Thank You, Richard Dawkins

By Sean Carroll | February 14, 2007 2:46 am

A few years ago, as a newbie assistant professor, I was visited in my office by an editor at The Free Press. He was basically trolling the corridors, looking for people who had interesting ideas for popular-science books. I said that I liked the idea of writing a book, but I didn’t really want to do a straight-up cosmology tome. I had a better idea: I could write a book explaining how, when you really think about things scientifically, you come to realize that God doesn’t exist. I even had a spiffy title picked out — God Remains Dead: Reason, Religion, and the Pointless Universe. It’s not any old book that manages to reference both Steven Weinberg and Friedrich Nietzsche right there on the cover. Box office, baby.

The editor was actually intrigued by the idea, and he took it back to his bosses. Ultimately, however, they decided not to offer me a contract, and I went on to write another book with more equations. (Now on sale at Amazon!)

All of which is to say: I totally could have been in on the ground floor of all this atheism chic. These days, between Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a prominent publicly-outspoken atheist of one form or another. That could have been me, I tell you.

These guys have gotten a lot of attention — especially Dawkins, who was recently voted Person of the Year by at least one reputable organization. Of course, some of the attention has been negative, especially from folks who are unsympathetic to the notion of a harsh, materialistic, godless universe. But even among self-professed atheists and agnostics (not to mention your wishy-washy liberal religionists), some discomfort has been expressed over the tone of Dawkins’s approach. People have been known to call him arrogant. Even if you don’t believe in God, so the argument goes, it can be a bad strategy to be upfront and in-your-face in public about one’s atheism. People are very committed to their religious beliefs, and telling them that science proves them wrong will lead them away from science, not way from God. And if you must be a die-hard materialist, at least be polite about it and respect others’ beliefs — to be obnoxious and insulting is simply counterproductive. Apart from any deep issues of what we actually should believe, this is a separate matter of how we could best persuade others to agree with us.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that atheists shouldn’t be obnoxious and insulting; in fact, I think it’s a good strategy in all sorts of situations. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, etc. But it does not follow that we should keep quiet about comforting illusions because those are the only things standing between the poor dears and overwhelming existential anxiety. If people ask whether, as scientists, we believe in God, we should respect them enough to tell the truth — whatever we think that is. That doesn’t mean we have to go door-to-door spreading the good word of the laws of nature. It just means that we should be honest about what we actually think, giving the best arguments we have for whatever that may be, and let people decide for themselves what to believe.

Arrogant or not, as a matter of fact Dawkins and company have done a great service to the cause of atheism: they have significantly shifted the Overton Window. That’s the notion, borrowed from public-policy debates, of the spectrum of “acceptable opinion” on an issue. At any given time, on any particular question, the public discourse will implicitly deem certain positions to be respectable and worthy of civilized debate, and other positions to be crazy and laughable. The crucial part of this idea is that the window can be shifted by vigorous advocacy of positions on one extreme. And that’s just what Dawkins has done.

Science Finds God In other words, by being arrogant and uncompromising in his atheism, Dawkins has done a tremendous amount to make the very concept of atheism a respectable part of the public debate, even if you find him personally obnoxious. Evidence: a few years ago, major newsmagazines (prompted in part by the efforts of the Templeton Foundation) were running cover stories with titles like Science Finds God (Newsweek, July 20, 1998). Pure moonshine, of course — come down where you will on the whole God debate, it remains pretty clear that science hasn’t found Him. But, within the range of acceptable public discourse, both science and God were considered to be undeniably good things — it wasn’t a stretch to put them together. God vs. Science? Nowadays, in contrast, we find cover stories with titles like God vs. Science (Time, Nov 13, 2006). You never would have seen such a story just a few years ago.

This is a huge step forward. Keep in mind, the typical American thinks of atheists as fundamentally untrustworthy people. A major network like CNN will think nothing of hosting a roundtable discussion on atheism and not asking any atheists to participate. But, unlike a short while ago, they will eventually be shamed into admitting that was a mistake, and make up for it by inviting some atheists to defend their ideas. Baby steps. Professional news anchors may still seem a little befuddled at the notion that a clean, articulate person may not believe in God. But at least that notion is getting a decent public hearing. Once people actually hear what atheists have to say, perhaps they will get the idea that one need not be an amoral baby-killer just because one doesn’t believe in God.

For that, Richard Dawkins, thank you.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion
  • http://andyxl.wordpress.com/ Andy Lawrence

    Hello from (mostly) secular Britain, where you can hardly have a chat show without Richard Dawkins..

    … There is a strange puzzle here. If I did not know that the USA existed, the secular nature of the UK and most of Europe would seem natural. Obviously – one would think – as material comfort, political freedom, and understanding of nature increase, then fear, ignorance, and superstition gradually erode and people’s minds are liberated. But for a hundred years the USA has been the leader in comfort, freedom, and science …. People don’t need to think deep and decide religion is evil etc etc. I just don’t understand, why, as they sit watching TV after plenty of dinner, watching a Nature documentary, having just come back from voting, they don’t just find God .. well .. unnecessary ???

  • http://presentsimple.blogspot.com/ BadAunt

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t find Dawkins’ manner arrogant at all. In fact the first time I heard his name mentioned that was included in the mention, as if it was the most important thing about him. So I clicked on the video link (can’t remember what it was, now) and waited for the arrogance. I couldn’t see it. He doesn’t seem arrogant to me.

    Is it only religious people who find him arrogant? Is it what he says rather than how he says it? Or… could it be the accent rather than the manner? Maybe people are intimidated by the accent.

    But I suspect that if his message was a religious one, religious people would be applauding him and would be terribly upset at anybody who called him ‘arrogant.’

    Generally, almost any preacher sounds more arrogant to me than Dawkins does. He doesn’t claim to know everything. Religious people insist that they know the mind of god, without any evidence at all, and moreover insist that you should believe them when they say that they ‘know’ something on the basis of faith. (Or on the basis of the Bible, since they believe it was divinely inspired. Same thing – there no evidence for either except what people say.) There is nothing humble about that.

    Dawkins strikes me as somebody who really wants to help people.

  • Sourav

    The United States is obviously quite heterogeneous. But one large constituency is of people who go to church every Sunday (7AM during football season), actually drink Budweiser, and choose what college to attend by their success in sports.

    When your whole life is about belonging to and status in a community, nothing scares the piss out of you like the notion that it’s all meaningless and ephemeral. So there’s this myth of the “world’s greatest nation” born by the grace of God in the 18th century, founded upon the goodness of “freedom” granted by God to man, and you better damn stand up during the national anthem.

    My impression is that Europe, though secular and loosely federal, has this same theme drawn along national/ethnic borders. Many impoverished countries get a double-whammy of ethnocentrism and religiosity.

  • http://rob.beagrie.com Rob Beagrie

    I have to admit now to having more than occasionally referred to Richard Dawkins as arrogant, so I feel as if i ought to defend my views, even if I may have slightly different reasons.

    The reason I dislike Dawkins is not because he is so outspoken in his beliefs, after all, there are many far more outspoken proponents among religious circles. What I dislike is that he always represents this dichotomy between science and religion which is simply non-existant. Granted, one can not be a “true” scientist whilst also being a young earth creationist, but science cannot and will not “disprove god” in the widest terms.

    There are many notable scientists, both past and present, who have been able to reconcile their work with their religious beliefs and I disagree with Dawkins that confronting people with this “choice” between science and religion is a useful or appropriate method.

  • fh

    I’m an atheist, I believe a rational view of the world leads one there. I will fight to utter boredom (but not further) the insane kinds of religion (creationism, but also just general insanity of comfort religion) that I see around me (that is, the UK).
    So would several religious people I know. Jesuits, and the like.

    What I want to say is that there are forms of religiosity which are (almost or mostly) rational and which do deserve our respect.

    My problem with Dawkins is that his attack is a blancket attack on religion instead of on irrationality.

    And thereby he positions himself in opposition to those who, while rational, consider themself religious.

    You are saying, it’s good to have somebody this extreme in the public discourse, there’s plenty of the other extreme, well true, we still need to make clear when we disagree though.

    Beyond that there is a more fundamental issue. To quote Nietzsche:

    “Suppose we want truth. Why should we not prefer untruth? And ignorance? Ignorance of the self?”

    “For us, the falsity of a judgment is no objection to that judgment—that’s where our new way of speaking sounds perhaps most strange. The question is the extent to which it makes demands on life, sustains life, maintains the species—perhaps even creates species.”

    – Beyond Good and Evil 1 On the Prejudices of Philosophers

    Inmore amicable language, what if humans are such that a certain level of comfort illusion is essential to our well being? On what ground then do we mandate truth over our humanity?
    In that case mandating truth would become irrational.

  • Taurere

    I have always wondered, what has something being true (or false) has to do with believing in it?
    i.e. The action of believing in a statement to be true and well, the statement being true seem independent of each other. Why should anyone believe a statement to be true, when it is true?
    Because it is?

    I ask this questions independent of the necessity of human beings for the comfort illusion.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    “Arrogant” is the wrong word to describe Dawkins. Rather, I would call him “uncompromising”. This has the added benefit of being a more neutral adjective.

    Sourav, I like your explanation for the religiosity of the US vs Europe. It may well be true.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    There are at least three positions one may take. To be specific, I’ll use Christianity.

    1. Christianity is true.
    2. Christianity is false.
    3. Christianity is a human tradition (or bundle of them) and asking whether they are true or false is a category mistake – like asking whether wearing trousers or wearing kilts is true or false.

    That it is proper to talk about the truth/falsity of Christianity is a claim made by Christianity. Dawkins (and Sean and Mark and all) concede that claim and decide on the side of falsity. In this, they are less atheistic than they might be – they at least concede the claim of Christians that their doctrine is true/false.

    A more thorough going atheism would hop off the platform of religion, and remind them they are making a category mistake when they talk of true/false.

    To me Dawkins is annoying because he is perpetuating the most fundamental claim of religion, namely, to be true/false. (God, angels, heaven, hell, etc. are secondary claims.) It is especially annoying because a study of human cultures will reveal that plenty of them realized the category mistake. Why can’t Dawkins realize that?

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    What I find “arrogant” about Dawkins’ atheism, and what I’ve criticized him for, is not that he’s outspoken — I’m actually glad that atheists now have visible spokespeople in America — but that Dawkins’ atheism is essentially sound-bite atheism. His CNN interview could have been given by a 15 year old, with his “why don’t you believe in Thor” argument. I suppose that’s how you sell books, and get on TV shows, but I find the philosophical and, quite frankly, scientific (as in the science of religion, culture, and learning, for example) naivete incredibly annoying, and I’d much rather atheists not end up giving arguments and speaking at a level indistinguishable from that of fundamentalist Christians. By the way, Harris is much worse, in this regard, than Dawkins, because in addition to the bad arguments and ignorance, Harris is simply immune to facts (about who commits suicide bombings, and why, e.g.).

  • John Farrell

    Sean, I think your book would’ve been better.

    :)

  • JimV

    Bundles of tradition or comfort illusions that have attempted to stifle scientific inquiry throughout the ages and continue to do so today deserve to be challenged, and I am glad that Dawkins does so vigorously. In order to be shown arrogant, he will first have to be shown to be wrong.

    (He was in fact in error recently in regard to a petition he endorsed, and humbly acknowledged it.)

    “Why don’t you believe in God?/Why don’t you believe in Thor?” Not a bad answer for a five-minute interview in which long answers will be edited to simple sound-bites, and considering the audience. Trying to engage Paula Zahn in a philosophical inquiry on CNN would be like trying to teach an elephant to waltz.

  • http://sirix.wordpress.com sirix

    I find statements about scientifically disproving existence of God almost as disturbing as “intelligent design” stuff.

    Religion and science are two things that are (or rather might be) absolutely disjoint. One is a matter of reasoning, discovery, etc and another is matter of personal choice of what to believe in.

    Accordingly, by the very definition of faith and science I find statement “(…) when you really think about things scientifically, you come to realize that God doesn’t exist” to be quite “unscientific”.

  • MartinM

    Religion and science are two things that are (or rather might be) absolutely disjoint

    So if it were to be demonstrated that prayer to one particular deity worked consistently – regrowing amputated limbs, moving mountains, whatever – while prayer to all other deities resulted in immediate death of the…prayee? prayerer?…by lightning strike, what would you conclude?

    Of course, there’s always Clarke’s third law. But there we run the risk of retreating to the position that God and science are orthogonal only for some sufficiently rarefied God that almost no one actually gives a damn about.

  • http://strangepaths.com/ xantox

    Perfection is always inside of reality, and every road which can be traversed is inside of reality. Every attributes which one could be tempted to tack back apart from reality can always be said within reality. There is no need of finding external causes which would justify the internal order of the universe. So, the subtitution of epistemic knowledge with religious belief, similar to abandoning the road when one hardly has just crossed the first turning, should be considered a symptom of insanity.

    This, however is not an argument against religion, but merely a way of properly recognizing its own domain. The proper domain of religion is unattackable by rational arguments, and few positivist critics of religions like Dawkins or Russell ever bother to approach it. They attack mostly the preceding symptoms, in order to exorcise its effects as in a theraputical ritual, which is useful only for who is already suffering of said epistemological illness.

    The domain of religion is the one where one does not intend any more to talk about such or such road and to find their qualities, structures, or causes. The language switches necessarily in the metaphorical, to symbolize the fact that one is located outside of facts and attempting to refer to what is unexplainable. The religious experience is the expression of the conscience of an irreducible ignorance, i.e. it appears by the sudden consideration of reality as a point of an iceberg, where the submerged part, to which we are linked (re-ligo), is much more than a still unknown or inaccessible reality: it is not reality and cannot be thought by nobody and by nothing. It is more than unknown, as it is completely senseless to even consider to know it or to think it, or to list its attributes.

    In that, deep understanding of reality by science does not alter the religious domain (which proceeds from an irreducible feeling of ignorance and is set apart from any epistemic knowledge), but can help to become aware of an “epistemic boundary”. The religious experience can occur from epistemic facts (eg. by seeing a lighting or considering the order of the stars, etc), but that is just a translation, a metaphor, which shall never contradict epistemic knowledge. Thus the dogma could never be opposed to experimental truth.

    As a summary, if the religious domain can occur improperly as a manifestation of ignorance, it properly relates to ignorance of what is not a road which could be traversed by science or experiment, so that it occurs properly as the experience of a fundamental tension between speakable and unspeakable.

  • http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/ Larry Moran

    Excellent post Sean. I’m telling everyone I know to read it, especially the appeasers.

    Rob Beagrie writes,

    There are many notable scientists, both past and present, who have been able to reconcile their work with their religious beliefs ….

    The key word here is “reconcile.” Religious scientists have to work hard at rationalizing their religious beliefs with their science. There’s a very good reason why they find this so difficult.

  • MartinM

    The language switches necessarily in the metaphorical, to symbolize the fact that one is located outside of facts and attempting to refer to what is unexplainable

    You mean…gibberish?

  • http://www.arsmathematica.net/ Walt

    Rob and sirix: I have basically the same position as you do, but think about the Overton Window. Our opinion was the very limit of what was publicly acceptable for an atheist to say (I’m not saying you are atheists). Sean’s position (which I don’t agree with) was out of bounds, while any pro-religious comment was in bounds. That clearly is an unjust situation. While I don’t agree with Dawkins, he’s as entitled to be on TV as the one million TV preachers that each have their own channel on my cable package.

  • Menestrel

    As far as I know, the only viable way to be an amoral baby killer is to be religious. I’ll say this loud and clear, the most corrupted people I’ve known are, at the same time, the most religious. (The converse, however, is not true.)

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Larry,

    Most scientists I know who are religious — almost exclusively Christian and Jewish — have not found reconciling science, including their own practice of it (and some of them are quite successful as scientists), with their religion. Perhaps they’re missing the good reasons that you, Dawkins, and perhaps Sean believe make this necessarily difficult, but as I’ve yet to see such reasons explicitly discussed, I’m going to remain skeptical about their existence.

    To say more, as far as I can tell, Dawkins and others make four points about the difficulty in reconciling science and religion. First, science is evidence-based, while religion is not. Some, including Dawkins claim that science is reason-based and religion is not, but this is empirically false (the rationalist tradition of which Dawkins is certainly a part began as a religious one!). It is true that science is evidence-based, and at least at its core, religion is not. But this has been recognized for centuries by the religious, and they’ve had no trouble arguing (successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on your starting premises) that this is not a problem for religion. Some (say, Kierkegaard) have even argued that this makes religion more important.

    The second is that science makes religion unnecessary. If you can explain the origins of the universe in general, and life (including human life) scientifically, the old myths about how these things came to be become superfluous at best. This is true, of course, if you are religious specifically because you believe the creation stories of your religion are literally true. However, I think most religious scientists (and perhaps most religious people in general, even if they believe that the creation stories of their religions are literally true) are religious for other reasons. In fact, most religious people I know, scientists or not, treat the creation stories of their religions as non-literal. They have no problem reconciling naturalistic explanations of the origin of the natural universe and life with their religion (e.g., there are always why questions that science is unequipped to answer).

    The third is a version of the second. It says that science directly contradicts religious teachings. Again, this is only true if you accept literal interpretations of a few passages of scripture, and since I doubt most religious science do, this is not a problem.

    The fourth is one that I’ve only seen Dawkins use recently, but which I’ve heard for years from others (in fact, it’s one of the more prominent atheistic, scientistic arguments of the 20th century). It says science works, while religion and metaphysics in general do not. In one sense, this is true. Science has been spectacularly successful at explaining the natural world, leading to the production of increasingly sophisticated technology. Religion and metaphysics were never going to do that, and I think every religious scientist is completely aware of that. Setting aside the philosophical, moral, and social problems that go hand in hand with this sort of pragmatic argument for the truth of science, and for the elimination of religion and metaphysics, the argument only extends so far. Since the purpose of religion has never been to produce better technologies, and since its purposes go beyond the mere explanation of the natural world in formal, mathematical terms, this argument has little impact on the status of religious beliefs. In fact, it leaves huge openings for religion, because religion has always been, and continues to have pragmatic uses that science doesn’t and will never have. Of course, pragmatic arguments for religion also have philosophical, moral, and social problems, but that’s why very few people (with the exception of some anti-positivists in the middle of the 20th century) have used pragmatic arguments to justify religion.

    So again, I’m skeptical about the existence of any reason to believe that the reconciliation of science and religion, in a person’s personal beliefs, is all that difficult. Perhaps you can spell them out for me, Larry.

  • Vince

    “I had a better idea: I could write a book explaining how, when you really think about things scientifically, you come to realize that God doesn’t exist. ”

    Uh oh. I still haven’t come to that conclusion, even after thinking about science and God for many years! I’m so scared! What’s wrong with me?! :(

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to Chris’s “soundbite atheism” criticism of Dawkins. (And it’s a great phrase, although I’m hopeful that “atheism chic” will catch on.) And I’ve tried to be much more careful myself, e.g. here and here.

    But my specific point here was, regardless of one’s view of Dawkins’s level of philosophical sophistication, at the rhetorical level he has scored a great success, by moving atheism into (or at least toward) the realm of acceptable public discourse. Contrary to worries that his tone was offputting and would actually make atheists look bad, I think the net effect has been positive.

  • http://www.laurengunderson.com Lauren Gunderson

    I also agree with the notion that its not religion as a construct that’s hindering us, it’s irrationality calling itself religion and getting away with it. I grew up religious (liberally so) and my dad’s worked in interfaith contexts all his life – doing really good work for the poor, hungry, and sick worldwide. Religion ins’t that bad if its talking about hope and human dignity and equality and sacrifice for good… it’s when it starts making specious claims about the world and unjust demands and “ethics” based on its own personal (and most often ridiculous) science.

    Science and religion aren’t the same. They can co-mingle and exist together, but one of them has got to give a little… and its got to be religion, cause science has standards, not just stories.

    Check out Dawkin’s on Point of Inquiry (http://www.pointofinquiry.org/), a podcast on which he often speaks.

  • Moshe

    Great point, and it applies more generally, it is the same mechanism that makes John McCain, say, suddenly a moderate. Two cheers then to Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader and friends…

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Sean, with your last point (about the rhetorical victory), I agree 100%. However, now that the victory has been achieved, I think it’s time for more thoughtful atheists to take the microphone. That’s the only way we can have a lasting impact on society, beyond pissing Christians off and fueling their irrational persecution complex. I only wish I knew of some who had Dawkins’ verbal skill.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Dawkins is very good at expressing his point of view. I find his manner somewhat irritating, but that is perhaps just me.

    However, I don’t really understand why people with particular religious beliefs (including atheism) would want to express them without being asked, or to convert people to their way of thinking. I have never really understoood missionary zeal of any sort. Religious beliefs (including the belief that all religious beliefs are wrong) seem to me to better situated on the inside. Like intestines, in that regard.

    To be clear, I don’t care if people want to spread their Truth, I just don’t understand why they’d want to. Most of the time, I am not sure that it makes a great deal of difference if they do or not, either.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    I also don’t understand the brotherhood of ‘team atheist’ in the Great Mission To Convert The Deluded. It seems to me that people delude themselves because they prefer it that way. They’ll find something else to delude themselves about and I don’t see any particular reason to assume that the next delusion will be any less ‘harmful’* than the last one.

    *I say ‘harmful’ because I assume that the reason for all the zeal is based on the (entirely defensible) belief that religious beliefs, on average, do more harm than good.

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    Chris, Dawkins’ verbal skill is to a very large extent what you object to above, namely his ability to simplify complex issues to sound bites that get broadcast by CNN. Sure, you can be all thoughtful and try to do justice to the complexity of nuances. But that means you just won’t make an impact with the general public.

    And to all the people who accuse Dawkins of oversimplifying and making unwarranted generalisations I would say: Read his latest book! (Because you obviously haven’t.) In The God Delusion he makes a convincing argument why the above criticism does not apply to his thinking.

    That’s the issue, really: On TV you should use sound bites if you want to be effective. In a book you command a longer span of time, and you can effectively address the complexity of the issue.

  • Damien

    “However, now that the victory has been achieved,”

    A blog comment recently pointed out that there’s nothing new about the New Atheism. Voltaire, Democritus, the Carvaka — atheism is older than Christianity, but the battle’s continued. And polite, deferential, atheism was the US norm for the past few decades; where did it get us?

    “I have never really understoood missionary zeal of any sort. ”

    Then you don’t understand the beliefs. Missionary Christians genuinely believe they’re saving souls from ETERNAL TORMENT. It’s the same impulse that drives Medicine Sans Frontiers, but where beliefs cause suffering instead of intestinal worms. While missionary atheists see religious people attacking evolution, stem cell research, birth control, gay rights, women’s rights, and abortion rights, and thus need to counterattack. “Live and let live” doesn’t work when the other side won’t *let* you live, which it won’t because *it* believes its saving you from Hell. Or saving the souls of little unborn babies.

  • http://www.isebrand.com IseFire

    The media attention being given recently to articulate atheists (pick your term: free-thinkers, proponents of philosophical naturalism, rationalists, brights (ugh), etc.)–like Dawkins, Sam Harris, William Dennett (sp?)–prompted me to create a specific list of links relevant to the topic on both my personal blogand Religious Right Watch.

    And it just keeps going. One night this week there was a segment on a CNN show called, I think, “Out of the Box,” that was a story about the discrimination faced by a particular family in the U.S. because they happened to be atheists. Discriminating against someone for being an atheist….To me, it makes as much since as discriminating against someone for being left-handed (or for preferring same-sex sex, or for having skin that’s darker than the average in the county, or for having narrow shoulders or small feet….)

  • Damien

    “3. Christianity is a human tradition (or bundle of them) and asking whether they are true or false is a category mistake – like asking whether wearing trousers or wearing kilts is true or false.”

    Bull. Christian traditions make clear claims about historical fact in a way which wearing kilts doesn’t. There was or was not a man called Jesus 2000 years ago who was at the root of Christianity. If he existed, he was or was not crucified. If he was, he did or did not get up again three days later. If he was crucified, there was or was not an eclipse and earthquake at the time. If he existed, he was or was not born in Bethlehem. When you die, you will or will not experience an afterlife. The Pope in 2007 is considering the sainthood of recently dead people, and whether or not miracles actually occurred in association with them. Etc.

    There is no category mistake here; these are statements with well-defined, if not well-determinable, truth values, as quite a lot of religious people will tell you.

    And as Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion, Non-Overlapping Magisteria would completely crumble if science ever found evidence *supporting* Christian claims. “Your methods of evidence don’t apply to us” is a defense against the absence of evidence.

  • John Farrell

    Damien, well put. Indeed, I think one of the reasons Christianity both attracts and repels people (as a religion) is because it makes far more specific historical claims than, say, Taoism or Buddhism. Buddhism isn’t really undercut by whether or not Gautama lived. But if they unearth a skeleton in the cave which is supposed to have been Jesus’s tomb, and it dates to the time of his death…then Christianity is pretty much toast.

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  • http://www.isebrand.com IseFire

    “I have never really understoood missionary zeal of any sort. ”

    Regardless of whether or not you meant to imply that all missionary zeal is the same (and you may not have been implying such), I think it may be useful to nonetheless point out that differences exist, of course. The zeal of a Richard Dawkins or of what I call a “placard-carrying” atheist (more than a metaphorically “card-carrying” type but not a public spokesman whose atheism is a large part of his or her persona or profession) is based on evidence, at least of a sort, and not theology.

    Those who proselytize (such as many evangelical Christians) or at least approve of proselytizing (such as evangelical Christians, by definition), cite the pending eternal damnation of the souls of the un-converted (or in the case of some Muslims, the impurity or evil of non-believers) as the reason for their missionary zeal (or in rare instances even homicidal zeal). Their reasoning, albeit ultimately circular, is sound within the scope of their worldview that does not give physical evidence and scientific research as much weight when defining ultimate reality.)

    Those who have missionary zeal, as it were, for countering such a worldview (i.e., a worldview in which religious faith trumps what the scientific process usually recognizes as evidence), cite studies or (less convincingly, I think) cite moments in world history to bolster their argument that religious-based thinking on balance does humanity and the individual more harm than good.

    The zeal of either type of person–one the religious and the other the philosophical materialist–might be considered distasteful by some. Perhaps by most. Yet, if no one ever had such zeal, some (many?) things most of us now deplore, such as slavery or even smoking, might be with us still. Improvements in things such as human rights and public health have in many instances throughout history not have not occurred without zealous advocates and activists.

    Based on the above argument, I believe one should be more inclined to genuinely thank Dawkins than not to do so.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    I know that the zealous religious missionaries believe that they are saving souls (including their own) but I don’t see where it fits with freedom of choice (also essential for salvation). It’s hardly a ‘we’ll show you what we believe, if you want to listen, then you decide’ approach that many people take. However, what I really meant to indicate is that I can’t find, in me, the enthusiasm for proselytizing about anything where, really, free choice is the thing. That would include spreading religious salvation or atheism, which are both only worth a damn if chosen freely; the biggest difference between the zealous missionaries (atheist or religious) and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen is the claimed longevity of the product.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    On the other hand, missionaries who see their role as just explaining why they believe what they believe, that’s all cool. They are just engaging in a version of my favourite past-time, the pub conversation. Before I moved somewhere 3 miles from the nearest pub where the pubs don’t smell right because they banned smoking in them. Praise Gore for his internerd, I say.

  • ronan

    I also don’t understand the brotherhood of ‘team atheist’ in the Great Mission To Convert The Deluded.

    I see two motivations. First, we want everyone to be happy, and their beliefs which are ‘comforting’ are also sources of guilt, shame, hatred, violence, etc. If they would move to more ‘rational’ beliefs, maybe they would be happier.

    The second motivation is self-defense. There are people who try to use the power of government (enforced at gunpoint) to make you behave in accordance with religious beliefs that they cannot convince you to adopt willingly. We need government and other social and cultural leaders to acknowledge that ‘doubt’ about religious claims is legitimate, in order to preserve freedom.

  • http://www.isebrand.com IseFire

    “I can’t find, in me, the enthusiasm for proselytizing about anything where, really, free choice is the thing.”

    Okay. That makes sense. I can’t really find such enthusiasm in me, either. But I wonder if human societies would be better or worse if everyone lacked the zeal to proselytize about anything, and was phlegmatic with respect to proselytizing. (I suppose the phlegmatic answer to that would be, “Societies would be neither better nor worse. Probably.”)

    :)

  • Lord

    these are statements with well-defined, if not well-determinable, truth values

    But it would be foolish to think that these would be sufficient to establish the truth or falsity of the religion. As foolish as thinking some statement in Genesis establishes the falsity of science. Extrapolation of one’s finite knowledge to the infinite becomes arrogant when one stopping looking at the the unknown and one closes one’s eyes to possibility.

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Sean said:
    “… the spectrum of “acceptable opinion” … can be shifted by vigorous advocacy of positions on one extreme. And that’s just what Dawkins has done. …”.

    Joseph Goebbles said:
    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. …”.

    Perhaps Spinoza-Pantheists (see the web entry for pantheism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), one example being Einstein, might not be happy with Dawkins/Goebbels extremism.

    Tony Smith

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    ronan #36: I think that if you set yourself the task of making people happy by stripping away their ‘false beliefs’, you are at best doomed to disappointment.

    I can understand the self-defense motive, certainly in the case of Americans. It doesn’t apply to Dawkins, I don’t think, because he lives in a country where even most religious people aren’t that religious. However, I personally think that the self-defense is best achieved by individual examples of atheists being decent people, rather than trying to convince religious people to become atheists. I think that for various reasons, not least my aforementioned lack of enthusiasm for proselytizing. I also think that trying to effectively grab people from another ‘flock’ is exactly the sort of thing that tends to create conflicts; some may thing that is no bad thing, but I myself am not sure that now is the time to pick that fight.

    At the government level, it seems to me that atheism, as a religious belief itself (in the sense that it’s a belief about the identity of God, to wit, there isn’t one), should be protected as any other religious belief is. Obviously, in this country, it’s not working quite like that because of politics. Changing that is, itself, a political effort. Good luck!

  • http://www.arsmathematica.net/ Walt

    Tony, you just compared Richard Dawkins to Joseph Goebbels? Seriously?

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  • tyler

    I have never understood the position that atheism is a scientific stance. Isn’t claiming to prove a negative the essence of logical fallacy? It seems to me that – in the absence of gnosis – agnosticism is the only scientifically valid position. Please remember that Occam’s Razor is not a valid basis for rigorous proof.

    AFAIK, Buddhism (certain subsets thereof) is the only religion that claims to be able to produce, repeatably, “religious” or spiritual experiences by following a certain set of stringently defined steps, i.e. an experiment. But even in this case, the results are internal and subjective – enlightenment as opposed to miracles – and so not subject to peer review of the sort that we generally require.

    Either:
    1) repeatable, incontrivertible miracles have occured, perhaps proving God’s existence; or
    2) God and religion are neither proven nor disproven, allowing one to either choose religion or atheism based on preference, or agnosticism based on logical rigor; or
    3) someone has come up with a way to prove the nonexistence of God, in which case atheism is proven correct.

    I think we’re still at #2.

    I haven’t read Dawkin’s latest rant^H^H^H^Hbook, but if he has performed an experiment by which he has rigorously proven that all forms of religious experience are invalid, it has somehow escaped the attention of his media tempest.

    It seems to me that atheists in general are as guilty of jumping to logically invalid conclusions that suit one’s personality or pre-established worldviews as any adherent of the milder, more temperate forms of religion. I’m sure some will take offense to that, though none is intended.

  • tyler

    ooh, a timely link:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/14/healthscience/snsagan.php

    “Carl Sagan, posthumously, rejoins debate on faith vs. science”

  • Arun M Thalapillil

    I read Dawkin’s `Blind Watchmaker’ and was very impressed by his arguments. The arguments I think were clear and rational, if only you open your mind. Calling him arrogant is just an ad hominem response…

  • http://www.pieterkok.com/index.html PK

    adam, we had Tony Blair start faith-based schooling in the UK, and the BBC has reported that some of them teach creationism. Another faith-based school used books in which Jews were compared to monkeys and Christians to pigs. So even here there is a need for people to continue to bring light into the darkness.

    Refs:creationism in schoolreligious intolerance

    tyler, atheism does not assert faith that God does not exist. It holds that the evidence for a god is extremely thin, and such a being is therefore extremely unlikely. Just like Russell’s teapot.

    One day I will grow tired of repeating these arguments over and over again. One day…

  • nate

    Those who are taking exception to Dawkins on the grounds that God cannot be disproved by science might be interested to know that he himself acknowlegdes that. He simply points out that toothfairies cannot be disproved, either. Maybe they should read his book before attacking his presumed premise. It was thought-provoking even for this life-long atheist.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    PK, I myself taught at a church school in the UK and science there was taught exactly as you would expect, the same way as at the non-church schools at which I taught. Publically funded schools (like the one at which I taught) are bound by national curriculum and other legislation. If they aren’t publically, I don’t think that there’s anything that the government can do in mild cases, and in more extreme cases that you spoke about there may, in fact, be hate speech legislation.

    The creationism at Emmanuel was taught in RE; there’s no problem with that, it’s a religious belief. It would be a problem if it was taught in science, but it isn’t. State-funded religious schools won’t go away in the UK because of the deal that was made between the Churches and the government, where the government took over a large part of the financing and the running of those schools.

    The Islamic school is a different issue, because it’s private. If that’s the sort of problem, though, Dawkins is hardly the answer. It’s not an atheism vs religion issue, it’s a legal and moral issue, and that’s a game that atheists and believers can play.

    Additionally, we can’t make a statement about probability of God’s existence based on evidence. We can just say that there’s no evidence for God’s existence and we could presumably rule out certain ‘models for God’, although not the ‘omnipotent, omniscient God’ model because that guy can do whatever he likes and we won’t know any better unless He wants us to. Occam’s razor can be applied, of course, but that’s just a rule about economy of effort. The question of God’s existence, it seems to me, isn’t a scientific question unless the believers choose to phrase it as one (and, no surprise, if they do that, they’ll lose the argument every time).

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Toothfaries can’t be disproved, indeed, nate. We wouldn’t even make the effort.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Ugh, I hate the “you can’t prove a negative” nonsense. Yet another reason why people should take logic starting from an early age.

  • http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/ Larry Moran

    Chris says,

    So again, I’m skeptical about the existence of any reason to believe that the reconciliation of science and religion, in a person’s personal beliefs, is all that difficult. Perhaps you can spell them out for me, Larry.

    They’re outlined in recent books by Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris (and others). All three scientists make the effort to rationalize a scientific way of thinking with their personal religious beliefs. It takes them an entire book and they still don’t do a very good job.

    Some of the things they have trouble with are: does God answer prayers?; do miracles exist?; does life have a purpose?; is morality derived from the Christian God?; does God intervene in the natural world? Science is based on rationality and religion is based on superstition and many religious scientists feel this conflict.

    One of the the biggest stumbling block for them seems to be miracles. Miracles, by definition, are not compatible with science. It’s very hard to be a scientist and believe in miracles because once you start believing that natural laws can be violated at the whim of a supernatural being then it’s difficult to know where to stop.

    Have you read any of those books? How about other Christian apologists? I’m surprised you aren’t aware of the extensive literature on this subject. Did you really think there was no problem so nobody had to worry about it? Did you think that all conflicts between reason and religion had been resolved by St. Augustine in 420 AD?

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Walt asked “… Tony, you just compared Richard Dawkins to Joseph Goebbels? Seriously? …”.

    First, sorry that I misspelled “Goebbels” in my comment 39.
    That said:

    No, I did not compare the individual Richard Dawkins (or his belief system) to the individual Joseph Goebbels (or his belief system).

    I did compare:
    Dawkins’s propaganda technique, as described by Sean as “… vigorous advocacy of positions on one extreme” in order to “shift… the spectrum of “acceptable opinion””;
    with
    Goebbels’s propaganda technique, described by Goebbels himself as “… tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it …”.

    It seems to me that the two propaganda techniques have a lot in common,
    and
    both seem to me to be undesirable because they attack those in the middle ground,
    such as (with respect to Dawkins’s subject matter)
    people like Chris who say (comment 19) that they are “… skeptical about the existence of any reason to believe that the reconciliation of science and religion … is all that difficult …”.

    Tony Smith

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    I quoted in comment 53 a statement by Chris (in comment 19) saying that Chris is “… skeptical about the existence of any reason to believe that the reconciliation of science and religion … is all that difficult …”.

    Larry (in comment 52) attacked that statement by Chris, by saying
    “… in recent books by Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris (and others). All three scientists make the effort to rationalize a scientific way of thinking with their personal religious beliefs. It takes them an entire book and they still don’t do a very good job. …”.

    In my opinion, one scientist who did a very good job in “mak[ing] the effort to rationalize a scientific way of thinking with … personal religious beliefs” was Albert Einstein,
    who wrote in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930 pp 1-4:

    “… there is a third stage of religious experience … I shall call it cosmic religious feeling.
    It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it … The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.
    The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism … contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. … Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another. …
    In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it. … I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.
    Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue.
    What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand … Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics!
    Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. …
    It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. …”.

    Tony Smith

  • http://wolf.southoftheclouds.net/ Anthony Kimball

    The circle-jerk technique of mutual reinforcement is a rather weak way to advance any position; however, it is a kind of intellectual honesty to recognize that groundless assertions can only gain validation through expressing them as a social force that compels unthinking acceptance — when one’s own ideas are devoid of truth value, at least one can gain the gratification of brute power.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/clock/ coturnix

    Darn, I am such a lazy bum. I was going to use Overton Window for my review of God Delusion that I never found time to write (I finished reading it months ago). Now I’ll just be copying you….have to find a different angle now.

  • Damien

    “But it would be foolish to think that these would be sufficient to establish the truth or falsity of the religion. As foolish as thinking some statement in Genesis establishes the falsity of science.”

    Statements in Genesis don’t establish the falsity of science because science has supporting evidence and Genesis doesn’t. But you think it’s foolish to think that the existence or resurrection of Jesus is irrelevant to the truthiness of Christianity? The core tenet of the religion is that God gave his only Son as a sacrifice (through crucifiction and resurrection) to redeem the sins of humanity, saving those *who believe in Christ* from eternal torment in Hell. Most Christians would say it matters a whole lot if Christ never rose, or never even existed.

    “I can understand the self-defense motive, certainly in the case of Americans. It doesn’t apply to Dawkins, I don’t think, because he lives in a country where even most religious people aren’t that religious.”

    Leaving aside Blair’s support for faith-based schools and the creationism in them, Dawkins lives in a world dominated by the United States, currently led by a President who has said God speaks to him. Dawkins also lives in a world where religious opinions weigh in on stem cell research, abortion rights, and gay rights. Not to mention religious-driven terrorism. I think he’s got a lot of stake in this, as do we all.

    “However, I personally think that the self-defense is best achieved by individual examples of atheists being decent people, rather than trying to convince religious people to become atheists.”

    This contradicts the experience of a lot of actual formerly-religious atheists, many of whom escaped religion through reading the critical writings of past atheists. Not all: some are guided by their own knowledge of conflicts between their religion and science, or their religion and other religions, or by disgust with the behavior of their leaders. But many others have had some help.

  • Damien

    “I have never understood the position that atheism is a scientific stance. Isn’t claiming to prove a negative the essence of logical fallacy? It seems to me that – in the absence of gnosis – agnosticism is the only scientifically valid position.”

    Dawkins addresses this in his book, as have many many atheists before him. Atheist and agnostic are not exclusive labels: one can be agnostic for philosophical purposes but atheist in any practical sense. Dawkins takes the usual argument into more detail than usual, though, pointing out that lack of certainty between two possibilities does not imply equiprobability. We cannot prove the non-existence of invisible intangible faeries at the bottom of the garden but see no reason to worry that they have any noticeable probability. The aether wasn’t disproved, but made irrelevant. And we can reason about whether the evidence of the universe is more likely in the atheist model or the (specific religious) model.

    What he didn’t say, but might have, is that God’s existence is held to a higher standard than anything else. People demand mathematical levels of certain proof of his non-existence, when such levels don’t exist anywhere outside of mathematics. That doesn’t stop us from making decisions about whether it is *reasonable* to believe that person X committed crime Y, or whether Zeus will strikes us with lightning for skimping on his sacrifices, or whether Jesus was born through Mary’s hymen and was later crucified by a Pontius Pilate being cowed by a Jewish mob, and then resurrected. Or from invoking scientific — not mathematical — proof. Science doesn’t deal in certainties, it deals in probabilities. Is Judeo-Christianity probable? No.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Well put fh (#5)!

  • Damien

    Another reasoin for atheist “preaching”: a lot of ex-Catholics have called their upbringing abusive. Not sexually abusive with some priest diddling them, but the emotional abuse of the guilt and the fear of hell. It doesn’t take saintly amounts of altruism to want to fight that and limit the suffering inflicted on others.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Larry, I’m not sure you actually addressed my points. In answer to your first question, no, I haven’t read Miller’s book. Nor will I. I’m not all that interested in scientists writing religious apologetics. I have, however, read plenty of religious apologetics from the last 17 centuries. If you haven’t done so, you might be surprised to learn that miracles have in fact been seen by many as the solution to the challenges of scientism, metaphysical naturalism, and strict empiricism. This has been especially true since the beginning of the Enlightenment. One would have to accept philosophical ( i.e., metaphysical) naturalism (which, if you’ve been following the Intelligent Design debates over the last few years, you know is not necessary for the practice of sciece) in order to believe that miracles are incompatible with science. Of course, if a Christian accepts philosophical naturalism, he or she is probably a gnostic or pantheist, and it’s a short hop and a skip from there to positivism and the atheism that comes with it. I don’t think I know any Christian gnostics, though, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Miller and the others you mention aren’t gnostics either. If one doesn’t accept philosophical naturalism, then natural laws can apply to the entire natural world, with God outside of it and capable of affecting it without having to adhere to those laws. Obviously, the philosophical issues are a bit more complex than that, but this should do for now.

    So I’ll ask again, what reasons are there for seeing science and religion as incompatible?

  • Charon

    “So I’ll ask again, what reasons are there for seeing science and religion as incompatible?”

    Because the domain of science is anything that affects measureable properties of the universe, and no religion (in practice) is willing to concede it such authority?

    Non-overlapping magisteria is bullshit.

  • Torbjörn Larsson

    Chris:

    I have, however, read plenty of religious apologetics from the last 17 centuries.

    I think you may be moving your goal posts here. Initially you asked why scientists would have problems reconciling science and religion. Larry answered that. Now you seem to be asking why non-scientist apologetics would have such troubles, by excluding scientists apologetics writings as a non-concern.

    Some, including Dawkins claim that science is reason-based and religion is not, but this is empirically false (the rationalist tradition of which Dawkins is certainly a part began as a religious one!).

    John Wilkins calls this bounded rationality and contrasts that with a coherent total view. The difficulty being when religious rational meets the fair insistence that (scientific) facts are important.

    This also bears on your fourth point in that comment. Religion and it’s metaphysics was partly conceived to explain facts. It no longer works, not even fully inside its own bounded rationality, so it seems unfair to pretend it hasn’t failed here or that it shouldn’t have been able to be a basis for technology.

  • http://localhost Henry Chivasa

    Why do YOU refer to ‘god’ as Him

  • http://localhost Henry Chivasa

    Sorry what i meant is if YOU Don’t believe in the existance of X
    how can you put a label on X e.g. gender, color, race , wherever

    there are cracks in your foundation!!!

  • JB

    Henry Chivasa:

    It’s a convention. Every atheist knows that one can’t apply physical properties to a general deity that doesn’t exist.
    These aren’t ‘cracks’ in his ‘foundation’. And even if they were, you’ve hardly shown how this leads to a self-inconsistency in his view.

    However, if in particular the discussion is about the traditional western God, then it becomes relevant. The bible refers to God as ‘Him’.

    What next? Spell-checking as a method for debate?

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    Dear Sean:
    I have posted a rebuttal to your argument for the worth of Richard Dawkins. Please find the following link to Richard Dawkins’ Ideological Dark Energy.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    “No religion (in practice) is willing to concede such authority”

    In Christianity at least (I don’t know the theology and apologetics of any other religion very well), there’s a long tradition of treating science as, in fact, the study of God’s first and primary revelation: Nature. The issue isn’t concession at all, then. Read, for examples (he cites a few), Galileo’s letter to the Grand Duchess. Now, you won’t find any non-pantheist/mystic religion that’s willing to argue that anything restricted to cataloging and correlating the measurable properties of the universe can serve as the ultimate arbiter of truth, or that there aren’t entities beyond the measurable, but that’s another issue, and isn’t a barrier to being a scientist and religious.

    So my question still stands. What are the barriers?

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Torbjörn Larsson,

    A couple things. First, Larry’s the one who envoked apologetics post-Augustine, so I wasn’t moving anything. And really, if the question is, what are the barriers to being a religious scientist, apologetics are valid. The issue is theological and philosophical, and that makes scientists the third or fourth in line, opinion-wise.

    Next, as to Wilkins’ use of the phrase “bounded rationality,” it’s not his. It’s Simons’, and it doesn’t apply to world views, it applies to people. And that’s all people, including you, Wilkins, and me. I believe what Wilkins may be trying to get at by misusing the phrase slightly is that rational people who are religious are rational only in their non-religious beliefs, or that those beliefs necessarily involve some degree of irrationality. In fact, the part of my original post that you quoted came from my response to just this assertion. So my reply still stands: there are rational arguments for religion, so it’s not irrational. Of course, there are always unspoken and unargued assumptions, and people have reasons for accepting religion that go beyond reason, but again, that’s true of any individual and any world-view, yours and mine included. Furthermore, while I’ve seen it argued many time that most believers aren’t aware of the rational arguments for religion in theology and apologetics, and that is in fact true (though it doesn’t, necessarily, make the beliefs themselves irrational), the equivalent is true for most atheists. They either don’t know or don’t understand reasons for not believing, and they certainly aren’t aware of the arguments against or philosophical issues associated with their atheism. So if the ignorance of the volk makes religion irrational, then atheism is in the same boat (as, again, is virtually any world view/philosophy).

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Damien #57:

    Blair’s faith-based schooling stuff is just following the parents and they are sending their kids, often enough, to faith schools because they are often the best schools. There can be all sorts of different reasons for that (it varies from school to school) but if the fight is directed at stopping the faith-based schooling, it’ll be lost, because parents tend to be pretty single-minded about getting their kids into the best school they can. The fight would be better directed at improving the other schools, which is something on which nearly everyone would agree in any case. Blair’s initiative is clearly shallow, because the reason for the relatively common local superiority of the faith school is really very varied; many of them, in fact, aren’t terribly religious at all and, in particular, many of the teachers aren’t religious. I wasn’t even asked when I interviewed, just whether I foresaw any difficulties in teaching in a church school (and this was a school that took its religion relatively seriously and also, by some way, the best school I ever had any connection with or of which I knew). The Science department, the biggest in the school, was a mix of believers, lapsed catholics who probably still had some underlying belief, and atheists and it was great. But, as normal, I digress.

    Dawkins may live in a world dominated by the US, but I don’t see that explains his evangelical zeal. Sure, I can believe that former believers came to atheism by reading atheists’ writings, and also that they felt less bothered by it because, as Sean wrote, atheists are at least seen in a slightly more positive light than was formerly the case (unlike back, say, in the early 1800s in the US where the Federalists’ accusation that Jefferson was a racist was a really serious one)(and, hmmm, quite possibly true). The matter of how ‘in your face’ you get about atheism is the issue, I think; so far as I am concerned, Dawkins has crossed the line, so that he is now more like an intelligent and erudite version of the crazy religious guy that used to rant near the bus-stop outside Camberwell McDonalds back in the day than a considered defender and explainer of atheist beliefs. I’d rather read Sean on atheism, say, than Dawkins, by a country mile.

  • JimV

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but some here seem to be postulating (perhaps for sake of argument) a God who exists “outside” of nature and whose existence is undetectible by any scientific measurement. Such a God, I take it, no longer creates or destroys anything, answers no prayers, performs no miracles, and divinely inspires no scriptures – otherwise it would be detectable.

    What then is the practical difference between this god’s existence and non-existence?

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    I would imagine that it comes down, as most religious beliefs do, to what, if anything, happens after you die.

    Although an omnipotent and omniscient God can clearly do whatever He wants and not be detected. That’s the benefit of being omnipotent and omniscient.

  • Mustafa Mond, FCD

    Blair’s faith-based schooling stuff is just following the parents and they are sending their kids, often enough, to faith schools because they are often the best schools.

    I have heard that some of these “faith schools” are teaching Young Earth Creationism, which would make it very difficult for me to accept that they are better than other schools.

  • JimV

    If an omnipotent and omniscent God desires to remain anonymus, I am more in accordance with its divine will than those who argue for its existence.

    As for what happens after we die, scientific evidence strongly supports the theory that consciousness is a brain function. Brain damage can cause loss of memory, loss of the ability to reason, and even changes in personality. The evidence supports the conclusion that when the brain dies, consciousness ends.

  • Walt

    Tony: There is _no_ evidence that Dawkins does anything other than 100% believe in what he says. Sean’s point about the Overton Window is that people who are more moderate than Dawkins are always telling him to shut up, while at the same time they don’t tell people who are more religious than they are to shut up. If successful, this will have the inevitable effect of silencing atheists. If your goal is to silence atheists, then that’s A-OK. If your goal is to open the debate to different points of view, well then the very first step is to open the debate to different points of view, not tell holders of select points of view to shut up. Sean’s point, I think, is that it’s time for us to stop telling Dawkins to shut up.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Hah. Telling Dawkins to shut up is a waste of time in any case. For good or ill, he believes in what he’s doing and he won’t stop just because some people want him to.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    #74 JimV: that is exactly the scientific position. We aren’t talking about people that hold to the scientific position, though. For that matter, the scientific position is that we’re just a bunch of atoms interacting, and yet many of us like to see meaning in our existence beyond that. If you take Churchland-style eliminative materialism as an example, that’s a brutal, unbeatable argument unless you adopt different (less minimal) assumptions to those that he does. But then, you’re in the same sort of game as religious folks and not being terribly scientific either. Personally, I don’t think that matters but then, I don’t care what people believe.

  • tyler

    Damien (and others), thanks for the thoughtful response.

    “Atheist and agnostic are not exclusive labels: one can be agnostic for philosophical purposes but atheist in any practical sense.”

    OK, I can see that as a valid and consistent position. And your point about differing standards for claims of differing likelihoods is also a good one.

    However:

    “Science doesn’t deal in certainties, it deals in probabilities. Is Judeo-Christianity probable? No.”

    Well, I’m with you there; this is the essence of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

    But Judeo-Christianity != religion != spirituality

    Refuting Christianity from a logical perspective is like shooting fish in a barrel. I am more interested in a wider discussion about religion in general, or the validity of spiritual experience. To make logical points against Christianity and present them as arguments against religion or spirituality is not a fair argument.

    I say this as a quite thoroughly non-religious person, by the way.

  • Lord

    But you think it’s foolish to think that the existence or resurrection of Jesus is irrelevant to the truthiness of Christianity?

    Not irrelevant, but inconsequential. We have four records of gospels which are not in full agreement with each other. This has not falsified Christianity. History is a human record of human shortcomings subject to human failings. Expecting the final ultimate truth from anything is foolish, as from science as religion. They are both human endeavors. Materialists can see no further than what is before them. Let them raise their eyes.

  • Damien

    “the equivalent is true for most atheists. They either don’t know or don’t understand reasons for not believing, and they certainly aren’t aware of the arguments against or philosophical issues associated with their atheism.”

    I’m not at all sure that’s true; the situation isn’t symmetrical, at least in the US, where many atheists have had to come to it on their own, vs. being raised in atheism and taking it for granted like many believers. Atheists who had to break away from a religion are going to at least have their own reasons fro not believing, and be aware of counterarguments from their family and pastors.

  • Damien

    Lord:
    “We have four records of gospels which are not in full agreement with each other. This has not falsified Christianity.”

    Not according to lots of atheists who became that way by reading the Bible.

    “Materialists can see no further than what is before them. Let them raise their eyes.”

    Yeah? To what?

    tyler:
    “Refuting Christianity from a logical perspective is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

    This is interesting to stick next to Lord’s comment.

    As for Dawkins: refuting Christianity may be like shooting fish in a barrel, but there are still a whole lot of fish, and some of them have teeth. As for broader religion and spirituality: in his book he defines his target as the God hypothesis: there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us. Buddhism and Confucianism he regards as beyond this scope. Ditto for Einstein’s cosmic religious feeling, which Dawkins regards as basic awe of nature, while presenting evidence that Einstein was decidedly not a theist, not a subscriber to the God Hypothesis (especially with the Personal God variation), and the theists of the time knew that and resented him for it.

    Lots of religions would still come under his guns; the basic arguments for atheism — argument from evil, argument from diversity of religions, argument from lack of evidence — are older than Christianity, though just as good against it. As for spirituality… you’d have to define it, first. As far as I can tell it divides up into emotional variants (awe) which can be discussed as such, and supernatural variants (*spirit*) which come under the same scientific scrutiny as any other supernatural claim.

  • tyler

    Damien:
    “This is interesting to stick next to Lord’s comment.”

    He calls himself Lord? Isn’t that…uh…bad? If you’re a Christian I mean? How surreal.

    Your description of Dawkin’s target definition is the first thing I have read that makes me want to read the book. Very interesting, and more moderate than I expected. I’m curious, does he address Deism? In a modern context Deism would essentially be the claim that God set the constants of physics, set off the big bang and then stepped aside…

    (talk about an unprovable claim! I’m just interested in his/your thoughts)

    Placing Buddhism outside the argument is interesting, and when I think about it more, actually dispells my interest in the book, though not in the larger subject. The Man In The White Beard is of no interest to me, and in fact is a bit of a straw man.

    Certainly Einstein was no theist. Anyone who has read his works knows that.

  • http://guidetoreality.blogspot.com Steve Esser

    Excellent point. you don’t have to agree with all of the substance or tone of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, etc. to be grateful for the impact on the debate and the space it opens for non-traditional views.

  • Damien

    Yes, he mentions deism a few times, in the context of Einstein (theist? deist? pantheist?) and the US Founding Fathers. He notes that in times of stronger faith deists were attacked as being indistinguishable from atheists; nowadays they’re grouped with the other side, as at least believing in *something*. (Cf. Dennett’s “belief in belief”.) That’s about it for explicit mentions, but his chapter on God probably not existing is based largely on what he calls the Ultimate Boeing 747 argument: whatever improbability or complexity you invoke God to explain, God itself is even more improbable and complex, and explains nothing. Or in Dennett’s words, God is the ultimate skyhook, and scientists look for cranes. So that basically targets the deist god along with all other Creators; the Christian god, having more details, is subject to more specific counterevidence.

    But there’s actually more to the chapter than that. If you want to know if you should read the book, I recommend that you go actually look at the book. I’ve been wanting to review the book for my LJ, but have been daunted by the sheer density of it. Not that it was hard to read, far from it, but I’m not sure what to pick out to describe the book fairly without going on at length.

    He mentions the Man in the White Beard, and that readers would call that a straw man; the imagery might be, but the idea of a personal god who saves you from traffic accidents and gives you victory in sports is not a straw man. People believe that. Lots of them. And they’re the ones he’s trying to talk to.

    Buddhism he doesn’t talk about, partly because he’s not sure if it even is a religion in the same sense as what he’s attacking, and also because he doesn’t know as much about it; the main target is the Christianity and cousins he lives with and is affected by and which dominates half the globe. I’d say that’s it’s pretty tricky to talk about “Buddhism” anyway; lots of Westerners talk about it as some atheistic religion, and that might be true if you go to Gautama’s original agnosticism, or to the lack of a Creator, but Buddhism as practiced by Buddhist populations is chock full of the supernatural. Just look at their art. Boddhisattvas and demons all over.

  • tyler

    Damien, I am going to need some good nonfiction after I finish battling my way through to the end of Pynchon’s Against The Day…an exhausting but profitable exercise…I will at least pick it up and flip through it.

    “and also because he doesn’t know as much about it”

    That shows unusual restraint and self-awareness and is a good recommendation all by itself.

    Bodhisattvas and such can either be viewed as typical mythological beneficient/malevolent spirits or as aspects of one’s own internal psychology. It’s a dangerous western conceit to equate esoteric buddhism too strongly with a psychological worldview, but it’s also not completely inaccurate, at least according to the more rational-seeming-to-me proponents of buddhist study (e.g. Trungpa, Wilber). They tend to present the mythology as an exercise in symbolism for externalizing one’s own psychology rather than literal external deities in which one must believe.

    But now I have strayed far from the topic.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Damien, it’s true that many, if not most atheists came to atheism on their own (likely during late adolescence or early adulthood), and were not raised as atheists, but I’m afraid this doesn’t say anything about the rationality of belief. Just because they got there on their own doesn’t mean they got there through reason. Or even that they were likely to have gotten there through reason.

  • Damien

    Well, what’s your basis for asserting that most atheists don’t understand reasons for not believing? My impression from various religious debates is that they do, but I admit that’s filtered through my memory and selected by those who participate in online debates. But do you have better evidence? And if they didn’t break from their religion through reason, how do you think they got there?

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Walt said: “… If your goal is to open the debate to different points of view, well then the very first step is to open the debate to different points of view, not tell holders of select points of view to shut up. …”.

    I agree, and I am not telling Dawkins to “shut up”.
    I am only pointing out that Sean’s description of Dawkins’s propaganda technique seems to me to be telling “people who are more moderate” to “shut up”, and thereby polarizing the discourse into two extreme camps (exemplified by, for example, Pope Ratzinger on one extreme and Sean on the other) with the middle being marginalized to the extent that it seems to me to be effectively excluded.

    Sean says that “the Overton window” is a “notion, borrowed from public-policy debates”.
    Polarization is a goal of such “public-policy debates”, in which what Sean calls “vigorous advocacy of positions on one extreme” is used to polarize the electorate and motivate holders of extreme views to turn out and vote for a desired candidate.
    As one in the excluded middle, I don’t like such polarization.

    My complaint is against Sean’s position ( all religions are false ) and his citation of Dawkins’s book as support, even though Dawkins in his book explicitly disclaims that he does not attack all religions.
    Sean’s position (for which he cites Dawkins in support) has been stated in terms of his “spiffy title … God Remains Dead: Reason, Religion, and the Pointless Universe” and his statement that religion (without restriction) is false.
    However, as Damien said
    “… Dawkins … in his book … regards … Buddhism and Confucianism … as beyond this scope. Ditto for Einstein’s cosmic religious feeling …”,
    so Dawkins is clearly not opposed to what Einstein himself described as “… a third stage of religious experience … I [Einstein] shall call it cosmic religious feeling …”, expressly using the word “religious”.
    It is also clear that Einstein, who referred to “… a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and … a yearning to understand …”, does not feel that ours is a “Pointless Universe”.

    Since I subscribe to pantheism a la Einstein, Spinoza, and Philosophical Taoism (see the entry on pantheism in the web’s Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), it seems to me that Dawkins has limited his scope so that he is OK with religions like mine.
    Since I have not seen Sean impose any limit on his view that all religions are false, it seems to me that Sean is attempting to use Dawkins to go beyond where Dawkins has gone, thus extending the polarizing effect of “the Overton window” even further.

    In fact, I am agree wtih with Dawkins’s 2007 Edge commentary where he said:
    “… I [Dawkins] am optimistic that the physicists of our species will complete Einstein’s dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer. I [Dawkins] am optimistic that, although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish …”.

    Tony Smith

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Damien, well, physics/science-blog reading atheists probably don’t comprise a representative sample, but even if they did, you wouldn’t have to look far to see what I’m talking about. The failure to answer a simple challenge to the widely-held belief that science and religion are incompatible demonstrates this, for example.

  • Damien

    I don’t see how rationality — obeying understandable rules — conflicts with “Pointless Universe”. Dawkins quotes Einstein — chapter 1! —

    I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion. I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.

    Dawkins distinguishes between Einsteinian religion and supernatural religion, and attacks the latter. With his skirting of Buddhism and Confucianism, I think he’d be open to an argument that the supernatural and personal is an inherent part of real religion, and that Einstein’s feelings of admiration are not properly called religious, but he doesn’t actually go there. Perhaps more to Tony’s point, I don’t know if *Sean* would want to call that religious — so what seems like a difference in belief might be just a different in terminology. Then again, I’m not sure if Einstein was really as pantheist as you want him to be, if you’re grouping him in with Taoism.

    I also don’t see what your final quote of Dawkins has to do with the rest of your post, Tony.

  • Damien

    Tony: “In my opinion, one scientist who did a very good job in “mak[ing] the effort to rationalize a scientific way of thinking with … personal religious beliefs” was Albert Einstein”

    I note this was brought up between Larry and Chris on science’s compatibility with religion, and Ken Miller and Francis Collins et al. Leaving aside the question of whether we should call Einstein religious, his ‘job’ ended up being quite different from what Miller and Collins — who are honest to god Christians — struggle with. Einstein’s solution wouldn’t work for them because it discards the key components of their faith — a personal god, the efficacy of prayer, the meaningfulness of salvation.

  • Damien

    Chris: “The failure to answer a simple challenge to the widely-held belief that science and religion are incompatible demonstrates this, for example.”

    Re-reading the thread, I think the challenge was answered, and you dismissed the answer out of hand.

    “I haven’t read Miller’s book. Nor will I. I’m not all that interested in scientists writing religious apologetics. I have, however, read plenty of religious apologetics from the last 17 centuries.”

    You first asked why science was incompatible with religion; you were given pointers to books by Christian scientists struggling with reconciling the two, which should tell you why at least a few Christian scientists have trouble reconciling them; and then you said you weren’t interested in that. You say you’re versed in religious apologetics from the last 17 centuries — but most of those (if evenly distributed) would pre-date Newton’s physics, and even more would predate Darwin’s solution to the problem of design and modern neuroscience’s challenge to ideas of a soul. So I’d guess they don’t have much to say as to why modern science and religion would be incompatible, while Miller and Collins might.

    And you yourself gave the most basic reason for incompatibility upfront: evidence, and the lack of evidence for religious claims. Which is also one of the major reasons atheists become atheists. Some people choose not to hold their religious beliefs to the same standard as the rest of their lives; fine. But just because they ignore the incompatibility doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory Chris

    Damien, I haven’t read Miller’s book, but that was not the answer. The answer said, “They don’t do a good job,” and gives one example: miracles. I pointed out that this was not a problem, and gave reasons. No one responded to that. Again, my point has not yet been addressed, much less threatened. And that is my second point (an atheist who’s familiar with these things would know the history of thought on miracles, for example).

  • Damien

    Larry’s answer included other questions: “Some of the things they have trouble with are: does God answer prayers?; do miracles exist?; does life have a purpose?; is morality derived from the Christian God?” Miracles was just one thing Larry chose to expand on. And of course there the classics such as the argument from evil, and the argument from diversity of religions. Which are less about a conflict between modern science specifically and Christianity than a conflict between general reason and Christianity. And yeah, theologians try for answers in the field of theodicy, and appeal to free will (whatever that is) a lot. Doesn’t mean they succeed.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    When I was growing up, the stigma attached to being an athiest was the possibility of being a Soviet Sympethizer. Have I been out of the US long enough for them to find another negative association?

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    There’s a pretty strong strain of thought here, particularly amongst the socons (no surprise) that atheists just aren’t moral people; some people would also call them ‘unAmerican’ (the debate over the ‘christian heritage’ of America being stoked by issues like Roy Moore and his 10 commandments statue and the Pledge of Allegience case from CA). What some people call the ‘MSM’ (I hate that) may be presenting atheists in a more favourable light, but I am not sure to which extent that’s penetrating to the grassroots of American society outside of heavily urban areas (which may be more heterogeneous in terms of religious beliefs in any case). No one will ever accuse me of having my finger on the pulse of American life, though, so I could be completely wrong.

  • http://www.huperborea.blogspot.com/ Robert O’Brien

    I could write a book explaining how, when you really think about things scientifically, you come to realize that God doesn’t exist [sic].

    That’s unadulterated codswallop, Professor; I think you should stick to writing about physics.

  • http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/ Tony Smith

    Damien said: “… I …[Damien]… don’t see what your final quote of Dawkins has to do with the rest of your post, Tony. …”.

    My “final quote of Dawkins”, to the effect that “… the physicists of our species will complete Einstein’s dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer …”,
    shows that
    Dawkins believes that Einstein’s “cosmic religious feeling” will lead somebody (a la Newton and Kepler) to “discover the final theory of everything”,
    therefore that Einstein’s religion not only has a purpose (i.e., our universe is not “pointless”) but will fulfill that purpose (i.e., religion is not merely compatible with science, but is a moving force for advancement of science).

    Dawkins’s mention of “superior creatures, evolved on another world”, shows that
    Dawkins believes that human advancement is not the only possible way for science to advance, implying that even if humans fail to participate in the advancement of science, science in our universe may advance anyway.
    That view may be contrary to some human-centric religions, but is consistent with Einstein-Spinoza-Pantheism.

    As to whether “… Einstein was really … pantheist … if you’re grouping him in with Taoism …”,
    I am relying on Einstein’s statement identifying his views with those of Spinoza,
    and
    the statement in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “… The book recognized as containing the most complete attempt at explaining and defending pantheism from a philosophical perspective is Spinoza’s Ethics, finished in 1675 two years before his death. … certain religions are better understood as pantheistic rather than theistic … Philosophical Taoism is the most pantheistic, but Advaita Vedanta, certain forms of Buddhism and some mystical strands in monotheistic traditions are also pantheistic. …”.

    With respect to “some mystical strands in monotheistic traditions”, and how pantheism might be related to some forms of Christianity (including some versions of Christianity that were rejected by the Roman Church), the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:
    “… Pantheism should be of interest to those in the philosophy of religion who seek a way out of the constrictions (often institutional ones) put upon them by working within the confines of classical theism; especially as the issues relating to classical theism have been taken up by the contemporary christian conservative analytic philosophers of religion. …
    contemporary analytic philosophy of religion remains dominated not merely by theism but by peculiarly fundamentalist Christian approaches to theism …
    Pantheism’s lack of “success” in worldly terms on the religion market may have to do with the fact that it is antithetical to any power structure; the kind, for example, found in the Catholic church. …”.

    Tony Smith

  • Chet Twarog

    Damien wrote on Feb 15th, 2007 at 5:42 pm:
    “Well, what’s your basis for asserting that most atheists don’t understand reasons for not believing? My impression from various religious debates is that they do, but I admit that’s filtered through my memory and selected by those who participate in online debates. But do you have better evidence? And if they didn’t break from their religion through reason, how do you think they got there?”
    Reasons why I became an Atheist:
    I was raised a Polish Catholic. I did not have either a “strong nor deep” faith. I had a public school education graduating in 1968. After joining the Air Force, my need for religious services or faith declined after basic military training.
    Summer of 1970, I read “The Last Great Planet Earth” apocalyptic book by Evangelist Hal Lindsey. After reading the novel, I initially considered becoming a Christian soldier if what he had written was going to happen “soon.”
    Reflecting on my Catholic upbringing, his book did not agree with my bible study classes nor church doctrine. Furthermore, contemplating that all of the ancient peoples (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, indigenous peoples, including the ancient Hebrew tribes) worshipped different gods/goddessess,spirit beings/demigods, etc., and not any monotheistic god. My own thinking suggested that if all of these ancient gods/goddesses… actually existed, they would still exist now. Just because those civilizations’ ancient religious mythologies were replaced by evolved monotheistic religions from Judaism to Catholicism/Christianity to Islam, their gods.. would still be.
    I rationally concluded, within a couple of days, that the monotheistic god(s) and the Christian trinity were modern mythologies and no more “real” than the all of the ancient polytheistic/pagan gods/goddesses/spirit beings that our species created and imagined to exist in “our” own image.
    Since 1970, I have not discovered any evidence, scientific method or otherwise, that contradicts my conclusions then.
    Additionally, the original “Planet of the Apes” movie excellently supports the “in our own image god” as the intelligently “evolved” primates worshipped their divine lawgiver–a divine ape.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com David Heddle

    Sean wrote:

    I could write a book explaining how, when you really think about things scientifically, you come to realize that God doesn’t exist

    It would probably get placed on the shelf next to books from other scientists explaining how, when they really thought about things scientifically, they came to realize god existed. And it would have comparable influence.

    God vs. Science gets the ink, and it’s what the fundamentalists on both sides want, Jerry Falwell to the right and his counterpart Richard Dawkins on the left. (Sam Harris is harder to peg—not sure where to place him given his penchant for mysticism—I reckon he’s on a different astral plane.) The mostly silent majority is, in this instance, a huge majority. Including most scientists, believers or not, who care only about the quality of one another’s science and the collegiality associated with scientific collaboration. They are not concerned with the number of unique daily wep-page hits, their amazon rankings, their blog awards, or booking their next talk show appearance.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    You know what rankles me? The anti-ghost fundamentalists. Those people who keep saying that ghosts don’t exist, even though they can’t rigorously prove it. (How can you possibly prove a negative???) Someday they will wake up to the silent majority of ghost-believers, and cease their pointless anti-ghost crusade. There are only so many talk shows you can appear on, anyway.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com David Heddle

    Sean,

    Bad analogy, since I didn’t claim the silent majority was majority of believers. It’s a majority (in the case of scientists) who don’t care whether their colleagues are believers or atheists. In science, this group dwarfs those who do care about such matters, a little group of drones who are being led by the nose by Dawkins. It’s not a sexy idea, collaboration across belief systems, hence it has no books or media icons. But it has been, is, and will remain the orthodox position in science: show me your work, beyond that I don’t give a rat’s ass. For now and evermore the majority of scientists, believers or not, would rather collaborate with a productive Miller or Collins than an unproductive PZ Myers.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Let me go on record as saying that I don’t care if people believe in ghosts, either, so long as they don’t try to teach it in science lessons or claim that it’s a scientific belief.

    I am worried that if I continue to find so many thing about which I don’t care, I am going to turn into Paul Feyerabend. Without being dead. Hopefully.

  • Damien

    False dichotomy, David: Dawkins and Myers can collaborate with productive believer scientists as well. All that ink isn’t being spilled to call for a pogrom, purging believers from the ranks of scientists; it’s being spilled to make the case for atheism to society as a whole, and to fight Creationism in particular. Jerry Falwell is not the only person who argues for the truth of religion, or for making decisions based on Biblical values.

  • Lord

    “Materialists can see no further than what is before them. Let them raise their eyes.”

    Yeah? To what?

    To that holiest of holies for the scientist, the unknown. Scientists are believers too. They believe in a rational, comprehensible universe. The public thinks science is about knowledge. The scientist knows it is about the unknown. The search for truth is a noble quest. The belief one has found it is neither.

  • Kevin Winters

    Why should we hail Dawkins when all that he has done is pontificate on the consequences of an unprovable worldview? I am not saying that theism, in contradistinction with ‘science,’ is provable, but merely that there is so much ‘certainty’ that science disproves God’s existence when science itself cannot even prove its own ontological presuppositions, but clings to them with as much fervor as any theist.

  • http://darwiniana.com John Landon

    Being an atheist doesn’t amount to beans, it is simply the dialectical reaction to theism. Gautama the Buddha was such, or at least beyond the god/no-god question, which is basically a mechanized concepts question.
    The problem is the fraudulent attempt to foundationalize this with Darwinian junk science, and the successful brainwashing of a whole generation of science students has done immense harm, creating a cadre of stupid technical experts.
    To combat religion at least requires studying it. It is an immensely complicated question and deserves something better than the Dawkins/Dennett brand of scientism.
    Meanwhile, beyond the Bible Belt, the forces of religion in the world find someone like Dawkins a puzzle. This kind of temper tantrum on God doesn’t really touch the issue of religion, and corrupts science with its stale Darwinian ideology.
    Dawkins take here is a groupie phenomenon for students who manage to graduate from college with a narrow specialty and then go onto live in a cocoon of reductionist shibboleths, with no contact with the real world.
    The results will backfire in the end.
    Meanwhile, it is possible to talk a good game string theory and be a complete idiot. Raise you hand here if you qualify.

    Get your Rss feeds going on Darwiniana. You guys need help.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    I guess it’s easy for Richard Dawkins to get headlines in the US: who could be more annoying to “da bibleheadz” than an arrogant British atheist? Maybe he is designed to do that. Actually his professorship sounds like a propaganda operation: Charles Simonyi Chair in the “Public Understanding of Science” (hello-o!) at the University of Oxford.

    To me the situation looks a lot like “Emperor’s new clothes” as everybody seems to think that Dawkins should be considered as a thought leader but then he has no real substance for it. Atleast I didn’t find any in “The God Delusion”, the book that at its worst decends to the level of juvenile snickering. Dawkins uses arrogance to appeal. He’s a hack.

    The philosophical position Dawkins inhabits – materialist reductionism – is old as the sky. The point is that materialist reductionism serves totalitarianism perfectly because it lays the groundwork for a society run by science (which in turn is run by ideology). For example Leon Trotsky digged materialist reductionism.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Religious beliefs can also be used to support totalitarianism.

    It’s almost as if we have would-be totalitarians amongst us, looking for an ideological lever.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    #107: “Gautama the Buddha was such, or at least beyond the god/no-god question, which is basically a mechanized concepts question.”

    This is inaccurate. The Buddha assumes a will to be liberated from ignorance to follow his teachings. I don’t see how this will is a mechanical concept. Another point that gets missed when talking about Buddhism is the influence of other Indian philosophies on the Buddha; he was heavily influenced by the Upanishads. He left Hinduism because of the caste system and unnecessary ritualism- still annoying many to this day ;-) .

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    The “many” include me, of course.

  • Kevin Winters

    Chinmaya Sheth,

    Don’t forget that we need to specify which school of Buddhist we are talking about: Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana. But you are right: the Buddhist understanding of ‘causation’ and ‘conditioned genesis’ are not the mechanistic causation of some forms of physics.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    The most heavily influenced was the Mahayana.

  • Vince

    What a good morning for religion. Today, at Mass, we saw a cute little baptism. What a cute baby! I wish I took pictures. Also, several fully grown, rational, well-read, and educated adults (who are preparing to be fully initiated into the Church) received this type of oil on their foreheads. It was pretty cool.

    What a great day it’s been so far.

    Peace, everyone.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    The Buddha himself was, of course, aware of the issues of I brought up. And I am not trying ot advocate any of these philosophies.

  • Cleis

    I found myself speed reading through Dawkin’s trite and predictable arguments, which are consistently presented at a about a junior-high level. The writing is rather witless too; Dawkins could probably make even physics seem dull. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see this book which is perfectly attuned to the intellectual level of those who need it most.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Cleis, insulting Dawkins’ communication abilities, his ability to write a book and express arguments, just makes your own judgement look suspect. I don’t think that anyone who approached it with an open mind would deny that he can express sophisticated arguments clearly, nor that he does. He annoys the Hell out of me, but he’s clear as a bell and he’s not peddling juvenalia.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” (Richard Dawkins).

    “This very law which the logicians would impose upon us–if I may give the name of logicians to those who would rule out our willing nature here–is based on nothing but their own natural wish to exclude all elements for which they, in their professional quality of logicians, can find no use.” (William James)

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Sorry to interrupt the flow, but in #110 I might be overstating the influence of Upanishads. It was probably more of a stepping stone.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Karmadrive, nice quote from Willam James, but when you put it besides Dawkins, it seems like being an atheist you’ve to deny will, emotions, etc.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    Chinmaya, being an atheist and being “dawkinian” are two different things. Dawkins is much more than an atheist — he is a hard core materialist reductionist and that matters more than his theological position. The problem with materialist reductionism is that it takes existence for granted. It is like half-baked scepticism. As William James puts it: “There is but one indefectibly certain truth, and that is the truth that pyrrhonistic scepticism itself leaves standing,–the truth that the present phenomenon of consciousness exists.”

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    Ok. This is very interesting and timely:
    “The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.”

    Dawkins goes a long way on blaming religions for violence and wars. That was one of the gross simplifications he makes in “The God Delusion”. Basically almost the opposite is true: isn’t it just too easy to use religion as a smoke screen and keep the real business hidden when bombing the s**t out of people somewhere? But the people seem to know better than him: follow the money.

  • jw

    tyler:

    I have never understood the position that atheism is a scientific stance. Isn’t claiming to prove a negative the essence of logical fallacy?

    Not at all. It’s a common exercise to ask students to prove that there is no rational number that’s a solution to the equation x^2 – 2 = 0.

    It seems to me that – in the absence of gnosis – agnosticism is the only scientifically valid position.

    Atheism is simply a lack of belief in deities. Agnosticism is a subset of atheism. There’s also a small subset of atheists who claim to be able to disprove deities, which seems to be the group you think makes up the majority. There are other subsets, such as the one that I belong to, which thinks the whole question of the existence of deities is meaningless.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    #121: “Chinmaya, being an atheist and being “dawkinian” are two different things.”

    Yes, I always thought so. But when you read the two quotes together and Richard Dawkins being a public figure for atheism (I am an atheist myself) I just wanted to make sure that it was clear that not all atheists find “materialist reductionism” satisfying.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    In fact, I am not even sure if Dawkins can be classified as a materialist reductionist; I don’t know much about him.

  • http://n/a LV Shell

    Like so many, having refused to be brainwashed (although I didn’t know the word) at age five, I searched for years to find something that could possibly make sense among religions: Catholicisn, Protestantism, Christian Science, Buddhism, you name it. Okay, not Jainism; gave Confucius a pass. All this took years and proved fruitless. However, the writings of Seth, via Jane Roberts, turned out to validate my reasons for rejecting religion and clear up a lot more–without resorting to sin, guilt, fear, dogma, superstition, or any of the rot fouling so many religions. It also avoids rejection of others by virtue of personal piety or sanctimony (superiority for believing what the guys tell you to believe without question, thus being crowned with the ludicrous title, “the faithful”). It took me most of a year to read and absorb the first book, Seth Speaks, and the major opus, The Nature of Personality. It was as if I’d always known how things really are and had somehow forgotten. If you are a rationalist with an open mind, some of you folks might give it a try. It’s refreshingly clear and direct. No Saturday shul, no catechism, no bible study explaining away by repetition the thousands of (mutually-contradictory) tales that religions concocted and then borrowed from one another and now foist on the unwary as “God’s word.” And don’t get me started on those who take it upon themselves to tell us what their god wants. Or act as gatekeepers to that god.

  • Vince

    “However, the writings of Seth, via Jane Roberts, turned out to validate my reasons for rejecting religion and clear up a lot more—without resorting to sin, guilt, fear, dogma, superstition, or any of the rot fouling so many religions.”

    What has been cleared up for you without resorting to these concepts?

  • Vince

    “It also avoids rejection of others by virtue of personal piety or sanctimony (superiority for believing what the guys tell you to believe without question, thus being crowned with the ludicrous title, “the faithful”).”

    I have lots of experience with religious people and groups who don’t reject others by that virtue, or feel or act superior for believing what they do. Sometimes the beliefs are passed on from one generation to the next all the way back from the very founders of the religion, and their belief/knowledge is based on events they claimed to have happened. So, people today simply believed that those events did, in fact, happen, and that the truth of those events, along with the teachings surrounding them and their significance for humanity, have been preserved to the present day.

  • zoeific

    Karmadrive says:
    > The problem with materialist reductionism is that it takes existence for granted.

    Oh dear.

    As Arthur Schopenhauer observed, the belief that there is no objective reality “would need not so much a refutation as a cure”. For people who don’t believe in an existence beyond their subjective perception, there is no value to making observations except for personal amusement, much less to systematic natural science.

    We can’t “prove” an existence governed by the universal mechanisms of nature, but all civilizational advancement has come from the fact that throughout history, people concerned with building, growing, maintaining, understanding, organizing and inventing the things in our lives were going about their business as if we could (albeit often inconsistently). That’s enough for me to give provisional assent.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Its not as if everyone has to accept one particualr philosophy (e.g., materialist reductionism) if they want to be an atheist or be a contributor to society. As the idealist Thomas Green said “The fact that there is a real external world- is one which no philosophy disputes”.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    How can you use a set of observations that presuppose existence to produce cause for ‘provisional assent’ for, hmmm, existence?

    The ‘does the external world exist?’ question can’t be answered. Yes, we all make the same assumption/working hypothesis (‘it does’) but the people that then build on this a platform of more assumed certainty aren’t learning the lesson of considering the business of the existence of an external world in the first place, to wit, don’t be too certain of anything. Additionally, be clear about the items of which you can’t be certain.

    It is ironic that Descartes introduced doubt that the external world existed (through his ‘dream demon’) towards the eventual goal of demonstrating that God exists, failed, and now some atheists appear to skate over the very same question.

    Unproveable beliefs are a fact of life; we all have them. At best, evangelical atheists are saying that there are some that you needn’t, and shouldn’t have, for [insert unspecified mysterious reason here]. I’d like to see a listing of which unproveable beliefs are ‘good’, which are ‘bad’, and which don’t matter, with explanations. Where does ‘human morality’ sit in that lot (which laws of objective existence cover morality)?

    As far as I’m concerned, people can not only believe what they want, they’re welcome to believe what they want. Sure, actions I’ll have an opinion on, but if you want to believe that God is hiding in the San Pelligrino bottle in your refridgerator door, be my guest. Just don’t try to sacrifice my cat to appease it.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Chinmaya Seth #130. When we assume that the external world exists, though, what else do we assume? If someone wishes to assume an omnipotent and omniscient God as the creator of that world/universe, it’s not only undisproveable, it’s impossible to assess likelihood that they are right*. The lesson of this, to my mind, is to leave off caring about what other people believe unless it results in actions which affect you and where it does result in those actions, address the actions. People should be able to believe what they want, firstly, and secondly, I have no idea why atheists would want to convince other people to become atheists.

    I believe the external world exists. As you say, everyone does. The issue is why we should wish to convince anyone else as to how or why it does; we can teach science as I think that it should be taught (‘this produces verifiable predictions’) without attempting to make bigger claims about what is.

    *Exactly as if we assume a deityless universe governed by physical law; we can’t use the empirical success of our models for physical laws as evidence because it’s in our assumption (which assumption, for most of us, probably came itself from the empirical success of models for physical laws; our interest in empirical success is presumably instinct).

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Adam, as I’ve said, I agree with your post. Maybe there was a time gap.

  • Barry Steer

    It’s not a question of belief. The scientific attitude one should take on any subject is whether it is true.

    Why should the atheists think He is not? The air is filled with music that is caught by the radio – music that otherwise they would not know about.

    And so it is with God. He is with them every minute of their existence, yet the only way for them to realize this is to meditate.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    Chinmaya Seth #134: My fault, too rushed in reading. I mean, I stand by what I wrote, I just shouldn’t have directed it AT you.

    Barry Steer #135. It might be that God is only broadcasting on AM, which is nowadays only listened to by right-wing nutcases. Or something.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    The fact(!) that anything does exist is a source of infinite awe for me. It is something that science does not touch. Dawkins tried to touch the subject in one of his public talks (I’ve lost the Youtube link) but what can he do but babble about multiverses and superstrings and try to argue that religions are just as confused as he is.

    Call it “quantum mysticism” or whatever but I think we’ve been shown a new direction where we can advance when we accept that consciousness precedes matter – not the other way around, which as an assumption is just a blip in the history of cosmology. You can make a thought experiment: try to imagine a space with some phenomena but without an observer. Isn’t it atleast intuitively tempting to think that existing and observing are the flipsides of one thing – consciousness.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    I don’t think that the fact that we can or can’t imagine or understand any particular scenarios means anything other greater than the fact that we have abilities and limitations, personally. I can’t imagine the Kansas City Royals winning anything ever again, but that’s not to say that it won’t happen*.

    *It won’t happen.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    #138: Ok. Let’s put it like this: the state of existing is always defined in relation to an observer i.e. in relation to consciousness whereas consciousness… you want to hear the rest?

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    It’s the cogito ergo sum issue.

  • Barry Steer

    There are three things to consider the observer, the instruments of observation and the thing observed.

    By repetition we learn the most and so a truth is always worth repeating…

    It’s not a question of belief. The scientific attitude one should take on any subject is whether it is true.

    Why should the atheists think He is not? The air is filled with music that is caught by the radio – music that otherwise they would not know about.

    And so it is with God. He is with them every minute of their existence, yet the only way for them to realize this is to meditate.

  • http://www.karmadrive.com/ Karmadrive

    #140. Yes. But the ‘cogito’ is a very absolute statement, which I guess has guaranteed its fame. It’s a good bumper sticker, but it’s not, say, a project plan or a road map. IMHO it is more constructive to study the blurry line between the psyche – the conscious and the subconscious – and the cosmos than just jump to some absolut statement for the sake of mere intellectualism.

  • http://www.thecrossedpond.com adam

    I avoid worrying about the psyche or the mind-body problem, myself. It’s an argument that circles faster and faster until it disappears… you know what comes next.

  • Barry Steer

    oh yes, and when you folks talk about consciousness, it is perhaps worth pointing out that in addition to everyday consciousness, there is the sub-conscious, then there is super-consciousness, Christ Consciousness (or in Sanskrit Kutastha Chaitanya), and finally Cosmic Consciousness. Have fun replying to this one, or not.

  • http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com/ danny bee

    well done sir. now tackle climate change?

    http://climatechange3000.blogspot.com/

  • Torbjörn Larsson

    Chris:

    Sorry for a late response. FTIW:

    “First, Larry’s the one who envoked apologetics post-Augustine, so I wasn’t moving anything.”

    He did that after his main answer, to discuss your position I believe.

    “And really, if the question is, what are the barriers to being a religious scientist, apologetics are valid.”

    Not in the sense of a coherent view. Presumably it will help a scientist being a scientist, btw.

    “Next, as to Wilkins’ use of the phrase “bounded rationality,” it’s not his. It’s Simons’, and it doesn’t apply to world views, it applies to people.”

    I’m aware that it’s not Wilkins invention – I mentioned it because he has a good exposition on his blog.

    I’m also aware that it applies to people, which are the ones that hold world views. Wilkins use it exactly in this capacity; people may be bounded rational in some mind set, and not in another. There may be a difference in where Simon and Wilkins draw their bounds, but I don’t see how that invalidates Wilkins or mine usage.

    “So my reply still stands: there are rational arguments for religion, so it’s not irrational.”

    That wasn’t in question, as I conceded that religion may be bounded (my use) rational. What I claim is that a person being a scientist and a theist may have an incoherent and irrational world view.

    “So if the ignorance of the volk makes religion irrational, then atheism is in the same boat (as, again, is virtually any world view/philosophy).”

    Again, that wasn’t in question. In fact, in my view any increased knowledge of religious arguments makes it more irrational against at the same time holding to science rationality.

    And what I have seen, most atheists are aware of the arguments for and against theism. Since atheism can be neutral (“don’t know”), I’m not sure how you construe that atheists necessarily needs arguments for atheism.

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  • Zarove

    Dawkins is Arrogant. And its not so much that its impolite to be upfrotm with your Atheism, Stephen J. GOuld was. The Problem with Dawkisn is, was, and remains always, that he makes uncritical claims supported by nothing in his unnessisary and unwarrented attacks on hose who merley disagree with him.

    As an example, Dawkisn said “Anyone who beleives in God is Scientificlaly illeterate”, and brazenly proclaimed that no one can beleive in boht science and God.This is, of ocurse, a popular notion repeated int he above article, where the author said that , if yo think abou thtings scientificlaly, youd relaise God doesn’t existy.Yet, many scientistss do, in fact,beleive in God and many who think of things scintificlaly do come to the conclusion.

    The arrogance of Dawkins is not so much his forthrightness in his beleifs, but his ridicule of others in the name of domenatign the ocnversaiton in faovur of his own unproven assertions, most of which arne’t scientificlaly proven.

    IE, Dawkins hedonistic view of sex is not proven by one shred of sudy, and Psycology acutlaly confirms older moral codes as superior. Casual sex for mere enjoyment is not the route to happiness or Health and folks ar ehapper in stable, monogemosu relaitomships, and few sex partners in there life.

    Dawkisn writes, hwoever, about “ENjoying sex” and means casual sex is A-OK. A decideldy Anti-Sceintific notion that flies itn eh face of contemproary Psycological studies.

    Dawkisn also misrepresents many rleigiosu beelifs, thenature of what faith is (It snot beleif withot evidence, but confidence) and often beleifs abotu God. He didnt even get THomas Aquinas’s arguments right.(His “Ultimate stinkiness” argument is case in point.)

    Dawkins ridicules anuone who beleives in God, and doesnt even listen to there arguments. His cheap, ad hominim attacks and self servign raitonalisaitonzs ar what make him arrogant.

    Not his openness tobeign an Atheist.

  • http://sargeist.blogspot.com Sargeist

    These list commons by Zarove dimonstrant who dufficlit it is to crimpyhand a post writed by sumwon how canute spill.

    God damn you! After I spent all that effort trying to make sense of yuor tronspased letters, I fnid taht yuo’re tlaking billhooks.

    “Belief with confidence”? Hang on, I think my anus just prolapsed. “I really believe it, lots and lots, oh yes, look at how much I believe it.” This is entirely irrelevant to its truth status.

    I sincerely hope that I have just misunderstood your post, and that it is actually a genius piece of parody.

    Oh… bugger it, I simply can’t let it go. What is “unscientific” about wanting to enjoy sex? How do you get from “enjoy sex” to “casual sex is ok?” Is this the same kind of leap you kind of people make from “You can’t prove there isn’t a god” to “Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles and was the son of god”?

    Aaaaaarrrrggggghhhhh! Ooops, hold on, that’s my ARSE falling out again.

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  • John Knight

    Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for showing us how thoroughly unsophisticated your atheist dogma really is.

    The radical empiricism of the Dawkinite herd is logically self-defeating. It is thus no surprise that he does not systematically address basic questions of epistemology in his great big book. And so we should thank Richard Dawkins for his unreflective, unserious tome.

  • Matt

    I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ““The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions.” by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
    This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. “If you have the time please check the book out

  • http://robinedgar.stumbleupon.com Robin Edgar

    Thank you, Richard Dawkins, for inspiring ‘The Atheist Supremacist’s Song’. . .

    ‘The Atheist Supremacist’s Song’

    aka ‘I Am The Very Model Of An Atheist Supremacist’

    I am the very model of an Atheist Supremacist
    I’m an Intellectual, Evangelical, Godless Evolutionist
    I know the crimes of Christians, and I quote their fights historical
    From Jerusalem to Ireland, in order categorical

    I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters biological
    I understand equivocation, both scientific and theological
    About the “Holey Bible” I’m teeming with a lot o’ news
    With many fearful facts about Christians and the Jews

    With many fearful facts about Christians and the Jews
    With many fearful facts about Christians and the Jews
    With many fearful facts about Christians and those darn Jews

    I’m very good at bigotry and anti-religious insults
    I know the scientific names of beings animalculous
    In short, in matters biological, theological, and religious
    I am the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

    In short, in matters biological, theological, and religious
    He is the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

    I know God’s mythic history, from Osiris to the (Day of Yule)
    I answer to my critics, I’ve a petty taste for ridicule
    I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus
    In comics I will fight those other gods who are so fabulous

    I can’t tell undoubting Muslims from Bahá’ís or Zoroastrians
    But know the croaking chorus from those corpse-cold Unitarians
    Then I can hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s Rapical
    And whistle at the “fairy tales” of infernal nonsense Biblical

    And whistle at the “fairy tales” of infernal nonsense Biblical
    And whistle at the “fairy tales” of infernal nonsense Biblical
    And whistle at the “fairy tales” of infernal nonsense oh so Biblical

    Then I can write a bashing book of Biblical enormity
    And tell you ev’ry detail of Creationism’s deformity
    In short, in matters biological, Biblical, and religious
    I am the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

    In short, in matters biological, Biblical, and religious
    He is the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

    In fact, when I know what is meant by “Babylon” and “churlish”
    When I can tell at sight a Mormon from a Whirling Dervish
    When such affairs as prayers and “crackers” I’m more wary at
    And when I know precisely what is meant by “Eat your hat”

    When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern funnery
    When I know more of tactlessness than a novice in a nunnery
    In short, when I’ve a smattering of fundamental strategy
    You’ll say a better atheist had never spat at G

    You’ll say a better atheist had never spat at G
    You’ll say a better atheist had never spat at G
    You’ll say a better atheist had never ever spat at G

    For my religious knowledge, though it’s narrowy and shallowy
    Has only been brought down to the early Nineteenth century
    But still, in matters theological, minimal, and religious
    I am the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

    But still, in matters theological, minimal, and religious
    He is the very model of an Atheist Supremacist

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  • Aquaria

    You can tell how many people didn’t really read the book, or ad read it without really thinking about it. The whole time the words passed before their eyes it was Unh unh, like some four year old being told Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Then again, most of them don’t read their delusional fairy tale book with any more critical ability. Very few of them seem to have read it all the way through.

    And I just love how all these theists come in talking about bankrupt thinking, morals, ideas, etc., when they haven’t had an original idea since the 16th century, and they follow a decadent, perverted morality that progress keeps nullifying. Your invisible friend is being consigned to smaller and smaller gaps, and more and more of his “Word” is having to convert to metaphor. At what point will enough people realize that it’s all metaphor, and that it offers less in the way of morality than a kindergarten class’s rules and far less consolation and insight than even your average self-help book?

  • Serdan

    Matt,
    “This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism.”

    I love the irony. What the Jewish man failed to realize was that the German soldier was overwhelmingly likely to be a Christian, who believed the slaughter of Jews to be the will of God. This, I think, demonstrates the real problem with theism.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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