Reluctant warriors 2

This weekend I debated Dr. Michael Murray, a professor of physics at the University of Kansas, over whether or not science and Christianity can coexist.  Dr. Murray is a soft-spoken British man, the kind that is nearly too timid to make eye contact.  When we first met he produced a deck of cards from his pocket and gave them to me.  They contained facts about the LHC in Geneva.  He then told me if I was ever in Geneva that he’d arrange for me to have a tour.

Debates are necessarily contentious, so I admit there’s always a little part in the back of my mind that hopes my opponents are assholes.  That way I can bring my full ferocity to the table and not feel guilty for doing so.  Dr. Murray greatly disappointed that part of my brain.

Religion and the institutionalized unreason that accompanies it are bad for the world.  Sadly, this wholly maladaptive idea barricades itself within the minds of very good people.  It is that scenario that causes me to wind up debating someone with whom I’d much rather be sharing a meal.  But as much as I don’t want to lock horns with nice religious people, it must be done, and I acknowledge that.

The culture war has much at stake, enough that battles of ideas must be fought with no quarter given.  Sometimes it’s easy to dehumanize the other side, to think that they don’t also have their own reluctant warriors.  A lot of them are the nicest people you’ll ever meet, like Dr. Murray, who are not born fighters but are brave enough to stand up and try.  Even if I disagree with them, even if I must want to beat them to produce a better world, I still must admire those qualities.  And I also must lament having to fight someone with whom I’d be friends outside the culture war.  Every time I go feral on someone I acknowledge this.

And I fight anyway, because religion must die.  Every general wishes wars could be won without casualties.  The best we can do in the war of atheism and religion is to never forget that not all of our opponents are evil, even if they remain our opponents.  If it could be destroyed without ever railing against someone else’s ideas, I’d do it that way.  But it can’t.

 

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Decnavda

    When I was a youngster going to church, a common Christian saying was, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
    As an agnostic, I now say, “Respect the believer, mock the belief.”

  • Morrison

    Between Dr. Murray’s accent and his mumbling, I could not undertand him half the time. Moreover, he took long pauses, to the extent of being unable to answer easily responded to arguments.

    He is obviously shy, though not lacking in courage, but is no debater.

    This is a pattern with SOMA, they pick people who are not debaters (like putting this guy who had a voice so high that it hurt to listen to him up against Dan Barker last year) to put up against experienced speakers. Effective, but in effect stacking the Deck.

    At the same time, they turned down an offer to go up against the local notorious “Goldstein Squad” on the grounds that things could get too heated. What nonsense. They were afraid they would lose.

    However, as to your claim tha “relgion must die”, that cry will ensure that it does not. Nothing better to rally the supporters of religion than threats.

    Many far more brilliant men than you have tried it; Hume, Voltaire, Paine, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Sartre and so on.

    All failed.

    Even men who had the power to employ ANY MEANS they wished failed to kill religion.

    Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, etc.

    All failed, and self destructed.

    You are going to lose.

    • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

      Interesting viewpoint Morisson.
      What am I to infer then from the fact that for millennia, no religion has managed to eradicate skepticism, or even manage to get a majority share in the global population, even when they used EVERY means at their disposal to do so?

      • Bertram Cabot

        You can infer that we have standoff, and JT’s claim that “relgion must die” is empty.

        Men have free will, hence there will always be skeptics too.

        • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

          You’re treating the statement “religion must die” as the claim “religion will die”. One is a impetus for action, the other is a factual statement about the future. One can believe that religion must disappear without thinking that its possible to be 100% successful.

    • Anteprepro

      However, as to your claim tha “relgion must die”, that cry will ensure that it does not. Nothing better to rally the supporters of religion than threats.

      FAIL. How can “religion must die” possibly be conceived of as “a threat”? How can this possibly be construed as “a threat” when reading a post entirely about argumentation which stresses how religious people on the other end of the debate can be decent human beings who would be friends if it weren’t for the debate itself? It might be considered “a threat” to religion, but that requires quite a bit of verbal gymnastics as well. In order to convince us that we should give a fuck about someone “threatening” an entire category of institutions and ideas.

      Many far more brilliant men than you have tried it; Hume, Voltaire, Paine, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Sartre and so on.

      All failed.

      I don’t recall the period in time when these people had significant control of the planet. As for Darwin not “kill[ing] religion”: The case of evolution is a black mark on the record of the religious’s ability to accept scientific facts, not on Darwin’s ability to show religion to be utter dross.

      • Morrison

        If you want to pretend that being told that “religion must die” is not a threat, go ahead.But if the post were only about “argumentation” why even use the word “die”? Why not say “refuted” or even “defeated”?

        Have the guts to get it out in the open.

        And if you are going to quote mine, at least mention the other part of the post, that mentioned Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. They had ALL means at their disposal, at a level greater than any prvious group in history ever had.

        Result? Self destruction.

        • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

          It can only be viewed as a threat if you can’t differentiate the dogma from the person.

          Bringing up Lenin & Mao only serves to show that you can’t destroy an idea with totalitarianism. Good thing that’s not what’s being advocated.

        • Anteprepro

          But if the post were only about “argumentation” why even use the word “die”?

          It’s a figure of speech, you incredible fucking moron. You know why it HAS to be a figure of speech? Because “religion
          !=”religious people”. Religion itself can’t actually die, because it’s not a living creature. The fact that I even need to point this out, and that the need to point this out is far from rare, is a testament to the general idiocy of believers on the topic of religion.

          that mentioned Lenin, Trotsky and Mao. They had ALL means at their disposal, at a level greater than any prvious group in history ever had.

          You’re a fucking moron. The same complaint I had originally applies but only needs to be rephrased: They only had the means to eliminate religion in the region that they actually had political power in. They were actually fairly successful in eliminating religion by force for the area that they had power and for the period that they remained in power. but not long term. But that’s hardly a problem, because JT is not advocating removal of religion at the barrel of a gun. And this would be obvious if you weren’t a fucking illiterate.

          The fact that I didn’t address this the first was that it was irrelevant to do so, not because I was “quote-mining” you.

          Bonus fail

          : Trotsky didn’t want to forcefully demolish religion and remove the religious of their right to be religious, even if he didn’t support religion either.

      • Zinc Avenger

        Because there was no possible reason anyone could have wanted them overthrown apart from atheism, right?

        Or maybe their regimes self destructed because they were murderous lunatics. That happens to murderous theocratic regimes too. Atheism isn’t the deciding factor you seem to wish it to be.

        But you’re right, trying to stamp out religion with a jackboot doesn’t work. Guess what? There are christians in Saudi Arabia, despite it being a crime. So if a fanatical theocracy can’t stamp out religions, what can?

        Time, education, and patience will do it.

        Religions can die. Where are the worshipers of mighty Zeus? Where is the temple of Mithras? Who calls upon the legendary wisdom of old one-eyed Odin? History is littered with the insubstantial corpses of gods.

        Why did these religions die? Their followers stopped believing. Sometimes they found a “better” god, sometimes they were converted by the point of a sword (relgions are rarely happy to coexist). But lately, over the last few centuries, there has been an alternative. Atheism, and simple rationality are an alternative.

        We don’t need Thor to explain lightning. We don’t sacrifice an animal to ensure the sun rises after the solstice. The role of gods has gone from movers and shakers of the world, responsible for everything around us, to touchy-feely things you have “other ways of knowing about” and as a catch all explanation of things unknown. Religion may not be dying just yet, but it’s sure getting feeble in this age of reason.

        Your god can feed thousands of people with some loaves and fishes according to an unsubstantiated claim. Agriculture and irrigation can feed thousands of people for years – in the right circumstances, indefinitely. Your messiah can walk on water. Aerospace engineers can build machines that fly through the sky. Your god looks down on the earth and sees it all laid out before him. Satellites can do the same – and pick out signs of planets in orbit around other stars. Your god cast out demons. Polio and smallpox have been eradicated by vaccination.

        Your god is so feeble even the “amazing tales” told in his holy book are exceeded so often we don’t even think about it. Religion might never die, but one day we might look back at your god and laugh that anyone was impressed by little party tricks.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

          Religions can die. Where are the worshipers of mighty Zeus? Where is the temple of Mithras? Who calls upon the legendary wisdom of old one-eyed Odin? History is littered with the insubstantial corpses of gods.

          Oh, they’re still around, just in far fewer numbers, and mostly fumbling around with (typically) half-assed “reconstructions” of The Ancient Relijunz.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Morrison,

      Dr. Murray is a class act. He is a kind person and by all counts a brilliant physicist and an excellent teacher who, despite his expansive list of academic achievements and contributions to the field of physics, is humble to a fault. You and your friends, by contrast, are unresearched trolls with delusions of grandeur who think shrieking “Stalin!” and then plugging your ears makes you the debate champions of the world. Perhaps Dr. Murray is inexperienced as a debater, but let’s not imagine that undeservedly arrogant online antagonists are anywhere near in his league. You’re not.

      You are ignored by debate organizers not because we’re afraid, but because you are inconsequential and have no chance whatsoever of doing better than the likes of Dr. Murray.

      • Tinker Bell

        Then why not take em up on it, and prove it!

        Come on, JT, prove it! Because all you have shown so far is a Straw Man criticism.

        • Rumtopf

          “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”

    • Michaelyn

      I was going to ignore this trolling until you spread lies about the organization that I help run at KU. I’d like to clear some things up.

      “At the same time, they turned down an offer to go up against the local notorious “Goldstein Squad” on the grounds that things could get too heated. What nonsense. They were afraid they would lose.”

      False. The so called “Goldstein Squad” made a few rude comments on my blog and suggested we debate them after SOMA had already chosen the debate topic and had found representatives for both sides. In the past, there have been debates and events scheduled where they have been invited, but failed to show. Afraid to get too heated? We host debates on the existence of god; I think we’re okay with things getting heated.

      I find it amusing that you think we’re “stacking” the debates. SOMA actually has not chosen the representatives for the affirmative sides of the debates at ReasonFest for the past 2 years. The Catholic center has chosen the debaters, and why they would be aiming to stack the debates for us is beyond me.

      Maybe it’s not the debaters. Maybe it’s that there’s no evidence for the affirmative case, so it’s too difficult to debate for that side.

      • Tinker Bell

        B.S. and you know it!

      • Tinker Bell

        P.S.; What debate was scheduled that they failed to show up for?

        DATE:

        TIME:

        PLACE:

        Come on, YOU MADE THE CLAIM…tell everyone the Date, Time and Place of the debate that was scheduled that they failed to show up for.

        Thanks in advance for this information.

  • Edward

    What about the millions of people in the world who actively improve their community and enrich the lives of the poor, homeless, abused, etc due to religious inspiration? Why does their religious belief need to die? I think you might need to tighten your language and argument because there are millions of people who you will never meet who are making the world half-decent for the rest of us and they don’t seek credit simply because of their faith. I don’t think you are focusing your argument against them and if you are, I would recommendation some deeper reflection on the purpose of your fight.

    • Zinc Avenger

      Why don’t they help because it’s the right thing to do?

      Do you need to check with your god that it’s alright before you help someone? Or do you perhaps check that you’re going to get the heavenly credit you think you deserve?

      • Makoto

        This, exactly this. People can help people because it’s the good thing to do, not just because of the promise of rewards/punishments given by religions depending on if you do the “right” thing as the religion sees it.

    • Anteprepro

      What about the millions of people in the world who actively improve their community and enrich the lives of the poor, homeless, abused, etc due to religious inspiration?

      If they do things simply because of their religious beliefs then they are not truly good people. Full stop. Luckily, I have a hard time believing that a significant number of the decent people in the world who are religious would stop to be decent people without religion. The existence of a similar proportion atheists who behave in a similarly good fashion is a testament to the fact that religion is not necessary for good behavior. I would recommend some deeper reflection of the implications of your counter-argument.

    • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

      One of the problems of religion is that it is interwoven in societies, so that people credit it for regular altruism. I think that’s more of an effect of the dogma entrenching itself into normal human behavior rather than being responsible for it. My limited experience nonwithstanding, I am unaware of any believer who reduced their altruistic behavior upon being convinced that no god exists.

  • baal

    Edward, atheistic countries do well in measures of social well being.
    http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

    Further, the more education someone has, the more likely they are to be atheists. As there aren’t forced indoctrination to atheism classes, I assume it’s a side effect of thinking and being exposed to more ideas. Calling for religion to die is, in part, asking for everyone to have the same access to education and exposure to ideas. Who could be against that?

    • Tinker Bell

      The study conflates “secular” with “atheistic”, which are not the same thing.

      Moreover, it has failed to take into account Officially Atheistic Countries, per their constitution, like China.

      Massive Fail.

      • Anteprepro

        Actually, if one bothered to READ, one would note that the article gives mildly distinct but somewhat overlapping definitions for atheist, agnostic, secular (person), and “none”. “Atheism in the constitution” is irrelevant since the study is looking at the proportion of people in the country who are non-religious. It notes that many of the reports about the number of atheists in China are inaccurate, and is only ONE country out of many anyway.

        So, no, the massive fail is entirely on you Twinkletoes.

  • Ariel

    I’m a wicked, older guy who quarrels too much. It happens very rarely that I write comments just to applaud something or someone. (That’s why Ftb is ideal for me :-).) However, confronted with this:

    Sometimes it’s easy to dehumanize the other side, to think that they don’t also have their own reluctant warriors. A lot of them are the nicest people you’ll ever meet, like Dr. Murray, who are not born fighters but are brave enough to stand up and try. Even if I disagree with them, even if I must want to beat them to produce a better world, I still must admire those qualities. And I also must lament having to fight someone with whom I’d be friends outside the culture war.

    I can only say: hear, hear! I doubt if you will produce a better world, but this was really excellent, and I love it that a fighter like you can express such sentiments. My respect goes to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1698151270 John-Henry Beck

    Part of the reason religion needs to die is because it causes this kind of thing where otherwise nice and reasonable people have to fight over whether we should be obeying the rules and traditions of authoritarian and bigoted organizations and their invisible friends.

    • Tinker Bell

      Spoken like a true bigot.

      • Zinc Avenger

        Seriously? Is “NO U” the best you’ve got?

        • Anteprepro

          Looking at the creature’s contributions so far: Yes. By a rather wide margin.

          • Tinker Bell

            O.K. its true, I like seeing bigots get their panties in a bind. There is always an “other” for some people to blame.

            For some its blacks, or Catholics, or Jews, or Immingrants. In your guys case its “religion”.

            Of course, the bigot always has a “reason”…the blacks “cause crime”, the Catholics are Popists, the Jews control “the banks” and “Hollywood” (Richard Dawkins TWICE mentins the “notorious Jewish lobby” in his own Delusional Book)and the immigrants “take our jobs”.

            And for you religion “is the root of all evil”.

            You can’t even see your own irrationality.

          • Zinc Avenger

            For some its black people, or Catholic people, or Jewish people, or Immingrant people. In your guys case its “religion”.

            (my additions in bold)

            That’s what bigots say. Did anyone say religious people must die? No. Just religion. And last time I checked, religions aren’t people (unlike corporations, but that’s a different subject). And your bizarre rant is in response to a post talking about how likeable some religious people are.

  • Bertram Cabot

    Actually, a bigot does not have to say that “people” must die. A bigot is someone who blames an entire group for the actions of some.

    In your alls case, its just “religon” in general.

    Yep. That’s bigotry.

    There have, however, been atheists that say religious people must die. Sam Harris comes to mind. And Hitchens…he loved the Bush Wars, you couldn’t kill Muslims fast enough to keep Hitchens happy.

    Sure, its all amusing stuff. Its even effective in cowing people.

    But it still bigotry.

    • Zinc Avenger

      Then saying “crime must die” is bigotry too, is it?

    • TV200

      Wrong, wrong a hundred times wrong. What you are doing here is giving an ideas and identity. Yes, it is an idea that many use to define themselves, but it’s an idea none the less. And that is what is being criticized here. It is an idea that has led to extraordinary cruelty and oppression, and to be fair, has led some to treat all others with compassion. It is still an idea whose time has come to be relegated to the junkyard. Racism, as an idea, has never produced any positive results. It still does exist, but speaking out against it does not equate to bigotry. One can say the same about homophobia, various political ideologies, or any idea that has generally come to be recognized as divisive to humankind as a whole.

    • TV200

      Sorry, meant to say, “giving ideas an identity…”

  • Anteprepro

    I just cannot fucking believe it. Not one, but THREE moronic apologists for religion, who believe that not liking religion (a widespread and multi-formed institution, a set of ideas, an uncritical way of thinking) or wanting it to end is akin to not liking a group of people and threatening murder. Do these people become so blinkered in the course of lobotomies performed during visits to their churches, or did they need to be this dumb in order to drool over religion in the first place?

    • Bertram Cabot

      None of us have said that not liking religion or wanting it to end is akin to murder.

      But saying it must DIE and there will be CASUALITIES is a threat.

      Keep it up; the religious people need to wake up and realize what is planned for them.

      I learned it from the organizer of several atheist meetup groups in Kansas City…some of his pals were at ReasonFest. He famously said that religious people will end up in a ditch “like Jimmy Hoffa”.

      In fact some of the leaders of ReasonFest are friends with the guy on facebook.

      You aren’t fooling anyone.

      • Anteprepro

        Still illiterate. Did you read this?

        If it could be destroyed without ever railing against someone else’s ideas,

        That’s what JT is referring to when he mentions “casualties” (i.e. hurting people’s feelings). It has already been explained how “religion must die” cannot possibly be a threat and must be metaphorical, because RELIGION IS NOT A PERSON, RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE!

        But, yes, the religious people do need to wake up. They need to realize that they are on the side of idiocy, supported by complete and abject fuckwits like yourself. They should all be embarrassed by you, if only there weren’t so many like you.

      • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

        “You aren’t fooling anyone” No, we’re not. But then again we’re not trying to. You on the other hand seem to be trying to fool people but are failing miserably.

        • Bertram Cabot

          Actually, the informaition we are spreading has convinced a lot of people that atheists have BIG PLANS for us.

          What the particular people on this thread think is irrelevant.

          • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

            OK, I retract that part of my comment. You are fooling some people.

      • Aquaria

        Compared to assholes like you, who can’t wait for atheists to burn to a crisp for not propping up your genocidal delusions.

        I mean, it’s okay when you scumbags do it, but not us, right?

        And name the person who made the Hoffa remarks, so we can verify with him what he said exactly. Your word is worthless.

        • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

          He named it in the other thread

          http://billtammeus.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/01/191010.html?cid=6a00d834515f9b69e2012876c0d7fd970c#comment-6a00d834515f9b69e2012876c0d7fd970c

          He did say it, although it still looks like metaphorical, if heavy-handed language.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1698151270 John-Henry Beck

            Ah, yes. That comment does have a lot of violent phrasing. But it also looks pretty clearly metaphorical. Beaten with the rock of reason, or shot with a bullet of rationality, etc.

            Arguably not the best way to go about talking about those ideas. There is a ‘you’ talking to the reader. But, still, it’s hard to take that as a literal threat of physical harm by the writer (or other atheists) without wanting to take it that way.

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