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December 11, 2008 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Richard Dawkins releases his uncut interview with Derren Brown (50 mins +), originally conducted for the Enemies of Reason show - available in six parts on YouTube.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar (210 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is, in fact, the edited version. They cut out the scene where their respective egos burst out of their chests, Alien-style, and fight each other like pit bulls.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:35 PM on December 11, 2008 [25 favorites]


I'd pay extra for that.
posted by rokusan at 1:46 PM on December 11, 2008


Here ya go rokusan.
posted by ALongDecember at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pure DawkinsFilter.

20 posts tagged "'Dawkins" ... 15 tagged "Richard Dawkins" ... do we really need 'Let's watch Dawkins argue with a hypnotist!'
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:54 PM on December 11, 2008


Dawkins and Brown? Terrific, thanks the_very_hungry_caterpillar.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:54 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dawkins strikes me a not at all an egotistical person. Why would you say that, Marisa?
posted by Dasein at 1:55 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why would you say that, Marisa?

Brights?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


I always thought it was a little creepy when he kissed all the women on The Family Feud.
posted by flarbuse at 1:59 PM on December 11, 2008 [17 favorites]


A fight in a pit with swords would be better; then the survivor can take on The Amazing Randi.
posted by everichon at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2008


Never mind me. I am just consumed with envy at Dawkins' marriage to Romana.

And also "Brights". Jaysus.
posted by everichon at 2:02 PM on December 11, 2008


Throw Michael Moore in and you have a new hit TV show.
posted by peewinkle at 2:03 PM on December 11, 2008


I sense a great disturbance in the Blue, as if dozens of stale arguments suddenly broke out in tandem and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible is about to happen. I sense it has something to do with LOLXTIANS! Do you know someone whose name starts with the letter 'D?" Dave, maybe? Dick? Yes? No? Richard, perhaps? Well, at any rate, this is not the forum you were looking for. We should go about our business. Move along.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:06 PM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's not an adversarial debate, by the way, as some people seem to be assuming, they're amicably discussing what sorts of psychological and linguistic techniques "psychics" use to fool people. It's fairly interesting thus far and I'm seriously not a Dawkins fan. But my goodness I'm irritated by how the interview is filmed (a static shot of two seated subjects with occasional close-ups works just fine, okay?), I can't even watch it. Good listen though.
posted by nanojath at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2008


You know lot's of smart decent people say dumb things every once in a while. Is this really so irredeemable? Is this really a reason to be completely dismissive?

I think if your gonna hold a forever grudge about dumb things people say... things like "brights"... then... well... this here internet has search engines that are real good at finding all the dumb things people might say. Things said on a medium like... oh... Metafilter or something. And chances are y'all might have said some pretty dumb things.
posted by tkchrist at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Brights?

Okay, good point. That's insufferable. But he still seems to be quite polite and not-egotistical in most of his conversations with people, including those he disagrees with.
posted by Dasein at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2008


Pure DawkinsFilter - 20 posts tagged "'Dawkins" ... 15 tagged "Richard Dawkins" ... do we really need 'Let's watch Dawkins argue with a hypnotist!

I'm always interested in why people bother to post comments like this. If you don't like Dawkins - move on. Personally, I think Dawkins has a valid message for these times, especially when many MeFi readers live in the US where the state and church are welded together - and the christian right have a disproportionate influence.

Also, if you bother to watch the show you'll see that this is NOT about theology, but about cold reading anf the commercialism of clairvoyance... or maybe you just jumped to some conclusion as soon as you saw the name Dawkins, eh?
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 2:13 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why does Dawkins always have a grimace? There's two headshots of the guy in the fourth link and he's frowning in both of them!

(Not Bright-ist)
posted by hellojed at 2:13 PM on December 11, 2008


I think if your gonna hold a forever grudge about dumb things people say... things like "brights"... then... well... this here internet has search engines that are real good at finding all the dumb things people might say. Things said on a medium like... oh... Metafilter or something. And chances are y'all might have said some pretty dumb things.

Dawkins is above teasing now? Gosh, maybe you're right. Maybe I should go to the self-described "clear-thinking oasis".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:18 PM on December 11, 2008


boy I loves me some Darren Brown. The couple of books he wrote as a snotty young magician were two of the funniest magic books I've ever read. We still quote one of the lines in the Ricketts household:

"I still remember what Madonna once said to me in her dressing room. 'Out. Get out.'"
posted by Wink Ricketts at 2:21 PM on December 11, 2008


Not above teasing. No. But he's still smarter than you or me. IMHO you owe to the guy to at least come up with something interesting or halfway original to snark.

C'mon. Lot's of brilliant people egoistical. And?

It's BORING that anything even tangentially related to Dawkins get's "brights" snarked into the ground in the first ten posts nearly every single time before the thread even get's off the ground and it's indicative of a certain agenda.
posted by tkchrist at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry for the typo's I'm heavily medicated at the moment.
posted by tkchrist at 2:29 PM on December 11, 2008


you'll see that this is NOT about theology

That's correct. People of true faith have no need to know about the skills of an illusionist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:30 PM on December 11, 2008


It seems to me that Dawkins is a completely different person in person than he comes off as in his books - particularly the explicitly polemical ones. If your sole exposure to him is through his writings and the RichardDawkins.net interviews then, yeah, you're probably going to catch a wiff of arrogance, among other unpleasant attributes. I know I find him almost impossible to read (outside of the Selfish Gene, which I found quite the eye-opener).
When he's dealing in person with people of opposing viewpoints, though, he actually seems quite pleasant and even friendly at times. I don't think he's dissembling or anything, he just has different standards of dealing with people face-to-face and in print.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:30 PM on December 11, 2008


From this thread, I learned about Brights. Thanks, MeFi, for letting me know there are creepy organizations for people without religion too.
posted by aliceinreality at 2:31 PM on December 11, 2008


I'm sure there is no egoism involved in setting yourself up as a defender of reason. No none at all.
posted by oddman at 2:40 PM on December 11, 2008


When he's dealing in person with people of opposing viewpoints, though, he actually seems quite pleasant and even friendly at times. I don't think he's dissembling or anything, he just has different standards of dealing with people face-to-face and in print.

I've never met him. But I saw him talk once. And I thought he was stand up down to earth sort of guy.

In a way it reminds me of Jimmy Carter. There is this whole machine that has a cottage industry out there to constantly defame the guy. Anything he writes is scrutinized by certain people with an agenda and then certain phrases, anecdotes, and turns of phrase are extracted from any thing the guy says or has done and filtered.

He sinned in his heart. The failed hostage rescue in Iran. The "killer" rabbit. He's an anti semite.

Jeeze. Pretty soon anything remotely sensible the man has to say, or anything great he has done, is lost.

Years ago I went to go see Carter speak as well. Damn. The guy was brilliant.

Anyway. I like Dawkins over all. I think he's an honest very well intentioned intellectual attempting to articulate a very, very, unpopular line of thought.
posted by tkchrist at 2:42 PM on December 11, 2008 [11 favorites]


caterpillar: Note that I didn't say "theology filter". I just think that, if there were 20 posts on the blue which referenced any academic other than Dawkins, people would suspect this place of getting stale pretty fast. I'm just curious why this much Dawkins is okay where this much Obama was/ is ElectionFilter.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2008


I'm sure there is no egoism involved in setting yourself up as a defender of reason. No none at all.

Shouldn't be. We should all be defenders of reason. Why would you ever be against reason?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:43 PM on December 11, 2008 [10 favorites]


I'm sure there is no egoism involved in setting yourself up as a defender of reason. No none at all.

I'm certain that there is.

But I think in many cases it's irrelevant to the larger point.
posted by tkchrist at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think he's an honest very well intentioned intellectual attempting to articulate a very, very, unpopular line of thought

Read his stuff. You'll see where the other folks are getting their views of him - to be honest, I don't think much of the "great anti-Dawkins defamation conspiracy" theory, myself. That said, I think that the fellow you saw speak, and the fellow who does the face-to-face stuff, is a lot closer to the real person than the rather bitter and angry fellow we get on the written page.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:45 PM on December 11, 2008


Raining: I think it's that we're all for reason that makes it egotistical. It's like setting yourself up as defender of truth, justice and the American way - it assumes everybody else doesn't and assumes you're a reason superhero.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:56 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


l33t: given your profile's website (theotherjournal.com) I think you have a different agenda here.

I am English and have had to wade through tons of Obama/election noise for the last six months, and I have never felt inclined to post a comment saying I want less. I just move on.

Being a christian you will have issues with Dawkins, but given the interesting debate that surrounds these posts I think they are valid and worth sharing. Too much Dawkins for you? Flag it & move on.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 2:57 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Note that I didn't say "theology filter". I just think that, if there were 20 posts on the blue which referenced any academic other than Dawkins, people would suspect this place of getting stale pretty fast. I'm just curious why this much Dawkins is okay where this much Obama was/ is ElectionFilter.

20 posts about Richard Dawkins in ten years? I'm just not quite sure how metafilter can have coped with such a torrent
posted by dng at 2:59 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm an independent blogger for TOJ and have nothing to do with it's editorial style. If you've "accused" me of being a theist, then I suppose you're right. Though I believe in evolution, that's also not the point. My only point is, I don't think anybody deserves a free pass, and at least doesn't deserve it over and over.

That being said, I'm moving on.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:00 PM on December 11, 2008


great anti-Dawkins defamation conspiracy" theory, myself

I don't know about Dawkins so much as sure as shit was/is a concerted effort to defame Carter.

However I just saw a couple of South Park episodes and some bits by that idiot Carlos Mencia that savage him. Not to mention Dawkins seems be the default just-to-the-left of Satan whipping post that Fox and O'Rielly drag out about this time every year. Because Dawkins WANTS TO KILL SANTA CLAUS! And here on Metafilter he sure is a hate magnet. Almost as much as Bono.

So. Conscious conspiracy? Maybe not. But he is some low hanging fruit to go after.
posted by tkchrist at 3:03 PM on December 11, 2008


rather bitter and angry fellow we get on the written page

Yeah, I've read most of his stuff and don't agree with this at all. I don't get why people feel like he's bitter and angry. I actually quite like his stuff.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:07 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


we're all for reason

I can't say I see the evidence of that in the world.

Too much Dawkins for you? Flag it & move on.

I don't see l33tpolicywonk breaking any guidelines, here. I don't see why his opinions should be less welcome just because he's a Christian. You don't get to restrict the conversation to only those who agree with you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:10 PM on December 11, 2008


And in fact, since everyone seems to be piling on without listening to this really pleasant conversation about fraud between two friends, it's the anti-dawkins critics who are coming off as strident and slightly crazy to me.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:11 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not an adversarial debate, by the way, as some people seem to be assuming

There's something about Dawkins that brings out a particular flavour of dickhead, usually one who is largely unfamiliar with his work; think of it as the equivalent of posting something interesting about Muslims on FreeRepublic.

Yeah, I've read most of his stuff and don't agree with this at all.

Ditto. I'm not sure how The Ancestor's Tale could be parsed in such a way, for starters.

tkchrist: You forgot the mandatory "I'm so liberal and I hate Dawkins" crew.
posted by rodgerd at 3:14 PM on December 11, 2008


Why would you ever be against reason?

Reason can get in the way of what someone wants, like control over other people, maintained through trickery and subterfuge.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 PM on December 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't know about Dawkins so much as sure as shit was/is a concerted effort to defame Carter

Ah. I misunderstood, then.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2008


I'm always interested in why people bother to post comments like this.

Since this thread has gone all Meta and is now mostly about the thread, I'll just add that MetaFilter doesn't have a problem with Dawkins FPPs, per se, so long as the content is actually new-ish and interesting. What we do have a problem with is Dawkins threads, which tend to quickly turn out icky because he's a polarizing figure on a sensitive subject and Dawkins threads invariably wind up about Dawkins the personality, not the subject of the FPP. Which is why, unless the FPP is about something really extraordinarily different (Dawkins starts a blog about Broadway shows), there's often a "here we go again" vibe when Dawkins FPPs show up (which is a lot more frequently than 20 in 10 years). It's also why most of these threads get deleted. "Here's something else Dawkins said" just usually doesn't pass the "worth the headache" test.

And for the record, I like Dawkins just fine. I even like Dawkins threads. But I've followed enough of them by now not to expect a different outcome to spontaneously generate out of the ether(net) and suddenly evolve into coherence.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:34 PM on December 11, 2008


I see what you did there.
posted by tkchrist at 3:44 PM on December 11, 2008


Not above teasing. No. But he's still smarter than you or me. IMHO you owe to the guy to at least come up with something interesting or halfway original to snark.

Do I? I think it's OK to make a light-hearted quip about a famous person. I don't have an "agenda" and I don't have a "grudge". And I'm glad there are guys like him who can go up against the likes of Ben Stein and absolutely crush them with logic.

It was a bleeding joke. Sheesh.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:52 PM on December 11, 2008


It was a bleeding joke

And you really nailed it. No stigma attached.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:57 PM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well played, sir.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2008


I guess I'd have a pretty big ego too if I was as fucking awesome as Richard Dawkins.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:08 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's OK to make a light-hearted quip about a famous person.

And so do I. But it was the first comment and you see what happened, right?
posted by tkchrist at 4:19 PM on December 11, 2008


Yeah, I've read most of his stuff and don't agree with this at all.

Ditto. I'm not sure how The Ancestor's Tale could be parsed in such a way, for starters


My mistake. I should have made clear that I was talking about his polemical work - The God Delusion being the best example. As I noted earlier in the thread, I think his scientific stuff is quite good.
If you've read The God Delusion and you don't think angry or bitter applies...well, I suppose that we then have encountered a fundamental disagreement regarding what those words mean. I'll let that stand as my last contribution here - this thread looks as if it is rapidly going the same way as all the previous Dawkins threads have.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:29 PM on December 11, 2008


And so do I. But it was the first comment and you see what happened, right?

Good point. No one's said a word about Derren Brown.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on December 11, 2008


I suppose that we then have encountered a fundamental disagreement regarding what those words mean

Yeah, I guess we do. It didn't strike me as bitter in any way when I read it. A touch strident, perhaps, but as an oft-argued with atheist, I guess I get where that's coming from.

I just went and found some excerpts to re-read since I'm at my office (*) and it still doesn't strike me as angry or bitter.

I just finished reading Breaking The Spell, which is a really good book. Much more even in tone, but even Dennet talks about the reaction people have to just talking about these things.

Oh well, maybe it's me.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2008


>"Here's something else Dawkins said" just usually doesn't pass the "worth the headache" test

The thing is, do we ever expect Dawkins to start blogging about Broadway shows? Richard Dawkins is probably going to be talking about the same thing for the rest of his life, so waiting for him to do something drastically different is essentially just forgetting about him.

The thing about Dawkins threads is that once he becomes the subject of the post, the thread is going to be about him and not the post. This is really a post about how psychics operate, an interview conducted by Dawkins but not about him.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 5:10 PM on December 11, 2008


"Hello, Billy, teatime! Gruts for tea! - Billy! Billy! Come on, son. Gruts for tea! Fresh gruts!"

"Oh, I don't want gruts for tea, Daddy."

"What? I went out specially and got them for you."

"Aw, but Daddy, we had gruts yesterday."

"Look, son, I walked seven miles to the High Wood to get you gruts. That's fourteen miles in all, counting the journey back, and you don't want gruts? I fried them for you. Fried gruts - mmm - I fried them in butter."

"I don't want them, Daddy. Daddy, we've had gruts for three years now. I'm fed up with gruts. I don't want them any more. Daddy, can't we have something else for tea?"

"Oh, son! Gruts! They're lovely."

"Daddy, I don't want gruts any more. I hate gruts. I detest them. I have them every day and they're always fried in butter. Can't you think of another way of cooking gruts? There's hundreds of ways of cooking gruts: boil them or bake them or stew them or braise them - but every day - fried gruts. 'Billy, come in for tea. Fried gruts. I've walked fourteen miles. Seven miles to the High Wood and back.' Three years of gruts. Look what it's done to me, Daddy! Come here! Come here into the bedroom and look at ourselves in the mirror, you and me. Now look at that!"

"Yes. I see what you mean. Son, let's not waste these gruts. Tomorrow, I'll go to the High Wood and get something else."

"Look, Daddy, you've been saying this for three years now. Every day we have this same thing. I take you to the mirror and you say we'll have something else for tea. What else is there in the High Wood besides gruts?"

"Well, there's leaves, bark, grass, and leaves. Gruts are really the best. You must admit it."

"Yes, Daddy, I admit it. Gruts are really the best, but I don't want them. I hate them. I detest them. In fact I'm going to take this panful of gruts and throw them out."

"Oh, don't do that! Don't throw them out for goodness' sake! You'll poison the dog!"
posted by mandal at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


LOLBRIGHTS!
posted by joe lisboa at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2008


It seems to me that Dawkins is a completely different person in person than he comes off as in his books...
i've never been to one, but i suspect this is the kind of revelatory experience people have at MeFi meetups.
posted by klanawa at 5:24 PM on December 11, 2008


One humorous point that Derren Brown makes about Tarot reading in the video is that if you get a reading then wait a while, and get another reading, you're not going to get the same cards. So what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to get continual readings to get your "truest" predicted future?
posted by storybored at 5:31 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, this is a good post of a very interesting video. I get the impression that a least of a few of the kneejerk snarkers didn't even bother to watch 30 seconds of the video. Or actually even inform themselves about the people featured in it. There's a pretty good history of illusionists/magicians/mentalists who are very active in the skeptic community. Penn, Teller and Randi being the most obvious.

This isn't about evolution, though I'd say that Sylvia Browne and ID proponents share the award for being the most brazenly dishonest people in the world. The video is actually about the techniques of cold reading, which everyone should at least look into, as it is pretty fascinating to see.

I don't usually throw around labels like "good" or "bad" when describing people, but psychic mediums are truly some of the most evil and despicable people on earth. Very few people are openly aware of the fact that they doing something so blatantly wrong. I mean at least cult leaders, some historical dictators, racist fringe groups and religious radicals really believe that what they are doing is for the greater good. Sylvia Browne, John Edward and James Van Praagh are just crassly playing with peoples emotions for money. All three of them are on my very short list of people that I will punch soundly in the genitals if I ever see them. No greeting, no trash talk, just a swift fist to their respective baby makers.

In case you were wondering, Karl Rove is the only other person currently on my list.
posted by Telf at 5:35 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting stuff. I liked the bit in the first episode about the superstitious pigeons.
posted by jonesor at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2008


I have a total man-crush on Dawkins. If you've gotten the idea that he's an unreasonable man, watch this great video (a two-parter), where he addresses a university audience and then takes questions for a while. He does kind of snap at one questioner, but that's because students from Liberty University had infiltrated the audience (undoubtedly believing themselves to be wonderfully clever) and kept wasting everyone's time with incredibly stupid questions. They were totally asking for it. For the most part, he put up with it far better than I would have.

Then take note that he does have a sense of humor.

It seems like most of the Dawkins-hate is focused on his (perceived) attitude, not his arguments. And I find that a bit distressing. It's a symptom of the exact mindset he's fighting against—that it doesn't matter whether ideas have integrity and coherence, but whether or not we like the ideas. Perhaps his detractors have no response to his arguments, so they resort to "LOL DAWKINS IS A DICK AMIRITE"—I don't know. But, detractors: explaining why he's wrong would be a lot more compelling (and constructive) than explaining that you don't like him.

Anyway, many of the ideas he's attacking (and he always attacks ideas—never people) totally deserve it. Most religious beliefs are retarded; it's almost surreal how easy it is to demonstrate the flaws in most religious thinking. The fact that we're afraid to say these notions are retarded—because we've been taught to respect any claim made in the name of religion, no matter how patently irrational—is part of the problem. The real dicks are the people who demand that we accept extravagant, logically incoherent, wholly unsubstantiated claims about invisible omnipotent beings just because they say so.

I also don't understand the idea that crusading for reason is an egotistical act. Why? And should we then turn our backs on reason, for fear of being labeled egotists? Reason is under assault from many quarters (probably always has been), and unless you're ready to replace democracy with theocracy, modern medicine with snake-oil and leeches, and science with magical thinking, we need crusaders for reason.
posted by greenie2600 at 5:41 PM on December 11, 2008 [22 favorites]


Looks like Anderson Cooper has been focusing on Sylvia Browne fairly recently. I think these videos are pretty interesting. James Randi on cold reading.
posted by Telf at 5:56 PM on December 11, 2008


The real dicks are the people who demand that we accept extravagant, logically incoherent, wholly unsubstantiated claims about invisible omnipotent beings just because they say so.


I quite agree. To quote from Charlie Brooker's wonderful Screen Burn review of the program.

"Welcome to a dangerous new era - the Unlightenment - in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about "chakras" and "healing energies", praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently."
posted by jonesor at 6:00 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


"But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults..."

Thus pointing out why perhaps debunkers face strong headwinds. Slapping people usually makes them want to slap you back....
posted by storybored at 6:34 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, how dreary, dahlings.

Let's derail this thread into a discussion of Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism.
In Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, he argues that the truth of evolution is an epistemic defeater for naturalism (i.e. if evolution is true, it undermines naturalism). His basic argument is that if evolution and naturalism are both true, human cognitive faculties evolved to produce beliefs that have survival value (maximizing one's success at "feeding, fighting, and reproducing"), not necessarily to produce beliefs that are true. Thus, since human cognitive faculties are tuned to survival rather than truth in the naturalism-cum-evolution model, there is reason to doubt the veracity of the products of those same faculties, including naturalism and evolution themselves. On the other hand, if God created man "in his image" by way of an evolutionary process (or any other means), then Plantinga argues our faculties would probably be reliable.

The argument does not assume any necessary correlation (or uncorrelation) between true beliefs and survival. Making the contrary assumption—that there is in fact a relatively strong correlation between truth and survival—if human belief-forming apparatus evolved giving a survival advantage, then it ought to yield truth since true beliefs confer a survival advantage. Plantinga counters that, while there may be overlap between true beliefs and beliefs that contribute to survival, the two kinds of beliefs are not the same, and he gives the following example with a man named Paul:

“ Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief... Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it... Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour.[20] ”

Thus, since there is no warrant for assuming a strong correlation between truth and survival, evolution conjoined to naturalism undermines the likelihood of both concepts being true.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:43 PM on December 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


This is a really interesting interview and people should watch it instead of arguing about Dawkins.
posted by empath at 6:53 PM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm watching it right now; I'm on part 5 of 6. It is interesting. Dawkins retells Michael Shermer's story about the marks in a psychic's audience who got mad at him for proving that the performer was a charlatan. They preferred being credulous suckers.

I've encountered this attitude before myself. I really don't know what to make of it.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:04 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dawkins is a good example of someone I more or less am in full agreement with on the issues, but who I find to be a boorish, overbearing douchebag. I'm more of an agnostic and don't fall completely lockstep with Dawkins's views on religion, but I agree with him more often than not. It's his condescending and sneering and sometimes rather mean-spirited attitude that I find insufferable at times.
posted by zardoz at 7:09 PM on December 11, 2008


i haven't heard of plantinga, but i think charles taylor does a better job of explaining naturalism and its relationship to our current condition.

We should all be defenders of reason. Why would you ever be against reason?

being a 'defender of reason' immediately sets up everyone who disagrees with you as an unreasonable idiot, incapable of seeing the light, being a 'defender of reason' is not so much an accurate description of a cause so much as a political act designed to control the terms of the conversation from the outset. not being a defender of reason doesn't automatically make you unreasonable, yet putting the term out there implicitly invokes an us vs them, with us or against us affair, this seems like a profoundly disingenuous move. everyone has their reasons, the point isn't to annihilate tenuous reasoning but to present the self evidence of good reasoning. the persistence of religion highlights a lack in the scientific/rational account of reality as much as it conceals a moral palliative.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:11 PM on December 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


I've encountered this attitude before myself. I really don't know what to make of it.

It's largely a failure to deal with their own mortality. You'd of course get similar results 'proving' that the priest doesn't change wine into the blood of christ. If you're crapping on somebody's belief in an afterlife you might as well stab them in the heart.
posted by empath at 7:12 PM on December 11, 2008


zardoz, could you provide some specific examples of when Dawkins has been a boorish, overbearing douchebag? This isn't snark—I'm genuinely curious, because I've never seen him that way at all, and I've read and seen a fair bit of his work.

IMHO he's just speaking frankly and forthrightly about issues that we're used to hearing surrounded by hedges and apologies and and noncommitance.

On topic: does anyone know which psychic Dawkins might be talking about around 8:30 in the fifth part of the interview? Surely this incident is on YouTube. I'd love to see it.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:14 PM on December 11, 2008


Here
posted by empath at 7:21 PM on December 11, 2008


I think he was referring to Peter Popoff.

(He was actually a 'faith healer', but the same idea! Oh, and his career was ended the exposé, contrary to what Dawkins says.)
posted by stepheno at 7:26 PM on December 11, 2008


greenie2006, that was also my favourite bit. Seems to apply to many things. (Did somebody say strong headwinds?)

Also (From 9:00 in the third part):
R.D. "So there's more money if you pretend to be something that you're not?"
D.B. "The moment you say it's real you're tapping into something enormous in people."
... It's like pop music?...

And to add my own derail: I would enjoy hearing more from enemies specifically of too much reason like Robert Pirsig, Adam Curtis' Century of the Self (vaguely),...
posted by yoHighness at 7:44 PM on December 11, 2008


empath: Thanks! People, please watch this, and then tell me who's the douchebag.

fleetmouse: thanks for that; I'd never heard of it, and I suspect the basic idea is quite correct. Though I fail to see how the observation that natural selection favors survivalist cognition over empirically accurate cognition has any bearing on the validity of naturalism. I'll have to take a closer look later.

doobiedoo: I'm sorry you see it so cynically. I think you might be confusing the colloquial definition of "reason" with its slightly more technical meaning:
"...the adjective of reason in philosophical contexts is normally "rational", not "reasonable".
Okay, technically this is still imprecise, since an argument can be perfectly rational (i.e., logically consistent) while still being false (because it is based on false premises)—but since no one who believes in rationalism disbelieves in the importance of accurate premises, "reason" means, for practical purposes, "a method of assessing claims which expects them to be justified by sound reasoning from sound premises".

The kinds of claims that Dawkins and others oppose, then, demonstrably do not represent reason, because they are based on flawed logic, or on premises which don't stand up to scrutiny and independent verification, or on both. In many cases, these flaws are amazingly transparent, if one only cares to look for them in the first place.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:46 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


And by "empirically accurate", of course, I meant "objectively accurate".

/analretentive
posted by greenie2600 at 7:49 PM on December 11, 2008


stepheno: "I think he was referring to Peter Popoff.

(He was actually a 'faith healer', but the same idea! Oh, and his career was ended the exposé, contrary to what Dawkins says.)
"

It may have ended his career at the time, stepheno - but he is back now. I see Peter Popoff infomercials running all over the lower end of my cable channels every night, along with those of the other slimeballs like Kevin Trudeau or the magic colon cleansing pimps. The idea that people might be watching these bloodsuckers and believing them makes me feel ill.
posted by John Smallberries at 7:53 PM on December 11, 2008


Though I fail to see how the observation that natural selection favors survivalist cognition over empirically accurate cognition has any bearing on the validity of naturalism.

Well, if our brains evolved and were selected for survival and not truth, and the idea of naturalism is a product of such a brain...

The funny thing is, Nietzsche had somewhat the same idea:
For us, the falsity of a judgment is still no objection to that judgment — that’s where our new way of speaking sounds perhaps most strange. The question is the extent to which it makes demands on life, sustains life, maintains the species, perhaps even creates species. And as a matter of principle we are ready to assert that the falsest judgments (to which a priori synthetic judgments belong) are the most indispensable to us, that without our allowing logical fictions to count, without a way of measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world through numbers, human beings could not live — that if we managed to give up false judgments, it would amount to a renunciation of life, a denial of life.

To concede the fictional nature of the conditions of life means, of course, taking a dangerous stand against the customary feelings about value. A philosophy which dares to do that is for this reason alone already standing beyond good and evil.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dick Dawkins is actually a pretty funny name if you say it in the standard unfunny comedian's mentally-handicapped-voice.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:49 PM on December 11, 2008


Most religious beliefs are retarded; it's almost surreal how easy it is to demonstrate the flaws in most religious thinking.

Every time I see athe-activists jerking off about incipient transhumanism, the idea that we live in the Matrix, crypto-Platonism and the idea that there ought to be a Church of Science for the grubby intellectual proles I feel exactly the same way.
posted by mobunited at 9:20 PM on December 11, 2008


Every time I see athe-activists jerking off about incipient transhumanism, the idea that we live in the Matrix, crypto-Platonism and the idea that there ought to be a Church of Science for the grubby intellectual proles I feel exactly the same way.

I look forward to seeing you prove any of that prattle.

Right here, right now.

Difficulty: has to come from credible and respected atheists. Hot Topic managers bleating away on youtube will be considered ineligible.

Good luck!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:34 PM on December 11, 2008


For the people who say Dawkins is bitter, I say: this is bitter.
posted by breath at 11:13 PM on December 11, 2008


zardoz, could you provide some specific examples of when Dawkins has been a boorish, overbearing douchebag?

"brights"

----

You know lot's of smart decent people say dumb things every once in a while.

well, tk, he's yet to apologize for it or take it back - and it wasn't a casual, off- the-cuff comment, but a considered, deliberate provocation that he thought many should participate in

it was passive aggressive derision disguised as a potential social movement - and it has very little to do with the defense of reason - which is another rhetorical phrase that doesn't actually signify anything, as people are not making the rules of logic magically disappear, or forcing others to think irrational thoughts

in fact, a person who thinks he could be irrational is probably more trustworthy than a person who KNOWS he makes his decisions "rationally"

i defy anyone, including dawkins, to banish irrational thinking processes from his mind - true, one should be cautious about what one believes and how one acts upon it - but you WILL believe something and you WILL act upon it and you WILL be as "dull" as the rest of us no matter how much you call yourself "bright"

so dawkins didn't just say something dumb - he believes something dumb - that calling oneself "bright" actually makes you "bright" - or that anyone can be "bright" on a consistent basis

that being said, it's certainly a public service to expose cold reading tricks so the public can be aware of them - now if someone could only do the same for the "i'm really a rational human being" trick so many of us pull on ourselves
posted by pyramid termite at 1:12 AM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


To attempt to get the conversation onto the subject of the links...

I really enjoyed seeing Derren Brown discuss the tricks of the 'psychic' trade (for those that dropped in merely for a Dawkins flame war can I recommend watching the links, very much along the lines of Penn and Teller).

I also enjoyed the links as at the end they obviously have decided to retake parts of the conversation and get some soundbites, interesting to see the production process in such a way.

I'd be interested to know Dawkins position on NLP which, if I remember correctly, is a mainstay of Derren Brown's techniques.

Can we not institute a ban on anyone who has been a member more than one year commenting on Dawkins per se, as opposed to the discussing the links? I'm sure if you've been around here for a year you will have pinned you colours to the mast regarding your position on Dawkins' position, personality etc.
posted by Gratishades at 1:44 AM on December 12, 2008


Most religious beliefs are retarded; it's almost surreal how easy it is to demonstrate the flaws in most religious thinking.

This attitude reminds me of the Jehovies who knock on my door from time to time. When I politely tell them I'm not interested in receiving a copy of Awake, just before I close the door, they give me this smug, condescending smirk - a smirk that says they're in on something that I don't or won't understand, that they are part of an exclusive group that's just a bit smarter than the rest of us paeons.

I realize it must be an awfully self-satisfying feeling to believe this, that you can dismiss "most" of the beliefs of others as "retarded". Gives the whole world a certain glow of ridiculousness, and you can strut on through chuckling at those silly little retards.

Ah, others put it better than me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:28 AM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ah, others put it better than me.
That review runs off down the "how dare you criticize astrology without a doctorate in Hermeneutic Geocosmics" path in the first paragraph.
posted by you at 5:24 AM on December 12, 2008


That review runs off down the "how dare you criticize astrology without a doctorate in Hermeneutic Geocosmics" path in the first paragraph.

I took at more as "someone who writes a book about God should demonstrate an understanding of the concept beyond the most cartoonish representations".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:51 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


But anyway. The strengths and weaknesses of that article aside, and it has both, my point was simply that dismissing the beliefs of others as "retarded" seems to fall more in line with the True Believer than rational behavior.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:20 AM on December 12, 2008


I took at more as "someone who writes a book about God should demonstrate an understanding of the concept beyond the most cartoonish representations".

Yes, that's a fair summary of the review. If the subject area was theology, I would agree.
posted by you at 6:32 AM on December 12, 2008


Oops, I didn't see your last comment before posting (memo to self: remember to reload after fetching snacks). I thought you were responding to the second part.

But anyway. The strengths and weaknesses of that article aside, and it has both, my point was simply that dismissing the beliefs of others as "retarded" seems to fall more in line with the True Believer than rational behavior.

Agreed.
posted by you at 6:38 AM on December 12, 2008


Yeah! Yeah, you smug athe-sheeple! How can you be so sure that mental illness isn't caused by demons? How do you know the world wasn't created 6,000 years ago with the appearance of age? What makes you so sure that statues in India don't drink milk? Maybe when Bush stood on that aircraft carrier, the mission really was accomplished, and your lack of faith and treasonous media ruined everything! Maybe this atheism of yours is actually a religion.

No, the vast majority of religious beliefs and religious believers are, loosely speaking "retarded", and it's a misuse of your perfectly decent instinct towards egalitaianism to state otherwise.

I realize there's a slim minority of "religious" people who have what Spinoza called an intellectual love of God that amounts to something more like an atheist's or naturalistic pantheist's sense of wonder at the cosmos, but before you defend religion in general on their behalf, could you figure out a way for them to stop their foaming at the mouth brethren from mutilating their children's genitals, denying medical treatment, flying aircraft into buildings, taking each other (and the rest of us) hostage, hastening an apocalypse to fulfill prophecy, cutting off funding for the sciences and arts and just generally being miserable shits who make this planet a less fun place?
posted by fleetmouse at 7:00 AM on December 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


The fact that we're afraid to say these notions are retarded—because we've been taught to respect any claim made in the name of religion, no matter how patently irrational—is part of the problem.

You guys seriously think that religious belief is retarded? And you've been holding back all this time? Really? I had no idea. Huh.

Well, look--as a Christian, let me state emphatically, that I really, really wish you would stop holding back. There's no point in us not being honest with each other. Maybe from time to time when it's relevant you could at least allude to your displeasure with religion. I mean, I know you don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, but we could handle a little honest disagreement. Really, don't keep it all in. Maybe someday, in some far off distant future, someone will just come right out with it and write a book. Since you all are so timid about expressing your disagreement, I'm sure it'll have a title like "Let's Have Tea Together and Talk About This God Thing, Shall We?" or "May I Gently Suggest That Perhaps Your Beliefs Are Unfounded?" When that time comes and you all start to speak up, I will welcome the dialogue that follows.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:26 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


[a few comments removed - take crappy namecalling to metatalk and stop hurting metafilter]
posted by jessamyn at 8:53 AM on December 12, 2008


Maybe from time to time when it's relevant you could at least allude to your displeasure with religion.

And maybe, from time to time, you could over the slightest shred of verifiable evidence or logical consistency for your claims. Maybe then we wouldn't, y'know, be so annoyed with you. It's impossible to have a rational discussion when one side outright denies that they are beholden to any standards of evidence or reason.

I've literally spent years trying to pry logically valid arguments based on verifiable premises from supernaturalists, and believe you or not, I've made some pretty heroic efforts at patience and open-mindedness. I've gotten nothing but circular reasoning, brutally butchered logic, bald assertions, and colorful aspersions cast on my ancestry for the audacity of, y'know, asking questions.

There's an enormous, hulking, titanic double standard of evidence when it comes to religion—if I told you that there's a dragon in my garage, you'd demand all sorts of evidence. Yet supernaturalists expect their (even more extravagant) claims to be wholly exempt from the same standard. (There is even a convincing argument that it's impossible to provide evidence for or against the existence of a god—meaning that the claim is not only unproven but actually unprovable, and therefore "not even wrong".) Sorry to hurt your feelings, but believing in something despite a lack of evidence (or in spite of evidence to the contrary) makes you a retard. Expecting others to do the same makes you a dick.

I'm sorry, but I've run out of charity and good will on this issue. I've used every bit of it I have, and my simplest complaints remain unanswered, and I'm sick of smiling at people who insist that I play by one set of rules while they play by none (reminder: that makes you a colossal dick). After a certain number of years spent looking in vain for coherent arguments, one has to conclude that they simply don't exist.

Yeah, I'm leaving this thread now.
posted by greenie2600 at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm leaving this thread now.

Don't go! We haven't finished discussing the need to defend religious freedom from this horrible old Dawkins fellow.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:09 AM on December 12, 2008


No, the vast majority of religious beliefs and religious believers are, loosely speaking "retarded"

I guess Joe Campbell was right. Our culture has utterly lost the ability to think mythologically, by which I mean being able to draw a distinction between different types of belief. We either believe in something literally, or we toss it out the window as LIES BLOODY LIES.
posted by symbollocks at 9:34 AM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


The common term for one who interprets scripture as myth is atheist. I never said there was nothing of value in sagely interpreting the stories man has told himself through the ages.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


There's an enormous, hulking, titanic double standard of evidence when it comes to religion—if I told you that there's a dragon in my garage, you'd demand all sorts of evidence. Yet supernaturalists expect their (even more extravagant) claims to be wholly exempt from the same standard. (There is even a convincing argument that it's impossible to provide evidence for or against the existence of a god—meaning that the claim is not only unproven but actually unprovable, and therefore "not even wrong".) Sorry to hurt your feelings, but believing in something despite a lack of evidence (or in spite of evidence to the contrary) makes you a retard. Expecting others to do the same makes you a dick.

Why should it annoy you so deeply that someone believes in God? I suspect the root of the annoyance - if it isn't simple busy-body exasperation with people who don't think like you - are the policies executed with religious thought as the justification. Such as belief in faith healing, for example, that abortion is murder and should be illegal, that evolution is "just a theory" and so on. If that is the case, then I'd submit it's those policies you really have a problem with. Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, and Daniel Berrigan have all claimed their faith drives their sense of social justice - caring for the poor, objecting to war, building a strong social safety net. Would these ideas be less valid if the inspiration were the Bible, as opposed to the writings of Thoreau?

We can blame religion for 9-11, alright - by the same token, we can blame atheism for Stalin's purges, Mao's Five Year Plan, the Khmer Rouge and so on. But that would be ridiculous. It wasn't atheism that drove Stalin to kill (despite belief that religion was poisonous to society) but the fact that he was a homocidal maniac. I think that's really the root of this: this is about what people do, as backed up by their faith, not what faith they follow.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


There is a difference between defending reason and anointing yourself a Defender of reason. The former can be done quite well without the latter.
posted by oddman at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2008


if I told you that there's a dragon in my garage, you'd demand all sorts of evidence.

There's a sizable number of us, who, not giving a shit what happens in other people's garages, would simply nod and say, "Okay," or maybe even, "Interesting! What's the dragon like?", and then continue doing what we were doing before without engaging in an anti-dragon screed.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:08 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


It wasn't atheism that drove Stalin to kill (despite belief that religion was poisonous to society) but the fact that he was a homocidal maniac.

We can't blame atheism for Stalin, therefore let's not point fingers at religion for atrocities, mutilations, wars, murders, torture, social and scientific regression, willful ignorance, repression etc. committed wholeheartedly and explicitly in the name of God? I'm squinting, crossing my eyes and turning my head sideways but I just can't see the pony in this one, sorry.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:11 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Greg Nog, if dragon in your garage have wrong number of spikes on tail, I keel you. If you have no dragon in garage I double keel you.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Nice! I'm fortunate in that I do indeed have a dragon, and it has exactly the right number of spikes! Cheers!
posted by Greg Nog at 11:21 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm squinting, crossing my eyes and turning my head sideways

the human need for ritual goes a lot deeper than many of us are willing to admit
posted by pyramid termite at 11:23 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hahaha! Well played, sir.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2008


We can't blame atheism for Stalin, therefore let's not point fingers at religion for atrocities, mutilations, wars, murders, torture, social and scientific regression, willful ignorance, repression etc. committed wholeheartedly and explicitly in the name of God? I'm squinting, crossing my eyes and turning my head sideways but I just can't see the pony in this one, sorry.

Again, the problem is what people do with their faith, not the faith itself, as you illustrate here. Carter, Obama, Berrigan et al. probably don't register very high on the Annoy-O-Meter among atheists, I'm guessing, because their actions and policies are fully reasonable and progressive.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2008


Atrocities, mutilations, wars, murders, torture, social and scientific regression, willful ignorance, repression etc. are sometimes committed wholeheartedly and explicitly in the name of God. Without religion as an excuse - and yes, sometimes, an instigator - atrocities, mutilations, wars, murders, torture, social and scientific regression, willful ignorance, repression etc. are committed wholeheartedly and explicitly anyway. The lesson of Stalin is not that atheism is just as bad or worse as religious belief, it is that humans are the common denominator in all of the tragedies you listed, and we will sadly bring all of that shit with us to any ideology we embrace. Religion, true or false, is not the problem. The problem lies with certain types of people - religious or not - who abuse whatever little power they can muster to fuck with everybody else. Often enough, religion provides a means to muster that power. But in the absence of religion, these people will still be around, just itching to take a big dump on the rest of the world. And history shows that they will still find a way.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Carter, Obama, Berrigan et al. probably don't register very high on the Annoy-O-Meter among atheists, I'm guessing, because their actions and policies are fully reasonable and progressive.

Seeing how the overwhelming majority of the faithful understand and express their faith, I have a hard time thinking of those three fine gentlemen as representative of their traditions. A reasonable progressive must jettison vast swaths of orthodoxy and scripture in order to be a reasonable progressive of faith.

The man (or composite, or character, as the case may be) known as Christ has some fine and noble ideas attributed to him, and they stand out as an exception in the bible as much as Carter, Obama and Berrigan stand out in the body of the faithful.

So does a defense of religion boil down to "well... it doesn't drive everyone mad who partakes"?
posted by fleetmouse at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2008


Seeing how the overwhelming majority of the faithful understand and express their faith, I have a hard time thinking of those three fine gentlemen as representative of their traditions.

See, this is skating over the No True Scotsman ice. It also opens an endless and frankly unresolvable debate to and fro with regards to "what do most religious people believe?", followed by much cherry-picking from both sides. I think it's a lot more reasonable to take each person on a case-by-case basis, based on their deeds, rather than what belief system or mythology motivates those actions.

So does a defense of religion boil down to "well... it doesn't drive everyone mad who partakes"?

More like "it's not just the clinically insane who practice religion". I guess. You don't honestly believe religion makes people crazy, do you?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2008


"Seeing how the overwhelming majority of the faithful understand and express their faith, I have a hard time thinking of those three fine gentlemen as representative of their traditions."

I'm sure there's no confirmation bias here.
posted by oddman at 1:41 PM on December 12, 2008


See, this is skating over the No True Scotsman ice. It also opens an endless and frankly unresolvable debate to and fro with regards to "what do most religious people believe?", followed by much cherry-picking from both sides. I think it's a lot more reasonable to take each person on a case-by-case basis, based on their deeds, rather than what belief system or mythology motivates those actions.

Scotsman schnottsman. Since faithful is an entirely socially constructed and self-selecting category, I have no idea what a truly faithful person would be. I can only observe that whatever quantity of faith, when ameliorated by reason and progressive sentiment, makes me breathe easier, while the most pure, fundamental, literal and zealous variety leads to a kind of person I'd rather not live in the midst of.

You don't honestly believe religion makes people crazy, do you?

I don't believe there's a necessary and constant causal connection, no, but there's definitely a correlation. There may be atheists in foxholes, but I challenge you to find me one in a madhouse.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:53 PM on December 12, 2008


I'm sure there's no confirmation bias here.

*shrug*
posted by fleetmouse at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2008


I'm calling bringing up Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin in any atheistic discussion simply another hopeless Godwinism.

That is unless the poster also includes the fact that Stalin received all his education at the Gori Church School and was also a Seminary student at Georgian Orthodox Seminary. And Stalin didn't leave the Seminary becuase he was an atheist but becuase he couldn't afford tuition.

You don't honestly believe religion makes people crazy, do you?

Dose believing in the Eater Bunny or Santa Clause make you crazy? Nearly everybody in America believed in those at one time.

No. They are common beliefs taught to children who believe them until facts and maturity present themselves to show otherwise. Funny thing is Santa Claus actually delivers! Literally. I mean a kid sure has more "proof" of Santa than he does of Jesus.

But If some 45 year old guy you knew was running for Mayor of your town who STILL believed in Santa Claus just like he did when he was a child? What would you think? I doubt very much many people would vote for him.

Sure. He may not have been driven "crazy" by this beliefs. But clearly his ability to examine factual data in a certain context could be called into question. Something is going on there.

Santa Claus. It was a common belief in a given context. And it wasn't true. Most people abandoned this belief by a certain age. Certainly it can't be too much to ask for people to apply just some of the same level of reasoning and scrutiny to their religious beliefs as well.

Calling them retards is a bit insulting but what would you call a 45 year old who still believed in the Easter Bunny? A harmless eccentric. What if suddenly millions of these people appeared. So now it's a religion.
Does religion get a buy just becuase so many believe? Belief in the invisible supernatural forces of Religions are simply a shared delusion. And like any other philosophical construct it deserves to be scrutinized and criticized.
posted by tkchrist at 1:58 PM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


According to Wikipedia, Mao Tse Tung went to the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan. Would he be a better example?

Mind you, being raised with normal people. That really would drive you to mass murder, wouldn't it?
posted by Grangousier at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2008


Huh, I thought he attended the École Normale Supérieure de Hunane. Details, details.
posted by fleetmouse at 2:18 PM on December 12, 2008


Still, normals. Fuckers.
posted by Grangousier at 2:20 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


According to Wikipedia, Mao Tse Tung went to the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan. Would he be a better example?

A better example of what?
posted by tkchrist at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2008


A crazed slaughtering dictator who wasn't a bishop or something. If you think Stalin was twisted by the seminarians rather than the whole going from a cobbler's workshop in rural Georgia to totalitarian dictator of the Russian empire. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that sort of thing. Who would have thought it was sunday school after all.

Sorry, I'm not taking your argument very seriously.
posted by Grangousier at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2008


Sorry, I'm not taking your argument very seriously.

What argument? You mean you're not taking your own strawman very seriously?

Good Because neither am I. No need to apologize.
posted by tkchrist at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2008


AH, oh, well, I suppose I was agreeing with the point that I think was made up above that the kind of slaughter and repression that we associate with the Inquisition, or Stalin or Hitler or Mussolini or Pol Pot is a function of power relationships, in particular extreme power relationships where a ruling cabal aims to have total control over people, and that although those very powerful cabals are often associated with religious hierarchies, it's not necessarily the case, and that the Soviet Union demonstrates that, as a lot of the most prominent cathedrals were converted to museums of atheism, and people were sent to labour camps for possessing (or at least distributing) bibles. Which is not to say that the repressive nature of the Soviet Union was a function of its official atheism, but that whether a state is religious or not probably doesn't make that much difference either way.

I'd suggest that no one ever does anything they believe to be wrong, let alone evil, so they need to build a value-system which allows them to believe that their appalling acts are not only justified but morally superior, but it's not absolutely necessary that religious ideas be used to that end, no matter how convenient they might be.

Another example, that I was thinking of recently and might have mentioned before, was Richard Nixon, who was a Quaker. Now, Quakerism is the theory and practice of not being everything Richard Milhouse Nixon turned out to be, but when finer principles come up against political power, power always wins.

Something like that, anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2008


marisa: what do you think of the courtier's reply?
posted by dirty lies at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm calling bringing up Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin in any atheistic discussion simply another hopeless Godwinism.

Hey, good thing I said Stalin was NOT a reason to say atheism = genocide, right? Let me try this again: it is NOT the belief system one subscribes to but the actions which stem from it.

Dose believing in the Eater Bunny or Santa Clause make you crazy? Nearly everybody in America believed in those at one time etc.

Note that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are commercially invented, fabled creatures belonging to a segment of people who believe in one particular faith, usually within a certain age group. Bit of a false equivalency to put them on par with belief in a deity, which is about as ancient, universal and archetypical to mankind as you can get. There's a bit more to religion than just "a whole lot of people believe in some imaginary being". That's a real oversimplification, and doesn't sound at all like "scrutinizing" so much as dismissal.

If we can agree that the actions that stem from a person, and not the faith they subscribe to, if any, is what's at the heart of this, then really, who cares? Who cares about your dragon in the garage?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:35 PM on December 12, 2008


what do you think of the courtier's reply?

I'd say that as long as a person is acting positively towards the world around them, I couldn't give two shits if they're Christian, atheist, Pastafarian or Jedi, and neither should Dawkins.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2008


What if, as a thought exercise, we deleted the word "religion" and replaced it with a "collection of beliefs that have little to no founding on physical observations"? Furthermore, we could replace the word "faith" with "blindly following the above beliefs while ignoring any contrary evidence".

Bare with me here. Finally, let's take the word "religious leader" and replace it with dictator who may or may not believe in this collection of beliefs, but is more than willing to profit from the continued acceptance of them.

There. Now we can safely categorize Stalin with all the other demagogues who have made the world a worse place by manipulating the masses and repressing those who disagree with them.

So yeah, the problem isn't religion specifically, but it is one major avenue used by assholes to take advantage of other people. We can look at cults like Scientology, Psychic Mediums, Gangs, White Supremacist Groups or even Freudian psychology. They're all examples of irrational belief systems that exist in the face of contrary evidence. I'm going to argue that whether or not you use the word "religion", the same dicks who blow up abortion clinics and attack gays would just as willingly don a brown/black shirt or join the NKVD or Stasi if they lived in that era.

Certain types of people will crop up in any political/social system. Thankfully we have modern mental tools to evaluate the validity of certain beliefs. It's the social/political systems that ignore things like science where you see irrational beliefs get out of hand.

Now, people are going to make the argument that the Soviet Union (or what ever state) believed in pure science, and that is not true. The most obvious refutation of this assertion can be seen in the work of Denisovich Lysenko, who tried to create a model of evolution based on communist principles. He found Darwin's model too capitalistic. So like the medieval Catholic church and other organizations, most Communist governments were largely ascientific and relied on double think and cults of personality. They were willing to place ideology above reality.
posted by Telf at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, 17 matches for Lysenko in previous posts. More than a few in threads dealing with Dawkins. I guess my point wasn't as novel as I imagined.
posted by Telf at 4:18 PM on December 12, 2008



Note that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are commercially invented, fabled creatures belonging to a segment of people who believe in one particular faith, usually within a certain age group.

Not entirely true at all. Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) comes from multiple traditions, including pagan, that have roots thousands of years old and were co-opted by Christianity forming a composite myth they even Sainted for goodness sake. This was done to consolidate christian belief from earlier pagan traditions and it was done deliberatly. The easter bunny is also a co-opted pagan tradition. One could easily claim christianity itself has been co-opted to be a commercially invented fable. As Many Christains themeselves bemoan this time every year.

Anyway.That shouldn't make one whit of difference as too the which beliefs we hold to scrutiny and which we don't. Facts are facts. Pure and simple.

There is little difference in a believing in Santa Claus or believing in transubstantiation. It's intellectually dishonest to try and parse out the greater truths from what are both ultimately entirely fabricated notions. The only significant difference is the number and age of people that believe in each.
posted by tkchrist at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Okay, I lied—this is too much fun :)

Marisa, you're missing dirty's point re: the Courtier's Reply. You linked to a critical review of The God Delusion which, you said, expressed your point of view better than you could. That review was a perfect example of the kind of argument that the Courtier's Reply is meant to address. (I almost made the same point as Myers after reading the review, but then I decided to bail out of the thread.) You presented the review as an argument; dirty presented the Courtier's Reply as a counterargument. He's asking you how you respond to that counterargument (if I may be so bold to speak for you, dirty). You can provide a compelling counter-counterargument, or you can withdraw the review as an argument, but you can't just toss out non sequiturs.
Note that the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are commercially invented, fabled creatures belonging to a segment of people who believe in one particular faith, usually within a certain age group. Bit of a false equivalency to put them on par with belief in a deity, which is about as ancient, universal and archetypical to mankind as you can get.
I don't see the difference at all. Beliefs in dragons, fairies, and ghosts fit all of your criteria also (ancient, universal, archetypal), and yet I presume we agree that fairies and dragons do not exist—and that to maintain a sincere belief in them past childhood would be, well, childish. There is nothing about the age of a belief, or the number of people who hold it, or the fact that it is part of one tradition or another, which affects the truth of the belief one bit in either direction. The sole determinant of a belief's truth is its agreement with objective reality. Our tools for measuring objective reality are imperfect, of course, but the point remains that it doesn't matter whether a belief is ancient or universal or archetypal. It can still be false, and it can still be childish.

If you're saying we should exempt religion from the same standards of evidence to which we hold everything else in the world because it's "sacred" or we might hurt people's feelings or something like that, then you're really just making an appeal to authority, or emotion, or tradition. Again, this is completely irrelevant to the truth or falsity of religious claims.

If you're saying something else—what?
“The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.” —Sam Harris
It doesn't matter whether the incorporeal, invisible friend in question has a fluffy cotton-ball tail, or a red suit and a sack full of toys, or a long white beard and thunderbolts—or whether his means of communication is telepathy or hair dryers. It's still ridiculous. I imagine that, like me, you'd be taken aback by a grown adult who sincerely believes in Santa Claus. I am also taken aback by grown adults who sincerely believe in Yahweh (for the exact same reasons)—except that I'm virtually surrounded by them, and they control much of the society around me and set much of the discourse and the agenda for my country. That alarms and distresses me, just as it would alarm and distress you if the majority of your countrymen held a sincere belief in Santa Claus, and conducted their affairs in consonance with his imagined (and not always wise or benevolent) teachings.
There's a bit more to religion than just "a whole lot of people believe in some imaginary being".
Of course, but it's all predicated on belief in an imaginary being. If that premise falls, the whole chain of reasoning falls. Without a god, religion is just art and literature and philosophy and so forth. And those things have value (of course), but they can (and do) exist quite happily without grown adults believing in Santa Claus.

You keep accusing us of "dismissing" religion without hearing it out. For chrissakes, then, please give us the religious argument for the existence of God. All you've said so far is that we shouldn't criticize religion just, y'know, because. And, yeah, I'm gonna dismiss that, because it's not an argument.
posted by greenie2600 at 4:44 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'd say that as long as a person is acting positively towards the world around them, I couldn't give two shits if they're Christian, atheist, Pastafarian or Jedi, and neither should Dawkins.

I think it's perfectly daft to pretend that actions aren't informed, to say the least, by one's ideas. How many people have been blown to smithereens by secular humanist suicide bombers? How many abortionists have been shot by secular humanists? How many witches have been burned at the stake by secular humanists? How many girls have been executed by their secular humanist families for the crime of being seen with a boy?
posted by fleetmouse at 4:57 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Telf, I totally agree, and I've long felt this way. Religious ideologies, and totalitarian ideologies, and racist ideologies are just subsets of a larger group—irrational ideologies. That's why I don't buy the "but [horrible socialist dictator] was an atheist" argument. It's not just religion I'm arguing against; it's all worldviews which are constructed on irrational premises.

That's not to say that every irrational belief leads to acts as evil as racism, of course—but if they don't, it's purely accidental. If we want to reach positive ends in the real world, then our actions need to be informed by an accurate understanding of the real world. Otherwise we're pushing the levers according to the manual for a different machine—one that doesn't even exist.

They were willing to place ideology above reality.

North Korea (their leadership and official propaganda, anyway) is a mindblowing example of this. Hoo boy, they will look you straight in the eye and tell you they are a sexy chocolate dinosaur from the ninth dimension of Valhalla, and totally just assume that you'll believe them because hey, why not?
posted by greenie2600 at 4:57 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


dirty presented the Courtier's Reply as a counterargument.

He did? I just saw a link and the pretty straightforward inquiry "What do you think?" Marisa said what he thinks. What's the issue here? Why are you so invested in getting into an argument?
posted by Greg Nog at 5:08 PM on December 12, 2008


greenie, you replied to marisa in the way I was planning to do.

So here it goes again, marisa, I am not trying to fight, but if you still beleive that that link you posted expresses your point of view better than you can, how can you respond to the courtier's reply?

I'd say that as long as a person is acting positively towards the world around them, I couldn't give two shits if they're Christian, atheist, Pastafarian or Jedi, and neither should Dawkins.

Having read Dawkins' books and interviews, I could say that he mostly does not give half a shit about what people who are acting positively towards the world believe, until these people start stepping on others toes and start demanding special treatment.

And re. acting positively, I find it hard to think of a faith based discovery with greater positive effect in the world than say the discovery of penicillin.
posted by dirty lies at 5:08 PM on December 12, 2008


He did? I just saw a link and the pretty straightforward inquiry "What do you think?"

Did you read the review, or the text of the Courtier's Reply? The latter is a direct challenge to the former.

Why are you so invested in getting into an argument?

The argument is already underway, and I'm guessing that Marisa is a willing participant, since he is continuing to post and is responding to our points.

And if you mean "fight" when you say "argument" (the two are quite different): I'm not; I'd prefer to keep things civil. Argument is not conflict; it's a way of testing ideas. Ideally, both parties will walk away with their perspective expanded, or at least with a finer understanding of why they believe what they do.
posted by greenie2600 at 5:21 PM on December 12, 2008


What's the issue here? Why are you so invested in getting into an argument?

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the war room.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2008


Did you read the review, or the text of the Courtier's Reply?

I did!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Incidentally, for clarification: I didn't mean "Why are you so invested in getting into an argument?" as a combative statement, but more genuine curiosity, which was certainly answered by: "Argument is not conflict; it's a way of testing ideas." I wouldn't want anyone to think I was trying to be all "SHUT UP! STOP QUESTIONING!" about the topic; it's just that the desire to get into this particular fight is a little alien to my "Okay, garage-dragon, whatevs" perspective.)
posted by Greg Nog at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2008


For my part, because I have never read a good counterargument to the counterargument that is the courtier's reply, and would enjoy reading one.
posted by dirty lies at 5:56 PM on December 12, 2008


Well, if you want me to address the Courtier's Reply, I've never found it particularly compelling. All it does is reduce questions like:

"What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?"

to:

"He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. "

So rather than saying something like "I have read both Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and here's why I think they're untenable when we discuss whether religion's good, neutral, or bad," it ignores the question completely in favor of a hilarious fictional parallel. Which is an amusing little snark and all, but isn't much of a counterargument so much as the kind of willfully non-engaged smugness that gets under the skins of those who're creeped out by Dawkins. It says, "I absolutely refuse to engage with you on the terms that matter to you."

So like, I can't say I'm all that surprised when religious folk don't feel like there's anything to respond to. The Courtier's Reply gets atheists happy, and maybe it gets some agnostics on the fence to fall further into the atheist camp. But for those who are any kind of religious, what can you really say to someone like Myers, who's essentially discounting your tradition's intellectual exercises right from the start, wanting the religious to argue on his terms and not their own? It's a little hamstringing.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:20 PM on December 12, 2008


I see, so when debating with religious people, one should debate in their terms? Especially when they refuse to engage you in the terms that matter to you?

Like when you make what you believe to be a sound logical argument based only on first principles, and you get in response something like "Have you read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope?"

Are there any terms in which religious people and rationalist can address each other?
posted by dirty lies at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2008


Dude, you got me, I ain't even interested in debating this stuff. Like I said, I find the dragon in the garage to be a curiosity more than anything else.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:41 PM on December 12, 2008


Greg Nog, does your garagedragon know any good tricks?
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on December 12, 2008


Mine can do a flip!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:47 PM on December 12, 2008


Greg—

First of all, I enjoy debate; it stimulates my brain, and sometimes I learn stuff. Sometimes I even discover that one of my beliefs was in error. And I'm grateful for that when it happens—I'm not trying to score points; I'm looking for truth, and such a "defeat" is really a gift from your opponent. (I don't expect that I'll emerge from this discussion with any serious challenge to my major positions, but if I do, I hope I have the grace and humility to be appreciative.)

Beyond that, though—try to imagine how you'd feel if you believed the following things, as I do:I'm not being facetious when I ask how you'd feel if you were surrounded by people who sincerely live their lives by the doctrine of Santa Claus; that's exactly what it looks like from my perspective. If it looks different from your perspective, then I can understand why you don't think it's a big deal. But I'd be interested to know which of the points above you disagree with.

Aside from all that, I simply find it insulting when a grown adult looks me in the eye and insists that Santa Claus is real. I'd like to see people with more dignity and self-respect and honesty than that. I'd like to see people with more love for unvarnished truth (even potentially unpleasant truths, such as the fact that we're just a bunch of monkeys on a rock in space and not some invisible guy's favorite pets) and less love for comforting but ultimately childish fantasies designed to protect their own egos. I think we each have an obligation to police the ideas we carry around in our own heads, and to discard ideas which don't hold up. And I don't think my country's unusual religiosity and its abysmal performance on international education scores are unconnected.

Frankly, I'd like to be able to relate to people better; when the fundament of a person's worldview is a belief in Santa Claus, there's little hope that I'll find any common purpose with that person, and it's a bit alienating to be surrounded by Clausians in a culture made for and by Clausians. I realize that the chances of deconverting even one theist are laughable, but I maintain hope that we will, in time, start to bury religion, just as we've started to bury racism, sexism, homophobia and other irrational ideas. At the very least, protest (however ineffectual) is better than throwing my hands up and just watching as Clausian voodoo swallows everything.

If I come across as frustrated and hostile—well, these conversations often are quite frustrating, because I've heard (and refuted) the same old, sloppy arguments so many times. And I find that a bit insulting, too; if you're going to proclaim such an extraordinary belief with such certainty, and expect me to accept it as worthy of consideration, then at least have enough respect for me to come up with an argument that a grade-schooler can't punch holes through, you know? And that's not snark either; there are grade-schoolers who can recognize the problems with some of the classic theist arguments—and if they'd bothered to subject their own extravagant beliefs to any degree of scrutiny, they'd already be familiar with the (often obvious) refutations to those arguments. They're disrespecting me by wasting my time on such stuff, and they're disrespecting themselves by accepting such shoddy standards as foundations for their belief system. It degrades everyone involved.

Theists have admitted to me—rarely—that their beliefs aren't rational; that they are articles of faith, unrelated to evidence or logic. And when this has happened, I've thought "Aha! Now we're making some progress." Because at least that's honest. It's just as baffling to me, but at least they're willing to be a constructive partner in the search for truth.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:55 PM on December 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


So rather than saying something like "I have read both Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and here's why I think they're untenable when we discuss whether religion's good, neutral, or bad," it ignores the question completely in favor of a hilarious fictional parallel. Which is an amusing little snark and all, but isn't much of a counterargument so much as the kind of willfully non-engaged smugness that gets under the skins of those who're creeped out by Dawkins. It says, "I absolutely refuse to engage with you on the terms that matter to you."

Wow; I'm afraid you misunderstood the Courtier's Reply pretty spectacularly. It absolutely does not ignore the question. The point is this: there's no point in debating the properties of the Emperor's clothes (or the theological aspects of God) when it has yet to be established that the Emperor's clothes (and God) even exist.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:59 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just had a revelation. I find this entire debate to be rather tedious, dull, and pointless. Wow. I must really be maturing quite a bit in my not-yet-middle age.
posted by oddman at 7:11 PM on December 12, 2008


I just had a pizza I made with rogan josh sauce instead of tomato sauce. It was awesome - the crust got all buttery like naan bread. Now I am fat and slow and dumb and happy.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:21 PM on December 12, 2008


I had some really wonderful cheddar, accompanied by walnuts!
posted by Greg Nog at 8:45 PM on December 12, 2008


The point is this: there's no point in debating the properties of the Emperor's clothes (or the theological aspects of God) when it has yet to be established that the Emperor's clothes (and God) even exist.

Which is why for example Hartshorne's modal ontological argument is a non starter - in short form, God must be necessary because by definition he cannot be contingent and cannot be (or at least hasn't been) shown to be impossible. Now this rests on the audience accepting the premise that God is not contingent. And if he existed, would he ever be non contingent, hoo boy, let me tell you. How the existence of this fantastic beast known as a deity begins in doubt and magicks itself off the written page by sheer force of definition, is a marvel for the ages.

Is there really any point, aside from intellectual exercise, in following perfectly valid and delightfully convoluted arguments that start with unsound premises? I suppose they can be enjoyed as formal whimsy or logical poetry.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:00 PM on December 12, 2008


if you're going to proclaim such an extraordinary belief with such certainty, and expect me to accept it as worthy of consideration,

I DON'T KNOW YOU, I DON'T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT WHAT'S IN YOUR GARAGE
posted by Greg Nog at 9:07 PM on December 12, 2008


I'm going to post a long quotation from Slavoj Zizek in the hopes that it will help some of you fundie atheists understand why so many "theists" are nonplussed by and not all that interested in your arguments. This is from How to Read Lacan, pp. 116-118. (Don't worry about the psychoanalytic terms like "big Other", what you can glean about them from context should be enough.)
[...] For Lacan, a pervert is not defined by the content of what he is doing (his weird sexual practices). Perversion, at its most fundamental, resides in the formal structure of how the pervert relates to truth and speech. The pervert claims direct access to some figure of the big Other (from God or history to the desire of his partner), so that, dispelling all the ambiguity of language, he is able to act directly as the instrument of the big Other's will. In this sense, both Osama bin Laden and President Bush, although political opponents, share the structures of a pervert. They both act upon the presupposition that their acts are directly ordered and guided by divine will.

The recent tide of religious fundamentalism in the US—around half of US adults have beliefs that can be considered 'fundamentalist'—is sustained by the predominance of a perverse libidinal economy. A fundamentalist does not believe, he knows it directly. Both liberal-sceptical cynics and fundamentalists share a basic underlying feature: the loss of the ability to believe, in the proper sense of the term. What is unthinkable for them is the groundless decision that installs all authentic beliefs, a decision that cannot be based on a chain of reasonings, on positive knowledge. Think of Anne Frank, who in the face of the terrifying depravity of the Nazis, in a true act of credo quia absurdum, asserted her belief that there is a divine spark of goodness in every human being, no matter how depraved he or she is. This statement does not concern facts, it is posited as a pure ethical axiom. In the same way, the status of universal human rights is that of a pure belief: they cannot be grounded in our knowledge of human nature, they are an axiom posited by our decision. (The moment one tries to ground universal human rights in our knowledge of humanity, the inevitable conclusion will be that people are fundamentally different, that some have more dignity and wisdom than others.) At its most fundamental, authentic belief does not concern facts, but gives expression to an unconditional ethical commitment.

For both liberal cynics and religious fundamentalists, religious statements are quasi-empirical statements of direct knowledge: fundamentalists accept them as such, while sceptical cynics mock them. No wonder that religious fundamentalists are among the most passionate digital hackers, and always prone to combine their religion with the latest findings of science. For them, religious statements and scientific statements belong to the same modality of positive knowledge. The occurrence of the term 'science' in the very name of some of the fundamentalist sects (Christian Science, Scientology) is not just an obscene joke, but signals this reduction of belief to positive knowledge. The case of the Turin Shroud (a piece of cloth that was allegedly used to cover the body of the dead Christ and had stains of his blood) is instructive here. Its authenticity would be a horror for every true believer (the first thing to do would be to analyse the DNA of the bloodstains and resolve empirically the question of who Jesus's father was), while a true fundamentalist would rejoice in this opportunity. We find the same reduction of belief to knowledge in today's Islam, [...] One is compelled to draw the paradoxical conclusion that in the opposition between traditional secular humanists and religious fundamentalists, it is the humanists who stand for belief, while fundamentalists stand for knowledge. This is what we can learn from Lacan about the rise of religious fundamentalism: its true danger does not reside in its threat to secular scientific knowledge, but in its threat to authentic belief itself.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:10 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Beyond that, though—try to imagine how you'd feel if you believed the following things, as I do:

* Theism is as patently and obviously nonsensical as Santa Claus.
* A great majority of people are theists.
* Our fundamental beliefs about the nature and mechanics of the universe (of which theism is an example) inform and influence everything we do, both large and small.
* Even if one has good intentions, one cannot bring that good will reliably and effectively to bear on a system (e.g. the universe) if one's model of that system is nonsense


except that the great majority of people somehow have managed to keep civilization going - you wake up in the morning and the world around you works and the people around you pretty much do useful things to keep it working, in spite of the fact that the majority of them believe in something you consider nonsense

Theists have admitted to me—rarely—that their beliefs aren't rational; that they are articles of faith, unrelated to evidence or logic.

i've said it many times - but what people don't like is when i go on to say that their beliefs aren't any more rational than mine are

and the courtier's reply? - i don't really see why a strained, overdrawn analogy from a fairy tale should be considered anything more than rhetorical trickery - after all, whether the emperor has clothes is a objective fact - whether there is a god is a subjective belief and people cannot "see" either viewpoint as they can see the emperor's lack of clothes

it would only work if everyone in the story was blind and unable to see the emperor - but then they would argue about whether there was even an emperor to be seen

the whole point of the courier's reply story is that fancy rhetoric doesn't work to prove things - but, being fancy rhetoric itself, the story also fails to prove anything - it's an imaginary anecdote about an imaginary emperor and yet people are giving it more weight then they do the existence of a god they don't believe in - even though they they know the emperor doesn't exist and can't say the same about god, if they're being honest with themselves

so the courtier's reply argument is itself a courtier's reply - except that the courtier in the story knows that the emperor has no clothes and is insincere and the theists who argue that certain intellectual arguments should be considered aren't doing so insincerely - while those who advance the courtier's reply are being insincere, because they know full well that metaphysical questions do not have the objectivity of being able to tell if an emperor has clothes or not

in fact, the courtier's reply, is more of a revelation of itself, than it is of one's intellectual opponent, because it is self-descriptive of its own inabilty to deal with the argument at hand and desire to retreat into the imaginary land of the fairy tale - it describes intellectual metaphysical argument as some kind of medieval, fantastical exercise, full of emperors and courtiers, not the modern world of sterile labs full of clean, dull uniforms with no pretension to facile foppery - it is not only an attempt at ridicule, but it is an attempt at temporal banishment, as if the wielding of a story would be enough to transport one's debate opponents into a world where there be emperors and courtiers and dragons ill-concealed in garages - it is an emotional attempt to return to the perceived comic book world of the enlightened scientist versus the holy inquisition, betrayed by its lack of depth, its willingness to wallow in the child realm of the just so story and its self-betraying anachronisms full of polyester longings, as if the more realistic cotton or silk was somehow not contrived enough for the modern mind to be comfortable with
posted by pyramid termite at 9:37 PM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


We find the same reduction of belief to knowledge

Our culture has utterly lost the ability to think mythologically

Yeah, I don't get this, and I never have. As far as I can tell, the only difference between "belief" and "knowledge" is that the latter is justified by reality and the former isn't, and I can't imagine what it means to "think mythologically". symbollocks, if you're still reading, I'd be quite interested in any links that might shed light on what it means to "think mythologically" and why I should care. Seriously.

Crabby, some of that makes sense to me (which is not to say that I agree with it all), but not enough to actually know what he's talking about. Honestly, Lacan (and the whole po-mo/lit-crit thing in general) has always struck me as...how can I put this politely? Uh, it's an interesting kind of poetry. Then again, maybe I'm just dumb.

religious fundamentalists are among the most passionate digital hackers

Huh? Did Tim LaHaye write a custom fork of the Linux kernel or something?
posted by greenie2600 at 9:50 PM on December 12, 2008


after all, whether the emperor has clothes is a objective fact - whether there is a god is a subjective belief

WHAT? If God affects the world, that is an objective, measurable fact.

Or are you talking about a God which doesn't actually affect the world in any discernable way? If that's the case, I'll agree that the deist God is "unknowable". And also completely irrelevant to all this.
posted by you at 10:05 PM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


pyramid, you just made my head spin. I honestly don't know where to begin. Let me try again:

1. The Emperor says is wearing clothes.
2. But we can see no clothes.
3. Therefore, it is premature to speculate about the properties of said clothes.

or,

1. People say that gods exist.
2. But we can see no gods.
3. Therefore, it is premature to speculate about the properties of said gods.

There is nothing the slightest bit "fancy" about it, and as you can see from the almost identical structure of the above illustrations that it is certainly not strained, and I honestly half-wonder whether you're just fucking with me. You are fucking with me, right?

(Please don't quibble over the word "see", because you know what I mean.)

whether the emperor has clothes is a objective fact - whether there is a god is a subjective belief

Okay, what?! In what way is the existence or non-existence of gods not a question about objective reality? Either they exist, or they don't. An individual person's belief about the answer to that question is subjective, but that's not at all the same thing. And it doesn't change the fact that, regardless of the fact that people believe different things, some of them are definitively wrong, and some of them are definitively right.

Unless you're asserting that we each carry a god around inside our heads, or something like that, but I'm gonna have to ask you to do a little more splainin' if that's what you're saying. Because I fail to see how a god that exists "for you" (that's the rhetorical "you"), uh, is a god in any meaningful sense, any more than your favorite flavor of ice cream, or your interpretation of a particular poem.

this is going to boil down to idealism vs. materialism, isn't it? because it always does.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:17 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


bleh, I really should have proofread that before I posted. It's late. I'm tired. Good night.
posted by greenie2600 at 10:32 PM on December 12, 2008


Zizek: A fundamentalist does not believe, he knows it directly.

Oh! How vulgar to presume to know, instead of wallowing in the fertile ambiguity of cultural criticism. And if the religious fundamentalist is full of false certainty, it must be the certainty and not the falseness that is the problem. Therefore any aspiration to knowledge is just as damnable.

Think of Anne Frank, who in the face of the terrifying depravity of the Nazis, in a true act of credo quia absurdum, asserted her belief that there is a divine spark of goodness in every human being, no matter how depraved he or she is. This statement does not concern facts, it is posited as a pure ethical axiom. In the same way, the status of universal human rights is that of a pure belief: they cannot be grounded in our knowledge of human nature, they are an axiom posited by our decision. (The moment one tries to ground universal human rights in our knowledge of humanity, the inevitable conclusion will be that people are fundamentally different, that some have more dignity and wisdom than others.) At its most fundamental, authentic belief does not concern facts, but gives expression to an unconditional ethical commitment.

I'm sure Zizek would approve of my unfounded ethical axiom that Slovenians are subhuman moral garbage who must be exterminated for the good of the Martians. I mean, I haven't tried to ground it in anything so vulgar as facts about Slovenians, or Mars. And credo quia absurdum - heh, I think it meets that criterion as well. Oh, but he's hiding behind Anne Frank's skirt - what kind of a monster am I for pointing out the defects in his reasoning? I must be a horrible, horrible Nazi.

But I have to return to this particular juicy turd:

The moment one tries to ground universal human rights in our knowledge of humanity, the inevitable conclusion will be that people are fundamentally different, that some have more dignity and wisdom than others.

You want to have universal human rights irrespective of knowledge of humanity? Seriously? Then why grant human rights at all? Humanity is a cipher for you, an unknown quantity. And inevitable conclusion my ass. I could just as easily point to the ways that humans are fundamentally similar in spite of their differences. And then we'd be debating, and horror of horrors, we'd be doing so about our observations - or knowledge, if you will.

This Zizek excerpt is the kind of sanctimonious musing and ponderous twaddle which too often passes for deep thought and is openly, unreservedly hostile to the pragmatic knowledge and reasoning that unmasks it.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:26 PM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


1. People say that gods exist.
2. But we can see no gods.


who's we? many people claim to see them - or sense them - this is why i called this question subjective, because people aren't agreed on the evidence

there is no similar disagreement about the emperor, because everyone knows that's a story - there is not only no clothes, but no emperor

---

You want to have universal human rights irrespective of knowledge of humanity? Seriously? Then why grant human rights at all?

well, one of the traditional answers to that is that people were created with them - take that away and one is forced into a debate over the nature of humanity and its similarities and differences that is not going to result in much of a consensus

you've even internalized that idea - one does not "grant" human rights to oneself - no, someone superior to humanity must "grant" them

i suggest you rephrase that to be consistent in your beliefs
posted by pyramid termite at 6:36 AM on December 13, 2008


well, one of the traditional answers to that is that people were created with them - take that away and one is forced into a debate over the nature of humanity and its similarities and differences that is not going to result in much of a consensus

This is the nucleus of the argument from moral necessity - we must believe that man was created by a third party, with value and rights ab ovo, because otherwise it gets messy and we have to think about it.

you've even internalized that idea - one does not "grant" human rights to oneself - no, someone superior to humanity must "grant" them

i suggest you rephrase that to be consistent in your beliefs


Man grants itself rights because man, in the act of perceiving itself, values itself. You can pretend not to do that if it makes you uncomfortable, as many do. So what are your options? You can create a deity and absolve yourself of the terrible responsibility. You might even call this god Nature.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, exactly what fleetmouse said. "Cultural studies" is the biggest and saddest hoax ever perpetrated on academia. But that's even more of a derail than we're already on.

who's we? many people claim to see them - or sense them - this is why i called this question subjective, because people aren't agreed on the evidence

See, I asked you not to quibble over "see", and then you went and did it.

PERSONAL ANECDOTE IS NOT EVIDENCE. If you think that one person's subjective experience of "seeing" a god in some way means that the god actually exists in objective reality, then you must accept that any subjective experience of a thing is admissible as "evidence" (those aren't scare quotes; you actually used the word "evidence" to refer to subjective experience) of that thing's objective reality.

Which means that a schizophrenic's hallucination that he's being probed by Masonic aliens from the CIA on a regular basis is evidence that it's literally true. Which means the sexy, sexy dream I had last night actually happened, in some sense. Which means that a child's sincere belief in Santa Claus means he is real. Which is patent nonsense.

(or you must explain why a subjective experience of a god is different than a subjective experience of an alien. in a way that does not appeal to authority or tradition or emotion or other irrelevancies.)

The whole notion doesn't even make sense. There is, practically by definition, one objective reality; each of our little subjective realities are tiny subsets of it. If our subjective realities somehow project onto the objective world, you end up with a paradox. Whose subjective reality gets to press its shape onto the (singular) objective reality at any given moment? If this is actually happening, why can't other people see my subjective reality (since it is allegedly reflected in objective reality)? Do I really need to draw a diagram?

And if you reject the relationship between objective and subjective realities which I've described (i.e., materialism) in favor of the idealist view, please just say so, and spare me the trouble of figuring that out for you—because if we're in disagreement about such a fundamental premise (almost an axiom, really), this is destined to be a fruitless debate.

(in all sincerity, this has been one of the better online debates in which I've been involved. 155 comments, and no one has trotted out grotesquely misunderstood notions from quantum physics yet. that's gotta be a new record.)
posted by greenie2600 at 9:08 AM on December 13, 2008


i suggest you rephrase that to be consistent in your beliefs

I suggest you stop quibbling over semantics.
posted by greenie2600 at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2008


See, I asked you not to quibble over "see", and then you went and did it.

no, you're demanding that i adopt your definition of words

PERSONAL ANECDOTE IS NOT EVIDENCE.

it is also not opposed to reality - i've had so called "impossible" experiences - therefore i must have either been hallucinating, or the worldview you espouse is incomplete

i wasn't hallucinating

There is, practically by definition, one objective reality; each of our little subjective realities are tiny subsets of it.

and your evidence of this is what? personal anecdote? it just seems that way? other people have told you this and you take it on faith?

If our subjective realities somehow project onto the objective world, you end up with a paradox.

now all you need to do is to become comfortable with that

Whose subjective reality gets to press its shape onto the (singular) objective reality at any given moment?

it's being negotiated as we speak

If this is actually happening, why can't other people see my subjective reality (since it is allegedly reflected in objective reality)?

maybe they're trying to ignore it - because, after all, one could hardly pay attention to one's own subjective reality if one was paying attention to everyone else's

but i have the feeling you aren't interested in believing that

---

Man grants itself rights because man, in the act of perceiving itself, values itself.

like a dog chasing its tail - that's a little too self-referential
posted by pyramid termite at 9:52 AM on December 13, 2008


Greenie, I didn't mean to completely condemn multidisciplinary studies or pomo cultural theory or whatever you want to call it. Many of the central figures are quite learned and insightful.

On the other hand there are plenty of hangers-on who are guilty of intellectual flabbiness that tries to disarm potential criticism by casting rigor and scrutiny as unsophisticated caveman-fascism.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:55 AM on December 13, 2008


like a dog chasing its tail - that's a little too self-referential

Then surely you must disparage Anne Frank's and Zizek's act of will to to value man in the absence of knowledge of man, as much as mine that does so in the light of knowledge of man?

What is the problem for you - that man should value man or that he should do with awareness of what man is?

But don't listen to little old me - would you like to speak to the manager? Go ahead, but you'll have to choose or create one.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:15 AM on December 13, 2008


I saw Elvis. Therefor he must be alive!

Pyramid (and that crabby dude) - you just had your ass handed to you. Your fall-back arguments are so weak and predictable they were taken apart before you made them and don't even see it. The "self referential" thing is particularly lame and irrelevant.

Greenie, Fleetmouse. Well done. But if they can't grok it now they never will. Pack it up. You tried.
posted by tkchrist at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2008


Hey guys, did you notice that Derren Brown was in the video?

[ducks]
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


you just had your ass handed to you.

i simply can't hope to win against a rhetorical master of your intellectual and philosophical sophistication, can i?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


What is the problem for you

Didn't you read it? He had a religious or "impossible" experience.

Makes one speculate? What was it? Did he levitated, speak to Jesus in a tortilla, see a talking burning bush, or speak to Hamlets dad. I hope he got it on video.To have it shape a worldview so profoundly it must have been captured on video, right?

There is this guy who lives in the doorway of the Chinese restaurant down the street who has impossible experiences every day. It's possible he has fights with invisible Ninjas and see's a nine inch high Jimmy Hendrix playing on the back of Metro Buses. It's possible. HE SEES IT.

Or he is hallucinating.

I've had "impossible" experiences. However rather than project my subjective experience on to the world at large and retro fit reality to conform to my subjective experience I chose to examine my experience of it's own merits.

If I wanted I could choose for these impossible experiences to be the foundation of my worldview and basis of my belief system. I would then filter all my arguments through them. And in that case anybody wanting to engage me with an objective world view could utterly dismiss my subjective, possibly deranged, and hopelessly biased views. Which would irritate and disturb my comfortable subjective reality but, eh. That's the price you pay for holding on to a subjective experience against all outside rationality.

Turns out they were not impossible but were products of the physical world and my own organic chemistry. Whew.
posted by tkchrist at 11:12 AM on December 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


i simply can't hope to win against a rhetorical master of your intellectual and philosophical sophistication, can i?

Me? Sure. Fleetmouse and Greenie? No. You got destroyed.
posted by tkchrist at 11:13 AM on December 13, 2008


DEEEESTROYED!
posted by tkchrist at 11:15 AM on December 13, 2008


I've had "impossible" experiences.

yes, we know - you are constantly telling us about them

now, go beat your chest a little more - i have things to do
posted by pyramid termite at 11:16 AM on December 13, 2008


Greenie, I didn't mean to completely condemn multidisciplinary studies or pomo cultural theory or whatever you want to call it.

Fair enough. Sorry; I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I was just saying that I agreed wholeheartedly with your post, and the rest was my personal addendum. Perhaps I shouldn't make such broad statements anyway. I'm hardly an expert on that domain of study; I just know that most of what I have seen is incoherent babble dressed up in academic-sounding language. Perhaps I haven't seen a representative sample.

no, you're demanding that i adopt your definition of words

No, I'm demanding that you stop pretending like you don't understand the meaning of "evidence" in the context of scientific inquiry. A single, uncontrolled observation is not evidence. Words have definitions for a reason, and when we're dealing with concepts as complex and abstract as we are, it's important for participants to agree on common and explicit meanings for the terms of the conversation, and to use those terms precisely. Otherwise we may as well be spewing random symbols at each other, and no one gains anything from the conversation. This is a widely understood and accepted basic principle of debate, and the meaning of the term "evidence" that I've been using is also widely understood and accepted. The fact that you choose not to recognize it is beyond my control.

i wasn't hallucinating

You state this as fact. How do you know? There are a lot of things other than drugs that can lead our senses (and our interpretations of them) astray, you know. I've had apparently supernatural experiences myself, but I know that there are other (and arguably more reasonable) explanations for them.

and your evidence of this is what? personal anecdote? it just seems that way? other people have told you this and you take it on faith?

Yes, I accept it as axiomatic that there is a material universe, that it operates according to fixed laws, and that those laws are discoverable (albeit imperfectly) through our senses. And before you say "aha! but you do believe that our subjective experiences correspond to objective reality!"—I believe that they correspond imperfectly to objective reality, but that disciplined application of scientific principles (the requirement for replicability, independent verification, and controlled studies, for example) is necessary and effective at minimizing those imperfections.

Any philosophy rests, necessarily, on a set of axioms. And I'm really not interested in arguing about whether there is or isn't such thing as objective reality; there are centuries worth of writings on that, if that's what you want to read. I can only say that my own inquiries have led me to the conclusion that materialism requires fewer axioms (i.e., assumptions) than the alternatives, and is therefore favored by Occam's razor.

And it's worth noting that the methods developed by materialist thinking (e.g., science and technology) are many orders of magnitude more effective at predicting and manipulating the objective universe than those developed by idealist thinking (e.g., fortune-telling). That in itself seems a powerful and practical argument for the superiority of materialism, I think.

We could take this in all kinds of directions, but I seriously doubt we're going to get anywhere.

it's being negotiated as we speak

What? Do you mean that whoever "wins" our debate gets to decide on the shape of objective reality, or something like that? That has absolutely nothing to do with what I was talking about. Again, you're just playing games with words. This is a debate, not a poetry slam.

now all you need to do is to become comfortable with that

So you're rejecting logic? Because a paradox is a (form of) logical inconsistency. If you accept paradox as a valid explanation, then you are, in effect, denying the requirement for an argument to be logically valid. In which case I'm done trying to talk to you logically. You could have saved me the trouble from the get-go, instead of playing along with logic when it suits your position and discarding it when it gets inconvenient.

maybe they're trying to ignore it - because, after all, one could hardly pay attention to one's own subjective reality if one was paying attention to everyone else's

Again you miss the point. I'm not talking about paying attention to other people's subjective realities; I'm talking about paying attention to objective reality, which you claim is determined by people's subjective realities.

You claim that subjective experience is admissible as evidence re: objective reality, or that subjective experience shapes objective reality, or something like that (you still haven't clarified).

For example, if I believe in a god, then that god (according to your hypothesis) is literally (i.e., objectively) real.

Since we are all observing objective reality (I hope you'll agree with me there), it follows that everyone should be able to observe this god in objective reality. But not everyone can. Ergo, your hypothesis is bunk.

Yes, you can try to save the argument with a bunch of ad hoc reasoning and arbitrary special cases, but frankly dude, at that point I'm just going to have to stop listening to you.
posted by greenie2600 at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2008


Yeah, this is over, isn't it?

Good. I've been down this road a hundred times, and I knew we'd end up here as soon as I started seeing the classic telltale stuff. I really need a more productive hobby.

To those of you who complained that this was boring: I sincerely apologize that I have not fulfilled my obligation to entertain you.

The video was neat, though. Didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, but it was neat.
posted by greenie2600 at 11:31 AM on December 13, 2008


Oh pyramid. How can you honestly expect anybody to take you seriously when you argue purely from anecdote? Since when on Metafilter have people accepted that as argument? What if this was a Bigfoot thread or something?

I'm sorry this became an adhom. I am.

But really. To me it feels like you never even read what Greenie and Fleetmouse were saying. Just waiting for your time to speak. When you let the "impossible experience" thing out of the bag all good faith efforts from you immediately ceased. You see that? I don't think it was intentional but you see it, right?

"IE: You saw Bigfoot (Elvis). Therefore Bigfoot (Elvis) is alive."

Nobody can argue against that. In fact it becomes very uncomfortable to argue agaisnt these sorts of subjective positions becuase then it becomes about proving if the person is nuts or not.

It becomes difficult to believe you are arguing from any kind of intellectually honest position after a statement like that and the fear is you will simple lead us down a rabbit hole. Personally, I'd keep the personal religious experience thing to myself next time.

And. You wish it was my chest I was beating. Try farther south.
posted by tkchrist at 11:33 AM on December 13, 2008


It wasn't boring at all. It was very interesting.
posted by tkchrist at 11:34 AM on December 13, 2008


Whoa, whoa. I'm in this thread for the sheer gusto and pleasure of expressing and playing with ideas, not to destroy anyone. The fun thing about religious arguments, for people who don't blow their stack at the sheer complexity and insolubility of it all, is that they touch on just about every corner of human knowledge. It's like chess... on skateboards!

Pyramid Termite, I must have missed where you spoke of or alluded to your experience. I think religious experience is one of the strongest arguments for the existence of a God - in personal terms, though, because it doesn't translate well to other people. Does religious experience count as empirical, or is the empirical limited to the senses? And does a sense of the numinous count as a sense at all? I do not know. All I can say is that I've never had that experience and I'm not one to take a dump on it by comparing it to mental illness, daydreams or nightmares.

One messageboard where I hang out occasionally is Doxa, run by the irascible and dyslexic but well educated Metacrock. He has an argument from religious experience involving the philosopher Thomas Reid. Anyways, if people are interested in discussing things with a smart liberal Christian who isn't in any way a fundie, you might check out that site. Respect.
posted by fleetmouse at 11:38 AM on December 13, 2008


I think religious experience is one of the strongest arguments for the existence of a God - in personal terms

In personal terms? Maybe. But I hardly think it's a good argument for the existence of a god. Just a good reason for the belief in a god. Why do you think so?

Let's not mince words. The line between a chemical/organic event in ones brain and a religious experience is very, very, thin. In fact haven't neuroscientists simulated "religious experiences" by stimulating certain areas the brain?

Hardly the basis for any kind proof in terms of what is being debated here.
posted by tkchrist at 11:51 AM on December 13, 2008


From that DOXA link:

Man the one thing that infuriates them more than even saying religious stuff is saying that we don't need to prove the existence of god. They just go ape shit over that. they can't understand it. --METACROCK


Hmmm. I dunno. That seems pretty disingenuous to me.
posted by tkchrist at 12:01 PM on December 13, 2008


And this one? What?

I pray they die in agony. I do I really do I pray god takes them out. ---MEATCROCK

I couldn't grok the context of this one. Must be referring to something in another thread. But. Wow. That is some vindictive shit right there. Yeah. I'll not be venturing to the DOXA "debate."
posted by tkchrist at 12:10 PM on December 13, 2008


In personal terms? Maybe. But I hardly think it's a good argument for the existence of a god. Just a good reason for the belief in a god. Why do you think so?

What's the difference between believing in God and saying that God exists? They're both positive assertions that make the same case.

Let's not mince words. The line between a chemical/organic event in ones brain and a religious experience is very, very, thin.


In that case it's thin both ways.

In fact haven't neuroscientists simulated "religious experiences" by stimulating certain areas the brain?

Sure, but that could also be construed as evidence that the anatomy has built-in divinity receptors, just as it has a proprioceptive sense of its own disposition.

Hardly the basis for any kind proof in terms of what is being debated here.

I agree that it doesn't work as an objective proof that would convince anyone who hasn't had a similar experience.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:26 PM on December 13, 2008


I think it's perfectly daft to pretend that actions aren't informed, to say the least, by one's ideas. How many people have been blown to smithereens by secular humanist suicide bombers? How many abortionists have been shot by secular humanists? How many witches have been burned at the stake by secular humanists? How many girls have been executed by their secular humanist families for the crime of being seen with a boy?

I pretend no such thing and find it baffling that you would re-tread this tired old ground after we've already pretty much established it's what people do with their worldview that matters.

Also, I find it interesting that a lot of the same names I've seen in other threads who take a "live and let live" attitude about other people's lifestyles, preferences, hobbies and free time when it comes to other topics can get so outraged that other people, somewhere, believe in something that cannot be proven. My stars, what an outrage.

Doesn't matter what they do with this belief. It doesn't matter how progressive, how charitible or how positively they act towards the world with this belief as their motivation - just that they believe it. That's what matters? It's this sort of tedious, busy-body attitude that reminds me of some fussy old woman on the block who hates the loud music those danged kids play or something. Sometimes it is possible to care way too much about what other people think.

That said, it's nice that you can high-five each other, get pedantic, and declare "destroyed!" (?) over what boils down to a critique of someone else's belief in a deity. I just hope at some point more people can see beyond that belief, that it's the actions that result from this belief that matter; not the belief itself. Would sure make the world a lot more pleasant place to live.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's the difference between believing in God and saying that God exists? They're both positive assertions that make the same case.

I wasn't clear. To me saying "God Exists" is an objective declarative claim that is asking the casual observer to agree or understand - thus in my opinion begging some sort of support. Like "Hydrogen Exists." Or "The earth revolves around the sun."

Saying "I believe in God" is a subjective claim that is merely a stand alone statement by one party. It doesn't necessarily require me to agree. Other than "Yes, I believe you that you believe in god."

Semantics, perhaps. But somebody getting struck by a ray of light, hearing a voice, or having an out of body experience is no sort of proof of the Divine. Especially when there are readily available material explanations that we CAN test and prove out.

I agree that it doesn't work as an objective proof that would convince anyone who hasn't had a similar experience.

But I HAVE had a similar experience! But over time I drew a more objective scientific conclusion.
posted by tkchrist at 12:37 PM on December 13, 2008


Wow. That is some vindictive shit right there. Yeah. I'll not be venturing to the DOXA "debate."

Heh, Metacrock can be something of a pill(*) when he's going through a bad patch. Listen, he's dyslexic, poverty stricken, has an insane brother, and suffers from some kind of venous ulcers that require his legs to be constantly bandaged and rebandaged. He tends to take his frustration out on what he perceives to be shallow and ignorant atheists.

He also happens to be quite bright and knowledgeable, and I've had to learn a lot of terms from logic and philosophy just to engage with his arguments, let alone try to refute them. At his best, he will listen to your criticisms and reasoning - I think I've actually argued him out of using cosmological / causal arguments for the time being, though he may backslide. :-)

Theologically, his conception of God as being itself is compatible with my own naturalistic pantheist (e.g. "atheism with benefits") / Spinozist / philosophical Taoist conception of being, though of course he goes further in personalizing that, if personalizing is the right term.

(*OK, a total dick, then)
posted by fleetmouse at 12:39 PM on December 13, 2008


It's this sort of tedious, busy-body attitude that reminds me of some fussy old woman on the block who hates the loud music those danged kids play or something. Sometimes it is possible to care way too much about what other people think.

I don't see why you'd attach such negative associations to a discussion of people's ideas, motivations and actions. Would I be a fussy old woman (do you have something against women or senior citizens?) if I debated Keynesian economics and the policies that result from it? No? Then what makes religion exempt?
posted by fleetmouse at 12:51 PM on December 13, 2008


That said, it's nice that you can high-five each other, get pedantic, and declare "destroyed!" (?) over what boils down to a critique of someone else's belief in a deity.

Boy we are seeing to completely different threads here.

What was destroyed was not anybody's direct belief. But their arguments in this thread. Which, if you read PT (and the quote posted by Crabby), they were soundly taken apart. Piece by peice. And very congenially over all. Until PT got a bit snippy. So. I snipped back (and that was bad and I'm sorry) pointing out that he was losing because of arguing from pure anecdote. I was interested in a better argument from him.

And it wasn't pedantic. It was material. Like your error in the Santa Claus analogy which was then articulated better by somebody else.

The point is this: Nobody's beliefs are beyond reproach. Period. But the second, the very second, we start to examine the meat of a religious belief in Metafilter (Granted people get heated and sometimes nasty, but that is not all that evident here) the religious people often prop up a couple of reactions:

How dare you you question a religious belief.
- or -
You need to believe (experience, or have experienced, the "impossible") to understand.
-or-
We don't need to prove anything.

And debate becomes intractable.

BTW. In this very thread you started with an Adhom to Dawkins. Then later said you were glad he rhetorically defeated idiots like Ben Stein. Ironically Dawkins approaches Stein the way Fleetmouse and Greenie have several posters here - with facts and logic. And Stein attacks Dawkins principally the SAME way you did. With an Adhom.

Just thought was a very interesting thing to point out. I would ask you to consider if you really don't have an agenda, even if an unintended or unconscious one. We all do have those occasionally.
posted by tkchrist at 12:55 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Would I be a fussy old woman (do you have something against women or senior citizens?) if I debated Keynesian economics and the policies that result from it? No? Then what makes religion exempt?

Nail. Head.

Precisely.

People are programmed very inscrutably and not so subtly from birth (and perhaps by biology) with this religion thing. I am no exception.

If there is an all powerful god, who can blink and make universes, I doubt very much he is the least bit threatened by these discussions. So. What's the biggie?

I think the Santa Claus analogy for instance is a very good one in this regard. What really IS the difference in believing in Angels, transubstantiation, a soul, and Santa Claus. Why is only one of those considered ridiculous by the majority.

I find that fascinating.

I BTW am not an atheist.

How is THAT for a mind fuck.
posted by tkchrist at 1:04 PM on December 13, 2008


Alright, fleetmouse, tkchrist.

I'm not saying religion cannot be debated, that such things are beyond reproach. I should have been more clear, and I apologize for not being more so. What I was refering to was the tone of exasperation that someone believes in something that cannot be proven (re: the dragon in the garage), when this tone goes beyond mere intellectual exercise and takes on the shrill squeel of outrage. The funny thing about God is that, unlike Keynesian economics, it's not something that can be measured empirically, yet so many people on both sides of the argument attempt to do so. Asking me to "prove" God exists, or my trying to prove it, would be like trying to determine what color Love is, or what words taste like. That's why I haven't jumped into the fray with regards to that argument. I just kind of shrugged.

What I do take issue with is when the same rather tired arguments start to fly up. I am painfully aware of the evil things people have done in history and in present day in the name of God. But it would be just as foolish for me to call religion the root of that evil as it would be to say science is the reason why the Holocaust happened or atheism is the reason the Khmer Rouge wiped out a huge chunk of Cambodia. As Mrs. Brady put it so well here, there are certain types of people who will always find a way to fuck with everyone else, whether they use religion, politics or science as the excuse for their behavior. So I find it intellectually dishonest to have this inconsistent standard where by science and atheism are beyond reproach for the bad things people do - and rightfully so, mind you - but if someone kills in God's name, it is religion that's to blame.

As for my "adhom" on Dawkins, it was, as I said, a joke. I'm honestly glad the guy's around.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2008


No, I'm demanding that you stop pretending like you don't understand the meaning of "evidence" in the context of scientific inquiry.

this is a metaphysical discussion, not a scientific inquiry

A single, uncontrolled observation is not evidence.

that does not mean it is not valid as experience - and the point here is that you have no basis with which to invalidate it

Words have definitions for a reason, and when we're dealing with concepts as complex and abstract as we are, it's important for participants to agree on common and explicit meanings for the terms of the conversation, and to use those terms precisely.

especially if you want to define the words in a way that ignores what your opponent is saying - like it or not, the experience of reality involves much personal anecdote on a daily basis and your complaint that it is not evidence does not invalidate mine or anyone else's experience

Otherwise we may as well be spewing random symbols at each other, and no one gains anything from the conversation.

you might not get anything from it - others may

You state this as fact. How do you know?

how odd that you are so ready to believe i am prone to hallucinations without a thread of evidence to justify that belief - especially when you've never even met me

that's taking blind faith to a radical extreme

Yes, I accept it as axiomatic that there is a material universe

i'm aware that you think this - just as you're probably aware that i don't think it's anywhere near that simple - as you've already indicated, we're going to have to agree to disagree

What? Do you mean that whoever "wins" our debate gets to decide on the shape of objective reality, or something like that?

no, i mean that there are billions of entities negotiating what we call reality

That has absolutely nothing to do with what I was talking about.

it has everything to do with it, but you're not willing to hear that

So you're rejecting logic?

it has its place

Because a paradox is a (form of) logical inconsistency. If you accept paradox as a valid explanation, then you are, in effect, denying the requirement for an argument to be logically valid.

or saying that some questions will not yield anything but paradox

In which case I'm done trying to talk to you logically.

you haven't been - you only think that you are - a logical person doesn't assume that a person he's never even met hallucinates with no evidence to support that conclusion - especially when he doesn't even know what may or may not have been hallucinated

that was sheer faith-based thinking on your part

I'm not talking about paying attention to other people's subjective realities

you're doing everything you can to avoid that possibility - like almost all people do

Since we are all observing objective reality (I hope you'll agree with me there)

i'm observing something that could be described as objective reality to a certain degree, but i can't be 100% sure that others are seeing it as i do, or if in fact it is objective - and the more i learn and hear from others, the more doubt i have

i think there's quite a lot of leakage between what we've called objective and subjective realities

---

I think religious experience is one of the strongest arguments for the existence of a God - in personal terms, though, because it doesn't translate well to other people. Does religious experience count as empirical, or is the empirical limited to the senses? And does a sense of the numinous count as a sense at all? I do not know.

all good questions - and yes, the answers tend not to translate well to other people
posted by pyramid termite at 2:06 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


tone of exasperation that someone believes in something that cannot be proven

I think you somewhat misjudge the source of my exasperation, but yeah, that part exasperates me too. The only explanation for why it exasperates me is the one I've already given: from my perspective, it quite literally appears as if the majority of the people around me believe in Santa Claus and strive to live according to His teachings. That means the majority of people are either stupid, or insane (at least in this particular domain), or are fucking with me. Or that I am stupid, or insane. I admit all of these possibilities, and any others I may have missed. But if you don't understand why this state of affairs alarms me, or why I'd be curious to know which of the possibilities is the correct one, I guess I can't explain it to you. Sorry.

it's not something that can be measured empirically,

Then it is not part of the objective universe, and therefore only exists in the imagination of the believer—and however compelling the belief, I wish they would just be upfront about that from the beginning. Maybe then I could learn something from them. If it can't be measured empirically, then I wholeheartedly agree that there's no point in trying to explain it using terms and methods that are designed to address empirical fact—what's the point? All it takes is for someone to say "hey, this God thing, I don't literally believe that he literally exists". But then you have to accept that he's just a poetic image, albeit one that—for some reason—holds enormous sway over people's imaginations.

And it's this that exasperates me—this god thing is obviously very important to an awful lot of people, and if there's something to it, I'd like to know. If my notions about what "god" actually means are mistaken, I'd like to know that too. But no matter how gingerly I approach the topic (I'm not claiming that I've approached it especially gingerly here), no matter how many apparently bizarre notions I'm willing to entertain, no one—in years of questioning—has offered an explanation that makes a damn bit of sense.

At this point, I'm often criticized for a lack of imagination or something similar. And that just exasperates me further, because it's still not an answer, you know? It's just writing me off as incapable of comprehending this glorious idea. I'm not a dumb guy, and by the time we've gotten to that point, I've handed out so many free passes for apparent nonsense that I really am starting to wonder if someone is stupid or crazy.

And expecting me to not worry my pretty little head over it is asking me to shut myself off from understanding much of human history, appreciating much art and culture, and participating in much of society.

Asking me to "prove" God exists, or my trying to prove it, would be like trying to determine what color Love is, or what words taste like.

Then you have a very different understanding of "god" than the one I've been talking about. I'm guessing you're not eager to get into a discussion about that, but if you have any links that explain it well, I'd be interested in reading them.

But if they're ultimately, y'know, just poetry, then religions are just glorified fanboy cults, except with government funding and implicit license as moral and social authorities. And again, if you don't understand why I object to that, I guess there's nothing I can say to explain it to you.

it would be just as foolish for me to call religion the root of that evil

I, for one, made no such suggestion. I explicitly said that I don't think irrational (or arational, if you'd like a more neutral term) beliefs necessarily lead to woeful consequences.

As for my "adhom" on Dawkins, it was, as I said, a joke.

I understood this from the get-go. :) Seriously, guys, you didn't think he was submitting that as the entré to a logical argument, do you?

(Marisa, you are a dude, right?)
posted by greenie2600 at 2:08 PM on December 13, 2008


this is a metaphysical discussion, not a scientific inquiry

News to me. I suspect this is the root of the whole problem; we are having two different conversations, and each of us is wondering why the other is so daft at it.

I don't know much about metaphysics, but then I've never bothered to investigate because it's always seemed like baseless speculation and intellectual masturbation to me. Sure, you can weave all kinds of pretty ideas about what the Unknowable might be like, but if you can't actually test those ideas, it's still unknown, right? Oh, except for your personal, subjective knowledge about it. Like your knowledge of your favorite flavor of ice cream, or your interpretation of a particular poem.

I mean, you're welcome to it if you want it, but if that's the conversation you're having, I'm not interested.

that does not mean it is not valid as experience

Please show me where I said it wasn't valid as experience. Again, evidence and experience are not the same thing, as you just acknowledged.

especially if you want to define the words in a way that ignores what your opponent is saying

Please read and digest this, and the supporting links, before you get involved in your next debate. Or at least be upfront from the beginning that you are not engaged in debate, but in poetry-writing. I didn't come up with the definition that I was using; I was simply using the accepted definition of the term as used in these kinds of conversations. If you wish to redefine the term, or use another term to mean something similar but different, you need to be explicit about that, exactly as you'd need to do if you wanted to use the term "hamburger" in a non-standard way.

how odd that you are so ready to believe i am prone to hallucinations without a thread of evidence

I made no statement about the probability that you are prone to hallucinations—I merely said it was a possibility (which it is). But perhaps that was an imprecise term anyway (one you chose, not me). Human senses and cognition—even those of normal, healthy people—are imperfect and fallible, and prone to all sorts of inaccuracies and distortions which have been well documented by psychologists and neurologists. So if you replace "hallucination" with "inaccuracy or distortion of perception or cognition", you'll see what I mean. No, wait—no you won't.

Most of the rest of your comment just silly huffing and puffing, and I'm hungry anyway, so have a nice day.
posted by greenie2600 at 2:27 PM on December 13, 2008


News to me. I suspect this is the root of the whole problem; we are having two different conversations, and each of us is wondering why the other is so daft at it.

i knew why even before i started this conversation - for one thing, one does not conduct scientific inquiry by debating strangers on the internet

Please show me where I said it wasn't valid as experience.

the act of insisting this is a scientific inquiry instead of a metaphysical debate has, as a logical consequence, your dismissal of personal anecdote as valid discussion matter

there is no scientific inquiry that has been devised to determine the existence of god and you should know this - and yet, illogically and paradoxically, you insist on turning this into one

Please read and digest this

please read and digest this - "one does not conduct scientific inquiry by debating strangers on the internet"

this is an informal, open discussion and you do not get to set the rules for it

Or at least be upfront from the beginning that you are not engaged in debate, but in poetry-writing.

please read and digest this

I made no statement about the probability that you are prone to hallucinations—I merely said it was a possibility (which it is). But perhaps that was an imprecise term anyway (one you chose, not me).

ahem - Which means that a schizophrenic's hallucination that he's being probed by Masonic aliens from the CIA on a regular basis is evidence that it's literally true.

clearly, you were suggesting it - but your backpedaling is noted

Most of the rest of your comment just silly huffing and puffing

would you like me to post my heart rate as i huff and puff? purely in the spirit of scientific inquiry, of course ...

you have a nice day, too, but only if you can find a logical justification for it - must keep up standards, you know
posted by pyramid termite at 3:05 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Then you have a very different understanding of "god" than the one I've been talking about. I'm guessing you're not eager to get into a discussion about that, but if you have any links that explain it well, I'd be interested in reading them.

But if they're ultimately, y'know, just poetry, then religions are just glorified fanboy cults, except with government funding and implicit license as moral and social authorities. And again, if you don't understand why I object to that, I guess there's nothing I can say to explain it to you.


I'm not saying God is a poetic metaphor alone, either. I believe God exists, I experience the existence of God, but at the same time - and I feel this deserves special emphasis - I do NOT believe this puts me in some higher circle that anyone else, whether they believe in God or not, and I have no interest in either trying to convince other people that God exists or that they practice the same faith I do.

That people believe in something you equate with Santa Claus does, as I understand you, exasperate you and make you think these other people are either insane or retarded. I used to feel the same way about Spice Girls fans. I simply could not accept why people saw talent where there clearly was none. It annoyed me deeply to hear their songs on the radio. Then I just, you know, lightened the hell up.

I appreciate your objection to religion enjoying government funding and secular authority over those who didn't ask for it and don't want it. I share that objection. A lot of religious people do. Which is why I don't see authoritarianism as part and parcel with faith.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2008


Marisa at this point you are just willfully misunderstanding this entire debate. I mean Spice Girls fans? What?

George Bush. He has been often quoted as "seeking gods council." He has said that god "told" him to invade Iraq. that invading Iraq was right. Now if he said Santa Claus told him to invade Iraq, he wold have been locked up. But he said god.

Spice Girls fans may think that Scary Spice talks to them through their music. But if Bush said he was invading Iraq because of something Posh said in an interview or something he would be locked up.

Bush invokes God all the damn time. This is for a reason. It's because most people in this country are programmed from birth to consider this to be REAL. That people REALLY talk to god and he speaks to them. And this is an appeal to authority of highest kind. And Bush used it, and I think completely sincerely (he IS a believer not a cynic) to gain the trust and complicty of the American People. Certainly he could have done this another way. But he didn't.

I think we can agree your annoyance and later acceptance of Spice Girls fans is simply not at all on the same level as our concern with people of power, like Bush, USING religion.

Quite possibly as a result of Bush's conversations with god hundreds of thousands of people are dead. They are not "annoyed." They are dead.

Nobody here has claimed religious belief is the root of all evil. We have, however, attempted to point out the utter inconsistency that one set of irrational beliefs IS judged by the whole as informing a persons larger world view — Still believing in Santa Claus or, hell, White Supremacy — while another set of irrational beliefs are given a complete buy. Not only is this knee-jerk inconsistency arbitrary and capricious it's indicative of... of... well something. I'm not sure what. Something primal. Something irrational. Some innate need to belong to group think. And that something may not be, over all, good. That perhaps the world could be better off without it or at least with it understood and controlled. What ever it is.
posted by tkchrist at 3:47 PM on December 13, 2008


Oh. And also in regards to Bush, religion, the War and "faith." It frightens me that people could consider killing hundreds of thousands of people on such little proof but on the "faith" in our leaders. And by proxy feeling absolved of responsibility because their elected leaders are men of faith who themselves seek higher divine council. While there a certainly liberal Christians who are revolded by the entire notion of war it is still disturbing how readily a large portion of our population will take things of such importance on "faith." And I don't think it's any accident this happens in a country so fervently religious. I think we are programmed for birth. Perhaps somewhat innately, to accept this idea of a supernatural authority that can't be questioned. And I think this informs our entire society on every level. I don't think there is any such thing in our society (or perhaps in anyone with human biology) to be free from this instinct to follow and this need to have a higher power. And I think, to use hacking as a metaphor, it's a very dangerous whole in our collective mental software security.
posted by tkchrist at 4:09 PM on December 13, 2008


Typos. Sorry. It's the Percoset.
posted by tkchrist at 4:14 PM on December 13, 2008


Marisa: well, first of all, thanks for the response; I'm glad we could get this back to civil and honest territory.

I don't believe that you think you're in a higher circle. And I appreciate that you experience the existence of a god. But if you'd be kind enough to indulge me, I have a couple of questions about that:
  1. What does it mean to "experience" a god, anyway? I'm assuming that you don't see, hear, taste, feel, or smell it, which basically leaves the "senses" that we have of our own emotional and intellectual activity. But those senses observe (i.e., receive input from) one's own subjective reality, not from the objective universe. Okay, so this is old territory; we've already established that we're not talking about something that's real in the same sense that the tea mug I'm holding is real. Fair enough. But that leaves me to wonder why a god apprehended in this way would be considered any more real than a dream or a fantasy. Or why it would be any more applicable to the external world than any other thought or feeling. Not that those aren't relevant, they areto you. But perhaps that's your point; perhaps, in a sense, you're saying that we do each carry our own god around in our heads—perhaps that's what people are talking about when they speak of one's "personal relationship" with God. If that's the case, I'm curious to know how the experience of god differs from the experience of any other mental object. Why do people speak of it as other than themselves? Why personify it as a being with its own will and awareness? In short, why call it a god? That's not a challenge; it's a question.
  2. Bleh, I walked away for a while and now I forget the second question.
I used to feel the same way about Spice Girls fans

Not the same thing. The statement "I love the Spice Girls" is not a statement about objective reality; it's a statement about subjective reality, and while I meet it with the same incomprehension and distaste that you do, I admit it as valid nonetheless. The statement "there's an invisible man etc." is a statement about objective reality, and is either true or false. But again, that only applies if you are talking about an objectively real god, and we've established that we aren't. I'm just clarifying my earlier comments so you don't think I'm a total douche.

I'm genuinely curious and I'd appreciate any insight you might be able to give.
posted by greenie2600 at 4:33 PM on December 13, 2008


And...if God is a personal, subjective thing, why do we speak of a single, common god? Why not call it "conscience" or "intuition"?
posted by greenie2600 at 4:43 PM on December 13, 2008


Marisa at this point you are just willfully misunderstanding this entire debate. I mean Spice Girls fans? What?

No, I'm understanding it, I'm just trying to - what's the term? - lighten the mood a bit. Spice Girls fans will assert that their talent is an objective truth. It is there, to them, plain as day. I don't see it, and a lot of other people don't see it, either. But to them the talent of the Spice Girls is real and evident in their music. They will point to their songs as evidence of this talent, whereas I'd see it as evidence of a lack of talent.

And of course I think acceptance of Spice Girls fans isn't in the same ballpark with Bush's supposed divinely ordained policies. This is why I said in that same post "I appreciate your objection to religion enjoying government funding and secular authority over those who didn't ask for it and don't want it. I share that objection." (Boldened for the percocet) I don't at all suggest that one should just shrug off a president using God as an excuse to go to war - as I've said approximately a gazillion times now, policy is the core issue here.

Do notice that in the Spice Girls analogy I was addressing greenie's frustration with the belief of others, which he compared to the belief in Santa Claus - harmless yet, to him, delusional and a sign of either stupidity or insanity. This is why I brought yet another such belief into the discussion - that of the talent of the Spice Girls.

So when people use faith to justify madness, is faith the root of that madness? No, as you've said. When faith is used to justitfy progressive policies and charity, is faith the root of these good works? Again, no. What then is the thing to which there's an objection, with regards to faith? Belief in that which we ourselves don't see. The thing itself is neutral, clearly, as it can be used as a tool for both good or evil. If the problem is we see no evidence that this thing exists, yet the thing itself is neutral, I'd submit: so what? It is what people do with that thing that matters.

What does it mean to "experience" a god, anyway? etc.

Hm ... let me get back to you on this. I want to be able to word it in such a way that I don't come off as some zealot or missionary.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:29 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's particularly difficult to explain what it means to experience god. It's a common experience among people of all faiths (and even among people without faith).

The unanswered question is whether the experience is generated by the brain alone, or whether it is a real sensation of an external phenomena.

Just to make an analogy. We can relate the experience of seeing with a specific location in the brain (the visual cortex). However, not all sensations generated by the visual cortex actually relate to external phenomena. It's possible to generate hallucinations in many different ways(dreaming, and so forth).

I'm personally of the opinion that it's entirely internally generated, but when not generated by some sort of brain disorder (epilepsy, for example) or intoxication, that it's related to trance states -- created by ritual, music, dancing, prayer, meditation.

I've personally had profound experiences of a divine/infinite/benevolent force, even a feeling of vivid direct communication, but since it happened to me in an utterly un-religious context, I never took it as proof of anything beyond the hidden power of the human mind. Had it happened to me in church, in direct response to prayer, under the influence of a priest -- it might have made me a convert.
posted by empath at 8:22 PM on December 14, 2008


empath: an interesting contribution. I mentioned before that I've had spiritual experiences myself, my atheism notwithstanding.

These experiences have occurred mainly in three specific contexts: music, love, and nature, not necessarily in that order. There have been moments, after hiking far enough into the wilderness, when I have felt myself melt into the earth below me and the sky above me, and I don't hesitate to describe the experience as divine. There have been moments when music and love have cracked open the surface of mundane reality and given me a gorgeous, terrifying glimpse of the machinery underneath. For a time I was into certain meditative traditions, and I had a couple of experiences which...well, words fail me.

I have done an awful lot of reading and conversation about religious experience, especially the mystical traditions, and though I don't believe the religious explanations, I'm pretty convinced that these experiences are the ones they're talking about. Far from discounting them, I think they're among the most important experiences of my life—the ones which define who I am.

The thing is, these experiences lead me here, whereas they seem to lead others to a quite different place. And I guess it's that which perplexes me.
posted by greenie2600 at 9:59 PM on December 14, 2008


I look forward to seeing you prove any of that prattle.

Right here, right now.


Too easy.

Difficulty: has to come from credible and respected atheists. Hot Topic managers bleating away on youtube will be considered ineligible.

Good luck!


Ah, you'd like me to hold to a higher standard than you yourself are willing to use. Really, it's the intellectual honesty than endears me to Brights. Okay, bit by bit of what I said:

"Every time I see athe-activists jerking off about incipient transhumanism . . ."

By which I mean: folks like Nick Bostrom

". . . the idea that we live in the Matrix,"

Oh look -- Bostrom again!

"crypto-Platonism"

Dawkins himself (via memetics)
Dennett (who admittedly likes to be coy about it -- see http://meaningoflife.tv/transcript.php?speaker=dennett)
. . . and really, a whole bunch of other guys. Platonic indulgences are basicall the movement's biggest unacknowledged BS-pile.

". . . and the idea that there ought to be a Church of Science for the grubby intellectual proles I feel exactly the same way."

http://richarddawkins.net/article,3187,Artist-Builds-Temple-of-Science,Wired

There was also some discussion of it on Edge.org, where Scott Atran textually spanks everyone for being ignorant and Carolyn Porco talks about how she was just joking about a Church of Science, and really wanted not to make that, but something that uses the same ritual support as, say a Church. But for Science. It's atheilarious.

Oh, and for the bonus round, Sam Harris believes in psychic powers (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmske/is_/ai_n29381143).

Listen: I don't believe in God but right now, some vocal atheists are so dumb I would never use the atheist brand name in a million years. Much atheist culture is gullible when it comes to scientists talking outside of their fields, deferential to authority and unconscious of some of its own axioms -- and refuse to admit they have a subculture that generates said axioms and aren't Merely Individuals.
posted by mobunited at 11:14 PM on December 14, 2008


mobunited, I'm sure I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. Atheism merely implies a disbelief in god. All of that other stuff is some other belief system which includes atheism as one of its tenets.

I'm an atheist, and if there's an 'atheist culture', then I'm not a part of it.
posted by empath at 8:55 AM on December 15, 2008


(ps, I also think Dawkins comes across as insufferably smug on television, even when I agree with everything he's saying).
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on December 15, 2008


Listen: I don't believe in God

That's all that being an atheist means.

I have no idea who Porco, Bostrom and Atran are, I don't give two thin aristocratic shits about neoplatonism and I never heard anything about this science church before now. It sounds like an elaborate art hoax, like that guy who puts dead animals in tanks of water. There is no mandatory reading list so feel free to ignore Dawkins, Harris and anyone else you please. But you better tithe, motherfucker, or we're sending Hitchens to kneecap you.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:40 AM on December 15, 2008


Check your memail, greenie2600.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:01 PM on December 15, 2008


mobunited, this is kind of a pointless exercise. You could just as easily sit and compile a list of dumb ideas that specific Catholics or specific liberals believe, and it would prove nothing about Catholicism or liberalism.

I'm with empath—my first thought when you opened this line of discussion was "what the hell is he talking about?". I've been an atheist my entire life, and I've never encountered the things you describe in a specifically atheist context. I'd guess that people who are into these things are probably more likely to be atheist, but they're far from being definitive of (or even common within) atheism. Maybe you're hanging out with the wrong atheists.

As for the "church of science" thing: well, first of all, science is the study of nature, and there is a huge amount of authentically spiritual mystery and awe and grace to be found in nature. I feel sorry for you if you haven't ventured far enough into science to discover it.

But it sounds like this "church" is intended more as an installation piece meant to prompt a dialogue and raise questions, or to serve as the Rothko Chapel does, than it is to function as an honest-to-goodness church where people come every Sunday to praise the holy trinity of the Proton, Neutron, and Electron.

Anyway, what would be wrong with an atheist church? The personal experience of religion is just one part of it; there's a huge social dimension to it as well. If religious folks can get together every week to address moral, philosophical, political, and personal issues within the framework of their shared worldview (and to have a good time), why can't atheists?
posted by greenie2600 at 12:04 PM on December 15, 2008


Anyway, what would be wrong with an atheist church?

nothing that wouldn't be wrong with a whorehouse for celebates
posted by pyramid termite at 9:30 PM on December 15, 2008


Early Freemasonry was essentially a church for atheists.
posted by empath at 10:02 PM on December 15, 2008


Anyway, what would be wrong with an atheist church? The personal experience of religion is just one part of it; there's a huge social dimension to it as well. If religious folks can get together every week to address moral, philosophical, political, and personal issues within the framework of their shared worldview (and to have a good time), why can't atheists?

Closest thing to a secular church is the Unitarian Universalists, which I've considered joining... there are definitely benefits to fellowship with the other passengers on spaceship earth. Apparently a lot of atheists in small towns attend UU congregations, because there are places where you can't not attend a church. If I understand correctly, the UU members are free to consider the theology allegorical or symbolic...

nothing that wouldn't be wrong with a whorehouse for celebates

A nunnery?

Early Freemasonry was essentially a church for atheists.

I thought they were mostly deists. Can deists be considered atheists? They don't believe in a specific revealed god who interferes with human business, so I'd say probably.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:43 PM on December 15, 2008


Well, one couldn't admit one was an atheist.
posted by empath at 11:06 PM on December 15, 2008


True. I suspect most doubters couldn't admit it to themselves, either - before Darwin there was no intellectually satisfying explanation for the ostensible design of life. Deism allowed a reasonable alternative.

Come to think of it, next time I find myself disputing with a Christian, I'm going to take a deist position. That nullifies most of his lines of argument right off the bat - it obviates my need to support evolution, explain cosmology or defend the idea that life can have an intrinsic rather than extrinsic "purpose" and "meaning". We can launch straight into Bible atrocities, absurdities and contradictions. Sweet.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:32 AM on December 16, 2008


Closest thing to a secular church is the Unitarian Universalists, which I've considered joining... there are definitely benefits to fellowship with the other passengers on spaceship earth. Apparently a lot of atheists in small towns attend UU congregations, because there are places where you can't not attend a church. If I understand correctly, the UU members are free to consider the theology allegorical or symbolic...

For what it's worth, fleetmouse, I was raised UU, and still have a tendency to cite it as my religion when asked. Some congregations are more Christian-leaning than others, but the three UU churches I've attended have all had a few atheists of some kind in them. Though it's hard to tell who's atheist, who's Deist, who's Christian, who's pagan, etc; theology tends to be pretty non-prescriptive among UUs. The only real doctrine is the Principles and Sources, which you can find here.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:10 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to participate in a Calvinist-oriented messageboard where the only forbidden topics were Satanism and Universalism. Even if you were an atheist or demonic Mormon they'd let you discuss your stuff, but not Universalism. Too threatening.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:26 AM on December 16, 2008


Well, we are Satan's Chosen People. All our public rhetoric about "tolerance for other lifestyles" is just a lot of fancy distraction from the fact that most of our services involve disembowelling infants and conducting ritual orgies to honor the Prince of Lies. Frankly, I'm surprised the Calvinists are the only ones who've caught on!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:34 AM on December 16, 2008


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