Religion

God has punished me.

Sorry for the delay! I had a nice long(er) post written out when my computer crashed an all hell broke loose here at work. Now I can’t even find the original piece I wanted to discuss, which was another blogger’s take on Richard Dawkins vs. the entire god-worshipping world. (I’m sure the reason is because a god secretly didn’t want me talking about it all and has punished me accordingly.) The gist: is Dawkins shining the light of reason on the dark corners of believers’ minds, or is he just stabbing their eyes with one of those annoying laser pens? And if the latter, is that helping anyone? I think it’s an important topic worthy of discussion, which is why I’m going to post this and run back to work without discussing it in the least.

Discuss amongst yourselves (for now)!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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48 Comments

  1. I haven't yet read "The God Delusion", except for a chapter or so at the start I read at my local bookstore (curse expensive paperbacks!) however, I can't help but think that what Dawkins is doing is very important.

    Despite the fact that the majority of the USA believes in GOD, whatever that means to each of them, the core notion of his works on faith need to be presented to the public.

    Dawkins makes the point that many people seem to believe because they simply don't know they have the option not to. The majority of those raised into a particular religion aren't given the other points of view, and as such they many not really have ever heard cogent arguments from an ashiest showing that indeed a moral life can be lived without the trappings of religion. Given that so many people are so uninformed, we must continue to do whatever we can to inform them that indeed their are options out there. The stakes are no less than the fate of the world we all share.

    Carl Sagan is probably quoted to often by skeptics and atheists but Carl's notion but I'm going to borrow his notion and bend it to my point. Carl wrote his book "A candle in the dark" in reference of course to the illuminating power of science in the darkness of ignorance, just because one is surrounded by a great darkness of ignorance doesn't mean one should snuff out the candle of science in despair. By the same token within the darkness we are faced we should not extinguish the candle of rationality and atheism just because we see a difficult challenge. The darker the ignorance around you the more powerful the flame of rationality shines.

    I've put together a life for myself based on rational principles without the trappings of the religion I was raised in. I believe that such a rationality based life is better not only for myself but for the others of the world that have to share it with me. Dawkins

  2. I think Dawkins is doing the former. The only people he's really upsetting are just the apologist types from both camps (note: apologists are not the same as "moderates"), and good riddance to them. All the excerpts I've read from his book (I know, I know, I should probably read the whole thing before commenting, but I feel like I've sampled the overall "flavour" well enough) suggest that he has a real beef against sloppy reasoning. The apologists have good reason to be upset, because sloppy reasoning is their life blood!

    Even if he's not, stupid fundamentalist theists and sloppy-thinking apologists both deserve to have laser pointers flashed in their eyes. Hah! Eat minor inconvenience, jerks!

  3. I haven't read much of Dawkins, but I've read some and I've seen a TV series he did. The problem is that he's right, I agree with a large part of what he says but they way he says annoys the hell out of me. It's very hard to put my finger on what winds me up about the way he puts his point but it does and I know I'm not the only one.

    I agree that people need to hear what Dawkins is saying, I'm just not sure they that'll listen to it from him …

    SD

  4. I love Richard Dawkins. He is certainly harsh about cracking skulls to let some light in and I can see the argument that he is alienating people not making progress. Some people respond to brutal truth and some don't. Why not have several approaches to the problem of lighting up the darkness?

  5. I love the book, but I think he's doing both. He's a loud, popular voice who is overtly disgusted with religion. He sees no need for any tolerance outside of basic, decent humanity. He's self-admittedly not the most eloquent(although when he's talking science, I'd disagree), friendly speakers, perhaps not the perfect guy for the job. When I think of Carl Sagan, I think of a guy who deserves a real hero status. We may never again see someone so positive, brilliant, and likeable fighting bad reason and pseudo-science. Dawkins is no Sagan, but I love the guy anyways. He's intelligent, outspoken, ballsy(did you see him yelling at that militant muslim in Root of All Evil? HUGE balls!). Importantly, he's right 95% of the time, and he got there not because of a hatred of religion, but reason and thought.

    There are few attacks lobbied against him that have any real merit. "He doesn't [i]get[/i] religion" say the theologians. Well he might not be attacking the religion of hoity-toity theologians(how do you get paid for that, anyways?), but he is attacking the religion and reasoning of a majority of believers, and to the heart of their holy texts, which is precisely where he should be going. "He blames bad things on religion, but never attributes good things to it." Well, that's true – he could've had some more consistency in there. But two points: 1. religion, especially as a supposed moral authority, does a massive amount of downright awful things, and 2. faith, as something that preaches ignoring reason and thought, is [i]inherently[/i] bad. If you were to take the philosophical idea that ends [i]don't[/i] justify the means, then any bit of good religion does doesn't mean a damn thing.

    Dawkins is giving a voice to atheism, and encouraging atheists to be more vocal, to organize and share and to not be afraid to crash through the barrier that surrounds religion. And doing a fine, fine job at it. He says his goal is to convert the faithful, but I think mobilizing atheism is a close second, and kudos for that.

    Damn that was longer than I intended.

  6. I suppose I shall have to go out and get a copy of Dawkins' book and see for myself. I have to say that from the title (The God Delusion), I expect a somewhat contemptuous approach. By this I mean that Dawkins would seem to hold contempt for those who believe in God. In my experience, being told upfront that someone holds me in contempt makes it unlikely that I will find myself swayed by their arguments!

    I do understand (and even sympathize with) the position of the "angry atheist", given all the cruel and blatant stupidity present in much of organized religion, but they really aren't likely to win over many wavering believers if they start out by insulting them.

    All that being said, I will note that I am, in fact, a believer in God. My reasons for believing are entirely personal, and stem from experiences which are personal and anecdotal. I recognize that they wouldn't be in the least bit convincing to anyone besides myself. And I also freely acknowledge that I may be wrong, and that there is no God. My scales just simply happen to tip more on the "God" side than on the "not God" side. I shall have to look at which God Dawkins does not believe in – there's probably a good chance that I don't believe in that God either!

  7. I think you should get his book Steve, because from what you've written, I think you might be pleasantly surprised (meaning that I think Dawkins doesn't hold contempt for believers per sé, only for the stupid things believers do in the name of their religion).

    And you're right, you probably don't believe in the god Dawkins describes and disbelieves, but even so, you should still consider what that means, because it IS most likely the god described by the bible. And what does that say about your faith as a christian when you don't believe in the god from the bible?

  8. I think Richard Dawkins is important because we need articulate spokespeople for atheism. Richard Dawkins is doing what Bertrand Russell did with his Why I Am Not A Christian series, which is to coherently argue why a set of beliefs are wrong. Sure, it's not going to convince hardcore believers, but there are plenty of people who believe in woo-woo stuff, but can be convinced otherwise if they're presented with a reasoned argument. In other words people who are smart but hold beliefs that they haven't yet questioned.

  9. I have yet to read Dawkins' new book, but I often feel myself in a dilemma regarding my atheism and the belief of those around me. That dilemma is: how do I show respect for people without necessarily respecting how they have chosen to believe?

    I err toward the side of showing more respect mainly because I care about people and am afraid that a harsh attitude can shut down a discussion.

    That said, yes we need articulate spokespeople and yes we need a variety of voices. This is what a marketplace of idea is about. I don't expect to agree with Dawkins on everything, but I appreciate his willingness to articulate a strong point of view, and I want to hear what he has to say.

  10. Let me add that I hardly feel like I'm done thinking about my skepticism of religion and my atheism. I think that religion and belief are fascinating in that they reveals something about how our minds work. Religion, even though I don't believe in any of them, is one of the things that makes people interesting.

    Growing up with stories of ghosts and "the paranormal," my fascination with weird (poorly-supported) phenomenon morphed into a fascination with why people believe weird things. There's a reason there I'd like to avoid alienating people.

    However, another part of the discussion is responsibility. Is there some responsibility to educate people about better ways to come to conclusions? If so, I've always seen it as a skeptic's responsibility to spread skepticism. Or does that make one evangelical? Where is the balance between education and letting others live their lives? And, in any case, can you only lead a horse to water? Can people only make certain leaps once they've made themselves ready (explored and embraced doubt, decided to let go of belief)?

    I hope I can find the time to read Dawkins' book. I expect it will appear on my Christmas list. Which is ironic, I suppose.

  11. (er, to clarify "I am hardly done thinking" — I don't mean to imply that anyone here has stopped thinking. I only meant to express that it's still not entirely clear to me how I myself arrived at atheism and others have not, how I justify my beliefs, but others do not find that justification compelling.)

  12. Frankly, Steve, convincing the true believers isn't the point, because they can't be convinced by definition. And there's nothing contemptuous in calling a raven black. Or, as Orac's "Respectful Insolence" byline goes: "A statement of fact cannot be insolent."

  13. exarch,

    I definitely plan to look at Dawkins book. I'm sure I will agree with his contentions about the stupid things that believers do in the name of their religion. I sadly suspect that organized religion has actually done more harm to the world than the other way around, in fact. Of course this does nothing to disprove the existence of God, only shows what a mangled mess of things human beings can make of even the most positive of concepts!

    I take the bible with a very liberal bag of salt. Written by humans, it is therefore inherently flawed and limited. Given how ineffective the human brain is at grasping the deep meaning of things like modern physics, I don't give it much chance at grasping the true meaning of God! I find the bible to be a very profound book, full of great truths, but also full of profound and tragic human errors. And yet I have found within it ideas and concepts of almost painful beauty.

    Am I a Christian? Good question! Many "believers" would argue that I am not. But I know a lot of people in my church (Presbyterian) who hold similar views to my own. What we understand is far surpassed by what we don't, but we continue to seek truth together. I guess that will have to do.

  14. Joshua,

    A convenient fallacy that a statement of fact cannot be insolent. As human beings, we are incapable of making statements without attaching a load of emotional connotations. Human statements cannot be divorced from human context. When I speak to my children (or my wife!), the tone of my voice conveys information along with the words. The same is true of writing. If I want a specific response from my family, I'd better make DAMN sure I phrase it properly and use the appropriate tone of voice!

    Statements of fact CAN be insolent, if that statement is made by a human being.

  15. DrMomentum, I think you make some interesting points. I don't disagree with anything you say. My personal rule of thumb when it comes to promoting my own beliefs is that I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to attack the ideas and not the people. So I'm quite happy to attack the idea of a god, but I'm not going to step into the realm of being rude about individuals. I think there are notable exceptions to this, particularly when science is under attack, or public figures, but on the whole I think being nasty to people generally makes a position weaker. Richard Dawkin's primarily attacks ideas, not people, which is why many fundamentalists like to tell their followers that he's attacking them.

  16. SteveT: One of the big problems that comes up time and time again when atheists and theists attempt to discuss the probable existence of god is defining precisely what the theist is defending.

    This is one of the big themes in Dawkins' book, which he addresses on (I'm only halfway through it) at least two separate and independent occassions: first when defining the type of god he is specifically attacking, and second when addressing the complaint that the god he is attacking is not the god the theist believes in.

    Dawkins doesn't address the question as to whether god literally has a beard or not, merely the questions such as: is god a good solution to the origins of the universe, is god a good solution to the origin of life an so forth.

    The problem – and this comes out in a number of reviews – with the theist position is that as each god-definition is shown to be either highly improbable, or logically inconsistent, the theist retreats to a new definition of what "god" means. As Dawkins notes, the theist – instead of admitting that their prior position has been demonstrated to be unlikely – simply snorts, and says "that's so 19th centure".

    As to the original question; I think the book is pointing laser pens into the eyes of the believers, and providing insight to the appologists who are not believers, and I think that's a good thing. I like the fact that there are now more people refusing to tip-toe around religious beliefs, simply because it is politically expedient to do so. Tip-toeing around, and "respecting", reglion – simply because it is labelled religion – simply has not been working. Far from looking soley at religion in the US, look at the rise of religion in the UK, where schools are being segregated on "faith". Where one muslim school next year will insist on all women pupils wearing a burkah (or whatever the hell there particular variant is called). Where yet another college is teaching creationism. All paid for by the tax payer, and all "respected" by the government because it's religion.

  17. SteveT Said:

    I take the bible with a very liberal bag of salt. Written by humans, it is therefore inherently flawed and limited. Given how ineffective the human brain is at grasping the deep meaning of things like modern physics, I don’t give it much chance at grasping the true meaning of God! I find the bible to be a very profound book, full of great truths, but also full of profound and tragic human errors. And yet I have found within it ideas and concepts of almost painful beauty.

    Well, at the risk of invoking Godwin's law, I'm sure you could find very profound and beautiful truths in "Mein Kampf", written By Adolf Hitler. But that doesn't take away from the fact that overall, it's not a book of beauty or truth.

    The biggest problem with the bible is not only the fact that it's so poorly written, and been through so many translations that you could interpret far too many passages in far too many ways. It's also a book that is the very essence of christianity apparentrly. So if you start picking and choosing which parts you like, and which parts you're rejecting, then by all accounts, you're no longer adhering to "the word of god". The reason being that you haven't got a clue which parts were divinely inspired, and which parts were the various authors' embellishments, so you might be rejecting parts of god.

    And more power to you if you have constructed a belief system and a way of life all by yourself, and even nicer for you that you've found a whole group of people who feel and believe exactly the same as you do. But don't go around calling yourself christian if you only used a few biblical exerpts as inspiration. If you're rejecting most of the violent action scenes, far out special effects and blood and gore someone added in there to make the story more compelling to contemporary listeners, then you're already left with the basic message that you should be nice to other people, and you have no more need for the bible and it's unending load of drivel.

    The only difference between you and an atheist is the fact that you believe in a creator, and the fact that even though you both live by pretty much the same moral rules, you insist that you got yours from a 2000 year old work of fiction.

  18. DrMomentum brings up the point of balance with regards to education and letting people live their lives. I do think it is a difficult problem – while I don't want any dogma preached anywhere as 'official', I still want to know that the medicines I buy have been properly tested (unlike say homeopathy) and I want the world in which I live to allow for free speech (and not craveness guised as 'respsect').

    It sounds trite, but I do think it's possible (or at least hope it's possible) to respect a person (in a general sense) while very much not respecting their beliefs. I suppose if someones beliefs do go so far as to be appaling, then it is difficult to respect them as a person. Perhaps, 'put up with and treat in a civilised manner' would be better than 'respect'. I certainly don't respect anyone who really believes that killing other people over dogma is a good thing…

  19. exarch,

    You raise some good and interesting points. I cannot take the time here to address them all, as my life has other demands. You seem to be the type of person I would enjoy debating this with in person. Sadly that is not to be. I'm afraid that on many points we will have to simply agree to disagree.

    I haven't read Mein Kampf, so I can't comment on it content or lack thereof. As you noted, it IS a rather incendiary comparison. Your decision to use that comparison somewhat diminshes my opinion of you, to be honest. That being noted, I will agree with you that the Bible contains a lot of pretty worthless stuff. I certainly don't consider it literally God's word, or even that much (any?) of it is "divinely inspired". You say that this means I can't call myself a Christian. Many (most?) Christians would be in 100% agreement with you. Tough nuts! I don't give anyone else the right to define who God is, or what it means to be a Christian. I came to my beliefs as an adult, from outside the church, and I reserve the right to pick out of the Bible which parts I find meaningful. If that means I end up rejecting "parts of God", well … oops! I guess that doesn't bother me as much as it does other people. God will likely forgive the error.

    You have asserted that I must believe a number of things that I don't believe, not the least of which is that I derive my moral code exclusively from the Bible. Not true! Although I think that there are aspects of a great moral code in the Bible, there is also some pretty awful stuff. I think the apostle Paul was pretty much of a mysogynistic ass, for example. Crafting a complete moral code as an atheist is a great challenge, but is certainly possible. I have taken a somewhat hybrid approach.

    As for being surrounded by a group of people who "feel and believe exactly as I do"? Utter nonsense! I never said any such thing. Again you put words into my mouth in an attempt to diminish the validity of my argument. Shame on you! I expect more from contributors to this blog! The people to whom I referred have a wide range of beliefs (and backgrounds). What we share are many of the same questions, as well as a desire to seek a deeper understanding of what it means to have "faith." My preference is usually to be surrounded by people who DON'T believe the same things as I do, as that provides a constant challenge to my way of thinking. Keeps the mind fresh and invigorated.

    Kind of like reading Rebecca's blog.

  20. I don't really understand how Christians (or any religious people) can pick the bits of their holy texts that they like and discount other parts. It seems like you are just making up your own religion? If you know it is made up because you yourself made it up doesn't it follow you know it is not real?

  21. Monika,

    Pretty soon I’m going to have to drop this, or my productivity level is going to fall to nil at work (and home)! But I can’t resist your question, especially since you stated it in a tone of honest curiosity, without the hint of sarcasm so common on this blog.

    I know many people inside the church who also reject what they refer to as “a la carte Christianity”. There is this strong feeling that the bible (or any other holy book) must be taken as a whole, as though God somehow dictated it to some cosmic receptionist. If that were indeed the case, I would expect something that was a LOT more logically self-consistent. I instead view it as a product of the minds of the people who wrote it, as they attempted to deal with this concept of “God.” Sometimes they come to profound conclusions, sometimes they are just profoundly stupid!

    I don’t see my belief in God as “made up” so much as “built up”. By taking elements of the God described in the Bible as separate building blocks, one can come up with a concept for God that is (I believe) logically self consistent. Does that equal proof of God’s existence? Of course not! Is it "real" (as you ask)? About as real as any other mental construct. At its best it is useful as a way to think about some limited subset of what God's characteristics might be. To be frank, all I require at this point is that it is possible for a God to exist that doesn’t violate any of the observable facts of the universe I live in. That leaves a remarkably large space for God to occupy, as far as I can tell. Since my personal experience leads me to believe that there is, in fact a God out there, I am content with being able to find nothing to contradict this possibility. I know that I am incapable of truly understanding any credible form of God due to my limitations as a human being. That doesn’t particularly bother me. It’s not my job! It is my job to ponder this subject as deeply as time allows, discuss it often with fellow seekers, and refine my concepts of what this God MIGHT be, in my quest to understand the beauty of this universe we live in.

    Perhaps I am wrong, and there is no God after all. I feel I have sufficient reasons to believe otherwise.

  22. Understand, Steve, that you are extremely heterodox. Some might even say heretical.

    Honestly, at the point where you evaluate the Bible as the flawed authorship of men, why does it have any more relevance whatsoever than Shakespeare? Shakespeare has some damned incredible insight to human nature, moreso, one could argue, than the Bible. So what makes the Bible so bloody special?

    The whole premise of religion is that there is special knowledge held by the teachers (and often codified in a holy text). When you concede that the teachers are as fallible as any other people and that the text are too flawed to be taken as a perfect whole, what do you have left? Where is your religion anymore? Where, to employ some of this blog's apparently-famous sarcasm, is your God now?

  23. SteveT: It is impossible, of course, to comment directly on the type of god you have decided upon, unless you expand upon what attributes you place on that god, and what reasoning – if any – you use when applying those attributes.

    For example: do you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus? If not, then, by definition, you are not a christian in any meaningful sense of the word. If you do, then you need to expand upon why such a death or resurrection would be theologically necessary. Similarly, do you believe in the concept of sin? The concept of hell? A benevolent god, or a beligerent one. Is this god able and willing to interfere in human affairs, or temporarialy change the laws of nature?

    It is not possible to either attack or defend a position that has not been stated. So far your position on god appears to be entirely nebulous. It has no attributes; no definition. You can no more defend that position than someone can attack it, because it is currently utterly undefined.

    This is why, I believe, that Dawkins sees "moderates" (or appologists, or whatever) such as yourself as being at least as big a problem with religious tolerance as the utterly extreme ideas of the fundamentalists: you either have no idea what you believe, or you are too (as Dawkins puts it) embarrased to admit it.

    This is especially the case when otherwise reasonable people believe that – for example – the son of god (who is his own father) is killed by romans at the bequest of jews, he is then buried, then magically comes back to life three days later. This process being necessary to absolve the world of the concept of sin that god invented. The major "sin", of course, being not believing that any of this happened.

    You may or may not believe in that god. If you don't then you're simply not a christian, as it is the one theme that ties all of religious christendom together. Without it, there's simply no "christ".

  24. baldywilson said: "you either have no idea what you believe"

    I think that's a bit unfair, there's nothing wrong with SteveT's admitted lack of all encompassing knowledge of precisely what his god is. I think a lot of people go through a philosophical search and no harm to anyone.

    You are quite right to point out though that a lot of people who claim to be christian really are not, and are in fact some sort of deist – if they don't believe in the ressurection (or other such magics) but do believe in a god then I think there must be a different term for such. Does anyone know what it is?

    I think Joshua hits the nail on the head with the comparisson to shakespeare, in fact the bible and shakespeare both linguistically affect a huge amount of our culture and literature, and both have wonderful truths, scary stories, and daft bits of text. And both are very worthy of study as literature. Of course I think the same with Buffy and Babylon 5 :)

  25. OK. One last post! I wish that I could delve as deeply into all the questions posed here as they deserve, but if I don’t pull back from this discussion I run the risk of getting into a situation where I have ALL DAY to read and respond to blog entries (i.e., fired!) So I’ll try to tie up a few loose ends here, and then re-engage my cloaking device until another day.

    Joshua, your description of me as heterodox (great word!) is quite apt. I am sure my heretical views would have resulted in my burning at the stake in earlier times. Lucky me for not being around in those days! Your comment about Shakespeare is also quite valid, to a point. I love his works and also find great insight there, although he doesn’t delve much into the nature of God, as much as the nature of man. Still useful, but not as helpful when developing a sense of who God might be.

    Baldywilson, you too raise excellent questions. I have not indeed described much of my view of God here. I wish I could take the time to answer each one of your questions here. Jesus is a really big question mark for me, as we have only one source document, and it’s not one I have much confidence in. I honestly doubt I will ever have firm conclusions about him. I will concede that this means I am not really a Christian as is traditionally defined. That doesn’t mean he is irrelevant in my search for meaning, however. As to my God? He is benevolent and essentially non-intervening. Am I sure He exists or has the traits I ascribe to Him? Nope.

    slashnull, thanks for the defense. I think this implicit demand that some atheists seem to have that a believer either accept the Bible at face value, or have some other fixed and complete set of beliefs about God, to be unrealistically narrow and confining. The position of not-knowing-but still-seeking doesn’t get the intellectual respect it deserves. And let me end this by congratulating you on your obvious good taste in television. I happen to think that Buffy and Babylon5 were two of the best TV series ever to hit the ariwaves! Absolutely fantastic!

  26. I know this comment is rather late, and that it probably will not be read, but I feel the need to chime in a bit. I was raised as in one religion (that is to say my parents belong to a church) and when I was a teenage they, after much investigation, switch religious beliefs. Currently I do not practice any religion.

    As far as the bible goes:

    I find it interesting that many people whom I've met who feel well qualified to debate the validity of the bible or to dismiss it out of hand have not read it in its entirety. I am not saying this is the case here. I do not know how much of the bible anyone who has commented here has, or has not read).

    I was taught that parts of the bible are to be taken literally and other parts are to be taken symbolically; that the bible has a consistent theme from beginning to end; and that Jesus and God are two distinct individuals. If you read carefully the bible does not teach the trinity, (to be a Christian you must believe in the resurrection, but not necessarily the trinity) nor does it teach the existence of a literal hell. And it teaches that when a human dies that he, or she ceases to exist.

    I have not read much of Dawkins' writings at all (a friend at work is going to lend me his copy of "The God Delusion") so I cannot comment on anything he has written. I will say that I am often annoyed with people, religious, or otherwise, who feel that they have enough knowledge to say that everyone who believes in a god is downright wrong; especially when they have not bothered to find out exactly what it is that I believe.

    I also find it interesting when a supposedly leaned, well-read, scientifically trained individual has the gall to say that for a fact that this latest theory is truth. How many times have humans ten, fifty, one hundred years later learned a new bit of information that forced us to change what we believe scientifically? I am more than willing to say that "such-and-such" is the best theory we have, or that "this" seems to be the case. Some may say that this is just semantics, but I get the impression that way too many people are not skeptical enough about what science tells us. I'm not saying that we need to take things by faith, what I'm saying is that we need to be careful that science does not become a pseudo religion, that we do not take what scientists tell us as infallible fact. I think that what this paragraph was trying to get to. Some people seem to take what comes out of a lab as being infallible because it was arrived at via the "scientific method", and that is as dangerous as blinding believing what the clergy, elders, imams, etc tell you to believe. We must learn to reason, to think for ourselves, to be skeptical. I think we'd all agree that being skeptical is a good thing. I think we need to take that healthy skeptical attitude into ALL our endeavors.

  27. Steve: Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, for me is it a genuine puzzle how people construct their beliefs. We shall agree to disagree because you are working from a fundamental assumption there is a god and trying to define and discover this entity. I work on the idea that since I have never seen any evidence or heard a compelling argument I don't think there is a god.

    This is where I am not sure I agree with Dawkins that moderates are as much of a problem as fundamentalists. I need to read the book I guess (I have read several but not The God Delusion). I am torn between a Dawkins view and the idea that people who are seeking (as Steve describes himself) and are not looking to impose on my life are harmless. If these moderates are content to let me believe (or not) and life my live as I choose don't I owe them the same courtesy even though we disagree? Or is this way of thinking where the supernatural is possible too dangerous not to fight? Does it weaken our minds and the intellect of our societies as I think Dawkins argues?

    Frankiemouse: I agree cautiously with your idea that it is good to be skeptical in everything. However I think science has large advantages over religion that should be recognised. Scientific method is the tool of scepticism. Science is not always perfect but at its heart it is all about testing constantly.

  28. SteveT said:

    slashnull, thanks for the defense. I think this implicit demand that some atheists seem to have that a believer either accept the Bible at face value, or have some other fixed and complete set of beliefs about God, to be unrealistically narrow and confining.

    This is exactly the point Dawkins is trying to make when saying that the "moderates" are shielding the fundamentalists to the detriment of everyone.

    As uncomfortable as it may sound, you are not a christian if you reject most, or all, of the bible. No matter what your reason for doing so is. But by calling yourself a christian, you are the type of gentle, friendly, intelligent level-headed person the fundies rely on to get offended whenever someone is attacking their point of view.

    Every time anyone says believing in creationism is ignorant, hundreds of people just like you pipe up and get angry at being called ignorant christians. But you're not a christian by your own admission. Sure, you believe in god, you may even believe in Jesus. You believe there's a few valuable life-lessons to be gleaned from the bible as a book of stories. But all in all, you're not the ignorant creationist that's being attacked. So, quite frankly, and don't take this the wrong way, but shut the hell up when you're not the one being attacked, because every time you do, you're defending the fundies when they pull yet another stupid stunt. You're only making things worse.

    So while most (or perhaps all) of the "moderates" probably have no problem with the removal of things like "under god" from the pledge, the American dollar, etc…, (because to you, it just doesn't matter), the fundies, and the politicians who rely on them as constituents, think 75% of the US population think you do. And the reason they think you do is because every time someone exposes just what a bunch of stupid idiots the fundies are, "moderates" start kicking up a fuss about how "well, but not all christians are like that". Well, I say all christians ARE like that. I say all christians who believe the things you're required to believe to be able to call yourself a christian are as wacky as that. And I bet they probably comprise no more than 10-20% of the population. At most. But we'll never know as long as a majority of religious people keeps mislabeling themselves as "christian", whatever their reasons for doing so may be …

    I don't like attacking people or their beliefs like I just did, and perhaps you will take my words, and those of my previous post, more personally than they're intended. But this ongoing celebration and promotion of religious stupidity by a small minority of believers needs to be stopped. Because now it's starting to seriously affect areas of life and civilisation that religion has no business sticking its nose into. And it's only happening because ordinary people, just like you, are allowing it to happen.

    It's OK to be religious. It's OK to believe in god, even if you can't put down in words what the "god" you believe in actually is. But it's not OK to go around and impose your idea of what god is on everyone. It's not even OK to go around and annoy people with it, and to badger them with your version of god until they accept it. And it's definitely not OK to restrict people's freedom based on some rules you made up to go with your idea of god.

    And it's these things that make atheists lose their patience and come of as callous or angry. Sorry about that :?

  29. exarch,

    OK, I know I promised no more posts from me on this topic, but I simply can't let your last rant go unanswered.

    Your continued insistence on putting words into my mouth, and beliefs into my head are getting irritating. You seem to have formed an opinion about what I believe and what actions I take as a result of those mythical beliefs that is largely impervious to what I actually write. Put down your broad paintbrush and look back at what I have actually written in these posts. I have never once defended the fundies, and I don't expect I ever will. I think creationism is stupid and have led classes (well attended!) at my church on the evils of Intelligent Design. I even send money to the National Center for Science Education to support their legal work against ID in schools. DO YOU? If you don't, then shame on you!

    How can I not take "shut the hell up" the wrong way?

    Your apparent desire to silence my real views (NOT what you assert are my views) pushes you dangerously close to the edge of the same precipice over which the fundies fell long ago. I would urge you to be careful, as the drop is a long one. Go ahead and continue to fight the war you are fighting, but don't succumb to battle fatigue where you assume that someone that is not 100% with you is automatically your enemy.

    Truce?

    On a completely different note, Monika, I'll give you Fire Fly, if you'll give me Xena: Warrior Princess. Not quite up to the same standards, but I loved it all the same.

    And now I REALLY promise, no more posts on this topic!!

  30. SteveT … I just had to register and say well done on a very clear, logical and thought-provoking writing style. You should write a book (no I'm not being sarcastic, I really think you should).

    I may not agree with your belief that god exists, but on the other hand, I don't like it when atheists are so fervent that they feel they have to convert people to atheism at any cost. No wonder they get frustrated when you say that you don't conform to the beliefs of a major christian church, it makes it so much harder to convert you! No, I think we're all on a personal journey, so we should be constantly making up our own mind about what we believe.

    I hope it's not your last post on this topic ;)

    In saying that, everyone must agree with me that the new series of Battlestar Galactica is up there with the best of them!

  31. It's scary that while I agree with some posts here and disagree with others, when it comes to TV I've agreed with all the good shows that people have said :)

    I'm not sure Dawkins thinks that moderates are as dangerous as fundies, though he certainly doesn't rate their beliefs very highly! I think that even Sam Harris would acknowledge that fundamentalists are always worse, just that moderates aren't shining paragons in a different NOMA.

    As for people trusting science to the stage of making it a religion – all scientists will say that findings are tentative, however just because we can never be sure about the results and they are always open to change, this does not mean that 'anything goes'. As far as approximations to the truth goes, you are always better betting on science than on someone randomly making something up.

    In fact chapter 4 of The God Delusion is entitled something like "Why God Almost Certainly Does Not Exists" – note the 'almost' in there, it's important!

  32. SteveT,

    Thank you for making my point for me. I talk about a general group painting with a broad brush, talking about "moderate" like you, and you feel attacked. Thank you for reacting as I expected you to, and underscoring my point.

    Relax, I have no problem with you personally, I only have a problem with the shelter your sane, acceptable, non-confrontational religious belief forms for the fundies in the world.

    While you may personally be actively combatting the insanity of the ID movement, not that many "moderate" believers do.

    As the saying goes: there's no idea crazy enough you won't be able to find a scientist who'll endorse it.

    It's the same with religion: there's no fundie belief ourageously crazy and dangerous enough that you won't find a mellow, nice, unconfrontational "moderate" christian who'll feel offended if you attack and/or ridicule it. and the result is everyone falls in line and gangs up on the "angry atheist" who's trying to outlaw religion. Uhm … sure, whatever.

    This nebulous, undefinable nature of "god" is the very reason different people will will all have a different definition of god is, and what it represents to them. So no matter what you say, somewhere, someone will be offended.

    I'm tired of pulling my punches. If you're offended because I think your belief in a sky-daddy is silly. Well, too bad, I think it is.

    And no Steve, that wasn't directed at you personally either, lest you think I'm putting words in your mouth again.

  33. Monika said:

    Frankiemouse: I agree cautiously with your idea that it is good to be skeptical in everything. However I think science has large advantages over religion that should be recognised. Scientific method is the tool of scepticism. Science is not always perfect but at its heart it is all about testing constantly.

    I agree with you Monika that science has large advantages over religion. Especially when people disregard outright what science has to say on a given subject because it doesn't jibe with what they were taught. I don't have much patience for anybody, religious or otherwise, who holds on to something just because someone they trust told them so. Things change, our understanding changes, and we need to be able to say to ourselves that what we believed, thought was right, or were taught while young is not true, or at the very least may not be true.

    I was planning on commenting on another paragraph, but I can't seem to find it again. I probably need a nap.

  34. Ah Xena. I have a soft spot for Xena. I don’t think it is quite up to the calibre of the other shows we have mentioned (as you say yourself) but it can stay on the list as far as I am concerned!

    Talking to Steve and other moderate Christians like him online I am being swayed to the view that we need an alliance with this group of religious people against those who would impose on our way of life. My husband thinks more like Dawkins and Exarch which is making for some lively discussions at home!

    Steve I have to point out that Exarch really wasn’t talking about you specifically when he said “shut the hell up”. I can see why his post was frustrating to you but your reply did kind of make his point. You disagree but then go on to explain why you are not the sort of person Exarch was complaining about. If you are not that sort of person why the offence? I think it is because Christian covers so many people from fundamentalist to heterodox.

    All that said I am not sure I agree that moderates provide cover for fundamentalists. I think that they may actually provide a moderating influence. Humanity is such that I don’t think we will ever all become atheists. Given than we need logical, thoughtful people within churches to oppose things like ID.

    Here is something I have been thinking. Steve led classes at his church on the evils of intelligent design and they were well attended. Do any of us think the same topic held by the local atheist or free-thinkers group would have done as well? I don’t.

    Exarch I think we have to pull our punches to make alliances. We don’t say their belief in a sky daddy or search for one is silly (even though we think so) and they don’t say our world view is cold and pointless.

  35. Demonstrating my complete lack of trustworthiness, I hereby renege on my promise to post no further entries on this topic. I lied, so sue me!

    First off, I am utterly flattered, Swynndla, by your praise for my writing style. I am honored that you would register for the purpose of saying so. You made my day!

    As for you, exarch, I have to say that my biggest source of offense with you is your inappropriate use of personal pronouns! This may seem like I am nitpicking, but I would argue that you are largely responsible for my confusion as to the actual target of your anger by your poor use of grammar. If your goal is to affect change in society, rather than simply vent your spleen, you need to think carefully about how your message is worded so that there is NO POSSIBILITY that it can be misconstrued. I had a strong suspicion that your anger was not directed at me, even from the start, but I gave you the courtesy of reading your words as written, not as I thought you probably meant them. There are plenty of ways that you can craft an argument so that the recipient knows from the start that you're not trying to insult them. If you want to change someone's mind about something as important as religion, you need to at least begin by starting in a more neutral tone. Otherwise you will only ever be a dog barking in the night. It's NOT pulling punches to argue this way, it's more like one of the eastern martial arts.

    Monika, I hereby accept your offer of an alliance. Like in politics, moderation is never as satisfying as party-line purity, but it IS a hell of a lot more effective! You are right that humanity will never become completely atheistic. And don't imagine for one minute that we would arrive in some kind of peaceful Utopia if it DID happen. Mankind has shown itself to be quite capable of finding things to kill each other over without needing to resort to religion. It may be the first choice for many, but it's certainly not the only one.

    I will continue to do my part to point out the stupidity of ID, and also to promote the values of doubt and skepticism within my church community, and you all can continue to work on similar goals from outside the church. And then, in that far distant future when we have cooperated to eliminate all fundamentalist belief (on either side), we can finally get started with the most important task of all… finding some reason to kill each other off! ;}

    Deal?

  36. Monika said:

    "Here is something I have been thinking. Steve led classes at his church on the evils of intelligent design and they were well attended. Do any of us think the same topic held by the local atheist or free-thinkers group would have done as well? I don’t."

    Well, I think prejudice would be the main reason it wouldn't do very well. Attending a class or presentation by fellow christians on nowhere near the direct trip to hell that an atheist class or presentation is, you know …

    And since atheists aren't the target public, as they would have no problem attending a talk no matter who's doing the talking, you're bound to get less people in to listen.

    I agree with the previously mentioned co-operation with the moderately religious people (christian or not). And, a lot of them make surprisingly good septics. Unfortunately, their only irrational belief is their religion. So as long as the subject is anything but religion, they're great allies in the fight against nonsense.

    Unfortunately, when the fight moves on to religious nonsense, a lot of them suddenly want to sit it out on the sidelines and stay out of it. Which is understandable I suppose. But it also means that on religious matters, the fundies wield a lot more power than they should. While these "moderates" aren't directly responsible for religion overtaking public life and politics, they are indirectly responsible by sitting by and doing nothing. Or by being offended and speaking up when they're not being spoken to, or about.

    And unlike Steve, I actually do believe it will one day be possible to have a society that doesn't believe in primitive superstition like gods, demons, fairies, psychics, pink unicorns, flying spaghetti monsters, etc…

    Especially once more is found out about the brain and how it works, what triggers "religious" experiences. When the gaps in our knowledge have become so small that they've reduced the living space of god from a beautiful palace with many large and fancy rooms to a decrepid shack with a leaky roof and no windows.

    Granted, I'm sure a more advanced society will have its own version of credulity to deal with, but religion will most likely only be a very small part of that.

  37. exarch, I find it ironic that I apparently have a more pessimistic view of humanity's potential than you do! To drag TV shows into the analogy, I would liken our difference in outlook to that between Star Trek (you) and Babylon5 (me). Their future visions were very dissimilar. I always thought the B5 universe seemed more credible. Frankly, I hope humanity is able to get to EITHER point, given our apparent desire to wreck the Earth's ecosystem for our short term pleasure.

    In the meantime, you and I seem to have reached a sort of stable detente. Thus, in the spirit of building bridges, I offer to buy you a virtual beer:

    I I

    I''''''''I )

    I I

    I___ I

    Prosit!

  38. Joshua,

    Thanks. I guess ASCII code images go right along with huge 80's cell phones in defining me as an old geezer.

    I actually keep one of my old 80's cell phones in my office to scare the "kiddies".

    "OHMYGOD! THAT's a cell phone?!" "That's HUGE!!" "Where's the video display?!"

  39. I was certainly a pessimist about humanity long before I was a believer in God. Perhaps it made me more prone to belief, but I honestly don't think there's any connection in my own case.

    Since the primary characteristic of my God (IMHO) is that of universal grace (I.e. ultimate forgiveness), perhaps that ultimately trumps my pessimism and makes me, in the end, an optimist.

    Am I to take yur last comment as meaning that you made some kind of transition from believer to non-believer at some point in your past? If so, would you care to clarify? I would be greatly interested! Are you like my atheist friends who are ex-Catholic? Now THAT is a staunch group!

  40. Steve = deal. So now we have solved that what world problem shall we tackle next?

    Exarch said:

    "Well, I think prejudice would be the main reason it wouldn’t do very well. Attending a class or presentation by fellow Christians on nowhere near the direct trip to hell that an atheist class or presentation is, you know …"

    Yes. That is my point. It would be prejudice that they didn't attend but that is why we need skeptical Christians to get the message across.

    I guess in making an alliance we need to try and convince religious skeptics not to sit on the sidelines of religious debates. (Easier said than done)

    I love the idea of a society that does not believe in superstition and it does seem the logical progress forward but look at all the people turning away from traditional religion only to get hooked on new age bullshit!

  41. Well, people will believe in something I suppose. But the things they'll blindly follow are more and more becoming scientifically plausible.

    2000 years ago, people believed anyone who claimed to have a direct speaking-conduit to the creator of the universe. More so if they knew a couple of magic tricks to wow the onlookers. But that still didn't make the things they did or the being they belmieved in any more real.

    Nowadays, old religions, and old "miracles" and religious mysteries are either not mysteries any more, or can easily be shown to be fabrications of some very imaginative minds. Clear examples being the virgin birth, or Noah's ark. Some people still buy into it, but it's definitely a raher primitive belief.

    More modern beliefs include homeopathy for example. Even though that has been shown to be scientifically impossible, during the 200 years it has existed, it still survives regardless of this explanation. And it will probably take a couple of generations for it to be replaced by something else completely. Like bloodletting has been replaced eventually.

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