The Language of God: A Doubtful Belief

The Language of God, Chapter 2

By B.J. Marshall

Collins starts off this chapter noting that, if we’ve followed him this far, we’ve no doubt begun to form numerous objections. That’s an understatement to be sure! He gives us some of his own: Isn’t belief in God just a case of wishful thinking? Hasn’t a great deal of harm been done in the name of religion? How could a loving God permit suffering? How can a serious scientist accept the possibility of miracles? We’ll upack those questions in a few posts. But for now we’ll focus on doubt.

Collins kicks off this chapter by stating that doubt is an unavoidable part of belief. He supports this with a quote from Paul Tillich: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith” (p.33). I doubt the existence of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So would Tillich (and Collins) say then that my doubt is an element of faith in these beings? Collins tries to argue in favor of doubt by stating that an airtight faith would be a bad thing because “then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?” (p.34). First, assuming there should be any religion at all, wouldn’t having just one religion be a good thing? No more religious persecution, holy wars, or religious terrorism. No more cults leading to the Jonestown massacre, the Branch Davidians, or Heaven’s Gate. Indeed, the Protestant Reformation would have never happened since there would be nothing to reform. According the the World Christian Encyclopedia, there were over 33,000 Christian denominations alone in 2001. If each denomination was represented by one Christian, that would be enough to almost fill Fenway Park! In the meantime, if you need help figuring out which religion you should follow, then this handy flowchart can help.

Secondly, an abundance of evidence (which many would claim gets us as close to certainty as we can get) does not prevent people from believing all kinds of crazy stuff.

  • The confluence of evidential lines from geology, paleontology, biologic, genomics, and archeology still don’t stop some people from believing that the Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old.
  • Despite numerous studies and articles in peer-reviewed journals refuting the point, people still think vaccines cause autism.
  • Despite no credible evidence supporting them, and despite lots of credible studies in peer-review journals refuting them, people still believe homeopathy and acupuncture work. (This one is a little more contentious, so I link to a place that refutes pseudoscience nicely.)
  • A large number of people still refute the general consensus among scientists that human activity is causing global warming.

I suppose I could also make the case that just because certainty takes away my freedom to choose something does not necessarily limit how interesting life is. I’ve come to realize that gravity will always pull me back down to Earth. I jump, I come back down; I fall off the bed during the night, I crash into the endstand and break a lamp. These things happen, and I have no choice in having gravity not work on me. And my life is pretty damned interesting, thank you very much.

Other posts in this series:

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.

  • Kennypo65

    Wow! Did I write this in my sleep? Honestly, to quote Meatloaf: you took the words right out of my mouth.

  • Ritchie

    then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?

    It never ceases to amaze me how people can apparently find such weak arguments compelling.

    Ps, love the flowchart. First giggle of the day. :)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Collins tries to argue in favor of doubt by stating that an airtight faith would be a bad thing because “then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?” (p.34).

    That would only be good if you valued “interesting” more than you value “true.”

    Yes, gravity; let’s apply this to gravity. Wouldn’t the world be a more “interesting” place if some people had mostly correct beliefs about gravity, some people didn’t believe in the existence of gravity, and some other people even believed in negative gravity? Isn’t the world a worse place because everyone believes pretty much the same things about gravity, which allowed us to build on that knowledge, and continue on to invent elevators and airplanes and bounce houses?

  • AnonaMiss

    Please excuse me, I need to go get some pain medication. I think I facepalmed too hard.

    This valuation of “interesting” over “peaceful” really makes me question the ethical underpinnings of apologists who use this argument. Billions of people have lost their lives because of conflicting ideas on the nature of the divine, and you think god cares (and should care!) more about what’s interesting?!

    That said, just feel I should quibble on your point re: he statement that doubt is a natural part of faith – he didn’t say doubt existed exclusively as a part of faith, and I don’t think it’s fair to ascribe views to the author that we have no reason to believe he holds.

    Also: is this chapter ludicrously short, are you only giving us a refutation of a small selection, or will you be writing additional entries on chapter 2?

  • BJ

    I have three more posts in the queue on Chapter 2. This post only focuses on a section of it. I apologize for not being clear on this earlier. (In fact, I think most of my subsequent chapters will span multiple posts covering sections or topics.)

    I agree that doubt doesn’t exist exclusively as part of faith. If “red” were an element of all fire trucks, that doesn’t mean that everything that is red has to be a fire truck. But I was extending Collins’/Tillich’s usage of “doubt” to other areas of the supernatural – where faith would fit – to see if the statement would hold.

    I think Collins’ railing against how horrible certainty in faith would be gives me at least some reason to think he holds the view that doubt is an element of faith.

    Great comments – keep them coming!

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Since when was the goal of religion to make things “interesting?”

    And how can any sane human being describe all the centuries of anguished fear of hellfire for breaking impossible commandments as “interesting?”

    Pulling the legs off of ants may make their further journeys “interesting,” but only a sociopath would apply the same logic to human beings.

    It really grinds my gears that people can say stuff this stupid and never have to answer the obvious.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Well, as long as he doesn’t try to turn around and describe such a capricious, vindictive, mercurial and cruel deity as also loving and kind.

    Oops.

  • NoAstronomer

    … an airtight faith would be a bad thing because “then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith.”

    (my bold) How in hell (sorry) does that follow?

  • Mike

    We’ve hardly started this book and the arguments are already jaw-droppingly bad. You’re a brave, brave person for doing this.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I can’t help but cringe whenever someone makes an argument FOR pain and suffering (or in this case, a lack of clear evidence for their faith whatever it is) with a simple “it makes things more interesting”. True, I do enjoy a certain amount of disagreement among friends and family, that DOES make life more interesting, but literal life and death conflict? That’s the sort of “interesting times” I can do without. Life is not a D&D campaign, and adding wars, disease, famine, hatred, pain, and death aren’t justified just because one thinks it will “spice things up”. By the same token, an invisible god intentionally hiding itself from all scientific scrutiny and requiring blind faith because “a world with clear and distinct evidence for that god would be dull” comes across as the worst kind of selfishness.

    This reminds me of a certain sort of “cultural watchdog” that gets sad whenever any sort of old local custom passes into disuse. These are the sorts who complain whenever a Native American tribe “loses it’s heritage” because a new generation no longer follows old customs or takes part in the old belief systems that something “special” has been lost. Don’t get me wrong, I believe those customs have their place historically, and the people of those small groups (or large groups) should be free to practice it if they so choose, but on the flip side, a new generation should be free to walk towards the future if they decide to as well. The proper place to maintain cultural tradition is a museum, not eternally lived by every new generation. However, these sorts of people, when I mention that if a new generation is becoming more atheistic, or deciding not to bother with “traditional healing” or “vision quests”, that something has been “lost”, that the world is now less interesting. Well, again, these different cultures are not here to make YOUR life more interesting, to add different “towns” your player character can vacation to and do quests in. They’re full of people like any other, and if those traditions are fading away, maybe it’s because the new generation realized how much nonsense, and in many cases harm, some of those traditions do.

  • Tacroy

    Collins tries to argue in favor of doubt by stating that an airtight faith would be a bad thing because “then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?”

    Is it just me, or did Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, just describe the entirety of the modern scientific endeavor and not realize it?

  • Eurekus

    Just a brief comment. I was once a doubtful believer whom decided to ‘take on’ atheism head on to prove to myself that faith can be sustained in the face of the current evidence. Oops, I got that one wrong. I’m now an atheist! No faith can sustain atheism, not even close. Collins’ obvious doubts are nothing but his rational mind trying to point him in the right direction.

  • stef

    Well, a great article as usual, but the global warming comment leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. In all the other examples of “crazy stuff” you give you rightly say that the crazies ignore the evidence, but with global warming it’s not the evidence, it’s about disagreeing with the CONSENSUS that’s the problem? And that’s somehow bad? Seriously? I’m always horrified when atheists say such things. I mean, if anyone disagrees with the consensus it’s us atheists.

    Or did you mean that global warming skeptics ignore the evidence? If so, what evidence that man-made CO2 is causing significant global warming do they ignore exactly?

    I’m always irritated when atheists treat the plausible but kinda falsified hypothesis that man-made CO2 is causing significant global warming like religious dogma.

  • phhht

    Dark Jaguar said:

    This reminds me of a certain sort of “cultural watchdog” that gets sad whenever any sort of old local custom passes into disuse…

    I’d like to point out that although we can easily identify pernicious elements of a belief system, we are baffled when it comes to identifying anything sufficiently positive and unique to the belief system which might justify its cultural continuation. Perhaps there is no such thing. The trouble is that we damned well can’t tell!

    This comment is supposed to be a brief argument for the urgent study of religion as a natural phenomenon.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Dark Jaguar,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. This is why I am an anti-cultural relativist.

    You cannot maintain or protect or save or propagate a culture without violating the human rights of the alleged cultural group members. And, without stifling progress and social evolution.

    This is not bigotry. Cultures come and go with the wind, like species. Death of whole species is a necessary element of biological evolution. And, death of whole cultures is a necessary element of social evolution.

    This is NOT cultural imperialism. I throw “American” and “Western” culture in with the lot.

    People get so upset when I say things like this, but, seriously, which human culture is so amazing and special, in the grand cosmological scheme of things, that it is worth jeopardizing our shot at continued survival as a species in this universe?

    Now, even though we know that our survival depends upon getting our population under control and caring for our planet and conserving our resources and getting rid of nuclear weapons and finding a way to colonize space and women having full access to their human rights, cultural relativism is going to kill us all.

    No, I don’t think I’m being histrionic.

    But, as long as it makes life “interesting”.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Sarah, agreed completely. I don’t think American culture is the pinnacle of human achievement, but I’m not going to say that all cultural norms are equal either.

    One last thing I’ll note. No I’m not suggesting we should all live in boring grey boxes each one more identical than the last. That’s unlikely to happen so long as people DO in fact crave individuality. If in the slow abandonment of old cultures and steady adoption of a shared world culture things start getting “boring” in an artistic or celebratory sense, I’m pretty confident that people will fix that on their own. If houses get too boring, some architects will take note and start making some more “interesting” places to live. If art styles get too identical and bore people, artists that do things uniquely will step up and get popular. If people get sick of one festival, a group will make another. Basically, just like it is now. This isn’t about art or architecture though, it’s about wasting time worshiping something because THAT is supposed to be more “interesting” than doing something someone actually wants to do.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I so agree.

    I think the bogey man of boring sameness is completely fallacious.

    In fact, freed from the shackles of sacrosanct group ideologies, individual human beings will be able to give their imaginations full rein in a global marketplace of ideas.

    The important thing is that only individual human beings are rights bearers.

  • Harle

    I think life gets more interesting when you give up the jeebus juice. So many new avenues will open up,more possibilities and the inclination to explore the world. No more time wasted living in fear of eternal damnation. All that time is now mine to do.. anything that strikes my fancy. And for me, time is an important factor that helps make thing interesting.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    The argument was solid; the flowchart hilarious.

  • Scotlyn

    Sarah, I agree with you completely about cultural relativism, and that agreement arises out of a curious journey I’ve taken myself. I happened to be an anthropology major at the time I was in caught up in the process of discarding my fundamentalist “born-again” faith. At that time many of the arguments I made with others of the faith, directly appealed to both moral and cultural relativism, such as I was learning in my classwork. Such arguments did help me enormously to “uncouple” my thinking from that of the faith I was raised in.

    But more recently, I became aware, almost as a self-discovery, that I don’t actually hold with either moral or cultural relativism. As you say, individual human beings are rights bearers. And I realised that I could not allow any culture or religion a relativistic “out” when it comes to granting or withholding rights from any of the people within its gamut.

    Back to the OP, the “doubt is part of faith” mantra sounds a lot like Big Brother’s “black is white” chant. The thing is, if you are a believer, one of the things you believe is that belief is both difficult and worthy, and that the harder you have to strive against doubt, the more virtuous and valuable your belief is. And that’s a very vicious circle that can be hard to get off of.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Someone needs to chime in in disagreement, because this thread is in danger of turning into a mutual admiration society.

    I will point out — just because I get called out on this all the time — that international human rights lawyers use the term cultural relativism as implying moral relativism.

    I know this pisses off the anthropologists. (not you, Scotlyn)

    I also don’t like to use the term moral relativism, because of my whole “morality has no place in the law” mantra.

  • Scotlyn

    Sarah, are you a lawyer, by any chance? I can understand that you are caught up in various campaigns about legal issues, and I can see where you are coming from in your “morality has no place in the law.”

    But morality has a big place in my life (where law seldom intrudes apart from when I’m driving) especially in my relationships with others, so I tend to think about it a lot. Especially since my first problems with my fundamentalist faith were moral ones – the irrationality of such beliefs only became clear to me later. And, although I may not be able to justify it in proper philosophy language, on reflection I find that in addition to not being a cultural relativist, I am not a moral relativist either.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Thanks, BJ, for another great post! I continue to be astonished by how pathetic Collins’ arguments for the existence of God are, such as this one:

    Collins tries to argue in favor of doubt by stating that an airtight faith would be a bad thing because “then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?” (p.34).

    It’s hilarious that Collins is an evangelical Christian, a faith which typically believes that the saving of souls is literally the highest and most urgent priority in the world, and at the same time he believes that God is deliberately preventing this from happening.

    But the contradiction, I think, is more serious than that. I’ve noticed that there’s a sort of virtual reference manual that Christian apologists use to answer common objections posed by atheists. Ask a question that’s in the manual, and you’ll probably get the stock answer. But not all the answers in the manual are consistent with each other. For instance, take this infamous verse:

    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

    If Collins is right, the Bible is wrong. The Bible states that God’s existence and qualities are clearly seen and that human beings have no excuse for believing differently: in other words, that “the certainty of the evidence” has taken away a “free choice about belief”. But, clearly, the world is far from full of religious unanimity.

    This reminds me of a certain sort of “cultural watchdog” that gets sad whenever any sort of old local custom passes into disuse. These are the sorts who complain whenever a Native American tribe “loses it’s heritage” because a new generation no longer follows old customs or takes part in the old belief systems that something “special” has been lost. Don’t get me wrong, I believe those customs have their place historically, and the people of those small groups (or large groups) should be free to practice it if they so choose, but on the flip side, a new generation should be free to walk towards the future if they decide to as well. The proper place to maintain cultural tradition is a museum, not eternally lived by every new generation. However, these sorts of people, when I mention that if a new generation is becoming more atheistic, or deciding not to bother with “traditional healing” or “vision quests”, that something has been “lost”, that the world is now less interesting. Well, again, these different cultures are not here to make YOUR life more interesting, to add different “towns” your player character can vacation to and do quests in.

    Fantastic comment, Dark Jaguar! You’ve really put your finger on the best reason to object to cultural relativism. Only individuals have rights; cultures don’t. If they survive, it should be because people freely choose to preserve and perpetuate them, not because we want the world to be one giant theme park with curators to take care of the exhibits.

    Personally, I admit to having mixed feelings when I hear that another indigenous language has died out. On the one hand, most of these linguistic deaths are brought about by a destructive process of cultural conquest, and with each one that goes, we lose an opportunity to learn something more about human cognition. But on the other hand, isn’t it better for the world that people have an easier time communicating with each other? Isn’t having fewer languages better for all of us in the long run?

  • Katie M

    “Personally, I admit to having mixed feelings when I hear that another indigenous language has died out. On the one hand, most of these linguistic deaths are brought about by a destructive process of cultural conquest, and with each one that goes, we lose an opportunity to learn something more about human cognition. But on the other hand, isn’t it better for the world that people have an easier time communicating with each other? Isn’t having fewer languages better for all of us in the long run?”

    That’s why languages like Esperanto exist. Esperanto was intended to be a universal tongue that would also allow people to hold on to their native language.

    Every time a language disappears, a little bit of the human experience disappears with it.

  • John Nernoff

    On doubt, belief and faith, it depends on which people you test. Half of all people are of below average intelligence; a tautology for sure, but explanatory to the extent that this group is just not going to think of these issue very much if at all. Some people are indoctrinated by culture; that where the major religions are formed. Some people are crazy. Some people have too many other things to do like overpopulate the world, struggle for a living or take drugs or fight illness. And with all this its just easier to accept the promises of religion and get on with the more important aspects of your life. I just don’t think people in general dwell on either the fine points or the basics of their religion or lack of it.

  • DSimon

    Katie, too bad Esperanto is only marginally easier to learn than the primary languages it’s intended to supplement, and riddled with inconsistencies. I mean, it was a great effort for its time, but linguistics has moved on pretty far since the early 1900′s; we have much better and easier-to-learn candidates for a universal second language now, but they have to fight an uphill battle against Esperanto, which has become so thoroughly entrenched in that slot. :-

    .oi mo’a prenu cu seljbo

    (Argh, not enough people use Lojban)

    </rant>

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Katie M. wrote, “Every time a language disappears, a little bit of the human experience disappears with it.”

    That’s what’s been bothering me a little about this thread. Is there no other way than to say “Most people are no longer interested in this language/spiritual practice/musical style/oral history (et cetera) — let it die out”? Isn’t cultural diversity as important as genetic diversity? If we have practical as well as emotional reasons to mourn, and even fear, as biological species go extinct, and we commit resources to preserving those that are endangered, why not the same with the world’s cultures?

    For no other reason, people in the future would thank us for it. In what I do for a living, which is record classical music, we devote a great deal of effort to recreating lost cultures. Wouldn’t it be worth just about anything to hear Mozart conduct his own opera? Shakespeare portray his own character? So shouldn’t we save what we can of today’s threatened cultural resources?

    Yes I know, we can, and do, go into the field with video and audio recorders, and immortalize elements of vanishing cultures. But, to extend my biology metaphor a bit farther, this is like freezing tissue samples of endangered animals — instructive for sure, but only in addition to studying them as they interact with their natural environment.

    So I support efforts to preserve vanishing languages, and even religions, as valuable and irreplaceable elements of our heritage.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I don’t think these two trains of thought are incompatible. Not at all.

    Revel in whichever and all cultures you wish.

    I don’t mean to harp on this point, but I just can’t help myself:

    The point is this: only individual human beings are rights bearers.

    No group nor culture nor religion has rights.

    Now, being realistic — what does that mean?

    That means that a lot of cultural and religious and linguistic traditions are going to fade away and die.

    I get it.

    But, what’s the alternative?

    We’re living the alternative, and it’s not cute.

    And, even now, we’re continually losing languages and cultures and religious traditions.

    It’s inevitable. Unless we want to shut down the internet and stop people from interacting with one another internationally.

    It’s the way I feel about the EU. I mourn the loss of some of the uniqueness of each individual nation, but I celebrate the many advantages gained by European unity.

  • Katie M

    @Peter N-Exactly. One of my interests is film preservation. There was a time (especially once the silent era ended) where films were left to decay because people felt they had fulfilled their entertainment purpose and were now worthless. Now we’re scrambling to save whatever we can, because those films are a valuable part of history.

    Suffice it to say, I hate it when any part of history is lost. I believe in progress, and I am proud to see how far we’ve come, but the memory still needs to be there.

    Even the memory of religion.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Here is the perfect example of a religious tradition that is fading away.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/irelands-sons-turn-their-backs-on-the-priesthood-2063257.html

    Should we force families to give up their youngest sons to the priesthood, in order to preserve this tradition?

    If the Catholic Church does away with the celibacy rule for priests, is that a loss of our religio-cultural heritage?

    Should we mourn?

    No. You can’t stop progress, nor evolution, try as you might. Life is change. The only way to stop change is to die. Stagnation is death. And, there are those (past, present, and future) who would rather see humanity die than evolve and grow.

    And, most of those traditions that fade away will be embarrassments in decades to come.

    It is only with the passing of centuries and millennia that we are able to look back on the cruelties of civilizations past with some measure of equanimity and, perhaps, some sense of loss.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Sarah,

    It is only with the passing of centuries and millennia that we are able to look back on the cruelties of civilizations past with some measure of equanimity and, perhaps, some sense of loss.

    Maybe, but after centuries and millennia there will be nothing to be done about preserving vanished cultures.

    You have said, “only individual human beings are rights bearers”, but I am having increasing difficulty buying that. In 1562, Bishop Diego de Landa famously burned every Mayan book and sacred image he could lay his hands on. He claimed to be fighting the Devil, but this was a catastrophic loss, and a waste — to the Maya, of course, but to all of us, for all time.

    Did the destruction of the Mayan codices impinge only on individuals’rights? I submit that the Maya had a collective right to preserve their learning, and all of us have a right to study the Maya codices. Their destruction robbed us all, forever, of those rights.

    Elements of culture need to be preserved.

    Yes, there are cultural practices that violate the rights of individuals. You are on the front line of the struggle against some of these, and I admire you more than I can say for it. Humans have slowly, painfully, and imperfectly realized that individuals’ rights must be upheld, and that to harm one is to harm all. If, for example, the practice of female genital mutilation is eradicated, then the cultural practice will disappear along with it. As I fervently hope it will. But I can’t agree that only individuals have rights. To say so, to base policy on this idea, fights one injustice but opens the door to another.

  • DSimon

    Peter, the loss of those aspects of Mayan culture impinged on the individual rights of many Maya. That the culture’s rights were being violated (if it had them) isn’t important; the important part is that that cultural damage hurt people. This is to be distinguished from cultural changes which have a net positive effect.

    Which is not to say that knowledge of history isn’t always to be factored in; it should be. But sometimes, even often, making work easier for future archaeologists isn’t worth the cost of continuing cultural practices today that hurt people right now.

    Plus, future archaeologists will have access to Internet archives. I think their problems will more likely revolve around having too much information to deal with than too little. :-)

    (Hello, future archaeologists! If you have time machines, please visit! I have cake.)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Peter makes a good point.

    The study of cultures allows us to advance ourselves, by seeing what works and what doesn’t. “Memory-holes” are dangerous insofar as they permit repetition of the mistake.

    It’s not about a culture’s “right” to be preserved, if that right even exists. It’s about our need to learn from the mistakes that have placed them in the dustbin of history.

  • Sarah Braasch

    There is a gulf of difference between saying that all religio-cultural and linguistic practices participate in the global marketplace of ideas without privilege and saying that we should pretend we never knew such practices.

    I’m the person who thinks everyone should be taught about all religions in public schools, remember?

    But, it truly is a choice to either perpetuate group rights or perpetuate individual rights.

    Since propagating group rights will continue humanity down the path to self-destruction, I’m going with individual rights.

    If you want to take a shot at our survival on this planet, that’s the way to go.

    In rereading this comment, it comes across as much snarkier than I intended.

    I really enjoy this conversation. I think it is truly the debate of our time.

  • BJ

    Sorry for being absent, but my wife and I just took a two-week long vacation to Alaska (Anchorage, Denali, Wittier). Talk about cultural and environmental beauty!!

    My wife and I talked about vanishing culture and efforts to keep cultures alive. It initially made me really sad and angry to read how native Alaskan cultures were assimilated by Western influences and the Church in particular. But then I thought about all the cultures and peoples in pre-history who have been assimilated through conquests and victors. I understand that “culture” is the set of norms, values, and mores practiced by a collection of people; as those people change via a host of means, it seems that the culture is bound to change.

    I’m in the camp that individual rights trump group rights. And I think what made me angry was learning how some native Alaskans were abused horribly. For example, a tour guide in the Anchorage Museum told us how Russians would hold families hostage until their warriors caught a requisite number of .

    Many native Alaskan peoples retain much of their culture; something like 150 million acres is in a conservation program of some sort allowing for subsistence living. My wife and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to visit some heritage centers where we learned a lot about these cultures.

    I came away from the vacation with a deep appreciation of culture and an awareness – and an acceptance – that cultures are not necessarily set in stone.

  • BJ

    @Stef regarding climate change (comment #13)

    I think your comment regarding some atheists’ position on anthropogenic climate change is a good point and one worth discussing.

    I don’t think the scientific consensus we’re talking about is the same as the spiritual consensus we atheists eschew. The general consensus among humans that there is some spiritual realm (and, coming back from Alaska, I was really interested in all their different myths) is not backed up by anything remotely resembling the scientific method that we know to be the best and most reliable way of learning about our world. Conversely, a scientific consensus concerning some physical phenomenon – especially when multiple fields of study converge on the same conclusion – provides me with enough evidence to compel my adherence to a position.

    There is a general consensus, for example, that the earth is not flat. It’s definitely not a fact universally understood by all, as the Flat Earth Society can attest. However, I think the evidence is enough to compel me to accept that the earth is not flat.

    I also do not think it’s a matter of ignoring the evidence. As another example, there are some creationists who accept evolution (Collins being the obvious example), and others can accept almost any evolution-related evidence you can toss at them. They agree with the evidence but disagree on where that evidence leads; the Answers In Genesis site is a prime example of trying to fit any evidence one comes across into the Christian paradigm.

    I will admit that I’m not an expert on global warming. It’s actually on the short list of topics I want to read about. As such, I won’t venture to build any straw men of what evidence I think deniers of anthropogenic global warming ignore. That said, I provisionally accept human-caused climate change because the evidence of which I’m aware lead me to that decision.

    As far as treating this topic as dogma, I agree that we shouldn’t hold anything dogmatically. Except perhaps the aversion to holding things dogmatically. (!!!)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    This thread reminds me of Museum Fremen.


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