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On misunderstanding Dawkins

by Ted Welch Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 08:00:29 AM EST

(to put it politely), or why I lost patience with those so impatient with Dawkins that they can't even be bothered to consider seriously what he actually writes and says.

Here, especially for Twank, is a brief summary:

Dawkins is not the "strident" "asshole" he's sometimes made out to be; actually he is, as "someone" said, reasonable and amusing. He doesn't expect to change the minds of very committed Christians so he doesn't need the "faith (sic)" attributed to him by TBG, rather he has the quite reasonable aims of helping some people to clarify their ideas, and others to be more ready to speak up for the atheist views they actually hold. The feedback to him during book tours and to his site suggests that he's been successful in this with many people. What he's opposing isn't primarily well-meaning, non-dogmatic Christians, but the very powerful, more fundamentalist representatives of Christianity (particularly in the US), Islam and other religions. However, he argues, and it's a reasonable point of view, that moderate Christians lend credibility to even the more extreme forms - it's all a matter of faith. Dawkins, Hitchens, et al continue a noble tradition of outspoken atheism, necessary at a time when religions like Islam and Christianity have dangerous fanatical elements, in the US the latter has gained a lot of political power. We should applaud those who stand up and deplore this dangerous superstition - as Nietzsche did in his time.


I was surprised that there weren't more critical comments on TBG's diary:


"On not understanding religion
Or why I finally lost patience with Dawkins, et al.

http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2007/12/30/13155/487

But, to be fair, he himself described it as "a very sketchy bullet-point diary". Worse was nanne's comment on Dawkins. TBG understandably deplores the decline of civility recently -but didn't comment on this:

Re: On not understanding religion

Dawkins is just another argumentative asshole, as far as I can see, and Hitchens is worse (his atheism has become a thin veil for Islamophobia). Dawkins' entire simplistic religion as an evil meme 'theory' is based upon begging the question.
... He's an atheist asshole...

No evidence to support this, yet again. I think if you are tempted to attack someone this nastily, you should offer some supporting evidence, or cut it out if you don't have enough time to justify it.

I acknowledge that I am fortunate enough to have more spare time than most people here, which partly explains the length of this - sorry, but there was a lot of relevant evidence for the various issues discussed and this compensates for the marked absence of any evidence in the criticisms of Dawkins (even so,  I have left out quite important things like a critique of one of the more thoughtful reviews of Dawkins' The God Delusion (in the NYT, by Orr)).

Dawkins' book on religion is far more thoughtful, complex, and evidence-based, than  just an "evil meme `theory'". Unfortunately, of those who commented,  only "someone" seemed to have actually read it.

Equally deplorable was that the only comment on nanne's comment was from Migeru (of whom I would have expected better) saying, again with no attempt at justification:

Re: On not understanding religion

I agree completely on your characterisation of Dawkins,

Then there was metatone:

"I lost patience with Dawkins almost immediately simply because he comes across (in his media ramblings, I am told he's different in person) as just another upper class smug git product of the British system. I don't think hectoring people in such a manner works all that well.

http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2007/12/30/13155/487

In other words M had not (apparently) actually read the book, has no criticisms of any of his arguments, but just feels that he's an "upper class smug git" - not exactly serious criticism.

The stormy present agrees:

I agree with you entirely on Dawkins et. al. I continue to be amazed (uh, recent events notwithstanding) at how many otherwise intelligent people can fail to realize that haranguing someone is not a great way to change his or her mind, but just makes them dislike you.

Neither of them actually gives any examples of this supposed "hectoring" or "haranguing" - a standard criticism from Christian opponents and from a few atheist reviewers. Nor did they consider whether he is actually trying to change the minds of those who are committed believers (he has said that that is unrealistic in his interview with Paxman for Newsnight - where, as usual, he is very reasonable).

In fact Dawkins is a very reasonable man and has noted this kind of criticism; rather than hectoring such critics, or haranguing them, he examines what evidence there is. Others, he notes, have described his book as "strident" - he considers this - one critic had said that he was strident from page one. He reads page one, you can do so too, here:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,1879076,00.html

Obviously this is anything BUT strident. Ever reasonable, he picks out a passage from his book which he thinks Christian critics might well find "strident". It's at the beginning of chapter two, where he describes the god of the Old Testament in very negative terms (but based on what is in the OT). However he said that here he was attempting to be funny - clearly he succeeds, with some Americans, as you can see here, from his reading (there is a  Q & A session in Pt 2, see below)  at the Randolph-Macon Women's College in Virginia (the god bit is 8 minutes in):

Let's consider a few other relevant facts and set them against this unsubstantiated abuse.

New Humanist magazine had a poll of nearly 2500 readers They're probably not that unlike most members of ET - with the significant difference that they are more likely to have actually read Dawkins and Hitchens, if not their books, at least some interviews with them. They might well have thought the two were not doing the Humanist cause any good. Like Dawkins himself, I was surprised by the results - given how prevalent this "too strident", basically Christian accusation has been, echoed by some atheist reviewers.

Are Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens a good thing for humanism?:

1 Yes, it's time to get serious in our rejection of religion

2 Yes, they enliven the debate

3 No, their aggressive tone is unhelpful

4 No, they're a menace to humanism

The results showed that there was a surprisingly (given the criticism in the media) positive reaction:

1 1935 (80); 2 409 (16%); 3 65 (2%); 4 8 (close to 0%)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2936455252329399558

The appeal of the book has been wide and, like some of his other books, it has received an important award already:

As of November 2007, the English version of The God Delusion had sold over 1.5 million copies and been translated to 31 languages.[2] It was ranked #2 on the Amazon.com bestsellers' list in November 2006.[3][4] In early December 2006, it reached #4 in the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Seller list after nine weeks on the list.[5] It remained on the list for 51 weeks until September 30, 2007.[6] It has attracted widespread commentary, with several books written in response.

...The book was nominated for Best Book at the British Book Awards, where Richard Dawkins won the Author of the Year award.[17] It has been controversial, and has provoked responses from both religious and atheist commentators.[18] In the 2007 paperback edition, Dawkins responds to many of the criticisms that these reviewers raise.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion

See also the evidence of the feedback he's had personally and on his web site (see below). He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997 and Royal Society in 2001 - few have been elected to both.

Dawkins topped Prospect magazine's 2004 list of the top 100 public British intellectuals, as decided by the readers, receiving twice as many votes as the runner-up.[94] In 2005, the Hamburg-based Alfred Toepfer Foundation awarded him their Shakespeare Prize in recognition of his "concise and accessible presentation of scientific knowledge".[95] He was the winner of the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science for 2006 and the Galaxy British Book Awards Author of the Year for 2007.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins

A pretty impressive record - for an "asshole".

A Challenge

Here's a challenge to nanne, Migeru, Metatone and the stormy present - and anyone who shares their view about Dawkins.

Watch this Q & A session at the Randolph-Macon Women's College in Virginia (very close to Falwell's absurdly entitled Christian "Liberty University", where some of the questioners came from):

Note the applause and laughter of the audience.

Having watched that, come back here and explain why this is not the display of intelligence, erudition, courtesy, a sense of humour, and sympathy it seems to be to me, and apparently the audience - even one of his opponents acknowledges how amusing he was. Or else apologise for your derogatory remarks.

Or you can watch his interview on BBC World's Hardtalk, where the same qualities are on display:

There are three parts.

If you don't have time for those you can watch him vainly trying to engage Bill O'Reilly of Fox in a reasoned discussion - it's only 4 minutes 40 secs, during which the guest is allowed to talk for just one minute 23 seconds !:

There's a longer version where someone has filled in the arguments against O'Reilly:

"quite funny" - "good points"

As I said, it seemed that the only person who had actually read the book (nobody else referred to anything specific in it or said that they had read it) was "someone" and, surprise, surprise, she had quite a different view from the ET critics above:


Re: On not understanding religion.

I found Dawkins far more sympathetic after reading his book: The god delusion. It was quite funny, I though. And I though he made some very good points...

... I see no reason why Faith and Religion should be these great Untouchable subjects about which we are not allowed to make disagreeing statements but must proceed with uttermost care and delicacy and tolerance or feelings gets hurt.

by someone

There was no response.

TBG reminds us that religions (like other things - pubs, sports groups, ET, etc.) provide a sense of community and that people get very sensitive if their views and hence, by implication, the community they identify with, are attacked. He argues that it's counter-productive to try to change their views by rational means.

But:

People do change their views and books can play a part

People are complex and not everybody who might be described as religious is equally committed to their views and, as we know, people DO change their views (some of them quite early) and the causes of this can be complex. ONE of the things which CAN precipitate this, or contribute to it, is reading a book. It certainly did in my case - thanks to the public library and popular science books, which seemed to me to offer far more convincing explanations than the Christan theology I had swallowed up to age of about ten.

Dawkins  is well aware that he is unlikely to convince those who are very committed to their views (as he says in his interview with Paxman on Newsnight), but says, quite reasonably, that there are those that are not sure and who might welcome a reasoned case for atheism. He is clearly right about this - in at least some cases - cf. his comments on his book-signing experience. Most people thanked him for writing it, supporting this are some of the comments emailed to his site (see below), as well as on other sites:

Support for his own community

It's also wrong to suppose that there can be just one function/aim for a book. Dawkins says that another aim for the book is to support those who are already atheists and to encourage them to be more outspoken about their opinions and thus change the often intimidating general cultural climate in the US, as far as atheists are concerned. Cf. one of the other few dissenting comments on TBG's diary, from rdf:

I think those outside of the US underestimate the power that the right wing fundamentalists have exercised over the past several decades.

... Not only have several candidates gone out of their way to proclaim their disbelief in Darwinism, but they have also stated that their duty, when elected, is to promote "God's" agenda, not to uphold the constitution.

...
During the Cold War, the United States often characterized its opponents as "Godless Communists,"[7] which tended to reinforce the view that atheists were unreliable and unpatriotic. Against this background, the words "under God" were inserted into the pledge of allegiance in 1954,[8] and the national motto was changed from E Pluribus Unum to In God We Trust in 1956. In the 1988 U.S. presidential campaign, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush said, "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God."[9]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_atheism

We now have in the US the bizarre spectacle of two front runners as Presidential candidate on the Republican side, one of whom is an ex-Baptist minister who believes in creationism and the other is a Mormon, and, on the Democratic side, Obama, the man for change, does the pious thing too:

December 14, 2007

Candidates need refresher on First Amendment

Mitt Romney declares, "Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Barack Obama opens his speech at his South Carolina Oprah rally with "Giving all praise and honor to God. Look at the day that the Lord has made." Mike Huckabee explains his surge in the polls thus: "There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

http://www.godlessamericans.org/pacarticles.php

You can see Hitchens' - (also reasonable) - commentary on Romney's beliefs here:

Here Dawkins clarifies this part of his motivation in writing the book - encouraging others to have the courage of their atheist convictions:

Well, I call it an excellent magazine, but that particular Issue contains a disappointing review by Ian Johnston of Sam Harris's brilliant The End of Faith. I am getting sick and tired of the sheer negativity of reviews of books like Sam's which begin with the ominious words "I am an atheist but . . ." and then launch into a long, moaning, defeatist caterwaul about "preaching to the choir", "religion is here to stay, accept it and give up the struggle", "what's the point of upsetting people's most cherished beliefs", "why be so disrespectful . . ." etc etc etc. We have a fight on our hands, Sam is a brave champion, please can't we stop the defeatist negativity and get on with it? The other side will never give any quarter to us. Why be so eager to give, give, give to them? They won't return the favour.[ my emphasis, TW]

My talk at McGill was greeted, like several others, with a reassuringly wholehearted, and almost universal, standing ovation. I am under no illusions that I deserve these enthusiastic receptions personally, or that they reflect the quality of my own performance as a speaker. On the contrary, I am convinced that they represent an overflowing of bottled-up frustration, from masses of decent people pushed to breaking point and heartily sick of the sycophantic `respect' that our society, even secular society, routinely and thoughtlessly accords religious faith. Time after time, people in the signing queues thank me for doing no more than say in public what they have, in private, long wanted to say, and probably could say more eloquently than I can. I think people are fed up to the gills with the near universal expectation that religious faith must be respected. Let us, by all means, respect what people say when it is well thought-out and makes sense. Let us not respect it just because it shelters behind a citadel of `faith'. Faith is nothing. Faith is empty. Beliefs that are worth respecting are beliefs that are defended with evidence and reason.

http://www.richarddawkins.net/tourJournal.

Responses on his web site show support for his claim about the reaction at signings - the first from someone who was against Dawkins' "all out approach of challenging religious convictions" - till he read the book:

...  I would listen to the other side without presenting mine, feeling strongly that I did not want to do to others what was done to me during my religiously abusive childhood.

Because of this perspective, I was critical of Dawkins all out approach of challenging religious conviction and beliefs. I did not want to become like them.

Now with reading this fantastic, superb, and perfect presentation of his, he has won me over to his argumentative style. Bully for you, Richard!

Atheists have been bullied hard and long enough by supporters of religious superstition. Believers in religious superstitions may not be the majority of people on the planet after all, as most atheists, for various reasons, do not even admit their atheism to themselves, less to others.

http://richarddawkins.net/theGood

Dawkins is doing work that many do appreciate and some are extremely grateful to him:

Thank you for putting into words what I have been struggling with the last 50 years. I am a product of 12 years of catholic school with all the associated guilt.
...

Thanks again!!

(This one especially for Kcurie)

I do not write letters to celebrities. I do not write to authors, actors, singers or scientists even though Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke are among the people I admire most. This is the first time, in my almost 67 years

... Now I understand I was really an atheist all that time. I was making the mistake, about atheism, that you described in your book.

My purpose in writing is to encourage you to keep writing. Keep talking, because I agree with you that there are a lot more of us than is normally suspected. When people like you and Bill Mahr and George Carlin speak out it gives the rest of us the courage to do likewise when the opportunity presents itself. If that courage spreads, who knows, maybe someday those who benefit from the ignorance of others will be forced to show some shame.[my emphasis, TW]

http://richarddawkins.net/theGood

Deadly dogma

Religions aren't just clubs for nice people to enjoy belonging to communities, they are not just about tea parties in the vicar's garden; religious people DO have beliefs and many take them very seriously and make great efforts to impose them on others- despite TBG's airy and patronising dismissal:

Religious people aren't really defensive about dogma, or evangelical about dogma, no matter how much it seems otherwise. What they're really defensive about is their community and tribe.

http://www.eurotrib.com/?op=displaystory;sid=2007/12/30/13155/487

Historically religious people have shown themselves willing to fight amongst themselves and to torture and kill those who refused their version of the faith - this has divided communities and even families. Of course things are often complicated and these conflicts weren't always solely about theology, but that often played a significant part, cf.:

It is never a pleasant thing so to hear about Christians persecuting other Christians: How dissonant and jarring to hear of disciples of Christ, followers of the one who gave himself as a ransom for the many, whose end was engineered in large part by those so sure in their religious certitude they were willing to see him done to death.

And church history ever since has been replete with such continued internecine struggles. Those with the power to do so have marginalized, exiled, persecuted -- and at the most extreme, executed -- those they saw as heretics or sinners, traitors to the cause of Christ, even though they too bore his name.

I will not dwell on recent events in the Anglican Communion -- if we dare still call it either Anglican or a Communion -- except to note that those who expect a final solution to all our disagreements with next week's Windsor Report will, I think, be sadly disappointed. Those who see the Episcopal Church as a cancer to be surgically excised will be content with nothing less. Intolerance will not be satisfied with compromise now, as it never has been, by its very nature.

http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/j221.html

If some are so intolerant of each other's variations on their faith - as a significant proportion of them are - there is no hope of such people being on the side of atheists - as TBG suggests in his reply to Jerome. It IS possible with SOME of the more moderate Christians, and Dawkins is quite willing to work with them and they are willing to work with him, despite his supposed "stridency" (see below on opposing the spread of creationism).

But many are much more extreme, especially in the US. Being nice to them and not questioning their faith is no more likely to succeed than Obama's hope to work with the Right, as Edwards has scornfully pointed out. The most dangerous ones are not just a powerless, eccentric fringe in the US, but people who've organised to get power.

The growing threat of creationism

From the US, a report on the Museum of Creationism:

The New Yorker's George Packer finds something far more sinister: a full assault on the Enlightenment, one which portrays our rise from the Dark Ages as a form of falling:

... Many of the quarter of a million people expected to visit the Creation Museum by the end of the year will be children. They will be indoctrinated into an ideology that systematically warps their understanding of the physical world and fills them with hostility toward the facts and concepts of modernity. As we have learned over the past few years, this doesn't mean that they'll be outcasts and failures. A great political party has largely abased itself before their world view and offered them unprecedented access to government power. The Creation Museum, a combination of a natural-history museum and a Communist Party propaganda center, will help to arm and arouse the next generation of Christianists in the ongoing war against secular and scientific America.[my emphasis, TW]

http://blog.wired.com

As they've gained power they have tried even harder to impose their views on everyone else, and they are trying to impose their views in the UK and Europe generally - and even Christians have worked with atheists like Dawkins against their fellow Christians:

Leading clerics and scientists have warned Downing Street about their 'growing anxiety' over the spread of faith schools in Britain.

Led by the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and biologist Richard Dawkins, the group has called on Tony Blair to ensure that all school curricula be 'strictly monitored' to ensure future scientific and religious teaching in Britain is properly respected.
...
In a letter to the Prime Minister, the group - which includes Sir David Attenborough and Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, as well as six bishops, including those of St Albans and Hereford - expresses concern over the introduction of creationism in British schools, a problem that has in the past been confined to American education.

http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,680792,00.html

Atheists like Dawkins have no problem working with such Christians, who are more worried by some members of their own faith than by even outspoken atheists like Dawkins

This is not just a UK concern, cf.:

Doc. 11297 8 June 2007

The dangers of creationism in education

Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Rapporteur: Mr Guy LENGAGNE, France, Socialist Group

The theory of evolution is being attacked by religious fundamentalists who call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of it. From a scientific view point there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth.
...
Investigation of the creationists' growing influence shows that the arguments between creationism and evolution go well beyond intellectual debate. If we are not careful, the values that are the very essence of the Council of Europe will be under direct threat from creationist fundamentalists. It is part of the role of the Council's parliamentarians to react before it is too late.

http://assembly.coe.int

One American's reaction:

I shoulda been learned that there French stuff. Then I coulda defected.

Translation: There are times when the education-phobia inherent in all aspects of American culture so discourages me, that I review my options as regards emigration. Today is one of those times.

http://www.kcfs.org

WAR

There is an "ongoing war against secular and scientific America" (cf. Packer above). Dawkins prefers to describe it as a "consciousness-raising war" - very positive, and I'm glad that Dawkins is such an eloquent fighter and that he's on my side. For most people here in ET, Dawkins is NOT the problem; THIS kind of person is the problem and they are very far from being "meek and mild":

In her latest book "Godless," Ann Coulter writes "I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell."

This section ["the ugly"] is dedicated to insanity such as this that finds its way to our inbox. When it goes beyond criticism and into Crazytown, we post it up here for all to see.

http://richarddawkins.net/theUgly

Coulter is not some unknown religious nut, but a leading US columnist - which tells you something in itself. Cf.:

From John Doe:

Dawkins, you and your atheist friends cannot win. America WILL become a Christian Republic even if we have to write a whole new constitution. Millions of us are dedicated to this righteous cause. We will suceed. And then we will invade godless countries like "Great" Britain and kill all of your heathens. First we need to take care of things at home and in the Middle East but we will get around to Europe. You Godless freaks will die but then you will roast in hell for infinite time. Goodbye you loser.

http://richarddawkins.net/theUgly

Despite being forthright, Dawkins is a LOT more civil and courteous than people like these.

The anti-religion tradition

There is a long and noble tradition of struggle by people, some equally as forthright as Dawkins in their attack on religion, even in times when Christianity was extremely oppressive. It is a tradition well worth continuing:

Among those accused of atheism was Denis Diderot (1713-1784), one of the Enlightenment's most prominent philosophes, and editor-in-chief of the Encyclopédie, which sought to challenge religious, particularly Catholic, dogma: "Reason is to the estimation of the philosophe what grace is to the Christian", he wrote. "Grace determines the Christian's action; reason the philosophe's".[4] Diderot was briefly imprisoned for his writing, some of which was banned and burned.
...
An early atheistic influence in Germany was The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). He influenced other German 19th century atheistic thinkers like Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).
...
The 21st Century

Perhaps due in part to the September 11 attacks and the increase in the political influence of Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, the early 21st century has produced a small revival in secularism and atheism in the Western world. This has been assisted by the Brights movement, as well as a plethora of accessible antitheist and secularist literature. Authors of such books have included: Sam Harris, Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Victor J. Stenger, and Anthony C. Grayling. Currently among 16-29 year olds, atheism is rising at higher levels than ever before recorded.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_atheism

This is positive development and the writers listed above are encouraging it by standing up and taking the flack - some of it, sadly, coming from some people here in ET. But they are standing up for the Enlightenment/humanist values shared by many in ET, where we expect views to be challenged and examined, but on the basis of reason and evidence, as I have tried to do here. But they are values which are under attack (cf. Packer above) in the name of religion.  

Nietzsche certainly didn't believe in respecting Christians' feelings, and he would have been even more scathing than Dawkins or even Hitchens of the flourishing of Christianity in the US the 21st century:

"Can one believe that such things are still believed?"

Christianity as antiquity. When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God's son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed - whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions - is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross -- how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?

from Nietzsche's Human, all too Human, s.405, R.J. Hollingdale transl.

Display:
My comment on Dawkins reflects my opinion based upon a few articles that I've read by him and a lot of stuff being peddled by people who like Dawkins. In my past, I've read and commented for four years on the alt.atheism newsgroup, so I'm not saying this based upon the criticisms of Dawkins by people who believe - which I generally find unconvincing and self-serving - but rather the praise and similar commentary from people who don't believe.

I know my opinion is uncivil. I do want to clarify that it's coming from an apatheist POV.

As for the 'religion is an evil meme' theory, the substantial point I made, I think Dawkin's memetics are generally simplistic and reductionist -- but that is another argument. The point is, the entire argument is based upon assuming that there is no god and no afterlife, which in the context of a public debate in which believers also take part, is a form of begging the question.

I will answer your challenge in full later on.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 08:40:26 AM EST
Leaving aside the fact that assuming the non-existence of Zeus is not entirely unreasonable, that does not, in fact, appear to be what Dawkins et al do. They assume that beliefs should be judged based on the evidence in their favour. Failing, then, to find any evidence in favour of Zeus, they judge that Zeus is precisely as likely as Romulus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn and Carl Sagan's invisible dragon.

The argument then is that if you want to be consistent, then you cannot reject belief in some of the above and retain belief in others solely by your say-so. You have to propose some kind of principle by which to distinguish between those unevidenced beliefs that you hold to be true and those that you hold to be false.

That argument, of course, is based upon certain assumptions about the nature of philosophy (e.g. the emphasis given to consistency and the use of physical evidence to discriminate between beliefs), and those assumptions can certainly be subjected to criticism with varying degrees of success. But accusing them of begging the question is quite absurd.

Disclaimer: I haven't read Dawkins' books, nor most of his writings elsewhere, so my comment is based on the arguments associated with him here and elsewhere.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 05:31:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm... I see I am throwing obscure references around without being clear what I am talking about.

This article by Dawkins:

Viruses of the Mind

is mainly what shaped my negative opinion of him.

It is the height of scientism, IMO.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:15:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What model(s) / explanation(s) do you prefer in situations where you feel science isn't the right approach?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:56:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scientism

I am pragmatic. You need a different model for relationships than you do for appreciating art. Sometimes the entire idea of a model might be... unhelpful.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 08:10:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You need a different model for relationships than you do for appreciating art.

Indeed. How does that relate to understanding how the brain operates?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:47:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It doesn't. It was not clear to me to what your comment related.

With regard to the mind, I think that attempts at a purely positivistic understanding are not very promising. So I think that scientific research into the mind should, preferably, incorporate a significant 'internal' perspective. I explained this at greater length here.

Discounting law as a science, the only fields of research I know enough about to start to recommend specific methodologies are in social science (political science; political economy). Within these fields, the analytic narratives approach shows some promise in combining qualitative and quantitative research.

I do not think that this approach can be easily transplanted to anthropology because the set of issues dealt with in that field is just different. I also don't know how it would relate to mental research.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 03:44:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Adding: memetics is not a science. It is also not, as some detractors say, a pseudoscience. Rather, it is merely a set of hypotheses with an internally consistent framework of argumentation behind them (a framework which is, however, philosophically problematical).

To my knowledge, it has never gotten past that stage to the actual work of science (like, in social science, formulating and isolating dependent and independent variables, testing them empirically, contrasting results with alternative hypotheses to show why a better explanation has been yielded...).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 03:55:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
alternative hypotheses explanations
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 03:56:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
egregious and remarkably offensively phrased scientism.  

And:  If you want to think about thought at all, banish "meme" from your vocabulary.  A crude and reductionist parallel to an overly crude and reductionist interpretation of genes as the operational components of DNA, the concept of "meme" is useful only if your goal is to reduce thinking to inanity.  

What I know of Dawkins is not inspiring further interest on my part.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]

What I know of Dawkins is not inspiring further interest on my part.  

Your preference for denunciation rather than specific, reasoned argument doesn't inspire interest in what YOU have to say.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:03:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, while in that piece Dawkins betrays some rather disturbing opinions regarding the privacy of hard drives and while I am irked by certain stylistic choices, I must admit that I am at a loss for seeing how it's 'the height of scientism.'

He's proposing a(n occasionally somewhat speculative) model for how social constructs spread and compares some of its features to those of religion. He then comes (unsurprisingly) to the conclusion that religion is a social construct. Now, one can certainly argue with his model and one can certainly question his analogies, but what part of the basic strategy is not a valid exercise?

Section 4 (about whether science is also a mental virus) is weakly argued, though. It reads more like a case of apologetics and special pleading than a real argument (I think that there is a case to be made that the conclusion is at least partially correct, but this piece clearly does not make that case).

That being said, I too have the impression that Dawkins occasionally errs on the scientistic side. But I don't see how that affects his arguments vis-a-vis religion.

This, however, was good for a laugh:

It came in an interview with a rabbi undertaking the bizarre task of vetting the kosher-purity of food products right back to the ultimate origins of their minutest ingredients. He was currently agonizing over whether to go all the way to China to scrutinize the menthol that goes into cough sweets. ``Have you ever tried checking Chinese menthol... it was extremely difficult, especially since the first letter we sent received the reply in best Chinese English, `The product contains no kosher'...

Looks like they thought 'kosher' was some kind of contamination :-P

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:18:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd written a VERY long comment in response to this post, dealing with the nature of "evidence" and its crucial importance for dealing with this issue.  However, it apparently did not get posted - horrible sleep deprivation makes clicking buttons properly a lot harder, I guess.

I may post it as a separate diary later, because the issues raised are not specific to Dawkins as much as they are to the general faith-science discussion that has been going on at this site more generally.

by Zwackus on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:09:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My sympathies.

One thing I learned (the hard way - I used to have a very unstable internet connection) was that copy-pasting your post into a .txt document is a good way to prevent the software gnomes from eating your posts. Another, if somewhat more shaky, way is to cut-and-paste it into the comment field itself - that way it'll still be in your clipboard if the software decides to eat it later on.

"Real men don't backup. Real men cry." - Proverb

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:50:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not quite sure what the faith/science split is.

The existence of god is an extremely slim possibility. I don't have a problem with that. I don't have a problem having it taught in our school system.

I am not interested in having innuendo being described as science. So far on this thread we do not have any definition of what religion even is though some have no problem claiming its evilness. That is not science at all. The question is, is it religion or is it human nature?

That brings us right back to Dawkins and his "proof" of the evils of religion.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:34:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I'll have a shot at defining religion:

It is tempting to propose

Any set of beliefs and/or traditions justified exclusively through magical thinking.

But that is simply shifting the problem, because now we have to define magical thinking. So let's try this instead:

A collective, institutionalised set of traditions and/or beliefs that are justified chiefly through appeal to the authority of tradition and/or arbitrary authority figures.

There will be some borderline cases (some kinds of Buddhism come to mind, which are so loosely structured that it can be argued that they are not institutionalised in any meaningful sense of the term). On the other hand, it has the advantage of capturing a lot of social phenomena that behave very much like religions: The cults of personality surrounding some politicians as well as some of the more outré socio-economic ideologies, for example.

At the same time, it does not devolve into the absurdity of covering personal quirks and habits, like how you pack your lunch or order your file system, because they are not particularly collective. The result of advertising campaigns are borderline, but I'm inclined to say that it's not a religious response, but closer to Pavlovian conditioning. Which in itself says some rather ominous things about human nature, but let's take that another time...

If it has a flaw, it is that it doesn't catch most of the new-age woo-woo that clearly belongs under the 'religion' heading. But that seems to be mainly because most of their ideas are not coherent enough to be institutionalised.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:53:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Any set of beliefs and/or traditions justified exclusively through magical thinking.

A collective, institutionalised set of traditions and/or beliefs that are justified chiefly through appeal to the authority of tradition and/or arbitrary authority figures.

New Age philosophy ranges. I think that the term is a grab bag term. Some of it fits quite clearly into magical thinking. It also can in some circumstances be extremely anti-judgmental in some circumstances - perhaps to the point of becoming an authority.

To expend on your own criticisms: Quakers do not fit, Unitarians do not fit, Christian Anarchists may or may not fit. I don't know enough about eastern religions to place them in your definition.

Your definition fails to understand the aspect of philosophy and ethics within religion.

When you talk about tradition you are entering a completely different field. I think that in this case you have added something that is dicey. Government is not religion, and yet there is the appeal to the authority of tradition. The point is not that that you are somehow wrong - but we have gone from describing religion to describing the family that religion belongs to. Government, Religion, Charities, Political Action Groups, etc. etc. Part of the problem is that Science belongs to a different family. It is not as easy to describe religion as 'not science'.

If you wanted to explore this idea further I would recommend Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs. It describes the morality of work. This is an extremely narrow examination of morality.  Dawkins, for example, has no place within the book. He is presenting a meta issue to the book.

I don't have a definition of religion. I tried. Bluntly, I am not up to the task.

This is what religioustolerance has to say:

The English word "religion" is derived from the Middle English "religioun" which came from the Old French "religion." It may have been originally derived from the Latin word "religo" which means "good faith," "ritual," and other similar meanings. Or it may have come from the Latin "religãre" which means "to tie fast."

Defining the word "religion" is fraught with difficulty. Many attempts have been made. Most seem to focus on too narrowly only a few aspects of religion; they tend to exclude those religions that do not fit well. As Kile Jones wrote in his essay on defining religion:

    "It is apparent that religion can be seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of human kind. To limit religion to only one of these categories is to miss its multifaceted nature and lose out on the complete definition." 1

All of the definitions that we have encountered contain at least one deficiency:

*    Some exclude beliefs and practices that many people passionately defend as religious. For example, their definition might include belief in a God or Goddess or combination of Gods and Goddesses who are responsible for the creation of the universe and for its continuing operation. This excludes such non-theistic  religions as Buddhism and many forms of religious Satanism which have no such belief.
*    Some definitions equate "religion" with "Christianity," and thus define two out of every three humans in the world as non-religious.
*    Some definitions are so broadly written that they include beliefs and areas of study that most people do not regard as religious. For example, David Edward's definition would seem to include cosmology and ecology within his definition of religion -- fields of investigation that most people regard to be a scientific studies and non-religious in nature.
*    Some define "religion" in terms of "the sacred" and/or "the spiritual," and thus require the creation of two more definitions.
*    Sometimes, definitions of "religion" contain more than one deficiency.

My favourite definition is:

  1. Barns & Noble (Cambridge) Encyclopedia (1990):

       

 "...no single definition will suffice to encompass the varied sets of traditions, practices, and ideas which constitute different religions."

There are a series of different definitions of religion at the site for those who are interested.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:21:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Fatuous waste of time :-)  see my comment re Wittgenstein  in reply to your earlier demand for a definition - your favourite "definition" is obviously right.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:24:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just like pornography then? You know it when you see it.

That you can take something so complex as "religion" and reduce it to such simplicities is fascinating.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:15:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's pornography?

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 03:05:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Books about cars and food?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 03:15:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh! I thought he might be referring to some sensual art form.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 03:50:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who's reduced it to "simplicities" ? The point is that a general definition is likely to be simplistic and that we would anyway judge the adequacy of any definition by our much more complex experience of the word "religion" and of religions.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]

nanne: The point is, the entire argument is based upon assuming that there is no god and no afterlife, which in the context of a public debate in which believers also take part, is a form of begging the question.

What argument are you talking about ? If you're referring to Dawkins' book (which you haven't read)  it's just not true that he simply begs the question. He spends some time on criticisms of arguments for the existence of god. You're entitled to say he got it wrong (evidence ?) - as are believers -  - but not that he simply ignores the issue.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:13:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was talking here, as in my reply to TBG's diary, about the "viruses of the mind" argument.

... the longer response is still upcoming.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:34:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I was talking here, as in my reply to TBG's diary, about the "viruses of the mind" argument.

As usual it helps if you're specific, preferably with a quotation and/or reference.

... the longer response is still upcoming.

Fear and trembling (to quote THE book and a very sophisticated Christian) :-)

 

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:11:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right. I admitted this error somewhere higher up in this thread and provided a link to the piece.

No link here to the comment, you'll have to search ;-)

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:37:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You need to split your diary so that only some of it appears "above the fold", i.e. in the top text box of the "New diary"  input form so that it doesn't crowd all other diaries from the Diaries page!  Just cut most of it from the top box and paste into the second box.  It looks like a very interesting read.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 09:09:10 AM EST

Oops, sorry. I hadn't used the "diaries" button, so wasn't aware of this problem. Thanks for pointing it out. Now edited.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:22:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One more quick response:

My comment was critical of TBG's diary, on the main argument (not on Dawkins, whom I dislike). I think much of the response was quite critical of TBG's overall characterisation of the debate. You're not representing this fairly, and you yourself have criticised this kind of cut and paste selective argumentation in the past.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 09:17:35 AM EST
I habe never read anything substantial by Dawkins. So I am only regurgitating arguments that I have picked up by reading other peoples opinion about him. Having said that with my background, their arguments make sense.
1)Dawkins has an agenda (wonderfully shown by the 80% that agree with him)
2)Dawkins builts up strawman, that are made up off the worst of vocal MINORITY of crazy wanking fundamentalists Christarekjadflk (don't want to call them Christians)
3)Dawkins hasn't got A clue, what mainstream Christian Theology is about - their issues, their approaches, their methods, their thinking.

In your dairy you are treating it as an exception that a Bishop would side with him. I bet you in 99.9% that Bishop would side with him. However those .1 percent have a tendency to dominate the airwaves.

Enlightenment is NOT an opposing to Religion, nor is Religion opposed to the principals of Enlightenment. Now .1% might disagree with me (of my fellow Christians) but they are simply wrong (-:

by PeWi on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 09:57:01 AM EST
Claiming that rabid fundamentalists are a small but vocal minority of all Christians is a severe case of wishful thinking.

I do not have statistics on hand (I can find them on request, though) but last I checked, more than half of all Americans believed that humans were created ex nihilo sometime within the last twenty thousand years.

  • Given that it is probably a fair assumption that a vanishingly small number of people outside Abrahamic religions believe this,
  • given that Abrahamic religions - overwhelmingly Christianity - make up considerably less than 100 % of the American population, and
  • given that the American protestants account for roundabout two thirds of the world's nominal protestants,

we can conclude - I'll leave the arithmetic to the reader - that at least a full third (and depending on how you count 'nominal protestants' you can easily get higher figures - getting lower ones is hard, though) of the world's protestants have a severe reality problem. That is a minority, true, but certainly not a small one.

That's Protestantism. Now Catholicism is a somewhat different goat to shave, both because it's larger and because it spans more diverse countries. An illiterate farmer who has never been exposed to modern science can be more easily forgiven for not knowing that HIV causes AIDS than the president of a major country.

Further, my statistics on the beliefs of Catholics are a lot more sketchy - partly because I have devoted less time to Catholic fundies than to protestant ones and partly because the statistics in question are simply not compiled - many more Catholics than Protestants live in third-world countries where surveys are hard or impossible to carry out (and where carrying out such surveys would not exactly be a responsible use of the limited available resources).

Nevertheless, it is my distinct impression that - reality-challenged, shall we say - beliefs about HIV/AIDS as well as outright totalitarian views of homosexuality, reproductive rights and the relationship between religion and politics are not limited to a 'small but vocal minority.'

I will defer commentary on the various Orthodox branches of Christianity to those more knowledgeable than myself, save to say that the Greek Patriarch says ominous things about secularism being the common enemy of Christianity and that the official leadership of the Russian Orthodox church has some extremely flaky views on homosexuality - no, let's not mince words here, they believe that beating homosexuals to death is entirely justified.

Additionally, even if we - for the sake of the argument - grant that only an insignificantly small minority of Christians are batshit insane, the fact remains that those madmen wield a power that is out of all proportion to their (claimed) status as insignificant minority.

Bush was put on the throne in no small part by the fundagelicals. Herr Ratzinger, for all intents and purposes, defines the Catholic Church. Fundamentalists run rampant in Eastern Europe, and the moderates have made a desultory showing. When the Christian Taliban holds an anti-gay demonstration or push for an incorporation of Christianity into the foundational framework of the Union, the great silent majority does not rise up and proclaim "Not in my name!" It is telling that even in a thoroughly civilised country like Germany, religious bigotry has managed to curtail daycare services, on the (sadly correct) theory that with insufficient daycare, women will not be emancipated in the workforce.

That politicians would pander to the fundies even if the were just a small but vocal (and rich - never forget that) minority is understandable. But the fact that the great silent majority of sensible moderates does not appear to punish them for it stretches credulity. Either that silent majority is not quite as great as some would have us believe, or it is not quite as moderate...

On the subject of what mainstream Christian theology says and does not say, it would be interesting to hear some arguments as to whether Herr Ratzinger is a part of said mainstream...

(As an aside, it might also be helpful if someone were to shed some light on precisely where Dawkins' ignorance of theology leads him to make ill-conceived arguments. The charge that he is ignorant of theology is frequently made. Compelling reasons that this matters more than a fart in a flashbulb - not so much.)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 06:40:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I do not have statistics on hand (I can find them on request, though) but last I checked, more than half of all Americans believed that humans were created ex nihilo sometime within the last twenty thousand years."

Well it would be good if you could have another look at those statistics, please. The reason why I bring this up is: subtle differences.

From what I remember that statistic was based around the question. Did God created Heaven and Earth? Now if you answer this question with YES, you are by no means necessarily a Science denyer that believes the earth is only created 6000 years ago. Therefore skewing your whole argument right there at the start.

I say that sentence every Sunday and there will be lots of other people including scientists that have the same understanding and ability to distinguish between an article of faith and scientific research.

When I say: God created Heaven and Earth. It does not mean he opened a box and pulled out the parts or some such ex nihilo action. It means, that as a person of faith, God has given me responsibility to look after Heaven and Earth. It is his work, which he has entrusted us/ me to look after. That is of course only the beginning.
That is the consequence of his creation act. It does not say anything about his box of tricks or how that happened. As a person of faith, I leave the answer to that questions to the experts. The how is irrelevant for a Theologian, and only hers (the Thologicans) interest in the world, might make her examen this.

Equally irrelevant is the question of the existence of God. In my seven years at University I never once had a discussion about if God existed or not: We discussed God's death, Negative Theology, Christianity without a Christian God; We discussed historical arguments about God's existance, Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and more modern ones like C.S. Peirce.
We discussed, why some people are calling themselves Atheists, how many they were, what motivated them and some such.
The question, if God existed was not a matter of material relevance. The consequence of the answer to the question was however (negative or positive), it is of great interest and the only interesting really.

"Ingolf U. Dalferth:
In religious ... discourse the term `god' normally functions not as a concept but as an indexical which introduces a comprehensive scheme of orientation in terms of which believers understand and interpret the world and their particular place in it."

This is then where I come back to Dawkin. It is exactly the ignorance about this simple fact, that eludes him and why he talks past people that are interested in Science and his arguments on Evolution and are people of faith at the same time.

(Christian) Religion and its hierarchie is being used to manipulate, alienate, disenfranchise. Of course, as the Catholic Church would be the first to admit: We are all sinners. (Ratzi asking all the Church to pray for paedophile Priests).

But what is often not considered, that a rejection of organised mass Religion, does not necessarily leads to a enlightened, science based life. Why should it. Science in its idealist, abstract notion of right and wrong, either - or does have a hard time to come to terms with human nature, difficult moral choices, grey behaviour (as have fundamentalist statements in general).
Sure, church might offer overtly simplistic answers to hugely complex matters, and might subsequently be wrong about things as well - on a pastoral level, these loud proclamations usually look very different however. (As seen by huge inner-catholic, inner-orthodox,... inner-muslim protest against these outrageous abuse of power by church leaders - Catholic Abortion Advice Centres that continues to be part of the Abortion administration process in Germany, f.e.
Again, these questions are not answered in black or white, but on a specific individual level.)

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 09:09:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In religious ... discourse the term `god' normally functions not as a concept but as an indexical which introduces a comprehensive scheme of orientation in terms of which believers understand and interpret the world and their particular place in it."

For values of "normally" so far from normal that it blows my mind.

It's always interesting how people try to defend religion in terms of the most sophisticated possible form of it.  

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 09:28:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
of course it is interesting. That's why they spend so much time on it.
by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and it is of course, exactly because of these people (Dalferth being one not even extreme example) and their ability to discuss these things (only) in highly abstract language (his German is even better (-: ), that is part of the cause, why the discussion is being bypassed in the mainstream. Which is of course exactly the problem that Theologians then have with Darwkin.

You (maybe not you Colman, but you in general) say it is sophistication, they (we, I) say - we are only taking serious your questioning of our position, and that is the way we can make sense of it.

The next step then of your (generic) reply being "haeh?!?" would have to follow further explanation and only some are able to do so. (I only ever read Dalferth, never heard or spoke to him personally, so would not really know, what he is like in everyday language, but I would guess not very different...)

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:12:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It sounds to me like taking the most refined form of Zen Buddhism, which barely even qualifies as a religion as far as I can tell, and using it as the canonical example of religion. Theology is immaterial to most religious people.

Most people on this planet are worshipping a guy in the sky (or his representative) in the hope of an afterlife and other more immediate payback: that's the reality of religion for 5B people.

There have always been more sophisticated sub-cults within religions for those who find the folk version unacceptably simplistic.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:23:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My more complex answer (and refution of Zen, was lost, when my line manager appeared (ehem... - the disadvantages of doing this at work...)

from my conversations with "normal" people of faith, and the evaluation of countless of sociology of religion studies on this matter. the guy in the sky that is being worshiped is a far more complex beast than what you think. You disregard the complexities of faiths expressed and shown very easily by all the splits and differences in faith. (getting four different answers from three people f.e)

simply to say - ah Faithies just want their mobile phone in heaven (I actually heard that - about 15 years ago, how time flies...) and the seven virgins, (aeh damn translation error, it actually says raisins) is unacceptably simplistic.

If you want to be taken seriously by those +5B then putting them all in one pot is not conducive to that matter.

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:17:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't expect to be taken seriously by those 5B. I'll consider myself reasonably lucky if I can avoid burning at the stake or similar.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 08:23:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"There have always been more sophisticated sub-cults within religions for those who find the folk version unacceptably simplistic. "

Ah, and that group is actually much bigger, than you give it credit for. That group is also open to discussions on issues that R Dawrkin raises.

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:20:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most people on this planet are worshipping a guy in the sky (or his representative) in the hope of an afterlife and other more immediate payback: that's the reality of religion for 5B people.

Sweet Jesus!  That only applies to the Abrahamic religions AND NOT EVEN ALL OF THEM!  

So at the outset you are missing the majority of actual, practiced religion on this planet.  

This is kind of absurd, slopping, thinking by (SOME) atheists can only give atheism a bad name--not that I care ;)

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:34:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Given some of the crass, uninformed criticism of Dawkins and specifically of his "The God Delusion", a bit of hyperbole and sarcasm by Colman is excusable. Let's say - MANY people on the planet believe etc. That OK ?

Now, do you have any specific criticisms (with arguments and evidence - not just dismissals as in your other comment) of what Dawkins has actually written or said in the links in the Diary ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 08:16:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really? Does it? I'm not referring to the high-falutin' theological version of religion as professed by the chattering classes. I mean the folk versions that are actually practised by the vast majority of people. I did contemplate adding something on the spirits living in rocks,or unquiet ancestors, but the sentence structure was degrading at that point.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 08:20:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and a post script to the Building that houses items displayed to tell a humbug invention, brainfart.

Museums professionals laugh out loud and are close to tears when they are being told, what is on show in the museum.

ON the other side, they are very successful and the way they are PRESENTING their story is really worth a closer examination. You can always learn (-:

by PeWi on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:04:35 AM EST
ON the other side, they are very successful and the way they are PRESENTING their story is really worth a closer examination.

In the case of creationists, it's lie, dissemble, lie some more, cheat, hastily cover up, lie a bit more, hire a bunch of pr flacks, lie a little more, fake up a publication record that doesn't exist in the real world, threaten politicians with the Christian Right and then lie some more. Rinse, lather, repeat.

You can always learn

Oh, many people have. Between them, creationists, the tobacco industry and holocaust deniers have perfected the art of creating a fake controversy. All later cranks - from Deepak Chopra to the HIV/AIDS deniers - are modelled on parts of their strategy.

There are, however, a number of reasons why I don't believe that a progressive political campaign can co-opt such strategies. Chief amongst them being the fact that systematically lying is anti-enlightenment, anti-intellectual and fundamentally reactionary.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 06:47:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for not making myself more clear. My point is not the they get away telling rubbish. It is not a philosophical question I am raising here, it is one of exhibition layout and museums space usage.

The techniques you use to showcase the exhibits are all state of the art. Other museums would love to have that kind of money to spend and that kind of expertise in trying to bring across a message. Of course they are stumped, by what is being said. That doesn't make the how it is being said less interesting.

Especially as a scientist, I would have thought you would interested in understanding how people are being manipulated - word to tell the truth and words to tell lies are the same words?

I also think, you are underestimating them, if you assume they do this, to cause outrage. While they certainly benefit from the outrage caused for marketing reasons, getting people into their place. It is the reaction of the people having been to the place and visit repeatedly that is of interest to museums professionals - the word of mouth of visitors, the every day.

If you look at museums and how they present science, they can learn interesting things from this museum and how it presents fairy tales.

f.e its location. do you know, why it is where it is? It was build in that location, because it would reach the greates number of Americans in a days round trip.

This is a peculiar concept for a museums (at least in Britain) There is local connection, for local museums, political choices for location of "abstract" museums (Holocaust, Native American) but to built a Musuem in the middle of no-where just because it is conveniently reachable by car, or plane is a new concept FOR museums (not so for Shopping Malls).

That is only one example, of why this museum and its concept is interesting for a Museums professional.

In no way, do I want to defend the museum in what it does - or am myself a museums professional, I only repeat (from memory) discussions I had with them.

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:24:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]

In no way, do I want to defend the museum in what it does - or am myself a museums professional, I only repeat (from memory) discussions I had with them.

Who has argued that some creationists do not have some good ideas about museum design, etc. ? What a waste of time.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:08:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Here - a non-believer expresses his appreciation of the Creationist Musuem:

... And this is, in sum, the Creation Museum. $27 million has purchased the very best monument to an enormous load of horseshit that you could possibly ever hope to see. I enjoyed my visit, admired the craft with which the whole thing was put together, and was never once convinced that what I was seeing celebrated was anything more or less than horseshit. Popular horseshit? Undoubtedly. Horseshit hallowed by tradition and consecrated by time? Just so. Horseshit of the finest possible quality? I would not argue the point. And yet, even so: Horseshit. Complete horseshit. Utter horseshit. Total horseshit. Horseshit, horseshit, horseshit, horseshit. I pity the people who swallow it whole.

*

So that is the key to understanding the Creation Museum. But what is the enormous load of horseshit that sits, squat yet moundy, at its very center? It's simple: That the Bible is the literal and inerrant Word of God. If the Creation Museum doesn't have that, it doesn't have anything.
 ...

Let me say this much: I have to admit admiration for the pure balls-out, high-octane creationism that's on offer here. Not for the Creation Museum that mamby-pamby weak sauce known as "Intelligent Design," which tries to slip God by as some random designer, who just sort of got the ball rolling by accident. Screw that, pal: The Creation Museum's God is hands on! He made every one of those animals from the damn mud and he did it no earlier than 4004 BC, or thereabouts. It's all there in the book, son, all you have to do is look. Indeed, every single thing on display in the Creation Museum is either caused by or a consequence of exactly three things:

  1. The six-day creation;

  2. Adam eating from the tree of life;

  3. Noah's flood.

Really, that's it. That's the Holy Trinity of explanations and rationalizations. And thus we learn fascinating things. Did you know, for example, that Adam is responsible not only for the fall of man, but also for the creation of venom? It didn't exist in the Garden of Eden, because, well. Why would it? Weeds? Adam's fault. Carnivorous animals (and, one assumes, the occasional carnivorous plant)? Adam again. Entropy? You guessed it: Adam. Think about that, won't you; eat one piece of fruit and suddenly you're responsible for the inevitable heat death of the universe. God's kind of mean.
...
http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=121



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:24:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I will need to re-read and look at the videos later:

With your essay I see no definition of region. If you are going to condem all religion, you had better define it.

It looks like you have set yourself up a straw man.

Any definition of religion has to be reasonable. Expect an argument with just about any definition you manage to come up with. Who knows maybe you'll surprise me.

I think you have done Dawkins and yourself a major disservice here. You have combined two different topics into one essay.

Topic 1. Are we unfairly smearing Dawkins?
Topic 2. Lets argue over Dawkins arguments.

These are very different topics. It is for example, possible to think that Dawkins is being unfairly smeared while disagreeing with his arguments.

I would propose trying again with first item #1 then later with item #2.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:20:18 AM EST
It looks like you have set yourself up a straw man.

Yep.

My point is that religion and science are both social and tribal phenomena which are defined by social and tribal relationships.

Dawkins is inside that world, not outside of it. He's not going to make the fundies stop being fundies just because he's written a few books about evolution and religion and the Royal Society thinks he's a cool dude.

There's a rather glib line from communications theory which suggests that if you want to make yourself understood, you have to use a language that your audience can understand.

If we look at that guideline - is writing a book like The Good Delusion really going to convince anyone on the fundie side to stop being a fundie?

I'd suggest not, because it's clearly not speaking a language the fundies understand. So who is Dawkins writing for? If he wants to communicate, he's not trying very hard. And while The God Delusion may have sold more than a million copies, I doubt that it significantly dented sales of the Bible or had any influence at all among fundie communities, beyond irritating them and confirming their prejudices. I'm certainly not aware of mass deconversions among fundies. (Perhaps there's been a news blackout?)

In any case, the whole premise of the argument is wrong. The fundies are primarily a political phenomenon, groomed and promoted for their political influence - just as the Taleban were created for political reasons, and just as Northern Ireland, Beirut and the rest have been primarily political battlegrounds, not religious ones.

This is hardly exceptional - much of the history of religion is a history of political wars being fought under religious camouflage.

Taking Dawkins at face value is like believing that his books could have brought peace to Northern Ireland on the basis that if everyone became an atheist they'd stop being violent to each other.

This is clearly nonsense. As Northern Ireland showed clearly, political problems have political solutions, not religious ones. Which is why ScienceTM is no more a cure for the influence of the fundies in US politics than free chocolate would be.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:54:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What makes you think Dawkins is trying to persuade fundies not to be fundies?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:12:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That was Ted's point, wasn't it?

And he's very much involved in the evolution vs religion debate, so I'm guessing he has some interest in persuading people to believe something they don't already believe.

Isn't a title like 'The God Delusion' a bit of a hint of an agenda, perhaps?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:23:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Um. From the intro:
He doesn't expect to change the minds of very committed Christians so he doesn't need the "faith (sic)" attributed to him by TBG, rather he has the quite reasonable aims of helping some people to clarify their ideas, and others to be more ready to speak up for the atheist views they actually hold.

I guess Ted should have chosen a language his audience could understand.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:27:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dawkins:
My talk at McGill was greeted, like several others, with a reassuringly wholehearted, and almost universal, standing ovation. I am under no illusions that I deserve these enthusiastic receptions personally, or that they reflect the quality of my own performance as a speaker. On the contrary, I am convinced that they represent an overflowing of bottled-up frustration, from masses of decent people pushed to breaking point and heartily sick of the sycophantic `respect' that our society, even secular society, routinely and thoughtlessly accords religious faith.

Ted:

But many are much more extreme, especially in the US. Being nice to them and not questioning their faith is no more likely to succeed than Obama's hope to work with the Right, as Edwards has scornfully pointed out. The most dangerous ones are not just a powerless, eccentric fringe in the US, but people who've organised to get power.

So you're suggesting everyone has been having a polite after dinner conversation about changing people's minds here?

Right. Gotcha.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:38:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's not trying to change fundie minds. He'd trying to undermine their influence with the rest of the world by attacking them.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:41:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's not attacking them, he's attacking their beliefs.

Hence futility, because their beliefs are not the cause of their influence.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:49:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're wrong about that.

You or I or any of the other six billion (armchair) historians on the planet can sit down and analyse - in great detail - the conflicting interests that give birth to and fuel various conflicts and religious cults. We can then come to the conclusion that it was the underlying social, economic and political movements that caused and fueled the conflict completely independently of religion.

But this is an exceedingly simplistic reasoning that ignores the ability of religion to mobilise people and give them marching orders. There may well need to be an underlying economic, social or political conflict for such a mobilisation to be possible, but to say that those reasons are the be-all-end-all of why Joe Schmoe decides join the revolution or go to war against Eastasia is like saying that nationalistic jingoism had no responsibility for the first world war, because it was ultimately caused by the underlying economic and strategic tensions in early 20th-century Europe, or that Marx and Engels had no hand in the Russian revolution, because it was caused by the inherent instability of the Czarist regime.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, you don't understand my point. There is no difference between the political function of a religious narrative and the political function of a jingoistic nationalistic one. In fact for most of history they've been interchangeable, which is why there are endless examples of people going into battle believing god is on their side, while the people on the other side believed god was on their side too. And often it's been the same god, more or less.

You can't make sense of this by assuming that it's worth debating whether or not the god in question actually exists. And you can't stop a war by arguing that he, she or it doesn't.

In the 20th century arrived Marxism, Nazism and Capitalism borrowed the social dynamics, removed the 'god' part and replaced it with different abstractions. But functionally these are secular religions with very similar social dynamics - mythologised narrative, rituals of hierarchy, an explicit morality reinforced by punishment/reward and narrative repetition, teleology and personality cults.

So - show me an example from history of a religious movement with significant political influence which was dismantled purely by a debate about its its beliefs, with no other political activity.

It doesn't happen. Narratives change because of wars, civil unrest, popular pressure on elites, and occasionally because the elites decide they need a different story to control people's interests and activities.

Narratives don't change because someone writes a book telling people that what they believe is silly.

The point of my original diary is that if you want to change people's minds you have to offer them a more positive and inclusive experience of a different narrative - which is clearly not happening with the atheist-led anti-fundie movement.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:15:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's because - as pointed out in other comments - you have misunderstood what Dawkins is trying to do - which is not surprising because you show no signs of having read his book, or even interviews with him. For what he IS trying to do see the diary and the links - and my other replies to your wearying insistence on misinterpreting what he's trying to do.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:33:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the surface, one can make a pretty plausible case that the fundamentalist's beliefs make them easily manipulated-- useful tools for those who are prone to such games, and good at them. So from this point of view, attacking their beliefs is, if done effectively, a useful thing in itself, and far more than preaching to the already convinced. Not for the purpose of de-converting the fundamentalists, but to illuminate and educate. He does this well, I think.
But on a deeper level, research by a lot of people like Bob Altemeyer

http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/%7Ealtemey/

strongly suggests that there are more fundamental processes at work, processes that transcend "belief", and that the breakdown in the ability to rationally evaluate evidence and construct a personal world based on it seems typical of the authoritarian personality and plays a big role. Brains that are ---well, broken in this way-- are drawn to fundamentalisms of many sorts. It seems they cannot be dissuaded by reason from  these loyalties.

Finally, Lots of us godless atheist devils enjoy a well reasoned and well written bit of work that says what we might---if we had the time and talent.

Thanks, Ted.

 

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 04:46:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, exactly. No one is going to stop people drifting into authoritarianism by attacking their beliefs. That's because the beliefs are tangential, not the direct cause of their authoritarianism.

The real cause is abusive psychology and stressful depersonalising relationships, and the way they bond with them and come to see them as normal and necessary, while outsiders are seen as evil.

Arguing that they should stop believing in god and start believing in science and evolution instead doesn't connect with their experience in any way.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:25:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]

How many times does one have to repeat the rather obvious and clearly stated in my diary to you - he's NOT primarily concerned with changing the minds of religious extremists - if that happens with some that's a bonus. Try reading and paying attention to what's said - he's interested in providing food for thought for the people who haven't given religion much thought and are only nominally Christians, and for Christians with doubts, but very importantly he's concerned with providing support for atheists particularly in the US. It's not very difficult to understand, give it a try.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 04:53:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My point is that religion and science are both social and tribal phenomena which are defined by social and tribal relationships.

Dawkins is inside that world, not outside of it. He's not going to make the fundies stop being fundies just because he's written a few books about evolution and religion and the Royal Society thinks he's a cool dude.

The feminist movement of the early to middle 20th century didn't take male feelings into account. It was a declaration of war as far as traditional society was concerned. Sitting down for a reasonable discussion over a cup of tea, as some people here seem to believe is the proper course of action, would have accomplished nothing.

As Northern Ireland showed clearly, political problems have political solutions, not religious ones.

How many year of violence preceded the bargaining table?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 01:40:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How many year of violence preceded the bargaining table?

Forgot to add this: would the bargaining table have even happened if the years of violence hadn't led to a kind of stalemate?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 01:49:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How many year of violence preceded the bargaining table?

That's a different issue. Terrorist violence is by definition political.  That the political peace process was preceeded by political violence is hardly surprising.

More relevant to this discussion, Is the fundamental argument between the Northern Irish peoples over the theology of the sacraments, or are those theological disputes identity labels for a political dispute?  I would argue the latter.

by Zwackus on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:23:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I would argue that you set up a fallacy of the excluded middle. Of course things other than religion played a role. There were/are class issues, tensions between colonial power and former colony, initially an ethnic issue, etc., etc. And there was a religious issue.

But it smells of special pleading to say that among all these contributing factors, only religion should be discounted as a predominantly negative influence. Would there have been a conflict in Northern Ireland without any religious divide? Very likely yes. Would there have been a first world war without jingoistic nationalism? Very likely yes. Why, then do you want to give religious bigotry a free pass in the former case, when nationalist bigotry does not get a free pass in the latter?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:43:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are several ways to answer you question, but all of them seem unequal to the task at hand.  They all seem somewhat flippant and dismissive.  I suppose it means I don't have a good answer to your question.

I might as well put them out there anyway, though.

First off, one could argue that religion in this sense is being used in the place that language, flags, geography, and a million other things could also fill in a tribal nationalist construct.  None of these things, in and of themselves, say much of anything about politics, but can quite easily become the symbols behind which the same old violent tribalistic nationalism hides, and has always hid.  Thus, the problem both here and in WWI is really nationalism.  This seems to just be re-defining the situation, with a dose of special pleading thrown in.

One could argue that religion can often have a variety of neutral to positive products, while nationalism seems never to have any.  This is a boring argument.

One could argue that some form of religious belief has been part of every human society in all times and places, and thus is just not something that is going to dissappear, whereas nationalism does seem to be much more recent phenomenon.  Then again, that would depend on how you define nationalism, and it would require that one deal with the very common religious belief that members of one's own group are real humans, and everybody else isn't.

One could also argue that by the standards you are proposing (any cultural construct that is not scientifically verifiable and that has led to something negative in past history should be discarded) would leave us with just about nothing, as all systems of values, ethics, beliefs, philosophy, and aesthetics are both scientifically unverifiable and can lead people to do stupid and damaging things.

One can argue all kinds of things, but all of the counter-arguments that are coming to mind seem shallow and inadequate, as if I have not grasped the real thrust of your argument.  Maybe that's just the sleep-deprivation and exhaustion talking.

by Zwackus on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:25:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First off, one could argue that religion in this sense is being used in the place that language, flags, geography, and a million other things could also fill in a tribal nationalist construct.  None of these things, in and of themselves, say much of anything about politics, but can quite easily become the symbols behind which the same old violent tribalistic nationalism hides, and has always hid.  Thus, the problem both here and in WWI is really nationalism.  This seems to just be re-defining the situation, with a dose of special pleading thrown in.

I think that the problem with this hypothesis is that you misidentify nationalism as being the sole or primary underlying phenomenon. In reality opposing camps are likely generated for a combination of different reasons, and putting it all down to single-factor explanations like nationalism or class struggle seems entirely too simplistic. In fact, nationalism seems to be employed just as frequently as religion these days as a proxy for other interests - be they oil, basing rights or military dominance.

One could argue that religion can often have a variety of neutral to positive products, while nationalism seems never to have any.  This is a boring argument.

More importantly, it's also false: In Denmark, for example, the first democratic constitution piggybacked on a chiefly nationalist zeitgeist. Without the aid of the nationalists, it likely wouldn't have passed (the story, as always, is a bit more complicated than that, of course).

One could argue that some form of religious belief has been part of every human society in all times and places, and thus is just not something that is going to dissappear, whereas nationalism does seem to be much more recent phenomenon.  Then again, that would depend on how you define nationalism, and it would require that one deal with the very common religious belief that members of one's own group are real humans, and everybody else isn't.

More importantly, simple longevity should not make a concept above reasoned criticism. Until not very long ago as the universe measures such things, slavery had been a universal human institution and was unlikely to just disappear. The same can be said for gender discrimination today. And yet we consider both amoral and abhorrent, so simple age is no stamp of approval on an idea.

One could also argue that by the standards you are proposing (any cultural construct that is not scientifically verifiable and that has led to something negative in past history should be discarded) would leave us with just about nothing, as all systems of values, ethics, beliefs, philosophy, and aesthetics are both scientifically unverifiable and can lead people to do stupid and damaging things.

That's a very powerful argument, but it has the problem that it attacks a position that is a shade more extreme than the one I hold (although it's entirely possible that Dawkins holds it - I'm not sufficiently familiar with his writings to tell). I merely argue that we should acknowledge those cases in which religion has played a predominantly negative role and take prudent steps to see that as few such situations arise as possible, not that we should therefore abolish religion.

I happen to think, however, that religion will almost always play a predominantly negative role when it becomes part of the political equation. Religion is similar to alcohol and sex, in that when enjoyed in the privacy of one's own home or pub/nightclub/temple it does no harm, provided that one does not go overboard and that only consenting adults are involved. Unfortunately, it is also similar to alcohol and sex in that if you get it mixed up in politics, Bad Things can (and regularly do) happen. Think Yeltsin, Clinton and Bush the Lesser, if you want examples.

as if I have not grasped the real thrust of your argument. Maybe that's just the sleep-deprivation and exhaustion talking.

The fact that I'm also getting tired probably doesn't help either... Let's call it a night and get back to it some other time.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:26:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. All the people I've ever met from the North are quite emphatic that it was always political and economic.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:14:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]

TBG: Dawkins is inside that world, not outside of it. He's not going to make the fundies stop being fundies just because he's written a few books about evolution and religion and the Royal Society thinks he's a cool dude.

There's a rather glib line from communications theory which suggests that if you want to make yourself understood, you have to use a language that your audience can understand.

Yes, and your use of it is glib too - it's quite evident that even religious extremists understand his book - that's why they attack it, some of them in detail. What sort of language should he use - the language of revelation ?

If we look at that guideline - is writing a book like The Good Delusion really going to convince anyone on the fundie side to stop being a fundie?

Thanks for providing more evidence that you're too lazy to read the things you attempt to criticize; as Colman points out in reply to you, I made it clear - even in the introduction ! - that he is NOT very interested in stopping fundies being fundies - though, as with the existence of god - he doesn't entirely rule it out (even extremists sometimes change their views - you might even change yours). He's more concerned with the kind of people who are nominally religious because brought up in that tradition but "who haven't given it much thought", and with believers who have doubts. Of course you also entirely ignore the emails to his site showing that his aims are entirely realistic - as well as the feedback he got at book signings.

I emphasised, and as he makes clear in the long passage from his book tour journal which I quoted, that he's VERY concerned to give support to the many atheists who feel somewhat intimidated in the US and don't tend to speak out. This alone is sufficient justification for publishing the book.

Cf. from Hitchens' book tour:

At the end of the event I discover something that I am going to keep on discovering: half the people attending had thought that they were the only atheists in town.

Hitchens



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:56:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not the diarist, but let me answer, perhaps from a slightly different point of view on condemning religion.

First, I'm not just condemning religion, as I am condemning all that is called God. I agree with most of Dawkin's points about the probability of 'existence' (whatever that means) of a/multiple 'god(s)' as being rather low. This is not the most important point, however, so let's leave it aside for now, and consider the possibility that there are/is in fact (a) god(s).

Be there (a) god(s), I would not worship it/them. As I see it this/these being(s) would have a rather lot to answer for. They would be accountably to whom, exactly? I claim, to humanity. And I would take a lot of convincing that it/many/most of them should not be put of some kind of trial for crimes against humanity. Certainly, I would not worship. I have some little bit of dignity and pride, and will not fall on my knees like a pitiful fool because of the demand of some Supreme Sky Being. Rather on my feet in hell, than on my knees in heaven. Who does this grand dude in the sky think it is, really, to deserve such mindless devotion on faith alone? And really, nothing can be omnipotent that is sentient. This must just be some kind of PR trick to inspire fear and unquestionable subservience, and at least should not be taken on face value for being proclaimed in some book or other. Let's take on this powerful force, and see it tremble in fear!

This is my main reaction to theistic religion. Deity sounds unlikely, but even if, no thanks! Let's believe in people, not god(s). So, please, stop worshiping and join the forces for people powered cosmic governance, god(s) or no god(s)!

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:04:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup, even if there was a god or collection of gods, why would anyone worship them?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:35:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you really need an introduction in religious anthropology? orr just a literary hyperbolic sentence? :)

If you are for real..we have one of the best experts in the world here in the UB. Manuel Delgado.. if you want to come..you may attend his classes. Believe me, they are absolutely great :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:15:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Saying you have a bigger guy on your side is playground "argument" - deal with the arguments. Actually quote Dawkins and then offer a reasoned critique - you're in science ? !  wow.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:37:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what?

Ted.. I am sorry i do not get it. Why do you attack me.? i ahve never attacked you. I do not have but respect about your position about religiona nd science (though I obviously disagree).

yes I happen to think Dawkins is a very bad scientists, but I think we can happily have a coffeee and discuss it.

Frankly I guess you tried to mock at me.. i am sorry.. it was not my intention to hurt you so that you will be back at me.

Actually I really feel very bad when this happens.

But jsut to claify to Colman.. in case he might have interpreted in other ways.

I was saying that Colman is completely right actually.  Understanding why people pray is something tough. At first sight it makes absolutely no sense whassoever why people pray.. and preciesely I was saying that trying to udnerstand why this happens using scientific means has been the job of religious antrhopologists in the last centrureis. During these years they have gaines some insights that can be very useful... adn knowing COlman I was sure he would love to come here and attend those classes becaue they are really great and funny.

Colman, I do nto know if  you take it like I am saying here, but after Ted comment , i do nto know, maybe it could have been interpreted as something similar to an attack.. I really have no idea how it could be.. really, you know I am for real.. and i would never attack anyone personal in ET. So, let me insist.. I was absolutely with you.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 04:43:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman I hope you read this.

It seem my previous comment could ahve been interpreted as some kinof attack or sanrk at you..
I frankly do not know in which sense or how, but certainly Ted thought it was.. so there is a chance that you actually could read it the same way.

SO in case you might have interpreted in other ways.

I was saying that you are completely right actually.  Understanding why people pray is something tough. At first sight it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever why people pray.. and preciesely I was saying that trying to understand why this happens using scientific means has been the job of religious antrhopologists in the last century. During these years they have gained some insights that can be very useful... and knowing you I was sure he would love to come here and attend those classes becaue they are really great and funny.

So the first sentence was about telling you that there  is a whole field of science trying to answer precisely the same question. .. so I was saying you'd be interested in ne of thsoe topics or youw ere just putting a question in the air as a general statement (I guess it was the second, but now I do not know anymore).

The second part of my answer was to try to tell you that those classes can indeed be funny although they deala bout a topic which can be.. let's say tense, like religion... but M. Delgado is really an excellent teacher on reiligious antrhopology and you would really love him... well actually classes are in spanish now that I think. So maybe you can just come here because of the weather :)

Colman, I do nto know if  you took it like I am saying here, but after Ted comment , i do nto know, maybe it could have been interpreted as something similar to an attack.. I really have no idea how it could be.. really, you know I am for real.. and i would never attack anyone personal in ET not even in disagreement. So, let me insist.. I was absolutely with you.

And in any case, sorry if necessary.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 04:55:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm? Attack? No, you'd have to be much more direct before I assumed that.

Though that was a rhetorical device rather than a literal question, it's nice to know that there are people studying the roots of the illness. Maybe we can find a treatment.
 

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 05:17:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
J ej je je..

well.. you know here we disagree.. the danger is the attack on enlgihtenment values which does not come precisely directly from religion.
So I do not see religion as some kind of illness... well at least no more than science :)

The treatment should be about defending enlightenment values in front of a tribe of nationalistic groups and oligarchies that use different narratives to attack it.
The fact that they also use the religion hierarchical structure to force a literal imnterpretation of the sacred books so as to generate a defending/attackign attitude against science is what should worry us.

Religion can be used to fight for enlightenment values (as it has been done int he past) as much as against it.. because  the core of the beliefs is bascially inconsecuential to  the fight at hand.

But ,well this is another topic and I think Brit speaks foor me better than I would ever do.

But I am really glad you took my comment as it was.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 05:31:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Religion can be used to fight for enlightenment values (as it has been done int he past) as much as against it.. because  the core of the beliefs is bascially inconsecuential to  the fight at hand.

That would come as a surprise to the Philosophes - see the quotation at the end of the diary from the history of atheism. But, yes, some Christians have retreated from some of their most barmy ideas and have accepted the validity of evolution - even the Pope - and Dawkins has joined with such Christians in fighting the spread of creationism.

Sigh, yet again, D acknowledges the diversity of Christians and works with some of them - see diary. But he is opposing the powerful influence of the many extremists, particularly in the US  - who, for example, push creationism and ID. But he is also critical of moderate Christians as he feels they give respectability to the extremists - they make reliance on faith more acceptable.

But ,well this is another topic and I think Brit speaks foor me better than I would ever do.

Then I'm very sorry for you, since, as I showed at length in the diary, his criticism of Dawkins is based on ignorance and misinterpretation. Despite that he blithely makes the same mistakes in comments here - see my replies.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 08:35:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Then I'm very sorry for you, since, as I showed at length in the diary  his criticism of Dawkins is based on ignorance and misinterpretation"

ugh. that's tough, ain't? I mean, it seems that this is somewhat personal for you. I mean , probably Brit and I do not care about Dawkins in particular, and we think his way to approach the fight agaisnt elnlightenment values is not the correct one. Probably because Brit and myself have a very different idea about what science is about, and about his position in society. Maybe it is because we see religion with a different perspective haavily influence by our readings on symbolic antrhopology and mythology that we have disucussed here in ET thoroughly.

I think that if you look at the other diaries where we have proposed another approach to this fight and argued that the approach of Dawkins and ohter are probably detrimental you could see that Brit problems with dawkins do not arise fron ignorance or lack of understanding in dawkins propositions. The disagreement is more fundamental basically because they do not take into consideration (probably they would call it too postmdoernist for their taste) the inputs of symbolic and religious antrhopology about how people take symbolism and hierarchical symbolism in their hands.

But in any case. Let me tell you, it is not personal at all. It is just an opinion on the approach on this issue. It is in no way  an attack against you in any sense. It is a strong disagreement  about his approach as a social commentator (which he shares with other people so I find completely unfair to criticize him or single him out because we think it is a mistake.) and, well, a not very high regard about his scientific work.
But sometimes it looks as if you take any disagreement about his approach or any attack about his scientfic credential as something personal.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 09:25:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But, yes, some Christians have retreated from some of their most barmy ideas and have accepted the validity of evolution - even the Pope

Not too fast on this Pope. John Paul II did send an encouraging sign to a seminar back in 1996. The present Pope Ratzinger is in full regression on evolution and not only.

To set the tone of recent views on Darwin, the Pope has rested the matter in the competent hands of Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, whose 2005 NYT article caused a major stir.

It is comforting to see that this Pope is very much concerned with the defence of reason against the ideologies of relativism, evolutionism and reductionism. That's True Reason, of course.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 04:45:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah some dancing I see. :)

First we have

First, I'm not just condemning religion,

then we have

This is my main reaction to theistic religion

Ok we are beginning to actually make some sense now. It is still too simplistic.

I have some little bit of dignity and pride, and will not fall on my knees like a pitiful fool because of the demand of some Supreme Sky Being.

Do you really want to be this offensive?

Perhaps it is a bit risky to tell people what they do when they practice religion. Far better to ask. Also I would hate to get into this type of cultural superiority with both our past as a species, let alone condemn all people on the planet who do this whether in 1st, 2nd or 3rd world countries.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:53:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps it is a bit risky to tell people what they do when they practice religion. Far better to ask.

Because religions are always so quiet and secretive about it.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:15:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If they are going to keep to themselves, that is sad, though I have indirectly heard that some religions are not that helpful to visitors who wish to learn as opposed to join.

It is extremely common for Christian religions to have an open door policy. If they aren't going to talk about it - enter the door and see for yourself. If there are still problems, find an ex-member of that religion and ask them. the Internet is great for that. The more secretive they are the more likely there are going to be some real pissed off ex members of the group.

In the last year we have had two different people who as part of their university education entered our door to study us. We set special times aside to talk with them. We attempted to answer any questions they had. We made almost everything we do open to them. The one thing that remand closed was where we deal with issues that may sometimes fit under the topic of counseling. If they had wanted to know about that we would probably have arranged something there too. Certainly there is no prohibition about talking about it as long as confidentiality is not broken. What we do is not secret.

Some questions are extremely hard. For example what do you believe in? While the question appears straight forward - for a group that rejects creedal statements it is extremely complex. If you ask that question you may get something less than satisfactory. That's not because of secrecy though. If people come to ridicule us, and disrupt us, then I would expect we would be less helpful.

What I hear over and over is a strong concern over a fairly rigid set of beliefs that may fit under the broad definition of "traditional" - recognizing that traditional is much larger than this. This concern seems to be centered on religions that define themselves at least to some extent as explaining that which science does not explain. To try to nail it a bit further - a group that wishes in some way to live in the past or without the bother of the rest of the world. I do recognize that there may be exceptions to this.

What appears to be done is to take this group - admittedly extremely large in some countries - and make the claim that this group is religion. Just as multiculturalism as made inroads into society, it has made inroads into religion. People are people. Our religion has had its effect on society and society has had its effect on us and we like it that way.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 01:50:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I hear over and over is a strong concern over a fairly rigid set of beliefs that may fit under the broad definition of "traditional" - recognizing that traditional is much larger than this. This concern seems to be centered on religions that define themselves at least to some extent as explaining that which science does not explain. To try to nail it a bit further - a group that wishes in some way to live in the past or without the bother of the rest of the world. I do recognize that there may be exceptions to this.

Well, if fundies who are stuck in the past would just leave the rest of us the hell alone, I suspect that most people would be more than happy to let them get on with being stuck in the past. Whatever floats their boat and all that. (Now, whether this is an entirely ethical position to take is a somewhat more sticky issue.)

What appears to be done is to take this group - admittedly extremely large in some countries - and make the claim that this group is religion.

That is clearly not what Dawkins does in the interviews posted in the diary (as I said above, I can't comment on the totality of his work). Leaving aside the fact that going after fundamentalism with full force and not worrying about stepping on some religious moderates' (sometimes overly sensitive) toes can certainly be viewed as an entirely ethical thing to do...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:15:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is clearly not what Dawkins does in the interviews posted in the diary

I guess we will have to disagree then.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's possible that I missed something, since I didn't watch most of the clips. Just to clarify, when i refer to 'the interviews' I'm talking about the two clips with Dawkins and The Big Fat Liar.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:26:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok we are beginning to actually make some sense now. It is still too simplistic.
What about it is too simplistic?
Do you really want to be this offensive?
Yes. I find the practice of worship quite unpalatable.
Perhaps it is a bit risky to tell people what they do when they practice religion. Far better to ask.
Okay. What do you do when practicing religion? In particular, what do you do with respect to the deity being(s)? Do you worship it/them?
Also I would hate to get into this type of cultural superiority with both our past as a species, let alone condemn all people on the planet who do this whether in 1st, 2nd or 3rd world countries.
Just as I condemn those who bow down to the totalitarian political authority figure in a cult of worship I do for those who put god(s) in the same position. No difference to me between the two. I'm against tyranny and the idolatry thereof in all its forms. Who elected the god(s)? What's the procedure for its/their removal from office?
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 01:34:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Topic 1. Are we unfairly smearing Dawkins?

Yes, on the God Delusion anyway, which is all I've read of him on this topic

Topic 2. Lets argue over Dawkins arguments.

Why? None are original, so we've seen it all before and it's not going to change the mind of a committed believer.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 12:34:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely agree.

His position about religion about science and religion are not new, there are other people around iand in history and in the showbiz with simialr or identical narrative...

So we bascilly can discuss about what is the better way to deal with the attack agaisnt ilustration adn how to push back.. I have done it here at length .. adn maybe Ted Welch would like to see what we had to say about hose arguments.

As you may know I think his approach is not the good one to pushback... maybe is becausae I live in secualr Spain where everuybody is catholic adnd ther eis no attack int he church hierarchy (well until now) against basci scientific "how" theories...

My point of view here is bascially thatbrit one..so I hardly have naything new to say.

But it is worth stressing that one think is not respecting Dawkins as a cscientists (which I do not) and another is respecting his pundit view.. though There is a bunch of people who disagree with the approach....

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:01:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Edwin: With your essay I see no definition of region. If you are going to condem all religion, you had better define it.

Any definition of religion has to be reasonable. Expect an argument with just about any definition you manage to come up with.

Yes, exactly, we could waste hours debating definitions of religion - I've spent enough hours on this diary already. More importantly it's not necessary:

Any definition [of "game" ] which focuses on competition will fail to explain the game of catch, or the game of solitaire. And a definition of the word "game" which focuses on rules will fall on similar difficulties.

The essential point of this exercise is often missed. Wittgenstein's point is not that it is impossible to define "game", but that we don't have a definition, and we don't need one, because even without the definition, we use the word successfully.Everybody understands what we mean when we talk about playing a game, and we can even clearly identify and correct inaccurate uses of the word, all without reference to any definition that consists of necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of the concept of a game.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_Investigations#Meaning_and_definition

You and I have no problem at all in recognising religions - they usually identify themselves as such, but are so varied that any definition will be very general and probably fail to cover some aspect of one or more of them. Dawkins spends some time in chapter one making a relevant distinction between the kind of Einsteinian religion he and other scientists share, a sort of sense of awe, and the kind of religious belief, based on faith, involving some kind of supernatural being, of which he is critical.

I'm not really concerned in the diary with the validity of his arguments (generally I happen to agree with him). As is rather obvious, I'm more concerned with clarifying what he has actually written and said - as opposed to what some have suggested he's said, and his motives in writing the book and the need for such books.

But if you want to disagree with any of his actual arguments - go ahead.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 09:58:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh.. I do nt have anyh problem with Dawkisn as a pundit.. at all..though I may not agree with him.

My problem is that he does not know a jot about science and pretends to do so..and with this... well he does not help. It is true that it also tranmmits an image of science that I do not like.. but ei.. that's his right...

Not so much to be a Rush Limbaugh of science taking data basically from his ass.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:40:17 AM EST
My problem is that he does not know a jot about science and pretends to do so..

What are you talking about here? The guy's an ethologist. On what basis does an ethologist classify as someone who 'does not know a jot about science'?

by wing26 on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:47:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Science is a lot of things. Being a qualified scientist in one field does not make you instantly and automatically qualified in any other field(s). I don't know what problems kcurie is referring to, but if I had to guess, I'd say that he's spotted Dawkins pulling something out of his butt about physics. That happens frequently with non-physicists, even those otherwise well-versed in science (hell, it happens regularly with physicists when we try to popularise or wax too philosophical - or even just comment on an area of physics that's outside our immediate specialisation).

(And lest some be mislead to think that physicists feel superior to other kinds of scientists, let me hasten to add that biologists very probably roll their eyes whenever a physicist tries his hand at biology...)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:00:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Science is a lot of things. Being a qualified scientist in one field does not make you instantly and automatically qualified in any other field(s).

Yes, but then I never implied that it did. I said Dawkins was an ethologist. As an ethologist is a practising scientist (of animal behaviour), then knowing at least 'a jot' about science would be in order, wouldn't it. If kcurie meant 'physics', then that should have been said ... but it would have buggered up the force of the comment, by appearing to be something of a non-sequitur ('can't take anything Dawkins says seriously, he's not a physicist.')

That is, without context or elaboration, it appears to be exactly the sort of attitude the article is complaining about: people having reactions to Dawkins when they are largely unaware of what he is actually saying, or even what his area of expertise is. (Without context, kcurie's comment reads as if kcurie is unaware that Dawkins is actually a scientist).

(And lest some be mislead to think that physicists feel superior to other kinds of scientists, let me hasten to add that biologists very probably roll their eyes whenever a physicist tries his hand at biology...)

'Consider a spherical cow', as the punch line of the joke about physicists goes ...

by wing26 on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:34:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, and a good joke it is... Although I like the one about the astronomer, the physicist and the mathmatician who see a black sheep better. But I digress.

As an ethologist is a practising scientist (of animal behaviour), then knowing at least 'a jot' about science would be in order, wouldn't it. If kcurie meant 'physics', then that should have been said ...

I don't know what kcurie meant, but if indeed he meant 'physics' instead of 'science' then it's an example of hyperbole. Just a little while downthread I defend Dawkins using hyperbole, so surely kcurie should have the same license...

but it would have buggered up the force of the comment, by appearing to be something of a non-sequitur ('can't take anything Dawkins says seriously, he's not a physicist.')

Not at all. The objection was to Dawkins pulling data out of his butt. There is a world of difference between simply commenting on something that one is not knowledgeable about - which is something we all do from time to time - and trying to pass as a competent person while in reality pulling stuff out of one's butt.

Now, before we go down that road, I would like to emphasise that I'm guessing at kcurie's intentions here, which means that I really wouldn't like to take the discussion too far, because I'm making (more or less educated) guesses about a position that I don't hold myself. Which is frequently A Bad Idea. In general (from what little I have read), I find Dawkins' reasoning to range from excellent and tightly argued to execrable apologetics. Sometimes within the same text. But I haven't myself ever caught him pulling stuff about physics out of his butt, and I'm not competent to judge the rest of the specialist stuff he says.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:46:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hyperbole is fine. I myself love the dirtiest and most brutal of rhetorical weapons and will defend anyone's right to them. The problem is simply that the comment doesn't look like hyperbole at all, but rather like ignorance ('Dawkins is not a scientist but a mouth like Limbaugh'). No, kcurie, I am not saying you are ignorant! But in this instance, any intended 'hyperbole' reduces simply to non-sequitur ('the scientist is not a scientist'), because - as I have already said - there is no context to measure the remark. It really isn't clear from the comment that the writer is aware that Dawkins is, literally, a scientist, and in his own field a good one.

That is why I asked what was meant.

There is a world of difference between simply commenting on something that one is not knowledgeable about - which is something we all do from time to time - and trying to pass as a competent person while in reality pulling stuff out of one's butt.

And how do you know Dawkins was not actually doing the former instead of the latter, during whatever it was knurie is objecting to? Let's say I comment on something I am not knowledgeable about - say, the US current account deficit - and screw up the numbers - the data - from memory. Which category is that in? Does it even matter, if I have otherwise made a good argument that does not hinge on a discussion of the US current account deficit, an argument in which it is largely tangential and brought up in the heat of debate? Do you think that might happen to Dawkins, as it does to most people who are engaged in public debate?

I agree with you about That Which is Frequently a Bad Idea ... :)

by wing26 on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 03:42:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have seen him pulling things out of his butt in physics and biology.
My knowledge of animal behavior is quite low.. though I know a little bit of ants.. thanks to a friend... but I never got him saying something wrong about a particular animal bahvior (nio wonder he is an expert and I would be the jack-ass)... actually he speaks clearly about one of the basic telnets of animal ethology.. whatever behavior you may want to project from human to animal.. it exists in some animal..  homesexual, bisexual, heterosexual, males with multiple females, the other way around, things that look like altruism, things that looks like fear, or being brave.. you bascially can find anything you look for...

There are other important stuff in ethology but I do not know enough and I would say that he is/was a respected ethologists.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:30:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Knowing about science also means knowing about the limit of your field of expertise... at the moment he gets out of animal behavior he is a jack ass.. he pretends to lecture about a selfesh gene and he has not the fantiest idea of what a network is..even less about a gene-protein network..

And I do nto move to physics or aspects of biology where he just plainly changes the observation to fit his world view.. just as any other religion person would do.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:13:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hesitate to ask this, but it's worth doing: you do know what the whole 'selfish gene' thing was actually about, don't you? It was a hypothesis to explain altruistic behaviour. OK, you know that already ... but many intelligent people on the Left don't, and that's why they hate Dawkins so much ... they hear the phrase 'selfish gene' and they just go berserk because they think its some justification for devil-take-the-hindmost Social Darwinism. Again, they haven't actually read what the guy says ... or haven't understood it.

Now, he is an ethologist and the 'problem' (for want of a better term) of altruism in animals needs an explanation. You seem to be saying he isn't allowed to propose one in terms of natural selection because he isn't a molecular biologist or some sort of 'network' specialist. Respectfully, I think you are wrong about that. It comes down to the degree of specialization and atomization of knowledge that now exists. Mostly I think people here decry that, from what I have seen of the relevant threads ... but not when it's time to jump on Dawkins, apparently. Then everyone should strictly keep their mouths shut on whatever they aren't professional specialists in.

Sorry for any phrasing infelicities, I'm doing this on the run.

by wing26 on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:06:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, sure I know.. but it is as if I would invent a new theory to explain the big bang or to explain that probably the big bang was not for real.. just because.. well I am physicist... so you may think I could.. well not.. my field of expertise is complex systems, chaos, networks, dynamcial sistem, pattern formation... I hate the microscopic stuff and the all-theories but I love astronomy so I read once in a while... but if I would write a book about it with my opinion about the field in a book.. well the minimum the people up here in astronomy will tell me is : "you are a real jack ass".. well more like "your are making yourself like a jack ass".

I would even hesitiate to write a book about the things I do know... much less the things I do not know a jot about.

He can certainly make the proposal in the community.. and he surely did.. and since the people were laughing all around he used his position to write a book... and people are reasonable either pissed at him or just do not consider him worhthwhile any more.

ANd I always mean as a scientists outside his field. As a person in the news, show man or so on I have complete respect bacuse I know is his right (though I must say we I do not agree with anything.. )

SO in other words, as people in the news with a view about religiona dn science.. look no problem.. I will always there to argue.. for example with Bill Maher... he is a show man he holds similar positions I would always disagree with him, I would say that his trial will backfire but   I would always respect his point of view.

The day Bill Maher pretends to write a scientific book which is nothing more than a personal creatonism... well I would react as I react with the creationists... they just make up things from their butt.

And his proposal about altruistic behavior in ethology has been cosntantly repeteadly and insistenly sent to where it belongs.. the garbage.

A pleasure.

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:26:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We got into this maybe half a year ago when I brought up evolutionary psychology. Kcurie likes the models of the mind promoted in the social sciences, which are at odds with what neuroscientists have been proposing over the past two or three decades.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:59:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To which I should add Dawkins views are more in line with the neuroscience camp than the social science camp.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:00:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]

My problem is that he does not know a jot about science and pretends to do so ...

Please make an effort to make intelligent comments. Hyperbole is one thing, crass absurdities are another. Others have made appropriate responses to this piece of idiocy.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 10:04:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have tried to explain my position.. but frankly I am tired of this guy.

The selfish gene is basically creatonism in disguise.. his crationism of course.

Nothing about metabolic network, nothing about complex dynamics, nothing about ... well nothing.. jsut a  book about non.-science pretneding it is about science.

If you want I can give you a point by point rebuttal of his book.. but I am tired, I have done it in other places..and sicussed them here.

And again.. I am not addressing his points which are related with his views about science and religion.. here I think like brit.. it is not how I look at it.. it is not how I would approach the topic..I think it will backfire... but I am happy that everybody has a different opinion... excellent.

His science... outside some animal behavior.. sorry.... he is just  a bad scientists outside his field.. that's all... but I guess that hat pissed more people in the community is that.. well his theory makes no sense whatsoever.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I'm sorry you're tired it shows - how you have the nerve to criticise him with junk like this I don't understand - but, like you, in this case, I'm too tired to go through your drivel.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:02:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted.. it was not my intention.. but I cleary tocuched a soft spot.

It was no my intention to hurt you.. nor directly nor indireclty. it is clear you ahve invested a lot of personal attachment to Dawkins.. or at least this is how it looks.

One day I am sure, we will sit down happily discussing why you think he is very good at science, and I will defend the opposite... probably we will not convince each other but we would have a great time

But I think here now it is clearly not the moment.

Let me in any case, ask you personally for excuses if I ever hurt you or say something that you thought was an indirect attack.

I deeply apologize.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 05:10:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I welcome this change of tone, I'm not upset - just rather exasperated (and last night's comments were made after a few drinks so a bit more direct than usual).

 But I would suggest you apply this sort of tone to those outside ET too. No, I don't have a "personal attachment" to Dawkins, beyond respecting him as an obviously very intelligent, generally well-informed, courteous (see the Lynchburg Q& A video), witty guy who has deservedly received many awards and honours (see the diary). A bit of the Christian virtue of humility would seem appropriate in your case.

However I have nothing against informed, reasoned criticisms of him, just as he wouldn't. I DO object to uninformed attacks without even the pretense of any evidence. I object even more to unsupported insults like "asshole" (nanne) and your own absurd claim that "He doesn't know a jot about science".

But I would also defend others who were attacked in these ways. Thus I would defend Hitchens against unjustified criticisms or mere insults, although I despise his support for the attack on Iraq. That he was wrong about that does not cancel the fact that he is a very bright, extremely erudite, witty guy - which makes his loss to the left (in some important respects) all the more regretable.

 

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 08:53:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted... I am sorry but we do not act this way with people otside ET.

We say the most vile things about Bush, Blair and everybody outside here.

I do not see why Bush should be different than Hitchens or Dawkins.

I did not realized I had hit a soft spot and that by attacking Dawkins I was attacking you, and your perecpetion of him. The moment I saw that you were attached to him I apologized.

But this does not change my point of view. I think BVvush is a bastard, adn I do think Hitchens is a bastard and I do think Dawkins is wrong on this fight back agaisnt religion but I think he should be doing what he thinks is better and commend him for it.. and I also think he is a very very bad scientist.

It is just my humble opinion. But please, please, in no way take it personal, actually if you think he is right about his approach to religion, great, we can discuss it. And if you think he is a very good scientists..w ell I doubt anything or quote I can bring here will convince you otherwise.

But please, please, do not take it personal. he is not here in ET.. adn we deserve respect to people here always and to epople outside ET that we think they deserve it. And while Dawkins as a social commentator deserves my respect (though not my agreement) Dawkins as a scientist does not.

Huge hug ted.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 09:37:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would appreciate it you would accept what I say about my own approach and feelings. I have told you that I don't take it personally, and have no particular attachment to Dawkins apart from considerable respect. So I don't really appreciate your suggestion that I'm just getting emotional about this. The general emotion is one of disgust/exasperation at the way Dawkins was dealt with in TBG's diary and worse in some of the comments - which I cited. It's a British tradition (but not confined to us of course) to want to see "fair play" and to deplore attacking someone in an uninformed and/or malicious way and repeatedly, in TBG's case, misrepresenting what Dawkins is doing - YET AGAIN - he's NOT  trying to convert fundamentalists. If that happens it's a bonus - and it can happen, see for example:

This Blog has been created for the purpose of debunking Evangelical Christianity. We are ex-Christians, ex-ministers, and even ex-apologists for the Christian faith. We are now freethinkers, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. With the diversity of our combined strengths we seek to debunk Christianity.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/

But that isn't basically what he's trying to do - I made clear in the diary what he IS trying to do.

So, criticism based on the idea that he's mainly trying to convert fundamentalist or even very committed moderate Christians is entirely irrelevant - see the damned diary.

As I've said I have no problem with reasoned criticism, with argument and evidence, which takes the trouble to be accurate about what Dawkins actually says, and particularly what he says in "The God Delusion" and what he has said in videos of readings, Q&A sessions and interviews. I have yet to see any which does this and makes valid criticisms.

We say the most vile things about Bush, Blair and everybody outside here.

I don't think this is one of the more attractive aspects of ET - while confessing that I have been guilty of it myself - but generally I try to back up any strong criticism with some reasons and evidence.

I would even defend Bush if he was blatantly misrepresented - there is plenty of scope for attack without sinking to that.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 01:27:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did not make it all the way through your links. 37 minutes on the first youtube was plenty to give your essay and Dawkins. I have also heard him speak on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Dawkins presents very broad brush strokes to tar a subject he does not define.

Einstein's atheist use of religion is not the same has other religious views. I, as an atheist, am instead misguided - an honorary theist.

They may not believe but, to borrow Dan Dennett's phrase, they "believe in belief".
http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,1879076,00.html

We see that religious people are delusional. A word with some important psychological connotations, but there is no background for how accurate this medical term is applied in the way Dawkins applies it. Instead we are to take it on faith. For some reason, being honorarily delusional makes me a whole lot less interested in being sympathetic.

Delusional Disorder

Delusional disorder refers to a condition associated with one or more nonbizarre delusions of thinking--such as expressing beliefs that occur in real life such as being followed, being poisoned, being loved or deceived, or having an illness, provided no other symptoms of schizophrenia are exhibited.

Delusions may seem believable at face value, and patients may appear normal as long as an outsider does not touch upon their delusional themes.

Treatment

Treatment approaches may be found similar to those used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. Antipsychotic drugs are often very effective in treating delusions. A number of new antipsychotic drugs (the so-called "atypical antipsychotics") have been introduced since 1990. The first of these, clozapine (Clozaril), has been shown to be more effective than other antipsychotics, although the possibility of severe side effects--in particular, a condition called agranulocytosis (loss of the white blood cells that fight infection)--requires that patients be monitored with blood tests every one or two weeks. Even newer antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone (Risperdal) and olanzapine (Zyprexa), are safer than the older drugs or clozapine, and they also may be better tolerated. They may or may not treat the illness as well as clozapine, however. Several additional antipsychotics are currently under development.

May I also suggest ECT?

We are meant to be impressed with the evils of religion and regaled with the Battle of Jericho. Alternative explanations are not listed. Einstein said

Nationalism is an infantile disease.
What role did religion play? What role did nationalism play? What would Jewish children who did not believe in god think? We have no answers and are thus little wiser. Simple truths to mask complex questions, such as "Does religion manipulate and control society? Is it the other way around? Is it a two way street?" "As society changes, does religion change?" "Do we create god in our own image, or does religion create us in its own image?" Is Skinner correct or is he wrong?

In spite of the very serious failure to address his terms there are issues that he raises that need to be raised and talked about. Unfortunately he takes a subject that initially is highly charged emotionally and makes it even more highly charged. And then there is Hitchens. Am I suppose to have any sympathy for the views of this man?

Well I stared off with a sympathetic mind on the smearing of Dawkins. I was less open to some of Dawkins arguments. Some of his arguemts I think are interesting and under some circumstances would be interesting to debate. Did nanne go overbord? I still don't have enough information to form an opinion. On the other hand the defense of Dawkins so far is none to pretty either. And then there is Hitchens.

There is a reason why I have gone towards organized religious pacifists to discover more about who i am as an atheist. While Millman may be fighting a war, at least they are not. Unlike nanne - I lasted about a week with internet atheists.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:18:10 PM EST
May I honestly recommend:

Tao Te Ching - Peter Merel's Interpolation

32. Shapes

The Way has no true shape,
And therefore none can control it.
If a ruler could control the Way
All things would follow
In harmony with his desire,
And sweet rain would fall,
Effortlessly slaking every thirst.

The Way is shaped by use,
But then the shape is lost.
Do not hold fast to shapes
But let sensation flow into the world
As a river courses down to the sea.



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:54:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Favour me with a piece of insight here, please. How is The God Delusion a more provocative title than Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar?

For someone whose declared goal (in so many - although slightly different - words) is to shift the Overton window, Dawkins has been unusually mellow and academic-sounding in all the cases I'm familiar with (which admittedly isn't all that many, though). Yet judging by the things people write about him here and elsewhere, you'd expect him to have enough fire and brimstone to set up a Hell of his own.

I'm not going to compare him to the rabid attack dogs of the Rightwing Noise Machine, but FFS, Al Franken and Steve Colbert regularly outdoes him on the venom and vitriol front. Yet those are rarely if ever attacked in Left Blogistan. And let's not even mention Michael Moore, who makes all three of them look like paragons of Aristotelian inquiry by comparison. (FWIW, I found Fahrenheit 9/11 obnoxious, but I rather liked Dude, Where's my Country.)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:24:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are correct in saying that Dawkins is less proactive than a large number of others in terms of his speaking style and writing style (he read from his book in the first youtube). The subject area is, on the other hand an area where small provocation will produce much greater responses. Not all topics are created equal.

Of course Al Franklin is not trying to engage in any sort of meaningful dialog with Republicans as far as I can tell. Is Dawkins trying for some sort of dialog? If so, then we had better use a different standard.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 11:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One might argue that the reason that the subjects he comments on are subject to an unnecessary and harmful cultural taboo. I am reminded of what Jerome wrote a while ago - that whenever he presents his views to his colleagues, he is told to be less ideological (whereas presumably a neoliberal presenting his case with the same vigour would not be considered an ideologue). I would argue that it is not so much all subjects not being created equal as a case of not all Overton windows being in the same place.

Precisely what Dawkins considers his mission to be, I do not know. I don't follow him that closely, because frankly there are authors that I consider more worth my time. He has stated, however, (or it's been attributed to him - I can't off-hand recall which) that he desires to strip away the unearned respect accorded religion simply because it is religion. Given this goal - which by the way I consider laudable - his tactics make a lot of sense. Given most of the other goals he has stated and/or been attributed... well, not so much. But then again, you can't do everything at once.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:32:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are many intellectual atheists who proudly call themselves Jews and observe Jewish rites, perhaps out of loyalty to an ancient tradition or to murdered relatives, but also because of a confused and confusing willingness to label as 'religion' the pantheistic reverence which many of us share with its most distinguished exponent, Albert Einstein.

The president of a historical society in New Jersey wrote a letter that so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading twice:

We respect your learning, Dr Einstein; but there is one thing you do not seem to have learned: that God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on Faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time. But I never told anyone of my spiritual aberrations for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of some fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, "There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith." ... I hope, Dr Einstein, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say something more pleasing to the vast number of the American people who delight to do you honor.

What a devastatingly revealing letter! Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.


I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miraclewreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 07:41:34 PM EST
I see a little hyperbole (OK, the last sentence is a lot of hyperbole) and a little argumentum ad Einsteinium, but other than that I am at a loss for reasons to highlight those paragraphs as an example of... what, exactly? Is there anything there that's more objectionable than what your local politicians say in your average newspaper? Hell, is there anything there that's half as objectionable as what your local politicians say in your average newspaper?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:32:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is provocative in those quotes is the deliberate way in which Dawkins separates any sort of defensible and reasonable (by both his standards and the typical standards of his audience) spiritual and religious sentiment from what he defines as "real religion," which is solely composed of fundamentalist insanity.

In doing so, he offends believers on all sides.  First, he tells a variety of believers that what they think is not really religion at all (leaving them perhaps somewhat perplexed as to what exactly their beliefs are).  Then he smears everyone else as an idiot.

by Zwackus on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:40:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]

What is provocative in those quotes is the deliberate way in which Dawkins separates any sort of defensible and reasonable (by both his standards and the typical standards of his audience) spiritual and religious sentiment from what he defines as "real religion," which is solely composed of fundamentalist insanity.

But he doesn't say that in the quotations, which is not surprising because he has made it clear in various places that he doesn't think this. Thus he accepts, as is obvious, that there are moderate, nice, reasonable religious people - and he thinks theirs is "real religion" too. His problem with them is that, as he sees it, they give a cloak of respectability to the more extremist forms - so obviously he doesn't restrict "real religion" to the extremists or he wouldn't have this complaint/argument.

Yet again views are attributed to him which he just doesn't hold. The distinction he makes, see chapter one, is between the "religion" attributed to Einstein and others, which was awe and reverence for nature, and, the real religion of those who believe in a god, a supernatural being who created nature. The latter can come in moderate or extremist forms.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:18:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And by not defining what religion is we have no basis for arguing the truth or falseness of whether "good" religious people are providing cover for "bad" religious people.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:35:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]

See my earlier response to this - wearying - repeated demand for a definition - citing Wittgenstein.

And how would you judge the adequacy of any definition - by whether it fitted some anterior definition - or by your general understanding of what religion is?

 School essays are often supposed to start with a definition, sometimes it's a good idea, with a very general term which we're perfectly capable of applying, it's just a waste of time; See your own favourite "definition" of religion - and stop wasting your time.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 12:00:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe "religion" is an extremely complex topic that does not lend itself to those who would dismiss it as evil in a paragraph or two.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:26:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Maybe "religion" is an extremely complex topic that does not lend itself to those who would dismiss it as evil in a paragraph or two.

What are you talking about - Dawkins wrote a book, not just a few paragraphs - if you have any arguments about what he has actually written, let's see them.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:27:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:49:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I thought JakeS had replied adequately to this.

Am I supposed to take this kind of rambling seriously:

Well I stared off with a sympathetic mind on the smearing of Dawkins. I was less open to some of Dawkins arguments. Some of his arguemts I think are interesting and under some circumstances would be interesting to debate. Did nanne go overbord? I still don't have enough information to form an opinion. On the other hand the defense of Dawkins so far is none to pretty either. And then there is Hitchens.

What is the "none to [sic] pretty" part of the defense ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:16:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither you nor JackeS have challenged the following criticisms I have made:

We are meant to be impressed with the evils of religion and regaled with the Battle of Jericho. Alternative explanations are not listed. Einstein said

Nationalism is an infantile disease.

What role did religion play? What role did nationalism play? What would Jewish children who did not believe in god think? We have no answers and are thus little wiser. Simple truths to mask complex questions, such as "Does religion manipulate and control society? Is it the other way around? Is it a two way street?" "As society changes, does religion change?" "Do we create god in our own image, or does religion create us in its own image?" Is Skinner correct or is he wrong?

Instead you are interested in pretending that I have said nothing at all. You are trying to score cheap debating points as opposed to something more serious.

If you don't want to answer my criticisms then don't. Don't pretend that I have not made any.

I will no longer be reading your responses on this topic.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:40:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I will no longer be reading your responses on this topic.

Oh dear. For anybody else - the bit you quoted from your comment is not exactly coherent - you seem to be complaining that Dawkins doesn't deal with all the possible issues you can dream up. You don't clearly set out anything specific he says and show what's wrong with it.

Simple truths to mask complex questions

Exactly which supposed "simple truths" ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:15:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just pulled out the quotes that made me think "[pejorative]".

Maybe I also hold many local politicans to be [pejorative, plural]!

Otherwise, the quotes show that Dawkins is incapable of developing a sympathetic understanding of 'the religious mind'.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 04:05:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A little aside ... Actually I wish he'd gone the whole hog and stuck the boot into pantheistic reverence as well. I think it has been pointed out already here by 'someone' that people are not obligated to worship a theistic god that has created them, and indeed they should be outraged at such a being. But something similar pertains to 'pantheistic reverence.' The world isn't any less shitty simply because it wasn't created by a Deity. Reverence for the Universe is misplaced. And calling it 'God' is just redundant (I think Schopenhauer once pointed this out, to the effect 'Why call it God when I can just call it the Universe'?)
by wing26 on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 08:35:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he did have a go at that as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 09:31:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a world of difference between kneeling before a statue moving your upper body up and down and slapping your hands on the ground in hope for personal betterment, and driving past the ocean, looking at its vastness and feeling that there is something bigger than you.

I can understand dislike for the first; I cannot understand presuming to judge upon the second.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:50:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With respect, the feeling is simply trite and entirely misleading ... a bit like when you first go to bed with someone you just met that evening and think you're in love for the rest of your life. Yeah, there is 'something bigger', but in truth that 'something bigger' is entirely indifferent (it doesn't give a stuff about you or I) and we do NOT belong to it in some mystical isn't-it-wonderful way, but rather in a very literal and trite sense: we are assembled from parts of it and the atoms of our bodies are recycled within it when we die (indeed, as we live). Carl Sagan said we are literally made of stardust. Well, yes, it's an incredible factoid, but it's not worth feeling religious over. I should revere the Universe because I'm part of it, or because there are some really big numbers involved? Don't think so. Even folk-wisdom theism makes more sense than that ('better be good or God's gonna give you a whuppin'!' ... at least the conclusion follows from the premise).

Whenever I contemplate pantheism seriously, the thing I find really, really impressive about it - ironically, a sentiment which 'pantheistic reverence' glosses over entirely - is its utter, utter indifference to human concern. Get your head around that, even for a split second, and you will be seriously awed ... but it isn't a nice, warm, fuzzy type of awe at all. A serious pantheism - a pure form of it - should stress not reverence, but indifference and insignificance. Those are the realities of our relationship with the Universe. The 'awe at something bigger' is, in my view, simply a projection ... as I might love the whole world and forgive it everything simply because I spent the night in the arms of someone nice.

by wing26 on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 08:34:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I appreciate occassionaly entertaining a mythical perception of reality for reasons of aesthetics and personal ethics. I do not expect everyone to do likewise. For my part, I would say that you might be missing an element of experience that I personally find fulfilling, but I do not know you, and cannot presume that it would work for you.

What irked me was your (and Dawkins') intolerance for pantheistic reverence, which is after all a largely personal affair; at least you do not see me, Einstein, Spinoza or Hawking, and I'd guess at edwin, proselytising.

You can't even talk about the concept of significance from a non-personal perspective. Your interpretation of how pantheism should be interpreted can only reflect your own and other people's infusion of meaning into it. Indifference and insignificance, in the human mind, cannot be mere absences, just as atheism cannot be a mere absence (as I will explain in my longer answer to Ted which is still in the making). They are active stances, imbibed with meaning, which is how you can question the ethics they would lead to.

In that sense it is, indeed, projection.

Now I find that occassionaly entertaining the thought that I, and all mankind is, in the larger scheme of things (as a metaphor, I don't think there actually is a "scheme" of things) ... insignificant, to be helpful. It helps me modify the more hubristic and overly rationalistic tendencies of humanism, and it helps me to keep in mind that meaning is only found/created/mutually constructed in personal interaction.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 06:57:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Ted. It was about time somebody defended Dawkins here. And the Lynchburg tapes are great.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 at 10:09:45 PM EST

Thanks, Ted. It was about time somebody defended Dawkins here. And the Lynchburg tapes are great.

You're welcome. Yes, it was time - there seemed to be a nasty kind of group-think piling in - yeah, let's all kick this guy. I thought it did ET little credit. If you're going to attack a guy at least have the decency to read him first and deal with what he actually says.

Glad you enjoyed the Lynchburg (ominous! :-)) videos.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:45:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Having spent a long time on the diary I thought I'd stand back for a bit (as some others have noted, ET can tend to take over one's life :-)) and see how the debate - if any - developed. I'm glad to see it has been so lively - and thanks to those who recommended it.

But I have to say that some of the responses are disappointing and seem to display the same reluctance to  actually read what has been said (even the introduction!) which prompted the diary in the first place. But others have been more scrupulous in this respect and have prompted a better level of discussion. Special thanks to JakeS for some excellent contributions (not just because I tend to agree with him - though that is a factor :-)).

Having now written a few responses (not TOO "strident" I hope :-)), I'm off to participate in the some face-to-face, mouth-to-glass  socialising :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 11:32:01 AM EST
I like Dawkins, but I think Sam Harris is a better debater when it comes to get religious people to overthink their positions. See his entertaining debate with a Rabbi at the American Jewish University.

And his analysis of the way Atheism can be attacked is very insightful. You'll see this pattern over and over again.

God's Enemies Are More Honest Than His Friends


As someone who has spent the last few years publicly criticizing religion, I have become quite familiar with how people of faith rise to the defense of God. As it turns out, there aren't a hundred ways of doing this. There appear to be just three: either a person argues that a specific religion is true, or he argues that religion is useful, or he simply attacks atheism as intolerant, elitist, irrational, or otherwise worthy of contempt. Any conversation between atheists and believers is liable to fall into one or more of these ruts, or lurch back and forth between them:

1. Religion is true: There are two problems with arguing that any one of the world's religions is true. First, as Bertrand Russell pointed out a century ago, the major religions make incompatible claims about God and about what human beings must believe in order to escape the fires of hell. Given the sheer diversity of these claims, every believer should expect damnation on mere, probabilistic grounds.
The second problem with arguing for the truth of religion is that the evidence for the most common religious doctrines is terrible or nonexistent--and this subsumes all claims about the existence of a personal God, the divine origin of certain books, the virgin birth of certain people, the veracity of ancient miracles, etc.
For thousands of years, religion has been a haven for dogmatism and false certainty, and it remains so. There is not a person on this earth who has sufficient reason to be certain that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in his cave. And yet, billions of people profess such certainty. This is embarrassing. It is also dangerous--and we should stop making apologies for it.

2. Religion is useful: The argument that religion is useful is also problematic--and many of its problems are enunciated daily by bomb-blasts. Can anyone seriously argue that it is a good thing that millions of Muslims currently believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom? Is it really so useful that many Jews imagine that the Creator of the universe gave them a patch of desert on the Mediterranean? How psychologically beneficial has Christianity's anxiety about sex been these last seventy generations?
The worst problem with arguing for religion's usefulness, however, is that it is utterly irrelevant to the question at hand: the fact that a belief might be useful is no argument that it is true. While there are many ways to illustrate this, here is how I recently made the point in an online debate:
The fact that certain religious beliefs might be useful in no way suggests their legitimacy. I can guarantee, for instance, that the following religion, invented by me in the last ten seconds, would be extraordinarily useful. It is called "Scientismo." Here is its creed: Be kind to others; do not lie, steal, or murder; and oblige your children to master mathematics and science to the best of their abilities or 17 demons will torture you with hot tongs for eternity after death. If I could spread this faith to billions, I have little doubt that we would live in a better world than we do at present. Would this suggest that the 17 demons of Scientismo exist? Useful delusions are not the same thing as true beliefs.

3. Atheism is bad: Rather than argue for the truth of their religious beliefs, or produce evidence that religion is useful, apologists for God often attack atheism as though it were another religion. We are told that atheism is dogmatic, intolerant, irrational, etc. This homily has the virtue of being easy to remember and reproduce--and it now reverberates ceaselessly within the echo-chamber of American religious discourse.
It relies, however, on a many false ideas about atheism. On Christmas eve of this year, I published an essay in the Los Angeles Times entitled "10 Myths - and 10 Truths - about Atheism" in which I attempted to set the record straight. I won't repeat these points here. Those interested can find this article on my website.



"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:21:25 PM EST
Forgot the last link: 10 myths and 10 truths about Atheism

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 01:27:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is all good and fine, and an interesting summary from his point of view.

It is however also easily turned around:
Atheism is true: As Atheism is not a coherent theory, and there are many shades and variation, it cannot be true, as some of the statements contradict each other.
Atheism is useful: Atheist convictions might be useful, but that in no way suggests their legitimacy.
Religion is bad: Rather than argue for the truth of Atheism, or produce evidence that atheism is useful, apologists for Atheism often attack Religion as though it were a scientific theory. It relies, however, on a many false ideas about religion

Sorry, i am not spending much time here to develop it, someone linguistically more able could make this more fun. And I am also not making a serious argument here. My point however is thus:

There are legitimate (who is to judge?) questions from atheists about the human condition and their answers are of value, legitimate, self sufficient, but they are only touching on the tiniest of area of interest for a person of faith. While atheist remain unaware of that, their arguments with people of faith are entirely futile. (As are discussions among people of faith, if they are ignorant of the other persons faiths details, history, dogmatic limitations etc.)

by PeWi on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 02:36:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]

While atheist remain unaware of that, their arguments with people of faith are entirely futile. (As are discussions among people of faith, if they are ignorant of the other persons faiths details, history, dogmatic limitations etc.)

Sigh - yet again - Dawkins is NOT primarily concerned with very committed religious people - believe it or not he's not stupid and knows very well that rational argument is unlikely ( it CAN happen) to influence them. Try reading the diary for what he IS trying to do and some examples of success.

Do you really think I have to read everything about fairies before I dismiss belief in fairies, or Thor, etc., etc. ?

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:56:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Atheism is the disbelief in God, nothing more. The problem an atheist has with religious people is simply that they claim to KNOW some absolute truths, which depend on the religion one's talking about. If a religion isn't a theory about the universe and the role of mankind in it, what is it?

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 07:55:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The absolute knowledge is annoying. The ideas behind being told that you are going to hell are quite disturbing - that someone would think in such simple, violent terms.

I grew up with being harassed by Mennonites who were eager to save me.

As the presence of atheists who are involved with religion hints at, not all religious people KNOW some absolute truths. Some religions, like Unitarians, are - (at lest the congregation I attended when I was growing up) mostly atheist based. I think it would be a major disservice to Unitarians to claim they KNOW some absolute truths.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 08:16:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]

If they are "atheist based" what makes them a religion ?

Anyway, to repeat what was made clear in the diary, it's just wrong to suggest that Dawkins traets all religions, or groups within religions as exactly the same. He's made it clear in several places that of course there are non-extremist Christians (as is obviously the case with Muslims, etc.). That he acknowledges that - as I've pointed out in another comment, is evident from the fact that his criticism of nice, moderate Christians is that they lend respectability to the more aggressive, extreme groups. I also quoted an example of him working with leading Christians in the UK who are themselves concerned about extremist Christians and their attempts to spread creationism.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Fri Jan 11th, 2008 at 07:39:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. Dawkins steals my argument on Antony Flew (second video, from 33:33)
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 04:15:32 PM EST

Of course you're joking - but what happened with Flew, Christians pressuring a very old man is not so funny.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:29:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course. But I already find Dawkins much more reasonable now that I find him using the same line of argumentation that I did ;-)

(conversion, OK, whatever, but his argument on DNA is nonsense, the strong anthropic principle is a better case)

I didn't know about the pressuring?

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:47:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot, don't use & in the subject line or Scoop will choke...
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 05:53:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]

This brings up to the present and the subject of the Times article: a book has just been published, purportedly by Flew along with Christian apologist Roy Varghese, titled There Is a God. This book repeats many of the standard arguments for intelligent design creationism, and apparently once again endorses the claims of Gerald Schroeder.

Mark Oppenheimer of the Times went to Reading to interview Flew. Oppenheimer found that he was polite and agreeable, but suffering from serious memory gaps. Flew could not define terms like "abiogenesis" and was unfamiliar with the arguments advanced in the book. He freely admitted, and Varghese confirmed, that Varghese wrote all the original content of the book. Flew was simply persuaded to sign his name to it after it had been written for him.

The only conclusion I can draw is that these apologists are taking advantage of a confused, elderly man in a state of cognitive decline. There's little evidence that Flew even understands the controversy he's at the center of, much less that he changed his position as the result of any new arguments. These apologists insinuated themselves into his life, won his confidence, and then pushed him to agree to their claims when he no longer knew what he was agreeing to, and are now using him as a prop to promote their antiquated, irrational superstitions. (Although even by the most Christian-friendly interpretation of these events, Flew is now a deist, not a Christian - which one would think, in their eyes, leaves him just as damned as if he'd been an atheist.)

Just to be clear, I don't expect this to have the slightest impact on the atheist community. We are not atheists because we follow Antony Flew (or Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris). We follow these people because we are atheists and find their positions in agreement with our own. Even if Antony Flew had converted in his prime, that would have no persuasive effect on me unless he could show the facts and evidence that led to this decision. The Times article mentions "what others have at stake", but in fact there is nothing at stake other than the sad story of a worthy philosopher's legacy being coopted late in life by confidence tricksters.

http://www.daylightatheism.org/2007/11/the-exploitation-of-antony-flew.html



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:23:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. I wondered why I didn't get any of this before, but I see the article is from November 2007. It is rather sickening.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 08:06:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pssst.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Jan 10th, 2008 at 06:43:46 PM EST


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