Is Intolerant Atheism A Good Idea?

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Wired is running a fascinating article in the current issue (not yet available online) on The New Atheism. The article profiles three leading "new atheists": evolutionay biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennet, and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

In the article Dawkins says, "[T]he big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The "sensible" religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side."

In addition Dawkins muses, "How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It's one thing to say people can believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?" (Comment: Parents are the worst way to bring up children, except for all the others.)

A provocative Sam Harris quotation from his new book Letter to a Christian Nation that caught my eye: "The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."

Gary Wolf, author of the Wired article, concludes with this liberal (libertarian) thought: "If we reject the polemics [of the New Atheists], if we continue to have respectful conversations even about those things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or you might say our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confidant we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance that we could turn out to be wrong."

Bailey comment: The crowning achievement of the Enlightenment is the principle of tolerance, of putting up with people who look differently, talk differently, worship differently, and live differently than we do.

Disclosure: I used to be an evangelical atheist, but I've since relaxed a lot. Or as I now put it–I am an atheist the same way that I am a-unicornist–show me a god and or a unicorn and I'll change my mind about their existence.

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  1. Mmmmmm … Sam Harris … Mmmmmmm …

  2. In the article Dawkins says, “[T]he big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The “sensible” religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.”

    Yeah, because declaring that “You’re either with us or against us” has worked so well when confronting religious fundamentalism…

  3. “Yeah, because declaring that “You’re either with us or against us” has worked so well when confronting religious fundamentalism…”

    Honestly! Well said, Thoreau.

  4. Ron: may I suggest you study “On the Spatial Distribution of the Montane Unicorn” by S.H. Hurlburt in the journal Oikos? ;P

  5. I would say that most “sensible” religiouis people probably haven’t given the supernatural too much thought one way or the other. They probably figure it’s best to believe in God “just in case,” but most of them probably go to church for social reasons. If you grow up in a normal, mainstream church, your religious beliefs don’t keep you from having a normal life. Most of them don’t ask you to go door-to-door and proseletyze, and you don’t have to wear a burqa. It’s not that people are shallow or stupid not to have given the matter much thought – they’ve never really had a reason to think about it.

  6. I propose we all just live by one philosophy:
    Treat others as you wish to be treated.

  7. I’m all for toleration of the religious, until they begin making policy, ascribing ethical values to long drawn-out deaths, and establishing limits on science.
    At that point they become surplus to the requirements of the species.

  8. It is profoundly stupid to group people who are religious but who do not believe in pushing their religious notions into public policy into the same class as fundamentalists who do. It makes as much sense as lumping people who believe that government is a necessary evil with Stalinists.

    It simply turns a natural ally in the arenas that really matter into an enemy — all for no good reason.

  9. You know, I don’t deny that many (but not quite all) of the worst deeds of the human race have been done in the name of religion. If we take that observation, and that observation alone, then religion certainly seems to be incompatible with a free, open, peaceful, and innovative society.

    Then again, there are lots of observations out there which, if taken without any context, could be used to draw all sorts of conclusions.

    If you look carefully, however, you’ll find that the vast majority of religious believers in this world lead lives that are fully consistent with the operation of a free, open, peaceful, and innovative society. And since Dawkins is a professor of science, it’s worth noting that religious groups run some fine universities, including Baylor, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Catholic University, the Loyola schools, etc. Religious believers can be found even among leading scientists.

    I’m forced to conclude, based on empirical observations, that religion is not inherently inconsistent with a free, open, peaceful, and innovative society. Religion, like so many other things, can be beneficial, benign, or harmful, depending on how it’s used.

    Dawkins seems to be making his claims based on ideology, and selective observation. If he wants to go down that road, he might find it useful to hang out with William Dembski.

  10. “The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.”

    Well, I can’t really disagree w/ this.

  11. NAL,

    I distrust that quote. It sounds suspiciously like a religious fellow said it.
    Atheist vs theist, Christian vs Muslim, where does it end? Can we all agree that it is indisputable that humans are people (the coolest tautology), our differences are less important than what we share and that we can choose to help each other get by? Oh drat, I’m getting way too close to what NAL said.

  12. I, for one, want to know where this Ron Bailey fellow gets off expressing his skepticism about unicorns. A brief investigation into the publicly available information about his background shows no evidence of advanced study or degrees in zoology or mythology, let alone mythological zoology, no published papers in peer-reviewed scholarly journals or any other credentials suggesting he should be entitled to write his half-baked and probably corporate funded opinions on this subject. Someone must take a stand about this sort of shoddy journalism. Accordingly, effective immediately, please be informed that if I had a subscription to Reason, I would be cancelling it.

  13. I prefer the term, “non-practicing atheist.”

  14. Just for grins (or more, if it appeals to you), check out the Church of Reality (www.churchofreality.org). Motto: “If its real, we believe in it.” Basically, it is a naturalist/athiest organization (and I use the word “organization” loosely), but which tries to construct a coherent philosophy of What We Should Be About.

  15. Ron, if somebody showed you a unicorn, which would you do?

    1) Ride the unicorn on a junket sponsored by the American Association of Unicorn Breeders.

    2) Write an article defending the use of unicorn DNA in transgenic animals.

    3) Report with great excitement from a symposium on therapeutic uses of powdered unicorn horn.

    4) Explain how a free market approach to unicorn hunting could be the best way to preserve this very rare and endangered species.

    5) Issue a disclaimer about owning stock in any unicorn breeders.

    πŸ™‚

  16. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.

    It seems pretty obvious to me. The claim adds another mechanism for falsifiability. The claim adds, at the least, a well known object that appeals to people’s intuitions about how this “talking to God” could or could not be happening. In this, the claim provides inductive evidence that the person making the claim is at best mistaken.

  17. My Sisson HotAire hairdryer is really loud. I can barely hear God through it.

  18. thoreau: No, I would urge funding of research on the refractive properties of unicorn horn. πŸ™‚

  19. Wow. A lot of people seem to be taking the side of the guy who wants “society” (i.e. Big Brother) to step in and raise children when people are not doing it according to his worldview. You’d have to be an athiest to believe that was a good idea.

  20. I propose we all just live by one philosophy:
    Treat others as you wish to be treated.

    Sorry, no can do. This principle can trace its geneaology to religious traditions, and is thus the tainted product of an extremist cult.

  21. My Sisson HotAire hairdryer is really loud. I can barely hear God through it.

    If it’s made in Japan, you might have a Shinto model. The noise you hear is all your ancestors. They’re loud because they don’t like your hairstyle.

  22. ..show me a god and or a unicorn and I’ll change my mind about their existence.

    I used to feel that way, then I ran into a problem: What, if anything, would constitute a god? Show me a god, and I’ll start asking how it works.

  23. As brilliant as I think Dawkins is, his hubris, animosity and intolerance towards pretty much all “supernaturalists” seems to be entirely counterproductive in pretty much any arena. You read some of the Amazon reviews for his books, and there will be a bunch of theists on there talking about how Dawkins made many good points, and it was a great book, except for his scathing arrogance and intolerance.

    The last thing we need to do is rile up a bunch of folks that are, for the most part ambivalent, on this issue. As moronic and depressing as it is, I think that over 80% of this country is Christian. I’m not sure about the worldwide percentages of theists, but I’m sure it’s up there.

    Sure, in purely abstract logical terms, the big thick line should be drawn to naturalists and supernaturalists—but in reality, there’s no need to add fuel to the other side’s fire by getting a bunch of non-players involved in the game, on their side. Does Dawkins really think that there’s anything to be gained by that? That’s the problem with these scientists—even in the public, social, political realm, they want to be absolute.

  24. Most, if not all, of the Founding Fathers believed in God, and these we’re not stupid or evil men. People are guided my their own moral compass, and religion is what some people use to give substance to their personal morality. People without a moral compass to follow use can religion to justify their crimes and believe those justifications. Religious guides like the Bible or Koran can be interpreted to justifly almost anything.

    I see no evidence for the existence God, except perhaps the existence of the universe, but that has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good, or even intelligent, person. Neither athiests nor theists have the moral upperhand or can prove they’re right.

    Whenever I try to imagine what happened a trillion years before the Big Bang, I find it emotionally overwhelming and I am once again confronted with the possibility of God.

  25. MikeP, more to the point, a large percentage of the American population believes they are in communion with God, whereas I’m willing to bet a very small percentage believes they do it through their hairdryers. When a president professes to believe something a large part of his constituency already believes in anyway, then of course no one is going to declare a national emergency, no matter how silly the belief may be.

    That said, I see the point Dawkins is trying to make. This is a man with a lot of power who partly makes his decisions based on unsubstantiated claims. But we can’t take away the power of the American people to elect who they want. If we could adequately limit the power of the president, then we could afford to judge him by his actions, regardless of the voices he thinks he hears.

    Todd,
    Wow. A lot of people seem to be taking the side of the guy who wants “society” (i.e. Big Brother) to step in and raise children when people are not doing it according to his worldview. You’d have to be an athiest to believe that was a good idea.

    No one on the board here has endorsed that idea. When you talk about “taking his side” as if it entails agreeing with all of his positions on everything, you sound a lot like Dawkins.

  26. Last week I heard an interview with Dawkins on NPR.

    That guy could give Ann Coulter a run for her money in being the biggest self-satisfied asshole in the world.

  27. Don’t deists get short shrift in this discussion?

  28. as long as unicorn hunting is sustainable, I have no objections

  29. The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.

    That’s why you shouldn’t talk about things you don’t know about. Religious people believe the primary purpose of consciousness is to establish communication with God. “I talk to God, and God talks to me” — or as someone of less overt religiosity might say, “I pray” — means “I use my cognitive faculties for their intended purpose.” The claim “I talk to God through my hairdryer” is alarming in the way that “I each my lunch in the middle of the freeway” or “I urinate in my refrigerator” is.

    “If you only understand your own side of an argument, you don’t even understand that.”

  30. The last thing we need to do is rile up a bunch of folks that are, for the most part ambivalent, on this issue. As moronic and depressing as it is, I think that over 80% of this country is Christian. I’m not sure about the worldwide percentages of theists, but I’m sure it’s up there.

    That’s what puzzles me, too. Aside from the fact that Dawkins is an arrogant prick, it makes no sense in political terms to gratuituously insult the overwhelming majority of Americans.

    Atheists are so certain of their moral and intellectual superiority that they seem to regard their eventual ascendancy to power as divinely mandated. πŸ˜‰

  31. Since Dawkins is so convinced that the vast majority of the world is utterly wrong, and that he only needs philosophical (not empirical) evidence to prove this, perhaps he should take a look at libertarianism….

    πŸ˜‰

  32. And for those of you real intellectual giants. Let me remind you that Marxism is at one with Atheism.

  33. Scoreboard one for thoreau at 2:27!

  34. stuartl,

    When asked my religious convictions, I usually say that I agree with the Apostle Thomas. He was the one who was not in the room when the risen Jesus first appeared to the disciples. When they told him what had happened, he replied that he would not believe until he could personally examine the nail marks in his hands and thrust his hand into Jesus’ side.

  35. What thoreau said. Also, I have a problem with Dawkins’ (Dawkins’s?) assumption that eliminating any form of any belief in any deity will cure all of humanities ills. I’m old enough to remember when terrorists were Communists, not Muslims. (cf: Red Brigades, Bader-Meinhof gang.) The Commies were by their own admission atheists, but their victims were just as dead. Humans aren’t going to stop being irrational, they’ll just have fewer productive channels for said irrationality.

    Since virtually all humans who ever lived have been religious, I’m inclined to think that means religion serves a purpose to our societies that needs to be examined. Dawkins contributes nothing to that examination.

  36. Malvolio:

    “Religious people believe the primary purpose of consciousness is to establish communication with God.”

    You make an interesting point, but do most religious people even give any thought to the purpose of consciousness?

    I haven’t been to church in many, many years and those that I’ve been to were mostly Southern Baptist. I don’t recall ever hearing about the purpose of consciousness at them.

  37. If you’re talking to God, you’re praying. If God’s talking to you, you’re schizophrenic.

  38. What thoreau said.

    So, you agree that Ron Bailey is getting junkets paid for by Big Unicorn? πŸ™‚

  39. to be fair to Harris at least, i havent read Dawkins, his argument in the End of Faith seemed to be more against dogmatic adherence to anything, which would include marxism without reason which he thought was emblematic of religion particularly of the Muslim and Christian variety. what he would say as to how this would apply to atheism, is anybody’s guess.

  40. “And for those of you real intellectual giants. Let me remind you that Marxism is at one with Atheism.”

    And theism is at one with Islamist terrorism.

    Ooooh, look at me! I can make broad judgemental claims, too!

  41. I would argue that for most people, religious belief is not something of deep intellectual concern. It does have lots of interesting sociological and psychological aspects though.

    Art,

    Not all atheists are Marxists. Indeed, I’d argue that the vast majority of atheists today are probably not Marxists.

    thoreau,

    You know, I don’t deny that many (but not quite all) of the worst deeds of the human race have been done in the name of religion.

    I’d phrase it a little differently. I’d say that these many terrible deeds have been done as an aspect of religious belief; belief in the sociological sense that is. In other words, when French Catholics were slaughtering Protestants on St. Bart’s day they were doing it not in the name of religion, but as an exercise of their religious belief in the need for a wholely Catholic country.

  42. Since virtually all humans who ever lived have been religious, I’m inclined to think that means religion serves a purpose to our societies that needs to be examined. Dawkins contributes nothing to that examination.

    Karen is on to something here. Considering that religion has been a constant part of human life for thousands and thousands of years, it is not far-fetched to suggest that modern humans are a product of religion-influenced evolution.

    For example, medical studies have consistently shown that religious people tend to live longer, happier and healthier lives than non-religious people (whether that is due to God’s blessings or simple sociological factors is still a matter of debate). Demographers have also noted that religious people tend to have more children than non-religious ones.

    So assuming these differences existed some 30,000 years ago, that means religious Neanderthals were more likely to successfully breed and survive than non-religious ones. It doesn’t take a biologist to recognize that eventually the religious population would eclipse the non-religious one, all other factors being equal.

    It also would suggest that atheism is “unnatural” in the sense that humans have evolved with the innate need to believe in a god. Perhaps this would explain why Marxist societies have been such dismal failures.

  43. Captain Holly,

    There is no evidence (as far as I know) of human descent from Neanderthals.

  44. So assuming these differences existed some 30,000 years ago, that means religious Neanderthals were more likely to successfully breed and survive than non-religious ones.

    Just to engage in a bit of pedantry, Neanderthals almost certainly aren’t our ancestors. They were apparently an evolutionary dead end, although we can’t rule out the possibility that some of them bred with out ancestors. Which I guess would mean that they were our ancestors then, but they were at most a small part of our ancestral gene pool.

    Also, when you say:
    It also would suggest that atheism is “unnatural” in the sense that humans have evolved with the innate need to believe in a god. Perhaps this would explain why Marxist societies have been such dismal failures.

    I’d guess that a complete failure to account for the laws of supply and demand and the incentive structure of a market might have something to do with their failure. Besides, while Communist governments are officially atheist, some of them at least tolerate religion here and there. And one could argue that North Korea almost has a state-sponsored religion. The official media has claimed that their leader being born on a sacred mountain with certain signs attending his birth, and has attributed all sorts of marvelous talents and abilities to him.

    Hippie communes of Gaia worshippers haven’t exactly prospered.

  45. Captain Holly,

    If the USSR had been primarily religious and used the same economic policies as the “atheist” USSR did in the 1930s, would that have made the rapid industrialization, de-kulakization, etc., more humane, expedient, efficacious, etc.?

  46. humans have evolved with the innate need to believe in a god. Perhaps this would explain why Marxist societies have been such dismal failures.

    I always thought it had more to do with Marxism’s denial of economic reality and pretense that human selfishness does not exist.

  47. I propose we all just live by one philosophy:
    Treat others as you wish to be treated.

    Keep the masochists away from me, please.

  48. …if we continue to have respectful conversations even about those things we find ridiculous…

    Anyway, I’d argue that tolerance depends largely on not having conversations about these matters at all (or at least rarely).

  49. I confess to being in the apparent minority of H&R readers with religious inclinations. I suspect that Dawkins and Harris believe their lack of religion makes them incapable of sanctimony. But cognitive scientist (and libertarian atheist) Steven Pinker points out in “The Sanctimonious Animal,” chapter 15 of The Blank Slate, that the human moral sense is a sophisticated but flawed gadget in each of our brains. Just as our eyes can be fooled by optical illusions, the moral circuitry of otherwise rational people can distort some moral questions sometimes. This surely explains why marijuana is still illegal, and it explains why atheists (including Marxists) can be self-righteous, too.

  50. And for those of you real intellectual giants. Let me remind you that Marxism is at one with Atheism.

    Are you suggesting Stalin killed 40 million people because he was an atheist?

  51. Wow. A lot of people seem to be taking the side of the guy who wants “society” (i.e. Big Brother) to step in and raise children when people are not doing it according to his worldview. You’d have to be an athiest to believe that was a good idea.

    Look Todd, we can bloviate all we want about parents raising and being ultimately responsible for children but the truth is you only get to make the unimportant decisions. And it’s the same way with religion. We love to tout “freedom of religion” but just like parenting you are only free up to a point. We (meaning most of the world) have been deciding the big things by secular humanist logic for hundreds of years now. The constant teeth gnashing and blog spewing about the 10 commandments on some hick town’s courthouse lawn or the government choosing to censor video games are fun but ultimately unimportant to how we live our lives on a daily basis.

    For example let’s imagine you decide your religion is the guiding light of your parenting. And your religious guru is constantly speaking of the need to beat the love of god into your child. Guess what? You don’t get to do it. Your religion and parenting “freedom” only goes so far. You get to decide what hat you and your child wear to church and what hymn you want to sing together and that’s about it.

    How about a thought experiment. Science has evolved to the point where we actually understand how the brain works. And you can buy a chip that will make absolutely, 100% sure your child does not become gay or an atheist. Would it be allowed to be sold? No. Of course not. (Maybe in Iran)

    As a libertarian, I’d love to remove children completely from the equation. It makes every other principle so easy to defend. But there is a line. And that line needs to be monitored. Defining that line is defining the role of government as a libertarian.

  52. TPG,

    That’s what I thought when I read that. That rule, though phrased subjectively, depends on some objective measure of behavior that defeats the “lesson” that rule strives for.

  53. If you are proposing that it might be good idea to take children away from their parents, and have them raised by the state, to rescue them from the horrors of being raised Congregationalist, perhaps you shouldn’t be taken very seriously when you attempt to attribute fanaticism and irrationality to beliefs that youdo not share.

  54. “For example, medical studies have consistently shown that religious people tend to live longer, happier and healthier lives than non-religious people “

    Studies have also shown that religious belief shows a strong negative correlation with both intelligence and education.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence

  55. Also, I have a problem with Dawkins’ (Dawkins’s?) assumption that eliminating any form of any belief in any deity will cure all of humanities ills.

    Holy strawman, Karen! Where does Dawkins say this in any of his writings?

    In his lectures Dawkins has actually addressed this issue. He admits that humanity could latch on to ideologies other than religion and wreak havoc as well.

    Since virtually all humans who ever lived have been religious, I’m inclined to think that means religion serves a purpose to our societies that needs to be examined. Dawkins contributes nothing to that examination.

    Dawkins is plugging a new book called “The God Delusion.” He does examine the purpose of religion in societies.

  56. Steven Pinker points out … that the human moral sense is a sophisticated but flawed gadget in each of our brains.

    Well, he “points out” that that is his belief, anyway.

  57. brian, I too, am religious. I realize that I can’t in a million years explain why I believe, it’s just, well, there. My mainline, Darwin-friendly Christianity serves a purpose, if only of the sort that magistrates find useful. Dawkins’ ellision of my belief system into Osama’s or Pat Robertson’s just makes me mad at Dawkins, and doesn’t win any points for his cause.

  58. Cpt. Holly, the hypotheses you propose are interesting but really untestable, because we don’t really have a reason to believe the religions/non-religious distinction existed 30,000 years ago when religion was the best tool people had for explaining the world around them, and of course there are a lot of differences between Marxist socieities and ours that go well beyond the atheism/religion split. This might be why we can’t look at more conclusive research on these things.

    But it is a fascinating idea that humans may be genetically predisposed to delusion; i.e., thinking that you’ve got the mysteries of the world figured out when you don’t, or maybe thinking that you can take on the world when you can’t, etc.

  59. Are you suggesting Stalin killed 40 million people because he was an atheist?

    Because or in spite of, it doesn’t make much difference. The point is that atheism per se can’t take the moral high ground if any atheist anywhere is capable of that.

  60. Wouldn’t any factor that encourages in-group amity and out-group enmity give rise to the increasing size of a group containing that factor? Religion seems simply a convenient way to place large numbers of people who are not necessarily related by blood or pair-bonding into the same group. On a planet with limited resources, like after the Toba eruption, I would expect that pressure would only increase to critical levels.

  61. “Or as I now put it–I am an atheist the same way that I am a-unicornist–show me a god and or a unicorn and I’ll change my mind about their existence.”

    We have several thousands of years’ worth of experience with horses, and millions of years’ of fossil records showing the evolution of the equine population. The absence of unicorns anywhere in this record is not merely and absense of evidence, but an absense of evidence in the place where it would be, should that evidence exist. If there was evidence of unicorns, we would know where to look for it.

    This is not the case with God. There is simply no evidence one way or the other, and no body of related evidence in which the evidence of God is “missing.”

  62. “Not all atheists are Marxists. Indeed, I’d argue that the vast majority of atheists today are probably not Marxists.”

    True, but all Marxists, by the core beliefs of this ideaology, are aethists.

  63. It also would suggest that atheism is “unnatural” in the sense that humans have evolved with the innate need to believe in a god.

    Evolution-based explanations for the existence of religion abound. My favorite is the need for humans to create “agents” where there are none.

    If you hear leaves rustle behind you your safest bet for survival is to assume something or someone is after you. A false positive is not a big deal. But a false negative and you might be dead.

    In that sense it is evolutionary advantageous to err on the side of imagination. This trait has the side effect of creating “sentient agents” wherever there is a gap in understanding. Why does it rain? Rain god. What’s that noise? Wind god. Etc.

  64. Stalin killed 40 million people because of his belief system – religious beliefs in Philanthroopus Lycanthropus’s use the term.

    The absense of, and rejection of, belief in God as part of that belief system doesn’t seem to have mitigated the damage he did.

    Ergo, it is difficult to accept that it is belief in God, rather than a certian type of believing, that makes one capable of such atrocities.

  65. joe, you fool, unicorns don’t fossilize. They’re totally biodegradable.

  66. Well, he “points out” that that is his belief, anyway.

    How would you explain it instead?

  67. joe,

    Not to defend the idea of unicorns, but your statement assumes a perfectly preserved fossil record. That isn’t the case (indeed, fossils of large animals are fairly rare finds). In other words, there may have a unicorn (or rather, something that resembled a unicorn – unicorns being creatures often imbued with supernatural powers), but they just weren’t preserved in the fossil record.

  68. Need I have an explanation to point out the difference between pointing out a fact and asserting a theory?

  69. There are no athiests in foxholes, even Marxist foxholes. That’s because belief in God is a spiritual need, not an intellectual answer to the philosophical question, What does it all mean? Marxism tries to impose atheism on people without fulfilling this need, so people just believe in God in secret. Atheism fails to fulfill this need in me, so I believe in the POSSIBILITY of God. I don’t know if I’m right but it brings me comfort.

  70. There is simply no evidence one way or the other, and no body of related evidence in which the evidence of God is “missing.”

    But there’s ample evidence to show that every single culture which claimed to have knowledge of “God” got it wrong. Falsehoods in the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita. . . all of them. Also, the fact that there’s never been two cultures that, independent of each other, formed the same idea of God suggests that god or gods is a cultural invention, not the discovery of an actual fact.

    All cultures have the same basic idea about water–it’s necessary for life. All cultures have figured out that fire is good when controlled but bad when out of control. These are facts which were discovered and can be tested. But God is different. Is it immortal? Not according to the old Vikings. Is it male or female? Depends on who you ask. Is there one or many? Depends again. Is it for all humanity or only people with certain DNA? Depends on who you ask. And so forth.

  71. I think the most likely reason for the absence of fossils is that unicorns are probably boneless.

  72. Buckshot,

    There are atheists in foxholes: http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/foxhole.html

  73. Are you suggesting Stalin killed 40 million people because he was an atheist?

    Because or in spite of, it doesn’t make much difference. The point is that atheism per se can’t take the moral high ground if any atheist anywhere is capable of that.

    I’m not sure Dawkins is claiming the moral highground because he is an atheist. I could be wrong.

    As an atheist myself I fully recognize atheists are as capable of evil as people who believe in God. However, the difference between because and in spite of is huge to me. If a particular part of my belief system is the main cause for evil actions I’d like to study it.

    Let me elaborate. People always bring up Stalin as an example of an atheist that has commited horrifiying crimes against humanity. This is fact of course. But I’ve yet to see someone launch a convincing case that Stalin’s crimes are a direct result fo his atheism. I find it more likely it was his totalitarian ideology that was the main cause. That and he was batshit crazy.

    In contrast, the list of crimes against humanity where the main cause was religion is long.

  74. There are no athiests in foxholes, even Marxist foxholes. That’s because belief in God is a spiritual need

    About a year after I became an atheist I had another kidney stone attack which (literally) almost killed me, since I didn’t have health insurance at the time. Nonetheless, I didn’t go back to believing in God just because I was in intense agony and standing at the threshold of death.

  75. DAR,

    Well, at least they clean easily then. πŸ™‚

  76. Without God, everything is permitted.

  77. Ron,
    I foresee a trip for you on the road to Damascus.
    Afterwards we can compare notes.

  78. This is not the case with God. There is simply no evidence one way or the other, and no body of related evidence in which the evidence of God is “missing.”

    You’re assuming a lot about unicorns… that is, they have something to do with horses on more than a cosmetic level. Some mythologies have them flying, which obviously horses can’t do, so there must be some more substantial difference between the species!

    I do have a point, which is that the evidence for both remains nil. Religion brought up the God question, and fairy tales brought up the unicorn question, but evidence brought up neither. So there’s no reason to operate on the assumption that either exist.

  79. Not to wade too far into this discussion, but it strikes me that just believing in some sort of god isn’t necessary an indefensible position. The problem comes when you say God looks like this, acts like that, messes with the laws of physics thusly, and expects us to do the following fifty things. And if you choose not to believe in my God, I’m gonna kill you.

    This truth is why agnostics should ban together and slaughter all the atheists and theists. Stalin wasn’t an agnostic, after all.

  80. With God and a good enough lawyer, the results are about the same.

  81. Pro Libertate,

    Some people are just inclined (for whatever reason) to spread the “Good News” (whether that message is religious or not) by the sword if necessary.

  82. There are no athiests in foxholes, even Marxist foxholes.

    I know for a fact that there are agnostics taking cover behind hesco barriers.

    We don’t really do actual foxholes all that much anymore.

  83. Theism is like a hairy wart on the nose of an otherwise beautiful woman. Sure, you can live with it, and she might very well be a wonderful person, but damn! You just can’t get past that wart. Of course, the wart can be removed. Shedding irrational beliefs…not so easy.

  84. Ron Bailey,

    “The crowning achievement of the Enlightenment is the principle of tolerance…”

    I always thought that was the crowning achievement of the Sophists. πŸ˜‰

  85. It must be said that so far all these “Intolerant Atheists” have done is write confrontational books and appear in talk shows.

    Let’s all take a deep breath now.

  86. Actually, many of Stalin’s persecutions were directed toward the Russian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and other religious bodies. The same goes for other atheist dictators like Mao, Pol Pot, and Castro and skeptical dictators like Hitler and Robbespierre. This is clearly religious intolerance of the same type as practiced by the Inquisition, Muslim suicide bombers, etc.

  87. Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,

    Which is why the Libertarians fail. They don’t talk about forcing anybody to do anything. We Cro Magnons don’t like that kind of talk. We either want to be forced to do or believe something, or we want to force others to do so.

    Personally, I want everyone to be tolerant, honest, civil, honorable, rational, and nonviolent. To achieve this end, I’m prepared to slaughter thousands πŸ™‚

  88. You know, back when I was a liberal I was an evangelical atheist who thought that all we have to do is get rid of religion, to educate people and the world would be heavan.

    Then I realized that more mass murders were commited in the name of communism by atheists then any religion could ever hope to. All in the name of “rationality” and “justice”.

    The point is that not believing in God doesn’t make you immune from hate, irrationality and rediculous group think. Let the fools have their God, as long as its a God that believes in the ideas of the enlightenment and the inivisible hand. I love Dawkins, but he is just being foolish here.

  89. How is this *New* Atheism. All Dawkins is selling is warmed over Madalyn Murray O’Hare atheism.

    And I think the Stalin/atheist argument is completely valid (and I am an atheist). You can’t go around, as Dawkin does, saying teaching children to believe in God is child abuse and then just duck Stalin by saying, “well, that doesn’t have anything to do with being an atheist.”

    Like hell it doesn’t. You can’t say, as Dawkins has, that “Religion may not be the root of all evil, but it is a serious contender” and then gloss over the failings of secular moral and political philosophies.

    Well, obviously you can because Dawkins does, but given that we atheists are in the tiny minority, I’m not sure how effective simply spitting on believers is as a way to help temper the extremes that religious belief tends to create.

    I could care less about the kids sent to private Muslims schools as long as they’re not learning to blow up the infidel (just as I could care less about kids who are sent to private Christian schools, provided they’re not being taught to kill abortion providers). Dawkins seems to think that both are equally repugnant.

  90. Karen,
    Despite Pinker’s atheism, he has unintentionally strengthened my religious faith. In How the Mind Works, he admits that the best thinking in evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience can’t explain why we have subjective awareness and “real” thoughts and feelings. Why aren’t we just highly evolved zombies, going through the motions of thinking and feeling without actually thinking and feeling? Pinker admits to being stumped.

    This brings us right to the mind-body problem that Descartes made a noble but doomed effort to solve. It seems to me that only two possible ways out of the conundrum are consistent with all the problems that materialistic science has solved: either Soul is nowhere, or Soul is everywhere. If you and I take the latter option, we can honestly posit a Supreme Being of some kind (although not every believer will be pleased with the implications of this particular defense of religion).

  91. Also, I don’t like Bush anymore than other posters here, but has he ever actually claimed that God has communicated with him? The claim is repeated often on the Left and elsewhere, but I’ve yet to hear it actually documented.

  92. I propose we all just live by one philosophy:
    Treat others as you wish to be treated.

    Shouldn’t it be “as they wish to be treated”. What if I enjoyed being punched in the face?

    …Marxism is at one with Atheism

    The problem with Marxism as implemented, is not that it is atheistic, but that it is a dogmatic ideology which doesn’t allow rational critique.

    It is dogma, ideology and intransigent belief that are at the roots of the problems in the world.

    Dawkins recognizes that other belief systems can be just as dangerous as religion, but then seemingly fails to realize that there is nothing wrong with liberal believers who will submit to reason and evidence as arbiters for human affairs.

    For instance, Deism was common among men of the Enlightenment (including the founding fathers) and despite an acknowledgement of the existence of a Supreme Deity, reason and science were nonetheless considered the best means for understanding the world and for developing systems of ethics.

    Agnostics and Atheists would have more success if they downplayed the “godless” approach and simply tried to fight against intransigent ideology.

    It is dogma, idealogy and itransgient belief that are at the roots of the problems in the world.

    Dawkins recognizes that other belief systems can be just as dangerous as religion, but then seemingly fails to realize that there is nothing wrong with liberal believers who will submit to reason and evidence as arbiteres for human affairs.

  93. James Kabbala

    Hitler and Hitler’s regime (or at least as far as the Nazi party penetrated) was very religious. Indeed, as I alluded to above, religious belief was at the core of much of Nazi ideology. Now it was certainly an ethnic-religious viewpoint, but it had Gods, superbeings, supernatural forces of lightness and darkness, temples, religious ceremonies (especially for “martyrs” like the fellows who died during the Beer Hall Putsch) etc. Now certainly Hitler’s regime wasn’t up with Christianity, but it was hardly skeptical or anti-religious.

  94. I think its apocryphal, along the lines of the Constitution being a “goddamned piece of paper”.

  95. he admits that the best thinking in evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience can’t explain why we have subjective awareness and “real” thoughts and feelings.

    Isn’t that just “the god of the gaps”? Before the discovery of the theory of nuclear power, the best minds in science couldn’t explain how the sun shone–whether it was a regular fire or a chemical one, surely it must have burned out centuries ago! So, since nobody can explain how the sun shines, the fact that it does is proof of God’s existence.

    Then nuclear energy was discovered and that gap in our knowledge was filled in, so God had to move out of the sun and into another gap in our knowledge. If tomorrow somebody was able to conclusively explain where consciousness and awareness comes from, would you abandon your belief in God, or move him into another gap?

  96. Some people are just inclined (for whatever reason) to spread the “Good News” (whether that message is religious or not) by the sword if necessary.

    I suspect that some people just like to kill people. I’m an atheist or agnostic (depending on how you want to define the words) but I’m not under the delusion that religion was really the ultimate reason for the Crusades, etc. It’s just another excuse, and while it’s good to take away people’s excuses for killing each other, at the end of the day, they’re gonna do it anyway. It’s this way the question of right vs. wrong really transcends the religion debate; in the end, talking points aside, it seems that some people really want the world to be a better place and some people really don’t give a damn.

  97. The crowning achievement of the Enlightenment is the principle of tolerance, of putting up with people who look differently, talk differently, worship differently, and live differently than we do.

    I agree that tolerance is generally desirable, but I don’t see it as a point of virtue in and of itself. I have little or no tolerance for any number of causes, but as a point of honor, logic and intellectual honesty, I can be persuaded.

    It’s like you put in your disclosure–I can be persuaded of most anything. I can be persuaded that there is no God. If any of you can’t be persuaded that there is one, then may I ask what separates you, logically, from the fundamentalists?

    I agree that there is something to be said for those unpersuadable atheists who want only to be left alone. …but how could I apologize for those who, like fundamentalist believers, would inflict their beliefs on the unwilling (or their children)?

  98. zach,

    I’d argue that real religious belief was at the heart of the Crusades. Now economic, etc. considerations were also involved obviously, but you simply cannot seperate a dominant part of the medeival worldview from the effort to attack and hold the Levant.

  99. Isn’t that just “the god of the gaps”?

    Bingo.

    Even some sophisticated theologians have noticed that putting God in the gaps is a terrible idea. Basically because it’s almost guaranteed the gaps will get progressively smaller as science moves forward.

  100. James Kabbala,

    BTW, the Nazis spent large amounts of lucre to prove that the German ancestors were Gods, including numerous expeditions to Tibet (where the Aryan Godmen were supposed to have fled after a great cataclysm that wiped out their North Atlantic isle).

  101. PL, obviously you can’t really separate any part of medieval European politics from religion. I just feel like a lot of the wars in our history can be in large part related to religion simply because religion has existed throughout our history. Take it away and I suspect you’d still have just as many and as horrible wars. But of course I can’t prove that.

  102. I’m all for toleration of the religious, until they begin making policy, ascribing ethical values to long drawn-out deaths, and establishing limits on science. At that point they become surplus to the requirements of the species.

    So religious people have no right to “make public policy.”

    And atheists do?

    Why do atheists have more right to “make policy” than religious people?

    A true libertarian would say that people, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) have equal rights to try to influence policy.

    Interestingly, the current Bush Administration policy on stem cell research is the one libertarians ought to favor.

    Nobody is forced to pay for it. But it’s not outlawed either.

    Frankly, I wonder whether this forum is really a hangout for libertarians, or rather for authoritarians who are hostile to Christianity.

  103. But it is a fascinating idea that humans may be genetically predisposed to delusion; i.e., thinking that you’ve got the mysteries of the world figured out when you don’t

    Yes, and for some it comes in the form of religion and for others in the form of science.

  104. I am an athiest and the selfish gene is a great book and i recomend anyone to read it…that said Dawkins sure has become an huge asshole in the past 10 years.

  105. Phileleutherus Lipsiensis;

    I check out that web site you recommended but I can’t find the foxhole link. Chalk it up to my internet incompetence. My reference to there being no atheists in foxhole was inspired by my personal experience. I always declared myself an athiest until one particularly scary mortar/rocket attack, which is when I discovered how little I know about the truth about God. As in, God, get me out of this one, I’ll get myself out of the next one.

    Jennifer:

    All cultures have a different view of God, and they’re all probably wrong. But it says something about the universal human need to believe in something. Maybe false gods are better than no god at all. The best people I know are believers in God.

  106. John McAdams,

    A true libertarian would say that people, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) have equal rights to try to influence policy.

    No, a libertarian would argue that there are large swaths of life where neither have the right to create public policy.

    Frankly, I wonder whether this forum is really a hangout for libertarians, or rather for authoritarians who are hostile to Christianity.

    Isn’t any disagreement with Christianity “hostile” towards Christianity?

  107. A true libertarian would say that people, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) have equal rights to try to influence policy.

    I would slightly amend that to say that a true libertarian would say that people, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof, have equally limited rights to try to influence policy. To me, that means you can’t pass a law banning gay marriage just because you think homosexuality is wrong, but a lot of religious folks would disagree with me.

    Yes, and for some it comes in the form of religion and for others in the form of science.

    Exactly, although educated atheists (that is, people who call themselves that for reasons other than pissing off their parents) recognize the limits of human knowledge, whereas religions by definition posit certain metaphysical conclusions that are absolute.

  108. If tomorrow somebody was able to conclusively explain where consciousness and awareness comes from, would you abandon your belief in God, or move him into another gap?

    I expect that if I lived to see a conclusive explanation for that (which I doubt), I wouldn’t need to abandon the belief or move it over. Science would have proven the existence of a cosmic, unifying something-or-other that might as well be called God. Again, this wouldn’t be Pat Robertson’s God, or Osama bin Laden’s.

  109. I asked a quick question upthread about deists. It may have sounded like I was being cheeky, but I was not. Deists believe in the likelihood of a deity, but also believe in natural laws and do not trust organized religions. Are we deists to be shunted to the side when you theists and atheists battle like this?
    Actually, I prefer this. Leave me out of it. Y’all are crazy anyway.

  110. All cultures have a different view of God, and they’re all probably wrong. But it says something about the universal human need to believe in something.

    And yet, Buckshot, all human cultures have a history of men oppressing women, too. So one could certainly argue that the oppression of women is “natural” for human society (as is the entire philosophy of “might makes right”), but that doesn’t mean we won’t be better off for overcoming it.

    Maybe false gods are better than no god at all

    I’d say that depends on whether the god is meant to enhance your life, or replace it. If praying to god makes you feel less nervous the night before you go in for major surgery, hooray for that. If praying to god makes you convinced you’ll recover without the surgery, that may not be such a great thing.

    All those Afghans murdered by the Taliban for committing “crimes” like listening to music, or flying a kite, or teaching a girl how to read . . . even if the Taliban god is real, I’d still say the Afghans are better off without him.

  111. It’s frustrating and unfortunate Dawkins comes accross as such an asshole (Personally, I don’t think he is).

    But seeing as a good amount of atheists find him insufferable, perhaps he should consider a new PR strategy.

  112. Jennifer:

    I just read your kidney stone comment. Your experience was similar to mine, and you asked yourself the same question I asked, you just came up with a different answer. This brink-of-death kind of experience is the litmus test for atheists, I have a lot of respect for you. After my momment of terror I went back to being an athiest, but I can’t pretend I didn’t have doubt when the shit was flying.

    I think the way to view the existence of God should be in degrees of probability, as in, 100% probability that there is no God, 100% probability that there is, or somewhere inbetween. I figure, 99.999whatever% probability no God, but if I’m wrong, I’m 100% wrong. My hold out is that God might be so big that it doesn’t matter if he exists. I’m sure we’ll never know.

  113. Maybe false gods are better than no god at all. The best people I know are believers in God.

    Same here. Then again, the worst people I know are believers in God, too.

    To be honest, just about everyone I know believes in God, so so much for drawing deep conclusions from that.

  114. Frankly, I wonder whether this forum is really a hangout for libertarians, or rather for authoritarians who are hostile to Christianity

    One vote for hostile. But I’m no authority.

  115. bloviate

    Along with “meme” these are the two most overused and misused words caused by the world of the blog.

  116. Anyway, the sort of “group identity” that religious belief can provide can be served by non-religious identities.

  117. I’m all for toleration of the religious, until they begin making policy, ascribing ethical values to long drawn-out deaths, and establishing limits on science. At that point they become surplus to the requirements of the species.

    It’s clear you don’t believe in the existence of God. Does anyone else see evidence in this comment, particularly in the last part, for the existence of evil?

  118. Your experience was similar to mine, and you asked yourself the same question I asked, you just came up with a different answer. This brink-of-death kind of experience is the litmus test for atheists, I have a lot of respect for you.

    Thanks, but it’s not a matter of respect or lack thereof; it’s a matter of how fluid knowledge is in your mind.

    I remember a thought-experiment I did with some of my students once: say I have magical powers and can grant you ANYTHING you wish, up to and including eternal life and youth. In exchange for my generosity, all you have to do is believe the world is flat. Can you do it? No. You can certainly lie and SAY “I believe the world is flat,” but in light of all you know about geography and gravity and other historic and scientific facts, I don’t think you’d be capable of rearranging your mental furniture to the point where you literally believe in a flat earth, and refuse to go on long ocean voyages for fear of sailing off the edge of the world and plunging through the abyss.

    Given the facts at hand, I can’t make myself believe the world is flat, and I can’t make myself believe in a God, either. No matter how much I stand to gain by switching to these beliefs.

  119. That’s what I thought when I read that. That rule, though phrased subjectively, depends on some objective measure of behavior that defeats the “lesson” that rule strives for.

    Yeah, with my luck, I’d be stuck in a town full of masochists with teenagers that want to cut themselves.

    Howsa about another “golden rule”?

    Leave me the fuck alone.

  120. Jennifer:

    I didn’t say we shouldn’t overcome our spiritual need for God, I’m just saying the need there, good or bad. Men abuse women because they’re bad men, not because ther is a spiritual need to do so. The crimes in the name of God are there for all of us to see, but I’ve come to understand that some people need God, this is what I mean when I say false gods are better than no god, for these people. Life is short, if people of modest intelligence & limited understanding find comfort in a false God, why not? Who cares if it true or not, as long as they behave themselves in there dealings with the rest of us.

  121. It’s clear you don’t believe in the existence of God. Does anyone else see evidence in this comment, particularly in the last part, for the existence of evil?

    It sounded more like adolescent extremist-phase talk to me. Scary, sure, but this is the internet.

  122. R.Bailey’s mention of his past ‘evangelical athiesm’ clarifies the tone of his past posts on religion a bit.

    I think this thread might be the first where the (apparent) majority of H&R people come out defending religion in general.

    Maybe that’s just because Dawkins is a dick.

    What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?

    Yes! = and that is why Santa Claus Must Be Stopped

    Isnt it Dawkins point that ‘belief’ is simply a characteristic that evolved in the species because it was conducive to survival? – doesnt that finding run counter to the idea that it’s un-useful? I.e. he doesnt like God because he’s not “true” in his scientific understanding of truth; but does that mean God isnt a perfectly useful civilizing device? Or rather – make the case why liberating people from their precious myths is a GOOD idea?! My thinking is that people should be free to believe whatever they want if it keeps them from doing Bad Things.

    I still dont see why Gould’s ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’ isnt a perfectly reasonable middle ground. I didnt buy Bailey’s easy dismissal an an earlier piece of his

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

    JG

  123. Most, if not all, of the Founding Fathers believed in God

    In those times, were those who claimed to be “deists” expressing a sincere belief, or just putting a socially acceptable face on their atheism? Sometimes I read what the history books say, but I have a hard time, from my modern perspective, grokking how people in the past viewed the world.

  124. I can’t believe the world is flat because I know too much, I’ve seen the evidence. The existence, or not, of God has no evidence either way. I have nothing to go by but reason and speculation. All you can do is weigh the facts and make your best guess.

  125. GILMORE,

    What do you mean by “defending religion?”

  126. Given the facts at hand, I can’t make myself believe the world is flat, and I can’t make myself believe in a God, either. No matter how much I stand to gain by switching to these beliefs.

    I agree that these theories should flow from the evidence and not visa versa.

    But it also seems that many sometimes argue against a Christianity that just isn’t. The idea that being “good” protects you from harm being an excellent example. I’m not saying that’s a straw man–there are people who believe that. I’m just not sure where that came from Christianity. I suspect its roots go back to the ancient religions of our Indo-European ancestors. …’cause Jesus done got crucified.

    Anyway, I’m struck by the notion among some that religious belief is inherently irrational–by the apparent belief that there is no evidence of God.

    Not that faith is necessarily a function of ignorance but I think it would be irrational for people who don’t, for instance, understand evolution to presume that all the profundity of everyday life and all the complexity of the universe around them were merely a function of chemistry and physics. …certainly irrational if they believed in evolution only because someone with a degree told them it was so.

    Anway, there’s a difference between not finding evidence persuasive and refusing to admit that evidence exists.

  127. Mike Laursen:

    I suspect Ben Franklin might have been an atheist, but he still gave to various curches. I think Jefferson and Washington really believed. Like you said, it’s hard to grok previous generations.

  128. Mike Laursen,

    The so-called Founding Fathers were a diverse group religiously. Trying to pigeonhole the majority of them is as often about promoting modern agendas (religious or secular) than anything else.

  129. Buckshot,

    Jefferson’s beliefs wouldn’t be considered remotely orthodox today, and it is clear from Washington’s behavior that Washington was religious in public. For the most part Washington kept his own personal views on the matter to himself. Madison was clearly not a religious person in the way that lots of Protestants today in the U.S. would consider religious; indeed, he appears to have devoted little of his life to religious belief.

  130. Given the facts at hand, I can’t make myself believe the world is flat, and I can’t make myself believe in a God, either. No matter how much I stand to gain by switching to these beliefs.

    That’s why it always bothers me when people say things like: “Look, man. There’s no way to know for sure whether or not God exists, so you might as well just believe.”

    Well, that’s a great philophy, but, much as I would like to, I can’t just seem make myself believe that.

  131. Isnt it Dawkins point that ‘belief’ is simply a characteristic that evolved in the species because it was conducive to survival? – doesnt that finding run counter to the idea that it’s un-useful? I.e. he doesnt like God because he’s not “true” in his scientific understanding of truth; but does that mean God isnt a perfectly useful civilizing device? Or rather – make the case why liberating people from their precious myths is a GOOD idea?! My thinking is that people should be free to believe whatever they want if it keeps them from doing Bad Things.

    Well the the argument is that religion exists because it used to be useful, if not necessary for people to operate in a world they had no other way of understanding; but that’s no longer the case. I think that’s his argument, anyway.

    My argument would be different – that is, it’s useful in terms of pure survival to create false connections between things and basically be paranoid all the time, but counterproductive towards the end of figuring out the way things really are.

  132. Pascal’s Wager is bullshit for a number of reasons.

  133. It seems to be unsaid, but atheism, like theism, is a belief system. As such, it has all the weaknesses of religion. Maybe even more as it requires more conscious thought to take. Because of that, atheists as a group are more committed can be more obnoxious than a run-of-the-mill religionists, most of whom don’t think real hard about what they really believe.

    Ron pretty much describes himself as an agnostic. An agnostic doesn’t believe in gods, but is willing to sit down and have coffee with one. An athestic believes there is no god. Coffee not an option.

    Oh, and all people have the potential to be assholes, regardless of beliefs.

  134. DogBreath,

    You need to differentiate between weak and strong atheists.

  135. Not that faith is necessarily a function of ignorance but I think it would be irrational for people who don’t, for instance, understand evolution to presume that all the profundity of everyday life and all the complexity of the universe around them were merely a function of chemistry and physics. …certainly irrational if they believed in evolution only because someone with a degree told them it was so.

    Anway, there’s a difference between not finding evidence persuasive and refusing to admit that evidence exists.

    False dichotomy. If the universe is made up of more than just conventional chemistry and physics, that does not necessarily mean that the rest = God, or anything “spiritual” as we generally understand it.

  136. atheists as a group are more committed can be more obnoxious than a run-of-the-mill religionists, most of whom don’t think real hard about what they really believe.

    Not really a fair comparison to take the most obnoxious, fire-breathing, evangelical atheist trying to save your non-soul and compare him or her to the nice church-goer next door who never raises a fuss about it. Might as well compare an evangelical Christian who won’t shut up with an atheist who has better things to talk about than religion. Either comparison would be about as honest.

  137. Dawkins says religion is bad because it encourages respect for people who claim a source of knowlege that is inherently unknowable, unverifiable and unchalangeable. Not because of wars over religion or other nonsense.

    I think he is right. Why should people be pushing these ideas on their kids? So they can grow up and not challenge utter nonsense?

  138. False dichotomy. If the universe is made up of more than just conventional chemistry and physics, that does not necessarily mean that the rest = God, or anything “spiritual” as we generally understand it.

    I didn’t say it did. …and I didn’t say the evidence was conclusive. …or even that it wasn’t misleading.

    I just suggested that there was evidence.

  139. Ron pretty much describes himself as an agnostic. An agnostic doesn’t believe in gods, but is willing to sit down and have coffee with one. An athestic believes there is no god. Coffee not an option.

    Meh. I consider myself a weak atheist. I find the existence of God extremely unlikely. But I’m aware that the I can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Having said that, I believe I’ve just described Dawkins as well.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t drink coffee but I’m perfectly happy sitting down and shooting the shit with theists, deists, agnostics, and atheists. If I didn’t I’d be quite alone indeed.

    Oh, and all people have the potential to be assholes, regardless of beliefs.

    Amen.

  140. “PL: “What do you mean by “defending religion?”

    Maybe that was excessive.

    My thought was, compared to past threads, I’m surprised how many people seem to be straddling the issue pretty squarely, and not doing the anti-god pile-on.

    I dont think Dawkins has it right at all when he says =

    “”sensible” religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists

    I think it would be fairer to say that people like him (fundamentalist athiests) and people like James Dobson (fundamentalist jesus-dropping jerkoffs) have much more in common, in that they both assume their arguments are final and irrefutable… or that, in their narrow minded view of humanity, that not sharing the same point of view as them leaves you amongst the “enemy” They both easily dismiss millenia of human development with the wave of a hand (dobson dismissing the enlightenment, dawkins all religion);

    The below quote always struck me as very insightful = that, rather than fuss about whether “God” is a subjective creation or ‘real’, it’s more interesting to try to understand what God does for people and why, rather than question its objective existence. God exists insofar as people believe so. I’m interested in better undestanding the benefits and liabilities of doing so, not the right or wrongness of their belief.

    “IF God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
    ~ Voltaire

  141. There are no athiests in foxholes, even Marxist foxholes.

    Anyone who has played Call of Duty II knows that this is an argument against foxholes, not athiesm.

  142. Animal remains are most likely to fossilize if they can be quickly covered up before they become too disturbed by scavengers and the elements. This usually means being covered by wet or dry sand, mud, etc. Maybe unicorns didn’t fossilize because they lived in mountainous regions or dry rocky uplands. I just wanted to make this important point.

  143. Phileleutherus Lipsiensis and Thoreau: “You need to differentiate between weak and strong atheists.”

    True believers are a danger to everyone, but I would argue that on average, atheists are more true believers in their position than the average theist. I think the average theist has an emotional commitment, seldom carefully thought out, not an intellectual commitment.

    Are there individual differences? Well, I did take a lot of statistics and was up close and personal with the normal curve.

  144. GILMORE,

    Well, I am certainly not defending religion (at least along the lines of Christian Apologetics). For me, religious belief is, well, not for me, but why I should I get up in your face about it sans serious provocation? Anyway, I think we try to pile on here only when such provocations occur.

  145. I think I may have accidentally claimed supreme-being status in one of the solipsism threads. Does that make me a theist?

  146. My Catholic Faith is most sorely tested when I read something by Richard Feynman. I’m always tempted to reject the Holy Trinity in favor of a Quartet.

    Thank-you, I’m here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress!

  147. Admit it, thoreau, you pray to Feynman for intercession.

  148. Maybe Dawkins insists on absolute adherence to his atheist pov to comfort his own misgivings about his fate post-death.

    Or maybe he is just as unwilling to open his mind as are the fundamentalists he so fears.

    He is no libertarian. And I am not religious at all, but I can spot an asshole as well as the next guy.

  149. “bloviate

    Along with “meme” these are the two most overused and misused words caused by the world of the blog.”

    yeah, meme != “psst, this is funny, pass it on!”

  150. 152 comments and counting. God must be pleased.

  151. I wouldn’t be too sure, Buckshot. God won’t be pleased when he/she/it sees 46 comments on a thread about vegemite.

  152. Art:
    Marxism is not atheism, no matter how much you try to conflate the two. Perhaps you require a dictionary, or even a full-on education?

  153. Well given that Marx really planned on Marxism taking the place of religion I can’t see Art as to far off in his statements.

    Me; I believe in God. I don’t know what he is or what makes him exist, or even if he is all powerful. All I know is that I spent a large deal of time thinking about it in High School and I could not escape a deep undefinable beleif in something greater than me. I can’t call myself Christian, Muslim, or Hindu. I can’t find a religion that fully expresses my belief in God. Personally I have evolved a belief that God is capable of presentation in the form that the viewer needs to gain what he or she needs. I believe that Dr. Pangloss was right and that this is the best of all possible worlds. Whenever I look at the perfection of Math I see God. What I believe does noone harm; and this man’s beiefs are worse than my grandmothers firm and unyielding belief in the Southern Babtist because while her beleifs may not be founded in science and she could probably be shredded in an arguement she has yet to suggest that we rip children from their parents due to thier parents beliefs.

    I certainly do not believe that any one group has a monopoly on being arrogant pricks. I have had a discussion with a Bob Jones student who took time on a Friday night to head down to Clemson and pass out religious tracks; and I also talked with fundamentalist athiets who think that any belief in something greater than themselves was blaspemy.

    I hope I did not come off as arrogant or condescending because that was not my intent. Communicating through only 1 of the 5 senses leaves much room for error in interpretation.

  154. I think he is right. Why should people be pushing these ideas on their kids? So they can grow up and not challenge utter nonsense?

    Not to mention utter nonsense other parents teach like government solutions work with more money, inequality in line operator & CEO pay is evil, fairness means something, and that stupid thing where baseball players seem to think wearing the one black sock & the #23 jersey will be more likely to produce a homerun than changing it.

  155. I wouldn’t want Big Brother government controling what religious education parents could impart to their children, but I think there’s also something to be said for the right of young people to be free, at some level, from religious indoctrination. If the twelve-year-old daughter of Christian fundamentalists wants to go live with the atheists down the street, and they are willing to take her, the government will enforce the parents’ “right” to prevent their daughter from making the move. (I guess they would also enforce the right of atheists parents to enjoin their God-seeking daughter from moving into a home of welcoming Christians, although perhaps with less enthusiasm.)

  156. Well given that Marx really planned on Marxism taking the place of religion I can’t see Art as to far off in his statements.”

    Yes, Karl Marx wanted his own theory of economics to do nothing except be opium for the masses. Suffice to say, you have absolutely no idea what Marx said. He wanted to cure the world of the need for religion, not be a religion. Marxism is noxious stuff, but if you don’t understand the first thing the man was trying to say, why not just keep it to yourself? Extreme ignorance in arguments against something can make the pro- argument look pretty good no matter how crazy the theory.

  157. Parse –

    Certainly that’s true that kids should have some right to rebel to some degree, but at what point should the kid be able to leave?

    “My parents want me home at 11, and the guy down the street would let me stay up all hours!”

    A trivial point yes, but most kids “religious indoctrination” is the same as their parents, one hour a week of church and not much else.

    Also – the idea that society should step in on child raising simply because someone might be teaching their childern falsehoods is very very scary. Especially since falsehood isn’t as cleary defined as the author seems to think.

  158. No, a libertarian would argue that there are large swaths of life where neither have the right to create public policy.

    That’s fine with me, so long as we are agreed about the “neither” part.

    And my Bush stem cell example didn’t get a response from you. Isn’t it a dandy example of neither side using government to force its views on others?

    Isn’t any disagreement with Christianity “hostile” towards Christianity?

    No, but any claim that Christians have fewer rights than atheists is.

  159. John McAdams,

    And my Bush stem cell example didn’t get a response from you. Isn’t it a dandy example of neither side using government to force its views on others?

    Well, for specific details you’d have to analyze what is in and what is outside that “large swath.” My gut libertarian reaction is that is not the business of government, but I have as yet to really put on my cognitive cap and think about the issue of government funding of scientific research.

  160. There was this unicorn some years back:
    http://www.unicorngarden.com/bestiary02.htm

  161. Zach,

    I would slightly amend that to say that a true libertarian would say that people, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof, have equally limited rights to try to influence policy. To me, that means you can’t pass a law banning gay marriage just because you think homosexuality is wrong, but a lot of religious folks would disagree with me.

    The issue is not whether gay marriage will be banned, but whether government should recognize it.

    I think there is a rational basis for preferring heterosexual marriage, since it serves society’s interest that children be conceived, born and raised in a family.

    People who don’t engage in the kind of sex that creates children don’t, in this analysis, deserve the privileges that go with procreation.

    It’s sort of like a pacifist wanting to be admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Pacifists have virtually all the privileges of any other group, but not this one.

    But if you don’t accept that argument, the proper libertarian response is not to legalize gay marriage. It’s to privatize all marriage.

    I’m not convinced that is a bad idea at all. Government hasn’t made marriage any better, any more than it has made anything else any better.

  162. Just as a general comment, since I don’t have time to wade through every comment and properly respond: πŸ™‚

    The more I am around different people, the more I am struck by how much the same they are. I’m an Episcopalian, of the “quite liberal” variety. My church is liberal, and the people who go there are, by and large, pretty open-minded. Yet in a class I was in, someone commented that shey thought atheists must be very unhappy, and everyone generally agreed that that must be the case. Which, having grown up as an evangelical, amused me, because however much these two groups are different, there are still strong similarities between them.

    But I don’t think that those similarities are due to both groups being religious. I think that they’re due to both groups being human. There is, I think, a strong human tendency to see your own beliefs as not just right, but manifestly right. Look at many atheists, including here Mr. Dawkins and Mr. Harris. Theists aren’t just wrong, they’re stupid, and their beliefs are dangerous. There’s no sense of the possibility of being wrong, no humility. There’s just incomprehension in the face of a belief different from their own. How, exactly, is that different from fundamentalist Christians? (If any of you say, “Because they’re right,” thank you for proving my point.)

    As another example, I have a friend who’s an atheist. He watched Spurlock’s 30 Days, one where an atheist woman went to live with an evangelical family in Texas for a month. Talking to me later, he said he was surprised by how the evangelical family actually believed in Christianity. He’d always thought that they just went to these churches because of the social benefits that they brought.

  163. It think there is something greater than ourselves, simply because I refuse to believe that we’re as good as it gets.

  164. With all the talk about unicorns on this thread, I hope no one from the EPA is reading it.

  165. Haven’t posted here for ages. But here goes anyway.

    The commentary by Dawkings about taking away children from “supernaturalist” parents is odious and something I would more expect out of the mouth of Pat Robertson. I’m speaking as someone who wavers between weak atheism and agnosticism. Dawkins is a fundie atheist, and deserves our scorn.

  166. John,

    The issue is not whether gay marriage will be banned, but whether government should recognize it… I think there is a rational basis for preferring heterosexual marriage, since it serves society’s interest that children be conceived, born and raised in a family.

    People who don’t engage in the kind of sex that creates children don’t, in this analysis, deserve the privileges that go with procreation.

    So, then you wouldn’t have a problem if the government refused to recognize marriage by the elderly and infertile?

  167. If all you can think that taking the place of means being the exact same thing with a different name then sure. If you mean replace with something he thought was better then no not so much.

  168. how do spiritual experiences through meditation or psychedelics play into this?

  169. Yes, Karl Marx wanted his own theory of economics to do nothing except be opium for the masses. Suffice to say, you have absolutely no idea what Marx said.

    Who the fuck cares what marx thought…isn’t it more important what happened?

    Those following his road map eliminated religion and something even more destructive filled the void…Dawkins on the other hand should know better.

  170. The fact that 174 comments have been posted on the most rational blog on the internet on an is-there-a-God-thread shows something about the human need for spiritual fulfillment. I think a lot of hard-core atheists are disconnected from this emotional need, even people who have decided that there is no God are still drawn to the subject. Marx couldn’t eliminate religion and either can anyone else, it’s a fundamental part of our soul.

  171. I hate to take the wind out of the “Dawkins dared say what?!” people, but curiously left out of many of these reports is that Dawkins has said in interviews that he also considers it child abuse to indoctrinate children with atheism – in other words, Dawkins claims to believe that children should be allowed to make their own decisions about what they believe in their own way, in their own time – not because their parents said so, as though religion (or atheism) is some sort of genetically heritable disease

    of course, attention gets focused on the anti-religious remarks because of the pro-religious / anti-atheist bias inherent in American society

  172. I don’t think the Holy Spirit was an original member of the Trinity. There was a cooler, more talented guy there first, sorta like Pete Best, but he left and the other two scrambled to get someone in place before the big tour.

  173. “But there’s ample evidence to show that every single culture which claimed to have knowledge of “God” got it wrong. Falsehoods in the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita. . . all of them. Also, the fact that there’s never been two cultures that, independent of each other, formed the same idea of God suggests that god or gods is a cultural invention, not the discovery of an actual fact.”

    This might seem like quibbling but I thought that, unlike the Bible or the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita was just a philosophical discourse, not a reference to historical events or prophecies. What ‘facts’ did Krsna get wrong?

    In addition, if you read enough religion you start to notice some interesting underlying threads – a thread on a common set of ethics, woven throughout most of them. There’s also something of a spiritual thread that refers to common experiences of the religious. There are books written comparing sayings of Jesus and the Buddha showing a very remarkable similarity, and many Hindu visionaries shared these insights as well. So, you could say, just as English, Chinese, and Spanish are quite distinct languages, if you study linguistics you will discover some remarkable underlying traits they have in common, that are much more powerful and interesting than their superficial differences.

    I wonder if a Hayekian take on religion would be that it is an organic and incrementally evolving system, not invented by any one person, just like language, or markets, or the common law. So, the idea of trying to kill it off or reason it away will be about as effective as trying to reason away markets or create an artificial language to replace all natural languages (anyone notice how successful Esperanto has been?). So if religion is a natural organic process, part of the human experience that cannot be killed off, then better to try to understand it, to come to terms with it, to help it to continue to evolve in positive directions (hopefully dogmatic fundamentalism will eventually start to shrink, though that’s a long ways off).

  174. So, then you wouldn’t have a problem if the government refused to recognize marriage by the elderly and infertile?

    The problem I would have with this is determining who is infertile, or too old to have children.

    We could require that any couple wanting to be married prove that they are fertile, and also swear that they intend to have children. But that would be excessively intrusive.

    So under the circumstances, a blanket assumption that heterosexual marriage is likely to produce children is justified.

    Again, if you don’t buy this argument, the logical conclusion is not gay marriage. It’s making marriage a purely private affair, with no special government recognition.

    (Government, of course, could enforce contracts, wills, medical power of attorney agreements, etc. without any questions asked as to who is having sex with whom.)

  175. biologist,

    Thanks for the information.

  176. “Again, if you don’t buy this argument, the logical conclusion is not gay marriage.”

    in a libertarian world.

    since we don’t live in that one, gay marriage is the only just answer afforded us.

  177. Communism as actually practiced had no God, but it did have saints, martyrs, relics, rituals, and other trappings of religion.

  178. “I wonder if a Hayekian take on religion would be that it is an organic and incrementally evolving system, not invented by any one person, just like language, or markets, or the common law.”

    Not trying to hijack the thread but I wonder if Hayek would say the same thing about the children’s game of tag, or any childhood game without a single inventor – it cannot be killed or reasoned away, only driven underground.

    Okay, carry on, but let me know if Dan T. shows up to say “tag is the opiate of the child masses.” I’ve got my potato launcher ready. πŸ™‚

  179. The problem I would have with this is determining who is infertile, or too old to have children.

    I think it’s fair to say that two people over 70 aren’t going to procreate. But would you see it as a problem if the government refused to recognize marriages of people over 80? 90?

    So under the circumstances, a blanket assumption that heterosexual marriage is likely to produce children is justified.

    What about homosexual unions that actually produce children or the caring of adopted children? If we use the “good for society” criteria, why is it okay for the government to refuse to recognize those marriages?

    Again, if you don’t buy this argument, the logical conclusion is not gay marriage. It’s making marriage a purely private affair, with no special government recognition.

    That would obviously be best, but, as dhex pointed out, that’s not going to happen. Seeing as how it’s not going to happen, and seeing as how many homosexual unions produce and/or care for children, I can’t think of any reasons to deny homosexuals government recognition of their marriages that don’t involve simply bigotry.

  180. Dawkins claims to believe that children should be allowed to make their own decisions about what they believe in their own way, in their own time

    and now we discover that he never read “Lord of the Flies”…he becomes even a bigger dick the more his defenders defend him.

    Children are magic and born compltetly moral by the way…it is only the evil world that twists thier perfect little selfless souls.

    By the way biologist i find it very unlikly Dawkins said anything remotely like what you claim he did…the contradictions are just to astonomical to accept.

  181. Biologist:

    You miss the point. Dawkins is saying that if any parent should try and teach their religious beliefs to their children, atheist or not, that the State should take them away. He wants the State to prevent parents from teaching what he thinks as “manifest falsehoods”.

    If that isn’t complete tyranny and censorship I don’t know what is.

  182. JonBuck, I don’t have the “Wired” article. Did Dawkins say that he wants the State to take children away in that article or some other article? He didn’t say anything about the State taking children away in the quotes at the top of this thread.

  183. I think a lot of hard-core atheists are disconnected from this emotional need, even people who have decided that there is no God are still drawn to the subject.

    I’m not so sure. If you’re trapped in a long car ride with a bunch of Michael Bolton fans wielding their iPods full of Michael Bolton music, you may spend a lot of time thinking about Michael Bolton but it doesn’t mean you are drawn to his music.

  184. JonBuck, I don’t have the “Wired” article. Did Dawkins say that he wants the State to take children away in that article or some other article? He didn’t say anything about the State taking children away in the quotes at the top of this thread.

    Yea, I’ve read and seen a lot of Dawkins and see him make the point that religous indoctrination is wrong as a moral principle. I’ve never seen him say anything as crazy as the state should take the children away.

  185. I just want to post the 187th comment on this topic. If I typed quickly enough.

  186. People who rely on faith to attain knowledge are stupid, at least in the regard that they think that knowledge can be attained through faith. Every science class should start with the statement that reason does not allow for the concept of god and thats only if you’re lucky enough to get a definition for god. Thats because science is based on reason and anything that is outside the realm of reason doesn’t fall under the scope of knowledge, is not justifiable by science, and to ignore the 800 pound jesus in the room in every science class is not fair to the science student. Anyone who thinks that science and religion are compatible is stupid.

    Heres the point, though: You are allowed to be stupid. You are allowed to teach your children to be stupid just as you are allowed to teach your children to be racist. Its gotten a lot less popular to teach you children to be racist, so we can at least dream.

  187. And if you think communism is terrible because of its history then you should really take a good look at the catholic church. They directly killed far more people in their history than any other existing regime on the planet. The idea that one worships that church is akin to people worshipping nazism in a hypothetical future where the germans won but changed their tune after they succeeded in their mission.

    Once again, though, to each their disgusting own.

  188. What about homosexual unions that actually produce children or the caring of adopted children? If we use the “good for society” criteria, why is it okay for the government to refuse to recognize those marriages?

    First off, there’s no such thing as a homosexual union that “produces” children. At least with the current state of technology, if children are produced, there are 2 sexes involved, regardless of who ends up raising them.

    As for the “good for society” argument, you’re failing to differentiate between “good for society” and “necessary for society”. We can distinguish between those by isolating the variables: what have been the consequences to societies that have prohibited homosexuality?

    Um, well, none.

    And what have been the consequences to societies that have prohibited heterosexuality?

    Partied with any Shakers lately?

    The point here being that while children may be raised within a homosexual relationship, homosexual relationships aren’t necessary for the continuance of the species. If every gay couple raising children fell off of the face of the earth, it’s highly unlikely it would impact the next census significantly. Try making the same statement about heterosexual relationships.

    That would obviously be best, but, as dhex pointed out, that’s not going to happen. Seeing as how it’s not going to happen, and seeing as how many homosexual unions produce and/or care for children, I can’t think of any reasons to deny homosexuals government recognition of their marriages that don’t involve simply bigotry.

    Denying recognition to homosexual relationships might be unjust if those were relationships were uniquely denied recognition. But they aren’t. In fact, damn few human relationships are granted any legal recognition or sanction. Your relationships with your friends are not, your relationship with your bowling team is not, even your relationships with your siblings and cousins have limited legal standing, except in cases where they might be your surviving next of kin in the event of your death. The legal recognition of human relationships is, in fact, the exception rather than the rule, and in this case, is reserved for those relationships that are *necessary* to perpetuate the species.

    That being said, do I object to legal recognition of gay relationships? No, not at all. I can’t see that it would hurt anything, and it would be a convenience to a fairly substantial number of citizens who are so disposed. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “It neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket”.

    OTOH, do I find it a great injustice that a society doesn’t extend the same protections to relationships that can never be more than boutique life-style accessories that it does to relationships that *must* be formed in order for the society to perpetuate itself?

    Nope, sorry. Just can’t see that one. There’s no question the ROI for society is a lot greater sanctioning the one relationship than it will be sanctioning the other.

    As to the argument that not all heterosexual marriages produce children, that’s likewise a frivolous argument. If a government reduces taxes to encourage the growth of small business, it doesn’t demand that everyone who’s a beneficiary of the tax cut to quit their day jobs and form a small business. Most government extended privileges are designed to facilitate desirable results, not to mandate them. Essentially, you’re demanding that laws be written to accommodate every possible situation, which is impossible. We write our laws to accommodate usual and expected circumstances, not exceptional ones. Should our laws concerning cannibalism be based on unusual situations which occur on lifeboats or in plane-crashes in isolated areas, or should they be based on normal circumstances?

    There’s an old saying, “Hard cases make bad law”. It applies here.

  189. “Anyone who thinks that science and religion are compatible is stupid.”

    Sorry Reasonable but that’s just, er, stupid. Or at least ignorant. Some of the most intelligent people in history believed in God and were able to function quite nicely with their belief in God and their science intact.

    I would say anyone who thinks religion can be just reasoned away is stupid…or at least ignorant. Just as markets cannot be reasoned away, or artificial languages such as Esperanto created to substitute natural languages with as much efficiency or satisfaction as the latter, religion belongs in the category of natural, evolving, organic systems that are basically apart of the human experience.

  190. “Yea, I’ve read and seen a lot of Dawkins and see him make the point that religous indoctrination is wrong as a moral principle. I’ve never seen him say anything as crazy as the state should take the children away.”

    WTF? He’s said that teaching children to believe in God is child abuse. What do you think the state does to parents who abuse their children? (Well, except in Florida…)

  191. Anyone who thinks that science and religion are compatible is stupid.

    Interesting. Who said the below? =

    “”Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.””

    JG

  192. attention gets focused on the anti-religious remarks because of the pro-religious / anti-atheist bias inherent in American society

    I thought this was funny.

    ‘bias’?

    Isnt it simpler? It’s not ‘bias’ – but rather just that more people in america believe in God than dont. “bias” implies that the public view is skewed disproportionately to one side versus the other; i’d point out that most public speech (like the media, or educational institutions) are ‘biased’ towards a secular view, attenuating the actual predominance of religious belief in America.

    JG

  193. So our thoughts evolve as well – give it time. The thinkers among our ancestors who set about explaining their perceived world, with the limited tools available and a harsh existence, formulated, one would expect, an imprecise view. Since then, we have continued to apply our thoughts (multifarious repression attempts notwithstanding) and increased resources into ‘knowing’ – certainly the ‘unknown’ has shrunk, but we still grapple with the unknown (unknowable?). Various methods of coming to terms with the unknown will continue to evolve as our perception and existence grows… God willing πŸ˜‰

  194. Since virtually all humans who ever lived have been religious, I’m inclined to think that means religion serves a purpose to our societies that needs to be examined. Dawkins contributes nothing to that examination.

    Very well put.

    JG

  195. johsua corning:

    Your Lord of the Flies comment is right-on. Parents will tell their children their own views on religion or life in general, THIS is good, THAT is bad, I’m the mommmy and I know what I’m talking about. If children don’t get religious or behavioral instruction from adults, they’ll come up with a system of their own. When a kid starts asking, where did I come from, or, why doesn’t the jewish kid next door believe in Jesus, the parent has to tell them something. What are you supposed to say, “I’m a Methodist, but that’s stupid, I want you to be an athiest?”

    Mike Laursen:

    The Michael Bolton in a boxcar analogy doesn’t work. There are several boxcars (threads) on this train, and everyone keeps coming back to this one. Given a choice of boxcars, everyone wouldn’t go to the one with all the Bolton ipods, some of us would take the Beatles boxcar.

  196. Gilmore:

    many of the political ads I see emphasize the candidate’s belief in God and family. doesn’t sound secular to me

    there was a report on a poll recently that the group Americans as a whole believe to be the least trustworthy are atheists and agnostics. sounds like bias to me.

    joshua corning:

    your belief in whether an event occurred or not has no bearing on whether or not the event occurred. nonetheless, I read it in an interview with Dawkins at salon.com

  197. I’m sorry, ma’am we’re from Social Services and it’s been reported that you told your son that Jesus was the Way and the Light. Pending a judicial review we’ll be assuming temporary custody of your son.

  198. Buckshot:

    it is possible to teach children appropriate social behavior without resorting to making them believe that the man in the sky is going to burn them in Hell for all eternity if they don’t mind their manners

  199. I wonder if a Hayekian take on religion would be that it is an organic and incrementally evolving system, not invented by any one person, just like language, or markets, or the common law. So, the idea of trying to kill it off or reason it away will be about as effective as trying to reason away markets or create an artificial language to replace all natural languages (anyone notice how successful Esperanto has been?). So if religion is a natural organic process, part of the human experience that cannot be killed off, then better to try to understand it, to come to terms with it, to help it to continue to evolve in positive directions (hopefully dogmatic fundamentalism will eventually start to shrink, though that’s a long ways off).

    Excellent point. You said it better than I did.

  200. With all the talk about unicorns on this thread, I hope no one from the EPA is reading it.

    No, as an endangered species they would fall under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Understandable mistake, but you gotta keep your bloated federal bureaucracies straight nowadays.

  201. biologist:

    I agree that it’s bad for religious zelots to terrify their kids into behaving, but religion teachs more than to fear of hell & other lies, there are positive elements to teaching children right and wrong from a religious perspective. The point isn’t whether parents are teaching their children incorrect ideas, the point is, it’s the parents responsibility to give the children guidance.

    I once read the statement, Parenting is the last refuge of the amature, I tend to agree. The only alternative I see would be a Brave New World of State run orphanages, which will probably teach some other lie (Love Big Brother, Big Brother loves you). Children grow up and encounter alternative beleif systems to what their parents taught them, it’s not like they get ruined for life. Many athiests were raised in religious homes and found the dark (haha).

  202. I’ve always wondered how dinosaurs could become oil since they turned into fossils.

    Now I understand, the boneless unicorns turned into oil! And since they lived in the garden of Eden, that’s why there is so much oil in the Middle East!

  203. Given a choice of boxcars, everyone wouldn’t go to the one with all the Bolton ipods, some of us would take the Beatles boxcar.

    You may be right. I just felt like injecting a snarky comment about Michael Bolton fans into the conversation.

  204. It’s not ‘bias’ – but rather just that more people in america believe in God than dont.

    Umm, a lot of people would use the word “bias” to describe such a predominance of believers. Are you thinking of the definition of “bias” as used in Statistics?

  205. WTF? He’s said that teaching children to believe in God is child abuse. What do you think the state does to parents who abuse their children? (Well, except in Florida…)

    The only quote I’ve seen from Dawkins is: “Is there something to be said for society stepping in?” There’s a bit of assumption in concluding that he meant that he wants state agencies to take children away from religious parents.

    I have only one other data point: I just happened to catch an episode of Penn Gillette’s radio show the other day where Gillette mentioned that Dawkins disapproved of a young baby being dressed up in a t-shirt with an atheist slogan on it. Implying that he disapproves of children being indoctrinated in general (as do I).

    Again, I ask, did Dawkins actually say, in the “Wired” article or somewhere else, that the state should take children away from parents who try to teach them religious ideas?

  206. “relationships that *must* be formed in order for the society to perpetuate itself”

    I would have let this go if you didn’t highlight the word “must.” Our population has been rising at the same time marriage has been going down. Clearly, you are making a sociological point with little foundation. I wish everyone here would ask themselves before the push the post button, “Do I know this, or do I just really think it’s true?”

  207. How about a Julian Sanchez review of “The God Delusion”? That would be sweet.

  208. many of the political ads I see emphasize the candidate’s belief in God and family. doesn’t sound secular to me

    THis is your case for “pro-religious bias”? Thats not bias, it’s political pandering to the majority. unless you meant something else.

    Are you saying the MSM is riddled with Athiests who pretend to just be ‘secular humanists’ bacause they wouldnt survive in todays horribly anti-athiest-biased environment?

    Umm, a lot of people would use the word “bias” to describe such a predominance of believers.

    Then your/their definition of “Bias” is “whatever the majority thinks”, no?

    I think there’s a joke here somewhere about people always playing themselves as victims…

    basically, Evangelical christian conservatives have described themselves as ‘under attack’ by our visciously-biased secular-humanist media…. now you have fundy athiests charging the general US public with being biased towards ‘pro religious’ viewpoints. How cute

    The truth is, both are a bunch of whining jerks and the majority are pretty fair to all concerned when it comes down to it.

    cheers

    JG

  209. I wasn’t claiming that anybody is being victimized, but since you brought it up:

    The religious majority are pretty fair to other people when dealing with them one on one. However, a religious majority have a recent history of voting in politicians who are willing to demonize, and interfere with, the lives of people who don’t fit in with their religion-based moral vision for the country. Examples of victimized groups: gay people, women seeking abortions. That the religious majority of voters is third-partying the work of persecuting people doesn’t excuse them from their complicity in the matter.

    Of course, I recognize that the religious majority who actually vote are a subset of the larger religious majority. And I also realize that the politicians may not truly be motivated by religion.

  210. I would have let this go if you didn’t highlight the word “must.” Our population has been rising at the same time marriage has been going down. Clearly, you are making a sociological point with little foundation. I wish everyone here would ask themselves before the push the post button, “Do I know this, or do I just really think it’s true?”

    I wish everyone here would try to comprehend what is being said before hitting the enter button myself. I wasn’t making a sociological point at all, I was making a biological one. I think it’s pretty clear in this case that I was referring to heterosexual relationships in general as necessary for perpetuating the species. Marriage is simply a tool for facilitating those relationships.

    D’oh!

  211. Exactly, although educated atheists (that is, people who call themselves that for reasons other than pissing off their parents) recognize the limits of human knowledge, whereas religions by definition posit certain metaphysical conclusions that are absolute.

    Ehem, my point was precisely the opposite – that many, if not most, who reject religion end up investing a religious belief in science. The interesting question then is the human need for some kind of absolute(s). It is an exceedingly rare human that is comfortable with uncertainty (or unpredictability for that matter).

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