On Varieties of Moderation

The rise of the atheist movement is drawing attention in popular society, even from bastions of the traditional press. However, most of the media organizations paying attention to atheism show little interest in why atheists are finding a voice, instead preferring to repeat the usual stereotypes. A recent column in Newsweek, “Moderates Storm The Religious Battlefield“, is no exception. I’ve criticized them before; it’s time to do so again.

The article opens with an acknowledgement that atheists have the same right to participate in the political process as anyone else, acknowledging the widespread criticism of Mitt Romney’s December anti-atheist speech. However, the author, Lisa Miller, is still determined to condescend:

This victory, if you want to call it that (an overwhelming number of Americans still say they would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate), was hard won. It owed much to the loud and intransigent rhetoric of its main proponents…

Though the editorial offers no examples of this “loud and intransigent” rhetoric, it does fire a few revealing shots at today’s most prominent atheists – revealing in the sense that they expose the author’s own prejudice.

Instead of fire and brimstone, you had the hyperrational insistence of Sam Harris…

The what? “Hyperrational” insistence? What on earth does that even mean? This reminds me of a passage from one of Carl Sagan’s books where he mentioned a true believer who criticized James Randi for being “obsessed with reality”.

…the high-minded bomb throwing of Hitchens, and the wacky relentlessness of Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford who spends so much time on his own Web site that it’s hard to imagine he has time to do his job.

Ah, yes, Richard Dawkins’ dedication to speaking out for what he believes is “wacky”. Those silly, comical atheists! It’s just so funny how upset they become when they see people murdering and torturing each other in the name of God!

As is usual in attack pieces like this, Miller relies heavily on an attitude of belittling dismissal, but provides no examples of anything atheists are saying that is incorrect. Nor does she provide any examples of anything we’re saying that she thinks is an unfair criticism or an ad hominem attack. Instead, the mere fact that we’re taking a position and standing forthrightly to defend it is what draws her ire. She bemoans the “ruthless certainty” of many atheists and calls it “dangerous” – as if it was conviction in one’s own position that was the problem, rather than the willingness to do violence to those who disagree.

In the end, this piece boils down to the same old complaint: Those angry atheists are speaking out again, and they have the audacity to actually take up a position they believe in and argue for it! Why can’t they be more like us sophisticated media types? We know that only crude, lowbrow bomb-throwers actually have opinions. Informed, sophisticated observers like us don’t do that – instead, we study issues from every possible angle and remark on how complex and fascinating they are. But we would never dare say that anyone is actually right or wrong. That would be biased, you see.

Sarcasm aside, I’m not against humility or doubt in the appropriate proportion. We should all keep in mind the possibility that anyone might be wrong – and atheists do this, mostly by explaining of exactly what it would take to change our minds. (By contrast, the vast majority of believers are not so open-minded.) But being willing to change your mind if the right evidence turns up does not rule out believing your position is true and defending it strongly in the meantime.

It seems clear that what Miller and other media types are asking is for a state of perpetual doubt and uncertainty, for no one to ever have opinions or take positions on anything. (Miller praises a book which she describes as “an… attack on everybody who’s sure of the right answer”. Only in religion is being ignorant viewed as a good thing.) It brings to mind a comment I read last year:

In short, a lot of the so-called moderates weren’t for moderation or anything: They were for maintaining the status quo, which happened to include a lot of double-standards favoring the fundies on the far right.

This is a perfect description of Miller’s piece. Instead of attacking atheists – whose worst crime, after all, is the terrible sin of writing books – why doesn’t she take on the fundamentalists who are still seeking to conquer the world and impose their will on others by force? The danger they still pose, by any reasonable measure, far exceeds the danger posed by a few atheists speaking their minds. Her call for “moderation” simply seems to be a call for returning to the time when religious groups had unchallenged authority and atheists had no voice at all.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    I share several frustrations with you. First, I’m tired of people saying that atheists are rude, dogmatic, etc., simply because, horror of horrors, we do our research and take positions on issues, and then dare to compound the horror by actually articulating and defending our positions. In short, we actually exercise our minds!

    Second, I’m sick and tired of the namby-pamby he said-she said storytelling that passes for journalism in the USA. Most reporters rely on newswire services, nonsensical polls, talking head opinion-venting sessions and celebrity debauchery to generate their stories. All of that is much easier than, god forbid, researching a story and then, unthinkably, formulating a position about it.

    Third, I agree with Dawkins that the consensus by which critical examination of religious tenets is forbidden is not only foolish but dangerous. We can criticize beliefs without belittling believers. Sadly, religious believers identify so closely with their beliefs that they don’t understand this distinction. It is their thin-skinnedness, not atheistic “dogmatism,” that makes meaningful dialog difficult to achieve.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    “We demand guaranteed rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

    –Vroomfondel (or was it Majikthise?)

  • Alex Weaver

    But being willing to change your mind if the right evidence turns up does not rule out believing your position is true and defending it strongly in the meantime.

    It’s a pity I can’t make ~half my friends write that on the chalkboard a thousand times. x.x

    (Seriously, confusion on this point is about the strongest source of arguments between us).

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I have to laugh at ‘hyperrational’. I’m also amused by the statement that, with more ‘mellow’ dialogue, we now have ‘the welcome possibility of irreverence and humor’. Because Hitchens and Dawkins are so short on both of those.

    I have my reservations about Hitchens in general, and sure, there are ways in which Dawkins gets it wrong in between getting it pretty much right, and reading that article with those sorts of things in mind just makes it abundantly clear how substanceless it is as a critique. It’s pitiful to see that she seems weakly disapproving of outspoken atheism and fundamentalism for exactly the same reasons. Apparently both groups have strong opinions, you see, and occasionally they say things that might hurt somebody’s feelings.

    The idea that fundamentalism might systematically ruin people’s lives doesn’t figure into it. And you can see her steadfastly refusing to entertain the possibility that fundamentalism might have a negative impact on America’s political discourse, because, after all, that would entail having a political opinion (shock!)

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “This victory, if you want to call it that…”

    Yes. I want to call it that.

    The overwhelming response in the mainstream media to Mitt Romney’s anti-atheist screed was harsh criticism, and a general acknowledgment that anti-atheist bigotry counts as bigotry. I don’t think that would have been true ten or even five years ago. And I don’t just want to call it a victory. It is a victory. Pretty much without question.

    “…(an overwhelming number of Americans still say they would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate)…”

    Ah. I see. Because we haven’t yet won all of our battles, therefore the ones we have won don’t count, and are victories only in our minds.

    “…was hard won. It owed much to the loud and intransigent rhetoric of its main proponents…”

    You’re darn tootin’ it does.

    Actually, I don’t think most atheist rhetoric is intransigent. But I think this is one of those, “I am passionate, you are stubborn, he/she is intransigent” things. So yes — the fact that the atheist movement has become more outspoken and more visibly passionate about our views has led to some important victories.

    So let’s translate the whole passage.

    “By becoming more visible and vocal, the atheist movement has won some important battles, and is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the public sphere. On the other hand, I don’t like them. But I don’t have any actual arguments against them. So I’m just going to parrot the same snarky, knee-jerk stereotypes about them that everyone else is parroting, without bothering to find out what they actually think, or taking the trouble to think about it.”

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    This is what I really love:

    “As with all social movements in their infancy—feminism, fundamentalism, rock and roll—passionate outbursts and entrenched positions were necessary. But now, on both sides of the theism debate, a mellowing is taking place…”

    Gee. How very generous of you. It was okay for us to be passionate and angry in our “infancy.” But now that time has passed.

    I would like to point something out.

    The current, increasingly vocal phase of the atheist movement (a.k.a., the “new atheist” movement) is generally defined by the publication of five books: Harris, Harris again, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens. The earliest of these was published in 2005; the others were published in 2006 or 2007.

    Essentially, Miller is saying, “You get two years — three years at the max — to do your angry, passionate, outspoken, confrontational thing. After that, you need to mellow out.”

    In other words, we’re supposed to stop being passionate and confrontational — right when it’s starting to have an effect.

    And if we don’t, we’re being “intransigent.”

  • lpetrich

    I also found that article rather dumb, though for different reasons. Those self-proclaimed “moderates” weren’t exactly explaining where they think that fundamentalism goes wrong, and doing that explaining in simple, straightforward language.

  • Samuel Skinner

    It is the fuzzy wuzzy position, like pillows or moldy bread. It is distressing how often you look at articles defending religion that don’t say anything at all. Of course they don’t have anything to say, so you just get either nonsense or pieces like this. For nonsense you simply have to go to any apologetics website. It would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.

  • velkyn

    it seems that Miller is just like a lot of people back in the 60′s who were all for “equal rights” for people of color, but oh, would they just not be so vocal about it. Feh.

  • tenebrous

    Screw it I say be rude. Might as well give them something to cry about since they’ll do it anyway.

    I was called rude merely for pointing out that Christianity is a religion by definition when the popular opinion was that Christianity was a way of life and not a religion. Kind of like a political party that doesn’t sully itself with mere politics right?

    There is no way to avoid the rude tag when the theists are conditioned to view any challenge as rude.

  • Randall

    “Only in religion is being ignorant viewed as a good thing.”

    And not always there, either. There are good religions as well as bad ones.

    “We can criticize beliefs without belittling believers. Sadly, religious believers identify so closely with their beliefs that they don’t understand this distinction.”

    And yet very few people I have come across understand the Christian maxim of “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

    “Those self-proclaimed “moderates” weren’t exactly explaining where they think that fundamentalism goes wrong, and doing that explaining in simple, straightforward language.”

    I don’t like applying political terms to religion. But I will attempt to do this, if you would like to see it.

    “I was called rude merely for pointing out that Christianity is a religion by definition when the popular opinion was that Christianity was a way of life and not a religion.”

    It depends on who’s doing the defining : ) Without having been present, I can’t really comment either way, but I am sorry that you had to endure criticism for simply stating your beliefs. No one should need to face that in a supposedly enlightened society.

  • Kevin Morgan

    Unfortunately, as long as atheism (and with it, reason, reality and critical thinking) is considered evil by the popular media, attack dog atheism (hey, I like that) ala Sam Harris will be needed to send the message to those atheists still in the closet that they/we are not alone. I love the hate filled responses the religions of “love” respond with when their fantasies are questioned.

    Religion should not be off-limits from criticism. We are spiraling into a theocracy and I for one don’t wish to live in that kind of world. I think it’s especially dangerous that true believers are so drawn to organizations like Blackwater. Those heavily armed, steroid pumped armies of god are just too scary. Look at how they ran amok down in Louisiana during the Katrina aftermath. The mainstream media doesn’t report that as being a problem.

    As for Christopher Hitchens. I thought his book, “God is not great”, was very well written and quite reasonable in his premises and conclusions.

    Please excuse me if I’ve wandered from the main theme, this is what came to me from reading the post and comments. Oh yeah, Richard Dawkins is great!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    But I think this is one of those, “I am passionate, you are stubborn, he/she is intransigent” things.

    Greta Christina wins the “best comment of the day” award for that line. :)

  • tenebrous

    Randall

    I wasn’t stating a belief. I was reading from the dictionary. The tragedy here is that stating fact is now seen as a matter of belief.

    The fact I quoted, a dictionary definition, contradicted the beliefs being expressed and thus I was being “rude”.

  • http://cafephilos.wordpress.com/ Paul Sunstone

    It would be a whole lot easier to be moderate in one’s criticisms of religion if religion were more moderate in its falsehoods.

  • Jim Baerg

    Those heavily armed, steroid pumped armies of god are just too scary. Look at how they ran amok down in Louisiana during the Katrina aftermath.

    Hello Kevin Morgan: Could you give me a reference that tells me what actions you are talking about there? I haven’t heard about this. Maybe a cyberspace friend of mine who lives in New Orleans could clarify this for me though.

  • Kevin Morgan

    Hello Kevin Morgan: Could you give me a reference that tells me what actions you are talking about there? I haven’t heard about this. Maybe a cyberspace friend of mine who lives in New Orleans could clarify this for me though.

    Hi Jim, if you read reports of how Blackwater pushed their way into N.O. before being asked and then started running around heavily armed in vehicles w/o license plates, intimidating locals, animal rescue people, and even local law enforcement you will see what I mean. There were reports (video and audio) of this on Democracy NOW! and I believe it was also in Jeremy Scahill’s book, Blackwater. They were also involved in the confiscating of peoples personal weapons from their homes.

    Reports on the web are here: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/091005A.shtml here: http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/?Page=Article&ID=4857 with video here: http://news.aol.com/newsbloggers/2007/11/08/moyers-interviews-scahill-on-blackwater/
    and there are plenty of other stories you can dig up if you just look on line.

    regards, Kevin

  • Alex Weaver

    I was called rude merely for pointing out that Christianity is a religion by definition when the popular opinion was that Christianity was a way of life and not a religion. Kind of like a political party that doesn’t sully itself with mere politics right?

    There is no way to avoid the rude tag when the theists are conditioned to view any challenge as rude.

    I agree. It’s difficult to know how to approach theists who think and act this way. I personally feel that this piece here is an excellent style guide for approaching arguments with such individuals.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Where is the media and the so-called moderate Christians when H. Res. 888 threatens to rewrite American history to support the Christian nation myth of the extremists in our midst? Nowhere to be found. I think it is safe to say that the mainstream media is doing little to benefit we atheists and less to expose the American brand of religious extremism.

  • Brock

    Alex–Your link takes me to a picture of the USS Iowa. Wassup?

  • Joffan

    Brock – it’s a broadside. All guns blazing. Geddit?

    Incidentally, that’s a spectacular picture Alex, if we temporarily forget the intended death and destruction.

  • Alex Weaver

    Metaphors tend to work that way, heh. (Though as I understand it, that picture was taken during a training exercise; I may be confusing the caption with that of another picture).

  • Joffan

    I’m sure it was a training exercise. For…

  • http://ellis14.wordpress.com evanescent

    Here here. Spot on post.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It never ceases to amaze me, the insecurity shown by these “believers”. A Universal Truth that is so fragile it cannot stand the light of scrutiny? A “faith” of such breadth would obviously suffer nothing from the little slings and arrows of us mere mortals, yet we are are enjoined to shut up. Of course. After all, they will never know when one of us may utter, or write, the sequence of words that pulls aside the curtain to reveal a shrunken old man aping a wizard.

  • http://michaelgr.com/ Michael G.R.

    Excellent post! Well said.

    It is a bit pathetic to see that the common pattern among all these articles criticizing atheistic authors is that they never actually address any of the substance of the arguments posited in the books.

  • lpetrich

    It’s almost as if they are conceding the correctness of those atheist authors.

    But if they are doing so, then why don’t they adopt fideism? Or at the very least, warn their fellow believers not to use weak arguments?

    But then they would look like they are lying to themselves.

  • DamienSansBlog

    It is a bit pathetic to see that the common pattern among all these articles criticizing atheistic authors is that they never actually address any of the substance of the arguments posited in the books.

    To be fair, it’s a door that we may have opened ourselves, and certainly a door which many of us happily march through.

    Unfortunately, as long as atheism (and with it, reason, reality and critical thinking) is considered evil by the popular media, attack dog atheism (hey, I like that) ala Sam Harris will be needed to send the message to those atheists still in the closet that they/we are not alone.

    Over and over again, I’ve heard otherwise decent, reasonable people saying that “It’s OK to call religious people insane or criminal, because religious people call us all kinds of names too.” Or even, as one gentleman-or-lady here said,

    Screw it I say be rude. Might as well give them something to cry about since they’ll do it anyway.

    But I still cannot see how throwing around titles like “child abuser” and making grandiose claims like “religion poisons everything” are responsible, rational actions. And I cannot see how tactics like this are supposed to help an atheist movement achieve its goals. (In fact, what exactly are the goals of the New Atheism? If they turn out to be “make the public think atheists are mirror-image fundamentalists” and “discredit yourselves in the public sphere”, then of course I retract my previous statements.)

  • Randall

    “It never ceases to amaze me, the insecurity shown by these “believers”. A Universal Truth that is so fragile it cannot stand the light of scrutiny? A “faith” of such breadth would obviously suffer nothing from the little slings and arrows of us mere mortals, yet we are are enjoined to shut up. Of course. After all, they will never know when one of us may utter, or write, the sequence of words that pulls aside the curtain to reveal a shrunken old man aping a wizard.”

    If we demonstrate surety, we are called closed-minded; if we acknowledge the possibility that we have done wrong and still do, or acknowledge any sort of weakness, doubt, or human emotion at all, we receive a post like this. Tell me, what would you have us demonstrate in pursuit of our faith, since pursue it we will until evidence to the contrary comes up that says we shouldn’t?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Randall,

    To be fair, I don’t think the main post here is trying to criticise moderate believers as such. I think it’s trying to criticise people who criticise or even dismiss atheists for being ‘strident’ purely because they argue for what they believe in a forthright fashion — and, more broadly, to criticise people who unthinkingly assume that the “moderate” position is always the right one. “Fundamentalist” moderates, if I may put my tongue in my cheek.

    Regarding Thump’s post that you quote, he’s arguing against those who try to silence criticism of their beliefs. The general thrust is that if someone like Dawkins is just too “strident” to even contemplate, then religion must be pretty fragile not to be able to take such criticism.

    In short, he’s not actually arguing against those who are willing to confess to doubt.

    If Ebonmuse’s post on postmodernism’s infiltration into otherwise very conservative apologetics has also influenced your comment here, let me just say that the ‘you can interpret the evidence however you like so you can’t make me change my beliefs’ argument isn’t actually showing “any sort of weakness, doubt, or human emotion at all” beyond bloodyminded willingness to use any argument as long as it lets you keep your original answer.

    That said, I understand that honest doubt isn’t always easy, and the middle of a debate isn’t always the place where it thrives; I can appreciate why you might find it hard to doubt here, but I’m not sure that anyone has actually been attacked for doing so.

    Tell me, what would you have us demonstrate in pursuit of our faith, since pursue it we will until evidence to the contrary comes up that says we shouldn’t?

    I’d love to answer that question, but it’s completely off topic. I may do a post on the subject some time, on my blog. Or, um — can we have an open thread for that one, esteemed Ebonmuse?

    Suffice it to say that there are things believers can do that regularly earn my respect. Even if you demonstrated every element on my list perfectly, though, you still wouldn’t get by here entirely unchallenged. You disagree with most of us on the main topic of discussion around here, so the occasional bit of, well, strident criticism is sort of unavoidable. Hope you’re holding up okay :-)

  • shifty

    Damien
    “But I still cannot see how throwing around titles like “child abuser” and making grandiose claims like “religion poisons everything” are responsible, rational actions. And I cannot see how tactics like this are supposed to help an atheist movement achieve its goals.”

    The status quo is a long, heavy train. Getting it to vary its course is extremely difficult. The history of change has always required a certain amount of extremism, in both actions and words. It’s kind of like social haggling, we take an absolute position in the hopes of a fair amount of compromise and recognition.

    When feminists burned their bras, it wasn’t an advocation of bra burning, but it sure brought a lot of attention to the cause. The “new athiests” aren’t much different from the old athiests, but they sure are getting noticed.

  • Alex Weaver
    It is a bit pathetic to see that the common pattern among all these articles criticizing atheistic authors is that they never actually address any of the substance of the arguments posited in the books.

    To be fair, it’s a door that we may have opened ourselves, and certainly a door which many of us happily march through.

    Can you produce a single example to back that up?

    Other than that, what exactly is it that you want us to do, Damien?

  • DamienSansBlog

    Thanks to Shifty for putting matters in context. But I do not agree that the form of extremism needed to shift the status quo must come in the form of poor arguments and visceral biases. Surely we can burn our bras without shouting that anybody who doesn’t like it is a “dyed-in-the-wool bra-head?”

    (Which actually presents a hilarious mental picture. Thank you!)

    Alex:

    Other than that, what exactly is it that you want us to do, Damien?

    To behave like decent human beings, sir. Human history is replete with examples of movements who managed to attain their goals without schoolyard name-calling (the Satyagraha movement of Gandhi comes to mind, as does the Civil Rights Movement in America and the Abolitionist movement in the UK). If this movement wants to attain its goal — and especially if its members wish to be seen as standard-bearers in rational thought, responsible attitude, and ethical action — it seems only appropriate to adopt similar methods.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “If we demonstrate surety, we are called closed-minded; if we acknowledge the possibility that we have done wrong and still do, or acknowledge any sort of weakness, doubt, or human emotion at all, we receive a post like this. Tell me, what would you have us demonstrate in pursuit of our faith, since pursue it we will until evidence to the contrary comes up that says we shouldn’t?” — Randall

    I was not directing my comments at you specifically; my comments were aimed at those Religionists who take offense the moment their beliefs are questioned. While you and I obviously disagree on the matter at hand, I do at least respect your willingness to expose your beliefs in the marketplace of ideas. What drives me up the wall is the constant appeals to law and custom made by many Christians in this country in order to support their religion with my tax dollars, donations, or other resources. After all, why should any child be bound to swear allegiance to a country “under god”? Neither I nor my ten-year-old son believe in this “god”, and to demand that he assert that his country is “under god” is to force him into dishonesty. Is that really what y’all wish? Or is it simply that Christians wish everyone to express the same beliefs in order to conform to the crowd? It is these insecure Christians I am slagging. Unless you are one of them, you need not take umbrage.

  • Alex Weaver

    DamienSansBlog:

    Bluntly, you still haven’t demonstrated any evidence to support your contention that your claims that atheists as a community do not generally do these things (or do them less consistently than the movements you do cite) exists as anything other than as a personal misconception resulting from you drinking the Kool-Aid internalizing the empty, handwaving rhetoric of those who accuse atheists of “shrillness,” “militancy,” “fundamentalism,” etc. merely for speaking their minds unapologetically.

  • theistscientist

    well, at the risk of being a fundamentalist, which I suppose I am,and “in for a dime ,in for a dollar” (and also at the risk of hogging the blog some-sorry, I have been away medicating farm animals, my apologies to MR. Ebon and his fine blog, notwithstanding)…. I do believe that the U.S. was in fact conceived as a theist nation in theist liberty and blessed and promulgated “aspirationally forward” by God, or God analog(for you deists out there). Sooo, I do in fact take umbrage at the Godless communists/atheists ,and even the Godless capitalists, who would steer our nation in the direction of the statist, genocidal, cluster **** direction slippery sloped by Mao,Stalin, POl POt,East Bloc dictators, Khmer Rouge, North Korea,Cuba, Albania, etc.All “atheists”, all committed genocide against Christians and theists, all burned churches and Bibles. Atheists, you have a truly terrible, and horrendous track record, by any historical or revisionist historical model. Dont be surprised if theists are a tad nervous about you all taking power and having control over our carrier battle groups and our land based divisions!!

  • OMGF

    What evidence do you have that the US was formed as a theistic nation? Further, no one here, and no atheist is pushing for a genocidal rule by anyone. No atheist is pushing to disallow you to believe in your myths. And, it seems rather empty to be chided by a Xian as to attrocities, considering that theists in general and Xians in particular don’t have a sterling track record in that regard. Also, in this country the only people trying to force their beliefs or lack of beliefs on others are Xians.

  • theistscientist

    omgf, why, based on the historical record, i.e. RECORD, would I expect an atheist regime in the U.S. to be any different than the atheist regimes(the ONLY historical example of atheist regimes we have extant?)Why can you not show me ONe, just ONE, example of an atheist regime that didnt commit horrendous mass genocide? My God man, you have an “enormous” historical BURDEN here!

  • OMGF

    I’m sorry, but the US constitution was derided by Xians as being atheist when it was enacted because of the separation of church and state, which is what we are asking for. No one is asking for an atheist state. We are asking for a secular state, and those are doing quite well, thank you very much, and have an excellent track record.

  • Alex Weaver

    …huh, the strike through works in the preview but doesn ‘t seem to have come through in the actual post. Adam, any chance of fixing that?

  • Alex Weaver

    omgf, why, based on the historical record, i.e. RECORD, would I expect an atheist regime in the U.S. to be any different than the atheist regimes(the ONLY historical example of atheist regimes we have extant?)Why can you not show me ONe, just ONE, example of an atheist regime that didnt commit horrendous mass genocide? My God man, you have an “enormous” historical BURDEN here!

    I suggest you read this.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Alex:

    If I have not answered your question about examples, neither has anyone answered my question about the goals of New Atheism. I am sincerely curious, and I’m willing to take up your point when someone takes up mine.

    Again, I do not agree that someone who claims that all religious parents are guilty of a felony, or that when certain scientists claim to believe in some sort of God that they are “not true Scotsmen”, is “merely…speaking their minds unapologetically”. I hold that they are being, at best, intellectually dishonest. At worst, they may even be… intransigent!

    Dun-dun-daaaah.

  • OMGF

    Again, I do not agree that someone who claims that all religious parents are guilty of a felony…

    I’m not aware of anyone who has said this. Do you have someone in mind?

  • Friday

    Could that be the Richard Dawkins ‘Religious scaremongering could be construed as child abuse’ straw man? I dont know the veracity of that one I have just heard it bandied about is all.

  • Alex Weaver
    Again, I do not agree that someone who claims that all religious parents are guilty of a felony…

    I’m not aware of anyone who has said this. Do you have someone in mind?

    This is, as I understand it, a malicious distortion by unscrupulous apologists of something that Richard Dawkins said, generalizing speculatively from a specific acquaintance of his who had been both sexually abused and threatened with hell as a child and felt that the latter was more traumatic than the former.

    or that when certain scientists claim to believe in some sort of God that they are “not true Scotsmen”

    And this, as best as I can tell, is a garbled version of the point that faith of the sort required by religions is at odds with the demands of the scientific method, and that the two can only coexist in one person by means of extreme compartmentalization (think of them as separate operating systems on different partitions of the same physical volume) – and that, further, there is a very long history of this coexistence failing, and either the skeptical light of science being turned upon and annihilating the phantoms of religious belief lurking in the mind of the scientist in question, or the commitment to religion hamstringing the imagination and skepticism needed to do good science and the scientist’s work suffering or, in extreme cases such as that of Michael Behe, grinding to a screeching halt.

  • DamienSansBlog

    I would love to take the bait, Alex, but I’m not going to until somebody addresses my initial question.

  • Alex Weaver

    Which was what again?

  • OMGF

    (In fact, what exactly are the goals of the New Atheism? If they turn out to be “make the public think atheists are mirror-image fundamentalists” and “discredit yourselves in the public sphere”, then of course I retract my previous statements.)

    I believe this is the “initial question.” In answer, I would say that one goal is to be seen and to say, “Hey, I’m not ashamed to be an atheist.” Another would be to state loudly and clearly that atheism != immorality and that theism != morality necessarily. Also, I think another point is to put religious thought to the test, let’s actually go through and critically examine the religious thought that until now was always considered off-limits. Why shouldn’t we examine these things? We should figure out if faith is a good thing, if religion is a necessary thing for people, etc. Is this what you lookin’ for?

  • Alex Weaver

    It was somewhat of a rhetorical question; I was hoping he would rephrase it in a fashion that didn’t presume a heretofore unevidenced homogeneity on the motivations, attitudes, and beliefs of assertive atheists, and a heretofore unevidenced willingness on the part of anti-atheist groups, from whom he is apparently getting all his information about the “New Atheists,” to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth aboutwhat “typical” assertive atheists actually believe, say, and do.

    (The way the question has been put in this thread, as I read it, is about one step above “Have the New Atheists stopped beating their wives?”)

  • Randall

    Lynet: thank you : )

    Thumpalumpacus: I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance these days either.

    Alex:

    “And this, as best as I can tell, is a garbled version of the point that faith of the sort required by religions is at odds with the demands of the scientific method.”

    How so? One definition of faith is “holding to something that one has already accepted as true on the basis of given evidence.” I have faith that my climbing rope is not going to snap; that faith is tested when it’s actually holding me. No intelligent person I know would define faith as “holding onto a belief IN SPITE OF the evidence.” That’s stupidity, not faith.

    “…and that the two can only coexist in one person by means of extreme compartmentalization (think of them as separate operating systems on different partitions of the same physical volume) – and that, further, there is a very long history of this coexistence failing…”

    And yet both are necessary to have a fully functional computer. Science is meant to explain the natural world; religion is meant to bring us closer to that which we cannot see, and yet know and feel. I use my Windows partition to run professional programs, I use my Mac to play around with music and art and videos and gadgets, but my experience is not complete without both. The two are naturally separated due to differing purpose, not due to inherent contradiction.

    If it doesn’t go too far off topic, can someone explain why so many people assume that science and religion – in my eyes, the two vehicles with the greatest potential to benefit the entire human race – need be contradictory? I admit that there has historically been conflict between the two, but accounts of this tension are one-sided, and history doesn’t justify value anyway. We are a flawed race; our history adequately reflects this truth.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    Science is meant to explain the natural world; religion is meant to bring us closer to that which we cannot see, and yet know and feel.

    Why does religion get that job? More importantly, how do you know this other world exists and that what you feel isn’t just of this world and being misinterpretted? It would seem many, many people have tried to explain that other world and have time and again come up short, or with a vastly different account of what it is, and as always, lack any evidence to back it up. You’d think after these thousands of years people would be narrowing in on a more distinct answer, btu so far, that isn’t that case.

    Though while we’re on the subject, perhaps you’d like to explain to me what heaven is like. I’ve always heard a million explainations for what hell is like, but never any of heaven outside of “it’s the best place forever”; I’d like most specifics.

  • Alex Weaver

    On that note, I was rather impressed on learning that the “feeling of god’s presence” can be reproduced in a lab at will by applying magnetic fields to the brain.

  • Alex Weaver

    Also:

    And this, as best as I can tell, is a garbled version of the point that faith of the sort required by religions is at odds with the demands of the scientific method.

    -Alex Weaver

    Emphasis mine.

  • Randall

    Alex: the faith I was referring to is the faith required by religions – or, at least, as good a definition of it as any. Would you be willing to clarify what type of faith you are referring to?

    Mrnaglfar:

    Technically, I don’t “know” that China exists. I believe it does, based on the evidence I have seen for its existence, but I cannot say that I “know” it, if by “know” you mean “can prove with absolute certainty.” It is the same with religion. I believe that Heaven exists. One major reason is because the way to get to Heaven detailed by my religion has worked for me so far. As for narrowing in on the answer: for one, no one we know has returned from Heaven to tell us, and for another, why should we need a more specific answer?

    “Though while we’re on the subject, perhaps you’d like to explain to me what heaven is like. I’ve always heard a million explainations for what hell is like, but never any of heaven outside of “it’s the best place forever”; I’d like most specifics.”

    Not having been to Heaven, all I can give you is conjecture, based on logic. Would you like that?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    No intelligent person I know would define faith as “holding onto a belief IN SPITE OF the evidence.” That’s stupidity, not faith.

    I hope you don’t think prayer works then.

    Technically, I don’t “know” that China exists. I believe it does, based on the evidence I have seen for its existence, but I cannot say that I “know” it, if by “know” you mean “can prove with absolute certainty.

    There’s a difference; if you want to find out you can go to china. Meet people who have been to china or come from china. See their exports (the little made in china things you see everywhere). Read their history fron numerous sources, none of which doubt china exists regardless of other factors. Matter of fact, both atheists and religious people can go check out china and agree it exists. It’s on maps, and there are detailed describitions of what it looks like, along with countless pictures and a long history. In short, we can SEE china. Now, this is far different from this:

    It is the same with religion. I believe that Heaven exists. One major reason is because the way to get to Heaven detailed by my religion has worked for me so far.

    The way detailed to get to heaven is working (can you can tell it’s working because of that tingling sensation ;) heh)?How do you know you’re getting closer to heaven if you admit

    Not having been to Heaven, all I can give you is conjecture, based on logic. Would you like that?

    All that work to get somewhere you don’t know exists or know what it’s like? Yikes.

    Now there’s a big difference between accepting china exists and accepting heaven exists. You don’t need faith to accept china exists because you have lots of verifiable and reputable evidence, and option to go see it for yourself. You have to accept the idea of heaven on faith, because there is no evidence for it and there has yet to be a way to find out to verify it exists. Doesn’t that say something about the idea if you NEED to accept it on faith?

  • DamienSansBlog

    I believe this is the “initial question.”…

    Thank you, OMGF, it is! You get the gold star. I’ll follow up on your comment in a moment — and thank you for not assuming I’m “drinking the Kool-Aid” — but I’m afraid some of Mr. Weaver’s comments are going to have to come first.

    Now, as far as Alex’s statement that:

    This is, as I understand it, a malicious distortion by unscrupulous apologists…

    …well, wasn’t that kind of speculation exactly what Dawkins wanted readers to make when he wrote the account down? And when, on his website, the Professor states:

    “The threat of eternal hell is an extreme example of mental abuse, just as violent sodomy is an extreme example of physical abuse.”

    And,

    “Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds.”

    …well, what other conclusion are we supposed to come to than, “Richard Dawkins thinks religious education is as bad as, or worse than, child abuse”?

  • DamienSansBlog

    Well, all right, I won’t be following up on OMGF’s comment “in a moment”. Almost out of time on the library computer. A home Internet connection, a home Internet connection, my kingdom for a home Internet connection!

    But I do fully intend to get to it eventually. Unless we all just get bored with the whole thing before then.

  • OMGF

    Randall,

    I have faith that my climbing rope is not going to snap; that faith is tested when it’s actually holding me.

    If you’re a fellow climber, then I guess you can’t be all bad. ;)

    Not having been to Heaven, all I can give you is conjecture, based on logic. Would you like that?

    I would very much like to see a logical account of heaven or the viability of heaven.

    If it doesn’t go too far off topic, can someone explain why so many people assume that science and religion – in my eyes, the two vehicles with the greatest potential to benefit the entire human race – need be contradictory?

    Why would you say that religion has any potential at all? Far as I can tell, it’s wholly made up. You may as well pick up any book of fiction and read. What makes you think religion is so good?

  • Randall

    “I hope you don’t think prayer works then.”

    That’s like saying “I hope you don’t think cell phones work.” Prayer is a method of communication with God; I’d say that it works pretty well, based on my own experience with it. Or are you referring to prayers of supplication – in which case all I can say is that they’ve worked for *me*.

    Presumably, I can hopefully go to Heaven and find out whether or not it exists. In the meantime, I have the words of the One who not only comes from Heaven, but who is the basis for its existence. I can read the accounts of those who have been far closer to Heaven than I. I can see the effect that the journey to Heaven has in daily life – joy, peace, fidelity, charity, compassion…the exports of Heaven, if you will. I admit you have me on visual evidence; there are no detailed descriptions of what it looks like and no pictures, because it isn’t really a place, but a state of being.

    “All that work to get somewhere you don’t know exists or know what it’s like? Yikes.”

    I do know that it exists, and I can give you my ideas of what it will be like, a logical explanation of what it must be like, the ideas of others as to what it is like, and some clarification as to what it actually is. I just can’t tell you for certain, since I am here, not there.

    Who’s to say that all the evidence isn’t a hoax, manufactured for the purpose of deception? How do I “verify” the evidence given, without actually going to China myself? Putting that aside, I have plenty of evidence for Heaven; being immaterial, the evidence for it is not material. I don’t use a ruler to measure temperature; why should I attempt to measure Heaven with a laboratory observation? Use the tools provided; logic, common sense, personal experience, observation…but don’t claim that because you cannot empiricize a state of being, it therefore cannot exist.

    “Doesn’t that say something about the idea if you NEED to accept it on faith?”

    What might that be?

  • OMGF

    Randall,

    That’s like saying “I hope you don’t think cell phones work.” Prayer is a method of communication with God; I’d say that it works pretty well, based on my own experience with it. Or are you referring to prayers of supplication – in which case all I can say is that they’ve worked for *me*.

    Actually, studies have shown that prayer has no effect on the real world.

    Presumably, I can hopefully go to Heaven and find out whether or not it exists. In the meantime, I have the words of the One who not only comes from Heaven, but who is the basis for its existence.

    To show that heaven exists, you will claim that some other entity that you can’t give evidence for exists and created heaven? You’ve only moved back one layer without actually explaining or showing evidence for anything. Actually, you’ve only made it worse, because now there are more questions for you to answer, like how do you know god exists? How do you know god wrote the Bible? Etc.

    I can read the accounts of those who have been far closer to Heaven than I.

    By this do you mean people who have experienced near-death experiences? I hate to burst your bubble, but we happen to know why people see the “tunnel of light” and it’s because of neurons firing in the visual cortex, which makes it appear like light at the end of a tunnel. We also know that the brain can be active and can exhibit images to the person in question.

    I can see the effect that the journey to Heaven has in daily life – joy, peace, fidelity, charity, compassion…the exports of Heaven, if you will.

    Heaven is a place that you go when you die. I don’t see how you can go half-way, so I doubt very much that one can see the “effect that the journey to Heaven has in daily life.”

    I do know that it exists…

    Didn’t you just get done telling us that you don’t even know if China exists? In reality, you don’t know that heaven exists, you suspect that it does and you believe that it does, but you don’t know.

    …a logical explanation of what it must be like…

    Yes, yes, yes. Please do. Please don’t make me ask a third time.

    Putting that aside, I have plenty of evidence for Heaven; being immaterial, the evidence for it is not material.

    And that evidence is?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Randall,

    Well damn it all, OMFG stole most of my thunder, heh; his response was basically mine so just go with that one. He’s right about the prayer studies to which I was referring, in which prayer was found to have no effect on those being prayed for if they were unaware, and even a slightly negative effect on those who knew they were being prayer for, possibly due to anxiety. Of course, the reaction to these papers is that same one you put forth of “you can’t measure religion; that’s just not going to work” or “don’t test god” or really any set of answers that try to avoid the actual results. I can imagine if the results were positive the faithful wouldn’t be so dismissive of them.

    That would be believing IN SPITE of evidence.

    There is plenty of evidence for china, and it can be verifed if you’re that curious about the great “china hoax”. Here, not only is there no evidence for god or heaven, but evidence against prayer working. How did you describe beliving something in spite of evidence?

    Oddly enough, I think I could recommend some long-dead oracles who were pretty sure that reading entrails to tell the future worked well; I hear they even had some vague successes.

  • DamienSansBlog

    As far as the effect of prayer debate, do we have any references (or reputable weblinks, if Randall doesn’t have a library nearby) to show that prayer is ineffective? The converse is open to Randall, of course, if he can find something besides his own personal experience. (One dot doesn’t make a trend line, especially when the person drawing the dot has a pre-existing bias.)

    As far as Alex’s next point, it is all one sentence and I’m afraid I can’t make heads or tails of it. “A garbled version” indeed… As far as I can tell, Dawkins is indeed making the No True Scotsman fallacy when he claims that religious scientists (or scientific believers) are either not really scientific (or not really religious), but lying to all and sundry.

    “I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages.”

    Professor Dawkins has made similar claims about Freeman Dyson, one of the popes, etc.

    If someone has another explanation for these statements, please enlighten me. (I promise not to be as crabby in my reply as I was here, if you promise to punctuate on occassion.)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    As far as the effect of prayer debate, do we have any references (or reputable weblinks, if Randall doesn’t have a library nearby) to show that prayer is ineffective?

    Why, yes. :)

  • Alex Weaver

    The only claim I’m aware of that resembles what you’ve described Dawkins saying is that the mindset characterized by a willingness to accept propositions with no evidence behind them for emotional reasons is incompatible with the mindset required to do sound science. To be both religious and a competent scientist, a person must switch back and forth between these mindsets, which many people do seem to be able to do successfully. However, there is a concern that on occasion they may fail to properly switch, and that elements of one mindset will creep into the other, leading possibly to the weakening of that person’s faith or, on the negative side, to the introduction of potentially crippling religion-based biases into his or her scientific work. This is a concern which historical cases ranging from Sir Isaac Newton (who couldn’t figure out something involved in the planets’ orbits and threw up his hands and declared that Goddiddit, leaving the problem to be solved by Laplace) to Michael Behe (who converted to a creationist religious position and basically stopped doing science, as I understand it) have shown is far from unfounded.

    I haven’t read that piece, but I imagine that Dawkins’ concern is as follows: there are people (many of them) who, if their religious views are found to be incompatible with what is demonstrably true (meaning “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withold provisional assent”, according to Gould) by the findings of science, they will, rather than modifying or rejecting their religious beliefs, instead reject science – to their detriment, and possibly that of the entire nation, or even the human species. Gould is perceived as one of a number of scientists who are willing to bend over backwards to convince those people that accepting science does not mean they have to give up their religion. Dawkins’ position seems to be that the only way to actually accomplish this – the only way the religious people described above will accept it – is to compromise the integrity of science, and, in many cases, to compromise it to the point where there is nothing left of science in what is presented. Which kind of defeats the original purpose, and furthermore sets a frustrating precedent that will intensify the expectations of those religious people that scientists will continue to bend over backwards to avoid offending them or giving them the impression that they must choose between their dogma and the facts.

    Are you actually inclined to contest any of the above?

  • Randall

    Looks like I have some reading to do, although I am not much inclined to deny my personal experience based on the links. Those studies have proven that faith healing under experimental conditions is ineffective, as well as that popular faith healers are frauds. The second part is easy enough to deduce based on common sense, and the first part doesn’t nearly encompass “prayer” or even “intercessory prayer.” But I certainly owe you the courtesy of reading up on the studies. As for me, I say (and perhaps I am putting my foot in my mouth based on Scripture, but I rather doubt it): go ahead and test God, as long as you can develop a decent test based on the definition of God and His nature as defined by one or more religions. The thing is that such tests are 1) impossible and 2) not going to prove anything either way. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But I am hardly surprised that you look down on those of the faithful who say that God shouldn’t be tested.

    “To show that heaven exists, you will claim that some other entity that you can’t give evidence for exists and created heaven?”

    I will claim that IF this entity exists, “Heaven” or “the state of union with this entity” also exists. Seems like a simple enough statement. Then all you have to do is decide whether or not that entity does or does not exist.

    “By this do you mean people who have experienced near-death experiences? I hate to burst your bubble, but we happen to know why people see the “tunnel of light” and it’s because of neurons firing in the visual cortex, which makes it appear like light at the end of a tunnel. We also know that the brain can be active and can exhibit images to the person in question.”

    Do you actually hate to burst my bubble? : ) No, I was not referring to near-death experiences, since I don’t know enough about them to tell either way, and I had an exam regarding neurons and the visual cortex today.

    “Heaven is a place that you go when you die. I don’t see how you can go half-way, so I doubt very much that one can see the “effect that the journey to Heaven has in daily life.”

    Heaven is a state of being that can only be fully reached after death. Progress to that state of being can most certainly be reached during life.

    “As far as the effect of prayer debate, do we have any references (or reputable weblinks, if Randall doesn’t have a library nearby) to show that prayer is ineffective? The converse is open to Randall, of course, if he can find something besides his own personal experience. (One dot doesn’t make a trend line, especially when the person drawing the dot has a pre-existing bias.)”

    Oh, that would be excellent. I’ll see what I can find. What if I can find a whole bunch of other dots? Will that make you feel any better? I wonder if it is even possible to be unbiased on such an important question…

    “Didn’t you just get done telling us that you don’t even know if China exists? In reality, you don’t know that heaven exists, you suspect that it does and you believe that it does, but you don’t know.”

    And I suspect and believe that China exists, but I don’t know.

    “Yes, yes, yes. Please do. Please don’t make me ask a third time.”

    Sure – but let me get to that later, in “An Impoverished Infinity.” As I said there, it depends on what characteristics one ascribes to God. But it’s only going to be an explanation of what Heaven must be like, if it exists; not a logical proof that it must exist. I have yet to write one of those.

    “And that evidence is?”

    Personally convincing, but I doubt that it’s going to convince you or anyone else; hence, I have shied away from trying to convince anyone, thus far, that God exists; merely that his existence is not impossible or even improbable, as many posts thus far have claimed to one degree or another.

  • Randall

    Post scriptum: upon re-reading, my last paragraph could easily be seen as spiritual cowardice. I will attempt to explain why I believe in God, if you like; but if so, understand that I don’t intend to debate the historicity of the Bible, for example, and that I’m not trying to use my personal belief to convince others. If I didn’t know God, I doubt I would believe either.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    …go ahead and test God, as long as you can develop a decent test based on the definition of God and His nature as defined by one or more religions. The thing is that such tests are 1) impossible and 2) not going to prove anything either way. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But I am hardly surprised that you look down on those of the faithful who say that God shouldn’t be tested.

    I don’t understand this. You encourage us to test God, but with the proviso that a true test is impossible, and that even if it was possible it wouldn’t prove anything? Then why do you think we should try it?

  • OMGF

    Randall,

    I will claim that IF this entity exists, “Heaven” or “the state of union with this entity” also exists. Seems like a simple enough statement.

    Simple enough, but a non-sequitor. There is no logical necessity for heaven if god exists.

    Heaven is a state of being that can only be fully reached after death. Progress to that state of being can most certainly be reached during life.

    There is no evidence that we can attain any “state” after death, so you are reaching pretty far here. Still, this goes against the idea that heaven can be obtained by anyone so long as they are penitent.

    And I suspect and believe that China exists, but I don’t know.

    If you can’t know that China exists, then you certainly can’t know that heaven exists. May I take the above statement of yours to mean that you misspoke when you said that you know heaven exists?

    Personally convincing, but I doubt that it’s going to convince you or anyone else…

    Then why would you consider it to be evidence?

    I will attempt to explain why I believe in God, if you like…

    Sure, some examples would probably help.

  • goyo

    Speaking of testing god, Randall, didn’t jesus say that his believers would do greater things than he did? Didn’t he say that believers would be able to move mountains? You have to admit, there aren’t any miracles that are happening anywhere in the world that are any greater than the things he did:(walking on water, feeding the multitudes, etc.)
    I would say that this is a test, and god has failed.
    Everything that is miraculous in our world has come from science. (I’m speaking of medicine and technology, not a rainbow, for example.)

  • Alex Weaver

    Actually, Damien, a simpler question: can you link to the pieces of Richard Dawkins’ writing containing the bits you’re objecting to?

  • Dutch

    Ebonmuse said,
    “The rise of the atheist movement is drawing attention in popular society”

    From Wikipedia
    “A 2005 survey published in Encyclopædia Britannica found that the non-religious make up about 11.9% of the world’s population, and atheists about 2.3%.”
    From Atheists.org.
    “While nearly 10% of Americans — some 26,000,000 people — describes themselves as Atheists, agnostics, freethinkers or some similar appellation, we are very much a divided, even marginalized collection. “Organized atheism” remains a painfully small movement”

    From Wikipedia,
    “New Age is the term commonly used to designate the broad movement of late 20th century and contemporary Western culture, characterized by an eclectic and individual approach to spiritual exploration and references the supposed coming astrological Age of Aquarius.”
    “Recent surveys of U.S. adults indicate that around 20% of Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs.”

    Atheism is just not that important. There is nothing to talk about, except removing this cross or that statue from a government institution. There is no news here. Maybe atheism needs a martyr, you know, somebody that gets killed removing a cross from a government cemetery. Then the news might cover it.

    I think Ebon and other atheists would agree the atheism is more popular in Europe.
    Which is why I find this rather amusing. It is how Germany handles religion and government.
    “In this system of open separation between the State and Church, religion is recognised as a stakeholder in civil society and in the public sphere. The public nature of religions manifests itself through religious instruction in public schools, Faculties of Theology in universities, the status of corporation under public law, the integration of religious social action organisations into the facilities of the Welfare State (old people’s homes, hospitals, day-care facilities, etc.) or the participation of Churches, among other civil society organisations, in audiovisual counsels.” eurel.info

    Later, Dutch

  • Alex Weaver

    …what?

  • lpetrich

    Dutch, I disagree. Why don’t you look into the concerns of some activist atheists some time? Like Ebonmuse himself at the Ebon Musings link on this page.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Oh, that would be excellent. I’ll see what I can find. What if I can find a whole bunch of other dots? Will that make you feel any better? I wonder if it is even possible to be unbiased on such an important question…

    Yes, Randall, it would. That is, I think, what a lot of us atheists have been asking for, time and again, and we’d welcome your findings. With a caveat. I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but in the interest of completeness:

    If you cannot find any sources that affirm the ability of prayer to produce results in the world, results that can only be explained through direct causation by a supernatural force or entity and not through natural action or chance… If it comes to that, then you cannot assume those sources deny prayer because they are biased. (Unless of course you can show that bias, through financial connections or similar.)

  • DamienSansBlog

    Actually, Damien, a simpler question: can you link to the pieces of Richard Dawkins’ writing containing the bits you’re objecting to?

    Thank you, Alex. I apologize for losing my temper. The Gould, Dyson, etc. references are to be found in The God Delusion ; the bit from the professor’s website I quoted can be found at: http://richarddawkins.net/article,118,Religions-Real-Child-Abuse,Richard-Dawkins

    OMGF…still working on it! Sorry to keep you waiting like this…

  • DamienSansBlog

    From OMGF:

    I believe this is the “initial question.” In answer, I would say that one goal is to be seen and to say, “Hey, I’m not ashamed to be an atheist.” Another would be to state loudly and clearly that atheism != immorality and that theism != morality necessarily. Also, I think another point is to put religious thought to the test, let’s actually go through and critically examine the religious thought that until now was always considered off-limits. Why shouldn’t we examine these things? We should figure out if faith is a good thing, if religion is a necessary thing for people, etc. Is this what you lookin’ for?

    And I agree with this totally. But this can be done without inciting rancor in people who don’t think the way we do. This can be done without resorting to exaggerations, or making false arguments. This can be done without assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is incapable of independent thought.

    This can be done without using the same intellectual tactics that prevail in a schoolyard fight between five-year-olds.

  • OMGF

    DamienSB,

    But this can be done without inciting rancor in people who don’t think the way we do.

    Some theists will be offended and be incited to rancor no matter what we say, because they are personally offended that atheists exist.

    This can be done without resorting to exaggerations, or making false arguments.

    Example? I know you are trying to make much out of the idea of religion as child abuse, but there might be something to that in some cases. Teaching a child that she will go to hell can very easily be a form of mental abuse. Teaching known falsehoods is also skirting the line. True, not all religious teachings are or should be considered child abuse, but isn’t it possible that some could? And, is asking that question over the line? I don’t think so.

    This can be done without assuming that anyone who disagrees with you is incapable of independent thought.

    I’m not aware of anyone doing this. Examples please?

    This can be done without using the same intellectual tactics that prevail in a schoolyard fight between five-year-olds.

    Honestly, I don’t see this happening either. Again, specific examples would help I think.

  • DamienSansBlog

    OK, let’s see if I can finish this today before the system signs me out again…

    Some theists will be offended and be incited to rancor no matter what we say, because they are personally offended that atheists exist.

    Yes, absolutely; this is the case no matter what position is being put forward. But the complaints against New Atheism are not a matter of a few incorrigible hatemongers. They are the prevailing opinion, and they are based on a legitimate complaint: that New Atheists embrace extreme and unsupported opinions, purely emotional appeals, and intolerance for dissent.

    I’m not aware of anyone doing this. Examples please?…Honestly, I don’t see this happening either. Again, specific examples would help I think.

    Then you haven’t been paying attention to Alex Weaver’s Kool-Aid comments, implying that I am an idiot — and willfully so — for no reason other than that I disagree with his opinion. To the credit of this forum — including Mr. Weaver — this is the only such outburst that I’ve encountered here, at least targeted against a fellow atheist. But it should be news to no one here that such restraint is in short supply, both on other Internet forums and in the flesh-and-bone world.

    I know you are trying to make much out of the idea of religion as child abuse, but there might be something to that in some cases. Teaching a child that she will go to hell can very easily be a form of mental abuse. Teaching known falsehoods is also skirting the line. True, not all religious teachings are or should be considered child abuse, but isn’t it possible that some could? And, is asking that question over the line? I don’t think so.

    I can illustrate my point with other arguments from the New Atheism, if you like — and certainly from Delusion, since it is the book to which both New Atheists and their opponents inevitably refer — but let’s take things one step at a time, starting with the child abuse accusations.

    As always, the burden of proof is on the positive claim: “indoctrination is a form of child abuse”, not “indoctrination is not“. Professor Dawkins offers no such proof. Stories about Inca sacrifices, or Inquisition-era Spain, or Alfred Hitchcock apocrypha, or even Julia Sweeney’s personal testimony, prove nothing. There is the backing of two professional psychologists, Jill Mytton and Nicholas Humphrey. But Mytton merely testifies to us once again that “kids think Hell is spooky”, and “spooky” does not equate with “abusive” in any legal or psychological sense that I am aware of. Meanwhile Humphrey simply equates Sunday Schools with “knocking children’s teeth out” by…by fiat, apparently.

    However, any opponent to the “indoctrination-as-per-se-abuse” argument can simply point to Wisconsin vs. Yoder — which Dawkins, to his credit, includes in Chapter Nine. If an actual legal opinion from one of the highest courts on Earth is insufficient, they can simply log on to the-brights.net which by assuming children are capable of choosing atheism for themselves, also assumes they are capable of choosing some version of the God Hypothesis for themselves as well.

    Now, for my part, I am willing to admit that I may be wrong. If The Brights limit membership to the age of consent, or if Wisconsin vs. Yoder is overturned, that certainly removes a few obstacles. If consistent, rigorous, widespread psychological studies prove the claims of Humphrey, Mytton, and the New Atheists — namely, that religious instruction in itself creates mental or behavioral disorders, regardless of type or degree of religious instruction, or the presence or absence of other psychological conditions — well, then the road is darn near clear!

    Until then, what we have are a collection of emotional appeals, and uncertain links between causation and correlation. That’s a classic example of the “exaggerations and false arguments” I was referring to earlier.

  • OMGF

    DamienSB,

    But the complaints against New Atheism are not a matter of a few incorrigible hatemongers. They are the prevailing opinion…

    Yes, and prevailing opinion against women/blacks/etc. who vilely demanded equal rights was about the same. That’s the problem with “prevailing opinion.”

    …and they are based on a legitimate complaint: that New Atheists embrace extreme and unsupported opinions, purely emotional appeals, and intolerance for dissent.

    Extreme and unsupported opinions? Huh? They will be considered extreme no matter what, and unsupported? How so? If I show that god can not exist due to the attributes given to him, how is that unsupported? Emotional appeals? Such as? Is it an emotional appeal to point out the Xianity (or insert your religion) does not have a monopoly on morality…far from it? Intolerance for dissent? How so? If anything, the intolerance for dissent seems to be coming from the theists who cry persecution if anyone dares to question their beliefs.

    Then you haven’t been paying attention to Alex Weaver’s Kool-Aid comments, implying that I am an idiot — and willfully so — for no reason other than that I disagree with his opinion…But it should be news to no one here that such restraint is in short supply, both on other Internet forums and in the flesh-and-bone world.

    You are going to base your argument on how people act on the intarwebs? Really?

    As always, the burden of proof is on the positive claim: “indoctrination is a form of child abuse”, not “indoctrination is not”. Professor Dawkins offers no such proof.

    Which was the point in my asking whether it is over the line to ask the question, which is what Dawkins was doing. Why can’t we ask if it is child abuse to teach children that they are bound for hell unless they do what they are told? It’s a legitimate question. True, he has anecdotal “evidence” but he’s not trying to prove anything, he’s merely asking the question, and the anecdotal evidence he has is what makes the question a valid one to ask.

    Stories about Inca sacrifices, or Inquisition-era Spain, or Alfred Hitchcock apocrypha, or even Julia Sweeney’s personal testimony, prove nothing.

    If we aren’t still talking about child abuse, they certainly do prove something, and that is that religious folk don’t hold a monopoly on morality. If we are talking about child abuse, it shows that religions can incite child abuse (religious sacrifice a la the Incas) and that religions rule by fear in some cases, which could be construed as abuse when directed at children. Again, why can’t we ask the question?

    However, any opponent to the “indoctrination-as-per-se-abuse” argument can simply point to Wisconsin vs. Yoder — which Dawkins, to his credit, includes in Chapter Nine.

    Which shows that intolerance for dissent, huh?

    …namely, that religious instruction in itself creates mental or behavioral disorders, regardless of type or degree of religious instruction, or the presence or absence of other psychological conditions…

    I’m sorry, but this seems like a strawman to me. I know of no one advocating this position. Why should one have to prove a position that one does not advocate?

    Until then, what we have are a collection of emotional appeals, and uncertain links between causation and correlation. That’s a classic example of the “exaggerations and false arguments” I was referring to earlier.

    And again, it’s not meant as a definitive proof, only a question that could/should be studied. I don’t see what is wrong with taking the accounts of people’s anecdotes and using it to form a question about the nature of things. Last I checked, that looks like the first two steps of the scientific method – make observations, ask questions.

  • DamienSansBlog

    OMGF, I’m not sure that Delusion’s position is “this is a question that should be studied”. It seemed to me as I was reading it that Dawkins — and by extension, those who appropriate his reasoning — had already come to a conclusion, that religious indoctrination constitutes a form of child abuse.

  • OMGF

    DamienSB,
    I’ll dig out my copy and check it.

  • OMGF

    DamienSB,
    I just looked at Ch. 9 again, and I’m not finding what is so objectionable. Dawkins uses the first part of the chapter to talk about how he believes that teaching children that they will burn in hell (using fear to indoctrinate) could very well be child abuse, and that he’s spoken to many people who have felt that it is, including a pshychologist that actually treats people that have been treated in this way while growing up. The second part of the chapter mostly makes a long argument about labelling kids as “Catholic” or “Muslim” or anything else and giving them the education they need to make an informed choice.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Ugh, I’ve been away for a while. And I’m afraid that my time on the Internet is even more constrained than before. If this bothers anyone reading (and I suppose I’m talking to OMGF here, since everyone else faded away some time ago), I’d be happy to retire from the conversation for the present, and pick it up again when I can respond on a daily basis.

    …he believes that teaching children that they will burn in hell (using fear to indoctrinate) could very well be child abuse

    Oh, dear, but I thought that’s what I’ve been saying all along! It’s not that he’s merely proposing indoctrination-as-abuse as a thought experiment: he is very much convinced that indoctrination is abuse, and offers proofs (albeit faulty proofs) to back up that claim.

  • OMGF

    Do what you need to do bro, living your life is more important than arguing on a blog.

    That said,

    Oh, dear, but I thought that’s what I’ve been saying all along! It’s not that he’s merely proposing indoctrination-as-abuse as a thought experiment: he is very much convinced that indoctrination is abuse, and offers proofs (albeit faulty proofs) to back up that claim.

    “Could” is the word that you seem to have missed from my sentence. He is exploring the possibility that it is child abuse and using anecdotal “evidence” as an avenue for making observations. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Do what you need to do bro, living your life is more important than arguing on a blog.

    (Insert bow here.)

    The problem, I suppose, is that the passages can be read both ways: as a gedankenexperiment and as an unequivocal statement. Frankly, given his continued publication of unequivocal statements in later materials (the website, etc.), I think the latter option is more likely.

    At any rate, it is certainly more likely for many of the “New Atheists”: the ones you’ve never met, it seems, and the more power to you for that, but nonetheless real people. They are quite convinced by the Professor’s arguments, whether Dawkins himself is convinced or not: they express anger about Wisconsin vs. Yoder, for example, considering only the minority-of-zero opinion Dawkins quotes for Justice Douglas (it was a partial dissent, which means practically nothing), rather than the overwhelming majority opinion of the court, or the solid legal reasoning behind it. They insist that it was about “preserving cultural diversity” or some such nonsense, when it was never anything of the sort: it was about preserving the freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment.

    They hold this position, and others, not because they’ve even gone so far as to look up the facts on Wikipedia, but because that’s what Delusion says and they don’t feel any need to investigate further.

  • OMGF

    DSB,

    The problem, I suppose, is that the passages can be read both ways: as a gedankenexperiment and as an unequivocal statement. Frankly, given his continued publication of unequivocal statements in later materials (the website, etc.), I think the latter option is more likely.

    And you blame it on him if you misinterpret his words? Also, do you have evidence to back up your claims here?

    They are quite convinced by the Professor’s arguments, whether Dawkins himself is convinced or not: they express anger about Wisconsin vs. Yoder, for example, considering only the minority-of-zero opinion Dawkins quotes for Justice Douglas (it was a partial dissent, which means practically nothing), rather than the overwhelming majority opinion of the court, or the solid legal reasoning behind it. They insist that it was about “preserving cultural diversity” or some such nonsense, when it was never anything of the sort: it was about preserving the freedom of religion guaranteed in the First Amendment.

    Looks to me like it was a decision to preserve the ability of parents to hinder their children as they see fit in the name of religion. I see your point though: how dare Dawkins and Douglas stand up for the rights of the children!

    They hold this position, and others, not because they’ve even gone so far as to look up the facts on Wikipedia, but because that’s what Delusion says and they don’t feel any need to investigate further.

    And your evidence of this is?

  • OMGF

    DSB,
    If you think Wisc. v Yoder was decided well, then would you extend the same thinking to Hitchens’ example in his book? You know the one I’m talking about right? It’s the religious tradition where a rabbi goes down on a young boy and sucks the blood off of his penis. They’ve codified sexual abuse into their religious tradition. I guess we have to let them do it in the name of religious freedom, don’t we? Or what about Mormon polygamy? There are many examples.

  • DamienSansBlog

    And you blame it on him if you misinterpret his words?

    Well…yes. He’s the author. If he can’t explain his views on atheism clearly even to a fellow atheist, then he should stop writing atheist apologetics and go into some other profession. (Possibly something in evolutionary biology, unless it’s too dull for him.)

    Also, do you have evidence to back up your claims here?

    Frankly, Sir or Madam, I already have done, several posts back, and further examples are not difficult to find, if you are that interested. I’m afraid you will have to find them on your own; as I’ve already explained, I just don’t have the time or the energy to go hunting across the Internet anymore.

    Looks to me like it was a decision to preserve the ability of parents to hinder their children as they see fit in the name of religion.

    Then I have to say, OMGF, that you are simply wrong. I’m sorry if it seems like I’m losing my temper again here, but you are steadfastly refusing to even consider that the Supreme Court might have been motivated by something other than what Delusion says it was. You are not engaging with the legal, Constitutional issues that informed their decision. It’s sloppy, Sir or Madam, and I expected more from you.

    If you think Wisc. v Yoder was decided well, then would you extend the same thinking to Hitchens’ example in his book? You know the one I’m talking about right? It’s the religious tradition where a rabbi goes down on a young boy and sucks the blood off of his penis. They’ve codified sexual abuse into their religious tradition. I guess we have to let them do it in the name of religious freedom, don’t we? Or what about Mormon polygamy? There are many examples.

    I regret to inform you that I haven’t read Hitchens; they don’t have him in the library here. Therefore I’m not sure which rabbinical tradition you’re talking about, or whether such a tradition even exists. (It sounds awfully like a variant of the blood libel to me.) Polygamy among Mormons, or any other religion, has been ruled illegal; I don’t see what it has to do with anything here.

  • OMGF

    DSB,

    Well…yes. He’s the author.

    Except the only people that seem to misunderstand him are those that have a bone to pick.

    Frankly, Sir or Madam, I already have done, several posts back, and further examples are not difficult to find, if you are that interested.

    Pardon me, but you asserting that this passage or that passage means something is not the same as evidence. That you can find multiple passages that you can misinterpret doesn’t make it any more believable.

    Then I have to say, OMGF, that you are simply wrong. I’m sorry if it seems like I’m losing my temper again here, but you are steadfastly refusing to even consider that the Supreme Court might have been motivated by something other than what Delusion says it was.

    How is my opinion wrong? Why is it wrong to support the children and want for them to make their own decisions and not have a way of life or a belief forced upon them? Do children not have rights? Also, why do you insist that I can’t form my own opinions and can only parrot back what you think is in Dawkins’ book? That is what is insulting.

    You are not engaging with the legal, Constitutional issues that informed their decision. It’s sloppy, Sir or Madam, and I expected more from you.

    Which legal and constitutional issues? Is it in the Constitution that parents are allowed to eff up their children or deny their children freedoms? I must have missed that part, can you point it out?

    I regret to inform you that I haven’t read Hitchens; they don’t have him in the library here. Therefore I’m not sure which rabbinical tradition you’re talking about, or whether such a tradition even exists.

    I described it for you. And, a quick search on google would have turned it up. Here’s one I found.

    Polygamy among Mormons, or any other religion, has been ruled illegal; I don’t see what it has to do with anything here.

    Because, if we have to allow anything that is part of someone’s religion, then we should allow polygamy as well. If parents are allowed to force their children to live in the dark ages, etc. and we allow it because their religion says they can, then why don’t we allow Mormons to engage in polygamy since their religion says they can?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Although this comment thread is grinding on overlong, I do have to point out, Damien, that the practice mentioned by OMGF is real. It’s called metzitzah b’peh, and is practiced by some Orthodox Jews: after the circumcision is performed, the rabbi sucks away the blood from the open wound. In 2005, three infants in New York died as a result of this after contracting herpes from an infected rabbi.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Thank you, Ebon. I’d appreciate some newspaper articles for the metzitzah b’peh, since it seems so outrageous, and doesn’t line up with anything in Judaism that I know of. Were the rabbis prosecuted, and if so, for what crime? Also, is the ritual somehow inherent to Judaism, or only followed by some kind of fringe group?

    If you’re not willing to host this discussion any further, then of course that’s your call. I’m also perfectly willing to take this to an entirely fresh thread, if you would prefer that option. Again, I apologize for my inability to always respond promptly; if I had regular Internet access, I’m sure we could have settled all this weeks ago.

  • DamienSansBlog

    OMGF, those are (mostly) good points, and I hope to have the time to answer them someday. But it looks like my stagecoach is turning back into a pumpkin in a couple of days, and I do want to talk about the rest of my argument at some point. (There is, surprisingly, more to it than Dawkins’ accusations of child abuse.)

    Since it’s been a long while since this all started, I think at this point we had better sum up where the discussion has gone this far.

    I claimed that the New Atheism is being criticized for its often (though of course not always) belligerent and irrational arguments. I offered a first example of this from Delusion, the “religious education as abuse” argument. After initial claims by Alex Weaver that Dawkins never made such an argument, I ran through the (insufficient) evidence given in Delusion, and on Dawkins’ website, to show that he was in fact making this suggestion. OMGF then asked whether Dawkins was endorsing the “child abuse” theory, or merely offering it as a hypothesis. I replied that statments made in Delusion, (especially in the statement-of-purpose at the beginning of the book), on the previously mentioned website, and in other easily available publications, all imply that Dawkins does hold the theory to be true. OMGF then asked for evidence for my view, even though I had already listed my sources several times at this point in the discussion. We then veered off into the legality of Wisconsin vs. Yoder and related topics.

  • Mrnaglfar

    DamnienSansBlog,

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/audio/2008/feb/14/richard.dawkins

    Podcast where Dawkins talks about that exact claim you make. He says the child abuse comes in two forms:
    1) labeling a child a christian/muslim/whatever child before that child is truly able to understand even what the terms mean, much less whether or not they agree with the belief. Similiarly, you wouldn’t label a child of a racist father a racist child; they may turn out to be a racist, but that comes later.
    2) The specific threat of punshiments about what will happen if the child fails to follow the religion, in this case, referring to the threat of eternal hellfire and torture. If you could defend telling a child, who will believe in santa clause, that unless they follow a religion they will be tortured forever, I’d love to hear it.

  • Mrnaglfar

    One more addition:

    It’s not only that the parents tell the child they will go to hell, but so will all their friends who don’t believe. And kids don’t realize this is fantasy, they believe it is true.

  • OMGF

    DSB,

    I’d appreciate some newspaper articles for the metzitzah b’peh, since it seems so outrageous, and doesn’t line up with anything in Judaism that I know of.

    Do you think we are lying to you or something? Google is your friend.

    So, how about it? Would you still defend the rights of parents and religious leaders to perform acts of sexual abuse on children and even put their lives in jeopardy from STDs (even if they don’t die, they have an STD) simply because their religion says it’s OK to sexually molest children? If the pope were to make an infallible ruling that children molested by priests are closer to god and that it is now religious teaching that it’s OK for priests to molest children, would you suddenly decide that it’s OK for priests to molest children? I’m assuming that you wouldn’t find that to be OK, so why is it OK for parents to do other things that could very well hurt their children? Why is it not OK to investigate whether those things do hurt their children or ask the question? Do you think that atheist parents haven’t been discriminated against because their atheism was ruled by the courts to be a deleterious effect on the well-being of the child?

    I offered a first example of this from Delusion, the “religious education as abuse” argument. After initial claims by Alex Weaver that Dawkins never made such an argument, I ran through the (insufficient) evidence given in Delusion, and on Dawkins’ website, to show that he was in fact making this suggestion. OMGF then asked whether Dawkins was endorsing the “child abuse” theory, or merely offering it as a hypothesis. I replied that statments made in Delusion, (especially in the statement-of-purpose at the beginning of the book), on the previously mentioned website, and in other easily available publications, all imply that Dawkins does hold the theory to be true.

    And I opened my copy of Delusion and read it and found that your claims about what it says were unfounded. I stated as such and you didn’t back up your claims. I also commented on your claims that the other sources and don’t ever recall you showing how they constitute an unequivocal claim to what you claim they say. Frankly, your original claim was that Dawkins, “claims that all religious parents are guilty of a felony,” which is simply not true. He questions whether certain practices should be considered abuse (remember, I actually pulled out my copy and read it then responded to you). You have failed to prove your point that Dawkins thinks all religious parents are guilty of a felony or that he has said something so inflamatory as to get all of our underwear in a bunch.

  • DamienSansBlog

    My previous post summarized the conversation so far about my first point, that the “child abuse” accusssation is unfounded. While I thank OMGF and Mrnaglfar for their contributions, I’d like to get to the second (and maybe third?) point before we all die of old age, so I’m barging right ahead with it in the time I’ve got left for the week. When I come back in a few weeks (…or months…), I promise to read through any rebuttals or replies and answer them as best I can.

    So, second example. Dawkins et alia have caught a lot of flak for supposed ignorance. Most of these charges can be dismissed out of hand: “You just don’t understand the real meaning of (insert impossible doctrine)”, or “You aren’t a professional theologian and have no right to comment on (insert impossible doctrine).

    On the other hand… Dawkins claims that “Gandhi wasn’t religious”. A cursory glance at any of his biographies (including his autobiography) reveals that despite his hatred of the caste system, he was a devout Hindu. Dawkins claims that Buddhism and Confucianism aren’t religions. This would certainly come as a surprise to the 350-million-plus Buddhists and Confucians in the world, who build temples, pray to various gods and spirits, and follow the guidance of elaborate religious hierarchies. At one point, Dawkins even claims that Jesus never meant for “love thy neighbor” to apply to non-Jews. His interpretation is entirely based on the views of one man, a known anti-Semite, and completely at odds with Jesus’ own interpretation (as shown in the Sermon on the Mount, the Miracle of the Centurion’s Servant, and the Great Commission). And of course, there is the bit about how New Atheism should model itself on the Gay Pride movement, because it’s been so successful in America. American homosexuals cannot legally marry, or serve openly in the military; Gay Pride has hardly been a smashing success so far.

    These are very basic facts. Dawkins, and those atheists who agree with him, have got their basic facts wrong. For a supposedly knowledge-based movement, this kind of ignorance is inexplicable.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Third example. New Atheists have a reputation for being intolerant. If they keep people like Dawkins and Harris as their spokesmen, this reputation is going to be hard to shake.

    Delusion, for instance, refers to Christians collectively as “barking mad” and the Bible collectively as “just plain wierd”. In the Preface, the only possible reason Dawkins acknowledges for someone to disagree with him is that they are “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads”…which, as I’ve pointed out, isn’t even a very good insult. As I’ve also pointed out, he also accuses any scientists who don’t agree with his views of pandering to religion, and of “a total abdication of responsibility”. He will not accept that Dyson, Gould, Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Faraday, Maxwell, or even Peacocke-Stannard-and-Polkinghorne, can really be “genuine specimens of good scientists who are sincerely religious in the full, traditional sense”. His essay on “How Moderation in Faith Fosters Fanaticism” is a classic example of “blaming the victim”; fanatics are to blame for their own fanaticism, and holding anyone else responsible is both absurd and unjust. (And, as our recent adventures with Sadaam Hussein have revealed, messy.)

    But at least he’s not advocating a state run by Thought Police. I’m not familiar with Hitchens, but I have read some of the work of Sam Harris. According to him, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing in them”. He tells us which people we should kill first, when he baldly claims that “Muslims” — again collectively — “are deranged by their faith”. And after suggesting that intentional torture is morally equivalent to collateral damage, and acceptable because “it need not impose a significant risk of death or permanent injury”, he claims that we should “abduct the nearest and dearest of suspected terrorists — their wives, mothers and daughters — and torture them as well.”

    I hope that we all understand why executing people for their beliefs, regardless of their actions, and torturing whole families because a relative is suspected of a crime…would be a Bad Thing.

  • Jim Baerg

    but I have read some of the work of Sam Harris. According to him, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing in them”

    IIRC Harris was specifically referring to beliefs like ‘anyone who doesn’t follow religion X deserves death’. I think it at least arguable that killing someone who believes that is justifiable self defense.

    As a general comment, to everybody who is quoting some author, especially to denounce that author’s views: Please refer to the exact book & page to make it easy to find the context & judge whether the commenter’s interpretation is accurate.

    Since I didn’t have a copy of either of Harris’ books on hand I couldn’t follow my own request just now, but please do that if possible.

  • OMGF

    DSB,
    I’m not surprised that you ran away from the discussion about Yoder v. Wisc when faced with the obviously tough questions about metzitzah b’peh as well as other religious practices, especially after your tough facade about how I’m wholly ignorant about the topic except for what Dawkins tells me, etc. I am surprised, however, that you don’t remember that I have a copy of Delusion.

    In the Preface, the only possible reason Dawkins acknowledges for someone to disagree with him is that they are “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads”…which, as I’ve pointed out, isn’t even a very good insult.

    Nor is your supposition very accurate. Dawkins actually says this:

    If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design).

    (Preface page 5)
    Yes, I’m sure that sound exactly like he thinks everyone will agree with him except for those blankety blank faith-heads who he wants to insult.

    On the other hand… Dawkins claims that “Gandhi wasn’t religious”.

    Pg. 45 he claims Ghandi was a secularist in that he wanted India to be not a Hindu nation but simply a nation that was tolerant to all. On page 271 he says that Ghandi was not a Xian, which I checked around and found at least one source that came close to making it appear as if Dawkins said what you attribute to him. Unfortunately for you, this appears to be in error as well.

    Delusion, for instance, refers to Christians collectively as “barking mad”…

    Wrong again. On pg. 253, he says:

    I have described the atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment – thereby, incidentally, condemning remote future generations of jews to pogroms and persecution as ‘Christ-killers’…

    I think anyone can read that and see that once again you have misrerpresented what he said. Incidentally, do you disagree with him on this? I too think that the doctrine that we are all sinners in need of saving through atonement to be hateful and vicious.

    At one point, Dawkins even claims that Jesus never meant for “love thy neighbor” to apply to non-Jews. His interpretation is entirely based on the views of one man, a known anti-Semite, and completely at odds with Jesus’ own interpretation (as shown in the Sermon on the Mount, the Miracle of the Centurion’s Servant, and the Great Commission).

    First of all, Naming Hartung as an anti-semite is an ad hominem attack. Second of all, it doesn’t look like it’s true. I found an article where it was claimed that he was an anti-semite in Slate by Judith Shulevitz, in which he replied with this:

    My view of genocide, including the Holocaust and contrary to Schulevitz characterization, is that it is always an unjustified evil. Whether genocide occurs as a spontaneous reaction of an oppressed majority against an oppressive minority, as recently occurred in Rwanda, or an act conceptualized as an order from God, as in … In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).

    So far you are batting a big zero. Shall I move onto Harris now? I also have a copy of The End of Faith.

    According to him, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing in them”.

    Nice quote. Too bad it’s taken completely out of context. I suggest you go back and read pages 52-53 in his book where he talks about this. He starts off by talking about how beliefs can shape our emotional lives, like the belief that “Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.” He then goes on to the paragraph in question:

    The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense…

    He’s obviously not saying what you attribute to him.

    I know I didn’t address all your contentions, but at this point since you’ve misrepresented and misquoted every single one that I have found the source material on, I’m loathe to continue. I’ve already spent too much time on this. My suggestion is that you actually go look at the source material instead of getting your material from unscrupulous apologists or well-meaning apologists that are too gullible and simply accept what the lying apologists tell them is true.

  • DamienSansBlog

    All right, looks like this is it for the next long while. I don’t have time to cover my last point, but since there’s such an overburden of replies for us all to digest (and bad feeling, if OMGF’s last post is any guide), I’ll leave you with:

    What it would take for me to admit that I am wrong.

    1. If you are going to claim that Dawkins (or some other spokesperson for the New Atheism) does not believe that religious education is a form of child abuse, they must have made an explicit statement to that effect. Said statement must either explain or denounce all earlier statements endorsing that claim, including the statement-of-purpose in Delusion’s preface, statements that all religion is a destructive influence (equivalent to a virus or to physical violence) to which innocents should not be exposed, or statements that so much as calling a child religious is inherently wrong.

    2. If you are going to claim that religious education actually is child abuse, it must be demonstrated according to the actual definition of child abuse: physical or psychological harm, caused with malicious intent. (Simply telling frightening stories or untrue fables to children, while obviously deplorable, is not a form of child abuse; the “Santa Claus” or “Lover’s Lane axe murderer” legends are considered perfectly acceptable.) You must further demonstrate that said harm is caused by religion specifically, rather than by a pre-existing disorder in the student or educator, and by religion per se, rather than a specific cult or sect.

    3. If you are going to claim that WI v. Y is invalid, you must explain why, without assuming there is some vast right-wing conspiracy to lock up children in Amish tourist traps. You must show why considerations of legal procedure and civil rights should be set aside for certain citizens, and which ones; or why the non-opinion of one Justice should be preferred to the ruling of the entire Court (including said Justice); or where specifically the Court was flawed in its legal reasoning.

    3a. I thank you for the information on Hasidim practices. They are certainly questionable, and if it is true that the mayor was more influenced by a desire for the Jewish vote than by a desire for public safety (or investigating whether this practice properly counts as sexual abuse), then a pox on all their houses. But pointing out the follies of particular religions (Hasidic, Incan or Inquisitorial) does not validate claims to the universal evil of religious education, or invalidate WI v. Y.

    4. If you are going to claim that Dawkins was right about Gandhi, you must show why every account of the man ever written (including his own) is wrong. It should go without saying that unjustified statements like “Well, that’s just what a man in a Hindu country would say”, or “He wasn’t a total lunatic, so he wasn’t really religious” won’t cut it.

    5. If you are going to claim that Buddhism and Confucianism really aren’t religions, you must explain how a purely secular philosophy can still accomodate souls, karma, reincarnation, priesthoods, hells, heavens (and the mandates thereof), prayer (and the wheels and flags thereof), gods and demons.

    6. If you are going to claim that Gay Pride is a success, come up with a reasonable definition of “success” that still includes institutionalized discrimination by both state and federal governments. “At least it’s not a criminal offense these days” also won’t cut it.

    7. Quite honestly, I don’t know how one can put a positive spin on “barking mad” or “faith-heads” or “abdication of responsibility”, to say nothing of blaming the victim or promoting the torture of innocent people. But you’re welcome to try.

  • OMGF

    DSB,
    OK, you are drinking the kool-aid now. For number 1, Dawkins already advocates teaching more abour religion so that children can be exposed to all ideas, instead of being indoctrinated into just one. Also, he does say that labelling children is wrong, so I’m not even going to bother trying to debunk that. He also says why it is wrong and you’ve yet to answer that.

    If you are going to claim that religious education actually is child abuse, it must be demonstrated according to the actual definition of child abuse: physical or psychological harm, caused with malicious intent.

    No one has claimed that. It is only claimed that some forms of teachings are abuse. And, no, abuse does not have to have malicious intent. Does a pedophile have malicious intent, or does the pedophile actually think that children want what he/she has?

    3. If you are going to claim that WI v. Y is invalid, you must explain why, without assuming there is some vast right-wing conspiracy to lock up children in Amish tourist traps.

    I already have by posing questions that you can’t answer that show the deficiency with the ruling. By the ruling, we have to allow rabbis to sexually abuse children. By standing with the ruling, you are standing for this practice and the “right” of parents and rabbis to be immune from prosecution for it. Who cares if children contract herpes and die, so long as we allow any religious practice, no matter how odious, simply because someone put the stamp of religion on it.

    4. If you are going to claim that Dawkins was right about Gandhi, you must show why every account of the man ever written (including his own) is wrong.

    IOW, even after I showed you that your claims about what Dawkins said about Gandhi were wrong, you still claim that you are right and that I need to prove it? Go back and actually look at the passages I cited FFS.

    For 5 and 6, I didn’t answer those parts, nor do I care to due to all the effort I’ve already put in to show you how spectacularly wrong you’ve been in your assertions.

    7. Quite honestly, I don’t know how one can put a positive spin on “barking mad” or “faith-heads” or “abdication of responsibility”, to say nothing of blaming the victim or promoting the torture of innocent people. But you’re welcome to try.

    Except that what you are saying is meant by those terms is NOT WHAT IS MEANT! You are claiming that because you’ve quoted things out of context that I have to prove to you that your out of context quote is OK. This is what I have done by showing you how you quoted out of context and showing you what the context is! Now, you continue to hold that your out of context quote is accurate and holds, even though I quoted the exact passages for you!

    You sir, are behaving rather dishonestly in this. You’ve made some claims that quite frankly were wrong and I went into the actual source material to show you how and why they were wrong, yet you’ve ignored all of that and insist that you are right, no matter what the actual authors that you are maligning said. Further, it is YOU who have made the claims that you have failed to back up, yet somehow it is up to me to disprove your claims, else they hold true? This is an abdication of your responsibilities to uphold your end of the debate. You have lost, and lost spectacularly. Have some integrity and admit that at least most of your argument is full of carp. Further, go back and actually read the passages I cited that show how full of it your arguments are. You should be embarrassed.

  • OMGF

    For anyone who wants a condensed version DSB is claiming that the “New Atheists” are bad people because they said X, Y, and Z. I’ve shown that they never said X, Y, or Z by supplying the actual quotes in question from the actual sources. DSB then claimed that he’ll admit he’s wrong if I can show that they either didn’t say X, Y, or Z (which is exactly what I did) or if I can show why them saying X, Y, and Z is OK, because he’s convinced they really did say X, Y, and Z regardless of the fact that they didn’t.

  • DamienSansBlog

    Well, here I am again, for another few days. I was only able to skim through your responses before I left: enough to confirm that Hasidim story, and enough to learn that you think I’m a stubborn ass. It’s a shame you feel this way.

    Still, here I am again. Let’s see whether Achilles can catch up with the tortoise this time…

    Do you think we are lying to you or something? Google is your friend.

    I was sure you weren’t. But it was certainly possible that Hitchens was…mistaken. Or that his source was mistaken. Or that his source was lying. I now know that the metzitzah b’peh is an actual ritual, thanks to your efforts, and that it is dangerous and probably deserves to be prosecuted. I do apologize, and sincerely, for my opinions otherwise (real or imagined).

    However, it has not been shown that it is specifically sexual abuse, as you (OMGF) explicitly stated; it also has not been shown that the guilt of a handful of extremists should reflect on all theists, or even on all Jews.

    …so why is it OK for parents to do other things that could very well hurt their children? Why is it not OK to investigate whether those things do hurt their children or ask the question?

    I think we’ve been over this. I have nothing against investigating possible abuses, but when unsupported claims of abuse are made, they are no more worthy of consideration than unsupported claims about…gods, say, or flying spaghetti. It can’t be shown that just taking your child to church is harmful, for any meaningful definition of “harmful” (or asking the Passover Questions, or whatever ritual you choose that involves a whole family).

    Frankly, your original claim was that Dawkins, “claims that all religious parents are guilty of a felony,” which is simply not true.

    Now I know that we’ve been over this. As I recall, I agreed that any of Delusion’s statements, taken individually and with quite a lot of emphasis on every “might” and “may”, could be interpreted as Dawkins just brainstorming, rather than advocating the abuse hypothesis. Taken in context with each other, and with Dawkin’s outside statements…and especially given that promoting the abuse hypothesis is a confessed goal of the book in its first pages, that an entire chapter of the book is devoted to the hypothesis, and that no serious look at the evidence against the hypothesis is ever presented… Well, sir, the most obvious explanation is that the forgiving reading is not the correct one, and that the Defensor Infidei really meant what he said.

    If so much as calling a child Christian or Muslim counts as an offense — apparently regardless of their particular sect’s severity or any otherwise normal and loving relationships that child may enjoy — what possible religious activity wouldn’t be an offense, when applied to a child? And if Dawkins is saying that all religious activities applied to children are abusive, and if child abuse is (rightly) a crime, then Dawkins must be saying that religious indoctrination is a crime. And therefore anybody who engages in indoctrination — including all those otherwise moderate and loving parents — is a criminal. (Note that he does not distinguish between sects and faiths; everyone from the Incas to the Inquisition to Irish Catholics is included in Chapter Eight.) We’ve done a lot of talking here, but it really is as simple as that. I’m sorry I didn’t make the logical progression clearer to you from the start.

    IIRC Harris was specifically referring to beliefs like ‘anyone who doesn’t follow religion X deserves death’. I think it at least arguable that killing someone who believes that is justifiable self defense.

    No, Mr. Baerg. I am sorry, but it is not. Condemning people to death just because of what they think is neither practical nor ethical, no matter how hostile those thoughts may be. The proper response to hostile actions is certainly a point of argument. But not anything so fuzzy as “propositions”.

    Dawkins actually says this:

    “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design).”(Preface page 5)

    Yes, I’m sure that sound exactly like he thinks everyone will agree with him except for those blankety blank faith-heads who he wants to insult.

    Actually, OMGF, it does. If a religious reader is not an atheist after reading the book — if the book does not work as he intends — the only explanation offered is that they must have been brainwashed as babies. The possibility that a religious reader might not agree with him, but that it might have nothing to do with indoctrination, is not entertained.

    On page 271 he says that Ghandi was not a Xian

    You are correct; I am in error. I seem to have focused on the implication that Gandhi’s religion was somehow “incidental”, and had nothing to do with either his philosophy or that of Martin Luther King (page 271, again). While this is in itself a tenuous proposition, it is true that Dawkins never denied Gandhi’s identity as a Hindu. Mea culpa.

    Wrong again. On pg. 253, he says:

    [snip quote from p. 253]

    I think anyone can read that and see that once again you have misrerpresented what he said. Incidentally, do you disagree with him on this? I too think that the doctrine that we are all sinners in need of saving through atonement to be hateful and vicious.

    Oh, so do I. But calling someone’s core beliefs not only “barking mad” but also “vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent” — and thank you for the full quote — is hardly the way to win them over, which was the initial point of my statement. And sticking in a “we would call Christianity all these things, if we weren’t a bunch of spineless toadies” clause, doesn’t make matters any better!

    First of all, Naming Hartung as an anti-semite is an ad hominem attack. Second of all, it doesn’t look like it’s true.

    Again, you’re in the right here, and I repent in dust and ashes. I’m considering sending an apology letter to Mr. Hartung himself.

    …That still doesn’t make the Hartung or Dawkins interpretations of “love thy neighbor” any less mistaken.

    My suggestion is that you actually go look at the source material instead of getting your material from unscrupulous apologists or well-meaning apologists that are too gullible and simply accept what the lying apologists tell them is true.

    Ah, dear me, are we bringing “unscrupulous apologists” into this? Why not trot out the “outside agitators” too? And the “terrorist sleeper cells” and the “pinko spies” and the “fellow travelers” and the “Yankee sympathizers”? Ha, we can have a parade!

    When we started this conversation, I had hoped that we were all the kind of people who could remember that two could disagree, without one being enthralled to some great oppressive conspiracy. Perhaps that is not the case? I criticize New Atheism because it seems almost tailor-made not to advance the goals we all share:

    …to be seen and to say, “Hey, I’m not ashamed to be an atheist.” Another would be to state loudly and clearly that atheism != immorality and that theism != morality necessarily. Also, I think another point is to put religious thought to the test, let’s actually go through and critically examine the religious thought that until now was always considered off-limits.

    We all of us — New and old — now look like Dr. Evil’s father, accusing chestnuts of being lazy and claiming that Sam Harris invented the question mark. We’re fools (or worse) in the eyes of the very people we’re trying to convince of our decency.

    Now, if a gaggle of theologians and pulpit-pounders have somehow stumbled onto the same conclusions that anybody else could, with some critical thinking and common sense… Well, I can’t answer for them.

  • OMGF

    DSB,

    However, it has not been shown that it is specifically sexual abuse, as you (OMGF) explicitly stated; it also has not been shown that the guilt of a handful of extremists should reflect on all theists, or even on all Jews.

    How is it not sexual abuse for the rabbi to suck on the boy’s penis? Also, no one is saying that the guilt of a handful should reflect on all theists. The point was that your argument was to protect practices like this under the banner of religious freedom. Not all Jews have to participate in this act for us to condemn those that do and revoke their religious shielding. They should not be allowed to harm children and hide behind their religion.

    I have nothing against investigating possible abuses, but when unsupported claims of abuse are made, they are no more worthy of consideration than unsupported claims about…gods, say, or flying spaghetti.

    And apparently you won’t allow Dawkins to have an opinion on the matter, else he is making unsupported claims and is way out of bounds. I happen to believe that some religious practices are child abuse as well. Am I just as worthy of scorn as Dawkins?

    As I recall, I agreed that any of Delusion’s statements, taken individually and with quite a lot of emphasis on every “might” and “may”, could be interpreted as Dawkins just brainstorming, rather than advocating the abuse hypothesis.

    And what if it was? Is he not allowed to his opinion? I don’t recall him ever saying definitively that religion is child abuse, nor have I heard or seen him say that all religious parents are felons. You have not met your burden of proof.

    If so much as calling a child Christian or Muslim counts as an offense — apparently regardless of their particular sect’s severity or any otherwise normal and loving relationships that child may enjoy — what possible religious activity wouldn’t be an offense, when applied to a child?

    Dawkins has stated quite clearly that he does not deem teaching children about religion to be abuse. He does find it quite absurd to call a child a Muslim or Xian child.

    Condemning people to death just because of what they think is neither practical nor ethical, no matter how hostile those thoughts may be.

    You’re missing the point. He’s saying that a case could be made that it is self-defense to act against one who is about to harm you due to their beliefs. If one has a belief that they must kill you in order save their own life, then it can be considered self defense if you know an attack is imminent. Harris, however, is only demonstrating the dangers of faith, however, not actually making an argument for thought crime.

    Actually, OMGF, it does. If a religious reader is not an atheist after reading the book — if the book does not work as he intends — the only explanation offered is that they must have been brainwashed as babies. The possibility that a religious reader might not agree with him, but that it might have nothing to do with indoctrination, is not entertained.

    I’m incredulous as to how you could have missed the point of what he said so incredibly badly, when it’s spelled out in plain English. He starts off with the word “If” meaning that he’s not saying that it will definitely have the intended effect. He even follows up the first sentence with, “What presumptuous optimism!” The only way to come away with your interpretation is to read it as uncharitably as possible, to skip over the first word and the second sentence, and to, frankly, come in with a pre-conceived bias that Dawkins is saying something he’s not.

    You are correct; I am in error.

    Thank you. My estimation of you just went up.

    But calling someone’s core beliefs not only “barking mad” but also “vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent” — and thank you for the full quote — is hardly the way to win them over, which was the initial point of my statement. And sticking in a “we would call Christianity all these things, if we weren’t a bunch of spineless toadies” clause, doesn’t make matters any better!

    First off, it’s singular belief, not core beliefs. Second, is he wrong? Yes, he uses coarse language, and maybe it isn’t the best way to get believers to listen, but history is full of examples of brashness winning the day while tact only encouraged the status quo. You may disagree with his assessment or his tactics, but at least now you can properly state what it is you disagree with.

    …That still doesn’t make the Hartung or Dawkins interpretations of “love thy neighbor” any less mistaken.

    Your argument was almost entirely based on the ad hominem, so I don’t know what you are using to say that he’s wrong, except for modern apologetics which is culturally evolved from the time of Jesus. He may be wrong. It’s possible that the Bible does mean literally everyone when it speaks of one’s neighbors, but there is good reason to believe that it didn’t as well.

    Ah, dear me, are we bringing “unscrupulous apologists” into this?

    It’s a known fact that there are apologists out there who lie for Jesus and misrepresent, distort, and outright lie about what their opponents say. Many things you were saying were indicative of other things I’ve seen from such liars. If I jumped to conclusions about where you got your misinformation, my apologies, but it seemed a safe bet at the time.

    When we started this conversation, I had hoped that we were all the kind of people who could remember that two could disagree, without one being enthralled to some great oppressive conspiracy.

    I’m not accusing you of being part of any conspiracy or that there is one. Asking you to check your sources does not indicate anything of the sort. Let’s not jump off the deep end here.

    We all of us — New and old — now look like Dr. Evil’s father, accusing chestnuts of being lazy and claiming that Sam Harris invented the question mark. We’re fools (or worse) in the eyes of the very people we’re trying to convince of our decency.

    And, I disagree. I don’t think we can get to where we want to be by placating the religious and not daring to disagree with them. If we let them run roughshod over us, then we will never attain equality, because they certainly will never simply give it to us. And, if we have to make arguments that attack their immorality, so much the better. One of their incorrect claims is that they have a monopoly on morality. Being able to point out that not only don’t they have a monopoly, but that they are rather immoral in many ways is a good strategy in my opinion, even though it’s akin to shaming them into behaving well.