An atheist temple?

by Chris Bertram on January 27, 2012

Any spat between Alain de Botton and Richard Dawkins is one where I’m kind of rooting for both of them to lose. On the other hand, Dawkins has some genuine achievements to his name and has written some pretty decent books, so there’s some compensation when he acts like an arse, whereas in de Botton’s case ….

De Botton’s latest plans (h/t Alex):

to build a £1m “temple for atheists” among the international banks and medieval church spires of the City of London have sparked a clash between two of Britain’s most prominent non-believers. The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a “new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins’s “aggressive” and “destructive” approach to non-belief. Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

Not a runner, I think. Though there’s at least one happy precedent: Auguste Comte’s Chapel of Humanity, which Maria blogged about in 2003.

{ 877 comments }

1

Andrew Fisher 01.27.12 at 11:07 am

You won’t get much temple in London for just £1 million, that sounds like a shrine at best.

2

dsquared 01.27.12 at 11:12 am

You won’t get the land for ten times that, let alone a fifteen storey tower made out of a combination of binary-engraved concrete, “geologically interesting rocks” and actual solid gold.

I also note that he plans to represent 300m years of life on earth by building a 46 metre tower, each centimetre of which represents a million years. For a professional thinker, he doesn’t seem to have done much thinking.

3

dsquared 01.27.12 at 11:16 am

and furthermore, although I am sure that AdeB’s desire is sincere to move away from the rudeness and confrontational attitude of Richard Dawkins, he is proposing to build a one hundred and fifty foot gold-embossed tower to a) demonstrate that he is right and Richard Dawkins is wrong and b) to emphasise to the workers of the City of London, via a massive gold-and-fossil tower placed forever outside their workplaces, that they are insufficiently spiritual and have no moral values. This suggests to me that he has not entirely escaped the influence.

4

Gareth Rees 01.27.12 at 11:23 am

It sounds like he has a bad case of religion-envy. And anyway, we already have the Church of England for people who like the trappings of religion but don’t believe in the doctrine.

5

Jeffrey Kramer 01.27.12 at 11:25 am

1ST ATHEIST: So.
2ND ATHEIST: Yeah.
1ST ATHEIST: So, here we are.
2ND ATHEIST: Yeah.
[Pause]
1ST ATHEIST: Big place.
2ND ATHEIST: Four thousand eight hundred fifty seventh tallest in the world.
1ST ATHEIST: Yeah.
2ND ATHEIST: Makes a… statement?
1ST ATHEIST: Yeah… kind of… I guess.
[Pause]
2ND ATHEIST: So… lots of floors with the bacteria theme.
1ST ATHEIST: Makes you think, doesn’t it?
2ND ATHEIST: No, not really.
1ST ATHEIST: Right. Screw it, I’m out of here.
2ND ATHEIST: I’m right behind you.

6

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 11:29 am

Given who is doing the proposing, truth in advertising would mandate that it be billed instead as a temple to grift and self-promotion.

And if refusal to accord unearned respect to stupid beliefs is “aggressive” and “destructive”, I wonder what adjectives would be left to describe, say, the Westboro Baptist Church.

7

Kieran 01.27.12 at 11:34 am

Here’s a remark I prepared earlier. Also: ONE MEEEELION POUNDS.

8

Chris Bertram 01.27.12 at 11:39 am

I presume, btw, that there will be readings from A.C. Grayling’s _The Good Book: A Secular Bible_ .

9

Neville Morley 01.27.12 at 11:54 am

I’m reminded of a line in a Julian Barnes novel – can’t remember which one – about the purpose of medieval cathedrals being to terrify people into belief like a knife at the throat, rather than relying on any of that rational argument nonsense. De Bottom seems to have bought into the same idea; non-belief needs to be inculcated by stealth and manipulation rather than reason. I have no problem with the idea of architecture inspiring awe and bringing new perspectives, but for me that means something like Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish museum in Berlin where the building actually has a purpose beyond celebrating itself and its creators.

10

Andrew C 01.27.12 at 12:09 pm

Sneering put-downs of Dawkins from between thin lips for… lacking civility? Funny how religious belief turns people into David Brooks when they don’t get the respect to which they think they’re entitled.

Should be banned for that reason alone.

11

Latro 01.27.12 at 12:19 pm

I’m more of the atheist tendency to want to see current religious buildings demolished (exceptions for artistical and historical value), not by law/violence but just because everybody wakes up some morning and realize what a waste of their time religion is, but well, I like Dawkins.

I dont know who this de Bottom fellow is, but what we need is LESS stupid waste on “spirituality” and more actual help to people here, in this Earth, now, in their necessities. So that 1 to N million pounds in his stupid scheme would be better employed on doing something to eradicate poverty, bring education, or whatever.

Not that it looks like he has any possibility of getting that money for that project, I think

12

Daragh McDowell 01.27.12 at 12:46 pm

Chris, while I agree with you on very little, I think you got it right on the nose here. Also, dsquared wins the internet today.

13

JP Stormcrow 01.27.12 at 12:59 pm

I also note that he plans to represent 300m years of life on earth by building a 46 metre tower, each centimetre of which represents a million years.

One charitably assumes the news story left out a zero, the inclusion of which would bring things more in alignment with both the actual span of life on earth and the height of “the tapering tower’s interior “.

14

tomslee 01.27.12 at 1:26 pm

Snark is easy, but it is worthwhile for atheists to ask what babies we throw out along with the religion bathwater, and this “temple” seems like an attempt to look for them. Three examples:

Christianity took over the Yule/midwinter and spring/fertility festivals. If we reject religion as a basis for them, what do we put back in their place? In many parts of Canada a new public holiday was introduced and named “family day” which is pretty weak gruel. If public celebration is worthwhile, how do we re-invent it? Or do we resort to describing celebration as an irrational use of resources?

Ritual and ceremony surrounding birth and death serves many purposes. The humanist ceremonies I am aware of (not much, I admit) seem lacking. Are there good alternatives to the religious?

Confession is good for the soul, even if we don’t really have one. Do we move all the functions of the confessional into the psychiatrist’s office?

Anyway, you get the point: it’s easy to dismiss the sillinesses of religious practice, but counterposing a simplistic rationalism is, well, simplistic, and a richer atheism seems to me like a goal worth pursuing. Dennett had a thoughtful essay a few years ago about what it means for atheists to be thankful (can’t find it now) and if de Botton’s initiative helps spur those conversations then I’m prepared to forgive him his follies.

15

reason 01.27.12 at 1:48 pm

tomslee


Um New Year?

You’re obviously not an Australian, or you would be well aware of the alternatives (Show Day, Melbourne Cup Day etc).

16

reason 01.27.12 at 1:50 pm

Who needs a Cathedral when you have the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

17

Neil 01.27.12 at 1:59 pm

There already is an atheist cathedral, masquerading as the Natural History Museum in Oxford.

18

Scott Martens 01.27.12 at 2:00 pm

If they build an atheist temple in Switzerland with a minaret, then I’ll take them seriously.

19

faustusnotes 01.27.12 at 2:07 pm

I thought abortion clinics and crack labs were an atheist’s church? Did I miss a memo?

20

Roly 01.27.12 at 2:09 pm

46m = 4,600cm = 4.6bn years according to his caculation.

The age of the earth.

It’s still retarded though.

21

reason 01.27.12 at 2:10 pm

faustusnotes
No abortion clinics are there for minister’s daughters to enter the back door. Athiest’s use contraception.

22

engels 01.27.12 at 2:11 pm

to emphasise to the workers of the City of London, via a massive gold-and-fossil tower placed forever outside their workplaces, that they are insufficiently spiritual and have no moral values

I think spiritual financey types should strike back with their own tower, ideally with George Carey placed on top of it….

23

dsquared 01.27.12 at 2:12 pm

One charitably assumes the news story left out a zero

this doesn’t work as far as I can see – since there has been only about 300m years of life on earth, either every year is represented by a decimetre, or the tower is 4.6m tall (which is a lot less cathedral-like).

24

just a lurker 01.27.12 at 2:15 pm

‘Christianity took over the Yule/midwinter and spring/fertility festivals. If we reject religion as a basis for them, what do we put back in their place?’
We can reject religion and keep the festivals. It’s not like most people spend much time thinking about religion while celebrating http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valborg or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midsummer

25

Maria 01.27.12 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for the link, Chris. I’d completely forgotten that blog post, that concert and that odd little church of Comte and Clothilde. Thank God for the Internet…

26

Niall McAuley 01.27.12 at 2:16 pm

I’m not sure why Dawkins gets such a bad rep as a rude, angry, “destructive” atheist. He always comes across as a very even-tempered and reasonable guy to me.

27

reason 01.27.12 at 2:16 pm

“300m years of life”

Where do you get that from? Our are you only counting land vertibrates or something similar?

28

Denise 01.27.12 at 2:17 pm

Hmmm. I don’t like the idea of a “temple” dedicated to atheism. There is something about it that I can’t quite articulate, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I understand the reasoning behind First Church of Atheism, with which I became an “Ordained Reverend”…but the reasons for that are nothing to do with a “celebration” of natural order and whathaveyou…the idea behind FCA is nothing to do with building an actual church in the traditional sense, the way that de Botton is proposing. I can see why Dawkins is balking at the notion. With FCA, it’s more of a leveling of the playing field for certain types of ceremonies that have traditionally been consigned to the church/clergy or to a justice of the peace, that members of FCA would like to open up to nonbelievers…but to date, I’ve heard of no erection of any physical edifice dedicated to the function of “fellowship” or “worship”.

I’m just not certain what I think of any actual edifice dedicated to atheism. Hmm.

29

Roly 01.27.12 at 2:18 pm

46m = 4,600cm = 4.6bn years according to his caculation.

The age of the earth.

It’s still stupid though.

30

faustusnotes 01.27.12 at 2:23 pm

dsquared: it’s a Spinal Tap-themed temple.

Seems appropriate. After all, heavy metal is our music, Leper Messiah our principal hymn.

31

Niall McAuley 01.27.12 at 2:24 pm

De Botton’s planned monument is, of course, silly, but if you think of it less as a Temple of Atheism and more as a cover-story to allow construction of the Worldwide Evil Atheist Conspiracy’s secret nuclear powered underground headquarters bunker, it makes a bit more sense.

32

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 2:24 pm

I’m not sure why Dawkins gets such a bad rep as a rude, angry, “destructive” atheist. He always comes across as a very even-tempered and reasonable guy to me.

Naked emperors resent even the politest references to their unclothed condition.

33

Gareth Rees 01.27.12 at 2:27 pm

The earth is about 4.6 billion years old, so the 46 metre height matches the alleged scale of 1 cm = 100 million years if the height is taken to represent the history of the Earth, rather than the history of its biosphere. I guess the newspaper reports are just confused.

I suspect that De Botton is not really serious about this temple, he’s just cleverly stirring up publicity for his forthcoming book, Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion.

34

Gareth Rees 01.27.12 at 2:30 pm

so the 46 metre height matches the alleged scale of 1 cm = 100 million years

Oops. That should be “1 cm = 1 million years”, obviously.

35

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 2:38 pm

Well, there was that The Palace of the Soviets project in Moscow in the 30s. Very ambitious, apparently.

So, they blew up Cathedral of Christ the Savior to clear up space, but in the end the Savior’s won: the project failed, the space was taken by a big swimming pool for a while, and then the cathedral got rebuilt. Gods are very powerful, and they don’t appreciate this kind of stuff.

36

faustusnotes 01.27.12 at 2:40 pm

I think we should bend our considerable (evil, atheist) intellects to working out what each floor is best used for. How many floors are to be brothels? How many are gay saunas? Should we put the nightclubs high up with a view of the city, or on the ground floor in close proximity to the underground drug labs? Obviously we need libraries full of banned books. And multiple floors for bankers. And where will the barcode-tattooers go? At the entrance?

Can people leave once they wander in? Should we have a fake church? What about atheist weddings? Gay ones, no doubt. Toga parties – yes or no? And the menagerie for our animal sex needs … next to the pre-school or the brothel? Or between them? Suicide booths next to the toilets on every floor, or discreetly hidden away from view?

37

Chris Talerico 01.27.12 at 2:50 pm

I’ve never heard of De Botton, but in the case of Dawkins I’m not sure why you’d want someone to lose who’s dedicated themselves to fighting ignorance.

38

Darius Jedburgh 01.27.12 at 3:01 pm

de Bum totally looks like he’s on something in that Groan pic

39

dsquared 01.27.12 at 3:11 pm

Ahh that makes a lot more sense, thanks Gareth.

40

ajay 01.27.12 at 3:17 pm

since there has been only about 300m years of life on earth, either every year is represented by a decimetre, or the tower is 4.6m tall (which is a lot less cathedral-like).

No, there’s been more like 3,000m years of life on earth. 46 metres of tower, at one centimetre per million years, would be the time since Earth was formed (don’t worry, that kind of question of secondary-school basic science seems to have confused the Guardian chap too.)

to emphasise to the workers of the City of London, via a massive gold-and-fossil tower placed forever outside their workplaces, that they are insufficiently spiritual and have no moral values.

The City of London is already absolutely chockablock with massive stone towers set up to promote the ideas of a chap who thought that the rich were doomed to burn in hell, whose only recorded interaction with the financial sector consisted of calling them a bunch of thieves, and who is still remembered for saying that the only way to be a good man was to give away all the money you had to the poor.

De Botton, on the other hand, says nothing of the kind, at least not in the article linked.

41

MS 01.27.12 at 3:42 pm

@29 Being called deluded is polite?

If you mean what I think you mean. I tend to think politeness generally involves deference to other people’s feelings. So if someone is grossly obese, and your child says they are fat you teach your child not to say such things because it is not polite.

Here’s a non-polite thing Dawkin says but there are many others:

“Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!”

Dawkins had made it clear that anyone who is not an atheist is stupid, dangerous, possibly insane and not deserving of respect. This does not qualify as politeness. He does have a nice accent to most American ears and does not raise his voice though.

42

dsquared 01.27.12 at 3:50 pm

don’t worry, that kind of question of secondary-school basic science seems to have confused the Guardian chap too

I have no idea why you presume that it was the reporter rather than De Botton that was confused. And the article specifically refers to the inside of the tower rather than the outside, which as a matter of “secondary school basic science”, is smaller.

De Botton, on the other hand, says nothing of the kind

tape …

De Botton said he chose the country’s financial centre because he believes it is where people have most seriously lost perspective on life’s priorities.

I think that’s a fair summary.

The City of London is already absolutely chockablock with massive stone towers set up to promote the ideas of a chap who blah blah blah very satirical

The City of London is full of all sorts of buildings, including a Temple of Mithras, which were put up by those who lived there in the past for their own use and which are maintained by those who live and work there now because they enjoy them. Putting a large building up which has part of its purpose to be an architectural scold to the residents is a really rude thing to do. The only equivalent I can think of is the Sacre-Coeur in Paris.

The humourous thing is that he’s trying to build a 150 foot tower for £1m, and he’s doing it to illustrate that the City of London lacks a sense of perspective.

43

bianca steele 01.27.12 at 3:52 pm

They can stage debates over the nature of the god that doesn’t exist. It would be cool. The could present lectures on the history of conflicts between religions and non-believers, and the history of atheist attitudes toward religion, and of the kind of thing Tom Slee mentions above. (I assume that Dennett, Pinker, and Dawkins, et al., are already doing this kind of thing.) Then we can anticipate, whether with excitement or trepidation, the rift over whether to exclude the spiritualists or not. Not to mention the leninists.

(David Mamet once proposed the Oscar ceremonies as a modern-day public ritual. He seemed pretty taken by them. Then twenty or so years later he came out as the most reactionary kind of right-winger. So who can say?)

44

belle le triste 01.27.12 at 3:56 pm

Perhaps he’s planning an atheist TARDIS.

45

dsquared 01.27.12 at 4:06 pm

I assume that Dennett, Pinker, and Dawkins, et al., are already doing this kind of thing

I think Dawkins is coming off as the sensible and reasonable party in this one, while De Botton is (not necessarily for the first time) coming over a bit creepy in exactly the way in which August Comte did, back when the idea was new.

46

Neil 01.27.12 at 4:08 pm

Dawkins had made it clear that anyone who is not an atheist is stupid, dangerous, possibly insane and not deserving of respect. This does not qualify as politeness.

Oh nonsense. He says none of these things. He says religion is stupid, dangerous, deluded and not deserving of respect. He has also said that very many religious people are stupid, dangerous, and deluded, and that their religious beliefs are not worthy of respect. Very different claims. They, too, are not polite, but they are not offensive like the claims you attribute to him.

47

dsquared 01.27.12 at 4:12 pm

Or more specifically, I personally think Dawkins goes a bit far and sometimes it seems like he’s intentionally trying to wind up me, specifically. But in fairness to the guy, when he calls the religios “deluded” or whatever, he tends to do so either in books which he writes and which one has the option of not buying, or at public lectures which charge an admission, or in other contexts in which it’s pretty clear that he’s talking to people who have at least tacitly accepted that there’s some Dawkins in their immediate future.

Sticking down a gigantic Temple which people can’t not look at is a whole new level. De Botton seems to think he’s being the reasonable one and trying to be nice to the religiousses by respecting their sense of awe! and wonderment! and love of pretty gilded things! But actually he’s being much more invasive in terms of shoving his message in front of people who don’t want it. People really don’t like this (some London readers will remember the “megamosque” proposal a few years ago and the absolutely visceral opposition to it; obviously there was a lot of ordinary racism involved in that campaign, but it was also driven by the fact that the design was so totally disproportionate to any actual demand for mosque space in the area – it was another piece of statement architecture).

48

JP Stormcrow 01.27.12 at 4:15 pm

d²: which as a matter of “secondary school basic science”, is smaller.

I guess we’re past the point of charitably assuming that your “since there has been only about 300m years of life on earth” is a typo missing an extra zero.

From here:

Measuring 46 meters in all, the tower represents the age of the earth, with each centimetre equating to 1 million years and with, at the tower’s base, a tiny band of gold a mere millimetre thick standing for mankind’s time on earth.

Presumably there may be an attempt to have the interior similarly mapped to the >3000m year period when there was life on earth.

The guy’s an ass, the project flawed, but not in the particular way you suggest.

49

Neil 01.27.12 at 4:17 pm

dsquared: so putting up statements that are obtrusive and expressive of controversial views that some people find upsetting is wrong? Like building non-atheist temples, fr instance?

50

Phil 01.27.12 at 4:21 pm

My immediate reaction was “what a wanker”, followed rapidly by “but what an interesting wanker!” (This is supposedly the first of a series of temples, let’s not forget.) Perhaps all I’m saying is that, in the battle for the soul of atheism, de Botton is Wrong but Wromantic.

I was reminded of the Surrealists’ plans for Irrational Embellishments of the City of Paris, and the Lettrists’ Rational ditto. André Breton was in favour of replacing the towers of Notre-Dame with an “immense oil and vinegar cruet, one bottle filled withblood, the other with sperm”. The Lettrists were more practically inclined. They disagreed over whether churches should be obliterated completely or merely smashed up and left in ruins, or else obliterated and then rebuilt in a ruined state.

51

JJ 01.27.12 at 4:22 pm

Where once we were all acolytes at the altar of Christianity, today we are all acolytes at the altar of Democracy, where the indigent worship the affluent by allowing them to seek advantage from the ignorance of the indigent, in their temples dedicated to the exchange of cattle. Christianity morphs into Democracy, but the acolytes continue to worship at the altars of affluence.

52

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 4:30 pm

From what I have seen of Dawkins he is nice and polite and has no understanding at all of religion. And that’s perfectly fine, especially since he’s an atheist. It is a bit of a problem when it comes to convincing believers in much the same way being tone deaf is a bit of problem for a music critic.

53

dsquared 01.27.12 at 4:30 pm

I guess we’re past the point of charitably assuming that your “since there has been only about 300m years of life on earth” is a typo missing an extra zero.

It’s a direct quote from the article; as and when the Guardian prints a correction and apology, I will, but for the time being I’m assuming De Botton was correctly quoted.

dsquared: so putting up statements that are obtrusive and expressive of controversial views that some people find upsetting is wrong? Like building non-atheist temples, fr instance?

I explicitly mentioned the case of a mosque proposal that I think is a piece of “statement architecture” so yes. In general I don’t think it’s an unreasonable goal of actually existing planning law to protect people against being proselytised at architecturally unless they don’t mind it. If someone wanted to build the Duomo today I’d say they were probably going a bit far.

54

Neil 01.27.12 at 4:33 pm

Dsquared: fair enough. Wasn’t an objection; just a request for clarification.

55

rea 01.27.12 at 4:36 pm

Something like this was tried during the French Revolution, with Catholic churches being converted to “Temples of Reason.” The leaders of the movement got on the wrong side of Robespierre, though, and it was cut short . . .

56

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 4:38 pm

43: Oh nonsense. He says none of these things. He says religion is stupid, dangerous, deluded and not deserving of respect. He has also said that very many religious people are stupid, dangerous, and deluded, and that their religious beliefs are not worthy of respect.

Yeah, this actually isn’t as much more defensible as you appear to think it is.

57

CJColucci 01.27.12 at 4:38 pm

As someone has said, atheism is a religion in the same sense that not collecting stamps is a hobby. Whether stamp collecting is a worthwhile activity or not, it is entirely plausible that stamp collectors, as a group, could organize around that activity and receive real social benefits for themselves, and, possibly, create some real social benefits for others, just from the fact of their being an organized group with a common interest. The group might, for example, get the stamp collectors out of the house and get together with other stamp collectors, who might be very different from them in non-stamp-collecting ways, broadening their world view and increasing tolerance. Fellow-feeling among organized stamp collectors might lead to mutual aid socities or other charitable endeavors. Organized stamp collectors might lobby to preserve mail service, which is good for us, even if their only goal was to insure the continued issuance of stamps. They might come to work with other groups, say, Roy Orbison fans, to persuade the Postal Service to issue a Roy Orbison stamp.
But what about the people whose only common characteristic is that they don’t collect stamps? On what principle do they organize? Perhaps some fringe group of non-stamp-collectors actually has an anti-stamp-collecting agenda, whatever that might be, or perhaps organized stamp collectors will lobby not for Roy Orbison stamps, but for restrictions on e-mail to force more people to write letters, thus increasing the issuance of stamps. Then some sort of organized non-stamp-collecting defense alliance might make sense. But how else do you organize non-stamp-collectors? That may mean that non-stamp-collectors, as such, are deprived of certain social benefits, but nothing can be done about that. DeB’s proposed temple is a temple to not collecting stamps.

58

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 4:40 pm

From what I have seen of Dawkins he is nice and polite and has no understanding at all of religion.

On the contrary, people like you have no understanding of religion as it is actually practiced in the real world. The exiguous forms of liberal religion, that are prevalent in the circles in which people who make statements like yours move, bear little relationship to the religious beliefs of the average Joe, which by that standard are insufferably crude and literal-minded. But there are a lot more such average Joes in the world than there are people like you, as I know since I have been outside the academic hothouse for a long time.

By the way, I was raised Catholic and know a fair amount about Catholic theology and church history. (I’m also a big Dante fan.) And I think Dawkins is right on the money.

59

Neil 01.27.12 at 4:43 pm

Doctor Slack:
. Yeah, this actually isn’t as much more defensible as you appear to think it is.

Care to offer an argument? Or do you think it is just obvious?

60

Mercy 01.27.12 at 4:43 pm

Tomslee, I think we can rely on the greeting card and advertising industry to cram as many holidays down our throat as we can afford, don’t you? Not to mention repackaging existing religious holidays in accessible, secular forms. And as the case of valentine’s day shows, there’s nothing to stop people taking materialistic, artificial holidays and turning them into genuine expressions of caring at the individual level.

61

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 4:46 pm

As for the article: the fundamental flaw with the idea of an atheist temple is that temples are things you build to honour a particular belief system. Atheism is not a belief system: you can be an atheist and be a Randian, or a Marxist, or a Taoist, or a Humanist, or a Unitarian Universalist (the route you’d go if you were actually an atheist interested in hanging out harmoniously with non-atheists), and so on. So it’s not clear who would go to hang out in De Botton’s temple. Apparently Dawkins Fans are their own category, and perhaps they could go hang out and discuss how awesome Richard Dawkins supposedly is, but it looks like even that’s not going to happen now (and is just as easy to do at a convention centre anyway). I like Jeffrey Kramer’s #5, it sums up the likely outcome quite nicely.

62

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 4:49 pm

Adding that I also attended Unitarian Universalist churches for quite a few years so I have also had plenty of exposure to what passes for liberal theological thought.

63

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 4:56 pm

56: I think the breadth and diversity of philosophy of religion as a whole (which is indivisible from the rise of modern science, incidentally) is itelf an illustration that the first proposition is ignorant and foolish as a response to “religion” as a whole. Dawkins’ public atheism basically amounts to arguments against fundamentalism, and fundamentalists, that he mistakenly imagines to be arguments against “religion,” about which he appears not to think he needs to do too much serious thinking, reading or research because he knows (or thinks he knows) all about fundamentalists. His arguments about religious people are flawed in similar ways, as if he has structured his entire view of them from trolls on talk.origins or something*. If he had stuck to the more restricted target he would have been fine, or at least better off; his understanding of fundamentalism even strikes me as a little restricted and polemical, actually, but at least there he has good cause and some good points to make regardless.

(* These are common flaws to all the so-called “Four Horsemen” atheist writers, not just Dawkins. The caricaturing leads to bad places: there’s a reason some of them have proved easy marks for Islamophobia, such as Harris and, in his day, Hitchens.)

64

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 5:08 pm

The problem with Dawkins (and the reason the religious find him unconvincing) is that he is a very bright biologist who assumes this expertise translates into theology. It doesn’t. That’s why Dawkins tends to argue against fundamentalist Christian ideas more than i) non-fundamentalist Christian ideas, or ii) other spiritual belief systems. He’s on very solid ground indeed when explaining evolution. (And he’s performing a service by sharing information in a clear and compelling way.) But he possesses no real understanding of deeper theology.

Surely a historian, not a biologist, would be the expert on what religion has or has not wrought in the world. A sociologist would the be the expert on group belief; a psychologist on individual belief. A theologist would be the expert on what different religions believe and how they function. A philosopher could usefully opine on metaphysics.

Dawkins is really, really good at attacking particular religious fallacies that are in his wheelhouse (creationism). That’s really fun to read if you’re an atheist looking for confirmation of a cartoonish view of religious belief. But it obviously rankles if you’re religious and feel that Dawkins is only attacking straw men or missing the point. (Even the Vatican accepts evolution now). It’s also lacking if you’re an atheist and looking for something with more substance. So it’s not surprising you get a lot of dissension within atheist ranks. A tower seems a bit silly, but I see where de Botton is coming from. At the moment, I’ll assume it’s a slightly-cynical ploy to popularize alternatives to the rather superficial Dawkins critique.

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Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 5:11 pm

Steve LaBonne: I’ve been outside the “academic hothouse” for a long time too. And I live in Canada’s Bible Belt to boot. And I come from an extended family of DITW Catholics. I think the “average Joe” is capable of quite a bit more sophistication than Dawkins grants or than you do; not having a university education isn’t the same thing as not having a brain, and the stereotype of the “average Joe” who just mindlessly cranks out whatever he was taught in childhood is problematic. (Not that there aren’t people like that, there are plenty of them; but the “average Joe” is not automatically that.)

I also think you’re mistaken to conflate what you encounter in a Unitarian Universalist setting with “liberal theology.” Liberal theology is arguably a lot more robust in established faiths outside the Universalist setting, which has always struck me as a little “New Age-y.”

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Dilettante 01.27.12 at 5:19 pm

Steve LaBonne – I take your point that there are religious people with crazy fundamentalist ideas. But it’s awfully cheap and easy to center your attack on those people and ignore the difficult targets. Most atheists don’t have very sophisticated ideas either (or most supporters of Keynsianism, Adam Smith, most readers of pop physics books, etc). You don’t get far attacking the least-developed version of an idea; the popular understanding of a complicated constellation of ideas. (How many people can really describe how black holes work? Almost none, but you need to address the serious physicists if you want to say something useful on the subject.) Why ignore the many people who don’t have cartoonish views?

67

guthrie 01.27.12 at 5:35 pm

Can we just summarise and say that most people don’t have a very sophisticated view of most things? Because they lack the time/ brain power/ energy to be experts in everything, they end up with a lot of unsophisticated views. I’ve lost track of the number of people I know in real life or on the internet who are reasonably intelligent and capable and yet have some strange ideas lurking in their heads or unsophisticated views on a topic or three.

I also don’t understand the problem with Dawkins not knowing much theology, given that theology is about God, and he is specifically negating god. Once you’ve done that there isn’t much point in learning any theology.

68

Brett 01.27.12 at 5:38 pm

We atheists already have “temples”. They’re called “libraries” and “natural history museums”, and we don’t need a Black Pylon of Doom to represent us.

Christianity took over the Yule/midwinter and spring/fertility festivals. If we reject religion as a basis for them, what do we put back in their place? In many parts of Canada a new public holiday was introduced and named “family day” which is pretty weak gruel. If public celebration is worthwhile, how do we re-invent it? Or do we resort to describing celebration as an irrational use of resources?

Who cares if we re-use the title? We atheists will just celebrate the awesome secular versions of these holidays, such as the Christmas with Santa Claus and the Easter with the Easter Bunny. That’s what plenty of people do already.

Ritual and ceremony surrounding birth and death serves many purposes. The humanist ceremonies I am aware of (not much, I admit) seem lacking. Are there good alternatives to the religious?

A religious person probably would find them sparse, but they’re not any less meaningful to us atheists. When my grandfather died, we said our goodbyes, cremated him, and scattered his ashes over the ocean as he requested.

Confession is good for the soul, even if we don’t really have one. Do we move all the functions of the confessional into the psychiatrist’s office?

Somehow the non-Catholic part of the world survives, and atheists do too. There are more people you can confess to aside from the psychiatrist and the parish priest.

69

downtown dave 01.27.12 at 5:48 pm

It’s not surprising that atheist would want their own temple. People will never be able to get around the fact that they were created to worship. If they don’t worship the true and living God, they will worship something else.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 5:50 pm

But it’s awfully cheap and easy to center your attack on those people and ignore the difficult targets.

Quite the contrary. They are the people who make religion seriously dangerous- i.e they are the problem– and the trouble is that their more liberal brethren generally much prefer giving them protective coloration over confronting them.

Also #64 makes an excellent point:

I also don’t understand the problem with Dawkins not knowing much theology, given that theology is about God, and he is specifically negating god. Once you’ve done that there isn’t much point in learning any theology.

And in fact, neither neurobiology nor evolutionary biology are compatible with the existence of any sorts of gods or spirits; I mean genuinely logically compatible, not “compatible” via massive toleration of cognitive dissonance.

71

Bruce Baugh 01.27.12 at 5:50 pm

I actually agree with that first paragraph of Brett’s. It seems to me that the right memorials to human achievement so far and the marvels of the world around us are ones that are social and useful – places to gather together, see neat things, learn something, and like that.

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Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 5:51 pm

As an aside: Family Day, in Canada, is a specifically Albertan contrivance. (Its celebration in other provinces is a very recent phenomenon.) Premier Don Getty established it some twenty years back, and while it’s not the done thing to say that he did so because his son got busted with a bunch of cocaine, the timing of the whole business could support such a conclusion among cynical minds. At any rate: it’s fair to guess that politics rather than any high-minded attempt to reinvent public celebration was the motive there.

64: Turns out “negating god” isn’t really that simple, especially if you want to say you’re doing it definitively as Dawkins claims to do. But you’d need to read some theology to know that.

73

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 5:52 pm

A theologist would be the expert on what different religions believe and how they function.

That is a very serious category error. In fact, your description is that of a historian, sociologist or anthropologist of religion- all very different animals from a theologian.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 5:57 pm

Ah, re #69, I see that “theologist” was intended as a neologism to cover more or less what I just said. Nonetheless, as I already noted, such people do exist and we don’t need a new word to describe them. Dawkins may not draw on them much but Dennett, for example, certainly does.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:04 pm

But you’d need to read some theology to know that.

Why no, you wouldn’t. You’d need to know enough science to know that the whole project just isn’t on. (Philosophers may help too-how many of them, outside the intellectual ghetto called philosophy of religion, are prepared to seriously entertain substance dualism? And the kind of religion you can entertain without that is weak tea indeed.) And you’d have to clear your mind of the wishful thinking that prevents you from confronting the true state of affairs.

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Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 6:14 pm

71: Philosophy and theology have a close overlap. I would actually say Dawkins would be on better footing just reading some philosophy of religion, let alone theology. But no, science alone is not in fact sufficient for the task Dawkins set himself; it lets you know what scientific practice is and how to respond to those strands of religion that try to usurp or downgrade the role of science, but that’s all. To even know that there are parts of religious thought that aren’t in necessary conflict with science, you have to have studied the subject more widely.

I’m always a little amazed at people whose have a problem with religious ignorance and incuriosity, and yet when defending Dawkins are never fazed at finding themselves defending ignorance and incuriosity and talking about all the things you don’t need to learn. Seems to me that right there should be a tip-off that something is wrong.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:19 pm

To even know that there are parts of religious thought that aren’t in necessary conflict with science, you have to have studied the subject more widely.

This is merely wishful thinking on your part; there are massive and massively well-founded parts of science that do indeed exclude 99+ percent of anything that can possibly be called religious belief (no matter how skillfully the theologians can doubletalk). As you’d know if you spent more time reading up on subject areas that actually have subject matter.

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Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 6:23 pm

I’m always a little amazed at people whose have a problem with religious ignorance and incuriosity, and yet when defending Dawkins are never fazed at finding themselves defending ignorance and incuriosity and talking about all the things you don’t need to learn.

What illumination is provided by reading theology in arguments about God’s existence? Specific examples would be nice.

79

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 6:27 pm

64 – Yes, we can summarize and say most people aren’t experts. The problem arises when we take the mass view of a idea or theory (whether it be Marxism, Catholicism, liberation theology, or astrophysics) and assume that critiquing that mass view has much intellectual weight. It does not.

64+66 – The argument is that Dawkins doesn’t need to know theology since he has negated God. As Doctor Slack points out, that’s not that simple! One cannot prove or disprove the existence of ‘God’ or ‘the transcendent’ logically or scientifically. (No, evolutionary biology does not do so, any more than the fact of the earth being round. That only works if you have a very limited idea of what religious thought requires). Even to decide on what ‘God’ means is a difficult exercise; different religions and different adherents believe a variety of things.

And if you don’t really know the content of religious belief how can you say anything interesting about that belief? If Dawkins is going to be a public spokesman for atheism and write about religion, then, yes, he should learn something about what he’s attacking. Otherwise it’s just another flavor of the right wing dismissal of ‘expertise’ as a necessary precursor to intelligent thought. (‘I don’t need to understand what I disagree with’ is a dangerous idea.)

69 – Fair point; I shouldn’t just throw out ‘theologist’ without explanation.
70- My point is that Dawkins is not an expert on this stuff. Sure, other people are. Dennett’s an atheist who’s at least more engaged in the philosophical ideas that underpin a lot of this stuff.

80

shah8 01.27.12 at 6:27 pm

oh, that’s easy.

Dawkins is head acolyte of “I’m Smarter Than You”‘ism

I’ve always associated the fascination with him as being shallow, naive, and a bit dangerous–it’s pretty obvious that he always was into being something of a cult of personality.

I love the harsh, no nonsense, and abrupt style of rhetoric, too, but in a world full of thoughtful, insightful, and perspicacious atheists, there are better BAMF atheists around to talk about.

81

mds 01.27.12 at 6:28 pm

belle le triste @ 41:

Perhaps he’s planning an atheist TARDIS.

There already is one. It’s called “the TARDIS.”

Turns out “negating god” isn’t really that simple

~god. You’re welcome.

82

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:30 pm

(No, evolutionary biology does not do so, any more than the fact of the earth being round. That only works if you have a very limited idea of what religious thought requires).

I’ll put Substance’s question to you- show your work. Keep in mind that what evolutionary biology tells us on this question is that ANY entity complex enough to be capable of having a mind can’t just “poof” into existence, not by a long shot. (And it’s firmly supported by neurobiology.)

83

dsquared 01.27.12 at 6:31 pm

Oddly, I caught the God Channel last week, while flipping around, and saw about 15 minutes of a program featuring some creation science bod who was “debunking”, in his mind, the theory of evolution. He spent about ten of those fifteen minutes on anatomical differences which proved that mankind couldn’t have evolved from apes.

Clearly this was a total waste of everyone’s time (or at least mine, I could have been watching MTV Base). But I don’t think that if I’d challenged him on the subject, I would have been very impressed by his retorting that it hardly mattered what the egghead specialised theorists thought – the vast majority of ordinary believers in evolution thought that mankind was descended from apes, so that was all he needed to argue against.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:32 pm

Dennett’s an atheist who’s at least more engaged in the philosophical ideas that underpin a lot of this stuff.

And he doesn’t buy the sort of stuff Doctor Slack is selling one bit more than Dawkins does.

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:41 pm

But I don’t think that if I’d challenged him on the subject, I would have been very impressed by his retorting that it hardly mattered what the egghead specialised theorists thought – the vast majority of ordinary believers in evolution thought that mankind was descended from apes, so that was all he needed to argue against.

This analogy doesn’t work. Evolutionary biology is an intellectual discipline; to find out more about it you need to consult those who are expert in it. Religion as practiced by ordinary believers (in distinction to theology) is a sociological phenomenon; to find out more about it you need to observe and interview those believers, or consult sociologists / anthropologists who have done so. (Note that in the former case you can also of course do sociology- unless you’re Steve Fuller and have had your license revoked- but this will not tell you all that much about the intellectual content of what evolutionary biologists do.)

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Dilettante 01.27.12 at 6:42 pm

74 – You ask for examples of illumination that theology can provide in arguing God’s existence. Theology mostly shows that science is of little avail either way in arguing such arguments. For example, a study of theology can teach that specific scientific ideas (evolution, big bang, etc) are perfectly compatible with many religions (albeit not with others). If you think that everyone who believes in God believes the earth is 4K years old, then you may believe that modern science disproves a belief in God; a study of theology reveals that many religions are just fine with that fact and that there is no contradiction.

So theology usefully reveals the limits of argument. As I noted earlier, neither logic nor science can prove or disprove the existence of the transcendent: attempts to do so invariable end up looking silly, whether they be medieval scholastics proving God through pure reason or modern atheists disproving God via brain-scan imaging.

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Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 6:44 pm

You ask for examples of illumination that theology can provide in arguing God’s existence.

Yes. I did. Were there some?

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:45 pm

For example, a study of theology can teach that specific scientific ideas (evolution, big bang, etc) are perfectly compatible with many religions (albeit not with others).

So what? Other specific scientific ideas are completely incompatible with pretty much all of them (maybe Spinozism and the most austere varieties of westernized Buddhism might pass muster.) Is this really the best you can do?

89

puss wallgreen 01.27.12 at 6:46 pm

Dilettante: (Even the Vatican accepts evolution now)
It never rejected it. The theory doesn’t have particular theological significance unless you happen to be a creationist.

90

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 6:46 pm

80 – Oh, he’s still wrong. (Or at least, I disagree with him.) But Dennett is more interesting to read; he’s engaging with the issues. So there’s more value to be had from reading what he has to say, and what he writes doesn’t come off as someone dismissing something he doesn’t understand. But yes, he’s more effective, if that’s your point.

91

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 6:48 pm

I mean, is the argument really that Dawkins might not know that the C of E is all squishy and metaphorical and science-accepty where Ted Haggard is not? Because he did speak to Haggard and Rowan Williams quite directly about those issues.

92

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 6:51 pm

Because he did speak to Haggard and Rowan Williams quite directly about those issues.

Speaking of ignorance and incuriosity, people who like to dump on Dawkins rarely turn out to have much actual acquaintance at all with anything he has actually written and said, apart from a single book that advertises itself quite explicitly as not being intended to address their concerns.

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Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 6:56 pm

74: Reading theology would certainly be useful in knowing what religions, at the most sophisticated end of the spectrum, actually have to say on the subject and the arguments they actually use. Dawkins knows sophisticated Christians exist, but is not troubled by them overmuch; cf. his discussion of contradictions, mistranslations and inconsistencies in the Jesus story that starts around p. 117, where he gives a fairly commonplace list of the problems involved, says “sophisticated Christians” aren’t taken in by all this but laments the “very many unsophisticated Christians” who presumably just never notice all of this. Well, some of them indeed never do: but what would have been really cool there was a discussion or even mention of some of what actual theologians have had to say about those contradictions, mistranslations and inconsistencies (because there’s a lot of it, starting at least with Augustine) and some refutation of that. Would have been a lot more convincing.

Stuff like that is symptomatic of a larger unwillingness to grapple seriously with the topic he claims to be grappling seriously with, as others have pointed out.

94

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 6:56 pm

Dilletante @75 – “And if you don’t really know the content of religious belief how can you say anything interesting about that belief? If Dawkins is going to be a public spokesman for atheism and write about religion, then, yes, he should learn something about what he’s attacking. “

That I think is a more pointed version of my opinion. From the little I’ve seen Dawkins is so non-religious he doesn’t realize how little he knows about religion. The only reason that at all bothers me is that there are so few high profile atheists.

A more specific point on the matter is that refuting the existence of the Christian god doesn’t get you very far in arguing against religion itself, since, you know, there are a whole lot of religions that aren’t Christian. Heck, religion is so weird, bizzare and intractable people have managed to turn reason and atheism into violent religious crusades.

Oh, and I think the Pantheon in Paris does a much better job than de Botton’s proposal.

95

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 6:58 pm

80: Yes, Dennett is not indeed any less full of shit than Dawkins.

Dilettante’s 81 is well put.

96

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:00 pm

Well, some of them indeed never do: but what would have been really cool there was a discussion or even mention of some of what actual theologians have had to say about those contradictions, mistranslations and inconsistencies (because there’s a lot of it, starting at least with Augustine) and some refutation of that. Would have been a lot more convincing.

Again, there isn’t really a specific example of an illumination coming from reading theology. Come on: what specific point has been missed? What is one thing Augustine said that would have illuminated an argument regarding God’s existence?

97

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 7:02 pm

82 – Uh, yes. For example, the illumination that the big bang does nothing to prove/disprove God. If you want theology to prove or disprove God to you, you will wait a long time.

73/ 83 – You say that various ‘massively well-founded’ and ‘other specific scientific ideas’ are incompatible with pretty much all religions??? I do not think that is so. I assume you refer to your idea that evolutionary biology somehow precludes anything non-material: that’s a silly argument that would only work if you assume religion requires a God who is essentially like a very large and old man. You might as well say God can’t exist because something of infinite size would have infinite gravity; you can’t sensibly apply those sorts of arguments to spiritual claims.

Now, you can use them on physical claims – age of the earth stuff – but there’s nothing to be gained either way by using this kind of argument on theological issues. I understand the desire to think otherwise – it lets you dismiss ideas with which you disagree in the name of science! – but the reality is that this kind of argument is deeply pointless. Which, to come back full circle, is why Dawkins is more light than heat, and why his brand of uninformed theorizing is more divisive than illuminating.

98

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:05 pm

Uh, yes. For example, the illumination that the big bang does nothing to prove/disprove God.

It certainly does everything to disprove a whole swath of literalist believers in various gods, so there’s a bucketful out of the way. So you are wrong. Which god is next?

99

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 7:07 pm

89 – Hey, that’s a good point! The Pantheon in Paris is an interesting example of a secular piece of architecture.

100

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 7:07 pm

91: Sorry, you don’t regard putting religious scriptures in context with religious thought about them, instead of just lamenting that nobody thinks about the scriptures except for those who don’t believe them, as illuminating? Because if an author wants to buttress his rejection of argument from scripture by making the specific point that nobody who accepts Biblical stories has done any real thinking about them, it would be useful if that were actually true, and in it were not actually true then that he would engage some of the religious thought about the subject. What is so difficult about that?

101

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:09 pm

I do not think that is so.

And you’re wrong. The idea of a “non-material” something or other is not even a coherent concept at all, much less one compatible with either evolutionary biology or neuroscience. And handwaving simply doesn’t help you.

102

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:10 pm

The utter failure to respond relevantly to Substance’s challenge is amusing, but typical.

103

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:12 pm

What is so difficult about that?

Absolutely nothing, if one wants to fancy up an argument so the Serious People Take You Seriously Because You Didn’t Make The Seriously Approved Argument The Last Time. But again I ask you to be specific: what point does Augustine make that Dawkins has missed? I can keep asking.

104

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 7:14 pm

My response in 95 is quite specific. Another paradox in discussions of Dawkins: watching people try to tap-dance around very simple points while trying to deny that’s what they’re doing; of a family with the phenomenon of decriers-of-ignorance vigorously defending their right to ignorance. It makes one more and more incline to the view that what Dawkins really provides is useful middlebrow fodder for feeling like an intellectual without actually having to think.

105

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:15 pm

My response in 95 is quite specific.

96 now. Surely you can’t be serious. That was pure fudge. And the only one tap-dancing here is you.

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Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:19 pm

My response in 95 is quite specific.

No, it really isn’t. If I have a syllogism that we both can agree is true, its truth isn’t changed by context that doesn’t affect the truth of the propositions. It makes you happy that it’s been read, and that is SWELL! So again: be specific about what illumination is achieved in arguments about God’s existence by reading theology. Give an example.

107

Jim Demintia 01.27.12 at 7:20 pm

Counter challenge: what is one thing Dawkins has said that would have illuminated an argument regarding God’s existence?

108

Harold 01.27.12 at 7:23 pm

Didn’t Dawkins once say that there is no point in reading any book written before 1900. He is a scientist. (To my mind this points up the limits of science).

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Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:23 pm

Counter challenge: what is one thing Dawkins has said that would have illuminated an argument regarding God’s existence?

He has said many times the sorts of things that I have said in several comments above, and they pretty much settle the matter for anyone who understands the science and is willing to accept everything that it entails. “Non-material” minds of any sort are simply not on.

110

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 7:24 pm

Dilletante @89 – Technically, it’s a piece of religious architecture co-opted for secular purposes :). But yeah, hard to top a Temple to Reason that’s the historical site of experimental proof of a turning earth.

111

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:25 pm

Didn’t Dawkins once say that there is no point in reading any book written before 1900.

The Origin of Species, for one, was published in 1859, so this is unlikely. It’s amusing to watch the defenders of religion do the only thing they know how to do- make shit up.

112

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 7:26 pm

98: Absolutely nothing, if one wants to fancy up an argument

No, what? This will not do, what “fancy up an argument”? I’m talking about simply making an argument against the thing you claim to be arguing against. And that’s too “serious”? What’s supposed to be wrong with expecting someone who claims to be a serious scholar, seriously refuting the existence of God, to engage with things seriously? Why is that supposed to be an extraneous step?

Augustine represents not just a point but an entire point of view about evangelism and scripture that Dawkins misses. He is an early example of the claim that natural philosophy and religious scripture address distinct things, and that it was wrong to push literal interpretations of the Bible — the kind of interpretations for which the Davidian lineages in the New Testament would be a big issue, as Dawkins indeed makes of them — instead of focusing on their moral and salvific (according to him) point. That this is an ancient feature of Christian thought from Augustine’s time down to our own isn’t addresses by Dawkins. Just one of many holes in the endeavour.

113

Rmj 01.27.12 at 7:28 pm

What illumination is provided by reading theology in arguments about God’s existence? Specific examples would be nice.

Theology is not concerned with God’s existence. Philosophy of religion is. But you rejected that earlier as a useful field of study. So apparently the issue of God’s existence is to be rejected, too.

And your empiricism/logical positivism is subject to severe critique from the very philosophers you demand should be handmaidens to science. Which is itself a philosophy as much as it is “knowledge” (the original Greek term, translated into English).

114

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 7:31 pm

(I’m kind of hoping McGravitas’ point is not “what have theologians said that would prove God is real and Dawkins is totally wrong”? Because it should I hope be pretty obvious that my point is not that Dawkins is wrong to be an atheist, but rather wrong to claim he is a serious scholar and definitive refuter of religion.)

115

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 7:33 pm

Substance McGravitas @ 101

I believe the primary benefit is to avoid thinking you’re a genius because you just reinvented the wheel.

116

Keith 01.27.12 at 7:35 pm

Personally this atheist prefers ruins for his self-administered bouts of navel gazing (death, time, transience and all that) but this temple sounds like a gold plated monument to missing the point entirely.

117

Jim Demintia 01.27.12 at 7:38 pm

I just don’t see how evolutionary theory and neuroscience discredit the concept of God. Is it just that now that we know that the pineal gland isn’t the meeting place of body and soul, we’ve attained the view from nowhere and there’s nothing more to see? I don’t believe in non-material minds myself, but matter is a lot more complicated and our understanding of it is a lot more limited and metaphorical than this argument seems to allow. Dawkins’ claims always seem to me not skeptical enough–I’d trade an epistemologically modest agnosticism for an overweening atheism that thinks it has all the answers any day.

118

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:47 pm

I don’t believe in non-material minds myself, but matter is a lot more complicated and our understanding of it is a lot more limited and metaphorical than this argument seems to allow.

No, it isn’t. We now understand both the (truly staggering) degree of functional and organizational complexity required to support a mind, and the very long and contingency-filled evolutionary history that led (but might very easily not have) to the only kind of conscious, thinking being for whose existence we have any evidence- ourselves. If you don’t see the problem, you haven’t really thought about it. (And as I said above, try to find an analytical philosopher, who isn’t a “philosopher of religion”, who is willing to take substance dualism seriously. And then try to find a real-world religion that can subsist without it.)

119

Keith 01.27.12 at 7:47 pm

Doctor Slack @107:
…That this is an ancient feature of Christian thought from Augustine’s time down to our own isn’t addresses by Dawkins. Just one of many holes in the endeavour.

The claim that because Dawkins hasn’t individually refuted every theologian ever and so is therefore wrong through lack of thoroughness is called the Courtier’s Reply. It was named by PZ Myers, whom Dawkins quotes in the preface to the second edition of the God Delusion.

120

James Reffell 01.27.12 at 7:47 pm

Dawkins, not too long ago: “I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so. Before condemning his ‘extremism’, at least consider the possibility that it may be justified.”

de Botton is silly, but I’ll take silly over edging into racism. I wish we still had the Dawkins of The Blind Watchmaker, the current version is rubbish.

121

Jim Harrison 01.27.12 at 7:49 pm

People accuse Dawkins of picking an easy target by mostly attacking Fundamentalists, but Fundamentalism is as useful to moderate theists as it is to new atheists. For example, absent the Creationists, folks who go around talking about God using natural selection to create the world would not appear as reasonable but simply as quaint since theistic evolution is, in itself, just as barmy as New Earth Creationism. Liberal Protestants and Catholics absolutely depend upon the continued existence of the Elmer Gantry crowd in order to maintain their intellectual self respect.

I don’t disagree that Dawkins and his crowd often make a hash of the history of religion, but my complaint against ’em is that they aren’t fair to history. On the other hand, it isn’t entirely reasonable to complain that they don’t pay much attention to theology unless you can come up with some evidence that theology has more substance or credibility than, say, palmistry. Or do you have to know how to draw up a natal horoscope before you can dismiss astrology?

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Brett 01.27.12 at 7:49 pm

They don’t prove that God doesn’t exist – they just prove that he doesn’t have to exist. That’s been one of Dawkins’ main points since forever: there’s no reason to assume there’s a god, and especially no reason to assume that it’s conveniently the god/belief system you already have.

123

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 7:51 pm

Jim Dementia @ 111- I would describe myself as a weak atheist, meaning I don’t believe in god, as opposed to a strong atheist, who believes there is no god (a subtle distinction, but I find it can end being important). I don’t see any positive empirical evidence for god or any other supernatural being, and the lines of evidence indicate to me that while an actual lack of their existence isn’t falsifiable that’s probably the way to bet. I recognize that subjective experience of the supernatural is pretty damn convincing to those who experience it (if you believe in god because Jesus dropped by your house last night, I can’t say I blame you), but modern studies of the brain give a plausible non-supernatural explanation for everyone else.

This is all speaking for myself.

124

Harold 01.27.12 at 7:52 pm

Is information material?

125

bianca steele 01.27.12 at 7:53 pm

Occasionally I wish CT showed the nationality of each commenter. This is one of those times. US: We have National Parks (the Grand Canyon and the Smithsonian). UK: We have National Heritage (Stonehenge). I’m sure the differences are minor, though, and would show up as important only within a narrow range.

126

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:53 pm

I’m kind of hoping McGravitas’ point is not “what have theologians said that would prove God is real and Dawkins is totally wrong”? Because it should I hope be pretty obvious that my point is not that Dawkins is wrong to be an atheist, but rather wrong to claim he is a serious scholar and definitive refuter of religion.

Where does he make the claim to be a scholar of religion? Where does he claim to be the definitive refuter of religion? I’d hate to think that you were tilting at windmills. But as a thought experiment, could Dawkins have read more about religion than Augustine? Sure! Obviously! Scholar points to Dawkins then over that Augustine guy that he totally doesn’t refer to in some of the books he doesn’t mention Augustine in.

127

geo 01.27.12 at 7:54 pm

DS @107: their moral and salvific … point

Would you say a bit more? What is that point?

128

Donald A. Coffin 01.27.12 at 7:54 pm

This is one of the best comment threads ever…

129

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:55 pm

Is information material?

Give me an example of information that floats free of any material substrate. While you’re at it, give me an example of information that exists as such independently of the existence of human beings.

130

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 7:55 pm

Kieth: The claim that . . . Dawkins hasn’t individually refuted every theologian ever

Is not on the table and therefore irrelevant. Expecting someone to address themselves to major elements of the actual thought of the religion they claim to be refuting is not an expectation that they “individually refute every theologian ever.”

Like I said earlier on, this kind of incuriosity can go to ugly places. I hadn’t seen the Islamophobic Dawkins quote in 114 but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The consequences of defending ignorance and incuriosity when those traits belong to one’s own party is that one’s own party may wind up, by that route, manifesting the very evils it was supposed to be decrying.

131

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:55 pm

And let me be clear: I am completely with James Refell when he wants to call Dawkins out for this or that idiocy.

132

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 7:59 pm

Expecting someone to address themselves to major elements of the actual thought of the religion they claim to be refuting is not an expectation that they “individually refute every theologian ever.”

You just don’t know everything he’s addressed. Why not read him?

133

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 7:59 pm

Dawkins is quite capable of being a total prat, obviously. This is the case with both his racially tinged islamophobia and with his Elevatorgate demonstration of aggressive cluelessness about patriarchy. So what? It’s as though some of the commentesr on this thread aren’t aware that the argumentum ad hominem is a fallcy.

134

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:03 pm

120: Where does he make the claim to be a scholar of religion? Where does he claim to be the definitive refuter of religion?

“With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. “

— from the marketing copy of The God Delusion

I’d hate to think that you were tilting at windmills.

That’s nice of you, Substance. I’d hate to think that you were desperately squirming to avoid admitting a mistake.

135

puss wallgreen 01.27.12 at 8:04 pm

“Or do you have to know how to draw up a natal horoscope before you can dismiss astrology?”
It might be useful knowledge if you were trying to make a career for yourself as the world’s greatest refuter of astrology. On the theology point, modern philosophical theology, at least in the Anglo-Saxon world, has not focused on whether or not God exists, but the extent to which religious language can be said to be meaningful, is capable of falsification etc – and it has been a far more fruitful discussion, in which both believers and sceptics have participated, than the dialogue of the deaf between the Four Horsemen and the Holy Rollers. Perhaps Substance Mc might care to have a look.

136

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:04 pm

126: Oh right, I must just not have read him.

Classy.

137

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:04 pm

Ooh! A book blurb! The foundation of all arguments!

Well done.

138

Hidari 01.27.12 at 8:07 pm

‘ “I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so. ‘

It is as courageous to insist, nowadays, that Islam is the ‘greatest man-made force for evil in the world today’, as it was to insist that ‘Judaism is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today’ in the 1930s.

Pat Condell is worth checking out incidentally. I mean that. You should have a look at his videos and then ask yourself precisely what Dawkins thinks he is playing at by associating himself with such a man.

139

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:07 pm

I’d hate to think that you were desperately squirming to avoid admitting a mistake.

I am happy to admit that I thought you were talking about an argument Dawkins was making rather than your impression that he was struggling to conform to his ad copy.

140

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:08 pm

137: You asked where he made those claims. The description he approved of his own book doesn’t qualify?

141

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 8:08 pm

there’s no reason to assume there’s a god

I don’t know, maybe the word “assume” is significant here in a way I don’t realize, but surely there must be a good reason to believe in god, since so many do.

I think it would make a lot of sense to investigate what these reasons are, and then, if you really dislike gods, try to find a way to provide the same utility in some other, godless manner.

142

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 8:09 pm

I don’t know, maybe the word “assume” is significant here in a way I don’t realize, but surely there must be a good reason to believe in god, since so many do.

Many people sincerely believe that Newt Gingrich should be elected President of the US. I rest my case.

143

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:12 pm

You asked where he made those claims. The description he approved of his own book doesn’t qualify?

That is hilariously weak. Should I then point out that the ad copy doesn’t actually make the claim that he is a scholar of religion or that he is “the definitive refuter of religion” but rather “makes a compelling argument”? Mind you, there are fundamentalist ad-copy readers and then there are the more sophisticated kind.

144

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 8:14 pm

bianca steele @ 199 – Nationality might actually be relevant due to the differences between the religious culture in the US and…well everywhere I think. I expect the long history of exuberant and crazy religions in America definitely colors my perceptions. I mean, in France when people worry about a minority religious group with a violent history that wears unusual religious clothing you’re probably talking about immigrant Muslim women. In the US by contrast they’re…well, they might still be worrying about immigrant Muslim women, but there are good odds that they’re instead talking about the presumptive Republican nominee for president. (Romney is a Mormon bishop, so I just assume he wears the temple garment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_garment).

145

DaveL 01.27.12 at 8:15 pm

46m is 4600 cm, which allows one cm for each million years in the age of the Earth (rounding up from the estimated age of 4.54 billion years). Perhaps that is De Botton’s intent, and he was just misquoted.

Life dates back to 3.5 billion years or so ago, which doesn’t map into his scheme well at all. The Cambrian explosion, when things got photogenic, was around 540 million years ago. Makes for a fairly dull first 40m of tower.

146

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 8:16 pm

You can’t rest your case here, because I’m not saying that god exists, I’m just saying there must be reasons to believe that he does, which is plain obvious.

In the case of Newt Gingrich, if indeed there are so many of them, then wouldn’t it be interesting and useful to understand, in depth, why they think he should be elected?

147

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 8:17 pm

Henri, I’m not going to let you forget that you said GOOD reasons.

148

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:20 pm

A good reason to believe in God is that people in your church will give you stuff when you’re in need. That should be pretty obvious, but it doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with God’s reality. One would hope that this idiotic atheist temple would be as supportive of its cranky attendees.

149

James Reffell 01.27.12 at 8:20 pm

Steve LaBonne:
In case it’s not clear, though others have pointed it out, there’s a connection between Dawkins’s particular approach to attacking religion and religious people that has a tendency to slide into bigotry. It could be the enthusiastic embrace of ignorance about religion, the lumping of people into groups and then making huge generalizations about them, probably it’s a little of both. Hitchens did it, Dawkins does it, and as an atheist who wishes more room for atheists in public life, I wish they’d cut it the hell out.

That’s not an ad hominem attack. I’m not saying his arguments are invalid because he’s a bad person. I’m saying that his arguments–not his scientific ones, nor his defense of secularism, nor his advocacy of atheism, all of which seem perfectly sound to me–but very specifically those arguments where he attacks specific religions and groups of religious people–are wrong. Furthermore they are wrong in exactly the same way that equally bigoted remarks coming from some right-wing thug are wrong.

150

yabonn 01.27.12 at 8:22 pm

In my limited experience of Britain, there were indeed many such temples.

I just can’t seem to recall the names – was it Duck and Rose? Goose and Fox? Rose and Lion? Hen and Cat?

151

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 8:23 pm

A good reason to believe in God is that people in your church will give you stuff when you’re in need.

Nah, you can get the same benefit by pretending to believe. And I think there’s more of that than many people realize. Even, or especially, among ministers.

152

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:25 pm

143: That is hilariously weak.

Since those claims are in line with the book’s content, I don’t agree. And tend to think the “oh but they didn’t use those specific words” tap-dance is hilariously weak. However, at least the distraction serves to all you to tap-dance away from your previous silly statements while affecting to save face, so I can’t see why it attracts.

153

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:26 pm

“can’t” s/b “can” Can’t abide typos in our snark after all…

154

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:26 pm

Nah, you can get the same benefit by pretending to believe.

I think pretending’s pretty stressful really…

155

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 8:27 pm

In case it’s not clear, though others have pointed it out, there’s a connection between Dawkins’s particular approach to attacking religion and religious people that has a tendency to slide into bigotry.

Not that I have any particular wish to defend Dawkins, who has been pissing me off more and more. But this is indeed not clear at all. It is not something that was really noticeable in Dawkins’s writings or speeches prior to 9/11/01. Furthermore, I am interested in truth and falsity, not in “approaches”. I’ll leave tone trolling to those who are interested in such stuff.

156

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:27 pm

And “all” s/b “allow”

Cripes. Typos, I repent of thee!

157

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 8:31 pm

@Steve, ‘good’ in the sense of ‘strong’, ‘pervasive’. You eradicate the gods, and what’s going to happen then? The question that made Dostoyevsky very nervous…

158

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 8:32 pm

However, at least the distraction serves to all you to tap-dance away from your previous silly statements while affecting to save face, so I can’t see why it attracts.

I am happy again to admit my error. I was a fool! You have crushed me with rigor and wit, examining my argument in its forms, eviscerating it and demonstrating the supreme improbability that I am correct, buttressing your points with historical and contemporary evidence. You make a compelling case that I am not just wrong but potentially silly.

159

Jonathan Mayhew 01.27.12 at 8:32 pm

My belief is in a radical agnosticism. We cannot know that there is a god.. What follows from this is that theology is useless, because nothing else can be known for certain about something that we cannot know exists in the first place. We cannot say, for example, “We cannot know there is a god, but he is probably going to be benevolent…” Arguments from the subtlety / complexity of theology don’t really hold much water, because how can anyone really know anything about any of this? The most ignorant person in the world knows as much about god as the most subtle theologian. Exactly nothing.

160

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:42 pm

158: Yeah, the attempts to hide behind sarcasm are also kinda sad, sorry.

155: Steve, “approach” has nothing to do with “tone.” If you wish to refute religion, how you go about gathering your evidence, what you choose to admit and exclude, is your approach.

161

Rmj 01.27.12 at 8:44 pm

The most ignorant person in the world knows as much about god as the most subtle theologian. Exactly nothing.

There is a branch of theology based on that very premise; the via negativa. Arises mostly out of the experience of the Christian mystics, although it’s often traced back to Martin Luther (not mutually exclusive origins).

And, of course, theology is almost entirely a Christian endeavor. There aren’t any Jewish theologians, or Buddhist, or Taoist, or Hindu, or….

162

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:47 pm

161.2: That’s wrong about the Jews and Hindus, I’m pretty sure…

163

Rmj 01.27.12 at 8:47 pm

Aquinas, the great theologian and rationalist, explained God as thoroughly as any Christian thinker ever has (not that I agree with him, but disagreeing with him is rather like disagreeing with a mountain. You still have to deal with it.). He was, at least, the supreme “subtle theologian,” and remains so to this day.

Anyway, Aquinas had a mystical vision at the end of his life. As a result, he said, all his writings appeared to him as straw.

He never wrote another word.

164

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 8:52 pm

If you wish to refute religion, how you go about gathering your evidence, what you choose to admit and exclude, is your approach.

Which has nothing to do with Refell’s complaints (shared by me, as I have indicated) about much of Dawkins’s recent behavior, as he explicitly said: “I’m not saying his arguments are invalid because he’s a bad person. I’m saying that his arguments—not his scientific ones, nor his defense of secularism, nor his advocacy of atheism, all of which seem perfectly sound to me [emphasis mine]—but very specifically those arguments where he attacks specific religions and groups of religious people—are wrong.” I agree with Refell on all counts in that paragraph, I only disagree with him that there is anything in Dawkins’s pre-9/11 “approach” that made those errors inevitable. On the contrary, he could and should have avoided becoming a fellow-traveler of racists. Before he started that slide, he was much more careful about attacking ideas and not people.

But I’m really not interested in arguing further about Dawkins. He’s written some very good popular books about evolution; that’s his highest and best use. Beyond that he doesn’t interest me much.

165

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 8:56 pm

Fair enough.

166

Dilettante 01.27.12 at 9:06 pm

162 – Hey, Steve! I think we’re finally in agreement on Dawkins: “He’s written some very good popular books about evolution; that’s his highest and best use. Beyond that he doesn’t interest me much.” I think that basically agrees with my first post (64) on this topic.

167

Steve LaBonne 01.27.12 at 9:11 pm

I think we’re finally in agreement on Dawkins

Only if you agree with Reffell and with me that “his scientific [arguments], … his defense of secularism, … his advocacy of atheism, all … seem perfectly sound to me”. Dawkins is, of course, very far indeed from being alone in making those arguments so his personal significance is simply not a very interesting topic.

168

leederick 01.27.12 at 9:18 pm

I think Dawkins is just tragic really. If you look at his CV the guy is obviously seriously bright and was making a real contribution to zoology at Oxford up until the Blind Watchmaker and Selfish Gene period 1986-89. At that point he just goes completely off the rails and starts churning out pop books and screeds for the likes of Free Enquiry and the Skeptical Inquirer. You can’t help but think the atheism period is just an enormous waste of talent.

http://www.fontem.com/archivos/usuarios/cv_521.pdf

169

Jeffrey Davis 01.27.12 at 9:25 pm

An English intellectual acting barmy. Who would have thought it possible?

170

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 9:30 pm

This is terrific:

De Botton has insisted atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.

“The dominant feeling you should get will be awe – the same feeling you get when you tip your head back in Ely cathedral,” he said. “You should feel small but not in an intimidated way.”

Did someone knock down Ely cathedral or are atheists just not allowed in?

171

heckblazer 01.27.12 at 9:31 pm

On the count of judging Dawkins based primarily on his public perception instead of actually reading him I plead guilty, guilty, guilty. My defense, or perhaps excuse, is that what I had encountered made me decide further reading wasn’t going to be illuminating or interesting. Which seems a bit like Dawkins’ approach to religion from the descriptions here. Poetic justice? I’ll leave that decision to the better informed.

Since I’m a bit more curious now (though not enough to do my own reading), what is Dawkins’ definition of religion? On the one hand it’s a bit important to know what you’re arguing against, but on the other hand its notoriously a hard thing to nail down.

172

Substance McGravitas 01.27.12 at 9:32 pm

Reformatted possibly:

De Botton has insisted atheists have as much right to enjoy inspiring architecture as religious believers.

“The dominant feeling you should get will be awe – the same feeling you get when you tip your head back in Ely cathedral,” he said. “You should feel small but not in an intimidated way.”

Did someone knock down Ely cathedral or are atheists just not allowed in?

173

Harold 01.27.12 at 9:35 pm

129, “Give me an example of information that floats free of any material substrate. While you’re at it, give me an example of information that exists as such independently of the existence of human beings.”

DNA frequently exists independently of human beings. I think this question popped into my head as a result of hearing a wonderful lecture by — Richard Dawkins (!) about the continuity between matter and life. I was so intrigued I bought a copy of the book. (Need to read it again, actually.) I cannot believe that information and its transmission is (are) unique to human beings, or even mammals, or even living things (selfish genes), when it comes to that.

174

geo 01.27.12 at 9:39 pm

leederick @168: You can’t help but think the atheism period is just an enormous waste of talent.

You might think so, but that would be to underestimate the enormous dead weight of dogmatic religion right up through the early 19th century, which isn’t, as our species goes, so very long ago. Right up till then, unbelievers were not only a tiny minority but were subject to civil penalties and pervasive informal discrimination, and books of a skeptical tendency were likewise often banned and discriminated against. Conservative Christians, Jews, and Muslims currently number in the billions, and they would very much like to reverse the last three centuries of intellectual and political progress. It remains important to change their minds, and where that’s not possible, to rebut their beliefs publicly, emphatically, and repeatedly. Intellectual freedom is a fragile bloom, and religious bigotry is a hardy weed.

175

bianca steele 01.27.12 at 9:54 pm

@ Jonathan Mayhew

Yes. I would add that the problem with ordinary agnosticism (among which I count my previous self) is that it says there must be something to all those texts that–it’s only logical to believe–have been believed by so many people in exactly the same way for so many centuries (which we know because the high priests today invariably say that’s the case), and have so much empirical evidence in their favor (which we know because they must have done a fair enough job for a lot of people for a very long time, to not have been rebelled against by anyone up til now, at least not successfully). In a single-culture society, it boils down to casual acceptance of things one doesn’t believe or understand, because why not? In a multi-cultural society, it boils down to either cheap relativism or cheap Joseph Campbell-ism: maybe each person has a good impulse and an evil impulse, maybe each person has original sin unless redeemed by grace, surely, they both mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably?

176

Andrew C 01.27.12 at 10:01 pm

“Let us assume there can be a god” is like assuming your elephants are perfectly spherical – makes the maths easier but neither have a shred of physical evidence to support them.

177

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 10:07 pm

174: All of that is actually why it would have been nice had Four Horsemen-style atheist-proselytism turned out to be a lot less shallow than it is. It would have been nice to see prominent atheist spokespersons with persuasive, informed and interesting critiques of religion to offer. What we have instead is polemicism long on energy and short on substance that gained traction at least in part because it also provides a convenient cover for the popular prejudice of the day.

178

geo 01.27.12 at 10:23 pm

Dr S @177: I thought we were all agreed that 1) Four Horsemen style is fine for discrediting the coarser, shallower forms of supernaturalist religion, though 2) some people feel that there’s a more subtle and plausible kind of religion that they leave untouched. Do you accept the distinction? If so, do you think the Horsemen (and before them, Spinoza, Diderot, et al) have at least dispatched full-blown dogmatic Christianity/Judaism/Islam? And if you think something is left over (what you called @107 the “moral and salvific point” of Scripture), what is it? No reason why we can’t do some philosophy of religion in a CT thread.

179

leederick 01.27.12 at 10:28 pm

“You might think so, but that would be to underestimate the enormous dead weight of dogmatic religion right up through the early 19th century, which isn’t, as our species goes, so very long ago.”

I don’t underestimate this. I just think Dawkins atheism period hasn’t done much good or produced anything original, and this is at the cost of what could have been a significant contribution to biology the guy is obviously capable of. It’s not as if things were heading back to a new age of superstition until the late 80s when Dawkins started fighting the fight.

180

Barry Freed 01.27.12 at 10:31 pm

Will this Temple have priests? Because where do I apply? Sounds like a cushy sinecure.

181

CJColucci 01.27.12 at 10:40 pm

The question that made Dostoyevsky very nervous…

Not that it took much to do that.

182

Harold 01.27.12 at 10:41 pm

“All high poetry is infinite; it is as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially.”

183

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 11:05 pm

@178, wouldn’t it be easier (and make more sense) for those subtle and plausible religious types to discredit and dispatch their full-blown dogmatic coreligionists (Spinoza seems to be a case in point)? Rather than the Four Horsemen/scorched earth style approach.

184

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 11:11 pm

178: They’re fine for discrediting crude fundamentalist attacks on science, or at any rate Dawkins is fine in that arena. I’m not as sure they’ve done much to discredit the “coarser” forms of religion in a larger sense, really (since they’ve done much to confirm religious stereotypes of the arrogant and supercilious atheist), or that their own feat in midwifing a kind of semi-rationalist Know-Nothing-ism — one which appears equally as vulnerable to prejudice as religion — is really all that much preferable. I don’t know where to start with “full-blown dogmatic” this-or-that, as it’s hard to tell what that means as applied to huge and diverse traditions like the Abrahamic religions, but I don’t see that they’ve “dispatched” anything as such in the practical sense that wasn’t already “dispatched” by Enlightenment rationalism, on which they have not improved. I certainly wouldn’t class any of them with Spinoza or Diderot as thinkers.

I missed 107, sorry. I wasn’t necessarily endorsing (and do not endorse) as such the “moral and salvific point” of Scripture as Augustine sees it; but those things were inspirations for philosophical investigation that had long-term ramifications for the Western tradition, as it was he who synthesized Christian and Neoplatonic thought and he who first articulated a still quite widely-accepted division of duties between what we now call science and religion (and what he then called scripture and religion) .

Basically it’s my opinion that most attempts to prise apart religion and philosophy for purposes of assessing them are misguided, since philosophy (and science as a constituent thereof) evolved to a great extent through religious and theological question and debate. All of the Abrahamic religions contributed to that process and all of them have wound up with pretty sophisticated philosophical superstructures as a result, of which even the supposedly “coarse” variants can periodically avail themselves* — and indeed it’s a mistake to think that “coarse” and “sophisticated” religion come in entirely separate packages like brands of sugar. So… that. All of that is “what’s left over,” basically the entire ability to make honest sense of the bulk of Western philosophy.

(* One can find some atheists complaining about this as a kind of bait-and-switch, the religions supposedly luring in followers with compelling but nonsensical mythic stories and then “switching” to metaphorical and symbolic conceptions of God when under attack by rationalists.)

185

Alan 01.27.12 at 11:15 pm

I think I want to worship geo.

Ok, what geo stands for.

186

Rmj 01.27.12 at 11:17 pm

That’s wrong about the Jews and Hindus, I’m pretty sure…

Sorry, let me clarify: “Theology” is a Greek concern, ultimately(as is the word itself). It is the application of Greek rationalism (which has its own peculiarities) to essentially mystic (by contrast to Greek rationalism) thought. Jews undoubtedly have “words about God (consider Midrash, if nothing else), but they do not have “theology” in any properly understood sense of that word, nor in any form comparable in purpose to Christian theology (which arises from engaging essentially Hebraic notions with an essentially Hellenistic approach).

The central issue of theology is the assumption that knowledge of God is available (or explicitly is not, hence the via negativa. Judaism makes, and allows, no such assumption. This is a crucial and fundamental distinction that blocks Judaism from having a “theology” in the traditional Christian sense of the word.

Scriptures, after all, are “words about God” (or gods, in the case of Hinduism). But no one presumes they are theology; and there is even great difficulty in trying to make them “theological” (so the doomed enterprise of “biblical theology”).

187

Rmj 01.27.12 at 11:20 pm

@178, wouldn’t it be easier (and make more sense) for those subtle and plausible religious types to discredit and dispatch their full-blown dogmatic coreligionists (Spinoza seems to be a case in point)? Rather than the Four Horsemen/scorched earth style approach.

I’ve had that argument many times. How, precisely, am I to do it? “Ideas are bulletproof” is a truism, unfortunately. And it works for bad ideas as much as for good ones.

Not that I think scorched earth is that much better an option.

188

engels 01.27.12 at 11:22 pm

1) Dawkins’ criticisms of religion are invalid because he hasn’t read any real theology but just goes on popular perceptions of it.
2) Am I sure he hasn’t? Well I haven’t actually read any of his books, I’m basing my opinion on popular perceptions of him of course.
3) I feel entitled to do this because it’s what Dawkins does (see [1]).

Hmmm

189

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 11:25 pm

188: Sorry, who’s said any of that?

190

CJColucci 01.27.12 at 11:34 pm

I just think Dawkins atheism period hasn’t done much good or produced anything original, and this is at the cost of what could have been a significant contribution to biology the guy is obviously capable of.

I haven’t read books by Dawkins or the other Horsemen. Reviews and excerpts were enough to convince me that I’d learn nothing from them that I didn’t already know. The arguments for and against the existence of the usual type of god up for discussion haven’t advanced much in the last 3 or 4 centuries, except to the not inconsiderable extent that natural selection kicked out the last strut supporting the argument from design. Certain kinds of sophisticated, almost content-free beliefs — I like to call them Faculty Club Religion — are invulnerable to any kind of argument, so there’s no point addressing them and I wouldn’t fault the Horsemen for not bothering, but there’s little reason to bother about the Horsemen, either.

191

engels 01.27.12 at 11:41 pm

I don’t see that they’ve “dispatched” anything as such in the practical sense that wasn’t already “dispatched” by Enlightenment rationalism, on which they have not improved. I certainly wouldn’t class any of them with Spinoza or Diderot as thinkers.

Would they disagree?

The arguments for and against the existence of the usual type of god up for discussion haven’t advanced much in the last 3 or 4 centuries

Neither has this observation. I believe one notable atheist observed in 1844: ‘the criticism of religion has been essentially completed’.

192

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 11:50 pm

186: Hmmm, that still seems wrong to me. Medieval figures like Gersonides and Maimonides, for example, were indisputably theologians in the full sense (even if one insists on a Hellenistic pedigree) working in the Jewish tradition. Maimonides was in fact a proponent of the Apophatic theology (or the via negativa) to which you refer. I don’t see how this could be possible if your statements about what assumptions Judaism allows are correct.

I would also find it hard to see how Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism doesn’t answer to the description of theology (although it isn’t concerned with familiar Western theological problems like theodicy).

193

Doctor Slack 01.27.12 at 11:53 pm

191: You mean, would Spinoza or Diderot be more impressed by them than I am? I somehow doubt it, but I haven’t conducted a seance or anything.

194

AdmiralAnnoy 01.27.12 at 11:56 pm

If I might interject with a question, as something like this was brought up earlier and I think it best to get away from Dawkins specifically, as his work, honors, faults or follies are at best only a small part of the overall discussion.

A few obvious facts I assume most accept:
1. Religious persons have contributed to society, in endeavors both non-religious and when they have done things in the name of religion (whether these things proved out their particular beliefs is another question, but unimportant for the time being.)
2. Symbols and metaphors can certainly have power, regardless of whether they reference something that in fact exists or not.
3. Certainly the idea of a god, gods, God, or more abstract, non-personal notions like karma and the like have at the least had symbolic and metaphorical power for as long they have been in human minds. The sun also often serves as symbol and metaphor in stories and mythos.

The question, though, moves to whether the deity has more than only symbolic or metaphorical effects on the world? The sun for instance, despite its many poetic descriptions throughout history and literature, is a giant ball of mostly hydrogen being crushed down by its own gravity into other elements and giving off lots of photons and neutrinos as a result.

So, we can ask that question in many parts (though only a small part I can think of right at this moment): Is god a real entity in some form as well? How do we know? Do we know through interactions with other physical objects in the physical world that are detectable? Is it in the natural world or outside of it? How does it exercise whatever power it may have? If it exists outside the physical world, how does it manage to interact with the natural world while being outside of it and by what means or forces? When people say they have had a personal experience with this deity, is there any actual effect on their physical bodies or brains? Is there anyway for a personal experience to be legitimately and credibly explained to another party if there is no evidence besides what the experiencer says he or she has felt, even given that we will trust they have had an actual experience of some sort?

Can theology answer some of these questions definitively or perhaps begin to by providing plausible explanations with supporting evidence?

195

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.12 at 12:04 am

#129: “Give me an example of information that floats free of any material substrate. While you’re at it, give me an example of information that exists as such independently of the existence of human beings.”

Mathematics. A long line of scientists (and almost all philosophers including Dennett, but perhaps excluding Brouwer and Wittgenstein) has supposed that mathematics exists independently of human beings. This is a major position in the philosophy of maths, called Platonism or Objectivism. When you have resolved the ancient dichotomy of form and substance, you can claim that information is material. Indeed, why should monism be preferred to dualism? Monism doesn’t seem to confer any intellectual advantage, while producing more confusion.

196

engels 01.28.12 at 12:05 am

I meant that I doubt that Dawkins or Dennett rank themselves alongside Diderot or believe themselves to have advanced beyond Enlightenment rationalism.

197

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 12:11 am

195: Well, hopefully not. I was responding to a comparison in the post I was replying to.

198

engels 01.28.12 at 12:12 am

Or, to put it more succinctly in Spanish: ‘¡Molinos, Senor!’

199

DelRey 01.28.12 at 12:17 am

As Dawkins, Harris and others have argued, to the extent that it justifies belief through faith, “moderate” religion is just as irrational as “fundamentalist” religion. “I believe through faith that God wants me to help the poor” is no less irrational than “I believe through faith that Allah wants me to hijack these airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Center.”

But without faith, what’s left? The “evidence” of sacred scriptures and divine revelations? Worthless. In the developed world — even in America! — religion is gradually dying off. The sooner we’re rid of it the better.

200

engels 01.28.12 at 12:25 am

In the developed world—even in America!—religion is gradually dying off.

Absent some _big_ changes, not gonna happen. (Good opiates are hard to come by and Prozac’s close but no cigar…)

201

Substance McGravitas 01.28.12 at 12:27 am

There’s always sports.

202

Harold 01.28.12 at 12:56 am

“But whilst the sceptic destroys gross superstitions, let him spare to deface, as some of the French writers have defaced, the eternal truths charactered upon the imaginations of men. Whilst the mechanist abridges, and the political economist combines labor, let them beware that their speculations, for want of correspondence with those first principles which belong to the imagination, do not tend, as they have in modern England, to exasperate at once the extremes of luxury and want. They have exemplified the saying, “To him that hath, more shall be given; and from him that hath not, the little that he hath shall be taken away.” The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the State is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty.” –P.B. Shelley, Atheist

203

geo 01.28.12 at 12:59 am

Harold, that’s a peach of a quote. Where’s it from?

204

Harold 01.28.12 at 1:22 am

A Defense of Poetry, 1821

205

bxg 01.28.12 at 1:25 am

> I haven’t read books by Dawkins or the other Horsemen. Reviews and excerpts were enough to convince me that I’d learn nothing from them that I didn’t already know.

On the one hand, this does make you unusual. Could I take his by-far most famous book – “The Selfish Gene” – as an example. Are you convinced that its content would all be obvious to you should you read it? Or perhaps that the falsity of it will be obvious to you? Or perhaps you are young enough to conclude that, while at the time there may have been learnings within, they have already reached you from some other path so that _today_ the incremental value of you reading it would be zero?

But if you are specifically thinking about one of his recent (of very many) books, “The God Delusion”, I would chime in support. I thought it was a bad book, in that it was suitable for a very tiny audience but not fairly marketed thus. The arguments were not credibly written to engage or persuade believers new to the atheism question, yet were crude and incomplete for a believer who had thought about such issues and could raise some basic logical and evidential counter-questions. And to such as myself, as strident an atheist as they come, there is most certainly no learnings – conventional and boring (though mostly correct) arguments presented shockingly poorly. Yawn.

IMO there’s likely a _very_ narrow window in the long slide from religious belief to agnosticism/atheism where a valid but shallow book such as TGD would be useful and appreciated. Bottom line, I suspect that while this book isn’t empty altogether, for one reason or another is simply empty to 99% of the people.

206

LFC 01.28.12 at 1:31 am

Harold @201
Might I ask for the source of the Shelley quote?

(not in mood to hunt for it, electronically or otherwise, right now)

207

LFC 01.28.12 at 1:31 am

sorry, didn’t see you’d already given it to geo

208

DelRey 01.28.12 at 1:36 am

@204,
But if you are specifically thinking about one of his recent (of very many) books, “The God Delusion”, I would chime in support. I thought it was a bad book, in that it was suitable for a very tiny audience but not fairly marketed thus.

I think The God Delusion is a very good book.

The arguments were notcredibly written to engage or persuade believers new to the atheism question, yet were crude and incomplete for a believer who had thought about such issues and could raise some basic logical and evidential counter-questions.

Such as? Try to be as clear and specific as possible. Your vacuous rhetoric (“not credibly written,” “crude and incomplete,” “presented shockingly poorly,” “shallow”) just makes you look like you don’t actually have any substantive criticisms to offer.

209

bxg 01.28.12 at 1:39 am

Harold, I second @202 in thanking your for introducing me to this quote. On the face of it this seems very pertinent to the corruption and inequality of today’s society particularly as regards the U.S.
What I am missing though is the tiniest, faintest, connection to the current thread – could you explain? The nearest I can guess – I’m sure I’m wrong – is that it is insinuating that someone critical about religion (“the skeptic”??) is going to also end to be against justice, fairness, equality, and apple pie. But that would be beyond stupid – so in your mind, what _is_ the quote suggesting that is relevant here?

210

chris 01.28.12 at 1:54 am

de Botton is silly, but I’ll take silly over edging into racism.

Er… by this logic (criticism of Islam allegedly being per se racist) I can’t condemn Nazism without being racist against Germans, because after all, that’s who most of the Nazis were. That won’t fly. Criticism of a belief system isn’t “racism” against the race(s) many of its adherents happen to belong to, unless you also believe that there’s something inherent to those people that forces them to believe in it. (Which, AFAIK, Dawkins doesn’t — he’d love for “those people” to change their beliefs *and would have no quarrel with them thereafter*, which is quite unlike a racist.)

At worst, Dawkins may make insufficient rhetorical allowance for the existence of moderate or nonaggressive forms of Islam — although I suspect that if you cornered him on the point he’d admit it, but say that his agenda is largely about the other sort because they’re not only numerically predominant, but also the ones blowing up buildings — but that’s a far cry from racism.

The extent to which people emotionally invest in their belief systems don’t make them a genuinely immutable characteristic, or privileged from criticism regardless of the content of that belief system. Even harsh criticism of the *beliefs* falls well short of repression of the *people*.

Also, my hat’s off to Dawkins (and Dennett, who makes the point explicitly; but I haven’t read as much Dennett) for questioning the unquestionable — e.g. parents’ right to indoctrinate their children into their religion. Even when the religion teaches oppression or hate towards an immutable characteristic of the child (most notably sex and sexual orientation).

211

Substance McGravitas 01.28.12 at 2:01 am

they’re not only numerically predominant

What?

212

bxg 01.28.12 at 2:04 am

> Such as? Try to be as clear and specific as possible

Totally fair question. Which I’m not going to answer, for pathetic reasons! It’s been now several years since I’ve read the book and I don’t remember the specifics but I remember my general and consistent, annoyed, thoughts. (I’ve also long since discarded the book.) I am as rabid an atheist as there is, and there was nothing new or thought in this book to me – though I’m not the audience. And (with one possibly exception, and even that I can’t remember except there was a possible exception) the arguments made are all clearly right. But I’ve read a LOT on these issues and thought about them. It’s hard to overstate how tired and familiar Dawkin’s arguments were to me as I read them. (I AGREE with them!).

The thing is, I know there are some standard counterarguments that are rebuttable, but need rebutting. I remember as I read constantly, constantly, thinking … yes, the believers have heard this before, and then even if they are thinking about what you said they usually and sincerely raise objection-such-and-such, but of course here is how you shut them down …. and yet reading nothing. I could too easily put myself in the shoes of a smart believer new to this stuff, open-minded but inclined to reject, and thinking over and over again “but he’s not taking account of X”? But being myself, I know the argument about “X” is a bit silly but I also know it’s common and perhaps reasonable first-thought for a believer – so I expected Dawkin’s to shoot it down or at the very least make some comment acknowledging that he was aware of the objection. But as I read, I got annoyed by feeling over and over again: an open minded believer is now thinking “X”, this is well known to be a common albeit misguided counterargment, can’t you put yourself in his position and address this? However briefly, at least let us know that you see and have move past the most obvious concerns? At the end I was annoyed.

213

Lee A. Arnold 01.28.12 at 2:06 am

Harold #201 “and the political economist combines labor” [Shelley]

With Geo, Great quote! There is the pathology: the adding-up of labor, as a scientific datum. Sometimes I think the 19th cent. beats the 20th (& 21st) because it’s the last time that anyone could hold all the thoughts together.

214

bxg 01.28.12 at 2:22 am

> Such as? Try to be as clear and specific as possible

Quicker than my previous reply: TGD is a collection of VERY standard atheist arguments, and indeed I’d be shocked bey0nd belief if Dawkins claimed to originate any of them. And I personally found them all (or almost all so, I do remember having one quibble) entirely correct. And nice to have them collected together.

But I believe his _presentation_ was strongly suboptimal and thus limited. It was not persuasive enough to engage someone inclined-to-atheism who hadn’t already thought fairly far down the path he was walking, and yet not complete enough to seem credible to a thoughtful believer who had got roughly that far.

215

engels 01.28.12 at 2:39 am

that’s a peach of a quote

It’s nicely written, but the chain of causation between ‘unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty’ and ‘everything is going to the dogs’ seems a little bit obscure.

216

Harold 01.28.12 at 2:54 am

I don’t think that Shelley was insinuating that anyone who criticized religion was against justice, fairness, and equality. He defined poetry very inclusively as “the expression of the imagination”: and felt that the great philosophers, visual artists, and lawgivers (including religious figures) were poets. And he worried that those who criticize “superstition” sometimes had an impoverished conception of utility.

“… poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order [underlying reality], are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of false and true…..”

“There are two kinds of pleasure, one durable, universal, and permanent; the other transitory and particular. Utility may either express the means of producing the former or the latter. In the former sense, whatever strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the imagination, and adds spirit to sense, is useful. “
Finally, he writes that:
“It it exceeds all imagination to conceive what would have been the moral condition of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Lord Bacon, nor Milton, had ever existed; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had never been born; if the Hebrew poetry had never been translated; if a revival of the study of Greek literature had never taken place; if no monuments of ancient sculpture had been handed down to us; and if the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had been extinguished together with its belief. The human mind could never, except by the intervention of these excitements, have been awakened to the invention of the grosser sciences, and that application of analytical reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the inventive and creative faculty itself.” –P. B. Shelley (atheist)

217

faustusnotes 01.28.12 at 2:59 am

chris at 209, the logic you’re describing was a common belief system of christian anti-semites before the 20th century – if those Jews would just convert they’d be fine. It served perfectly well as the basis for exclusion and discrimination and pogroms for quite a long time.

Obviously I don’t think Dawkins is in favour of any of those things, but the fact that he’s a decent chap (or can’t be bothered) doesn’t make his writing on the topic any less unpleasant. It’s an old-fashioned piece of nasty.

Doctor Slack, you seem very convinced that Dawkins hasn’t read any theology or serious philosophy of religion. Are you really sure of that? Because it seems like the kind of mistake that even someone making a passing attempt at looking thorough and intellectual would avoid.

218

James Reffell 01.28.12 at 3:00 am

@Chris

Criticizing Islam (even in an idiotic manner) is not edging into racism. Criticizing Islam in connection with a defense of Pat Condell and some of the bile he’s spewed …

219

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 3:05 am

fn @ 206 before the 20th century

To be more specific, roughly in the interval [Napoleon, Hitler). Maybe union that with (dk, 1492].

220

shah8 01.28.12 at 3:27 am

The Shelley quote does fit within the tenor and the intellectual foment of the times.

And yes, I find *engels*’ response to be hilarious in the ironic sense.

Even as tenuously related to the topic as it is, I think it does bring up a good point that I’ve often mentioned in previous threads, especially at Pandagon… Many intellectuals tend to be deist, or some flavor of pantheist, or play in whatever abstractoland, without actually believing in any God beyond God As Metaphor. More than that, the lush dreams of the deluded are often fertile playgrounds of our minds, atheists or no. Dawkins is about the elevation of Dawkins, and would rather slash and burn prayer trees rather than make paper airplanes from the sheaths that holds the words, with any humor or compassion. Haters gonna hate, believers gonna believe, but why should atheists do anything but take delight in that freshly plucked grape?

221

shah8 01.28.12 at 3:29 am

oh damn, *Harold*’s come back, and he brought artillery.

222

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 3:30 am

Well, not sure about that. I was thinking about the converse: after ~1492 and slightly before ~1933 the “racial” ancestry of Jews converted to Christianity seems to have become a matter of public hysteria. What Napoleon had promoted was cross-faith individualism.

223

christian_h 01.28.12 at 3:35 am

Dawkins is an idiot, a racist, and a snob. Holding “religion” responsible for the numerous crimes committed by people excusing their colonialism, slave trading or mass murder with religion is absolute bollocks, based in an immature philosophical idealism that would make Hegel blush in embarrassment. It is just incredible that a supposedly smart person would not notice that ruling class ideologies have produced, over the course of history, a great many excuses for brutal inhumane behaviour, many not related at all to religion – and will continue to do so in the future without any involvement of religion, unless of course we get our act together in the fight against actual oppression instead of squandering it tilting at windmills.

Using said alleged inherent evil of religion to actually justify repression of adherents of a very particular religion (which happens to be the religion of the major minority group in the country Dawkins resides in) is as blatant a case of racism as there is.

224

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 3:42 am

faustnotes, when Dawkins goes around beating up muslims and burning mosques he’ll have gone too far. But criticizing them? That’s a very different act.

225

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 3:43 am

209: Er… by this logic (criticism of Islam allegedly being per se racist)

Wow, talk about a post collapsing right at the first hurdle.

216: you seem very convinced that Dawkins hasn’t read any theology or serious philosophy of religion. Are you really sure of that?

Really sure that he shows little evidence of having done so, yes. It is of course possible that he has done and is simply hiding this fact, but that seems less likely.

226

engels 01.28.12 at 3:45 am

‘And he worried that those who criticized “superstition” sometimes had an impoverished conception of utility”

This sounds entirely possible, but how do you get from here to blaming them for the Gini coefficient?

227

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 3:47 am

223: I’m with faustusnotes on this one. It’s stupid to wait until it’s gotten to the point of arson and beatings before you’re willing to say that prejudice is not on.

228

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 3:50 am

me @ 221
No pun intended. And that should be “Christians whose parents or grandparents had been Jewish converts to Christianity.” And of course neither Napoleon nor the Inquisition nor for that matter the Crusades touched the shores of England (save in the imaginations of the Monty Python troupe), where I think faustusnotes is from.

229

faustusnotes 01.28.12 at 3:59 am

I meet a lot of Japanese people who claim they don’t have any religion. But they go to temples and clean their ancestors’ graves and so on. I know a pharmacologist who paid for a special blessing this new year because under some buddhist ideal, it’s a year of bad luck for her.

I’ve asked a lot of questions about the grave-cleaning and the ancestor thing (it’s a complex topic and most people are happy to talk about it). You can even get to this entertaining part of the conversation where someone who regularly honours their ancestors, both in their home and at the grave, and who refuses to give up the practice because it would be disrespectful to their ancestors, will happily tell you that their ancestors spirits aren’t a real thing, but that’s not the point.

This is how ordinary people apprehend religion.

I’ve not read any of the New Atheists, only seen the kind of things that get written about them or that they put into newspaper columns and the like, but I don’t get the impression they have thought much about the way ordinary people approach their beliefs, and they don’t seem to make much allowance for the fact that a huge proportion of the world’s population can simultaneously believe something strongly and completely reject its mystical underpinnings. I also think their crusade against “religion” seems to be actually a crusade against “theism” or just “christians and muslims.”

I’d like to see how Dawkins would engage with Shintoism. I think he would simultaneously make himself look very arrogant and very ignorant.

I’m an atheist and I certainly believe religion is responsible for a lot of bad things. But I don’t get the impression that the New Atheism is offering a critique that will change it.

230

Consumatopia 01.28.12 at 4:04 am

You don’t need deep knowledge of Christian theology to make the case that Christians lack a good argument for the existence of God. For there are many Christians who would surely love to have such an argument, and would have spread it far and wide if they had found it. Surely, if you’re a famous atheist, then a certain kind of theist is going to be doing everything they can to put their best arguments right in your face.

On the other hand, if you want to argue that religion is harmful, then you’d need to know a very great deal about the history of religion. Not only are you forced to tally up all the good and bad that religion has ever caused, but if you want to argue that religion itself rather than some particular aspect of larger denominations is causing harm, you have to take alternative conceptions of religion seriously.

231

bxg 01.28.12 at 4:40 am

@Consumatopia:229

I believe the current idiom is: “+1”

232

DelRey 01.28.12 at 5:21 am

bxg,
Totally fair question. Which I’m not going to answer, for pathetic reasons!

Well, let us know if and when you can up come up with any actual examples of these supposedly “shallow,” “crude,” “incomplete” etc. criticisms of theism and religion that Dawkins makes in the book.

Quicker than my previous reply: TGD is a collection of VERY standard atheist arguments, and indeed I’d be shocked bey0nd belief if Dawkins claimed to originate any of them.

Yes, as far as I’m aware, Dawkins makes no such claim. The God Delusion is a criticism of religion aimed at a general audience. It doesn’t claim to offer new arguments against religion. The existing ones are more than enough. The book is also a bestseller, which is a testament to the quality of Dawkins’ writing.

233

DelRey 01.28.12 at 5:42 am

On the other hand, if you want to argue that religion is harmful, then you’d need to know a very great deal about the history of religion.

There’s no evidence that religion provides reliable information about the world. Its factual claims are either useless, demonstrably false, or true only by accident, like a lucky guess. I’ve never seen an example of a religious moral prescription of which I approve, such as the Golden Rule, that could not be justified by secular moral reasoning. I’ve seen lots of examples of religious moral prescriptions that I find appalling.

234

Harold 01.28.12 at 5:47 am

“‘Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem,’ wrote Pliny, translating a Greek Stoic, “To help man is man’s true God. –Peter Gay The Rise of Modern Paganism[1966] 1995.

I liked the description of August Comte’s Temple of Humanity in Paris from Crooked Timber 2003. Comte felt that one should worship the dead, and as there are more dead than living (or were at that time), his religion was a rather sad one. It takes Brazilians to liven it up. When we visited a similar place, the Paris Pantheon, it did seem rather empty. Our hosts in Paris told us that when the 18th century architect of the Parthenon learned his cathedral to St. Genevieve was being converted to a lay temple, he committed suicide. Nevertheless, the tombs of Rousseau (whom Shelley considered a poet) and Jaurès were very moving, if one admires those figures, which I do. Though they could have been anywhere.

The real Parthenon in Rome does inspire awe, however, though no longer active as a place of worship, as do Pestum and Agrigentum, and, I am told, the Parthenon, though I have never been there.

I don’t know how tactful it is to build a temple to atheism amid the precincts of Mammon (could Alain de Bouton have been having his little joke here?). Somehow one doesn’t expect manifestations of the numinous in the heart of the financial district. I am more sympathetic to the current fad of building cathedrals out of trees in the middle of the woods.
http://ww.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/31182/the-primitive-cathedral/
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-09/02/tree-cathedrals

http://archidose.blogspot.com/2011/10/green-cathedral.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FeTHYkZ+%28A+Daily+Dose+of+Architecture%29

I have recently been reading an interesting little book, Romancing the Cathedral: Gothic Architecture in Fin-De-Siecle French Culture, by Elizabeth Emer (20010), in which I learned that when the Republican government secularized French cathedrals were secularized in the 1870s and allowed to go to rack and ruin, Marcel Proust campaigned to have them maintained and restored to their original use, as he felt they should have something going on in them and not just be empty shells. I am just riffing here.

235

Meredith 01.28.12 at 6:56 am

Was it Mark Twain who said that atheists are boring because all they can talk about is god?

I am sure it was Emily Dickinson who bade, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant – success in circuit lies ….”

236

Meredith 01.28.12 at 7:02 am

Thanks, google internet tubes. Here’s the whole poem:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

237

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 7:18 am

211: If you need refreshing , the H. Allen Orr review I linked in 93 provides a succinct summary of TGD’s flaws and includes some specific examples.

238

GeoX 01.28.12 at 7:28 am

The book is also a bestseller, which is a testament to the quality of Dawkins’ writing.

Somehow, one is skeptical that a person who would, apparently straight-facedly, say something like that is much of a judge of what is and is not a good argument.

239

DelRey 01.28.12 at 7:35 am

Here is Jason Rosenhouse’s rebuttal to Orr’s criticisms of TGD.

240

DelRey 01.28.12 at 7:42 am

Somehow, one is skeptical that a person who would, apparently straight-facedly, say something like that is much of a judge of what is and is not a good argument.

Is one? Perhaps one is not aware, then, of how rarely books of that kind make it on to the best-seller list.

241

GeoX 01.28.12 at 8:03 am

Really? “Broadsides against religion are rarely best-sellers; ergo, unlike when they are it must be because they’re well-written?” And…this is because the public, while having extremely questionable taste in many other ways, suddenly becomes very discerning when it comes to such things, and only accepts the creme de la creme?

Okay, then.

242

DelRey 01.28.12 at 8:17 am

No, not “must be.” More like, “is likely to be.” If you think there is a far more plausible alternative explanation for the enormous success of TGD, what is it?

243

Jim Buck 01.28.12 at 8:18 am

Dawkins writes tripe like this:
” We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
Unweaving the Rainbow (1998)

Anyone disgree that it is tripe?

244

GeoX 01.28.12 at 8:27 am

If I knew the precise answer to that, I suppose I’d be some sorta millionaire. Because it was something different? Because it was confrontational, and Americans, at least, like confrontation? Because it filled a niche? Because it’s easy to read and understand? I find some combination of the above to be much more convincing than “it was just so awesome that, general public taste notwithstanding, it just couldn’t be ignored.”

245

DelRey 01.28.12 at 8:36 am

Because it was something different? Because it was confrontational, and Americans, at least, like confrontation? Because it filled a niche?

Lots of books criticizing religion and theism have been published. Lots of books far more “confrontational” than TGD have been published. Lots of books “fill a niche.” Very few of them have achieved the success of TGD.

Because it’s easy to read and understand?

And yet you insist that that has nothing to do with Dawkins’ skills as a writer. How bizarre.

246

Petter Sjölund 01.28.12 at 8:56 am

Anyone disgree that it is tripe?

I don’t think it’s tripe. But then I’m not a native speaker of English. However, to me personally it really helps against fear of death to contemplate how lucky I am to be here at all.

247

GeoX 01.28.12 at 8:56 am

“Easy to read and understand” in the sense that it is not complicated. The Da Vinci Code would fall under that aegis too. So what?

While I’m not necessarily denying that they exist, I’d sure like an idea of what some of these would-be popular anti-religion broadsides that were ignored before Dawkins came along because they lacked The Right Stuff were, exactly. And even if there’s a whole stable of them, this appears to be about the same as “there were lots of vampire novels published beforehand, so why’d Twilight become so popular, huh? It must be because it’s GREAT!” No, one might counter. There were pretty obviously other factors, not all of which are easily quantifiable. Well, exactly.

248

G. Mcthornbody 01.28.12 at 9:21 am

I hate the fact that I’m adding a comment to a [non]religion thread, but fiddlesticks and shucks’n’poo, I’m doing it anyway to promote my un-better judgement (or against my better, as it were).

Buildings have many utilitarian uses besides intended purposes. The overlapping use is that it makes people feel better than they ostensibly or even intrinsically would without such a place, whether the group be a brotherhood, congregation, cult, like-minded posse, stereotype, homeless, a bunch of refugees, or whatever you want to call such, and whether the place be a temple, church, pyramid, [adj] shelter, refuge, or a muddy under-bridge.

Ideas tend to influence actions in a strong way, which is why atheism needs a building to promote its beliefs (as if a science lab doesn’t count). I view this as basically a competition of influence. Furthermore, I see the whole idea as a strategy to co-opt religious behavior, albeit one that might not suit the final cause as atheism would have it. I think CB’s 2003 link supports my co-opting idea in a way. (Habits are hard to break, so better to influence them rather than break and reform).

On a personal note, I’m mostly a Vichian humanist. Perhaps this atheist building is a good strategy if the true is really the made after all, but on the other hand, we make plenty of things that are true and quite horrible. (See earlier CT posts on terrible journal publications, bad nation building practices, terrible excuses and justifications for economic policies, government infringement on uteri, gender trust issues, Apple products that I refuse to use, etc).

Mer @234-5 makes the text wall worthwhile for me by name-dropping writers I like and adding poetry. I’m going to agree with Mer till I disagree. She should build a temple [library] where I could go worship [read] gods [books] for only a minor tithe [library fee]. Hopefully it won’t get burned down by barbarians a la http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/world/middleeast/24museum.html

grismcthorn

249

DelRey 01.28.12 at 9:52 am

in the sense that it is not complicated.

In TGD, Dawkins discusses many complex and abstruse philosophical and scientific ideas. And yet you’re seriously claiming that the quality of the writing has nothing to do with how easy it is to read and understand those discussions. What were you saying about not being able to keep a straight face?

While I’m not necessarily denying that they exist, I’d sure like an idea of what some of these would-be popular anti-religion broadsides that were ignored before Dawkins came along because they lacked The Right Stuff were, exactly.

Numerous books written for a general audience arguing for atheism have been published over the past few decades. Try Atheism: The Case Against God, Natural Atheism, The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Atheism: A Reader, Atheism, Morality and Meaning, Why Atheism? and An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism, to name just a few.

They And even if there’s a whole stable of them, this appears to be about the same as “there were lots of vampire novels published beforehand, so why’d Twilight become so popular, huh?

Gee, maybe because it was a melodrama aimed at the teen and young adult female market about hunky young male vampires and was made into a series of big budget movies that stimulated even more book sales. I’m not sure what you think this has to do with the success of TGD.

250

Alison P 01.28.12 at 10:06 am

“We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

I don’t think that sounds like tripe. It reminds me of Epictetus and Douglas Adams. At the very least it is ‘tripe’ of pedigree, chum.

251

Jim Buck 01.28.12 at 10:28 am

Ok so it’s pedigree chum.

252

dsquared 01.28.12 at 11:28 am

Given the millions of books Dawkins has sold, the millions of people who love his writing and the millions of people who regard him as an intellectual hero (this isn’t Dan Brown we’re talking about here), I think it’s pretty silly to claim that he’s not a good writer.

Btw, the view that it was possible to establish the truth of religion by intellectual argument has been heresy for most of the history of Christianity. It’s called “natural religion” (as in, Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning”) and believing it was possible could have got you your neck stretched if you said so too loudly at the wrong period in European history.

253

DBake 01.28.12 at 11:37 am

Given the millions of books Dawkins has sold, the millions of people who love his writing and the millions of people who regard him as an intellectual hero (this isn’t Dan Brown we’re talking about here), I think it’s pretty silly to claim that he’s not a good writer.

So Avatar was a great movie?

Look, the overwhelming majority of people have awful taste. Given how little most people read in their spare time, they are not going to notice bad writing. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that grammatical writing can be bad.

254

Hidari 01.28.12 at 11:54 am

Following on from what dsquared says, another thing the New Atheists tend to do (and this is only a tendency) is to rail against faith (here’s Hitchens: ‘Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.’).

But of course this emphasis on faith is a modern thing, actually a Protestant thing. . Before Luther most conventional Catholics believed that, yes, you need faith but you also need works. Indeed, some believers thought that really it was works (not faith) that was the important thing (hence the paradox: can a ‘good’ atheist go to heaven? To which the answer, some Christians have replied, is ‘yes’ : the apparently contradiction between James and Paul is all about this).

But the New Atheists, to repeat, tend to ignore that and (as dsquared points out) either say that Christianity ‘needs’ rational/scientific foundations (which hardly any Xtians have ever believed) or else it needs ‘faith’ to plug that gap (which is a highly debatable proposition, at least outside Protestantism). But Catholics have always insisted that you can have the ‘best’ faith in the world: unless it motivates you to go out and live a morally good life and help your fellow human beings it’s all a bit pointless. And of course despite the ‘official’ line a lot of Protestants have obviously believed that as well (cf MLK, Wilberforce etc.)

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David Evans 01.28.12 at 12:55 pm

The faith vs. works distinction is irrelevant to atheists. They are not planning to go to heaven anyway, by either means. If they do good works (as many do) it is for secular reasons.

For atheists, the fundamental question about any theological proposition is “How do you know that?” The answer “By faith”, which is frequently given, does not satisfy them. Should it?

256

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 3:13 pm

From that link in 238: Dawkins provides no serious discussion of Jewish or Christian theology? Of course not, because such theology is mostly irrelevant to how religion is actually practiced.

Ouch. That’s not a promising start.

251: Btw, the view that it was possible to establish the truth of religion by intellectual argument has been heresy for most of the history of Christianity. It’s called “natural religion” (as in, Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning”)

I’m confused by this. What were all the Scholastics up to, then? Wasn’t the bulk of early science in Christendom predicated on the assumption that the intellect — albeit within the bounds of faith and tradition — could be used to explicate and glorify Creation and thereby establish (or at least buttress) the truth of religion? I’ve always taken “natural theology” to mean “theology specifically concerned with the nature or natures of God” and thought that was the sense in which Hume uses it; what got people labeled as heretics in Catholicism has tended to be alleged departure from (some interpretation of) doctrine, not use of intellectual argument. Indeed, many got labelled heretics for being the opposite of intellectuals (cf. Jeanne d’Arc).

257

Steve LaBonne 01.28.12 at 3:32 pm

Getting back late to Harold re information, sorry, no dice about DNA. DNA is just a chemical. Information is only information because it carries a message as interpreted by us. Saying that DNA contains information is really a metaphor. (And yes, I know about the high=flown physicists who say things like “the universe is composed of quantum information”, but they’re just abusing language.)

And even when we speak of DNA as carrying information, you still fall at my first hurdle, since that information does not exist other than as embodied in the physical DNA molecule.

Bafflegab about information cannot rescue supernaturalism.

258

bob mcmanus 01.28.12 at 3:40 pm

What were all the Scholastics up to, then?

Metaphysics vs ontology, I think. What it is versus the way it works, the latter susceptible to reason. But the Scholastics are in part why these categories and arguments exist, finding the “limits to reason” and when faith is what matters.

Which, as a Kierkegaardian, is pretty much where I am at. Agnostics are asking the wrong question, there will be no well-calibrated God-o-meter to give them certainty, and atheists simply don’t know what they are talking about. The word “atheist” is absolute nonsense on multiple levels.

What is this “God” thing you say you don’t believe in?

We can be nominalist, existentialist, materialist, nihilist but I haven’t a clue what an “atheist” is.

259

Harold 01.28.12 at 3:43 pm

I am not interested in trying “to rescue supernaturalism” — just on the alert against reductionism. All language is metaphorical. And religion is a language, a system of communication using metaphors.

260

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 3:51 pm

256: Far as I can tell the Scholastics didn’t recognize “limits to reason.” If Scholasticism was anything, it was the triumph of the notion that reason could be used to elucidate truth, including and most especially religious Truth. The rise of Scholasticism was the reason the Church grew suspicious of fideism, which it subsequently condemned on more than one occasion. (I’m thinking dsquared is basing the “natural religion” thing on the fact that there’s a viewpoint in Hume’s dialogues that defends fideism and condemns “natural religion,” but AFAIK that’s strictly an exercise in the dialogue itself; it has little to do with what the Church actually believed or with what it condemned as heresy.)

261

bob mcmanus 01.28.12 at 3:55 pm

I take it back.

Water Kaufmann said something to the effect that a professed atheism was simply a kind of aggressive non-conformity in a particular culture, that since “I believe in God” was without meaning for him and therefore could not be untrue, he (WK) should have no problem saying it, unless he simply wanted to rebel. He, as a Nietzschean, was ok fine with rebelling.

Israels confirmed this understanding for me in his work on the Age of Spinoza, that “atheism”, professed or imputed, was originally understood as an aggressive non-conformity.

And this we are back to Kierkegaard, and Sickness Unto Death:”Thou Art a Bad Artist”

Rebellion. Atheists are as boring and irritating as teenagers.

262

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 4:17 pm

Doctor Slack, we don’t say that criticizing Republicans is an act of bigotry, or Democrats etc. etc. Why can’t religious beliefs be treated like any other belief: open to critique?

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bob mcmanus 01.28.12 at 4:19 pm

I guess I could go to the topic, absurd and boring though it be.

Atheist miss the point of religion, which is not the substance or dogma but the practice. It’s about piety, about showing respect for community norms at the village hearth.

And as the substance of communal bonds have always and constantly changed, the need and demand for piety has and probably always will remain. And so we get a proposed “temple for atheists” more piety to control the populace.

You wanna rebel? Attack piety in itself for itself and be a Nietzschean. Or attack some current shibboleth or idol, like liberalism, science, capitalism, democracy, etc.

But atheism is just the piety of bourgeois rebels.

264

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 4:27 pm

260: Why can’t religious beliefs be treated like any other belief: open to critique?

A standard dodge of bigots is that they are just engaged in wholesome “critique,” and it’s easy to identify cluelessness about what bigotry is when someone tries to characterize opposition to it as opposition to “critique.”

Bigotry is identifiable mainly in that it is the opposite of critique. Critique is at root about curiosity, interest, elucidation, the awareness of not-knowing; bigotry is at root about incuriosity, aggressive disinterest, caricature, the blank assertion of already-knowing. Criticism can be rooted in either one. From the former source it can be useful, from the latter it’s mostly toxic. When you hear people talking about Islamophobia, or anti-Semitism, or anti-Catholicism, etc., the thing to do is realize that they’re probably talking about bigotry, and if you have some actual reason to think they’re misidentifying it, to be clear about what that is. This “why don’t you think critique is permissible” bullshit doesn’t work.

265

bob mcmanus 01.28.12 at 4:31 pm

260:Well, Rawls, public reason, etc. We scrutinize policies and practices not beliefs or justifications.

Where the heck does this strange belief of liberals that beliefs, justified or not, determine practice and behavior come from anyway? I see little direct empirical evidence that this is true.

Why, could it be a vestige of religion and faith? That professed piety ensures correct behavior? I think so.

266

Steve LaBonne 01.28.12 at 4:37 pm

The canard that all negative criticism of bad ideas is bigotry is pretty handy for those addicted to stupid ideas, isn’t it. It’s also ridiculous and a gross abuse of language. What made Hitchens, and makes Harris and lately Dawkins bigots is their obvious animus against identifiable groups of people, and not merely the bad ideas they hold. (Anti-semitism, notoriously, was rarely if ever blunted by conversion.)

As for Harold, I’m so relieved to hear that when Rick Santorum wants the government to control my daughter’s reproductive tract in the name of his God, he’s merely speaking metaphorically.

267

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 4:40 pm

The canard that all negative criticism of bad ideas is bigotry

See, this would be exactly the kind of bullshit I’m about. Don’t do that.

268

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 4:40 pm

“I’m about” s/b “I’m talking about” there.

269

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 4:46 pm

Having said that, Steve’s third sentence in 264 is mostly unobjectionable, except in that of course their animus against groups of people was reflected in writing enormous amounts of nonsense about the supposed bad ideas of the people they targeted. Just as was characteristic of anti-Semitism, although the underlying animus was more basic there as well. When criticism relies on caricature, fabrication, distortion and cherry-picking (all characteristic of Hitch’s writing about Islam, for instance) it’s probable you’re dealing with bigotry. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other criticisms that could be sound. It means the bigot isn’t curious enough about his target to actually know, or care, what they are; his criticisms are excuses more than they are products of inquiry.

270

LFC 01.28.12 at 5:03 pm

Where the heck does this strange belief of liberals that beliefs, justified or not, determine practice and behavior come from anyway? I see little direct empirical evidence that this is true.

No liberal in his or her right mind thinks that beliefs determine behavior. They may think that beliefs influence behavior, and contra mcmanus there is a good deal of empirical evidence to support that proposition.

271

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 5:07 pm

@200 There’s always sports.

Also: all those divine i-things. I suggest a 46 meter copy of iphone with a statue of Steve Jobs made of pure gold on top.

272

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 5:16 pm

@Harold, @Steve LaBonne:
DNA requires something to interpret it. DNA is material and so are the biological things that interpret it. If you’re going to say “the information” is somehow non-material, speaking only for myself (with a BA in computer science), I’ll say okay. If you’re going to go on to claim computer scientists have shown the existence of non-material substance and given support to traditional religion–or for that matter, to some new cult–or that thinking in terms of “information” is a good way to get at the nature of the soul–few are going to follow you there.

273

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 5:23 pm

heckblazer @ 144
Re. American attitudes toward religion: There are a lot of things going on there. But traditionally, lots of settlers in North America, through at least 1848, understood themselves to be fleeing restrictions on their religious practice (which those they were fleeing, clearly, understood to be heresy deserving prosecution). They wanted to elevate George Fox or John Wesley’s ideas over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s. Or eius religio wasn’t a religio that appealed to them. So there have always been a lot of sects, many of them schismatic w/r/t European churches, and even those that weren’t were separated from Europe by distance and war for a very long time, and evolved separately.

In Massachusetts, also, Parliament made a point of favoring conforming Anglicans over the Puritans and their descendants in the years running up to 1775. (Harvard was originally a Puritan seminary. Anglicans returned to the home country for their education, I think.) After the Revolution, those schisms faded and new ones took over (the environment out of which Joseph Smith emerged). Lots of these kinds of things over the East Coast.

274

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 5:31 pm

Steve, bob, et al: Animus against groups can be justified. I doubt many of us lose sleep over the fact that robbers get punished, or murders arrested. Also, suppose we had a religion that practiced human sacrifice. I think we would immediately feel that followers of that religion should be immediately condemned for conducting immoral acts. So what makes Islamic preachers who preach suicide bombing different, or priests who abuse their prelates by taking advantage of those entrusted to their care? Shouldn’t we have some criticism for these practices and the institutions that support them? If you would say it about Penn State, you should say it about the Catholic Church as well.

275

Alison P 01.28.12 at 5:35 pm

bob said ‘Agnostics are asking the wrong question, there will be no well-calibrated God-o-meter to give them certainty’

Surely agnostics are not asking any question at all, they are precisely saying that the word ‘god’ is meaningless, there is no possibility of certainty, and that we should fall back in silence, or at least a feeling of humility. The religious fill that restrained silence with noise, or perhaps I should be kinder and say ‘assertion’. With constant, insistent assertion. And with each assertion people are browbeaten, and frightened.

I feel impatient with the religious in this thread who say ‘Oh no, we agree with you, there is no certainty, there is only the ineffable’. Go out there and say that in the churches and the church-schools, where people are frightened and intimidated by religious bullying. Do you think atheists like Dawkins get their anger from nowhere? They get it from being browbeaten and intimidated as children.

And if you do make that stance, I think you will find that your co-religionists will be more angry with you, than they ever are with atheists.

276

engels 01.28.12 at 5:44 pm

Well, I think we’ve estalished that anyone who says there is no God is a racist and an ignoramus and a bourgeois. I say we burn Dawkins first, then move on to John Lennon.

277

Darius Jedburgh 01.28.12 at 5:49 pm

Btw, the view that it was possible to establish the truth of religion by intellectual argument has been heresy for most of the history of Christianity.

That’s not true dsquared! On the contrary, it is a very longstanding Catholic doctrine.

278

Harold 01.28.12 at 6:50 pm

270 I completely agree with you. And yes, Rick Santorum is bad. But that does not negate the fact that religions have the capacity to convey important information, even if a lot of that information is noxious and wrong — a lot of it isn’t.

279

Steve LaBonne 01.28.12 at 7:08 pm

No, you were right the first time, Doctor Slack- bullshit is what you’re about. Well, carry on then. I don’t have the patience for any more of it.

280

geo 01.28.12 at 8:17 pm

Bob McManus, wielder of revolutionary thunderbolts, a Kierkegaardian! Life is indeed complicated.

281

Nick Z 01.28.12 at 9:01 pm

There is a 3-part episode of South Park that may be the logical conclusion of De Botton’s proposal (one of the plot points involve a group of atheist sea otters).

282

Chris Williams 01.28.12 at 9:01 pm

What a very long thread. Typical of CT, nobody has mentioned that the UK already _has_, and has had since 1881, a fine atheist temple, Secular Hall in Leicester. It’s got ‘Libertas’, ‘Veritas’ and ‘Justitia’ on the front of it, along with busts of Socrates, Voltaire, Paine, Owen and Jesus (yes, I know: but it made sense to us at the time). We could also do with about one and a half of dB’s putative millions to put a lift in the place without having to go to the Lottery. So if anyone has his phone number…

http://www.leicestersecularsociety.org.uk/secularhall.htm

283

DelRey 01.28.12 at 9:11 pm

@252,
So Avatar was a great movie? Look, the overwhelming majority of people have awful taste.

Avatar is a big-budget action/adventure movie made by a director who is generally recognized to be pretty talented at making that kind of picture. I’m not sure what you think this has to do with the success of The God Delusion. Are you suggesting it was so successful because of all the exciting car-chase scenes?

@253,
Following on from what dsquared says, another thing the New Atheists tend to do (and this is only a tendency) is to rail against faith

Yes, because religious faith is so dangerous. It is worthless for distinguishing truth from falsehood. It causes people to believe nonsense. Yet religious people routinely appeal to faith to justify their religious beliefs. Not just “fundamentalists” but “moderates” too.

@264,
What made Hitchens, and makes Harris and lately Dawkins bigots is their obvious animus against identifiable groups of people, and not merely the bad ideas they hold.

What “obvious animus?” Cite and quote this alleged animus.

284

Barry Freed 01.28.12 at 9:30 pm

What a very long thread

Have you checked out the “Do you trust women?” thread lately?

285

DelRey 01.28.12 at 10:06 pm

That’s not true dsquared! On the contrary, it is a very longstanding Catholic doctrine.

Yes. Or, at least, the Catholic Church claims that certain “truths of religion” can be established through reason alone. For example, the Catholic Catechism states that reason alone provides “a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator.”

Note the scope of this claim. The Catholic Church isn’t claiming merely that reason establishes the existence of some kind of creator God. Even that limited claim is rather implausible. But the Church goes much further than that, claiming that reason establishes the existence of a “personal” God who interacts with the world and has written Catholics teachings on “natural law” into our very natures. The claim is breathtaking in its arrogance.

286

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 10:09 pm

@Watson
If there were a religion that practiced human sacrifice, there would be a large contingent of people ready to say it isn’t really human sacrifice, it only looks that way to people not initiated into its mysteries, and whatever it is, the only way we could have had all the good things we’ve gotten so far is by sacrificing naked virgins at the top of pyramids with swords in front of large audiences while loud music plays in the background, which really did and still does happen. And who’s to say they’re wrong?

287

Andreas Moser 01.28.12 at 10:19 pm

I am an atheist and I don’t need a temple.
I just come here: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/i-discovered-paradise/

288

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 10:33 pm

A religion with human sacrifices (as, I guess, most if not all of the old ones once were) would have to replace them with symbolic or animal sacrifices, because killing people is against the law. All there is to it.

289

DelRey 01.28.12 at 10:34 pm

Dawkins, not too long ago: “I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today.

Seems reasonable to me. What clearly greater man-made forces for evil in the world today do you claim there are? The Islamic world is generally characterized by appalling restrictions on human rights, especially the rights of women, religious minorities and sexual minorities. And Islam is one of the primary, if not the single largest, inspiration for global terrorism in the world today.

290

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 10:40 pm

@DelRey
It follows from your post that American Evangelicalism is a subset of Islam. Was that your implication?

291

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 10:52 pm

What clearly greater man-made forces for evil in the world today do you claim there are?

Microsoft, of course. Also, some might argue: nuclear weapons, small arms, imperialism.

292

DelRey 01.28.12 at 10:55 pm

It follows from your post that American Evangelicalism is a subset of Islam.

Please do explain how you think that bizarre conclusion follows from my post.

293

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 11:01 pm

Yes, as usual my intuition didn’t let me down:
microsoft+evil = 161,000,000 google hits
islam+evil = 148,000,000 google hits
Q.E.D.

294

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 11:20 pm

Whoa, government+evil = 496,000,000 hits. That thing is more evil than Microsoft and Islam combined.

295

Substance McGravitas 01.28.12 at 11:24 pm

What clearly greater man-made forces for evil in the world today do you claim there are?

Money.

296

DelRey 01.28.12 at 11:38 pm

I’d love to know why you think the world would be better off without money, let alone so much better off as to mean that money is the greatest force for evil. How would we mediate economic activity?

297

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 11:43 pm

No, you were right the first time, Doctor Slack- bullshit is what you’re about.

Because you don’t like being called on yours, eh? Sorry it frustrates you to be unable to simply lie about others’ arguments without challenge.

298

bianca steele 01.28.12 at 11:48 pm

@DelRey

The Christian Right in the US is generally characterized by appalling restrictions on human rights, especially the rights of women, religious minorities and sexual minorities. No, I wasn’t especially serious about this.

But nearly every comment defending religion on this thread has defended one brand of Christianity, not always the same one AFAIK, which is interested in a broad range of topics, not restricted to raising children in the villages to be good members of the society, and contributors to the economy, and which has a long institutional and intellectual history. Islam is a religion that is Abrahamic and accepts the scripturality of the New Testament but is separate from any kind of Christianity that fits that description. It’s not too hard to see how a member of such a religion could think the usual description of Islam isn’t too far off from certain Christian denominations, like those “crazy” ones in America in heckblazer’s words. Even Andrew Sullivan thinks of his own beliefs as true Christianity and analogizes beliefs he doesn’t like as “Christianism” to Islam or what the neocons call “Islamism.”

299

Doctor Slack 01.28.12 at 11:48 pm

274: So what makes Islamic preachers who preach suicide bombing different etc. Posted as most of this stuff typically is from a parallel universe in which nobody — including Muslims, I’ll bet! — ever thinks to criticize suicide bombing.

Another common posture of bigotry: “you don’t like us because we’re making the hard-nosed judgments all you squishy people are afraid to make!” But of course a bigot isn’t someone who knows that Muslim suicide bombing is bad. It’s someone who knows only this about Muslims, and is interested in knowing and talking about little else.

300

Substance McGravitas 01.28.12 at 11:52 pm

I’d love to know why you think the world would be better off without money

You asked for a greater force for evil, I supplied one. I don’t have a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the world at the moment, but give me a minute.

301

LFC 01.28.12 at 11:52 pm

The Islamic world is generally characterized by appalling restrictions on human rights,

actually “the Islamic world” is diverse in this respect. The country with the largest number of Muslims is, iirc, Indonesia, which is currently a functioning democracy — imperfect but functioning. I don’t think its recent human rights record is “appalling” (though no doubt it could be improved, as could many countries’) .
The Dawkins statement quoted is not v. sensible, way too broad-brush. The problem is not Islam per se by any means, but rather certain extremist interpretations of it, and really probably only a subset of those.

302

LFC 01.28.12 at 11:53 pm

oops, the first sentence shd be in quotes or italics, sorry

303

Barry Freed 01.28.12 at 11:56 pm

Seems reasonable to me.

Disgusting.

304

LFC 01.28.12 at 11:58 pm

Also, another example: Egypt, where a political party connected to the Muslim Brotherhood just won a plurality in parliamentary elections. No evidence that the Freedom and Justice Party is in favor of draconian restrictions on women’s rights, etc. Another example of a functioning democracy in the Islamic world: Turkey. The list could go on.

305

DelRey 01.28.12 at 11:59 pm

No, I wasn’t especially serious about this.

Good, because it’s a silly claim.

306

DelRey 01.29.12 at 12:04 am

@300,
You asked for a greater force for evil, I supplied one. I don’t have a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the world at the moment, but give me a minute.

If you can’t explain why you think the world would be a better place without money, I’m not sure why you think money is a force for evil at all, let alone an even greater force for evil than Islam.

307

LFC 01.29.12 at 12:07 am

282: busts of Socrates, Voltaire, Paine, Owen and Jesus

I’m kind of a fan (with qualifications) of Robert Owen, but a tiny bit surprised to find him in this company. Of course I don’t know the history of the Leicester temple.

308

DelRey 01.29.12 at 12:10 am

@301,

From the State Department report on human rights in Indonesia:

The government generally has been unable to adequately address serious human rights abuses committed in the past. Inadequate resources, weak leadership, and limited accountability contributed to continued abuses by security force personnel, although with sharply reduced frequency and gravity than under past governments. The following human rights problems occurred during the year: unlawful killings by security force personnel, terrorists, vigilante groups, and mobs; torture; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary detentions; a corrupt judicial system; warrantless searches; infringements on free speech; restrictions on peaceful assembly; interference with freedom of religion by private parties, sometimes with complicity of local officials; intercommunal religious violence; violence and sexual abuse against women and children; trafficking in persons; failure to enforce labor standards and violations of worker rights, including forced child labor

As bad as this is, Indonesia is one of the better Muslim nations, as you say.

309

LFC 01.29.12 at 12:20 am

“The government generally has been unable to adequately address serious human rights abuses committed in the past. Inadequate resources, weak leadership, and limited accountability contributed to continued abuses by security force personnel, although with sharply reduced frequency and gravity than under past governments.

In other words, things are improving, though problems remain. And the portion of the report you quote doesn’t give frequency of the cited abuses. (State Dept is statutorily required to do these reports, let’s remember, which is no doubt partly why it sounds boiler-platish.)

310

faustusnotes 01.29.12 at 12:46 am

About information: Bell’s Inequality describes the exchange of information in the absence of humans.

311

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 12:57 am

Sorry it frustrates you to be unable to simply lie about others’ arguments without challenge.

Since you choose to put it that way, and just for the record , you yourself lied quite blatantly about what I actually said.

Beyond that, the idea that one has to immerse oneself in sympathetic study of some particular set of stories about invisible sky stories, in order to recognize that one ought not hold a belief in invisible sky fairies (given that there are excellent reasons for concluding that they don’t exist), is a particularly fatuous form of special pleading. There are very good reasons to study religions, but that most certainly isn’t one of them.

312

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 1:06 am

About information: Bell’s Inequality describes the exchange of information in the absence of humans.

As I noted in an earlier comment, I’m well aware that physicists have long since co-opted the word “information”, but in that context it cannot mean what people, including information theorists, commonly mean by that word, since both the everyday and information-theory meanings connote the presence of a message which has semantic content only as encoded and interpreted by conscious beings. The similar mathematical formalism used in physics and in information theory tends to obscure this point.

313

Dave Maier 01.29.12 at 1:20 am

Yikes, 300+ comments. I’m only up to about #80, but so far Doctor Slack is saying what I would say, and I just wanted to +1 his #63/65/76 for the record (like you all care). Okay, back to the thread …

314

Watson Ladd 01.29.12 at 1:46 am

Doctor Slack, was that an accusation of bigotry? Or was it simply arguing that if all we know about Penn State is that the defensive coordinator diddled kiddies, that’s bigotry against Penn State fans? Where have I ever insisted that Muslims do not posses the rights to pray as everyone else does? But what’s the difference between “God told me to kill” and “God told me to not kill”? Both are clearly erroneous reasoning, and the more we let that kind of reasoning seem legitimate the worse off we will be.

315

DBake 01.29.12 at 2:01 am

Avatar is a big-budget action/adventure movie made by a director who is generally recognized to be pretty talented at making that kind of picture. I’m not sure what you think this has to do with the success of The God Delusion. Are you suggesting it was so successful because of all the exciting car-chase scenes?

No. I was suggesting that popularity is not a sign of merit, which was pretty obvious. How did you miss it?

316

faustusnotes 01.29.12 at 2:07 am

Steve, I’m not sure that “co-opted” is the right word. There are several different ways to derive the phenomenon defined in Bell’s Inequality, but unless my memory is already failing me, one of them proceeds from a starting point in information theory.

Other examples of information exchange in the animal kingdom are common. Mating rituals, elephant’s death mourning, the language-like properties of whale song, etc.

317

Substance McGravitas 01.29.12 at 2:47 am

If you can’t explain why you think the world would be a better place without money, I’m not sure why you think money is a force for evil at all

That wasn’t the question you asked. I answered the one you asked. Do people kill for money? Yes. Is it a wholly man-made item? Yes. I even get to throw in a bonus: it’s faith-based!

318

Dave Maier 01.29.12 at 3:08 am

Slack at [what is now] #264:

Critique is at root about curiosity, interest, elucidation, the awareness of not-knowing; bigotry is at root about incuriosity, aggressive disinterest, caricature, the blank assertion of already-knowing. Criticism can be rooted in either one. From the former source it can be useful, from the latter it’s mostly toxic.

Or as I would say, criticism requires understanding, which requires interpretive charity, which constrains criticism. People like to slag hermeneutics types like Gadamer (or Davidson) by taking charity/Horizontverschmelzung to require automatic deference to what the other guy says, in order to arrive at consensus. (This is annoying, as Davidson at least is quite clear on the matter.) But “fusion of horizons” doesn’t require agreement in matters of fact – it just means that now we understand where our differences about such matters really lie, or at least (finally, after what may be a loooong, highly interactive process) how to talk about them.

That’s why interpretation not only does not rule out disagreement – it requires that interpreters investigate (possibly only potential) disagreement in the process of interpretation. Sometimes this is as straightforward as “Is this what you mean when you say _______? Because that looks wrong to me”; but other times – most of the time, I’d say – it requires a lot more imagination. And that’s what Dawkins et al – even Dennett, god bless him – lacks in spades, which leaves him back at step one. And that is why a lot us wish he would do some more reading – not [sorry for all the dashes] to learn about stronger arguments that he missed, but to get a sense of what it is to think and talk like religious people do. Honestly, sometimes it looks like he’s never even met any such people in his entire life.

In general though I am happy to join the consensus on Dawkins in particular you all reached in the mid-160s.

319

Consumatopia 01.29.12 at 5:31 am

This might be in tension with what I said earlier, but I’m not sure that how much in depth knowledge is required of a specific belief system before you can criticize it fairly.

Take the case of American conservatives. If you listen to speeches by American politicians calling themselves conservatives, you’ll hear them describe a philosophy they call conservatism. And the majority of Americans referring to “conservatism” or “conservatives”, like them or loathe them, seem to have that same definition in mind. But some people, like Andrew Sullivan, claim that this definition is wrong–that they the true conservatives, and their philosophy is significantly different.

Sorting out the history of the conservative ideology, no doubt, an interesting debate. But I don’t think it’s at all necessary to sort that debate out before criticizing the ideology that, today, calls itself “conservative”. The same would hold for “Communist”–it’s fair to criticize the systems that called themselves Communist when they actually held governmental power in real countries without sorting out which aspects of those systems Marx would have approved of.

320

Odm 01.29.12 at 5:45 am

@Steve LaBonne Way back in comment #70 you stated a claim that you’ve repeated throughout the thread (sorry if I mess up the formatting):

And in fact, neither neurobiology nor evolutionary biology are compatible with the existence of any sorts of gods or spirits; I mean genuinely logically compatible, not “compatible” via massive toleration of cognitive dissonance.

I’m neither a neurobiologist nor an evolutionary biologist, but I don’t see how believing that the Big Bang, evolution, or any other scientific finding is logically incompatible with faith. There’s no evidence that there is God or Gods or whatever, but there’s also no evidence that God is impossible, or in my opinion, unlikely.

Perhaps you can explain what’s wrong with the following idea. God is the being that decides the final state of a wavefunction whenever we make a measurement. We can’t detect God making this decision because It does so through dimensions that we cannot and will never be able to observe. Where did such an incredibly powerful being come from? Nowhere, It’s outside the universe, which means you can’t assign a probability to God’s existence they way you can the God-damn Particle’s existence.

Now, the universe exists whether or not this hypothetical God does, and this God doesn’t help us understand the life and the universe scientifically. Religions go much further in elaborating on the nature of God than just something outside the universe that we can never observe, but often not to the point that belief is actually logically incompatible with scientific facts. Exceptions are people who belief the earth is six thousand years old etc. There are incompatibilities within religions, but then you have to learn about theology to understand how religious people deal with these inconsistencies.

321

Consumatopia 01.29.12 at 5:56 am

And that is why a lot us wish he would do some more reading – not [sorry for all the dashes] to learn about stronger arguments that he missed, but to get a sense of what it is to think and talk like religious people do. Honestly, sometimes it looks like he’s never even met any such people in his entire life.

I may be an atheist, but I used to be Christian, I come from a Christian family, I have Christian friends, and I’ve attended Christian worship services of a number of denominations, and I’ve spent lots of time discussing Christian beliefs, which tend to be the “default” in the circles I spend time in socially. I don’t think their beliefs are harmful–at least, no more harmful than typical political ideologies have been.

But generally, when Christians I know say things about their beliefs, the majority mean them as literally and simply as most atheists would understand them. If they misunderstand the nature of Christianity, then so do most Christians, who have, apparently, been done a very massive disservice by their spiritual leaders.

322

Meredith 01.29.12 at 6:31 am

Andreas Moser @287, I’ve visited you before (unbeknownst to you) — and thanks. Also http://ken.wibsite.com/
There’s a view from Nunhead Station, too.
Glad I can visit both of you.

323

DelRey 01.29.12 at 6:31 am

@317,
That wasn’t the question you asked. I answered the one you asked.

You claimed that money is a clearly greater man-made force for evil in the world today than Islam. So I asked you why you think money is a force for evil at all, let alone one even worse than Islam. Money is essential to the operation of any economy capable of sustaining the population above the level of abject poverty. You think the world would be a better place if everyone lived in poverty, do you?

@309,
In other words, things are improving, though problems remain.

Your attempt to dismiss Indonesia’s appalling record of human rights violations as mere “problems” is laughable. Islamic nations comprise many of the worst human rights abusers in the world — Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, to name just the larger ones.

@315,
I was suggesting that popularity is not a sign of merit

And I’m responding that popularity often is a sign of merit, as in this case. To what do you attribute the enormous success of The God Delusion, if not merit?

Even your supposed example of a popular work that lacks merit makes no sense. Avatar was not only enormously successful commercially, but was also very well reviewed by film critics.

324

Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 6:49 am

Watson: Doctor Slack, was that an accusation of bigotry?

No, it was a description of it. If you feel uncomfortably like that description fits you, change something. If it doesn’t, don’t.

325

DelRey 01.29.12 at 6:57 am

odm,
There’s no evidence that there is God or Gods or whatever, but there’s also no evidence that God is impossible, or in my opinion, unlikely.

I think “God” (and “Gods”) as described by any of the traditional theistic religions — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism — is extremely implausible. The only kind of God that I consider to be even remotely plausible in light of our knowledge from science and reason is the God of philosophical deism. A kind of distant, uninvolved creator, about which we know nothing.

326

faustusnotes 01.29.12 at 7:19 am

DelRey:

Islamic nations comprise many of the worst human rights abusers in the world—Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, to name just the larger ones.

This is an example of why the New Atheism is politically not a very useful theory.

327

Substance McGravitas 01.29.12 at 7:55 am

You claimed that money is a clearly greater man-made force for evil in the world today than Islam. So I asked you why you think money is a force for evil at all, let alone one even worse than Islam.

And I answered that too. Money is responsible for vast amounts of evil on a daily basis; you won’t find a religion responsible for climate change.

328

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.12 at 8:59 am

DelRey: Money is essential to the operation of any economy capable of sustaining the population above the level of abject poverty.

Worshiping the golden calf, DelRey, arentcha?

329

Jim Buck 01.29.12 at 9:26 am

Leave Avatar out of the argument. The situation is thus: Dawkins writes and sells science fiction. The fact that his readership is large is irrelevant. Ayn Rand, who pushed an agenda similar to Dawkins, also has a large readership. Many people enjoy being told that its righteous and good to be a selfish bastard; and that natural selection has ordered their estate.

330

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.12 at 10:12 am

@266 What made Hitchens, and makes Harris and lately Dawkins bigots is their obvious animus against identifiable groups of people, and not merely the bad ideas they hold.

I don’t think identifiable groups (major religious groups, that is) of people hold ‘bad ideas’ or ‘good ideas’ just because of something they find in their religious texts.

To understand what’s going on in the culture (including religious culture), you need to analyze the whole thing: social, economic, and political aspects of the situation, of their lives. Seems quite obvious, really. That’s the only way you’ll be able to understand why, based on the same set of books, a rabbi in 19th century Ukraine was preaching patience and humility, and the chief military rabbi in the 21st century preaches to show no mercy or be damned.

331

Agog 01.29.12 at 10:13 am

. . . both the everyday and information-theory meanings [of ‘information’] connote the presence of a message which has semantic content only as encoded and interpreted by conscious beings.

This seems like a retreat to a very uninteresting place. When bacteria secrete autoinducers and thereby sense (sorry, that’s the best word for it) population density, doesn’t the configuration of atoms in the autoinducer molecule contain information that a bacterium can recognise. How else would you describe it? And that oak tree that grew from an acorn – didn’t it know (sorry again – damn words) how to to grow that way in part because of information it carried in the sequence of its nucleic acids? And I say in part there because the nucleic acid that embodies that particular information is useless in and of itself. It only ‘works’ in context inside cellular structures containing proteins and a lot of other stuff passed down along with it.

And this leads to another point. Material stuff, like neurons, photons, ink on paper, only gets to be information when it enters into some relation with some other material thing, doesn’t it? Are relationships material things? It seems to me that materialism as a way of thinking has its uses, but it’s not the whole truth.

332

Hidari 01.29.12 at 10:41 am

‘Islamic nations comprise many of the worst human rights abusers in the world—Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, to name just the larger ones.’

Coincidentally (and I’m sure it is just a coincidence!) every single one of these countries has also ‘benefited’ from prolonged ‘Western’ (a euphemism) intervention in their internal affairs (admittedly sometimes through proxies).

As I say, a coincidence I’m sure.

333

Agog 01.29.12 at 12:28 pm

More on-topic, I just found a discussion of a non-theistic approach to religion here via wikipedia’s page on ’emergentism’. It contains a nice primer on emergence in biology, and provides a suggestion that the goal of a religion, broadly, is “to educate the emotions of its adherents such that the goals of the cultural tradition are realized.

I personally don’t believe we need temples for that kind of thing. As someone way upthread noted, museums do a pretty good job.

334

just a lurker 01.29.12 at 12:38 pm

@320
The problem with such arguments: you can make that argument for something that you decide to call ‘God’, but you can’t make it for Our Father, Who is in Heaven, or His Son, our Lord and Saviour, or the Holy Ghost. Absent those, you do not have Christianity. The religious are never arguing for just some God, any God, it is always the God of their particular religion.

335

skidmarx 01.29.12 at 12:39 pm

336

just a lurker 01.29.12 at 12:50 pm

@321
Dawkins is also an ex-Christian. Most Atheists are ex-something and are no more ignorant of religion than most religious people.

337

LFC 01.29.12 at 2:03 pm

As others have already suggested, even if one accepts the factual premise of DelRey’s statements about “Islamic nations'” human rights records, one then gets to the causal question, i.e., are their human rights records bad because they are Muslim countries, or might there be other reasons? I don’t think it is very analytically useful to lump all these countries together, given their diverse circumstances, resource endowments, political histories. I don’t intend to say anything more on this topic.

338

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 2:31 pm

The housemaster at Dawkins’ prep school has recalled that young Richard declined, furiously, to show up at chapel—-preferring to devour books on natural history. Good on the lad, Christianity is bollocks; but so is Dawkins’ twaddle about selfish replicators. The latter world view has the potential to bring human history to an end.

339

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 2:47 pm

Many thanks for the PDF link, Agog. I’m about 75% the way through ‘Incomplete Nature’. Deacon’s book is unlikely to move as many units as Dawkins does. What a shame, eh?

340

Agog 01.29.12 at 3:00 pm

Thanks right back atcha – I actually recognised his co-author’s name, not Deacon’s, being more into hard-core algal biology.

Will check out the book.

341

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 3:01 pm

Perhaps you can explain what’s wrong with the following idea. God is the being that decides the final state of a wavefunction whenever we make a measurement. We can’t detect God making this decision because It does so through dimensions that we cannot and will never be able to observe. Where did such an incredibly powerful being come from? Nowhere, It’s outside the universe, which means you can’t assign a probability to God’s existence they way you can the God-damn Particle’s existence.

What’s wrong with it is that it’s a meaningless form of words- if even in principle we can never observe the effects of something, then it makes no sense to say the something “exists”. But hey, if it makes you feel good to hold such a tenuous belief, knock yourself out. Since it doesn’t even manage to make contact with the scientific worldview, let alone collide with it, it’s harmless.

342

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 3:06 pm

…but so is Dawkins’ twaddle about selfish replicators

I do not think that phrase means what you think it means. By the way Dawkins, at least before he started demonstrating neoconservative tendencies, was a pretty garden-variety social democrat.

343

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 3:16 pm

As others have already suggested, even if one accepts the factual premise of DelRey’s statements about “Islamic nations’” human rights records, one then gets to the causal question, i.e., are their human rights records bad because they are Muslim countries, or might there be other reasons?

Indeed, even on the level of misogynist (and other noxious) social customs, a lot of the most deplorable stuff is actually a continuation of pre-islamic practices.

And then there’s the whole issue of how Christian churches behaved when they had real political power. I fail to see how Islam is worse (or better) than other organized religions.

344

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 3:16 pm

I am not about to enter into the tedious argument about what humpy-dumpy means by the word: selfish.

345

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 3:20 pm

I am not about to enter into the tedious argument about what humpy-dumpy means by the word: selfish.

That’s good, since you’re manifestly unprepared to do so in an informed way.

346

bianca steele 01.29.12 at 3:21 pm

@faustusnotes

Thanks for the note about Bell’s Theorem, which was interesting.
Actually I’m happy to insist that information (of whatever sort) is reducible to something material. The text of this blog post doesn’t exist somewhere out there independent of all the material instantiations of it in physical memory, caches and screens, but as a pragmatist I think it’s useful to talk as if it existed, and I don’t tie myself up in knots about it except when I feel compelled to mention it in comments on blog posts. But then I’m also aware that philosophers and mathematicians consider computer scientists to be kind of idiot savants who think data structures are little buildings inside the memory chip.

347

engels 01.29.12 at 3:37 pm

Was John Lennon a bigot, if he wrote the song Imagine without reading a single book by Thomas Aquinas?

348

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 3:52 pm

Do you believe most people were never born, LaBonne?

349

Nibi 01.29.12 at 4:11 pm

Jim Buck

The situation is thus: Dawkins writes and sells science fiction. The fact that his readership is large is irrelevant. Ayn Rand, who pushed an agenda similar to Dawkins, also has a large readership. Many people enjoy being told that its righteous and good to be a selfish bastard; and that natural selection has ordered their estate.

Rubbish. Dawkins’ popular science writings are meant to describe and illuminate our understanding of how natural selection works and to explain the history and diversity of life on earth. They are not prescriptions on how we should organize our society. I’m reminded of creationists who dismiss Darwin’s work because of those who pervert it to justify eugenics/Social Darwinism. Also, Hitler!

350

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 4:31 pm

So, Nibi, do you believe most people were never born? Do you believe that the universe we inhabit is itself the product of natural selection?

351

Chris Williams 01.29.12 at 4:43 pm

If I could bring you back to an actual atheist temple for a mo? Last year we (that is, Leicester Secular Society, the oldest secular society in the world) hosted a lecture by Ken MacLeod about (among other things) _The Selfish Gene_. The main point of the lecture was an attempt to understand how and why there’s a current in left-wing thought which doesn’t appear to have read Dawkins’ book beyond the title. One of the questions raised in response to the lecture was that this view isn’t actually widespread. The above thread seems to imply that Ken was right: it is.

Ken posted an edited version of his talk on his blog here. There’s some actual _facts_ in it, so it might not suit all prejudices:
http://kenmacleod.blogspot.com/2011/02/lysenkos-tomb.html

352

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 5:21 pm

Buck, do you believe that you’re not a semiliterate idiot?

353

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Chris, that’s a very useful link. (Not that many of those who most need to read and understand MacLeod’s talk will actually do so, sigh.)

354

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 5:39 pm

No. What I asked you LaBonne is: Do you, like Dawkins, believe that most people were never born? Also; do you believe that the universe we inhabit is itself the product of natural self selection?

355

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 5:43 pm

“Buck, do you believe that you’re not a semiliterate idiot?” “No.”
Well, I’m glad we can agree on that. Bye.

356

Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 5:47 pm

The above thread seems to imply that Ken was right: it is.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by Substance’s earlier attempt at the “you must just not have read it” dodge either. Although I suppose you’ve been cannier in just throwing the accusation out vaguely against “the thread,” leaving you plausible deniability if anyone challenges you on specifics.

357

Lee A. Arnold 01.29.12 at 5:59 pm

Roger Penrose has written that he believes that the Mandelbrot set existed before it was discovered. If so, it existed independently of any material instantiations. Kurt Gödel argued that his incompleteness theorems show that either 1. the mind surpasses the physical brain (because neurons and their wiring presumably can be represented as a mechanical procedure, i.e. a computer, but a computer cannot prove the truth that expresses its own consistency); or else 2. there is a currently-undiscovered part of the physical brain that can generate all of mathematics but we will never be able to specify its internal consistency; or else 3. mathematics is not entirely our own creation, implying that mathematical objects and facts exist independently of minds. (Gödel does not exclude that all three may be true). (I am doing a great deal of paraphrasing of Hao Wang’s record of their conversations).

I tend to be an agnostic and a dualist because I think these sorts of things will continue to pop-up, no matter how much further science progresses. The evidence is clearly on my side. The history of thought shows that, no matter what level of refinement, the explanations of reality in any era always pose paradoxes and antinomies. The history of science is now presumed (I think) to show that science does not get to the “truth”, but it gets closer to the truth about some kinds of questions, in a series of unfoldments through revolutions and paradigm-shifts that may never end (although Richard Feynman argued against this position, writing that the laws of nature would finally be discovered and science would wind-down, if not finish its labors). So it appears that we always have a systematic problem with rationality or reason, as a tool of discovery. It always falls short, in some way.

358

Harold 01.29.12 at 6:06 pm

Dawkins said, “Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.” Dawkins is talking about potential people, not existing ones.

As for the universe (whatever that may be) being “product of natural selection” — I don’t believe Dawkins ever said or implied that, in fact, I recall that he explicitly says that it is not, though I may be misremembering.

Mr. Buck is exactly the kind of person who would benefit from reading and understanding Richard Dawkins.

359

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 6:41 pm

Running away from awkward questions, eh, Mr LaBonne? As Corporal Jones (Dad’s Army) used to say: They don’t like it up ’em!

Harold; It is my belief that you are misremembering; try rereading pages 169-180 (The God Delusion). How curious this attitude that every thing Dawkins writes must be the truth; and that anyone who disagrees with the great man has either not read the books or has misunderstood them. All a bit North Korean, really ; all a bit religious in fact.

360

Jim buck 01.29.12 at 6:45 pm

I meant to add that I would have more respect for Dawkins if he concerned himself more with the wasted potential of actual living persons—not the figments he waxes lyrical about.

361

geo 01.29.12 at 7:07 pm

Lee @357: It always falls short, in some way.

But it’s only a few hundred years since the Scientific Revolution! Science is still in its swaddling clothes. It’s a long time till the sun burns out.

362

Harold 01.29.12 at 7:08 pm

Mr. Buck,

I was not “misremembering” but was quoting verbatim the passage from Dawkins on this thread, above, thus giving your sincerity the benefit of the doubt. If you think I am misremembering, then it is up to you to say where.

363

Harold 01.29.12 at 7:14 pm

My comment (362) was in reply to 359, who compared me to a North Korean.

364

DelRey 01.29.12 at 7:20 pm

@327,
And I answered that too. Money is responsible for vast amounts of evil on a daily basis;

Any invention can be used for evil purposes, from stone tools to satellites. That doesn’t mean the world would be a better place without it. If the world is better off with money than without money, it’s not a force for evil. It’s a force for good. Why do you think money is a force for evil at all, let alone a greater force for evil than Islam?

365

Substance McGravitas 01.29.12 at 7:26 pm

Why do you think money is a force for evil at all

366

Lee A. Arnold 01.29.12 at 7:45 pm

Geo @361: “It’s a long time till the sun burns out.”

I think we can predict that one of Michael Lewis’ descendants will write a book entitled “The REALLY Big Short.”

367

DelRey 01.29.12 at 7:47 pm

@337,
As others have already suggested, even if one accepts the factual premise of DelRey’s statements about “Islamic nations’” human rights records, …

Yes, one can one always simply ignore facts one doesn’t like, as you are doing here.

… one then gets to the causal question, i.e., are their human rights records bad because they are Muslim countries, or might there be other reasons?

I’m sure there are other reasons too. But if you’re seriously suggesting that Islam has little or nothing to do with the appalling human rights records of those countries, what alternate explanation do you offer? The laws, politics and cultures of these countries are steeped in Islamic teachings, Islamic traditions, Islamic institutions. In most of them, Islam is the official state religion, and laws are explicitly based on Islamic teachings.

@332,
Coincidentally (and I’m sure it is just a coincidence!) every single one of these countries has also ‘benefited’ from prolonged ‘Western’ (a euphemism) intervention in their internal affairs (admittedly sometimes through proxies). As I say, a coincidence I’m sure.

It’s not a coincidence, but I have no idea why you think it’s relevant. The West didn’t bring Islamic law and culture to these countries.

@335,
Your average officially atheist country is a beacon of freedom these days

Your idea that North Korea is an “average officially atheist” country is hilarious. North Korea’s political culture resembles a religious cult, with its dictator venerated like a cult leader.

Countries with high levels of wealth, freedom and human development tend to be countries with low levels of religious belief and influence. The clearest examples are the scandinavian countries.

368

Jim Buck 01.29.12 at 7:57 pm

try rereading pages 169-180 (The God Delusion)

369

DelRey 01.29.12 at 7:58 pm

I tend to be an agnostic and a dualist

If you don’t believe in God, you’re an atheist.

370

Harold 01.29.12 at 8:02 pm

It has been seriously argued that the world would have been a better place without agriculture, complex societies, and money. It is a documented fact that agriculture benefitted the few but brought a decline in standards of living and health for the masses of people that it could support. The case that the world would have been better off without industrial and commercial agriculture and investment banking is even stronger.

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DelRey 01.29.12 at 8:10 pm

It has been seriously argued that the world would have been a better place without agriculture, complex societies, and money.

It’s been seriously argued that the world is only 6,000 years old. Just because someone argues something doesn’t mean the argument has merit. Do you believe the world would be a better place without agriculture, complex societies, and money?

It is a documented fact that agriculture benefitted the few but brought a decline in standards of living and health for the masses of people that it could support.

Nonsense. We have an enormously higher standard of living and health than pre-agricultural societies. Agriculture is the foundation of human civilization.

The case that the world would have been better off without industrial and commercial agriculture and investment banking is even stronger.

Oh, please do try and make that case.

372

Steve LaBonne 01.29.12 at 8:18 pm

We have an enormously higher standard of living and health than pre-agricultural societies.

That is a pretty recent development, possibly dating from no longer ago than early modern times. For many, many generations prior to that Harold’s statement is a very well-documented fact. For some of the evidence see for example a famous article by Jared Diamond entitled “The Greatest Mistake in Human History” (the title refers to the Agricultural Revolution).

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DelRey 01.29.12 at 8:22 pm

The main point of the lecture was an attempt to understand how and why there’s a current in left-wing thought which doesn’t appear to have read Dawkins’ book beyond the title.

There’s a certain strain on the left that thinks religion is basically just a harmless fantasy and ought to be left alone, except for specific manifestations like the Christian Right in the U.S. These lefties are not religious themselves, but they have friends and family members who are religious, and they tend to view broad attacks on religion as attacks on people they love. Hence all the wailing and gnashing of teeth when someone like Richard Dawkins has the temerity to write bestselling books and TV shows arguing that pretty much all religion is harmful nonsense.

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Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 8:31 pm

Hence all the wailing and gnashing of teeth when someone like Richard Dawkins has the temerity

I love it. It’s “wailing and gnashing of teeth” to ask that a critique be intellectually competent.

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DelRey 01.29.12 at 8:33 pm

That is a pretty recent development, possibly dating from no longer ago than early modern times. For many, many generations prior to that Harold’s statement is a very well-documented fact. For some of the evidence see for example a famous article by Jared Diamond entitled “The Greatest Mistake in Human History” (the title refers to the Agricultural Revolution).

If people thought they were better off as hunter-gatherers than as farmers, they wouldn’t have embraced agriculture in the first place, or stuck with it ever since. Jared Diamond has done great work, but he does tend to buy into the myth of the noble savage.

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DelRey 01.29.12 at 8:36 pm

It’s “wailing and gnashing of teeth” to ask that a critique be intellectually competent.

No, it’s wailing and gnashing of teeth to keep insisting that Dawkins’ critique is incompetent, without offering any actual argument to support that assertion. In other words, what you’re doing.

377

Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 8:48 pm

Oh, I wasn’t implying you would know an actual argument if it walked up and slapped you in the face, DelRey. Of course you wouldn’t.

378

Lee A. Arnold 01.29.12 at 8:49 pm

#369: “If you don’t believe in God, you’re an atheist.”

And if you believe that the question is undecidable due to problems in rationality, you may be an agnostic.

379

DelRey 01.29.12 at 8:56 pm

@377,
Simply repeating, over and over again, some version of “Dawkins is incompetent!” is not an argument. In all of your wailing, you haven’t made a single actual argument against TGD. This is your standard m.o. Your comments in the abortion thread were the same kind of nonsense.

380

Hidari 01.29.12 at 8:57 pm

‘Your idea that North Korea is an “average officially atheist” country is hilarious. North Korea’s political culture resembles a religious cult, with its dictator venerated like a cult leader.’

Yes but it resembles even more an anti-religious cult. And the phrase ‘like a’ is doing a lot of work in the next sentence.

381

Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 8:59 pm

Sorry, DelRey, I left my finger-puppets in my other pants. You’ll have to actually read and comprehend the thread and represent its content honestly. Of course, we both know you can’t manage that.

382

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.29.12 at 9:05 pm

Juche is a very rationalistic ideology. No religious undertones at all.

383

DelRey 01.29.12 at 9:11 pm

Yes but it resembles even more an anti-religious cult.

I don’t know what at an “anti-religious cult” is supposed to mean. The point is that North Korea’s political culture venerates its dictator like the leader of a religious cult. It’s nothing like the culture of liberal democracies where atheism is popular and religion is weak, like Sweden and Norway.

384

tomslee 01.29.12 at 9:11 pm

The subject of this post interests me and I was tempted to join in, but the dominant tone of the thread is just too off-putting. Too many people (not everyone, to be sure) are reading others in the least-generous way possible and responding with closed-minded certainty, sarcasm, insult and dismissive asides. I’d ask that people try a bit harder.

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Substance McGravitas 01.29.12 at 9:13 pm

If people thought they were better off as hunter-gatherers than as farmers, they wouldn’t have embraced agriculture in the first place

This argument works for Islam too. Just saying.

386

Substance McGravitas 01.29.12 at 9:15 pm

I’d ask that people try a bit harder.

In that spirit let me apologize to Doctor Slack.

387

DelRey 01.29.12 at 9:29 pm

This argument works for Islam too. Just saying.

Religion, including Islam, probably was beneficial to historical human cultures, before modern science and technology. That obviously doesn’t mean it’s beneficial now. Religion has been declining in the West for centuries, as science and reason have become increasingly important.

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Doctor Slack 01.29.12 at 9:36 pm

386 is very gracious. I didn’t like arguing with you either and repent of any excesses.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 12:41 am

Many hunter gatherers prefer grain to roots, even though grain products shorten their lives — and cause obesity, tooth decay, and what have you.

Other people truly preferred hunter gathering, a lifestyle that was harsh and full of privations but “extremely rich in human satisfactions, both physical and spiritual”, but were exterminated or forced into agriculture.
http://books.google.com/books?id=XL0zgVM4g6EC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=life&f=false

There are plenty of people who prefer hunting and fishing right here in the United States.

390

DelRey 01.30.12 at 12:59 am

If hunter-gatherer societies were more successful than agricultural ones, I’m not sure how you think agriculture became, and has remained, so overwhelmingly dominant.

Lots of people in the U.S. like hunting and fishing as a recreational activity, and as an occasional source of food. Very few adopt it as a lifestyle.

391

Watson Ladd 01.30.12 at 1:20 am

I don’t think Dawkins would disagree about the dangers of state ideology, or for that matter Hitchens. (He was a Trotskyist in his well-spent youth). They would both place them squarely within a framework of accepting ideas without questioning them alongside religion, which was the real target, and religion just the most obvious manifestation of this tendency. And in the spirit of reconciliation on this thread I’m going to apologize to Doctor Slack for seeing insult where none was ment.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 1:28 am

Um, DelRey, you originally said “better off”, not “successful.” Lots of people thought they were better off as hunter gatherers (or as pastoralists) and there is lots of evidence to show that they were better off — taller, longer lived, and so on. Agriculture was more successful because “might made right” — at least for now. We don’t know how successful it will be if we run out of petroleum products.

393

Barry Freed 01.30.12 at 1:40 am

This post is getting far afield (and I still want that cushy sinecure as priest of this atheist temple) but: Agriculture was more successful because… it allowed for the development of a surplus product, permanent settlements and the rise and maintenance of a ruling class, among other things.

394

Barry Freed 01.30.12 at 1:43 am

…which made the might that made the right.

395

DelRey 01.30.12 at 1:59 am

Um, DelRey, you originally said “better off”, not “successful.” Lots of people thought they were better off as hunter gatherers (or as pastoralists) and there is lots of evidence to show that they were better off—taller, longer lived, and so on. Agriculture was more successful because “might made right”—at least for now.

Huh? In this context, “better off” and “more successful” mean the same thing. If hunter-gather societies were less able to defend themselves against enemies than agricultural societies, then hunter-gatherers were worse off in that respect, not better off.

The only metric that really matters is the overall success of each way of life, not particular strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps it’s true, as you claim, that the members of hunter-gatherer societies were generally better fed and healthier than the members of early agricultural societies. But even if they were, that obviously wasn’t enough to overcome the advantages of agriculture. Perhaps agricultural societies produced a more reliable supply of food, even if the quantity of food per person was lower, so they were less vulnerable than hunter-gatherers to sudden die-offs. Perhaps the farmers could support larger populations, so farming societies were better able to fight off enemies. Perhaps the farmers were less vulnerable to death from predators or accidents. Perhaps the farmers were better able to provide other essentials, like water and shelter and clothing. And so on. Whatever the reasons, agriculture was simply a better way of life. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have adopted it.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 2:11 am

QED

397

Chrisb 01.30.12 at 2:19 am

It might help if someone was to stipulate what would count as ‘belief in god’; specifically, what qualities would have to inhere in one’s concept of ‘god’ to meet the standard. Because there does seem to be an assumption that we all agree on what ‘god’ is, but that some believe in him/her/it and some don’t. Which I think is true if and only if we’re prepared to leave the core pretty damn fuzzy.
To be sure, I say this from the atheist side, in that I find it hard to describe something that would both count as a god in the traditional sense and wouldn’t involve a logical contradiction.

398

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 2:23 am

I didn’t have time to read all 400 comments in the thread, but as to the question of whether Dawkins is a righteous, outspoken atheist, or a monumental jackass, it looks like nobody brought up the fact that he supports racially profiling “Muslims” in airports. That makes him a monumental jackass, and I’m surprised it doesn’t factor more into whether people think his attacks on religion are reasonable or not.

No sane person, witnessing that scene at the airport, seriously feared that this woman was planning to blow herself up on a plane. The fact that she was accompanied by children gave us the first clue. Supporting evidence trickled in from the brazen visibility of her face and hair, from her lack of a Koran, prayer mat or big black beard, and finally from the manifest absurdity of the notion that her little tub of ointment could ever, in a million years, be alchemically magicked into a high explosive – certainly not in the cramped laboratory facilities afforded by an aircraft loo. The security official and his supervisor were human beings who obviously wished they could behave decently, but they were powerless: stymied by a rulebook.

(emphasis added)

I rest my case.

399

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 2:32 am

I mean, I hope for this crowd at least I don’t need to unpack that… he is basically advocating humiliating people indiscriminately, encouraging a vicious mob mentality that he damn well knows is miles away from having any bearing on security, as a way to make a statement against religion, reveling in his privilege as a fair-skinned man who dresses in European-style clothing. Richard Dawkins is an angry righteous atheist like Ron Paul is a pure-hearted libertarian.

400

DelRey 01.30.12 at 2:39 am

@398,
There is nothing in the piece you cite supporting racial profiling of Muslims, or racial profiling of anyone.

401

Watson Ladd 01.30.12 at 2:44 am

Kaveh, I don’t see how what you quoted or referenced supports your assertion that Dawkins believes in racial profiling.

402

DelRey 01.30.12 at 2:44 am

he is basically advocating humiliating people indiscriminately

There’s nothing in the piece supporting that claim, either.

403

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 2:49 am

@400 The paragraph I quoted? So he doesn’t advocate for a rule that demands racial profiling, but I’m not sure how to read that line about the “big black beard” other than that he sees ethnic characteristics associated with suspect religious beliefs as a reasonable pretext for subjecting people to extra searches. This is a propos of his previous posts where he advocates allowing employers to discriminate against potential employees based on their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are demonstrated to not affect how they do their jobs (e.g. a scientist who makes calculations in his published articles & research that assume a 14 billion yr old universe, who nevertheless believes that the universe is actually much younger).

404

DelRey 01.30.12 at 3:02 am

@403,
The paragraph I quoted?

Not in the paragraph you quoted or any other paragraph.

but I’m not sure how to read that line about the “big black beard” other than that he sees ethnic characteristics associated with suspect religious beliefs as a reasonable pretext for subjecting people to extra searches.

He doesn’t say anything about whether he thinks it would be reasonable to subject people to extra searches on the basis of beards, let alone “ethnic characteristics.” He merely suggests that it was unreasonable to confiscate a small tub of eczema ointment from a mother traveling with her small child. He doesn’t even mention the woman’s race or ethnicity.

This is a propos of his previous posts where he advocates allowing employers to discriminate against potential employees based on their religious beliefs

What “previous posts?”

405

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 3:21 am

His previous posts on the blog where that post is from. Clearly he’s implying that it’s reasonable to “profile” people based on the characteristics he mentions there–“letting screeners use their discretion” means there are some characteristics like the ones he mentions that are legitimate pretexts for extra searches at airport security (and if you don’t agree on that point, you are probably determined to defend Dawkins to the hilt, and this conversation is probably a waste of time). Now, you might argue that those are not, strictly speaking, racial (which is not the same thing as ethnic, but nevermind…) characteristics, but that misses the point that he is clearly playing on racial/cultural resentments against brown-skinned/swarthy people in much the same way that Republicans who complain about black welfare queens are playing on racial resentments against blacks. Such a Republican might tell you that they only resent people (of any race!) who cheat on welfare, or that they only resent blacks who commit violent crimes, and such Republicans are (by and large) full of sh*t.

Or even just “carrying a Koran” as a pretext for racial profiling. I should be able to carry whatever book I want and not be subject to extra intrusive searches. Somebody who plans to blow up a plane will avoid showing signs of religiosity. Dawkins either doesn’t know this, and is an idiot (and he is not an idiot), or he is trying to raise people’s ire with the thought of obvious furriner-religious types that walk right through airport security while nice secular ladies get their ointment taken away because of stupid rules.

406

tomslee 01.30.12 at 3:54 am

I guess it’s only to be expected that when you ask for open-mindedness the people who already exhibit it take you up on it (Dr. Slack, S McG), while those it is mainly aimed at (DelRey in particular) just prattle on regardless.

407

Lee A. Arnold 01.30.12 at 3:56 am

Very odd he does not consider that a suicide bomber might be trained to avoid wearing a burka in Heathrow airport. This uselessness could be of a piece with the tactical incompetence of making an attack upon religion from the viewpoint of science.

408

Consumatopia 01.30.12 at 4:03 am

he is trying to raise people’s ire with the thought of obvious furriner-religious types that walk right through airport security while nice secular ladies get their ointment taken away because of stupid rules.

It’s kind of chilling how many people in the BoingBoing thread, in their zeal to oppose “security theater” and the like, went along with this.

409

DelRey 01.30.12 at 4:04 am

@405,
His previous posts on the blog where that post is from.

Show us these alleged posts.

Clearly he’s implying that it’s reasonable to “profile” people based on the characteristics he mentions there …

He’s not implying any such thing. You’re projecting on to him what you want other people to believe about him.

You are a typical example of Dawkins’ critics. You can’t offer any substantive rebuttal to his criticism of religion, so you try to undermine it by attacking his character instead. To do this, you trawl through his extensive writings, looking for something that you think you can use to paint him in a bad light, and then put the most uncharitable possible spin on it.

410

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 4:07 am

I mean, if you want to be charitable to Dawkins, which we might reasonably want to do, maybe he’s not trying to say that people should be stopped and searched just for having a long beard, a headscraf, &c., but he very clearly is blatantly, openly, clumsily playing on racial/cultural/national resentments, which only overlap with forms of religious belief, and it’s not concern trolling to say that Dawkins hurts his own cause with that kind of tone-deafness. Not unlike the thing about how he made fun of southern accents in his book. Maybe that was just one little blunder, and I don’t think it would be right to keep harping on it if it were just that, but apparently he keeps doing this kind of thing–at least, this bit in Boing Boing is really inexcusable. And I say this as somebody who at least partly agrees with him on the larger issue of employment discrimination, insofar as I don’t think that expert, e.g. academic hiring need be strictly blind to political or religious beliefs that are not themselves neutral to the subject matter of the expertise.

411

DelRey 01.30.12 at 4:14 am

kaveh,
By the way, since you seem to think that all racial profiling is self-evidently and egregiously wrong, and that anyone who supports them is therefore a “monumental jackass,” do you also think the same thing about racial preferences? If not, why not?

412

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 4:19 am

Here’s the alleged post in question, and here’s the alleged list of Dawkins’ other alleged posts on BoingBoing.

you trawl through his extensive writings, looking for something that you think you can use to paint him in a bad light, and then put the most uncharitable possible spin on it.

Would that it were so, but alas, I quite innocently stumbled into that bit of awfulness in what had up to that point been a very good polemic against stupid, stupid security theater. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Dawkins other than a few of those posts on Boing Boing, and I don’t really want to.

As it happens, I’d say I agree with Dawkins about religion, on balance, in that I want to see more people in the world become atheists. I also think there is a lot to be learned from religion, e.g. about to build effective moral communities, and it’s a mistake for atheists not to try and learn those things, or to abandon any number of “religious” practices simply because they are now associated with religion.

413

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 4:24 am

@411 I guess by “racial preference” you mean affirmative action? No, I don’t think it’s wrong, it corrects historical injustices, but I don’t have the interest or time to get into a long-winded off-topic discussion on the matter here. Religious profiling (which unavoidably ends up being ethnic/national/racial profiling) does not correct historical injustices, and it is egregiously wrong, in the same way that “racial preferences” in the sense of “not letting black people sit at the same lunch counter as white people” is egregiously wrong.

414

DelRey 01.30.12 at 4:30 am

Here’s the alleged post in question

And wouldn’t you know it, Dawkins is innocent of the charge you level against him regarding that piece too. Nowhere does he “advocate allowing employers to discriminate against potential employees based on their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are demonstrated to not affect how they do their jobs.”

415

DelRey 01.30.12 at 4:41 am

@411 I guess by “racial preference” you mean affirmative action? No, I don’t think it’s wrong, it corrects historical injustices,

No, it gives someone a preference for a job or a place in college on the basis of his race, regardless of whether, and to what degree, he is the victim of “historical injustices.” If this is justified on the grounds of a statistical correlation between race and historical injustice, why isn’t racial profiling justified on the grounds of a statistical correlation between race and criminal behavior? How is it clear that racial profiling, but not racial preferences, is so wrong that anyone who supports it in any circumstances is a “monumental jackass?”

416

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 4:42 am

oops, wrong post, it was this one: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/01/24/should-employers-be.html

3. A senior colleague at Oxford told me of an astronomer who, on religious grounds, believes the universe is less than ten thousand years old. This man holds down a job as a competent cosmological theorist (not at Oxford, I hasten to say). He publishes mathematical papers in learned journals, taking it for granted that the universe is nearly fourteen billion years old and using this assumption in his calculations. He bottles up his personal beliefs so successfully that he is capable of performing calculations that assume an old universe and make a genuine contribution to science. My colleague takes the view that this YEC is entitled to a job as a professor of astronomy, because he keeps his private beliefs to himself while at work. I take the opposite view. I would object to employing him, on the grounds that his research papers, and his lectures to students, are filled with what he personally believes to be falsehoods. He is a fake, a fraud, a charlatan, drawing a salary for a job that could have gone to an honest astronomer. Moreover, I would regard his equanimity in holding two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head as a revealing indicator that there is something wrong with his head.

You’re right, Dawkins doesn’t come out and say that generically, it’s definitely okay to discriminate against people for religious views that don’t affect job performance. Anyway, as I said above, I at least mostly agree with Dawkins on the subject of these two posts. My point was that he’s not raising “big beard” and “has a Koran” as purely hypothetical reasons to do extra searches.

417

DelRey 01.30.12 at 4:57 am

You’re right, Dawkins doesn’t come out and say that generically, it’s definitely okay to discriminate against people for religious views that don’t affect job performance.

Right. So your accusation is false here too.

In fact, Dawkins isn’t guilty of your charge even with respect to this particular individual, since he clearly states that he believes that the fact that the cosmologist holds “two diametrically opposing views simultaneously in his head” about the age of the universe is a sign of intellectual dishonesty and mental dysfunction, which are certainly relevant factors for job performance.

418

Berta 01.30.12 at 5:16 am

DelRey:

From a purely formal philosophical perspective: if you want to defend a view, or somebody else’s view that you think is worth defending, do not merely reiterate or paraphrase what the view is. Argue for it. Say something in your own words, that is. College undergrads are taught how to do this.

Also, language cannot merely be taken at face value, i.e. it involves ‘implication’ – get a holistic grasp on language.

419

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 5:18 am

You’re right DelRey, you should disregard everything I said about largely agreeing with him on the matters of substance in his alleged Boing Boing posts. I’m secretly a theist trying to discredit Dawkins with spurious allegations of race-baiting, which issue I don’t actually care about in real life. And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for you pesky kids!

(And I think I’ve hijacked the thread entirely too much for tonight, although I stand by my link to Dawkins’ blatant Muslim-baiting post above as a useful contribution to the larger corpus of Dawkinsology.)

420

iSpied 01.30.12 at 5:19 am

417 comments.
Disparage De Botton, or Dawkins, or both all you like; that the topic they address generates this much conversation probably serves some worthy purpose. I think we’d all agree that it’s a good thing someone built a web site to discuss it…

421

DelRey 01.30.12 at 5:29 am

@418,
And I stand by your comment on that link as a useful contribution to the larger corpus of “Let me see how I can spin this piece Dawkins wrote, attributing to him statements and beliefs he never expressed, to try and portray him in the worst possible light.”

422

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 5:59 am

391: No worries, and most kind of you. I was a bit over-acerbic and skated to the edge of accusation in my response to you, so I claim some responsibility there as well and I apologize for that.

Kaveh: your point about Dawkins’ tacit implication that it would be okay to harass people for showing external signs of Muslim-ness looks quite correct to me, and though I think he probably meant it semi-humorously, that doesn’t necessarily ameliorate it. (Racism after all tends to normalize itself through just that sort of “humor.”) It ties in with his Islamophobic quote referenced earlier about Islam being the world’s greatest force for evil. This actually saddens me about Dawkins; while I wasn’t impressed by his argumentation, or more often lack of it, in TGD, I hadn’t realized he had joined Harris and Hitchens in the Islamophobia brigade to quite the extent he appears to have done.

(And I’m sure you’ve discerned by now that there’s a certain party to this thread who may experience… difficulty offering constructive discussion on the topic.)

Here’s a thought, further to tomslee’s search for more signal and less noise: since the subject of TGD and the details regarding discontent with it tends to come up when Dawkins is mentioned, it could be a CT discussion thread specifically about the book might be worthwhile. I don’t think it would be practicable to go into detail on the subject in this thread, but it’s obviously on lots of people’s minds and there’s obviously lots of disagreement about it among reasonable persons here, so… maybe something to think about. (OTOH, if none of the CT bloggers want to go there after all this, I suppose that would be understandable.)

423

DelRey 01.30.12 at 6:19 am

Indeed, even on the level of misogynist (and other noxious) social customs, a lot of the most deplorable stuff is actually a continuation of pre-islamic practices.

I’m not sure why you think that’s a defense of Islam. Islam incorporated and codified and institutionalized and perpetuated those deplorable customs, giving them the authority of holy writ and producing the appalling human rights records of Islamic countries.

And yes, Christianity in the past was just as bad. And would likely be just as bad today if it hadn’t been marginalized and controlled by the rise of secular moral reasoning and liberal democracy in the West.

424

Alex 01.30.12 at 6:47 am

As someone who has read a lot of theology, and a moderate amount of comparative religion to boot, I find myself in overwhelming agreement with Richard Dawkins’ central point – that the net effect of religion in human history is not good. It is bad.

His argument applies to all religion, although he uses the monotheisms as primary examples.

A fun game to play with religious friends of all persuasions is to discuss something bad that their co-religionists have done. The almost universal response is that those people are not “real” Christians, or Muslims, or Jews… Those people who did the bad thing have somehow misunderstood the message.

Dawkins cuts through that distinction. His point, and it is a reasonable one, is that if you claim to be acting in the name of a religion, then you are; and that your interpretation of that religious text is a valid interpretation. At that point it becomes irrelevant whether you are reading Augustine or Nestorius, Dawkins will judge you on your actions and their outcomes.

And the list of actions motivated by religion with shocking outcomes is impressive, from monks rampaging around the fourth century Roman empire burning any book that wasn’t a gospel (and in the process destroying the intellectual treasures of humanity), to crashing a couple of planes into some tall buildings with people in them. These actions are bad, and their consequences for humanity are bad.

In the balance of good outcomes versus bad outcomes in the name of a god, all religions lose.

Which leaves the profiling argument. If your self-identified co-religionists are doing things with bombs, then you have a problem with being a suspect. If they are doing bad things in US school districts, then you have a problem with being held up to derision. We can try to be a little more subtle, and whisk the whirling dervish through customs while taking a longer look at the Wahhabi. We can make some safe assumptions that chap with the horse and buggy and the quaint costume is unlikely to drive it into an Oklahoma tax office and blow himself up, where the chap with the Irish accent in the London underground might be a worry. But when we don’t have enough information to make a judgement, then people also have a right to be suspicious, and do what we do, assess the likelihood of a threat being present based on the information that we do have.

425

Harold 01.30.12 at 6:52 am

Judaism has some “codes” about women that are not exactly enlightened — Hinduism had suttee. The Chinese had footbinding. The Byzantines had eunuchs. Islam also had some positive things compared to some of these practices. Many people have voluntarily embraced Islam (huge majorities in some countries), so it must have offered them more stability, protection, equality under the law, and so forth.

426

DelRey 01.30.12 at 7:19 am

Many people have voluntarily embraced many destructive religions, ideologies and belief systems — Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Communism, Maoism, Anarchism, Ba’athism… The fact that people may get some benefits, at some times, under some circumstances, from these belief systems does not alter their fundamentally destructive nature.

And the idea that Islam offers stability, protection and equality under the law is frankly absurd. Islamic countries are among the most unstable, dangerous and unequal in the world.

427

Harold 01.30.12 at 7:34 am

Well, they may be more stable than what they had before. Besides, wasn’t that your rationale for why people embraced agriculture?

428

faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 8:13 am

DelRey:

Islam incorporated and codified and institutionalized and perpetuated those deplorable customs, giving them the authority of holy writ and producing the appalling human rights records of Islamic countries.

Actually I think the Quran can be interpreted (and has been, by serious scholars, I think) as revising and ameliorating the worst excesses of the pre-Islamic era. For example, its requirement that daughters inherit a half-share of what sons inherit is an improvement on the previous situation (where they got nothing), and is almost always accompanied by scathing remarks about infanticide of female children. The Quran is full of criticism of the people of the region who did this. I think both non-muslim and muslim scholars of the Quran would consider your statement above to be an over-simplification of the role and context of what is written, and of how what is written is interpreted.

As my Omani muslim friend once said to me, in exasperation: “where in the Quran does it say women can’t drive?!!!”

429

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:22 am

424: There are almost no good or bad outcomes through most of history that cannot in some way be tied to religion or attributed to someone of one faith or another if you work at it hard enough, for the simple reason that the bulk of humanity through most of its existence has been religious in some way. So “your co-religionists did this or that” or “a religion like yours did this or that” can be used against virtually anyone professing any religious belief system whatever, even those that don’t subscribe to a “god delusion.”

Whether all these attributions are equally convincing is another matter. Take war and conflict: there are very frequently other forces, arguably more basic, at work in promoting warfare than religion, and for which religion serves mainly as a pretext or to which it is incidental. The hordes of Genghis Khan — the single bloodiest catastrophe to befall Eurasian civilization before the Twentieth Century — were for instance not particularly driven by religion, to which the Mongols had a laissez-faire attitude. But going by Dawkins-style criteria for what constitutes a “religious war” — meaning essentially none beyond the participants holding some religion or other — one could easily chalk them up misleadingly to “Mongolian animism.”

So that’s one important caution about trying to assess the “net effect” of religion. Nevertheless, there are also goods and ills that are much more directly attributable to religion. Religions are important to the history of war, genocide, book-burning, intolerance, disease, graft, corruption and hucksterism, tyranny and so on; and also to the history of charity, law and justice, the regulation of conflict, resistance to tyranny, the pioneering of pacifism, the fluorescence of medicine, poetry, art, architecture, pacifi… and so on. This brings up another important caution: someone proposing to reliably assess religion’s “net effect” on history is laying claim to be able to weigh all these factors across appalling breadths of geography, history and culture. This would require a breadth and detail of historical knowledge — and a degree of certainty about that knowledge — that I frankly doubt is acheivable; but even supposing it could be acheived, I don’t see much evidence of Dawkins’ having done so.

Of course, much of what I’ve listed in “good” and “ill” categories above is more ambivalent and context-dependent than that listing implies. Many of the most unequivocal gifts of religion to humanity are also ambivalent ones. Take modern science, for instance: science as we know it is a direct outcome — incidental and unanticipated, but a direct outcome nontheless — of medieval theology and philosophy among Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. On these grounds alone some people would (and do) find talking about religion’s net effects being evil somewhat absurd; others, less bullish about the unmitigated benefits of science, which after all has placed the tools of self-destruction in human hands just as much as it has the most awe-inspiring heights of knowledge and achievement, would be more ambivalent. It’s open to question, but I don’t think Dawkins remotely faces up to the intimate links between the birth of the science he cherishes and the theology he derides, and to the fact that the science with which he purposes to replace “the god delusion” would likely not exist as it does today without that “delusion.”

On top of all that, we may well further ask: had some sort of “secularism” triumphed at some point in early history, would the world have been relatively abundant in peace and progress from that point on, compared to what actually did happen?

This one is hard to assess. We do have a period of history in which secular ideology became the norm for much of the globe to look at: that would be the Twentieth Century. If we went on that alone, some would say that we’d have to admit the prospect isn’t especially promising: the charnel house of genocidal mania and totalitarian lunacy that comprised much of the Twentieth Century — especially its first half — is routinely used as a riposte by the religious to talk about the “net effect” of religion on history. It’s used that way because it is, in fact, pretty hard to ignore. There are mitigations, of course: the appalling death tolls of C20 wars reached such heights because there were simply more people on the globe, for instance. And just as it’s complicated to say whether a war can be attributed to religion, it’s just as complicated to determine whether it can really be attributed to the “ideology” that replaced religion. (And of course a religious person can archly observe here that if No-True-Scotsman is common among the religious, it’s just as common among atheists, who confronted with Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao routinely respond that these guys were not “really” atheists. Since that’s a mistake that does in fact commonly happen among atheists, it’s a valid objection.)

But supposing we just bracket out the Twentieth Century as an outlier, too different in terms of technology and population size to be a fair comparative example. Is there some other way we could assess secularism vs. religion? Well, there is an example of a civilization that embraced secularism early in its history and held to it as an organizing paradigm of the state, law, and social convention for thousands of years: China. The Legalism that drove Qin Shihuangdi’s unification of China was, after all, a secular philosophy. So was the Confucianism that rose to ascendancy soon after his death and dominated Imperial China in one form or another for the bulk of its history. (Of course it’s commonplace to identify Confucianism as a religion because of the framework of ritual and deity-style veneration that surrounded it. But that seems to me to beg the question. Secularism doesn’t inherently preclude ritual or things-that-look-like worship.)

Can we weigh out the “net effect” of secularism in China? China was, it can be persuasively argued, at the leading edge of natural philosophy and technological progress in Eurasia from shortly after its unification until at least the 15th century. Confucianism can probably take some credit for that. On the other hand, China was also profoundly violent and despotic for the bulk of that same history — in some periods more than others — and was far from being immune to prejudice, intellectual rigidity, irrationality, and crackpottery, not just from outside the Confucian establishment but from within it. The closest thing that official Imperial China had to the “god delusion” as Dawkins defines it was the abstract entity “Heaven,” yet it was unable to shrug off ideas and institutions that persistently wrought disaster on the state (in particular the institution of the palace eunuch).

I could go on, but the point is really just this: I think trying to identify religion’s “net effect” on history is a mug’s game; but even if we were to play it, there isn’t really enough evidence of inherent difference in terms of historical effects between supernaturalist religion and secular ideology for anyone to blithely accept Dawkins’ posture of certainty about the question. What’s likely the better answer is that this is simply the wrong question.

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DelRey 01.30.12 at 8:28 am

Whatever conditions were like in the pre-Islamic era, the teachings and practises of the Islamic era seem more than bad enough to warrant strong condemnation. Stoning women for adultery. Executing homosexuals. Cutting off the hands of thieves. Sharia law. Repression, subjugation, brutality.

431

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:28 am

(Sorry, a bunch of text there written in a rush, so it’s a bit tortuous in places. Hopefully still comprehensible, though.)

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heckblazer 01.30.12 at 8:28 am

faustusnotes @ 326-“This is an example of why the New Atheism is politically not a very useful theory.”

To offer some elaboration in agreement with you: The ruling family of Syria is Alawite and hence are considered pagan by many Sunni scholars;. One of the country’s worst human rights violations has been their ongoing campaign of torture and murder against members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Uzbekistan is another nasty customer where the government boiled people alive – including members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a fundamentalist Muslim opposition party.

I’d also ask on what basis Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, and Pakistan are among “the worst human rights abusers in the world”. In the 2012 Freedom House report none of those five countries is one of the 48 “not free” states, and Indonesia is actually listed as “free”.

http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2012

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heckblazer 01.30.12 at 8:35 am

I forgot to mention that Syria is a Baathist dictorship whose ideology is based on secular pan-Arabism and not Islam.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 8:49 am

Iraq also had a secular Baathist government.

435

DelRey 01.30.12 at 8:55 am

@429,
I could go on, but the point is really just this: I think trying to identify religion’s “net effect” on history is a mug’s game; but even if we were to play it, there isn’t really enough evidence of inherent difference in terms of historical effects between supernaturalist religion and secular ideology for anyone to blithely accept Dawkins’ posture of certainty about the question. What’s likely the better answer is that this is simply the wrong question.

You clearly haven’t even read Dawkins’ discussion of the history of religion.

Whether or not religion had a beneficial “net effect” at any time, in any place in the past, there’s no evidence that it is beneficial in its overall effects today, and overwhelming evidence that it is extremely harmful, as the example of Islam so clearly shows. In the West, economic, social and scientific progress has gone hand-in-hand with the decline of religion, and the countries with the highest levels of prosperity, freedom and equality also tend to be the least religious. The sooner religion withers away to insignificance, the better. Fortunately, we’re well on the way, especially in Europe.

In the Islamic world, unfortunately, and many developing nations in Africa and Asia, religion is probably going to remain a major influence for many decades to come. Poor and ignorant people make easy targets for religious exploitation.

436

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:58 am

435: I’ll translate it into one-syllable words for you tomorrow if I have time, DelRey. Obviously your opinion of what I “obviously” have or haven’t read counts for exactly nothing with me.

437

Jim Buck 01.30.12 at 9:19 am

Thanks for your lucid post @ 429, Doctor Slack. The USA is conspicious by its absence from DelRey’s list of countries where religion is probably going to remain a major influence due to poor and ignorant people making easy targets for religious influence.

By the way; Dawkins used to smile on Islam, describing it as more grown-up, and in line with evolved male desire, than Christianity with its absurdly high standard of marital fidelity. That was way back before 2001, of course, and when Dawkins was living the life of a philanderer (no condemnation here, folks, just description)

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just a lurker 01.30.12 at 9:43 am

‘Actually I think the Quran can be interpreted (and has been, by serious scholars, I think) as revising and ameliorating the worst excesses of the pre-Islamic era.’ (faustusnotes 428)
It is a poor holy book that a pro can’t interpret any way he wants. No doubt there are stories about how wicked the heathen were; there always are.
‘As my Omani muslim friend once said to me, in exasperation: “where in the Quran does it say women can’t drive?”‘
It doesn’t have to be in the Quran if it is in the hadith and is accepted as a part of the sunna. E.g. stoning as a punishment for adulterers, which actually contradicts the Quran.

439

DelRey 01.30.12 at 9:44 am

The ruling family of Syria is Alawite and hence are considered pagan by many Sunni scholars;. One of the country’s worst human rights violations has been their ongoing campaign of torture and murder against members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria has one of worst human rights records in the world. The vast majority of Syrians are Muslim, Syria’s culture is steeped in Islamic customs and traditions, and Islamic Sharia is the basis of much of Syrian law. I’m not sure what your point is about the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is not anti-Muslim. It is overwhelmingly Muslim.

I’d also ask on what basis Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, and Pakistan are among “the worst human rights abusers in the world”.

Here are some of the major human rights abuses reported by the State Department in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia: extrajudicial killings, disappearences, torture, police and government corruption, censorship, rape, honor crimes, discrimination against women, discrimination against religious minorities, child abuse, forced child labor, child prostitution. Malaysia and Morocco are somewhat better, but still appalling.

440

DelRey 01.30.12 at 9:57 am

The USA is conspicious by its absence from DelRey’s list of countries where religion is probably going to remain a major influence due to poor and ignorant people making easy targets for religious influence.

Religion is still more influential in the U.S. than in Europe, but it’s been in serious decline for at least a century, and I don’t think it’s been a major influence nationally for decades, notwithstanding the wailing of liberals about the Religious Right. Religion is still powerful in the South, and Utah, but even most nominally religious Americans are pretty secular in their beliefs and behavior. Their religion is more a matter of window dressing than any kind of deeply-held, lived-out faith.

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Jim Buck 01.30.12 at 10:13 am

Window dressing? Hypocrisy you mean? And doesn’t much of this stuff, occur to some extent in the USA:

‘ . . extrajudicial killings, disappearences, torture, police and government corruption, censorship, rape, honor crimes, discrimination against women, discrimination against religious minorities, child abuse, forced child labor, child prostitution.’

442

Hidari 01.30.12 at 10:33 am

‘Religion is still more influential in the U.S. than in Europe, but it’s been in serious decline for at least a century, and I don’t think it’s been a major influence nationally for decades, notwithstanding the wailing of liberals about the Religious Right.’

Could we have some evidence to support that statement please? (note, I’m not being snarky, just a genuine request for evidence. My own understanding is that religion has NOT been in steady decline in the United States for a century but I could be wrong about this).

The idea that fundamentalist Christianity was not a strong influence on the domestic and foreign policies of (say) Jimmy Carter or George Bush Jr is, OTOH, definitely false.

443

Jim Buck 01.30.12 at 10:36 am

I’m not sure what your point is about the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is not anti-Muslim. It is overwhelmingly Muslim.

The ruling Baathist party is secularist and is oppressing the general populace— that surely is the point?

444

Hidari 01.30.12 at 10:43 am

‘I don’t know what at an “anti-religious cult” is supposed to mean. The point is that North Korea’s political culture venerates its dictator like the leader of a religious cult. It’s nothing like the culture of liberal democracies where atheism is popular and religion is weak, like Sweden and Norway.’

As I pointed out earlier the Four Horsemen tend to imply that religion is all about faith, and not just any faith, but faith in the supernatural (God, demons, Heaven, Hell etc.). But Hitchens in particularly, when everyone’s back was turned, was liable to suddenly backtrack. Sometimes religion wasn’t about belief in the supernatural at all. Sometimes, suddenly it was about the way you behaved, and therefore, any regime that Hitchens took a momentary dislike to was described as being ‘religious like’ or ‘cult like’.

But apart from the fact that this is a completely incoherent position, who decides that something is ‘religious like’ (well in Hitchens’ case, the regimes he tended to dislike all tended to be ones opposed by American foreign policy elites: a coincidence I’m sure)?

If it’s true that ‘North Korea’s political culture venerates its dictator like the leader of a religious cult’ ipso facto then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is venerated like the leader of a non-religious cult, like Juche. So what? What is being explained here?

All you are really saying is that you would prefer to live in a liberal democracy than a theocracy. But that’s a truism. Atheist states can be as bad as theocracies. That is so obviously true I literally cannot think why the Four Horseman and their acolytes are so keen to deny it. Saying atheist states are ‘like’ theocracies is just question-avoidance.

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faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 11:19 am

delrey at 430: you are speaking of “the Islamic era.” What is that? A period of nearly a thousand years in time, covering a huge section of the globe from Indonesia to the UK. For the vast majority of that period the currently-developed nations were barbaric beyond anything that modern Indonesia has to offer. And most of what you describe doesn’t happen in Indonesia, Malaysia, amongst the Chinese muslim minority, in Bosnia or in many parts of Africa.

Also, in case you had forgotten, Indonesia had a secular dictatorship (and before that a communist government) for most of the past 60 years. Its current democracy is only a little over 10 years old, and yet somehow you’re blaming all its sins on its supposedly Islamic character, rather than its history of dictatorship. I don’t think you know much about Indonesia at all, if you think that the human rights abuses that happen there are more to do with Islam than with, oooh … its geopolitical strategy, which was developed and implemented under Suharto and involves a lot of dirty stuff being done by Aussie- and US-trained special forces in West Papua, Aceh, and various other provinces.

(Ooh, look, Aceh, another example of a supposedly islamic government brutally oppressing the islamic portion of its population …)

446

faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 11:21 am

okay just a lurker, let me paraphrase my friend: “where in the hadith does it say that women aren’t allowed to drive a car?”

447

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.30.12 at 11:23 am

American political culture is very much cult-like too: venerating its silly constitution, worshiping its deity: the almighty dollar, also known by the names of ‘market’, ‘democracy’, and ‘liberty’.

I imagine all political cultures are like that, to one degree or another: you’ve gotta have the dominant ideology, to justify the social order. If you don’t, everything will fall apart in 10 seconds.

448

Watson Ladd 01.30.12 at 1:53 pm

I think some people are missing the strong reading of the New Atheists. The argument works a lot better if you see it as endorsing a sort of philosophy of the hammer: all beliefs are to be questioned, regardless of what sorts of traditions see them as true. Naturally this puts religion squarely in the cross hairs. But when it comes to evaluating the role of social practices, it’s irrelevant what the history is. What’s relevant is the role they play today. People like Harold justifying Islam on the basis of what came before are justifying it on the grounds of secular morality: they’ve already conceded the basic points about morality and judgement to the new atheists. (And if you believe certain interpretations of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, God himself was convinced by these arguments).

There’s also the question of the political role of Islam. It might not say in the Hadith that women can’t drive, but try arguing that point with the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Preservation of Virtue. Orthodoxy works in a pluralistic society only if you are willing to abandon the idea that your religion will determine everything about your way of life like it used to, and admit that in the public sphere arguing from faith won’t work.

(As for the battle about what Dawkins said: I agree it wasn’t pretty, but it’s a step to far to accuse someone of supporting particular policies on the basis of insensitivity to discrimination against a particular group.)

449

faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 2:22 pm

they’ve already conceded the basic points about morality and judgement to the new atheists.

let’s not get ahead of ourselves here! Anything worthwhile the new atheists have to say about morality is not exactly their unique idea. And as delrey has shown, shallow applications of the new atheism to complex political and cultural problems don’t get us anywhere. It certainly is the philosophy of the hammer: it makes a big mess when applied to anything delicate or valuable.

450

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.30.12 at 2:30 pm

all beliefs are to be questioned

The sort of beliefs questioning you suggest (and practice) only works within the same socioeconomic environment. That is: if you have a problem with Islam, you should find an American born (preferably not the first generation) muslim next door and take it up with him or her.

To demonstrate this with reductio ad absurdum: should you visit some lost Amazon tribe and start lecturing them on wrongness of their beliefs and the rightness of yours, they will, without a doubt, immediately realize what a fool you are, and laugh at you.

451

just a lurker 01.30.12 at 2:41 pm

@faustusnotes 446
Seems to fall under the heading ‘Commanding right and forbidding wrong’ (which does come from the Quran). If women are allowed to drive, this will lead to moral decay, which is wrong, so it can’t be allowed. Open to interpretation, of course, but the Saudis have their interpretation and your friend has his.

452

faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 2:50 pm

so, neither the haddith nor the Quran says that women can’t drive, and it’s all down to some bloke in Saudi Arabia deciding that women can’t drive. And this is the fault of religion because …?

453

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 3:09 pm

And this is the fault of religion because …?

Because the bloke in Saudi Arabia gets all of his authority from claiming that his dictum is religiously based, and he (and those whom he influences) will be quite unimpressed by your attempts to tell him otherwise.

Similarly, Evangelical Christians were pretty uninterested in abortion until quite recent times, but the current lot will be unimpressed if you tell them that this history demonstrates that their religion really doesn’t require them to campaign against abortion rights.

Thus, your comment has no obvious relevance to the real world.

454

ajay 01.30.12 at 3:11 pm

452: “And this is the fault of religion because …?” Because that bloke is a religious bloke? Using religious arguments to justify his decision?

455

LFC 01.30.12 at 3:22 pm

DelRey:
Here are some of the major human rights abuses reported by the State Department in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, police and government corruption, censorship, rape, honor crimes, discrimination against women, discrimination against religious minorities, child abuse, forced child labor, child prostitution.

I said I wasn’t going to comment again, but this is worth repeating: You cannot persuasively cite these State Dept country reports as conclusive proof of your argument because (among other things) the excerpts you are citing say nothing about the frequency of the abuses in question or their relation to a country’s total population. For ex., Bangladesh is a country of more than 140 million people. How much child prostitution (defined how) is there in Bangladesh? One case, two cases, a hundred, a thousand, five thousand, fifteen thousand, a hundred thousand? Also, why is child prostitution considered a human rights abuse by the govt, as opposed to an unlawful activity engaged in by certain people? Similar questions could be asked about other aspects of these reports.

456

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.30.12 at 3:25 pm

Because that bloke is a religious bloke? Using religious arguments to justify his decision?

I don’t understand: what if it was a communist bloke justifying it by sharpening of the class war, or liberal bloke justifying it by wishes of the invisible hand? Why such a superficial analysis?

457

faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 3:25 pm

But he’s not my friend in Oman who thinks the idea is crazy. He’s not the guys from the Muslim Brotherhood who are fighting for greater freedom in Egypt or Syria. It’s not uniquely religion’s fault. There are a set of circumstances and social pressures that make it possible for that bloke to lie and claim his bigotry is religious – the same way that certain social pressures enabled Hitler to claim his bigotry was racialist, or Stalin to claim it was all the Kulaks’ fault.

This seems like a trivial thing to me – bigotry is a possibility inherent in religion, but it doesn’t happen in isolation from colonialism, patriarchy, racism,etc. Dawkins is a case in point – obviously his atheist ideals change with the flavour of the times.

I’m surprised that this needs explaining.

458

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 3:33 pm

@429 About China, all good points: Confucianism is often thought of as a religion, and I’ve read that it did take on a more cosmological orientation after the coming of Buddhism to China, but by and large, there’s no belief system comparable to Islam or Christianity in China that could be accused of dictating people’s attitudes so as to discourage scientific progress, &c.

I would nitpick a bit: that eunuchs were probably not as bad for the state as they were portrayed by literati (their main competitors), and also, for all its problems, Chinese bureaucracy was the most well-developed and effective in the world, for a very long part of history, and furthermore, the development of bureaucracy in China was by and large a unique and monumental contribution to human political life (it had direct and indirect global effects, not just in E Asia). But the absence of a scriptural belief system did not allow China to rocket ahead of the rest of the world in scientific progress, and in fact in areas like astronomy, they were consistently behind the Islamo-Christian world.

Jim Buck @447 By the way; Dawkins used to smile on Islam, describing it as more grown-up, and in line with evolved male desire, than Christianity with its absurdly high standard of marital fidelity. That was way back before 2001, of course, and when Dawkins was living the life of a philanderer (no condemnation here, folks, just description)

Very interesting! And totally not surprising.

459

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 3:38 pm

It’s not uniquely religion’s fault.

That’s right, religion is a necessary but not sufficient factor. That exonerates religion how, exactly?

460

Substance McGravitas 01.30.12 at 3:54 pm

Religion, including Islam, probably was beneficial to historical human cultures, before modern science and technology. That obviously doesn’t mean it’s beneficial now. Religion has been declining in the West for centuries, as science and reason have become increasingly important.

You may be overestimating what modern science and technology is providing to the countryside of Bangladesh.

461

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 4:03 pm

448: But when it comes to evaluating the role of social practices, it’s irrelevant what the history is. What’s relevant is the role they play today.

Well, for one thing, assessing “the role they play today” is as complicated now as it is historically, because even as all these religions grab headlines for all the bad things they do, they’re also busy doing good things or simply inoffensive, everyday things mostly in the background. Scattershot references to all the bad things are not how to judge their role; if you’re going to do this, it would have to be in balance with the other things.

For another, “social practices” and “religion” aren’t strictly interchangeable. If someone wants to claim that the world would be better off without Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam, and do so because there are social practices that someone-or-other dislikes which seem to be coincident with these religions that would vanish or at minimum be far less prevalent if they disappeared: then it’s kind of important to be able to convincingly answer the questions: “are the religions actually the causative factors” and “as opposed to what?”

And for another, “today” does not come packaged nicely and separately from “history.” This is pretty important with, say, the example of science. A big part of Dawkin’s argument in TGD is supposed to be making the point that the “god delusion” is so profoundly irrational and destructive that it would almost be tantamount to child abuse to inflict it on your kids. But if in fact that’s all really true, the “god delusion” should have strangled science in the cradle when it gave birth to it. Why didn’t it? Why in fact is it the case that we owe the existence of science to the “god delusion”? This problem is non-trivial to put it mildly, and strikes right at the core of what Dawkins is trying to claim. It can’t be dismissed by just saying “Yeah, but what have they done for us lately?”

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faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 4:05 pm

Steve, was religion a necessary factor in the good works of Goebbels, Hussein, Suharto, Kim, the Japanese in world war 2, Pol Pot? Do you think it’s religion that motivates Obama to continue his drone strikes, and to value the flag signed by the commando squad that killed bin Laden as “the greatest momento of his presidency”? Do you think that religion was the single unique condition for British colonialism, or American slave holding? Do you honestly believe that if the population of Saudi Arabia wised up tomorrow, the ruling blokes would just give it all up and sail away into the sunset – in fact, maybe the intense repression going on there might, perhaps, be a sign that religion is far from a “necessary” or a sufficient factor for oppression? If religion is a necessary factor, how come the Chinese govt manages to get away with a wide range of oppressive practices without ever mentioning what passes for religion in China? How come the British police can murder innocents, and infiltrate radical organizations over years, without ever having to fire up the agents of their cruelty with even so much as a mention of a religious cause?

I’m happily atheist, but I prefer my models of political repression to be based in fact rather than whimsy.

463

Harold 01.30.12 at 4:07 pm

Watson Ladd: “People like Harold justifying Islam on the basis of what came before are justifying it on the grounds of secular morality: they’ve already conceded the basic points about morality and judgement to the new atheists. (And if you believe certain interpretations of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, God himself was convinced by these arguments).”

I was not justifying Islam, I was making fun of DelRay’s justification of agriculture. I plead guilty to “conceding basic points of morality to the secularists”. I am a secularist.

464

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 4:18 pm

Steve, was religion a necessary factor in the good works of Goebbels, Hussein, Suharto, Kim, the Japanese in world war 2, Pol Pot?

Yes. All of them subscribed to ideologies that I would class as religious in nature. It’s not belief in sky fairies per se that’s the problem, it’s dogmatic adherence to non-reality-based systems of thought that are not to be questioned and that license any and all behavior in the name of some kind of eschaton; whether in this world or an imaginary other makes little difference.

465

Harold 01.30.12 at 4:23 pm

Actually, religion was a factor in WW2. The Shinto religion worshiped the emperor as a god, descended from gods, who protected Japan from invasion by China. There are still Japanese who cling to the bellicose old ways, but for most people, Shinto has been transformed into a beneficent nature religion.

466

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 4:33 pm

464 is sensible in everything except the attempt to stretch the word “religion” to embrace “every dogmatic and unrealistic system of thought,” which looks a lot like question-begging and in any case ventures far beyond how most people — including the “New Atheists” — use the word “religion.”

467

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 4:37 pm

Tell that to Bertrand Russell, who was making similar points before I was born.

468

Watson Ladd 01.30.12 at 4:37 pm

Oh, sorry about that misreading. Still, I think the argument stands: the very idea of judging religions on their effects means already conceding that we can know what is right absent religion. And that means we don’t need religion for its good things or its bad things: the same principles that we use to judge religion we could use to judge our own conduct. That’s why Doctor Slack’s argument at 461 doesn’t make sense to me: the world would be a better place if we judged our actions by universally applicable principles instead of relying on unquestioned beliefs to tell us what’s right because then we would be doing the right thing instead of accidentally chancing upon it from time to time. Religion is important to many people’s lives and that’s fine. But do the right thing, not the rite thing, as your highest priority.

469

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 4:40 pm

465: That looks like a pretty good example of misleading attribution to religion. The driving force behind Japanese imperialism was nationalism and a desire to stand tall with the great powers of the modern world, which at that time meant getting in on the imperial and colonial great game (albeit as a late entry). Would any of those motivating factors have gone away if Shinto wasn’t on the scene?

470

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.30.12 at 4:45 pm

“universally applicable principles” – if that’s not religious, I don’t know what is.

471

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 4:57 pm

467: Okay. Where’s he buried? I’ll get a shovel.

468: we don’t need religion for its good things or its bad things

Or, by the same token: we would probably have many of the same good things and bad things without religion as with it.

I mean, let’s not fall victim to utopianism: even if we could find the set of “universally applicable principles” that would be sufficient to governing societies through all their particularities (some would say science and scientific reasoning are that set of principles, others would say it’s a lot more complicated than that), everyone isn’t going to be able to practice them any more than everyone has been able to practice high-minded ideals like universal love as derived from Christianity or Islam, Jainism or Advaita Vedanta. The small and the bigoted, the violent and the irrational, the mountebank and the torturer and the terrorist and the tyrant and all the other colourful curses of human history are likely to still be just as much with us in a secular context as a religious one. They have after all been so in any secular context we’ve yet been able to devise, and the New Atheism shows no signs of being any different. (I know it’s kinda picking on him and I’m actually starting to feel bad about that, but OTOH he’s willingly made himself a living example in this thread: just take a good look at DelRey, there. Even in embracing a supposedly rationalist belief system, many people cannot manage to be rational.)

Particular configurations of religion will ebb and flow and rise and fall, but I don’t see the likelihood of any significant number of religious people waking up in the near future, deciding Dawkins was right and promptly throwing all their “irrational” beliefs overboard. Apart from the patchy and unconvincing nature of the critique itself, the very notion that there is some sort of purely rational un-religion to which they could convert is profoundly flawed.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 4:57 pm

470 is a good point.

473

Kaveh 01.30.12 at 5:19 pm

Watson @448 (As for the battle about what Dawkins said: I agree it wasn’t pretty, but it’s a step to far to accuse someone of supporting particular policies on the basis of insensitivity to discrimination against a particular group.)

Insofar as he’s not supporting a particular policy of extra searches for -brown people-Muslims, it’s because he’s (in those 3 posts) weaselly as all hell so it’s hard to pin him down as supporting any policy explicitly. He’s arguing in exactly the way that his religious opponents do. “Sure, I don’t generically endorse discriminating against hiring people based on religious belief alone, but then somebody who does good research that contradicts their religious views is ‘mentally deranged’ thus shouldn’t be allowed to hold that job”. So that’s an exception for him. But it’s very hard to see how that “exception” couldn’t be generalized to any religious person whatsoever, in any job whatsoever. Implicitly he is crystal clear-ly saying that discrimination on the basis of religion should be okay, and he is deploying (& thus reinforcing) xenophobic attitudes towards Muslims to make his point.

In fact, I would go further and say that that one example about Muslims and airport security is really the heart of that whole post. Dawkins first and foremost cares about religion, not security theater, not “rules”. I don’t think (though I welcome correction on this matter) that he has, outside of that one article, ever written about society being too “rule-based” and doesn’t leave enough room for personal discretion. He knows that Boing Boing has a long-running beef against security theater and the surveillance state. The rest of the post, where he addresses security theater and other examples of overly strict rules are boring and unconvincing. He is cynically deploying these things to buttress his central point about religion, and he sees Islamophobia as a convenient, if not essential tool for hammering that point.

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geo 01.30.12 at 6:06 pm

Dr S @461: the “god delusion” should have strangled science in the cradle … Why didn’t it? Why in fact is it the case that we owe the existence of science to the “god delusion”?

Whoa there. I suppose a lot depends on how you define religion, but defined as institutional Christianity from roughly the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, religion did indeed try to strangle science in the cradle. See Andrew White’s The Conflict Between Theology and Science in Christendom or Jonathan Israel’s massive three-volume history of the Enlightenment or Hans Blumenberg’s The Legitimacy of the Modern Age or any history of the Inquisition, among many other books. Forgive me if you’ve already explained this elsewhere in the thread, but how exactly is the god delusion responsible for the existence of science?

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 6:44 pm

474: The history of science has come a ways since Andrew White wrote in 1896, and the supposed inherent conflict between, for instance, the Catholic Church and science is largely inaccurate, based on mythifications of stories like that of Galileo (especially of Galileo). There are very few historians today who would accept White’s thesis, and the notion of the Enlightenment as something breaking free of a long dark age of clerical ignorance — while a useful fiction for polemicists of the time — has little basis in history.

Why? Well, in part because the history of science is inseparable from the history of philosophy, and the history of medieval philosophy is inherently religious. Any list of great early scientists in Christendom is a list of Scholastic theologians and philosophers: William of Ockham, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Nicholas Cusanus, and so on. And their work was built on a conversation with thinkers of different confessions, similarly religiously-motivated: Al-Farabi, Banu Musa, Al-Battani, Al-Betrugi, Al-Kindi, Al-Khwarizmi and so on just for a short list from the Islamic tradition. People like Copernicus and Galileo and Tycho Brahe didn’t spring whole from the brow of Science. They were the heirs to this tradition.

And the thing is, the medieval figures weren’t just “doing science” in their off hours from their day jobs as shills for a repressive religious order: for most of them, at least to hear them tell it, the “philosophy” they were expounding was the work of God. Their “god delusion,” the belief in a creator deity whose creation was good and worth exploring and explaining, was foundational to their work, itself built on and elaborating works by pagan philosophers whose philosophy itself was not readily divisible from the religion of their day.

(This outcome wasn’t an inevitability. It’s an open and very uncertain question whether, if Catharism — a late branch of the various Gnostic traditions which regarded the material world itself as evil — had triumphed in Europe, there would have existed a science anything like what we have today.)

Take the agonizing in Scholastic philosophy over finding a logically consistent explanation for the doctrine of the Trinity: Dawkins mentions this in passing, mostly as a reason to laugh at theology and deride its irrelevance. Yet Abelard’s wrestling with this question was an important step in the rise to dominance of Aristotelian formal logic and the pro-reason bent of the Church that would make the rise of modern science possible.

All of this came with a history of conflict, of course: philosophical polemic at the time was a dangerous business, on behalf of natural philosophy or otherwise. But it’s simply false to say that “religion” tried to strangle “science” in its cradle. That they weren’t easily separable is a key reason why this proved not to be the outcome. Moreover, the existence of conflict and tension does not change the fact that it was the “god delusion” that drove science in the medieval era, and that thereby paved the way for modern science.

476

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 6:51 pm

(The popular imaginary of the medieval era as a sink of ignorance is in general a later-composed fiction. The reality was far more complicated and dynamic. Cf. The Medieval Machine by Jean Gimpel.)

477

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 7:01 pm

Of course, it’s also not without significance that most of the medieval / early modern giants mentioned by Doctor Slack were in at least somewhat bad odor with their respective clerical establishments at the time they did their work. On the more philosophical side, the same may have been true of Thomas Aquinas, depending on how one interprets the evidence as to whether he was an intended target of Bishop Tempier’s condemnation.

The truest statement would be that in earlier periods, when religious belief was essentially universal, we cannot separate out its effects from other aspects of culture, and attempts to do so will turn out merely to be polemics on one side or the other. The relevance of all this to the role of religion in today’s world is questionable at best.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 7:16 pm

Steve says: Of course, it’s also not without significance that most of the medieval / early modern giants mentioned by Doctor Slack were in at least somewhat bad odor with their respective clerical establishments at the time they did their work.

True only of Ockham and Abelard among the above-mentioned figures, actually. Cusanus, Bacon, Albertus Magnus and many others besides were honoured members of the clerical establishment both in life and in posterity. It’s possible, and very common, to overblow the supposed role of “conflict with the clerical establishment,” which after all was a standard trope of Enlightenment-era propaganda against the supposed ills of the Church. (And many of those conflicts that did exists were as much political and economic as they were religious in nature: Ockham, for instance, wasn’t proscribed for the “heresy” of his natural philosophy but for subscribing to the populist theory of Apostolic poverty, which held that Christ and his disciples had owned no property and lived on begging. That sort of view was seen as a direct political challenge to the propertied aristocratic rulers of medieval society… which of course, it was.)

That said, obviously modern science went on to make strides in stabilizing the art of inquiry, making it safer and less polemical. This doesn’t change the fact that modern science came to exist at all as an heir to early, “god delusion”-driven science.

479

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 7:26 pm

This doesn’t change the fact that modern science came to exist at all as an heir to early, “god delusion”-driven science.

As I noted, this fact is an inevitable consequence of the fact that atheism only become widely thinkable in very recent times, and therefore doesn’t have the significance you seem to want to ascribe to it.

480

geo 01.30.12 at 7:33 pm

Steve @477 is exactly right, I’d say. When every educated person was a churchman, inevitably every proto-scientist (or “natural philosopher”) would have been a churchman. As soon as the theologically unorthodox implications of science became visible, even in the distance, the Church inaugurated violent, extensive, and continuing repression. It was war to the death from roughly the 15th through the 19th centuries. As for DS’s assertion that “the notion of the Enlightenment as something breaking free of a long dark age of clerical ignorance—while a useful fiction for polemicists of the time—has little basis in history,” I’d say she’s quite wrong. The long dark age of clerical ignorance is no fiction: Roman Catholicism in Counter-Reformation Spain, Italy, Portugal, rural France, and Spanish America and Orthodoxy in Russia were fanatically anti-intellectual. As for the Middle Ages, they were indeed, as medieval historian Morris Berman writes in Dark Age America, as dark as they’ve always been portrayed, notwithstanding minor and occasional exceptions.

Moreover, why was it the case that “philosophical polemic at the time was a dangerous business, on behalf of natural philosophy or otherwise”? There’s nothing intrinsically dangerous about philosophical polemic in the absence of violent bigotry, generally religious in origin.

I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the paradoxical assertion that the god delusion drove the development of science. If you mean that some people, even the occasional highly-placed cleric, had dual intellectual allegiances, then yes, of course. If you mean that, inasmuch as theology was the dominant intellectual activity in Western culture for many centuries, some strands of later scientific and philosophical thought had their origins in theological speculation, then again yes. If this is sufficient grounds for a truce, then by all means let’s declare a truce.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 7:34 pm

479: If someone wants to contend that the “god delusion” is inherently irrational and evil and destructive and tantamount to child abuse, it considerably complicates that contention. The relevance of all this to religion’s role in today’s world is that if it was possible for the “god delusion” to give rise to science, it’s likely just as possible for it to coexist with it, and maybe dialogue with progressive elements in religion is more worthwhile an endeavour — if one is supposed to care about religion-connected social ills — than banging on about “god delusions.”

Another thing the actual history of science should teach us is a healthy respect for the role of intuition, inspiration and other “irrational” phenomena in the history of progress. Supposing we were actually to create a world in which everyone adhered to Dawkins’ idea of what is rational, acceptable, and scientific; it’s actually highly questionable, I would say unlikely, that that would be a more innovative and tolerant world than this one. Dawkins’ own intellectual trajectory and that of many of his followers is evidence of that.

482

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 7:38 pm

If someone wants to contend that the “god delusion” is inherently irrational and evil and destructive and tantamount to child abuse, it considerably complicates that contention.

Not really. You can no more prove that intellectual progress happened because of it than I can that it happened despite it. So once more, this whole sub-discussion is irrelevant to any consideration of the role of religion in the contemporary world.

483

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 7:52 pm

480: The long dark age of clerical ignorance is no fiction: Roman Catholicism in Counter-Reformation [various places] and Orthodoxy in Russia were fanatically anti-intellectual.

No, Steve’s 477 is not very relevant, and yes, it really is a fiction. The history of the Counter-Reformation, not to mention Russian Orthodoxy, was far more complicated than this — indeed to assert that the Counter-Reformation, a fundamentally dynamic intellectual endeavour, was “fanatically anti-intellectual” is incoherent to the point of comedy — and mere assertion cannot change that. (What I’m saying is not a mere assertion. The point about the Scholastics and the rise of science is based, for instance, on the actual history of the period. The business about “minor and occasional exceptions” is what strikes me as mere assertion, and you’ll forgive me if I’m more partial the perspectives of scholars on the specific period than I am to polemics about modern America as a source on this.)

The “god delusion” driving science seems “paradoxical” to you because you’re accustomed to begging the question. If you start out assuming the conclusion that the “god delusion” is irrational and prejudicial to the ability to reason, then of course this seems like a “paradoxical” assertion that would somehow require “dual intellectal allegiances”. But that’s sloppy thinking and poor history. What the events actually tell us is that the truth is more complicated than this, and that when scientists of Albertus Magnus’ era tell us that their natural philosophy was part and parcel of their “god delusion,” it’s probably a good idea to take the contention seriously.

As for why polemic of the era was so dangerous in medieval times: it’s partly owing not just to the presence of the “god delusion,” but to an environment of relatively unstable states and unclear spheres of influence for many competing authorities, including a violent struggle of the orders between the “simple” (e.g. the poor), the emerging bourgeoisie and the traditional aristocracy. As I’ve said, a lot of what looked like religious struggle in the era was really a proxy for political and economic struggles.

484

dr ngo 01.30.12 at 7:53 pm

As a Southeast Asianist, I must say that I find the idea that Islam is particularly responsible for human rights violations to be ludicrous. Probably the worst regime in the region is Myanmar (Burma), which clothes itself in Buddhism. Next would be the avowedly atheist (*) states of Indochina: Vietnam, Laos (Lao PDR) and Cambodia. Islamic Indonesia is no great shakes, but not at the top, by any means. Islamic Malaysia is arguably better, as is the predominantly-Catholic Philippines and Buddhist Thailand, but none is without justified critics. Singapore, with no strong religious core to speak of, may be the best of the lot – though that’s not saying much; the closest it comes to state orthodoxy is vague waffle about “Asian values” (which, unsurprisingly, tend to favor the community over the individual, unless the individual is Lee Kuan Yew). Perhaps the strongest anti-Islamic argument could be made for the tiny authoritarian principality of Brunei Darussalam, but that’s also – with due apologies to medievalists – the most medieval of states.

In short, at least in Southeast Asia – where Islam arrived by conversion, not conquest – there is no evidence that it is particularly, much less uniquely, responsible for the state of human rights in the region. To argue otherwise generally betrays a prejudice in frantic search of evidence to support it.

(*) The idea that you can simply make atheists into “religious” people by claiming that they behave in a way that you associate with religion is straight out of Topsy-Turvy Land.

485

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 7:55 pm

482: You can no more prove that intellectual progress happened because of it

I don’t have to. The demonstration that it was compatible with intellectual progress, and part and parcel of that progress as it actually happened, is enough.

486

Jim Demintia 01.30.12 at 7:56 pm

As soon as the theologically unorthodox implications of science became visible, even in the distance, the Church inaugurated violent, extensive, and continuing repression. It was war to the death from roughly the 15th through the 19th centuries.

That may be true to some degree in the Catholic countries (I don’t know enough of the history to say), but that was decidedly not the case in Protestant Britain. Early empiricism emerges there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries very much indebted to and entangled with theological arguments. To point to only one major example, natural theology–which sought to study the natural world in order to reveal the divine order at work in it–was quite scientifically important and was a major current leading to evolutionary theory. Earlier empiricist philosophers like Locke and Robert Boyle held very similar positions, and Boyle in particular argued that it was the revelation of the divine order in the world that made the empirical study of nature a worthwhile pursuit.

As Dr. Slack has been arguing, these histories are quite complicated and entangled, and that is a major part of what’s wrong with the broad-brushed approach of the GD narrative.

487

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 7:58 pm

The idea that you can simply make atheists into “religious” people by claiming that they behave in a way that you associate with religion is straight out of Topsy-Turvy Land.

Again, it’s not an original idea, and the resemblances between this-worldly and other-worldly eschatologies- and their consequences- have been remarked for a long time.

Dogmatic belief systems that are not open to the influence of new evidence are bad. Doesn’t matter whether they have “supernatural” content or not. Frankly, the idea that this position would be controversial among people who fancy themselves intellectuals is pretty astonishing.

488

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 8:03 pm

The demonstration that it was compatible with intellectual progress, and part and parcel of that progress as it actually happened, is enough.

You’re trying to elide the very big difference between “compatible with” and “part and parcel of”. You haven’t established the latter and can’t, and your claim to the contrary is really just an instance of the genetic fallacy. And even you have to admit that nowadays, science can get along just fine without religion.

489

ragweed 01.30.12 at 8:04 pm

Your attempt to dismiss Indonesia’s appalling record of human rights violations as mere “problems” is laughable. Islamic nations comprise many of the worst human rights abusers in the world—Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria, to name just the larger ones.

Well, there are serious questions of causality. The population of Indonesia is largely Islamic, but the government is not. The history of human rights abuses in that country are more in keeping with military dictator shipworldwide than anything specific to Islam. Somewhere like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan provides more of a claim for Islam as a source of human rights abuses than Indonesia, but even in the case of Saudi Arabia, is the problem Islam? or a monarchical oil shiekdom using Islam as a front? One could just as easily argue that Islamic people are the largest victims of human rights abuses by oil-industry backed military dictatorships.

And any attempt to pin massive human rights abuses on religion needs to address Stalin. Athiestic belief systems can be commandeered in the interest of brutality too. Because, at this historical moment, some of the worst military dictatorships happen to be Islamic does not give one justification for painting all islam with a broad brush any more than Stalin give one justification for condemning all socialists (or athiests for that matter).

490

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 8:06 pm

And any attempt to pin massive human rights abuses on religion needs to address Stalin.

See my #487. The former seminarian’s way of thinking changed little when he switched his religious affiliation from Orthodox to Leninist.

491

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:09 pm

488: You’re trying to elide the very big difference between “compatible with” and “part and parcel of”.

No, not really. I’ve provided an extensive list of examples for the latter and am quite comfortable with my position. The “genetic fallacy” is projection on your part, but I don’t blame you for your discomfort. Confronting an inventory of the actual facts should, after all, make it uncomfortable to hold a simplistic perspective based mostly on fictions.

And even you have to admit that nowadays, science can get along just fine without religion.

I’ll do you one better: I think the next wave of religions is likely to claim to be sciences, and that in fact this process has already begun. But whether science can get along without religion is completely irrelevant to my point.

492

Harold 01.30.12 at 8:14 pm

“. . . we mustn’t forget that it is precisely the use of symbolic intuition to uncover genuine patterns of resemblance that leads scientists to their greatest contributions. . . . Skill in weaving metaphors is one of the hallmarks of scientific genius.” –Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, p. 186

Dawkins thus says the same thing as Shelley, likewise a devotee of science (and of atheism). Except that Dawkins says it as a concession, because he dislikes the “bad” and “erroneous” metaphors that he sees as integral to poetry and religion, whereas for Shelley, who was writing in answer to his friend Peacock, who argued that poetry was an obsolete relic of an earlier stage of evolution, poetry (in its broadest sense, including religion), precedes and is a condition for scientific discovery.

Dawkins sees himself as eliminating redundancy — but redundancy and ambiguity are features of cultural communications systems (such as art and language), not bugs.

Dawkins also disassociated himself from sociobiologists like Pinker, who says it is all in our genes (“human nature” — which happens to be identical with 20th century middle-class values, in Pinker’s opinion) and trying to educate people is futile. Dawkins, on the contrary, believes that because of what is in our genes, then, education is all the more vital (he is an educator). He admires poetry and loves and has a gift for language. Dawkins has said that he regrets having said that “we are born selfish” — a metaphor born of his poetic gift.

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Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 8:17 pm

The “genetic fallacy” is projection on your part

Now this is simply obtuse. I expressed agnosticism about (and lack of belief in the contemporary relevance of) the degree to which the (inevitable) religious saturation of the milieus in which early modern science arose implies that religious ideas were a necessary part of that arising. It’s you who need to make a dogmatic answer of “yes” to that question in order to support your position, but it’s an answer which you have demonstrated you cannot support. And yes, to make the unsupported assumption that early modern science arose with the assistance of religion, rather than that the latter either impeded it or was irrelevant, is to commit a genetic fallacy.

We cannot separate out the effects of religion in an era when religion was ubiquitous. And as between you and me, only one of us needs to try to do that, and it isn’t me.

494

Harold 01.30.12 at 8:18 pm

Addendum to 490
The following Letter to the Editor appeared in the TLS November 21, 2008

Stalin at prayer

Sir, — A pendant to the letter from Ann Shukman (October 31) concerning Mikhail Bakhtin’s strong involvement with Orthodox Christianity.

Joseph Stalin was also a regular worshipper in a special private chapel inside the otherwise completely closed cathedral inside the Kremlin. The evidence? An interview on the spot with one of his former bodyguards, one of whose tasks was to escort him there every day at 4 p.m. and wait While Stalin knelt in prayer for thirty minutes or so — in the amazing (but obviously little-seen or commented-upon) documentary on the complete refurbishement of the Kremlin shown on BBC2 early in 2007.

David F. Cheshire
The Old Rectory, Appledram Lane
North, Chichester

TLS November 21 2008

495

geo 01.30.12 at 8:22 pm

Morris Berman is a leading scholar of medieval intellectual history and only incidentally a critic of contemporary American society. Jonathan Israel is the leading contemporary historian of the Enlightenment.

But let’s not just hurl authorities at each other. Let’s try to find common ground. You’ll agree, I’m sure, that persecution of unorthodox writers and (some, by no means all) scientists was very widespread in early modern Europe. I agree that many sincerely religious people (including Locke and Newton) saw no conflict between science and theology. And I certainly agree with you that “the actual history of science should teach us … a healthy respect for the role of intuition, inspiration and other “irrational” phenomena in the history of progress.” Whether organized religion — Dawkins’ et al’s main target — has much use for “intuition, inspiration, and other ‘irrational’ phenomena,” except as a way of deflecting rationalist criticism, is another matter. Do you think it does?

496

geo 01.30.12 at 8:24 pm

In case it’s not obvious, 495 is addressed to Doctor Slack @483. Comments certainly are flying thick and fast in this thread.

497

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:27 pm

The term “genetic fallacy” does not mean what you think it means, Steve. I think you’d better do some brushing up.

The only thing I am making a “dogmatic” answer of “yes” to is that it’s worthwhile to pay attention to how historical periods actually saw themselves, instead of how we would like to see them for our own polemical convenience. And while religion and the “god delusion” are widespread in history, the chain of events leading from the medieval period to modern science is not. There is therefore cause to take seriously the theological commitments and polemics of that particular theatre and period as direct contributing factors to the rise of science, and there is not cause to think this would have been equally probable had those factors been removed. This isn’t to say that science couldn’t have come about any other way; only that the fact that it happened to come about this way in our particular timeline can’t be handwaved into insignificance for “god delusion” reasoning as you are rather squirmingly attempting to do.

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Jim Buck 01.30.12 at 8:33 pm

Dawkins called for a ‘conspiracy of doves’ and has joined a conspiracy of hawks.

Steve LaBonne on Stalin:
The former seminarian’s way of thinking changed little when he switched his religious affiliation from Orthodox to Leninist.

It was reading the Origin that opened Stalin’s eyes to the puerility of Christian morality.

499

Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 8:34 pm

495: Whether organized religion—Dawkins’ et al’s main target—has much use for “intuition, inspiration, and other ‘irrational’ phenomena,” except as a way of deflecting rationalist criticism, is another matter.

I can get with much of what you have to say except that I don’t think Dawkins’ et al’s “main target” is just “organized religion.” At least that’s not what Dawkins claims his target to be in TGD; his target is supposed to be the “delusion” itself. As for “organized religion” as such, while guilty of its share of sins I also think it tends too frequently to be pressed into service as a whipping boy for polemical purposes. I think the above definition of “organized religion’s” relationship to intuition or inspiration is artificially narrow, and I wouldn’t buy it. That religious organizations sometimes engage in obfuscation is obviously true, nobody here has said they don’t.

500

Harold 01.30.12 at 8:36 pm

Reading Answers in Genesis and Conservapedia has darkened the understanding of James Buck.

501

Steve LaBonne 01.30.12 at 8:40 pm

Doctor Slack, your 497 in fact establishes the opposite of what it tries to claim. Yes, “religion and the “god delusion” are widespread in history” and “the chain of events leading from the medieval period to modern science is not”. By those very facts, there are no grounds at all for supposing that religion was essential to that chain of events, since it failed to produce any such chain of events at other times and places. This is worse than arguing from a sample size of one; it’s cherrypicking the one instance that appears to support your presuppositions from a larger sample set that fails to do so.

You clearly have strong feelings on the subject, but unfortunately you have no actual arguments. And yet again, of the two of us, only one of us feels the need to take a strong position on this question, and it isn’t me.

502

geo 01.30.12 at 8:41 pm

Jim @486: Yes, certainly the Protestant countries were less given to persecution than the Catholic ones, and more respectful of science, though theological and sectarian bigotry was still pretty robust (a qualitative judgment, to be sure). But when you say that “early empiricism emerges there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries very much indebted to and entangled with theological arguments,” you don’t address Steve’s and my point that anything which arises in a culture intellectually dominated by theology is going to be “entangled with theological arguments,” often in the form of encumbrance and inhibition, i.e. something that has to be placated and incorporated because it can’t, for prudential reasons, be too sharply and explicitly criticized. Theology may have made some substantive contribution to scientific development, but in the main it was an inescapable dead weight, which it took centuries to fight free of.

503

Hidari 01.30.12 at 8:44 pm

‘Jim Buck @447 By the way; Dawkins used to smile on Islam, describing it as more grown-up, and in line with evolved male desire, than Christianity with its absurdly high standard of marital fidelity. That was way back before 2001, of course, and when Dawkins was living the life of a philanderer (no condemnation here, folks, just description)’

That’s amazing if true. Do you by any chance have a link or source for that claim?

504

Marc 01.30.12 at 9:05 pm

@502: In what sense is it meaningful to treat “theology” as a monolithic thing? Religion, like art or music, is an incredibly rich phenomenon. It’s manifested in many ways. There are *some* theological arguments that are undoubtedly reactionary, and *others* that are much more compatible with modern scientific reasoning. I’m having a hard time seeing the virtue in morality plays where religion is given the role of devil and rationalism the role of angel.

505

dr ngo 01.30.12 at 9:09 pm

@487: Again, it’s not an original idea, and the resemblances between this-worldly and other-worldly eschatologies- and their consequences- have been remarked for a long time.

I know it’s not original. I’ve known this since I was an undergraduate and first ran across The God That Failed, by a number of ex-communists. Many many years ago, when any stick to beat down communism was readily grasped by Cold Warriors. Such “resemblances” are sometimes fruitful, sometimes not – as in this case.

Dogmatic belief systems that are not open to the influence of new evidence are bad. Doesn’t matter whether they have “supernatural” content or not. Frankly, the idea that this position would be controversial among people who fancy themselves intellectuals is pretty astonishing.

If you define as “religion” whatever you consider “bad,” then the statement that “religion is harmful” becomes totally devoid of meaning.

Frankly, I’m astonished by people, whether they fancy themselves intellectuals or not, sneering at anyone who regards as “controversial” their own favorite interpretation of a familiar simile. It isn’t true just because it’s old, or because you believe it. Or is that your “religion”?

506

Hidari 01.30.12 at 9:14 pm

507

Jim Demintia 01.30.12 at 9:20 pm

@geo

But that theology mainly served as an incumbrance to early empiricism in Britain simply isn’t true. Boyle, for example, isn’t just conveniently justifying his own empirical practices with reference to theology–theology is clearly motivating and shaping his empirical practices. For example, the uses he makes of analogy in his observations derive from the kinds of analogical reasoning he believed was licensed by the presence of the divine in nature.

And for Locke, a tacit appeal to the idea that divine order underlies experience actually enables him to make the famous argument that the mind begins as a tabula rasa that is inscribed by experience. Without the idea that experience itself reflects divine order, this argument–which also provided epistemological support for the idea that all men are created equal–would have been seen as much more subversive because it would have suggested that our minds are the product of contingency and accident and that social and moral values are therefore relative. So in that case, theology actually allowed him to make a much more daring social argument than many would have accepted otherwise.

508

Jim buck 01.30.12 at 9:23 pm

Reading Answers in Genesis and Conservapedia has darkened the understanding of James Buck.

Well, that’s not me then; because my full name is Jim Buck. It is dishonest, not to say impertinent, for Harold to pretend to any intimate knowledge of me.

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Agog 01.30.12 at 9:27 pm

One of my favourite bits of writing ever is the passage from Tolstoy’s ‘Confession’ that begins:

“And I understood it all. I am seeking a faith, the power of life; and they are seeking the best way to fulfil in the eyes of men certian human obligations.”

(You might like to google for more – forgive me, I’m typing this on my phone.)

He was giving up on the Orthodox Church, which he saw to be peopled by priests and monks struggling to preserve their traditions and their positions within an institution, and not attending to the good work that one might naively expect of them. I like it because I find it resonates, and seems to be applicable to most of the institutions I can think of.

The thing is, it seems to me that Dawkins and co are more like those poor Orthodox priests than Tolstoy. To a great extent they are trapped in this argument of theirs, defending their inheritance and trying to perpetuate it. I sat through a talk given by Dawkins to an audience of under- and postgrads. It was pure missionary stuff: ‘we’ must do this and that to advance ‘our’ cause. I didn’t like it then, nor do I now. It’s not a good approach to scholarship, and not favourable towards the discovery of unexpected truths.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 9:28 pm

My SO once read that Dawkins had pronounced nothing written before 1800 was worth reading (not 1900-typo above) — I don’t know where or in what context Dawkins said this, he himself admits to being something of a loose canon, but it is plausible and, if true it is a limitation, especially if he is going to make pronouncements about intellectual history. In any case, he seems to have abandoned science for polemics.

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Jim buck 01.30.12 at 9:29 pm

Hildari @ 503 . Like I said: It was way back before 2001. When I get the time, I shall trawl the Guardian archives and dig out the relevant article. Give me a bit of time on this.

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Hidari 01.30.12 at 9:33 pm

Thanks Jim!

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geo 01.30.12 at 9:57 pm

Jim @507: Boyle may have employed analogical reasoning, as many philosophers did then, but is there something particularly empiricist about that? The mere fact that a philosopher who is responsible for some innovation also used intellectual methods current at the time doesn’t mean that the latter is in some sense responsible for the former.

Re Locke: I think you may be making my argument. It is possible that the idea of divine order 1) existed in Locke’s mind, and when he conceived of the tabula rasa, he fitted it in with the idea of divine order, along with all his other pre-existing beliefs; 2) provided Locke with a conventionally acceptable language in which to express what might otherwise have seemed too daring an idea; or 3) actually conduced in some way to his conceiving the notion of tabula rasa. Only in the third case is it true that theology is “motivating and shaping” intellectual progress. In any case, subsequent developments in epistemology did not make use of, and even deplored, Locke’s theological scaffolding.

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novakant 01.30.12 at 9:59 pm

it’s dogmatic adherence to non-reality-based systems of thought that are not to be questioned and that license any and all behavior in the name of some kind of eschaton

Like capitalism?

Also, I increasingly think that belief in democracy is non-reality-based.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 10:15 pm

Reality keeps changing but belief systems don’t keep up.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 10:17 pm

You clearly have strong feelings on the subject, but unfortunately you have no actual arguments.

I’m never very impressed by someone ignoring or misrepresenting my arguments on an issue and going on to tell me I have “no actual arguments,” sorry Steve. Your post consists of nothing very much more interesting than avoidance.

That gripe aside, I’ve nevertheless enjoyed the latter part of this thread. Work must intrude, toodle-oo everyone.

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Kaveh 01.30.12 at 11:00 pm

re Dr Slack, geo, and Steve’s argument, we might ask why Christian theology during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period was so conducive to speculative science. The 10th century is a rather arbitrary place to start in the history of Christianity.

As I understand it, Medieval Christian theology was, between the 10th and 15th centuries (or thereabouts) heavily influenced by an Islamic scholastic and scientific tradition that had, in the 8th-10th centuries, revived the “ancient sciences” that had been badly neglected in the late Roman/Byzantine empires, because the Church in late antiquity was substantially hostile to natural philosophy.[1] Arabic writings from the 9th-10th centuries include a lot of anecdotes about sending people (who often were themselves Christians or Greeks) to search current or former Byzantine cities for “lost” Greek texts on “ancient sciences” (math, astronomy, &c.) which, when they found them, were often in very bad shape, moldy, &c. Medieval Christian theology’s friendliness towards science arose in the context of competition with a rival religious tradition whose political institutions were quite friendly towards Aristotelian rationalism, and which could boast better doctors, astronomers, &c.

So there’s probably some case to be made that, to the extent that the Church was science-friendly at certain points, it was at least partly the result of the relative power and prestige of a competing religious tradition, and the history of Church-Peripatetic relations before the 8th century seems to bear that out.[1 again] And to the extent that (certain institutions/speculative traditions in) early Islam was so friendly to science, it might also have to do with the need to establish its access to the truth in a competitive intellectual climate. So it *may* have been the competition between rival theistic belief systems, and not the theistic belief systems themselves, that was responsible for a lot of this (new-found) willingness of theology to accommodate natural scientific speculation.

Understandings of the divine that are generally implicit in Islam or Christianity may have propelled natural scientific inquiry in certain circumstances, but that isn’t necessarily at odds with a more cautious version of Dawkins’ main thesis, applied, conservatively and not ahistorically, to the present day. I’m not so much trying to defend Dawkins here as point to a problem in Dr Slack’s argument that because people like Boyle or Locke were able to marshal Christian theological ideas for “progressive” ends, that that tells us something that is more widely true about Christian theology.

I think a sounder defense of religion as a historical force for good would be that, even if they directly hampered scientific progress, they contributed directly to civic virtue, having a lot of use in formulating social critiques and social/political systems.

My bigger problem with Dawkins’ argument is that it is badly ahistorical–what are we supposed to have replaced Islam or Christianity with, and why can’t I claim for similar reasons that atheism is bad, and insist that xenophobic Dawkinsites embrace a tolerant science-friendly theology, thereby proving that atheism is evil?
——————————–
fn 1 George Saliba made the argument recently that there was a vigorous tradition of natural science in the early Islamic world (7th – 9th c.s) before the big movement to translate Greek scientific works; and that natural science was severely atrophied in the Byzantine world, largely due to Church persecution. He draws on the work of Dmitry Gutas about the state of certain sciences in the Byzantine world. Saliba seems like he might be overstating the case about the decline of sciences in the late antique Byzantine empire (he suggests that Kosmas Indicopleustes’ belief in a flat earth was representative of Byzantine Christian belief; as I understand it, it wasn’t), but I doubt that he is wrong overall, unless he is badly misrepresenting Gutas’ arguments, or Gutas is wrong overall.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 11:07 pm

(517: Oh, I don’t doubt that inter-confessional competition drove much of what happened in Christendom, and I think the dynamic you describe is very likely the correct one. The only point I’m making about theology, Christian or any other, is that the sweeping notion of the “god delusion’s” supposedly definitive hostility toward reason ignores how science actually unfolded and where it came from. This is a point about — at the point of inception of science-as-we-know-it — medieval theology and interaction among three confessions, not about the broader “nature” of Christian theology.)

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faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 11:13 pm

Harold on Shinto and Emperor worship, at 465 (ancient history by the standards of this thread): no, Shinto was not the driving force of Japan’s entry into the Pacific War. It was colonialism, the need to establish a sphere of influence in Asia, and response to western racism. Shinto did not have a long history of fascist thought before WW2, and in fact Chamberlain (one of very few westerners living in and writing on Japan at the turn of the century) predicted Japan’s actions in a neat little essay in about 1905. He describes the manipulation of Shinto beliefs and Japanese popular history to develop a fanatical form of nationalism. Japanese scholars of the war will also describe the saturation coverage of nationalism in media and schools between the mid-20s and mid-30s, and although it invokes the Emperor at every turn, it doesn’t have much to say about religion. I have on my blog a review of Japanese wartime propaganda from John Dower’s War Without Mercy and it doesn’t fit the religious image much at all, though it uses a lot of themes from Japanese culture that merge well with Japanese religious thinking. Japanese would probably say this is “atarimae” (natural), because they don’t even think of Shinto as a religion – it’s just a part of their culture.

Also, if religion was a driving force for racist war – rather than an occasionally useful tool – how come Japan’s buddhists never enter into the picture?

I put up a comment above about the way modern Japanese interpret things like ancestor-worship and the divinity of the Emperor. They’re currently in the process of debating whether to extend this “divinity” to female heirs. Clearly there’s a fairly healthy strain of pragmatism in their religious perspective, and it’s probably that same pragmatism that led the ruling classes to use Shinto to their advantage in the war era.

Also, WW2 had two participants and the other guy probably doesn’t class as a religious one.

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faustusnotes 01.30.12 at 11:15 pm

I should say “many of them” don’t even think of Shinto as a religion (obviously no one knows the mind of all of Japan).

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geo 01.30.12 at 11:24 pm

Kaveh, with all due respect, I don’t see that you’ve addressed the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” objection that Steve and I have been making. The fact that there was a certain amount of scientific activity going on between the 10th and 15th centuries (comparatively modest, compared with the amount after the breakdown of theological dominance in the early modern period) isn’t evidence by itself that it didn’t occur only because the full anti-theological implications of science and critical philosophy hadn’t yet emerged. When those implications did emerge, in the fifteenth and subsequent centuries, the reaction of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and even of the more conservative Lutheran and Calvinist churches, was harshly repressive. Certainly the official religious view was mistrustful at best. By and large, bishops didn’t think that theology and science were harmonious companions, whatever the more advanced theologians may have thought.

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Harold 01.30.12 at 11:30 pm

Well, I hope I didn’t suggest that Shinto was a “driving force” in WW2. I only mentioned that it was a factor — I believe it is a pretty even now a big deal in Japan when right wing politicians go to certain Shinto temples to pay tribute to war heroes. But for most people I don’t think the temples carry that meaning, on the contrary. In any case, religions change to express the needs of cultures at the time. The Samurai were Buddhists, and even the Tibetan monks used to be rather fearsome warriors.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.30.12 at 11:31 pm

Seriously, to lump Leninism in with religion, and to explain what happened in Russia in the 30s and 40s by Stalin’s dogmatism, that’s really off the wall. If that’s what you have to do, Russell or no Russell, you definitely need to look for a better angle, and it’s not that difficult to find one.

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Doctor Slack 01.30.12 at 11:37 pm

521: Did I say I was leaving? Hah.

You and Steve are misusing “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” If the bulk of the natural philosophers of a period are unequivocal about their having pursued natural philosophy specifically as a religious endeavor, it isn’t a post hoc fallacy to think they may actually know more than you do about what their motives were, and second guessing them because their statements make your generalizations about religion less comfortable is not necessarily a good idea. (The relative opposition of religion to science, and their growth into separate things, is more a phenomenon of the 19th century in reaction to the rationalist religion of the 18th. Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence is good on this.)

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faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 12:08 am

Harold, I think you’re speaking of the Yasukuni Jinja, and that’s another example of missing the point if you focus on its religious element. The way that the temple is defined makes it inevitable that Japanese war criminals who die in war will “go” there, because its purpose is to venerate those who die defending Japan, no matter when or what their personal sins. Shinto doesn’t much allow for the concept of sin, so the idea that a mortal would set up some kind of barrier to veneration based on the lifetime acts of a dead soldier would probably mystify them. So the shrine is just there, and dead people “go” there, and that’s that. Japanese politicians (and ordinary Japanese people, of the not-right-wing variety) go there often. The problem was one politician (Koizumi Junichiro) deciding to go there in an official capacity. His act was an expressly political one, not religious. I think all subsequent PMs have either refused to say what they will do, or visit privately.

If you’re interested in better understanding the Japanese approach to concepts of evil and sin and forgiveness, I recommend the anime Full Metal Alchemist, in which even the baby-eating bad guys get a reason (a very good one!) for their badness, and a shot at forgiveness. If viewed with an open mind it might help westerners to understand the way the Yasukuni Jinja is seen here.

Also, don’t get me started on the racism of western responses to those shrine visits. Not only is veneration of war dead the only time we come close to ancestor worship (which is kind of sick in comparison to the way Japanese do it), but our cenotaphs honour a great many war criminals, from WW2 and the Vietnam war. FFS, John Kerry was a war criminal and he nearly became president of the USA. Japan has no official memorial day for war dead of any war ever, even its own civil war, and yet if the PM decides to try and do a once-a-year ceremony to honour the dead of every war that Japan ever saw, the US is in shock about it because there are 14 war criminals being venerated amongst the millions. What’s that about, if not straight-out racism?

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faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 12:09 am

“if you focus” should be “if one focuses”. Sorry Harold, not trying to accuse you of anything personally.

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Harold 01.31.12 at 1:19 am

Well, I think you are reading more into my words than was meant, but I will be very interested in reading the book you mention, since I would like to know more about Japan than I do. (I am also a great fan of John Dower, Herbert P. Bix, and the late Chalmers Johnson).

I was there, very briefly, on a visit to the Atom bomb museums at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of one of Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s six visits to the shrine that has the tombs of convicted war criminals, and I remember that it was in the papers. He also deployed some troops to Iraq, which must have been quite unpopular. And I also understand that there were riots in China and Korea over the matter. While I was there, I also read reports in the paper about parliamentary debates, and it surprised me to see the kind of opinions that were being aired there and written about in the paper (such as that rape increases young mens’ fertility and was therefore a good thing — not making this up). However I am well aware, as I said twice before, that these are hardly representative of modern Japan or its people, whom I admire greatly.

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faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 1:23 am

Did you visit the Yasukuni Jinja, Harold? It has a war museum (the Yushukan) that presents an extremely controversial right-wing nationalist view of world war 2. It’s a very interesting experience, because you get to see how a bunch of fascists paint themselves in glory while somehow incorporating into their story the well-established fact that they lost terribly. The last room – about the final months of the war – is very sad, but I think they intend it to be glorious.

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geo 01.31.12 at 1:29 am

Doctor Slack, the motives of the thinkers in question don’t matter in the slightest. Nor does it matter what they thought they were doing, or what their opinions were about the compatibility of theology and science. The question — ie, for those of us considering Kaveh’s assertion that the mainstream medieval theology “motivated and shaped” (he means “motivated” in the sense of “generated,” the way one proposition motivates another — nothing about psychological motivation) scientific progress — is whether their theoretical innovations in epistemology, logic, cosmology, scientific method, etc. followed from theology in something like the same way that relativity followed from classical mechanics — that is, was a development of it — or alternatively, whether, simply because everyone at the time thought in theological categories, their scientific theories initially included some of those theological categories, which were fairly rapidly outgrown and in fact explicitly rejected. The fact that early modern European science was formulated in Latin doesn’t mean that Latin “motivated and shaped” modern science.

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Harold 01.31.12 at 1:30 am

Now it’s my turn to apologize, since on re-reading, I see faustusnotes was recommending an anime, not a book. Oops. The Japanese approach — which avoids categorizing people in Manichean terms as all good or all evil — is one I like very much.

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Jim Demintia 01.31.12 at 1:39 am

@ geo

Well, for Boyle, the divine order licenses attention to what would otherwise be seen as insignificant and unworthy of study. It’s the revelation of God in the world that gives him a reason to look at how the world works in detail in the first place. This isn’t just making use of available intellectual tools, it’s providing the motivation for the entire project and Boyle explicitly says so more than once.

Regarding Locke, I don’t think you can neatly divide his religion from his epistemology. He wanted to support the principle of equality, but I don’t think he wanted to argue for the relativity of all social values, not least because that would undercut any moral claim for the emerging quasi-democratic state. Those moral claims are for him grounded in religion. More than just a set of background assumptions or a conventional language, it’s an active set of values to which he makes appeal and without which the aims of his own arguments make less sense. That’s not to make the claim that empiricism in all its forms is inseparable from religion, which I agree is certainly not true. I mean, it would be a terrifying world if in order to be an empiricist you also had to be a late seventeenth-century Anglican. But as I read him, Locke’s empiricism is bound up with religion, and to forget that in reading him is to get what I think is a thin version of Locke.

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Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 1:49 am

geo: The question—ie, for those of us considering Kaveh’s assertion that the mainstream medieval theology “motivated and shaped”

I don’t see any such assertion from Kaveh anywhere, maybe I missed it. As an incidental product of theological inquiry, at least at first, I don’t see why anyone should claim that science initially followed from theology the way one scientific theorem follows from another, but past the very earliest days I should think it’s perfectly fair to say that theological and religious questions motivated and shaped scientific inquiry. That the early scientists tell you that their work was thus “motivated,” yes in this sense as well as the psychological, should tell you something. (It is of course perfectly possible that they merely spoke in conventional terms of the time but were really doing something else, but since that isn’t how they typically describe the process I don’t see a particular reason to go bending over backwards in search of alternative explanations.)

their scientific theories initially included some of those theological categories, which were fairly rapidly outgrown and in fact explicitly rejected.

If roughly half a millennium later qualifies for you as “fairly rapidly” you could probably make this fly. I think you might get some demurrals, though.

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Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 2:16 am

(Having been prompted to go back a bit, I see that my response to Kaveh’s 517 missed the key part of his point, because of course he is arguing that the receptive of the medieval Church to reason was a product of very specific historical circumstances, absent which a more restricted version of Dawkins’ theory might be correct. Sorry, I was working hastily.

So to amplify my reply a bit: inasmuch as Dawkins’ claim is that the GD is inherently irrational and moreover anti-rational, historically-specific interludes of pro-reason GD should not be possible, grant as we might that the impetus for such “interludes” may be more external than internal. If we modify this to the claim that the “GD” is frequently hostile to reason it becomes more defensible… but also by the same token harder to demonstrate that the periods of inhospitality to reason were strictly internal to the “GD” as such. Basically things do not look good for Dawkins’ proposition from the rise of Scholasticism to the present day, with the particular exception of a reactionary strain of religion that began to appear in the 19th century when science really did seem to be straining the traditional religion beyond some popularly-acceptable limits. That boundary marks something closer to the likely limit of flexibility for the Abrahamic religions as traditionally conceived… but only because those traditions are carrying a specific baggage of myth and tradition which is beginning to show its age, not necessarily because they adhere to a “god delusion.” And even then, there are substantial swathes of all three major Abrahamic religions that have successfully accommodated themselves to modern science. So I don’t think it’s correct that Dawkins’ point is more applicable to the present day.

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Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 2:18 am

Basically things do not look good for Dawkins’ proposition from the rise of Scholasticism to the present day

In fact from the rise of Islamic Golden Age natural philosophy to the present day…

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engels 01.31.12 at 2:23 am

Is it just me or are the threads here getting longer and longer?

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DelRey 01.31.12 at 2:29 am

@442,
Could we have some evidence to support that statement please?

See, for example, the data at the end of this study, from the General Social Survey.
http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/040720.protestant.pdf
In particular, Table 3 on page 17. The proportion of the U.S. population that claims no religious adherence has been increasing for 100 years, and has grown dramatically in recent decades. Other religious indicators (formal church membership, attendance at religious services, enrollment in religious schools, religious donations etc.) also show declines, although the data for most of these does not go back as far.

The idea that fundamentalist Christianity was not a strong influence on the domestic and foreign policies of (say) Jimmy Carter or George Bush Jr is, OTOH, definitely false.

Could we have some evidence to support that statement please?

It seems especially implausible in the case of Jimmy Carter.

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bianca steele 01.31.12 at 2:44 am

geo @ 521

I think it’s also worth taking into consideration the more limited opportunities for surveillance at the time, which was related to the limited opportunities for copying of texts and engaging in debate with numbers of people, as well as the lack of a bureaucracy able to keep track of people who might go off in any direction at all. IIRC you don’t see schools in the sense of lots of people doing interesting things at the same time, until much later. You see one person “going deep” and writing books that aren’t responded to equally deeply until the next generation, if at all.

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DelRey 01.31.12 at 2:47 am

@443,
As I pointed out earlier the Four Horsemen tend to imply that religion is all about faith, and not just any faith, but faith in the supernatural (God, demons, Heaven, Hell etc.).

No they don’t. Faith is a central aspect of Christianity and Islam, which is their primary concern, because Christianity and Islam are so large and influential, and religious faith is such dangerous nonsense.

If it’s true that ‘North Korea’s political culture venerates its dictator like the leader of a religious cult’ ipso facto then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is venerated like the leader of a non-religious cult, like Juche. So what? What is being explained here?

The similarity between North Korea and a religious state.

@445,
delrey at 430: you are speaking of “the Islamic era.” What is that?

The period since the “pre-Islamic” era cited by Steve Labonne.

Also, in case you had forgotten, Indonesia had a secular dictatorship (and before that a communist government) for most of the past 60 years. Its current democracy is only a little over 10 years old, and yet somehow you’re blaming all its sins on its supposedly Islamic character, rather than its history of dictatorship.

Indonesia’s history of authoritarian rule, like its appalling human rights record, is characteristic of Muslim countries. Indonesia is one of the better Muslim countries, and it’s still awful. There’s really only one Muslim country that could remotely be considered a liberal democracy (Turkey), and even that’s a stretch.

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Harold 01.31.12 at 2:55 am

Authoritarian rule tends to be characteristic of non-Islamic Asian and Eurasian countries, as well — such as China, Japan, and Russia, to name a few. There was even a book about it Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power, by
Karl Wittfoge, which connects it with economic conditions, particularly the need for irrigation.

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Kaveh 01.31.12 at 3:02 am

geo @521 My point was that this scientific progress might have been happening in spite of deeply-rooted characteristics of Christian theology, not because of them–because if you look at Christian theology only after the 10th century, then yes you see a lot of good scientific research in the Church (simplifying a lot here…), but if you start looking earlier, say in the 5th century, then you see a Church very hostile to peripatetic philosophy, Christian mobs burning the library in Alexandria, &c., followed by the 7th c. rise of Islam, and only after that, again back to the 10th century, do you start seeing a lot more scientific progress. So maybe neither Christianity nor Islam was individually inherently conducive to scientific progress, but under the right conditions, either of them could be marshaled to promote it. The question is, if theology is really that flexible, how safe is it to say (based on this kind of historical evidence) that it’s inherently hostile or conducive to natural scientific speculation?

The fact that there was a certain amount of scientific activity going on between the 10th and 15th centuries (comparatively modest, compared with the amount after the breakdown of theological dominance in the early modern period) isn’t evidence by itself that it didn’t occur only because the full anti-theological implications of science and critical philosophy hadn’t yet emerged.

I’m not so sure that the threat natural science posed to faith wasn’t already well known by the 12th century. Al-Ghazali had already condemned rational philosophy as a threat to faith, although admittedly, he did approve of natural science. Why would he do this if philosophers hadn’t already threatened faith, as it were? Was he just incredibly far-sighted? Did his seeing natural science as safe set the tone for Medieval Christendom, at least for a while? I’m personally inclined to see Ibn Tufayl’s version of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (12th c.?) as rather openly speculating on the possibility that the origins of humanity and human culture are in natural processes, not divine acts, although I haven’t fully researched this idea yet, and I suspect there are similar ideas hinted at in Ibn Khaldun’s writing (again, needing further research).

The problem is that it’s a very strong claim to say that Christian or Muslim theology couldn’t, in the present or future, accommodate natural science, if that’s something believers really want to do. (Obviously ID isn’t an attempt to do that.) I don’t see the point in speculating on this in purely hypothetical terms, and I think Dawkins’ doing so is motivated by his desire to shore up sides in a holy war between New Atheists and everyone else, in which he plays a big, heroic role. And religious people who get drone-bombed or GTMOed in the process are acceptable collateral damage.

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DelRey 01.31.12 at 3:18 am

@452,
so, neither the haddith nor the Quran says that women can’t drive, and it’s all down to some bloke in Saudi Arabia deciding that women can’t drive. And this is the fault of religion because …?

Because Islamic teachings, Islamic customs, Islamic traditions are steeped in misogyny and discrimination against women. As Islamic treatment of women goes, the ban on women drivers is pretty small potatoes. But it’s still a despicable violation of rights. Every Muslim country treats women badly, and in the worst ones they are treated like chattel.

@445,
I said I wasn’t going to comment again, but this is worth repeating: You cannot persuasively cite these State Dept country reports as conclusive proof of your argument because (among other things) the excerpts you are citing say nothing about the frequency of the abuses in question or their relation to a country’s total population.

Oh please. First, I’m not claiming a State Department report is “conclusive proof” of anything. The reports by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, etc. find the same kind of abuses. As for your suggestion that the abuses are uncommon, you’re completely wrong about that, too. From the 2010 Human Rights Watch report on Pakistan:

“Suicide bombings, armed attacks, and killings by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and their affiliates targeted NEARLY EVERY SECTOR of Pakistani society … Security forces ROUTINELY violated basic rights … Suspects were FREQUENTLY detained without charge or convicted without a fair trial … evidence that TORTURE IS ROUTINE.”

And many types of human rights violation in these countries are not simply a matter of common practise, but are codified in law, and justified by explicit appeals to Islamic religious authority.

Your efforts to excuse and trivialize Islam’s overwhelmingly destructive influence on human rights, human freedom, human welfare is political correctness gone mad.

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faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 3:24 am

Indonesia’s history of authoritarian rule, like its appalling human rights record, is characteristic of Muslim countries.

hahahaha!

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DelRey 01.31.12 at 3:37 am

@489,
And any attempt to pin massive human rights abuses on religion needs to address Stalin.

Ah yes, the “HitlerStalinPolPot” gambit so beloved of apologists for religion as a supposed indictment of atheism. It’s a stupid argument. There’s no evidence of a causal relationship between absence of belief in God and violent or inhumane behavior. Sam Harris addresses this well:

Need I remind you that the “atheist regimes” of the 20th century killed tens of millions of people?

This is a popular argument among theoconservatives and critics of the new atheism, but for many reasons it is historically inaccurate.

First, the premise that Nazism and Communism were “atheist” ideologies makes sense only within a religiocentric worldview that divides political systems into those that are based on Judaeo-Christian ideology and those that are not. In fact, 20th-century totalitarian movements were no more defined by a rejection of Judaeo-Christianity than they were defined by a rejection of astrology, alchemy, Confucianism, Scientology, or any of hundreds of other belief systems. They were based on the ideas of Hitler and Marx, not David Hume and Bertrand Russell, and the horrors they inflicted are no more a vindication of Judeao-Christianity than they are of astrology or alchemy or Scientology.

Second, Nazism and Fascism were not atheistic in the first place. Hitler thought he was carrying out a divine plan. Nazism received extensive support from many German churches, and no opposition from the Vatican. Fascism happily coexisted with Catholicism in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Croatia.

When it comes to the history of violence, the significant distinction is not one between theistic and atheistic regimes. It’s the one between regimes that were based on demonizing, utopian ideologies (including Marxism, Nazism, and militant religions) and secular liberal democracies that are based on the ideal of human rights.

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DelRey 01.31.12 at 3:38 am

hahahaha!

Teeheehee!

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Kaveh 01.31.12 at 3:47 am

DelRey is making me think that the new atheism is a demonizing, utopian ideology.

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faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 4:02 am

delRey, was Indonesia a “muslim country” when it was under Dutch colonial rule? What about Japanese? What about Sukharno? The last 200 years of Indonesian history have consisted of 150 years of colonial administration, followed almost immediately by 40 years of a US-installed and US-backed secular dictatorship. How, then can you characterize its problems as being due to Islam? Again, the worst excesses of the current and former administration were against the muslim population of Aceh.

You’re working on some kind of comic book view of history, delRey.

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Kaveh 01.31.12 at 4:02 am

But seriously, DelRey, the comment about “the HitlerStalinPolPot gambit” that you copypasted into this discussion doesn’t respond to any point that anyone here actually made. 489 was not saying that atheism is especially conducive to massive violence, only that it doesn’t necessarily prevent massive violence. I think you are tilting at imaginary apologists of religion. Or else everyone who’s not with youa new atheist is against youan apologist of religion, in which case see 545.

548

geo 01.31.12 at 4:07 am

Kaveh @540: it’s a very strong claim to say that Christian or Muslim theology couldn’t, in the present or future, accommodate natural science … I don’t see the point in speculating on this in purely hypothetical terms

That sounds sensible. But what if Christian or Muslim theology is taken to include belief in dual substance, divine providence, petitionary prayer, free will, immortality, miracles, final causes, scriptural infallibility, and other things that were considered essential aspects of those religions until recently (and still are, by many adherents)? And if those beliefs are renounced — as I’d say they must be — is it still reasonable to speak of the result as “Christian or Muslim theology”?

549

Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 4:23 am

548: The bulk of beliefs that you list as supposedly needing to be renounced have already demonstrated an ability to accommodate themselves to natural science. Even “scriptural infallibility” so long as one isn’t talking about scriptural literalism, which isn’t the same thing. The history of Reform Judaism is a case in point, but far from the only one.

The process hasn’t been smooth and the products of those accommodations may or may not prove compelling enough to survive an onslaught of new, scientistic religions with less baggage, but that’s a different question.

550

Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 4:40 am

Anyway, as the DelRey Show gets fully underway, I’d like to switch tacks for a second and ask faustusnotes* about his commentary on the Yasukuni Shrine in 525, probably the most fascinating tangent to crop up in this thread (far more interesting to me than DelRey’s ongoing Geerts Wilder impersonation). I was under the impression that the primary axis of controversy on the shrine was intra-Japanese — the Emperor refused to visit it for over a decade because the veneration included 14 Class-A war criminals, IIRC — and to a secondary extent Sino-Japanese (it being the Chinese who suspended relations over such a visit a while back, but my memory on this is a lot fuzzier?). Why is that controversy straight-up racism? Am I misremembering the Sino/Japanese elements of it? Do you feel it was really only important in Japan as a means of accommodating American opinion? (And I get that there are any number of American figures who could arguably be classed as war criminals if someone had the clout to put them in the Hague, but why do you believe John Kerry was one of those?) I’m interested.

[* I haven’t forgotten that I owe you an apology from the other thread, BTW. Frustrating as that conversation was and however unresponsive I took your arguments to be, it was a mistake to let my judgment of DelRey bleed onto you, and I’m sorry.]

551

geo 01.31.12 at 4:45 am

Interesting, Dr S. Can you say a bit about the new forms of belief you’re referring to — regarding, for example, the soul, immortality, or miracles?

552

Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 5:14 am

551: Well, my Totally Half-Baked Theory of the Religious Future is this:

We’ve already seen the early presentiments of what future religious systems will look like, starting in the mid- to late-19th century (not coincidentally as the reactionary trend in the Abrahamic Big Three was really picking up steam). In its earliest phases it was characterized by primitivism (the claim to be returning to the roots of religion, cf. Mormonism and its companion faiths in the Latter-Day Saints movement), or ecumenicalism (the attempt to find the common thread between the major religions, Western and Eastern alike, cf. the Bahai Faith), or scientism (the attempt to bestow the newfound authority of science on religious belief, cf. Christian Science or the Moorish Science Temple). At a later, C20 stratum scientism emerges more forcefully in latter-day religious and supernaturalist belief (cf. the widespread popularity of UFOlogy, or especially — and interestingly — ideologies or religions that professed to be pioneering new forms of psychotherapy, like Objectivism and Scientology). Some partook of more than one of these tendencies at the same time, the Moorish Science Temple in particular.

I would bet (but only in small sums) on most of these being false starts, rehearsals of the next wave in religion. If I had to guess, I would say the next real powerhouse faith will combine all of them — but owing to the extraordinary powerhouse of scientific authority and the perpetual and arguably irrational fascination with certain science-raised questions like “are we alone in the Universe?”, that the most powerful axis will prove to be scientism. A potential model would be a religion that claims to have recovered, say, the true Christian teaching — killed in the cradle of the polemical struggles of the earliest Church — and tying it to the authority scientism (probably via alien visitation) while claiming it matches the requirements of ecumenicalism, incorporates Eastern wisdom and provides a new paradigm for self-actualization and the health of the spirit/body/soul. It will have to overcome the relative flakiness of “New Age”-ism and the obvious toxicity of many popular “new religion” cults to acquire traction, but it can and I think probably will be done. And once it is, it (and/or they) will likely flourish at the expense of the old religions (Western and Eastern) in the same way that they once flourished at the expense both of “pagan” belief and of each other.

A very rough and incomplete sketch, of course. And who knows but that these elements might indeed emerge from within some existing religion instead of as a strictly “new” religion. Or maybe we’ll just kill of the environment and leave the planet to bacteria and phytoplankton, and it’ll all be irrelevant. (Maybe “eco-awareness” will become an important fourth element.)

553

Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 5:30 am

(The soul, immortality, and miracles as they pertain to all this: various beliefs about “energy” for the first two, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” for the third.)

554

Yarrow 01.31.12 at 5:32 am

But what if Christian or Muslim theology is taken to include belief in . . .

Then you would be running a No True Scotsman argument in reverse.

Isn’t Biblical infallibility something that cropped up in Christianity in the last century or two anyway? Certainly there are plenty of Christians running around now who don’t believe in it.

555

Harold 01.31.12 at 5:33 am

eco-awareness, yay!

556

geo 01.31.12 at 5:35 am

Very interesting. I would bet (also small sums) on Eastern wisdom, especially Vipassana Buddhism. The neurophysiology of attention is going to explode as a scientific field, I suspect, and the practitioners of Buddhist meditation have been there for centuries, with an elaborate conceptual scaffolding.

Maybe we can place these small sums somewhere, and our descendants in the 23rd century can get together and settle the bet.

557

Doctor Slack 01.31.12 at 5:36 am

556: Heh. I’m game.

558

geo 01.31.12 at 5:39 am

NB: 556 was addressed to Dr S.

Yarrow @554: Good grief! If you said a word against Biblical infallibility in medieval or early modern Europe, you’d catch it pretty hot. Ordinary people weren’t even allowed to read it, much less interpret it.

559

faustusnotes 01.31.12 at 7:44 am

Doctor Slack*, regarding Yasukuni Jinja, obviously there are many different aspects of debate within Japan on this, and I’m not qualified to report on any of them, let alone to generalize, but I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people think the shrine visits are bad because they offend foreigners and disrupt harmony, not because they are bad in and of themselves. Others find any govt involvement with the church dubious (there’s a strong separation of church and state here) and yes, others think the shrine is distasteful – whatever its particular religious underpinnings, the shrine is associated with a radical and reactionary view of war, and the shrine, the attendant museum, and the weirdo rightists who attach themselves to it, are not viewed well here. Actually recently someone tried to burn down the gate. Also, I think a lot of Japanese (again, I haven’t asked and can’t generalize) see the event at Hiroshima on the 6th August (which is a beautiful event, btw) as far more important a memorial than anything a shrine has to offer, and also a lot of Japanese think the whole stupid mistake (from about 1920-something to 1945) should just be put behind them. They don’t have a long history of international wars, so the whole veneration of war dead thing doesn’t apply here in the same way. Go anywhere in Britain (even King’s X station) and you’ll see a statue to the glorious dead. You won’t find that in Japan, even for those of the Russo-Japanese war or the Meiji restoration.

I’m pretty sure there would be Japanese – even “devout” Shinto followers – who would agree with a pragmatic line and argue that those 14 war criminals could just be kicked out of the shrine, or not memorialized, or something. But I don’t know how that would work – neither their bones nor their souls are actually there, as far as I know. The Yasukuni Shrine website probably explains it better:

“I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino”

I don’t see Chinese or Korean uproar at the PM’s shrine visits as racism, btw. Just the American approach. Regarding US war criminals – there is strong evidence of extensive crimes in the Pacific (I put a series of posts about this on my blog, in connection with John Dower’s book), so – unless you require attendance at the Hague as proof of criminality – I don’t think it’s “arguable” that US, Australian and British cenotaphs partially commemorate war criminals (also obviously Boer war, Phillipines and Vietnam war dead were involved in their share of nasty, too).

As for John Kerry: wasn’t one of his purple hearts a result of a shrapnel fragment from a rice bin that hit him in the arse? This, apparently, was after he put a grenade in there to destroy the rice stock. That was US war policy at the time. Enacting a policy of starvation is most certainly a war crime, and his citation openly states that placing the grenade was pursuant to that policy. So (unless my memory of that citation is in error) that makes him a war criminal.

Once again, I commend the Yushukan and the grounds of Yasukuni Jinja to anyone visiting Japan with an inquiring mind, because it’s such a display of the futility of fascism (and its own ignorance of that futility).


*apology accepted

560

just a lurker 01.31.12 at 9:27 am

‘There are a set of circumstances and social pressures that make it possible for that bloke to lie and claim his bigotry is religious – the same way that certain social pressures enabled Hitler to claim his bigotry was racialist, or Stalin to claim it was all the Kulaks’ fault.’ (faustusnotes 457)
This is where I really have to disagree: if a religious dude claims to be following his religion in doing something, I’m in no position to say that he is lying. Of course other followers of the same religion may not agree, but an unbeliever doesn’t get to say who is right.
Your comparisons (while inevitable) are poorly chosen: Hitler’s racism was definitely a part of his racist ideology, and the USSR was a Communist state that made concessions to the peasants at the end of the Civil War only because it had to, and was bound to roll them back when it could. Ideologies and doctrines have consequences.

561

heckblazer 01.31.12 at 12:25 pm

Delray @ 439 –
“Syria has one of worst human rights records in the world. The vast majority of Syrians are Muslim, Syria’s culture is steeped in Islamic customs and traditions, and Islamic Sharia is the basis of much of Syrian law. I’m not sure what your point is about the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is not anti-Muslim. It is overwhelmingly Muslim.”

Syria is not under Sharia, so you’re flat out wrong there. My point about the Muslim Brotherhood is that that a group that advocates for *more* influence of Islam in the government has long been one of the main targets of repression, which I’d say is good evidence that Islam is not the root cause of repression in the country.

“Here are some of the major human rights abuses reported by the State Department in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia: extrajudicial killings, disappearences, torture, police and government corruption, censorship, rape, honor crimes, discrimination against women, discrimination against religious minorities, child abuse, forced child labor, child prostitution. Malaysia and Morocco are somewhat better, but still appalling.”

What you don’t seem to get how bad a country needs to be in order to make the list of “the worst human rights abusers in the world”. What you quote here is on par with Mexico. Again going by Freedom House, the absolute worst are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Somalia. Please note the absence of Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While five of those countries have Muslim majority populations, only Saudi Arabia has a government based on Islam. Blaming the problems of the other four on Islam just shows ignorance of those countries’ circumstances (Syria has been discussed, Somalia’s problem is a lack of any meaningful government, and if you think the legacy of Turkmenbashi is the result of Islam you’re smoking dope almost as strong as his was).

562

Kaveh 01.31.12 at 3:34 pm

geo @548 And if those beliefs are renounced—as I’d say they must be—is it still reasonable to speak of the result as “Christian or Muslim theology”?

What Dr Slack said in 549–look at e.g. Reform Judaism. Also, if you look at what Medievals characterized as absolutely anathema to faith, what they depicted in apocalypses as conditions of a totally hellified earth right before the end of the world, recall that they say stuff like “men acting like women and women acting like men”, and “wanton fornication everywhere, no regard for decency”, and “the clergy/ulama are completely corrupt”–basically, types of social behavior, to which they add cannibalism, and horrifying events like pregnant women miscarrying en masse (because of, or as part of a sudden, shocking event).[1] Apocalypses are a kind of social cosmography, defining (by bounding) the writers’ and audiences social world. They describe the completely unthinkable. Yet many of these signs of the apocalypse (the sexual revolution, feminism, loss of clerical authority) have already been accommodated if not embraced in a good number of communities or congregations. So Medievals might have said that some forms of modern Christianity/Islam, if they saw them, simply aren’t Christianity/Islam anymore, and I think they could make a good case that it isn’t, based on how they have defined their religious views, and yet AFAIK not many non-believers would contend that socially liberal congregations or communities are actually irreligious (I don’t care what Dawkins/N.A.s would say). Many more communities/congregations have come to terms with not fighting these social trends, so have tacitly accepted them.

I don’t think it’s implausible that religion could continue to hold together in spite of these changes (the sexual revolution), and that if it does, it could hold together in spite of people not believing in an immortal, thinking souls. (BTW, FWIW, Muslims already don’t believe that God is complex, or possesses or is like a mind. I’m not even sure how well supported is the idea of a complex, thinking soul after death, beyond the basic ideas of heaven and hell, which have already been not taken literally for a long time, I think since the Middle Ages.)

[1] these signs discussed in Michael Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic

563

geo 01.31.12 at 5:36 pm

“men acting like women and women acting like men”, and “wanton fornication everywhere, no regard for decency”

Definitely sounds like the end of the world to me.

564

Harold 01.31.12 at 5:58 pm

The Christian apocalyptic tradition was particularly characteristic of medieval popular religion (and preaching, which was where they got it, I think it has a source in a single book — can’t remember where I got this) — and was incorporated into Dante. It seems to have waned during the Italian Renaissance.

565

Steve LaBonne 01.31.12 at 6:09 pm

Definitely sounds like the end of the world to me.

And yet another reason to hope it comes soon. ;)

566

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.31.12 at 6:34 pm

Definitely sounds like the end of the world to me.

Come on, surely you must understand that there were (and still are, in many societies) very good (strong) reasons for the gender roles, rigid family structure, and so on. That was a matter of survival, and therefore, yes, of the end of the world. Things change, taboos and morality do too, but for a while obsolete, antiquated ones keep being reproduced, on the edges. So what.

567

Steve LaBonne 01.31.12 at 6:36 pm

Harold @563- you might be thinking of Joachim of Fiore, who was a strong influence on Dante.

568

Kaveh 01.31.12 at 6:37 pm

@562 Definitely sounds like the end of the world to me.

Or even, it could describe significant parts of the world the Medievals already lived in, either if you travel socially (to the debauched courts of some Caliphs) or just spatially (to places like Zomia or SE Asian islands).

569

Kaveh 01.31.12 at 7:02 pm

@566 & 564 Of course Christian apocalyptic goes way back before Joachim of Fiore, such as Revelations, and before that to the Book of Daniel, the first(?) Jewish apocalypse. And this I believe has its roots in Zoroastrianism.

This is getting way off Dawkins, which is probably a good thing… I need to take a better look at Joachim of Fiore soon, what I’ve read about him thus far is that he taught the idea of a “third age”, the first two being the world before Christ (Age of the Father), and the world after Christ (Age of the Son); the third age (Age of the Spirit) would be characterized by humanity’s direct contact with God and universal love. This progressive view of history is not dissimilar to that of Ibn Tufayl in Hayy Ibn Yaqzan that I mentioned earlier, in that they both describe a movement of humanity progressing towards a direct connection to the divine. There is in fact a very fuzzy border between apocalyptic and what might call theories of history, and one (of many, many) possibilities is that the latter is hiding behind something like the former, or vice versa, or…

570

Harold 01.31.12 at 7:08 pm

566 — No, no . It was quite a bit earlier than Joachim of Fiore — though Dante did adopt some of his very striking ideas, but Joachim was an original (and rather heterodox) thinker and wasn’t really used officially by preachers. I think it was in the seventh or eighth century and is the source of all the last judgments on the cathedral fronts.

In any case, all the ambiguity and redundancy (and even contradictions) in cultural systems makes them more adaptable to changing conditions — like the utterances of the Delphic oracle.

571

Steve LaBonne 01.31.12 at 7:11 pm

Of course Christian apocalyptic goes way back before Joachim of Fiore, such as Revelations, and before that to the Book of Daniel, the first(?) Jewish apocalypse. And this I believe has its roots in Zoroastrianism.

Well, obviously. Harold’s comment was about a particular strain of late-medieval apocalyticism.

Quite a lot of Jewish thought that later found its way into Christianity comes from Zoroastrianism (the contemporary form of which I have some acquaintance with because I used to be married to a Parsi.) Hell, angels, and the whole concept of a Savior would be three prominent examples.

572

Steve LaBonne 01.31.12 at 7:17 pm

I think it was in the seventh or eighth century and is the source of all the last judgments on the cathedral fronts.

Adso, author of “On the Antichrist”? (1oth Century)

573

Harold 01.31.12 at 7:21 pm

Well, I don’t have it with me, but I think I read about it in A.H. Levi’s introduction to the Penguin Edition of Erasmus’s Praise of Folly. These were the “popular superstitions” satirized by Erasmus, and dated back to St. Gregory the Great.

574

bianca steele 01.31.12 at 9:06 pm

I think the idea of where the boundaries between religion and non-religion lie are interesting, as I suggested above. Especially if those who think they are on one side or the other are liable to be accused of being on the wrong side. Are certain kinds of thinking automatically rules out of bounds because they derive from apocalyptic thinking, perceived as superstitious, or as evidence of things like conspiracy-thinking, hallucination, pathological paranoia, and all-around bad news socially? Is Hegelian Idealism a kind of religion? Does Marx successfully shake off the religious aspects? If Marx doesn’t, does Lenin? Would only a Randroid assert the claim that Hegelian Idealism is a kind of religion? Was the Ayn Rand cult a kind of religion? If a person is obsessed with fending off accusations of a particular sort, such that he projects what he feels to be accusations made somehow against himself (often by real human opponents) onto people who have even less power than he does, is he generating a kind of (false, obviously) religion out of his intellectual mistakes?

575

bianca steele 01.31.12 at 10:30 pm

And I should probably not post comments until I finish my post for my own little blog on Cathar novels.

576

Jim Buck 01.31.12 at 10:31 pm

Would only a Randroid assert the claim that Hegelian Idealism is a kind of religion?

Well, no:
http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/en/magee.htm

577

Substance McGravitas 01.31.12 at 11:50 pm

578

DelRey 02.01.12 at 1:48 am

@547,
489 was not saying that atheism is especially conducive to massive violence, only that it doesn’t necessarily prevent massive violence.

No one has claimed that atheism does “necessarily prevent massive violence.” There’s no evidence that atheism causes violence, or other kinds of harmful behavior. There’s overwhelming evidence that religion does. The doctrines and traditions of the two major world religions don’t just tolerate violent and inhumane behavior. They advocate it. Religion isn’t just nonsense. It’s dangerous nonsense. That’s Dawkins’ basic argument.

@561,
Syria is not under Sharia, so you’re flat out wrong there

I said, “Islamic Sharia is the basis of much of Syrian law.” This includes Sharia courts and Sharia as the basis of the the law of “Personal Status” and the Civil Code. The Syrian constitution also requires that the president be a Muslim.

579

DelRey 02.01.12 at 1:57 am

Doctor Slack,
The bulk of beliefs that you list as supposedly needing to be renounced have already demonstrated an ability to accommodate themselves to natural science.

Hilarious. Please describe how you think “dual substance, divine providence, petitionary prayer, free will, immortality, miracles, final causes, scriptural infallibility” have “demonstrated an ability to accommodate themselves to natural science.”

580

G. McThornbody 02.01.12 at 3:56 am

Lana DelRey you are a terrible singer. NPR says so.

“I’m kind of rooting for [every one] of them to lose.”

CB’s hope is fulfilled.

581

Harold 02.01.12 at 3:59 am

Just a note — I misremembered a bit, it was not exactly the “Christian apocalyptic tradition” that was incorporated into Dante, but the “doctrines of purgatory and demonology,” including the last judgment (hence my confusion). Here is a passage from the late A. H. T. Levi’s revised introduction to the Penguin edition of Erasmus’s Praise of Folly :

“The frankly superstitious religion practices attacked by [Erasmus’s] Folly were those of the kind that looked to the Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues [no wonder I couldn’t remember the name] for support. The four books are chiefly devoted to miracle stories, to other extraordinary supernatural phenomena, and to heroic feats of religious edification. They were intended to reinforce in the faithful a salutary fear of hell. They originated in the very late seventh century and purported to be an account of [Pope St.] Gregory’s relaxed narration of the stories to the deacon Peter. They were not a mistaken ascription but a deliberate forgery . . . . They were translated into virtually all known vernaculars and became the best known single source for the piety, iconography, art, literature, and popular culture of the middle ages. They clearly implied that hell was eternal …, that the soul, although spiritual, suffered physically from burning…, and that absolution could be granted after death through the mediation of alms-giving by the living … . Commonsense objections are parried, and the relationships carefully explained between purgatory, hell, heaven, the individual judgment of the soul at death and the general judgment at the end of the world. . . . . .

…..

[In the Dialogues] The efficacy of the prayers, Masses, and alms-giving offered by the living are not so much taken for granted as triumphantly proclaimed. Dante drew extensively on the Dialogues, and its influence on popular piety was greater than that of any other single work of piety in the history of western Christendom. It obviously distorted popular piety into superstition by its assumption that religious perfection was something extrinsic to moral fulfillment. ” –Levi, ed., Erasmus, Praise of Folly(1971, 1993), pp. xxv-xxvii

The Pseudo Gregorian Dialogues s were only definitively edited (by the scholar Francis Clark), in 1987 [!!], according to Levi. Until then they were apparently considered by many to have the authority of Pope St. Gregory, whom Levi calls “the last great Father of the Church.” For an obit of Levi, a Jesuit priest, see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-anthony-levi-6155102.html

582

Harold 02.01.12 at 4:07 am

583

DelRey 02.01.12 at 4:26 am

@561,
What you don’t seem to get how bad a country needs to be in order to make the list of “the worst human rights abusers in the world”. What you quote here is on par with Mexico. Again going by Freedom House, the absolute worst are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Somalia. Please note the absence of Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While five of those countries have Muslim majority populations, only Saudi Arabia has a government based on Islam.

I cited Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh specifically because they are so large. That’s why I wrote “to name just the larger ones.” Their laws and practises may not be the absolute worst in the Islamic world, but they’re still appalling, and between them those three countries have over half a billion people. That’s what makes them among the worst human rights abusers in the world. Not just the laws themselves, but the sheer scale of the abuse.

You’re not doing anything to improve the image of Islam by citing Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Somalia, either. The populations of those countries are almost entirely Muslim, and their laws, customs and traditions are steeped in Islam.

584

Doctor Slack 02.01.12 at 5:13 am

579: Hey, you know it’s funny, I have my finger-puppets here now but no webcam. What are the odds. Guess you’ll have to amuse yourself.

585

Doctor Slack 02.01.12 at 5:15 am

575: my post for my own little blog on Cathar novels.

This sounds really, really interesting.

586

Hidari 02.01.12 at 10:19 am

You are all being far too nice to DelRey. If one looks at foreign policy as well (which one surely should) then by far the worst abuser of human rights since 1945 has been the United States. And the idea that ‘there’s no evidence that atheism causes violence, or other kinds of harmful behavior ‘ is so obviously and flagrantly false that it just boggles the mind that anyone can make it in the 21st century.

587

just a lurker 02.01.12 at 11:36 am

‘the idea that ‘there’s no evidence that atheism causes violence, or other kinds of harmful behavior ’ is so obviously and flagrantly false’ (Hidari)
Atheism is the absence of belief in gods. Please explain how that causes violence or other kinds of harmful behaviour. Should be easy, if it’s obvious.

588

Hidari 02.01.12 at 12:45 pm

‘Atheism is the absence of belief in gods. Please explain how that causes violence or other kinds of harmful behaviour. Should be easy, if it’s obvious.’

You don’t believe in God(s). Therefore, those that do are evil, stupid or deluded. Also, it has been widely argued on this thread that religion is a great evil, indeed, the greatest evil. So therefore it must be suppressed, yes? (After all, if religion is a greater evil than, say, anti-semitism, or fascism, what’s the problem? We fought a war that killed 50 million against fascism. Surely even if we killed even more in a war against religion, it would be worth it?).

And so, in the Soviet Union ‘The state was committed to the destruction of religion and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept.’

You are going to argue back that atheism does not necessarily lead to any of this, which is true, but irrelevant to my argument (anti-semitism does not necessarily lead to a holocaust, but so what?).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_the_Soviet_Union

589

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 1:09 pm

The state was committed to the destruction of religion

So that it could substitute its own.

No such destruction has ever been committed in the name of a sceptical, open-minded empiricism. “Hume, destroyer of worlds”??

Really, after #588 you are in no position to call for anyone else to be treated unkindly. Go Cheney yourself.

590

just a lurker 02.01.12 at 1:10 pm

‘You are going to argue back that atheism does not necessarily lead to any of this, which is true, but irrelevant to my argument (anti-semitism does not necessarily lead to a holocaust, but so what?).’
Antisemitism necessarily leads to antisemitic acts. I’d classify those as harmful behaviour, but YMMV.
OTOH Atheism does not necessarily lead to anything beyond an avoidance of membership in religious communities. If it’s allowed. I don’t see how that’s harmful.
Perhaps you’re right, and Atheism is really an evil ideology comparable to antisemitism. Not convinced yet, but if you make a good case I’ll start shopping for a faith.

591

Watson Ladd 02.01.12 at 1:49 pm

Hidari, since 1945 Soviet Russia and North Korea imprisoned vast numbers of people for thinking the wrong thoughts. China created an artificial famine and concealed the worst manmade disaster in history. What did the US do since 1945? Prop up a few dictators. We didn’t enslave half a continent.

592

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.01.12 at 2:00 pm

Any faith, ideology (or even prejudice, for that matter) doesn’t necessarily lead to any harmful behavior. One can be an atheist without worrying about theists being stupid or evil; no disputing about taste. That’s what I would call “sceptical, open-minded empiricism”. Most of all you should be skeptical about your own ideas.

Demonizing them is a whole different game.

593

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 2:09 pm

Demonizing them is a whole different game.

Yes, demonizing any group is always wrong. That doesn’t mean that Hume, say, was merely indulging his tastes when he attacked credulity. Again, to conflate objections to beliefs with attacks on the persons of the believers is totally illegitimate and invites the collapse of all intellectual standards.

594

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 2:27 pm

The state was committed to the destruction of religion

So that it could substitute its own.

What you seem to be saying, Mr LaBonne, is that the word religion covers cases other than those which involve a big boss sky fairy. Might it even be applied to the adaptationist version of evolution—where natural selection observes every sparrow that falls? And where a well-heeled Victorian plagiarist is seated on the throne vacated by Blakes’ nobodaddy?

595

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 2:31 pm

What you seem to be saying, Mr LaBonne, is that the word religion covers cases other than those which involve a big boss sky fairy.

I don’t “seem” to be saying it, I’ve said it quite explicitly above, probably more than once.

Might it even be applied to the adaptationist version of evolution—-where natural selection observes every sparrow that falls?

Sure, scientists can and have fallen into such conceptual traps. Whereupon science moves on without them. The mainstream of contemporary evolutionary biology bears no resemblance at all to this caricature. Not that you’d know that.

596

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 2:38 pm

I wouldn’t know that if I took what Dawkins writes as gospel.

597

Niall McAuley 02.01.12 at 2:48 pm

If you took what Dawkins writes as Gospel, you would have been missing the point.

598

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 3:00 pm

The point is the social effect of his pernicious simplifications.

599

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 3:03 pm

The point is the social effect of his pernicious simplifications.

Another one who never read past the title of “The Selfish Gene”. Yawn.

600

Kaveh 02.01.12 at 3:39 pm

I wasn’t being nice to DelRey, I was ignoring him, because he evidently was not trying to argue with what people were actually saying, he was just quoting chapter and verse from Dawkinsopedia or something. DNFTT.

@589 So that it could substitute its own.

So Stalin wasn’t a real atheist. Also, Bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers weren’t real Muslims. Glad we got that cleared up.

No, really. Just like Stalin prayed in a church, the 9/11 hijackers partied and cohabited with their girlfriends. If Stalin is no true atheist, than the 9/11 hijackers were no true Muslims.

Against my better judgment, I’ll try to promote clarity: Religion, because of its claims to certain truth and an afterlife, has been said to be a powerful, perhaps uniquely powerful force for deluding people into doing evil, violent things. Science, because of its claim to objective truth, which is only understood by a relatively small number of trained practitioners (relative to the whole population that is), is a powerful, perhaps uniquely powerful force for deluding people into doing evil things. Sure, anybody on this thread could probably explain why science hasn’t proved that Jews and Blacks are inferior, but how is a German bank teller in the 1930s supposed to know that? It was as intuitively obvious to them as “religion is evil” is intuitively obvious to new Atheists, and science added the promise of certainty (objective certainty!). So science is just as evil as religion.

Or it’s not, but you’re not going to prove that to anybody who doesn’t believe it by arguing in these simple terms that Dawkins and the 4 horsemen and their zombie hordes are trying to use. So I say, DNFTT and be done with it!

601

bianca steele 02.01.12 at 3:47 pm

Hidari’s version of “atheism” sounds like the kind of made-up ersatz anti-intellectualism they might imagine in a place that doesn’t have real anti-intellectualism.

602

bianca steele 02.01.12 at 3:49 pm

IOW @Kaveh@601 “atheism” doesn’t necessarily imply “science” to my ear.

603

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 3:57 pm

IOW Kaveh601 “atheism” doesn’t necessarily imply “science” to my ear.

Indeed. For about the 100th time, for the benefit of the Hidaris and Kavehs out there: Atheism is merely the absence of belief in sky fairies; it has no positive content at all that unites those who lack such a belief. Atheists can perfectly well be antiscientific lunatics, and some are. There are many kinds of crazy beliefs.

I don’t even like the label “atheist” because it says nothing at all about what I do value. I prefer to describe myself as a “scientific humanist”.

604

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 4:19 pm

Another one who never read past the title of “The Selfish Gene”. Yawn.

Caricature vouz?

605

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 4:29 pm

Évidemment, vôtre connaissance de la langue française est sur le même niveau que vôtre connaissance de la biologie évolutive.

606

Niall McAuley 02.01.12 at 4:40 pm

If some particular God exists, then it exists, and bad behaviour by its followers can’t make atheism correct. No amount of saintly behaviour by believers can call a non-existent god into being.

I think the whole topic of whether religion and/or atheism is a force for good or evil is silly, and insofar as Dawkins discusses it, he’s wasting his breath.

607

hellblazer 02.01.12 at 4:41 pm

“au meme niveau” sounds a bit better to my non-Francophone ear. You don’t talk about being on top of the same level, after all. But maybe it’s “du meme niveau”.

Yes, I know this contributes nothing to the discussion. But somehow I find that the first sentence of the original post encapsulates the better part of what I feel like saying. Now where did I put my (unread) copy of The Extended Phenotype?

608

hellblazer 02.01.12 at 4:41 pm

“au meme niveau” sounds a bit better to my non-Francophone ear. You don’t talk about being on top of the same level, after all. But maybe it’s “du meme niveau”.

Yes, I know this contributes nothing to the discussion. But somehow I find that the first sentence of the original post encapsulates the better part of what I feel like saying. Now where did I put my (unread) copy of The Extended Phenotype?

609

hellblazer 02.01.12 at 4:48 pm

Veuillez effacer la deuxieme copie de ma response, SVP.

610

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 4:54 pm

I’m sure you’re right about “au même niveau”. Who knew I’d pick up a lesson in idiomatic French on an atheism thread! Truly CT is a wondrous place.

611

Harold 02.01.12 at 5:39 pm

I would not want to see the world peopled with little Richard Dawkinses, exclusively (or Alain de Boutons for that matter, though I really enjoyed “Proust Can Change Your Life,” back in the day). There is a grandeur in diversity, “most beautiful and most wonderful,” as someone once said — and this includes diversity of custom and opinion.

Let us take aim at poverty, ignorance, and fanaticism, and we may see that the problems caused by “religion” dwindle on their own.

612

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 5:46 pm

There is a grandeur in diversity, “most beautiful and most wonderful,” as someone once said—- and this includes diversity of custom and opinion.

And that applies equally within secularism. There are many approaches, Dawkins’s (apart from his newfound islamophobia, which has no place) is one useful one but many others are also needed. (But please, no temples. Ick.)

613

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 5:55 pm

Hurray!

614

Harold 02.01.12 at 6:18 pm

615

Kaveh 02.01.12 at 6:30 pm

Steve @603: Atheism is merely the absence of belief in sky fairies; it has no positive content at all that unites those who lack such a belief.

You made no attempt to address the last five paragraphs of my post.

Seriously though, yes I realize this, and I would describe myself as something like a scientific humanist too (and I think did so somewhere in one of my previous posts, or else implied as much). And I realize atheism has no (well, very little) positive content, but neither does merely believing in a God. Plenty of religious folks, such as Sufis, argued that knowing God is impossible or extremely difficult, and in accord with that, one should be tolerant of all religious difference. Which is in a way a rather obvious position to arrive at if one begins by believing in a unique, omnipotent, omniscient God–the whole via negativa/negative theology thing (favored by a certain Baruch Spinoza) that was mentioned upthread, which some people may have refused to look up or do a little reading on because it’s Latin a theological concept.

Actually Existing theism doesn’t lead inevitably to violence any more than it leads inevitably to apophatic theology (via negativa), or rather, it can lead to both, just like Actually Existing atheism led to Stalin. You may say that atheism itself didn’t lead to Stalin, and I would agree, but without atheism, no Marxism, and without Marxism, no Stalin.

Saying that atheism didn’t directly lead to Stalin in the sense that theism led directly to the Crusades is pointless, because most (or really, all) of the consequences of any belief are indirect ones, that depend on context.

616

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 6:32 pm

You made no attempt to address the last five paragraphs of my post.

I try not to feed trolls. HTH. HAND.

617

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 6:42 pm

In case anybody else is still confused, all I would say is that dogmatic belief systems are at minimum undesirable as a matter of intellectual hygiene and, when embodied in powerful organizations, often have negative social consequences, sometimes catastrophic ones. That includes systems that are officially atheistic and even that claim to speak in the name of science.

I would not have thought that would be a controversial position on an academic blog.

618

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.01.12 at 6:45 pm

dog·mat·ic
   [dawg-mat-ik, dog-]
adjective
1.
of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a dogma or dogmas; doctrinal.
2.
asserting opinions in a doctrinaire or arrogant manner; opinionated.

619

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 7:06 pm

I try not to feed trolls

It is not at all scholarly to stigmatise an opponent as a troll—simply because they give voice to discourses unfamiliar to you.

620

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 7:09 pm

Ah, but it’s scholarly to write, “…a well-heeled Victorian plagiarist is seated on the throne vacated by Blakes’ nobodaddy”? Thanks for clearing that up.

621

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 7:18 pm

Well we could discuss that if you like. I’m not closing down dialogue in the way you did with your troll dismissal.

622

DelRey 02.01.12 at 7:29 pm

@600,

There is overwhelming evidence that religion causes lots of people to do lots of evil things. The teachings of the two major world religions, Christianity and Islam, are full of explicit prescriptions for evil behavior.

There is no evidence that science or atheism cause people to do evil things.

623

Jim Buck 02.01.12 at 8:02 pm

There is no evidence that science or atheism cause people to do evil things.

A rash statement, my friend, a very rash statement.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nazi-Doctors-Medical-Psychology-Genocide/dp/0465049052

624

just a lurker 02.01.12 at 8:08 pm

‘If Stalin is no true atheist, than the 9/11 hijackers were no true Muslims.’ (Kaveh)
Stalin was a Communist; his atheism was a quite minor part of what he was. Most of his victims weren’t targeted for their religion. The 9/11 crowd were religious and their actions had religious motives.
‘I realize atheism has no (well, very little) positive content, but neither does merely believing in a God.’ (Kaveh)
I can still recite the Nicene Creed, it has rather more content than just belief in a God in it. Mere theism is a poor sort of faith; you might as well be an Atheist.
‘Actually Existing theism doesn’t lead inevitably to violence any more than it leads inevitably to apophatic theology (via negativa), or rather, it can lead to both, just like Actually Existing atheism led to Stalin.’
I’d say that e.g. actually existing Islam in Pakistan does lead directly to violence against religious minorities who are seen as apostates. If you can show where Actually Existing atheism leads directly to anything more than people leaving ‘their’ religious group, I’d like to hear.

625

DelRey 02.01.12 at 8:14 pm

@kaveh,
I don’t think I’ve read anything by Dawkins other than a few of those posts on Boing Boing, and I don’t really want to. …
… you’re not going to prove that [science is not just as evil as religion] to anybody who doesn’t believe it by arguing in these simple terms that Dawkins [is] trying to use.

So, by your own admission, you haven’t actually read Dawkins, except for “a few posts on Boing Boing.” But you’re nevertheless sure that his arguments aren’t persuasive.

Like I said, you’re a typical example of Dawkins’ critics. You don’t know what his arguments are, but you’re sure they’re “simple” and don’t work.

But you don’t really care what the arguments are, do you? All that really matters to you is that Dawkins is an outspoken and highly visible critic of theism and religion. You just don’t like that, hence all your anti-Dawkins guff.

626

Jim Harrison 02.01.12 at 8:30 pm

Educated people engage in various shifts to avoid saying it straight out; but atheism, at least if it is defined as disbelief in something like the god or gods of traditional religions, is now the default position. We’re all very well aware that all of the factual propositions propounded by the various faiths are simply false. If it’s an accomplishment to arrive at this conclusion, it’s an accomplishment like finishing high school—you’re glad you did it, of course, but you don’t brag about it. Continuing to proclaim one’s loyalty to Judaism or Christianity or, for that matter, atheism is a political gesture. Many conservatives are quite aware of this and have ceased to assert the truth of religion. They simply claim that it is socially necessary and that it’s absence leads to the Gulag. The other dodge, the one more popular with peaceable liberals and moderates, is to substitute some etiolated abstraction for the genuine god that nobody in their right minds believes in any more.

627

bianca steele 02.01.12 at 8:40 pm

There does seem to be something fishy about the claim that we need religious conformance because anything out of the ordinary will upset the simple folk, said right out in the open, and followed by some quite deep thinking, expounded in detail and at length. It’s almost as if there’s the corresponding belief that the simple folk invariably can’t read.

Either everything philosophy and theology (and related sciences) have done over the centuries , is nonsense, unless radical agnosticism, saying “theism” runs into the same problem as would an “atheist” who retained gobs of theology and just switched the meanings up a little. I might assume the standard-theistic ethic is something like this (hope formatting works):

The proper way’s quite simple: Do no harm,
Do nothing you’d not want be done to you,
To every soul, unfailingly, be warm,
Do everything you’d be expected to.
If you respect us, we’ll respect you, too,
In quite the same way. And, so, now, let’s start,
But this time: with a little bit of heart.

628

Substance McGravitas 02.01.12 at 8:48 pm

Educated people engage in various shifts to avoid saying it straight out; but atheism, at least if it is defined as disbelief in something like the god or gods of traditional religions, is now the default position.

Maybe for those educated people. I live in an awfully non-religious area (somewhere around 40% declared nonreligious) so fine for me, I don’t have to worry about it much. Other places are perhaps not so fortunate.

629

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.01.12 at 8:51 pm

The 9/11 crowd were religious and their actions had religious motives.

That’s just not true. Motives were purely political, and their ringleader (Mohammed Atta) wasn’t even all that religious.

630

Harold 02.01.12 at 8:56 pm

Religion celebrates not merely warmth, but extreme and exceptional goodness, though.

631

Steve LaBonne 02.01.12 at 9:29 pm

Religion celebrates not merely warmth, but extreme and exceptional goodness, though.

Arnaud Amalric says hello. Along with many others.

All sane human beings celebrate exceptional goodness.

632

Harold 02.01.12 at 9:40 pm

I celebrate the Albigensians and even made a pilgrimage to their fortresses.

633

Kaveh 02.01.12 at 9:56 pm

just a lurker @624 Mere theism is a poor sort of faith; you might as well be an Atheist.

Ding ding ding!

bianca @627 There does seem to be something fishy about the claim that we need religious conformance because anything out of the ordinary will upset the simple folk, said right out in the open, and followed by some quite deep thinking, expounded in detail and at length. It’s almost as if there’s the corresponding belief that the simple folk invariably can’t read.

Are people seriously saying this nowadays? This is a shi4ty thing to say! Or did you have in mind Republicans mentioned above?

I mean, it goes without saying that to accuse anyone who doesn’t embrace Dawkinsism of wanting to shield religion from criticism is creating a false choice. We can say that religion, especially monotheistic, prophetic religion, is the greatest force for evil in history, and furthermore imply that people in societies where religion is important are uniquely capable of and likely to commit evil (==> they are uniquely evil). Or we can say that monotheistic religion opened up greater possibilities for apophetic theology, and thus played a major role in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment. Both positions are equally atheistic in the sense given by Jim Harrison @626:

Educated people engage in various shifts to avoid saying it straight out; but atheism, at least if it is defined as disbelief in something like the god or gods of traditional religions, is now the default position.

634

Doctor Slack 02.01.12 at 10:16 pm

Yeah, 627 is a bit confusing. What claim? Where?

635

Doctor Slack 02.01.12 at 10:35 pm

just a lurker: I’d say that e.g. actually existing Islam in Pakistan does lead directly to violence against religious minorities who are seen as apostates.

He said “doesn’t inevitably lead,” not “doesn’t lead.” “Doesn’t inevitably lead” is accurate: while it’s often the case, as with other faiths, that the best characteristics o Islam are ignored by professed believers as inconvenient, Islamic jurists today very commonly condemn people who take it upon themselves to murder “apostates” or assault religious minorities — there is in fact no law in Islam requiring that they do either, and a mass of law, commentary and scripture forbidding it — just as they frequently condemn so-called “honour killings” and terrorist assaults on civilians. But of course that sort of thing, which complicates the effort to paint Islam as universally malicious and barbaric, is somehow rarely deemed worth mentioning by hostile parties claiming to describe “actually existing Islam.”

If you can show where Actually Existing atheism leads directly to anything more than people leaving ‘their’ religious group, I’d like to hear.

Okay: the CCP’s ongoing campaign against the Falun Gong has been justified in terms of official atheism and the ongoing struggle against “feudal superstition.”

636

bianca steele 02.01.12 at 11:06 pm

@Kaveh

I apologize if I misread you. I took you to be, most likely, analyzing and describing a situation in which the ordinary people have their unsophisticated religion and the educated remain (“behavioristically,” let’s say) in the same religion, but out of sight of most people, engage in pursuits that the ordinary people would condemn in the name of that very religion, or more generally find ordinary religion and its defenders silly but understand why religion is necessary for the community. I took you to be describing this situation in particular because of the way you used the word “theism” and the way you focused on the apparent continuum from this to the Enlightenment.

637

Kaveh 02.02.12 at 1:10 am

@bianca

Ah, yes, I can see how my comment might have sounded that way. When I said “Actually Existing theism” I meant existing in history, especially Medieval history, not existing in the present. I mean, I think this kind of dynamic (keep serious thought out of sight) did exist in the social context from which the Enlightenment emerged, I don’t feel comfortable trying to judge people who thought that way, and I also don’t see a need to re-invent the Enlightenment in new and different social contexts by pretending it hasn’t already been invented.

638

DelRey 02.02.12 at 1:10 am

@633,
We can say that religion, especially monotheistic, prophetic religion, is the greatest force for evil in history, and furthermore imply that people in societies where religion is important are uniquely capable of and likely to commit evil (==> they are uniquely evil). Or we can say that monotheistic religion opened up greater possibilities for apophetic theology, and thus played a major role in laying the foundations for the Enlightenment.

That’s not an either/or. Whether or not religion was beneficial in the past, there’s no serious evidence that it’s beneficial today. There is overwhelming evidence that it’s harmful.

@635,
Islamic jurists today very commonly condemn people who take it upon themselves to murder “apostates” or assault religious minorities—there is in fact no law in Islam requiring that they do either

“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war);”

–The Koran, Surah 9:5

639

faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 1:17 am

misreading, delRey, misreading.

640

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 1:20 am

misreading, delRey, misreading.

Yes. I can’t say the book is a fun read, but there are other words immediately before and immediately after that supply context.

641

faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 1:28 am

delRey, I would say that the main reason ordinary lay people fall behind crazy religious missions and bigotry is because they apply the same level of critical thought to their preferred religious text as you are applying to the Koran. Reading a religious text like the bible or the Koran at such a superficial level, from the moral context of the 21st century, is a recipe for disaster, is shallow, and is not something that religious scholars have ever done.

In the same way, reading the behaviour of societies in terms only of their religious content, without considering their development path, resource constraints, political conditions and external factors, is a really shallow approach to understanding the world. It might make you feel good but it won’t help you understand what’s happening around you.

642

DelRey 02.02.12 at 2:05 am

@639, 641,
delRey, I would say that the main reason ordinary lay people fall behind crazy religious missions and bigotry is because they apply the same level of critical thought to their preferred religious text as you are applying to the Koran.

Would you? I would say one of the main reasons ordinary lay people, not to mention their religious leaders and teachers, fall behind crazy religious missions and bigotry is that the sacred writings of their faith are full of crazy, bigoted statements like “slay the Pagans wherever you find them.” It’s not exactly hard to find this stuff. Have you looked at the Old Testament lately?

misreading, delRey, misreading.

Ah yes, of course. None of the countless passages in the Koran and the Bible that command and justify violent and inhumane behavior actually mean what they. No, they mean something completely different! Christians and Muslims around the world have just been “misreading” their sacred texts for thousands of years. Because faustusnotes says so.

643

Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 2:07 am

Of course to dedicated Islamophobes, any suggestion that they actually learn something about the Koran before using canned out-of-context quotes from it is just The Enemy getting all tricksy. (Rather like the reaction of many “New Atheists” to being informed that it might be a good idea to learn about theology before dismissing it, oddly enough.)

644

Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 2:08 am

Heh. DelRey always delivers.

645

Kaveh 02.02.12 at 2:13 am

there’s no serious evidence that it’s beneficial today.

DelRey, show me where I said religion is beneficial today. Yes that’s a rhetorical question. You appear not to have read most of what I wrote. Your comments here don’t pass the Turing test.

646

bianca steele 02.02.12 at 2:15 am

@Kaveh

That’s fine. I do think it’s interesting that in a discussion that started in England, the Protestants and Anglophones seem to have by and large dropped out (I wonder whether Steve LaBonne’s family is Canadian), and most of the serious responses that remain have been apparent attempts to educate on the history of Western Catholicism.

647

faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 2:25 am

delRey, the passage you quoted is a lyrical description of the process of waging war. The part just before the passage you quoted is about ceasefires during Ramadan; the part you quoted is the subsequent bit where the Koran describes the return to war. It is not telling muslims to kill pagans. There are also tracts in the Koran about leaving pagans alone, because it’s not important for muslims to convert non-muslims (god will sort ’em out).

Like I said, you’re applying a shallow misreading. This site might help you to understand a little more about how the Koran is interpreted in connection with war.

You’re showing a very wide streak of racism in your comments about islam, delrey. You’re clearly ignorant of the history of Indonesia and very uninterested in a nuanced understanding of Islam. I’m willing to bet most of the people commenting here aren’t exactly experts on the topic (I’m certainly not) but you’re reading like someone who picked up a few talking points from Mark Steyne and hasn’t thought about them since.

648

Kaveh 02.02.12 at 2:31 am

@bianca. Western Catholicism and Islam. I think it’s because the initial subject involved Dawkins, and his legacy, and his attempts to say something about history, and where all he went wrong, and then when you get a discussion of Dawkins some people’s reading ability drops a grade level or six. (From what I’ve read about The Selfish Gene–I’ve heard a number of its main arguments summed up–it sounds like a perfectly respectable book).

(In all seriousness, I’m starting to wonder now if DelRey isn’t really, actually a bot, which somebody wrote to make fun of Dawkins-followers.)

649

Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 2:41 am

To balance things, here’s a shallow, out-of context, misreading from the Darwin canon:

The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.

650

Jim Harrison 02.02.12 at 2:49 am

In the absence of an actual God, what is supposed to prevent particular religions from becoming anything whatsoever, good, bad, or indifferent? Certainly history demonstrates that even when their plain meaning is not all that mysterious, scriptures doesn’t crimp the style of the exegetes very much, whether they are rabbis getting around the bad things in the Torah or Christian theologians getting around the good things in the Gospels. Religions simply don’t have any bones in them. My bitch about the so-called New Atheists is that they are such lousy historians that they treat historical entities as if they had unchanging essences.

651

DelRey 02.02.12 at 2:52 am

@645,
DelRey, show me where I said religion is beneficial today.

I didn’t say you did say that. I was responding to your false dichotomy of “we can say” that religion is a great force for evil in the world OR “we can say” that it played a major role in laying the foundations of the Enlightenment. No, we can say both of those things (although the second one is highly dubious). There’s no conflict between them.

@648,
In all seriousness, I’m starting to wonder now if DelRey isn’t really, actually a bot, which somebody wrote to make fun of Dawkins-followers.)

By your own admission, you haven’t actually read Dawkins, except for “a few posts on Boing Boing.” But you’re nevertheless sure that his arguments aren’t persuasive. I stopped thinking you might have anything serious to contribute after your first few comments.

652

Kaveh 02.02.12 at 3:02 am

@650 Yes, exactly.
@651 I wasn’t trying to set up a choice at all, and I wasn’t trying to present these as likely views about religion. I was presenting them as a (non-exhaustive) list of possible ways to talk about religion. Elementary logic. “Or” does not mean “one or the other but not both”.

653

DelRey 02.02.12 at 3:37 am

@650,
In the absence of an actual God, what is supposed to prevent particular religions from becoming anything whatsoever, good, bad, or indifferent? Certainly history demonstrates that even when their plain meaning is not all that mysterious, scriptures doesn’t crimp the style of the exegetes very much,

Or, rather, history demonstrates that Christian scriptures don’t crimp the style of contemporary liberal western Christians, and their apologists, very much. They simply dismiss or “reinterpret” the scriptures they don’t like, ignoring not only the plain meaning of the text but also two thousand years of Christian tradition. Not to mention the much more traditionalist Christians in the developing world, where most Christians now live.

Little wonder that liberal western Christianity is dying off so rapidly. When your “religion” is little more than progressive western secular morality dressed up with a bit of Christian terminology, there isn’t much reason keep it going.

654

DelRey 02.02.12 at 3:52 am

Doctor Slack,
… canned out-of-context quotes …

Do please show us the “context” that you think somehow changes the meaning of “slay the Pagans wherever you find them” into something that does not involve slaying pagans.

No doubt, your extensive training in Arabic and Quranic exegesis will come in handy.

655

Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 3:58 am

Do please show us the “context”

When I have time to translate a post into single-syllable words, I’ll rattle your cage.

656

Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 3:58 am

Come, come, DelRay—what’s your training in Arabic and Quranic exegesis? Have you read 647 and the link faustus notes so kindly provided?

657

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:13 am

Do please show us the “context” that you think somehow changes the meaning of “slay the Pagans wherever you find them” into something that does not involve slaying pagans.

DelRey: the context clarifies that this refers to very specific pagans who had violated treaties, specifically grants rights even to the treaty-violating pagans who want to surrender, and excludes the pagans Mohammed’s party had existing treaties with. So yes, the context changes the meaning greatly.

658

DelRey 02.02.12 at 4:23 am

Have you read 647 and the link faustus notes so kindly provided?

Better than you, apparently. The author of that essay does not deny that the passage commands the killing of pagans. He confirms “the direction to root out and kill anyone who had ignored the clear and solemn warnings and continued their polytheism or idolatry.” The only way out for pagans is to “repent” and convert to Islam.

Furthermore, there is no indication that “Joel Hayward” has any recognized expertise, anyway. If you seriously expect to be able to show that the passage does not, in fact, order the killing of pagans, you need to show us that that is the accepted understanding among recognized Quranic scholars, not just a cherry-picked amateur.

659

Harold 02.02.12 at 4:24 am

As someone who still greatly admires Bertrand Russell, I feel a pang of regret that atheism can’t find better champions. I’ll have to take a look at Botton’s book, he seems to have been forgotten.

660

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:28 am

He confirms “the direction to root out and kill anyone who had ignored the clear and solemn warnings and continued their polytheism or idolatry.”

DelRey: he does not and you are a liar.

661

DelRey 02.02.12 at 4:31 am

DelRey: the context clarifies that this refers to very specific pagans who had violated treaties,

No it doesn’t. It refers to how pagans are to be treated after the term of the treaty has expired, unless they “repent” and convert to Islam. It doesn’t say anything about restricting the killing to pagans who had violated treaties.

662

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:33 am

No it doesn’t.

Dude, you just can’t read. Which is why you pick parts of sentences instead of including a whole sentence that means something different.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 4:34 am

DelRey: he does not and you are a liar.

Yes he does. The text I gave you is a direct quote.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:35 am

Quote the full sentence. I dare you.

665

DelRey 02.02.12 at 4:39 am

Dude, you just can’t read.

Dude, you’re lying through your teeth. The preceding verse instructs “So fulfil your engagements with them TO THE END OF THEIR TERM.” But after the term is over (“But when the forbidden months are past”), the order is to “fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them.” There’s absolutely nothing about restricting the killing to treaty violators. You have simply invented that out of thin air.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:41 am

There’s absolutely nothing about restricting the killing to treaty violators.

Yes there is. You just haven’t read it. And I’m not talking about an interpretation, I’m talking about the verses in the quran itself.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 4:46 am

Yes there is.

Quote it, then. I have the section in front of me. Quote the text that you claim restricts the killing to treaty violators only.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:56 am

CT isn’t letting me quote it. Read suras 9:5 through 9:7. It even tells you to BE TRUE to the idolaters (depending on the translator’s wording of course).

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 4:58 am

One more shot:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and afterward convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a folk who know not.
How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His messenger for the idolaters save those with whom ye made a treaty at the Inviolable Place of Worship ? So long as they are true to you, be true to them. Lo! Allah loveth those who keep their duty.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 5:04 am

DelRey is just asking for that quote to avoid quoting the rest of the sentence that he was accused of misrepresenting above, and now seems to have forgotten about.

Anyway, the whole point of the term “context” is that it’s not one line or other bit of text that modifies the meaning of another bit of text. It’s the whole scene in the text that it happens in, which would be too long to quote. Like, if a military commander says “kill those damn Yankees!” it’s not understood to be a call for genocide against Yankees. Unless you’re a new atheist. Of course DelRey knows there won’t be a line in there that provides the needed exposition “we are in the middle of a battle and everything I say pertains only to this battle” because nobody has ever talked that way, ever, except maybe in The Office.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 5:05 am

Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Sage advice from a wise man.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 5:06 am

From the Wikipedia entry on apostasy in Islam:

“The majority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.”

Cited sources:
1. Kecia Ali and Oliver Leaman, Islam: the key concepts, Routledge, 2008, p. 10
2. John L. Esposito, The Oxford dictionary of Islam, Oxford University Press, 2004 p. 22

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 5:14 am

One more shot:

Which just confirms what I already told you. The first line states “when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them.” There’s nothing about restricting the killing to treaty violators. You’re just inventing a restriction that isn’t in the text.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:16 am

For parties more genuinely curious than DelRey, the WikiPedia article on apostasy in Islam sketches the breadth of the controversy within the Muslim faith.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:19 am

(I know he’s already referenced it, but carefully ignored the parts about how “a number of contemporary Muslims, including influential Islamic reformers have rejected this, arguing for religious freedom instead.” Because of course we’re not supposed to notice or credit the existence of Islamic reformers or contrary opinions.)

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 5:20 am

You’re just inventing a restriction that isn’t in the text.

You seem unable to read past punctuation, the very next word after the period being “but” implying, oh, I dunno, that there might be some modification to the prescription involved.

So: DelRey is a liar. BUT maybe he is just be unable to read.

You see?

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 5:20 am

Mind you I am be unable to write.

678

faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 5:30 am

delRey, maybe this will help you with that context business you’re always struggling with.

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faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 5:40 am

Also we’re being red-herringed big time here. War with unbelievers as described in Surahs 9:1 – 9:5 is very very different to punishing apostasy by death. delREy is changing tack there significantly. Apostasy (according to delRey’s wiki) is:

The orthodox conditions of apostasy are that the person in question (a) has understood and professed the shahada, (b) has acquired knowledge of those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims, (c) is of sound mind at the time, (d) has reached or surpassed puberty, and (e) has consciously and deliberately rejected or consciously and deliberately intends to reject as untrue either the shahada (and what it is commonly known to entail) or those rulings of the shariah necessarily known by all Muslims. Maliki scholars additionally require that the person in question (f) have publicly engaged in the obligatory practices of the religion

under this definition (and modern scholars add extra bits, apparently) apostasy is the deliberate rejection of the commonly-understood body of Islamic law and rulings by someone who understands them. It’s not just hte random blatherings of a pagan. So it’s unrelated to the previous text delRey was misrepresenting.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 5:48 am

You seem unable to read past punctuation, the very next word after the period being “but” implying, oh, I dunno, that there might be some modification to the prescription involved.

No kidding. As I already told you, there’s a “modification” for those who REPENT and become Muslims (“But if they repent and establish worship….”). So the pagans either convert to Islam, or they get slaughtered. There’s absolutely nothing in the text about restricting the killing to treaty violators. You simply made that up. You’re a liar.

Sam Harris has compiled a list of other quotes from the Koran illustrating the book’s hateful attitude toward non-Muslims. As Harris says:

On almost every page, the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise nonbelievers. On almost every page, it prepares the ground for religious conflict. Anyone who can read passages like those quoted above and still not see a link between Muslim faith and Muslim violence should probably consult a neurologist.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 5:58 am

So the pagans either convert to Islam

DelRey PUHLEEZE KEEP READING AND DON’T STOP AT THE LITTLE DOTS! You’ve already agreed to one teensy admission – pagans needn’t be killed! – and that’s a mighty big step. Go on. Read further. Turns out you can make deals with them and not kill them and they can stay idolaters! Seriously!

So long as they are true to you, be true to them.

Who exactly is being referred to in that sentence? Three guesses.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 6:00 am

War with unbelievers as described in Surahs 9:1 – 9:5 is very very different to punishing apostasy by death. delREy is changing tack there significantly.

No, DelRey is pointing out that not only does the Koran prescribe death to pagans, but the evidence indicates that the majority of Muslim scholars hold that apostates should be killed or imprisoned until they repent.

It is a measure of just how much your brain has been addled by political correctness that neither of these despicable teachings arouses any moral outrage in you.

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DelRey 02.02.12 at 6:10 am

DelRey PUHLEEZE KEEP READING AND DON’T STOP AT THE LITTLE DOTS!

Substance PUHLEEZE STOP INVENTING NEW TEACHINGS OUT OF THIN AIR AND PRETENDING THEY APPEAR IN THE KORAN!

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faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 6:18 am

No delRey, it’s a measure of how much your reading skills are being overwhelmed by your fear of Teh MUZLEMS that you don’t understand the difference between a pagan and an apostate. Here’s a hint: one of these things is not like the other.

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 6:30 am

Personally, I find this a despicable teaching:

Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.

.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 6:46 am

I’m very amused by Jim Buck’s excellent and pointed turnabout-as-fair-play, which is absolutely spot on. But OTOH I’m bemused that people continue to attempt to have conversations of any sort with DelRey, who as Kaveh has correctly pointed out would likely — and I think this is almost literally true — be unable to pass a Turing Test. At any rate he seems embarrassingly oblivious to the speed with which every single person who tries to interact with him is compelled to hold him in contempt, and that this might signal a problem with him and not with them.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 7:00 am

Oh it’s fun once in a while.

Turing Test

I am genuinely interested in whether DelRey could work out what that “neither a borrower nor a lender be” bit might be about. But anyway:

Dear DelRey: who is being referred to in the quoted text below? You haven’t made even one guess.

So long as they are true to you, be true to them.

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just a lurker 02.02.12 at 7:42 am

@Doctor Slack, 635
I was responding to an attempt to present Atheism (which really has minimal content) and really existing religions (which have opinions on the most astonishing subjects) as somehow equally problematic. If he had at least referred to anti-clericalism, which can be derived from Atheism (when there’s a clergy unwilling to give up their unearned privileges), but no, he tries to blame Communism on Atheists.
‘the CCP’s ongoing campaign against the Falun Gong’
They are Communists, not noted for their tolerance for any kind of independent organization, no matter how irreligious. If there was a major New Atheist movement threatening the CCPs monopoly of power, they’d persecute that.

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faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 8:04 am

The CCP doesn’t persecute all religions, though, does it? It doesn’t prevent Tibetans worshiping, it doesn’t prevent Buddhism, and as far as I know certain types of christianity are allowed. It persecutes Falun Gong because Falun Gong break its rules (as I understand it there are some rules about veneration of the head of the religion that need to be observed – the religious leader can’t supplant Mao). So the Chinese Communist Party is a red herring too.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 8:18 am

688: Hey, you asked for an actually-existing example of atheism producing something unpleasant, and I provided one. As for blaming communism on atheists: communism is ideologically and very specifically atheistic. It doesn’t actually seem unfair to “blame it” on atheists, so long as one does not contend that all atheists are communists. (If there’s an example of the latter on this thread I’ve missed it.)

Obviously there’s no generic belief system called “atheism” to which people subscribe — just a common characteristic of some belief systems sharing a lack of a need for deities. This is precisely why calls for an atheist “movement” don’t move me.

OTOH, if you want real-world exemplars of “atheist” behavior, paying attention to the organizations and ideologies involed in actually putting atheism on top is unavoidable. Basically, attempts to portray atheism as in some way out-competing religion in the morality sweepstakes areas flawed as any attempt to portray religion as being necessary to morality. People will tend to use Communism as an example here because it’s the most explicit and unequivocal real-world representative of official atheism at work, and a powerful illustration of why using atheism as a yardstick would be a massively flawed idea.

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faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 8:34 am

Doctor Slack, I think it’s possible to construct an argument that atheism offers the potential to be more moral than religiousism. Something along the lines of atheist morality being based on principles derived from universal aspects of the human condition, rather than arbitrary rules that are culture-specific and often formed in very heirarchical and old-fashioned environments.

I don’t think I would make such an argument; I prefer to see my atheism as a belief about the nature of the universe, not the nature of morality. But I do think that the “good” things religions lay claim to tend to be quite universal across religions, which suggests that where religions offer positive moral lessons, they’re drawing on something more fundamental that atheists might be able to touch directly.

Dawkins and the Hitch, in ranting about muslims, obviously haven’t found a way to touch that something.

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Niall McAuley 02.02.12 at 9:07 am

Delrey upthread notes that modern liberal theologians reinterpret scripture to allow for things which we all now know to be true, and seems to think this is a modern idea. It isn’t. Here is Augustine complaining about ignorant Bible literalists around the year 400:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.02.12 at 9:36 am

“derived from universal aspects of the human condition” – religiosity is an aspect of human condition, and so far much more universal than atheism (though it might change). And what the heck could “more moral” mean? The only difference is in assigning the source to your morality. You believe (erroneously, imo) that your morality is some sort of naturally occurring phenomenon; they believe it comes from some supernatural force. In reality it merely a social construct.

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ajay 02.02.12 at 10:40 am

Personally, I find this a despicable teaching:
Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.

It’s not a teaching (or an encouragement), fool, it’s a prediction.
I guarantee you haven’t even read the book it’s from. You probably don’t even know which book it’s from without googling it.
If you are trying to suggest that Darwin was all “EXTERMINATE ALL THE BRUTES” then a) have the decency to say so outright so that we can show that you are a liar and b) it would have nothing whatever to do with the truth or otherwise of his theory, or of any theistic or atheistic doctrine. Wernher von Braun was a Nazi son of a bitch but his rockets still flew.

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just a lurker 02.02.12 at 10:47 am

‘I provided one.’ (Doctor Slack 690)
If it wasn’t for Atheism, no government would persecute religious dissenters who disrespect the government?
‘As for blaming communism on atheists: communism is ideologically and very specifically atheistic. It doesn’t actually seem unfair to “blame it” on atheists, so long as one does not contend that all atheists are communists.’ (Doctor Slack)
Do I get to blame all things done in the name of specifically religious ideologies on the religious? Some people on this thread might object.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 1:23 pm

I wonder whether Steve LaBonne’s family is Canadian

I’m actually pretty much 100% Irish-American, and the touch of French ancestry is from a French-from-France immigrant to the US (my great-great-grandfather).

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 2:05 pm

To balance things, here’s a shallow, out-of context, misreading from the Darwin canon:

The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world.

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bianca steele 02.02.12 at 2:25 pm

@674 or thereabouts

I suspect DelRey is mocking the doctrine that the Bible can be read and understood by everybody, and pretending that Wikipedia is Scripture, and I suspect that his theory of linguistics doesn’t permit words (properly understood) to have more than one meaning.

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Marc 02.02.12 at 2:32 pm

@695: I think you’re beginning to see Dr. Slacks point. The aggressive atheists in this discussion are making sweeping claims about the evils of religion. One can construct a precisely equivalent condemnation of atheism using their standards of evidence and logic. This suggests a problem.

For a more concrete local example, can I use the behavior of delray here to conclude that New Atheism leads to ignorant prejudices against Muslims?

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bianca steele 02.02.12 at 2:36 pm

@Henri Vieuxtemps

I picked up Dennett’s Freedom Evolves last night and realized there is almost nothing about “society” in it. Kind of depressing. Only a very little more about “culture.” I’m not sure it matters whether it’s biological, psychological, or sociological? Whichever, the scientists have compiled lists of all the kinds there can be (all right there in Northrop Frye).

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 2:41 pm

It’s not a teaching (or an encouragement), fool, it’s a prediction.

Light a fire and it might spread who knows where. HG Wells, in his book Anticipations of Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (Chapman & Hall, 1901) puts this question into the mouths of the the non-white races:

What will you do with us, we hundreds of millions, who cannot keep pace with you?

Wells definitely did not google for the answer, but he pickd it up from somewhere:

Swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people have to go…it is their portion to die out and disappear. (page 280, 317)

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bianca steele 02.02.12 at 2:43 pm

@Doctor Slack

Communism is opposed politically to religion. But Communism depends on something called “historical materialism” which seems to be metaphysical and inexplicable, and to involve the causation of physical events by immaterial causes. As such it has no equivalent in non-Communist societies except in churches, and maybe among some New Age type religions. Communism also seems to involve a pseudo-messianic theory of history.

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bexley 02.02.12 at 2:52 pm

@ faustusnotes

Coming late to this thread and I’d like some more info on this one:

About information: Bell’s Inequality describes the exchange of information in the absence of humans.

Not sure what you mean by this. Its been more than 8 years since I graduated so maybe I’m just forgetting stuff that I knew back in the day.

ps If we talk about information being transmitted without humans then presumably information shared by other animals is a better example. eg alarm calls by vervet monkeys when a predator is sighted. With different calls for different predators.

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faustusnotes 02.02.12 at 3:05 pm

bexley, it’s been 18 years since I graduated from physics, but I recall it in 3rd year (?) QM. The two electrons are spin-linked (?) so when you measure the spin of one, the other one must automatically take the other spin value. This has to happen no matter how far apart they are. I think it’s a good example because there’s no consciousness involved at all.

Of course the animal kingdom provides many more examples of information without people.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 3:23 pm

just a lurker @688 an attempt to present Atheism (which really has minimal content) and really existing religions (which have opinions on the most astonishing subjects) as somehow equally problematic

Nonononono! :) I’m doing exactly what Marc @699 pointed to:

The aggressive atheists in this discussion are making sweeping claims about the evils of religion. One can construct a precisely equivalent condemnation of atheism using their standards of evidence and logic. This suggests a problem.

And the problem is with the new atheists’ standards of evidence and logic, and not with atheism itself. I don’t, in fact, believe that actually existing atheism and actually existing religions are equally problematic, although this particular statement (that one of these very broad, hard-to-define categories, is more problematic, or is worse) is so fuzzy and imprecise that I’m not too comfortable standing behind it, either. I actually said that I would rather see more atheists in the world, in case that makes my position clearer (a mere three hundred comments up-thread!) :)

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bexley 02.02.12 at 3:27 pm

Ok – I get what you’re saying. Because evidence suggests Bell’s inequality is violated we can rule out local hidden variables theories. Measurements agree the Copenhagen interpretation of QM, therefore the spins of the electrons aren’t determined when they get entangled but only at measurement.

There is only one wavefunction and measuring the spin of one of the electrons collapses the wavefunction everywhere but I don’t see this as information being transmitted between the two electrons. Maybe just a difference in interpretation.

707

Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 3:28 pm

I think that in almost any standard- either colloquial or technical- definition of information one would have to say not that entanglement is information, but that it can be exploited to encode information. And I think the Cophenhagen interpretation of QM makes this especially clear, because you can’t forget that little word “you” in “when you measure the spin of one”.

Of course the animal kingdom provides many more examples of information without people.

Yes, you can have a rudimentary kind of information transfer with a less sophisticated kind of mind (a point I omitted for brevity), but there’s still a need for mind of some sort because information in any but a quixotic sense requires some kind of mental apparatus for semantic interpretation, which is the point I wanted to make.

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Harold 02.02.12 at 3:29 pm

Both Darwin and Wells were making predictions (Darwin’s letter is easy to find on the web). Both suggested that “natural forces” “Progress” or “Providence” or “observable trends” had doomed the non-industrialized people. A belief widely held at the time and based on what they thought was empirical evidence. Neither suggested that the “white” race ought to exterminate other groups.

However, it can be argued that a lot of other people (particularly in Germany) got the idea that it was ok and expedient to help “providence” or “natural selection” or “observable trends” along. And some of these people were scientists.

If you read Adam Hochschild it was not scientists who tried to stop what what happening in the Congo and get it before the public, but often clergymen and theosophists (or at least one clergyman –I forget his name — and one spiritualist, Conan Doyle, and one artist/writer — Mark Twain) — who got together to form an association for universal human rights. This is why I have a soft spot toward spiritualists and mystics and am skeptical of so-called science as a guide to life.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 3:34 pm

Mark Twain was not exactly a friend of religion, though.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 3:37 pm

Darwin, by the way, was a staunch abolitionist.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.02.12 at 3:44 pm

But Communism depends on something called “historical materialism” which seems to be metaphysical and inexplicable, and to involve the causation of physical events by immaterial causes.

You’ve gotta be kidding, I’m sure. What about Adam Smith and his “invisible hand”? Darwin and his “natural selection”? Besides, communism doesn’t really depend on historical materialism at all, all it depends on is a different concept of property. Which is, I admit, another case of causation of physical events by immaterial causes.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 3:49 pm

@708 and 709 I think a fact of central importance here is that morality is as much a kind of habitus as a set of propositions. And also most of what religion is is habitus (religions are practiced, embodied, &c., more than they are believed). I think (though I could be persuaded otherwise) that this is also true, though maybe less true, of science. This is profoundly frustrating to our Dawkinsian brethren, but I think it explains very well why, at least so far, religion has been able to shed what were thought to be absolutely essential beliefs, like certain views on sexual morality, or certainty about the nature of the soul, why it still makes sense to many people when stripped of those things. You can state a belief about the desirability of humility, or reverence, but it’s very hard to communicate or teach those attitudes through precise language alone. This also explains why Dawkinsites are so dogmatic (not just talking about DelRey, I’ve seen others of similar ideology–in fact most of what he’s posted in this thread I have read elsewhere, literally almost verbatim, stated with a similar lack of engagement with the other people in the conversation).

But my point about habitus is that if morality and religion are both heavily embodied in habitus, one implication of that may be that particular religious practices and traditions, if not the actual beliefs, have a lot of moral value (i.e. may be useful in cultivating moral behavior), and these practices may be useful for atheists to adopt.

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bexley 02.02.12 at 3:53 pm

I think that in almost any standard- either colloquial or technical- definition of information one would have to say not that entanglement is information, but that it can be exploited to encode information.

How? You can’t use entanglement to transmit information if that’s what you’re saying. If you could pre-determine which spin your entangled electron is measured as, then someone else measuring the other entangled electron would get an electron of opposite spin and you could send 1s and 0s to communicate faster than light and violate special relativity. However when the spin of an entangled electron is measured the result is random and of no information can be transmitted. Moreover the entanglement is broken.

You can use entanglement to generate a one time pad that is secure from eavesdropping but I don’t think that’s what you mean.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 3:58 pm

You can’t use entanglement to transmit information if that’s what you’re saying.

I’m getting further and further here from things I understand well, but isn’t that exactly what’s happening in quantum computation?

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:03 pm

702: Yes, bianca, I’m aware of all that. But the question was not about the specifics of the atheist ideology. It was whether there was an example of actually existing atheism prone to religious repression. That was the question I answered.

Now, of course, just a lurker wants me to exercise caution not to get my example all over his atheism:

Do I get to blame all things done in the name of specifically religious ideologies on the religious?

Because it’s not very much fun when the shoe is on the other foot. In fact, when I give a specific example of atheism being capable of this or that, I am not trying to tar all atheists with that brush. This would be particularly unlikely since I am, technically, one myself. I happen not to believe in scapegoating in general, of either the religious or of the irreligious, which is why I’ve argued as I’ve done on this thread.

Having said that, honest parties to an argument should be prepared to admit that their side of the aisle is in principle capable of moral flaw. The refusal to do so is what often gives rise to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. just a lurker was in the middle of trying to imply that atheists, unlike religious people, never oppress anybody; but confronted by the straightforward falsehood of this claim, wanted to make it clear that no true atheist would do this. Dawkins is actually right to complain about this trope among the religious, but it doesn’t stop with them.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:03 pm

But my point about habitus is that if morality and religion are both heavily embodied in habitus, one implication of that may be that particular religious practices and traditions, if not the actual beliefs, have a lot of moral value (i.e. may be useful in cultivating moral behavior), and these practices may be useful for atheists to adopt.

As little as I care about Dawkins’s writings on atheism, I feel compelled to defend him by pointing out that if you’d actually read very much of him at all you’d know that he’d actually have very little problem with this formulation. It’s the “actual (false) beliefs” that he rightly objects to.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:08 pm

…when I give a specific example of atheism being capable of this or that…

Then you are being fatuous, since atheism is purely the absence of a particular kind of belief and atheists, unlike adherents to a particular religion, have nothing else in common with one another. All the more fatuous as this has been pointed out to you repeatedly.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:24 pm

And, to anticipate a possible reply to 717, there certinainly are those who paint the diverse members grouped under a particular religious umbrella with too broad a brush. However, reifying a vacuum in order to produce a cheap both-sides-do-it wisecrack does nothing to effectively critique this, and repeating the jape over and over still less.

719

Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:29 pm

As for 689: The CCP doesn’t persecute all religions, though, does it? It doesn’t prevent Tibetans worshiping, it doesn’t prevent Buddhism, and as far as I know certain types of christianity are allowed. It persecutes Falun Gong because Falun Gong break its rules

The CCP reliably persecutes any form of religion that strays outside State- and Party-controlled channels and regulation. The marked viciousness of the crackdown on the Falun Gong is something else again, however, and may be a consequence of the scale the movement attained under cover of general protection for qigong practitioners prior to 1999, or of intra-Party politics and the Mao-style use of a campaign of repression to shore up loyalty to a single figure or office.

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bexley 02.02.12 at 4:29 pm

I’m getting further and further here from things I understand well, but isn’t that exactly what’s happening in quantum computation?

No fair point- I thought you meant using entanglement to transmit information from one place to another (like in bad sf). Measuring an entangled state following a quantum computation would give you information.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 4:32 pm

Steve @716 I know Dawkins doesn’t object to “religion” of the type I described above, where I find fault at least with all of his followers that I’ve encountered[1] is that they assign much more agency to the beliefs themselves than is warranted, and not enough to habitus. Hence, I think characterizing the religious right and anti-choicers as being mainly motivated by patriarchy, and not motivated by the desire to protect fetuses with souls, is exactly right–not just a good rhetorical move, but actually accurate. How else do we end up with so many laissez-faire capitalist Christians? Surely if lines in the Qur’an that promote strong forms of patriarchy guarantee that most Muslims will hold strongly patriarchal, then similarly unambiguous lines in the Bible would make the Christian right favor the welfare state. But they don’t.

So there’s this model of the world they (Dawkinsians) have where beliefs are mainly what motivate people’s behavior, so anyone who nominally subscribes to a certain set of beliefs, A (say, calling oneself a Muslim or Christian), necessarily subscribes to other beliefs, B (kill the infidels!), which therefor justifies discriminating against people who believe A in public spaces and waging war on them, regardless of whether they say they believe B. In other words, Dawkinsianism is popular in part because it makes people more comfortable with imperialism. It tries to sell its domestic politics with an appeal to shared xenophobia.

Maybe his case isn’t typical, but I think it is representative of how this kind of thinking plays out in many people’s minds: it is exactly this logic that Dan Savage used to justify his support for invading Iraq. Replace Saddam Hussein and fight terrorism because Islam (being a religion) is evil. I believe he was channeling Hitchens and other new atheists here. Yes he changed his mind later, but his and others’ early support for war was an important thing.

fn 1 And I care more about what people take away from his writing than how I would understand what he actually said–but from what I’ve heard, I’d be surprised if this error doesn’t also characterize Dawkins himself.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:34 pm

[I] am skeptical of so-called science as a guide to life.

As you should be- please hold out for the genuine article! And of course it can’t be a “guide to life”, that’s not what it’s for, but really it’s the course of wisdom not to base anything important in your way of living on propositions about the universe that are clearly false. As I would hope you’d agree.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:36 pm

fn 1 And I care more about what people take away from his writing than how I would understand what he actually said—but from what I’ve heard, I’d be surprised if this error doesn’t also characterize Dawkins himself.

That’s a pretty poor way to excuse continuing to make claims about stuff you haven’t actually read. Are you acquainted with the first Rule of Holes?

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:44 pm

And, to anticipate a possible reply to 717

My reply to 717 is that it’s simply wrong. There are in fact atheist ideologies in which the atheists have things in common with each other other than their mere lack of belief. Communism is in fact one of them, though far. These sorts of ideologies are necessarily a part of the general conversation about “atheism” whether New Atheist Dawkins fans like it or not. Saying that it would be a fallacy to call them representative of all atheism is true. Trying to pretend that they’re irrelevant to the conversation, however, is sophistry.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:45 pm

Communism is in fact one of them, though far from the only one.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:48 pm

723: That’s a pretty poor way to excuse continuing to make claims about stuff you haven’t actually read.

However, I have read TGD, and AFAICT Kaveh is substantially correct in his assessment of Dawkins’ errors, which his followers do in fact tend to imitate.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:50 pm

There are in fact atheist ideologies in which the atheists have things in common with each other other than their mere lack of belief.

That in no way helps your false equivalence to work since, unlike say Christians of different denominations, or even theists of different faiths, the members of such a group have nothing positive at all in common with other atheists. But of course that won’t stop you from repeating this nonsense a few dozen more times.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 4:53 pm

727: That in no way helps your false equivalence to work

I don’t recollect claiming an “equivalence,” only a relevance. Your inability to grasp the difference doesn’t shock me.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 4:54 pm

Steve @717 Then you are being fatuous, since atheism is purely the absence of a particular kind of belief and atheists, unlike adherents to a particular religion, have nothing else in common with one another.

In fact, I don’t think this is true. Yes, different forms of atheism don’t necessarily have to have anything in common with one another. But atheism is a word and a concept with a history, and this history has deep and multifarious roots in the enlightenment and in modern culture, and few if any people assert a belief in atheism, as opposed to just not taking certain beliefs about the supernatural seriously (and how do we actually know what is natural and what is supernatural? the mental tools we use to make that distinction have their on history), without being aware of that history.

To put it another way, if tacking “and I believe in an infinite, unknowable God” onto Enlightenment morality is vacuous and will rightly be seen as a trivial modification of atheism, might we not also say that atheism itself is a trivial modification of deism or Spinozism? Instead of a God that contains the universe, or doesn’t do anything, no God at all. What’s the difference? I would say there is actually a big difference, but one that’s not captured by the content of the beliefs: the difference is in the history embodied in those words–“atheism”, “religion”.

I’m not saying that the content of the ideas doesn’t matter at all, or is unrelated to their history, or that their histories are equal, or equally bad. Just that one could make predictions about how atheists in the 20th and 21st centuries are likely to behave, what they are likely to believe apart from atheism, even though none of these attributes follows strictly from the mere fact of not believing in God/gods. Just as one can do for theists. Not that I’m suggesting we should try to use such predictions as a policy tool, or anything like that, but that atheism in our current historical context is more connected to, say, eugenics than people may be comfortable admitting. This does not mean we should not be atheists, or that atheism will always incline people to eugenics.

So I agree with Jim Harrison @626 way above–in many contexts, the main content of these statements–I’m an atheist, I’m a Muslim–is political.

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 4:55 pm

Both Darwin and Wells were making predictions…. Neither suggested that the “white” race ought to exterminate other groups.

Darwin, certainly not. Wells, definitely so:

The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void: and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully and efficiently will be to die. For a multitude of contemptible and silly creatures, fear-driven and helpless and useless, unhappy or hatefully happy in the midst of squalid dishonour, feeble, ugly, inefficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing and multiplying through sheer incontinence and stupidity, the men of the New Republic will have little pity and less benevolence. They will have an ideal that will make killing worth the while.’
Anticipations of Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (Chapman & Hall, 1901)

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 4:55 pm

I don’t recollect claiming an “equivalence,” only a relevance.

You failed in that as well. My view of the world has nothing at all in common with, say, Ayn Rand’s, and the fact tat she was an atheist and I am also an atheist has no relevance at all, to anything. But go right ahead and keep digging.

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ajay 02.02.12 at 4:57 pm

Surely if lines in the Qur’an that promote strong forms of patriarchy guarantee that most Muslims will hold strongly patriarchal, then similarly unambiguous lines in the Bible would make the Christian right favor the welfare state. But they don’t.

No, because there isn’t much about a welfare state in the Bible. There’s a lot about individual charity, but that’s a different thing; and, if anything, the Christian right are in favour of greater reliance on individual and church charities in place of a welfare state.

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ajay 02.02.12 at 4:59 pm

730: OK, so you were lying previously about Darwin, and you’re still at it, because that quote from Wells isn’t about how white people should exterminate other groups. Is it?

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:00 pm

731: go right ahead and keep digging.

Funny, I was about to tell you the same thing. But before you pick up your shovel, you might want to go out and look up the word “relevance,” and then have another look at the exchange leading up to mention of the CCP. I don’t think you’ll actually have the wit to do that, of course… but it’s what you should do.

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Niall McAuley 02.02.12 at 5:02 pm

Kaveh writes: Just that one could make predictions about how atheists in the 20th and 21st centuries are likely to behave, what they are likely to believe apart from atheism, even though none of these attributes follows strictly from the mere fact of not believing in God/gods.

Indeed. For example, atheists, when thirsty, are likely to believe they’ll have another drink.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:02 pm

733: ajay, Jim was having a joke at DelRey’s expense about the manipulation of out-of-context quotes. He’s yanking your chain.

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Salient 02.02.12 at 5:10 pm

There are in fact atheist ideologies in which the atheists have things in common with each other other than their mere lack of belief. Communism is in fact one of them, though far.

Rather than point out there exist theist communists and draw you a Venn diagram, I’ll just point out that you’re invoking a very abstract and generalized and metaphorical definition of the word belief, and a lot of the back-and-forth here.

I can’t say I particularly mind extending definitions, given my analogous invoking of ‘symptom’ recently, but it’s worth observing from my own blunders that extending away from the assumed definition of a word in this way is (1) likely to upset people who don’t catch on to what you’re doing, (2) likely to confuse people who are making a good-faith effort to understand you, and (3) can degrade the whole conversation into utterly pointless rhetorical sling-fests. If people don’t understand what you’re doing,

I think (or at least I thought up until recently) that explicitly introducing a distinction between belief and conviction might help. Since this is a conversation about belief, let’s agree to temporarily deploy the word ‘belief’ only when discussing beliefs that are inherently unverifiable in the sense of they defy any attempt to characterize themselves as independently verifiable, and ‘conviction’ when discussing beliefs that are potentially verifiable.

In that lingo, ‘communism’ is a conviction (which plenty of atheists and theists upheld and still uphold) whereas {whatever religion} constitutes a belief or set of beliefs, which might be quite vaguely defined (this seems to go hand in hand with unverifiable). I can’t speak for others but I’d be equally happy with religious belief and nonreligious belief respectively.

This would let you express what you mean to be expressing without nearly so much misunderstanding or bad blood. The statement “plenty of people who are atheist are nonetheless heavily invested in nonreligious beliefs with equally thin evidence to support them” is perfectly valid, but it seems like that’s not what people are hearing from you.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 5:16 pm

The statement “plenty of people who are atheist are nonetheless heavily invested in nonreligious beliefs with equally thin evidence to support them” is perfectly valid, but it seems like that’s not what people are hearing from you.

Indeed not. And if he merely wanted to say that, rather then yanking people’s chains in a puerile manner, he’d find little or no disagreement. Certainly not from me since I’ve aid exactly that myself (@603).

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:32 pm

In fact I wasn’t stretching to “invested in nonreligious beliefs with equally thin evidence to support them,” although of course that’s true. I really was doing in fact exactly what I said I was doing, giving a limited answer to a specific question. Of course the asker was trying to make a sweeping implication about atheism-in-general, rather than any specific variant, and was loading the question for that purpose. The squalling that has resulted from simply giving it a straight and specific answer is, in a way, my point. Labonne in particular, now suddenly so punctilious about broad-brushing and utterly convinced that’s what I must really be up to even after I’ve absolutely explicitly said otherwise, has not for much of the thread been willing to extend any similar courtesy to others. I really don’t care for that kind of… well, let’s just say I think it’s a performative self-contradiction.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 5:36 pm

738: yanking people’s chains in a puerile manner,

Just keep on sweet-talking me, you silver-tongued devil, you.

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Niall McAuley 02.02.12 at 5:39 pm

Since this is a conversation about belief, let’s agree to temporarily deploy the word ‘belief’ only when discussing beliefs that are inherently unverifiable in the sense of they defy any attempt to characterize themselves as independently verifiable, and ‘conviction’ when discussing beliefs that are potentially verifiable.

Back when I was a religious lad, I would have objected strongly to that distinction, since I did not hold any beliefs which I thought were inherently unverifiable, so that my verifiable religion was as good as your verifiable conviction any day of the week.

(Of course, my religion turned out to be verifiable and false, but that is a different issue.)

Now that I am an older atheist, I object on the grounds that all beliefs are inherently unverifiable.

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Salient 02.02.12 at 6:03 pm

I really was doing in fact exactly what I said I was doing, giving a limited answer to a specific question

Maybe specify the question and its answer? I’ve read over the exchange, and all I can tell is that you (a) refuse to distinguish nontheist from atheist from antitheist and (b) are investing a lot of time and energy in attempting to convince us that basically everyone is belief-loony in some sense (a proposition which I am willing to take, no pun intended, on faith). Maybe it’s my failure at reading comprehension, but I really cannot tell what you are attempting to convince me is true.

I object on the grounds that all beliefs are inherently unverifiable.

Fair enough, I think I get what you mean. But surely we need, or at least we could make good use of, some way of distinguishing metaphysical beliefs from beliefs about institutional structures? I’m fine with categorizing atheism as a category of metaphysical religious belief (provided that the other two categories are monotheism and polytheism to preserve generality) but proposing communism belongs in there as a subcategory is fallacious. I know there’s an entire body of philosophy I should be leaning on in order to more carefully and less objectionably construct the distinction; I just don’t know whose body it is.

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 6:49 pm

Salient: are investing a lot of time and energy in attempting to convince us that basically everyone is belief-loony in some sense
This isn’t how I understood Dr Slack’s posts.

I find it more surprising and (IMO) more significant that my proposition that the ideas have histories that are embodied in them, and that may be more consequential than what we take to be the explicit content of the ideas, was met with any kind of opposition (by anyone other than DelRey).

ajay @732 Fair enough, but is the Bible really promoting individual charity as opposed to state welfare? Or is the distinction an arbitrary one, even one that goes against the plain meaning of the text, but that lets conservatives appeal to the Bible as a source of moral authority while still being economic conservatives?

Niall @735 Has my chain, too, now been yanked upon? My point was that ideas have histories; these histories affect how holders of these ideas tend to behave (maybe even only by means of a selection effect). This can’t seriously be controversial here?

(Something I am convinced of, that might really be controversial, is that treating ideas as if they have no histories is “dangerous nonsense”, and is what is precisely “religious”, or an unverifiable belief, that characterizes Dawkinsians.)

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geo 02.02.12 at 6:52 pm

DelRey took a lot of grief above for insisting that the Koran prescribes war on infidels, and not only defensive war. Having just read Suras 7-9 (the limit, I freely acknowledge, of my knowledge of The Book), I’m not sure he/she was mistaken. The translation I consulted (http://looklex.com/textarchive/koran/009.htm) was pretty ambiguous about what conditions justified going on the attack. (And apostasy is neither here nor there: the duty to punish apostates is undisputed, as far as I can see; the question is whether peaceful coexistence with nonbelievers is permanently possible.) I would ask, for example, those who kept directing DelRey back to the context of the hair-raising passages he quoted if they can find something in the context of the passage below, from Sura 9, that takes the sting out of it:

29Fight those who believe not in God and in the last day, and who forbid not what God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth from amongst those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands and be as little ones.

30 The Jews say Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! How they lie!

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 7:01 pm

Of course ideas have histories. But to rely for some social purpose on ideas that fulfilled that purpose in the past, but that are increasingly and for good reasons seen as untenable by educated people, is to build on sand. I suspect that some people dislike Dawkins merely because he ties to force them to face this problem when they’d rather not.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 7:02 pm

Tries, that is. AFAIK Dawkins is not into bondage. ;)

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 7:17 pm

DelRey took a lot of grief above for insisting that the Koran prescribes war on infidels, and not only defensive war.

DelRey got the most trouble for not knowing what 9:5 was about. I can certainly agree that the quran says a lot of bad stuff – I’m one of those mean atheists – but knowing what the bad stuff is might be important.

29Fight those who believe not in God and in the last day, and who forbid not what God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth from amongst those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands and be as little ones.

30 The Jews say Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! How they lie!

As far as I understand these lines, they are indeed about conquest, but not about the indiscriminate killing that DelRey was insisting on. Subjugate them and make them pay tax is pretty much it. “God fight them” is rendered differently in different translations; I don’t speak Arabic so I can’t distinguish “God will get those jerks!” (there is a TON of this is the quran) from “God says go kill them!” I do think it’s worth noting that military campaigns conducted in an Islamic manner (ha ha yes of course everybody obeyed the law) did again allow for mercy of a kind that was not too common in warfare of that age.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 7:19 pm

And of course CT does not like real HTML, so from 30: blockquote>30 The Jews say Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! How they lie!As far as I understand these lines, they are indeed about conquest, but not about the indiscriminate killing that DelRey was insisting on. Subjugate them and make them pay tax is pretty much it. “God fight them” is rendered differently in different translations; I don’t speak Arabic so I can’t distinguish “God will get those jerks!” (there is a TON of this is the quran) from “God says go kill them!” I do think it’s worth noting that military campaigns conducted in an Islamic manner (ha ha yes of course everybody obeyed the law) did again allow for mercy of a kind that was not too common in warfare of that age.

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 7:22 pm

GRR!

And of course CT does not like real HTML, so from 30: 30 The Jews say Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say that the Messiah is the son of God; that is what they say with their mouths, imitating the sayings of those who misbelieved before. God fight them! How they lie!

As far as I understand these lines, they are indeed about conquest, but not about the indiscriminate killing that DelRey was insisting on. Subjugate them and make them pay tax is pretty much it. “God fight them” is rendered differently in different translations; I don’t speak Arabic so I can’t distinguish “God will get those jerks!” (there is a TON of this is the quran) from “God says go kill them!” I do think it’s worth noting that military campaigns conducted in an Islamic manner (ha ha yes of course everybody obeyed the law) did again allow for mercy of a kind that was not too common in warfare of that age.

While I’m cluttering things up there’s also historical context to these instructions; the part of the believers was getting specific advice from the heavens about what to do in a particular circumstance. That doesn’t really help if you’re just presented with the verses, because it’s hard to work out and can of course be read outside of the specific campaigns being spoken of.

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 7:30 pm

I suspect that some people dislike Dawkins merely because he tries to force them to face this problem when they’d rather not.

I began disliking him when he began getting his panties in a twist about Dr Who plotlines.

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Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 7:31 pm

I do think it’s worth noting that military campaigns conducted in an Islamic manner (ha ha yes of course everybody obeyed the law) did again allow for mercy of a kind that was not too common in warfare of that age.

Well, let’s give the Christians some credit here- the church has put a lot of effort over the millenia into elaborating rules of civilized warfare (one of my favorite oxymorons, by the way) but human nature being what it is, Christians (including clerics) were no better at following them than Muslims were at following theirs. (Of course, in the hypocrisy department the Christians had the additional burden of having to explain away the pacifist ideas attributed to the founder of their religion.)

Anyway, I too can’t join even geo’s mild defense of DelRey. In the context of current politics in Europe and the US, any singling out of Islam for special opprobrium should be automatically suspect.

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Jim Harrison 02.02.12 at 7:33 pm

Drawing the veil of ignorance over your own eyes may make sense as an approach to political philosophy, but it’s a lousy way to understand history. Since Muslim interpreters have been arguing in writing over every line of the Koran since the early days of Islam, there’s an extensive record of what believers thought their scriptures meant. Of course consulting this record won’t yield many unambiguous conclusions because Muslims, like members of every other religion, disagree among themselves and always have—within a century or so of Mohammed’s death, for example, some of them were interpreting “jihad” as an inward moral struggle while others were insisting on construing it as a call for a literal holy war. My point is that drawing global conclusions about the eternal nature of Islam on the basis of reading two verses of the Koran is a pretty shaky procedure. Nietzsche wrote someplace that only words without histories have definitions. And if that’s true for words, it’s surely true for so ramshackle a haecceity as a religion, which makes Howl’s Moving Castle look like a phone booth.

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Jim Buck 02.02.12 at 7:36 pm

29Fight those who believe not in God and in the last day, and who forbid not what God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth from amongst those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands and be as little ones.

My bet is that there are subtleties in the classical Arabic which aren’t captured by the English translation. For instance, the reference to the Book; does that mean the Quran? Or does it mean the message believed to be given to the people of the book —which would include righteous Jews and Christians?

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Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 7:38 pm

My point is that drawing global conclusions about the eternal nature of Islam on the basis of reading two verses of the Koran is a pretty shaky procedure.

Yes. Something that interests me is what these folks are doing. Is it a progression or a reversion?

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 7:50 pm

geo: Why is this always about Islam? I’m curious about that. Most Muslim countries are militarily weak, on average they are poor, only one has nuclear weapons, compared to Christian countries and Israel. Why are new atheists always quoting the Qur’an to make points about religion in general?

But to answer your question, I don’t think it can be determined one way or another for certain, from available evidence, WRT that Surah. Also, as I understand it, under many (most?) interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, only the divinely-ordained head of the Muslim community (like, a Caliph) has the authority to wage jihad. So in theory, the answer to your question is no, the line shouldn’t be read to call for permanent jihad. I don’t think any of this matters that much, because historically, many if not most Muslims did understand physical, worldly jihad to be praiseworthy. Also, AFAIK, the idea that jihad is a duty didn’t play that much of a role in Muslim societies, historically. I very much doubt that it had much affect on the strategic calculus of many Muslim military leaders, for example. Most states are expansionist if they can be, Muslim states no more so. Sans states, how does one wage jihad? Sans jihad, states conquer anyway, and often try to enforce religious conformity.

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Salient 02.02.12 at 7:59 pm

This isn’t how I understood Dr Slack’s posts.

‘s what I get for only descrolling back to comment 350 or so, still after the original exchange happened. I’m caught up now.

To answer Substance’s question of much earlier — it depends on your audience and your goal. If you want access to the ears and minds of the loosely religious, you might want to be able to pre-empt of the contrary arguments they’ve heard. Failing to familiarize yourself with the literature could mean leaving your argument exposed to an objection that is easy enough to construct, but missing from your book because you didn’t know it existed to object to.

Certainly, taking notes on the pattern of sin and grief Augustine’s Confessions clarified the relationship of the deeply fundamental to guilt and its predication on a rather intricate genderification of, well, everything; wanting God to have the power of a man like himself, but the perfect virtue of the women he longs after. Righteousness is an active state for men, and passive state for women; that’s why men can be redeemed, and women, for all the lip service otherwise, cannot. When a man sins, it is what he does; when a woman sins, it is what she is.

And the ‘is’ in that sentence is defined not by internal states of mind, but by witnessed behavior; men have a rich and struggling inner life, a tension between competing impulses for action, that women are assumed to not have.

The possibility that a woman might experience impulse, much less competing impulses, doesn’t just ; he’s terrified of it. All the strongest confessions Augustine makes revolve around revealing his impulsive feelings to a woman (or girl) and then freaking the fuck out that he might’ve destroyed her.

He masks this a little with discussion of reputation, but you can almost literally feel him pushing you into earthly-worldly distractions from the possible mortal sin. But the message he’s obscuring is clear — Women are presumed so free of impulse that mere exposure to it endangers their constitution.

Now sure, I know that all of you probably realized that just by reasoning from the example with Eve and the snake that everyone knows. But seriously, damnit, cut me some slack; before reading deeply into Augustine I had honestly interpreted Eve’s decision as an act of will, and figured that fellow believers did too. This underlying unspoken shit is hard for some of us to figure out, okay?

I don’t know, look, maybe the real reason to read the old thinkers is that they didn’t, in their time, feel any need to mask their thoughts in twentieth century dogwhistle bullshit, and so you can more easily figure out the real emotional core of the belief system you’re trying to study.

So +1 to Kaveh. Ideas have histories. And the emotional meaning, the part that you learn mostly by social observation, the part has staying power and motivating power and imaginative force, diverges over time from the literal set of things that are said, to the point where critical observation from the outside gets all the felt ideas wrong by getting all the rhetoric literally right.

Conversely. If your audience is fellow atheists, and you’re intent on celebrating your awesome shared awareness, then perhaps ignorance of the canonical texts is something to brag about, every bit as much as local right-wing radio talk show hosts boast of not having a fancy college education. I’m not saying that’s true of Dawkins, who I’ve never cared enough about to bother to read in any detail; I’m just proposing a distinction that addresses Substance’s question (in a way that, I hope, is substantial).

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Kaveh 02.02.12 at 8:18 pm

Steve: some people dislike Dawkins merely because he ties to force them to face this problem when they’d rather not.

Maybe, but I think I have pretty good reasons for really disliking Dawkins, from stuff of his that I actually read.

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Doctor Slack 02.02.12 at 8:18 pm

Salient: I’ve read over the exchange, and all I can tell is that you (a) refuse to distinguish nontheist from atheist from antitheist and (b) are investing a lot of time and energy in attempting to convince us that basically everyone is belief-loony in some sense

Again: a poster asked (rhetorically, and plainly thinking there could be no answer) for a real-world example of atheism “leading to” persecution. I provided an example that fits (or at minimum is a very, very strong candidate for a fit) what was asked for. That was it. That simple answer — citing a party that describes itself specifically as atheist and justified its persecution of another party explicitly on those grounds — has proved to be a kind of useful Rorschach test. Because the answer contained nothing whatever — and, of itself, implied nothing whatever — about what I think of atheist vs. antitheist, or whether or not I am trying to paint all atheists with the brush of communism, or whether or not I am trying convince anyone that everyone is loony has to be provided by others. All of that stuff has to be read in, and the patterns of that reading-in (some of it, as in Steve’s case, almost desperately insistent even after I explained very, very clearly the real limits and purposes of that answer, and what I believe or do not believe about atheism in general) have been very informative.

But surely we need, or at least we could make good use of, some way of distinguishing metaphysical beliefs from beliefs about institutional structures? I’m fine with categorizing atheism as a category of metaphysical religious belief. . . but proposing communism belongs in there as a subcategory is fallacious.

Communism (strictly-speaking, the Marxism and Maoism relevant to the CCP, you are of course correct that not all variants of communism are atheistic) is not a “subcategory.” It is an instance: an ideology that very explicitly holds this metaphysical belief, and justifies certain forms of action and yes, persecution based on that metaphysical belief, just as certain systems of theism can instantiate certain forms of persecution justified by theistic metaphysical belief (as with the specific example of Islam and apostasy, which while not the inherent characteristic of Islam that bigots would like to pretend, nevertheless does happen). The ideology holds to other things, too, but I provided an example that AFAICT could be linked as robustly to the specifically atheist elements of Communist belief as apostasy killings can be linked to specifically theistic elements of Islamic belief; if I didn’t think such was the case, I wouldn’t have provided the example.

No such linkage is bulletproof, of course. One thing I would clarify further (this I’d hoped would be obvious from the context of my prior comments, but then it’s a hella long thread) is that there is just as open a question about any instance of atheism genuinely “leading” to anything as there is a question about claims that this or that religion’s metaphysical beliefs have “led” to anything. I’m granting to my own example only the same very limited latitude I was willing to give the argument about apostasy that preceded it. It may of course prove to be the case that Falun Gong’s persecution had little to do with official atheism in truth, whatever the public claims may be, in just the same way as it could well prove true about many instances of murder over “apostasy” or “paganism” are disguising other phenomena about religious motives. There is always a speculative element to talking about the motivations and real causative factors in the behaviour of states or communities.

759

Watson Ladd 02.02.12 at 8:30 pm

Kaveh, the answer is very simple: Since 1991 assassins inspired by Islamic ideology have terrorized publishers into submission, whether by stabbing them in broad daylight or mobbing embassies of countries that refuse to censor them. Yale University Press has refused to publish books that might offend these people. Opera performances featuring depictions of Muhammed have been canceled because of threats of terrorism. Osama bin Laden is waging jihad: most believers don’t follow him, but it is a way to wage a war without a state. Of all the problems religions have caused, religious censorship is the one that has been very decisively defeated, and now it’s coming back.

760

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 8:31 pm

Osama bin Laden is waging jihad

He was killed recently, so that totem is hard to shake now.

761

Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 8:35 pm

Watson, just take a peek over at the Susan G. Komen thread. I have a 19-year-old daughter. Right-wing Christians in the US are a far greater threat to what is near and dear to me than Muslims anywhere.

762

Salient 02.02.12 at 8:41 pm

there is just as open a question about any instance of atheism genuinely “leading” to anything as there is a question about claims that this or that religion’s metaphysical beliefs have “led” to anything

I’d summarize this as “atheism is just as bullshit an excuse to go to war against people you hate or resent as theism is” in order to agree with you, but it’s backwards in its presentation. Hatred of some or other particular religion and its adherents has motivated a hell of a lot of wars, whether hatred of Islam, hatred of Protestant Christians, hatred of the Jewish, hatred of the Falun Gong. Bigotry begets hostility.

Whether that bigotry is borne of religious conviction is, at least from my perspective, a secondary matter. I hesitate to conjecture that any of the bigoted warmonger groups whose targets I implicitly acknowledged above would have acted otherwise if they were adherents to whatever other belief system.

For example, my experience of tea partiers is that those who have any kind of strong feelings about Islam actually just hate Arabs; the Christian justification is hefted in ex-post-facto as an self-defense mechanism to combat inner disquiet and/or the kind of accusations that prompt inner disquiet, the kind of mechanism that survives only among populations who all feel a common need for it.

They hate Arabs (and a lot of Europeans, to be honest) because they’re un-American. As incoherent a justification as that may sound, that’s what they’re feeling.

So I hesitate to pin that on Christianity, every bit as much as I hesitate to pin the persecution of the Falun Gong (or for that matter the similarly ill treatment of Tibet) on atheism.

I’ll say this, though. The currents of hatred run deeper in theist religion than they do in atheism, for two reasons. One, atheism has less history behind it. Two, atheism shares with classic deism, but not with much else, a lack of any sense of community. Most atheists seem to me, on balance, to not feel any particular kind of community with any other atheists. It’s not just ‘my people disagree with your people’ it’s actually ‘I disagree with those people’ and that’s that. For every outspoken atheism/antitheism convention attendee, there’s a hundred atheists who find that whole spectacle unsettling, and take pains, when provoked, to distinguish themselves from the antitheists, not as a representative of some other aggrieved group, but merely as an aggrieved individual.

763

LFC 02.02.12 at 8:56 pm

Re 744, 755, etc.:
There are two relevant chapters (on Islamic views of war and peace) in Terry Nardin, ed., The Ethics of War and Peace (Princeton U.P., 1996).

764

geo 02.02.12 at 9:00 pm

Steve @751: singling out of Islam for special opprobrium

Kaveh @755: Why is this always about Islam?

I’d say it’s important — essential to the future of the species, if you like — to practice, at every opportunity, reconciling difficult-to-reconcile ideas in one’s own mind. Eg, that on the one hand, rich capitalists and libertarian economists are generally callous swine, but on the other, most of us ordinary people are sufficiently lazy and selfish that some kinds of econ0mic incentives are essential. That on the one hand, labor unions are indispensable to democracy and economic justice, but on the other, a great many unions have historically been rife with corruption and feather-bedding. That on the one hand, a great many Tea Party members and rank-and-file Republicans are smug, deluded, and mean-spirited, but on the other hand, they also often have genuine grievances and even honorable ideals. That on the one hand, biology, history, and culture have produced profoundly and vitally different male and female endowments and sensibilities, but on the other hand, in many of the most important areas of social and economic life, justice requires rigorously setting aside awareness of those differences. And in this case, that on the one hand, Islamic (no less than Christian) scripture has generated deep and wide strains of bigotry and fanaticism in Islamic (no less than Christian) culture and society, but on the other hand, US foreign policy has frequently — characteristically — supported vicious repression within, and launched cataclysmic violence against, Muslim societies in order to control the world’s most important natural resource, which those unfortunate societies happen to be situated on top of.

Sorry, didn’t mean to preach; but it ought to be possible to despise both Martin Peretz and the Ayatollah Khomeini, at least here on CT.

765

Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 9:07 pm

Sorry, didn’t mean to preach; but it ought to be possible to despise both Martin Peretz and the Ayatollah Khomeini, at least here on CT.

Who here has said they didn’t? If you’re preaching, it’s to the choir.

However, Peretz is my fellow countryman, and has sought (with success) and continues to seek to embroil my country in needless wars which no Khomeini (or successors) would have the power to force on us. So while I despise both, Peretz has done far more damage to my interests.

766

Niall McAuley 02.02.12 at 9:09 pm

The entire class of agnostics was basically made up by Huxley so that he could dissociate himself from the atheists of his time:

When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last.

Since he didn’t actually believe in any gods, I’d describe him as an atheist, but not to his face, obviously.

767

Steve LaBonne 02.02.12 at 9:13 pm

Since he didn’t actually believe in any gods, I’d describe him as an atheist, but not to his face, obviously.

I always want to ask self-styled agnostics whether they are also undecided about Zeuss, or only about the god of their own upbringing.

768

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 9:18 pm

Sorry, didn’t mean to preach; but it ought to be possible to despise both Martin Peretz and the Ayatollah Khomeini, at least here on CT.

I agree, but if I attacked the Ayatollah as someone who wanted to keep women ignorant – as I might if I were putting every muslim in one Al-Qaeda-loving basket – I would be wrong as Iran produces millions of female university graduates. That’s not to apologize for a horrible regime or a horrible legacy in Iran, it’s just to say that I am likelier to have a better understanding of why Martin Peretz is a shit than why the Ayatollah is because I don’t have the background. (For the record the only thing I’ve ever read by Khomeini – in English – was entertaining fulmination regarding the Shah’s meddling with the calendar.) So where I have mean things to say about shit I know nothing about, I should perhaps try to be wiser. I’ll fail at this of course.

769

Kaveh 02.02.12 at 9:33 pm

Yessssssss!
me@ 755 ‘Why is it all about Islam and not Christianity & Judaism?’
Watson @759 ‘Islam blah blah Islam blah blah Islam blah blah Islam blah blah Islam blah blah …’

770

Salient 02.02.12 at 10:10 pm

I always want to ask self-styled agnostics whether they are also undecided about Zeuss, or only about the god of their own upbringing.

That’d be a bit harsh to people who are like as not calling themselves ‘agnostic’ in order to avoid, as much as possible, tendentious disputes about religious principles. When confronted with the question “does God exist?” the atheist responds “No!,” the theist responds “Yes!,” and the agnostic responds “do we really have nothing more interesting to talk about?”

771

Salient 02.02.12 at 10:15 pm

…in that last bit I forgot to include the universal dichotomous signifier that either the person who is nettling you is enjoying it or that the person who is being facetious is hoping you’re smiling too, so here you go ;-)

(intended in the latter sense, of course)

772

geo 02.02.12 at 10:24 pm

undecided about Zeuss

Undecided? Dr Zeuss was the greatest writer of children’s books, period. What’s to be undecided about?

773

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.02.12 at 10:48 pm

it ought to be possible to despise both Martin Peretz and the Ayatollah Khomeini, at least here on CT.

Odd comparison, I must say. Khomeini was a revolutionary, leader of a national liberation movement, a complex figure of the caliber of George Washington, Robespierre, Mao. Peretz is a hateful, narrow-minded hack.

774

Harold 02.02.12 at 11:00 pm

La recherche du temps perdu is an atheist’s cathedral really.

775

Jim Harrison 02.02.12 at 11:10 pm

Aside from the detail about the atheism, Marxism owes an awful lot to Christianity of the late Protestant variety. The Nazis and their right-wing successors sometimes make a big deal out of Marx’s purported Judaism, but on a mythological level the whole operation is far more Christian than Jewish. It’s not just that radically egalitarian social movements have long appealed to the prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, and those lefty guys in Acts for inspiration. Christ is a heck of a lot like Prometheus, and the basic mythological structure of Christianity is about how God became man and a man became God. Hegelian philosophy is very much about incarnation, i.e., how the logos becomes flesh. Marxism is simply a dialectical reversal of this theme, which is why I think of it as the fourth great Abrahamic religion.

776

Substance McGravitas 02.02.12 at 11:25 pm

far more Christian than Jewish

One of the reasons I’m looking forward to the Debt book event (I haven’t finished it yet because the bus ride to work isn’t long enough) is that in reframing what debt might be Graeber necessarily bumps up against a lot of fundamental moral codes.

777

Harold 02.02.12 at 11:26 pm

It’s true. And the Enlightenment owes much to Christianity as well (which got it from the Hebrew Bible and the Stoics).

778

Harold 02.02.12 at 11:36 pm

All during the Middle Ages Seneca and Cicero were virtually considered Christian saints, and Cicero was a particular favorite of Saint Augustine, who wrote that when these words were uttered in the theater, the entire audience got to its feet and cheered:

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto, I am a man: and I deem nothing pertaining to man foreign to me.’ The words of the comic playwright P. Terentius Afer reverberated across the Roman world of the mid-2nd century BC and beyond. Terence, an African and a former slave, was well placed to preach the message of universalism, of the essential unity of the human race, that had come down in philosophical form from the Greeks, but needed the pragmatic muscles of Rome in order to become a practical reality. The influence of Terence’s felicitous phrase on Roman thinking about human rights can hardly be overestimated. Two hundred years later Seneca ended his seminal exposition of the unity of mankind with a clarion-call:
There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are parts of the same great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bid us extend or hands to all in need of help. Let that well-known line be in our heart and on our lips: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.” –Bauman, Human Rights in Ancient Rome, Routledge Classical Monographs, 1999, page 1).

779

LFC 02.03.12 at 2:16 am

I believe (“believe” b/c am not positive) that Marx also liked and quoted the <humani nihil line.

At some point, somewhere (needn’t be on this thread), I’d like to see an elaboration of the last sentences of 775.

780

LFC 02.03.12 at 2:16 am

that shd be “quoted the humani nihil line”

781

geo 02.03.12 at 3:02 am

Henri @773: On the other hand, Peretz never issued a fatwa commanding the murder of a novelist he disliked (along with the novelist’s publishers, editors, and translators). And what in God’s name is Mao doing in a list with George Washington? Washington was a none-too-bright property speculator, but Mao was an insane mass murderer, responsible for tens of millions of needless deaths and incalculable suffering.

782

Harold 02.03.12 at 3:44 am

The Idea of Progress (1920) by J. B. Bury
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4557/4557-h/4557-h.htm

“Under the control of the idea of Progress the ethical code recognized in the Western world has been reformed in modern times by a new principle of far-reaching importance which has emanated from that idea. When Isocrates formulated the rule of life, “Do unto others,” he probably did not mean to include among “others” slaves or savages. The Stoics and the Christians extended its application to the whole of living humanity. But in late years the rule has received a vastly greater extension by the inclusion of
the unborn generations of the future. This principle of duty to posterity is a direct corollary of the idea of Progress. In the recent war, that idea, involving the moral obligation of making sacrifices for the sake of future ages, was constantly appealed to; just as in the Crusades, the most characteristic wars of our medieval ancestors, the idea of human destinies then in the ascendant lured thousands to hardship and death. “
…….

“The preponderance of France’s part [i.e., the French Enlightenment] in developing the idea is an outstanding feature of its history. France, who, like ancient Greece, has always been a nursing-mother of ideas, bears the principal responsibility for its growth; and if it is French thought that will persistently claim our attention, this is not due to an arbitrary preference on my part or to neglect of speculation in other countries.” –J. B. BURY. January, 1920.

783

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.03.12 at 8:16 am

@781 geo,
On the other hand, Peretz never issued a fatwa commanding the murder of a novelist he disliked (along with the novelist’s publishers, editors, and translators).

That’s not ‘on the other hand’, that’s just what I’m talking about. Peretz is nobody, Khomeini is a fatwa-issuing historical figure.

And what in God’s name is Mao doing in a list with George Washington?

Who, George Washington, Devourer of Villages? Why not?

784

Niall McAuley 02.03.12 at 8:44 am

Steve laBonne writes: I always want to ask self-styled agnostics whether they are also undecided about Zeuss

He’s a damn dirty ape!

785

just a lurker 02.03.12 at 10:09 am

‘Having just read Suras 7-9 (the limit, I freely acknowledge, of my knowledge of The Book), I’m not sure he/she was mistaken.’ (geo 744)
The way an unbeliever might read the book isn’t really relevant. For an idea of how the book get interpreted by the believers: http://www.opendemocracy.net/patricia-crone/no-compulsion-in-religion

786

faustusnotes 02.03.12 at 1:29 pm

what a crock of shit, lurker. Shall we re-analyze modern christian politics in terms of 12th century interpretations of the bible? This is lazy thinking at its best.

787

Watson Ladd 02.03.12 at 8:42 pm

Okay, so interpretation doesn’t work. Let’s just go to Malaysia and see if religious freedom exists, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran.

788

Substance McGravitas 02.03.12 at 8:47 pm

Let’s just go to Malaysia and see if religious freedom exists, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran.

Maybe you should. Those are three very different places and it might be nice to understand that there are different things going on in each country.

789

Kaveh 02.03.12 at 10:28 pm

@787 Going to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran will give you a good idea of how much freedom exists in those countries relative to Uganda, Israel, and China, which we all know are very free places.

790

Kaveh 02.03.12 at 10:30 pm

Reading books by Richard Dawkins gives you cancer. Many, many people who read his books subsequently developed cancer.

791

DelRey 02.04.12 at 12:51 am

@692, niall mcauley
Delrey upthread notes that modern liberal theologians reinterpret scripture to allow for things which we all now know to be true, and seems to think this is a modern idea.

The modern liberal “reinterpretations” are less about trying to make the Bible consistent with modern science than with trying to make it consistent with modern liberal western morality. Since the Bible is so clearly inconsistent with both, it’s not surprising that this enterprise has been such a failure.

@699, marc
The aggressive atheists in this discussion are making sweeping claims about the evils of religion. One can construct a precisely equivalent condemnation of atheism using their standards of evidence and logic.

No, one can’t. Arguments of the form “Stalin was an atheist, therefore atheism causes evil” are so dumb it’s hard to believe that anyone would have the nerve to make them.

@705, kaveh
And the problem is with the new atheists’ standards of evidence and logic, and not with atheism itself.

Well, don’t keep us in suspense. Show us these alleged problems with the standards of evidence and logic. All you ever do is insist that these problems exist without ever actually describing them.

Of course, since by your own admission you haven’t even read Dawkins, it’s hard to know why you think you’re in a position to criticize his standards of evidence and logic in the first place.

792

DelRey 02.04.12 at 1:14 am

@721,
Hence, I think characterizing the religious right and anti-choicers as being mainly motivated by patriarchy, and not motivated by the desire to protect fetuses with souls, is exactly right—not just a good rhetorical move, but actually accurate. How else do we end up with so many laissez-faire capitalist Christians?

Yet another incoherent argument. Why does patriarchy imply support for laissez-faire capitalism? Patriarchy is ancient, but laissez-faire capitalism is a recent invention. The economic systems of the vast majority of patriarchal societies were nothing like laissez-faire capitalism.

Surely if lines in the Qur’an that promote strong forms of patriarchy guarantee that most Muslims will hold strongly patriarchal, then similarly unambiguous lines in the Bible would make the Christian right favor the welfare state. But they don’t.

Huh? What lines in the Bible unambiguously favor the welfare state?

793

DelRey 02.04.12 at 1:34 am

@752,
My point is that drawing global conclusions about the eternal nature of Islam on the basis of reading two verses of the Koran is a pretty shaky procedure.

It’s not “two verses of the Koran.” It’s countless verses of the Koran, plus other Islamic writings, plus a thousand years of actual behavior by Muslims who explicitly cite the sacred writings and traditions of their religion to justify that behavior.

794

DelRey 02.04.12 at 5:06 am

@755,
Why is this always about Islam? I’m curious about that. Most Muslim countries are militarily weak, on average they are poor, only one has nuclear weapons, compared to Christian countries and Israel. Why are new atheists always quoting the Qur’an to make points about religion in general?

They’re not, and your claim that they are just confirms your ignorance of “new atheist” writing. The religion they most often cite is Christianity, because that is the overwhelmingly dominant religion in the west and the one they and their readers are most familiar with. It’s not like the sacred writings of Christianity are lacking in material to support criticism of religion. The Old Testament is largely a catalog of atrocities committed, ordered or condoned by God.

Also, as I understand it, under many (most?) interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, only the divinely-ordained head of the Muslim community (like, a Caliph) has the authority to wage jihad. So in theory, the answer to your question is no, the line shouldn’t be read to call for permanent jihad.

The Encyclopedia of Islam describes the duty of jihad as follows:

The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily. Furthermore there can be no question of genuine peace treaties with these nations; only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorized. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict.

Hadith state that participating in jihad is the second or third best deed for man, after belief in Allah and Muhammed.

795

faustusnotes 02.04.12 at 6:22 am

DelRey:

It’s countless verses of the Koran, plus other Islamic writings, plus a thousand years of actual behavior by Muslims

I don’t know if you realize this delRey, but the Koran doesn’t have “countless verses,” it has a countable number of verses that are in fact numbered. The only ones you’ve cited here don’t support your interpretation, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you when you martial “countless” other as yet uncited ones to your defense.

Also, you do realize that the second half of that sentence is just straight-out racism, right? Try rephrasing that with “Koran” replaced by “hip-hop” and “thousand years of behavior of muslims” replaced by “30 years of behavior by black Americans” and think about how you sound.

796

faustusnotes 02.04.12 at 6:25 am

Next, delRey, here is the wikipedia article on freedom of religion in Malaysia which starts with the wishy-washy statement,

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution.

I guess that’s not definitive enough for you? I’m happy to take it as definitive proof that you know as much about Malaysia as you do about Indonesia. i.e. nothing.

I teach students from Indonesia and Malaysia, not all Muslim, and have worked alongside muslim Malaysians. I can assure you that they get very, very tired of the kind of crap you’re spouting.

797

faustusnotes 02.04.12 at 6:25 am

oh , sorry, 796 should have been aimed at the equally ignorant Watson Ladd.

798

faustusnotes 02.04.12 at 6:48 am

Finally delRey, I’m willing to bet that you can’t quote the surrounding paragraphs of your quote from the Islamic Encyclopaedia, because you got that quote from a Middle East Forum article, not from your bookshelf. The online New Encyclopaedia of Islam has a nuanced discussion of jihad in Islam, and I’m pretty confident that the Encyclopaedia of Islam does too – and the paragraph before the one you quoted makes clear that your paragraph is talking about classical (not modern) interpretations of Islam.

But you wouldn’t know that, because you lifted it from a website that is full of deliberate misrepresentations and translations. I’m guessing it’s the Middle East Forum website, which mistranslates “planned” for “schemed” in sura 3:54 and is extremely hostile to Islam. Or did you find an even more extreme website to wipe that quote from?

799

Merp 02.04.12 at 6:55 am

Hey Delray doesn’t the fact that no Islamic state or even large-ish Islamic community actually acts the way you say it must act based on the scripture you cite mean anything?

I mean Christ it’s like you’re ranting about how the Bible commands people to be violent and you bring up the passages saying people who plant different crops next to each other need to be stoned (no not the good kind! the violent kind!) and people who work on the Sabbath need to be killed and women who wear clothing made of two different fabrics need to be burned.

Where are the Christians who stone the farmers and burn the fashionable? Which Islamic state wages perpetual war with at-most ten year intervals of peace? Where are the Muslims who kill all the pagans they meet who don’t convert to Islam?

Religion isn’t fucking math, where everyone from Euclid to my 9th grade math teacher uses the same thought process to read and understand the steps from axioms to theorems to get the same answers. It’s nationalism, it’s common law, it’s an artistic movement: cultural and societal phenomena that have some internal logic of understanding and justifying themselves (historical narratives, or legal education/theory, or whatever hell rationale Michiko Kakutani uses to think realism is teh roxxors) but which are subject to a huge array of various and conflicting forces which shape how they actually work.

Pointing to scripture and being all “look violence religion bad” is the exact same fucking thing as saying “America has a manifest destiny”, as pointing to Roe v. Wade and saying “it’s an objective fact that penumbras of rights in the Constitution which guarantee the right to an abortion”, as saying “novels written in accordance with the realism embraced by James Wood are objectively the best novels”.

Or: what faustusnotes said, but more colloquially, and with more cussing.

800

js. 02.04.12 at 7:32 am

Hey DelRey,

Don’t listen to these jokers here–you’re obviously totally right. Those Muslims suck, dude! (Now, can you go away?)

801

engels 02.04.12 at 3:31 pm

‘greatest man-made force for evil’

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned NewsCorp.

802

Watson Ladd 02.04.12 at 4:24 pm

faustnotes, if that’s true, then why does Malaysia have a parallel court system for muslims that routinely punishes apostasy? The second sentence states that attempting to convert Muslims is restricted. That’s not freedom of religion: Muslims do not have the freedom to become Christian and espose Christianity in Malaysia, and are routinely punished for it. Christians cannot preach that everyone should become Christian, an article of at least some Christian groups’ faith.

Secondly religion is not reducible to race. Black people don’t argue that they should be permitted to do things because they are black. But some Catholics argue they should be allowed to not pay for health insurance covering abortions for their employees because they are Catholic, some Muslims argue we should ban depictions of the prophet because they find them insulting, Quakers don’t want to pay income tax because it supports war, etc. On the flip side Jews want to take their kids out of school for Yom Kippur, Coptic Christians have Christmas on a different day, Muslims want to be able to take time to pray during the work day. These issues don’t have an analogue when it comes to race.

Merp, if that’s the case why can’t we all admit that we don’t actually live our lives the way religion tells us to but instead balance religious teachings against secular moral teachings? The argument the New Atheists make is the exact same one religious people make when they choose to modify the way they practice in light of these considerations: these things are bad, so we won’t believe in them anymore.

803

faustusnotes 02.04.12 at 4:40 pm

Watson Ladd, the “parallel court” of shariah law in Malaysia is a separate court for Muslim family law, described here and clearly intended as a secondary system. Malaysia also has a system of native courts for indigenous law in Sarawak (it’s not the first country to allow indigenous people separate laws, I think) and the sharia law is enacted under the same general principles as industrial law. I don’t think the “parallel court system” means what you think it means.

Where is your evidence that Malaysian parallel courts “routinely punish apostasy”?

Religion may not be theoretically reducible to race (but, um, tell that one to the Jews of the interwar era!), but in practice Islam is certainly being treated that way – radical islam is portrayed and responded to as an Arabic phenomenon, and that’s certainly how the New Atheists view it. You need to deal with their islamophobia on that level, whatever critique you might hope a pure atheism might offer.

804

Watson Ladd 02.04.12 at 5:08 pm

faustnotes, you aren’t dealing with the restrictions on trying to convert Muslims that do in fact exist. The US State department claims here that in practice Muslims are bared from converting. Indeed, some religions require the performance of acts with alcohol that are illegal for Muslims in Malaysia. Mosques are controlled by the government, and Shia Islam is restricted. Bibles must be labeled “Not for Muslims”. There are laws governing what Muslims must do: hardly a beacon of religious freedom.

805

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.04.12 at 5:26 pm

There is a natural tendency for societies and various groups that are (or perceived to be) under some sort of alien domination to unite under nationalist, or sectarian, or whatever else banner or ideology helps unite. Naturally, in this situation various radical manifestations of this ideology are likely to pop up and gain some credibility. This has nothing to do with religion per se; rather it’s a way to ensure loyalty and organize resistance; a political phenomenon.

Back when Muslim societies were independent and relatively powerful, like, most recently, the Ottoman empire, they were, in fact, more tolerant than any other religious denomination in the same situation. And even in their current underdog situation, they still are more tolerant than some: Israel, for example, just banned mixed marriages.

806

Substance McGravitas 02.04.12 at 5:28 pm

“The generally tolerant relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.” I’ll be darned at what those kooks in the State Department come up with.

807

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 5:57 pm

I don’t see why particular policies in Malaysia are of any relevance to anything. No attempt to compare them to the broader set of political and social circumstances in other Muslim countries, China, other SE Asian countries, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the US, &c.

What argument are you trying to advance by repeatedly pointing to instances of religious persecution in Muslim countries? Is religious persecution a matter of particular importance beyond that of overall levels of violence (e.g. murder rates), levels of education, democratic freedoms, &c.?

808

geo 02.04.12 at 6:11 pm

why can’t we all admit that we don’t actually live our lives the way religion tells us to but instead balance religious teachings against secular moral teachings? The argument the New Atheists make is the exact same one religious people make when they choose to modify the way they practice in light of these considerations: these things are bad, so we won’t believe in them anymore

Not used to agreeing with Watson, but I think he’s nailed it here. The “classical vs. modern” thing is a dodge. The fact that traditional religions have been rendered less harsh and more humane by (mainly) secularist criticism is a very good thing. But traditionalists — a non-negligible, and perhaps still dominant, force in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — are by no means reconciled to it and even see it as portending the erosion and eventual disappearance of the True Faith, which they would like to reinstate in its pristine, murderous purity. As Cardinal Newman wrote — and remember, even he wasn’t conservative enough for the Vatican in his time — “Liberalism is merely the halfway house between Rome and Atheism.”

And please stop calling DelRey a racist because he keeps accusing devout Muslims of frequently violating human rights, historically and at present. It’s not like he’s suggesting that they drink the blood of Jewish babies.

809

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 6:34 pm

geo @808 And please stop calling DelRey a racist because he keeps accusing devout Muslims of frequently violating human rights

geo, you’re missing the point of why DelRey and other New Atheists spam out quotes from the Qur’an, and dubious statistics or facts about human rights violations in Muslim countries, and only (from what I’ve seen) Muslim countries. The extended discussion on the Church and the Enlightenment and science provoked no such flood of comments about Christianity. They do this to imply a comparison with Christians, Jews, gangsters, 1%ers, and other people violating human rights for whatever reasons, without making an explicit comparison that can be attacked/defended on the evidence.

It’s like if I said, “black women frequently rape white women”. Of course some black men do this. Likewise, nobody is denying that devout Muslims sometimes violate human rights while acting on their religious convictions. In no other context will you find this claim to be controversial. The problem is in the operational implications of this wording, in the context of larger public debates about criminal law, discrimination, war with Iran, and the GWOT.

What does “frequently” mean here? What does “violate human rights” mean in the context of individual acts, rather than states? Is it violating someone’s human rights to commit murder? Is that a less bad violation than to deny them primary education? How many girls not being allowed to go to school are equal to one murder?

810

Watson Ladd 02.04.12 at 6:59 pm

Kaveh, the reasons religious freedom and freedom of speech matter is because they are the preconditions for people taking responsibility for their own lives and using reason to change the way they live. Give people the right to speak in favor of democracy and against murder etc. and they will claim those rights. Deny them those rights and you make them wards of the state. (This goes back to “What is Enlightenment?”)

I’m just as against ultra-Orthodox trying to enforce gender segregation in public life in Jerusalem as I am against Saudia Arabia trying to enforce gender segregation in public life in Mecca. But neither one justifies the other: both are wrong, and they are wrong for reasons not connected to the justifications of these practices. (Quibble: Devotion and fundamentalism are not the same thing)

811

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 7:03 pm

Also, DelRey @794, you’re right, my language was a bit hyperbolic. I realize New Atheists have been active in bringing light the misbehavior of creationists, IDers, &c. in the US. NAs have made valuable contributions to that particular struggle, and I’m glad they’re there to do that. On the other hand, I’ve seen adherents of this ideology defend bigoted, ethnocentric attacks on Muslims in Europe, and then there are the Dawkins articles I cited above, and a good part of the career of Christopher Hitchens. And this particular way of talking about the Muslim world is indeed an open-ended, implied comparison disguised as intrepid truth-telling. Again, who here has claimed to be a believing Muslim, or defended the Islamic Republic of Iran’s social politics (apart from encouraging women’s education)? All the New Atheists I’ve ever interacted with have a big xenophobia problem, including Dawkins (I doubt anything in TGD is going to change my mind about that).

812

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 7:04 pm

Kaveh, the reasons religious freedom and freedom of speech matter

Who said they don’t matter?

813

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.04.12 at 7:10 pm

Any doctrine out there has its radical manifestations; this is not unique to religion. American liberalism, for example, is a moderate, compromised version of dog eats dog individualism/libertarianism that still has plenty of proponents and political power.

814

Harold 02.04.12 at 7:24 pm

Dawkins is making atheism a bit more respectable — and I thank God for that!

815

DelRey 02.04.12 at 7:43 pm

@795,
but the Koran doesn’t have “countless verses,” it has a countable number of verses that are in fact numbered. The only ones you’ve cited here don’t support your interpretation, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you when you martial “countless” other as yet uncited ones to your defense.

I cited a verse that calls for the killing of pagans. You have no expertise in Arabic or the interpretation of the Koran or other sacred writings of Islam. Your claim about the meaning of the verse is contradicted by Islamic scholars. There are countless additional verses in the Koran that express hatred of non-Muslims. I gave you a link to a piece by Sam Harris that cites more than 50 such verses. The Hadith also supports this view of non-Muslims. I also gave you links to other authoritative sources indicating that support for the killing or imprisoning of apostates is the mainstream view (actually, the dominant view) among Muslim scholars, and that jihad is one of the most important duties of Muslims. And in addition to all of that, I gave you reports from the State Department and human rights organizations showing the appalling records of human rights violations that are typical of Muslim nations.

Also, you do realize that the second half of that sentence is just straight-out racism, right?

Hialrious. Yeah, that’s right. Citing a historical record is “racism.” You do realize that your claim here is straight-out absurdity, right? Malicious absurdity.

816

Substance McGravitas 02.04.12 at 7:56 pm

You have no expertise in Arabic or the interpretation of the Koran or other sacred writings of Islam.

!!!

Malicious absurdity.

This is from someone who hasn’t got the guts to quote a full sentence.

817

geo 02.04.12 at 8:04 pm

Come on, Substance and DelRey: no hurling anathemas. Let’s not behave like religious (or non-religious) zealots.

818

Watson Ladd 02.04.12 at 8:07 pm

Kaveh, I’m a bit unclear on what your position is. Clearly we are arguing about something. What makes attacking ID okay, but attacking Sharia4UK not? Is it the fact that the EDL exists? Or is the fundamental question about public reason and pluralistic society not centrally implicated in the activities of Islamists all over the world? I’m arguing that the right to free speech and religion are fundamental to the realization of other rights, are realized in Western democracies, and that one of the biggest threats to them is religious extremists who have been very successful in terrorizing those who do not comply: either with laws where they can get a majority or suicide bombers where they cannot. There’s nothing about that specific to Islam: the Inquisition was the exact same thing, and concerns about the activities of the Jesuits in education were around for centuries.

819

DelRey 02.04.12 at 8:07 pm

@798,
. The online New Encyclopaedia of Islam has a nuanced discussion of jihad in Islam, and I’m pretty confident that the Encyclopaedia of Islam does too – and the paragraph before the one you quoted makes clear that your paragraph is talking about classical (not modern) interpretations of Islam.

What paragraph? Show us this paragraph. You keep making claims for which you provide no evidence. Show us this alleged evidence that the consensus opinion among contemporary Muslim scholars (“modern interpretations of Islam”) is a clear rejection of the duty of jihad.

@799,
Where are the Christians who stone the farmers and burn the fashionable?

They’ve been suppressed by the rise of secular moral values and liberal democracy, which promoted the idea that such behavior is barbaric and unjust, and created laws that made it a crime. Alluding to the fact that the worst forms of barbarism taught by the Bible have been outlawed in the west is not a defense of the Bible.

820

Harold 02.04.12 at 8:11 pm

Um, Christians abolished stoning long before the rise of liberal democracy — as in “cast the first stone”. You might even say it was one reason Christianity caught on.

821

Watson Ladd 02.04.12 at 8:28 pm

(a longer reply is stuck in moderation) Harold, what about the Spanish Inquisition and the Eighty-Years War? One third of all Germans died in a conflict over which interpretation of Christianity was correct, and the Duke of Alba committed his atrocities to expunge Calvinism from the Low Countries. Roman religious law targeted Christians because they did not sacrifice to any gods, and Jews because they had rebelled repeatedly. Other groups were left in peace. Christians were in no position to establish justice until the emperor was Christian. Whatever the appeal of Christianity in the Roman Empire, mercy wasn’t it.

822

novakant 02.04.12 at 8:31 pm

And please stop calling DelRey a racist because he keeps accusing devout Muslims of frequently violating human rights, historically and at present.

“frequently violating human rights, historically and at present” can be applied to so many countries, belief systems and groups, that singling out Muslims in the way it is done by the so-called new atheists is definitely racism (mixed with a hearty dose of chauvinism and imperialism for that matter)

823

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 8:39 pm

What about THE CHILDREN? Won’t anyone think of THE CHILDREN?

824

DelRey 02.04.12 at 8:42 pm

Next, delRey, here is the wikipedia article on freedom of religion in Malaysia which starts with the wishy-washy statement, Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. I guess that’s not definitive enough for you?

No, of course it’s not. It’s meaningless. Repressive governments often make formal declarations of respect for freedom that are meaningless in terms of actual policies and practises in the real world. East Germany called itself the DDR. The German Democratic Republic. Do you think East Germany qualified as a democracy? What matters is how governments behave in the real world, and the evidence is that there is little meaningful “freedom of religion” in Malaysia. You didn’t even read your own source, which states that:

Muslims [in Malaysia] who wish to convert from Islam face severe obstacles. For Muslims, particularly ethnic Malays, the right to leave the Islamic faith and adhere to another religion is a controversial question. The legal process of conversion is also unclear; in practice it is very difficult for Muslims to change their religion legally

And that’s just legal obstacles. There is also an enormous social/cultural taboo. Malaysia also imposes severe restrictions on religious speech and other religious activities that are strongly protected in the west. And Malaysia is one of the better Muslim countries. Few if any Muslim countries provide anything close to the level of religious freedom that people have in the west.

825

DelRey 02.04.12 at 9:00 pm

“frequently violating human rights, historically and at present” can be applied to so many countries, belief systems and groups, that singling out Muslims in the way it is done by the so-called new atheists is definitely racism (mixed with a hearty dose of chauvinism and imperialism for that matter)

They don’t “single out” Muslims. As I already said, most of their references to specific religions are to Christianity, because Christianity is the overwhelmingly dominant religion in the west and the one they and their readers are most familiar with. Islam is notable because it is so large and powerful, second only to Christianity in the number of adherents, and illustrates so clearly the kind of brutal, repressive conditions that existed in the west under Christianity before it was disempowered and marginalized by the rise of secularism and liberal democracy.

826

Harold 02.04.12 at 9:06 pm

Watson, please, far be in from me to defend the wars of religion. But the founder of Christianity did condemn stoning. The Greeks and the Romans condemned human sacrifice, though they practiced it from time to time.

827

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.04.12 at 9:16 pm

One third of all Germans died in a conflict over which interpretation of Christianity was correct

Now, that’s just silly. There are real reasons for wars and conflicts, and it’s never interpretation of some religious text. This is a totally bullshit view of history. Just shows you how incredibly clueless this ‘new atheism’ thing is.

828

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 9:28 pm

this may be of interest to those following the thread:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/oct/10/world-murder-rate-unodc

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/oct/10/unitednations-development-data

Most Muslim countries have European/Australian-level murder rates, and the ones that are higher are at most US-level. Sudan is the only exception, I think. Even Indonesia has a large non-Muslim population, so one is tempted to wonder what are the murder rates for non-Muslim vs Muslim populations there. Having been colonized for a long period of time, and having been subject to very intrusive, transformative colonial governance (as in Mexico and Nigeria, as opposed to India) seems to be correlated with having a high murder rate. Look for example at ‘failed state’ Somalia vs Ethiopia, for example.

There are other trends like this, too. For example, there is some kind of index of gender equality (don’t remember the name, it measures difference in human development indices or related indices for men and for women within a given country, IIRC), and Muslim countries, even not counting outliers like Saudi Arabia, tend to be worse-off in this index than other countries with about the same per capita GDP. The difference is small, but substantial.

This is all very broad, imprecise stuff, but I think it is strong evidence for some important social and historical trends.

I also don’t think the difference can be chalked entirely to authoritarianism (either that more authoritarian governments prevent crime better, or that they get away with cooking the books). There does seem to be a correlation (just eyeballing the map) between low reported murder and whether a country has meaningful elections, but not a huge difference. Many non-democratic countries in Africa and Asia have relatiely high murder rates.

829

bianca steele 02.04.12 at 9:37 pm

mixed with a hearty dose of chauvinism and imperialism for that matter: you say that like it’s a bad thing.

830

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 9:55 pm

Oops, post went into moderation. I was linking to this map of murder rates around the world, and pointing out that Muslim countries have very low murder rates, especially relative to their per capita GDP. Muslim countries (even not counting outliers like Saudi) tend to have greater gender equality (measured by a certain UN human development-type index).

So I think these differences are a ‘real thing’, they point to real consequences of belief systems and political history, not hypothetical ones like what you get by trying to guess at how people interpreted/will interpret scripture. The picture is more complicated than ‘Muslim countries are worse off’, or ‘religious countries are worse off’, and people who attack religion as a great evil should defend the comparisons and prioritizations implied in their arguments.

831

Kaveh 02.04.12 at 9:56 pm

Oops! That was gender inequality, as measured by a certain index blah blah…

832

hellblazer 02.04.12 at 10:29 pm

Having studied a smidgen of the history of the Dutch Revolt while at school, I’m not sure I believe this assertion that Philip II via Alba went <irony>mediaeval</irony> on the collective arses of the Low Countries primarily for religious reasons. Political and religious disputes were intertwined in those days in Western Europe, so to use those conflicts as an argument that religion leads to X seems disingenuous. There’s the small matter of Spain wanting to hold onto its territory and fend off threats to its naval power, for a start.

(And yes, I have heard of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, in case anyone wanted to bring that up in rejoinder.)

Certainly, religion has helped to fuel what I shall anachronistically call “barbarism”. But it wasn’t the only thing to do so, and I suspect the same will be true in the future. To argue that a lack of religion leads to wisdom/tolerance seems to me to put cart before horse. Certainly de Botton (wisdom) and Dawkins (tolerance) exemplify this, at least in their public pronouncements. I can’t help feeling that one would do better to give copies of The Blind Watchmaker, The Name Of The Rose, and Small Gods to those on the fence, rather than preach to the converted with The God Delusion.

833

bianca steele 02.04.12 at 11:45 pm

@hellblazer (are you the same person as heckblazer, only less decorous?)

Try recommending Foucault’s Pendulum to a highly educated person who explains that although Dan Brown is full of it, the Templars really do exist just as the legends say and they defend the Holy Places. As for Small Gods, I don’t know Pratchett at all except by reputatin, and just read the first two paragraphs online. Is that supposed to be ironic, the turtles without predators? Say “consider the turtle” to me and I think of Tennessee Williams, but I recognize that maybe Pratchett’s intended audience doesn’t.

834

bianca steele 02.05.12 at 12:03 am

I might add that the only other time I got look I got holding a copy of a Dan Brown novel in east-central Massachusetts, I was holding a copy of The Satanic Verses in the campus bookstore of a notoriously left-wing university.

835

geo 02.05.12 at 12:04 am

hellblazer: To argue that a lack of religion leads to wisdom/tolerance seems to me to put cart before horse

Atheists don’t (or shouldn’t) argue that a lack of religion leads to wisdom and tolerance but rather that wisdom and tolerance lead to a lack of religion.

836

DelRey 02.05.12 at 1:11 am

I was linking to this map of murder rates around the world, and pointing out that Muslim countries have very low murder rates, especially relative to their per capita GDP.

For Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, your source reports a murder (actually “homicide”) rate of 8.1. For Pakistan, the second largest, the reported rate is 7.3. These are not low numbers.

But I’m not sure why you think the estimates for Muslim countries, or any countries with an authoritarian government, should be considered reliable anyway. In countries with no free press, no freedom of information laws, no effective oversight of government, the government can make up whatever numbers it likes. And to the extent that repressive countries really do have low murder rates, it is likely to be a consequence of their extremely harsh penalties and corrupt legal systems. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the penalty for murder (and certain lesser crimes) is death by public beheading. Human rights groups report that prisoners are abused and tortured. And they have no equivalent of the complex set of checks and balances provided by western legal systems to minimize the risk of false convictions. Instilling fear through brutal policing and draconian punishments is one way of deterring crime, but hardly one that reflects well on a society.

837

DelRey 02.05.12 at 1:26 am

@826,
There are real reasons for wars and conflicts, and it’s never interpretation of some religious text. This is a totally bullshit view of history.

Given the clear historical record of religious war, this assertion is not merely false; it’s absurd.

@830,
To argue that a lack of religion leads to wisdom/tolerance seems to me to put cart before horse.

As I said earlier, in the west political, social and scientific progress has gone hand-in-hand with the decline of religion. The most prosperous, free and equal countries tend to be among the least religious.

838

faustusnotes 02.05.12 at 1:37 am

I was right, delRey lifted that definition of jihad from a website and doesn’t have the context.

839

Kaveh 02.05.12 at 2:05 am

For Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, your source reports a murder (actually “homicide”) rate of 8.1. For Pakistan, the second largest, the reported rate is 7.3.

This is really grasping at straws. Do you not know how averages work? What does size of individual countries have to do with anything? These 2 countries account for only about a third of the Muslim world, combined.

These are not low numbers.

Compared to what? Compared to very rich countries, no, but compared to countries with similar per capita GDP, it’s low. Compared to other ex-colonies (except India) it’s very low.

Even if you’re right about authoritarian governments not reporting accurate statistics (I considered this possibility in my original post), why do many non-Muslim authoritarian governments, like Russia , Burma, and Venezuela, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa report relatively high murder rates? What about all the Muslim countries with democratic governments like Turkey and Malaysia, which also report relatively low murder rates? Maybe all the Muslim countries are in a conspiracy to lie about their murder rates?!

840

Merp 02.05.12 at 2:17 am

Bianca,

1. It’s “consider the tortoise and the eagle”, not “consider the turtle”. This is important, as explained below.

2. Small Gods is awesome. Partly because it provides a subtle but far-reaching exploration of the nature of submission to authority in all kinds of different contexts: religious, governmental, academic, economic. One of the ways it does this is providing anthropomorphized motivations to different animals, and the first few paragraphs sets up beautifully what he’s doing in the rest of the book.

He describes a similar situation to the famous turtles bit in Suddenly Last Summer: tortoises are slow and have no hope of stopping eagles, “all power, all control, lightning death on wings”, from killing them through the gruesome method of picking them up and dropping them from a great height. He’s pointing a huge neon sign to the SLS scene where a character says he sees God in the carnage eagles inflict on turtles.

But he does something completely different with his scene of avian-reptilian violence. There’s no judgment, no mention of God or the morality of the situation. Only two animals whose interaction is governed by the natural disparity in their positions: the eagle has all the ability and desire to inflict its will on the tortoise, and the tortoise doesn’t have the capability to resist or even understand what’s happening (it thinks “what a great friend I have in the eagle”).

Pratchett delivers the kicker with the sentences that close out the opening: “But of course, what the eagle does not realize is that it is participating in a very crude form of natural selection. One day a tortoise will learn how to fly.” The difference between his treatment of tortoises/eagles and Williams’ of turtles/eagles in the opening paragraphs pretty explicitly promises that the book will be about how the discrepancy between different positions drives submission to authority, and some conditions in which those discrepancies can be overcome and authority defied. And he delivers beautifully.

841

DelRey 02.05.12 at 2:26 am

839,
This is really grasping at straws. Do you not know how averages work? What does size of individual countries have to do with anything? These 2 countries account for only about a third of the Muslim world, combined.

Huh? “Only” a third? Those two countries comprise a vastly disproportionate share of the total Muslim population. That’s why you need to look at murder rates by population, not simply by country, to get a meaningful evaluation of how many people are affected by them.

Compared to what?

Secular liberal democracies.

Even if you’re right about authoritarian governments not reporting accurate statistics (I considered this possibility in my original post), why do many non-Muslim authoritarian governments, like Russia , Burma, and Venezuela, and most of Sub-Saharan Africa report relatively high murder rates?

I don’t know. I can think of a number of possibilities. I’m not sure what the point of the question is. You ask a lot of questions that don’t seem to have much relevance to the issue being discussed.

842

faustusnotes 02.05.12 at 2:33 am

delrey, it’s probably not worth me telling you this again, but Indonesia is not an authoritarian country. It is a modern democracy. You’re arguing with the islamic theocracy in your head, not with the modern pluralistic democracy of 100 million just north of Australia.

843

DelRey 02.05.12 at 2:48 am

On the other hand, I’ve seen adherents of this ideology defend bigoted, ethnocentric attacks on Muslims in Europe,

What “ideology?” What the hell is “the ideology of New Atheism” supposed to mean? Where is this ideology stated? Specifically, where does Dawkins state it? Show us. Once again, your attack is vague, vacuous and utterly devoid of evidence.

and then there are the Dawkins articles I cited above

You mean the “Dawkins articles” in which Dawkins did NOT advocate racial profiling and did NOT advocate firing people from their jobs for their religious beliefs?

Again, who here has claimed to be a believing Muslim, or defended the Islamic Republic of Iran’s social politics (apart from encouraging women’s education)?

No one, as far as I’m aware. Various people here, who seem almost completely ignorant of the appalling reality of life in Muslim countries, almost completely ignorant of the appalling content of Islam’s sacred writings, and almost completely ignorant of the appalling teachings of Muslim scholars and clerics, have been attacking Dawkins and others for criticizing the religion. So I decided to set them straight.

844

DelRey 02.05.12 at 3:01 am

Indonesia is not an authoritarian country. It is a modern democracy.

Right. And East Germany was a “modern democracy” too.

From Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report on Indonesia:

“While senior officials pay lip service to protecting human rights, they seem unwilling to take the steps necessary to ensure compliance by the security forces with international human rights and punishment for those responsible for abuses … In 2011 religious violence surged, particularly against Christians and Ahmadiyah … Violence continued to rack Papua and West Papua provinces, with few effective police investigations to hold perpetrators accountable. … authorities continue to invoke harsh laws criminalizing those who raise controversial issues, chilling peaceful expression. Indonesia has imprisoned more than 100 activists from the Moluccas and Papua for peacefully voicing political views, holding demonstrations, and raising separatist flags. … Indonesia’s criminal libel, slander, and “insult” laws prohibit deliberately “insulting” public officials … Impunity for members of Indonesia’s security forces remains a serious concern, with no civilian jurisdiction over soldiers who commit serious human rights abuses. Military tribunals are held rarely, lack transparency, and the charges frequently fail to reflect the seriousness of the abuses committed. … In 2011 incidents of religious violence got more deadly and more frequent, as Islamist militants mobilized mobs to attack religious minorities with impunity … Hundreds of thousands of girls in Indonesia are employed as domestic workers. Many work long hours, with no day off, and are forbidden from leaving the house where they work. In the worst cases, girls are physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by their employers.”

845

Kaveh 02.05.12 at 3:50 am

Compared to what?

Secular liberal democracies.

Is Brazil not a secular, liberal democracy (I believe it has religious freedom)? Argentina? Mexico? If what you mean is wealthy secular, liberal democracies, or secular liberal democracies that are highly functional in other ways, then why should we compare Muslim countries with those countries, and not with other middle income countries?

But even if we do (and of course we should weight by population), the entire Arab world has a combined Muslim population larger than the Muslim population of Indonesia. Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia together have population about equal to Pakistan’s. That means that overall, the rate is comparable to that of “the West” (the wealthiest parts of it, including the US), and not to other countries with the same income level.

I should add that Egypt in 2008, whose population is about a third of the whole Arab world, was not any more authoritarian than Russia, and much freer than Syria or Iran; there were not real elections, but still a certain amount of press freedom. So those numbers probably aren’t drastically wrong.

The interesting thing about that chart is that with a few exceptions, the green coincides closely with the part of the world where there were relatively strong states c. 1500 (that were not subsequently destroyed, as in C. America and the Andes).

Various people here, who seem almost completely ignorant of the appalling reality of life in Muslim countries

Have you ever been to a Muslim country? I’ve spent non-trivial amounts of my life (more than a year) in more than 2 Muslim countries, there were certain things going on that could be called appalling, and others that friends from those countries tell me about that are appalling, but not any more so than what happens in other countries of similar wealth & level of development, or for that matter in the US.

(And yes, Dawkins did strongly imply that religious discrimination ought to be allowed in those two posts, even if he used weaselly language to give himself plausible deniability.)

846

Kaveh 02.05.12 at 4:16 am

@844 Do you think those criticisms from the HRW report indicate a level of freedom comparable to East Germany?

847

hellblazer 02.05.12 at 5:41 am

@geo at 835 well, speaking as an atheist, I would hope so; but the wisdom and tolerance bit is good enough for me at the moment, seeing as both are frankly in quite short supply. Certainly I know quite devout religious people who for many practical purposes might as well be secular, but that doesn’t mean I want to get in their face about it and say “but you’re so close! just a small step and you can be rid of this God Delusion! come on! you can do it! if you want sky fairies, why not try M-theory?” etc.

@biancasteele at 833: no, I have no idea who heckblazer is; he or she is presumably the New Improved Version.

I wouldn’t dare recommend Foucault’s Pendulum to someone who believed in the ongoing work of the Knights of St John, the sheer self-referentiality might cause a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum. My thinking was just that the Name of the Rose is a book where some religious people will be able to go along with the book’s themes (evils of dogma, the desire for truth vs a fear of inconstancy) while still not agreeing 100% with the author. They might even deliberate on lines like “A holy war is still a war”, “For that reason perhaps we should not have holy wars”, etc.

As for Pratchett: I just think Small Gods, a book written to make people laugh rather than to say Your Deity Is A Fiction, turns about to be a smart parable about religion and what is done in its name, which religious people might engage with even if they don’t share the author’s atheism. Certainly, just as a recommendation of light reading, I’d encourage you to persevere beyond the opening couple of pages. But each to their own.

I guess you were really referring to my suggestion of suggesting The Blind Watchmaker? Well, it might at least show certain people who dislike Dawkins based on the quotes of recent years, and his own predilection for Telling People What They Are Doing Wrong*, an example of him writing lucidly and positively. They might not agree with him seeming to patronize Paley, but I genuinely think that some believers could find the book thought-provoking rather than just provocative.

* Operation Clark County, anyone? Though to be fair that was more the Guardian’s fault than anything else, but somehow opening with Dawkins’s well-meant effort just summed up the wrong-headedness of the whole enterprise.

848

just a lurker 02.05.12 at 9:34 am

@faustusnotes, 786
Huh? Modern interpretations are different from the classical ones but because this is religion and we’re dealing with Eternal Verities, the new interpretations must be presented as the one and only true and original way to read the text. The way Muhammad would have done it and all true Muslims imitating him have always done it (because God would not let his people go astray: the traditions of the umma are necessarily correct). If this forces them to make anachronistic and unhistorical claims, so much worse for history.
Your disagreement is with what part of this?

849

just a lurker 02.05.12 at 9:35 am

‘But traditionalists—a non-negligible, and perhaps still dominant, force in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—are by no means reconciled to it and even see it as portending the erosion and eventual disappearance of the True Faith, which they would like to reinstate in its pristine, murderous purity.’ (geo, 808)
They have a pristine murderous vision which they claim is a return to the true, original state, but this is no more historical than the alternative versions.

850

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.12 at 10:56 am

@geo, 835 Atheists don’t (or shouldn’t) argue that a lack of religion leads to wisdom and tolerance but rather that wisdom and tolerance lead to a lack of religion.

No, the brand of atheism in question argues that religion leads to the lack of wisdom and tolerance. And that’s a much more arrogant assertion than yours. And less supported by evidence.

You merely assert the supremacy of your chosen philosophy, which is perfectly natural; but the New Atheists also declare any heretic view harmful, which is, I believe, the definition of intolerance.

And wisdom, of course is in the eyes of the beholder. As you can see, a lot of people, even a lot of atheists here, consider Dawkins a fool.

You really should take another look at that Spinoza fellow:

As to the question of what God, the exemplar of true life, really is, whether he is fire, or spirit, or light, or thought, or something else, this is irrelevant to faith. And so likewise is the question as to why he is the exemplar of true life, whether this is because he has a just and merciful disposition, or because all things exist and act through him and consequently we, too, understand through him, and through him we see what is true, just and good. On these questions it matters not what beliefs a man holds. Nor, again, does it matter for faith whether one believes that God is omnipresent in essence or in potency, whether he directs everything from free will or from the necessity of his nature, whether he lays down laws as a rule or teaches them as being eternal truths, whether man obeys God from free will or from the necessity of the divine decree, whether the rewarding of the good and the punishing of the wicked is natural or supernatural. The view one takes on these and similar questions has no bearing on faith, provided that such a belief does not lead to the assumption of greater license to sin, or hinders submission to God. Indeed … every person is in duty bound to adapt these religious dogmas to his own understanding and to interpret them for himself in whatever way makes him feel that he can the more readily accept them with full confidence and conviction. (TTP, chap. 14, G III.164/S 162-3)

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

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Guido Nius 02.05.12 at 11:12 am

An atheist temple? I thought the Large Hadron Collider was finished long ago.

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Hidari 02.05.12 at 12:15 pm

I am absolutely going out on a limb here, and hey, call me crazy if you want, but I am guessing that DelRey has not actually lived in, or for that matter, even visited any of the ‘Muslim countries’ he so blithely pontificates about?

Incidentally is this thread immortal, like Jesus? If it is killed will it rise again and ascend to heaven?

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DelRey 02.05.12 at 7:32 pm

@845,
Have you ever been to a Muslim country?

Yes, I’ve been to several. Not that it’s necessary for anyone to actually visit a country personally to be aware of the political and social conditions in that country.

And yes, Dawkins did strongly imply that religious discrimination ought to be allowed in those two posts.

No, he doesn’t imply that either.

Still waiting for you to describe what “the ideology of New Atheism” is supposed to be, to show us where Dawkins has expressed this “ideology,” and to produce some examples of it.

@847
Certainly I know quite devout religious people who for many practical purposes might as well be secular, but that doesn’t mean I want to get in their face about it and say “but you’re so close! just a small step and you can be rid of this God Delusion!

I haven’t seen anyone advocate “getting in the face” of religious people, assuming that by that you mean some sort of aggressive, unsolicited personal confrontation with religious believers. What Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc. do is to write books and essays and make television appearances criticizing religion and promoting secularism. How awful of them.

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DelRey 02.05.12 at 7:43 pm

@850,
No, the brand of atheism in question argues that religion leads to the lack of wisdom and tolerance. And that’s a much more arrogant assertion than yours. And less supported by evidence.

The basic argument of Dawkins, etc. is that religion is harmful nonsense. They support this claim with a vast array of historical and contemporary evidence demonstrating the irrational nature of religious claims, the conflict between religious claims and scientific knowledge, and the harmful effects of religion on human welfare.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.12 at 9:33 pm

@854 and the harmful effects of religion on human welfare

and Dawkins, etc. of course know everything about what’s good for human welfare. Certainly much more than a few thousand generations of their ancestors.

I was a rebellious teenager once too, but I have grown up and I now have one of my own. And suddenly my parents don’t seem so stupid after all.

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Harold 02.05.12 at 9:42 pm

We are going around and around in circles here. Dawkins preaches that “religion is harmful nonsense”, which contrary to DelRey’s denial, most people (including other atheists) consider “getting the the face” of religious people. They counter that not everything about religion is harmful nor is it nonsense. Furthermore, “science” has also led people to do evil acts, and has been found (usually after a due period of time) to be nonsense (phlogiston) and sometimes harmful nonsense (lobotomies). You may say it was not really religion if it occasionally strayed into the realm of common sense, or it was not science if it occasionally (or frequently as the case may be) encompassed the cruel, ineffective, and indifferent. But that is not satisfactory. What is lacking is a little humility.

What are DelRay and Dawkins proposing, starting from the year zero and getting rid of Sunday and going with a ten-day week as in the French Revolution?

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DelRey 02.05.12 at 9:50 pm

and Dawkins, etc. of course know everything about what’s good for human welfare. Certainly much more than a few thousand generations of their ancestors.

You are certainly free to believe that human beings were better off in the past, when religion was much more powerful and pervasive than it is today. That view doesn’t seem to be very popular though, even among apologists for religion.

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DelRey 02.05.12 at 10:07 pm

Dawkins preaches that “religion is harmful nonsense”, which contrary to DelRey’s denial, most people (including other atheists) consider “getting the the face” of religious people.

In that case, writing books arguing that fascism, communism, anarchism, etc. are harmful nonsense is “getting in the face” of believers in those ideologies. So I’m not sure why you think “getting in the face” of people, as you are defining it, is a bad thing.

They counter that not everything about religion is harmful nor is it nonsense.

I’m pretty sure that Dawkins would agree that in some places, at some times, under some circumstances, religion can be beneficial. But its overall effect is profoundly harmful.

If you seriously believe that religion is not nonsense, please present your rebuttal to Dawkins’, Hitchens’ and Harris’ arguments that it is nonsense.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.12 at 10:13 pm

and sometimes harmful nonsense (lobotomies)

Hey, I remember this amazing story I heard on NPR a few years ago, about this doctor driving his ‘lobotomobile’ around the country, healing depressed housewives and unruly children by an icepick, 25 bucks a pop. Here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Jackson_Freeman_II

Following his development of the icepick lobotomy, Freeman began traveling across the country visiting mental institutions in his personal van, which he called the “lobotomobile.”[8] He toured around the nation performing lobotomies and spreading their use by educating and training staff to perform the operation. Freeman’s name gained popularity despite the widespread criticism of his methods following a lobotomy on President John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary Kennedy, which left her with severe mental and physical disability.[2] A memoir written by former patient Howard Dully, called My Lobotomy documented his experiences with Freeman and his long recovery after undergoing a lobotomy surgery at 12 years old.[9] Walter Freeman charged just $25 for each procedure that he performed.[7] After four decades Freeman had personally performed as many as 3,400 lobotomy surgeries in 23 states, despite the fact that he had no formal surgical training.

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Harold 02.05.12 at 10:13 pm

DelRey: “I haven’t seen anyone advocate “getting in the face” of religious people”

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.12 at 10:16 pm

You are certainly free to believe that human beings were better off in the past, when religion was much more powerful and pervasive than it is today. That view doesn’t seem to be very popular though, even among apologists for religion.

What the heck does it even mean?

862

Kaveh 02.05.12 at 10:21 pm

What are DelRay and Dawkins proposing, starting from the year zero and getting rid of Sunday and going with a ten-day week as in the French Revolution?

This is really the question, isn’t it? They tend to have some fascist-sounding crazy ideas about how religion should be taught about (as if college classes on religion routinely deny the history of religious violence (cue DelRey with something completely fictional copypasted from Campuswatch)) but other than and obvious p00p we all agree on like general disagreement with the religious right, and wishy-washy arguments like “I’m not saying that we should discriminate against people for their religious beliefs if they can still do their job, but somebody with contradictory ideas is mentally deranged so they shouldn’t be hired”, they seem to be heavy on spittle and light on ideas.

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DelRey 02.05.12 at 10:35 pm

@862,
They tend to have some … crazy ideas about how religion should be taught about

What crazy ideas would those be? Describe these alleged crazy ideas, and then show us where Dawkins advocates them. Oh, that’s right. You can’t. Because you haven’t even read Dawkins.

@861,
What the heck does it even mean?

The statement seems pretty clear to me. I don’t know why you can’t understand it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 02.05.12 at 11:12 pm

I understood it, but it seemed too stupid to respond. So I thought I’d give you a chance to think about it and type something better.

865

Kaveh 02.05.12 at 11:24 pm

I don’t have time to go looking for things that Dawins follower have said about how the Qur’an hould be taught, so I retract the claim. I shouldn’t post these things without being able to back them up.

Now will DelRey respond to any of the half-dozen or so questions about why he thinks Muslim countries should be compared to the wealthiest countries to judge their crime rates, what do new atheists propose should be done about religious beliefs outside of a US-European context? What have you got?

And it would also be nice to acknowledge that the blog posts by Dawkins that I actually did read and that actually do have his name on them, implicitly advocate religious discrimination in various forms, but it neither breaks my leg or picks my pocket if you go on denying the plain meaning of the text.

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Kaveh 02.05.12 at 11:25 pm

(That is, respond to the half-dozen or so questions about matters such as…)

867

Harold 02.05.12 at 11:29 pm

Dawkins wants children as young as five to be able to choose whether to be atheists or not.

I have an anecdote here. My mother and father were atheists — when I asked her about God, my mother said, “Many people believe in God, I don’t but you can if you want.” I was four. I answered very decidedly that I did and only lost my (very sincere) faith at the age of fifteen when sent to a Christian school (they had a very good program in languages and I got a scholarship there). I also firmly believed in Santa Clause, until I was ready not to.

My cousin, whose parents were also atheists, decided to convert to episcopalianism at the age of 9 because her Jamaican friends from the Islands were that. And she also stayed true to the religion of her choice for quite a few years (I don’t know if she has really given it up). Actually, it was quite helpful to her in the environment of the numerous schools she went to. Given a choice children will frequently want to believe in God and will feel deprived if not allowed to. (Even Mr. Dawkins refers to himself as a “cultural Anglican” –( while simultaneously arguing that it is wrong to bring up children as “Anglican children” or Jewish children, or whatever).

I don’t think this is the result Richard Dawkins is aiming for and therefore do agree Dawkins’ ideas about religion in the schools are a bit crazy and designed to “get in people’s face.”

868

DelRey 02.06.12 at 4:44 am

Now will DelRey respond to any of the half-dozen or so questions about why he thinks Muslim countries should be compared to the wealthiest countries to judge their crime rates, what do new atheists propose should be done about religious beliefs outside of a US-European context?

I compared Muslim countries to secular liberal democracies, because secular liberal democracy is the alternative I favor, not communism or monarchy or military dictatorship. The fact that religious countries tend to be poor and repressive while secular liberal democracies tend to be wealthy and free is not a coincidence.

I don’t propose anything in particular should be done about religious beliefs except that they should be criticized and that science, reason and secular humanism promoted as a superior alternative. In other words, what Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens and Dennett are doing. I expect most “new atheists” feel the same way.

And it would also be nice to acknowledge that the blog posts by Dawkins that I actually did read and that actually do have his name on them, implicitly advocate religious discrimination in various forms

No, they don’t advocate religious discrimination, implicitly or otherwise.

869

faustusnotes 02.06.12 at 5:00 am

delRey, if you don’t understand the importance of colonialism to this conversation, you really are working with the dumbest model of history ever presented.

870

DelRey 02.06.12 at 5:00 am

Dawkins wants children as young as five to be able to choose whether to be atheists or not.

I’m not sure why you think anyone should try to prevent a child from choosing to be an atheist. I doubt there are many 5-year-olds choosing to be atheists. But lots of 5-year-olds are being indoctrinated by their parents in religion.

do agree Dawkins’ ideas about religion in the schools are a bit crazy

What crazy ideas about religion in the schools? Describe these allegedly crazy ideas, show us where Dawkins has advocated them, then explain why you think they’re crazy.

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Harold 02.06.12 at 6:26 am

I am not going to repeat myself. I think Dawkins’ ideas about education are crazy (i.e., not seriously meant). You can read about them on the web.

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Kaveh 02.06.12 at 5:16 pm

I compared Muslim countries to secular liberal democracies, because secular liberal democracy is the alternative I favor, not communism or monarchy or military dictatorship. The fact that religious countries tend to be poor and repressive while secular liberal democracies tend to be wealthy and free is not a coincidence.

So Brazil is a military dictatorship? Argentina? Mexico? How are things over there in 1960? Note from the future: don’t ingest too much DDT.

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Niall McAuley 02.06.12 at 5:38 pm

I find it the idea that people might choose to be atheists weird.

Choose to call themselves atheists, OK, but how do you choose to be an atheist? Is anyone really able to choose what they believe and don’t believe?

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Tim Wilkinson 02.07.12 at 2:44 pm

Ah ha – now the discussion is really getting under way.

Is anyone really able to choose what they believe and don’t believe?

Not really straightforwardly, I would have thought – it would be to gets the direction of fit wrong between world and attitude. On such a view, which is basically – roughly – right, things like Pascal’s wager, and doxastic pragmatism in general, are not really viable. (I think there is a bad paradox or perhaps regress or circle, in some forms of d.p.: something like, say one is to believe what it’s best to believe, then how does one decide what to believe is best?

Mention of David Velleman on another thread reminded me of something he wrote in response to David Gauthier; ‘Deciding How to Decide’ – in which a distinction is drawn (or rather drawn on) between theoretical and practical precepts. I won’t try to recall the intricacies of that argument (which IIRC is about trying to bootstrap oneself out of a maximising approach to practical reason; whether one needs to and can).

But I think the way to look at deciding what to believe is that while we can’t (‘can’t’ here being quasi-normative) just arbitrarily adopt beliefs, we can change our standards for belief, outr way of adopting and losing beliefs – perhaps as new evidence or arguments come in, we can ‘some to realise’ that one epistemic approach is flawed, and another better. And having internaloised that, we may then go on to change beliefs we already hold, or to adopt ones we wouldn’t otherwise have adopted.

And while I’ve used a schema of ‘new evidence or arguments coming in’, these new elements need not be imposed from outside, exactly – a process of deliberation may uncover new arguments that are already in one’s head to be found, to speak metaphorically. And so one may sit down, think about it, and end up becoming an atheist, even though one can’t (and I still have’t really unpacked what ‘can’t’ means here) just decide, peremptorily, to believe something.

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Niall McAuley 02.08.12 at 8:52 am

I suppose it’s possible that someone might have beliefs which won’t stand up to analysis which they maintain simply by not analysing them, a “La la la not listening” believer.

A simple decision to think about the subject might be enough to allow them to do the work and convince themselves that these beliefs are false, and then afterwards they might reasonably describe that decision as choosing not to be religious.

But I think there is a distinction between having unexamined beliefs which turn out to be false and the “la la la” believer, in that the latter won’t consider their beliefs because they already suspect that they are false.

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Tim Wilkinson 02.08.12 at 10:44 am

Yes, certainly. The English criminal law has adopted the concept of ‘closing one’s mind’ to a possibility, e.g. in Caldwell.

In the context of christianity in particular, there has of course historically been a prophylactic teaching about the need to resist the very plausible blandishments of Satan – faith guarding reason and making sure it doesn’t go off the rails.

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Tim Wilkinson 02.08.12 at 10:46 am

Which is literally an ‘I’m not listening’ approach.

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