In Defense of Dawkins's Reason Rally Speech

While the media has largely ignored The Reason Rally, the one most popular bit of news that seems to be traveling around and getting criticized is Richard Dawkins’s recommendation to the crowd that we should incredulously and mockingly ask people who say they are Catholic whether they really believe in the transubstantiation during the Eucharist in which bread becomes literally the body of Christ and wine becomes literally the blood of Christ.

Critics are responding to Dawkins’s remarks by accusing him of hypocritically and perversely using what was nominally a rally for reason to pump up prejudice and mocking unreasonableness. To interpret his critics charitably, the following assumptions must be in play:

“To be rational in the utmost is to consider one’s opponent’s best arguments rather than to attack either strawman or ‘weak man’ arguments.”

“To attack with mockery, rather than argument, the prima facie absurdity of transubstantiation is to evade serious rational discussion of the question of God’s existence.”

“To attempt to persuade someone by mocking their beliefs rather than carefully refuting them is to attempt an end-run around rational debate and to try to bully someone into agreement by pressuring them that if they do not agree with you they will look silly and be thought a fool.”

“To mock someone’s beliefs is an inherently demeaning thing to do to them.”

There are several reasons these assumptions miss the mark.

First of all, these criticisms of Dawkins lazily and unreasonably ignore the actual rationale that he gave for specifically raising the issue of transubstantiation. It was actually not to make the believer feel stupid for believing such nonsense. Dawkins explicitly expressed doubt that the majority of nominally believing people really do believe such absurdities. He did not impugn their intelligence but rather he actually assumed they were smarter than their supposed beliefs. He was calling atheists to challenge nominal Catholics to confront the dissonance between what they actually believe and the Catholicism they often only passively belong to.

He wants nominal Catholics to reconsider why they so reflexively call themselves Catholic and thereby identify themselves as holding beliefs that upon the slightest introspection or incredulous challenge they will find they do not really find remotely plausible. Most importantly (and conveniently ignored by his opponents), Dawkins cited reputable survey data to support the notion that more people in England identify as Christian for reasons such as “wanting to think of myself as a good person” than for actually using religious teachings as their moral guide in life. The Christian leaders use their claim to great numbers of believers as the clout with which to bully politicians and society in general. Dawkins wants the Catholics whose beliefs the Church does not really represent to start grappling with this fact and with the disconnect between what they really believe and the institution they reflexively claim has authority over their beliefs and practices (to their own potential detriment).

I submit that this is as rational a place as any for Dawkins to request atheists to focus our confrontations with Christians, especially in an explicitly political, and not philosophical, speech. He called us to challenge the irrational ways in which ordinary people blithely confess to membership in an institution whose beliefs they either do not know, do not conscientiously live by, or cannot with a straight face defend; and yet which nonetheless claims to speak for them and their values in the halls of political power. Dawkins wants to challenge the soft power by which the Church keeps millions of nominal Catholics on the rolls by not forcing them to think too hard about what they believe or whether their faith beliefs square in the slightest with their common sense. He wants to show that in fact a greater majority is in practice as secular as the atheist minority, in a great many implicit beliefs and behaviors and that they should start understanding themselves accordingly.

While Dawkins explicitly calls for ridicule and contempt for patently absurd beliefs, he is equally explicitly not recommending a simplistic, dismissive “point and laugh” strategy aimed at (impossibly) marginalizing believing people as citizens. He is, rather, recommending something that true believing Catholics should not be threatened by or insist on exemptions from; namely, that they be demanded to affirm their Church’s beliefs or stop calling themselves Catholics.

And, in fact, if Catholics had the slightest confidence in their more absurd teachings, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of atheists routinely asking them (or their brethren) if they actually believed what Catholicism teaches. The response in all the Catholic articles about Dawkins should have read, “Professor Dawkins, I’ll answer your question: Yes! I believe in the true transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, and here’s why it’s more rational than not believing in it.” And they should have followed that up with triumphalist exhortations to fellow believers to proudly affirm their belief in it. And the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” should have joined Dawkins in raising the bar on their fellow Catholics and said, “Either start accepting Church teachings or admit you’re an atheist like Professor Dawkins calls you to!”

I suspect though that they doubt, as much as Dawkins doubts, that many believers would find those appeals as inspiring as an appeal to their sense of persecution and grievance.

And if they thought Dawkins was really making a strawman of Catholicism, or a weak man argument against it, for either mocking the doctrine of transubstantiation as irrational or for treating belief in that irrational doctrine as a litmus test for true Catholicism, then they should have either explained either why it is perfectly reasonable for a Catholic to believe in the doctrine on rational grounds or explained why one can reject the transubstantiation doctrine while still remaining Catholic.

This was and still is a fine opening for the true defenders of reason to put the atheist pretender in his place. By all means, crack open the medieval philosophy texts and explain to us the metaphysical contortions that were used to justify this doctrine. Explain to us why these metaphysical categories are rationally necessary even today and show us how when they are applied in the most logical possible ways they make transubstantiation not only minimally reasonable but rationally compelling as most likely true. Educate us! Show us exactly why it is a respectable belief according to reason, and not just according to faith, and why Dawkins should be seen as a fool for thinking it so easily dismissable and contemptible for rational people to believe. I would love to read those retorts and luxuriate in the persuasive way they put us brash, ignorant unreasonable New Atheists in our place. Really, I love being disabused of errors. Use philosophy to show me we New Atheists are wrong and I will love the chance to show how willing I am to admit I am wrong in the face of an actually plausible argument. I can’t wait.

Or, if the transubstantiation is not rational but is yet also not a true litmus test for Catholicism, then by all means show us why the average Catholic should not be expected to hold that belief. Point out the places where popes, bishops or esteemed Catholic theologians repudiate literalism about the Eucharist. And then, if you can actually do that, go ahead and explain to us why it is horribly bad and demeaning for us atheists to disabuse the average Catholic of that belief when even some estimable, learned Catholics reject it!

Or, if the belief is a rational litmus test for Catholic belief and it is not defensible on rational grounds but only on dogmatic ones, then explain to us in detail why true defenders of reason prove themselves by their willingness to make beliefs that are not grounded in reason immune to the criticism and ridicule that might help people abandon their unsupported beliefs. Explain to us why true defenders of reason, unlike the “arrogant” people at the reason rally, do not take a belief’s lack of evidence as grounds for dismissing it as either likely false or, at least, as an insufficient basis for the full commitment of one’s life and identity that religions demand.

And while you are at it, columnists and bloggers, show consistent adherence to your newfound principle that forbids all use of mockery in political and philosophical polemics. Please swear off all future uses of reductio ad absurdum, sarcasm, or any other rhetorical devices for highlighting irrationality in the positions of politicians and other public figures or movements you criticize henceforth. Retract all use of humor or confrontational language in your past writings. Call for political satirists to be thrown off the air and off the internet as inimical to rational debate. Don’t be hypocrites! Stand up for a neutered form of reasoned argument that allows itself no contentiousness or laughter in the face of falseness!

And if you believe that all criticisms of the contents of beliefs is demeaning to one’s opponents’ dignity, then stop demeaning all of us atheists by implying, or even stating, that our beliefs are false. You’re demeaning us!!

And if you think that we are only targeting the transubstantiation because it is low hanging fruit, i.e., an obvious absurdity much easier to defeat than the tougher question of the existence of God, then I will make you a deal on behalf of all New Atheists everywhere. (I know what you’re thinking—how can he dare to consider himself authorized to speak for all New Atheists everywhere. Just keep reading and you’ll see! I doubt any New Atheists won’t sign up for this deal. Link me to any articles wherein they do!) As soon as all religious people stop believing in and promulgating beliefs that are easy to refute or expose as false, we will all stop refuting those beliefs and stop exposing them as false. We will throw them on the ash heap of history with the Greek gods and think of them as a waste of time to worry about refuting. I promise.

But for as long as millions of socially and politically empowered people either believe, or at least claim to believe, absurdities, we have every right and responsibility to debunk those absurdities, no matter how easy that is to do or how politically disruptive to your ends it might be for us to do it.

Now, if you cannot agree to any of the above, then you can just admit that you want to give religious beliefs special privileged exemptions from criticism and/or you want to smear outspoken atheists, all out of either (a) your personal irrational unwillingness to have your own religious beliefs scrutinized rationally or (b) your elitist desire to patronize religious believers who you think are well-meaning benighted boobs that are both intellectually beneath refutation and way too useful for political purposes you support.

Those are your choices. Which do you agree to?

For the objective record, below the fold is the relevant transcript from Dawkins’s speech in full context, followed by an embed of the video of the full speech (starting at 10:21). The quoted sections come from 17:18-8:05 and 22:21-25:25 of the video.

I am often accused of expressing contempt and despising religious people. I don’t despise religious people, I despise what they stand for. I like to quote the British journalist Johann Hari who said, “I have so much respect for you, that I cannot respect your ridiculous ideas.”

 

[W]hat I want to suggest you do when you meet somebody who claims to be religious, ask them what they really believe. If you meet somebody who says he’s Catholic, for example, say, “What do you mean? Do you mean you were just baptized Catholic? Because I’m not impressed by that.” We just ran a poll by my Foundation in Britain, just ran a poll in Britain, in which we took those people who had ticked the Christian box in the census (and, by the way, that figure has come down dramatically)…and we asked them, “Why did you tick the Christian box?” And the most popular answer to that question was, “Oh, well, I like to think of myself as a good person.” Well, we all like to think of ourselves as good people. Atheists do, Jews do, Muslims do. So, when you meet somebody who claims to be Christian, ask her, ask him, “What do you really believe?” And I think you’ll find that in many cases, that they give you an answer that is no more convincing than that “I like to be a good person.”

By the way, when we went on to ask a specific question of these, over 54%, “What do you do when you’re faced with a moral dilemma? Where do you turn? Only 10% turned to their religion when they want to solve their moral question. Only 10%! The majority of them said, “I turn to my innate sense of goodness.” The next most popular answer was, “I turn for advice to relatives and friends.” So, when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is, “I don’t believe you.” I don’t believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, “Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafter, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that?!” Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood? Mock them. Ridicule them. In public. Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits. Religion makes specific claims about the universe that need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • smrnda

    I would add that I know of people of different religious persuasions who use a similar approach when dealing with people from other religions – people who ask Mormons if they really honestly believe that Joseph Smith translated the book of Mormon from gold tablets using seer stones in his hat for example, with just the same intention – to point out that many ‘believers’ don’t really fall into line with their religious leaders on all issues, or to point out that the person already probably doubts some aspects of the religion they claim to believe in.

  • Rob Go

    All one has to do is ask religious people to be consistent in their faiths, and with ALL the doctrines of their faiths. Ask them to not pick and choose, ask them to either buy it all, or none of it.

    Religious doctrines either make sense in their entirety, or not at all. Once we get to that point in the discussion, we can get closer to getting people to value each other over and above valuations of dogma.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    I don’t mind religious believers “picking and choosing”—they can believe some things and not others. But they have to explain the consistent principles by which they make those choices and they have to take accountability for distancing themselves from those who hold literalistic positions.

    And then they need to defend those “picked and chosen” beliefs on independent rational grounds too.

  • http://www.justinvacula.com Justin Vacula

    I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of theists strawmanning atheists to the point of them believing that every atheist activist is like Prince Prospero from The Masque of the Red Death who says, “That cross you wear around your neck? Is that only a decoration or are you a true Christian believer?”

    While atheists certainly will question others’ faith at times, I don’t think it is generally in this manner at all, but rather after a theist starts a conversation about an issue (this is from my experience, at least, and my approach).

    Rather, atheists like myself and many of those I have encountered will be like Prince Prospero when he says, “How can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it?” when a theist happens to start the conversation.

    (The Prince Prospero clip – a great and short two minutes!

    I love, love, love debating theists, but I don’t go around ‘trolling’ for Christians and starting debates.

    • rapiddominance

      Though I’m a theists, I’ve come to realize that within our community are large misconceptions over who you and your peers really are. Let me add that you could have gone much further in calling us out.

      I would like to ask you a question, but try to understand that its one of curiosity and concern rather than one rooted in either hostility or preconceived notions.

      The question — WHY do you “love, love, love debating theists”?

      I’ve seen many well organized and reasonable explanations for debating theists, but I’m not looking for logic or reason here. What I’m curious over is the payoff for you. There IS a reward that you obtain through such debate. Somehow, you ARE achieving some sort of betterment for yourself.

      You said “love” and that implies a positive emotional reward that you achieve from your doings. Would you try to paint for my mind’s eye what that reward looks like?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I can only speak for myself but I enjoy it as an educator since so much of the efforts are correcting for twisted logic and rationalizations.

    • Sajanas

      @rapiddominance

      I’d say, for me at least, the pay off is that when I was younger and religious, I never, ever got a contradictory opinion on religion. Certainly, my parents accepted evolution, and dismissed the start of Genesis and the flood as stories, but there is a huge host of other things that are complete fabrications in the Bible that we weren’t told about (and I’m not sure if I would have been told that Noah was a story unless I’d realized it was a problem). Churches *may* provide a more detailed look into the history and composition of the Bible, and the history of their own religions, but its always in classes, never from the pulpit. So its easy to be a Lutheran for most of your life and never hear what a raging, horrible anti-Semite Martin Luther is, for instance. Or never hear that the Gospels weren’t written by the people they’re attributed to, or that everything up till Solomon in the Old Testament is heavily fictionalized.

      Churches groom children, giving them information they think they’ll accept at specific ages… and frankly, I find it intolerable. I think one of the reasons I like arguing with religious people is because most of the time, they just don’t know. I remember my girlfriend’s mother was shocked that Jesus said marriages didn’t continue in heaven… and its all right there in the Bible. In my experience, the churches lull people into a profound lack of curiosity, and ignorance of their own religion and traditions. Argument may not necessarily change their minds, but it can at least remind them that the church isn’t trying to educate them, its just trying to keep them showing up.

    • zengardener

      rapiddominance,

      Hope. Debating a theist give me hope that I can open their eyes to reason and unlock their minds from the prison of superstion.

      I debate theists because they are compasionate, thinking, loving, people, and they deserve to be free.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    I dunno, I can see how some might say this is “bullying” Catholics… and we all know how evil that would be…

    /sarcasm

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      This is all consistent with my anti-bullying stance, Bret. I have always allowed for a degree of mockery. Where I draw the line is personal attacks and name-calling.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Whatever helps you sleep at night, sir. I have my semantical justifications, too.

    • Dan L.

      You seem to be using “semantical” and “justifications” pejoratively here. “Semantical” refers to the meanings of words, and used non-pejoratively, “justifications” means the exact same thing as “reasons”. So yes, Fincke is engaged in semantical justifications, but only to the extent that every human being who has ever in the history of the world explained why they chose one word rather than another was engaged in “semantical justifications.”

  • ‘Tis Himself

    Many Catholics, just like many other Christians, are not particularly knowledgeable about what their faith teaches. Some weeks ago I had to explain to a Catholic what papal infallibility actually entails.

  • Richard

    That is a charitable interpretation of what Dawkins said, and I hope you’re right. I don’t believe in bullying people, no matter how preposterous their beliefs are.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I don’t believe in bullying people either. It’s not bullying to confront people with the absurd implications of their beliefs and challenge them to meet them straight on. Just how much illogical belief do we have to pussy foot around? And read Dawkins’s text. Read the context. It’s all right there. It’s not just my interpretation.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Mock them. Ridicule them. In public.

      If you think bullying can be verbal, how is that not bullying?

      For the record, I don’t think it’s bullying unless you give them a wedgie while mocking them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The “them” referred to is the beliefs, not the people. And “in public” was said with a delay for comedic effect.

    • John Horstman

      Oh goodie, time to challenge preconceived notions about universal moral principles! Why NOT bully people? Is it because it’s intrinsically (and universally) a worse option than another which will always be available? (Note: we may be operating with different understandings of what constitutes ‘bullying’. In my understanding, it consists of a person or group vested with social privilege relative to a target mocking the target using the target’s divergence from normativity as the basis of the mockery, with the intent to gain a relative sense of superiority/entitlement/power for the bully and/or to force the target to suppress markers of said non-normative features or behaviors, in cases where such is possible.)

      For starters, under my definition, bullying the religious isn’t actually possible, as religious belief is socially normative pretty much everywhere. But let’s put that aside and assume we’re somewhere where religious belief actually is marginalized (good!). I certainly don’t think there’s really much to be said for bullying the religious simply to make them feel bad (though there’s a potential case to be made for the idea that in feeling bad, they might [re]examine their beliefs – whether that would justify anything is a related issue, but a separate debate), but what if we’re aiming to suppress a specific harmful behavior? Let’s use discrimination against gay people. Let’s say we’re dealing with an unrepentant bigot who hates gay people. This bigot knows gay people, works with gay people (and knows sie knows), and still harbors an irrational hatred of gay people. This bigot has heard all of the arguments against hating and discriminating against gay people, and remains convinced that doing so is still the best path for hirself.

      Two questions: In the absence of strong legal protections for gay people, is bullying this person – mocking hir for being a homophobe and denigrating discriminatory actions, repeatedly and publicly – into NOT engaging in homophobic behaviors – by making said behaviors or avowals of a homophobic worldview completely socially unacceptable – a bad thing to do? And: Aren’t laws in a democratic state exactly this?

      With respect to point one, we already do this for racists, child rapists, some murderers, most violent extremists, etc. Recognizing that people break laws, we seek to back our legally-prescribed/proscribed behaviors with strong social sanctions to diverging from these norms. This is the process called ‘socialization’. People don’t casually murder each other when angered not primarily because it’s illegal, but because it’s WRONG. How do we know it’s wrong? There may be some genetic predisposition to collectivism, particularly with identified in-groups, but it seems the main reason is that we’ve been socialized to understand killing as wrong. Not killing is a social norm, and norms are effectively established and maintained by bullying – bullying is exactly the method by which social norms function. Unless one wishes to posit that there should be no social norms whatsoever, then I submit that one cannot claim that bullying is intrinsically/universally Bad (or at least, that it’s not the worst option in any given case). (I’m aware, of course, that one could neither accept bullying NOR reject social norms if one either doesn’t think that my definition of bullying is a good one or thinks that social norms do not function by bullying; if this is the case, please make your case!)

      Second, given that laws are codified norms with the power of the collective force of violence of the state backing them, I assert that laws are a form of bullying (and potentially a far more problematic form than the social kind – being constantly taunted or banned from business or housing because one is gay is bad; being thrown in jail or executed by the state is worse). From this perspective, a lack of bullying is anarchy, something of which most people are not fans. I submit that it is not, in fact, bullying itself that’s problematic, it’s the selection of things about which to bully people, or the choice to do so when the only thing it accomplishes is to hurt another person. Bullying is in fact not bad, or even a necessary evil, but a positive good; we simply need to be judicious about when and with respect to what we’re bullying people. Bullying must always be justified – even when there IS a good reason (like someone using broken ‘self defense’ laws to hunt Black people), it does do harm to the target, so that harm must be weighed against (and dwarfed by) the harm that the target will likely do to others if NOT coerced into compliance with the norm in question. Bullying must be effective – there may be a good justification for bullying someone (like marginalizing priests who use their authority and access to children to rape them), but if that bullying is not actually effective at preventing a harmful behavior, then it becomes simple vindictiveness.

      It should not be surprising, as I see laws as a special case of bullying behavior, that these are the same criteria I apply to evaluating whether a law is a good one or a bad one, derived from a perspective of harm reduction balanced against personal liberty. Anyway, EVEN IF WHAT DAWKINS WAS SUGGESTING WAS BULLYING (it wasn’t, of course, though such a policy carried out in a predominantly-atheist society could become bullying), that doesn’t necessarily make it bad; in fact, it hits definitely the first criterion and possibly the second for prosocial bullying. To wit: bullying gay kids, for example, is bad not because bullying is wrong, but because there’s nothing wrong with being gay, and because bullying kids is not generally a good way to stop people from having gay sex (though it DOES tend to make them stay closeted, which is extremely problematic from at the very least a public health standpoint, as closeted persons engaging in same-sex sex acts are much less likely to engage in discussions of things like consent or safer-sex practices). Bullying HOMOPHOBES, on the other hand, IS good because homophobia is actively harmful (without any benefit), and bullying homophobes, at the least, can and does get them to shut the fuck up and keep their homophobia private instead of spewing it publicly, which can and does mitigate a lot of the harm caused by it (as with racism). If we’re talking about (any specific) religion, the debate has been had and the question has been settled. I see nothing wrong (and something right) with bullying people into staying silent about demonstrably false beliefs (and not acting on them), when the public profession of those beliefs and action based on those beliefs does harm to others.

  • rapiddominance

    Dr. Fincke:

    This is all consistent with my anti-bullying stance, Bret. I have always allowed for a degree of mockery. Where I draw the line is personal attacks and name-calling.

    Intellectual bullying entails far more than name-calling and slander. Its about coerciveness and gaining non-concentual power/control over another human or group of humans at the expense of a victim’s well-being. Agitation must also be present as painful emotional responses are deliberately targeted as a tool for behavioral control.

    For now, let me leave you with a term I’ve heard from one of your community’s more influential members: “soft-spoken malice”.

    ***********

    P.S. Maybe bullying IS acceptable under certain circumstances. Would you agree with that statement?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I agree with your broader definition of bullying. Visiting cognitive dissonance upon people does not at all fall under it though.

    • John Horstman

      Heh, I think visiting cognitive dissonance upon others IS a method of bullying, under certain conditions. And I think that bullying is not intrinsically bad – see my above response to the previous question.

  • godlesspanther

    It is impossible not to make fun of religious beliefs. If one were to just describe, for example, Noah’s ark or the resurrection of Jesus, in a dry matter-of-fact way and then state the fact that there are some people who really believe this stuff — it’s going to sound like ridicule just because of the absurd nature of the beliefs themselves.

    Dawkins’ example of transsubstantiation (the word on its own sounds silly) is a perfect example of the absurdity of a religious belief.

    “Yes, I do believe that I can have a piece of bread and a sip of wine and it will magically be transformed into the blood and body of Jesus. Now don’t make fun of me for believing that.”

    Why not?

  • angelina

    With a lot of Christian beliefs, they seem normal to us in comparison to beliefs we were not raised in a culture of.

    I have friends from around the world through university, and when I explain to them about the different denominations of Christianity and what they believe, their reaction is similar to that of a lot of Christians when I explain to them what say, Hindus believe.

    When I tell Christians what Hindus or other eastern religions believe, the common response is “That doesn’t make sense”, or a variation on it. Yet the same people fully accept without ever really questioning it, virgin birth, resurrection and transubstantiation along with speaking in tongues etc.

    It is a case of “My religion sensible, your religion a bit crazy”, so the discussion usually goes down the road of “What makes the practices and tenets of one religion acceptable and sensible, and another nonsense?”

    I do not argue per se, I just try to get people to think about WHY they accept unquestioningly their religious doctrine, and reject out of hand the equally strongly held beliefs of others.

    For me, it comes down to “If you were born in X country, would you still believe the things you do, or would they seem as alien to you as other religions do now?

  • Andrew Houghton

    Since I am not of sufficient intellect to possibly sit in your company and discuss this, I would beg you indulge me by answering one simple question.

    Why would you even care what tools a man requires to tear down another’s walls, as long as you deny him the treasures that may lie within them?

    Surely a thief of faith is still a thief!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Since I am not of sufficient intellect to possibly sit in your company and discuss this, I would beg you indulge me by answering one simple question.

      Don’t patronize me.

    • sumdum

      Faith is a vice, not a virtue. Replace it with reason and you won’t have lost anything, you’ll have gained a lot.

    • David Hart

      “Surely a thief of faith is still a thief!”

      What sumdum said, but also, what an odd phrase you use. A thief is someone who takes property from you because (usually) they want it for themself. It’s zero-sum. But trying to share with someone the tools of critical thinking and the most accurate picture of reality we can muster, that’s a win-win situation. Dawkins would have us share the truth with people, even if the process can be a little unpleasant at first (and important truths are often unpleasant to someone). There is no thievery involved, because our beliefs do not function like property.

    • Zinc Avenger

      Is a thief of faith in Santa still a thief?

    • Grendels Dad

      Is a teacher a thief of a students ignorance?

    • godlesspanther

      The analogies are very poor.

      Criticizing religion is not the same as stealing your faith. You are free to believe all the nonsense you want. Nobody is stopping you. Actually it is impossible to stop you from believing anything. Your beliefs take place in the grey matter inside your skull. The only one who has access to it or control over it is you. Believe away.

      If you express those beliefs to others and they criticize them — that’s just what it is. It cannot change what you think.

      What are you so worried about? Makes me think that your belief system is rather weak if you think that it can just be yanked away from you so easily.

  • laurentweppe

    While the media has largely ignored The Reason Rally

    An attendance of ten thousands people in the capital of a 300 million strong country, and you wonder why you’ve been ignored? Seriously? And then you complain when someone tells you that Atheist can have beliefs as laughable and the same inflated sense of worth as any religious group.

    Critics are responding to Dawkins’s remarks by accusing him of hypocritically and perversely using what was nominally a rally for reason to pump up prejudice and mocking unreasonableness

    And to tell the truth, I still have trouble figuring whether this was a secularist rally or an atheistic one. And as I argued in the past, not all Atheists are secularists, and Dawkins have in the past -and during his last speech- walked pretty close this line.
    *
    But you’re right about Dawkin’s critics missing the mark.
    The problem with Dawkin attack is that he’s attempting to rationalize a tribalistic position.
    Dawkins is pretty much embracing the Coyne/Hitchens paradigm that the only “Real-True-Authentic” religious people are those who blindly adhere to every doctrines, liturgies, theologies of their sect and that every religious person displaying rational behavior must be a fake member of the sect, a closeted atheist. Therefore, Ben Franklin was a secret atheist, Jefferson was a secret atheist, Obama is a secret atheist, etc… one could probably keep going back in time and proudly proclaim that Roger Bacon and Aquinas were also secret atheists.
    *
    This paradigm is wrong not only because it is false on its face, but also because its untold logical conclusion is that every religious person is either wicked (fanatical fundies following each and every of their sect’s teachings) or perfidious and/or cowardly (fake believers faking belief). That’s quite a dangerously convenient paradigm: it rationalzes the idea that every display of animus and contempt toward religious people is justified.
    *****
    *****
    Now you claim that one of Dawkin’s motive is to stop church leaders to bully politicians and society in general: If that’s the case, then he and you are basing yourself on a wrong premise: church leaders do not try to bully politicians and are not capable of bulling society, at least in the western hemisphere:
    Just look at the very telling behavior of the american bishops: they cast their lot with right-wing politicians and the conservative protestants who make the bulk of their voting block: they’re not trying to bully the politicians: the politicians already agree with them, and if they were trying to bully society, they would start by saying from the choir that “Frow now one, every Catholic is ordered to stop using contraceptive under penalty of excommunication”. Except that the higher-ups in the Catholic Church do not have the muscle to force their will on their flock anymore, which is precisely why you see them allying themselves with protestants against against their own pews
    Would the retrogrades among the episcopate bully socitey if they could? Sure. But their MO today is not to invoke the number of Catholics to get their ways: their MO is to ally themselves with right-wing demagogues, hoping that they will win election, use their access to rig the democratic system enough to stay in power after they became impopular and use the firepower of the state to impose to their own flock the very rules they cannot convince or force them to follow. Catholics who do not believe in transubstantiation are not part of the equation here.
    ***

    He wants to show that in fact a greater majority is in practice as secular as the atheist minority

    That’s not true: not all atheist are secular: those (some of whom are part of FTB’s readership) who dreams of turning the tables with religions and becoming the next great oppressors (and who often tend to use the Coynes/Hitchens/Dawkins paradigm to justify their Machtgelüst) are most definitely not secularists. The great majority of Catholics may very well be in practice as secular as secular atheists. But then, if the whole point was demonstrating that a secular something as a lot in common with a secular something-else, what’s the point in embrassing a tribalistic intellectually dishonest paradigm?

  • consciousness razor

    An attendance of ten thousands people in the capital of a 300 million strong country, and you wonder why you’ve been ignored? Seriously?

    Alas, if only the people who went to the million man march didn’t comprise a fraction of one percent of the population, maybe the media would have paid attention….

    Perhaps you’ll argue that was an order of magnitude larger, which makes all the difference, but I doubt it’s crossed your mind that this nevertheless sounds like you want minorities to be ignored.

    And since Fincke was just making a factual statement putting the criticism into context, not offered as a complaint or as some kind of mystery to wonder about, I have to question how carefully you read anything after that very first phrase.

    Dawkins is pretty much embracing the Coyne/Hitchens paradigm that the only “Real-True-Authentic” religious people are those who blindly adhere to every doctrines, liturgies, theologies of their sect and that every religious person displaying rational behavior must be a fake member of the sect, a closeted atheist.

    Pretty much? Are you going to strawmen him or not? Get it over with.

    The rest is just more weaseling and dribbling. Also, learn to punctuate.

  • laurentweppe

    Once again I will have to summon the smug french in me. Fortunately, this is an easy thing to do:

    Perhaps you’ll argue that was an order of magnitude larger, which makes all the difference, but I doubt it’s crossed your mind that this nevertheless sounds like you want minorities to be ignored.

    Ok, first, I will ask again: was this a secularist rally or an atheistic rally: because if atheist are a minority in the US, I’m pretty sure secularists are still the majority.
    Also, it did not sound like I want minorities to be ignored: it sounds like I know that tiny minorities are just beneath the media attention: Dawkins catches the attention of the big media when one of his books sells well, not when he go to a small meeting.
    *
    10.000 people, that’s not a rally: that’s a club meeting; in fact, if the club of pissed Mass Effect fans decided to organize a rally in Washington, they would probably have a much better attendance, so, once scales are factored in, I ask: Why should the US media care?
    *
    I already put a link to this video in Ed’s blog: it shows what a secularist rally can be: when we (and by “We” I mean french Secularists) want to flex our muscle, a million of us rally in Paris, and at least another million rally in the main provincial cities. At which point the whole country stands still, half the political class walk with us while the other half tremble. That’s how you get the attention of the media. And don’t tell me that with the number of idiotic and harmful laws being proposed in the US is not enough people pissed to organize something much much bigger.

    *****
    *****

    I have to question how carefully you read anything after that very first phrase.

    Not only do I read carefully, but I can even quote to you where Dawkin embrace the shitty “everyone is a closeted atheists” trope:

    So, when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is, “I don’t believe you.” I don’t believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, “Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafter, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that?!” Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?

    See the problem: according to Dawkins, people who do not use the Bible as a self-help booklet nor believe in “Insert-here-arbitrarily-proclaimed-essential-part-of-your-religious-doctrine” yet identify themselves as Catholic are liars.
    And don’t go on telling me that he “merely meant” that many Catholics should call themselves nondenominational Christians: Dawkins would never have bothered to write a speech if this had been the conclusion: he choosed the transubstantiation doctrine as an exemple to express the more general viewpoint that religious people who do not use their religion as the lone keystone of their moral universe nor agree with each and every doctrine of their faith are faithless people pretending to be religious.
    This general viewpoint was in fact easily identified by Fincke himself, since he wrote:

    the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” should have joined Dawkins in raising the bar on their fellow Catholics and said, “Either start accepting Church teachings or admit you’re an atheist like Professor Dawkins calls you to!”

    aknowledging here that Dawkins’ standard is so broad that a majority of Catholics would be atheists by Dawkins’ own standard.

    Of course, you can always choose to decide that after another episode of Dawkins letting slip the fact that his quasi-victorian brand of atheism is built upon a very peculiar set of standards that most of his readership and fanbase does not share, said peculiar set of standards should be denied in public: after all, Daniel said it himself: this is a political, and not philosophical speech: public denials are part of the course.

  • laurentweppe

    Arrrrrrrrg, something went wrong with my Tag-fu: could you erase the previous message since this one is the same wth the correct Tags?

    Once again I will have to summon the smug french in me. Fortunately, this is an easy thing to do:

    Perhaps you’ll argue that was an order of magnitude larger, which makes all the difference, but I doubt it’s crossed your mind that this nevertheless sounds like you want minorities to be ignored.

    Ok, first, I will ask again: was this a secularist rally or an atheistic rally: because if atheist are a minority in the US, I’m pretty sure secularists are still the majority.
    Also, it did not sound like I want minorities to be ignored: it sounds like I know that tiny minorities are just beneath the media attention: Dawkins catches the attention of the big media when one of his books sells well, not when he go to a small meeting.
    *
    10.000 people, that’s not a rally: that’s a club meeting; in fact, if the club of pissed Mass Effect fans decided to organize a rally in Washington, they would probably have a much better attendance, so, once scales are factored in, I ask: Why should the US media care?
    *
    I already put a link to this video in Ed’s blog: it shows what a secularist rally can be: when we (and by “We” I mean french Secularists) want to flex our muscle, a million of us rally in Paris, and at least another million rally in the main provincial cities. At which point the whole country stands still, half the political class walk with us while the other half tremble. That’s how you get the attention of the media. And don’t tell me that with the number of idiotic and harmful laws being proposed in the US is not enough people pissed to organize something much much bigger.

    *****
    *****

    I have to question how carefully you read anything after that very first phrase.

    Not only do I read carefully, but I can even quote to you where Dawkin embrace the shitty “everyone is a closeted atheists” trope:

    So, when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is, “I don’t believe you.” I don’t believe you until you tell me, do you really believe, for example, if they say they are Catholic, “Do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafter, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that?!” Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?

    See the problem: according to Dawkins, people who do not use the Bible as a self-help booklet nor believe in “Insert-here-arbitrarily-proclaimed-essential-part-of-your-religious-doctrine” yet identify themselves as Catholic are liars.
    And don’t go on telling me that he “merely meant” that many Catholics should call themselves nondenominational Christians: Dawkins would never have bothered to write a speech if this had been the conclusion: he choosed the transubstantiation doctrine as an exemple to express the more general viewpoint that religious people who do not use their religion as the lone keystone of their moral universe nor agree with each and every doctrine of their faith are faithless people pretending to be religious.
    This general viewpoint was in fact easily identified by Fincke himself, since he wrote:

    the bemoaners of “Cafeteria Catholicism” should have joined Dawkins in raising the bar on their fellow Catholics and said, “Either start accepting Church teachings or admit you’re an atheist like Professor Dawkins calls you to!”

    aknowledging here that Dawkins’ standard is so broad that a majority of Catholics would be atheists by Dawkins’ own standard.

    Of course, you can always choose to decide that after another episode of Dawkins letting slip the fact that his quasi-victorian brand of atheism is built upon a very peculiar set of standards that most of his readership and fanbase does not share, said peculiar set of standards should be denied in public: after all, Daniel said it himself: this is a political, and not philosophical speech: public denials are part of the course.

  • http://timminchinforuu.blogspot.com Mary

    Can’t we disagree and question without mocking and ridicule? There HAS TO BE a better way to achieve the worthy goals espoused by Dawkins earlier in his speech: REASON, upholding the Constitution, separation of church and state, embracing science, and becoming a nation in which atheists live openly without fear of persecution or ridicule—-without persecuting or ridiculing others for their beliefs. I would rather start a dialogue with respect, than mock with contempt.

    • John Horstman

      Again, unless you think we shouldn’t persecute rapists, murders, Nazis, slavers, etc., I reject the idea that persecution is bad, and thus that it’s even desirable to achieve a society free from persecution (unless that comes about as the result of every single person subscribing to and following enlightened ethical principles, such that there’s no need for persecution of bad ideas or people who behave badly, because none exist). Until the world is free from horrible people, we cannot have (and should not want) a world free from persecution.

  • Andrew Houghton

    Zinc Avenger says:
    April 2, 2012 at 8:25 am
    Is a thief of faith in Santa still a thief

    Does a child not cry when you awaken him to the realisation there is no Santa and no present in the sack? Or do you provide the sack, the present and the Love that is attached to it? Who ever Santa is and whatever santa is, he still embodies the gesture, and the love for him, is as genuine to the child, as the present that it is attached to. The realisation there is no Santa comes with the responsibility to be Santa, and that requires an understanding of what it means to be Santa. But to be santa you must first have believed in santa to know what a gift being Santa is.

    • Enkidum

      Uh… maybe, I dunno, you’re being pretty vague there. But doesn’t the fact that Santa isn’t real matter here, somewhere? Aren’t you a lunatic if you’re an adult and you believe in him? Isn’t belief in Santa a fairly good proxy for being irrational?

    • Andrew Houghton

      No the belief is that Santa assumes the roll of bringer of presents and in the European sense, the rewards for good behaviour. An adult, parent believes in Father Christmas or Santa, as a good tradition from which they gained as a child and perpetuates the myth with their child. You really have a problem understanding “Belief”. You assume it is literal, is their any correlation between Aspbergers syndrome and Philosophers? Critical thinking strikes me as tool taken to de construct with the subtlety of a Crowbar and the delicacy of a wrecking ball.

    • Enkidum

      Right, this is an old one. Belief isn’t literal.

      Well, so long as one acknowledges that explicitly, I suppose I don’t have a problem with it. Provided that Christianity explicitly states that all its tenets and creeds have the same metaphysical status as Santa Claus, I’m quite happy with it. But that tends to make believers uncomfortable? Why is that? Could it be that they actually believe, in a literal sense?

  • Andrew Houghton

    sumdum says:
    April 2, 2012 at 7:51 am
    Faith is a vice, not a virtue. Replace it with reason and you won’t have lost anything, you’ll have gained a lot.

    Do not put a foot in front of the other and place your weight on it. You have just committed a vice if you do

    Don’t tell anyone but you took for granted that the world in front of you could support your weight.

    That was an act of Vice.

    Sorry Faith

    • David Evans

      “Do not put a foot in front of the other and place your weight on it. You have just committed a vice if you do.”

      Doing so is not an act of faith. My expectation that the ground will (barring accidents) hold my weight is based not only on my past experience but the past experience of all humanity. Whereas what anyone “knows by faith” is pretty certain to be contradicted in detail by what some other person “knows by faith”

    • Yahzi

      Confidence != faith.

  • Andrew Houghton

    Daniel Fincke says:
    April 2, 2012 at 2:49 am
    Since I am not of sufficient intellect to possibly sit in your company and discuss this, I would beg you indulge me by answering one simple question.

    Don’t patronize me.

    I don’t have a degree, I haven’t studied Philosophy, Divinity or critical thinking. I studied to be an Engineer. I understand some circuit diagrams, a little physics, and I really heavily on reasoning and common sense.

    If I can patronise you I either owe you a debt of gratitude or an apology, but then that would depend on why you became so well qualified. Because of your own self doubt, or thirst for knowledge. I don’t know you well enough so I can only summize you don’t want me to Patronize your site, so I shall bid you farewell and I hope our chance encounter stimulated you as much as it did me.

    Andrew

  • omcdurham

    When somebody for whom I’ve held a door open for at a mall entrance or a store entrance, tells me “that’s a nice Christian thing to do”, I reply that, no, it’s a human thing to do. Humans don’t need Christ to dictate their behavior, Catholics don’t need their faith to make them act a certain way. It is a choice to act a certain way, Catholic, atheist, humanist, or not. Besides, communion wafers offered in church taste awful. If they turned into 2,000 year old dead guy flesh, we would all get sick.

  • Joseph

    I disagree with the idea that one can mock and ridicule a belief without mocking and ridiculing the one who believes. To identify and hold a belief means, in some way, to take that belief and make it part of one’s self, through the intellectual capacity of the soul. Although I am not ontologically changed by holding a belief, I am identifiable by said belief: “I am Catholic” is how language puts it. For nominal Catholics, it is purely a name, nothing more. But for those who identify as Catholic do so in a much more profound way. They hold the Church’s beliefs within themselves, and as a result, are moreso Catholic because of it.

    I find it absurd that one does take the metaphysics of transsubstantiation as easily refutable. Only on empirical grounds, but reality is more than physics. To argue a point of metaphysics, you must meet the person on metaphysical grounds. You are otherwise arguing different points, rendering the argument futile.

    • John Horstman

      So, I’m curious: what’s your definition of ‘metaphysical’? The way you’re using it, it seems like it would, in practice, be indistinguishable from ‘imaginary’ – if it’s not based in something observable/measurable, then there’s no basis to establish the collective multi-positional agreement on its truth that constitutes Fact, unless you’re attempting an argument on the sole basis of a formalized abstraction (e.g. sentential logic, like ‘if a, then a’). I don’t really see how you can make such an argument for transubstantiation, though, since you’re always going to have to come back to the physical properties of the cracker and wine that define then as a cracker and wine in the first place.

  • Beth

    When people, such as Dr. Dawkins or Dr. Fincke, advocate the use of such tactics when atheists interact with others, it makes me cringe. They are bullying tactics. IMO, the primary purpose is to get people to either agree or be silent about their disagreement. I don’t see this as a civilized or reasonable approach in attempting to convert people from one set of beliefs to another.

    Instead, it seems as hypocritical to do so under the banner of ‘reason’ as it did when I saw theists using it against non-believers under the guise of ‘love’. Such tactics are not appropriately labeled with either description.

    I think how someone chooses to communicate to others says more about them than it does about the other person. That Dr. Dawkins chooses to use such methods and advocate for their use tells me that he is a person who not only places his ideology above being considerate of others, but is willing to violate one of his main claimed principles in order to do so. This is the same conclusion I arrived at about theists who used such tactics. I no longer listen to them or Dawkins for that reason.

    • Joseph

      To define metaphysical reality, one must look at things like essences and accidents. Every tree, be it oak, redwood, whatever is of the essence of tree. I do not need to see every tree in order to know the universal “treeness”. The intelligible species suffices. The intelligible things are metaphysical realities. Truly, metaphysics is more at the core of reality than empirical things. They allow me to understand that which is beyond immediate sense perception and grasp the deeper truth. Even the natural sciences (in some way) deal with metaphysics. Things like beauty, truth, and goodness are what we look at first. We recognize immediately that these do not depend on the senses, and are universally true. “Piss Christ” may have a subjective “beauty” but one cannot help but be in awe of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. If we reduce goodness and truth to relativity, or at least subjectivity, then we can never make a claim to know anything, for if truth is dependent upon matter, then, like matter, truth is constantly changing.

      That being said, in the Eucharist, the argument is made regarding a metaphysical change of substance, separate from the accident. We Catholics are attempting to make sense of the mystery. Many orthodox Catholics agree that this isn’t a perfect explanation, but it is the best available. This is where the philosophy and faith meet. Philosophically, one can prove God, but it takes a matter of faith to go further. I cannot prove a matter of faith to someone without it. We make a metaphysical argument based on revelation. If you cannot grasp and trust the revelation, then you cannot ever understand the argument made. Kierkegaard calls it the leap of faith, Newman calls it assent (which he argued without metaphysics, btw).

      And so, at the end of the day, to argue with a theist, especially a Catholic, you have to meet on their terms. No argument will ever go anywhere without agreement of terms. I recommend reading “The Range of Reason” by Jacques Maritain for a fuller look at a Catholic epistemology, especially regarding the fallacy of arguing against metaphysics on the scientific method.

    • rapiddominance

      I came to a similar conclusion. For me, I began to look at people more on the basis of their attitudes and intentions towards others and not so much according to their belief platforms. The idea being, is that caring people are inherently better listeners and are more willing to change course when their actions are hurting others.

      Playing “Gnu-atheist advocate” here, one could argue that the tactics used by this community are specifically chosen against a foe who actively avoids honest conversation and introspection.

      Also, I don’t think you were necessarily wrong in your assessment of what the Gnu try to do, but I do think that you’re not right enough. There is a very solid element of strategy present (that, oddly enough, many or most gnu atheists don’t adequately grasp). I can’t describe it in detail here, but I’ll offer a starter summary: Its about causing a level of reverberation within the religious community–a ‘shaking and breaking’, so to speak. Comment #23 hit on this a bit and you might want to check it out.

      I’m not endorsing any practice that you see here, however. I’m just trying to see it clearly. Thanks for listening.

    • Yahzi

      Dawkins isn’t the insulting one; you are.

      Dawkins says, “Wait a minute – you mean to tell me you actually believe that? That’s what you actually believe?”

      Confrontational, yes, but fundamentally honest.

      On the other hand, you say, “I know you said you believed that, but I’m going to ignore the words coming out of your mouth and assume you believe what I want you to believe and not even do you the courtesy of telling you I’ve internally edited your belief claims.”

      One of us is actually taking people at their word, like they are adults; and one of us isn’t.

  • Starmaker

    You’re very wrong here.

    The True Catholics (and other True Believers) do not need to explain WHY their belief in a particular ridiculous thing is rational (well, technically they do, but not according to the challenge). You might as well say, “Now that we all agreed that god doesn’t exist, prove that he does.” And they might as well ask you to shoehorn your “belief” in evolution into conforming with six-day creation. This is highly counterproductive.

    Rather, Dawkins’ idea (I’m going by Jerry Coyne’s article here) is to make people openly state their (ridiculous) beliefs. And that’s a game everyone can play. Don’t say “So you believe in transubstation, haha a self-professed cannibal” – instead, thank the fundie in question and watch the other Christians’ bullshit alarms going off.

    This is not a conversion to atheism. You shouldn’t demand people to consider your reasons – only their own. You want the secular people hear the fundies’ definition of Christianity and dissolve this unity that only exists through ignorance and deliberate vagueness. “I believe in God, but I also believe in zodiac, vampires and Harry Potter, therefore you, Mr.Politician, do NOT speak for me” is a success. “Those crazy people eat flesh and worship a torture implement, but my God is an actual sky fairy in a golden dress with ribbons in her hair.”

    Don’t ask for people to convert – without considering the underlying facts, this is seriously the same *form* of argument that people are making to “convert” gays. Don’t try to convince the sky-fairy believer that rationality is more fun in the long run – rather, you need to explain that openly disagreeing with the flesh-and-blood creeps would make it easier for the SFB to practice their present sky-fairy belief.

  • rapiddominance

    Sajanas and D. Fincke

    Thank you for your responses to my question on #4. I especially appreciate the thoughtfulness of the Sajanas response as it helps me understand the motivations involved as a natural and reasonable reaction/counteraction to real problems.

    D. Fincke, resonding to comment #8:

    I agree with your broader definition of bullying. Visiting cognitive dissonance upon people does not at all fall under it though.

    I agree that it does not necessarily fall under the said category. “Visiting cognitive dissonance” can be useful for showing people how their conflicting views and/or attitudes are impeding their ability to live a full or functional life. It might also be useful (or necessary) to visit such conflict on those who are NOT willing to examine truthfully their own intellectual discord–for the sake of educating/protecting others who might be affected by the actions of such individuals resulting from their disfunctional cognitive practices.

    Whether such “visitation” is bullying or not has a lot to do with the intentions of the “visitor”; that is, whatever personal reward(s) he or she is truley after in what some would characterize as an emotionally invasive activity. Simply utilizing intellectual muscle over a weaker individual does not suffice, especially if the motivations are of an altruistic nature.

  • Andrew Houghton

    My Apologies Dear Doctor,

    I feel drawn back to ask one more question, you are at liberty to ignore it.

    Given that no one can substantiate any belief in a being greater than our own, and no one has ever been able to explain the reason for our existence, what purpose given that we don’t know of one, necessitates our persistence at surviving? Surely with the realisation that we exist for no purpose other than procreate, it would make sense as an intellectual to decide not to. Critically speaking, continued existence is futile.

    • Enkidum

      Surely with the realisation that we exist for no purpose other than procreate, it would make sense as an intellectual to decide not to. Critically speaking, continued existence is futile.

      There’s a long list of previous posts up and to the right – several of them address that point. I suggest looking.

      Just to provide my own 2 cents, nothing, in any fundamental metaphysical sense, necessitates our survival. The universe doesn’t care about us. So what? Why would this make you want to commit suicide? Don’t you have better things to do?

    • Andrew Houghton

      My wish to survive is based on fear of death. Nothing I have done to this point enriches the world I live in, it is no better than how I found it, and I doubt my existence has had any profound effect on anyone, good or bad, that someone else could not have equalled or bettered. In truth like many others make up the ballast of the majority of the human race. I believe society and the human condition are chemically obedient to a belief system, to maintain the species. Most decisions we make are based on fear.
      To rationalise or intellectually ponder such questions implies a need to control emotion, probably born of anxiety and fear. I dare say freud had a view. We should all seek therapy, Athiests especially. Since they are defying nature.

    • Enkidum

      Your wish to survive is based on fear of death? Bullshit. Do you spend every moment going “If I wasn’t so terrified of dying I’d kill myself.”? No. You survive because you are a being that values activities that preserve life. You have no conscious access to the ultimate motives that keep you alive.

      Look, we actually have a fairly good idea what fear is, physiologically speaking. And most people aren’t afraid most of the time. Look into yourself – are you honestly that terrified? If so, you suffer from a panic disorder. We actually understand fear fairly well on a physiological basis, and it’s extremely energy-intensive. If we were constantly afraid we’d all be dead by age 40.

      Why are atheists going against nature? Why should they need therapy? I’m reasonably happy and content with my life. Why should I be otherwise?

    • Yahzi

      Nothing I have done to this point enriches the world I live in, it is no better than how I found it, and I doubt my existence has had any profound effect on anyone,

      You know, if my existence were as pathetic as yours, I’d probably be thinking about killing myself too.

      But it’s not. Here’s a suggestion: invest some effort into making other people’s lives better. Earn a smile or two. Then see if life still isn’t worth living.

  • Simon

    Isn’t the classic here gluten free wafers, so not even the church believes in transubstiation. Somewhere along the way we forgot the point of these mystery religions was to know not that you are a “true believer”, but that you are a “true belonger”.

    • Andrew Houghton

      Is this normal, that eventually Philosophers pat each other on the back when they come to the obvious conclusion, the rest of the planet came to as they were ploughing the fields, bringing in the wheat and milking the cows? To sit like Plato, and arrive at such a benal statement is to look in a bucket and be amazed when it contains water, but not have noticed the woman struggling to carry it to him!

  • MichaelLorne

    “And, in fact, if Catholics had the slightest confidence in their more absurd teachings, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of atheists routinely asking them (or their brethren) if they actually believed what Catholicism teaches.”

    If by this you mean Atheists (or Dawkinists or whatever you want to call them) questioning particular doctrinal beliefs in public or public forums then fine – nobody has the right to stop that.

    But if you are exhorting atheists to go up to and challenge their Catholic neighbour/colleague/team-mate, what is the difference between that and religious proselytising?

    Not much of a problem in everyday life, perhaps (although if I were the target of such attention I’d probably find it annoying and a little a bit patronising), but it would, potentially, bring up harassment issues in the workplace.

    I assume you’re not, but it’s unclear from your post.

  • Kimpatsu

    As a Brit myself, I would add that many people answer the religious question in the national survey as a proxy for ethnicity. So when someone says that they are a Xian, denomination: C of E, what they really mean is, “I am white English”, as opposed to Irish (Catholic), Scottish (Presbyterian), or the children of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent (Muslim).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1301049198 koenvan hees

    Individuals, believers or not, can cherry-pick as much as they like, afaic, but if you want to make a logical or passionate appeal in public space, the minimum polite rule of engagement is that you can take what you give.
    Take Abraham. As long as you don’t call him by name, most people will agree: “this is a dangerous person who should be helped/stopped/punished severely for trying to kill his sons and for sleeping with his daughters”.
    That’s all I ask for from friends. just so you know the kids are safe, some core values are shared.
    Public debaters of the one true religion (whichever) however should be able to make the point that either it’s perfectly OK to denounce Abraham OR that yes, it is morally sound to kill one’s sons, talk to invisible people and sleep with one’s daughters as long as god says it’s OK.

  • Galactor

    The paragraph beginning “if Catholics had the slightest confidence” is just wonderful. It exposes exactly what the real problem is – there is no substance to either the beliefs nor the complaint that these beliefs should be challenged.

    I think that paragraph could have easily come from Mark Twain or even Ingersoll.

  • Andrew Houghton

    Some humour for you!

    What do you call a man that drives up a cul-de-sac to eat his sandwiches and never leaves?

    An Atheist Philosopher.

    • durham669

      Some humour for you Andrew, the ultimate definition of Christianity:

      “The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your lord and master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.”

    • Andrew Houghton

      More humour. A man who has no religion, yet was so hurt by his Christian upbringing that he can’t move on without castigating others faith, looks over a cliff, sees his own reflection and shouts as loud as he can….you down there, how dare you look like me. A voice shouts back, stop winging and throw me a sandwich!

    • durham669

      Andrew (aka troll), a man who can dish it out but can’t take it.

    • Dan L.

      More humour. A man who has no religion, yet was so hurt by his Christian upbringing that he can’t move on without castigating others faith, looks over a cliff, sees his own reflection and shouts as loud as he can….you down there, how dare you look like me. A voice shouts back, stop winging and throw me a sandwich!

      I wasn’t the least bit hurt by my Christian upbringing but I still think you’re ridiculous. Better?

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    …Richard Dawkins’s recommendation to the crowd that we should incredulously and mockingly ask people who say they are Catholic whether they really believe in the transsubstantiation during the Eucharist in which bread becomes literally the body of Christ and wine becomes literally the blood of Christ.

    THAT’s what Dick to the Dawks is being criticized for? Seriously? Kicking transsubstantiation to the curb is one of the most basic tenets of the Reformation itself, but now it’s bad when atheists do the same thing as Protestants have been doing for centuries?

    This nonsense gives missing the point a bad name.

  • eric

    Godlesspanther @9:

    If one were to just describe, for example, Noah’s ark or the resurrection of Jesus, in a dry matter-of-fact way and then state the fact that there are some people who really believe this stuff — it’s going to sound like ridicule just because of the absurd nature of the beliefs themselves.

    I feel the same way. If someone were to ask me “do you really believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Seriously?” I wouldn’t feel ashamed or mocked to answer. I would get that they’re trying to mock me, but answering a solid “yes” wouldn’t cause me any embarrasment.

    It seems to me that a question like “do you really believe in transubstantiation” can only embarrass someone if that someone already recognizes their belief is embarrassingly irrational.

    With all deference to Dawkins, I’d say: ask the question straight up, in a matter-of-fact way without vocal exaggeration or hand gestures or wiggling eyebrows or what have you. If the person takes the straight-up question as ridicule, that says more about their attitude towards their belief than it does about your question. It says some part of them already agrees with the point you’re trying to make.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      But think about this question: “So, do you really think we evolved from monkeys/apes?” It could be stated in a dry, matter-of-fact tone, but it’s unlikely to be, but it’s a distortion of what evolution really says to make it sound more absurd than it is, and it does that by doing nothing more than taking it out of the scientific context and so losing all of that contextual information that helps to make it seem less absurd. I’m glad that you seem to disagree with outright mockery and ridicule — which Dawkins not only allows, but seems to advocate — but you have to remember that your straight-forward and plain-speech interpretation may leave out details that make it sound far more absurd than it really is, or may rely on contexts and beliefs that the people you are talking to don’t share.

      It takes a strong will to be immune to mockery and ridicule, even if you do really believe that and don’t think it absurd. If that wasn’t the case, atheists would need less support mechanisms when they are bombarded with those sorts of comments from theists.

    • eric

      VS – I don’t think asking a Catholic about their belief in transubstantiation is “distorting” the way your monkey question is. If you think its distorting or makes it sound more absurd than it really is, could you say in what way? Could you suggest a better phrasing a non-believer could use to ask about theist commitments to various doctrinal points?

      Second, if I thought someone was being sincere with their monkey question but was a bit misinformed, I think I could come up with a quick 1-2 sentence answer to it. I’d try to explain the problem with the qustion’s phrasing, but I’d also answer the gist of their question – i.e., yes, I believe humans evolved – without taking offense. A poor phrasing does not have to automatically be a conversation-stopper. So, if my nonbelieving bretheren ask well-meaning but poorly parsed questions to believers about their commitments to various doctrinal points, I would expect believers to treat us the same way – by all means tell us what’s wrong about the question, but answer the gist of it too.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      eric,

      I was replying to the two comments that talk about stating it in a matter-of-fact way and straight up and saying that if you can’t take that, then the issue must be with your belief and not with the question, and pointed out that what YOU think is simply matter-of-fact may not, in fact, be anything like the belief they hold. In a sense, it can definitely be argued that the “evolved from apes” just is a matter-of-fact way of describing evolution, but it’s certainly simplified enough to at best be misleading and at worst to be mocking. So if you do make one of these oversimplified comments, you really do need to be aware that it might be frustrating for them to have to address that oversimplification every single time and start from there.

      Yes, they can adopt strategies for it, but if you really want to get at what they believe, why wouldn’t you want to start from the best possible place with the most nuanced starting point you possibly can?

  • tomh

    laurentweppe says:

    Just look at the very telling behavior of the american bishops: they cast their lot with right-wing politicians and the conservative protestants who make the bulk of their voting block: they’re not trying to bully the politicians: the politicians already agree with them,

    Really? One wonders why, then, religious organizations spend about $400 million dollars a year lobbying politicians, who, according to you, already agree with them! The Catholic Bishops alone spent over $26 million dollars in 2009 and it has risen since then. They could save a lot of money if they knew the politicians already agreed with them.

    They fill the campaign coffers in order to sway the votes of lawmakers and to preserve the enormous privileges, embodied in thousands of legal exemptions, that religions enjoy under the US system. And, yes, they bully any recalcitrant politicians. There is very little that will doom a US politician faster than the perception that they are anti-religious.

  • laurentweppe

    why, then, religious organizations spend about $400 million dollars a year lobbying politicians, who, according to you, already agree with them! The Catholic Bishops alone spent over $26 million dollars in 2009 and it has risen since then

    Since when is lobbying a form of bullying? Did you perchance meet a congresman fleeing Washington, shooting “Help, help: I’m being smothered by lavish gifts! Someone save me from these sadists who threaten to give me money if I do what they want!“?
    To be able to bully politicians, catholic leaders would have to tell them “Support the legislations we want otherwise no C atholic will vote for you”, but since it is an open secret that the catholic laity is much more progressive than its episcopate, such a threat would be completely empty. So since they can’t submit politicians, they buy those who are already likely to be complacent.

    ***

    And, yes, they bully any recalcitrant politicians. There is very little that will doom a US politician faster than the perception that they are anti-religious.

    If that was the case, they would be noLeft left in the US, since no matter what they say and do, left-wing politicians are always proclaimed to be enemies of religion by the Right

  • Andrew Houghton

    I am finally getting this, Eureka, the clarity, the absolute simplicity of all this verbiage.

    The point of your philosophy is not the absurdity of Christianity, the profundity of it is this:

    Vacuousness, a lot more hot air to replace the emptiness that having no faith leaves.

    You were promised salvation, a place in heaven, presents delivered by Santa, who you don’t believe in either, and what have you left, a bloody great Gale blowing right through your emptiness, no wonder you need to argue with something you don’t believe exists. You can’t address your hurt to the thing you don’t believe in, so you attack those that do believe.

    Get a grip!

    • captainahags

      You miss the point so completely, it’s not even funny. Your attempts at snark/sarcasm/whatever don’t really work, because the point is, we’re not the ones who believe ridiculous things- you are! Assuming you’re some flavor of Christian, it’s pretty much a tenet of your faith that you literally believe that some magic dude in the sky sent his son down to be killed and then resurrected for. . . some reason. Even if you don’t believe this, there are millions that do, and by all means that belief should be mocked wholeheartedly, because it’s completely ridiculous. If I came up to you and told you that my brother Jerry died last week, but now he’s alive again and is in my kitchen making one of those sandwiches you keep harping on, you’d think I was nuts. Yet you believe without a shred of evidence that this actually happened, just 2000 years ago instead of last week, because some book told you.

      Second part: You’re hung up on this idea that for some reason we’re all just so angry because we were raised Christian and have a “god shaped hole in our hearts” or whatever. And that’s completely wrong. I was never exposed to religion as a child, and can count on fingers and toes the number of times I’ve been in a church, and that includes the visits to churches solely for architectural interest rather than services. I’m not bitter that I was brought up christian, I’m delighted that I was raised atheist. But I still debate theists, and try to show them the myriad flaws in their arguments, not because I’m angry that they’re christian, but because they insist on trying again and again to insert their Bronze Age beliefs into my life, through legislation that would try and teach my (someday) children creationism in the classroom, hang biblical references in the courtrooms, and base our legal system on the bible. Honestly, if they just left me the fuck alone, I’d be more than happy to do the same. But they don’t, and so here we are. How hard is that to understand?

      And finally, if you want to stop sounding like a clueless moron, and making “jokes” that are incredibly idiotic, and just missing the whole damn point, I suggest you read “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless” by Greta Christina. If nothing else, it’ll give you a little perspective into our point of view. I’ve reciprocated in advance by reading the bible as well as assorted works by CS Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, and various other christian theological authors.

    • Kimpatsu

      What makes you think my life is empty? It is filled with success, achievements, love, and happiness. All without the crutch of superstition. You are deluded to assume otherwise.

  • http://becomingjulie.blogspot.com/ BecomingJulie

    Riducule is the only weapon that works against absurd beliefs.

    Also, more people need to start using “Christian” in a pejorative sense — for instance, describing something which lacks one or more of what are usually considered the defining features of its genre (example: Christian rock music) as “totally Christian, dude!”

    • Yahzi

      Riducule is the only weapon that works against absurd beliefs.

      This says it all.

      You can’t fight unreason with reason. Or, to paraphrase, only an atheist would bring logic to a pillow-fight.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

    I keep wavering on whether to do a full post on this or not, but there’s so much to say about this that that’s what I’ll aim for, when I get some time. But right now, let me address this:

    Or, if the transubstantiation is not rational but is yet also not a true litmus test for Catholicism, then by all means show us why the average Catholic should not be expected to hold that belief. Point out the places where popes, bishops or esteemed Catholic theologians repudiate literalism about the Eucharist. And then, if you can actually do that, go ahead and explain to us why it is horribly bad and demeaning for us atheists to disabuse the average Catholic of that belief when even some estimable, learned Catholics reject it!

    First, I don’t need to make any claims about whether it is rational or not to argue over whether it is a true litmus test for Catholicism, meaning whether it is in fact part of what it MEANS to be a Catholic as opposed to simply being a part of Catholic doctrine. Second, I also don’t need to point out where Catholic theologicans repudiate literalism, because to repeat the question is about what does it mean to be a Catholic and NOT about what current Catholic doctrine is. And so I can actually answer this by simply asking two related questions:

    1) If the Catholic Church decided through all of its relevant mechanisms that they were wrong about transubstantiation and that the Eucharist is to be taken symbolically, would we have any cause to say that the Catholic Church was no longer the Catholic Church?

    2) If transubstantiation was proven to be a matter of fact as opposed to faith, and the scientific studies were conclusive that the fact was not present, since it being a matter of fact and not faith would remove even papal infallibility claims, would that mean that the Catholic faith had been disproven?

    The answer to these questions, it seems to me, is an unequivocable “No”. Which means, then, that transubstantiation, while a clear part of Catholic doctrine, is not, in fact, what it MEANS to be a Catholic, and so is not part of what defines one as Catholic. Because of this, it is quite possible to properly identify oneself as Catholic and disagree with it, just as one can disagree with, say, the stance on birth control and still be Catholic; what it means to be a Catholic does not depend on your stance on those issues.

    Now, as you should well know, defining the essential properties isn’t always easy, but these cases are clearly not essential properties, or at least you’ll need an actual argument for them being so before any Catholic need worry that not believing that would mean that they aren’t really Catholic. The problem is that Dawkins selected these for what he considers their “mockability”, not for how fundamental they are to the religion. At least for the Mormons, those beliefs are indeed more fundamental to the religion and so are good candidates.

  • tomh

    To be able to bully politicians, catholic leaders would have to tell them “Support the legislations we want otherwise no C atholic will vote for you”,

    Thats just silly. Religions bully politicians by threatening to withhold campaign contributions and support their opponents. You may not know much about the American political system, but it runs on money.

  • laurentweppe

    Thats just silly. Religions bully politicians by threatening to withhold campaign contributions and support their opponents

    That’s not bullying, that the prostitued american electoral system at work, were politicians sell their complacency.
    You would never call a progressive advocacy group withholding its support toward a politician which did not vote in favor of the policies it advocates.
    You’re just playing dumb by pretending you do not see the enormous double standard here.

    • Dan L.

      I think I’m starting to understand the problem so many of my countrymen have with the French. Thanks for cluing me in laurentweppe.

    • Dan L.

      And no, you don’t understand American politics. Please stop pretending you do.

  • http://snipurl.com/2ccpt2 George Locke

    If transubstantiation was proven to be a matter of fact as opposed to faith, and the scientific studies were conclusive that the fact was not present, since it being a matter of fact and not faith would remove even papal infallibility claims, would that mean that the Catholic faith had been disproven?

    I am confused. What’s the difference between “a matter of fact” and “a matter of faith”? Aren’t both truth claims? It would seem that the only way to make “matters of faith” totally immune from rational inquiry would be to require them to be meaningless. Transubstantiation, unless it is to be interpreted in some non-obvious way, is indeed testable: the wine is manifestly not blood, so I’m confused about the distinction you’re drawing. (Non-obvious, unfalsifiable interpretations of transubstantiation must be a dime a dozen, but, again, I have to wonder how many of them have any real meaning.)

    In any case, Catholic doctrine surely contains a set of truth claims, such as transubstantiation, and if any of those claims can be shown to be false, then it can’t be said that Catholic doctrine is “true”. What fraction of these claims must be falsified before you would say the faith as a whole is “disproven”? (Likewise, the doctrines include moral imperatives which could be shown inconsistent – would such demonstration “disprove” Catholicism?)

    It seems that even if you could convince a Catholic that every single one of these claims can’t be, she could still call herself “a Catholic” and not be “wrong” because there’s no clear definition of what it means to be “a Catholic” outside of whether you think of yourself as one. That’s largely the point: to show people that the flag they wave signifies nothing in the hope that they’ll let it go.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      I am confused. What’s the difference between “a matter of fact” and “a matter of faith”? Aren’t both truth claims?

      Yes, but they aren’t the same type of truth claim. A “matter of faith” is essentially a piece of doctrine or belief that, essentially, refers entirely internally to the faith itself. So, for example, it would be a matter of faith that lying is a sin. A matter of fact is external, so something like “Elephants are pink”. In Catholic theology, this split is made quite clear, as it being a matter of faith is one of the conditions on papal infallibility, which makes papal infallibility really trivial and uncontroversial, when you think of it, as it translates to “When the Pope declares what Catholics as Catholics are required to believe as part of the strict religious commitments without making reference to anything external to the religion itself, he gets to decide completely what that is”.

      Transubstantiation, unless it is to be interpreted in some non-obvious way, is indeed testable: the wine is manifestly not blood, so I’m confused about the distinction you’re drawing.

      I agree with you, but I phrased it that way to exclude any specific simple faith notion, and hold it out as something that is indeed directly testable. So your comments here seem to quibble on the wording without addressing the substance.

      In any case, Catholic doctrine surely contains a set of truth claims, such as transubstantiation, and if any of those claims can be shown to be false, then it can’t be said that Catholic doctrine is “true”. What fraction of these claims must be falsified before you would say the faith as a whole is “disproven”?

      You are missing the point. The argument is that disproving one small part of Catholic doctrine does not make Catholicism in and of itself false. Only the essential properties that define Catholicism can do that. It’s not about fractions or totals, but about the specific status of the piece of doctrine you’ve proven false. Transubstantiation, as I’ve shown, is not such a case.

      It seems that even if you could convince a Catholic that every single one of these claims can’t be, she could still call herself “a Catholic” and not be “wrong” because there’s no clear definition of what it means to be “a Catholic” outside of whether you think of yourself as one. That’s largely the point: to show people that the flag they wave signifies nothing in the hope that they’ll let it go.

      Unfortunately, this seems patently false itself, and you have not in any way defended it. There are indeed qualities that define Catholicism, just as any religion or movement or social grouping has those sorts of qualities. You can’t argue that my pointing out that one proposed essential property is not in fact one means that there aren’t any essential properties, anymore than if you reject the argument that because your cells end up being swapped out over your lifetime that at some point you aren’t you anymore means that there’s no way to trace personal identity. So your point is utterly unevidenced and unsupported.

  • http://snipurl.com/2ccpt2 George Locke

    Now, as you should well know, defining the essential properties isn’t always easy, but these cases are clearly not essential properties, or at least you’ll need an actual argument for them being so before any Catholic need worry that not believing that would mean that they aren’t really Catholic. The problem is that Dawkins selected these for what he considers their “mockability”, not for how fundamental they are to the religion.

    “Mockability”? Not their patent falsehood?

    Can anyone think of a characteristic of Catholicism that distinguishes it from other Christian denominations that is neither demonstrably false nor deepity nor meaningless?

    If the answer is no, then such poking as Dawkins calls for is indeed sufficient to demonstrate that a Catholic has no good reason to call herself so.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Can anyone think of a characteristic of Catholicism that distinguishes it from other Christian denominations that is neither demonstrably false nor deepity nor meaningless?

      So, we’re moving away from simply assessing it as absurd beliefs, and adding in “deepity” (whatever that means) and “meaningless” (presumably to you since nothing that is part of someone’s identity is meaningless to them)?

      How does this demand differ from “Can anyone think of a characteristic of Catholicism that I both think is true and care about”?

      If the answer is no, then such poking as Dawkins calls for is indeed sufficient to demonstrate that a Catholic has no good reason to call herself so.

      Surely someone who believed a “deepity” or something “meaningless” would escape Dawkins’ poking?

    • http://snipurl.com/2ccpt2 George Locke

      Deepity: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity (this is the first link on google, it’s not just something I made up)

      Deepities held as profound, demonstrably false beliefs, and meaningless beliefs all qualify as “absurd” in some measure.

      How does this demand differ from “Can anyone think of a characteristic of Catholicism that I both think is true and care about”?

      My point (which I can’t now support) was that your argument that disproof of transubstantiation wouldn’t rationally compel one to renounce Catholicism, which I do not dispute, is missing the larger point that immunity from disproof is a serious weakness that Dawkins was getting at.

      However, I don’t think this “larger point” of mine is that close to what Dawkins was intending to address. And in any case, it’s not so hard to imagine characteristics that distinguish Catholicism from other denominations in non-trivial/non-”absurd” ways, e.g. holding that the Pope is the highest living authority on doctrine. The BBC has put together some helpful material in this regard http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/catholic/catholic_1.shtml

      These distinctions mostly remind me of disagreements as to how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, and it’s hardly implausible that asking Catholics about these issues to see if they have any reason to believe the Catholic side might push them toward this disposition.

      In any case, I agree that Dawkins’ suggested prodding will not de-convert people by itself, but that doesn’t mean such prodding serves no purpose, obviously. Now to show what purpose it does serve…

  • GordonWillis

    What do you do when you’re faced with a moral dilemma? Where do you turn?

    I can’t help thinking that wafers and wine are not really relevant here. A serious moral dilemma? Surely, the question is, if you are pregnant, and the scan suggests that the foetus is seriously defective, how do you decide what is best to do? Or if you are suffering a terminal illness and are in incessant and acute pain and have to have young persons of the opposite sex cleaning you up after every bowel movement…

    There is another problem, which is the difference between species and substance. Species (appearance) is how the wafer “looks”, and how it would appear to the modern scientist, and substance is what it is in its “true” nature (which is undiscoverable by any scientist, however analytical). And now you’re off into a world of theological twists and turns. It’s necessary to be able to deal with that, because Catholic faith is made of such stuff (and it’s relevant to my first paragraph). It’s a whole lot of barriers between the natural world (the actual) and the world of the “spirit” (faith).

  • Daniel

    I view the believers’ response like this:

    Dawkins: “Do you really think it is an objectively true fact that the wine turns into actual blood, that of Jesus no less? This sounds quite ridiculous.”

    Believer: “Don’t call my beliefs stupid! You want to be all rational, but you’re only mean!”

    Dawkins: “So… you didn’t answer the question – do you believe it?”

    Believer: “Moooom! That Dawkins figure is mocking me! He’s a bully!

    • Daniel

      …and in thinking more about it, the whole thing sounds like the moderates’ / scholars’ version of the Phelphs / WBC strategy: “Do and say stupid shit, and when someone gets annoyed enough to call you out, accuse them of irrationality and intolerance.” Reward: Instant smugness.

  • tomh

    Verbose Stoic wrote:

    The argument is that disproving one small part of Catholic doctrine does not make Catholicism in and of itself false. Only the essential properties that define Catholicism can do that.

    When are you going to tell us what these essential properties that define Catholicism are? Every example given so far, transubstantiation for instance, you have derided as being one small part but not an essential property of Catholicism. So you must know what these essential properties are. Why not tell us?

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      I did not “deride”; I disproved. And mostly I’m not advancing answers because I don’t want to get into long, protracted arguments over what counts and what doesn’t, especially since George Locke has tried to claim that deepities and meaningless — to him — claims aren’t to be included. Also, essential properties aren’t always easy to do. For example, can you define an essential property of what it means to be a dog or a cat? It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

      So I don’t really see why I should have to be able to provide the set to you to refute the ones you’re claiming are essential properties. My two questions provide the litmus test, so if you apply it to your suggestions you should be able to work at least some of this out on your own.

    • tomh

      In other words, you have no idea what the “essential properties” of Catholicism are. You just know what they aren’t.

  • G Wright

    And, in fact, if Catholics had the slightest confidence in their more absurd teachings, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of atheists routinely asking them (or their brethren) if they actually believed what Catholicism teaches

    —–

    Equally then, if gay people had the slightest confidence in their sexuality, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of heterosexuals routinely asking them if they actually believed homosexuality was normal?

    I think very few, if any, people will take Dawkins advice to treat people in the way he advocates. I do not see why any rational person would choose to behave in a mocking, obnoxious fashion to others, over a difference in belief.

    I do not see what possible positive outcomes could result from such a course of action. I think ill-feeling is far more likely – as is normal if you try to ridicule someone – plus the mocking individual achieving an unfortunate reputation for both themselves and “rationalists” generally.

    From what I have heard, the content of the rally was pretty puerile and that 20,000 is a rather optimistic figure for attendance (I read in one source that 8 – 10,000 was more realistic).

    If I went to an event which was supposed to represent and interest me, but it turned out to be largely just puerile and cheap mockery of other people, I would feel pretty short changed.

    • Dan L.

      Equally then, if gay people had the slightest confidence in their sexuality, they wouldn’t be threatened at all by the prospect of heterosexuals routinely asking them if they actually believed homosexuality was normal?

      Please justify this analogy. I don’t think it’s even remotely comparable to what you’re trying to compare it to.

      For example, homosexuality, unlike religion, is not a choice. Sexuality is not a belief, and so homosexuality is not the result of confidence in a belief.

    • Yahzi

      Gay people are not threatened by the question of their normality.

      They are, however, threatened by the type of people who continually ask a question after the answer has been scientifically demonstrated.

      I will happily find you a dozen gay people who will easily answer, “Yes, we really believe man-on-man love is normal.”

      Can you find me a dozen Catholics who will say, “Yes, we really believe we are committing cannibalism?”

    • Andrew Houghton

      Homosexuality may be normal, it may be natures way of drawing to an end, a gene path that will not result in the further survival of the race, for good or bad, personally I think the future development of the human race would be better served by 88% of the population becoming gay.
      We as a race are doing the world far more harm than good.


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