The Original Atheists

by Kieran Healy on June 3, 2007

One of the perks of refereeing books for university presses is that you get to pick some books in lieu of money. I try to get stuff that I can’t really justify buying, such as interesting but expensive scholarly books from well outside my field. Which explains why I’ve been reading G.E.M de Ste. Croix’s Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, a posthumously edited collection of papers. (Ste. Croix’s Big Red Book, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, is terrific, by the way, and rather cheaper.) One of the essays is a classic paper from 1963 on Christian persecution under the Romans. From it, I learned this:

It was not so much the positive beliefs and practices of the Christians which aroused pagan hostility, but above all the negative element in their religion: their total refusal to worship any god but their own. … I shall call this exclusiveness, for convenience, by the name the Greeks gave to it, ‘atheism’ (ἀθεότης); characteristically, the Latin writers refer to the same phenomenon by more concrete expressions having no philosophical overtones, such as “deos non colere” (not paying cult to the gods): the word atheus first appears in Latin in Christian writers of the early fourth century, Arnobius and Lactantius …

… [U]ntil the advent of Christianity no one ever had any reason for refusing to take part in the ceremonies which others observed—except of course the Jews, and they were a special case, a unique exception … [because] their religious rites were ancestral, and very ancient. … The gods would forgive the inexplicable monotheism of the Jews, who were, so to speak, licensed atheists … Matters were very different with the Christians, who had ex hypothesi abandoned their ancestral religions … The Christians asserted openly either that the pagan gods did not exist at all or that they were malevolent demons. Not only did they themselves refuse to take part in pagan religious rites: they would not even recognize that others ought to do so. As a result … the mass of pagans were naturally apprehensive that the gods would vent their wrath at this dishonour not upon the Christians alone but on the whole community; and when disasters did occur they were only too likely to fasten the blame on to the Christians. …. Tertullian sums it all up in a brilliant and famous sentence in the Apologeticus: the pagans, he says, “suppose that the Christians are the cause of every public disaster, every misfortune that happens to the people. If the Tiber overflows or the Nile doesn’t, if there is a drought or an earthquake, a famine or pestilence, at once the cry goes up, “The Christians to the lion.”

The essential point I want to make is that this superstitious feeling on the part of the pagans was due above all to the Christians’ “atheism,” their refusal to acknowledge the gods and give them their due by paying them cult.

… We must not confuse the kind of atheism charged against the Christians with philosophical skepticism … The vital difference was, of course, that the philosophers, whatever they might believe, and even write down for circulation among educated folk, would have been perfectly willing to perform any cult act required of them—and that was what mattered.

Part of Ste. Croix’s larger argument is that pretty soon the boot was on the other foot, the persecuted became enthusiastic persecutors, .

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Darwiniana » The original atheists
06.04.07 at 8:36 pm

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1

John Emerson 06.03.07 at 11:46 pm

“The idea of an incarnation of God is absurd: why should the human race think itself so superior to bees, ants, and elephants as to be put in this unique relation to its maker? Christians are like a council of frogs in a marsh or a synod of worms on a dung-hill croaking and squeaking “for our sakes was the world created.” — Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus

And who cares what the detestable Donatist heretic Tertullian thinks?

2

Kieran Healy 06.03.07 at 11:53 pm

That last quoted paragraph is actually a rebuttal from Ste. Croix to a bit of sophistry from Tertullian, which I omitted.

3

Quo Vadis 06.03.07 at 11:54 pm

I attribute the growth and stability of monotheistic religions to their fundamental incompatibility with other beliefs. The resulting intolerance serves as a kind of evolutionary edge that resists incursions by other beliefs and provides a motivation for expansion. I suspect that these advantages were not lost on Constantine and Mohammad given the contexts of their own religious experiences.

4

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 12:08 am

For early Christians, not eating meat of sacrifice was a prime rule. This excluded Christians from many public occasions, in the same way that not eating pork had excluded Jews during some period. (But St. Paul did allowe Christians to eat pork). In Northern Europe, horsemeat was forbidden, since it was usually a sacrificial meat.

Dumont: Indian society is organized around rules about who can eat what with whom (the food taboos of the different castes vary in rigor, though even if the food is clean lower castes themselves are unclean.)

Buddhist vegetarianism was not always absolute and sometimes only meant not participating in the slaughtering process in any way, including ordering meat — donations of meat could be accepted and already-slaughtered meat could be bought at the market. Buddhist vegetarianism, like Hindu vegetarianism, also seemed to be a purity rule: onions and garlic are also avoided by many Buddhists.

Christian vegetarians at some point were required to eat bread dipped in a meat broth, to avoid exclusivism within Christianity. The kind of purism represented by vegetarianism probably seems like an attempt to evade original sin.

5

Jacob T. Levy 06.04.07 at 12:26 am

One of the perks of refereeing books for university presses is that you get to pick some books in lieu of money.

“One of”?

6

Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.04.07 at 12:36 am

Albeit tangential to the original post, John Emerson’s remarks about Hinduism and Buddhism with respect to vegetarianism are more than a tad misleading: Buddhists have “metaphysical” or spiritual and ethical reasons for being vegetarians. For a site with excellent references and literature, please see http://www.shabkar.org/index.htm [This site also happens to have a bibliography I put together on animal ethics, rights, and law]

Similarly with Hinduism: Yes, the metaphor of “purity” is ubiquitous in Hinduism, but there are quite specific metaphysical and ethical (and even physiological) reasons that account for why many Hindus refrain from eating meat: having to do with ahimsa and karma, for instance….

7

Sean Carroll 06.04.07 at 12:40 am

They weren’t the originals, though. “Atheism” was long used as an accusation against people who believed in the wrong gods; one of the charges against Socrates was that he was an atheist. And Democritus and Epicurus arguably really were atheists, by our current lights.

8

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 2:46 am

Patrick, that’s a given. Vegetarians gave multiple reasons for their practice, but the inclusion of onions and garlic suggests that purity is high among them. While in some cases compassionate Buddhists or Hindus actually did take positive steps to make animal’s lives less painful, even among vegetarians this was not always true. Some just say that animals are being punished by being born as animals, and we should neither increase their suffering nor try to reduce it.

Strict vegetarianism apparently has apparently never universally enforced or practiced in Buddhism — there’s abundant textual evidence to that effect.

9

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 2:47 am

Febvre’s “The Religion of Rabelais” argues that during the early modern period (ca. 1500-1700) everyone called everyone else an atheist, without anyone ever professing atheism.

10

Kieran Healy 06.04.07 at 4:36 am

“One of”?

Well you also get to be a character from Flann O’Brien: The Man Who Has Read It In Manuscript.

11

Andrew Brown 06.04.07 at 7:20 am

See also the Jesuit Herbert Buckley’s “At the origins of Modern Atheism”,which argues — to my mind convincingly —

* that “atheism” was the general bogeyman of the seventeenth century: an accusation to be flung by both sides in the religious war against their enemies, even though there were then no actual atheists;
* that the Paley-ist argument from design emerged from this atmosphere as a completely irrefutable disproof of atheism that was also modern, forward-looking, in harmony with natural philosophy, etc;
* that in this way the argument about God’s existence and nature was moved from being an account of some sorts of human experience to being an explanation of the extra-human universe

Which, when Darwin and Laplace came along (my shorthand), left theism completely wrong-footed.

12

bad Jim 06.04.07 at 7:49 am

Supposing there’s no god but one
is the same as supposing there’s none
Look, what are the odds
that yours, of all gods
is the one who gets everything done?

13

Richard A 06.04.07 at 8:51 am

The amusing passage that John Emerson presents as a quotation of Julian the Apostate is, in fact, a paraphrase of Celsus (an anti-Christian polemicist of the late C2).

14

abb1 06.04.07 at 9:08 am

Too bad monotheism has managed to get accepted as the norm. Polytheism clearly is a more natural and typically more tolerant and much happier creed. Of course most monotheistic religions introduced angels ‘n stuff to satisfy the need, but too little/too late to mitigate their totalitarian nature.

15

chris y 06.04.07 at 11:01 am

that “atheism” was the general bogeyman of the seventeenth century

And not simply between Catholics and Protestants. Lucy Hutchinson (c17 biographer of her English regicide husband) accuses one of his local political antagonists of “horrid atheism” in a context where he is almost certainly just a more radical protestant than the mainstream Independents she runs with.

I think all theological disputation should be written in limericks. It would prevent the willful obscurity that bedevils the field. Can we petition the Pope or something?

16

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 11:34 am

Marcus Aurelius’s belief is most peculiar. He speaks of the Gods, which are identified with the stars and also presumably to the Roman Gods to which sacrifices are made. However, he never names any of them, and the sacrifices seem basically to be a form of civic piety. He also speaks of God, who is seemingly completely impersonal, and identifiable with the laws of the universe. But he absolutely believes in cosmic design, and that all things work together for good, and that nothing can be bad for anyone which is good for the whole.

As Roman Emperor, of course, he was not likely to be acutely alert to questions of unfairness.

17

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 11:39 am

Thanks, Richard! I shall speak sharply to Bartcop about this!

Celsus

Note that to Celsus (2nd. C.) Christians are Jews:

“I speak bitterly about this”, says Celsus, “because I feel bitterly. When we are invited to the Mysteries the masters use another tone. They say, ‘Come to us ye who are of clean hands and pure speech, ye who are unstained by crime, who have a good conscience towards God, who have done justly and lived uprightly.’ The Jews say, ‘Come to us ye who are sinners, ye who are fools or children, ye who are miserable, and ye shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven.’ The rogue, the thief, the burglar, the poisoner, the spoiler of temples and tombs, these are their proselytes. Jesus, they say, was sent to save sinners; was he not sent to help those who have kept themselves free from sin? They pretend that God will save the unjust man if he repents and humbles himself. The just man who has held steady from the cradle in the ways of virtue He will not look upon.”

18

thag 06.04.07 at 12:14 pm

there’s a great scene in one of Lucan’s treatises, his account of the false prophet Alexander of Abonouteichos.

This is about 150 A.D., right, and the picture is very clear that there are lots of these self-annointed prophets, miracle-workers, and charlatans of all stripes wandering the oikoumene.

Anyhow, Alexander is about to do his show–it involves a talking snake, if I recall, who represents Apollo–and first he has to work the crowd up. So he gets them into this call and response thing where they are expelling all of the infidels from their group.

he begins with an invocation: “if any atheist or Christian or Epicurean has come to spy on our rites, let him leave now!” and the crowd all start shouting “out with the Epicureans! out with the atheists! out with the Christians!”

great scene, great sense of how the religious landscape looked c. 150-175 AD.

sean carroll is right about the earlier charges of atheism against Socrates, Diagoras, Theodorus, and others.

19

Ginger Yellow 06.04.07 at 12:43 pm

“Too bad monotheism has managed to get accepted as the norm. Polytheism clearly is a more natural and typically more tolerant and much happier creed. “

There’s an interesting argument in Robert Sapolksy’s Monkeyluv, based mainly on anthropological research conducted by Robert Textor in the 60s, that (absent external proselytising) desert cultures systematically favour monotheism while rainforest societies tend toward polytheism. He also argues that there are other systematic differences, among them the role and status of women and the value put on militarism.

I’ve no idea if the anthropology is sound, though. You can read an article by Sapolsky on the subject here

20

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 12:45 pm

John Emerson- all of that was pretty much garden-variety Stoic talk. It would not have struck anyone at that time as peculiar. Naturally it was Panglossian, since in Rome Stoicism had evolved into the self-justifying philosophy of the upper classes, of whom Marcus was a particularly complacent and non-self-aware example.

21

CJColucci 06.04.07 at 3:14 pm

We ought to bring back the ancient Olympian religion because it best explains the facts: everything is done by committee and all the committee members are working at cross-purposes.

22

Hermes 06.04.07 at 3:16 pm

Kieran’s post draws an interesting parallel between what these Christians asserted, and what today’s rabid atheists assert: that people ought not to believe in false gods. This caused a lot of problems for early Christians (lion-shaped problems, that is), because they had theological motivation to act on that assertion and attempt to influence others: a negative kind of evangelism. So my question is, what exactly is it that motivates some modern atheists to attempt to convince other people to question their beliefs? Why take an evangelical stance like the Christians, rather than just live and let live like the Jews? The Christians did it out of theological logic combined with altruistic zeal. Do the atheists of today have a comparable secular humanist logic and the same altruistic zeal? Or is it out of something more pathetic and fearful, a mean kind of mean longing for company in misery?

23

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 3:21 pm

Gee, Hermes, aren’t dislike of intellectual dishonesty and wishful thinking, and dismay at the appalling swath of death and destruction left by religion over the millenia, good and sufficient reasons? They certainly are for me. And why would a sensible person, if he / she happens to have come to the conclusion that religion is on the whole a bad thing, not wish to work to reduce its influence?

24

Kevin 06.04.07 at 3:51 pm

Or is it out of something more pathetic and fearful, a mean kind of mean longing for company in misery?

Or, perhaps, they’re simply tired of living in a de facto Christian nation where people like James Dobson and Ted Haggard are taken far too seriously (i.e. seriously at all).

And why must an atheist be miserable? Most of those in my acquaintance are quite cheerful.

25

Hermes 06.04.07 at 4:38 pm

23 – First, are you saying religion cannot be intellectually honest, and grounded in reality? Second, death and destruction are caused by people. Don’t you listen to the NRA? If guns don’t kill people, neither does religion. And third, a sensible person, it seems to me, would not reduce so complex a phenomena to something that “as a whole” ought to be thrown out, even if it has problems.

24 – First, that’s a fair enough complaint; however I don’t see how disliking Christofascsists justifies actively promoting an atheist ideology. Would you tell a Hindu to rescind his or her faith? Second, I’m not saying all atheists are miserable, I’m just positing misery as one possible motivation for *some* atheists who gripe about others having faith.

26

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 4:56 pm

Yes, belief in anything supernatural is pure wishful thinking. (We know much more than enough about the brain, and its incredible complexity, at this point to know that minds don’t arise from floating ectoplasm or some such.) If you want me to reconsider that opinion you have only to show me reliable, intersubjectively available evidence for some supernatural or “spiritual” phenomena. Feel free to point me to some. On your second point, I don’t buy that argument when it come from the NRA any more than I do when it comes from you. As to the third point, it of course comes down to an assessment of the cost/benefit ratio. I have never been very convinced by the various attempts to demonstrate significant benefits, at least to organized religion. (I am much less concerned with personal “spiritual” beliefs as long as they don’t cause harmful behavior, though I certainly don’t think they’re conducive to healthy mental habits.)

27

Hermes 06.04.07 at 5:11 pm

OK 26, so we have flushed out your definition of religion as being “belief in anything supernatural.” What if someone claimed not only that there was a god, or gods, or even a God, but also that it was perfectly natural? Or what if there were a divine order to nature itself, without any invisible sky men whatsoever? (Of course all this blasphemy is hypothetical, since in actuality the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.)

28

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 5:19 pm

If it’s “natural” it has observable consequences. Which are??

I have no problems with Spinozism (which is how I interpret your “divine order of nature itself”), which is logically equivalent to atheism or at any rate close enough for practical purposes.

29

yabonn 06.04.07 at 7:25 pm

So my question is, what exactly is it that motivates some modern atheists to attempt to convince other people to question their beliefs?

It’s because we are mean.

And when we are not stopping them in the streets to convince them to question their beliefs, we’re in their blogz, posting slightly trollish commentz.

30

bi 06.04.07 at 7:45 pm

Hermes:

“Don’t you listen to the NRA? If guns don’t kill people, neither does religion.”

As someone has pointed out before: Fingers don’t kill people. Bullets do.

“I’m just positing misery as one possible motivation for some atheists who gripe about others having faith.”

In other words, you’re just making up just-so stories from nothing but thin air. (Not to mention that if I were merely “positing” something unflattering about you, you’ll probably be screaming persecution and high treason.)

I think this sort of fact-free crackpottery of yours is what many “miserable” atheists are so up against — and rightly so.

31

Hermes 06.04.07 at 8:08 pm

so, bi, you don’t think it’s *at all* plausible that *any* atheists might feel lonely and cast adrift in a coldly mechanical universe, and, for purely psychological reasons, would want to lash out at others that s/he perceives as feeling a transcendent unity? And please note that, along with a query for other peoples’ hypotheses (rather than snippy insults) I *also* posited that atheists could have a secular humanistic altruism, but I suppose that’s fact-free crackpottery as well.

32

bi 06.04.07 at 8:33 pm

So, Hermes, you don’t think it’s _at_ _all_ plausible that you don’t know what you’re talking about? No, I’m not saying you _are_ an idiot, I’m just wondering whether you are. Ergo, you can’t criticize me.

Then again, I also agree that it’s _also_ possible that you said what you said out of altruistic zeal! So again, you can’t criticize me.

Wow, isn’t it wonderful to engage in civilized discussion without facts getting in the way?

By the way, “fact-free crackpottery” isn’t an insult, it’s a factual description of what you’ve been engaging in right from your first reply. Given that you claim to be “grounded in reality”, it’s surprising that none of your replies even mention a single concrete fact. And _that_ is surefire evidence of crackpottery.

(For the record, I’m religious.)

33

Russell L. Carter 06.04.07 at 8:42 pm

What is this “transcendent unity” stuff, and why, as an incorrigible atheist, should it bother me? Does Osama bin Laden have a bunch of it? He seems like a true believer…

34

Hermes 06.04.07 at 8:43 pm

I guess I’m just confused then why you think my asking a question needs to be assaulted with undermining assertions about the nature of my inquiry. I thought it was permissable to ask a blog community questions without providing a data and methods section. But I’ll get right on that and a have survey results posted by morning.

35

bi 06.04.07 at 8:54 pm

I said:

“(Not to mention that if I were merely ‘positing’ something unflattering about you, you’ll probably be screaming persecution and high treason.)”

Dang, I hate it when I’m right on mark.

= = =

Russell L. Carter:

Osama’s “transcendent unity” involves 70 virgin wives in Heaven, so yes, it should bother you.

36

Hermes 06.04.07 at 9:25 pm

Russell L. Carter:

Transcendant unity means there is some kind of divine connection between things, which some atheists don’t believe. my point is that it shouldn’t bother you that other people believe that. if it does, and you do something to convince others not to believe it, then you’re being evangelical, and i want to know why.

bi:

wow, your stunning display of super-smarty-awesomeness has defeated me utterly. i’ll be over here crying in my cracked pottery.

37

will 06.04.07 at 9:34 pm

They totally envy our like, transcendental unity, man.

38

bi 06.04.07 at 9:37 pm

Hermes:

“Tthere is some kind of divine connection between things…”

This claim is so vague that it means nothing whatsoever.

“…which some atheists don’t believe.”

Examples?

“my point is that it shouldn’t bother you that other people believe that.”

It shouldn’t bother anyone that you’re accusing people of wrongdoing by making stuff up from thin air?

“wow, your stunning display of super-smarty-awesomeness has defeated me utterly. i’ll be over here crying in my cracked pottery.”

You know, you can change this. How about you bring some _concrete_ _facts_ into the discussion instead of repeatedly blathering just-so accounts and screaming persecution?

39

bi 06.04.07 at 9:47 pm

By the way, Panda’s Thumb likes to call this the “Help! Help! I’m being repressed!” argument. Make up some totally bogotified charge of intolerance on the part of certain unspecified people, claim that these (unspecified) people are suppressing your ideas (which are totally unsubstantiated and probably bogus anyway, but should that matter?), and scream persecution.

40

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 10:23 pm

I guess I’m just confused then why you think my asking a question needs to be assaulted with undermining assertions about the nature of my inquiry.

Oh, I dunno, could it be because of totally inoffensive stuff like this?

Or is it out of something more pathetic and fearful, a mean kind of mean longing for company in misery?

Discussions are generally facilitated by not trying quite so hard to be a jerk.

41

Roy Belmont 06.04.07 at 11:28 pm

“If you want me to reconsider that opinion you have only to show me reliable, intersubjectively available evidence for some supernatural or “spiritual” phenomena.”
This is problematic in a couple of pretty essential ways.
The primary one being that rather than a nice clear field of inquiry where there’s nothing much going on but a bunch of open- and not so open-minded folks sitting around discussing whether or not there’s invisible spirit messengers moving through the shadowy interstices of our earthly landscape the religious side posits war of a vast and frightening scope, between “supernatural entities” and their following armies.
Philip K. Dick was on about this as well, as were the Gnostics and a bunch of others, including hardline hard-shell fundamentalists with their Revelations and their Apocalypse etc.
So testimony in that context could be analogous to testifying about gov’t. secret programs, like CIA/DEA/contra/cocaine connections, like MK-Ultra and Phoenix and various other bizarre groups events and personages etc. It can make the testifier fatally vulnerable if the testimony has any merit.
The great comfort given by the phrase “conspiracy theory” proceeds from this – it allows the dismissal of everything that smacks of intrigue and ungoverned malice behind the scenes.
None of this argumentation happens in an abstract place. For all the nonsense and illogic and social damage perpetrated by the most common forms of religious activity these days there are the inescapable parallels of end-time prophecies and the global-warming forecast scenarios. The “fire next time”.
Science wants proof of the existence of prophetic ability before accepting it, but that presumes that the subject only exists in the rational landscape of science, that in fact everything does. Obviously if prophecy and telepathy do exist then they probably have for a long time, and they’ll be features of less-prominent organizations, as they have tremendous survival value as skill and technique.
Rupert Sheldrake’s work is often dismissed without a hearing, in as knee-jerk an unscientific way as it gets – at least partly because what he testifies to, and has proved, is the existence of something like telepathy in animals.
Also many people don’t want telepathy to exist, because the only truly private sanctum they own is in their heads.
Our notions of time and the default assumption of it’s being something even the gods must conform to, even though the general dogmatic is they don’t, means these demands for proof frame the question in unconstructive ways.
Maybe God doesn’t give a shit about you, maybe that part’s bunk. Maybe God’s like the sun – super-powerful and the driving force behind every animate creature earthside, but not a key determinant in the average round of daily living. Maybe the Gnostics were right and the demi-urge is running earth in malevolent ways.
Maybe tiny man on his tiny world really is all that’s going on, though it seems very unlikely, especially given how often that assumption’s been revealed as bogus in other smaller venues.
The appeal of anthropocentric solitariness is then we get to make the rules. That this is virtually identical to the chauvinist entitlements that are so disgustingly prevalent in the dogma of historical institutional religion is interesting. What appeals at least to me in some animistic religious views and much of the earliest Christian thought and teaching is humility and love in the face of the vast unknowable. The rational positivists at their best also have that humility, but at their worst as with their opponents it’s nowhere to be found.

42

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 11:31 pm

Whatever, dude.

43

Hermes 06.04.07 at 11:46 pm

I’m not sure what sort of concrete facts would help the discussion. Are you really asking for evidence that atheists evangelize? Or am I just being put in my place for thinking evangelists are mean?

44

Steve LaBonne 06.04.07 at 11:58 pm

By the way, I have always found the “humility” meme fascinating. How is it humble to imagine that human beings can make sense of the universe by sitting in an armchair- or a pulpit- and just making shit up instead of participating in the hard slog of finding out just a bit at a time by the methods humans have gradually and painstakingly developed over the centuries? On the contrary, it strikes me as the height of arrogance.

Maybe tiny man on his tiny world really is all that’s going on

And how is the assumption that something like human consciousness is the primary component of “what’s going on” in our vast universe, anything other than the most blatant anthropocentric wishful thinking? Again, the blame, if any, is pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction here.

45

Hermes 06.05.07 at 12:00 am

all i was trying to elicit were other ideas for possible motivations of evangelism. a friend of mine came up with this, which i rather like: “the religious don’t see just how big a part religion plays in their lives. It’s the non-religious who really notice how religion seeps into other parts of their lives. I think that’s what motivates evangelical atheists. ‘If there weren’t so many Christians, then there wouldn’t be as many Christians telling me and my government how to do things, so I should get the Christians to believe what I believe instead, or at least to not be so pushy about their beliefs’.”

46

Steve LaBonne 06.05.07 at 12:18 am

If you’re trying to “elicit” ideas, why do you keep parading bogus ones of your own? (Including the idiotic trope of “evangelical atheists”.) Methinks the god of thieves doth protest too much. Also he seems to have gone all Nordic, by way of morphing into a troll. The Goethe of Faust Part II would be proud.

47

Roy Belmont 06.05.07 at 2:32 am

Steve it isn’t you against “those guys”, it’s you against nearly everybody except your own team. That’s my consistent objection.
I agree with a lot of your position as I understand it, or at least understand how you get there and why you’re so irritated. All the cosmic riffing is to get a bigger sound out of the equipment. Falwell et al aren’t humble. Point. The Pope is sort of as an individual but the arrogance of his office is very great. But their anthro-chauvinism is a mirror/shadow of the rational-positivist anthro-chauvinism that’s given us the grotesque horrors of primate research and a Mengelian disregard of other lives generally. Not to mention all the surprise effects and comebacks of heedless greed-driven “progress”. So that would be the problem then.
What I’m seeing is conscienceless endeavoring at self-interest leading pretty much to the same bad place blind obedience to perverted dogma does.
Both Falwell to use him as lead symbol for “them” and the identity-less mass that’s led or enticed by science ungoverned by a relationship to “higher things” are responsible for pretty much the crime, the bad, the wrong, whatever. We aren’t going in the right direction, at all. Neither “religion” or “science” is responsible for that, perversions of their truer mandates are.
Standing on a cliff demanding God reveal himself through a sign you can comprehend is not humble.
Lots though not all of the “primitive” world-views that I’ve run into have humility at their core of instruction, as do the major religions, theoretically. Humility in the face of the larger world, whatever that is that’s bigger than us, and so much is, that would be the thing. Which is not a call for abject prostration.
It’s a human characteristic to push forward into new realms. Claiming them in the name of an unseen God is ugly; claiming them in the name of a bunch of souped-up thugs with laser death-rays that wipe out anyone who gets in their way is equally repellent.

48

Keith M Ellis 06.05.07 at 5:42 am

evangelical atheists

I’m an atheist and I’ve known some of those and encountered them frequently on the web. Surely, at this point, this describes some of Dawkins’s writing.

Furthermore, the great frequency at which outspoken atheists bring up the “appalling swath of death and destruction left by religion over the millenia” trope indicates that they are evangelizing their beliefs for some of the same reasons as are the evangelizing, intolerant theists: the other beliefs are a force of evil.

The reasons why many people are intolerant of other people’s beliefs are numerous. Usually, though, there’s some amount of victimology and some amount of animus involving a sense that the others believe the things they believe out of some kind of willful desire to go against what is good and right. Intolerant atheists display these traits just as strongly as intolerant theists do. It’s not a matter of beliefs, it’s a matter of character and temperament.

49

bi 06.05.07 at 7:10 am

Keith M Ellis:

Thanks, but from what I can see, Hermes’s notion “evangelical atheists” is an extremely narrow one. To him, an “evangelical atheist” is someone who believes that there is no “divine connection between things” of whatever form, and works to spread this belief to other people, and I can’t be sure whether Dawkins even fits that bill.

And not forgetting that Hermes’s method of evaluating ideas is totally backwards — he simply either “likes” or doesn’t “like” an idea, never mind whether the ideas are backed up by empirical data or not. Sure, Dawkins(*) actually did say that “Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense” — which shows that he does believe religion to be dangerous — but let’s ignore what he _actually_ _said_, and start concentrating on what _I_ (Hermes’s friend) think he was thinking when he said that. You’ll agree that this is totally backwards.

= = =

Roy Belmont:

“It’s a human characteristic to push forward into new realms. Claiming them in the name of an unseen God is ugly; claiming them in the name of a bunch of souped-up thugs with laser death-rays that wipe out anyone who gets in their way is equally repellent.”

Is that supposed to be coherent?

= = =

(*) who as I said isn’t an “evangelical atheist” by Hermes’s definition, but let’s just use him for the sake of argument

50

abb1 06.05.07 at 8:42 am

Yeah, people can get overly enthusiastic just about anything, but I don’t think the mainstream doctrine of secular humanism is particularly evangelical. At least the Asimov/Vonnegut brand.

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richard 06.05.07 at 9:50 am

Over the past 2 years or so, Dawkins and a number of other prominent atheist thinkers have, indeed, publicly called religion into question, or openly dismissed it either as false or as lacking in evidence. I came across this discussion when an edition of Wired was devoted to it; I imagine other magazines also devoted column inches to it. This, I think, may be what Hermes is referring to.

Firstly, this may be construed as evangelising, or as spreading harmful memetic poison, or as open debate and free speech: I very much think the difference lies in the eye of the beholder.

Secondly, the tendency to stand up and speak one’s mind, rather than staying quiet, can be seen in the history of Christendom, especially during the periodic wars of religion (also elsewhere, but other religions and times don’t seem to have played much part in this discussion so far, so I’ll stick to the smaller problem). The secular enlightenment came out of one of these wars, so we can call this both a ‘Christian’ and a ‘secularist’ tendency, and we shouldn’t be surprised if people raised in post-enlightenment societies also exhibit it. That is, even if you reject religion consciously as an explanation or credo, you don’t necessarily reject the cultural habits that go along with it (like telling people what you think they should do). Or, to put it another way, if some vocal atheists tell people they’re misguided and possibly harmful because they think and behave in a certain way, they’re just engaging in a Christian tradition.

Thirdly, if the society as a whole is based on these behaviours (of debate, or proselytising, or whatever) then refusing to engage in them is an act of social disengagement or aloofness – which has its own consequences (as I think Hermes example of the Jews amply illustrates: live and let live plus irreducible difference doesn’t always work).

52

richard 06.05.07 at 9:52 am

during the early modern period (ca. 1500-1700) everyone called everyone else an atheist, without anyone ever professing atheism.

Over the past 25 years we’ve progressed to using the term postmodernist instead.

53

Steve LaBonne 06.05.07 at 10:26 am

On the contrary, it’s those who fantasize about the existence of something called “evangelical atheism” who are unable to extricate themselves from the grip of religiously-induced mental categories. Yet another instance of pointing the finger in precisely the wrong direction, in addition to the two I pointed out above.

54

hermenauta 06.05.07 at 6:11 pm

I´m enthusiastic about the idea of “live and let live”.

Also, I have found in life some deeply religious people who are very helpful, caring of others, etc.

What disturbs me as an atheist is when religious people starts hitting the drum for changes in our collective social life based solely in their own beliefs, specially when they do this about issues that should only concern individual choices.

This happens all the time here in Brazil; in the 70´s, there was an war against the divorce laws by the church (the law only passed because we had military rule at that point and some generals were very annoyed by their spouses). It´s happening again since the progressive Lula government wants to revamp the sexual education programs at schools, with special emphasis in AIDS prevention and even distributing free condoms (something conservative people see as a scandal).

“Live and let live” should be the 11th commandment. Petition to the Pope, again…

55

Jim Harrison 06.05.07 at 6:53 pm

Atheism isn’t a very interesting proposition since noticing that the universe isn’t haunted is about as much of an accomplishment as recognizing that anvils don’t float. On the other hand, the experience of the last two or three years demonstrates that speaking up for atheism makes political sense. The automatic attacks on the uselessness of evangelical atheism are actually evidence of its effectiveness. Contrast the status of unbelief in the U.S. even three or four years ago with the situation today after the appearance of best selling books by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and others. There have always been lots of Americans who don’t have much use for religion, but absent the effective public assertion of the legitimacy of disbelief, they were marginalized and inhibited by the universal and hypocritical sanctimony of mainstream discourse. “Hey, there are lots of us.”

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roy belmont 06.05.07 at 6:57 pm

bi-
Seen any grizzlies lately? Big cats outside the zoo or circus? How about savages? They a problem where you are? Gone down to the laser death-ray every one.
The to-me coherent point somewhat implied but there in fairly accessible form nonetheless is that both of these polarized armies want the new territory, and the rationalizations in dispute are about that. “Laser death-ray” is a metaphor for everything from atomic weapons to genetic modification.
What disgusts me isn’t just the ignorant superstition of religion and/or the arrogant solipsism of science so much as that both flaws work toward the same goal. Mighty man uber alles!

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Steve LaBonne 06.05.07 at 7:01 pm

Atheism isn’t a very interesting proposition since noticing that the universe isn’t haunted is about as much of an accomplishment as recognizing that anvils don’t float.

I couldn’t agree more. If there weren’t so many people around who want to misuse politics and the law to inflict their sectarian dogma on the rest of us (or in the worst cases, blow the rest of us up), I myself would have no interest in discussing something so boring. And I heartily agree with the rest of your comment as well.

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Steve LaBonne 06.05.07 at 7:07 pm

Roy, I already pointed out that your “arrogant solipsism” trope is asinine, and 180 degreees ass-backwards. On the contrary, people who pine for the presence of some kind of intelligence (a human trait, highly valued accordingly by our egocentric species) pervading the vast impersonal universe are the arrogantly solipsistic ones; they are just like the 19th century idealists, they want to remake the whole universe in their own paltry image. There is no sillier form of anthropomorphic arrogance than that.

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kharris 06.05.07 at 8:23 pm

The question – “I wonder why they would do that?” – seems commonly to grow out of more than just a spirit of intellectual inquiry. It sounds like “I wouldn’t do that, so why would they?” Because “they” see things differently, and we all like to express ourselves. (Boston is, after all, the greatest sport city in the world. Ask anybody.)

Asking why some feel the need to stand up for atheism is a bit like asking why they would stand up for science. A materialistic explanation of stuff is what science aspires too, isn’t it? No room in a materialistic explanation for spiritual causes. The guy who lectures in the high school physics class, if he is true to his job, is espousing material explanations. Not sitting quietly and believing but not speaking. The gal who prescribes amoxycillin rather than exorcism is espousing material explanations. Looking at drilling records to locate water, rather than dousing for it, is to espouse material explanations. Telling thirsty people that drilling records are the way to go is evangelizing? So be it.

There surely is a bit of self-assertion or other-denigration going on in proposing that others do what they do for reasons of bile or weakness or fear or anger. Is that why we think scientists do what they do? Fear and bile? Jacob Bronowsky wrote of the beauty of scientific and mathematical ideas, and did so beautifully. Must we reject that possibility for materialism?

I realize this is a bit of a stretch, but arguing for one’s position from evidence, in a way that is internally consistent, just might have a bit of Bronowsky in it. There is no need for bile or hurt to push for reality as one sees it. Dawkins may see danger in religious thinking, but that need not mean every materialist is arguing out of fear or hurt.

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roy belmont 06.06.07 at 12:30 am

Labonne- I haven’t pointed out yet that your insulting tones and petulances haven’t been met with like behaviors on my part, but I am doing so here and now.
You don’t seem capable of getting my position. Which is in neither one of the increasingly angry sides on offer.
You feel a need to vent your unhappiness on the people who make you unhappy – have at it, but don’t pretend that it’s some kind of truth-oriented endeavor.
The mypoia behind your strenuous defense of whatever it is you feel is being violated resides in your unspoken but obvious assumption that sentience would have to be limited to some kind of human-analog. Like us, or doesn’t qualify. The epitome of solipsistic arrogance.
Galaxy-wide clusters of organized stellar energy with functioning personas – it’s to laugh.
There’s myriad possibilities. The least likely is solo man against the cold dark of eternal space. Doesn’t scan. The probability that there are other things out there, some of them probably vastly superior in every respect should call for humility on the part of the intrepid explorers. The empty wildernesses of the 17th and 18th centuries come to mind. Point of fact they were alive with much more than utilitarian artifacts, and the loss of those living things, some we still can’t name except with vague nouns like “ecology” and “watershed”, have devastating consequences on us and our children.
My point! No humility in evidence! Bad things happen!
You want to beat up on some fundamentalists. I’m not one. Back off.
I’m opposed to the limits of my being to a great deal that’s hidden in the agendae of contemporary practicing science. It’s ugly and inhuman. But it’s matched virtually note-for-note and in its viciousness with what seems to get to all the self-defined atheists around, fundamentalist delusions of grandeur and entitlement.
So here:
Theocracy – bad. Technocracy – bad.
How’s that? Simple enough?
Or here:
Pat Robertson and his ilk are arrogant assholes, and so are you and your clad.
As I said elsewhere in similar context – a pox on both your houses. And soon come.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.07 at 12:42 am

Technocracy has what, exactly, to to with atheism (which was around, eg. Carvaka, when technology was still in the Bronze Age?) Are you in the wrong comment thread, perhaps?

Your personal obsessions, while evidently fascinating to yourself, are exceedingly opaque- not helped any by the masses of disordered verbiage- and appear to have have nothing to do with the subject under discussion. But, thanks for playing.

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roy belmont 06.06.07 at 3:30 am

Labonne –
Thanks for pointing out that rational-positivism-scientificalism-whateverism has nothing to do with the discussion. Which is about stupid religious nutcases and calm reasoned atheists not getting along, mostly because the nutcases won’t shut up and go away.
Although maybe without religion morality’s going to be derived from…? Oh yeah – rational thought!
Which proceeds from knowledge! Which is gained by…shoot, can’t remember that part.
The disdain that saturates so much of the dialogue is a consistent feature of the junior varsity academic/r-p-s-w team. I remember it well from 5 years ago, Bush riding that gospel train toward tyranny, the academics here and elsewhere all laughing at those idiotic nitwits and their delusions.
Worked didn’t it?
Scorn – that mighty sword.
What we’re about to experience, and how well we survive it, is going to be colored greatly by commonly held beliefs. Instead of submitting to one side or the other of this artificially-polarized contest,thereby strengthening both, we could recognize how much it’s mirrored by the artificially-polarized American political contest pitting Democrats against Republicans, both vying for prominence in the war against…against… sorry, lost that point completely.
Anyway, big changes coming, huge, scary – and I hate like hell to see the world divvied up between your kind of smug myopic intelligent thinking and those smug myopic and ignorant folks on the other side. My motive, not exactly an obsession.
My personal obsessions aren’t real plain here I don’t think, certainly not plainly essayed.
The writing style is just fun, for me. I can do that semi-pithy-with-a-soupçon of safe-from-anything-but-verbal-comeback schtick you’re so fond of pretty well when I want to – but I always end up despising myself, after. Cheers.

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bi 06.06.07 at 4:35 am

OK, roy belmont, here’s my short reply.

_”Science” is not “folks in white lab coats doing arcane stuff for big fat organizations”. “Science” is simply application of the scientific method, period._

Come back after you manage to understand this.

64

daelm 06.06.07 at 9:09 am

#64:

Except that that’s not so clear, bi. Science is often guys in white coats doing arcane stuff for big organizations because that’s where the money comes from. And next to science stands fans of science, often guys in suspenders cheering the corporate plan on, without any accurate knowledge of what the plan is, or what the scientists do.

There’s too little clarity in this thread. What is generally being opposed to the (stereotypically simplified) forces-of-religion is science-as-philosophical-standpoint. Not science as she is practiced, which (courtesy of the economic annexation of the various sciences), is better described as technology. Let’s call the latter science(1). Science-as-scientific-method is merely a way of thinking, and therefore falls into the science-as-philosophy camp. Which is fine and well and good. Let’s call that science(2).

What happens in argument though, is that in defense of science(2), patrons and fans tend to default to the accomplishments of science(1) and thereby get tarred with the abuses that pervade science(1) as it is now practiced.

Then there’s the rest of the argument – there’s actually no serious doubt that science(2), also often called empiricism, the scientific method, critical thinking and so on, is the smartest way humans have discovered to live in the world, and specifically to live with the world as material substance. It’s borne out again and again by the accurate prediction of simple future events, which is properly the holy grail of living things.

What religious people object to is the outcomes of science(1), where those are clearly not beneficial. Since science(1) is an extension of corporate research, mostly, its outcomes are applied as technology and often applied in a vacuum of knowledge about consequences. Normal profiteering by the organs of the modern economy doesn’t seem to have required assessment of consequence and so when science(2) becomes science(1) there’s a loss of signal. Thus we have highly sophisticated shipping and freight (a consequence of science(2)) that dumps massive amounts of waste in the oceans, creates noise pollution that disrupts critical activity for sonar-using animals and so on.

Essentially, science(2) serves science(1) and the values of science(1) or ‘applied sciences’, do not derive from science-as-philosophy, but are social, corporate and economic and partake of all the problems of those domains.

You can argue all you like about the wonders of science-as-philosophy, and the vast and towering moral high ground it occupies over religious beliefs, but the fact remains that science-as-philosophy is a very personal thing. What people experience is science-as-applied and while science as applied has been extraordinarily beneficial, it has also been devastatingly destructive in application – it the patrons of science-as-handmaiden-of-commerce that have gifted us with global warming, massive ecological destruction and all the rest. Not the religious.

It’s true that these destructive impulses are not part of science(2) – that is, they’re not embedded in the scientific worldview. But they are part of science as it is practiced, and so far science-as-philosophy, which is what people want to oppose religion with, has pretty much been powerless to reign in its own consequences. All of which is grist to the mills of the religious person, who identifies this failure as a failure of values. The patron of the sciences gets irate at this, but has no legitimate response. And the bickering begins.

The fact remains that science-as-philosophy is contesting religion on grounds where it hasn’t developed a comparable set of conclusions. On the level of day-to-day interactions with matter, knowing something about the laws of motion (even if you don’t know you know it) is good and the more sophisticated the knowledge, the better. On the level of deciding whether to trust your brother-in-law, again, after he’s failed you, the laws of motion are useless. Equally useless is game theory. Even worse, if you know he will default again.

There’s no way for the natural sciences to help you make that decision, because one correct answer may be that you must trust him again, and allow him to fail you, again, in order to sustain a relationship built on a recognition and acceptance of another’s flaws, while never speaking them aloud, and which recognition brings value into the lives of both parties and facilitates other gains. You can’t assess that gain, because it’s entirely subjective. But despite being subjective for both parties, it’s mutually recognized and therefore can be acted on. The rules governing that interaction haven’t been formulated by science(1) and have been cravenly ignored (usually in favor of pointing to the successes of technology) by science(2).

The missing questions are questions of value, and unless science-as-philosophy is planning to address these, successfully, religion is going to own them hands down. Because religion exists to provide rule-sets that address these questions in the tiniest detail. Screaming about it won’t change this. For better or for worse, religion addresses these. It may be, as Dawkins claims, that in so doing it leaves a canker in the brain. All the more reason for the fans of science-as-philosophy to get to work, then.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.07 at 10:25 am

Another one who doesn’t get it. People were “contesting religion” long, long before there was anything resembling modern science. And science is not some kind of substitute religion for anyone who has any sense (and I care not for the delusions of the senseless) so comments along these lines are comprehensively irrelevant. Save this stuff for when we have a Science and Technologies Study thread to comment on, or some such.

66

daelm 06.06.07 at 11:14 am

Steve, not only do I get it, but a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, the distinction of being the only 9-year old atheist in a highly religious social environment (a fact that led to my being excused religious class work, eventually, by dint of persistent bloody-mindedness) allied to a subsequent working career in the NGO sector, in that same religious community, ensure that I gets it real good.

The current debate (‘contesting religion’) is current. It’s being waged in current terms and the current set of fears and worries have bearing. So too does recent history. That the pre-Socratics or whomever contested the validity of the religion of the day has little, if any, bearing on that. It’s not a question of whether critical thinking or blood-letting of animals is more efficacious – that’s been answered, and you’ll be happy to know the critical thinkers won. People have moved on since then, all the fundamentalists in American notwithstanding. What’s at stake is the source for the determination of the values of the greater whole, and for the reasons I clumsily outlined above, the thinking religious are mightily concerned about that, and for seeming good reason. Maybe, I’m misunderstanding you, but not wanting to address that primary driver of the debate, and tease out its components is both dumb and counter-productive.

Also, to position the debate as between some reified ‘scientific method’ free of the taint of intellectual sin, and religious buffoonery, priestcraft and ancestor worship, as is usually the case, is intellectually dishonest and basically ensures little further role for the person doing that, whether they are on the side of the angels or the amoeba..

You don’t need to accept the religious world-view, in order to accept that the values that it pays lip-service to, and which people try, in part, to organise their lives in terms of, are valid and important. And having accepted that, provisionally, it might be worth looking at the need for the posited alternative to ‘religion’ to have a toolkit for handling those values. But this requires that you can dissect the ideas of religion and see in it the creation of cosmologies, the ascription of causes, and the elaboration of ethical behaviors, and distinguish and weight these sets accordingly. Nuance and delicacy is everything, which is something that many in both theological and scientific camps have taken on board. Their fans, patrons and supporters, seems not so much.

Given that the manner of your discourse is so hostile, that’s pretty much the last I’ll have to say here. You can read that as a microcosm of the greater debate, if you like.

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Steve LaBonne 06.06.07 at 12:21 pm

This is merely what PZ Myers aptly calls the “courtier’s response”, with reference to the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. The “nuance and subtlety” pertain to the constructions of a small (in any age) elite and have about as much relevance to religion as a mass social phenomenon as academic literary theory has to Oprah’s Book Club. As a mass phenomenon organized religion, to a crude but useful first approximation, has always consisted largely of priests telling ghost stories to frighten the sheep into keeping the money coming. One has only to look at the fundraising activities of American televangelists- whose followers number in the multi- millions- to realize the continued relevance of this description.

68

James Wimberley 06.06.07 at 1:11 pm

Ad 5. 10. “one of the perks” of doing work for a university press? Naturally. The other is this:
(Scene: dusty bookstacks)
(GIRL PEON bumps into HERO, drops glasses accidentally)
HERO (Gasps) You’re beautiful!
GIRL My hero!
(They KISS. Fade. Bells)

69

paul 06.06.07 at 2:48 pm

Regarding “evangelical aetheists”, I don’t see a problem with it as expressed by Dawkins. A rebuttal to nonsense needs to be made and is long overdue.

Several points.

1.) Religion is one area of discussion where criticism has been effectively censured. If this were not the case we wouldn’t be discussing “evangelical atheists” just because a few popular books have been written. Anyone remember the Mohammed cartoon protests? Or the periodic religiously motivated book banning attempts that happen in the US? Why should these belief systems that make frankly bizarre assertions be entitled to any sort of special deference?
While it is ok to criticise political beliefs or someones style of dress, their religious beliefs are somehow sancrosanct no matter how repellent or damaging to other members of society. I believe it is in fact time for this to change.

2.) 9-11, London and Madrid not to mention the shooting of abortion doctors in the US and a continuous pressure on politicians to introduce religiously based laws. IE a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual partnerships in the US. Banning stem cell research. Banning abortion. Demanding enclaves of Sharia Law etc. etc.
In the UK where “faith” schools are publicly funded we now have Islamic ones as well as R/C, Anglican and at least one creationist one. The most recent gem is that we’re going to publicly fund training Imams. When the religious feel free to put their hand in my pocket and extract cash in order to promulgate their beliefs, I believe it is time to call into question why we are funding this rubbish. For that matter why should they be getting tax relief?

3.) I can honestly say I have never had an “evangelical atheist” turn up at my door. I do however get Mormons and Jehovas witnesses regularly. As well as the Church of Scotland twice a year. I am somehow expected to be civil to them although I rather doubt if I turned up at their house on a Saturday asking to hold a Satanic worship service (or even listen to an atheist diatribe) they would be so polite.

70

roy belmont 06.07.07 at 10:37 am

Labonne – I don’t care what you say, no matter how you live or where, the sun is the most powerful thing in your life.
Look up at the night sky, all of them up there, and everywhere around us. All your sentience is driven by that one engine. Look how many there are. It’s infinite. And it’s been there forever.
Science gave me that.
I imagine gatekeepers of exponential complexity, guarding little cul-de-sacs of relative paradise out there somewhere, and sucking hells that go forever into their own vanishing points waiting like set traps for the unaware, and those gatekeepers just like here, some of them saints motivated by only compassion some of them shlubby overweight nonentities with nasty compensatory agendae looking for cathartic victims.
I imagine unreachable beauty that needs out sacrifice to defend itself, and the mundane extrapolated beyond our ken.
Science and religion together gave me that.
Can you see how your adamant polarities divide that in me? How the prominence of those polarities in the world could be a real concern?
How patient I was with your cheap insults.

71

bi 06.07.07 at 8:04 pm

“I imagine…”

You can imagine all you like, but unless you can show that the fruits of your “imagination” have something to do with this reality, you’re just engaging in fact-free rantage.

“Can you see how your adamant polarities divide that in me? How the prominence of those polarities in the world could be a real concern?”

No, I don’t why your “imagination” is so important that we must treat it as fact.

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roy belmont 06.07.07 at 10:46 pm

Non-imaginary position, simply stated:
Science proceeds from the known, starting with the self – cogito…ergo sum! – and moves outward step by step.
Religion tries to communicate with what’s already out there.
The idiotic position of most rational-positivists is there’s nothing out there until it’s proven to be. The default assumption is a nil cosmic social environment.
This is autistic, bizarre, illogical in a meta way, and horrendously incompetent for anyone in a leadership position in charge of our moving toward what’s out there to maintain.
Viz. prior examples of that arrogant mentality’s treatment in re wilderness, ocean, atmosphere, indigenes et al etc.
Thus humility as advocated.
Pay attention here: Not that there’s definitely something out there, but that there probably to a degree of near certainty is. Based, if nothing else, on the very fact of evolution, here, in the short time span and with the limited terrestrial materials available. Given the eternal and infinite nature of the larger environment. But then you’re about to demand that I prove the existence of eternity and the infinity dimensions of the universe(s) aren’t you? Sorry champ, too busy right now.
I could give a shit what you or your team-mates think about my imagination and its products, it’s what your flat-line mentality is doing to the world I, and the people and things I love, live in and will have to live in after your mega-damaging hubristic incompetence gets through with it that concerns me. A lot. Enough to put up with this kind of yip-yap.

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bi 06.08.07 at 4:43 am

“Thus humility as advocated.”

As Steve LaBonne pointed out: what exactly is so “humble” about making stuff up with your head and treating it as fact?

“Science proceeds from the known, starting with the self – cogito…ergo sum!”

That’s Descartes, not science.

As I said already, _science is application of the scientific method_. Do you have a problem with understanding that simple sentence? Read up on the scientific method, read up on the idea of “falsifiability”, and maybe come back when you actually have something useful to say.

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