How Christianity Infantilizes Adults

ChristmasHave you heard the song “Christmas Shoes” from about ten years ago? Patton Oswalt tore it up in a clever comedy bit (video 7:49, rated R for language), and he makes an excellent point about the illogic of what Christians tell themselves.

The song tells the story of a guy who’s in yet another long line before Christmas, not really in the Christmas spirit. Ahead of him in line is a grubby kid holding a pair of shoes. When it’s the kid’s turn, he tells the clerk his story, that he’s buying his mother shoes to make her feel better. She’s sick, and he wants her to look her best if she meets Jesus that night.

The kid counts out the price in pennies, and it turns out that he doesn’t have enough. So he turns to our hero who feels sorry for the kid and pays for the shoes. The story concludes:

I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about.

It’s a sweet story, and lots of people filter life’s events through a Christian lens in this way to see God’s benevolent purpose behind things. But let’s analyze this to see how “heaven’s love” worked in this situation.

What the story really says

God sees the cranky guy in line. He gives the kid’s mom some hideous disease, puts the kid in line in front of Mr. Cranky, and makes the kid a little short on cash so that this Christmas miracle could happen. In other words, God needs to make someone die and leave a kid motherless to spread a little Christmas spirit.

Is that the best explanation for the evidence? Is that an explanation that a Christian would want? What kind of insane deity would do that? Perhaps good and bad things just happen, without divine cause, and we can use events in our lives to prod us to consider what’s important. We don’t need God and we don’t need to be a Christian to be delighted by life, find silver linings, and use everyday events to remind us of things to be thankful for.

Reinterpreting events through a Christian lens can be comforting, and it patches holes in the Good Ship Christianity where reason leaks in. But this is simply a rationalization to support a presupposition, not an honest following of the evidence, and when you stop to think of what you’re actually saying, you’ll see that the reality you’ve invented not only makes no sense but is actually repulsive.

When Christians wonder why atheists get agitated, this kind of empty childish thinking is often the cause.

A coin in a wishing well

Consider another story. Suppose a girl sick with cancer throws a coin into a wishing well and asks to get better. The net effect is that the girl is a little happier, like she took a happiness pill.

But this wishing well belief is just an ancient custom. We all know that wishing wells don’t really do anything. Should you break the news to her?

Few of us would. What’s the point? She actually does feel better, and she’ll have plenty of time to deal with reality as an adult. She has guardians in her life who will protect her as necessary, shielding her so that she can hold this false but helpful belief.

But for someone to become an adult, that person must grow up. We leave behind wishing wells, Santa Claus, fairies, and other false beliefs as we become independent. No longer are the necessities of life given to us; as adults, we must fend for ourselves—indeed, we want to fend for ourselves. The parent who sugarcoats reality or keeps the child dependent for too long is doing that child no favors.

Reality is better than delusion, happy though that delusion may be. Hearing the doctor say, “You’ll be just fine” feels a lot better than “You have cancer,” but if I really have cancer, which one allows me to take steps to improve my future?

Religion infantilizes adults and keeps them dependent. That’s a good thing for the 100-billion-dollar-a-year U.S. religion industry, but what is best for the individual—a pat on the head or reality?

When I was a child,
I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;

but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:11

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 1/13/12.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Y. A. Warren

    “We don’t need God and we don’t need to be a Christian to be delighted by life, find silver linings, and use everyday events to remind us of things to be thankful for.”
    -This is a great quote. Many everyday things are awe inspiring, even seem
    “sacred ” to me without invoking some big parent in the sky.

    “But for someone to become an adult, that person must grow up.” – All religions would fold, as would Hallmark.

    “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child;
    but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
    — 1 Corinthians 13:11” – Paul certainly didn’t really want others to follow this. He wanted everyone to follow him. What a snake oil salesman he was!

    • Kodie

      It’s my understanding that these “childish things” refers to denying and rejecting and rebelling against god, and so, putting these things away refers to accepting and submitting to the fact that there’s a god, and getting with the program. It is sort of like, putting away childish things means putting away your imagination about what life could be like, or should be like – wonderful -, and accepting what life is actually like – difficult – and just submitting and getting to work.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Will we ever know what Paul meant, or if he actually wrote these words?

        If what he meant was that we must admit to the power of “god” to be adults, which version of “God” did he mean?

        I will never put away my imagination (hope); it is the only thing that keeps me alive. This encourages me to continue working toward a better tomorrow than I may have had today.

        • Kodie

          I think relatively that I must be on the nose with this one. What other reason would it be in the bible, but to say that adults accept the difficult challenges of there being a god, while “children” deny them?

          I also think that life is difficult in reality and children are shielded from it. We ask children what they want to be when they grow up, but we do not tell them what is involved in achieving their goals. We indulge childish fantasies and never tell them the personal cost of chasing their dreams. Suddenly, somewhere along the way, we expect teens to become serious and focus on their goals. We expect them to be less unrealistic, and put down their former childish and dreamy aspirations. Life actually kind of sucks – you have to work or submit to a partner who works – you have to set aside your own lofty goals to support a family.

          In the biblical quote, I can only take it as “atheism” is childish, and expects magical wishes granted by a genie, and adults aka Christians have accepted the ways of god, the master, who does what he will when he will if and when he thinks you deserve it, and never sooner.

          It’s basically, maturity is a beatdown and a grind, a very special grind that god has merely allowed, and you are lucky (and considered mature) if you can just accept it.

        • Y. A. Warren

          The bible is a collection of stories written, edited, and compiled by people with particular worldviews.

          I believe it is good to shield our children from burdens that they can neither comprehend nor bear. Let them dream until they begin to have some strengths of their own, then teach them how to put their strengths into practical paths toward achieving their dreams.

          There are many ways of partnering, but they all take common goals, commitment, and balance of skills to succeed. What I call The Sacred Spirit (source of energy) is the spark of individual genius in each person, that bursts into flame when partnered with a complimentary spirit (source of energy).

          I call it “spirit” to distinguish it from anything visible. I call it “sacred” because anything that inspires awe in me is considered, by me, sacred (or holy, meaning what makes me feel whole).

        • Kodie

          I think there are two ways about it – assimilate children as soon as possible as to their realistic expectations. Why crush their dreams by allowing them to have any, when life is not like that? This is how animals do it.

          The other way is to never have to crush their dreams. We don’t live in that world.

        • Y. A. Warren

          The difference between other animals and humans seems to be the ability to dream of something other than their present and past experiences. I choose to believe that change comes about through this ability in humans, as well as through natural occurrences.

          Science tells us what was and is. Humanity is able to create what can be.

        • Kodie

          Humans have afforded ourselves the luxury of doing so. Doesn’t mean that everyone gets to live such an existence. Why do you think religion is so focused on the next life and rejects this one? It’s to get ourselves to quit complaining because it’s not going to get any easier. Why do you think religion is so focused on meaning something? Each person has their individual relationships, their families, and this is “special” yet ridiculously common. I heard recently, and it made a lot of sense, that to go ahead and have children is pretty much to sign away the rest of your dreams. I am not saying having children can’t be rewarding in itself, but that, once you start down that road, you can’t really afford to experiment with who you’re going to be anymore, you have to suck up whatever dismal job you have and you’re lucky to have it, so your kid can wear shoes and keep all their teeth. And that’s in a developed country.

          The true fact is that most people expect and are expected to follow that path, and are ridiculed or spited in many ways socially if they do not. In many ways, this is what people have chosen to designate as “meaning”. It is a matter of perspective. Individually, most people have a high opinion of their own children, and of the experience, but collectively, this is just universal. Religion tries to create a very, very special meaning in something all creatures do, when humans do it. Every new parent thinks they invented parenting, and like to believe they’re having a unique experience – they are unique, their child is unique, all their love is unique, and very, very special to god.

          This is most people’s life. Most people are not forging new territory with their one and only life. Most people are not the dreamers and creators of the road that lies ahead for humanity. They are not making it, nor dreaming it. They are etching their rut. Maybe doing some other stuff so they’re not bored.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I don’t know if what you describe is “most” people, but is does seem very common.

          I did have children without thought to whether or not I should, and temporarily channeled most of my energy into bringing them up to be productive and compassionate.

          I am a huge supporter of birth control and a huge critic of the clergy for the reasons you have stated.

        • Kodie

          Let’s start with the dreamers: some very common dreams: writing the next great American novel, curing cancer, being an astronaut, becoming a professional athlete, musician, or movie star, owning your own business (of two types, 1, I call “candy store” where you are just your own boss, operating a business you happen to love, or 2, “the next big thing” like a facebook or something rich that just takes one good idea).

          Most people set that aside and get real. They have to admit they are not going to be any of these things, or maybe they could, but they’ve been discouraged from trying from the realists before them. Most people have to spend the rest of their life in an established system – reading books, raising money for cancer research, buying a telescope, spectating, or buying stocks or patronizing favorite businesses. Admittedly, none of these things would be so successful without these people, and most people do even less. An established system is just the way things are already set up. Nobody joining one has to go out on a limb, really, they can just be trained. For example, no newborn likes football. But they can be a fan by the age of 4 or 5 of their local team, rigidly, and the NFL depends on this.

          So, anyway, around the same time (but a little before) you’re realizing you’re going to not be amazing at life, you get distracted, and even possibly tie yourself down before you know what you’re really trading in. So what do you do now? I am going with “live vicariously through your kids” even though that is the extreme. Most parents do not push a child to do what they wish they had done, but one of two things – try to set them up for success from daycare (as they see it, and if they can afford it), or just let them dream until about the age of 12 and then severely change tracks and burden them with realistic expectations. It might have something to do with failure to plan, and suddenly realizing your kid is 5 years away from college applications. I don’t know.

          Anyway, for the idea that most people trade in their highest aspirations to raise children instead and (I’m not knocking that exactly) perceive it as the most meaningful experience a person could have – all the while, it is a practical nightmare of feeding and shopping and safety and activities to enrich their minds and bodies and social skills so they don’t end up sub-par or dead or embarrassing to you in any way. On the flip side, maybe your child will be ordinary, and probably not forge great new humanness. The only goal here is to be self-supporting. To do that requires a lot more humility than many humans have, which is why having children seems to add this elusive “meaning” they could never get by things they will never do anyway. And yet, all it does it create new ordinary people who are trained to operate in established systems.

          What I am trying to say is that this sacred spirit thing you’re talking about is common humanity. You might find it uplifting and label humans as exceptional, but it’s really all the same thing all the other animals do. Humans tend to have a little time to create pockets of imaginary feelings that have nowhere else to go, certainly not to save the world.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Perhaps I simply know more exceptional people than you do.

          I figure that, if people can harness their exceptionality to dream up ways that work in destroying the world, there are some who can use their talents to save the world.

        • Kodie

          Describe the ways in which the people you know are exceptional – and then tell me again how humans are an exceptional species, and how it’s not just most people behaving exactly like animals but taking all the credit.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Come on, Kodie, do you really not know any people who go to heroic measures to make life on earth more bearable for others, with no expectation of gain for themselves?

        • Kodie

          What does that have to do with especially versatile and capable beyond all other creatures?

          I asked you a question.

        • Y. A. Warren

          The relationships between domesticated animals and humans is a symbiotic relationship, as is the relationship between child and parent. In the wild, animals do what they must do for survival of themselves and their species, but are not capable of great leaps of innovation incorporating all ares of expertise to which they are exposed.

          Humans are capable of learning history and synthesizing information from many cultures and species, not only their own.

          Blood, organ and tissue donors are exceptional when they donate to people with whom they have no relationship. Nurses and doctors who donate time to care for the ill and wounded are exceptional. Researchers who work without funding to find solutions to the world’s ongoing issues are exceptional. People who care for the infants, the aged, the dying, the disabled with no personal relationship or promise of pay are exceptional.

        • Kodie

          But how are they more versatile and capable than other animals? If the system is set up, they don’t have to do anything new. If the system were set up for animals, wouldn’t they do it too? Do you know how kind plants are? Do you have any idea?

          http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/what-plants-talk-about/video-full-episode/8243/

        • Y. A. Warren

          This from my previous answer: “Humans are capable of learning history and synthesizing information from many cultures and species, not only their own.”

          How are we now discussing plants? Are rocks next?

        • Kodie

          You mock the plant video without even watching it? What kind of human are you? One who lacks wonder? Versatility? Capability?

        • Powell

          My first post at Bob’s blog!

          Been silently reading all comments and articles since his first but never really tempted to comment. But you Kodie, have just delivered the best burn I’ve seen in the history of my reading of Bob’s fine website.

          Cheers.

        • Kodie

          I am really honored to bring you out of the woodwork, Powell. Thank you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Welcome! I hope you participate more.

        • Y. A. Warren

          If the object of these dialogs is to “burn” people, i am no longer interested in participating. Good-bye.

        • Kodie

          I was just telling you about the plants and you sniped at me. You’re so hard-headed about your glorification of humans.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If this blog isn’t helpful, then bon voyage. We’re an eclectic group, and we’ll all have different goals and reactions. I hope you’ll still be able to find your niche here.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The relationships between domesticated animals and humans is a symbiotic relationship, as is the relationship between child and parent.

          This is just nit picking, but I doubt that child/parent is a symbiotic relationship. Parents don’t need children to survive. (By contrast, they do need their gut bacteria, so that would be a better example.)

        • Kodie

          I have to give YA the leeway to express thoughts in limited terms. Adults don’t need children to live – parents do or else they wouldn’t be parents. Having children gives their shitty lives a meaning they wouldn’t otherwise have, or else we wouldn’t exalt the cult of parenthood as the necessary life of service we all must fulfill. My idea here is that I recognize that having a child might be rewarding to a person as a project often is, and gaining a loving relationship that one did not formerly have, but that it’s so arrogant to call this the one most essentially unique and rewarding human experiences, and you are selfish to avoid it.

          Children need their parents, and they are parasitic, not symbiotic. Whatever joy a parent gains cannot compare with a life of having what you need without working for it and taking it for granted. It is a martyrdom, for parents feel things for their children that it takes a grown child with their own child to comprehend. The child gives nothing back, and yet a parent can be disappointed in that child. A child is not much, as far as I can see, for a parent, but a sentimental window to the future that is shut in the blink of an eye (I’ve heard parents talk that the years just go by so quickly); and a means to compare themselves to their peers. Meanwhile, children always cost money, and they cost worry that every step they take into maturity doesn’t kill them, because children are stupid and we can’t really trust them, but to let them grow, we have to hope we can trust them to be lucky. We can’t tell them they’re stupid or a financial burden, so they get to grow up free of knowing just how much they age and disease their parents. Children distrust and resent their parents for no good reason, and parents can’t tell them the truth. I would not call that symbiotic.

        • Y. A. Warren

          There are many variations on the definition of symbiosis.

          History has proven that humans continue to have children to ensure their own survival in old age and to continue the survival of their genetics. I don’t like it, but it is how humans historically roll.

        • Pofarmer

          Etching their rut, what a great line. “Just follow along this path we’ve laid out for you.”

        • MNb

          “seems to be”
          How do you know what say dogs dream?

          “Humanity is able to create what can be.”
          Ants do a pretty good job as well.

          http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ants/rasberry.html

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_ant
          It will be interesting to see what will happen if the two meet. I predict that Homo Sapiens will be the loser anyway.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I admit to having a world view in which humans are especially versatile and capable.

        • MNb

          I admit to having a world view in which especially ants are more versatile and capable. I don’t dismiss crows, brown rats and cockroaches either.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I guess we will have very little to discuss in terms of human morality.

        • Kodie

          I admit to having a worldview in which human potential goes largely untapped and expressed by taking credit for progress made by the actually versatile and capable humans.

          Aren’t we so lucky?

        • Y. A. Warren

          I agree that much human potential goes largely untapped. I work to live up to my potential and bond with others who are doing the same.

        • Kodie

          How high do you think your potential is?

        • MNb

          “I believe it is good to shield our children from burdens that they can neither comprehend nor bear.”
          Children are tougher than you might think. If they are confronted with contradictions they don’t understand they just store it away until later. Those contradictions pop up again when they start to think for themselves, ie from 12, 13 years on.
          That’s why I don’t object to religious education of children, on one condition: that they learn about pastafarianism say two weeks a year as well. Predictably theists, not even liberal ones, don’t like this compromise.

        • Pofarmer

          And they KNOW it. Catholics hate, hate, hate for their kids to be exposed to any other beliefs. The reasons are obvious.

        • MNb

          Alas I think you’re right. And not only catholics.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Just like other animals, children model what they see. I chose to keep my children away from organized religion because I saw fear and hypocrisy in the place of responsibility and compassion.

          I sheltered my children, as much as I could, from those who chose to overpower their ability to think with fear and/or ridicule. As they became strong enough to defend themselves, I taught them to use their minds and mouths for themselves and others.

          They have both become, as adults, leaders in their communities.

        • MNb

          I didn’t argue that you raised your childred in a wrong way.

          “those who chose to overpower their ability to think with fear and/or ridicule.”
          Very sensible. My son though went to two religious primary schools (albeit both liberal ones), knew all the time that I was an atheist even if we didn’t really discuss it. At the ripe age of 13 (much earlier than I myself) he decided that he was an atheist too.

          “They have both become, as adults, leaders in their communities.”
          Ah, you’re forgetting that I’m Dutch. This doesn’t impress me in the least, mainly because I can provide you with a long list of European “leaders in their community” who seriously fucked things up, to say it friendly. It’s not that it implies that your kids belong on that list; it’s just a meaningless statement to me.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Perhaps you missed the responsible and compassion part of my parenting methods…

        • MNb

          Eh no. That’s exactly why I wrote that I didn’t argue that you raised your kids the wrong way. I don’t believe that for a split second.

        • wtfwjtd

          I always found it interesting, and, um, a little contradictory, that Paul tells us to “grow up” while Jesus tells us that “unless we become as a little child, we will never see the kingdom of heaven”. This sort of instruction always left me a little lost and confused, but that’s the communication skills of the Christian God on display I guess.

        • Kodie

          I’m no biblical scholar, but as I have understood this, it is from different perspectives.

          From Paul, let’s say “apparently”, children are defiant and selfish. A grown-up accepts that god is law and stops being such a snot-nosed punk about obedience.

          From Jesus, let’s say “apparently,” adults are too logical and rational. A child is so new to the earth and wonderment abounds, and a great deal (all of it) can be worn down, as the adult abandons the tender amazement and awe and mystery of things they don’t yet comprehend.

          From me: both categories are correct. Adults are in fact expected to be more jaded. It is not actually contradictory, as jadedness manifests itself both ways in people, sometimes simultaneously. I know a lot of people who are contradictory of themselves in this way. Adults can be children, children can be adults. It says to me that both children and adults can be easily impressed by parlor tricks, but also that children and adults can get away with a certain amount of disobedience as well. Children are noted for their resilience and yet shielded as if they can be permanently damaged, or “taught” [edit] in a single experience, i.e. “get used to it” [end edit]. Life is unfair. Young children are often, in the mildest of contexts usually, told this by teachers, coaches, and parents, and yet people try to shield them from disappointment, which serves to create adults who are just plain assholes, and let everyone win. I think it takes a lot of repetition to tear into a child’s psyche, or something more dramatic than a Little League game, to break them. Adults are less resilient. Adults have it all wrong sometimes. Disappointment doesn’t feel any better when you grow up, but you realize you have less time to try again, and then, why try. Why cast this psychology on children, who have lots of time to fail and try again?

          Anyway, I think that both of these attitudes is somewhat correct. Adults (as we accept the definition from expressing maturity and not necessarily by the age on their Driver’s License) are different than children, and it’s seen as negative (from Jesus’s perspective) that adults have a diminished sense of mystery, and should regain a child’s innocence somehow. I don’t know what purpose it really serves, to perpetuate a state of not knowing how the world works. From Paul’s perspective, the adult knows and accepts how the world works, according to god’s whim, so shut the fuck up and stop whining. But if you wave some rainbows at them and tell them about Noah, they believe you, and fall into lockstep with their purity oaths, like little soldiers who know exactly how the world works – if you obey.

        • wtfwjtd

          That’s a pretty good angle Kodie, definitely some merit to that POV. The story of Jesus has his disciples arguing over who was going to be the greatest among them, and then Jesus had them bring a small child to him as a teaching aid. OTOH, Paul was a man who was very proud of his humility; he loved to brag about how humble he was, and basically told others to STFU and do as he said, and not as he did. That’s the part I always found a bit contradictory and hard to follow.
          I think the lesson of humility as taught by Jesus, telling the disciples that they needed to become as a little child in order to enter the kingdom, was actually a pretty good one. Unfortunately, I see very little use of this lesson in modern American Christianity. Too bad most of today’s followers of Christianity don’t read and don’t care what their holy book actually says–they might learn a thing or two if they did, and we’d all be better off for it.

        • Kodie

          We just describe a lot of attributes as being mature or immature, just like we describe attributes as being masculine or feminine. In reality, it is both mature and immature to “accept” what we’re given. Children are expected to accept parental authority without question, and adults, in this context (and really our cultural context) of accepting the harsh realities that we like to shield children from. Christians like to indoctrinate or even beat their children into following Christ through their parents, and pass this legacy on to their own children, as “righteous”. It is just like they like to beat the childlike attitude out of their children before it gets them into the danger of questioning religion.

          Accepting whatever bullshit you’re sold is both a childlike attribute and an adult one.

        • wtfwjtd

          “Beat” is unfortunately an accurate word to use Kodie, as a child in a fundie household growing up me and my brothers got the shit beaten out of us on a more or less regular basis. I had violent stuff done to me that makes me cold with fear to even think about doing to my child, or any other human being for that matter. Even now I’m not really sure if it’s a feature or a bug, but organized religion does seem to attract the hard-core, angry, abusive types.At times it seemed as if they were pissed off with reality as it was, and thought that if they said and believed the same crazy things over and over,that would somehow alter reality more to their liking.
          I survived the physical abuse though, and have long since forgiven it and moved on. The emotional trauma took a lot longer to shed, especially as related to religion.The whole hell thing especially was hard to shake, but when I finally realized it was all a construct of the imagination, my fear and dread of it began to melt away.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wow. There are definitely some scary stories about what religion permits people to do (in their own minds, at least).

          Good for you for moving on. I do find it surprising (as someone for whom this is a foreign concept) that the hell thing always seems to be the last thing to fall away. I mean, if you know the whole thing is BS, then the hell thing is, too, right? But I guess the indoctrination doesn’t allow that easy resolution.

        • wtfwjtd

          You have to remember Bob, hell is one of the only tools, other than brute force violence, that religious households have to deal with those who are of a somewhat skeptical disposition. The violence is the physical tool, and hell is psychological. I can tell you from personal experience, physical violence is a blunt and clumsy instrument that loses much of its effectiveness over time. So, that’s where the psychological comes in–if you don’t “toe the line”, you’ll burn in hell(forever and ever),and be shunned by your family and friends too.

          Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” covers this subject pretty well in chapter 9, “childhood, abuse, and the escape from religion”.
          This is obviously a very widespread problem, and one that deserves a long, hard look from concerned individuals and society in general.

  • Kodie

    The religious solution is to buy something nobody needs, like shoes when they’re going to be dead, and expect indulgence for these childlike misapplications of spending.

    What about medicine! Since when does Jesus care how you’re dressed?

    • MNb

      You’ve lost the point, Kodie, hopelessly lost.

      “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!

      The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!”

      Milan Kundera, The unbearable Lightness of Being.

  • MNb

    “Perhaps good and bad things just happen, without divine cause,”
    Big mistake, BobS. Bad things just happen, good things happen with divine cause. I have never understood it either.
    At 10-12 years I read some stories about people selling their souls to the devil for three wishes and then outsmarting them. They were quite funny. But pretty quickly I began to wonder why selling my soul for mundane things like stocks of beer never running out. Why not something like “never again war”?
    I decided that would be one of my wishes. The devil never showed up though; apparently not interested in my soul or, more likely, not existing.
    That might have been the beginning of my skepticism.

    • UWIR

      Wish 1: infinite wishes
      Wish 2: my soul back

      Seems like clear arbitrage to me.

      • smrnda

        Well, sometimes there’s the ‘you can’t wish for more wishes’ rule, but then wish you can wish for more wished, and so on and so forth depending on the constraints.

  • Rick

    I think the real Mr. Cranky wrote a commentary and posted it in place of Bob S. Right after he wrote his allegedly Christmasy Carol.

    I did finish it, by the way. Predictably disappointing in its “happy ending.” The bad guys are always those dastardly Christians, while the good guys are the ever high minded free thinkers.

    Merry Christmas anyway.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      OK, thanks for the input.

    • MNb

      Fortunately the novel had at least one good girl.
      Happy Holy Days as well.

  • wtfwjtd

    That Patton Oswalt bit is right on the mark! Twisted logic eviscerated hilariously well!

  • Pofarmer

    The biggest problem I see with infantalizing adults, is submission to the church gives them a get out of jail free card on thinking. Got a problem, what does the Church say? The Catholic Church is horrible about this as they have a sacrament for everything ,and an answer for everything, which normally involves sin, and more church. It seems that there is no problem the church can’t solve, just by, church. This is what is the most distressing. People giving over their cognitive skills to an organization that only wants to control them, never wants to respect them, and certainly doesn’t want to hear them.

    • MNb

      Just in addition, not meant to contradict in any way:

      this applies to political ideologies as well. Mutatis mutandis you could have written this comment about this guy and his party:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geert_Wilders
      It’s something in Homo Sapiens I really don’t get. As a teacher math and physics at the edge of (according to my son in the middle of) the jungle it strikes me how willing my pupils are to question everything I explain; only few need serious encouragement.

  • http://batman-news.com Anton

    Patton Oswald does a great job of showing just how phony, crass, and narcissistic the supposedly uplifting Christmas spirit is at its core. But it’s one thing to goof on the sentimental hogwash that inspires consumers to keep our precarious economy afloat. It’s quite another to declare that religious belief is only about infantilizing adults.

    Reality is better than delusion, happy though that delusion may be.

    Tell me again how you know how reality is? I have no problem criticizing people who keep children in a fantasy world, but it seems kind of presumptuous to declare that we have absolute, direct knowledge of reality, and everyone else is delusional. The world where reality is a fetish we use to beat our benighted foes sounds like a fantasy world too.

    If anything infantilizes adults, it’s the cheap certainty (derived in equal measure from religion and science) that they have the truth and whoever disagrees with them is delusional. Not that anyone here thinks that, of course.

    • MNb

      “it’s the cheap certainty (derived in equal measure from religion and science) that they have the truth”
      Anton the non-theist using a theist argument. That didn’t take too long. It’s such a silly strawman about science that it doesn’t even deserve to be shown why it’s wrong. Moreover: never mind that on this very blog I specifically made clear how and why I dislike the word truth, with BobS agreeing with me. So much for Anton wanting to discuss what people actually write.

      “Not that anyone here thinks that, of course.”
      I know of several cases where I seriously deluded myself; specifically the last 1½ years of my marriage.
      Even for Anton this is a lot of wrongs in one comment.
      How did you write it again? Ah yes – job well done, amigo.

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        Despite his claim that he’s “through with me,” I was hoping MNb would respond to another of my posts with more nasty shit-flinging, irrelevant vitriol, and personal insults.

        And my Christmas wish came true.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s quite another to declare that religious belief is only about infantilizing adults.

      I’m just giving one example.

      Tell me again how you know how reality is?

      I test it. You say that my flashlight won’t work because the batteries need to be replaced? OK, let’s test that claim.

      You say that if I ask Jesus for something, I shall receive it? OK, let’s test that claim.

      it seems kind of presumptuous to declare that we have absolute, direct knowledge of reality, and everyone else is delusional.

      Agreed. Science is just an approximation.

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        Tell me again how you know how reality is?

        I test it. You say that my flashlight won’t work because the batteries need to be replaced? OK, let’s test that claim.

        You say that if I ask Jesus for something, I shall receive it? OK, let’s test that claim.

        Golly. When it comes to flashlights and Dear Jesus prayers, you seem to have all the bases covered. However, what about the presumably vast portions of reality which are inaccessible to observation and experiment? Are we allowed to be skeptical that the scientific method is universally applicable to every facet of human experience?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          what about the presumably vast portions of reality which are inaccessible to observation and experiment? Are we allowed to be skeptical that the scientific method is universally applicable to every facet of human experience?

          Sure. Bring up an area that you think is outside science and I wouldn’t be surprised if I agreed with you.

          But back to the point that you raised: I presume we’re on the same page about how reality is? Some claims are testable. Let’s test them. Some claims are untestable. Are they of much value?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I presume we’re on the same page about how reality is? Some claims are testable. Let’s test them. Some claims are untestable. Are they of much value?

          If you don’t think that matters of human experience are of value unless they’re empirically testable, then we seem to have different views indeed about how reality is. I’d say that the vast human experience of creating and appreciating art is of great value. Even the way the scientific knowledge we so treasure stimulates the human imagination isn’t a scientific issue. Science creates knowledge but it can’t tell us how to interpret or derive value from it.

        • Kodie

          What human experiences are you talking about? It is my presumption that the human brain has an array of intelligence afforded to it by evolution, and an array of time afforded to it by technological advancement, and so a luxury is spent imagining things that might otherwise go into a productive field of development and invention, but instead has no outlet, and gets spent thinking of dumb stuff that seems interesting.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Kodie, I’m not sure what the distinction is between “a productive field of development and invention” on one hand and “dumb stuff that seems interesting” on the other.

          Is composing a symphony or writing a novel productive? How about appreciating the work of composers, artists, or sculptors? I consider the legacy of human artwork productive. Do you?

        • Kodie

          I consider it an effort to be heard as an individual. I suppose that is a luxury among animals. A lot of people want to be that, but aren’t able at art, or aren’t able at marketing, or just don’t have the luxury to learn. So what? Are we poorer as a species for all the art that isn’t created?

        • Kodie

          Mostly a “dumb stuff that seems interesting” is all the banter. It does soak up a lot of time for producers and audience. A lot of it is religious seeking for meaning and producing a lot of obsession about meaning and spirituality. That also soaks up a lot of time for producers and audience, but the problem here is they like to make life difficult for other people on the basis of their imaginary friend’s say-so. They’re offended on behalf of their imaginary friend an awful lot and like to control the public at large on his behalf also. This is unproductive.

          I am at the stage where I think people are animals. A lot of rules to keep as many of us as alive as possible makes sense to me. People that hedge rules, like traffic laws, for example, are really pompous in their attitude toward caring for other people sharing the road. I am talking about auto drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. I live in a city, and I see law-benders from every situation, and nobody gets hurt. That’s great, but you don’t see how the pattern of expecting no big deal from behavior might one day end up in a big deal. This is important to me. We’re all in this together. It is not just up to me, the driver, to watch for you, the texting pedestrian. You have no idea how many people I almost run over because they’re fucking stupid and might be better for humanity if I did, but insurance premiums and the law prevent me. Isn’t it a good thing that they bar my inclinations? I just recently saw a guy insist on trying to unicycle his way across the street, even though he was unsteady at it, and slower than walking. He also fell, but he insisted on unicycling the rest of the intersection, despite that the light was not in his favor, and expecting humanity to just wait for his bullshit uniqueness.

          NO, I do not think most of humanity is productive. I think they are consumers and hacks. I am a consumer and I am a hack. All I want is to be comfortable the rest of my life, which honestly takes a lot more discomfort than it might be worth… or luck.

        • Greg G.

          Is composing a symphony or writing a novel productive? How about appreciating the work of composers, artists, or sculptors? I consider the legacy of human artwork productive. Do you?

          Not so much. You are equivocating orthogonal meanings of “value”. A rich person would be willing to pay a couple of dollars for a gallon of bottled water and a couple of million dollars for a painting by one of the great masters. That illustrates one meaning of the word “value”. If the same person faced dehydration in the desert, which would then hold the most value?

          The human animal developed a complex brain because the ability for complex communication is beneficial to social creatures. The ability to appreciate the look of some places over others can have survival benefits. The ability to create structures has been beneficial to social creatures. The human animal has a pleasure/pain type of response for certain activities that tend to affect survivability. Having flexibility for more situations requires an excess of the mental properties of which I listed a few. The value of art is the exploitation of the excess mental abilities required for survival.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Greg G., don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not denying that our artistic abilities (and the rest of them) have their origin in our evolutionary past. I’m also not saying that art and mythology have the same sort of value that material sustenance has.

          What disturbs me about the reductionism I see in discussions like this isn’t just its cynicism, but also that it’s contrary to what so many prominent atheists have gone on record as believing. I always tell my fellow believers to skip The God Delusion and read Dawkins’s Unweaving the Rainbow instead. It’s a much more persuasive defense of the naturalist perspective, as well as an unabashed appreciation of art and poetry.

          I think Sagan, Hitchens, and Dawkins would all scoff at the notion that the vast artistic legacy of humanity —not to mention the very emotional way we relate to our scientific knowledge about the universe— is something to be denigrated and dismissed.

        • Kodie

          Why do you think it’s being dismissed?

        • Greg G.

          Keeping art in the proper perspective is not denigration or dismissal. It would be more appropriate to value it by Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs instead what people prefer. Survival is more important than happiness. Art is like dessert but nutrition is the reason that meals are important. Chocolate is more expensive than broccoli but less nutritious.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Art is like dessert

          Sounds pretty superfluous to me. I’m not going to belabor your metaphor, I just thought I’d point out that even prominent atheist writers wouldn’t agree that art is tangential to the question of human meaning and potential.

        • Kodie

          Art is just language. Think about the impressions you get from seeing art, from understanding a piece of art, and how you feel uplifted, moved, or even violently upset after seeing a piece of art. I once saw a piece of art that was extremely disgusting to me emotionally, and I call that a successful communique. But what happens is, the artist wants to say something and then has to reveal it, and then people interpret it for their own purposes. Maybe I didn’t get what that artist was trying to say. I certainly wouldn’t want it displayed in my home if it was given to me.

          Why, though, think of pictures or whatever as something more than what they are? Some people think art is this thing and some people think it is that thing. I am thinking in terms of “does the talent impress me” vs. “is it speaking directly to my common thoughts”. People criticize art because it’s out there, and don’t think of the artist as an agent of communication. It is all 3rd party – you look at the painting and say the artist really captured the way I also feel about trees. Or you look at a piece of art and mock it because it just doesn’t look like it took a lot of effort. As amateur art critics, people tend to like things that show attention and effort, not slapped together, but what is an artist but someone who can slap together something you could not in a million years train your hands to repeat?

          All they are doing is telling stories, just like I’m doing now. I’m telling you a thing and you’re basically cold to it, like it’s an 8’x10′ canvas painted yellow. You’re, like, “yellow…. I don’t get it. Give me some kind of illustration so I can sense the spirit of the obvious clues and remark on your emotional brushstrokes of things I recognize, so I can admire, generally, the specific kinds of art I’m talking about,” i.e., the common human experience communicated by someone who felt like saying it with paint.

          What is really that lofty or mysterious about it?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          In a local museum about 5 years ago, I saw a canvas painting solid white with a roller. In fact, the note for the painting said that the artist gave permission to any curator to periodically repaint it when it faded, with a roller.

          Somehow, a piece that can be duplicated in a few seconds by some knucklehead with a paint roller doesn’t sound like art to me. But perhaps I’m just constraining “art” with my boundaries.

        • Kodie

          Nobody said all of it was good. I mean, not me, anyway.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Understood. I was responding to your imaginary yellow painting.

        • MNb

          This is probably the kind of questions the artist wants to raise. As soon as you look it that way you’ll understand (but not necessarily appreciate) a lot of modern art better.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If the idea is to get you to think different, this one succeeded. Here I am talking about it (and not other pieces) 5+ years later.

        • smrnda

          I take a piece like that as art that’s less about itself and more a kind of instructional piece that deals with the materials and techniques that go into making art. Making art is physical work done with special tools, and unless you’ve done it, that work is kind of invisible. An occasional piece that’s just really a technical demonstration can be a means of an artist communicating with the public not through art, but about how art is made.

          It’s sort of how I once did an ‘exhibit’ myself where I used a 3d printer to make puppet heads and hands, and then attempted to do the same thing using traditional clay and paper mache at the same time. The whole point wasn’t to show off puppets, but to be a ‘hey, there is an easier way to do this’ statement, mostly since 3d printers are still pretty rare, more instructional and about technology but could still fit into an art exhibit.

        • Greg G.

          I will belabor the metaphor. Dessert is an integral part of the perfect meal. There is nothing wrong with the indulgence. But art is not the meat and potatoes of human meaning and potential. Without art, human life still has meaning. Without life, art is meaningless.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          There is nothing wrong with the indulgence. But art is not the meat and potatoes of human meaning and potential.

          The scientific elite and their deep-pockets corporate sponsors would be delighted to know that people are this materialistic and cynical. In the marketplace of ideas, they have a vested interest in people thinking artistic endeavor is a mere indulgence, whereas the symbolic construct derived from empirical inquiry is so real it should keep them in business for a long time to come.

        • Kodie

          Art is communication, but not everyone has something valuable to say, at least not to the point of demanding to be paid a living to say it.

          I would also be on board with, not all scientific discovery has been to our benefit, but science is more of a tool, where art is a language. If you look at science the way I think you’re looking at it, there are studies people want grants for that probably would not give us information that we need. A lot of them are rejected on the basis that whoever is paying for it cannot see the value of the research. Does the research have some value? It may not. It may, but later, or in a differently constructed experiment, provide clearer answers. And for what immediate use? Maybe none, but all science seems to rest on something we already knew. It might just be a stepping stone to something we could not get to without laying down the stones of the path to the answer.

          The information, of course, is just a tool. How people use that tool to further their own agendas is a form of art. A long time ago, we decided that it might be nice to be able to cut our meat, and humans came up with knives. You are probably aware that knives are some of the handiest murder weapons because nobody doesn’t have a knife in their house. Television – a really great invention with the power to inform and educate that has also provided humanity with a massive amount of stupidity that you prefer over science, called “art”.

        • Greg G.

          Humanity and the ranges of human emotion are orders of magnitude more important than artistic representations of them.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Humanity and the ranges of human emotion are orders of magnitude more important than artistic representations of them.

          Um, okay, Greg. And you’re aware of how humanity and the range of human emotions are through your senses? Or is it because of the vast legacy of art, myth, and literature that represent the human experience?

        • MNb

          First show that art is capable of answering the question of human meaning and potential. Quite a few artists happen to disagree; lots of others never thought about it.

        • smrnda

          I think that might be an error. Yeah, we need enough food to survive and such, but I think that life without any kind of art would be pretty bland, and I don’t mean “art” in the sense of ‘what rich people call art.’ My own life has been greatly enriched by various types of art. I don’t look at it as ‘dessert’ but something more like niacin or vitamin C – you can survive a few days or weeks without it, but then you’ll die just as much as if you’d die for simple lack of calories. It isn’t going to kill you as quickly as going without food or water completely, but it’s not frivolous. Human beings no matter how primitive have produced art. There are no artless human societies. We may think we could survive without it, but I suspect once you got all the art gone, someone would make some. It’s a pretty universal compulsion, it’s just that after early childhood, most people quit making art these days.

        • Greg G.

          Art can be fascinating. Last year, my wife and I visited Norway and Paris. We visited Frogner Park in Oslo with sculpture that captures the range of human emotion and humanity. It appears to have inspired the creatures in the Alien movies, too. We visited the Louvre but there was so much to see and so little time. It is inspiring to see the beauty and to contemplate how many people have been moved by it before us and how many will be after us. I dated an artist once and some of her pieces were inspiring, too. But none of that could match seeing my wife meeting up with the friends she grew up with and kept in touch with but hadn’t seen in 20 or 25 years.

          The sunsets I saw this summer in Hawaii were fascinating. The colors were nothing new but the width and breadth of the horizon afforded a vantage point to see the shadows of one cloud on another and to work out which cloud was casting each shadow.

          I found what I thought was a bumblebee on my back porch. Upon closer inspection I discovered it was a moth that mimicked the bumblebee. It was fascinating to contemplate all the interactions with the moth’s ancestors and the bird ancestors in the past and how the interactions will continue to play out.

          Even if I’m on my deathbed, I’d prefer to see a beautiful girl in person than a beautiful painting of her.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Even if I’m on my deathbed, I’d prefer to see a beautiful girl in person than a beautiful painting of her.

          By art, I don’t just mean pretty pictures. I’m giggling here at the idea that people are real, but art is just paintings of them. Is that as sophisticated as your conception of art is?

          I’m talking about the way humans have used myth, symbol, and music to conceptualize the human experience. This is epic poetry, Dante and Shakespeare; it’s the choral music of Josquin, the preludes and fugues of Bach, and the dionysian music of Coltrane; sculpture and architecture from native cultures to the modern day.

          And while we’re at it, let’s throw empirical inquiry into the mix. There’s no way we can relate to the universe and life on Earth without symbolic constructs like species evolution, the Big Bang, and DNA recombination. I realize there’s a lot of valid research behind these constructs, but they still come down to us as storytelling. We use symbolic language to understand complex scientific matters because we couldn’t comprehend them otherwise.

          Each to his own storytelling.

        • Kodie

          So basically, recording ourselves outside our brains is something that can’t be approached by scientific inquiry. … ?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          So basically, recording ourselves outside our brains is something that can’t be approached by scientific inquiry. … ?

          Well, all you’ve shown is that the process can be dismissed and trivialized. Care to describe how scientific inquiry illuminates a process you don’t appear to consider worth the trouble?

        • Kodie

          People have emotions and express them for record. What is irrational about that?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Each to his own”: I certainly support people being given license to do their own thing when it doesn’t hurt others.

          But onto your “symbols”: Big Bang, DNA, species. And I guess “God” goes in here as well?

          I’m still stuck at the “Which of these things is not like the other?” problem. The first three come from science and have evidence; the last one not.

          Still struggling to figure out where you’re coming from, are you saying that these 4 all belong together if we are simply in a symbolic mindset?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          The first three come from science and have evidence; the last one not.

          Okay, the notion of a species comes from biology whereas literary and religious symbols don’t. But I hate to break it to you, Bob, you’re using metaphors too. Does it make you feel immature or unclean to have to admit that even cold hard science has to use symbols so we can conceptualize matters that are too complex to understand with just manly, manly facts?

        • Kodie

          Maybe our metaphors aren’t blunt enough for you, because you’re still not getting it.

          Humans have language. A lot of living organisms manage to communicate somehow. A long time ago, someone figured out how to establish symbols and the ability to record thoughts in some medium – like on a rock, or a cave wall, and eventually coming to alphabets and paper.

          All art is, from dance, to costume, to video games, to Instagram, is the exploitation of our ability to communicate. You might have heard the expression, “nothing new under the sun,” and though humans often feel like nobody understands them or likes the same things they do, they couldn’t be more wrong.

          Let’s take something beautiful like a sunrise. It is one of the most universally regarded “beautiful” sights. How many new works of art do there have to be for one to express how lovely is a sunrise? It isn’t like we don’t know! It would seem like, if you saw one, no piece of music or photography could compare, and none would be needed to add to your appreciation. I will tell you, I think it is hard to create a piece of art as officially moving as witnessing a live sunrise, and yet, people still try, and some even succeed. Of course, some people note that sunsets are more vivid. There is a metaphor that, to me, makes a difference – a sunrise heralds a brand-new day, of course, while a sunset may be brighter, it is bittersweet because it is at the end of the day.

          The other thing to remember is the vivid colors are caused by the length of the light waves, and enhanced by pollution. If your car leaks oil, that’s bad, but you get a rainbow!

          But anyway, imagine one artist came upon a sequence or pattern of “media units” (we’re not determining the medium) that perfectly expressed a sunrise – that you could experience it whenever you would like, and no matter how often or infrequently you went back to it, it was always the perfect artistic representation of a sunrise. It captures all the moments, all the colors, all the feelings. Why does anyone think they have a new take on it? But they do.

          I used to have this friend who would laugh at the same things I laughed at. He lives in another state, so anyway, I would go out alone and witness or overhear something funny and long for an elbow to nudge so I could share the experience. You can’t tell someone the story, they have to be there. Well, some people are rather adept at telling the story, and are patient enough to create a work of art to weave in the odds and ends they overhear that need to be relayed to someone. You may have also heard of something called “twitter”.

          We are just social creatures, we want to connect, we want to have a friend to nudge their elbow. It is really hard to tell someone about an amazing sunrise. But the reason people keep making art about it (and just about anything else – like taking pictures of their food, for example) is to want someone there with them, someone who wasn’t there, someone who missed something that’s never going to happen the same way again. I mean, when you see a sunrise, don’t you just feel like it’s the only one, ever, and yet, it’s going to happen again tomorrow.

          Humans like to feel like they are also that one sunrise, that strange, short-sighted feeling of being robbed because you can’t keep the moments, that it was your true love of a sunrise, it was your soulmate of a perfect sunrise, and can’t be adequately bottled. We actually are a little different than other animals in our external media. I mean, dogs pee on everything, that’s a form of external media. But, we want to bottle our experiences because we can, because we figured out how to, and all art is is the exploitation of that ability. I already told you that our brains have amazing innovative capacity, and most do not use theirs to innovate a damn thing. We all create some kind of art just by living – performance art at the very least, and we all mostly believe in some kind of packaging, but mostly we are consumers. The amazing artists you were talking about did happen to use their amazing brains to exploit their favored mediums. People like you pretty much only appreciate especially lofty and emotionally touching art. And say, where does that come from?

          You are trivializing the rest of the day in favor of the sunrise, and use this fraction of life to exceptionalize human experience. Like a lot of humans, most like to take credit for a very, very few. Aren’t I awesome to belong to a species capable of that? But you don’t do that, do you. I wonder what else this amazing species is capable of – oh, like using their shallow wits to get involved in conspiracy theories and petulant waves of influence, carried away with a gut feeling to hop on ridiculous bandwagons of charisma? Because what? They have nothing better to do, they’re convinced to drop everything else because someone else’s agenda is of dire importance! I’m talking about your everyday cults like watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh. The pen is mightier than the sword… I have to admit, that’s not original. Hardly anything is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Thanks for worrying about my feelings if called a pussy, but I’m good.

          This doesn’t answer my question. Should I repeat it? I’m saying that {Big Bang, DNA, species, God} has one item that is very, very different. God doesn’t have evidence like the others do. Here, I’m talking about evidence, not metaphors.

          Now (again, repeating myself), I was trying to make sense of your position by wondering if you’re imagining a symbolic point of view. Perhaps then these 4 items would seem to sit together well. Is that right?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I’m talking about evidence, not metaphors.

          And like I said, you’re talking metaphors too, but you’re just reluctant to admit it. I already said that scientific metaphors stand for empirical phenomena, whereas artistic and religious symbology don’t. But that’s scientism for you: anything that isn’t empirical isn’t relevant.

          It still doesn’t register that scientism is a nutty belief, the same sort of irrational tautology you otherwise crush so skillfully. You dismiss anything that’s not empirical as having no evidence, because if it were true, it would be supported by empirical evidence! You’ve deliberately limited the amount of truth claims you have the ability to judge, then you get to pretend you’ve proved that only your basis for judging the truth claims is valid.

          Neat parlor trick.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And like I said, you’re talking metaphors too, but you’re just reluctant to admit it.

          What I’ve been trying to do is rephrase things to try to see things from your standpoint (which I don’t understand), though I’m losing interest.

          But that’s scientism for you: anything that isn’t empirical isn’t relevant.

          You can scold someone else with that. Doesn’t apply to me.

          You dismiss anything that’s not empirical as having no evidence, because if it were true, it would be supported by empirical evidence!

          Alternatively, you could respond to what I’m actually saying.

          Neat parlor trick.

          And Merry Christmas to you, as well.

        • Greg G.

          I agree that art can be fantastic but it has been made out to be something greater than it is from its early days. Cave paintings seem to have been an attempt to get the earth to produce game for the hunters.

          Art is a matter of manipulating emotional pathways in the brain. The artist can control the way the human eye moves across a painting. That may be manipulating brain circuits of our earliest arboreal ancestors to follow tree limbs to a destination.

          A formula for a country song has a certain line that get interpreted differently in each of three stanzas. The last either tugs a heartstring or takes a humorous turn. It similar to the old genie stories with the twist on the third wish. It’s probably no coincidence that humans respond well to it.

          Greek architecture used the Golden Ratio. When two numbers are summed and the last two sums are added, the ratio of the last two approach the Golden Ratio. It also is a growth pattern. It may be easier for the visual center of the brain to represent the ratio internally so it’s more appealing.

          The Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC has a lot of old western art. One display shows how an artist painted Native Americans on horseback with rolling hills in the background. The next two paintings had larger hills. turning into mountains. The fourth painting had snow-capped peaks and had a profound effect on the eye.

          It is interesting how the mind can be manipulated by art by exploiting pathways in the brain. Emotions can be evoked. The manipulation of emotions can give a false story the ring of truth.

          Art has given humanity more religion than it has benefited science.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Art is a matter of manipulating emotional pathways in the brain. The artist can control the way the human eye moves across a painting. That may be manipulating brain circuits of our earliest arboreal ancestors to follow tree limbs to a destination.

          One of scientism’s least impressive parlor tricks is the way it uses neurobabble to trivialize human experience. No one is disputing that art is a man-made phenomenon, and the way we get inspired or create art or appreciate artistic activity presumably has a neurological aspect to it. But this reductionist storytelling is a far cry from explaining the experience in human terms, or understanding why most humans value this experience so profoundly.

          I wonder why we’re not allowed to similarly dismiss humanity’s interest in scientific endeavor as a mere chemical squirt somewhere in the anterior superior temporal gyrus. Is there a neural correlate of irony?

          It is interesting how the mind can be manipulated by art by exploiting pathways in the brain. Emotions can be evoked. The manipulation of emotions can give a false story the ring of truth.

          There’s even more irony here. Artwork like colorful fMRI scans and manually-enhanced Hubble photographs have given the ring of truth to an age-old human myth that we’re in control of our universe and our destiny. Okay, our methods of arriving at this weird belief are more high-tech than the methods our ancestors used, but they’re just as self-validating.

        • Kodie

          One of scientism’s least impressive parlor tricks is the way it uses
          neurobabble to trivialize human experience. No one is disputing that art
          is a man-made phenomenon, and the way we get inspired or create art or
          appreciate artistic activity presumably has a neurological aspect to it.
          But this reductionist storytelling is a far cry from explaining the
          experience in human terms, or understanding why most humans value this
          experience so profoundly.

          You’re the one who is trivializing it by filing into this amazing, irrational woo garbage, that “experience” we all share that indicates there’s something more going on. And I wouldn’t say that most humans value this experience profoundly. I think most people like what they like and don’t like what they don’t like. I guess the fact that this area of the brain does not need to be reached or analyzed “intellectually” to be affected just means it’s as if the parlor trick here is being easily impressed by anything that presses those buttons. Is Justin Bieber a purveyor of art? Apparently, there is a literal formula for poking the brain of a teenaged girl.

          http://popperfont.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/serotonin-and-dopamine.jpg?w=500

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You’re the one who is trivializing it by filing into this amazing, irrational woo garbage, that “experience” we all share that indicates there’s something more going on.

          I do think there’s more going on than just brain chemistry, and the people trivializing human experience are the ones whining, “it’s all neurochemistry and art is just pretty pictures and so what?” Do you have a special Kodictionary where words mean what you want them to mean?

          I haven’t presented anything that could be characterized as “irrational” or “woo,” either. I’m not talking about anything supernatural or paranormal. It’s just that anything not derived from cold hard science is easier for you to handwave away than actually deal with.

        • Kodie

          If you think what I’ve been doing, and several others have been doing is handwaving, then support that assertion with facts. You are randomly assigning art appreciation and human experience therein something outside of something, and you say that science “trivializes” something… I don’t understand what you’re talking about, because you’re not really saying anything. It is woo to you.

          You are also saying this is some kind of universal human feeling of ecstasy or glory or something that just can’t be pinned down to brain chemistry – there is no experience we can have that isn’t. If you disagree, then what are you fucking talking about?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You are also saying this is some kind of universal human feeling of ecstasy or glory or something that just can’t be pinned down to brain chemistry – there is no experience we can have that isn’t. If you disagree, then what are you fucking talking about?

          Read what I’ve said, then. I’ve explicitly said that these experiences can be attributed to brain chemistry, because all human consciousness and perception is presumably reducible to synapses firing and squirts of neurochemicals. But that doesn’t tell us anything about the experiences themselves, and it doesn’t make them any less important to us while we’re experiencing them. There are even stroke victims that experience powerful insights and they realize that the upheaval in cerebral function was the source of their insight. But does that make it something we need to denigrate and dismiss as “woo,” or something we should investigate further? Why the lack of scientific curiosity in this area?

        • Kodie

          Investigate how exactly? If it can’t be rationalized by cold hard science, what kinds of other ways do you suggest? You didn’t, and you don’t.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Investigate how exactly? If it can’t be rationalized by cold hard science, what kinds of other ways do you suggest? You didn’t, and you don’t.

          Like I’ve said a few times now, it can be rationalized by science, but that just doesn’t seem to be able to do anything but explain the neural mechanics of the experience.

          You appear to think there’s nothing more to such an experience than that anyway. And I, and the people that experience them (and Sam Harris, for what it’s worth), do think the experience transcends the mechanics of it. Hence the term transcendent.

        • Kodie

          That’s what you keep saying, but that’s all you keep saying.

        • Pofarmer

          O.K. So we have experiences we can’t fully explain. So, then how do you get from the transcendent to worshiping the divine?

        • Pofarmer

          ‘I haven’t presented anything that could be characterized as “irrational”
          or “woo,” either. I’m not talking about anything supernatural or
          paranormal. It’s just that anything not derived from cold hard science is easier for you to handwave away than actually deal with.”

          You aren’t “presenting” anything at all. Would you just say, once, what the fuck you mean?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You aren’t “presenting” anything at all. Would you just say, once, what the fuck you mean?

          Calm down now.

          I’m just talking about what philosophy has been talking about since that Kant guy: humanity is confronted with an absurd universe that we have to model symbolically to be able to live and exist within it. One of the most valuable tools for establishing valid models of the world is the scientific method, but unfortunately that only works with empirically verifiable phenomena. If we want to believe that the only phenomena that are relevant to humanity are the empirical kind, fine, but that’s a philosophical position that isn’t any less self-validating than any other. If we want to acknowledge that things accessible to human consciousness might not be the be-all and end-all of things that “exist.” well, then the object-in-itself, the Encompassing, or whatever else you want to call it, is out there and we have to live with that too.

        • Pofarmer

          Kant died in 1804. I would hope our understanding of our physical universe have expanded since then.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          He wasn’t a scientist, Po. he was a philosopher. I can understand why a philosopher whose major work was called A Critique of Pure Reason wouldn’t be on your radar.

        • Pofarmer

          I share BobS disdain for Ancient philosophy. You can “Prove” anything if you don’t require any evidence.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I share BobS disdain for Ancient philosophy. You can “Prove” anything if you don’t require any evidence.

          You can also “prove” anything if you’ve already set up your philosophical construct so that the only conclusion is the one you’re comfortable with. So science “proves” that only empirical phenomena exist, because if something else existed, it would have to be empirical.

          It’s a nutty belief, but one that has a lot of popularity.

        • Pofarmer

          It’s not any more nutty than Aristotle “proving” that since man can imagine something, it must be true, because how could we imagine something that didn’t exist.

        • MNb

          Those nutty assumptions science is based upon has yielded some remarkable results last 200 years – more than any other set of assumptions.
          That’s the ultimate justification of “only empirical phenomena exist”: science works. Nothing else can even stand in the shadow of science’s toes. There is nothing that compares to Curiosity on Mars, internet, heart transplantation, the nuclear bomb, drones and Zyklon-B (with apologies to most social sciences and humanities; I hold most of them in high regard too).
          Tell me which results dualism has produced (in the broadest meaning of the word) and I’ll give it another think – after all I started out as a dualist more than 35 years ago. Lame statements like “trivializing the experience of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony” will not do for the simple reason I enjoy that piece of music as much as I did before I abandoned dualism.
          So the starting point is: the idea that there is more than only empirical data doesn’t bear any fruit, either sour or sweet. Show me why this is wrong. Give me positive results. Show me dualism works too.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah, that’s a bit off topic, but it’s something that I’d like to write about at some point.

          Seems to me that philosophers themselves don’t provide tangible results today. Scientists may be doing philosophy at times when they resolve problems at the frontier of science, but what have philosophers done for me lately?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          what have philosophers done for me lately?

          Someone interested in the scientific method who declares the philosophy of science irrelevant is sort of like the fish in the punchline to the old joke:

          There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

        • MNb

          At the other hand lots of scientists seem to do very well without caring about the philosophy of science. One example is Richard Feynman:

          “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds”
          So we shouldn’t overrate philosophy of science either, especially as it’s often mustard after dinner, as the Dutch proverb goes. Philosophers of science happen to look first at what scientists are actually doing and then describe it. Natural scientists knew about the importance of falsifiability long before Popper formulated his famous principle (and even then he got a few things wrong; ask Kuhn and Lakatos). A famous example is the Michelson-Morley experiment.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Someone interested in the scientific method who declares the philosophy of science irrelevant

          Yet again, I think we’re talking past each other because, yet again, that’s not what I was talking about.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Okay. I just wonder what sort of “tangible results” you expect from philosophy. It’s sort of like saying astronomy is no good because you can’t use it to build a house.

          The philosophical basis of science is methodological naturalism, which recognizes the limitations of empirical inquiry: it can’t use variables that aren’t empirically verifiable. Scientific inquiry is only possible because philosophers pointed out the boundaries of the method we use to create such knowledge.

          So using the “tangible results” of science to affirm ontological naturalism (the belief that only the empirical exists) is ironic, because the distinction was made initially to acknowledge the inability of scientific research to deal with anything that wasn’t empirical.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No tangible results? OK, maybe I’m being too restrictive. How about any results?

          I can see that philosophy for its own sake can be a good discipline to study to learn how to think better. So, let’s celebrate the philosophers we have that teach that to the next generation. But for this conversation, I’m looking beyond that.

          Scientific inquiry is only possible because philosophers pointed out the boundaries of the method we use to create knowledge.

          Yes, so perhaps you see the problem. What have philosophers done for me lately? If you say that scientists put on a philosopher’s hat when they’re working at the frontier of science, I’ll buy that. If you say that philosophers have provided important insights centuries ago, I’ll buy that. But you seem to be saying more than that.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          How about any results?

          Um, you mean aside from the fact that, like I said, it has defined protocols that allow scientific inquiry to work?

          It hasn’t gone unnoticed that one big reason that scientific inquiry can tout “big results” is that our corporate overlords throw an obscene amount of money at it every year. Are all these results really worthwhile? Or do any results count?

          I’ve always said that my main point here is that our way of defining our universe and our knowledge comes with philosophical baggage that we don’t acknowledge; scientific inquiry isn’t some organic, objective search for the capital-T Truth, it happens in an economic and political context that conditions who benefits from the research.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          [philosophy] has defined protocols that allow scientific inquiry to work

          I don’t think scientists in the recent past have been sitting on their hands, waiting impatiently for the philosophers to lay the groundwork before they can start.

          We’ve been going around on this issue enough. I think we agree that philosophers (not philosophy) have indeed done very little to improve or inform science or society in the recent past. Is that true?

          It hasn’t gone unnoticed that one big reason that scientific inquiry can tout “big results” is that our corporate overlords throw an obscene amount of money at it every year.

          Yes, science does take a lot of money. I’m not sure of your point. You’re saying that it’s a mixed bag? That the technology that allows Grandma to see the new baby across the country also allows Big Brother? If you’re frustrated by the downsides of technology or politics, I’m sympathetic, but that’s probably off topic.

          I’ve always said that my main point here is that our way of defining our universe and our knowledge comes with philosophical baggage that we don’t acknowledge…

          And I’ve been saying that philosophy may well have been productive lately, but not philosophers have not.

          … scientific inquiry isn’t some organic, objective search for the capital-T Truth, it happens in an economic and political context that conditions who benefits from the research

          Searching for a new fragrance or bubble gum flavor or energy drink taste that will please customers isn’t much of a search for Truth.

          On the other hand, the discovery of the Higgs boson is. Will politicians or corporations benefit? No time soon.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I dunno, Bob, certain recent philosophers have been a real boon to science recently. But it’s neo-positivists like Dennett and Harris, who are peddling the kind of nostalgic scientism that serves its ideological masters well.

          It’s in the interests of the corporate powers-that-be to have people thinking of science as the be-all-and-end-all of human knowledge and endeavor, and be happy with our shiny gadgets and cubicle jobs. We’re just the wigglings and jigglings of atoms, after all, so everything having to do with meaning and purpose is just useless woo.

          If people got more of an education in philosophy, they’d realize that the positivist’s notion of reality has whiskers on it. The idea that reality is a certain way and we just have to test and research until we have it all figured out, is a machine fantasy that went out with Jules Verne. Einstein and Bohr poked a big reality-shaped hole in that myth with the robust theory of a universe whose phenomena depended on an observer, the ultimate subjective approach to knowledge. If it’s too difficult to deal with the idea that our knowledge of reality can only be socially constructed, well, maybe there are hard truths you don’t want to face after all.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          certain recent philosophers have been a real boon to science recently.

          I’ve not heard of this. Who are you thinking of?

          It’s in the interests of the corporate powers-that-be to have people thinking of science as the be-all-and-end-all of human knowledge and endeavor, and be happy with our shiny gadgets and cubicle jobs.

          Wow. You’ve got a lot of rage for our reptoid overlords.

          That’s not a primary area of interest to me.

          If people got more of an education in philosophy …

          And, if you’ll allow me to repeat myself yet again, I’m happy to agree that philosophical training might be helpful.

          we just have to test and research until we have it all figured out, is a machine fantasy that went out with Jules Verne

          I thank God that we’re on the same page and can move on.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I’ve not heard of this. Who are you thinking of?

          Well, Bob, I mentioned Dennett and Harris, who are— oh, I get it. You’d rather move on.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          We share many words, but nothing much comes of it.

          Sure, we can move on. But no, I have no idea what recent philosophers (who aren’t scientists) have done to advance science lately. If you’ve recently given specific names and accomplishments, I must’ve forgotten.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I meant Harris and Dennett, whose works are undeniably interesting. I’ve read a couple of books by each and think they’re very good writers. Dennett in particular made a great case for the creative power of undirected forces in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, but I think both have a really old-fashioned view of science-as-ideology, the religion-destroying cognitive glacier that reveals to us how reality is.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Harris and Dennett have made advances as philosophers that have had an important impact on science? That’s the part that is new to me. Tell me more.

          I don’t see how they can be so old-fashioned in your mind and yet have made important philosophical contributions that have aided science.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I think their impact is more on the perception of science as a modern guide to objective truth, and a concrete refutation of religious belief. Theirs is an amusingly anachronistic conception of science, one that appeals to people who prefer to ignore more complex definitions of science, philosophy, and theology. Harris and Dennett could engage with more sophisticated theology, but their audience likes the way they shoot fish in a barrel. Have you ever read William James, Paul Tillich, or Karl Jaspers? Interesting.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Theirs is an amusingly anachronistic conception of science

          Well, if my ol’ buddy Anton gives their philosophical contributions a thumbs down, I’m certainly not going to think much of it.

          Have you ever read William James, Paul Tillich, or Karl Jaspers?

          Very little, I’m afraid.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Well, if my ol’ buddy Anton gives their philosophical contributions a thumbs down, I’m certainly not going to think much of it.

          I keep forgetting that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Thanks for the reminder.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          ??

          You don’t think much of Harris or Dennett in the philosophy department. OK, fair enough; let’s accept that evaluation.

          Now, back to the (perpetual) topic: where is this evidence of philosophers providing important contributions to science recently? Obviously, Harris and Dennett aren’t of much importance, and yet you’ve stuck those names into the spot in your argument where you meant to give the answer to my question.

          Color me perplexed.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          where is this evidence of philosophers providing important contributions to science recently?

          Once again, Bob, you’ve skillfully demolished a claim that nobody here ever made.

          Rock on.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Since I’ve been asking this in our last 5 interchanges, I don’t know why it was so hard to get out. You threw me with your “certain recent philosophers have been a real boon to science recently.” I guess that must’ve been a little misfire.

          I thought I’d ask to learn more about what you had in mind, though I guess that was offensive somehow. Apologies.

        • MNb

          Philosophers never have provided many tangible results. But they have helped to ground your and my atheism for one thing.

        • MNb

          When science conflicts with philosophy science wins. The concept of the object-in-itself is useless for science. Where is William of Ockham? He is badly in need.

        • Pofarmer

          “If we want to acknowledge that things accessible to human consciousness might not be the be-all and end-all of things that “exist.” well, then the object-in-itself, the Encompassing, or whatever else you want to call it, is out there and we have to live with that too.”

          All that says to me is that there are things out there that we don’t understand, so we should worship somehting

        • MNb

          The object-in-itself is one of the most useless concepts developed by such an intelligent person like Kant. It explains nothing, it doesn’t help to understand anything, it is just woo as Kodie likes to say.
          Kant claimed that Hume woke him up. Russell correctly notes that Kant was quick to devise a sleeping pill.

        • MNb

          “I do think there’s more going on than just brain chemistry, and the people trivializing human experience are the ones whining”
          The problem is that you have nothing to argue for this but your own prejudices and moral judgments you’re so fond of.

          “It’s just that anything not derived from cold hard science is easier for you to handwave away than actually deal with.”
          First show there is something to actually deal with that cannot be studied (derived from is not the correct word) by science. Then show how this immaterial (if it were material it could be studied by science) thing interacts with our material reality. Finally show why the material aspect taken on its own is trivial with something more than what your underbelly tells you.

        • smrnda

          I guess art, literature and music have been such an integral part of my relationships with other people that I can’t imagine us even existing as ourselves without it. Plenty of positive connections I’ve had with other people happened because we liked the same music, or because someone introduced me to a new author I’d never heard of before. Given that I’ve spent a lifetime bonding with other people *over what media we liked* I can’t argue that the media isn’t close to being a core part of who we are, and just just some window dressing.

          I mean, let’s take a great book. When I read something that’s resonated with a lot of people, it’s a way that I end up connecting to other people, their experiences about life, and the history of human culture. Art is part of the experience of being human.

        • smrnda

          I think that the lower-level needs simply have to be met for the higher ones to matter, but that meeting *just* the lower level needs won’t make people happy. There are prisoners in jail getting their physical needs met, and I don’t think they’re thinking ‘well, I got what I need, but that trivial HUMAN CULTURE is something I can pass on.’

        • Kodie

          Well, exactly. Some people feel that the sustenance of life is the most important thing. I don’t. I mean, as living beings, the main thing seems to be to learn what you need to do to stay alive long enough to procreate and rear children, and avoid painful death thereafter. But then again, that’s kind of a lot to do. Just being alive is not really living but apparently, if you can pass your genes, you’ve done your job as a living thing…. then there is this thing where some things live longer than humans and what do they get out of it? Do tortoises get bored? Do trees really want to hang out oxygenating and providing shelter for everyone else?

          I mean, we talk about humans like we’re some great marvel – to whom? But most of life is like, we’re hanging out waiting to die, so might as well not be so bored. A person with their basic needs met, but no other stimuli will not enjoy “living”. Even their mind will wander and make up ways to fill up all that time. This is why people like to eat meals together, play games together, or even veg out in front of the television. Life is about generating poop, and the longer you live to poop, the better off most people seem to think you are, but pooping only takes up a little of the day, and even there, an apparent majority require reading material.

          We can’t really live without putting some garbage or other into our brains, maybe something better than garbage, but we can live a long time on a cheetos-diet-for-the-brain. Some have finer taste, well, let’s just say taste. There have been times when I had about 5 channels of tv, and I couldn’t stand for it to be off, so I would see what’s on, and pick the least worst thing I could watch. I watched a lot of Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop for a half hour a day for over 6 months. When I could have been doing just about anything else, that’s what I picked. I couldn’t just turn off the tv because nothing was on. I also used to consume a hell of a lot of crossword puzzles. I didn’t want to do what I really should have been doing, or think about that, and I couldn’t just lay around in silence with nothing to do or think about.

          People get really immersed in their habits, I mean, you get slaves and they are not just grunting along, they were singing. People who work in repetitive jobs, like on an assembly line, if the machinery isn’t too loud, carry on gossip. Have you ever driven your car on a long trip with nobody in the car and no working radio? If you don’t chatter with yourself, it’s really easy to get lost in deep thought and forget you’re driving. We could actually endanger our lives without a decent amount of stimulation, a song to sing along with or someone to talk to, even if it has to be yourself.

          How does this relate to the magnitude of art? I think most people do not have any access to what intellectuals would deem as great art, and they probably get along just fine. Reality tv is really popular, it’s like candy, and it’s art (and so is candy, for that matter). A compelling art film would bore them – what I am getting at is the compelling part. People are just compelled to consume something. It might be crap to you, but they are getting the same juice out of what they watch as what you get when you watch something some might call more enriching or valuable or artistic. Maybe what we don’t really need is art, but the thing that compels us, that we feel communicated with in some way. A beautiful thing that doesn’t speak to us is trash. A trashy thing that doesn’t speak to us is motivation to find something else that does. When you are flipping the channels to find something on, you might get sucked in to some program you can’t believe exists and wonder why you can’t reach for the remote, but you can’t because you’re getting what you went to get.

        • smrnda

          Late on this point, but I think a reason why human beings go through the dull activities that help us survive is because they could imagine more interesting things to do, whether it’s make music, look at pictures, sing songs, dance or play games of various sorts. Otherwise, the labor we engage in is just a means to more work, and we’re too *aware of our own feelings of boredom* for that to be enough for us.

          In the end, that’s good. We end up being curious about how things work, and in the end, it means we aren’t all doing agricultural labor for 12 hours a day most of the year because someone found experimenting with tools to be fun and it turned out to be useful.

          Our imaginations, our ability to conceive of something more than *just survival* is, in and of itself, a trait that makes us more likely to survive.

        • MNb

          “I always tell my fellow believers ”
          But you get angry when I call you a theist. Really, sometimes I wonder if you understand what you write yourself.
          Anyhow, Sagan, Hitchens and Dawkins have had exactly zero influence on my atheism. I was an atheist long before I learned these three were too and even hardly have read anything from them. My influences are Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, Anton Constandse, Bertrand Russell and lately Herman Philipse. I don’t expect you to know more than one of them. Like I wrote above none of them have at the least prevented me to develop a taste for Russian 19th Century music plus quite some from the 20th Century as well.
          BobS is right above – you foster your false dichotomies.

        • MNb

          Define productive. If it means something like “improving the quality of my life” then definitely yes. So what? It’s still all neurons fooling around. So what? I simply don’t see the need for more to it. It hasn’t diminished in any way my appreciation for Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, which I have listened to since more than 40 years.
          While stringing a lot of linguistic symbols on this blog you haven’t exactly cheered us with something more to it. You only maintain there must be without specifying what. That’s not exactly constructive, let alone convincing.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you don’t think that matters of human experience are of value unless they’re empirically testable, then we seem to have different views indeed about how reality is.

          Can I try to return to the subject you raised? In the post, I said, “Reality is better than delusion, happy though that delusion may be,” and you wondered how I know reality. I explained how.

          You’re now worried about things that are beyond our ability to test for them, but that’s not what we were talking about. Is there evidence for God? Is there evidence that prayer works? These and other related questions test claims made by religion.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You’re now worried about things that are beyond our ability to test for them, but that’s not what we were talking about.

          Actually, that is what we’re talking about. You said you know how reality is by testing, but I’d say there are plenty of facets of human experience and endeavor where there are considerable limits on how much empirical research is going to tell us. Art, love, ethics, and compassion are just a few I could name off the top of my head.

          Are you saying that these subjects aren’t part of reality? Or just that they don’t matter because they don’t lend themselves to empirical testing?

        • Kodie

          Does Anton go out of his way to find something to complain about?

          Yes.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          We’re all in this together, Kodie.

        • Kodie

          I still don’t know what you’re trying to imply.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I just wonder whether we’re allowed to be skeptical of the reductionist model of humanity that seems popular in these parts. It’s as if anyone who thinks there’s more to what it means to be human than details of our evolutionary lineage, DNA recombination, and brain chemistry may as well be singing about angels and magic.

          The human quest for meaning is something that science can help us with, because through empirical research we can understand how best to relate to natural phenomena and our place in the physical universe. But it can’t provide the meaning that humanity desperately seems to need, for which we continue to create artistic and spiritual artifacts. I’m not alone in wondering whether we’ve been freed from the dogma of religion just so we can submit to another dogma, one that tells us we’re nothing but atoms. Did we escape the tyranny of the Church just to fall into the clutches of a shiny, high-tech Church, subsidized by our corporate overlords, intent only on making us want to be better consumers and happier employees?

        • Kodie

          Humans want to mean more than we do. We mean something to each other, but not really. We mean something to a few people. We want to mean something to someone who counts, like god, or someone famous. As social as we are, why are we so desperately lonely or needy for attention? And what about people who hate attention? I think these are just the imagination – we all the capacity, in essence, what our brains evolved to do, to innovate. A lot of us are clever in a pinch, but don’t have anywhere to put the impulses in our brains. Art is just another language. Talking and provoking, a lot of it is just chatter. I don’t know when we’ll ever arrive at whatever it is we’re trying to get out of it. Do we get meaning?

          As it is, religion sucks all the meaning out of life. I don’t know, I mean, a lot of humans are pretty darn impressed with the quality of humans, compared to other animals. You get sucked in by all the art and poetry and seemingly limitless capacity for variation and invention. Our “thing” happens to be tool-making – seeing what we need and thinking up a way to get it – irrigation, indoor heat, a way to keep papers together, a way to keep from dying painfully and too young. Most of us keep our brains lit on work and entertainment. This is essential – it’s not massive brainpower that keeps most of us alive but the organization of labor, to assign tasks to keep all of us alive. We need trash collectors as much as we need medical research. WE need it, but that’s because we’re people who made this for ourselves, the same way squirrels make things for themselves, and not for us.

          But you will say, a squirrel doesn’t wonder or write poems or serve a grand purpose! It’s just a squirrel! It lives a pitifully shallow life, cut off from knowledge and appreciation and expression! That’s because you’re making an awful lot about knowledge and appreciation and expression. You and a few other people are just overly impressed by things that aren’t cold science, the soft stuff, the language and art. You give all your woo feelings to neural impulses that have to go somewhere. We’re just full of ourselves, and love to analyze and talk about everything – it’s because we have time. Imagine not having time – imagine your entire focus is on survival. Now go ahead and invent a tool, so now that your efforts go much faster and your protection is stable, now you have more time – and what do we do with our time? Notice how unsatisfactory those tools are and, after your work is done, work on an improvement. Once you worked out how to make a rug for the stone floor, might as well get that thing in stripes.

          All we have been doing is tool-making to get by and we haven’t secured our survival yet.

          Actually, most people are consumers and hacks and trained generators of more consumer goods and services, with the very same capable brains; while some people do work on forging ahead, the rest of us are putting our brain impulses into wanting to mean something and wishing and wondering if we do. To us, we do. To each of us, some do more than everyone else. We really, really like connecting to another person. We look at a piece of art and feel connected and understood. We might look at another one and say “hack” because YOU are the decider. It doesn’t connect to you, so you think it doesn’t connect to anyone, so YOU, the tasteful one, give that artist a fail mark, and anyone who sees something you don’t see. People have lengthy arguments about this and I still don’t know why.

          What do you still find mysterious and gooey and untouchable by mere rationality about what I’ve explained to you already?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You and a few other people are just overly impressed by things that aren’t cold science, the soft stuff, the language and art.

          Uh, yeah, a “few” people and I are very impressed with those things. They deal with human experience and potential. I confess that I’m at a loss to understand how you could say that anything that isn’t cold science is irrelevant with a straight face.

          As it is, religion sucks all the meaning out of life.

          I suppose a religious belief that tells people they’re not worthy of God’s redemption, or that says they can only expect fulfillment in the next life, does indeed suck the meaning out of life. But there’s plenty of religious belief that tries to teach people that they have a link to something transcendent, and that loving others is a holy prerogative; that can give their lives meaning.

          On the other hand, the reductionist notion that we’re all just atoms, and that any search for meaning is just a big game of Let’s Pretend, doesn’t do much to ennoble us either.

          What do you still find mysterious and gooey and untouchable by mere rationality about what I’ve explained to you already?

          Kodie, all you’ve “explained” to me is your lack of patience with anyone’s suggestion that we’re more than just gene machines. You merely handwaved away the concerns and drives that have occupied artists, mystics, composers, poets, philosophers, dissidents, and novelists since time immemorial. Your facile dismissal of this search for meaning (as if all art and philosophy is a waste of time and is only designed to waste time, because Kodie says so) has nothing to do with logic and rationality, it’s small-minded cynicism.

        • Kodie

          Yeah, you YA and Karl Udy, and probably a few others. I’m not talking to the world.

          Yes, religion takes the closest relationships we have and our essential roles in the machinery of the glob of humanity and says they’re not even important.

          No, you are just stubborn.

        • smrnda

          Ok. I’m a former mathematician and current software developer, so I’m kind of on the far end of logic/reason when it comes to work and training.

          What’s one of my favorite books? Naked Lunch. It’s certainly not a book that holds reason, rationality, or even sanity in high esteem – it’s a book that practically glories in chaos, destruction (both other and self-directed) and which provides extensive social commentary in terms of absurd satire and parody and outright mockery, but which makes no positive recommendations for what people should do to improve things, and is cynical enough about the human condition to be disdainful about the notion of progress at all (the book contains descriptions of futuristic technologies and such, but more things like ‘better sex toys and drugs’ rather than something pragmatic). I kind of find that type of book to be a fun read, possibly because the behavior or hedonistic, irrational people can be interesting. In real life I’d much prefer rational human beings, but I don’t think they’d make such interesting topics for a book, the same way some of the more interesting characters are morally grey. Perhaps human beings are a bit irrational, and some of us feel a need to get a dose of controlled irrationality and irresponsibility on occasion.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          What’s one of my favorite books? Naked Lunch.

          How I love that book. I went through a phase where I read nearly everything that Burroughs wrote, but that’s still the best one. I’ve read and reread it a dozen times.

          It’s interesting to note that the evil Doc Benway in Naked Lunch was a pretty clear symbol of the rational, empirical man and his disregard for anything human: “I’m a scientist. A pure scientist.” This crazy book is still one of the funniest, most outrageous satires in literary history.

        • smrnda

          Benway is great – instead of using medicine as a tool for healing, it’s more show-boating and experimentation for the sake of the doctor, who we first encounter saying ‘this operation has no medical value, it’s a purely artistic creation’ with the idea that he’s going to deliberately endanger the patient and then save them with SKILL! (and if not, well, too bad.)

          If I take outrageous satires, there’s Gulliver’s Travels, and then we hit Naked Lunch, and I have no idea what we’d have to see to replace it. I read it when I was fairly young and it *totally blew my mind* and I do continue to re-read occasionally.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Benway’s soliloquy from Naked Lunch where he says “I deplore brutality — it’s so inefficient” sums up the casual neglect we’ve come to expect from our government and its minions in the scientific field.

          I first encountered the book in high school, and it was so disturbing I had to put it down for a while. But as with all highly addictive substances, it was too strong to resist and it hooked me good.

          There are plenty of savage satirists in literary history, but I have to say Voltaire is the man. What passes for human wisdom would still be fodder for his cruel wit.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I share your concern for greedy capitalists and technology’s downsides. But embracing that is hardly the only alternative to embracing an Iron Age belief in sky daddies.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I share your concern for greedy capitalists and technology’s downsides. But embracing that is hardly the only alternative to embracing an Iron Age belief in sky daddies.

          It’s funny how our prejudices are always so much more nuanced and complex than those of everybody else, huh?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, that is funny.

          Was that supposed to be relevant to our conversation?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Well, you get to characterize any perspective that isn’t based in cold hard facts and evidence as belief in sky daddies, whereas you get to accuse anyone who points out problems in your science-based ideology of ignoring all sorts of context.

          Here’s a testable claim: I say the shoe’s just on the other foot, but you say it’s a whole different shoe.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well, you get to characterize any perspective that isn’t based in cold hard facts and evidence as belief in sky daddies

          I just suggested that we avoid a false dichotomy, and here again you’re determined to see things as a dichotomy. We’re not making much headway.

          I say the shoe’s just on the other foot, but you say it’s a whole different shoe.

          No, I say that shoes are a bad analogy because there can only be two of them.

        • Pofarmer

          Maybe doggy shoes?

        • Kodie

          You are saying that there is something to human creativity that is without peer on the planet of species that just can’t be quantified or qualified with rational expression, and as such, you don’t know how to explain it either.

        • MNb

          You also could have brought up one of those perspectives (in addition to correctly criticizing science) but you wouldn’t have been Anton if you had done so, I suppose. Staying constructive for one than more comment is hard, I get it.

        • MNb

          It’s funny how you need to follow up an excellent comment with one that doesn’t address what the other writes, is snarky and also otherwise is typical of every complaint you have about others.
          Once again a job well done, amigo.

        • MNb

          “I just wonder whether we’re allowed to be skeptical of the reductionist model of humanity that seems popular in these parts.”
          Yes. Note that you brought up a typical theist argument again; this time possibly their best (theists just add “hence we need god”, to formulate it bluntly). I agree that atheists and especially materialists need to address this issue and that it isn’t easy. For me I can’t honestly say I’m out of the woods.

          “The human quest for meaning is something that science can help us with.”
          Now am I allowed to be skeptical of this? I don’t see how, but I may be biased because I don’t think there is any external meaning to human life.

          “our place in the physical universe.”
          As far as I can see this place is meaningless. If Obama pushed the Red Button and made the whole Earth explode it wouldn’t change anything in the grand scheme of things.

          “for which we continue to create artistic and spiritual artifacts.”
          I own quite some music but never listen to it to find some “meaning”.

          “Did we escape the tyranny of the Church just to fall into the clutches of a shiny, high-tech Church, subsidized by our corporate overlords, intent only on making us want to be better consumers and happier employees?”
          One nice thing of science is that it (especially psychology in this respect) can help you to deal with those clutches as well. One thing I have learned is to ask myself one question as soon as I’m supposed to buy some technological novelty: “how exactly does it improve the quality of my life?” If I can’t answer it I don’t buy it. To learn this I first had to know how the psychology of advertising works because of course this inluences me too.
          The second part of your question, about the happy employee, I have answered it in an uncommon way as well. Again I needed the science called psychology to answer the question “what kind of life do I want to lead?”
          If your worry is science’s downsides don’t look any further than the Holocaust and those nuclear bombs I harp you with ….. So yes, if this is what you mean with being skeptical about science I’d say you can’t be skeptical enough.
          Just my two SRD.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “But it can’t provide the meaning that humanity desperately seems to need, for which we continue to create artistic and spiritual artifacts.”

          I’ve got that “meaning” for you – it’s called “humanity”! Celebrate it, and be happy – and I do mean that seriously! The idea of “higher meaning” is a construct of Christianity, and is a particularly foul one for the very cruel self-loathing which it saddles it’s followers with! People who have escaped Christianity often spend their whole lives trying to rid their minds of that stink (self included), and NO, it isn’t socially necessary! I’m not saying it’s best to be selfish, but “higher meaning/purpose) does no good at all when one society goes to war for the benefit of it’s imaginary friend in the sky instead of acting on behalf of the greater good of its people at home, and the promotion of worldwide peace. If you want true meaning and purpose for your life beyond your own hedonistic impulses, find a real person who’s life you can make a real difference in!

          “I’m not alone in wondering whether we’ve been freed from the dogma of religion just so we can submit to another dogma, one that tells us we’re nothing but atoms. Did we escape the tyranny of the Church just to fall into the clutches of a shiny, high-tech Church, subsidized by our corporate overlords, intent only on making us want to be better consumers and happier employees?”

          Do you still not understand the difference between science and dogma? I know this was posted awhile ago, but the difference has been presented to you in numerous ways, all arriving at the same sensible conclusion: dogma cannot be tested, but science always is before it’s called “science”! It is founded NOT exclusively on pre-existing constructs, but tons of evidence. Competent scientists don’t declare their science as absolute, and the future may possibly find fault in their most basic scientific principles, but nothing such would ever prove that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, or was raised from the dead and walked around after being crucified! This is why the conclusion of disbelief for the Christianity myth is 100% dogma-free!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Do you still not understand the difference between science and dogma?

          To hear you tell it, Dave, science is when there’s lots of CAPS and exclamation points!!

          In which case, it sounds a lot like dogma to me.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “To hear you tell it, Dave, science is when there’s lots of CAPS and exclamation points!!”

          Sorry, buddy, I just felt the need to drive home my point (and maybe make it easier to follow). Just in case you were still interested in discussing at least one of your points which you have been so confused on for being so enamoured of that baloney from professionals who get paid for tweaking your head – and I will not be dealing with any of that unless you tell me specifically what they say which has you so confused!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Well, Dave, I just wanted to point out that proclaiming the scientific method as the arbiter of all truth, to the exclusion of any subjective experience, seems every bit as rigid and dogmatic as religious fundamentalism.

          And you seem like such a reasonable, open-minded guy, I have no doubt that a civil discussion is in the offing.

        • MNb

          You are very good at pointing this out and very bad at backing this up. You even prefer to neglect difficult questions like:

          1. How should we define truth? For one thing I reject truth defined as 100% absolute eternal certainty. Other definitions invariably become vague. So truth is a unmanageable concept.
          2. Science acknowledges that 100% absolute eternal certainty is impossible; it accepts the restrictions of both deduction and induction. The results of the scientific method invariably are temporary and tentative; it’s alway possible to be proven wrong. All scientists and many others, including BobS and me, acknowledge this. So isn’t “proclaiming the scientific method as the arbiter of all truth” a strawman, showing that you are the unreasonable narrow-minded guy in town?
          3. As soon as we have defined truth how can subjective experiences in any way contribute to finding it?

          Not that I expect an answer with actual content from you. In this respect you’re consistent indeed, Anton the non-theist with theist arguments, who doesn’t think reality is a narrative but does think it’s all subjective and bias, says he is looking for a reasonable civil discussion but is usually the first to get off the rails with rolling eyes as soon as he reads something he doesn’t like.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You even prefer to neglect difficult questions like:
          1. How should we define truth?

          I never used the term myself, but people here are fond of talking about Truth-with-a-capital-T and how some beliefs are true while others are false. The extent to which our empirical models of reality resist disconfirmation makes us more confident in their validity, but to say that this means our beliefs are true is a stretch. I fully expect that our descendents will pity our ignorance the same way we pity that of our ancestors.

          2. Science acknowledges that 100% absolute eternal certainty is impossible

          That may be, but that doesn’t stop people here from acting like empirical inquiry is the ultimate arbiter of all human knowledge. I don’t detect such realistic humility in the way all subjective experience is dismissed as sentimental nonsense. Science doesn’t show us that there’s a reality out there that is waiting for us to comprehend it; if Einstein’s theories have taught us anything, it should be that our knowledge of phenomena depends on the existence of an observer. And our perceptual and cognitive biases make talking about objective reality a form of storytelling.

          3. As soon as we have defined truth how can subjective experiences in any way contribute to finding it?

          I don’t think there’s any way to “define” truth except in terms of what has meaning for the individual. We live in an absurd universe, and our scientific and religious beliefs are just ways we pretend to understand it. Our lives, our beliefs, and our mortality are basically irrational, despite our efforts to rationalize them. We create a lot of metaphorical, symbolic systems to help us make sense of things, and we need to realize that science is just one of these systems.

        • Pofarmer

          “I don’t think there’s any way to “define” truth except in terms of what has meaning for the individual.”

          I don’t see how this is in any way helpful, and it actually encourages individuals to hold beliefs that are patently and demonstrably non-true. So what if 46% of Americans believe that the Earth was created in 6 days less than 10,000 years ago. If they believe it it must be true?

          “We create a lot of metaphorical, symbolic systems to help us make sense
          of things, and we need to realize that science is just one of these
          systems.”

          Science is, by definition, a search for answers, as search for truth, as search for knowing. Religion may say it is searching for the same things, but, isn’t it interesting that the answers come out so differently?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I don’t see how this is in any way helpful, and it actually encourages individuals to hold beliefs that are patently and demonstrably non-true. So what if 46% of Americans believe that the Earth was created in 6 days less than 10,000 years ago. If they believe it it must be true?

          Didn’t say it, didn’t mean it. One of the main problems with religion (and secular constructs like conspiracy theories) is the way it coerces believers into professing things that fly in the face of what we already believe. It’s a display of faith, a way of separating the believer from his enemies, rather than a profession of sincere belief.

          I don’t consider it necessary for faith to contradict what we know through other routes to knowledge, and there’s a long tradition of anti-supernatural, non-miraculous belief that has been expounded by religious philosophers from Spinoza through Tillich.

        • Pofarmer

          How do you have anti-supernatural, non-miraculous religious belief?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sam Harris observed that you have a right to your own opinions but not to your own facts.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “Well, Dave, I just wanted to point out that proclaiming the scientific
          method as the arbiter of all truth, to the exclusion of any subjective
          experience, seems every bit as rigid and dogmatic as religious
          fundamentalism”

          That is only because you do not understand the Scientific Method. You don’t understand it because you have only observed it through the twisted lense of Christian apologists, who deliberately teach falsehoods about it. I am going to explain not just how it works, and not just how it is abused, but how (when followed correctly) no decisions can really be made at all without using at least some of the five steps below (and how it’s only when all are used in order that sensible decisions are made):

          THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD:
          1. Define the problem or ask a question
          2. Make observations
          3. Form a hypothesis
          4. Test the hypothesis
          5. Draw a conclusion

          The above is something which every kid learns in school before they leave grade school, unless they studied Intelligent Design and became religious apologists. I.D. people operate by abusing this method – they move Step 5 above 3, often allowing Step 4 to go completely neglected. They go in with the decision already made that there must have been an intelligent force which created the universe, and they are gonna prove it to you! Scientists, on the other hand, don’t go in with any such pre-decided ideas relevant to the question at hand – they understand that there are 4 steps which must be taken before they can conclude on anything.

          BTW, how do you like the way guys like Hume disparage science, while proclaiming their own counter-arguments to be “scientific” (scientific as in cherry-picking the S.M. steps and the order of them)? Don’t know why you don’t notice that smell, but to me it doesn’t smell honest!

          A dogma is an idea which is accepted without testing – can you specify any ideas which are accepted by scientists without testing? I want you to take off your I.D. goggles and examine the 5 steps in their correct order – note how the observations always precede the hypothesis, which must always be tested, and how only after that is tested may a conclusion be drawn. Where in this process do you really see room for dogmas? If you don’t see any, then congratulations – now you see the difference between dogma and science.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          That is only because you do not understand the Scientific Method. You don’t understand it because you have only observed it through the twisted lense of Christian apologists, who deliberately teach falsehoods about it.

          Baloney. I’d put my knowledge of empirical evidential inquiry up against that of anyone else here. It’s the conventional, materialist model, defined by methodological naturalism, to which everyone else here subscribes.

          Now I want you to take off your I.D. goggles

          Don’t wear ’em, Dave. I understand the history of the universe in the same way I assume you do: Big Bang, DNA, species evolution, no magic or miracles.

          Where in this process do you really see room for dogmas?

          It’s the way the process, a tool for testing empirical models, becomes an ideology. Methodological naturalism only assumes that the scientific method can’t be applied to matters that aren’t empirical; ontological naturalism is the assertion that there’s nothing that’s not empirical, because the scientific method is already assumed to be the final arbiter of how reality is. Scientism and reductionism are biases that derive from using science as an ideology and not a helpful tool. I won’t even get into the way corporations pour money into scientific research for their own benefit, the way scientific knowledge becomes beholden to corporate interests as a result, and the way human endeavor becomes reduced and circumscribed until we’re defining ourselves as nothing but employees and consumers.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          You know, I really love the way you use that word “reductionism”. Christopher Hitchens used that word too – every time he had to point out the presumption of a divine intelligence being the cause of a condition which hadn’t yet been explained.

          You keep going back to that fear of a process for testing becoming an ideology, but if you don’t have one that works better, then what’s the point? Should we all follow Doc Hume’s lead to developing a better method which we can apply to the observation of supernatural occurances? If so, we would first need a method for determining that it’s really supernatural, would we not? Then again, I didn’t think the supernatural was open to observation and explanation anyway – so then, what do you suggest would be a better way of dealing with these questions? I don’t think you have any.

          You have also returned more than once to an alleged fear of a corporate big brother taking over everything, as if the Big Money never took advantage of American religious behavior – before the Internet, our publishing industry was among the richest world industries (think Bibles and religious propaganda books). Now there is the very real issue of Big Money buying favorable medical screening reports for their new drugs, the weakness and corruption of the FDA, the need to protect medical consumers. Aside from that is the new power which is unleashed with new understanding, which may destroy society completely if the elite become able to really slow down, or even stop the ageing process. Still, HOW does any of this bring the legitimacy of the Scientific Method, when honestly followed and reported, into question?

          It looks as if you just used the roadrunner tactic of shifting the issue here. This is no longer a question of science, you just made it a question of ethics. Perhaps then in that case we should all wait on GAIA, or the return of Jesus to come and sort all that out for us?

          Actually, science is about ethics too – it does, and will explain more about human ethics the more that it reveals about the human brain, which developed the neurological facilitation for the ethics which most of us follow through natural selection. Science will hopefully find better ways of dealing with criminal behavior than incarceration and murder for murder, but only if the religious and hateful are kept out of its way.

          I think you understand the motivation of this guy Hume, and that it is no less your own. You have been caught more than once, by several people here, using the same evasive tactics when an argument cannot be won, which is particularly dishonest. It is rather interesting that “Thou shalt not lie” is not one of the Ten Commandments, however there is much said about what liars deserve elsewhere in the bible.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You keep going back to that fear of a process for testing becoming an ideology, but if you don’t have one that works better, then what’s the point?

          You’re getting these issues confused in your overheated imagination. The process is a useful one, but it’s a tool. Making it into an ideology to which everyone must submit is creating a religion out of it.

          I didn’t think the supernatural was open to observation and explanation anyway

          Neither did I. I’ve made no mention whatsoever of the supernatural, or God, or anything that can be tested or detected apart from empirical factors. That’s what methodological naturalism is good at: making natural phenomena comprehensible to us in terms of natural causes. Ontological naturalism is the assertion that nothing exists that isn’t empirical, and that’s a different story.

          You have also returned more than once to an alleged fear of a corporate big brother taking over everything…HOW does any of this bring the legitimacy of the Scientific Method, when honestly followed and reported, into question?

          I’m just questioning that the scientific method is a disinterested, objective search for Truth. It appears to be so beholden to corporate lucre that there’s no way to separate the quest for knowledge from the interests of the parties funding the research. And the fact that it has given us shiny prizes doesn’t erase the damage that it has done to communities and the environment.

          I’m not anti-science, Dave, and I’ll gladly pit my knowledge of empirical evidential inquiry against yours. But I understand that scientific knowledge and progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum; there’s plenty of philosophical and political context to what we call science.

          Actually, science is about ethics too – it does, and will explain more about human ethics the more that it reveals about the human brain, which developed the neurological facilitation for the ethics which most of us follow through natural selection.

          Remember what I said about reductionism before? This is what I mean: you reduce the complexities of human endeavor to our neurochemistry and our genetic heritage. This is dogma too, science-as-ideology pretending it “explains” matters that aren’t scientific by describing details of human anatomy or evolution. It’s 21st-century phrenology, but not as much fun.

          You have been caught more than once, by several people here, using the same evasive tactics when an argument cannot be won, which is particularly dishonest

          I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re the one who’s, um, honesty-challenged here. You’ve accused me of being an Intelligent Design creationist, and taken me to task for making claims about miracles and the supernatural that I’ve never made.

        • MNb

          Give us just one example, Anton, where the scientific method failed within it’s domain and where another method succeeded. Also specify one scientific dogma, meaning an indisputable doctrine. If you can’t it will be clear what everybody suspects: your rants are empty and meaningless, directed to a self-constructed strawman.

          “I’m just questioning that the scientific method is a disinterested, objective search for Truth”
          Name me one scientific book or article that claims to execute a search for Truth in the meaning you use it. Every scientist knows that the scientific method only results in temporary, tentative statements, which are always open for refutation, even Jerry Coyne in Why Evolution is True.
          As for the disinterested: you conflate science and scientists. Sciene is disinterested, not the scientist. The nuclear bomb based on quantummechanics doesn’t care how many people are killed. The scientists may or may not.
          As for objective: if you prefer intersubjective it’s okay with me. Doesn’t change anything. If you claim subjective – and I’m happy to remind you that you wrote that everything is subjective and bias – you’re pulling things out of your big fat thumb.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I don’t know how many more times I can explain that I have nothing against the scientific method as a construct, a useful tool for understanding natural phenomena. It does just what humans invented it to do, and does it well.

          As always, it’s the science-as-ideology that I think is overreaching. Mentioning nuclear weaponry makes my point quite well: scientism defines the scientific method as a complete abstraction and doesn’t want to acknowledge its ethical, philosophical, and political context. The atomic bomb was the perfect example of the way the quest for slaughter and domination influences the quest for “truth.”

          Now we also need to recognize the contradictory nature of empiricism’s utility, since we’re at the point where robust empirical constructs like quantum mechanics and general relativity aren’t mutually corroborating. Anyone who has been paying attention realizes that Einstein put to bed the notion of facts and evidence floating out in the ether waiting to be discovered; our understanding of phenomena at their most basic level requires the assumption of an observer.

          I don’t know why my pointing out the philosophical context of empirical inquiry, and the limits of the method, causes so much hand-wringing here. If there’s nothing religious about science, there shouldn’t be anything heretical about pointing out where it’s useful and where it isn’t.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Mentioning nuclear weaponry makes my point quite well:

          So science is fine, but the business/politics/engineering process that uses the fruits of science could do with much improvement. Is that it?

          I don’t know why my pointing out the philosophical context of empirical inquiry, and the limits of the method, causes so much hand-wringing here.

          Are you sure that anyone disagrees with the points you’re making? “Use science wisely” or “Science has limits” seems to be all you’re saying, and most of us would likely agree.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          So science is fine, but the business/politics/engineering process that uses the fruits of science could do with much improvement. Is that it?

          Well, that’s sort of like saying proteins are great, but amino acids are bad. The very lifeblood of scientific research is the quest for gain and domination, and we can’t seem to have one without the other. Talking about the scientific method as an abstraction is a handy way of pretending that we can take it out of its political and economic context.

          Are you sure that anyone disagrees with the points you’re making?

          Good question. It looks like people think I’m saying “science doesn’t work” or “reality is just a matter of opinion,” but the points I’m making are quite different from that.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The very lifeblood of scientific research is the quest for gain and domination, and we can’t seem to have one without the other.

          I’m missing the problem. It seems to me that science and the applications of science are very distinct and hard to confuse. There’s evolution (science) and there’s eugenics (policy). There’s physics (science) and there’s atomic bombs (engineering). You seem to be saying that science is good and a profits-only attitude toward engineering, agriculture, or politics is bad, which is a trivial distinction to understand.

          It looks like people think I’m saying “science doesn’t work” or “reality is just a matter of opinion,” but the points I’m making are quite different from that.

          Yes, it seems that most comments are of the form, “So, Anton, you’re actually saying [fill in nutty thing here]??” and then you reply, “I never said that, nor do I think that.”

          I don’t know where the miscommunication lies, but somehow you seem to advance a suggestion that’s a lot more out-there than you really are. Perhaps a summary of all the points on which you agree with the typical atheist/science position would clear the air. That’s assuming you actually do want to make your position plain.

          I’m sure I couldn’t write such a summary, since I’m confused as well.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I’m missing the problem. It seems to me that science and the applications of science are very distinct and hard to confuse.

          Like I said, you can talk about proteins without thinking you’re talking about amino acids too. But that’s only in the magic land of abstraction, where ideas have no contexts. In the real world, we can’t have scientific research without the corporate largesse that makes it possible.

          Perhaps a summary of all the points on which you agree with the typical atheist/science position would clear the air.

          Ain’t we a wishin’ bunch! I’ve explained plenty of times that I subscribe to the exact same view of natural history as I assume you guys do: Big Bang, continental drift, DNA, species evolution, no miracles or cosmic designers.

          However, I probably cast a more skeptical eye upon the fashion for pretending that scientific-sounding factoids “explain” all facets of human endeavor. Much as I respect Feynman, I don’t agree that we can understand everything about humanity as the “wigglings and jigglings of atoms.” I have no problem acknowledging that the human brain is full of chemicals, but ascribing all human creativity to neurochemistry is just 21st-century phrenology. I affirm the validity of our evolutionary lineage, but pretending that all human traits can be understood as byproducts of natural selection is mere storytelling.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Unless your goal is to pretend to be the wild-haired maverick, you might want to emphasize the fineness of your adjustments to the common understanding.

          pretending that all human traits can be understood as byproducts of natural selection is mere storytelling.

          Which traits do you have in mind?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Unless your goal is to pretend to be the wild-haired maverick, you might want to emphasize the fineness of your adjustments to the common understanding.

          Maverick? I don’t know how much plainer I can say that I don’t claim to have any different understanding of the scientific method and natural history than anyone else here. My only complaints have been about the way the method’s importance gets blown out of proportion.

          I have the same criticisms that many people interested in empirical inquiry level against pop-science popularizers and their facile pronouncements. Do you agree with Feynman that “everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the wigglings and jigglings of atoms”? I think that’s a comical overstatement. Even Stephen Jay Gould criticized many selectionist accounts of the evolution of traits or behaviors as evidence-free just-so stories. Anyone who doubts that humans evolved through genetic variation and natural selection has a lot to learn. But I think anyone who thinks that complex human behavior can all be understood as the legacy of selected-for traits (and evolutionary psychologists, let’s admit, do just this) is peddling pseudoscience.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Do you agree with Feynman that “everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the wigglings and jigglings of atoms”?

          Are you arguing that anything is not, at its fundamentals, the wiggling and jiggling of atoms?

          I’ll agree that quantum physics is a poor language by which to explain or discuss pretty much everything that is important in our macro world. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done (in principle, obviously, not in practice).

          anyone who thinks that complex human behavior can all be understood as the legacy of selected-for traits (and evolutionary psychologists, let’s admit, do just this) is peddling pseudoscience.

          Like what behaviors?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Are you arguing that anything is not, at its fundamentals, the wiggling and jiggling of atoms?

          Yet another claim I never made. I acknowledge all living things are made up of atoms, I just dispute that we can understand everything that living things do on the atomic level. And if it can be done (in principle or practice), let’s see it.

          As far as the behaviors being explained by our evolutionary history, take your pick. E. O. Wilson claims that human phenomena as complex as consciousness, artistic creation, and even religion can be understood as the results of selection on individual or group level. Am I wrong to be skeptical of these sorts of pan-selectionist pronouncements?

        • Kodie

          And if it can be done (in principle or practice), let’s see it.

          You say that now, but what about how suspicious you are about who funds the research and what they’ll do with the findings?

          Better just stay ignorant!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Better just stay ignorant!

          When it comes to pseudoscience, the less we know the better.

        • Kodie

          Non sequitur.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Your insulting post deserved any better?

          The point I was making was that when a prominent scientist or science writer makes a brash pronouncement, there aren’t demands for evidence from the people who are usually very discerning about testing the validity of claims. Is that because we’re not allowed to question the celebrity priesthood of all-powerful science?

          This is how pseudoscience gets disseminated, and if you’re okay with that, well, that’s just swell.

        • Kodie

          Is it pseudoscience because you think it’s too far-fetched?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          My suspicion is that it’s pseudoscience because it’s someone’s belief that’s being stated in science-sounding factoid form, but has no legitimate research behind it. Is there evidence that we can understand everything about living things and humanity by reducing us to atoms?

          Pardon my skepticism. As you know, it’s a real flaw in my character.

        • Kodie

          That’s not what makes something pseudoscience, that’s why I called your comment a non sequitur.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          That’s exactly what pseudoscience is: a nutty belief that’s stated in science-words to fool the gullible.

          If believing that we understand human endeavor by the movement of atoms isn’t the 21st-century equivalent of understanding human intelligence through measuring the bumps on your head, I don’t know what is.

        • Kodie

          You demand instant answers, and you don’t trust scientific research, then you call it pseudoscience out of hand. That’s why I tell you you are talking from your butt.

          I am not trying to be mean, just making an observation.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You demand instant answers, and you don’t trust scientific research, then you call it pseudoscience out of hand.

          Knowing what a contrarian Feynman was, I doubt he was doing anything more substantial than making a kooky comment. It’s not like anyone here has bothered to establish the proper context for the quote, so I suppose it was meant as tongue-in-cheek. But it’s interesting that we’re just supposed to trust that there’s legitimate research behind it.

          As I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by what scientific research has taught us about natural history and the development of life on Earth. But I’m skeptical when I hear pronouncements by scientists who pander to a reductionist, mechanistic definition of humanity. We’re atoms, but that’s not all we are. We’re the products of evolution by natural selection, but human endeavor can’t simply be defined as a bunch of selected-for traits. Our brains are organs with energy and chemicals, but reducing consciousness to neurochemistry doesn’t do justice to it, or us.

        • Kodie

          but human endeavor can’t simply be defined as a bunch of selected-for
          traits. Our brains are organs with energy and chemicals, but reducing
          consciousness to neurochemistry doesn’t do justice to it, or us.

          Then what else is it? That’s pseudoscience. Whatever you come up with is just fantastical ideas that you like, and nothing that can be studied. Your feelings are neurochemical. What is human endeavor to you that is glorified in this category of “something much more!” but cannot be pinned down? YA calls it “sacred spirit” because it is so hard to call something you can’t define anything in the human language. Theists go so far as to make rigid definitions, going down the wrong path, and also claiming various other categories as deriving from their similar “sacred spirit”. YOU are saying it can’t be reduced to “just atoms acting and reacting naturally”, what would you say is the missing piece? YOU tell US what that is supposed to be.

          FYI, I don’t give a crap about what Feynman said. I don’t see anything magical about human behavior that requires that thing you feel but can’t describe or prove.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Then what else is it? That’s pseudoscience.

          I never said it was something science can study. In fact, I’ve been trying to point out how hilariously inadequate science has been in trying to explain what it is to be human when all it can do is reduce the human to atoms and chemicals.

          I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about Bach’s music, joy, compassion, or altruism. Science can explain a lot of things about the evolutionary or neurochemical basis of our experience of these things, and that’s great. But what these things (and many others) mean to us isn’t a scientific matter. If someone thinks that anything that isn’t a scientific matter isn’t important, then I submit that’s part and parcel of the dogmatism that trivializes human endeavor.

        • Kodie

          I don’t think anyone said it isn’t important. This is where I say you are arguing a straw man. First you say you don’t like the scientism, you prefer this magical undefinable category of things you don’t want science to calculate. You prefer that it remains ethereal, and that’s a religious argument. “The wondrous mystery” vs. the “cold, bleak, knowledge.” Fuck you, you know what?

          You are your brain and your brain changes. You keep calling it dogma, you keep saying it’s trivializing your beautiful, mystical experience. It is nature. You are like the dreamer who doesn’t want to hear the alarm clock. Don’t tell me how my brain appreciates music! And while we’re at it, let’s not try to better treat any mental illnesses or injuries.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Fuck you, you know what?

          Lovely talking to you as always.

        • Kodie

          The human experience encompasses a lot more than just Bach’s music, joy, compassion, or altruism. Don’t trivialize it so.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Anton: Do you agree with Feynman that “everything that living things do can be understood in terms of the wigglings and jigglings of atoms”? I think that’s a comical overstatement.

          Bob: Are you arguing that anything is not, at its fundamentals, the wiggling and jiggling of atoms?

          Anton: Yet another claim I never made.

          You’re awfully prickly for someone who invites misinterpretation. Or is contradictory.

          I just dispute that we can understand everything that living things do on the atomic level.

          Why?

          E. O. Wilson claims that human phenomena as complex as consciousness, artistic creation, and even religion can be understood as the results of selection on individual or group level. Am I wrong to be skeptical of these sorts of pan-selectionist pronouncements?

          What are you saying? Just that the jury is out? It sounded earlier like you were making a bolder claim.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Bob, I don’t think I’ve been evasive or vague. There’s a substantial difference between claiming that all living things are made of atoms and claiming that the movements of our atoms somehow contributes to our knowledge of complex human behaviors. Maybe with the reductionist goggles on, people are unable to see that describing living things as collections of atoms isn’t really telling us anything about humans that we couldn’t also say about rocks or gases.

          And the same can be said about selectionist storytelling: just because we evolved via natural selection from primitive replicating molecules doesn’t mean (as E. O. Wilson says) everything about human endeavor is understandable as by-products of selective strategies. Pop science writers have gotten rich off a credulous public by making such overstatements, and I’m not the only person thinking that these theories are motivated more by money than evidence.

          Let’s be skeptical about claims whether they’re coming from religious people or scientists. Is there anything fairer than that?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Wonder where Dave went. How dare he get sick of pointless bickering!

        • MNb

          “Scientism and reductionism are biases that derive from using science as an ideology and not a helpful tool.”
          Science works. Put your money where your mouth is and give us something that works better. Then you can talk about bias.
          You’re the biased one. First year university: reductionism is only the first half of science. The other half is working your way back to general scientific theories, ie the exact opposite of reductionism. Grand Unified Theory in physics is one example. Research crossing the borders of several branches of science happens more and more often. I can even give you examples of research cooperation between physics and history of Antiquity.
          Because of your bias you can’t see what happens right under your nose.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Science works. Put your money where your mouth is and give us something that works better. Then you can talk about bias.

          Dude, it’s a construct that humans invented to be able to explain natural phenomena in terms of natural causes. It has been very useful in many contexts. But like maths or language or any other human invention, it’s only doing what we invented it to do.

          The problem is when we start to think our empirical models are more than that, that they’re reality instead of being a metaphorical representation of it. Then we acquire that phony certainty that makes us just as rigid in our thinking as the most closed-minded fundamentalist.

          That certainty is what really infantilizes adults, whether it’s certainty in their religion or in their scientific knowledge.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Are you saying that these subjects aren’t part of reality? Or just that they don’t matter because they don’t lend themselves to empirical testing?

          I’m saying that there’s plenty that we can do within the
          domain of testable claims.

        • smrnda

          I’ll take a shot and say some of these things *can* be empirically verified, to some extent. Let’s take love. “I don’t think so and so really loves you” is something that I can hear a person say to someone else, and if they said that, they would probably point out some observable facts that serve as evidence that *so and so does not love the other person.*

          Now, let’s say someone says “so and so never remembers your birthday” and you then say “I hate to think of my birthday because it makes me feel old” and we’d then have a case where the person is reasoning from an assumption (remembering birthdays is something you do for people you love) but where there exists some other factor that makes that irrelevant.

          We *could* say it’s still kind of a mystery as to why different people *feel loved* by different things, but I don’t think it’s totally outside the realm of some kind of empirical evidence. I’m not sure if that’s quite what you meant – it’s not a rigorous experiment, but there is some empirical data being used.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          We *could* say it’s still kind of a mystery as to why different people *feel loved* by different things, but I don’t think it’s totally outside the realm of some kind of empirical evidence.

          I’m not trying to say these matters are totally subjective, or that no facts can be brought to bear on the issue. Obviously I believe my wife loves me. But if she were to run off to Vegas with another guy, I’d probably want to reassess my belief in the light of this new evidence. It wouldn’t do to say that nothing my wife says or does can be considered disconfirming evidence of my belief.

          But let’s be honest. There simply are matters that cold science isn’t going to help us understand as human experiences. And the way people here dismiss subjective experience like it’s all delusion and imagination is so immature and anti-human that it never fails to amuse me.

        • smrnda

          First, I want to say that I don’t agree with the method being employed, but there *are people* who try to quantify factors in things like books, movies, art and try to find ways to make correlations about what people will find appealing so there are people who think you can actually look at a movie, take some data out of it and say “nobody will like this movie” or “many people will like this movie” as if factors can be isolated that *tell us when a movie is good.*

          Second, the problem with this approach is that it’s doing what film producers have been doing intuitively (and probably quite badly) for years. “Nobody wants to watch a long tracking shot with no music that goes on for ten minutes! Cut it!” But the problem is you *do* get avant garde, experimental cinema that can eventually change people’s taste, or you get sub-markets who actually find things appealing that overall won’t be big hits. Example – Alan Clarke’s “Elephant” is nothing but long, long tracking shots with only one scene of audible dialog. I’m sure an average Hollywood film exec would denounce it as horrible, pretentious and unwatchable, but there is an audience for that. There’s also the idea that people can come up with new styles, themes and approaches that haven’t really been done yet as well – so far, fiction writing programs haven’t been so great. (Automatic music composition seems to be doing better, probably because of the importance of regularity in music.)

          On what we should do with scientific knowledge, I think we can, in many cases find clear and obvious applications but my view there is probably influenced by the fact that the sciences I studied were social and cognitive psychology and my main areas focused on morality, religion and stereotype threat, and the latter at least seems to come with clear recommendations for what we can or should do to enhance the quality of life.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “If you don’t think that matters of human experience are of value unless they’re empirically testable, then we seem to have different views indeed about how reality is.”

          You apparently don’t want to admit this fact, but reality is always subject to, as it hinges on scientific testing – ask any mental health practitioner concerning this! Any experience that cannot be so tested is opinion.

  • ParrotAndCheeseEstablishment

    I agree with the author’s point about infantilizatoin, but his analysis as flawed. A lot of Christian’s could interpret it in the context of god’s “plan”.

    God could simply have found a sick woman, a poor kid, and a grumpy man needing a dose of good ol’ Christmas spirit. He then does a little tweaking and SHABAMS they both end up in line next to each other. Everyone goes home happy.

    If you’re going to use a Christian element to attack their beliefs, be damn sure you can make a rock solid analysis to support your thesis. Starting off your article with what many could recognize as a glaring flaw jeopardizes your credibility for the rest of the article.

    As a former devout Catholic I saw the flaw immediately. Mr. Seidensticker said that he was “never a man of strong faith” and that his upbringing was “Presbyterian lite” (http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/people-and-profiles/articles/bob-seidensticker-the-reasonable-doubter-december-2012). It is apparent to me that he doesn’t know as much about Christianity as he thinks he does, else he would likely have not made this flawed analysis in the first place.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      God could simply have found a sick woman, a poor kid, and a grumpy man needing a dose of good ol’ Christmas spirit. He then does a little tweaking and SHABAMS they both end up in line next to each other. Everyone goes home happy.

      Well, yeah, except for the kid, who’s about to become an orphan. And the mother, who’s about to die and knows the bad situation she’ll be leaving everyone in. Kinda sucks for the two of them. And probably the father/husband as well.

      I realize that you can look at a bad situation and find a silver lining. Atheists do it, and so do Christians. But any objective observer would say that the key point in this story is, “Omigod!! That woman is gonna die any minute now, and I wonder if she is in pain, and the kid will grow up motherless, and what about the father, and how will they all get along??”

      Instead, the point of the song is, “Golly, ain’t it great how things work out sometimes? I was a little blue today, and I got reminded of the true meaning of Christmas®. Thank you, Jesus. You’re swell.”

      No, I don’t think it’s a flawed analysis. I think there really is a problem here.

      • Pattrsn

        There’s something very Mother Theresa-ish about these stories. Using the suffering of others as a resource for your own spiritual growth.

    • Kodie

      A lot of Christians think everything has to do with how they feel. Give any circumstance you want, and a Christian will believe god is up there playing in his dollhouse, micromanaging every experience so that Christians can point to evidence of god – because clearly a boy buying shoes for his mother to die in is about the Christian who just happens to be there. “Just happens” to have to wait in line as god has planned. And just happening to be there to donate some money to the boy is all about that Christian changing his attitude and spreading cheer to the world with his very placement in line.

      The problem with Christianity is this delusion that everything happens because of them. Who thinks they’re god?

    • wtfwjtd

      Flawed analysis? I don’t think so. Bob, like Patton Ozwalt, is merely pointing out the most likely direction that the evidence leads, rather than coming up with some crazy, twisted plot to try and explain away the suffering.

      “He then does a little tweaking and SHABAMS they both end up in line next to each other. Everyone goes home happy”.

      Wow, how can you say that? Didn’t you read the whole story?

    • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

      Dude, there really is no “glaring flaw” in an argument just because Christians can instantly FANTASIZE their way around it!

  • smrnda

    I think religion often infantalizes adults, but not quite in the way you’ve described. Many religions create a climate where no adult feels like they can just make their own decisions – they need to talk to the rabbi, talk to the pastor, the church elders. People are required to sit around in accountability groups and fess up their faults so that someone in authority can ‘disciple’ them. Sit through ridiculous ‘study groups’ where people fill in the blanks in some kind of silly self-improvement exercise.

    From my own observations, I found that some Christian churches are big into telling people about their need to humble themselves, which seems to mean ‘increase your willingness to have someone from the church in authority micro-manage your life.’ Keeping thoughts and feelings private is seen as wrong. I just can’t imagine how anyone would stand for such treatment, but I guess if you’re raised that way, it seems normal.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Mars Hill church here in Seattle has gotten into some public squabbles about how they insist on fiddling with some parishioners’ lives.

    • MNb

      While you make several good points this one

      “a climate where no adult feels like they can just make their own decisions”
      is not that good. Before I make a decision I need to talk to a few carefully selected people as well.

      • smrnda

        I think a difference is that you are doing this by choice, based on your own evaluation of your own need for feedback. I don’t think you’d be hostile to the idea of someone making a decision without feedback, unless they had a history of bad decision making or were not competent for that sort of decision.

        The type of environment I’m criticizing is one where *the leaders* demand that everybody involve them in their decision-making processes, whether they want to or not, and also whether or not he leader seems to have a good track record for helping people.

        • MNb

          “you are doing this by choice”
          The believer may argue he/she is doing this by choice as well.

          “The type of environment I’m criticizing”
          That’s clear to me and was one of the several good points. But I like to defend the theists’ view now and then. So I persist. He/she will deny that he/she lives in such an environment. My female counterpart wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. The organization of her mosque is a lot more complicated than “the leaders” demanding this or that. For one thing “they” would like to see us getting married, but she desires it as little as I do. The key here is of course that there is no intolerable social pressure, like Pofarmer has to cope with, not even from “the leaders” of her mosque.
          Also note that such intolerable social pressure is not typical of religious organizations.

        • smrnda

          True. I’d also say this these have to be examined on a case by case basis, and I’d also say that there are market forces at work in religion – there are less controlling, more tolerant religious institutions out there that could give people looking for their spiritual ‘fix’ one that doesn’t come with so much authoritarian meddling. I mean, I actually can’t imagine how Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll get such big numbers given the authoritarian structure of his church.

          Other entities can be just as meddling and nasty. I’ve known people whose parents tried to control many aspects of their lives well into adulthood, and peer pressure can be quite vicious at times, and there’s always organized crime which tends to be a bit more drastic when it comes to punishing members who don’t toe the line.

  • TheRealRandomFunction

    That’s a good thing for the 100-billion-dollar-a-year U.S. religion industry, but what is best for the individual—a pat on the head or reality?

    That’s a good question. I suppose it depends on how you define “better”.

    If on the one hand I have the supposed “atheist” reality where life is objectively meaningless, no one has purpose, and that we are nothing more than animals with delusions of “minds”.. then a great many things may be “better” than that.

    She has guardians in her life who will protect her as necessary, shielding her so that she can hold this false but helpful belief.

    Why not hold false but helpful beliefs? I think we can all agree that false and unhelpful beliefs could (and perhaps should) be abandoned, but I see no reason in an atheist world to abandon known false, but yet helpful beliefs. In a world that has no meaning, at least a false but helpful belief might make one slightly happier.

    • Pofarmer

      “Why not hold false but helpful beliefs? I think we can all agree that
      false and unhelpful beliefs could (and perhaps should) be abandoned, but
      I see no reason in an atheist world to abandon known false, but yet
      helpful beliefs. In a world that has no meaning, at least a false but
      helpful belief might make one slightly happier.”

      Because once you have false beliefs that you don’t know are false, you can get further and further down a rabbit hole where you are essentially in an alternate reality. This is the world of Fundamentalist/biblical literalist/creationist/fundamental Catholic religionists. Everything as fine until the world of those false beliefs and the real world collide. Like, say, expecting to pray to the Saints and get some result other than in your own head. You can center your whole person around a world that is not real, and when it strikes up against the real world, it’s jarring.

      BTW, nice way to use “delusion” in regards to minds. When, in fact, our minds are the only reality that we know exists.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        Because once you have false beliefs that you don’t know are false, you can get further and further down a rabbit hole where you are essentially in an alternate reality.

        Let’s say that’s true, (it’s nothing but a slippery slope argument but let’s say this one, unlike all the other ones is somehow true).

        So what? Again, we are talking about a “reality” where we are animals with the delusions of having “minds”, where our existence is basically purposeless and meaningless, where we live for a small number of years, die, and a very very few of us actually have any impact that lasts significantly beyond our deaths.

        Why not live in a fantasy?

        You can center your whole person around a world that is not real, and when it strikes up against the real world, it’s jarring.

        BTW, nice way to use “delusion” in regards to minds. When, in fact, our minds are the only reality that we know exists.

        If our minds are the only reality that we know exist, then how can they “strike up against” the “real world”? If we have our “minds” (which are apparently the only things that we know exist), strike up against something else (which is presumably outside of those minds), then we have two things that we can be assured exist. Our “minds” and whatever they are up against.

        Also, what do you mean by the fact that our minds, “exist”? In a purely naturalistic, atheistic worldview, there is only the brain. The brain produces this sensation called the “mind”, but is that any different than the brain producing any other hallucination? There is no separate entity called the “mind” to science. There is just the brain. We may talk about the “mind” because its the most efficient for us to do so right now (perhaps a false but helpful belief?) but I see no reason in a purely naturalistic worldview to assume that the mind is anything different than any other hallucination, or anything that has no objective existence beyond the brain.

        • MNb

          “Why not live in a fantasy?”
          As Pofarmer implied this doesn’t necessarily make you happier. I’d add that there is a tendency to demand, sometimes by force, that others live in that fantasy as well. Take for instance those literalists who refuse to vaccinate their children. These get some nasty disease and die. The fantasy requires that the parents are happy that the kids go to happy. Still remarkably few are. That’s a typical example of a collision Pofarmer wrote about. Not to mention that those kids have been denied the chance to make something of their lives just because their parents lived in such a fantasy.
          Atheists have a better chance to avoid this as they do something about it; when this shit still happens (my father was brutally murdered some years ago and my son, then 13, found him) we begin to cope with it rather quickly. We don’t have to wonder what the hell the meaning of this shit could have been. My son and I sure didn’t for a second.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          As Pofarmer implied this doesn’t necessarily make you happier.

          Oh true, it doesn’t necessarily do so. I was talking though about helpful false beliefs, not unhelpful false beliefs. As I said before, I don’t see any reason to hold onto an unhelpful false belief.

          Take for instance those literalists who refuse to vaccinate their children. These get some nasty disease and die.

          Well, some do. Not everyone does. And if they do, then they’ve just died in a meaningless world a little earlier than anyone else who’s died in this meaningless world, and the parents have followed their moral code (which I suppose is helpful to them in some way).

          Atheists have a better chance to avoid this as they do something about it; when this shit still happens (my father was brutally murdered some years ago and my son, then 13, found him) we begin to cope with it rather quickly. We don’t have to wonder what the hell the meaning of this shit could have been. My son and I sure didn’t for a second.

          So your beliefs were obviously helpful to you there I guess.

          I have no problem with the atheist admitting his beliefs are helpful to him. I can easily see how that is the case. It’s when we go from helpful to “true, and you’re irrational if you don’t believe as I do” that I have problems.

        • Pofarmer

          What is an example of a helpful false belief? Then, what do you do if that belief becomes unhelpful, or contradictory with another belief?

          “It’s when we go from helpful to “true, and you’re irrational if you don’t believe as I do” that I have problems.”

          Isn’t that a two way black kettle?

          :”

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          What is an example of a helpful false belief?

          That would depend on the definition of helpful. Bob did bring up one, namely that it might be helpful for a child to believe that a wishing well will help her feel better.

          Then, what do you do if that belief becomes unhelpful, or contradictory with another belief?

          That’s a good question, but let’s deal with the one at present shall we?

          Isn’t that a two way black kettle?

          Not really.

        • Pofarmer

          I missed Bob’s explanation. So, is the wishing well an alternative to treatment? Then this could easily be an example of a false belief that causes a momentary increase in feeling better, but leads to long term harm if her symptoms worsen because she actually needed to go to a doctor.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          I missed Bob’s explanation. So, is the wishing well an alternative to treatment?

          My guess is, that in Bob’s mind it is in addition. Perhaps he will disagree though. Let’s say its an alternative though. That just raises a question. If the child strongly believes that he/she should not seek treatment, which is “better”? Having the child violate her beliefs to seek treatment? Or allowing the child to live up to her beliefs, even if this means physical pain and possibly death?

          Is it always better to seek the choice that is the less painful?

        • Pofarmer

          Is it moral to let someone suffer or die who has a treatable condition? Is it moral to allow someone to die without suffering who has an untreatable condition?

        • Kodie

          We do it all the time.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Indeed. I’d even say the right to die movement isn’t a religious one, its a particularly secular / atheistic movement.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, duh. Do you have an actual answer?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Do I have an answer as to whether or not its moral to let someone suffer and die who has a treatable condition?

          I would need to know what moral worldview we are talking about, whether or not this was that person’s individual choice, and quite possibly a few other pieces of information before I could make that decision.

        • Pofarmer

          What moral view are you advocating?

        • MNb

          “It’s when we go from helpful to “true, and you’re irrational if you don’t believe as I do” that I have problems.”
          OK. I have never said or written such a thing. It looks too totalitarian in my eyes and I’m immediately reminded of how irrational I can be. Like I wrote before: I’m hardly interested in deconverting people (like you) and I don’t think the world will be a better place if all religion disappears within a few days.

        • Pofarmer

          “Why not live in a fantasy?”

          Because people lave been known to kill for those fantasies? Because mass delusion happens? Because that doesn’t advance us as a species or a people? How is the idea of having a mind a “delusion”?

          So, it seems like you are going with an Argument from Ignorance? I don’t see where this is a particularly helpful mode of discussion, unless your purpose is to get the conversation so hopelessly tangle that all we can conclude is that there is nothing real, and therefore we should all just believe what we want to. Reality is what we decide it is. The mind to science. “A mind /ˈmaɪnd/ is the set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory—a characteristic of humans, but which also may apply to other life forms.”

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          Because people lave been known to kill for those fantasies?

          Nobody has ever killed someone because of something that is true?

          Because that doesn’t advance us as a species or a people?

          Why, in an atheistic worldview, should anyone care in particular about “advancing us as a species or a people”?

          How is the idea of having a mind a “delusion”?

          I suppose hallucination might be a better term than delusion. We perceive that we have a mind, however this perception is not due to any stimulus that the “mind” creates on us because the mind is created by the brain. The “mind” does nothing.

          So, it seems like you are going with an Argument from Ignorance?

          Nope.

          I don’t see where this is a particularly helpful mode of discussion, unless your purpose is to get the conversation so hopelessly tangle that all we can conclude is that there is nothing real, and therefore we should all just believe what we want to. Reality is what we decide it is.

          This is ironic. On the one hand you say that I’m trying to get this conversation into a hopeless tangle so we all conclude that nothing is real. In the very next sentence you say that reality is what we say it is.

          If we get to decide what is “real”, then there isn’t anything objectively real. Pretty much by definition. Thanks for proving my point.

        • Pofarmer

          “Why, in an atheistic worldview, should anyone care in particular about “advancing us as a species or a people”?”

          Because we are self aware and it’s pretty much what at least a portion of us have done since recorded history?

          “Thanks for proving my point.”

          Actually, there was supposed to be a comma there instead of a period, it was part of the previous statement. So, don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.

        • MNb

          “Why, in an atheistic worldview, should anyone care …”
          Because the vast majority of mankind prefers happiness to being unhappy – even believers who claim to focus on the afterlife.

        • smrnda

          I’m guessing I don’t find a godless reality to be so bad. Life has no ultimate purpose, other than the purposes that living things subjectively have. I see no reason why we can’t live in a society that gives us some chance at happiness in this life, enjoy it for what it is, and accept that we eventually die.

          I mean, art has no ultimate purpose – no two people will agree on the purpose of it, but I think that’s a good thing – it means art is open to many purposes, rather than just one. I see the same deal with life – many religions seem to reduce the purpose of life to pleasing some rather unpleasant and capricious deity.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          I’m guessing I don’t find a godless reality to be so bad.

          Fair enough.

          I see no reason why we can’t live in a society that gives us some chance at happiness in this life, enjoy it for what it is, and accept that we eventually die.

          Eat, drink, sleep for tomorrow we die?

        • MNb

          Add a few more things: have sex, enjoy art, try to improve the quality the life of your fellow-people some way or another.

        • smrnda

          Eat, drink, WORK and PLAN and then sleep, so that tomorrow will be better than today. You forget that total unrestrained hedonism isn’t sustainable. Epicurus said that a long time ago.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          I think that was “eat, drink and be MERRY…”, but anyway we’re all gonna die alright! People don’t like dealing with that fact, but smart people understand how there would be nothing good about living forever.

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        in fact, our minds are the only reality that we know exists.

        I’ll go along with that. But why, after admitting this problematic fact about our knowledge of what we call reality, do you make such overreaching pronouncements about false beliefs and the real world?

        I think there are some quote-unquote false beliefs without which we wouldn’t be able to get through the day. Every weather report talks about the times of “sunrise” and “sunset” even though we’re well aware that the Sun itself isn’t doing anything. We think we’re hearing Mom’s voice on the phone, even though it’s just a digital signal and Mom is thousands of miles away. We watch a quick succession of images being displayed on a movie screen and pretend it’s the actual motion of objects. And so on, and so on, and so on.

        The real world? Please.

        • Pofarmer

          Anton, I wish you would just state what you are trying to get at.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You give some good examples of incorrect things that we believe (the sun rises, etc.), but I don’t think this is what we’re talking about. “The sun rises” is a good approximation of the truth, and there’s no harm involved.

          What came to mind for me would be beliefs that are wrong and that have negative consequences–say, “If I take my kid to the hospital, that shows a lack of faith, so I’ll just pray instead.”

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You give some good examples of incorrect things that we believe (the sun rises, etc.), but I don’t think this is what we’re talking about. “The sun rises” is a good approximation of the truth, and there’s no harm involved.

          Right. I just wanted to make the distinction between false beliefs that are useful or benign and ones that are false and harmful. The lack of “truth” value of the belief isn’t what we object to, it’s the harm it does.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          So again.. why not hold false but “helpful” beliefs?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          So again.. why not hold false but “helpful” beliefs?

          Because our false beliefs are all useful and benign. It’s everyone else’s false beliefs that are dangerous delusions.

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          You really believe that?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You’re a little irony-deficient today, huh?

        • TheRealRandomFunction

          I usually am on the internet.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “So again.. why not hold false but “helpful” beliefs?”

          “Helpful” for what?

          What sort of false beliefs would you consider “helpful”?

          “Why not hold false but helpful beliefs? I think we can all agree that false and unhelpful beliefs could (and perhaps should) be abandoned, but I see no reason in an atheist world to abandon known false, but yet helpful beliefs. In a world that has no meaning, at least a false but helpful belief might make one slightly happier.”

          You don’t seem to understand that it would not be an atheist who deliberately embraces false beliefs. You can build false constructs, but reality won’t budge – therefore it’s better to deal with that reality! What seems to be lost on you is the fact that these constructs which people build in order to defend their “benign”, but false beliefs are the problem – in order to do their job of defending what is false, they must quickly morph into the malignant, murderous monsters which Christianity, Islam, and (dare I say it) Judaism have been guilty of unleashing on this world.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You can build false constructs, but reality won’t budge – therefore it’s better to deal with that reality!

          Unless, of course, it’s the reality that we don’t actually understand reality, we only understand the models we construct to represent reality.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          Mom’s voice when she is standing right in front of you can still be reduced to her sound waves, but calling it “her voice” still approximates a truth which anybody who knows her can verify. The sound wave patterns can verify her voice from other patterns scientifically. The same with video images – their source can be corroboratively verified, and with much stronger evidence than any 2000 year-old stranger’s say-so. On the other hand, the belief that the New Testament was written by eye witnesses to miracles performed by Jesus and his alleged resurrection cannot be verified, and anthropological studies have only shown the opposite conclusion. Nor can they verify more on Yahweh, the Virgin Mary, Zoroaster, Zeus, Thor, Osiris…

          Claims are made by Christianity proponents, and the claim that the Christian god answers prayer is believed by those who pray when something good coincidentally happens. However, there can never be rational discussion, much less evidence presented concerning a positive answer to prayer, and the believer must build mental constructs against reality in order to preserve his faith when nothing good happens, no matter how much he prays . These walls against a rational conclusion in the face of a mounting dearth of evidence for any good reason to continue in such faith include “God doesn’t always answer yes”, “God has his own plan for my life, it just hasn’t been revealed to me yet”, “God loves me”, “God is always good”, “I must not be faithful enough, that I still have not seen God’s plan for me”, “they that wait upon the Lord shall be rewarded”, “God has allowed the Devil to test me, and like Job I will remain faithful”, and (final resignation), “God wants me to be humble, wants me to suffer. Even when I feel that my life is like a leaf, blowing in the wind, I will obey”! Have I left any out? Needless to say, these constructs are built with the help of other Christians, but they are no less pre-conceived filters which block perception of anything outside of the Christianity world. Christians build these mental constructs because none of them want to bring the personal world of their own faith crashing down, by seeing what lies outside! Do you not see how delusional these patterns are, and the pervasively cruel self-loathing which one must embrace in order to maintain his faith when even the anecdotal evidence isn’t there?

        • Kodie

          EXACTLY!

        • Pofarmer

          Holy cow. I’m dealing with exactly what you describe rit now. Unfortunately the afflicted party is my wife.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Christians build these mental constructs because none of them want to bring the personal world of their own faith crashing down, by seeing what lies outside! Do you not see how delusional these patterns are, and the pervasively cruel self-loathing which one must embrace in order to maintain his faith when even the anecdotal evidence isn’t there?

          Take a breath, Dave. Calm down now.

          I never said we should believe anything, or that stories of miracles and answered prayers are plausible. All I wanted to point out was that we take for granted a lot of the perceptual and philosophical scaffolding that constitutes our knowledge of reality. We see the universe through a lot of self-validating constructs, and it’s good to acknowledge the limitations of these tools as well as their strengths. Many “false beliefs” are so useful that you couldn’t get through the day without them. But, naturally, it’s the “false beliefs” of others which are the ones that enrage you.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “I never said we should believe anything, or that stories of miracles and answered prayers are plausible.”

          If they aren’t, then why should they be considered at all?

          “All I wanted to point out was that we take for granted a lot of the perceptual and philosophical scaffolding that constitutes our knowledge of reality.We see the universe through a lot of self-validating constructs, and it’s good to acknowledge the limitations of these tools as well as their strengths.”

          I’m not one to speak for the scientists, but I’ve noticed how good they are at acknowledging such limitations. They make it a point not to assert anything which they aren’t sure they can prove, because the consequences would be much too embarrassing. Needless to say, that doesn’t prevent them from being wrong sometimes. However, when a faulty idea is replaced with a more solid one, there is no choice other than to acknowledge this for its better logical sense, as can be understood with the more recent knowledge of the current generation. Such is the difference between the world of science and the BS-fueled empires of religious assertions.

          “Many “false beliefs” are so useful that you couldn’t get through the day without them.”

          WHAT sort of self-validating constructs do we see the world through which are necessarily unexplainable?

          Once again:
          “I never said we should believe anything, or that stories of miracles and answered prayers are plausible.”

          Oh. Well, having arrived at that conclusion, why should anyone bother considering the assertions of such stories? Not having faith to begin with, it takes a lot of faith just to consider the stories which are so aggressively flogged by the sort of people who promote religion. I have met enough of such characters, who don’t hide the fact that they are “reformed” drunks, wife-beaters, etc. What, we should trust them just for coming clean on their past, and then using that as an evangelizing angle? They still demonstrate the personalities of used car salesmen, and have been caught in as many lies as the years which have elapsed since the writing of the New Testament!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Therefore, I should accept your god of the gaps, or at least not be outraged by what has been brutally asserted as truth, imposed on people through violence, and continually re-invented with new lies every time the old lies become too embarrassing?

          That’s a lot of words you’re putting in my mouth, Dave, and I just finished breakfast.

          You may have heard of a god who used misfortune to punish those who (allegedly) sinned, or that disease was the work of devils, conjured up by “witches”.

          That’s a pretty medieval God-concept there. I can’t speak for anyone who still believes in God the Punisher, witches, or sin causing disease.

          WHAT sort of self-validating constructs do we see the world through which are necessarily unexplainable?

          Reason, logic, and empirical inquiry are all very useful tools. But we have to acknowledge that they’re all self-validating constructs, or else we get into a mindset where we think we know how reality is, our thinking becomes rigid, and we become just as closed-minded and infatuated with our phony certainty as the fundamentalists we criticize.

        • Kodie

          I think you are arguing a straw man. I find it curious that you agree with atheism a ton but just can’t take the leap and still call yourself a Christian, even though you say you don’t believe any of the magical stuff (unless I am wildly mistaken about interpreting your previous posts) – could it be that you still don’t know what atheism is, and your perception is making it to be something that it’s not?

          Way to demonstrate your solid point, buddy!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Kodie, I’m not arguing against atheism at all. The only thing I’ve ever taken issue with here is the idea that science and reason and logic only support atheism. If that’s not what you believe, then we’re fine.

        • Kodie

          Your argument rests on how rigid it is but your points are vague and out of your ass. Why do you cling to the label of Christianity?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          You’re doing an awesome job at debunking the myth that patience and civility are by-products of nonbelief.

        • Kodie

          What was that shit about the reflection in the mirror? That came out of your ass.

        • Fred

          Who the fuck claims that?

        • Pofarmer

          I don’t think anyone is saying that science and logic only support Atheism. The problems come in when religion holds and promotes beliefs that are clearly unscientific. If you get rid of those ideas, what you are left with is the metaphysical, which cannot be tested so cannot be proved or disproved, which theists say we should accept anyway, just because.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          I’m sorry for all that on “god of the gaps”, I edited that part out because I really want to remain relevant, fair, and respectful, despite having once or twice questioned where you are going with your arguments.

          I also had initially felt the need to mention the medieval nature of a god still followed by millions of people, and although I decided that this may not necessarily be relevant to what you were saying (therefore it too was edited out), the exemplary bad ideas which you refer to as “medieval” should not be dismissed as a pervasive modern influence. I grew up with kids my own age who asked (regarding a child born with a crippling birth defect” “who’s sin caused this?”, and I’m not even 50! Millions of people today shun modern medicine because they view it as meddling with their “god’s plan” – how many more children will have to suffer while religious people who call themselves “moderate” enable the jerks who have so cruelly twisted the minds of young parents by not speaking out? Religious people, if they address this issue at all, will never be sufficiently vocal, because they fear the implications of those cracks which they must inflict on their own walls in the process of changing other people’s illogical ideas!

          “Reason, logic, and empirical inquiry are all very useful tools. But we
          have to acknowledge that they’re all self-validating constructs, or else
          we get into a mindset where we think we know how reality is, our
          thinking becomes rigid, and we become just as closed-minded and
          infatuated with our phony certainty as the fundamentalists we criticize.”

          How can they be so useful if they are self-validating contructs? You could call just about anything a construct, but the qualifier is …a construct of WHAT? This is where reason, logic, and rational inquiry differ from fantasy fiction and utter baloney. If I REASON with you that water is a liquid below 212 degrees Fahrenheit, you don’t have to take that on faith – this is a verifiable fact! So it is when I make the LOGICAL conclusion that fairies exist only in some people’s minds, just as EMPIRICAL REASONING applies to extensively-researched ideas (such as the conclusion that the earth could not have been created in six days), when abounding evidence is observed by reasonable people. Any of the above is an importantly different scenario than the six-year-old child seeing money under her pillow, and then concluding that there really is a Tooth Fairy, or the faithful Christian who concludes that his prayers were answered by a real god when coincidentally followed by good fortune. I would not be so arrogant as to totally dismiss the idea that all human perceptions are illusory (perhaps the reality of our existence is that we are all being manipulated in some intergalactic kid’s simulation game, or that our bodies are plugged into a Matrix-like machine :-) – but without even a little reasonable cause to consider these ideas as more than silly entertainment, I won’t be discussing these ideas seriously.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          How can they be so useful if they are self-validating constructs?

          Ask old Doc Hume, Dave. Is there any reason behind Reason? Isn’t Logic only useful in inferring logically valid conclusions from certain premises? Doesn’t empirical inquiry only reinforce our confidence in a man-made model of empirical reality?

          Knowledge should recognize the method used to arrive at it, as well as the method’s limitations. Don’t mistake it for reality.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          “Ask old Doc Hume, Dave. Is there any reason behind Reason? Isn’t Logic
          only useful in inferring logically valid conclusions from certain
          premises? Doesn’t empirical inquiry only reinforce our confidence in a
          man-made model of empirical reality?”

          Of course it’s a man-made model of reality – so is math, not that math hasn’t been CONSISTENTLY proven to work! The laws of physics didn’t exist before Isaac Newton codified them, but Newton didn’t change the speed of light, the rate of gravitational acceleration, nor did anything previously fall upward. None of this is true on account of premises, it’s decidedly true based on the EVIDENCE! Do you doubt any of this as reality? Hate to break it to you, but in the face of all that, it still remains the most reasonable prediction that you will never find such solid evidence for a miraculous Jesus, a virgin birth, nor a resurrection of any dead people.

          Is that Doc Hume, theologian and Christian apologist? In that case, you really need to take a good, hard look at the sources for your ideas – theology is no science, it’s an art! Specifically, it’s the least inspiring genre of art, led by the most unimaginative and particularly dishonest guys in academia (they are so bad that their favorite (and hypocritically ironic) slur against scientists tends to be “academic”). Their stock in trade is the discussion of old garbage, freshened by the piling on of their own turds – if you can’t reason better than this, then we’re done here!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          Their stock in trade is the discussion of old garbage, freshened by the piling on of their own turds – if you can’t reason better than this, then we’re done here!

          It will be a shame to have to forgo such sober, adult discussion, but I guess I’ll survive.

        • Pofarmer

          Do you have any examples of these useful false beleifs?

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          I mentioned a few of them in my response to you above. Our perceptions are always playing tricks on us. I shave every morning courtesy of a very useful illusion caused by the reflection of light rays in a mirror. Should I refuse to pretend that this is my face in the mirror, and live in the real world instead?

          But for people who are science-minded, the notion of the usefulness of false beliefs shouldn’t be such an affront to our rationality. Haven’t most human theories about the universe —regardless of their usefulness to the people who used them— been proven wrong, and superseded by better theories? How is it you’re so sure that what we say we know about the universe won’t seem as quaint and primitive to our descendants as our ancestors’ knowledge seems to us?

        • Pofarmer

          Light rays reflecting off of a silver mirror aren’t an illusion, they are a physical phenomena that is, in fact, very useful. Your face in the mirror is not an illusion, it is the reflection of YOUR very real face. Now, if you saw, say, Adam Levine’s face in the mirror, that would be an illusion. Same for the rising and setting sun, those are more colloquialisms than false beliefs. We know what is happening, but refer to it by an older term, well, just because.

          “How is it you’re so sure that what we say we know about the universe won’t seem as quaint and primitive to our descendants as our ancestors’ knowledge seems to us?”

          Oh, undoubtedly some of it will. But, ya know what? We’ll abandon those incorrect beliefs in favor of the correct ones. We won’t hold on to 2000 year old antiquated ideas once the bulk of the body of them have been proven incorrect. And the process will be based on a system of observation and testing that pretty much anyone has access to or can witness the results of.

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          We’ll abandon those incorrect beliefs in favor of the correct ones.

          You mean “the less incorrect ones.” This fetish about ideas being “true” or “false” is pretty unscientific. Whatever models are useful and resist disconfirmation are the ones we consider valuable, until a more useful one comes along.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          For many fields, the days of one theory superseding another seem to be over. Theories get refined, not superseded.

          Newton wasn’t completely wrong, just limited. Same as: “The earth is a sphere.”

    • MNb

      “Why not hold false but helpful beliefs?”
      Because the awakening is so rude when it becomes clear how false those beliefs are. BTW – this as much depends on dfining “helpful” as on defining “better”.
      Psychology has a paradoxal answer. At one hand it says that people, so including me, consistently have a more positive image of themselves than others do, including intimates. It’s comforting, helps you to deal with harsh reality, avoids depressions etc. At the other hand it is necessary to have a realistic image if you want to do something about the bad sides of your character, your bad habits etc. Makes life interesting, I’d say.
      On a more general level I have concluded many years ago that it’s no use to deconvert people. I don’t think atheists are better – no matter how defined – people than theists. It doesn’t particularly please me when a believer loses his/her religion. My female counterpart is a muslima; we obviously think both the other is wrong. So what?
      As for myself, I’m happy as I am. That the world has no external meaning doesn’t bother me in the least. As Coca-Cola advertises: life is what you make it. I can honestly and proudly say I have made something of it. As for the shit I have met in my life: I faced it, did something about it if I could and like psychology prescribes downplayed it’s earnest. The funny thing is that this works even if you realize you’re fooling yourself to some extent.
      So in the end it’s just that I don’t need the delusion of an immaterial benevolent big brother watching me.
      Pofarmer will have another story, I suspect.

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        Because the awakening is so rude when it becomes clear how false those beliefs are. BTW – this as much depends on dfining “helpful” as on defining “better”.

        What if you know the belief is false but continue to hold it? Or you don’t care if its false or not?

        As for myself, I’m happy as I am. That the world has no external meaning doesn’t bother me in the least.

        Good for you. For me, if I was sure that the world (and me) had absolutely no meaning, I would be rather bothered by that.

        As Coca-Cola advertises: life is what you make it. I can honestly and proudly say I have made something of it.

        Have you? Have you made something of your life in any sort of objective sense? Any sort of lasting sense? Or when you die will it soon rapidly be ashes to ashes / dust to dust.

        So in the end it’s just that I don’t need the delusion of an immaterial benevolent big brother watching me.

        Fair enough though that’s different than the traditional answer of being led to your atheism by some inexorable process of evidence / reason.

        • MNb

          “that’s different”
          The two are not mutually exclusive.

          “will it soon rapidly be ashes to ashes / dust to dust”

          If you mean with rapidly within some 5 billion years at most, yes. If you mean during the lifetime of some of my pupils, no.

          “I would be rather bothered by that.”
          Too bad for you that you make life so hard for yourself. Some psychological insights – not the cheapo’s from TV and magazines – might help you.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      If on the one hand I have the supposed “atheist” reality where life is objectively meaningless, no one has purpose, and that we are nothing more than animals with delusions of “minds”.. then a great many things may be “better” than that.

      So you rate worldviews on their pleasingness rather than on their truth?

      Why not hold false but helpful beliefs?

      “If I throw a coin into a wishing well, I might get well” is a false but helpful belief for a child (helpful because it makes her feel better). I don’t think it’s very helpful for an adult, however.

      For an functioning adult, what beliefs are false but so helpful that the good outweighs the bad?

      • TheRealRandomFunction

        So you rate worldviews on their pleasingness rather than on their truth?

        Me personally? No, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame someone who did.

        Do you have any evidence or argumentation proving that we should only use truth as a criteria?

        “If I throw a coin into a wishing well, I might get well” is a false but helpful belief for a child (helpful because it makes her feel better). I don’t think it’s very helpful for an adult, however.

        If it makes the adult feel better is it not just as helpful?

        For an functioning adult, what beliefs are false but so helpful that the good outweighs the bad?

        What necessarily is bad about believing in God to you? I know you believe that that is a false belief, but what is “bad” about it?

        • Dago Red

          Do you have any evidence or argumentation proving that we should only use truth as a criteria?

          First, no one is implying that truth and delusion have to be fully exclusionary, as your question implies. Rather, the implied reference is to one of general preference — i.e. people generally prefer truth over pleasant delusion.

          That said, as to why truth is generally preferable to a pleasant delusion — imagine any real world situation that threatens to either ‘break your leg or pick your pocket’, so to speak. At best, a delusion might stumble upon a solution that avoids the negative consequences in a highly improbable scenario. However, delusional views — given an eminent threat — will likely result in your own pain and loss. On the other hand, a truthful evaluation of what is truly going on, is the only real way we might improve our odds at avoiding such negative consequences.

          Its interesting how this kind of false equivocation of value between truth and delusion really only arrises when considering inconsequential beliefs — that is, anything that ultimately has no significant and conclusive real world consequence for those who choose to hold them (as is the case for beliefs in gods, ghosts, demons, an afterlife, souls, extraterrestrial visitations, or anything else without a consistent and natural explanation supporting it).

  • MNb

    This is another blow for dualism.

    http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3609.html

    Memories are material too. And if this applies to memories I don’t see why it shouldn’t apply to the way we experience art and ethics.
    Yes, Anton, I can think of several scary consequences. I rather face them as early as possible than sticking to the fantasy world a la TRRF of something immaterial that cannot be affected by electroshock.

    • smrnda

      I actually think of this and wonder that there might be new ways of exploiting this increased knowledge of the brain for entertainment purposes, but I tend to be an optimist with regards to technology. Of course, I’d *not necessarily want* to be the first person to use brain-altering new technologies, but I see as much potential for good as for bad.

      • Pofarmer

        Total Recall?

        • smrnda

          That was the first one I thought up, along with the problem that if you can *implant a false memory* of a trip to mars, you can say, find someone and implant a false memory that ‘John Q Public was seen near the scene of a crime’ in someone who then gets John Q Public arrested, instead of Snidely Whiplash who was really at the scene of the crime.

          Of course, courts are rather behind the findings in cognitive psychology on the unreliability of eyewitness recall, and actually read instructions to jurors which contain false claims about how to assess the accuracy of memories. At least the ‘total recall’ tech would cause courts to admit that memories aren’t so reliable.

          Or we can get brain malware. I’d really like to just cram my head full of information that would be there, ready for recall, but the process would likely have to be constantly updated and fixed, or someone would find a way to force me to think “MCDONALDS” every 10 minutes as a sponsorship. I can see some comically minor-dystopic possibilities arising from too much knowledge of the brain.

  • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

    A fair observation about ‘cartoon Christianity’ as presented by the media. Authentic Christianity is for grown ups, as St Paul suggests.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      So you reject the popular tendency to see God’s hand in everything? Help me out convincing your fellow Christians.

      • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

        I suppose I do reject that. Maybe not why you think.

        I reject the simplified vision of God working in our lives in a way that we can understand, and then we get to judge whether the action is ‘good,’ or ‘bad’ based on our personal views.

        St Paul tells us this in his beautiful prose about how now we see through a glass darkly, but will someday see clearly, face to face.

        How can we judge the work of God when we see only a tiny piece, and that not very well?

        This is where faith lives.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I reject the simplified vision of God working in our lives in a way that we can understand, and then we get to judge whether the action is ‘good,’ or ‘bad’ based on our personal views.

          But isn’t that what the gospels say? That prayers are answered, for example, sounds pretty simple to me.

          How can we judge the work of God when we see only a tiny piece, and that not very well?

          Fair enough. Then decide that we have insufficient evidence and reject the God hypothesis.

          This is where faith lives.

          Is faith good for anything? I don’t see much of a use. (And perhaps you should define what you mean by “faith.”)

        • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

          Faith is really believing that when you flick a switch, a light goes on. It is believing that when you leave for work in the morning, you actually have a job waiting for you. Faith is buying a new pair of shoes with no worries that you will forget how to tie them. Faith if getting a drink and sitting down to watch the sunset and never wondering if there is a sun to set, or that it will.

          Who was that guy on SNL who did stupid sayings? Well, faith is knowing that if you don’t ask a silly question, you won’t get a silly answer.

        • MNb

          “Faith is really believing that when you flick a switch, a light goes on.”
          Nope. This is a typical case of an apologist trying to stir up confusion. Your example – and I am going to stick stubbornly to my terminology, which is based on Continental (as opposed to Anglo-Saxon) philosophy of science – describes knowledge, not faith and believing. I know that the light goes on when I flick a switch for two reasons, both equally important.
          1. Induction: it happened many times in the past;
          2. Deduction: we have a good theory describing why it happens.
          Both result in the same, hence I know.
          Faith and belief don’t have that by definition, because they are based on revelation (yours or by proxy, ie accepting a Holy Book). Revelation can be combined with deduction, though in my opinion the results are utterly disappointing. But revelation doesn’t care about induction at all. That’s why science always wins.

          PS: it’s also possible to refute RR’s statement about faith based on Anglo-Saxon philosophy of science; I only think it’s harder. Also note that quite a few English and American philosophers use Continental terminology and some Europeans use the Anglo-Saxon one. It’s not a geographical categorization. It’s just that my strict terminology is more popular on the European continent than in the USA.

        • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

          My friend, you really must find a sense of humor. Silly questions, silly answers – all in fun.

          I do enjoy your posts, however. You are very thoughtful.

          Oh, you forgot the most important reason to believe that when one flicks a switch, a light goes on–

          You paid your power bill–!

        • http://batman-news.com Anton

          My friend, you really must find a sense of humor.

          Heh heh. Even a hefty subsidy from Koch Industries couldn’t make that inquiry program work.

        • MNb

          Yeah, you’re unbeatable in this respect.

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, you got pwnd, so change the subject.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you’re here to have a laugh, that’s fine, but know that most of us take these questions seriously.

          You won’t get many takers with your “Hey, fellas, just lighten up!”

        • Pofarmer

          I thought he was gonna hit us with some real radical apologetics. Guess not.

        • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

          Haven’y you heard – you save the good stuff for the end.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You lose your audience that way. I’m still waiting for your good stuff … and losing interest.

        • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

          So I guess there’s only the four of us on this blog? Posting and reading? Or are there more?

        • MNb

          Thanks for not addressing my arguments and thus confirming my bias regarding theists like you. Also thanks for confirming my suspicion that you are not interested in a helpful conversation, despite you writing otherwise. You obviously are not willing to learn anything new. Else you would have realized that your final argument “I paid my power bill” is met with exactly the same points about induction and deduction I mentioned above. For the time being I assume that you are smart – but I cannot help wondering: are you? – enough to use induction to predict what will happen if I don’t pay and to use deduction to formulate a theory why.
          It’s not me who is forgetting something – it’s you being a bigot. Fortunately I’m not losing interest like BobS. Bigots like you are easy to mock.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          Oh, there’s a new way to pretend you didn’t lose an argument – you were just having fun with us! Well, at least I can laugh at that!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Faith is really believing that when you flick a switch, a light goes on.

          What’s the word for when you believe even though you don’t have sufficient evidence?

          Do you have faith that you will get what you pray for? That prayer is as reliable as a light switch?

          Who was that guy on SNL who did stupid sayings?

          “If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is `God is crying’. And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is `Probably because of something you did’.”

          — Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts

          Well, faith is knowing that if you don’t ask a silly question, you won’t get a silly answer.

          Yep, that’s about as profound as Jack Handey.

        • http://www.revelation4radicals.com/ radicalrevelation

          Thank you! You have an excellent memory. That, or wi-fi. it’s hard to tell these days.

        • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

          Do you really not have sufficient evidence to predict that the flick of a light switch will turn your light on, when everything is in correct order according to a physical setup and methods, which actually can be thoroughly explained and understood? If you do, then there goes that argument for faith!

          As the theologians say, faith doesn’t deal with what you can understand, no matter how conveniently they trot out this roadrunner tactic when facing the loss of yet another argument. It’s funny how people try and make sense out of something which makes no sense at all, because it cannot be explained!

        • Pofarmer

          Please, not another ya warren bot.

  • Tommykey69

    I’d broaden it from Christianity to belief in the supernatural and parananormal in general. A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day that he was going to see the Long Island Medium and hoping that she would be able to communicate with his deceased father. I had to resist the urge to comment on his post telling him it was an absurd expectation. I mean seriously, if we truly can communicate with our deceased loved ones, then why can’t we do so directly instead of relying on strangers to do so?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      What the stranger would say, of course, was that not everyone has the gift. (That this claim benefits them financially is an important clue, I think.)

      • Tommykey69

        I wonder why these mediums can never identity serial killers. You would think the victims would be swarming around them constantly. “We were killed by Joe Loozer at 1515 Lonely Road!”

    • smrnda

      I recently met 2 groups of interesting people – some local pagans and some people who go ghost hunting. I disbelieve in the reality of the pagan gods and the ghosts, but it’s interesting that when I see people doing the pagan thing, it’s *exactly like* people worshiping the more popular monotheistic gods. With the supernatural, I think a lot of it is confirmation bias. If you’re convinced a building is haunted, any ‘weird sounds’ on audio or ‘shapes’ you can see in grainy pictures are clearly ghosts.

      I’d suspect that mediums and such find ways to make the performance believable. What I wonder is, how many of them are out and out cons, and how many of them actually believe in what they’re doing?

      • Tommykey69

        Yeah, I would say that so-called mediums do have a gift. They may be good at intuiting things about people to the extent that it gives the person getting the reading to believe that the medium really can communicate with deceased loved ones.

      • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

        “I’d suspect that mediums and such find ways to make the performance
        believable. What I wonder is, how many of them are out and out cons, and
        how many of them actually believe in what they’re doing?”

        Unless you can find an example of a paranormal performer who is 100% accurate, never has to ask anybody one single question in order to make perfect assessments (“readings”) and predictions, AND you experience this for yourself (as opposed to watching a planned staging) – do you really need an answer for whether there really is a genuine article? As for what they “believe”, why do you care on that? There are also people who believe they are Spiderman!

  • Mudhammutt (DaveUcannotta)

    That 1 Corinthians 13:11 passage was one of the most pointed-to bible bits by my dour Baptist fundie teacher in the “Christian Academy” system which I was imprisoned in as a child, and it’s what I remembered most when I decided that I am an atheist!

  • Surprise123

    “Religion infantilizes adults and keeps them dependent.” Bob, I think it’s more complex than that. Sure, bad religions encourage bad thinking using overtly gushing sentimental stories, but good religions enhance impulse control, and delayed gratification, even in the cognitive sphere (if they emphasize education).

    “Should you break the news to her (she has cancer, the news: that the wishing well is a fraud)? No, but neither should we tell her that she shouldn’t wish, she has a 10% survival rate, so she better just learn to accept it without going all soft.
    I’d prefer to tell her that “some people believe that if they wish upon a penny, and throw it into the well, the wish will come true. I won’t tell YOU what to believe, but will allow you to determine for yourself, based upon what we’ve taught you about science, faith, and the world.”