Last night I was on a panel discussing religion, as the token skeptic. For me, such events often highlight differences in mentality and temperament, as much as differences in ways of describing the world.

There was a Hindu and a Buddhist on the panel, both Westerners following Westernized versions of their traditions. So predictably enough, their views of spirituality came across as a form of therapy mixed in with magical beliefs about minds. Their pronouncements on peace and happiness weren’t too objectionable, if you could remove the magical thinking from the picture. If mental peace is the sort of thing you want, well, maybe meditative techniques and all that sort of thing can help. It’s not implausible. Mind you, I’m not sure I want to turn into a zombie who drivels about universal benevolence with a strange smile on my face. And for all the talk of selflessness, I can’t help but think there’s something egocentric about the therapeutic focus of Western Buddhism and so forth.

The Catholic, the Muslim, the Jew and the Mormon talked about the teachings of their faith, and about trying to get closer to God. They didn’t say much about why they should believe their particular teachings rather than those of their neighboring panelists’. It seemed like it came down to loyalty to the tradition they were brought up in. It worked for them, after all. Which is, I guess, a reasonably pragmatic attitude to have. They all did a lot of squirming, however, when some audience members questioned them about the less woman-friendly aspects of their traditions. I’m not sure why they bothered. Women are generally more inclined toward supernatural beliefs than men, regardless of whether women are allowed to be priests or imams or whatever.

The Protestant representative, a religion professor, was interesting. Much of what he said revolved around quasi-liberal Biblical interpretation, especially trying to get into the head of Paul. Interesting, and since much of this sort of thing tries to twist the writings of ancient religious fanatics into something acceptable for modern political correctness, harmless enough. But I have to admit, I don’t see why anyone should care about what the Bible says, even assuming it any coherent “message” at all, which I am fairly sure it does not. No, I didn’t say anything. No point in antagonizing colleagues, especially by implying I don’t think their discipline should exist.

I probably gave the impression that I was an arrogant bastard who had a very science-centered way of looking at things. Which is accurate enough, I suppose.

Geisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8
G&T Rebuttal, Part 6: Chapter 7
G&T Rebuttal, Part 5: Chapter 6
Rape them Atheists!
About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • PersonalFailure

    U wuship teh Darwin!

    Sorry, but seeming mean because you demand proof for things is ridiculous. I suggest handing everyone in the audience a bill for $1000, and then when they ask what it’s for, say, “What, now you want proof?”

  • Unitarian Church

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Unitarian Church

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • White Rabbit

    Ahh, clan loyalty. Amazing what it turned into. I once had a similar question amongst my Unitarian Colleagues. Most don’t buy into the bible to any significant degree but they all seem to think Jesus was really enlightened and amazingly good.

    It must be a kind of celebrity fanboi thing. If you don’t buy the “Plan of Salvation” thing surely Jesus didn’t even rank in the top 10% of ethical philosophers. Heck there are people in our own church History that were better.

    Same with Buddha and Mohammad, surely if you’re looking for really great role models, there’s better to choose from.

    Celebrities, never know what to do with them.


    White Rabbit

  • David

    Various meditative states have been studied in quite some detail for the last 40 years. You don’t have to engage in “magical” thinking in order to benefit from many of these practices.

    I would think that a “very science-centered” person such as yourself would know this. That you don’t is both surprising and disappointing.

  • Taner Edis

    David: “You don’t have to engage in “magical” thinking in order to benefit from many of these practices.”

    I’m quite aware of that, and I have no objection to meditative practices other that I prefer to sit down with a good book. My comment about magical thinking referred specifically to the panelists in question.

  • White Rabbit

    Hmmm, I lie somewhere in the middle of the last two comments.

    Taner, I recon you can gain a fair bit from meditation that simple relaxation doesn’t nessisarily offer. This I suspect is due to a kind of peridolia mixed in with general mental white noise. Having said that zoning out halfway while reading has once or twice produced simlar effects with me :P

    David, I don’t think Taner even implied this. Additionally without a bit of critical thought on the matter there is a tendency to slip into woo when engaging in meditation (especially buddhist which is already a tad woo). Chatting to a fair number of people on the subject a naturalistic explaination frequently seems to take a back seat to talk about guiding spirits or qi etc. What’s really happening is far less romantic and far more complicated neurologically but people in general opt for the simpler magical explaination instead.

    On the subject of Atheist Muslims I have met one, he identifies with the culture (especially modesty and humility) but doesn’t buy the rest. Ironically he thinks Mohummad was probably epileptic.

    That’d be what a Unitarian Church will do for you though :P (I don’t think they are common though)



  • matt

    I probably gave the impression that I was an arrogant bastard who had a very science-centered way of looking at things. Which is accurate enough, I suppose.

    And what has science ever done for us anyway? What has it given us? Hmmm?

    “The aquaduct?”