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guess who comes off as more angry (and more insulting)?
November 29, 2006 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Jewcy asks The Big Question-- Why Are Atheists So Angry? with Sam Harris and Dennis Prager. Email exchanges on the topic--and if you can get past the incredibly loaded and one-sided question, really interesting.
posted by amberglow (246 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
from Tuesday's exchange: ... No one knows why the universe came into being. Most scientists readily admit their ignorance on this point. Religious believers do not. One of the extraordinary ironies of religious discourse can be seen in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while condemning scientists and other nonbelievers for their intellectual arrogance. ...
posted by amberglow at 2:30 PM on November 29, 2006


So they ask "why are atheists so angry" and then immediately produce an honest to nogod Angry Atheist to answer the question, thereby making sure we never look at it too closely.

Good job guys!
posted by InnocentBystander at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2006


I think the opening email by Harris' is one of the better written things I've read in a long time. I'm looking forward to reading the whole exchange. For the record, I'm pretty sure amberglow was implying the non-Atheist comes across as the insulting one. Harris certainly doesn't across as "angry" in his opening email.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2006


...waits for the MeFi Fundamentalist Atheist Corps to descend...
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:41 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


gee ... i'm an athiest, and i'm not angry.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:43 PM on November 29, 2006


Why Are Atheists So Angry?

Because they are more reasonable than emotional and they resent everyone else for it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2006


But the real question is, Why Are Religious Types So Fuckin' Stupid?
posted by interrobang at 2:48 PM on November 29, 2006 [5 favorites]


Why do journalists beg the question so often?
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:52 PM on November 29, 2006 [3 favorites]


Not angry really, just disappointed.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:55 PM on November 29, 2006


Can I just yell "Hitler" and be done with this one?
posted by erskelyne at 2:57 PM on November 29, 2006


a better question is Why Are Most Metafilter Posts So Inflammatory?
posted by muppetboy at 3:01 PM on November 29, 2006


Why Are Atheists So Angry?

because if they weren't, few would pay any attention to them
posted by pyramid termite at 3:10 PM on November 29, 2006


Can I just yell "Hitler" and be done with this one?

Sorry, that's two threads down.
posted by briank at 3:11 PM on November 29, 2006


gee ... i'm an athiest, and i'm not angry.
I'm a theist (kinda), and i am angry. : >

Don't miss all the comments--that's where you hear from all possible sides.
posted by amberglow at 3:12 PM on November 29, 2006


I guess I am angry because I know there is no hell for Shrub and Cheney to end up in.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 3:15 PM on November 29, 2006 [3 favorites]


I'm not angry, and if someone tells me one more time that I am I will explode in rage!
posted by clevershark at 3:15 PM on November 29, 2006


Why Are Atheists So Angry? well I am all jittery and kinda sleepy, a little stuffy, and hungry... guess I gotta fit angry in there somewhere, then go see a shrink and find out WHY I feel that way, or just accept that I have no control... oh, perhaps I'm suppose to be angry because not believing in god implies that I have more control of my life than others who do, but they at least get somewhere to place all the blame and whatnot...
sigh, now I'm just all sophomoric, pass the towelettes please
posted by edgeways at 3:16 PM on November 29, 2006


*tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick*
posted by nola at 3:18 PM on November 29, 2006


I wish people like Sam Harris and Dawkins would shut their traps. Like all ideologues, they think being smug and derisive is a good way of making their point, which implies they are more interested in themselves, than their supposed cause (see also 90% of modern protesters). At least Harris has the good sense to bring up Bertrand Russell, the only atheist whose writing on atheism I find worth reading. Here is the "teapot argument" from the article, which for me is the final word on this whole tedious debate:

Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
posted by Falconetti at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2006


Because they are more reasonable than emotional and they resent everyone else for it.

Well, call me when being reasonable rather than emotional doesn't get you marginalized half to death in this culture, and then we'll talk.

For me, the anger started when I realized that I could never join the Elks/Lions/etc, or hold office, or climb far on the corporate ladder, or fit in at my school -- not without pretending to believe in a religion that, quite frankly, offends the hell out of me. As an atheist in America, people do not trust me, through no fault of my own.

After 30 years or so you do, indeed, become more than a little resentful of people who don't know what it's like to be stuck on the outside looking in. I mean, I have actually had people tell me out of the blue and to my face that I possess no morals, because morality comes from God. I've had people tell me, as if it were a foregone conclusion, "well, someone like you could never be a Senator, anyway". Sorry, but when your society turns its back on you in an explicit, point-blank manner, I think a little (or even a lot of) resentment and anger is to be expected!
posted by vorfeed at 3:24 PM on November 29, 2006 [3 favorites]


Prager makes the same logical mistakes after Harris corrects him that he did beforehand. I'm not angry, I'm amazed! There are much smarted theists available than this schmuck.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:24 PM on November 29, 2006


You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:26 PM on November 29, 2006


Also, Prager is really, really rude.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:26 PM on November 29, 2006


Actually, Falconetti, I think Harris does a great deal more than "being smug and divisive" here. He's far more confrontational than I would ever care to be, but then he was asked to debate and I haven't been.

I think he phrases a few things just about perfectly, e.g.: "If the beauty of nature can mean that Jesus is the son of God, then it can mean anything at all." I almost gasped when I read how perfectly Harris hit this particular nail on the head, for instance:

I should also point out that you sealed your last missive with a fallacy. You wrote:

“You are right that this moral clarity and courage among the predominantly religious does not prove the existence of the biblical God. Nothing can prove God’s existence. But it sure is a powerful argument. If society cannot survive without x, there is a good chance x exists.”

No, Dennis, this moral clarity is not a “powerful argument,” or even an argument at all; please keep your x’s straight. If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.


Exactly. Prager's response amounted to: "Well that's such dumb argument I can't believe it, and neither will my readers."
posted by argybarg at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


atheist does not mean "simply someone who thinks that the God of Abraham should be buried with the rest of these imaginary friends. "

It has nothing to do with the God of Abraham. It is all encompassing, not focal, and not judgemental.
posted by Espoo2 at 3:30 PM on November 29, 2006


argybargy: Harris wins the argument hands down, Prager is an idiot, Harris is very smart and a eloquent and convincing writer, &c., &c. All that is very true. But Harris, if he constantly calls believers idiots, cretins, and morons, has very little chance of convincing anyone not already predisposed to being convinced. If he really and truly is worried about the impending collapse of society because of rampant religiosity, then his goal should be to do whatever is necessary to affect actual change in society, which includes making his message more palatable. I personally don't care if he is a giant dick, but he is working against his professed goals.
posted by Falconetti at 3:35 PM on November 29, 2006


Espoo2 writes "It has nothing to do with the God of Abraham. It is all encompassing, not focal, and not judgemental."

Yeah, but Harris has this rather charming way of putting it, saying something along the lines of "religious believers choose to dismiss countless conceptions of the divine as unrealistic, rejecting all religions but their own; athiests reject only one more of these many religions." It really goes to what is for me the sticking point of religious belief: how can I possibly pick one?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:37 PM on November 29, 2006


it's not anger as much as frustration; there are many barriers to logical discussion and compromise, but most frustrating is that which falls back, inevitably and conveniently, upon carefully selected, self-contradictory, and self-servingly interpreted mythology based on centuries-old texts stripped of any relevant cultural context; and that such is invoked as if it were self-evident and immune from challenge. human civilization has grown too big for us to advance without some form of honest debate and compromise, and faith is too often called upon as a get-out-of-intelligent-debate-free card--a card that masks the real issue, which is that some people just can't be happy unless they can tell everybody else what to do.

the conversation there moves really quickly into the atheist-versus-agnostic labeling thing, which is itself infuriating in that it attempts to force one to assert or defend a position within an argument that one finds invalid in the first place. 'atheist' is pretty much the closest convenient term for a position that more accurately says 'i'm not buying into any of this shit.'
posted by troybob at 3:41 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


marginalized half to death in this culture

Um, vorfeed, far be it from me to make assumptions, but it seems to me that if you feel that your atheism is your biggest problem in dealing with mainstream society, you might want to talk to the transgendered, the queer, the mentally ill, the disabled, some illegal immigrants, etcetera. In other words, people who suffer real, daily consequences of their marginalization which can be measured in access to services, in their rights before American law, in institutionalized discrimination and so on. I don't want to go so far as to say that you might want to talk to some women, too, as I only have a hunch that you are male. I might be wrong. I note, though, from your website, that you're a devoted follower of metal, and chosen marginalization tends to be kind of part of that scene, you know.

Again, not to make assumptions about you personally, but the tone of some of the angry atheist stuff makes me think that you're not alone in this notion of your victimhood.
posted by jokeefe at 3:41 PM on November 29, 2006


I AM NOT ANGRY!
posted by DigDugDag at 3:41 PM on November 29, 2006


Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?

Hope. Like god, it is solely a creation of the human mind.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:41 PM on November 29, 2006 [3 favorites]


argybarg, that struck me also--i do think that it's the belief in a God rather than the fact or not of a God's existence that matters, because it's all in what we do with that belief and what it leads to--Prager talks of deeds more than Harris too, so i thought that Harris' point was especially valid. It all comes down to us, and why and how we act the way we do, maybe.

In another part of Jewcy, someone says: ... Harris treated religion only as creed -- something you believe. Prager, grounded as he is in Orthodox Judaism, treated it mostly as deed -- something you do. Thus Prager defended religion's utility, while Harris attacked its foundations. The two even disagreed about what it means to "know" or "believe" something, ...
posted by amberglow at 3:45 PM on November 29, 2006


Also, perhaps these threads might go better if, in the case of America, atheism was identified as a political issue rather than a theological one. Which it is, for obvious reasons, in the States.
posted by jokeefe at 3:49 PM on November 29, 2006


argybargy: Harris wins the argument hands down, Prager is an idiot, Harris is very smart and a eloquent and convincing writer, &c., &c. All that is very true. But Harris, if he constantly calls believers idiots, cretins, and morons, has very little chance of convincing anyone not already predisposed to being convinced. If he really and truly is worried about the impending collapse of society because of rampant religiosity, then his goal should be to do whatever is necessary to affect actual change in society, which includes making his message more palatable. I personally don't care if he is a giant dick, but he is working against his professed goals.

I'm a bit busy right now and can't write as much as I'd like, but I'm not sure I agree with you for several reasons. First, there are two types of "activism": the kind that seeks to convert the majority, and the type that rallies the base, so to speak. It's entirely possible he's more interested in the second than the first, and that's not necessarily a negative thing, as you suggest it is. It can be viewed as a stoking of his teams fires, an effort to keep people fired up and fighting the good fight (so to speak, of course). It's like if one were to attend a rally for any pet cause, be it anti-war or anti-fur. The intent of the speakers at such a place isn't to convert new people so much as to motivate those that already exist.

Secondly, regardless of how "palatable" he makes his argument, he's not really going to win many people to his side--they're far too entrenched. You can't really be suggesting with a straight face that, if he was nicer, and signifcant number people that have been raised since birth to take for hard truth a fantastical moral fairy tale are going to be swayed from their beliefs? It seems like a dubious suggestion, if that is in fact what you are suggesting.

It seems to me that the real battle here is the battle for young minds more than any other. It's far more likely that people between the ages of, say, sixteen and twenty-four, are far more likely to be swayed to a more secular viewpoint (or, for that matter, a more religious one) than someone older. Perhaps this is a gross generalization, and perhaps I'm way off the mark, but this is always the impression that I've had. And I'm not sure a palatable argument has to play softball--it only has to be compelling, which Harris, who I hadn't read before this, seems to be.
posted by The God Complex at 3:50 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm a theist (kinda), and i am angry

I'm a Deist .... and I just shake my head and chuckle.
posted by elendil71 at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2006


I agree with people who say that figures like Dawkins probably don't win many converts with their writings; although he seems to be a likeable guy in person.

I don't really care. Books by Dawkins and Harris make good comfort reading for me. I'm glad somebody is spending their time agressively combatting religious hegemony.

If those two figures are the most offensive and outspoken major players in public atheism, then we're doing pretty good.

In regards to the link, I can't believe that Prager didn't even bother to research who Harris is. Every single blurb I've seen about Harris mentions that he's about to get his PhD in neuroscience.

Also, are religious apologists cogniscant of their gross intellectual dishonesty? If I were to write an undergrad paper taking historical figures' statements completely out of context, often to contradict their actual meaning, I'd earn an F. Some of these guys like Behe are supposed to be educated. What academic institution allows you to intentially miscontrue a citation in such a way that you can draw the opposite conclusion the source was trying to make?

It's funny how when you read the entire bible, you see how immoral/incoherent/petty it is. When you read all of The Origin of Species, you see how complete Darwin's vision was. These theologists/IDers want to cherry pick and choose short/isolated passages in order to frame their arguments. When you look at the entire picture, scientific sources make more sense and religious texts become less and less relevant.

So much of the ID/theological argument is made up of misrepresentation and fallacious techniques. How can the people making these arguments not feel petty when they're presenting them?
posted by Telf at 4:02 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was sitting at a blackjack table in Vegas once, and guy sat down who had obviously never played (or even seen) blackjack before. When his turn came around he said "I raise." Debates like this remind me of that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 4:02 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm sorry, I know about confirmation bias and all that, but by this (third paragraph of Prager's first rebuttal) :

Is it really reason and common sense that lead atheists to their certitude that everything, all existence, came about by sheer chance?

My response to anyone who misconstrues science that badly, let alone reason, is simply to turn off.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:03 PM on November 29, 2006


My anger burnt out around the age of 19. Now I'm just bitter.
posted by Target Practice at 4:04 PM on November 29, 2006


(excuse the clumsy formulation of the previous--I am, as I said, in a bit of a rush)

One other thing I forgot to add. As troybob notes, it's an anger borne of frustration more than anything else. I worked with someone a copule years ago who would be classified as some form of fundamentalist (earth is six thousand years old, etc.). He was a year or two younger than me, and I was twenty-two at the time. At first I attempted reasoned debate, what you would term "palatable". Toward the end, our "debates", which started to take on a slightly more comical bent as time progressed, looked something like this:

"The earth is six thousand years old."

"What about all of the fossils and artifacts we've discovered in the past century or two? What about carbon dating?"

"Carbon dating doesn't work. It's only accurate 2% of the time."

"So you're suggesting that dinosaur bones are inaccurately gauged to be sixty million years old--that they are, in fact, less than six thousand years old?"

"Yes. They may have existed at the same time as man."

"That would be rad if it was true. I've always thought it would be fuckin' cool if people fought dinosaurs. Unfortunately, there really isn't much cave art to suggest this is true, whereas paintings of men fighting any other number of wild beast exist in multitudes all over the world."

"The other option is that God put those dinosaur bones there to test our faith."

"Uh. What?"

"A true believer would discount it as false, since it contradicts the bible. Therefore God is testing our faith."

"Uh.. Two things: first, if that's true, God sounds like a bit of a prick. Second, if that's honestly your argument, I don't see any point in debating with you about this. You could essentially utilize the same logical fallacy to 'counter' any point I could ever make, rendering this nothing more than a facile attempt to conver me to your faith, which will never happen."

A few days later he sent me an absurd link to someone terming himself "Dr. Dino" who claimed to discredit carbon dating and all sorts of other nonsense. I informed him that, in the future, I would appreciate that any scientific proof he forwarded my way come from a scientist without a stage moniker.

Now, do I think my born-again co-worker is a bad person? No. He's actually a nice guy, but horribly misguided when it comes to these matters. I don't think any palatable form of argument will appeal to this person. And, to be perfectly honest, those are the only kind of people that it would be useful to convert, as they're the only ones that make policy that adversely effects the world we live in. I know many religious or spiritual people who are left-leaning or moderate in their politics and I can't think of any reason I'd feel the need to convert them. The anger in question is, as I mentioned, borne from a frustration about the first type of religious person that I described. There's nothing more frustrating--and, indeed, frightening--than that type of fanatical believer, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or from any other dominant world religion.

ugh, I'm late! I'll come back later;)
posted by The God Complex at 4:07 PM on November 29, 2006


I've interviewed Sam Harris, he's not angry. His interview in the Sun Magazine (Sy Safransky, publisher) a month or so ago was excellent and his book published last year was very well received.

I wonder if Jewcy (which was co-founded by my religion journo hero Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer) got its head together to get Dennis Prager, who comes off most times as a numbskull, to write the response to the academic Harris.

Had my own show, which covers religion on public radio chose to have this debate I would have placed him with at least someone who understood theology as well as Sam does. Perhaps [Newark, NJ] Bishop John Shelby Spong or Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor or Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

It springs to mind that no one is really having this debate. What I keep getting calls about is whether Atheism is a religion in itself, and whether having no belief in God is in itself a spiritual aim. I got a very funny phone call about this just a month ago from a publicist.

In other news, the American Humanist Association is filing a lawsuit in Florida to stop houses of worship from being polling places in future elections. Anyone following that?
posted by parmanparman at 4:07 PM on November 29, 2006


Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?

Hope. Like god, it is solely a creation of the human mind.


Amen. Whoops. Uh. I mean... Fuckin' A!
posted by hal9k at 4:17 PM on November 29, 2006


Why do all Jews have hook-noses and are only concerned with making more money?
posted by bardic at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2006


I think the opening email by Harris' is one of the better written things I've read in a long time.

I think he phrases a few things just about perfectly


Etc. MeFi atheists love atheist rant! I'm shocked! Wake me up when they can tell the difference between ranting and discussing things sensibly (i.e., with an eye towards possibly affecting people who don't already share their beleaguered little certainties).
posted by languagehat at 4:51 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


...if you can get past the incredibly loaded and one-sided question...

Yeah, good luck with that.
posted by darkstar at 4:52 PM on November 29, 2006


Never having heard of Pragar I followed the 'about' link:

Dennis Prager hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show live Monday through Friday mornings from Los Angeles. Widely sought after by television shows for his opinions, he’s appeared on "Larry King Live," "Hardball," "Hannity & Colmes," "CBS Evening News," "The Today Show" and many others.

Phew - for a minute there I was worried I'd have to take him seriously. Just another tosser with Rove's hand up his butt making his teeth jiggle. Christianity led to the abolition of slavery....riiiiiiight.

His website tells me he has books and tapes available about male sexuality (4cds! 80 bucks! - Young Person's edition available!). Bet those are absolute winners. Nothing does it for me like grey haired old conservatives telling me what to do with my willy.
posted by Sparx at 4:52 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm an agnostic...

... and darned horney.

Can we start a thread for me?
posted by tkchrist at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2006


DAAAAWKINS!
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on November 29, 2006


In other news, the American Humanist Association is filing a lawsuit in Florida to stop houses of worship from being polling places in future elections. Anyone following that?
Yup--just heard about it--they're right--it should be public buildings only.

I think because Harris is--or is becoming--pop-culture-ish that's why they picked Prager (who certainly is pop-culture-ish)--your publicist comment was funny parman--there are tons of new books about religion or against religion, and about the intersection with politics, out now.
posted by amberglow at 4:59 PM on November 29, 2006


Well, I'm fucking angry. They read me like a book.
posted by fungible at 5:00 PM on November 29, 2006


The last Dawkins thread was demonstrably civil, and pretty interesting IMO.

Let's face it -- god, love, and fucking are always going to be hot topics. Get used to it.
posted by bardic at 5:00 PM on November 29, 2006


"Also, are religious apologists cogniscant of their gross intellectual dishonesty?"

Cognizant of it? Why, it's the foundation of all their arguments! They can't function without it! :)

I invite you to Thread #56002 to see it in action. However, I warn you that it's a huuuuuuge thread, it will take you days to read, and it will seriously make your head spin.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:03 PM on November 29, 2006


More importantly, what is it about atheism that seems to attract complete pricks?
posted by nightchrome at 5:06 PM on November 29, 2006


More importantly, what is it about atheism religion that seems to attract complete pricks ignorant and delusional homicidal lunatics?
posted by tkchrist at 5:10 PM on November 29, 2006


It's probably analogous to the thing about being head of your own church that attracts manipulative, hypocritical weasels who shamelessly exploit their credulous congregations for egotistical and material rewards, nightcrome.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:13 PM on November 29, 2006


Can't speak for fellow skeptics, but what gets my blood up is how this country considers someone who doesn't think the assumed opinions of an invisible man in the sky ought to be weighed in affairs of state is someone that the greater portion of the country considers halfway to insane. I enjoyed Harris's point about Poseidon - if the God of Abraham gets such representation, then why the hell can't I bring up how Thor & Baldur would feel about the latest movements of my local PTA? Just how the hell are my children to reach Valhalla when their gym teacher won't show them how to swing an axe? Huh?

When we can't establish a worthwhile environmental policy because three-quarters of the country thinks they'll be heading to Heaven in Christ's magic Cadillac well before the consequences of global warming come a'calling, we get pretty mad. When folks with the temerity to call themselves "pro-life" block potentially life-saving stem-cell research to protect embryos that were bound for destruction anyway, yeah, we get a little steamed.

When folks who base their existence on mythology insist that the world would be 100% better if everyone would just get with the program already and join the fanclub, then turn around and prove they don't quite grasp the character they would have us center our lives upon, then I think anger is a wholly appropriate reaction.
posted by EatTheWeak at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2006


More importantly, what is it about atheism that seems to attract complete pricks?

It has its exact analogue in the thing about religion that seems to attract people with really horrifying halitosis.
posted by gurple at 5:19 PM on November 29, 2006


I was shocked, shocked, I tell you, to learn that Harris thinks that he and people who see the world the way he does are rational and sane while those who see it differently are irrational or delusional.
The whole "religion causes human suffering" card is a bad one to play, though, because in every thought-group, there is a minority of oppotunistic, greedy bastards that runs things and makes the world a miserable place.

For example, religion didn't convince American farmers that going into debt to transform their farms from self-sufficient, family-owned enterprises powered largely by solar power and manual labor into fossil-fuel-guzzling, government subsidy-reliant tax deductions was a good idea. If I recall, it was the university scientists doing the bidding of their industrial paymasters.
I don't think nuclear bombs came from fundamentalists, nor the hole in the ozone layer nor mustard gas nor the idea that travelling the moon was more important than feeding the poor.

The point here isn't that science isn't all bad, it's that Harris's argument is flawed because certainly there are religious assholes with bad motives. But if you take away religion, all you'll do is take away one set of excuses to do both good and bad, not change human nature, which is the real problem with why humans act badly.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:21 PM on November 29, 2006 [2 favorites]


Every so often I hear the term "atheist fundamentalist" used. I'm just wondering, what are the fundamentals to which these fundamentalists seek to return?
posted by Andrew Brinton at 5:26 PM on November 29, 2006


In other news, the American Humanist Association is filing a lawsuit in Florida to stop houses of worship from being polling places in future elections. Anyone following that?

Great use of their money. Really getting to the heart of the issue with that one.

When bringing such a law suit the first question is always, is the problem we are trying to fix fundamentally something that should be fixed? The second question is, how big of an issue is it? The third question is, what are the extra-legal consequences of bring suit? Someone forgot to think about two and three!
posted by Falconetti at 5:29 PM on November 29, 2006


I grew out of my obnoxious angry brand of atheism (but not out of my atheism!) around the time I entered college. Life's too short to antagonize one another over religious beliefs or lack thereof, something my ultra-religious friends have also come to realize -- some of them were just as obnoxious in their piety as I was in my rationality.
posted by mistermoore at 5:29 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


"But if you take away religion, all you'll do is take away one set of excuses to do both good and bad, not change human nature, which is the real problem with why humans act badly."

eustacescrubb, your point is excellent, but then again, removing a set of excuses isn't a bad thing. Forcing us to actually look at ourselves and take both individual and collective responsibility for our mistakes and horrors is the first step to working toward a better humanity.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, and it's usually the hardest step. All too often, religions offer an easy way to stay in denial.

Obviously there are other things that need addressing besides religion, but let's not leave it out.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:32 PM on November 29, 2006


Actually, you don't even have to abolish religion, as churches do contribute societal benefits; you only have to disallow people to justify their bad behavior with religious arguments.

Anybody who treats other people badly or actively infringes on their rights while using "God said so" as their excuse should be stripped of political (in the sense of interrelations between groups of humans) influence immediately.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:36 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


Believers intuitively feel that atheists must think them to be simple or deranged. Believers preconceive this as hostility, therefore concluding that atheists must be angry.
posted by Brian B. at 5:36 PM on November 29, 2006


More importantly, what is it about religion that seems to attract ignorant and delusional homicidal lunatics?

Lots of things. The hierarchy of organized religion, the power of group-think over marginalized groups, the us-vs-them mentality allowing for outright hatred and condemnation, affirmation of culturally-learned biases and prejudices. I could go on.
You gonna answer mine yet?

It's probably analogous to the thing about being head of your own church that attracts manipulative, hypocritical weasels who shamelessly exploit their credulous congregations for egotistical and material rewards, nightcrome.

I'm not really sure if this response is sincere, or just an attempt at lashing out at what you think I must be to have asked the question I did.

It has its exact analogue in the thing about religion that seems to attract people with really horrifying halitosis.

You appear to have had a fascinating series of experiences with religious people. Please tell more.
posted by nightchrome at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2006


"Carbon dating doesn't work. It's only accurate 2% of the time."

Next time, tell him that carbon dating only works with materials younger than about 60,000 years if I understand it correctly, making its usefulness in dating Dinosaurs, er, limited.

A few days later he sent me an absurd link to someone terming himself "Dr. Dino" who claimed to discredit carbon dating and all sorts of other nonsense. I informed him that, in the future, I would appreciate that any scientific proof he forwarded my way come from a scientist without a stage moniker.

Or a criminal record. Not that that affects his credibility. His "theories" do that for him.
posted by brundlefly at 5:39 PM on November 29, 2006


"I'm not really sure if this response is sincere, or just an attempt at lashing out at what you think I must be to have asked the question I did."

I wasn't implying anything toward you specifically, nightchrome, just offering an opinion. Sorry if it seemed like an attack. Your response re the "homicidal maniac" post is spot on.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:42 PM on November 29, 2006


Eusacecrubb - Humans acting badly is one thing. Yep we do that.

In every scientific example you named the larger society responsible is 90% believers. The vast majority of individuals involved in every technological leap that has had negative consequences are believers themselves. Often it is the individuals belief that justifies and assuages the consequence of their actions as manifest from God. Most often the negative consequences are attributed to God and acts thereof and are left for Him to fix. There is no Atheistic vacuum for these problems to exist in. It is a believers world.

To my knowledge there has never been a major scientific leap driven exclusively by an open atheistic ideal (even in the former Soviet Union, which by the way replaced God with the State as far as faith goes) with the full assumption of responsibility by a larger humanistic centered society. That society has never existed. Nor will it ever.

I ask: Must we make "belief" and "faith" in God a requirement for assuming the reigns of power? Must we automatically ghettoize and exclude from mainstream society any thinker who espouses a non-god centered universe?
posted by tkchrist at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2006


zoogleplex: Okay. I made my original comment mostly because it seems a lot of atheists, especially here on mefi, don't seem to understand how they sound when they say the things they say. If you call someone you don't know a "moron", "deluded", "ignorant hick", etc. If you judge someone solely on one piece of information you have about their worldview. If you not only assume someone is "stupid" but call them that, directly. If you actively seek opportunities to deride and mock and attack people of one specific type. Those are the actions of a complete prick. Even if you are right.
And many, many, many atheists (especially here) don't hesitate to do any or all of these things.
posted by nightchrome at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2006


You gonna answer mine yet?

No. First because the question was fucking stupid.

And second, even if I accepted the premise (which I don't), when it comes to my personal interactions with Atheists I have only experienced the best humanity has to offer. The smartest and kindest people on the planet. Sadly the same cannot be said for my experiences with religious persons - the majority of whom have been dull-witted, reactionary, ignorant and cruel.

Besides. There are FAR more religious dicks on this planet simply as a matter of population.
posted by tkchrist at 5:54 PM on November 29, 2006


And second, even if I accepted the premise (which I don't), when it comes to my personal interactions with Atheists I have only experienced the best humanity has to offer. The smartest and kindest people on the planet.

Do we read the same mefi? Seriously?
And since when has "The other guys are WAY worse!" ever been a valid excuse for behaving badly?
posted by nightchrome at 5:57 PM on November 29, 2006


nightcrome I will not engage you in this. Look elsewhere if you want to fling shit. Your personal grudges against mefites are yours.
posted by tkchrist at 5:59 PM on November 29, 2006


Wake me up when they can tell the difference between ranting and discussing things sensibly (i.e., with an eye towards possibly affecting people who don't already share their beleaguered little certainties).

In a debate, the goal is not to persuade your opponent or determine the truth, but rather to demonstrate to the audience that you have defended your position better than your opponent has defended his position. This competition serves as a test of skill, not reality. In a discussion, the goal is just as often an exposition of differences as an attempt to achieve consensus. Such encounters can be enjoyable, but rarely particularly persuasive. As for a 'dialogue,' I have a professional disposition towards the belief that their goal is to orient the soul of the interlocutor, or perhaps the audience, towards the Good. Attention to the best arguments for each position can sometimes perform this reorientation, and this was clearly the goal of this 'dialogue.'

Atheism doesn't need a propaganda wing. It doesn't need a good ad blitz. It doesn't need a charismatic ecumenicist. It doesn't need a memorable bedtime story. It just needs to be true, and to attract those who are also concerned with truth. Insofar as rhetoricians and sophists find it unattractive, all the better for atheism!
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:08 PM on November 29, 2006 [4 favorites]


Personal grudges? Flinging shit?
I have no idea what you're so upset about, and I think there must be some kind of serious miscommunication here for you to have gotten so bent out of shape over this. You seem to be implying I have some kind of axe to grind against specific people or something, and I am not even remotely sure why you've come to this conclusion.
I'm sorry if you (for reasons I cannot comprehend) think I was talking directly about you, or even anyone else specifically. I assure you I was not.
posted by nightchrome at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm with ya, nightchrome. There are a lot of smart people who come off as pricks when they talk to everyone else. Some of them really are pricks, but having interacted with people on both ends of the scale, I'd like to give benefit of the doubt that with most smart people it stems from frustration with the communication process. Smart people often get impatient with people who aren't grasping what they're trying to get across.

However, I've noticed that even when very smart people who do not assume their audiences are "stupid," or use any such words to them directly, talk to your average group of regular people, the audience still seems to see them as arrogant - especially if they're telling them something they don't want to hear, no matter how dispassionate the delivery.

There's a communication problem, to be sure. As you say, nobody likes to be told they're stupid, but nobody likes being made to feel like they're stupid, no matter how positive or reasonable the information presented.

This study about competence offers some clues, I think. Note that this article comes off kind of prickish...
posted by zoogleplex at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


jokeefe: In other words, people who suffer real, daily consequences of their marginalization which can be measured in access to services, in their rights before American law, in institutionalized discrimination and so on.

First of all, it's funny that you assume I'm not a member of any of your examples of marginalized peoples. Especially in light of your (incorrect) "hunch" about what I have in my pants! Also, please feel free to enlighten me as to what other people's problems have to do with my problems. Sorry, but I don't buy the "you don't get to complain unless you're a black lesbian in a wheelchair" argument. Especially in light of the poll I linked to above, which indicates that any given American is more likely to trust a black lesbian in a wheelchair than he or she is to trust me.

As for "access to services, in their rights before American law, in institutionalized discrimination", I've personally had a few (admittedly not life-threatening, but certainly very disenheartening) problems with both the former and the latter, and the middle one keeps me from holding office in several states.

I note, though, from your website, that you're a devoted follower of metal, and chosen marginalization tends to be kind of part of that scene, you know.

Oh, good call. I chose to be treated like shit over this issue throughout my childhood, years before I ever heard heavy metal, all because I wanted to be cool twenty years later. The kids whose parents wouldn't let them play with me when I was seven because I was "going to hell" must have seen an Iron Maiden record cover shining in my eyes, eh? I think you have your cause and effect slightly confused, here. I've got more than my share of "chosen marginalization", these days, but that only started after I realized that trying to fit in didn't work, because I wasn't able to fake it well enough. Oddly enough, I've had fewer problems since embracing marginalization...

the tone of some of the angry atheist stuff makes me think that you're not alone in this notion of your victimhood.

This is not about "victimhood". Somebody asked why atheists are pissed off, and I gave a reason why I, as an atheist, am pissed off. And your post is a great example of a second reason -- this kind of treatment gets such a pass from our society that you can laugh me off in a public forum without incurring disapproval. You try doing the same to the black lady in the wheelchair, and then perhaps you'll understand why living life as an atheist can lead to resentment -- not only do you take shit for it, it's socially A-OK for people to give you shit for it!

I mean, there are two possibilities, here: either a great number of atheists have a totally unsupported belief that life in America can be tough for atheists, or life in America can be tough for atheists. Don't cut yourself on Occam's Razor or anything.
posted by vorfeed at 6:14 PM on November 29, 2006 [6 favorites]


I'm surrounded by people who thought we should absolutely go into Iraq because they were sure Mr. Bush was a good Christian man that should be trusted.

Hundreds of thousands of people are paying for this even as we speak. It appears my young children will be paying for it throughout their lives, though I don't know yet how heavily a price.

Nothing appears to have changed; very few of these people are currently reevaluating their decision-making/belief-assenting process that's so stunningly obviously flawed.

So, yes, I'm really, really god-damned angry. I've had enough of this bullshit. When you're an adult living in a democracy, your beliefs have consequences and you thus have a responsibility to the rest of us to form those beliefs through the best methods available. I'm tried of saying I respect methods of forming beliefs that are more likely to lead to falsehood than truth.
posted by BaxterG4 at 6:14 PM on November 29, 2006


I like the idea of justifying belief in a particular diety by listing various social gifts He has bestowed upon our society. Emancipation? The Scientific Method? Huzzah for Yahweh! Huzzah for Jesus! But seriously folks, can't we stop this? Is this not more than a little silly? This is a debate about the existence of something whose primary criterion for accepting its existence is that you don't ask for proof. Am I the only one who thinks we're using two separate (but equally important) vocabularies? As the band from which I draw my username says: "Get your study hall outa my recess."
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:16 PM on November 29, 2006


zoogleplex: Absolutely. I think that goes a long way towards explaining why fundamentalist types feel that atheists are so hostile. In the majority of cases it is likely that the atheist is not trying to be harsh or mean, but is simply saying things that the fundamentalist cannot or will not understand, and that comes across to them as condescending and/or hurtful. As you said, nobody likes to feel dumb, and nobody likes to be told they are wrong no matter how politely it is worded.
As well, I think that may explain why many atheists actually become angry, as the responses they get from fundamentalists are strongly emotional out of proportion to what was said and so the entire discussion escalates in tone. Over time, numerous exchanges like that are bound to cause someone to harden their words and tone beforehand, simply out of habit/reflex.
posted by nightchrome at 6:22 PM on November 29, 2006


then you must be lumped with Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung and all the other atheists who butchered more innocents than all the religious crackpots in history.

Surely Prager is leaving out the Inquisition and the Crusades and, if he considers the Bible literal truth, God himself here, isn't he?
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2006


Competence study previously discussed on MeFi here. Link to actual study materials (I think, includes PDF) here.

"But seriously folks, can't we stop this?"

Just as soon as people stop using religion as an excuse to oppress other people, sometimes brutally. We've never seen atheists use their belief as an excuse. Which leads to, of course...

"then you must be lumped with Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung and all the other atheists who butchered more innocents than all the religious crackpots in history."

Excuse me, no, these horrible despots never said "There is no God, and thus you all need to die," although it might seem that way since they did slaughter some of their victims for their religious beliefs - but not all, they weren't really that discriminatory. They never offered their atheism as an excuse, they gave the reason "for the good of the State, which is just as bad as "God said so," when you're talking about genocide. Plus, no religious crackpot ever had a modern industrial state with which to apply their violence, and it's a damn good thing, too. And no, GWB doesn't count.

For the record, I'm not an atheist. I firmly believe in what I call a God, because of personal experiences which are deeply meaningful to me, but probably don't apply to anyone else, so I don't try to push them on anyone.

"As well, I think that may explain why many atheists actually become angry, as the responses they get from fundamentalists are strongly emotional out of proportion to what was said and so the entire discussion escalates in tone. Over time, numerous exchanges like that are bound to cause someone to harden their words and tone beforehand, simply out of habit/reflex."

I quite agree. This is a very difficult problem to circumvent. Perhaps some progress could be made by first establishing the similarities between the opposing groups, before approaching the differences. People mostly want the exact same stuff out of life, so maybe finding common ground first is a good way to start.

Starting from "you're going to hell" and "you're a pack of morons" isn't going to be productive.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2006


tkchrist: there is no "religion" vacuum either -- that was my point. it is not a "believer's world", it's a greedy rich person's world. My point was that just as the worst Christians rose to the top and dominated Christianity and still do, so too do the worst people in any discipline/group take over. Religion is typically beholden to outside interests. In the middle ages, it was to landowning kings, whose second sons often became bishops. Today it's market forces and unethical corporations. Not surprisingly, you'll find that science is beholden to the same forces, and possbily even more so. The current grant/federal subsidy-based university system that funds scientific research ensures that science will spend more time making horrible things that make like worse, like mustard gas, atomic bombs, botox treatments, viragra, etc, and will indoctrinate its students to accept the system's status quo as normal and reasonable so that well-intentioned people will work together to make possible technological hell on earth, albiet a very profitable hell on earth.

In short, the problem, whether Harris wants to admit it or not, is that there are power-hungry demogogues, and greedy rich people, and they are always at the root of the problem, be it religious or otherwise. James Dobson, bin Laden, Stalin, and Rupert Murdoch all have one thing in common: they have or had a lot of money/power, a lot more than most os us will see. Their stated goals may be different, but in the end, one must suspec that their real goals are to get more power and/or money. That is the real problem, and it's why Sam Harris's rhetorical approach is so distasteful -- because, in the end, he sounds like just another self-important windbag like Dobson or bin Laden -- replace his language about believers with references to "Jews" or "Hollywood liberals" and it all sounds the same.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:35 PM on November 29, 2006


Starting from "you're going to hell" and "you're a pack of morons" isn't going to be productive.

zoogleplex: Nothing to add, I just think that line needed to be posted again for emphasis.
posted by nightchrome at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2006


Not reading all the responses, but 80% or more of Sam Harris' initial email is taken word for word from his book.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2006


My point was that just as the worst Christians rose to the top ... the worst people in any discipline/group take over.

The world is like a cesspool, there's floaters, sinkers and a bunch of used condoms in between?
posted by IronLizard at 6:45 PM on November 29, 2006


In short, the problem, whether Harris wants to admit it or not, is that there are power-hungry demogogues, and greedy rich people, and they are always at the root of the problem, be it religious or otherwise.

not only that but any argument can be used for the purpose of demogoguery, including his ... (not that it's real likely to in our society, but he should be wary of being co-opted)

of course, some might say that the fact that the prominent, "best selling" atheist viewpoints are provocative and "angry", is a form of co-optation

controversy sells and all that ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:46 PM on November 29, 2006


Hardcore athiests annoy me for the same reason that religious fundamentalists do: They're so damn SURE of everything (or at least act like it). I'm an agnostic, and I firmly hold the belief that I don't know a damn thing about the true nature of the universe, and either do you. When either side tries to convince me of their beliefs, it comes off as very aggressive and pompous to me.

I think it may be the same for a large number of americans, who aren't sure and just want to live their lives. Because of upringing and social standards, they do tend to be closer to religion than I am, so the fundamentalists are slightly less annoying than the athiests. But they're both still annoying.

I understand why many athiests gravitate towards this aggressive (which is easily misinterpreted as angry) position: it's easier to argue from a position of strength and logic than one of doubt. It seems like it would be more effective to talk of fire and brimstone, or about theocracies, but it isn't. One of the main reasons that the fundamentalists have been successful in america is that they've learned to change their rhetoric. Slowly building up a framework of belief through small steps is a much more effective technique at influencing the doubting majority than throwing out a series of logical arguments.

Belieiving something illogical, if that belief opens up doors and encourages needed social relationships, is a COMPLETELY reasonable thing to do. It doesn't make someone stupid or insane, it's just evidence that we live in the real world, not in an abstract realm of logic. If people had a reason to reject religion, they would.
posted by JZig at 6:48 PM on November 29, 2006 [1 favorite]


This year I reconnected on Myspace with an old friend from high school who was an all-around nice guy. The only black kid in my high school class. Honor council member, Battle of the Brains team member, campus newspaper editor, super friendly, super brilliant. Jefferson scholar at UVA, even.

Now? He's completely out of his tree, a born-again Christian. Impossible to hold a conversation with on a subject other than the invisible sky wizard. Every third sentence he'd write me in an e-mail would be punctuated with biblical citations. I had some interesting debates with him—about sin, in particular—but once I told him I hoped he wasn't taking me on as a project, he stopped talking to me.

Thanks for posting this. Interesting reading. And I wouldn't describe myself as an angry atheist. Apatheism all the way.
posted by emelenjr at 6:49 PM on November 29, 2006


Say, why is it all you assholes are so angry and defensive anyways?
We’re not
Why are you being defensive?
I’m not!
See there you go, getting angry.

“Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world.”

heh, there are some days.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:03 PM on November 29, 2006


viragra, etc,

So what's wrong with Viagra exactly? The worst part about it is it makes me think of old people having sex, and the best part is that it'll allow me to still have sex when I get old. I'd say that's a more than fair trade.
posted by boaz at 7:35 PM on November 29, 2006


science will spend more time making horrible things that make like worse, like mustard gas, atomic bombs, botox treatments, viragra, etc

In what possibly way does viagra make life worse?

I'm an agnostic, and I firmly hold the belief that I don't know a damn thing about the true nature of the universe, and either do you.

I'm reasonably sure it wasn't created by a leprechaun or any other fictional character. Just because you don't know what it was doesn't mean you can't know what it wasn't. I can't remember how I got home last night, but I can guarantee it wasn't by submarine. Hoorah for knowledge!
posted by Sparx at 7:49 PM on November 29, 2006 [2 favorites]


Why are we so angry? As frankly as I can put it, because we are choking and suffocating on rhetoric, we're surrounded by the clueless, and we're ruled by the insane.
posted by tehloki at 7:54 PM on November 29, 2006 [5 favorites]


If you scratch an Xter hard, you'll generally find he's an xter because he's afraid if he stops, he'll be a useless drunk like his uncle fred, or a whore like aunt olivia, or some such thing.

Extreme beliefs most often require extreme fears. Not unfounded fears, but extreme ones.
posted by hexatron at 8:09 PM on November 29, 2006


If you scratch an Xter hard, you'll generally find he's an xter because he's afraid if he stops, he'll be a useless drunk like his uncle fred, or a whore like aunt olivia, or some such thing.

Extreme beliefs most often require extreme fears. Not unfounded fears, but extreme ones.
posted by hexatron at 8:09 PM on November 29, 2006


Sparx,

I'm also reasonably sure it wasn't created by a leprechaun. I'm also reasonably sure it wasn't created by anything that particularly resembles the description given by any religion in an even vaguely literal way. The christian god doesn't really make any more sense than leprechauns, which is why, you'll note, I'm not a christian.

But, that doesn't mean it was created by nothing. Just because we can't come up with an answer doesn't mean there isn't one. We just don't know what happened before what we know of as the universe (and have no way of knowing), so we should just go with whatever is the most useful. In terms of science, the most useful assumption is that the universe has rules, and things follow them. Those rules could have been designed by some sort of higher being, or be the result of some sort of guiding process like evolution, or have no cause at all. We don't know and can't know. And judging the likelihood of these by using some perversion of Occam's razor just doesn't make sense.

Yes, under the weak definition I am an atheist, but that isn't really the way it's being used here, I think.
posted by JZig at 8:12 PM on November 29, 2006


There are plenty of calm, reasonable, quiet Atheists. Most Atheists are quiet about it. However, these people are ignored. You have to be passionate about it to go and make much noise. That's about all there is for atheists. It's pretty remarkable that the number of atheists keeps increasing despite having no organisation to convert people. It must annoy the bejesus out of religious types.

JZig - you may be interested in an essay by Douglas Adams on his atheism and why he is not agnostic. It makes for an interesting read.

Note, this is another area of US exceptionalism. Outside of the US in the developed world there is far less antipathy toward atheists.
posted by sien at 8:15 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm an atheist and I'm not angry. I'm perfectly happy being among the 80-95% of Americans who are atheists.

My definition of a religious person is someone who truly believes in their religion- truly believes they are going to heaven or hell when they die. Truly believes they will spend eternity with a big man with a beard or big red dude with a pitchfork (or their religion's equivalent)

I'm not sure I have ever met one person like this in my life (granted I have lived on the coasts, but still) The vast vast majority of "religious" people I have known, the ones who keep a bible on the shelf and maybe go to church a couple of times a year as social ritual, I consider them just as much atheists as me. There's a big difference between real, literal religious belief, as it exists in many (frankly, less developed) parts of the world, and what we have here and in western Europe. The Europeans are just less into lip service.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:20 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm angry because of all the Sundays I wasted being forcefed religious BS when I was a kid. Thanks Mum.
posted by Joeforking at 8:24 PM on November 29, 2006


Maybe if the title had been "Why are people who call themselves Athiest so angry?" this discussion would have been over by now :)
posted by JZig at 8:31 PM on November 29, 2006


What I don't get is this: Why, in so many of these posts where atheists go head-to-head with various religious people, don't atheists ever actually give any reasons why they're atheist?

All they ever seem to do is give reasons why they don't subscribe to the very specific denominational beliefs of whatever religious person they think they're going up against. Being an atheist doesn't mean that you reject the specific god concept of modern christianity. It means you reject all conceivable concepts of god that ever have been or ever could be. Arguing that specific beliefs are dumb does absolutely nothing to support an atheist point of view.

If you want to defend atheism, you have to argue persuasively that every possible version of a god, deity, supreme being, etc. is inherently flawed, no matter what its characteristics are. Rejecting a god-concept who allegedly created everything in existence anywhere 8000 years ago because that contradicts science has absolutely nothing to do with atheism. That's just rejection of a specific religious belief.

But coming up with a logical or rational argument to support the assertion that it's impossible that any god of any kind exists, no matter what the dogma, is pretty hard to do.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:35 PM on November 29, 2006


I'm also reasonably sure it wasn't created by a leprechaun.

Don't say that aloud! You'll be booted out of art school!

JekPorkins: see Bertrand Russell's teapot argument above.
posted by Falconetti at 8:46 PM on November 29, 2006


See, that's the one part of Harris's argument I found compelling. Atheists don't have to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God any more than believers have to demonstrate there is. They're both faith-based decisions. Some people are comforted, or even spurred to righteous action, by the idea that there is an entity beyond that is coming to settle accounts. That very idea makes a great many other people profoundly uncomfortable, and they refuse to accept it. And that's both their perogotives, provided they don't fuck up anybody else's shit. There is an ammendment that says, if I may paraphrase, "don't start none, won't be none." It seems like this sort of pissing contest serves precicely no one. It gives everyone a bad name.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:47 PM on November 29, 2006


It means you reject all conceivable concepts of god that ever have been or ever could be.

Methinks the magic underwear's fastened a bit tight around the neck there, Jek. After all, it's believing in one god concept that actually involves an explicit rejection of all those untold possible god concepts (with your one cherished exception). Me, I can imagine lots of god concepts I don't reject: For example, maybe my cabbie last week was God. He doesn't have any magic powers, he doesn't philosophize, he didn't create the universe or anything; he just drives a cab. But see, he's God. Maybe God's my neighbor's dog or my cup of tea here. See, I don't have to reject any of those.
posted by boaz at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2006


JZig: I think you're ascribing belief systems to atheists that really aren't there. I'll probably step on some toes, but as far as I know, most atheists don't claim that the universe was "created by nothing." If they don't know, they say so. If they ascribe to (not believe in) the current big-bang scientific theory, they say so. Note the use of the word theory, and understand its scientific definition. If a new theory comes along and seems more reasonable, that one will replace the big-bang theory, and nobody gets upset about it or starts a new "science," because that isn't how science works.
posted by odinsdream at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2006


JekPorkins: see Bertrand Russell's teapot argument above.

Falconetti, rejecting the premise that there's a teapot in orbit is like rejecting the premise that a bearded guy made dinosaur bones and buried them 8000 years ago just to trick us. Atheism isn't the rejection of the belief in the teapot. It's the rejection of the mere possibility that there could be any crockery of any kind anywhere in the universe other than Earth.

An atheist doesn't say "I see no reason to believe that there's a teapot in orbit between Earth and Mars." He says "it is impossible that there is anything even remotely resembling a teapot anywhere in the universe."

Or am I mistaken? Are atheists just actually saying that there might be a god, but there's no persuasive evidence that Christians have the details right?

Doublewhiskeycokenoice Atheists don't have to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God any more than believers have to demonstrate there is.

That's absolutely right. When an atheist is asked why he's an atheist, though, it would be nice if he could come up with a reason other than "because traditional modern Christianity clearly has the creation story wrong." You don't become an atheist by taking sharp potshots at specific beliefs. If you're really an atheist, it's because you dismiss the whole shooting match. And if that's the case, there ought to be some reason for the dismissal, right?

Just as many Christians believe in Christianity just because their momma told them the Bible was true, I suspect that many atheists profess atheism just because they think the particular sects or religious ideas they've been exposed to are dumb. Or because they're pissed at their parents, or any number of other reasons other than actually being atheist.

On preview: Me, I can imagine lots of god concepts I don't reject

Then you're not an atheist.

After all, it's believing in one god concept that actually involves an explicit rejection of all those untold possible god concepts (with your one cherished exception)

Yep. Actually believing that one is correct is the only logical way to reject all of the others out of hand, including the ones I don't know about.. You can disagree with what I believe all day long, but you won't likely disagree with my rejection of the others, will you? But how can you logically dismiss something that you don't even know about?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2006


JekPorkins: not all atheists, but many (weak atheists, or implicit atheists), would state their belief not as "There definitely isn't God anywhere in the universe - that's impossible", but as "There's no reason to believe there is a god, and my default position is that I don't think there is. With no evidence to the contrary, who cares?" That default position is just sort of a 'gut feeling', I guess. In other words, we don't have faith that God exists; thus, we'd need proof. Since proof of God is generally accepted as ludicrous (God being a matter of faith and all that), we don't believe. Does that help?
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:20 PM on November 29, 2006


Then you're not an atheist.

Then you're not an English speaker. The idea that theism involves God is merely part of the Judeo-Christian god-concept.

You can disagree with what I believe all day long, but you won't likely disagree with my rejection of the others, will you?

Well, in point of fact, your God-concept is wrong, and even all the other theists agree with me about that. ;)
posted by boaz at 9:22 PM on November 29, 2006


Note, this is another area of US exceptionalism. Outside of the US in the developed world there is far less antipathy toward atheists.

sien: Yes, that's definitely part of it too. It's primarily because outside of the US, there aren't many places that take fundamentalist Christianity seriously at all. The whole "religious" vs "atheist" battle is better described as "american fundamentalist christians" vs "atheists".
posted by nightchrome at 9:25 PM on November 29, 2006


The idea that theism involves God is merely part of the Judeo-Christian god-concept.

That's the funniest thing I've ever read. Ever.

Well, in point of fact, your God-concept is wrong, and even all the other theists agree with me about that. ;)

Of course they do. If they didn't think mine was wrong, they'd have the same beliefs as me. By definition. If a Catholic doesn't believe that a Baptist is wrong, then he's a Baptist, not a Catholic. And if he thinks that neither of them is wrong, then he's just an idiot.

"There's no reason to believe there is a god, and my default position is that I don't think there is. With no evidence to the contrary, who cares?"


Then the real question is, why are there all these high profile atheists who pretend to care?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:29 PM on November 29, 2006


boaz: Well, in point of fact, your God-concept is wrong

That's a pretty strong affirmative belief you've got there. Much stronger than "With no evidence to the contrary, who cares?" What is the rational reason that you believe that?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:31 PM on November 29, 2006


But how can you logically dismiss something that you don't even know about?

I dunno, Jek, but you sure to a good job of it here.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 9:38 PM on November 29, 2006


I dunno, Jek, but you sure to a good job of it here.

What, exactly, do you think I don't know about in that thread?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:40 PM on November 29, 2006


If they didn't think mine was wrong, they'd have the same beliefs as me. By definition.

So you are one of those guys who explains jokes to the tellers: 'Yes, I understand. The guy in the video thought he was going to catch the football, but instead got hit in the balls.'
posted by boaz at 9:42 PM on November 29, 2006


Honestly, part of the issue is that the semantical argument about the meaning of "agnosticism" and "atheism" is muddy. Agnosticism is defined usually as the concept that we cannot know if a higher power exists or does not exist. Atheism is defined as a disbelief in God, which doesn't necessarily preclude the existence of God or Gods (should it be empircally proven), only that there is no proof right now.

Now, essentially, both of those definitions are saying the exact same thing. The differences arise mostly in how each are perceived by the culture at large. Agnosticism is often--I think wrongly--represented as a sort of "meh" position. It's viewed as a position that maintains only that the ultimate truth is unknowable and thus all possibilities are equally plausible, where, in point of fact, agnosticism maintains at its core that only observable phenomena are points of exact knowledge.

Atheism, on the other hand, is often viewed as a position wherein the believer ardently rails against the non-existence of a God. This is, of course, a logically untenable position, as it is well known that proving non-existence is empirically impossible. What most atheists believe is that we cannot know if a God exists but that, without proof, operating on the principle that one does not exist is the most logical thing to do. The burden of proof lies on the prover, not the disprover, after all.

As I said, the two viewpoints are almost identical, but they are portrayed--and subsequently perceived--in western media culture as being somewhat different things. As such, calling yourself an atheist is a much simpler way to get your position across. The connotations it carries with it are stronger and more to the point, and thus appeal to me in that they portray my actual (dis)beliefs.
posted by The God Complex at 9:51 PM on November 29, 2006


What most atheists believe is that we cannot know if a God exists but that, without proof, operating on the principle that one does not exist is the most logical thing to do.

I don't think that's accurate.

But discussing the subtle differences between different people's definitions of atheist and agnostic is pointless, and it's been done here before.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:59 PM on November 29, 2006


Hot DAMN! I believe this threat has converted me. I'm now a meh-theist.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:03 PM on November 29, 2006


argh! thread.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:04 PM on November 29, 2006


I don't think that's accurate.

No? If someone asked me "Do you believe in God?", I would say "No." Because I don't. If someone asked me "Do you think there's a chance that a supreme or higher power exists?", I would say "I don't believe that one exists, no, but do I think there's a chance? Sure. Nothing can be disproven."

I'm sure there are atheists whose ardent belief is that God does not exist, but if they enter the area of not acknowledging that we can't disprove God, then, empirically and logically, they're incorrect.

Now, the odds that the Christian God exists is so close to zero that I feel quite comfortable in my assertion. It's a mark of essentially every culture ever that they have some fairy tale about the how and the why of life, perhaps as a necessity from an evolutionary perspective (culturally speaking). The suggestion that one of them magically got it right after several million years is... unlikely. Not impossible, but fairly close to it. All other evidence rests in the accounts of people from thousands of years ago. Numerous studies have shown the inaccuracy of human eyewitness reports, to the point that I feel very comfortable in my disbelief about these matters, based on a number of factors (including the two I just detailed).

But, as I said, I think the real distinction is a simple cultural one. Our cultural understanding of atheism is a more accurate portrayal of my position than "meh" would be. And so on. But I'm repeating myself now, so I will relent! ;)
posted by The God Complex at 10:09 PM on November 29, 2006


TGC, your position is very reasonable, and if I didn't have an affirmative belief in God based on concrete experiences, I would likely agree with you wholeheartedly.

Now, the odds that the Christian God exists is so close to zero that I feel quite comfortable in my assertion.

I wonder, though, 1) how you calculate those odde; and 2) how you decide what, exactly, the "Christian God" is. It's a pretty broad term. I agree that the odds are close to zero. That's why Christians hold so tightly to the Bible, which they (I think) see as physical evidence of God's existence.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:13 PM on November 29, 2006


Angry, frustrated, disappointed, saddened, resentful, cynical - hard to explain why when you're so tired.
posted by Chuckly at 11:27 PM on November 29, 2006


Jek, the calculations are pretty simple. Just take infinity and subtract 1.

Secondly, I'm an agnostic, for most of the reasons that TGC describged above, but I won't call myself an athiest because there are simply too many things in this universe, this world, this country, this city, this neighborhood that I can't begin to explain. I am small and the universe is big and, for me, the only logical position is to admit that I don't know, and that even if I did know I'd misinterpret it.

Thankfully, most religious people that I know tend to see things the same way, and while their faith isn't in doubt, they use it as guidelines for how to live a better life, though they know it isn't the only way to do so.

The problem with discussions such as this is that they spend the whole time futily arguing the premises, because they're inevitably talks between ideological opposites. A discussion about the necessary conditions for a moral system, between Harris, Prager, and a humble Agnostic, would be far more illuminating, or at least a good read.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:39 PM on November 29, 2006


Thankfully, most religious people that I know tend to see things the same way, and while their faith isn't in doubt, they use it as guidelines for how to live a better life, though they know it isn't the only way to do so.

See, this is, I think, reasonable. Some people to whom God's existence has not been proved have faith. If their faith pays off, then it's at least somewhat rational. Others do not have faith. That is also rational.

But then you have those without faith who go on and on about how anyone who does have faith is an idiot, and those with faith who say the same (or worse) about those without faith. The whole "religious people are stupid/bad/harmful/obviously wrong" thing has nothing to do with being an atheist or agnostic, and everything to do with just being rude. Same goes for those religious people who preoccupy themselves with proclaiming the damnation of unbelievers -- they're not being particularly religious, they're just being jerks.

So the answer to the question: Why are atheists so angry? Is that most of them aren't, and the ones who are aren't angry because they're atheists, they're just angry people. They might even be angry because some jerk who happens to be religious said that they're stupid for being atheist. And if an atheist is angry because someone said that he's going to hell, well, that's just funny.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:54 PM on November 29, 2006


And if an atheist is angry because someone said that he's going to hell, well, that's just funny.

Not really. Implicit in the statement 'you are going to Hell' is the unspoken 'and I agree that you should', always.

It's more rude and more hateful than if someone told me that they were glad that I broke my leg.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:00 AM on November 30, 2006


Here's my reasoning for calling myself an atheist. If anyone's still reading.

I don't believe in any absolute or objective standards of morality. Sure, there are moral rules which make human society function better, but 'thou shalt not kill' had no meaning 10 million years ago when nothing capable of understanding the concept of a moral rule existed. It is also meaningless 15 parsecs north of planet Earth.

This doesn't rule out the idea of a creator. But in the absence of absolute right and wrong (or, to put it another way, purpose), the creator is essentially equivalent to a scientist who creates life in a petri dish - super-powerful in comparison to the life s/he creates, but not a 'god'. Worshipping such a creature may be pragmatic but it is ultimately meaningless.

Even if it was provable that the Christian 'god' existed, it would be no more than another part of the universe. It might enforce its idea of morality by punishing or rewarding the entities it had created, but it would not provide its creations with an ultimate purpose. It has no more special status than the scientist.

This is why I'm an atheist and not an agnostic. Have I put this well? I assume someone smarter than myself has made this argument before, and much better.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:02 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


solid-one-love It's more rude and more hateful than if someone told me that they were glad that I broke my leg.

That analogy only works if your leg isn't actually broken, but the other person was only imagining that you broke it. Would you be mad at someone who tells you your leg is broken, when it's not?

A Thousand Baited Hooksbut 'thou shalt not kill' had no meaning 10 million years ago when nothing capable of understanding the concept of a moral rule existed.

But that's only because at that time (we assume for the sake of argument) the "thou" didn't exist. It's just the tree falling in the forest thing.

Even if it was provable that the Christian 'god' existed, it would be no more than another part of the universe. It might enforce its idea of morality by punishing or rewarding the entities it had created, but it would not provide its creations with an ultimate purpose. It has no more special status than the scientist.

Why, if we're assuming for the moment that God does exist, are we assuming that God isn't subject to immutable moral principles? Why are we assuming that if God exists, that he makes the rules and decides whether or not to punish or reward? What if he's just been around so long that he's figured out how all the rules of the universe work?

It looks to me like you're not actually atheist -- you don't appear to reject the concept of God entirely, but only the generalized Christian version.
That just makes you not a christian.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:18 AM on November 30, 2006


Why, if we're assuming for the moment that God does exist, are we assuming that God isn't subject to immutable moral principles? Why are we assuming that if God exists, that he makes the rules and decides whether or not to punish or reward? What if he's just been around so long that he's figured out how all the rules of the universe work?

Then what's the difference between God and any other creature of this universe? If I lived long enough to figure these things out, and accumulated enough worldly power to enforce them, would I be God?

(Also, my explanation above leaves room for pantheism. But I don't see any meaningful difference between 'everything is God' and 'nothing is God'.)
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:28 AM on November 30, 2006


Maybe if the title had been "Why are people who call themselves Athiest so angry?" this discussion would have been over by now :)
What, they're angry because they get called out on their lacking spelling all the time?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:29 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


Then what's the difference between God and any other creature of this universe? If I lived long enough to figure these things out, and accumulated enough worldly power to enforce them, would I be God?

Maybe. I'm not sure what you mean by "worldly power."
posted by JekPorkins at 12:32 AM on November 30, 2006


Well, just the ability to enforce the rules.

In pre-Christian theological terms: I don't deny the existence of El (which is unprovable either way), but I do deny the existence of Yahweh.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:34 AM on November 30, 2006


I am an atheist because of Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation for the world we live in is one which does not involve a god/God.
posted by mistermoore at 12:37 AM on November 30, 2006


Just playin' devil's advocate here, but isn't one of the main points of atheism that you don't want God to exist? I mean, no one is coerced into atheism, right? At least, not for the purposes of this discussion. So you become an atheist because the very notion of a diety is upleasant to you for whatever reason. It seems cosmically unfair, arbritary, threatening, whatever, the point is that non-belief in God, at least from an individual standpoint, serves the atheist better than belief does.

Now, it's also very true that atheists badgering believers is as bad as believers badgering atheists (as the origninal post shows). But so what? I think we're all in agreement that the badgerers are in the minority of each group, and that most agree that the other's fundamental spiritual belief is no skin of their nose.

And the question of whether belief or non-belief is good or bad for society is left open. Although I think there's an ammendment kicking around the good ol' US of A that enshrines "don't start none, won't be none" as the general policy there. That's probably the way to go as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:38 AM on November 30, 2006


That analogy only works if your leg isn't actually broken, but the other person was only imagining that you broke it. Would you be mad at someone who tells you your leg is broken, when it's not?

Incorrect; the analogy is precise. It is a statement of acceptance that harm upon another is acceptable. The speaker believes that I will burn in pain for eternity and that the reasons for that suffering are good and valid. I don't need to believe that to be true for the statement to be rude and hateful.

It looks to me like you're not actually atheist -- you don't appear to reject the concept of God entirely, but only the generalized Christian version.

I'm not the person you're replying to, but I'd like to put in my two cents: We need to agree on a definition of atheism before you and anyone else can debate whether or not someone is an atheist, I think. I have, in past threads, told you my definitions, backed up by Oxford and how they are used in context by the people described by the word. I'm pretty sure that you disagreed.

Atheism does not require the rejection of all God-concepts. It merely requires the lack of belief in any god-concepts. The roots of the word "atheist" are "a-" and "theist". "a-" means "not". An atheist is merely not a theist; you are, I think, conflating the word atheism in such a way that it covers only the "strong atheist princicle" or "antitheism."

Atheism and agnosticism are orthogonal. The atheism/theism duality is based on belief, while the agnostic/gnostic duality is based on proof.

Agnosticism is commonly used interchangably with atheism, but this is not useful or precise. Properly, agnosticism is the philosophy that the existence of gods cannot be proven. One can be an atheist agnostic ("I do not believe in gods and consider their existence unprovable" -- this is often described as the 'weak atheist position'), an atheist gnostic ("I do not believe in gods and consider their lack of existence to be provable" -- this is often described as the 'strog atheist position', and it is vanishingly rare among atheists), a theistic agnostic ("I believe in gods and consider their existence to be unprovable" -- this was Huxley's position when he first coined the term 'agnostic'), or a theistic gnostic ("I believe in gods and consider their existence to be provable: -- this is your position, for example).

Substitute your favourite god for "gods" above.

I am an atheist gnostic, in that I believe that there are no gods in the way that we generally understand the concept, because the default existential position is always "X does not exist" until falsifiable, repeatable and testable evidence is provided to show that X exists. I am not exactly arguing that one can prove the non-existence of gods, but rather holding that such a stance must be the default position. And I would not accept that your personal experience of your god is evidence. I would not even accept that my own personal experience with a god would be valid evidence, and I have twice in my life had moments of epiphany that I perceived as divine.

Anyhow. I would disagree -- ATBH is an atheist.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:38 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]


So you become an atheist because the very notion of a diety is upleasant to you for whatever reason.

I became an atheist because I was born that way (as, I believe, everyone else was) but I never found a compelling reason to change.

non-belief in God, at least from an individual standpoint, serves the atheist better than belief does.

No way. The social network provided by being a church-goer is something that I have missed out on. There are many societal bennies to being religious.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:41 AM on November 30, 2006


It looks to me like you're not actually atheist -- you don't appear to reject the concept of God entirely, but only the generalized Christian version.
That just makes you not a christian.


I don't categorically believe that the Christian god doesn't exist (although I think the odds are pretty small). It's just that I don't think it has any more right to be called 'God' than I (or you, or my housemates' pet cat Poppadum) do.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:48 AM on November 30, 2006


Atheism does not require the rejection of all God-concepts. It merely requires the lack of belief in any god-concepts. The roots of the word "atheist" are "a-" and "theist". "a-" means "not". An atheist is merely not a theist; you are, I think, conflating the word atheism in such a way that it covers only the "strong atheist princicle" or "antitheism."

I'm not conflating anything, but thanks for reiterating that. It is helpful to have terms clarified.

ATBH's given reason for being an atheist is his(her?) express rejection of a generalized Christian God concept. If that's all there is, that's not atheism under any definition. To wit: I wholly reject the same things that ATBH is apparently rejecting, and I am not an atheist in the least.

And I would not accept that your personal experience of your god is evidence.

And I wouldn't present it as such.

I would not even accept that my own personal experience with a god would be valid evidence, and I have twice in my life had moments of epiphany that I perceived as divine.


Do you apply the same skepticism to everything else that you know only by your own perception or experience? I mean, I assume that you don't run the full scientific method and peer review process on everything you encounter in life, do you?

Human perception is certainly fallible, but why accept direct observation as evidence of some things, but not of others?

It is a statement of acceptance that harm upon another is acceptable. The speaker believes that I will burn in pain for eternity and that the reasons for that suffering are good and valid.


Nah. If the speaker is happy that you're gonna burn, that glee is independent of the religious belief, which dictates (presumably) only that people who don't believe in hell will go to hell. There are certainly people who are glad about that belief, but it's not a requirement of the belief, as far as I know. And at any rate, it's just a silly loop to be mad at someone for thinking you're going to hell because you don't believe in the place they're glad you're going because you don't believe in it. It's more funny than anything else.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:52 AM on November 30, 2006


Well, ok SOL, are you saying that you're a victim of your own inquiring mind and thus cannot escape your conviction of the non-existance of God in spite of the obvious social benefits? I don't mean to denegrate your position, if that's it, I'm just wondering. And what I meant by "individual" was an individual's own sense of theology and spirituality. Of course there are social benefits to belonging to a church, but most atheists (I imagine you're included here) wouldn't like to accept those benefits at the cost of feeling like an intelectual or spiritual fraud. Here your "individual" benefits in terms of inner peace outweighed your potential "social" benefits of belonging to a church.

I'm certainly not saying that's wrong. Don't mistake me. The failure here lies, primarily, with churchgoers who are unwilling to accept non-churchgoers on equal footing. They're in the majority, so the onus is on them to not turn tyranical, and the track record so far has been less than stellar.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:54 AM on November 30, 2006


No way. The social network provided by being a church-goer is something that I have missed out on. There are many societal bennies to being religious.

Who says you have to believe in order to be a church-goer? Just lie about it. It's not like you'll go to hell or anything ;)
posted by JekPorkins at 12:54 AM on November 30, 2006


You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?

No, actually, that would be impossible. Since humans do survive, everything essential to human survival must exist. This still doesn't prove the existence of god, only the existence of the belief of god, as Harris simply stated.

I agree with above posters that they certainly didn't pick one of the smarter theists for this debate.
posted by Frankieist at 12:59 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


I agree with above posters that they certainly didn't pick one of the smarter theists for this debate.

They never do, apparently. I'd like to see a video of Dawkins giving a lecture and Q & A session at Harvard Divinity School or someplace like that. Jerky idiots arguing with other jerky idiots doesn't really get society anywhere.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:04 AM on November 30, 2006


On a sort-of-related note, did anyone catch This American Life two weeks ago with that pastor who got kicked out of some evangelical group? He had a pretty cool take on Christianity, but the problem is that it's exeedingly tolerant. He wouldn't make for good debatage because he stopped caring if someone believed in his (or any) god and concerned himself with helping out folks who needed it. It's a good policy, and one of the best arguments for religion there is.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 1:05 AM on November 30, 2006


But how can you logically dismiss something that you don't even know about?

Interesting question. I'll have to talk to the pink elephant in my bedroom about that.

Well, how do you know there isn't a pink elephant in my bedroom? We've never met.
posted by clevershark at 4:51 AM on November 30, 2006


Well, how do you know there isn't a pink elephant in my bedroom?

do your slippers still fit?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:04 AM on November 30, 2006


Nah. If the speaker is happy that you're gonna burn, that glee is independent of the religious belief

Didn't say or imply anything about whether or not the speaker was happy. Where do you get that? There is always rancour in the statement "you are going to Hell." Always.

And at any rate, it's just a silly loop to be mad at someone for thinking you're going to hell because you don't believe in the place they're glad you're going because you don't believe in it. It's more funny than anything else.

My argument does not speak to whether or not Hell exists or whether or not the target of the statement believes in it.
posted by solid-one-love at 7:05 AM on November 30, 2006


The esteemed Dennis Prager, the religious respondent in this debate, has some interesting views on those uppity Muslims the place of non-Christian religions in the U.S:

"...the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

posted by jsonic at 7:24 AM on November 30, 2006


Dennis Prager's letter is just the standard bullshit platitudes & conflation of definitions. Believers are always pulling this "I'm open minded & your not bullshit" which amberglow's quote roundly refutes.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:36 AM on November 30, 2006


... the problem is that it's exeedingly tolerant. He wouldn't make for good debatage because he stopped caring if someone believed in his (or any) god and concerned himself with helping out folks who needed it. It's a good policy, and one of the best arguments for religion there is.
That's cool, and how it should be--his own personal beliefs should remain his own--separate and personal. His actions towards others might or might not be informed by those beliefs, but are irrelevant to performing those actions.


I saw that Prager thing about Ellison after i posted this--he's a tool, and absolutely wrong.
posted by amberglow at 7:44 AM on November 30, 2006


As usual, I'm late to this facinating thread...

Why [...] don't atheists ever actually give any reasons why they're atheist?

I am atheist because my experiences with reality have led me to believe that we exist because of the mechanics of our universe. I have come to believe that assigning purpose to Homo sapiens' existence is prideful self-obsession. I feel I can appreciate my life and the lives of those around me much more by seeing this as a brief and chance opportunity to be a part of the universe viewing, analyzing, and enjoying the universe.

There; now you can't use that sentence again. ;)

But coming up with a logical or rational argument to support the assertion that it's impossible that any god of any kind exists, no matter what the dogma, is pretty hard to do.

Why? I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don't believe in Santa Claus. I don't believe in any gods. Arguing that the universe requires any supernatural entity, to me, is incompatible with my experiences with what most of us have agreed is the world in which we live. Given the vast expanse of science, history, and observations of nature, I don't see anything that supports any kind of agency behind it all. Trying to apply purpose to life, be it sorting homo sapiens or escaping the horror of life in flesh, is merely an expression of what our brains are intended to do, parse order out of what is observed.

That wasn't so tough.

Now, how difficult is it to use a logical and rational argument to support the assertion that it is possible that any god of any kind exists? From everything I've seen, that seems pretty hard to do.
posted by effwerd at 7:52 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think I could be described as an "irrelevantist" - my position is that the God concept is irrelevant if not damaging to the modern society's public affairs. It and its surrounding entourage of books, priests and buildings should be kept well apart from public policy. I don't really care what anyone believes as long as they don't try to step on other people's rights or force their beliefs into law. When they do and insist on doing, I believe they become a threat to society and should have their actions repressed to the maximum extend allowed by law.
posted by nkyad at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2006


I'm angry about people who misspell atheist as "athiest." (What, do you think they're the most athy people of all??!!)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2006 [2 favorites]


I find it fascinating how quickly some atheist arguments bring up the "old gods" as a rhetorical example of gods no longer being worshipped.

They always seem surprised when I inform them I do, in fact, worship those "dead" gods and could they please stop being an ass about my religion.

Feh. Persuasive atheist arguments are as lame as persuasive theist arguments; deities are non-falsifiable.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2006


solid-one-love: "It's more rude and more hateful than if someone told me that they were glad that I broke my leg."

That analogy only works if your leg isn't actually broken, but the other person was only imagining that you broke it. Would you be mad at someone who tells you your leg is broken, when it's not?
JekPerkins - I don't think you're reading the analogy as intended. But let's mix his malady scenario and your imagination scenario. Suppose someone learns you are not a virgin and declares, "Well, then you have AIDS, you filthy pervert. And you'll suffer miserably unless you pet my teddy bear and drink my magical KoolAid."
posted by Tubes at 9:57 AM on November 30, 2006


I find it fascinating how quickly some atheist arguments bring up . . . gods no longer being worshipped.

This is an attempt to get the Believer to empathize (futile though it may Be). Zeus is really silly is he not (cool though He may Be)? This can Reveal a Believer's hypocriSy.

I agRee that atheist arguments are lame in their simpliciTy. This is, regrettabLy, all that's required to justify the atheist's own stance and Refute the tired Rehash of the Believer. It's the Believer's fault that atheist arguments are lame.
posted by Chuckly at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2006


Forget what was debated, the email exchange between Harris and Prager was stupid in the extreme and insulting to a thoughful person of either opinion. They spend an inordinate amount of time debating whether Collins is smart, how smart, and what he really said. Fault Prager for first introducing an irrelevant appeal to a supposed authority and the two of them for persisting in a childish off-topic exchange. Nothing was accomplished here. While they are both quite clearly of above average intelligence, there are finer minds on both sides of this issue, though it is my belief that these people would not participate in something this dumb.
posted by offmylawn at 10:04 AM on November 30, 2006


"What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

That's a relief. So, I can run for office after all. "Place your hand on Lolita and repeat after me..."
posted by Tubes at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2006


I sure wish I could read a different conversation, between two people who aren't focused on winning rhetorical points in an adversarial write-off. I can't find myself, or what I believe, in any of the critical presentations Harris makes of what belief in God consists of, I agree with most of his factual points. Yet I am not an Atheist. Despite this latter fact, this Prager fellow sure the fuck does not represent me or what I profess.

I sure wish I could read a conversation where an Avowed Atheist and a Member of a Mainstream Evangelical Christian Church tried, in an intellectually honest way, to determine what, if any, real obstacles there are to putting aside the relative rationality of belief versus non-belief in God and taking up instead the practical issues of ending poverty, first and most particularly hunger, and ending war. Wow, what an interesting conversation that would be, huh. I could talk about it all fucking day.
posted by nanojath at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2006


I sure wish I could read a conversation where an Avowed Atheist and a Member of a Mainstream Evangelical Christian Church tried . . . taking up instead the practical issues of ending poverty, first and most particularly hunger, and ending war.

As soon as Tubes and I are sworn into office we'll get right on these issues.

/places hand on Project Pope
posted by Chuckly at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2006


effwerd: I have come to believe that assigning purpose to Homo sapiens' existence is prideful self-obsession. I feel I can appreciate my life and the lives of those around me much more by seeing this as a brief and chance opportunity to be a part of the universe viewing, analyzing, and enjoying the universe.

Um . . . wait . . .

tubes: But let's mix his malady scenario and your imagination scenario. Suppose someone learns you are not a virgin and declares, "Well, then you have AIDS, you filthy pervert. And you'll suffer miserably unless you pet my teddy bear and drink my magical KoolAid."

Yeah, I wouldn't be offended or angry about that. I'd just think it was stupid, somewhat funny, and move on.

Most self-proclaimed christians believe that I'm going to hell because of my religious beliefs that contradict theirs. But since I'm 100% convinced that they're wrong, it doesn't bother me. The idea that something I don't believe in is going to happen to me purely because I don't believe in it is just not troublesome at all. It's like driving in a car with a passenger who keeps screaming that it's actually an airplane and I'm going to crash it if I don't pull up. Sure, it's annoying and stupid, but it's not offensive.

solid one love: "My argument does not speak to whether or not Hell exists or whether or not the target of the statement believes in it."

Please tell me all about these atheists who believe in Hell. I'm fascinated.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:18 AM on November 30, 2006


Again, my argument does not speak to whether or not Hell exists or whether or not the target of the statement believes in it. It is not relevant.

"The Great Bear of the Purple Woods is going to eat your soul because you don't worship at the Altar of the Obsidian Squirrel, as I do" is rancourous, hateful and insulting regardless of whether or not the target believes in the Great Bear or the Obsidian Altar.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2006


Do you apply the same skepticism to everything else that you know only by your own perception or experience? I mean, I assume that you don't run the full scientific method and peer review process on everything you encounter in life, do you?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The human brain being the imperfect and constantly-malfunctioning thing that it is (for everyone), one should rationally be very, very skeptical of any perception of an extraordinary thing.

I think that it is infinitely more likely that everyone who has ever perceived that they have experienced the divine has had some kind of temporary or permanent flaw in their brain chemistry than that they actually experienced the divine.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:41 AM on November 30, 2006


"The Great Bear of the Purple Woods is going to eat your soul because you don't worship at the Altar of the Obsidian Squirrel, as I do" is rancourous, hateful and insulting regardless of whether or not the target believes in the Great Bear or the Obsidian Altar.

No, it's not. Sorry. It's just not. It reflects only the belief of the speaker, and not the speaker's opinion about whether the listener's assumed fate is a desirable outcome. Indeed, there are a great many religious people who, while they believe that atheists are going to hell, wish that the atheists weren't going to hell and work very hard to try to save the atheists. (I'm not one of them, of course -- I don't believe the atheists are going to hell)

I think that it is infinitely more likely that everyone who has ever perceived that they have experienced the divine has had some kind of temporary or permanent flaw in their brain chemistry than that they actually experienced the divine.


Why? How did you determine the relative probability of those two possible explanations? What were your assumptions, and how did you arrive at the assumptions?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:49 AM on November 30, 2006


Um . . . wait . . .

*waits*
posted by effwerd at 12:12 PM on November 30, 2006


Sorry, effwerd, your statement just seemed confusingly self-contradictory.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2006


Why? Observation, analysis and enjoyment are not purposes. They aren't prideful or self-obsessive. Which part contradicts what other part?
posted by effwerd at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2006


Whether or not they're "purposes" is just splitting hairs. Whether or not they're prideful or self-obsessive is a non-debatable matter of opinion.

I respect you for having a well-thought-out view.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2006


No, it's not. Sorry. It's just not. It reflects only the belief of the speaker, and not the speaker's opinion about whether the listener's assumed fate is a desirable outcome.

I'm a little late to the party, but sure, why not:

I don't know many people who make statements of condemnation in a vacuum; the statement "You're going to hell" has an implied clause of "and I'm not," or there would be no point in making it, in this context. Thus, it is necessarily a statement of, at best, smug superiority, and at worst, gleeful schadenfreude as the speaker revels in the relative strength of his own moral fiber.

The fact that the person making the statement fails to see the offensive potential contained in the statement, does not absolve him of the actual impact of the statement. Every time I've heard something like this directed at me, there has been unmistakable insult intended.
posted by Mayor West at 12:33 PM on November 30, 2006


the statement "You're going to hell" has an implied clause of "and I'm not," or there would be no point in making it, in this context.

But it does not have an implied clause of "and I'm glad you are."

The fact that the person making the statement fails to see the offensive potential contained in the statement, does not absolve him of the actual impact of the statement.

This is the very definition of lack of intent.

Every time I've heard something like this directed at me, there has been unmistakable insult intended.


No, every time you've heard it directed at you, you've assumed that it was intended, whether the person making the statement intended it or not. (see your previous sentence).

The fact that you might be offended does not mean that the person who offended you intended offense.

Honestly, why do you think that christians proselyte if they're content that the people they're trying to convert are going to hell?
posted by JekPorkins at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2006


Jek, in response to solid-one-love saying It's more rude and more hateful than if someone told me that they were glad that I broke my leg, you stated:
That analogy only works if your leg isn't actually broken, but the other person was only imagining that you broke it.

I disagree. If I was describing how I slipped and fell, and the other person said they were glad I broke my leg, I'd find it hateful even if my leg wasn't broken. In fact, I think most people would respond with "I didn't break my leg, jackass" or something similiarly defensive. I'd expect the number of people who wouldn't be insulted, even if their leg wasn't broken, to be a very small minority.
posted by Crash at 12:40 PM on November 30, 2006


I agRee that atheist arguments are lame in their simpliciTy. This is, regrettabLy, all that's required to justify the atheist's own stance and Refute the tired Rehash of the Believer. It's the Believer's fault that atheist arguments are lame.

Wait, atheists deal with a lot of tired old rehashes from polytheists? Can you point me to these? The majority of atheists I've debated with who weren't seemingly aware that gods are non-falsifiable (at which point we usually get along swimmingly) usually fell apart as soon as the deity they were tyring to refute wasn't the modern, Christian conception of YHWH.

And the lameness of a person's arguments reflects on them, not their adversary. A logical fallacy which ends a debate remains a logical fallacy.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2006


If I was describing how I slipped and fell, and the other person said they were glad I broke my leg, I'd find it hateful even if my leg wasn't broken. In fact, I think most people would respond with "I didn't break my leg, jackass" or something similiarly defensive.

If you were describing how great your legs feel after going to the doctor and getting a clean bill of health, and the other person said that, because you believe that you feel fine, your leg is, therefore, broken, you would just respond with something like "what the hell?"

You tell someone that you don't believe in hell. They tell you that, because you don't believe in hell, you're going to hell. If you get offended at that, you need to lighten up.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:49 PM on November 30, 2006


Seriously, it's like getting furious at someone who tells you that if you don't believe that Superman is real, then Mr. Mxyzptlk is going to kick your ass, so you better believe that Superman is real or suffer Mxyzptlk's wrath.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2006


But it does not have an implied clause of "and I'm glad you are."

Maybe not. But what it does have is an implied clause of 'and it is right that you are', because the theist presumably believes in their deity's ultimate goodness. They may not specifically be happy that the person they are talking to is going to hell, but they are generally happy that the system where they are going to hell exists (the alternative is that they worship a god they believe to be capable of doing the wrong thing - which is a pretty awful metaphysical condition to be in, much worse I think than the most disconsolate forms of atheism).

That's a pretty rude thing to say to someone.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:57 PM on November 30, 2006


But it does not have an implied clause of "and I'm glad you are."

I think we might be talking about different cases here. You're right, there are multiple ways this can be presented, which are offensive in totally different ways.

The first, of the "I'd best persuade this poor lad of the error of his ways" variety, doesn't typically have the insulting tone that s-o-l is talking about. It's still offensive, as it implies that I must just be under-educated, or otherwise ignorant in by belief systems (which are pretty well thought out, thanks), and that I'm just a quick Scripture lesson away from seeing the One True Way. Perhaps they feel that it's their moral imperative, or that they're doing good work, but it shows such a complete lack of understanding of the human condition that I'm left to wonder what the hell they're thinking.

The second is much less frequent, but you do have to admit that there are a fair number of vitriolic theists out there, who aren't out to convert but rather to condemn. Fred Phelps and his ilk spring immediately to mind. Obviously, that's an unfair generalization to make about the religious community as a whole, but there are enough people out there who are saying "You're going to hell and I'm glad!" to make me generally bristle when the statement is made by anyone. And, as ATBH points out, it's still pretty rude.
posted by Mayor West at 1:02 PM on November 30, 2006


but it shows such a complete lack of understanding of the human condition that I'm left to wonder what the hell they're thinking.

Whereas it's not rude at all of you to say that about their belief system. Because, after all, you're right, and they're clearly wrong. Right?

you do have to admit that there are a fair number of vitriolic theists out there, who aren't out to convert but rather to condemn.

Sure, but as I've said before, that's because they're jerks, not because they're religious.

I happen to believe that telling someone they're going to hell -- even if you're right -- is contrary to what God wants, and it's rude, to boot. But I don't get my panties in a bunch about it. I just think of it as analogous to the comic book geek telling me to watch out for the wrath of Doc. Oc. if I don't start believin' in Spidey.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:10 PM on November 30, 2006


Dennis Prager’s meltdown
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on November 30, 2006


Whereas it's not rude at all of you to say that about their belief system. Because, after all, you're right, and they're clearly wrong. Right?

Touché. I guess the only difference is, I don't make a habit of making statements like that, and probably wouldn't do so at all if it weren't, y'know, Metafilter.

I just think of it as analogous to the comic book geek telling me to watch out for the wrath of Doc. Oc. if I don't start believin' in Spidey.

I see your point, and yes, it probably depends on context. I get kind of tired of being treated as an underclass, is all; you'd probably be more upset with the comic book geek if he was out to disenfranchise you for not fearing Doc Oc.
posted by Mayor West at 1:22 PM on November 30, 2006


watch out for the wrath of Doc. Oc. if I don't start believin' in Spidey.

Spidey so loved the world that he sent his only son...
posted by jonmc at 1:27 PM on November 30, 2006


No, it's not. Sorry. It's just not.

It absolutely is, and I have adequately described why. Merely denying it twice isn't a compelling argument against it.

It reflects only the belief of the speaker, and not the speaker's opinion about whether the listener's assumed fate is a desirable outcome.

If you believe that Joe is an asshole, and Joe believes that he is a swell and generous guy, and you call him an asshole, whether he believes it to be true has no bearing whatsoever on whather it is rude, offensive or hateful. None.

Telling someone that they are going to Hell is rude, hateful and offensive, regardless of the intent of the speaker or the belief of the target.

Why? How did you determine the relative probability of those two possible explanations? What were your assumptions, and how did you arrive at the assumptions?

I am making no assumptions; I am drawing a conclusion based on available evidence.

We know for a fact that the human brain is imperfect. We forget things. We fall victim to optical illusions and mirages. We smell smoke when our brain doesn't get enough oxygen. We personify shadows and bumps in the night. More often than most people think, what we believe we have perceived is not reality.

There is no compelling evidence for the existence of any gods. That is, nothing repeatable, falsifiable or testable. Anecdotal evidence is not compelling.

A personal perceived experience with any preternatural phenomenon for which there is no credible evidence is therefore most likely to be a problem with the observer. Not only most likely, but virtually certain.

And, yeah, if you want me to draw this out to its natural conclusion, I am telling you that whenever you think God has spoken to you, you have been delusional. This is not a value judgment, however, because a great many people have had similar delusions -- I have. But it's no more a perception of reality than when you're in bed and it suddenly feels as if the bed just dropped two feet to the floor with you in it (that's the 'hypnic jerk', and almost everyone has perceived it in this fashion). We are constantly interpreting input wrongly. Again, this isn't a value judgment; that's just the way things are.

Seriously, it's like getting furious at someone who tells you that if you don't believe that Superman is real, then Mr. Mxyzptlk is going to kick your ass, so you better believe that Superman is real or suffer Mxyzptlk's wrath.

If the guy telling me this actually believes in Superman and Mxyzptlk, then, yes, it is offensive and hateful.

I happen to believe that telling someone they're going to hell -- even if you're right -- is contrary to what God wants, and it's rude, to boot.

Then WTF are we debating this for? I say it's rude, and you say it's rude. Where do we disagree?
posted by solid-one-love at 1:59 PM on November 30, 2006


And the lameness of a person's arguments reflects on them, not their adversary.

I was making a point you missed. Yes, gods are non-falsifiable - everything is. The other side is that nothing is provable. We all die and are standing in front of something of great power. It tells us it's God. I say "prove it". It can't - all It can try to do is get me to trust.

Since nothing is dis/provable all things come down to how you're going to let ideas influence your thoughts and behavior. Atheists don't let ideas of god/s influence them (influence in the obvious sense).

Simple (hence "lame" in the uninteresting sense) reasonings/justifications/explanations. Much religious debate hardly facilitates sophisticated argument.
posted by Chuckly at 2:01 PM on November 30, 2006


Then WTF are we debating this for? I say it's rude, and you say it's rude. Where do we disagree?

I say it's rude and laughable, and not worth getting pissed off about, and you're pissed off about it. Relax.

I am making no assumptions

If you think you're not making any assumptions, you're clearly delusional.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:20 PM on November 30, 2006


On the whole going to hell thing, if we can all agree its rude, I'm not going to argue about it being hateful. It's not rude enough for me to kick some old ladies ass, but then again not much is. On the same topic, I consider "I'm going to pray for you" to be extremely rude as well. Not the whole, "you're sick, so I'm going to pray for you to be get better", but the "you did something I disapprove of, so I'm going to pray for god to forgive you and/or for you to find faith in my god so he doesn't send you to hell, which is where you're going".

just saying.
posted by Crash at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2006


I say it's rude and laughable, and not worth getting pissed off about, and you're pissed off about it.

I'm pissed off about what? Nobody here's told me that I'm going to hell ("it" in your sentence above) so it's not possible that I am getting pissed off by it or gladdened by it or being paid in donuts by it.

If you think you're not making any assumptions, you're clearly delusional.

I have drawn reasonable conclusions based on evidence. The only assumptions that I have made are that the scientific method and formal logic are valid. As far as I'm concerned, those are axioms, rather than assumptions. If we can't agree on those things, we can't have any discussion at all about anything.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:27 PM on November 30, 2006


On the same topic, I consider "I'm going to pray for you" to be extremely rude as well.

Yup. Because the unspoken sentiment (in the sense you describe) is always obnoxious and/or hateful. Always, every time. Doesn't matter if I believe in their god; it's still rude.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:30 PM on November 30, 2006


The only assumptions that I have made are that the scientific method and formal logic are valid.

lol.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:30 PM on November 30, 2006


So, Jek, you can either be dismissive and give up on the argument or continue to participate honestly.

Let me know which it is -- say, by listing what you perceive to be my assumptions. Y'know, what you could have done instead of posting "lol" like a fuckin' tweener.

Because otherwise, I can put my effort into a thread where I can have such a discussion.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:34 PM on November 30, 2006


Sorry, that was rude. I should have explained.

You assume that formal logic is valid, but then you also assume "We know for a fact that the human brain is imperfect," and that "More often than most people think, what we believe we have perceived is not reality." That's just funny.

You also assume that you can say what a universal standard of "perfect" would be vis a vis the human brain, which is funny, too.

You (and everyone) assume many, many things when you make any assertion. I assumed when you said you didn't make any assumptions that you were kidding.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:38 PM on November 30, 2006


"We know for a fact that the human brain is imperfect," and that "More often than most people think, what we believe we have perceived is not reality." as an argument against the assumption of logic.

This is missing the bigger picture. We are able to discover how our brains lie to us, and thus we are able incorporate that knowledge into our worldview. If logic was lying to us similarly, we would also have the means to discover this. However, it doesn't. So there.
posted by Sparx at 3:12 PM on November 30, 2006


but then you also assume "We know for a fact that the human brain is imperfect," and that "More often than most people think, what we believe we have perceived is not reality." That's just funny.

You also assume that you can say what a universal standard of "perfect" would be vis a vis the human brain, which is funny, too.


It is a judgment, not an assumption, that a brain which processes sensory information accurately is more perfect than one which does not. What is the counter-argument? That a specific powerful being designed us specifically to inaccurately process sensory data and that is is that being's idea of perfection and its way of communicating with us? That canard's so old it has wrinkles.

You (and everyone) assume many, many things when you make any assertion.

By no means; I can solve a quadratic without showing all of my work.

I'm not interested in having a debate that ends up as an exercise in reductio ad absurdum, having to defend each unwritten inference. I hope nobody here is.

Sparx: I don't think Jek was arguing against the validity of formal logic. At least, I hope not. As far as I'm concerned, that isn't debatable and I assume that everyone agrees that this is so. There's no point in continuing any discussion otherwise.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:21 PM on November 30, 2006


"Incorrect; the analogy is precise. It is a statement of acceptance that harm upon another is acceptable. The speaker believes that I will burn in pain for eternity and that the reasons for that suffering are good and valid. I don't need to believe that to be true for the statement to be rude and hateful."

You don't need to believe, you do need to be an over-sensitive pansy.
(But I'm sure that you've never felt any personal schadenfreude over criminals being punished after breaking a law that not everyone agrees with...)
posted by klangklangston at 3:32 PM on November 30, 2006


"If logic was lying to us similarly, we would also have the means to discover this. However, it doesn't. So there."

Boy, that's a couple of faulty assumptions right there... Perhaps you might want to look to the limits of logic, even in abstract mathematical constructs.
posted by klangklangston at 3:34 PM on November 30, 2006


Thank you for your well-defended and impersonal contribution, Klang.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:39 PM on November 30, 2006


Meh. You're just mad that Klang's right.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:07 PM on November 30, 2006


That's twice you've accused me of being angry, Jek.

And I think you've adequately demonstrated that you're not interested in further debate. See you next thread.
posted by solid-one-love at 4:16 PM on November 30, 2006


Although, come to think of it, this sort of answers the question central to the thread. Not that I'm angry; in fifteen years, nobody online has succeeded in engaging me emotionally in any way.

But a good answer to "Why Are Atheists So Angry?" is "Because Theists are so Intellectually Dishonest."
posted by solid-one-love at 4:19 PM on November 30, 2006


I am fully aware of the limits of logic.

I will, however, call you on it, Klang. If you can provide one empirical example of logic failing or lying (not just being inapropriately used or counter-intuitive), by which I mean coming to a conclusion at odds to reality when applied to a real world situation, and not an abstract mathematical construct then I'll do something hugely embarrassing of your choosing (local laws permitting).

Shouldn't be that hard - you seem so sure.

(you can play, too, Jek.)
posted by Sparx at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2006


That's twice you've accused me of being angry, Jek.

"accuse" is such an angry word. I just observed.

If you can provide one empirical example of logic failing or lying (not just being inapropriately used or counter-intuitive), by which I mean coming to a conclusion at odds to reality when applied to a real world situation, and not an abstract mathematical construct then I'll do something hugely embarrassing of your choosing (local laws permitting).

Aquinas' Summa Theologiae is the example you're looking for.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:34 PM on November 30, 2006


Aquinas' Summa Theologiae

Nice try, Jek. Your failure to distinguish between logic and theology explains a great deal. It is, of course, trivially true that if you start off with bizarre, untrue assumptions, logic won't get you anywhere but more confused, but I think I covered that under 'inappropriately used'.
posted by Sparx at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2006


Nice try, Jek. Your failure to distinguish between logic and theology explains a great deal.

I'm sorry, did you just say that Aquinas didn't apply logic in Summa Theologiae? Or are you saying that he applied logic to imperfect information, and that's what led to incorrect conclusions?

I didn't realize you were going to use "inappropriately used" as a catchall escape clause for you to apply subjectively when you don't feel like doing something embarrassing.

But more to the point: can you tell me what "bizarre, untrue assumptions" Aquinas started off with? A good place for you to start would be with his ex contingentia argument. I assume that you think that it arrives at a false conclusion. What bizarre, untrue assumption does it start with, and how do you know that the assumption is bizarre or untrue?
posted by JekPorkins at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2006


"I will, however, call you on it, Klang. If you can provide one empirical example of logic failing or lying (not just being inapropriately used or counter-intuitive), by which I mean coming to a conclusion at odds to reality when applied to a real world situation, and not an abstract mathematical construct then I'll do something hugely embarrassing of your choosing (local laws permitting)."

What exactly are you hoping for? I can come up with oodles of Socratic logic that fails by over-stretching the boundaries of assumption (say, that politics is a skill, and skills are grown by practice, so it is better to have a professional political class). Or the tortured explications of dialectic from Hegel regarding why, exactly, freedom is best embodied by a state. Or the "epoche" used in almost geometric proofs by Husserl.

You might also look to the work of post-democratic theorists like Chantal Mouffe who criticize the Enlightenment belief of universal principles being used to construct states.

But, say, take Thomas Hobbes. Proceeding from the position that every man is essentially equal, and all law is positive, he (very logically) lays out the case for an incredibly authoritarian sovereign as the only sure method for minimizing the risk of violent death. If man is rational, and the worst thing that can happen is to die violently, then we should pursue whatever measure is possible to avoid it.

But this means first fundamentally grounding the state in the sovereign, and secondly imbuing the sovereign with unchecked powers. Logically, it's great because he does prove his thesis, but as far as an actual system of government... Not so much.

In fact, a study of political science will show again and again and again that incredibly logical systems are always incomplete and while appealing are fundamentally insufficient for governance.

Even game theory will show you that there are plenty of times that following the logical course of rational self-interest will lead you to a worse outcome than groups acting "irrationally." (Prisoner's dilemma, etc.)

Or in economic theory, where the model of rational actors has been shown to time and time again incorrectly predict the behavior of groups.

Look, I'm a great believer in rationality and reasoning, but I recognize that when dealing with humans and not with machines that it has its limits. And I actually came to this thread to offer an apology to someone (who I can't remember) that I was dismissive of regarding their experience driving cross-country and being incredibly offended by the Jesus bullshit of the radio (having just done the same myself, and had a similar experience). I've just seen reason and rationality exalted too many times by political theorists and then used to justify "scientific" theories of horrible consequence. I can't pretend to have read enough Foucault to really articulate his criticisms, but I believe that he has a fair repudiation of pure reason as ruling principle.
posted by klangklangston at 8:07 PM on November 30, 2006


What bizarre, untrue assumption does it start with,


Good Lord - Where to begin? I'll go for the low hanging fruit

Assumption of Infinite past. Remove that and the whole argument falls over. Turns out time had a beginning. Plenty of room for things in a mere 14 billion years of history.

Aquinas didn't know that, of course, but he makes the assumption and fails to consider the alternative just because he thinks infinite time is more Godly.

Is that enough, or do you want more? Seriously, can't you do a bit better than ol' Tom? The imprecision of his dusty old sophistry irritates me.
posted by Sparx at 8:23 PM on November 30, 2006


Klang - I take your points and thank you for taking the time to write them out. But I'm not sure the examples you give are what I was getting at - seemingly being more about how the logical extrapolation of given premises sometimes leads to bizarre results. To me, in those cases, the problem lies not with logic but the premises themselves (or in your syllogistic example, logic's faulty application). Is the worst thing for a rational man violent death? It's not pleasant, but at least it usually ends within 24 hours, unlike, say hiccuping for your natural lifespan.

The prisoner's dilemma is, perhaps, more what I was looking for and I will look into those others you mention that I'm not familiar with, but I suspect many of them will turn out to be "Humans aren't robots or vulcans" type examples which, again, is not any indication that logic produces results inconsistent with reality, merely that it's not used by everyone (and, logically, you shouldn't assume that it is)
posted by Sparx at 8:46 PM on November 30, 2006


Assumption of Infinite past. Remove that and the whole argument falls over.

Bzzz. That's not an assumption of the ex contingentia argument. But if you think it is a necessary assumption of that argument, please explain to me how it's a necessary assumption. You clearly understand it far better than I do, since you can dismiss it as not an example of logic failing, even though you disagree with the conclusion. And you did it without even referencing any part of the argument, too. Honestly, I'm just not quick enough to follow you if you don't show your work.

Turns out time had a beginning.

What makes you think that's true? How did you arrive at that conclusion (please don't omit any of the steps required to reach that conclusion, and expressly state any assumptions that you start with on your way there)?

The imprecision of his dusty old sophistry irritates me.

Hey, you asked for an example of logic that fails. That's what I gave you. But I do love how you hold up "logic" as essentially infallible, but are dismissive of "sophistry." That's awesome.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:50 PM on November 30, 2006


Jek... you didn't -give- an example, you cited a text. You can't go around demanding people explain Aquinas to you... that's not how the world works. (I mean, obviously you can; you just did, but it won't be very satisfying.) Instead, you present what you think is a valid argument, just as Sparx has done.

As for the ex contingentia argument, or the argument from necessity, it does indeed assume infinite time, and it is precisely the distinction between efficient and first causes which becomes the distinction between contingent and necessary things. If you assume, as modern science does, that the universe is its own cause, and that its internal causality is universally efficient, you can completely sidestep the entirety of the Thomistic framework. If you couldn't, modern metaphysics would never get off the ground.

The Thomist machinery is quite excellent and beautiful, but it's absurd to ask people on the internet to lay things out for you step by step, when you're not willing to do so yourself. You have to know what you're talking about before you get to play at that level, and at this point you've done nothing to demonstrate that you do. In fact, you've blatantly misunderstood your own argument.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:11 PM on November 30, 2006


Sparx— There's also the very simple (and sophistic) fact that you cannot prove completely that anyone else exists, or that effect follows cause. These are assumptions that must be made in order to live in the world, but are not logical (just because something has happened one million times before given these circumstances does not mean that it will happen again, and you can also make— if prepared to atomize beyond practicality— the case that there are never circumstances nor outcomes that are exactly the same). The only time that logic is the sole measure of a system is in an abstract mathematical system, and even those can't be complete and free of contradiction.

And yes, Hume still ducked when he walked through short doorways, but that's because there's a huge difference between what is probable and what is provable (as Popper came to realize).

Logic is fine and dandy, and often useful, but it's a tool and one invented by humans. But it has limited application, and attempting to see everything through the lens of pure logic leads to a dreary existence. Whether or not that's a failure of logic, I suppose depends on your point of view.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 PM on November 30, 2006


anotherpanacea - sorry - I thought that by giving an example of a text choc full of logic that fails, I would be making Sparx' day.

But then I expressly cited the ex contingentia argument. That's pretty specific. I'm not asking anyone to explain Aquinas to me.

Instead, you present what you think is a valid argument, just as Sparx has done.

Actually, Sparx asked me to present what I think is an invalid argument based on logic, since he/she had asserted that logic is essentially flawless (which, I think you'll agree, is silly).

If you assume, as modern science does, that the universe is its own cause, and that its internal causality is universally efficient, you can completely sidestep the entirety of the Thomistic framework.

Agreed. Logic stands or falls based on its assumptions. And it's impossible to know which assumptions are correct. Therefore logic might stumble on the correct outcome, but only if you stumble on the correct assumptions first.

it's absurd to ask people on the internet to lay things out for you step by step, when you're not willing to do so yourself.

Here is my assertion above, step by step: Sparx wanted an example of logic that fails. I cited a whole book of logic that fails. I assumed that Sparx thinks that Aquinas' conclusions are wrong, but that Sparx would not dispute that Aquinas did, in fact, use logic in reaching them. I perhaps foolishly assumed that he wouldn't play the "I don't think it's an 'appropriate' use of logic" card, but that's just me being gullible, I guess.

You have to know what you're talking about before you get to play at that level, and at this point you've done nothing to demonstrate that you do. In fact, you've blatantly misunderstood your own argument.

Yeah, you assume too much, too. But your machinery is quite excellent and beautiful. And it's nice of you to step in for Sparx.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:28 PM on November 30, 2006


I actually stopped back in to respond to klangklangston's excellent, but wrongheaded, attack on logic.

Most everything you've said is true, klang (can I shorten your name like that?) but I only know that because you demonstrate it through valid argumentation. Logic is limited, yes... worse, it's frequently abused. Even worse than that, humans are highly illogical creatures. However, we're -capable- of working the logic of an argument out slowly, if we're willing to take the time, show our work, etc.

As I read Mouffe, for instance, she depends primarily on the fact of pluralism and the absence of a universal symbolic system to argue (to argue i.e. to draw on the logos and the best practices for its use) that our political lives should not be ruled by the conflation of reason with the European intellectual tradition. We've grown accustomed to certain institutions of liberalism, and she's concerned that they foreclose the plural and agonistic life of the polis. She often tries to tar all of reason with that same brush, but I think she's just being hyperbolic. Otherwise, she wouldn't bother giving reasons for her assertions.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:34 PM on November 30, 2006


Jek- You wrote:

Bzzz. That's not an assumption of the ex contingentia argument.

The "that" was the assumption of the infinite past. It is in fact an assumption of the ex contingentia argument.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:36 PM on November 30, 2006


Meh - I don't think it's a necessary assumption, frankly. Furthermore, I don't think the assertion that time is finite is correct.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:43 PM on November 30, 2006


I don't care what you think. I do this for a living.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:22 PM on November 30, 2006


The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:23 PM on November 30, 2006


By the way... that there? Where I showed that you were wrong?

That's logic... kicking your ass.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:30 PM on November 30, 2006


"I actually stopped back in to respond to klangklangston's excellent, but wrongheaded, attack on logic."

You know, I don't mean it to be an attack on logic, just an attack on the ideology of logical absolutism.

"Most everything you've said is true, klang (can I shorten your name like that?)"

Sure. (We share the same given name, by the way)

"but I only know that because you demonstrate it through valid argumentation. Logic is limited, yes... worse, it's frequently abused. Even worse than that, humans are highly illogical creatures. However, we're -capable- of working the logic of an argument out slowly, if we're willing to take the time, show our work, etc."

Well, yes. An attack on logic can be made in an illogical manner— this has been done from Romantics through Dada to Surrealism and Situationalism. And deconstructionism is, as I understand it, in many ways an attack on logic through quasi-logical means. But critiqueing logic is, in many ways, like critiqueing language (avoiding the logos pun). That you can avail yourself of it to critique it doesn't necessarily undermine the critique.

"As I read Mouffe, for instance, she depends primarily on the fact of pluralism and the absence of a universal symbolic system to argue (to argue i.e. to draw on the logos and the best practices for its use) that our political lives should not be ruled by the conflation of reason with the European intellectual tradition. We've grown accustomed to certain institutions of liberalism, and she's concerned that they foreclose the plural and agonistic life of the polis. She often tries to tar all of reason with that same brush, but I think she's just being hyperbolic. Otherwise, she wouldn't bother giving reasons for her assertions."

Well, I agree with a lot of that, and am not a tremendous Mouffe fanboy (feeling that the endless contention she proposes for resolving every aspect of life seems a bit tedius, and seems to cause more potential problems than it solves the fairly mild ones of people who want to radically negate democracy being excluded from democracy, etc.) but I think that she does go further in her attacks on rational universalism and that she is convincing when discussing the self-contradictory limits of any universal political system based on how the altern are defined by power.
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 PM on November 30, 2006


I don't care what you think. I do this for a living.

Do what for a living? Act dismissive of other people's opinions because you assume they don't know what they're talking about? How does that pay? I do that all the time, but nobody ever pays me anything for it.

The great thing about MeFi is that when someone has an opinion that might have a little depth to it, it can easily be dismissed by claiming that they're out of their league, changing the subject to an area that's just off topic enough that you can go on and on about what they didn't post, and then act like they should have posted an entire treatise if they're so smart.

If what you do for a living involves having in-depth knowledge of the history of and intricacies of philosophy, theology, science, logic and the interaction of those in the context of metaphysics, then you should know better.

By the way... that there? Where I showed that you were wrong?

That's logic... kicking your ass.


Actually, that's logic being wrong, and forcing Sparx to do something embarrassing - of your choice. You won Sparx' challenge. I definitely wish that I had been the one to do it, since I could have come up with something great to force Sparx to do, but you're the winner here, so have at it.

You know, it figures that you'd come across with the whole "I do this for a living" thing. That would explain the need for you to "kick my ass." I'd tell you that kicking my ass means you're going to hell, but I'm not sure you'd get the joke. Plus, you're probably busy dancing around your office at a university somewhere yelling "booya!" I won't disturb your awesome victory celebration.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:42 PM on November 30, 2006


Are you illiterate? I didn't kick your ass. Logic did. In this case, you logic, and your failure to read closely. You made an argument. You were wrong. Live with it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:48 PM on November 30, 2006


languagehat: MeFi atheists love atheist rant! I'm shocked! Wake me up when they can tell the difference between ranting and discussing things sensibly (i.e., with an eye towards possibly affecting people who don't already share their beleaguered little certainties).

Wake up. The man was asked a silly question: why are atheists so angry? It would be an odd response if his answer were less ranty, would it not? To explain his anger in an indolent or placatory fashion? He initially made about as sensible a response as one might make to such a silly question. I didn't take him as trying to convince less certain atheists that they should be angry, or to disabuse believers/theists of their faith. But I think you are mistaken to read it as ye average rant. If I were less charitable, I would read your inclination to do so in the same way you have read the MeFi atheists' responses to be an uncritical affirmation of any post with an atheist tag. I assume (without knowledge) that most atheists would agree that atheist "arguments" can be made poorly, or made well. To judge that this, here, was executed well is not the same as judging that any atheist rant is well done by mere virtue of its expounding atheism. Surely, you can see the difference? [For the record: as a defense of atheism, I think Harris' opening salvo is lacking in subtlety and persuasiveness - but as an explanation of his anger, I find it as acceptable as most psychological explanations.]

nightchrome: More importantly, what is it about atheism that seems to attract complete pricks?

Some complete pricks are indeed atheists, but I'm not sure their representation among the nonbelievers is disproportionately large relative to their prevalence in the general population. It's just that complete pricks get more press. Sane, sensible non-evangelical atheists just don't generate ad revenue in quite the same way, so you don't hear about them as often. But supposing you were right, and that atheism enjoys more than its fair share of pricks - you may still have the causality reversed. It may be that atheism makes them pricks. When one is stuck in a world where 90% of the people around him believe in what to him seems ridiculous, and routinely adopt laws and spend tax dollars and erect social institutions based on those seemingly ridiculous ideas, he might get a little frustrated. He might feel disdainful, but also powerless. He might feel as if he were being governed by a confederacy of dunces. And he might find himself becoming more unsettled, uncomfortable, rancorous, angry, and rather cock-like. I wouldn't be surprised. Otherwise, I don't know - I've never found atheism to attract anyone very strongly. Generally, "atheism" is a label applied to people who were repulsed by other dogmas. It's a default, a catch-all, a label for people who don't believe a bunch of other things. Hence their tendency to argue not so much why they are right as why others are so wrong.

JekPorkins: All they ever seem to do is give reasons why they don't subscribe to the very specific denominational beliefs of whatever religious person they think they're going up against. Being an atheist doesn't mean that you reject the specific god concept of modern christianity. It means you reject all conceivable concepts of god that ever have been or ever could be. Arguing that specific beliefs are dumb does absolutely nothing to support an atheist point of view.

You are technically correct. But often, in an argument, one's goal is not to foreclose all logical possibility that one is wrong; persuasuion is usually of an entirely different character. I am by any functional definition an atheist, and I have never tried to "defend" atheism in your sense, for a very simple, practical reason. I have never been in a situation where such a defense would in any sense be useful, or persuasive. Any of my interlocutors would have found such an arid exercise to be academic and abstract - usually, they just want to know why I think they're wrong - or, more accurately, they want to be able to point out why my rejection of their ideas is misplaced.
posted by dilettanti at 10:55 PM on November 30, 2006


Are you illiterate? I didn't kick your ass. Logic did. In this case, you logic, and your failure to read closely. You made an argument. You were wrong. Live with it.

Well, either way, my ass is sure sore from being kicked. Sorry to give you credit. You can still do the smug victory dance, though. After all, you're getting paid for it. And yes, I'm completely illiterate.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:55 PM on November 30, 2006


The thing is, you can be a winner, too: just come over to my side of the argument. The view is clearer.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:01 PM on November 30, 2006


just come over to my side of the argument. The view is clearer.

That's a reasonable solution. I'll do it!
posted by JekPorkins at 11:16 PM on November 30, 2006


Or... you could be a whiner. A sore loser who'd rather hold on to comfortable falsehoods than face facts. It's up to you: it's certainly the reasonable solution.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:26 PM on November 30, 2006


Dude, I already said I'd come over to your side of the argument.

A sore loser who'd rather hold on to comfortable falsehoods than face facts.

Wait - what "comfortable falsehoods" do you think I'm holding onto? I definitely want to ditch those.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:31 PM on November 30, 2006


Well, let's start with the one about Aquinas not needing an infinite past. Then let's move on to the way you twisted Sparx's bet to be against logic, when in fact he was -for- it, and only against absurd assumptions (like the infinite past.) Finally, let's conclude with the assertion, falsified in this very thread, that atheists never give positive arguments for rejecting god.

It's intellectually dishonest to portray your interlocutor as saying the exact opposite of what he said. If you don't respect the truth, why bother arguing?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:38 PM on November 30, 2006


But critiqueing logic is, in many ways, like critiqueing language (avoiding the logos pun). That you can avail yourself of it to critique it doesn't necessarily undermine the critique.

Sorry, klangklangston, didn't see this before. I agree that internal criticisms are a valid form of deconstruction, and perhaps the best form. I just wonder (honestly, I don't know) whether there is such a criticism that applies to purely propositional logic, just the formal language of argumentation.

From Dada to deconstruction, the criticisms of logic have seemed to say, "Yeah, but I don't live in a formal world. It's irrational and ethnocentric and equisite corpse where I come from." Yet syllogisms, for instance, seem to occupy a foundational role in at least deconstructive critiques, since much of the work of deconstruction is in bringing a text into opposition with itself, making it say A and not-A.

Surrealism and Dada don't really make an argument about logic so much as it ignores it, and I love dada for that... but I don't think that logic fails there, it just misses the point. Worse still, our minds have a dangerous tendency to start making sense out of all that nonsense. Over time, we can't help de-dadafying the text, making the surreal realistic, etc.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:52 PM on November 30, 2006


Well, let's start with the one about Aquinas not needing an infinite past.

I'm not sure how that one comforts me, but I think it's an unnecessary part of the logical string. Someday I'll write a treatise on it, and you can decide that I'm an idiot then, too, I guess. I just happen to think that some of Aquinas' logical steps are superfluous (especially given that he's headed to the wrong conclusions with them anyway).

Then let's move on to the way you twisted Sparx's bet to be against logic, when in fact he was -for- it, and only against absurd assumptions (like the infinite past.)

Sparx was betting that logic is infallible, and that there are no examples of logic failing. If you don't think he lost the bet, that's fine. Go on thinking that.

Finally, let's conclude with the assertion, falsified in this very thread, that atheists never give positive arguments for rejecting god.


Correct me if I'm wrong (by quoting me), but I'm pretty sure I haven't made that assertion. I'm quite sure you're not illiterate, so maybe you could find where you think I asserted that "atheists never give positive arguments for rejecting god."

I did say: "Why, in so many of these posts where atheists go head-to-head with various religious people, don't atheists ever actually give any reasons why they're atheist?" And I stand by that. I have yet to see an FPP on MeFi where an atheist goes head to head with a religious person and actually gives a reason why they're atheist. Some people have been nice enough to give such reasons in this thread, and I do appreciate that.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:53 PM on November 30, 2006


I just caught up with this thread; I’m a mere student, but my philosophy major thus-far has covered lots of Aquinas and lots of Aristotle, and the relevant background—Boethius, etc. anotherpanacea is right. Aquinas is totally leaning on the assumption of an infinite past in Summa, as anotherpanacea wrote above.
posted by Yeomans at 11:58 PM on November 30, 2006


You're right, yeomans. But I don't think he needs to lean on that particular assumption to get where he's going. Besides, that pedantic point is irrelevant to why I brought up Aquinas in the first place.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:01 AM on December 1, 2006


I just happen to think that some of Aquinas' logical steps are superfluous....

There you go thinking again. Making assertions because "I think x" is not an interesting or useful exercise, unless we're inquiring about your opinions. We're not.

Sparx was betting that logic is infallible, and that there are no examples of logic failing.

Sparx actually asked for: "one empirical example of logic failing or lying." The Summa is not an empirical example (it's a book.) Moreover, the argument from necessity is not an example of the failure of logic, but rather involves a faulty, by which I mean ungrounded, assumption. In this way, Aquinas does not illustrate a failure of logic, but rather himself fails at logic.

maybe you could find where you think I asserted that "atheists never give positive arguments for rejecting god."

Here ya go:
All they ever seem to do is give reasons why they don't subscribe to the very specific denominational beliefs of whatever religious person they think they're going up against.

Granted, your use of the word 'seem' gives you some wiggle room. I assume things 'seem' different to you now.

*Yawn* I think you may have cured my insomnia.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:08 AM on December 1, 2006


There you go thinking again. Making assertions because "I think x" is not an interesting or useful exercise, unless we're inquiring about your opinions. We're not.

Wow. Tell me what it is you do for a living again? Torture meanings so that you can pretend to "win" a conversation and then insult people? Seriously, you need to tell me how you got that gig.

Granted, your use of the word 'seem' gives you some wiggle room.

Shame on me for not saying the outrageous thing you wanted to pretend I said. Maybe someone should pay me to add words that give people wiggle room.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:23 AM on December 1, 2006


Did your last content have content? Or was it an false accusation and a meaningless quibble?

For the record, "seem" converts your statement into: "atheists never [seem to] give positive arguments for rejecting god."

It's a difference that makes no difference.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:28 AM on December 1, 2006


sorry, "did your last comment have content."
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:29 AM on December 1, 2006


Seriously, who pays you to do this?
posted by JekPorkins at 12:39 AM on December 1, 2006


Heh... I thought so. You want the last word, eh?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:43 AM on December 1, 2006


I mean, what has religion ever done for us?
posted by ewkpates at 3:11 AM on December 1, 2006


I quite like La Pieta.
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2006


"Sorry, klangklangston, didn't see this before. I agree that internal criticisms are a valid form of deconstruction, and perhaps the best form. I just wonder (honestly, I don't know) whether there is such a criticism that applies to purely propositional logic, just the formal language of argumentation.

From Dada to deconstruction, the criticisms of logic have seemed to say, "Yeah, but I don't live in a formal world. It's irrational and ethnocentric and equisite corpse where I come from." Yet syllogisms, for instance, seem to occupy a foundational role in at least deconstructive critiques, since much of the work of deconstruction is in bringing a text into opposition with itself, making it say A and not-A.

Surrealism and Dada don't really make an argument about logic so much as it ignores it, and I love dada for that... but I don't think that logic fails there, it just misses the point. Worse still, our minds have a dangerous tendency to start making sense out of all that nonsense. Over time, we can't help de-dadafying the text, making the surreal realistic, etc."

I have to say that I'm a little bit out of my range when looking for a purely propositional critique that also has real world application (as Sparx challenged), because the areas that I've studied are primarily in political philosophy (where most of the logical problems are faulty assumptions or tautologies [like the General Will]), and could only vaguely cite Godel for logical systems being either incomplete or contradictory (and I don't know enough math to argue a real world application of Godel). I can say that in some games, like the prisoner's dilemma, doing what is "logical" may lead to worse results than going against what's in one's best interest, but that can be put down somewhat to both improper assumptions and limited knowledge.

And really, that was the point I was trying to make earlier about logic, that it is limited in real world application both by the assumptions we make and what we can prove with it. I know there's a sophist proof out there somewhere, though I can't seem to find it, where black is "proven" to be white (or one is "proven" to be zero), but that's less material to what I was trying to communicate.

I would put forth, however, that dada and surrealism, at least as Breton believed, were "arguments" against logic that simply eschewed logical form. They used disjunction and derailment to undermine logical assumptions. I do believe that it wasn't a total success, as I also think that like language, logic is internal and inherent to humans. Hence the apparent meaning of random juxtapositions.
posted by klangklangston at 8:52 AM on December 1, 2006


klangklangston: And really, that was the point I was trying to make earlier about logic, that it is limited in real world application both by the assumptions we make and what we can prove with it

Point taken. Having thrashed it out I feel that this distinction is valuable. In this new spirit of compromise, I shall end my wager by doing something only vaguely embarrasssing - perhaps arguing with someone on the internet.

anotherpanacea:In this way, Aquinas does not illustrate a failure of logic, but rather himself fails at logic

Babies. Yours. Have.

JekPorkins: The point of my little wager was not to find a man with no arms to prove that a hammer is useless, but to find an example of a nail that is hammer resistant. I used the words 'inappropriately applied' specifically to cover examples where the fault is not the use of logic but its incorrect application due to faulty premises or other human error.

And, for the record, Aquinas's argument from contingency completely depends upon infinite time (specifically infinite past). It requires a possible state of nothingness that must occur if, in infinite time, all possibilities occur, in order to make the point that at one stage there was nothing so something else (a necessary being) had to be there to create the lack of nothingness we enjoy today. "Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence is the key, infinite time dependent line. The moment time is finite, you no longer have a timeline in which all possibilities occur, so drawing the conclusion that all possibilities up to and including nothingness have occured is erroneous.

If you'd like to reformulate it without that aspect, I'd be interested in what you come up with. If you want me to prove the age of the universe I'll just point and laugh at young earth creationists. Yes, I realise it isn't helpful, but I'll enjoy it regardless.
posted by Sparx at 11:35 AM on December 1, 2006


"In this new spirit of compromise, I shall end my wager by doing something only vaguely embarrasssing - perhaps arguing with someone on the internet."

Christ, I couldn't ask you to sink so low.
posted by klangklangston at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2006


klangklangston: I believe that Godel's proof actually shows a flaw in the logic of set theory, which actually goes to your point that we run into problems when we try to make logical propositions describe things and situations in the world. This is confirmed by the first result from my google search. Like you, however, I am primarily a political philosopher, and my investment in logic stops when the logos becomes formalized. Since most of the proofs for a God depend on some form of logic-chopping, however, I make a special exception for intro level discussions of the Scholastics.

I agree on the appeal of Breton et al. (I had a post on manifestos a while back that starred the surrealists... languagehat showed up to post his own translation of the Dada manifesto!) I'm not sure how "disjunction and derailment" are any different than ad hominem or affirming the consequent, however. Informal logicians call it the "red herring" fallacy... though it's admittedly a spectacular version of such irrelevant theses. You can imagine the argument going something like:

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
--------------------------
3. Go Fish, Mr. Lampshade.

It's lighthearted and joyous and I can't help returning to that work, but it sidesteps the question. I've said this before in other threads, but I'll say it here too: the best account for/against/around logic is Gilles Deleuze's _The Logic of Sense_. In it, he derives a very viable theory of meaning and real-world logic from Alice in Wonderland. I mean, what's not to like?

Babies. Yours. Have.

I was looking for the little tykes! Thanks for holding on to them for me. I'll probably be wanting them back sometime after they're done teething.... :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2006


I take your point regarding the red herrings, though I'd say that the best sort of surrealism still makes sense, it just makes a very different sense (though I wouldn't necessarily exempt it from traditional fallacies, now thinking on it).

And that manifesto post was yours? It annoyed me so much because I had come across a couple of the same manifestos on the same day and wanted to post them. Mortal enemies, sir.

When I get time for extracurricular reading, I'll have to remember to pick up that book. In the meantime, I'm struggling through Hegel's Philosophy of Right and just becoming more and more infuriated with the way he seems to present what appears to me as a mountain of handwaivey bullshit on being apprehending itself etc. (And I generally enjoyed Heidegger, who can do the same thing, but somehow Heidegger still made sense).
posted by klangklangston at 12:33 PM on December 1, 2006


(Oh, and let me append that I'm certainly not one to argue for logical proofs of God. I fall in with Keirkegaard on the issue of faith).
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 PM on December 1, 2006


I'm struggling through Hegel's Philosophy of Right and just becoming more and more infuriated with the way he seems to present what appears to me as a mountain of handwaivey bullshit on being apprehending itself etc. (And I generally enjoyed Heidegger, who can do the same thing, but somehow Heidegger still made sense).

A lot of what kills Hegel and helps Heidegger is the recentness of the translations. The quality of contemporary Heidegger translations comes down to the loving care with which Heidegger's students transmitted the esoteric knowledge of Heidegger's scriptures to their new homeland (almost all of them ended up here): they used to be called "Heideggerians of the strict observance," and the parallel with the early Christian Church's attitude towards the Pauline epistles is startling.

Also, while I understand the role that the Philosophy of Right plays in presaging Marx, I still think that The Phenomenology of Spirit is the more excellent for political philosophy. The textual lead up to the French Revolution and Terror, and the subsequent turn to art, religion, and the quotidian culture of the Dutch masters with their humble Protestantism, is the real secret to Hegel's socio-political-economy, as Feuerbach recognized. At that time, coming out of the wars of religion, the theologico-political debates still held more importance than the changes in the means of production, which Hegel was simply not attuned to.

All this, of course, leads us back to God. I'll raise my glass to Kierkegaard anytime you like. But then, he embraced the impossibility of the divine as a precondition for faith. How can I not like that? I teach Fear and Trembling as often as I can.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2006


More on the Prager/Ellison swear-on-a-bible thing, and definitely related to why there is hostility and anger towards those who would make their specific religion the law of our land (because it isn't just about belief or not, but about what people do with their beliefs) : ...In what possible world does any American think forcing a Muslim to swear an oath to a Christian God is in any way constitutional, American, or even human? What are you people, Pontius Pilate? Have you learned nothing from history, the history of the world let alone American history? We did not come to this country to have other religions jammed down our throats. Unlike Israel, many Arab and Muslim countries, and countries in Europe like Greece, America was not set up as a nation under a particular faith. Our elected officials do not need to be of any particular faith, and our head of state most certainly does not. We were established, intentionally, as a nation of many faiths, welcoming of many faiths, and even welcoming of those with no faith at all. ...
posted by amberglow at 3:31 PM on December 1, 2006


nanojah: I sure wish I could read a conversation where an Avowed Atheist and a Member of a Mainstream Evangelical Christian Church tried, in an intellectually honest way, to determine what, if any, real obstacles there are to putting aside the relative rationality of belief versus non-belief in God and taking up instead the practical issues of ending poverty, first and most particularly hunger, and ending war. Wow, what an interesting conversation that would be, huh. I could talk about it all fucking day.

Sounds a bit like the first Humanist manifesto.

solid-one-love: I'm not the person you're replying to, but I'd like to put in my two cents: We need to agree on a definition of atheism before you and anyone else can debate whether or not someone is an atheist, I think.

Well, I don't really think that we need a single definition of atheism either. We recognize a wide diversity of variations of theism including monotheism, pantheism, panentheism, deism, and animism. So why must we accept JekPorkins' "No true atheist" argument?

To some extent, his claims apply to people of faith arguing against atheism as well. I've found that people of faith try to knock down a specific strawman version of atheism rather than address the whole spectrum af atheist thought.

amberglow: The issue of the oath is an automatic non-starter according to Article VI, Clause 3: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:22 PM on December 1, 2006


Thanks for the link, amberglow! The logic behind this:

But these naive people do not appreciate that America will not change the attitude of a single American-hating Muslim by allowing Ellison to substitute the Koran for the Bible. In fact, the opposite is more likely: Ellison's doing so will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones, as Islamists, rightly or wrongly, see the first sign of the realization of their greatest goal -- the Islamicization of America.

is absurd. In other words, if Ellison were to use a Koran* the Terrorists win!!!! Those sneaky bastards!

*Of course in the real world-- not Dennis Prager's Make Believe Fairy Tale America Land-- Ellison and every other congress person won't actually be swearing *on* anything. But how many people clutching eagerly at the pearls of wisdom dropping from Saint Prager the Logician will know this?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:07 PM on December 1, 2006


and would Prager be yelling like this if it was Lieberman and Torah scrolls?

Interesting thing from Jerusalem Post: In the Diaspora: In-your-face atheism
posted by amberglow at 10:42 PM on December 1, 2006


Religion is all about enduring poverty by sharing what little you have with others, while having lots of kids and submissively learning to like it. A pacification. This puts the rest of us in a quandry. We are expected to pity the wretches as cripples and not as victims. When critics suggest that it is not a handicap, but a form of slavery, then the critics are politically framed as insensitive, precisely because the game is to keep pretending that the victims are handicapped. This insensitivity is then framed as anger when needed for propaganda finetuning.
posted by Brian B. at 5:51 PM on December 4, 2006


ADL Slams Dennis Prager's Racist Assault on Keith Ellison
posted by amberglow at 3:26 PM on December 5, 2006


and CAIR: U.S. Holocaust Museum Urged to Drop Islam-Basher (Bush put Prager on their Board)
posted by amberglow at 7:55 PM on December 5, 2006


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