New Symphony of Science: Wave of Reason

By Phil Plait | November 23, 2010 7:00 am

John Boswell, a musician from Washington State, is famous on the web for creating the Symphony of Science — musically autotuned talks by scientists and skeptics discussing the nature of science, reality, and wonder. These are impossibly catchy videos, worth watching over and again. The first, featuring Carl Sagan, was called A Glorious Dawn, and was simply amazing. It quickly went viral, becoming huge on the web.

John has just released his seventh in the SoS series, called A Wave of Reason, and like all of them is profound and lovely. And you may recognize one or two of the people in it…

So yeah, that’s me at about 1:26, saying "Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime." It’s from my "Don’t Be A Dick" speech that I gave at TAM 8, and I think it’s worth putting it into context. Here’s some more from that part of the speech (starting at about ten minutes in):

Let me ask you this… what is the goal of the skeptical critical thinking movement? Now, the answer may be different for everyone. For somebody it might be the abolishment of quack medicine, it might be the eventual removal of all religious influence on life. You might have some specific examples.

Sometimes I wonder, are these reasonable goals? Can we really remove specific examples of pseudoscience? They usually disappear on their own time.

But can it really be done? I’m not sure. Like I said earlier, our brains don’t work that way. You remove one bit of this sort of thing and something else just comes in to fill the space.

I’m also of the "teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime" sort of thought. My goal is not to get rid of antiscience per se. It’s to help people walk away from it themselves. To teach them how to think, and to give them the ability to use reason when thinking something through.

I think that the overarching goal of the movement we’re a part of is to attain a rational, reasonable world. Not one without emotion, not one without passion — that’s a fallacy that we’re like that. Clearly, clearly we experience love and joy like everyone else. It’s just a world that likes reality the way it is.

In other words:

Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime.

So that line was paraphrasing the old saying. I’m glad John liked it enough to use it.

And let me say how honored I am to be a part of this magnificent effort, and to be included with the likes of Sagan, Feynman, and my friends James Randi, Michael Shermer and Carolyn Porco. One of the things I love about these songs is their positive message; they don’t berate the ideas we oppose, they glorify the ideas we support and the feelings we have.

And it just goes to show you that everyone who feels this way about science and nature all have these thoughts, and while we may not agree on the details, I expect that the sense of awe and wonder, what Sagan referred to as "the numinous" in his book Contact, is something we all share.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Science, Skepticism

Comments (76)

  1. Ok cool you and Sagan in the same video. Uncool PZ beat you to it.

  2. Orlando

    Congrats from Spain! How does it feel to be in such a good company (Sagan, Dawkins, Feynman,…)? I hope we could enjoy it with Spanish subs soon (non-English speakers, obviously).

  3. noen

    Dreamy gauzy visions of a perfect utopian world of Reason. Kind of religious even.

  4. Sam

    Congrats Phil! Its fully deserved. I must admit I’ve listened to it about 10 times now and its still just as fresh. John has done a magnificent job of creating awe and wonder and you truly deserve to be included in this musical. You are the 21st century public speaker who is attracting a new type of audience to science, which in my opinion is one of the most influential things anyone can do in this era.

    Thankyou and congratulations!

    Sam
    http://www.google.com/profiles/smwilson31

  5. This ones my favorite so far. The opening shot of B. Russel was the deal breaker. when I first saw it last night I sent it directly to my fellow Russel fans.

    BTW, “kind of religious”. Maybe. I’ve got nothing against the intent of religion. I admire it. My problem stems from when something is so obviously wrong headed and counter productive, and the religious stick with it out of faith.

    Science is self correcting. It finds its own mistakes, tries to correct them, and moves on.

    Most religion, hides from its mistakes, and rationalities them when they are pointed out.

    Sorry Phil, here’s your soap box back. Great video.

  6. MoonShark

    Nice speech excerpt. In fact there was plenty from it I liked… but also plenty that just didn’t make sense.

    One of the things I love about these songs is their positive message; they don’t berate the ideas we oppose, they glorify the ideas we support and the feelings we have.

    Mainly… that you still haven’t elucidated exactly why a two-prong approach (positive reinforcement of science and negative reinforcement of pseudoscience) is at all worse than a single-prong positive approach.

    And of the skeptic leaders who are often accused of being so hostile (e.g. Dawkins, Harris), there’s no shortage of clips and text from them lauding the virtues of reason. So let’s not pretend anyone is using a purely negative approach without giving a specific example of *who*.

  7. Shoeshine Boy

    Nice idea, but oh, how I hate autotune.

  8. Jean-francois Marchand

    WOW, that is really good!

  9. BigBadSis

    What an honor and deservedly so.

  10. bigjohn756

    I hate these things. I have never been able to stomach more than about 10 seconds of any of these. Too bad for me, I guess.

  11. Gary Ansorge

    Beautiful!!!

    One should note that the “religious experience” rarely has anything to do with religion. It’s just a feeling of awe and wonder, whereas religion, in the organized, show up to church and espouse a particular dogma sense, rarely if ever elicits such a response.

    I get it all the the time, from insights gained about a particularly knotty problem in physics, to the laughter of a child, to the grandeur of great music.

    ,,,but then, I’m just a crusty old curmudgeon and rational materialist. So what could I possibly know of the spiritual?

    I’s say it’s this universe of possibility,,,

    Gary 7

  12. Gus Snarp

    Oh god. The horror. I’ve never clicked through to any of these things before, but that was painful. Autotune is an abomination. There is no way I can listen to nearly 4 minutes of that. Now, if I could just have the clips without the tuning, that I would watch.

    If this appeals to people who like that kind of music(?), and maybe converts a few to skepticism, good for him. But I now know better than to click on them myself.

  13. Jeff

    yes, this is very nice.

    I am ever mindful of Jacob Bronowski’s chapter “Lower than the Angels” from The Ascent of Man in which he ponders the paradoxical situation of mankind: on the one hand, having an ancestry in the primate family, on the other, upright posture, use of hands, and a soring imagination and reasoning ability. I would contend that these features used together give us what is quaintly called the “soul”.

    And human history is a story of the tension of these sometimes conflicting natures of mankind. I myself have come to the conclusion that this tension will always exist in mankind, as long as the human species is extant on this planet. We must always be aware of this.

  14. MoonShark

    FWIW I must have totally ignored the autotuners in popular music, because I love these Symphony of Science videos. I still get “A Glorious Dawn” stuck in my head :)

  15. MoonShark

    @Jeff (13): What about H. neanderthalensis and H. floresiensis? These species were likely to be contemporaneous with our lineage for tens of thousands of years. They walked upright, had similar hands, and maybe, just maybe had beautiful imaginations.
    I think in extolling the virtues of humanity, it’s very easy to slip into thinking we’re the only possible configuration which can be strongly reasoning, passionately emotional, and materially successful… but I don’t see any reason why that’s necessarily true.
    (edit: originally wrote erectus… changed to neanderthal for correctness)

  16. Rick H.

    I’d love it if there really was a ‘new wave of reason’, but I just don’t see it. In fact I see the opposite with Oprah and ghost hunters and so much woo.

  17. Jeff

    15: yes, you make a good point. those other “homo” lineages probably had upright posture, use of hands and tools, plus about 2/3 cranial capacity of H. sapiens, which is substantial. So I would agree those had “souls” too, and were close calls to us.

  18. Phil, you are one of them. You have definitely earned your place there. Our generation had maybe 2 or 3 science heroes that presented things accessibly – Sagan (who I missed growing up but still count as “ours”), David Suzuki (don’t know how well-known he was outside Canada), maybe a couple others. This generation – our kids – have dozens. Dawkins, Tyson, Shermer, Plait, Randi. And they still get to see all the recordings of the past heroes – Sagan, Bronowski, etc.

    BTW, thanks for Bad Universe. Loving it!

  19. Sam

    How some people cannot appreciate the symphony of science work is beyond me. A different kind of appreciation I guess, I’ll be blunt as say I feel unfortunate for them. Its simply moving.

    Sam
    http://www.google.com/profiles/smwilson31

  20. «bønez_brigade»

    *thumbs up* for more S.o.S.

  21. MoonShark

    @Jeff (17): Ah alright. Well I don’t know why you keep using the word “souls” then — even in quotes to make it look silly. Can we just dispense with that word altogether? By the loose criterion you posted (a species with abilities that differentiate it from its ancestors), algae blooms that develop the ability to metabolize a novel molecule also have “souls”. That’s so vague as to be useless.

    Nitpick: Adult neanderthals are actually thought to have had larger brains than us (albeit perhaps less efficient). http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2008/09/neanderthal.html

  22. Terry

    I really loved the video. First time I’d watched the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech and I have to say that I most liked the part where Phil and Hal spoke about the big tent. I know that Phil and many of the readers here are atheists. My daughter is an atheist and I support her right to believe as she chooses. I support reason and evidence-based decision making, but don’t like the undercurrent among skeptic movements of anti-religion. Disproving young-earth creationism is great and a lofty goal, but it doesn’t require attacking faith as a whole. My argument when I attack faith-based pseudoscience is to ask “Why did God make all these rules for the world if we aren’t supposed to try to understand them and their implications?”

    Still, Phil; congratulations on the place of honor there at the end of the chorus.

  23. Kris

    Dawkins comes accross as if he was singing a church choir — very fitting, for a scientist turned an atheist preacher.

  24. @MoonShark, maybe the word you are looking for is a “Geist” (which doesn’t translate very well into English). I swear, the Germans have a word for everything. :)

    And I am one of those that detest autotune, but when it’s put thos these “symphonies” I find myself enjoying them tremendously! I like to post them on my FB whenever I run into one.

    Well done Dr. Plait.

  25. Gary Ansorge

    23. Kris

    “a scientist turned an atheist preacher.”

    Wow, great oxymoron there. By the way, there’s only one “c” in across.

    Gary 7

  26. Joseph G

    Awesome!! Congrats, Phil! What an honor to be up there with the likes of Sagan and Russel (and the others, not trying to leave anyone out).
    I love these videos and I’m really glad to see a new one. As others have said, anyone who hasn’t seen “A Glorious Dawn” doesn’t know what they’re missing :)

  27. Joseph G

    #@12 Gus Snarp: I, too hate autotune with the heat and fury of a million class-O supergiants. But this is not autotune over a sub-par singer’s voice, this is a way to put very profound words to music.

    That being said, every time I hear a song on the radio that’s autotuned to hell (that is, every time I hear a contemporary hip-hop song from the last year or so) I have to fight the strong urge to punch someone in the face. So I do feel your pain.

  28. Kris

    @25 Gary Ansorge

    “a great oxymoron there”

    But a very fitting one. I happen to be both a practicing scientist and a religious person, so I am well acquaintanced with both scientific speech and church speech. The scientific speech uses form “theory A predicts X, Y, and Z; we observe X and Y, so we conclude that the theory is true, but it needs improvement to account for Z”. The church speech goes ex cathedra along the lines of “God says A, so X and Y happen”, and Z, which does not fit the argument is silently ignored.

    Dawkins’ style of argumentation in public speeches is the latter, which puts him squarely in the preaching business. If someone took his text and replaced words like “science” and “reason” with “God”, it would make a decent sermon.

  29. Brian Too

    Uh, I’m feeling a little left out here. What exactly is Autotune and why do so many hate it?

    Is this that software I’ve heard about, which takes an off-key singer and puts their performance on key? OK, I kinda get that. But what does this have to do with a symphonic performance?

    Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the video because the links aren’t working for me.

  30. Utakata

    Autotuned? It could be worse…the artist could of used Vocaloids…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2egumdBwsg&feature=player

    :(

  31. brett

    With all due respect to the positive process’s of both sceptical and critical thought (and many of the ideas presented in the clip- esp.B.Russell) that presentation was sacchrine and vomit inducing.The producers should have been more critical and far more sceptical of their own production/artistic values when making this clip.Keep the presentaion clean, sharp and hard, not like some Jehovah’s Witness promotional video.Though not religious myself, I have been interested in religion from philosophical, social and aesthetic points of view all my life and I am always amazed how those such as Richard Dawkins ( who I happen to admire) have a less sophisticated and far narrower view of what constitutes religious thought (and the philosophy of religion) than a lot of religious people I debate/ talk to (fundamentalists excepted).Also beware of hubris- saying you are a critical/sceptical thinker does not nessecarily make you one in all areas, especially those that are dear to us–cheers brett

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    In great company with an excellent if paraphrased line there BA.

    I like it. :-)

    @22. Terry

    I support reason and evidence-based decision making, but don’t like the undercurrent among skeptic movements of anti-religion. Disproving young-earth creationism is great and a lofty goal, but it doesn’t require attacking faith as a whole.

    ^ This! I agree with.

    I am an agnostic (verging on & formerly athiest) who also has many religious friends whose opinions I respect.

    I am very pro-science and I certainly see and even agree with the logic of much of what people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the other “new Atheists” say but I am sometimes appalled at their contemptuously rude disrespect blasted out at those who they disagree with. :-(

    I think the “new atheists” often use attack a strawman of faith and religion rather than accepting that religion is often more subtle, nuanced and complex that they seem to recognise. They also seem to forget the basic humanity and underestimate the intelligence and reasons.

    I’m more with Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of seperate magisteria of religion and science than outright abolition of religion – which will probably never happen because of human nature notably the fact that we are not and never have been purely creatures of logic and reason. We evolved that way after all! ;-)

    Attacking religious ideas – especially the extreme fundamentalist versions I have no problem with.

    Being outright viciously mean to other human beings and mocking them for having different veiws in this area, OTOH, well that I do have a problem with. I think it can be very counter-productive, off-putting and drive people further away from atheism, agnosticism and skepticism and its practitioners.

    There is already more than enough pain and nastiness and unlistening extremism in life without people adding to it.

    I do know it takes all types and yes, there are times and places for the dawking-esque “no prisoners, no mercy” approach & I’m not urging censorship or that such people be silenced and not heard.

    Plus, yeah, I’m a fallible human being and I’ve had my moments of extremism, my bad days and moods and my times of saying things I’ve regretted later and getting carried away. I know I’m not perfect, I know I make mistakes on occassions and I have my moments like us all. ;-(

    I …
    just …
    sometimes … really wish .. that the agressive “new atheist” types would listen a bit more and bit more respectfully to the other side of the argument and be a bit more reasonable in advocating reason remembering that they’re talking to fellow rational and emotional human individuals not abstract archetypes of ayatollahs and fundagelicals.

  33. Brad

    @32. Messier Tidy Upper
    Do you have an example of Dawkins having “contemptuously rude disrespect blasted out at those who they disagree with”? This seems to be a common opinion of him but I have never observed him being rude or disrespectful. And I’ve certainly never seen him outright mocking people for having different views.

  34. Skeptical Farmer

    I am glad that these video bring science to the masses, but I too have to put my vote in that autotune is dreadful. I just can’t watch the videos without muting them, and then what is the point? Sagan and the others had/have wonderful things to say without turning their voices into distorted versions of what they really are.

  35. Gary Ansorge

    ,,,and then, of course, there’s this,,,

    “Daddy, why does grandpa sit around reading the bible all day? Is he gonna be a preacher?”

    ” Naw, Son. He’s just cramming for his final exams.”

    ,,,which is, I think, why most people subscribe to a religion. They’re just covering their,,,options.

    Gary 7

  36. noen

    brett Says:
    “that presentation was sacchrine and vomit inducing”

    Most homilies are like that.

    “The producers should have been more critical and far more sceptical of their own production”

    True Believers are typically incapable of doing that.

    “I am always amazed how those such as Richard Dawkins ( who I happen to admire) have a less sophisticated and far narrower view of what constitutes religious thought (and the philosophy of religion) than a lot of religious people I debate/ talk to”

    I am not amazed. Dawkins’ ignorance of religion and his ideological furor is legion.

    —–
    Brad Says:
    “Do you have an example of Dawkins having “contemptuously rude disrespect blasted out at those who they disagree with”?”

    He claims that raising your child up in your religious heritage is tantamount to child abuse, and that’s just for starters.

    ” I have never observed him being rude or disrespectful. “

    Members of the congregation never do.

  37. FREQ_FORCE

    @33. Brad

    These days, the mere existence of people who don’t share a belief in supernatural entities (along with the fact that they actually, you know…talk about it) is enough to have people crying “militant atheism.”

  38. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (22) said:

    I support reason and evidence-based decision making, but don’t like the undercurrent among skeptic movements of anti-religion.

    I think you are falling for a strawman that the religious fundies would have you believe : that scepticism is intrinsically anti-religion. It so is not.

    However, there may be some correlation between critical thinking and atheism. If there is, perhaps it is the fault of the various churches, for clinging to dogma that is so obviously anti-reality.

    Disproving young-earth creationism is great and a lofty goal

    Hardly lofty, since it so easily done.

    , but it doesn’t require attacking faith as a whole.

    True, but I have seen some commenters posting biblical quotes in an argument on a science blog as if that constituted evidence or something. Therefore, being able to critically evaluate the theological basis of these arguments is sometimes quite handy.

    My argument when I attack faith-based pseudoscience is to ask “Why did God make all these rules for the world if we aren’t supposed to try to understand them and their implications?”

    Well, exactly. But you’re obviously not a True ChristianTM. ;-)

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Kris (18) said:

    Dawkins’ style of argumentation in public speeches is the latter, which puts him squarely in the preaching business. If someone took his text and replaced words like “science” and “reason” with “God”, it would make a decent sermon.

    Maybe you’ve only ever seen the shortest of clips containing Dawkins’s words.

    If you read any of his books, you will see that he claims only that which he feels the evidence justifies. He has publicly stated that he enjoys reading the bible. He’s not anti-religion per se (although he is, of course, an atheist and has frequently pointed out that most versions of the popular religions require the absence of critical appraisal). For the most part, he’s anti- religion having special privileges in our modern society.

    And that I agree with. Why should people be granted special dispensation, or privilege, merely because they hold deep beliefs that have no evidentiary basis?

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @33. Brad Says:

    @32. Messier Tidy Upper : Do you have an example of Dawkins having “contemptuously rude disrespect blasted out at those who they disagree with”? This seems to be a common opinion of him but I have never observed him being rude or disrespectful. And I’ve certainly never seen him outright mocking people for having different views.

    Well, just the title of his book ‘The God Delusion (& yes I *have* read it) is a bit of a giveaway towards his attitude, no?

    You want examples – okay :

    1. As (#36.) noen observes Dawkins claim that bringing your children up in your faith equates to child abuse is one – & a particularly nasty one.

    2. Claiming in his book that it would be great if the Amish culture utterly disappeared as Dawkin’s does.

    3. Dawkins’ suggestion in ‘The God Delusion’ that child sexual molestation by Catholic priests is less harmful than the Catholic doctrine they teach.

    & that’s just for starters. :-(

    I could go on to his whole tone and apparent attitude which pretty much drips with fury, spite and contempt for all non-atheists, his one-sided characterisation of the Old Testament God as [paraphrasing from memory here but something very like] :

    “genocidal, misognyist, jealous, cruel, monstrous, tyrannical …” et cetera .. etc ..

    In a whole paragraph odd-long string of perjorative adjectives without also noting that the OT God equally has his positive side & overlooking the reality that He could equally be described as “loving, forgiving, merciful, generous, loyal, willing to listen to criticism” et cetera, etc .. as well.

    (NB. I borrowed the book from the library a yera or so ago & of course returned it onc eI’d read it & so can’t provide the exact quote and page no. right now.)

    Look, I can see both sides of the argument here.

    Please don’t judge all Christians by the extremist fringes.

    Just as you wouldn’t want say, Dawkins to be viewed as the One True Atheist don’t judge all religious people by the likes of Fred Phelps or Jerry Falwell or Osama bin Laden.

    Please don’t mistake a strawmen the worst enemies of faith and religon have set up for the real, far more complicated, far less straightforward and easily grasped thing.

    Don’t just listen to what one side says because things are almost always more complicated that just the view one side presents.

    I don’t think Jews and Christians and Buddhists are all idiots with no support for anything they say.

    I don’t believe faith and religion are entirely worthless wishful thinking with nothing at all behind them as the “New Atheists” seem to (mis~)characterise them.

    There are good reason to think religions have done good and help many people and might, just might, have something worthwhile and powerful and good to say.

    Honestly, I’m not sure what to think sometimes.

    But I can see both atheists and religious people making good cases.

    C.S. Lewis, Anthony Flew & Karen Armstrong to name just three moderate Christian “apologists” and writers are hardly deluded, nasty extremist idiots but rather are better described as intelligent, sophisticated, moderate advocates for religion.

    I have friends – intelligent, passionate, good human individuals – in both atheist & religious camps and I do think it is best to have a polite, calm, rational but also supra-rational, civilised discussion where each side listens to and respects the other.

    I also think it is okay to admit that yes, there’s room for doubt & uncertainty here that perhaps as often happens neither side is entirely accurate or entirely inaccurate and the truth is somewhere between.

    I don’t think the “New Atheists” are willing to admit that or to listen to the other side. I do think they are often arrogant, contemptous and disrespectful towards others who don’t agree with them. I really don’t like their uber confrontational, uber-mean-spirited &, yes, fundamentally and militantly intolerant approach. :-(

    Which is just my view as I see it form my perspective for whatever it is worth, natch.

  41. Peter Davey

    With regard to the idea of a “symphony of reason”, the following quote comes to mind:

    “The man that hath no music in himself,
    nor is not moved by concord of sweet sounds,
    is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
    The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
    and his affections dark as Erebus,
    let no such man be trusted.”

  42. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’ll add that I think Dawkins (& the other new atheists) makes some good points but in his own frame of reference and in the wrong overly aggressive way.

    Allow me an analogy here :

    Imagine someone confronts you on the street yelling over & over again :

    “1 +1 = 2, 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 1 =2! Agree with me or else you’re a !@$#$^#! idiot you &!!^%#%$ crazy idiot!”

    Imagine its a big guy stinking of alchol and brandishing a broken bottle of booze.

    Now you may nod your head and agree with him.
    You might think : “Well, duh! Of course you’re right; everyone knows one plus one makes two!”

    But you’ll also think : “Yikes what a scary, offensive nutcase. I don’t want anything to do with him again!”

    And even though that unpleasant menacing dude is technically right in a strictly narow arithmatical sense you’ll also find him really off-putting and *want* to think of the many ways in which he is NOT right.

    Like how writing ‘1’ as a numeral then writing another number ‘1’ right next to it makes ’11’ (eleven) not two.

    Like how adding one mouse to one cat leaves you pretty quickly with just one fatter cat.

    Like how adding one partcile of matter to one particle of anti-matter leads to instant mutual annhiliation and a total of zero.

    Like adding one coin to another leads to a monetary sum that depends on the varying value that each of the coins specifically has – rarely strictly two!

    Like adding one rabbit to another, presuming one of each sex & tehrightage so theybred and produce an ever increasing number of more bunnies! ;-)

    Dawkins and the other new atheists remind me of that analogy.

    In their own narrow way they’re right but theyare misisng so much else, so many other possible interpretations.

    When it comes to taking the Bible (or, pretty much, any other religious text) literally and fundamentally through a strict fundamentalist literalist /New Athiest / Falwellist /bin Laden-ist lens then yeah, Dawkins is right.

    The Bible is NOT a science (or maths) text book, never was, never was intended to be and many religious doctrines on their apparent face value can be made to look stupidly absurd.

    It is easy to laugh along with Dawkins & his friends at the silly, ugly overly simplified and generalised caricatures of faith and religion that he invents and interprets for himself.

    But real religion isn’t like that – it is much richer and deeper and more nuanced and complex than Dawkins’ strawman presentation.

    In a major sense I think the New Atheists quite literally do NOT know what they are speaking about because they are not prepared to listen and don’t care to understand the other side or what they are actually saying and thinking. They overlook what religion is and insist that faith means only “blind faith”; that God equals only “delusion” and do not see that they are talking about something that doesn’t properly exist outside their own frame of reference.

    Of course, creationism and biblical literalism is wrong and science is right when it comes to questions of science.

    Of course, we should be skeptical about many extraordinay cliams and priviledges and doctrines some “authorities” argue.

    But let’s not overlook that there are *other* interpretations, other ways of seeing things.

    By very definition no religious text is meant as primarily a scientific paper.

    Religion deals in metaphor, parable and ethcial dilemmnas. It deals in emotions – hope and fear and love that can’t just be boiled down to science & logic.

    I can’t and won’t argue that organised religion is correct – that the Bible is inerrant and the answer to everything. Doing so is just dumb.

    But, so too, methinks is arguing that science is the One & Only True Way, the sole possible interpretation and lens for Reality.

    Think of the movie Dead Poets Society and ripping out the pages of dry and dull poetry “analysis” in favour of reciting and creating powerful poems that move and inspire.

    Think of the blindness and illogic of love and human relationships and doing things for friends and family that, strictly speaking, are not logical or scientific but come naturally and feel right.

    Think of Mother Teresa, of all the good people do, helping others and the wider world – as well as, yes, the bad things – humans do motivated by faith and personal religious epiphanies and revelations.

    I know there are good arguments agianst religion and everything I’ve just said. I know I might not have put everything in the best possible way and will probably be misinterpreted and I’ll also admit I’m playing devils advocate ( ;-) ) here to some extent because a lot of the time I do agree with some of the points Dawkins and co argue in many contexts and cases and using their own (& it must be added some of the religious extremists also)perceptions of what religion is and what it’s meant to be about.

    But outside of the context and that narrow new atheist frame of reference, looked at from other angles and points of view, standingonthedesk not sitting at it, looking artistically, symbolically, metaphorically, spiritually, non-materialistically non-emirically, via the mind’s eye and ethical gut feelings, well there’s more to religion than meets theatheist eye.

    I don’t know everything and I don’t have all or even most of the answers. I claim nocertainty, no infallibility, no logical proof or axioms.

    That’s just how I see it & what I offer y’all as food for thought.

  43. Kenny

    It was still a bad speech Phil, and “faith”, even when it makes non-testable claims is still stupid.

    And being a dick works. Sometimes it works much better than tepid criticism. I can remember being completely ridiculed when I went to an astronomy forum about how I thought the face on Mars might have been built by aliens.

    That sharp ridicule changed me completely for the better and I ditched a whole bunch of beliefs that I realized was stupid.

  44. noen

    “And being a dick works.”

    No, it doesn’t. Dominance as a social strategy has a quick pay off but long term often results in a very poor outcome for you.

  45. What I actually wanted to say was: Another Epic video form John, I love them all.

    I hope I can attend a talk by Phil one day, I really do. (I also hope Bad Universe eventually ends up on my bloody version of the Discovery Channel).

    Any plans for floating about the South Pacific any time soon Phil?

  46. Terry

    @ Nigel (38):
    I think you are falling for a strawman that the religious fundies would have you believe : that scepticism is intrinsically anti-religion. It so is not.

    Nah, not falling for a straw man here. I’m talking about the number of self-identified skeptics who have of late begun attacking faith itself. I haven’t heard a large number of skeptics attacking religious people directly, though I have seen that here and there, and I’ve personally seen religious people attacking atheists for their beliefs (including my daughter… bad fundies!).

    That said, I don’t pay much attention to “fundie” propaganda so I don’t know if they have that theme in there, but I can say that the little bit I’ve seen has been trying to co-opt the term skeptic, not link it to anti-religious fervor.

    However, there may be some correlation between critical thinking and atheism. If there is, perhaps it is the fault of the various churches, for clinging to dogma that is so obviously anti-reality.

    I certainly agree with that concept. I’m Catholic. I think we’ve learned the problem with clinging to disprovable concepts long after they are disproved. However, perhaps the fault is also with those skeptics attacking religion itself rather than the mistaken beliefs of religious people, such as when they refer to my religion as “iron-age fairy tales” or “supernatural rubbish”. I’ll just say, if I start a political debate with someone who starts by insulting the U.S., I’m much less likely to listen to them. That’s why I value Phil’s full argument in the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech.

    Well, exactly. But you’re obviously not a True ChristianTM. ;-)

    Um… Can I take back “True Christian” from whoever seems to have trademarked it? I mean, I’m obviously a post-reformation Catholic and consider myself a member of the True Christian church that focuses on charity, tolerance, and understanding as well as a final just reward. Its got its problems but show me an organization that doesn’t? Yeah, its used to being above temporal justice, which just doesn’t work in modernity, so it gets in trouble for hiding terrible offenses (that other religious faiths actively promote). I can even show that the Catholic Church has a preexisting interest in the term.

    The problem is that the very term is denigrating and automatically shapes any debate. Granted, that’s what the people who use it mean to do. That’s on both sides of the debate, btw, even when you are using it sarcastically. I can’t claim to be a True Christian without falling into a predefined category that the person using the term describes to be either overwhelmingly good or overwhelmingly bad. I know I’m over thinking it, but I get just as upset when someone tells me that I’m not a humanitarian if I don’t support welfare, and that I’m not a True American if I don’t support a foreign conflict. I am a True American because I was born on U.S. soil. My neighbor is one because he naturalized. That is the only criteria. I am a True Christian because I believe in Christ as my savior and the bringer of the second covenant. Period.

    I don’t think the Catholic Church hasn’t ever officially endorsed evolution, but many high-ranking clerics and scholars in the Church have attacked ID and creationism. The biggest thing that the Catholic Church seems concerned about is any attempt to argue that mankind is not special within creation, which I think is empirically observable based on the singular lack of a dolphin-written Linux distribution. Although… some elements of the Ubuntu kernel seem to have been written by monkeys.

  47. Joseph G

    @#41 Messier: I like your analogy :)
    And I agree. At the very least, to quote teh Phill – “Don’t be a dick.”
    I’m about as un-religious as they come, but some smirking smartass ranting about “how stupid a person must be if they believe in the invisible magic sky wizard” is going to get a whole lotta nothing out of me. I’ll probably just leave.

  48. Joseph G

    @Terry: However, perhaps the fault is also with those skeptics attacking religion itself rather than the mistaken beliefs of religious people, such as when they refer to my religion as “iron-age fairy tales” or “supernatural rubbish”. I’ll just say, if I start a political debate with someone who starts by insulting the U.S., I’m much less likely to listen to them. That’s why I value Phil’s full argument in the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech.

    Too true. I’m reminded of those overly-political wannabe revolutionaries you tend to find around certain college campuses who are incapable of stating an opinion without loading it to the gills with histrionic adjectives.
    So for instance a simple debatable statement like “The United States’ foreign policy has proven problematic to the citizens of many nations” becomes
    “The Imperialist hegemony that is the United States’ brutal, racist foreign policy has proven devastatingly destructive to the impoverished non-white oppressed citizens of many proud, diversely multicultural sovereign nations.”
    It becomes downright unreadable, let alone unlistenable. Any potential for respectful, respectable dialog is squashed right off the bat.

    The biggest thing that the Catholic Church seems concerned about is any attempt to argue that mankind is not special within creation, which I think is empirically observable based on the singular lack of a dolphin-written Linux distribution. Although… some elements of the Ubuntu kernel seem to have been written by monkeys

    Bwahahahaha This! ^
    I’d actually love to see a dolphin-authored Linux distro. I’ll bet the interface would be interesting. Do touchscreens work underwater?

  49. Kenny

    “No, it doesn’t. Dominance as a social strategy has a quick pay off but long term often results in a very poor outcome for you.”

    Well let’s remember that Phil didn’t even mention any examples of what being a dick entails. If it’s shouting “RETARD” into peoples faces, then it might be debatable, although it’s overly simplistic to say that it’s never justified or effective. I already told you that this is what people did to me and helped me tremendously. Had they been all nice to me, I would have probably forgotten the whole thing and continued believing.

    Most of the faith-lovers on this forum tend to look at Dawkins and P.Z. as the ones being dicks and I think Phil probably had these in mind also. You are spineless if you think that! This kind of tepid skepticism won’t go anywhere or convert many. They only sound shrill because of the billions that have religious delusions bullied anyone out of even voicing mild criticism for centuries, yet Phil himself is equally as critical as moon hoaxers. This is hypocrisy on an unbelievable level and I have zero respect for this brand of inconsistent skepticism.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (46) said:

    @ Nigel (38):

    I think you are falling for a strawman that the religious fundies would have you believe : that scepticism is intrinsically anti-religion. It so is not.

    Nah, not falling for a straw man here. I’m talking about the number of self-identified skeptics who have of late begun attacking faith itself.

    So, perhaps what you mean is that an increasing number of sceptics are criticising faith of all kinds?

    After all, it is more or less self-evident that faith (being a belief in the absence of evidence, or continued belief in the face of contrary evidence) is irrational. And therefore a typical human trait.

    The thing is, people are irrational. As long as no religious person tries to claim that faith is rational, then I’m quite happy for people to believe more or less anything. I still disagree with anyone getting special privileges as a result, though.

    I haven’t heard a large number of skeptics attacking religious people directly, though I have seen that here and there, and I’ve personally seen religious people attacking atheists for their beliefs (including my daughter… bad fundies!).

    Yeah, I think the intolerance is largely directed towards atheism. Well, certainly initially.

    I think there are atheists who are now thoroughly intolerant of religion, but that is most probably an understandable – and, yes, irrational – reaction to the attacks on reason mounted by the “faithful” over the last 40 – 50 years. But just because I understand from whence it comes doesn’t mean I condone it.

    That said, I don’t pay much attention to “fundie” propaganda so I don’t know if they have that theme in there, but I can say that the little bit I’ve seen has been trying to co-opt the term skeptic, not link it to anti-religious fervor.

    Interesting. My own experience – mainly from internet discussions like this one – has been that the anti-reality team claims that scepticism is aimed specifically against faith (and that “Darwinism leads to Satanism” or similar such nonsense) and that the bible proves that science is wrong (or variations on this theme).

    However, there may be some correlation between critical thinking and atheism. If there is, perhaps it is the fault of the various churches, for clinging to dogma that is so obviously anti-reality.

    I certainly agree with that concept. I’m Catholic. I think we’ve learned the problem with clinging to disprovable concepts long after they are disproved. However, perhaps the fault is also with those skeptics attacking religion itself rather than the mistaken beliefs of religious people, such as when they refer to my religion as “iron-age fairy tales” or “supernatural rubbish”.

    The current Pope is a bit of a fan of anti-reality (although he or his administration has finally conceded that condom use is acceptable in one or two limited situations and does not automatically entail a one-way ticket to Hell). There has been a “creation science” movement in the USA since some time in the 60s. This movement is so well funded that they have been able to spend millions of dollars on a “museum” in (IIRC) Kentucky – a “museum” dedicated to spreading nonsense as if it were fact.

    Religious institutions the world over (with a handful of exceptions) are standing silent while humanity’s collective understanding of reality is being deliberately undermined by a vocal, well-organised and well-funded minority of religious sects.

    You can understand, I expect, why phrases such as those you cite are being applied by the more vocal critics of these religious attacks on humanity’s understanding of reality to religion in general. Notice that not all critics of the anti-reality team are criticising religion in general, and notice that not all critics of religion are using such phrases.

    Having said that, the terms “iron-age fairytales” and “supernatural rubbish” are mild in comparison to the attacks being made on science and critical thinking, so even the most extreme pro-reality commenters are seen to be models of restraint when the provocation is examined.

    And besides, do you have any evidence to allow us to conclude that anything in the bible is anything more than a fairytale?

    I’ll just say, if I start a political debate with someone who starts by insulting the U.S., I’m much less likely to listen to them.

    Awww, but you guys make it so easy! ;-)

    (Sorry, I’m kidding, of course).

    On a more serious note, science education in the USA is getting to a point where most Europeans can justifiably feel smugly superior about it. You guys won the space race, and now you’re teaching your kids that the world is only 6000 years old! Of course, sadly, the trend that started in the US has been migrating to Europe, so there’s no telling which region will set its house in order first.

    That’s why I value Phil’s full argument in the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech.

    Fair enough.

    Well, exactly. But you’re obviously not a True ChristianTM.

    Um… Can I take back “True Christian” from whoever seems to have trademarked it?

    What I meant by that was that the creationists et al. would deny that you are a Christian at all. After all, if you don’t take the bible literally, how can you be Christian? (and other such nonsensical stuff that the creationists typically spout, while typically approaching sceptics with a very unchristian attitude indeed).

    I mean, I’m obviously a post-reformation Catholic and consider myself a member of the True Christian church that focuses on charity, tolerance, and understanding as well as a final just reward. Its got its problems but show me an organization that doesn’t? Yeah, its used to being above temporal justice, which just doesn’t work in modernity, so it gets in trouble for hiding terrible offenses (that other religious faiths actively promote). I can even show that the Catholic Church has a preexisting interest in the term.

    The problem is that the very term is denigrating and automatically shapes any debate. Granted, that’s what the people who use it mean to do. That’s on both sides of the debate, btw, even when you are using it sarcastically. I can’t claim to be a True Christian without falling into a predefined category that the person using the term describes to be either overwhelmingly good or overwhelmingly bad. I know I’m over thinking it, but I get just as upset when someone tells me that I’m not a humanitarian if I don’t support welfare, and that I’m not a True American if I don’t support a foreign conflict. I am a True American because I was born on U.S. soil. My neighbor is one because he naturalized. That is the only criteria. I am a True Christian because I believe in Christ as my savior and the bringer of the second covenant. Period.

    I don’t think the Catholic Church hasn’t ever officially endorsed evolution, but many high-ranking clerics and scholars in the Church have attacked ID and creationism. The biggest thing that the Catholic Church seems concerned about is any attempt to argue that mankind is not special within creation, which I think is empirically observable based on the singular lack of a dolphin-written Linux distribution. Although… some elements of the Ubuntu kernel seem to have been written by monkeys.

    I mostly agree with your closing statements here, apart from your claim that it is “empirically observable” that humans are distinct from other animals. We quite obviously are animals, by any meaningful definition of the word “animal”. If there is anything that distinguishes us from other animals, it is our distinctive ability to screw up the planet for everyone else.

    Incidentally, the RC church has also been referred to in many uncomplimentary ways by the more rabid creationists.

  51. AJ in CA

    Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

    @Nigel Dipledge: I wonder if a True Christian is anything like a True Scotsman ;)

    I can see where you’re coming from, generally, but I still think that science (and those who promote it) must be very precise (this is, after all, one of the great things about science – the idea that we CAN know things objectively). To those who attack creationists who want to spread their ignorance to children – hey, go for it! But that specific act must be attacked, not religion as a whole. There are quite a few people who self-describe as Christians, for instance, simply because that’s how they were raised, and yet they may not take anything in the Bible to be literally true, and they may be very amenable to the scientific method. Even so, if you start attacking religion as a whole, they’ll still get defensive, simply because that’s part of their family (and often personal) identity. As a Jew (or at least, having been raised as one), this is something I have personal experience with. I think that the scientific method is one of the most important developments in the history of humankind, and I certainly don’t hold any scripture to be literally true (without evidence, anyway). But if people start attacking Judaism around me, the claws are coming out, and they’re sharp ;)

    I mostly agree with your closing statements here, apart from your claim that it is “empirically observable” that humans are distinct from other animals. We quite obviously are animals, by any meaningful definition of the word “animal”.
    Humans certainly are animals, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t unique in our own way. Intelligence is a relatively rare evolutionary strategy, and we’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that human-level intelligence is unique on planet earth, and likely quite rare elsewhere in the universe.

  52. noen

    Kenny Says:
    “Well let’s remember that Phil didn’t even mention any examples of what being a dick entails. If it’s shouting “RETARD” into peoples faces, then it might be debatable, although it’s overly simplistic to say that it’s never justified or effective. I already told you that this is what people did to me and helped me tremendously. Had they been all nice to me, I would have probably forgotten the whole thing and continued believing.

    Invalid inference. From the single data point of your own subjective experience you draw a sweeping generalization that everyone responds positively to verbal abuse. I’d encourage you to test your theory on your friends. See how that works out for ya.

    “Being a dick” means attempting to control others or get them to agree with you through physical or verbal intimidation rather than rational debate. As you point out it does work. What I was trying to say is that it is a poor strategy in the long term. Especially for an underdog class. Why? Because in order to maintain your dominance you have to keep upping the ante and you can only do that if you have enough real power to pull it off. But you don’t, therefore your strategy is doomed to failure and…. is fundamentally irrational.

    Are you really unaware of alternate strategies? Really? Your best hope is to find allies with whom you can join in common cause to advocate for what you want. But you don’t do that. In fact, many of “you” (the so called New Atheists) deliberately alienate any potential allies out of a desire for dogmatic purity. So you’re just like so many other marginalized social groups. You’d rather be ideologically “pure” than actually achieve your political objectives. I think there is too much focus on being Right and not enough on actual results.

    Good luck with that.

  53. Brad

    @Messier Tidy Upper
    Thanks for your response. I disagree with a lot of what you said but that doesn’t really matter. I think you have an embittered view of the so-called “new atheists” that isn’t really representative. It is certainly not my experience. I have not seen arrogance or intolerance amongst these circles. This leads me to believe that you were particularly offended by something Dawkins said and are applying it to the rest of the group.

    As for your points on Dawkins:
    The God “Delusion”: A lot of people take offense to this but I don’t think it’s justified. If anyone believes anything as adamantly as the adherent believes in god, it would be called a delusion. In a clinical sense, it is an apt description. That said it’s also a way to sell books.

    Indoctrination/child abuse: As someone who was “brought up” to be christian. I agree with Dawkins. I don’t believe there is malicious intent by parents but I do think it is pretty much abuse. After finding out about how my friends were “brought up” mormon (for instance) I don’t see how it cannot be seen as child abuse. “A child is no more a christian then a member of the postal workers union.” They simply cannot make the choice for themselves and it shouldn’t be made for them. Many parents also instill anti-science biases in children which may inhibit their future intellectual growth.

    Amish disappearing act: Would it be bad if they integrated into society and lost their ultra-traditionalist worldview?

    Catholic dogma vs touchy priests: I do not recall the context in which this statement was said. He certainly wasn’t making light of the molestation charges. Though on a societal level, it could be argued that a doctrine of papal infallibility can (and has) been very destructive.

    “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant
    character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust,
    unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser;
    a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal,
    pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously
    malevolent bully.” (God Delusion pg 31) This statement is supposed to be read with levity. It’s funny but he also makes a point. Certainly you can pick and choose from the bible and enjoy the feel good hippy parts of Jesus. But you can pick and choose to create any god you want to justify anything you want.

    As for only dealing with the literalists, well, they are the ones trying to teach creationism in highschool biology classrooms. There are more of them then it appears you would like to believe. Dawkins and the others do talk to moderates and liberal christians quite often, actually. For instance you should look up his interview with Ft. George Coyne (former director of the Vatican observatory.)

    Also I would be hesitant to put Mother Teresa in the column of “Good” that religion does. Just saying.

  54. Cosmonut

    I think Phil’s “Don’t Be A Dick” admonition applies very well to Dick Dawkins.

    (Disclaimer: I am not suggesting in any way that Phil had Dawkins in mind when he made that speech.)

    But reading the comments, I can only agree more with Phil when he says:
    “One of the things I love about these songs is their positive message; they don’t berate the ideas we oppose, they glorify the ideas we support and the feelings we have.”

  55. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Cosmonaut : Yes – you’re spot on there I think. :-)

    @ 53. Brad Says:

    @Messier Tidy Upper : Thanks for your response. I disagree with a lot of what you said but that doesn’t really matter. I think you have an embittered view of the so-called “new atheists” that isn’t really representative. It is certainly not my experience.

    Fair enough. I haven’t met Dawkins, Hitchens or any of the other prominent New Atheists inperson but my impressionof them judging from their books, shows and articles is far from positive. They do come across as very exrteme, very arrogant and very unwilling to see the alternative side of things as I see them.

    …This leads me to believe that you were particularly offended by something Dawkins said and are applying it to the rest of the group.

    As Isaid I agreed with a lot of the points Dawkins made but Ithink the way he made them was sometiems -quite foten actually -pretty offesnive and overly one-sided. Dawkin’s attacks on religion, in my assessment often boil tdown to alot of starwmen and cherry-picking form the nastier side of religion overlooking the broader context and less nasty side and groups.

    The God “Delusion”: A lot of people take offense to this but I don’t think it’s justified. If anyone believes anything as adamantly as the adherent believes in god, it would be called a delusion. In a clinical sense, it is an apt description. That said it’s also a way to sell books.

    Yeah, I see the deliberate provocation for selling books aspect -and I find that pretty distasteful too. By that way of looking at things yousugegst there almost anything some one believes in – political ideology, religious faiths and even scientific theories could be termed “delusions.” Are youseriously implying that *all* religion is a form of mental illness because, yeah, that is pretty offensive and uncool in my view. As wellas inaccurate.

    Indoctrination/child abuse: As someone who was “brought up” to be christian. I agree with Dawkins. I don’t believe there is malicious intent by parents but I do think it is pretty much abuse. After finding out about how my friends were “brought up” mormon (for instance) I don’t see how it cannot be seen as child abuse. “A child is no more a christian then a member of the postal workers union.” They simply cannot make the choice for themselves and it shouldn’t be made for them. Many parents also instill anti-science biases in children which may inhibit their future intellectual growth.

    I disagree. Calling it “abuse” to raise your children in your faith; fiath that is part of your persoanl and cultural identity is just nonsensical as far as I can see. Especially if (as is often ithecase) such religious
    education is done respectfully and in a way that shows the children there are other people of other faiths who think diffently and that’s okay too.

    Teaching children that science is bad and that fairy tales and religious metaphors are to be taken literally, OTOH, yes, I would agree that is arguably “abuse” and definitely very wrong because it is pyschologically harmful and damages the child’s ability to think clearlyand their later job prospects etc .. Such unsubtle, narrowly interpreted ideas are not inly bad sceince though I think they also count as bad religion too.

    Good religion is moderate, able to accept sophisticatiosn and metaphors and isn’t as dumb as it is painted by its association with the stereotypical fringe nutters like the creationists.

    So there are levels and ways of “raising children religious” and yes, some of these at the extreme end of the spectrum – home schooling to just one narrow Real True Interpretation of the Bible considered Literallyand inerrantly true – yeah that’s utterly bad. However, in the vast majority of cases of parenmts raising their kids in their faith – this is NOT the case and kids are taught to think, to be moderate and careful in interpreting things and not to just take literally the sillier more obviously mythological parts.

    Amish disappearing act: Would it be bad if they integrated into society and lost their ultra-traditionalist worldview?

    Well we’d miss out on cultural diversity and a whole way of life that has much that is also admirable about it and means a lot to some humn individuals. So yeah, I don’t think it would be a good thing for the Amish to vanish and calling on them to disappear is pretty nasty. It seme s a very intolerant and ugly thing tosay that all people must follow your way, mustbeliev what youbeliev and this is effectively what Dawkins’ and the New Atheists seem to be saying with stuff like this.

    Catholic dogma vs touchy priests: I do not recall the context in which this statement was said. He certainly wasn’t making light of the molestation charges. Though on a societal level, it could be argued that a doctrine of papal infallibility can (and has) been very destructive.

    I agree your last line there – I’m not Catholic or from that background and I’m no fan of the Pope or his claims to infallibility.

    However, saying that raising a child to believe in Catholicism is just as bad or worse as sexually molesting them as Dawkins did ..! :-o What the ..!!

    Thatwa sone point in Dawkins’ book where my jaw dropped and Ihad toread it afew tiems to make sure I’d just read what I thought I’d read because .. what the ..! Really!? :roll:

    “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant
    character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust,
    unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser;
    a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal,
    pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously
    malevolent bully.” (God Delusion pg 31) This statement is supposed to be read with levity. It’s funny but he also makes a point.

    That’s the one – thanks for finding the exact rant there.

    Certainly you can pick and choose from the bible and enjoy the feel good hippy parts of Jesus. But you can pick and choose to create any god you want to justify anything you want.

    Well you can if you want to found your own religion or cult I suppose. Yes there are misuses of religion and nutcases who do that sort of thing.

    But there are also millions (a few billion even) of folks around the world to whoem the Bible and the Old Tetsament / Torah, Talmud Mishnah (spelling?) means an awful lot and is a positive guid efull of lot of wonderful and life-affirming stuff directly oppsoite to that ugly figure Dawkins portays there.

    Putting it like that, in so totally one-sided and hostile a manner and with such force of hatred behind those words is not something I expect would make a good impressionon thos epeopel and coems over as just, well an outright mouth-frothing rant by Dawkins. It does not endera him to me or isuspecvt most reassonabvle people.

    As for only dealing with the literalists, well, they are the ones trying to teach creationism in highschool biology classrooms. There are more of them then it appears you would like to believe. Dawkins and the others do talk to moderates and liberal christians quite often, actually. For instance you should look up his interview with Ft. George Coyne (former director of the Vatican observatory.)

    Yes, I know Dawkins has interviewed some religious moderates too -but he focuses a lot more on his own starwman and the highly visible but also highly unrepresentative extremist fringes.

    I am fine with attacking Creationists – and yes there are a problem for societyand need to be ought – but the extreme fringe is no more representative of religion than Joseph Mengele and Dr Frankenstein** are of science.

    Also I would be hesitant to put Mother Teresa in the column of “Good” that religion does. Just saying.

    Well she did some good but, yes, okay she wasn’t perfect and also said some objectionable things in her time. Perhas I could’ve foudn a better example – there are quite a few such good religuious people to chose from after all.. Jim Wallis Fred Clark and a number of friends that I would know and you, alas, would not. Although you may be able to think of some unfamous examples fo good religious people yourself.) Mother teresa’s name sprang to mind first from her fame I guess.

  56. Messier Tidy Upper

    Argh. My apologies for all the typos above – ran out of editing time there. :-(

    Hope you can follow it all okay anyhow.

    One elaboration if I may :

    The God “Delusion”: A lot of people take offense to this but I don’t think it’s justified. If anyone believes anything as adamantly as the adherent believes in god, it would be called a delusion. In a clinical sense, it is an apt description. That said it’s also a way to sell books.

    Yes indeed; setting out to gain attention and earn more cash by insulting those you disagree with. How charming – not. :roll:

    It sets the tone for the rest of what he says and how he goes about saying it.

    Its hardly subtle or appealing and definitely isn’t original. A lot of ideologues and demagogues like to publish books with deliberative provocative, even downright rude titles. For example, Anne Coulter has published a book titled ‘If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans’ while on the opposite end of the polemicist political spectrum we have Michael Moore’s book called ‘Stupid White Men’. Such titles automatically suggest not only bias but a lack of respect for the alternative positions. They automatically suggest to me that this author is pushing a particular ideological wheel barrow and doing so pretty much blindfolded. Such books are likely to be funny (or supposedly so depending on your sense of humour), to be packed with insults and invective and also to be very biased and one-sided, often unreliable and waa-aay too preachy.

    What does it say about what sort of debate or discussion you are planning on having if you begin with name-calling insults aimed at the other side?

    I view Richard Dawkins’ and most of the other extreme New Atheists as a polemicist who is a highly polarising figure. He generally plays very well to those who are already fervent atheists but outside of that niche I suspect a lot more people can’t stand him than love him. Because of that & his alienanting approach, I do not think Richard Dawkins makes a great spokesperson for atheism or agnoticism or anything else really and I don’t think he is willing to respect or listen carefully and intelligently to the other side. I find his aggressive, contemptous attitude to those who disagree with him to be off-putting and lacking in rationality as well as charm.

    In fact, Dawkins and those like him are part of the reason that I would call myself more agnostic than atheist.

    OTOH, The sort of atheist or Humanist speaker I respect most & who take the approach that is, probably, usually the most effective in getting other people to think – and think positively about atheism, agnosticism, skepticism and science?

    People like Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and, yes, Phil Plait. :-)

  57. Messier Tidy Upper

    @51. AJ in CA :

    There are quite a few people who self-describe as Christians, for instance, simply because that’s how they were raised, and yet they may not take anything in the Bible to be literally true, and they may be very amenable to the scientific method. Even so, if you start attacking religion as a whole, they’ll still get defensive, simply because that’s part of their family (and often personal) identity. As a Jew (or at least, having been raised as one), this is something I have personal experience with. I think that the scientific method is one of the most important developments in the history of humankind, and I certainly don’t hold any scripture to be literally true (without evidence, anyway). But if people start attacking Judaism around me, the claws are coming out, and they’re sharp

    This!! ^

    I’ll second that too. :-)

  58. Nigel Depledge

    AJ in CA (51) said:

    @Nigel Dipledge: I wonder if a True Christian is anything like a True Scotsman

    I have no idea, but I can tell you one thing for sure. I’ve only ever been on the receiving end of racist abuse when I lived in Scotland.

    I can see where you’re coming from, generally, but I still think that science (and those who promote it) must be very precise (this is, after all, one of the great things about science – the idea that we CAN know things objectively). To those who attack creationists who want to spread their ignorance to children – hey, go for it!

    Yay!

    But that specific act must be attacked, not religion as a whole. There are quite a few people who self-describe as Christians, for instance, simply because that’s how they were raised, and yet they may not take anything in the Bible to be literally true, and they may be very amenable to the scientific method.

    True. Pigeonholes are very dangerous. There is a whole continuum of varying belief between outright “there-is-no-god” atheism and rabid biblical literalism. The discussion (certainly the evolution -creation one) too often gets polarised.

    AFAICT, this polarisation of the creation-evolution topic has been a successful tactic of the creationist extremists. You may have heard of the “big tent” of creationism, that embraces all forms of the belief that god was involved in making the world the way it is today. So-called “intelligent design” exemplifies this “big tent” approach, in being so vague that the uninformed can interpret it in more or less any way that suits them.

    Even so, if you start attacking religion as a whole, they’ll still get defensive, simply because that’s part of their family (and often personal) identity.

    Yeah, I think that’s the main thrust of Phil’s “don’t be a dick” concept.

    Having said that, when the religious fundies start using their religion (typically in the form of biblical quotes) to attack science (yes, I know it’s a non-starter), then those sceptics with a working knowledge of the weaknesses of the religious texts are in a better position to counter the fundies’ “arguments” (for desperate want of a better word). Not in order to convert the fundies from their viewpoint (after all, if someone starts trying to use the bible to dictate how reality should be, they’re probably not in a position where evidence and reason are likely to change their mind), but so that bystanders understand that the fundies’ argument holds no water.

    As a Jew (or at least, having been raised as one), this is something I have personal experience with. I think that the scientific method is one of the most important developments in the history of humankind, and I certainly don’t hold any scripture to be literally true (without evidence, anyway). But if people start attacking Judaism around me, the claws are coming out, and they’re sharp

    I think this all boils down to definitions. After all, if I were to ask whether or not you adhere to all the prohibitions in Leviticus (IIRC), would that be an attack on Judaism in general, or merely a questioning of how “good” a Jew you are? If I were to point out that many of the instructions in the OT are actually contrary to our modern laws, is that a criticism of religion or merely a comment on the differences between how we view other people and how the authors of the OT viewed other people?

  59. Nigel Depledge

    Brad (53) said:

    @Messier Tidy Upper
    Thanks for your response. I disagree with a lot of what you said but that doesn’t really matter. I think you have an embittered view of the so-called “new atheists” that isn’t really representative. It is certainly not my experience. I have not seen arrogance or intolerance amongst these circles. This leads me to believe that you were particularly offended by something Dawkins said and are applying it to the rest of the group.

    As for your points on Dawkins:
    The God “Delusion”: A lot of people take offense to this but I don’t think it’s justified. If anyone believes anything as adamantly as the adherent believes in god, it would be called a delusion. In a clinical sense, it is an apt description. That said it’s also a way to sell books.

    Indoctrination/child abuse: As someone who was “brought up” to be christian. I agree with Dawkins. I don’t believe there is malicious intent by parents but I do think it is pretty much abuse. After finding out about how my friends were “brought up” mormon (for instance) I don’t see how it cannot be seen as child abuse. “A child is no more a christian then a member of the postal workers union.” They simply cannot make the choice for themselves and it shouldn’t be made for them. Many parents also instill anti-science biases in children which may inhibit their future intellectual growth.

    Hear, hear!

  60. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (55) said:

    Are youseriously implying that *all* religion is a form of mental illness because, yeah, that is pretty offensive and uncool in my view. As wellas inaccurate.

    I think the point Brad was making (53) was that if a person believed in – for instance – the invisible pink unicorn in their back garden as firmly as many people believe in god, it would certainly be classified as a clinical delusion.

    So, in your opinion, why should a religious belief be granted special dispensation for not being called a delusion?

  61. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (55) said:

    I disagree. Calling it “abuse” to raise your children in your faith; fiath that is part of your persoanl and cultural identity is just nonsensical as far as I can see. Especially if (as is often ithecase) such religious
    education is done respectfully and in a way that shows the children there are other people of other faiths who think diffently and that’s okay too.

    Seems to me that, in the USA and several parts of the middle east at least, the opposite is the norm. Or, at the very least, the intolerent absolutist religious education of children is more widespread than you seem to believe.

    Teaching children that science is bad and that fairy tales and religious metaphors are to be taken literally, OTOH, yes, I would agree that is arguably “abuse” and definitely very wrong because it is pyschologically harmful and damages the child’s ability to think clearlyand their later job prospects etc .. Such unsubtle, narrowly interpreted ideas are not inly bad sceince though I think they also count as bad religion too.

    OK, but it’s not so clear-cut in reality. Instead, it is a continuum. Where would you draw the line between what is “good” religious education and what is “bad”?

    It seems to me that teaching a child to believe in something that – as far as we can tell for sure – doesn’t exist is harmful to their ability to think for themselves. And a child’s first 5 or 6 years are the most impressionable, so once they enter formal education, their fundamental view of the world is almost fixed.

    Good religion is moderate, able to accept sophisticatiosn and metaphors and isn’t as dumb as it is painted by its association with the stereotypical fringe nutters like the creationists.

    True, and the official position of the C of E (for example) is very moderate, accepting all of the findings of science, but it seems to be a very quiet portion of the religious community.

    But, again, there is a continuum. And even the best religious parents instil in their children an irrational belief.

    So there are levels and ways of “raising children religious” and yes, some of these at the extreme end of the spectrum – home schooling to just one narrow Real True Interpretation of the Bible considered Literallyand inerrantly true – yeah that’s utterly bad. However, in the vast majority of cases of parenmts raising their kids in their faith – this is NOT the case and kids are taught to think, to be moderate and careful in interpreting things and not to just take literally the sillier more obviously mythological parts.

    This may be your personal experience, but I’m not sure this approach is as widespread as you seem to think. Certainly the US and the UK have seen an upswing in fundamentalism in the last couple of decades.

  62. Terry

    @Nigel Depledge (50)

    So, perhaps what you mean is that an increasing number of sceptics are criticising faith of all kinds?
    After all, it is more or less self-evident that faith (being a belief in the absence of evidence, or continued belief in the face of contrary evidence) is irrational. And therefore a typical human trait.

    I am absolutely referring to the number of people who criticize all faiths. I’m specifically bothered by people who attack my faith, but attacking any faith is just not the logical path to take in my opinion. I also completely agree with your definition of irrationality as well. That means, anyone who tells that there is absolutely no way a higher being could exist is also being irrational. We don’t know what happened BEFORE the big bang. Heck, we don’t know why the universe rapidly inflated just AFTER the big bang.

    The thing is, people are irrational. As long as no religious person tries to claim that faith is rational, then I’m quite happy for people to believe more or less anything. I still disagree with anyone getting special privileges as a result, though.

    And as long as no atheist tries to claim that an absolute belief in a godless world is rational, I’m quite happy for the same. The problem is that a belief in a faith is just as irrational as a belief that all faiths are completely wrong. There is no evidence to support either argument.

    Yeah, I think the intolerance is largely directed towards atheism. Well, certainly initially.

    I think there are atheists who are now thoroughly intolerant of religion, but that is most probably an understandable – and, yes, irrational – reaction to the attacks on reason mounted by the “faithful” over the last 40 – 50 years. But just because I understand from whence it comes doesn’t mean I condone it.

    I absolutely agree with most of what you are saying here, although I’d extend that back about another 60 years. What I don’t agree with is the tacit connection of atheism and reason. Reason is a faculty to look that the varying evidence presented and determine what that evidence means, regardless of the direction it will take you. If someone ever showed evidence that indisputably proved that there are no gods, I would have to listen and decide if I was still going to be a reasonable person or continue to irrationally believe.

    The distinction here is between the two descriptions for irrationality you’ve given. I recognize that it is irrational for me to believe something without evidence, but I have chosen to do so, just as atheists have. I arrive at that emotionally while atheists arrive at it logically (thought not rationally). It’s the equivalent of believing that someone is inside of a closed room. I believe that someone is in there, even though I can’t see them. An atheist believes that there is no one in there, though they can not see into the empty room either. Both are irrational beliefs and the only rational belief would be to say “I don’t know” as agnostics do. An atheist calling a faithful person irrational… well, you know: pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot.

    Interesting. My own experience – mainly from internet discussions like this one – has been that the anti-reality team claims that scepticism is aimed specifically against faith (and that “Darwinism leads to Satanism” or similar such nonsense) and that the bible proves that science is wrong (or variations on this theme).

    My experience with the atheism v. faith debate is mostly from personal discussion and reading, not via the internet. I don’t hang out in religious forums on the internet and have only read the “Conservapedia” on a lark and for a laugh. That is so bad where science is concerned that I almost think it has to be a joke. Most people that I speak with are more rational or easily defeated in debate about evolution or the big bang if they claim to be reasonable people. They talk about skepticism as a desirable trait to defeat “liberal propaganda” like global warming and dinosaurs. That is what I mean.

    The current Pope is a bit of a fan of anti-reality (although he or his administration has finally conceded that condom use is acceptable in one or two limited situations and does not automatically entail a one-way ticket to Hell).

    Um… This is what I mean. I’m a Catholic, so you are essentially insulting my lord (lower-case). Let’s take a skeptical look at that claim. What has Pope Benedict XVI said about that subject?

    Today, this should be precisely [Christianity’s] philosophical strength, in so far as the problem is whether the world comes from the irrational, and reason is not other than a ‘sub-product,’ on occasion even harmful of its development—or whether the world comes from reason, and is, as a consequence, its criterion and goal.

    The Christian faith inclines toward this second thesis, thus having, from the purely philosophical point of view, really good cards to play, despite the fact that many today consider only the first thesis as the only modern and rational one par excellence. However, a reason that springs from the irrational, and that is, in the final analysis, itself irrational, does not constitute a solution for our problems. Only creative reason, which in the crucified God is manifested as love, can really show us the way. In the so necessary dialogue between secularists and Catholics, we Christians must be very careful to remain faithful to this fundamental line: to live a faith that comes from the “Logos,” from creative reason, and that, because of this, is also open to all that is truly rational.

    Seems to me that he’s saying Christians, when presented with a choice between believing in an irrational worldview and a rational worldview should choose the rational worldview.

    Having said that, the terms “iron-age fairytales” and “supernatural rubbish” are mild in comparison to the attacks being made on science and critical thinking, so even the most extreme pro-reality commenters are seen to be models of restraint when the provocation is examined.

    The logic here is “fundies are doing it, so skeptic atheists should get a pass”. I get just as upset at bad behavior in attacks against atheists. I also get pretty pissed off about attacks against science itself. I’ve had long debates with people who were sure that non-Euclidean geometry wasn’t real (and therefore Relativity was a fraud,) something that made me severely doubt the general intelligence of modern man.

    And besides, do you have any evidence to allow us to conclude that anything in the bible is anything more than a fairytale?

    Yes. There is plenty of support that several events which were said to have occurred in the Bible actually occurred and are part of our historical record. One particularly funny account has the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem from both the perspective of Sennacherib and the Bible. The Bible relates that the Jews were able to keep the Assyrians out for 10 years. The Sennacherib’s Prism relates how he was able to keep the Jews locked up for 10 years. Both relate it as a proud accomplishment. I don’t think, however, that you meant to apply as broad a brush as you did. You meant to ask for proof that any of the spiritual occurrences, such as the Resurrection or the Plagues, occurred and the answer is yes, but you have to take the evidence with a grain of salt because there has been 2000 years for Christian historians to cook the books.

    Now, do you have any evidence to allow us to conclude that a consciousness did not emerge from the chaos before existence and by its will allow to big bang to happen? Since we can’t scientifically describe the moments before the big bang, I doubt it.

    You guys won the space race, and now you’re teaching your kids that the world is only 6000 years old! Of course, sadly, the trend that started in the US has been migrating to Europe, so there’s no telling which region will set its house in order first.

    My kids have NOT been taught that in school. I think this is a bit of polemic rubbish that you’ve heard from somewhere. There are isolated cases, but the vast majority of kids are taught by our schools that the world is 4.5 billion years old. The problem is that what they learn at school doesn’t overpower the fundamentalist education they get at home or in church. The education in the US is suffering severely. We need to make some hard choices about how to fix it.

    And we haven’t won the space race. We pulled ahead in the early laps and then started slowing down. Everyone else is catching up now and we’re waiting on our second wind, if it ever comes. Of course, as long as we can’t even balance our checkbook, we aren’t going to be able to afford a second wind in the space race. Mixed metaphors… I know. Sue me.

    What I meant by that was that the creationists et al. would deny that you are a Christian at all. After all, if you don’t take the bible literally, how can you be Christian? (and other such nonsensical stuff that the creationists typically spout, while typically approaching sceptics with a very unchristian attitude indeed).

    I certainly understand that. My wife’s best friend (and the godmother to our children) married a creationist. He refused to allow my wife and I to be god parents because I believe in evolution. Pretty ridiculous, but I don’t believe that he or anyone else can lay claim to the title of True Christian just because they have that belief.

    If there is anything that distinguishes us from other animals, it is our distinctive ability to screw up the planet for everyone else.

    And the ability to leave it. We are unique on our planet and possible extremely rare within the scope of the galaxy. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that we weren’t animals, only that we are unique. How many other races out there seem to be chatting away in bright radio signals? I certainly hope that they will be found someday, but even if they are, they will be similarly unique. Our ability to screw up the planet is no more distinctive for us than it was for the early anaerobic bacteria and algae that pissed out all that harmful oxygen from their runaway photosynthesis. It screwed up the planet for everything else, but also gave way for much more energetic, aerobic organisms. Maybe we’re just preparing the planet for the triffids.

  63. Terry

    @Nigel Depledge (61):

    This may be your personal experience, but I’m not sure this approach is as widespread as you seem to think. Certainly the US and the UK have seen an upswing in fundamentalism in the last couple of decades.

    I’ve read some really good books about the connection between fundamentalism and apocalyptic faiths. One of my professors wrote a great one tieing millenarianism to world violence. It’s a theory that can only be verified in hindsight.

    On the right to teach children about the faith of their parents, calling it child abuse is just plain wrong and hard to support unless you really believe that your opinion is the only one that matters. There is a danger is moral relativism that must be understood; it is probably child abuse to teach children that sacrificing other children is needed to appease the god, but there has to be a moral line drawn to make that claim. Dawkins line seems to be it is immoral to believe in any faith.

    Would Dawkins also find it child abuse to raise children to believe in socialistic or capitalistic philosophies? Is it also child abuse to raise children to appreciate art and music in the place of science and technology?

    I could appreciate his belief that calling a child Christian or Muslim before he or she has a right to chose for his or herself could be child abuse, if you allow the punishment for apostasy to be death. If that punishment becomes morally unacceptable, as it should in a tolerant, politically-liberal society, then I don’t see why raising your child in your own beliefs could be child abuse.

    The duty of every parent SHOULD BE to raise their children to be moral actors and if their morality is shaped by religion, so be it.

  64. Joseph G

    @#58: I think this all boils down to definitions. After all, if I were to ask whether or not you adhere to all the prohibitions in Leviticus (IIRC), would that be an attack on Judaism in general, or merely a questioning of how “good” a Jew you are? If I were to point out that many of the instructions in the OT are actually contrary to our modern laws, is that a criticism of religion or merely a comment on the differences between how we view other people and how the authors of the OT viewed other people?

    Sorry, I was being a little vague. Actually, one of the things I like about the Jewish tradition is that it’s quite common to debate to death all manner of scriptural interpretations. There is no central church to excommunicate you if they don’t like what you have to say. Hence the large number of Jewish lawyers :)
    I was thinking of attacks more along the lines of “Jews are a bunch of bloodthirsty angry-sky-god-appeasing savages” then your (quite reasonable) theological questions.

  65. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    And as long as no atheist tries to claim that an absolute belief in a godless world is rational, I’m quite happy for the same. The problem is that a belief in a faith is just as irrational as a belief that all faiths are completely wrong. There is no evidence to support either argument.

    This is true, but you omit another factor: logic.

    Logic tells us to accept the most parsimonious explanation or conclusion unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that there is no god, because there is no evidence to suggest that the more complicated and extraordinary alternative (i.e. that there is a god, by which I mean an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent yet intangible being) is a better explanation for anything.

    Therefore, atheism is less irrational than any kind of religious faith.

    Of course, here I use atheism in its pure form, not that put about by the religious fundies. Literally, atheism is living without any kind of religion. Atheism does not require that one deny the existence of any god or gods. Atheism is not – in and of itself – the belief that gods do not exist.

    This interpretation that atheism is the denial of any gods’ existence is a strawman argument usually proposed by the religious fundies in the mistaken belief that it strengthens their credibility.

  66. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    Reason is a faculty to look that the varying evidence presented and determine what that evidence means, regardless of the direction it will take you. If someone ever showed evidence that indisputably proved that there are no gods, I would have to listen and decide if I was still going to be a reasonable person or continue to irrationally believe.

    Reason tells us that there is probably no god. According to the principle of parimony, a reasoning being should not require evidence in order to live life without religion. Instead, they should require evidence in order to live life with religion.

    The universe looks exactly the way we should expect it to if it had come into existence and evolved according to physical laws and processes that still operate today. While it is true that there are gaps in our understanding of the universe’s beginnings, that isn’t evidence that we’re wrong.

  67. Nigel Depledge

    I said (66):

    . . . the principle of parimony . . .

    Of course I meant “parsimony”. D’oh.

  68. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    The distinction here is between the two descriptions for irrationality you’ve given. I recognize that it is irrational for me to believe something without evidence, but I have chosen to do so, just as atheists have. I arrive at that emotionally while atheists arrive at it logically (thought not rationally). It’s the equivalent of believing that someone is inside of a closed room. I believe that someone is in there, even though I can’t see them. An atheist believes that there is no one in there, though they can not see into the empty room either. Both are irrational beliefs and the only rational belief would be to say “I don’t know” as agnostics do. An atheist calling a faithful person irrational… well, you know: pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot.

    I disagree strongly with this.

    The absence of a god is a perfectly reasonable and rational null hypothesis. It’s the starting point. From there, any evidence that indicates this hypothesis to be wrong will cause us to re-evaluate the hypothesis and perhaps reject it entirely. However, in the absence of evidence for a god, it is perfectly reasonable and rational to assume that there is not one (at the same time acknowledging that this is not known for sure). This is more reasonable and rational than the assumption that there is a god or gods.

    You seem to be assuming that all atheists reject the possibility of there being a god, but I think very few actually do. Most atheists are simply people in whose lives religion has no part.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    Seems to me that he’s saying Christians, when presented with a choice between believing in an irrational worldview and a rational worldview should choose the rational worldview.

    This is an internal contradiction.

    The Pope merely wants the veneer and respectability of rationality without actually having to practice it.

    The acceptance of a god is irrational. The only rational way to live your life is to assume that there is no god (and to accept that you do not know for sure) unless evidence comes to light to show otherwise. But, given that the god of the NT is intangible, I ask you: what form could this evidence take?

  70. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    The logic here is “fundies are doing it, so skeptic atheists should get a pass”.

    Well, yes and no.

    The terms “iron-age fairytales” and “supernatural rubbish” are obvious hyperbole, and perhaps mildly insulting, but can you tell me that they are wrong? So, in a limited sense, I am saying that defenders of reason should be allowed to use such terms because the anti-reason side does this and worse.

    Whereas the attacks by the anti-reality team on atheism, science and scepticism in general are very often a pack of lies. As well as being defamatory in many cases.

    Take ID as an example. Most of the “arguments” made in favour of it were nothing more than strawman attacks on evolutionary theory. The ID authors did not correctly represent that which they attacked. They compounded this with piles and piles of other logical fallacies (arguments from ignorance, arguments from personal incredulity, poisoning the well, false dichotomies and so on).

    So, in that respect, I am not saying that the atheists should get a pass because the other side are behaving badly. At least the pro-reason side has the merit of making arguments that are accurate (in fact, it has been pointed out that the desire among scientists and sceptics for accuracy is a handicap in this kind of argument).

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    Yes. There is plenty of support that several events which were said to have occurred in the Bible actually occurred and are part of our historical record. One particularly funny account has the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem from both the perspective of Sennacherib and the Bible. The Bible relates that the Jews were able to keep the Assyrians out for 10 years. The Sennacherib’s Prism relates how he was able to keep the Jews locked up for 10 years. Both relate it as a proud accomplishment. I don’t think, however, that you meant to apply as broad a brush as you did. You meant to ask for proof that any of the spiritual occurrences, such as the Resurrection or the Plagues, occurred

    Well, not even so broad as that, since we know that droughts, famines and plagues of locusts occur naturally.

    Essentially, is there any corroborating evidence that – for example – the feeding of the 5000 really happened (and other suchlike miraculous stories the bible tells us)?

    and the answer is yes, but you have to take the evidence with a grain of salt because there has been 2000 years for Christian historians to cook the books.

    Hmmmm … I was thinking more along the lines of surviving contemporary accounts. Obviously that’s a bit much to hope for. I can’t imagine the Romans having much interest in recording miracles that had nothing to do with the prevailing wisdom of the Roman polytheistic religions of the time.

    Or actual physical evidence, but I think it’d be way over-optimistic to expect something physically corroborating to survive and remain unambiguous.

    Now, do you have any evidence to allow us to conclude that a consciousness did not emerge from the chaos before existence and by its will allow to big bang to happen? Since we can’t scientifically describe the moments before the big bang, I doubt it.

    Of course not, but I don’t need it. The principle of parsimony simply states that one should not assume things for which there is no evidence. And some inconceivably capable – and yet undetectable – being is indeed an assumption that is (a) unnecessary and (b) unsupported by evidence.

    Even assuming one could find evidence to prove that no such being existed at the beginning of the universe, what form could such evidence take, and what chain of reasoning would allow one to draw a solid conclusion from it? Proving the non-existence of something is very, very hard. To take a recent example, if I were to claim that I have an invisible pink unicorn (it’s also fireproof, can dodge raindrops, can fly and requires only daylight to sustain itself) in my back garden, how could anyone ever prove me wrong?

  72. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    My kids have NOT been taught that in school. I think this is a bit of polemic rubbish that you’ve heard from somewhere.

    Pardon me, that was my own bit of hyperbole. I know that very few kids are taught in school that the earth is 6000 years old, but it does still happen occasionally. But there are plenty of school science teachers who either teach that evolution is effectively wrong, or gloss over the whole topic in a couple of sentences. This comes either from the teacher’s own fundamentalist belief or from fear of a fundamentalist backlash from the kids’ parents.

    There are isolated cases, but the vast majority of kids are taught by our schools that the world is 4.5 billion years old. The problem is that what they learn at school doesn’t overpower the fundamentalist education they get at home or in church. The education in the US is suffering severely. We need to make some hard choices about how to fix it.

    Agreed.

    And we haven’t won the space race. We pulled ahead in the early laps and then started slowing down. Everyone else is catching up now and we’re waiting on our second wind, if it ever comes. Of course, as long as we can’t even balance our checkbook, we aren’t going to be able to afford a second wind in the space race. Mixed metaphors… I know. Sue me.

    Well, you still got men to the moon first, and that’s something that can never be taken away. I think the Apollo programme is arguably humanity’s greatest physical achievement so far.

  73. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (62) said:

    Our ability to screw up the planet is no more distinctive for us than it was for the early anaerobic bacteria and algae that pissed out all that harmful oxygen from their runaway photosynthesis. It screwed up the planet for everything else, but also gave way for much more energetic, aerobic organisms. Maybe we’re just preparing the planet for the triffids.

    LOL!

  74. Nigel Depledge

    Terry (63) said:

    On the right to teach children about the faith of their parents, calling it child abuse is just plain wrong and hard to support unless you really believe that your opinion is the only one that matters.

    Playing devil’s advocate for a little while, how can it ever be right to raise a child to believe in something for which there is no evidence at all? For instance, assuming it would be possible, what if you raised a child to believe in Santa Claus right up to their 18th birthday, then let them loose in the world?

    This example is, of course, impossible, but the only reason that raising children to believe in god is possible in the long run is because the rest of us are taught that we should respect religious beliefs, as if they were different from any other kind of belief. Why should religion get special dispensation?

    There is a danger is moral relativism that must be understood;

    All morality is relative. Moral behaviour is simply that which society in general deems acceptable / good / right.

    it is probably child abuse to teach children that sacrificing other children is needed to appease the god, but there has to be a moral line drawn to make that claim. Dawkins line seems to be it is immoral to believe in any faith.

    Only insofar as one is teaching the child to believe something with no supporting evidence. Consequently, you run the risk of crippling that child’s critical faculties. What is immoral is not believing in a faith, it is giving the child no choice.

    Would Dawkins also find it child abuse to raise children to believe in socialistic or capitalistic philosophies?

    Again, if you gave the child no choice, I would suspect “yes”.

    Is it also child abuse to raise children to appreciate art and music in the place of science and technology?

    I think, again, if the child is given no choice in the matter, then this might also get a “yes”.

    I could appreciate his belief that calling a child Christian or Muslim before he or she has a right to chose for his or herself could be child abuse, if you allow the punishment for apostasy to be death. If that punishment becomes morally unacceptable, as it should in a tolerant, politically-liberal society, then I don’t see why raising your child in your own beliefs could be child abuse.

    It depends, to some extent, on what you believe. Why is it OK to remove a child’s right to choose a faith (or absence thereof) if there is no physical punishment for apostasy? And, in fact, there are large sectors of various societies where apostasy is punished by social ostracism, which can be just as damaging as some forms of physical punishment. Why is that OK?

    The duty of every parent SHOULD BE to raise their children to be moral actors

    Agreed.

    and if their morality is shaped by religion, so be it.

    But whose morality is “shaped” by religion, and in what way?

    After all, we, as western “civilised” societies, tend not to pay so much attention to – for example – the 10 commandments these days. Why is it OK to covet thy neighbour’s BMW but not to commit adultery? Because we, as reasoning beings, see that covetousness doesn’t harm anyone else, but that adultery has the potential to cause emotional harm to a person’s wife / husband / partner.

    Our modern sense of morality does not come from any religion, it comes from being empathetic, human beings.

  75. Terry

    @74 Nigel Depledge:

    Playing devil’s advocate for a little while, how can it ever be right to raise a child to believe in something for which there is no evidence at all? For instance, assuming it would be possible, what if you raised a child to believe in Santa Claus right up to their 18th birthday, then let them loose in the world?

    To respond to the whole of your deconstruction of my comment, There are a thousand things that a parent teaches their children that have no support of evidence one way or another. A parent is right to teach their children that the world is an overwhelmingly good place where sometimes bad things happen. There is no support of evidence to that, but I pity the child who is raised believing that the world is an evil place. Other parents would pity my children because the world is an inherently dangerous and foreboding place where occasionally you can carve out your little niche of peace.

    I am not correct. The other is not correct. A scientific look at the world suggests that the world is an inherently neutral place. Even the good or bad things that happen are relative. Some would see a net good and others a net bad. Some say risk is a better way to live life to its fullest, others say caution. Neither is based in evidence, its just a life style.

    As far as giving the child a choice, that doesn’t apply either. It is a false dichotomy, because no parent could realistically raise their child to have every single possible choice. Going with just the argument of capitalism vice socialism, there are a dozen other economic systems that would have to be given as a choice. By declaring what the choice limits are, you are already shaping the debate. In religion, given a choice would rationally mean offering the child a view of every possible religion in the world, both active and inactive, as well as atheism as a choice. So, the argument of choice is unrealistic, so lets just limit it to the argument of evidence as above.

    All morality is relative. Moral behaviour is simply that which society in general deems acceptable / good / right.

    As far as moral relativism, I can’t say that I don’t believe in moral relativism, but I can say that there are certain moralities that are incompatible with mine. I am forced, by my morality, to fight against those moralities that are incompatible. There is a morality in the world that says “Since the fool and his money are soon parted, I should be the one who benefits there”. I have to fight that morality. That is the danger of moral relativism. I, however, accept the Philosophy of Liberty to drive my other moral interactions. I will prevent someone from taking life, liberty, or property unfairly. I hold that morality more strongly than my Christian beliefs, from which it grew originally.

    It depends, to some extent, on what you believe. Why is it OK to remove a child’s right to choose a faith (or absence thereof) if there is no physical punishment for apostasy? And, in fact, there are large sectors of various societies where apostasy is punished by social ostracism, which can be just as damaging as some forms of physical punishment. Why is that OK?

    Social ostracism happens for any number of contexts. Even is someone chooses atheism later in life, they may face it, just as if they choose nudism, they may face it. Even if they choose significant fundamentalism, they may face it. Who is more ostracized in today’s society? Atheists or Jehovah Witnesses? Social ostracism is the cost of believing something completely out of line with society at large. It is not a sign of a tolerant, liberal society, but it is not something that can be laid at the feet of raising your child in your faith.

    But whose morality is “shaped” by religion, and in what way?

    After all, we, as western “civilised” societies, tend not to pay so much attention to – for example – the 10 commandments these days.

    Since more than 3/4th of the ‘civilized’ west are Christian, and societies are not entities of themselves, but rather collections of entities, I would say that western societies are STRONGLY influenced by Christian beliefs. I would also say that the concepts of Liberalism is an almost distinct outgrowth of the Peace of Westphalia that ended the 3o Years War and it was only in an environment of (limited) religious tolerance that could be engendered by Christian faith that Liberalism could be developed.

    Now, I was talking about individuals, and not societies. Individual morality is shaped by a number of sources. For me, it would be my religion (in a very small part), my political philosophy (Lockean liberalism), my military service, my love of critical thinking, and finally my humanist beliefs in the general goodness of humankind. I try to pass all of that on to my daughters who are more interested in Wizards of Waverly Place. Wish me luck.

    @72:

    I think the Apollo programme is arguably humanity’s greatest physical achievement so far.

    Absolutely agreed.

    @70:

    The terms “iron-age fairytales” and “supernatural rubbish” are obvious hyperbole, and perhaps mildly insulting, but can you tell me that they are wrong? So, in a limited sense, I am saying that defenders of reason should be allowed to use such terms because the anti-reason side does this and worse.

    Well, just so long as you think that if I refer to your belief system as a “soulless, dehumanizing mish-mashed set of inconsistent rules that deny the heart purely for the sake of the brain” it wouldn’t get in the way of us understanding each other. Personally, I think it would be better if we didn’t engage in this argument, and just instead had some respect for each other. Which was my original comment on Phil’s point. Which was also Phil’s point. “Don’t be a dick” is all I’m saying.

    Take ID as an example. Most of the “arguments” made in favour of it were nothing more than strawman attacks on evolutionary theory. The ID authors did not correctly represent that which they attacked.

    ID is a great example in that it is an obvious attack on reason by rebranding. It is not, however, the WHOLE of religious belief, or even the whole of Christian belief. My point is only that attacking ID is best done by attacking ID and not by attacking faith as a whole.

    @69:

    The Pope merely wants the veneer and respectability of rationality without actually having to practice it.

    And here we are again. By my understanding of rationality, he is practicing rationality. He is looking at the evidence of the world and choosing to believe in it rather than denying it for his heart’s belief. By attacking him personally, you are attacking my religious leader. The problem is that when you make the choice between rationality and religion, many will choose religion. You are making your own opponents. Deniers will have to come to fight off what they see as attacks on religion. The people will have to listen and weigh the difference between their arguments. If they are more moved by emotion than logic (ie human) they will likely go with the more emotionally appealing belief.

    You know that religious experiences can now be generated electrically, right? Even before, they could be made to happen through pharmaceuticals. So anyone who has a religious experience will not be proof enough that there is a god because we can make that happen ourselves, us lowly humans. Except that if you are one who has had a religious experience, you are likely to throw out all that trash of logic and go emotionally.

    The absence of a god is a perfectly reasonable and rational null hypothesis. It’s the starting point. From there, any evidence that indicates this hypothesis to be wrong will cause us to re-evaluate the hypothesis and perhaps reject it entirely. However, in the absence of evidence for a god, it is perfectly reasonable and rational to assume that there is not one (at the same time acknowledging that this is not known for sure).

    My point is precisely that the argument made by most New Atheists is that it is known for sure that there is no God. Making the absolute claim that there is no God is just as irrational as making the absolute claim that there is a God. The form of atheism that does not know if there is a God or not is what I have termed agnosticism.

    This is more reasonable and rational than the assumption that there is a god or gods.

    I nearly made an argument to authority here. I’ll spare you that and merely say that that assumption is only as good as it is testable. If you can not test it, then it is not valuable for a critical understanding of the world.

    To close, I’ll add that the concept of parsimony is a very valuable addition to any debate. Taken in the other direction, and back to the original point of this debate. Which method of discourse is the most parsimonious in its proofs, ie, which takes the least amount of effort to achieve? It is easier to disprove the existence of God or a whole pantheon or easier to prove that the world is an essentially rational place? Would you achieve more result from arguing that God is an irrational starting point, or that evolution is inherently supported by facts that have been repeatedly backed up by scientific study, or that the Big Bang is the only thing that explains the observed results in cosmology?

    It’s like global warming. If you can separate global warming arguments from the intertwined economic and political theories its proponents espouse, it is really good science that is hard to discredit. Of course, that is only my anecdotal experience, but whenever I’ve argued global warming while specifically denying the value to centrally planned economic regimes to stop it, I’ve seen many a conservative change their tone. Similarly, if you can fight for science without fighting against religion, you get more result.

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