably makes it easier for religious fringe elements to gain a real foothold.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:54 PM on January 16, 2006


lastobelus: What part of christianity do you think teaches that a person isn't allowed to study the physical world, make scientific hypotheses, test them, and invent stuff?

If there is a brand of christianity that believes that man is not allowed to use his intellect to figure stuff out at all, I'd really like to know what it is so I can avoid it.

On the other hand, there are many, many inventions that were made by very faithful religious, and even Christian folks. Many of them would probably tell you that they believe inspiration had something to do with the creative process. Do you refuse to use the stuff they invented?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:56 PM on January 16, 2006


From an atheist point of view, since there is no eternal consequence for incorrect actions, then what does it matter whether an idea is true or not, as long as it makes us happy? Isn't happiness in this life (and possibly making happiness for descendants and others, as well) the only possible worthwhile goal for an atheist?

It matters because even ideas have consequences. If your religion suggests practising homosexuals should be slaughtered, or even 'only' treated as second class citizens, then I'm not going to sit there and let you fuck over the destinies of others because I'm supposed to be tolerent of your ill-considered received bigotry.

And besides, happiness is often not the goal, but a side effect of what is worthwhile. The effort can be huge compared to the happiness gained, but often its the accomplishment that matters, not the ephemeral happiness on the other side.

(Also, it's rude to tell people what they think, especially when they don't).

But anyhow. As a card carrying determinist, I just can't wait until someone disproves free will once and for all. That will a) make the entire god question moot and b) actually, who needs b)
posted by Sparx at 5:02 PM on January 16, 2006


There is no free will, because if there were, I'd have left for home five minutes ago.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:04 PM on January 16, 2006


> I understand the religious desire to convert, but I don't
> understand the anti-religious desire to convert.

For the same reason mentally healthy people want to see those who are mentally ill get help.
posted by spincycle at 5:11 PM on January 16, 2006


jekporkins: the brand that says the teachings of the bible should take precedence over or are more important than principles discoverd by science. What do you believe?
posted by lastobelus at 5:13 PM on January 16, 2006


jekporkins: in my comment I did not make any claim that a christian "isn't allowed to study the physical world, make scientific hypotheses"

I made the claim that if christians won't trust flying to the bible, they ought not to claim it takes precedence over other results achieved by studying the physical world, making scientific hypotheses, and applying our intellect to the world.

Accept the results of practicing science or don't accept the results. Don't pick and choose by what overtly contradicts your book or not, like some kind of relativist hypocrite.
posted by lastobelus at 5:19 PM on January 16, 2006


lastobelus: I believe that the bible doesn't say anything about science, and that the parts that some people interpret as referring to such things as the creation of the earth are a) metaphorical b) generally symbolic c) poorly translated and d) to the extent that they were originally inspired writings, the writers' poor understanding of the physical world impeded their ability to explain the things that were revealed to them.

I don't believe there are any parts of the bible that actually contradict science, and that when the two seem to contradict each other, then one or both of them is probably wrong. But people consistently interpret both the bible and science quite poorly, I think.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:23 PM on January 16, 2006


Fontbone: Well, one of the arguments that Dawkins makes is that religious faith is not just about what happens to a person in the next life, but also about what happens to a person in the current life as well. From his point of view its a hop skip and a jump from belief in the Resurrection of the Body, to a belief in faith healing, or the belief that abortion is always a sin even if the life of the mother is at extreme risk, or the belief that it is acceptable to engage in suicidal acts of terrorism. Dawkins proposes that belief in magic and miracles leads people to make bad decisions that cause harm to themselves and people around them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:36 PM on January 16, 2006


JekPorkins: well now it gets complicated. Since you have some sort of heuristic for deciding which parts of the bible are true/instructive, and which are metaphorical/symbolic/poorly tranlated, before I could make any sort of call on whether you're a hypocrite or not I would have to a) know what your heuristic is, b) apply it to the whole bible to sort out which parts of the bible you, as a "christian" claim to be worth following, and only then c) examine what you say & how you live.

This would almost certainly be an exercise in futility, since if I found a discrepancy you would likely just alter your heuristic.

In any case, according to the "christians" among whom I grew up, you are most emphatically NOT a christian sans quotes, just for even mentioning the word metaphor in the same sentence as bible.

I dunno. I'd tend to agree with them: as I read it, the bible doesn't allow the liberty of deciding some parts of it are metaphors & others not. It seems to be relatively unambiguous about demanding that you buy it wholesale. That whole "would you were hot or cold, but since you are lukewarm I'll spew you out of my mouth" deal.

Are your ideas of which parts of the bible are metaphorical/symbolic affected by the findings of science? Or would you claim that there were people pre-galileo believing in the same distribution of truth/metaphor? Would you agree, then, that the findings of science authoritate which parts of the bible you believe are true? The "christians" won't be happy with you for saying so.

If science eventually finds that all the phenomena by which people say they experience god are explainable, reproducible phenomena of the brain (as it seems it may do, for an example google "god helmet"), will you then decide that the experience of god, of faith is a metaphor or symbolic? Or will you always hang on to some core of literal belief?
posted by lastobelus at 5:50 PM on January 16, 2006


I think, lastobelus, you're the first person who's ever insinuated that my belief system is foolish because I don't take the entire bible literally.

It seems to be relatively unambiguous about demanding that you buy it wholesale.

Not at all. In fact, there are several very important parts that are overtly symbolic and are clearly not to be taken literally. The idea that much of the bible is metaphor is not novel or unusual. Your "christian" friends were clearly not biblical scholars or anything even approaching it.

Many people who proclaim themselves to be "christians" do not have any idea what the bible actually says, and anyone who thinks that the entire thing is to be taken literally clearly hasn't read most of it.

That whole "would you were hot or cold, but since you are lukewarm I'll spew you out of my mouth" deal.

There is nothing in the bible that says that it's all to be taken literally. The part you paraphrase is no exception. In fact, nothing in the bible refers to the bible at all, since it's a collection of writings compiled long after any of it was written.

Yes, there have always been people who understood much of scripture to be metaphor, including, but not limited to the people who wrote it and many of their followers. There have also always, I'm sure, been people who misinterpreted it and missed the point.

The findings of science don't authoritate which parts of the bible I believe are "true." Indeed, science does not make "findings." It makes observations, formulates hypotheses, and tests those hypotheses.

If science eventually finds that all the phenomena by which people say they experience god are explainable, reproducible phenomena of the brain (as it seems it may do, for an example google "god helmet"), will you then decide that the experience of god, of faith is a metaphor or symbolic? Or will you always hang on to some core of literal belief?

The only thing science reliably proves is that previous science was wrong. If science "finds" what you propose, I believe that in that instance science will be, as it always has been in the past, incomplete and mistaken. I believe that for the same reason that someone would believe that science will eventually come to that "finding:" Faith.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:04 PM on January 16, 2006


Sparkx: It matters because even ideas have consequences. If your religion suggests practising homosexuals should be slaughtered, or even 'only' treated as second class citizens, then I'm not going to sit there and let you fuck over the destinies of others because I'm supposed to be tolerent of your ill-considered received bigotry.

Note my bits about checks and balances, and allowing others their essential freedoms, etc., etc., go USA, etc.

And besides, happiness is often not the goal, but a side effect of what is worthwhile.

What makes a thing worthwhile, if there's no eternal reward/condemnation? You say it's not happiness, but that's the only answer I can come up with from my theoretical atheist standpoint. I really want to know what at least AN atheist viewpoint is on this, because I DON'T KNOW.

(Also, it's rude to tell people what they think, especially when they don't).

If this was directed at me, I apologize for the misunderstanding, because I never intended to tell anyone what they think. I get pissy when people tell me what I believe, so I understand the frustration, but anytime I said "atheists think" or "atheists believe", it was postulating what I was trying to construct in my head via some form of logic, and was always hoping that someone would say "Yes, you're correct," or "No, that's not what I believe, for this reason."

IRFH: There is no free will, because if there were, I'd have left for home five minutes ago.

I believe there is free will, because I want to leave for home now, and I AM going to leave for home now. What's more, I believe I'd like to buy a spicy Italian sandwich from Subway tonight for dinner, and I'll let you know later whether I succeed or not.

KirkJobSluder: Dawkins proposes that belief in magic and miracles leads people to make bad decisions that cause harm to themselves and people around them.

But at the same time, I'd say that a person's unhealthy belief in themself can lead them to make bad decisions that cause harm to themselves and people around them. A person who thinks he can drive a car like a racecar driver, despite a lack of training. Someone who thinks they know how to do CPR from having watched a lot of Baywatch. Etc. Should we stop having faith in our own abilities because some people have, at times, a mistaken belief?

Similarly, sometimes people vote for a certain politician and believe that they will act in a certain way. If that politician then changes his tune and starts doing things we disagree with, should we throw out the political process?

(I understand you're repeating Dawkins' philosophy, not necessarily your own. If you agree with him, I'd be interested in how you respond to my counterexamples.)

lastobelus: In any case, according to the "christians" among whom I grew up, you are most emphatically NOT a christian sans quotes, just for even mentioning the word metaphor in the same sentence as bible.

The fact that Jesus Christ, the man who the Christian faith is named for, taught predominantly with parables--which are, generally, a form of metaphor--makes your statement entirely ridiculous. Or rather, doesn't necessarily make the statement ridiculous, but makes the people you refer to ridiculous.

On preview, what JekPorkins said.
posted by Fontbone at 6:11 PM on January 16, 2006


The first episode was excruciating. Dawkins interviewed people who looked as though they would like to rip his throat out and the question was borne in upon me, why don't they? The alternative that Dawkins is proposing is that our communities are troops of apes, with pecking orders, in which the alpha males have access to the females and routed males who make themselves homosexually available to the alpha male. Perhaps Dawkins has every reason to thank religion that these guys do not make him their bitch or tear him limb from limb.
posted by Tarn at 7:39 PM on January 16, 2006


This should surprise no one. Evolutionism has always been anti theistic.
posted by bevets at 7:57 PM on January 16, 2006


metafilter: troops of apes, with pecking orders
posted by pyramid termite at 9:22 PM on January 16, 2006


On the other hand, bevets, in other threads you've essentially said that you also consider the findings of astronomy, geology, paleontology, archeology, physics, biology, chemistry, and every other field whose findings indicate that the earth is older than you would prefer to believe it to be and its history different than you would prefer to think it are nothing more than a vast conspiracy to promote godlessness.

However, I do understand that your trying to explain that, say, the speed of light is not what all experiments show it to be, and does not therefore lead to the conclusions that all evidence demonstrates it to lead to, is considerably more difficult than making up a word like "evolutionism", which is presumably why you don't do it.

Still, you can understand my skepticism until you *do* manage to explain to me why and how all of the astronomers, chemists, biologists, archeologists, physicists, etc. in the world are, presumably, lying, since, whether a god or gods exist or not, what you have said you believe and what they say they have observed cannot possibly both be true.
posted by kyrademon at 11:51 PM on January 16, 2006


fontbone, JekPorkins: I agree. They are ridiculous, and their beliefs are ridiculous. That is why I am no longer part of their community. And at great cost. My brother is a preacher. My brother-in-law is a preacher. Four of my uncles are preachers, one of my grandfathers was a preacher.

I also think your beliefs are ridiculous, and that you are ridiculous. So you believe a different subset of the bible than they do -- how does that make you special?

What is your heuristic for deciding which parts of the bible are literally true and which are only symbolic or metaphor? What basis do you have for saying that either of the extremes (all literally true, or contains no literal truth) are invalid? How do you explain why the subset of the bible you consider literal truth is much smaller than that of some other christians, and why is this particularly true the farther back in history you go?

Have either of you gone through the bible from cover to cover highlighting which parts you believe are true, which symbolic? Or even just making a mental note for yourself? If the bible is not all true, and each person can decide for themselves which parts are true, do you believe it is important in any way to believe (partially) in the bible? If you do, what percentage would I have to believe in and follow to qualify to be a christian sans quotes? ten per cent? new testament only? Oh wait, you already said the new testament contains a lot of non-literal stuff...what percentage of the new testament is literally true? Do you know? Is it possible to know? Is it possible to know at least what the cutoff point is -- how much of it I need to believe is literal to count as a believer?

Have either of you ever even bothered to think about any of these things? I have. I grew up a fervent fundamentalist. Hardcore fundamentalist. The sect I grew up in still require women to wear dresses & have long hair. I never set foot in a cinema until I was 17. Never danced, drank, smoked. Never owned a tv (actually, I still don't) I thought about all of these questions and many many many more. That's how I became an atheist.

It started because I took my belief in the bible seriously, and the bible says every man must work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. I set out to do that. I very much doubt either of you have. You're believers because it's part of the culture you grew up in. Sorry: I have no respect for that, & see no reason why I ought to respect it.
posted by lastobelus at 2:22 AM on January 17, 2006


JekPorkins I'm not insinuating your belief system is foolish, I'm asking you to say what the system part actually is. If "believe what the bible says" is not the system by which your beliefs are determined, what is? Do you even know?

Or do you believe I must just automatically respect you, a complete stranger, because you say you have a belief system?

Explain what the system actually is by which your beliefs are determined, and I'll decide if I think I respect it or not.

My belief system is the naturalistic world view. You don't have to respect that either, or subscribe to it. But my original point was -- not directed at you, but at more literalist "christians" -- was if one is going to denigrate the naturalistic world view, one ought not to do so while basing one's whole life around the benefits it provides. Because that makes one a hypocrite. And I'm pretty sure EVERYONE who's ever read the bible will agree that christ was rather unambiguous in his condemnation of hypocrisy. But maybe that was just some kind of symbol.
posted by lastobelus at 2:39 AM on January 17, 2006


Fontbone: Well, just extrapolating, I would say that the two examples you provide are the same, and yet different.

They are the same in that Dawkins as a skeptic would probably advise that people don't take either their skills and abilities, or the behavior of politicians for granted. The fact that one ran a marathon 10 years ago is no assurance that one can run one today with no preparation. And likewise, if a politician does substantially change their actual position over time, the voting public have a right to know and take him or her to account at the ballot box. Skeptics in general don't take much for granted.

On the other hand, they are different in that my ability to drive a racecar, to perform CPR, or the voting patterns of my senators are things about which we can create testable hypotheses using available evidence. The existence of God (in the broadest sense) is not a testable hypothesis, and is expected to be taken for granted without evidence.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:52 AM on January 17, 2006


this show is amazing. it may sound 'heavy' but i laugh outloud many times during the show.

for those of you who would like to see it, the first show is definitely available for download via various downloading sources. i expect the one which aired last night will be available soon. i wish everyone could see this show.

first one discussed "faith" as an act of "non-thinking". an interesting perspective. second one was about children who are being labelled as a certain religion by their parents, and indeed isolated educationally from other religions, without being given opportunity to make their own choice about what they believe. oh, and a great view of a "hellhouse" created yearly by an evangelical church in the US. most disturbing were the sketches acted out by on an abortion table (!!!!) and a gay marriage for 2 lesbians. ...the laws of christianity made frighteningly clear. so frighteningly clear that children under 12 are not allowed to go to these "hellhouses".

whether you're an atheist from oxford university or a fundamental christian from alabama, these shows are very worthwhile (though admittedly will anger christians, jews and muslims - but doesn't god say to put him to the test?).

richard dawkins does a great job of putting these religious leaders to the test - and by asking a very simple question....where is the evidence? when people all over the world are dying because of religious views on morality & history, then this question is worth asking. and i'm pretty sure that's the point he's getting at in this series of shows.
posted by elenatari at 4:08 AM on January 17, 2006


Dawkins interviewed people who looked as though they would like to rip his throat out and the question was borne in upon me, why don't they?... Perhaps Dawkins has every reason to thank religion that these guys do not make him their bitch or tear him limb from limb.

Niiice... That's the spirit!

So, which specific nutter interviewed in the programme did you think had a point? the one using religion to justify terrorism, creationism, execution for adultery or murder of doctors?

The only interviewee I can recall who didn't look like he'd rip anyone's throat out was the Bishop of Oxford. Not some fanatic on the fringe of some free for all non-centralised group. So perhaps we should thank certain forms of state-sanctioned organised religion for keeping sanity in the house.
posted by funambulist at 4:17 AM on January 17, 2006


kyrademon

Still, you can understand my skepticism until you *do* manage to explain to me why and how all of the astronomers, chemists, biologists, archeologists, physicists, etc. in the world are, presumably, lying, since, whether a god or gods exist or not, what you have said you believe and what they say they have observed cannot possibly both be true.

Not 'all'

In scientific controversies, there is rarely any argument about facts. It is rather their interpretation that is controversial. ~ Ernst Mayr

Facts do not "speak for themselves"; they are read in the light of theory. Creative thought, in science as much as in the arts, is the motor of changing opinion. ~ Stephen Jay Gould

For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. ~ Charles Darwin

Scientists sometimes deceive themselves into thinking that philosophical ideas are only, at best, decorations or parasitic commentaries on the hard, objective triumphs of science, and that they themselves are immune to the confusions that philosophers devote their lives to dissolving. But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination. ~ Daniel Dennett

There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become "observations" we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view, and the experiments that produced them are not revisited. ~ Richard Lewontin
posted by bevets at 5:12 AM on January 17, 2006


There's a big difference between "no science without philosophy" and "no science without a metaphysics." Philosophy is necessary to order an infinite range of possible observations, and to account for that which we cannot observe in a logical way.
posted by spitbull at 5:34 AM on January 17, 2006


That's nice, bevets. I eagerly await your young universe/creationist model which adequately explains observed facts such as:

the speed of light
pulsars
black holes
gravity
geological stratification
radioactivity

And which explains why the predictions of models based on theories which are incompatible with a "young earth" universe are pretty much invariably accurate, such as:

plate tectonics
relativity
quantum mechanics
planetary science
stellar science

And why things like computers and GPS and other equipment which *would not work* if these theories are incorrect actually work.

Yes, facts are interpreted. A "young earth" universe does not interpret facts. It ignores them entirely. Sorry.
posted by kyrademon at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2006


Here, I'm bored, so let's start with an easy one. This has to be basic, since it's so obvious. Please explain the following:

1) The speed of light has been observed very accurately; tested and retested. It takes light a certain amount of time to travel from one place to another. That's a fact, not an interpretation.

2) The distances of stellar objects have been measured using simple, basic math (parallax). Again, this is not an interpretation; if that is incorrect, then all math is incorrect - in essence, one plus one could not equal two if those measurements are wrong. So that's also a fact.

3) The *interpretation*, if you will, is that since a) one fact is that light takes a certain time to travel, and b) another fact is that objects visible in the sky have been measured to be so far away that the light would take millions or billions of years to get to us, then c) these are objects that were around millions or billions of years ago, and we are seeing them as they were then.

4) Now, one thing your disquistion on interpretation failed to mention is *predictive* ability. That is to say, once a theory (interpretation) has been established, it can be tested to see whether the expected effects, if that theory were true, occur.

We have now sent objects far enough into space that we can observe this phenomenon in action in real time. There is a lag between a (speed of light) signal being sent and received between earth and distant man-made spacecraft. The planets themselves are in the positions that would be expected if there was a slight difference between where they actually were and where they seemed to be from earth observation.

So, what would the correct interpretation of facts be from a "young earth" perspective?
posted by kyrademon at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2006


kyrademon: I'm not a 'young earth' believer, but the answer to your question is simple, even for someone who doesn't believe in the 'young earth' nonsense: The rest of the known universe is older than the earth. That pretty much explains it from a young earth perspective.

But there's no shortage of dumb theories about the earth and universe, on both the religious and nonreligious sides of the aisle. Hell, there's a guy in this very thread who claims to not believe in god and to have thoroughly studied the bible, but thinks it's hard to tell which parts are metaphor and which parts are true, and is apparently unaware that it contains both parables and historically accurate accounts of lineage and governments.

Given the glut of ignorance, it's not hard for either a theist or atheist to find a dumb belief to tear down. But tearing down the dumbest beliefs is hardly a path to enlightenment, I think.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2006


JekPorkins, "young earth" is a bit of a misnomer, since it pretty much posits that the entire universe is only 6,000 years old.

And I'm neither a theist nor an atheist. I'm just bored.
posted by kyrademon at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2006


a) if it's not hard, why is there so much disagreement about which is which?

b) still waiting to hear what the "system" part of your belief system is. How do YOU decide which parts of the bible are true, and which are metaphor? Why do YOU believe that god himself is true, and not just a metaphor/symbol? Why have YOU based your religious beliefs on the bible? Because some parts of it correspond with history? Why would that make the bible special in any way?

c) I did not formally study the bible, nor would I say thoroughly. I studied it to the extent I indicated, and attended 12 hours of church per week for the first 18 years of my life. I've informally read a few "scholarly" works, mostly dealing with whether christ can be reliably considered to have existed historically. About that I remain agnostic -- there's some evidence he existed, but not enough for a non-believer to be firmly convinced. I've not studied the bible in original language or delved into translation issues, except for reading some analysis of others on a few phrases here and there.

If these questions are easy...let's hear some of the easy answers. I have an easy answer: none of the bible is literally true except in so far as it happens to include some historical trivia. The bible is the same as the odyssey, the upanishads, etc.

Please -- don't cop out before we even get to discuss the baby's-head psalm.
posted by lastobelus at 10:39 AM on January 17, 2006


lastobelus: here are the short answers to your questions. If you'd like a more in-depth discussion, please email me and I'll be happy to discuss.

a) Because so many people are so stupid, and because interpretations vary even among intelligent people.

b) 1. Several ways, including paying attention to when the bible says that it's a metaphor and when it says that it's not. I pay attention to scholarship on the matter, use my own judgment, and in some cases, I don't know whether it's metaphor or not, and I just live with that uncertainty. The bible is a collection of many different written works by many authors. I assume you don't just toss the Norton Anthology in the trash when you can't figure out what every work in it means, right?
2. Personal experience.
3. I haven't.
4. Nope.
5. It wouldn't.

c) I question whether you even know what the bible is about, frankly. You say that "none of it is literally true except in so far as it happens to include some historical trivia." That statement alone indicates that you have no idea the depth and breadth of the bible's content, even absent its accounts of divine intervention.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:01 PM on January 17, 2006


QuickTime .mov clip of a 7-minute extract from the second episode - it's one of the juiciest bit, where Dawkins meets a mega-church evangelical pastor. One cringe-worthy moment:

Dawkins: well it's certainly very effective what you do, I mean, I was almost reminded, if you'll forgive me, of a Nuremberg rally. Dr Goebbels would have been proud.
Pastor laughs, looking flattered, and says: Well I don't know anything about the Nuremberg rallies but I know lots of Americans think of it as a rock concert.


Clip from Panopticist which also has links to the torrent files.
posted by funambulist at 3:36 PM on January 30, 2006


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