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Dawkins Derail central
August 20, 2009 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Let's have an argument about Richard Dawkins!

Since the derail clearly is not going to stop, can we bring it over here, pretty please? It is smothering the rest of the discussion. This may be too late, but it is worth a try.
posted by idiopath to MetaFilter-Related at 6:30 AM (496 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Oh Jesus.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you put a complete ass like Dawkins into a post what do you expect?
posted by caddis at 6:32 AM on August 20, 2009


What did I expect? Well if Dawkins had not gotten involved, I probably would not have heard about the petition. I considered eliding his involvement altogether, and in retrospect I probably should have. But this seems a worthy campaign, and he is its loudest mouthpiece.
posted by idiopath at 6:34 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


He's the Ann Coulter of atheists. Don't be surprised when people wretch at the mere mention of his name.
posted by caddis at 6:36 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


If you put a complete ass like Dawkins into a post what do you expect?
posted by caddis



False premise alert.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:36 AM on August 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


Dawkins is not the fucking Ann Coulter of atheists. Jesus H Christ. Seriously? You are going to compare Richard Dawkins to Ann Coulter?

..

This will not....fuck it.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:37 AM on August 20, 2009 [59 favorites]


Link to where Dawkins calls for the death of the religious please?
posted by DU at 6:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


Ding Ding Ding!
posted by gman at 6:41 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's NOT!
posted by billysumday at 6:42 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's have an argument about Richard Dawson instead. Only a moron would claim that Family Feud was better than Match Game '73!
posted by octobersurprise at 6:50 AM on August 20, 2009 [27 favorites]


Dawkins used to make me uncomfortable, as a fledgling atheist.

Then I realized that was his point, and that he's a pretty smart guy that gets a lot of negative press in the US because he's British and is responding to work in a British milieu. You should read some of the articles written by British theologians. They're like Dawkins twins from another dimension. Don't ask me which one has a goatee.
posted by muddgirl at 6:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


It'd be interesting to know what percentage of the people arguing that Dawkins would "damage the cause" were American vs British. I think Americans often forget that fundie wingnuts have a lot less political power in other western democracies.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 6:53 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Person I'd _love_ to see a post about Dawkins tweeting in Texas. Then we'd get all the Metafilter irrational haters in one place. A trifecta of topics for dumbass kneejerk replies.
posted by schwa at 6:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The mention of Richard Dawkins sometimes riles people here up a lot more than it reasonably should—certainly in this case it's embarrassing how much folks fixated on him—and it's frustrating as hell to see Turing get buried under all that in in the original thread.

It'd be nice if people could manage to not overreact to this kind of stuff. We've removed a number of posts in the past that were framed more or less as "and now let's argue about Richard Dawkins re: x!", but we shouldn't have to worry about posts where he's just an ancillary factor, for god's sake.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Time for another cup of tea I think.
posted by i_cola at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2009


Let's have an argument about Richard Dawson instead.

I second this emotion. Seriously, what was with all the kissing?
posted by billysumday at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2009


I don't know that it was a derail. What fueled anti-gay bigotry in the 50s is what is also at the heart of bigotry against atheists and the hate for Dawkins.

Well, the hate for Dawkins I guess is anti-atheist bigotry and anger that Dawkins won't be a good little minority and sit meekly and quietly at the back of the bus.
posted by orthogonality at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2009 [14 favorites]


I'll say this, I actually meant my comment to be taken in jest and passed over quickly, not as a serious condemnation of the post or the cause.

However, I love Caddis's estimation. Dawkins plays pretty much the same role for his views as Coulter plays for hers. Sure Dawkins is smarter than her, and he isn't half as mush a hack, but he seems to have the same job description: make inflammatory claims in books and the media, then insult and deride anyone who disagrees.
posted by oddman at 6:59 AM on August 20, 2009


I don't know that it was a derail. What fueled anti-gay bigotry in the 50s is what is also at the heart of bigotry against atheists and the hate for Dawkins.

Thanks, I needed my head to explode today; that was awesome.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:00 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


My argument about Dawkins is that I think he secretly gets in drag and has a separate career as Emma Watson. It would explain a lot.
posted by adipocere at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


Let's have an argument about Richard Dawson instead. Only a moron would claim that Family Feud was better than Match Game '73!

He was pretty much phoning it in on Match Game. Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, and Gene Rayburn were the ones that really carried the show, and Dawson would just throw in a deadpan line every once in a while. Also, I suspect that he was drinking far less heavily than the other panelists, in part because he was actually able to figure out the correct answers. He was actually so good at the head-to-head match that all of the contestants that had actually watched the show would pick him, and they had to add a wheel to randomly decide who would be chosen.

On the other hand, his habit of kissing anything with two X chromosomes on Family Feud creeped me out. Personally I'd say his crowning achievement was his performance in The Running Man.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


Pretty shocking when a really good premise for a FPP gets completely hijacked by someone who simply cannot fathom that others do not agree with their point. So they keep making it OVER and OVER and OVER.

Was there any new information added by The World Famous about his/her/its stated conceit after the first time it was posted? Not that I can see.

We need to have a code word or phrase which basically lets everyone know "this person is intractable, stop interacting with them in this thread".
posted by hippybear at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Would you like to head over to my place for dessert?"
posted by seanyboy at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2009


I don't see the point of this. Do these "let's have the discussion in this MetaTalk thread instead of in the FPP thread" ever work out? The discussion is being had over there -- why not let it continue over there?
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2009


The stupid thing about the endless Dawkins arguments are that the set of people objecting to him and the set of people objecting to what he actually says are orthogonal.
posted by DU at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


make inflammatory claims in books and the media, then insult and deride anyone who disagrees.

Examples of any of that?
posted by DU at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It'd be interesting to know what percentage of the people arguing that Dawkins would "damage the cause" were American vs British. I think Americans often forget that fundie wingnuts have a lot less political power in other western democracies.

I always thoguht he was talking primarily to Americans, precisely because what he's banging on about is such a non-issue here.
posted by Leon at 7:12 AM on August 20, 2009


> It'd be interesting to know what percentage of the people arguing that Dawkins would "damage the cause" were American vs British. I think Americans often forget that fundie wingnuts have a lot less political power in other western democracies.

So you're claiming everyone who objects to Dawkins is a fundie wingnut? That's both insulting and inaccurate.

I'm an atheist and I think Dawkins is an asshole who hurts every cause he associates himself with, at least in the U.S. (I obviously can't speak for Britain). I certainly don't expect Dawkins fans to agree with me, and they shouldn't expect me to agree with them. But what happened to the MeFi thread is a perfect illustration of why people are saying that Dawkins's involvement does as much harm as good. Yes, it brings attention, but what kind of attention, and what is the result?

And you Dawkins fans have a right to your fandom, but you should stop trying to shame and silence those who have a problem with him. If you think he's some kind of omniscient, untouchable entity... well, I think you see where I'm going with this.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on August 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


He wasn't called Chocolate Thunder for nothing.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I kinda like Dawkins. He makes me laugh.

Jesus never made me laugh.

Well, except for that one time when we were sitting around and Peter said he could drink a jug of wine within 2 minutes. Thomas, of course, said he didn't believe him and bets 2 pieces of silver that he couldn't do it.

It was on.

So Peter starts drinking and at first he's making good time, got his breathing down real good and shit, right? Then when it looks like he's almost done, he keeps drinking but the wine just stays in the cask. He would gulp it down but the jug wouldn't empty. He keeps drinking and drinking but it just won't empty.

Slowly everybody starts looking at Jesus, who's sitting on the other side of the room with this goofy look on his face like he doesn't know what's up. Then he gets this shit-eating grin and everybody knows what was up. Everybody just busted up laughing and groaned, "Jesus!" He was all, "Yo, my bad, I couldn't resist. Start it over, this time I won't mess it up." But it was too late because Peter was fucking wasted and falling all over the place. A while later he went outside and puked.

That was some funny shit.

The rest of the time though, he acted like a real holier-than-thou asshole. Fitting, I guess, but it got annoying real quick.
posted by chillmost at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [76 favorites]


I'm sorry I contributed to the derail. I should know better than to engage with TWF on gay rights tactics, but apparently I forgot. I went into the thread to learn more about Turing, and instead I got myself all kerfuffled about Dawkins etc (who is not nearly as interesting). I'm going to build a better shield for my buttons so they're not so easily pushed.
posted by rtha at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ortho, you're kidding right? Dawkins is an obnoxious blowhard who annointed himself as the genius leader of "the only right way to think about the world"(tm). He may have an agreeable goal, he may not, let's leave that aside for now, but he's undeniably aggressive to the point of being a jerk and harming his cause.

To lump the reaction against him (notice no one is "atheist bashing") with homophobia and anti-gay establishments is frankly an insult to LGBT activists and their causes.
posted by oddman at 7:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


But what happened to the MeFi thread is a perfect illustration of why people are saying that Dawkins's involvement does as much harm as good.

The original derail was "Dawkins does more harm than good" and the result was a big argument about that. You can't then say "keep Dawkins out because he does more harm than good". It's a self-fulfilling nontroversy!
posted by DU at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I made an awesome joke in that thread and it was drowned out in the noise. For shame!
posted by Jofus at 7:24 AM on August 20, 2009


Dawkins is simultaneusly idolised and vilified, his words taken as absolute truth (or, at least, given powerful authority) and distorted to make him seem evil. His fairly simple message that we can forget a lot of the old rules and rituals has grown in the minds of his followers into a powerful force, and is perceived as a powerful threat by those whose communities and power structures he's criticising. Regardless of how much people actually know about his work, pretty much everyone has a strong opinion about him.

If he grew his hair out, he'd be almost indistinguishable from Jesus.
(I'm not trying to say anything deep here, it's just a cheap joke.)

I quite like Dawkins, from the little I've seen of him. He ends up offending a lot of people, but when I listen to him I don't hear someone who's setting out to shock and offend. I just hear someone who's not apologetic for his lack of belief and desire to see a world more driven by evidence and rationality. It's just that religion is one of those topics that is used to very sensitive, deferential treatment and so disagreement is all to often interpreted as attack.

I've seen a lot of references to him grandstanding or making atheism "all about him", but he's not denying anyone else the right to make their points about atheism. He simply seems to believe that someone needs to stand up and be a voice for non-believers and sees that no-one else seems willing or able to do it as effectively. Anyone who has a different approach is absolutely welcome to publicly disagree with him: write your own book, give your own lectures, debate him at his events. As a scientist, the idea of interested parties arguing then ending up with a better version of the idea is how he expects the world to work.

I think it's interesting that a lot of the most powerfully anti-Dawkins voices I've encountered are Americans; the British seem to get much less inflamed by him. I'm not sure what this is down to. Certainly religion seems to play a different role in British culture than it does in America, although I've never lived in the USA so I might have a distorted view. It could also be simpler stuff like the way debates are protrayed in our media, or perhaps his accent sounding smug/arrogant/supervillianesque to American ears?
posted by metaBugs at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [25 favorites]


Pretty shocking when a really good premise for a FPP gets completely hijacked by someone who simply cannot fathom that others do not agree with their point.

it would help considerably if people didn't deliberately misstate the viewpoints of others for rhetorical purposes - it's a bad habit people have and it's one of the major causes of arguments here
posted by pyramid termite at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm genuinely disgusted by that thread.

And I have no idea what idiopath could have possibly done to avoid it, it was well framed and objective, on a relevant topic with plenty of factual support and relevance.

We suck.
posted by Skorgu at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The thread about Dawkins buying a gun is going to be sweet.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:28 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Let's have an argument about Richard Dawson instead.

"Richard Dawkins was so poisonous to a thread..." ("HOW POISONOUS WAS HE?") "...he was so poisonous to a thread, that whenever he was mentioned, cortex would BLANK."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:29 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


How many times have I heard anti-gay bigots explain that they don't hate all gays, just the "obnoxious" ones who "flaunt" their homosexuality in Gay Pride parades?

How many times have I heard racists explain that they don't hate all blacks, just the "obnoxious n----rs" who "give all blacks a bad name"?

Dawkins doesn't hide or apologize for his atheism, and that leads to a lot of hate. Bur as we've seen in the Civil Rights movement and in the Gay Rights movement, it's only that, not meekness, that leads to change.
posted by orthogonality at 7:30 AM on August 20, 2009 [44 favorites]


That thread went south from comment one. I don't really get why people hate on Dawkins so much other than he's a very public target for it. Which is sort of his own point.
So meh.
posted by strixus at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know that MeFi is global and whatnot, but the recent oppressive heatwave in the northeastern United States has coincided precisely with a sharp spike in contentious MeTa threads. The dog days of flamewar.
posted by kosem at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


oddman:Dawkins is an obnoxious blowhard who annointed himself as the genius leader of "the only right way to think about the world"(tm). He may have an agreeable goal, he may not, let's leave that aside for now, but he's undeniably aggressive to the point of being a jerk and harming his cause

I thought you said up above that your comment in that thread was supposed to be taken in jest?

If anything, to me, this underscores the power of the first few comments in a thread. We've talked about this before. Those first few comments help set the tone of what is to come. It'd be nice, to me, if people thought about that a bit more before they hit the post button.
posted by vacapinta at 7:32 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's do a little test. Who is this paragraph about?
Alan Turing was born on 23 June 1912 in London. His father was in the Indian Civil Service and Turing's parents lived in India until his father's retirement in 1926. Turing and his brother stayed with friends and relatives in England. Turing studied mathematics at Cambridge University (a place which Richard Dawkins has occasionally visited), and subsequently taught there, working in the burgeoning world of quantum mechanics. It was at Cambridge that he developed the proof which states that automatic computation cannot solve all mathematical problems. This concept, also known as the Turing machine, is considered the basis for the modern theory of computation.
Answers on a postcard, please.
posted by flashboy at 7:33 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, klang :(

Maybe it's 'cause I've got userpics turned on, so that comment appeared right next to that pic of you aiming a pistol at the camera, but...

Is everything OK, dude?
posted by jtron at 7:35 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


kosem - I know that MeFi is global and whatnot, but the recent oppressive heatwave in the northeastern United States has coincided precisely with a sharp spike in contentious MeTa threads. The dog days of flamewar.

It has been pretty hot in the UK too. I'd love to see a graph of USA(&UK?) temperature against MeTa temperature. I doubt n is big enough to have a shot at achieving significance, but it'd still be great.
posted by metaBugs at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2009


I think people confuse Dawkins with Hitchens, maybe.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:43 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I'd lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

I go to the civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don't talk about revolution
That's going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

. . . .
And I love Puerto Ricans and Negroes
As long as they don't move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
Ah, the people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
Now I can't understand how their minds work
What's the matter don't they watch Les Crane?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
posted by orthogonality at 7:44 AM on August 20, 2009


Ortho, you're kidding right? Dawkins is an obnoxious blowhard who annointed himself as the genius leader of "the only right way to think about the world"(tm).

I just don't think this is true. How is "writing books on a subject one feels strongly about" and "those books sell widely revealing a strong undercurrent of similar feelings" equating to "annointing oneself as a genius leader"?

If you disagree with Dawkins' positions or even with the robust way he defends his convictions (which, yes, can have almost a 'religious' flavour to it), that's fine.... but the idea that he is the leader of a movement is ridiculous. He's high profile because he wrote popular books aimed at a broad audience. But hey, so do lots of people.

I think a lot of the anti-Dawkins crowd are just so disturbed by the success of his books and what it indicates about a significant and growing portion of society they will try anything to bring the man down, even when there's no logic to it... you can't dismiss an argument simply because the person making it is an obnoxious blowhard -- but you can try engage with it and disprove it.

Anti-Dawkins folks need to sharpen their mental tools and take his arguments apart, rather than resorting to saying "oh he's such a jerk so i'm just going to stuff cotton wool in my ears nyah nyah nyah".
posted by modernnomad at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


orthogonality: How many times have I heard anti-gay bigots explain that they don't hate all gays, just the "obnoxious" ones who "flaunt" their homosexuality in Gay Pride parades?

How many times have I heard racists explain that they don't hate all blacks, just the "obnoxious n----rs" who "give all blacks a bad name"?


Well, to be honest, for me, my dislike for Dawkins has nothing to do with his atheism, and I certainly would never make a statement following these lines, i.e. 'I don't hate all atheists, just the ones who don't stay in their place,' because I'm not out to make any sort of blanket statements at all. I just don't like Richard Dawkins.

So really the parallel statements you're looking for are more along the lines of

I don't hate all gays, but I don't listen to Elton John

&

I don't hate all blacks, but Eddie Murphy needs to stop making dumb movies

Except even those aren't even parallel, because just as the dislike of John's music and Murphy's movies has nothing to do with their respective homosexuality or race, my dislike of Dawkins has nothing to do with his atheism-- I just dislike how shrill, strident, and assholish he is.

Do you see the difference?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:46 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Dawkins is an obnoxious blowhard who annointed himself as the genius leader of "the only right way to think about the world"(tm). He may have an agreeable goal, he may not, let's leave that aside for now, but he's undeniably aggressive to the point of being a jerk and harming his cause.

Oh. Oh dear. Blowhard? The man who wrote The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype is equivalent to some bloviating pundit? You're certain of that?

Dawkins is a leader, there's no doubt about it. But he's not self-appointed at all. He is a leader in the old-fashioned sense: someone who went and did what he thought was right without regard to what other people would think of him, and who happened to look over his shoulder one day to find a group of people following him.

All Dawkins has ever done is argue with reason, evidence, logic, and passion for things which are considered almost universally desirable. Sometimes he's abrupt, abrasive, and dismissive, but no more so than any Metafilterian. Furthermore, he is not responsible for other people's feelings about him and the choices they make as a result: if they like him, if they don't like him, that's their lookout - it has nothing to do with Dawkins.
posted by Ritchie at 7:46 AM on August 20, 2009 [27 favorites]


So you're claiming everyone who objects to Dawkins is a fundie wingnut?

What? How on earth did you draw that conclusion?

More than one person made the argument that Dawkins would be "damaging to the cause":
Doesn't he know that his tireless work openly trying to bring an end to religion hurts the cause of equality for homosexuals by making it seem like gay rights is an anti-God movement?
In general, Americans have to worry about nonsense like this more than people in other western countries; in particular, they have to worry about the reaction of a uniquely American brand of right-wing fundamentalist. If you look at Dawkins' involvement from an American point-of-view, it's probably going to seem more controversial than it is.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 7:50 AM on August 20, 2009


At least he's not Christopher Hitchins.
posted by Artw at 7:51 AM on August 20, 2009


(but still, no Douglas Adams)
posted by Artw at 7:53 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Those first few comments help set the tone of what is to come. It'd be nice, to me, if people thought about that a bit more before they hit the post button.

Agreed.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:08 AM on August 20, 2009


i really hate that richard dawkins but i haven't read his books or anything he's the british guy who hates jesus right i bet his whole career is based on hating jesus and being an athiest i don't even know who would want to read a book like the god illusion or why i hate god

i mean you would think that he would have some sort of background in something other than hating god but NO ONE CAN EVEN TELL ME WHAT IT IS

he just appeared on the scene doing his god-hating like that roman goddess hera who came out of hades's forehead WHO ALSO I BET HE HATES
posted by Mirror-Universe Optimus Chyme at 8:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


Furthermore, he is not responsible for other people's feelings about him and the choices they make as a result: if they like him, if they don't like him, that's their lookout - it has nothing to do with Dawkins.

So you're saying that he's not here to make friends?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


From Burhanistan's link:

For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.

I lol'd.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I lol'd.

If LOL was because you didn't agree with the statement, then it means you've bought into the same tone deaf "ALL RELGION IS EVIL" attitude that Dawkins sells.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 AM on August 20, 2009


Eagleton is far more annoying than Dawkins EVER was. Speaking as someone who attended his lectures way back when.
posted by unSane at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll take Hogan's Heroes over Family Feud or Match Game '73 any day.

You know, in an alternate universe, I think Werner Klemperer would make a decent gameshow host himself.
posted by Iridic at 8:23 AM on August 20, 2009


On re-reading that Eagleton essay, it's just amazing what a huge cloud of chaff he throws up. Derrida? Give me a break. Either you have an Abrahamic God who intervenes palpably in human events or you don't. An Abrahamic God is by definition testable. A non-Abrahamic God is a purely metaphysical construct and you are welcome to it. Eagleton's line is that it's all a great mystery and you must read all the same things that he has before he'll talk to you about it.
posted by unSane at 8:29 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seriously, what was with all the kissing?

Dawson's second wife was a Feud contestant; maybe it was his way of screening the candidates.
(Note: Dawson discontinued this practice on The New Family Feud, allegedly at the request of his wife and daughter.)
posted by octobersurprise at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2009


Eagleton's line is that it's all a great mystery and you must read all the same things that he has before he'll talk to you about it.

Actually, he only seems to expect that you've read these things if you've taken the time and effort to write a book about them, which seems a not unreasonable expectation to me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him

Oh please. Scientists are always bitchy about scientific colleagues who disagree with them. It's just that in the US (at least - I don't know many British scientists), we are assholes behind their back and passive aggressive in print.
posted by muddgirl at 8:33 AM on August 20, 2009


"Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate."
Theologically illiterate?
Courtier's reply
posted by edd at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Personally I'd say his crowning achievement was his performance in The Running Man.

Dude! Totally forgot he was in that.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:37 AM on August 20, 2009


Actually, he only seems to expect that you've read these things if you've taken the time and effort to write a book about them, which seems a not unreasonable expectation to me.

Is there any evidence that Dawkins hasn't read those works? Or at least gained familiarity with them the way the rest of us do, through church sermons and pop culture?

He was raised Anglican and went to Oxford. I was raised Presbyterian and went to a technical college, and I've read quite a few of the works Eagleton cites.
posted by muddgirl at 8:37 AM on August 20, 2009


Doesn't he know that his tireless work openly trying to bring an end to religion hurts the cause of equality for homosexuals by making it seem like gay rights is an anti-God movement?

I was thinking about this as I drove to work. And I'm still wondering: it makes gay rights seem like an anti-God movement to whom? And why should their concerns get more weight than those of someone who's gay and an atheist, or gay and agnostic? Why should their concerns get more weight than those of someone who's a straight atheist and who would be offended by "yay, God!" talk from pro-gay-rights religious people?

I'm also still wondering what we (in the gay rights movement) are supposed to do about this. TWF thinks the "leaders" of gay rights orgs should take Dawkins aside and ask him to please STFU. In the US, certainly, I'd have to ask, which gay leaders? The Human Rights Campaign is derided by most of the queers I know as an organization led by transphobic assimilationists, so they're certainly not recognized by us as "leaders." NGLTF? I expect that while they might think Dawkins is kind of a jerk, they agree that religion should be left out of public policy and civil rights decisions that do not directly concern religious practices.

And what of people like my friend Greta? She's queer, she's a vocal atheist, and she's a queer rights activist. She writes about atheism, queer politics, and sex. Any or all of those things are bound to offend someone, somewhere, who might be thinking about perhaps supporting gay rights maybe. Should she sit down and shut up so as not to offend them?

TWF and others seem to be unfamiliar with coalitions. This is where you get together with a bunch of other people and have common cause over a particular issue. You may not agree with them on every other issue under the sun, but that's okay - what counts in this instance is your agreement on This Issue.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


The thread about Dawkins buying a gun is going to be sweet.

Just wait 'til he brings it to a health care town hall.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2009


I remember on his TV show, Dawkins interviewing an illiterate middle aged Ugandan prostitute who was, by sheer chance, genetically resistant to HIV. She attributed her survival to Jesus. Dawkins listened respectfully to her, spoke to her as one adult to another, one survivor to another. I was very impressed and he came across as a lot less supercilious toward her than I think most highly educated wealthy westerners would have done.

As it happend he did not discuss religion with her. Some might think that was patronising, but I think it was appropriate: she had a comfortless life.

I'm not an atheist but I think Dawkins impresses as spiritually disciplined and - I dunno - clean and fierce, compared to the shifty theological nonsense you get from Eagleton.
posted by communicator at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


PORK CHOP SANDWICHES
posted by loquacious at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If LOL was because you didn't agree with the statement, then it means you've bought into the same tone deaf "ALL RELGION IS EVIL" attitude that Dawkins sells.

If you failed to LOL, then it means you're defining away 90% of self-identified Christians.
posted by DU at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


At least he's not Christopher Hitchins.

Artw, you've inspired me. I'm an antheist yet Dawkins really annoys me. That fact alone annoys me further. As a way of dealing with this, I'm making a list (of Brits at first, with a little help from here) who annoy me more than Richard Dawkins. In no particular order, here goes:

Peter Mandelson
Sting
Nicky Campbell
David Cameron
Lilly Allen
Simon Cowell
Anyone associated with Simon Cowell (and that includes that Nigel bloke from "So You Think You Can Dance")
Simon Cowell's haircut (it gets its own mention for being really annoying)
Jimmy Carr
Ross Kemp
Liz Hurley
Ester Rantzen
Boris Johnson
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan

Have I forgotten anyone?
posted by ob at 8:46 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend gave me a framed picture of Richard Dawkins as a gag gift once, as she liked to joke that I was "in love with him" - Ha, ha.

I think there were some issues there, as she refused to touch any of his books - like, even read the first page, see if there's something there to catch your interest.

I think atheism needs a loud and intelligent advocate, and I'm glad he's out there doing what he does.
posted by kbanas at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2009


orthogonality: Dawkins doesn't hide or apologize for his atheism, and that leads to a lot of hate. Bur as we've seen in the Civil Rights movement and in the Gay Rights movement, it's only that, not meekness, that leads to change.
...
metaBugs I quite like Dawkins, from the little I've seen of him. He ends up offending a lot of people, but when I listen to him I don't hear someone who's setting out to shock and offend. I just hear someone who's not apologetic for his lack of belief and desire to see a world more driven by evidence and rationality. It's just that religion is one of those topics that is used to very sensitive, deferential treatment and so disagreement is all to often interpreted as attack.
...
strixusThat thread went south from comment one. I don't really get why people hate on Dawkins so much other than he's a very public target for it. Which is sort of his own point.

I didn't want to contribute to the thread derail over there. It was a good post on an interesting topic, and it's a shame that the thread devolved so rapidly.

Regarding Dawkins...

I'm religious. I'm not Christian. I don't particularly give a damn what other people believe and have no problem with someone being atheist or agnostic. If that's their choice, then I respect it.

However, Richard Dawkins bothers me. (Hate would be far too strong a word.) There's no denying that the man is brilliant. I love his books and have have read them all, even if I do disagree with some of his characterizations. But I remain convinced he does intend to shock and offend. The Ann Coulter comparison seems apt. He uses similar tactics by demonizing, stereotyping and mocking his opponents. I think he'd be a far more effective and convincing advocate for atheism, rational thought and scientific principles if he didn't do so.

FWIW, I also find the Farrakhan comparison repellent. At the same time, I do wonder if repeatedly declaring raising children in Catholicism is mental abuse qualifies as voicing irrational prejudice or hostility towards Catholics.

This isn't simple, innocuous disagreement. It's deliberate, thoughtful verbal attacks on a "virus" he believes has infected most of humanity.

Douglas Adams, a close friend of Dawkins, was also outspoken about his atheism. He spoke eloquently on multiple occasions in interviews, essays and speeches about (among other things,) why he believed religion lent itself to self-fulfilling prophecies. But he didn't demonize the faithful, or sneeringly call them brainless hypocrites. As a result, Adams inspired far less anger. I wish Dawkins would follow his example.

Asking him to be more respectful is not a request for "deferential treatment." It's a technique that both sides, faithful and non, would be better off adopting.

Oh, and good for him for taking this project on. If anyone deserves an official, posthumous apology from the British government, Turing does.
posted by zarq at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


But he didn't demonize the faithful, or sneeringly call them brainless hypocrites. ... I wish Dawkins would follow his example.

Third request for links or examples of this.
posted by DU at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


languagehat: I'm an atheist and I think Dawkins is an asshole who hurts every cause he associates himself with, at least in the U.S. (I obviously can't speak for Britain). I certainly don't expect Dawkins fans to agree with me, and they shouldn't expect me to agree with them. But what happened to the MeFi thread is a perfect illustration of why people are saying that Dawkins's involvement does as much harm as good. Yes, it brings attention, but what kind of attention, and what is the result?

Well, I'm also an atheist and I'm not a Dawkins fan, but its pretty clear to me that DU is right in that Dawkins derails are often more due to the derailers than what Dawkins actually has to say on an issue. Especially in this case where Dawkins comments have focused on the historical fact that the British government was motivated by prejudice to act in ways that cut short the career of a brilliant mathematician and war hero.

And on further research, it seems that Dawkins was moved to endorse the apology movement after having been asked by the BBC to contribute to a documentary about Turing. Dawkins did his homework, and decided that supporting the apology movement was the right thing to do in this case.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is there any evidence that Dawkins hasn't read those works? Or at least gained familiarity with them the way the rest of us do, through church sermons and pop culture?

Eagleton doesn't seem to think Dawkins is that familiar with them; and whether he's right or not, the point is is it is reasonable to expect that someone who writes about theology would know a lot of stuff about theology. I mean, I could write a book and call it Why Modern Art Is All a Ton of Fucking Bullshit, Man, but if I didn't actually know anything about modern art (because it's all a ton of fucking bullshit, man; why would I waste my time with that?), my claim to authority on the topic would be a little shaky.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you failed to LOL, then it means you're defining away 90% of self-identified Christians.

Uh, if you're going to toss out a number like that then back it up. I don't have a great deal of respect for Christianity but I'm not going to say that 90% of Christians don't have questions or doubts about the tenets of their faith. Believing that they don't is an act of faith, isn't it?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Third request for links or examples of this.

I have a hunch (and I'm not being sarcastic) that some of this vitriol about Dawkins' alleged vitriol has as much to do with use of the "delusion" in the title of what's likely his best-known work (to an American audience) as with anything else. Nobody likes being told they're (implicitly) delusional, even if it's your therapist and s/he's likely right.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


* the word "delusion" that is -- hey, nifty idea for a book title, that right there.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:58 AM on August 20, 2009


At the same time, I do wonder if repeatedly declaring raising children in Catholicism is mental abuse qualifies as voicing irrational prejudice or hostility towards Catholics.

He doesn't restrict that argument to Catholics. It's directed towards all religions that delcare their children as "Catholic" or "Hindi" or "Muslim". Kids aren't Muslims. They're kids. They don't yet have the mental capacity to critically evaluate a belief system and decide if it is right for them. And the parents who foster this sentiment are responsible for the entrenched generational conflicts that arise as a result. Dawkins makes the point with Catholic / Protestant conflicts in Northern Ireland.

It's child abuse.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Burhanistan, I'm sure lot's of Christians have questions and doubts about their faith. That's not what he said. He said that doubting and questioning are integral parts of the Christian faith. Which, quite frankly, is complete bullshit.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


some of this vitriol about Dawkins' alleged vitriol has as much to do with use of the "delusion" in the title

Maybe some, but God Delusion was published in 2008. Arguments about Dawkins predate that considerably.
posted by DU at 9:01 AM on August 20, 2009


Maybe some, but God Delusion was published in 2008. Arguments about Dawkins predate that considerably.

There you again, with your evidence and your data and your fucking facts. Heh, good catch, my bad.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


If LOL was because you didn't agree with the statement, then it means you've bought into the same tone deaf "ALL RELGION IS EVIL" attitude that Dawkins sells.
posted by Burhanistan


1. Laughing at a ridiculously stupid claim doesn't mean I think all religion is evil. It means I am laughing at a ridiculously stupid claim.

2. Yes, all religion is evil.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dislike people who play Oppression Olympics. I certainly recognize that atheists, while a minority in the US statistically and vocally, don't really have it that hard putting aside the fact that we're the least trusted "religious group" save for Scientologists, and are often seen as shifty and/or communists.

But I must agree with orthogonality that so much of the reaction to Dawkins is the same damn reaction we have to any vocal minority. It's the same reaction Melissa McEwan gets when she makes a post about why she is distrustful of men, even the men that she loves. It's the same reaction Renee gets when she makes a post about anything having to do with white privilege within the feminist movement. We don't like when people make us feel guilty for getting unearned benefits, which is exactly why I'm glad they bring it up all the time.
posted by muddgirl at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, since this is just really a glorified flame war I'll wish people a nice day.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2009


Eagleton doesn't seem to think Dawkins is that familiar with them; and whether he's right or not, the point is is it is reasonable to expect that someone who writes about theology would know a lot of stuff about theology.

Eagleton is a textualist; that's his background. Dawkins is a scientist; that's his. Eagleton's complaint is that Dawkins chose to set out his stall on his own territory rather than Eagleton's. It is (to steal an idea from one of the links above) as if a critic of Copernicus were to complain that his problem was that he really didn't understand epicycles.*

I seem to remember that Feyarabend argues that Copernicus' initial calculations were in fact less accurate in predicting planetary positions than the most sophisticated of the epicycles, one of the bricks in the wall of his argument against the infallibility of the Popperian scientific method
posted by unSane at 9:08 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


But he didn't demonize the faithful, or sneeringly call them brainless hypocrites. ... I wish Dawkins would follow his example.

Fourth request for data supporting this claim.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:08 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's child abuse.

It's not even in the same fucking zip code as child abuse, Christ, get a grip.
posted by mlis at 9:11 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fifth request. I've read God Delusion and almost all of Dawkins' other stuff (except selfish gene because I left it on a bus) and I have not seen him ever call anyone a brainless hypocrite. Cite?
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:12 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's not even in the same fucking zip code as child abuse, Christ, get a grip.
posted by MLIS


Yeah, it is. Probably a little further than your run-of-the-mill beatings, seeing as how it leads to huge numbers of dead children.

According to emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Vamik Volkan,

Most suicide bombers in the Middle East are chosen as teenagers, “educated,” and then sent off to perform their duty when they are in their late teens or early to mid-twenties. The "education" is most effective when religious elements of the large-group identity are provided as solutions for the personal sense of helplessness, shame, and humiliation. Replacing borrowed elements sanctioned by God for one’s internal world makes that person omnipotent and supports the individual’s narcissism. I found that there was little difficulty in finding young men interested in becoming suicide bombers in Gaza and the West Bank. Repeated actual and expected events humiliate youngsters and interfere with their adaptive identifications with their parents because their parents are humiliated as well.


That's just one tiny example of religion being used as a club to browbeat children who can't know better into killing themselves for the cause of the adults. If you want more, I'm happy to cite them for you. I can even look up the zipcodes of where they died, if that helps.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:14 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Eagleton is a textualist; that's his background. Dawkins is a scientist; that's his.

That's terrific, but if religion isn't science -- and it certainly is not -- then a strictly scientific background isn't much use to writing about religion, is it?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Self fulfilling prophecies of derails were proved true by derailing to make the prophesies, then used as proof of the premise of the self fulfilling prophesies, despite the fact that the derailing prophesies themselves were the cause of the derail, not the premise of the prophesy.

[Dawkins] is not troll bait. The biggest problem with [Dawkins] on MetaFilter (and in whatever conversations he enters into in the rest of the world, too, I suspect) is that people who don't like him feel entitled to complain about him to the exclusion of whatever the real discussion was about, and then claim that [Dawkins] is the one distracting from the point. But last I checked, [Dawkins] hasn't even posted to MetaFilter. He isn't the one adding the noise here. I don't care if we love [Dawkins] or if we despise him: his name is not carte blanche for rude and illogical behavior. If we are honestly afraid that the very mention of [Dawkins'] name will "damage the cause," our best strategy is probably not to focus the conversation on [Dawkins'] alleged personality disorders, but rather to focus the conversation on the cause. Otherwise, we are the problem, not [Dawkins.]

Feel free to replace the name "Dawkins" with pretty much any controversial figure. Your favorite prophet sux, too.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


Dawkins has to stop calling for death boards now. Until then, we will keep showing up in every Dawkins thread.
posted by pracowity at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


So bringing a child to a Sunday service at a mainline Protestant church = extinguishing cigarettes on a 6 yoa's chest?
posted by mlis at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2009


"Maybe it's 'cause I've got userpics turned on, so that comment appeared right next to that pic of you aiming a pistol at the camera, but...

Is everything OK, dude?
"

I want a free trip to England and heard that atheists are rich because they don't tithe.
posted by klangklangston at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2009


I would love to see the epic thread result of a "mefi's own Dawkins" post.
posted by DU at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


2. Yes, all religion is evil.

Ooh, are we playing "Ill-Informed, Stupid, or Trolling"? That's one of my favorite internet games!

I'm going to go with "Trolling" on this one.
posted by dersins at 9:21 AM on August 20, 2009


I'm going to go with "Trolling" on this one.
posted by dersins


No, I am in earnest. And if you read the context in which I was made to respond to a claim, you will understand (perhaps) why I chose such blunt language.

If it makes you feel better, add in a little "I believe" before the "all".
posted by lazaruslong at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2009


but the idea that he is the leader of a movement is ridiculous.

The Brights movement.


I've got mixed feelings about many of the views expressed on this thread but if you did ever want cast-iron evidence of Dawkins's deafness to how he comes across, his tonal problems etc, it would be the profoundly cringemaking horror that is The Brights.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


But he didn't demonize the faithful, or sneeringly call them brainless hypocrites. ... I wish Dawkins would follow his example.

Third request for links or examples of this.
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on August 20 [+] [!]


I'm about to be afk for four hours, (work obligations) but I can answer at least part of this request before I leave, since I gave a clear example of the former in the very comment you quoted from.

The concept of religion as a dangerous form of child abuse inflicted upon innocent, impressionable and malleable young children by their parents was first raised by Dawkins in The God Delusion. He followed it up with an essay called "Religion's Real Child Abuse" which is available online. He tempers the statements from the book in the essay. However, the concept remains:
I am sure her experience is far from unique. And what if we assume a less altruistic child, worried about her own eternity rather than a friend's? Odious as the physical abuse of children by priests undoubtedly is, I suspect that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.
'What shall we tell the children?' is a superb polemic on how religions abuse the minds of children, by the distinguished psychologist Nicholas Humphrey. It was originally delivered as a lecture in aid of Amnesty International, and has now been reissued as a chapter of his book, The Mind Made Flesh, just published by Oxford University Press. It is also available on the worldwide web and I strongly recommend it. Humphrey argues that, in the same way as Amnesty works tirelessly to free political prisoners the world over, we should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them. He is right, and the same lesson should inform our discussions of the current pedophile brouhaha. Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds.
(Emphasis mine)

That's what I mean by demonizing the faithful. Accusing them of abusing their children by teaching them religion is neither helpful nor constructive.

(On preview, lazaruslong: Whether you, I or anyone else personally agree with the characterization or not is pretty much irrelevant. My point is simply that Dawkins made the statement with an intent to demonize the faithful.)

As for the latter, I wasn't quoting Dawkins directly, hence the lack of quotes. But the idea that religious people are uneducated adherents to irrational blind faith permeates his work. If you require supporting cites on that, I'll dig them up when I return.
posted by zarq at 9:25 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've got mixed feelings about many of the views expressed on this thread but if you did ever want cast-iron evidence of Dawkins's deafness to how he comes across, his tonal problems etc, it would be the profoundly cringemaking horror that is The Brights.

The horror, the horror!
posted by Artw at 9:27 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So bringing a child to a Sunday service at a mainline Protestant church = extinguishing cigarettes on a 6 yoa's chest?
posted by MLIS at 12:18 PM


Not everything has to be equal. Analogies are pretty bad at making a point, usually.

Yes, not all childhood religious indoctrination leads to dead kids. Yes, not all child abuse leads to fucked up kids (I can attest to that personally). But neither of these was your point. You said that religious brainwashing of children is not in the same zipcode as child abuse. I politely refuted that with a cite of the results of religious indoctrination on children. If you would like to make a counter point that isn't a false analogy, I'm happy to debate the issue.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


How many times have I heard anti-gay bigots explain that they don't hate all gays, just the "obnoxious" ones who "flaunt" their homosexuality in Gay Pride parades?

How many times have I heard racists explain that they don't hate all blacks, just the "obnoxious n----rs" who "give all blacks a bad name"?

Dawkins doesn't hide or apologize for his atheism, and that leads to a lot of hate. Bur as we've seen in the Civil Rights movement and in the Gay Rights movement, it's only that, not meekness, that leads to change.


For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:29 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Isn't it weird how when you ask for someone to back up his extraordinary claims (Dawkins "sneeringly [called Christians] brainless hypocrites"), and there is no evidence, it gets real quiet or the subject gets changed?

Zarq? Languagehat? Caddis? I mean, if people wretch [sic] at his name, caddis, because he's "the Ann Coulter of atheists," surely you have some sort of citation, right? Like maybe he said, mirroring Coulter, that we should "invade their countries and convert them to atheism." Did he say that? I don't know, because you're all being suspiciously quiet now . . . almost as if - and surely, surely this cannot be the case - almost as if you were totally full of shit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


It's also pretty fucked up to minimize the effects of sexual abuse and use such dismissive phrases as "current pedophile brouhaha." I think the main problem with Richard Dawkins is a profound lack of empathy.
posted by overglow at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2009


Optimus Chyme: Fourth request for data supporting this claim.

It's not my claim, but here are a few things Dawkins has said that, in my reading at least, come across as tone-deaf, smug, dismissive, and inferring that all people of faith are dumb and dangerous and deserve to be mocked:

I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called "faith".

There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.

Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that.

What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?

When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When a million people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.

posted by shakespeherian at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Pretty shocking when a really good premise for a FPP gets completely hijacked by someone who simply cannot fathom that others do not agree with their point. So they keep making it OVER and OVER and OVER.

Being as the main focus of this site appears to be the posts (and links they provide) and not the comments; would it be unreasonable to limit people to one comment every couple of hours per post? It would limit how much a few people could contribute to a derail early on. I'm not sure how much it would constrain the normal conversations but I like to imagine people would be able to adjust without too much difficulty.

We need to have a code word or phrase which basically lets everyone know "this person is intractable, stop interacting with them in this thread".

I'm partial to SomethingAwful's way of handingly it: user selected mocking custom titles with a capitalist twist. Pity it wouldn't really translate well to here. Well, perhaps not, it doesn't really encourage a friendlier community.
posted by prak at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2009


For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.

I guess you don't live in the US.
posted by DU at 9:37 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:29 AM on August 20


Article 19, section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution: Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness.

"No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."

Or Goodrich v. Jex.

Or Weigand v. Houghton.

That took me about three minutes. Any other questions?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [15 favorites]


zarq, I'm not really following you. Firstly, I don't get how you know what Dawkin's intent was when he made those statements. I read the whole paper that you excerpt above, as well as his books, and it seems pretty clear that those statements are made as supporting arguments for a premise: That religious indoctrination of children is a bad thing, and abusive. That's an argument that has evidence for its validity in existence in religious conflicts around the world. Whether or not you agree is certainly an interesting conversation, and probably a worthy debate. But to go through all the work of setting up examples and evidence for the results of childhood religious indoctrination is more than saying some random shit to demonize your opponents.

To put it another way, Dawkins believes religious indoctrination of kids is a Bad Thing. Saying so doesn't mean he is demonizing anyone. It means he believes they are doing a Bad Thing, and should Stop.

It's also pretty fucked up to minimize the effects of sexual abuse and use such dismissive phrases as "current pedophile brouhaha." I think the main problem with Richard Dawkins is a profound lack of empathy.
posted by overglow


That is not what he is doing. If you actually read the link you are citing:

Happily I was spared the misfortune of a Roman Catholic upbringing (Anglicanism is a significantly less noxious strain of the virus). Being fondled by the Latin master in the Squash Court was a disagreeable sensation for a nine-year-old, a mixture of embarrassment and skin-crawling revulsion, but it was certainly not in the same league as being led to believe that I, or someone I knew, might go to everlasting fire.

How is he lacking in empathy when he was also molested by a pedophile? It's not a lack of empathy to argue that childhood religious indoctrination has greater effects than child molestation. It's an argument to be debated.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:40 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Zarq? Languagehat? Caddis? I mean, if people wretch [sic] at his name, caddis, because he's "the Ann Coulter of atheists," surely you have some sort of citation, right? Like maybe he said, mirroring Coulter, that we should "invade their countries and convert them to atheism." Did he say that? I don't know, because you're all being suspiciously quiet now . . . almost as if - and surely, surely this cannot be the case - almost as if you were totally full of shit.

I suggest you read my comments more carefully, especially regarding the reasons why Dawkins reminds me of Ann Coulter. To repeat, they use similar tactics. shakespherian gives decent examples, without citation links.

Optimus, I am at work. Even if I weren't, I am neither a fast typist, nor used to writing out html. So responding during the day takes me time, especially when I format a response with tags. In this case, the difference between my first comment and my second was a little over half an hour. Some patience would be appreciated. bbiab.
posted by zarq at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2009


At least he's not Christopher Hitchins.

Uh-oh. I thought he was. This is what comes from not having a television.

I heard one of them on the radio a while back, putting forth his position etc and, from my fundamentally agnostic position, found him annoying. Then, a month or so later, there the other one was on some Bill Maher clip someone had linked to, accomplishing much the same thing. SMUG, informed, articulate, delighting in his ability to provoke. An approach I can enjoy ... but this guy was just taking the smugness way too far, and he was WRONG. You can't disprove God (or gods) anymore than you can prove Him (them). All you can do is prepare and present your argument ... and these guys' presentation buries their preparation. FAIL.

But Caddis -

If you put a complete ass like Dawkins into a post what do you expect?

He's the Ann Coulter of atheists. Don't be surprised when people wretch at the mere mention of his name.


This shit FAILs, too. I personally can see past Dawkins'/Hichins' sins against civility, certainly enough to actually to attend to what the real stated topic of a given discussion is. And, judging from the general temper of this thread, it's clear I'm not the only one.

So, keep on derailing if you must but please don't come off like it's somehow as inevitable as rain in April (or whenever). It just paints you as someone who is easily riled and as such, should maybe just go kill some time on YouTube when you realize certain of your buttons have been pushed.

And, Caddis, sorry for singling you out on this. Yours were just the first such to comments to come up in this particular thread.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on August 20, 2009


I have to say that while I don't like Dawkins (and that is just a personal taste issue; I also dislike cauliflower and burnt ornage) and that I think being raised in a religious (albeit a liberal Episcopal one) did me no harm...
For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.

At most the employers (small private companies usually) I have worked for in the past, there wass an assumption that everyone there is Christian, or should be, and that those who are not have something wrong with them. At one small firm where I worked, I actually said something like this to a friend when another department was looking for a new team member, I wonder what would happen if the new person were gay or Jewish or athiest or something. It would be a nightmare. Because yeah, the new person might have anti-discrimination laws on their side, but they would be in for a world of suck and discrimination and proselytizing and unpleasantness. That was one of the reasons I decided to do my best to avoid that type of environment. It isn't always easy.
posted by pointystick at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2009


Those quotes from Dawkins strike me as mostly sane. I'm not sure why some of my favorite Metafiltarians hate the guy with such a burning passion.

(Yes, I find him slightly boring and occasionally juvenile when he's droning on about religion, but The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and The Extended Phenotype are brilliant pop-sci books. When he's talking about religion, though, he often comes across as an embarrassingly rebellious 14-year-old. This does not mean that he's wrong, and it certainly doesn't put him in the Ann Coulter category.)
posted by Dumsnill at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Religions are responsible for suicide bombers like atheists are responsible for Stalin's purges.

And the comparison of people who object to Dawkins to homophobes and racists is fucking vile. In fact, most of the arguments in this thread are fucking vile and disingenuous.

To put a bit out there regarding the context of World Famous's objections, without shedding too much light on him:

In the aftermath of the Prop 8 vote here in California, there was a great collapse of blame regarding who was responsible for the repeal of gay marriage. I know I took part in it; I was pissed that my adopted state had been so wrong, and pissed that my efforts had been for naught.

Some folks blamed the blacks, some blamed the Mormons.

Despite the popular image of the Mormon church as a monolithic hive, there are Mormons who support gay marriage and who are trying to change their church's views on gay marriage. People like, say, Steve Young, who came out in opposition to Prop 8. Many younger Mormons, especially ones who grew up in cities, are active in this cause. Unfortunately, there's a heavy conservative power structure which they must contend with, and part of that power structure's argument is that by granting gay marriage, the government will somehow force the Mormons to recognize it or remove their ability to teach their children precepts that they believe include bans on homosexuality.

While obviously Dawkins wasn't involved in Prop 8, many of the attacks on the LDS church undermined the ability of folks fighting for gay rights within the church, and retrenched the conservatives. As I happen to know a few of those people, I remember how sad and how upset they were with a lot of the rhetoric coming from the left after Prop 8 went through. Because they were inside LDS, they could recognize that LDS has factions and interest groups, just like any other religion, and people were hassling them over something that was not a central part of Mormon belief, at least to them.

Now, you can argue that those people should simply leave the church, but I think that's a facile answer and does little service to the human end of humanism.

On the other topic, about offending people and tactical decisions: I have no problem offending people. I'm sometimes quite gleeful in it, and will often defend others' right to be offensive, just as many of you will argue against some things that you think are offensive but I think are fine to have in public discussion.

But gay rights, at this moment, is a matter of persuasion. For all of you that don't see the damage of a bad spokesman, or want to celebrate the right of anyone to advance any cause, I'd refer you back to Prop 8 and Gavin Newsom. Newsom's grandstanding support of gay marriage, particularly the phrase, "Whether you like it or not," was the subject of an ad that has been widely cited as the determining factor in the election. When it was released, Prop 8 supporters started polling in the majority for the first time, and it reinforced a lot of incorrect information about gay marriage. I do think that gay marriage is coming whether or not the opponents like it, similarly, not only don't I see the harm, I think it's a good that gay marriage should be taught to children as a viable option, one of the ad's other bugaboos.

Newsom's support for gay marriage was a tremendous liability. I'm not arguing counterfactuals—it's entirely possible that Prop 8 could have passed without that ad. But when you want to persuade someone, you choose your language differently.

And for all of those complaining about that attitude in evidence during the civil rights struggle: You know that Rosa Parks wasn't the first woman who refused to give up a bus seat, right? Championing her was a tactical decision, a tactical decision that worked. That's the argument regarding arguably distasteful and certainly disrespectful figureheads.
posted by klangklangston at 9:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've reached the point where I now expect to be disappointed in Metafilter discussions, rather than enlightened by them. People who post without reading the links, people who post without reading the comments, people who post to grind whatever specific axe they have over and over.

I think MeFi is reaching the point where the community is too inbred. Either that or I just need a break.
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


My beef with Dawkins is that he could be convincing thousands of people to consider his point of view, but by presenting it so aggressively, he alienates a lot of folks who are on the fence about religion. If you suspect that people are not thinking rationally, bludgeoning them with rational arguments might not be the most effective tactic.

Sometimes, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:54 AM on August 20, 2009


I've reached the point where I now expect to be disappointed in Metafilter discussions, rather than enlightened by them. People who post without reading the links, people who post without reading the comments, people who post to grind whatever specific axe they have over and over.

DAWKINS IS THE CORY DOCTROW OF ATHEISM!

But, really, he kind of is.
posted by Artw at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


That took me about three minutes. Any other questions?

Just one: How in the hell do those two custody cases show discrimination against atheists? One certainly shows discrimination against gay men; the other has a small bit about giving a child the right to choose its own religious beliefs...am I missing something?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 AM on August 20, 2009


With regards to Dawkins vs Ann Coulter:


I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called "faith".

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else (parents in the case of children, God in the case of adults) has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point.

"These people can't even wrap up genocide. We've been hearing about this slaughter in Darfur forever — and they still haven't finished. The aggressors are moving like termites across that country. It's like genocide by committee. Who's running this holocaust in Darfur, FEMA? This is truly a war in which we have absolutely no interest."

Who will say with confidence that sexual abuse is more permanently damaging to children than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?

"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours."

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.

"I think our motto should be, post-9-11, 'raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences."


et cetera ad nauseam


One of these things is not like the other.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


jesus christ, there's a lot of calming down that needs to happen on both sides, here.

I'm an agnostic, and I approve this message.
posted by shmegegge at 10:11 AM on August 20, 2009


I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called "faith".

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.


Shakespeherian, I wanted to favorite your post for making all these good points, but it turns out you quoted them from Dawkins because you think they prove he's some kind of bigot, or something.

But these quoted criticisms are nothing but blunt disagreement! They are not ad hominems, they are not even especially hyperbolic. No, it seems that the problem with them is that they disagree with religious thinking firmly, and without recognizing the bizarre position of respect religion occupies in our society. Why should atheists kow tow?
posted by grobstein at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


Sys Rq: He provided you with the links. Up to you to read it, but here's some help.

From the first case:

Despite finding that each party had the capacity to love their children, the trial court weighed this factor in favor of defendant because it concluded that defendant has a greater capacity and willingness to continue to take the parties' daughters to church and related activities. Also, the trial court was concerned with plaintiff's belief that her minor daughters are capable of making their own decisions whether to attend church.

From the second:

Lastly, the chancellor considered the issue of religious training towards the development of a child. He noted that the mother has seen that Paul is taken to church and undergone religious training, along with the entire family. The chancellor determined that Paul's best interest would be served by providing religious training.



Want to keep your kids? Better fake like you believe in God.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


Oh, and note that from the first, not only does atheism mean you can't keep your kids, but it means you have a diminished capacity to love them.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2009


Indoctrination and brainwashing of any kind, religious or secular, is abusive.

I'm not sure why some of my favorite Metafiltarians hate the guy with such a burning passion.

Not that I would presume to be one of your favorite Metafiltarians, but I dislike Dawkins because I find him unctuous and his voice similar to the noise a mosquito makes when it flies into your ear canal. That doesn't mean I refuse to read anything he's written - his non-religious stuff can be quite interesting and engaging, but it seems that when he gets on the subject of faith, it's so suffused with that smarminess that it's barely readable.

I'm not sure where or why orthogonality and Pope Guilty get the idea that atheists who are meh on Dawkins are appeasement-happy Uncle Toms, but if wi'-me-or-agin'-me makes them feel happier about themselves, there's not a hell of a lot I can do about it. Conflating support for Dawkins with support for atheism is a sucker's game.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2009


Well, okay, two people have been discriminated against for being atheists. I guess that's a trend that is entirely worth comparing to Jim Crow.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2009


Well, okay, two people have been discriminated against for being atheists. I guess that's a trend that is entirely worth comparing to Jim Crow.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:26 PM



So much bullshit in once sentence it's kind of staggering.

You wanted proof of atheist discrimination. You were provided with links to the proof. You didn't read them thoroughly enough to get the point, and "asked" for clarification. I provided it in the form of excerpts. You respond with OH TWO PEOPLE WOW WHAT A TREND.


...


You do realize that asking for evidence means you get some evidence. It doesn't mean we have to provide you with a link to EVERY SINGLE CASE OF ATHEIST DISCRIMINATION in order to prove that it exists. In fact, in order to prove that it exists, you only technically need one example. You got three. And you still aren't happy.

Also, please cite where anyone said that the discrimination against atheists in the united states = jim crow. Thanks.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


Well, you are one of my favorites. In fact, I just spoused you.

(I find Dawkins boring when he's going on about religion, and I find Pharyngula boring because it's so monomaniacal. But both Dawkins and Myers are making sane (if repetitive) points. The anti-Dawkins crowd often strikes me as bizarrely emotional, is all.)
posted by Dumsnill at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, okay, two people have been discriminated against for being atheists.

I have a lot more where that came from, but you're apparently not going to read them, and when someone does do all the work for you, and explains it to, it's still not enough, so why should I bother? If you promise to actually make an effort, I will post a dozen more, okay?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


grobstein: Shakespeherian, I wanted to favorite your post for making all these good points, but it turns out you quoted them from Dawkins because you think they prove he's some kind of bigot, or something.

grobstein, I regret your tone here, because I really am simply attempting to civilly state my reasons on my own personal dislike for Dawkins when he talks about religion. I'd appreciate it if you would do me the favor of reading my comments in this thread as simply that.

That said, I don't think Dawkins is a bigot of any kind. For the most part I agree with his opinions, and I certainly agree with him that the way that a large part of America practices religion is cause for serious concern. My disagreement with him is that he attempts to discuss these things by using hyperbole, condescension, and, to me at least, his statements often carry the implication that religious people are dumber than he is, and a wholly other type of human being altogether. My issue is not that he doesn't respect their beliefs, but that (often, in my opinion) he comes across as not respecting them.

When Dawkins refers to faith as 'non-thinking' and to religion as teaching us 'to be satisfied with not understanding the world,' he is not being particular with his language, and because of this (and I believe this is on purpose), his statements come very close to saying 'Religious people are stupid, and they are religious because they are stupid.' Faith is by no means 'non-thinking,' it is merely non-scientific thinking-- and in my opinion, Dawkins' statement deliberately ignores the distinction specifically for the purposes of ad homenim: to lower his opponent and thus make his own case more credible-seeming.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:38 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have I forgotten anyone?

YES. Julie Fucking Burchill.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:47 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Look, dickwads, my objection was to the purported equivalency of the treatment of atheist and the treatment of Blacks and Gays.

I'm sorry, no. Two custody cases are not sufficient proof.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2009


game warden to the events rhino. Re the Brights: I don't know anythng about the movement except in that article. So... someone else started it, and Dawkins is one of at least two prominent people who've written newspaper articles about it? Truly, the man is a menace.

FWIW I think the "brights" is a laughably flawed idea. "Gay" has been a pejorative term for such a long time that I think it's safe to say that its original meaning wasn't a big driver in the gay rights movement. Plus saying "I'm a Bright" just sounds smug, a problem which Dawkins does occasionally suffer from.

overglow - It's also pretty fucked up to minimize the effects of sexual abuse and use such dismissive phrases as "current pedophile brouhaha." I think the main problem with Richard Dawkins is a profound lack of empathy.

I don't know about the USA, but here in the UK the tabloid media are in constant and full-blown witchunt mode about paedophlia. Accusations fly in all directions, a couple of schools have banned parents from filming school plays, any adult male near a playground is viewed with suspicion, etc. It's certainly an important topic, but against the background of the hysteria in the UK it's completely fair to comaplain about all the noise and scare stories generated on the topic.

Sys Rq - For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.
A difference in degree doesn't always mean that there's a difference in substance. I will never claim that atheists suffer as much prejudice as non-whites, homosexuals or [your favourite group here]. But I live in the UK, where Dawkins is from. We have an official state religion and our head of state is also the head of the Church of England. The Church permeates every aspect of our government and judicial system, the most obvious example being the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords and therfore influence our lawmaking, simply by virtue of their position in the Church. Between them, the CofE and the Catholic Church run most of the decent non-private schools in the country. I've spent my life being bombarded with the message that I'm incomplete, destined for hell, or a sinner in need of salvation. I get them in community events, in school, from public billboards, from BBC-sponsored broadcasts of Christian services and "thought for the day" throughout every week.

It's fine to be an atheist in Britain. Except when we put a sign "there's probably no God; stop worrying and enjoy your life" on the side of buses, in response to all the signs on buses telling us that we're sinners and will miss out on pradise; then we were being delibartely offensive and should just have kept quiet. Or when atheists wrote in to the BBC's "thought for the day" to suggest the inclusion of secular thinkers in their rota of various religions' figures; then we were attacking religion, and should have kept quiet. Or when some people suggested broadcasting a humanist or other non-religious event in the same way that they broadcast religious services; then we were trivialising religion and should have stayed quiet.

People are happy for us to be atheists as long as we're not so crass as to talk about it, or to question the assumption that everyone is. When Muslims complained about the assumption that everyone in the country is Christian, they quite rightly had concessions made. There are more self-identified Atheists in the UK than Muslims, but we don't get the same concessions.

So it's nowhere near as bad. But the problem - and the response to it - is the same.
posted by metaBugs at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2009 [15 favorites]


Fuck yeah, Dawkins. \m/
posted by adamdschneider at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2009


(Note to dickwads: Learn from metaBugs. That's how you do that.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on August 20, 2009


As far as I'm aware, Dawkins just threw "Brights" out there as a modest proposal and has largely let other people roll with it.

klangklangston: That's the argument regarding arguably distasteful and certainly disrespectful figureheads.

Except that the only people who seem to be positioning him as a figurehead seem to be people who have an objection to his endorsement of the movement as a scientist working in the U.K.. He appears to be a reluctant but pragmatic supporter of a government apology. And it really baffles me as to why people are making him into something he's not to say that he shouldn't.

But I see a key problem with your analysis which is that people's relationship with media is a two-way street. We pick and choose according to our ideological blinders of the moment, as is amply demonstrated when Republicans ignore the politics of a performer (such as John Mellencamp or Heart) to appropriate his or her music.

Part of this strikes me as ludicrous, because the people opposed to gay rights already see it as one championed by secular interests and an attack on Christianity. If you want to fight this, you should be pointing to the many religious groups supporting gay rights, rather than trying to disown or silence an endorsement.

And even if we said that the endorsement of Dawkins may harm some people's perception of the movement, it's not clear to me that possibility overrides the interest that Dawkins has in commenting on the politics and history of his own country in relationship to his own vocation and career. This isn't about California. It's about the U.K. where both the cause and persona are considerably less controversial than here in the states.

And personally, I want nothing to do with a gay rights movement that picks and chooses its allies based on the popularity of unrelated opinions. I disagree with a lot of supporters of gay rights. I often disagree with Dawkins. If I was living in the U.K., I'd be happy to have his endorsement on this matter.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:57 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


For this analogy to not totally piss me off, you're really going to have to lay out specifically how atheists are oppressed, discriminated against, terrorized, etc.

The religious makeup of the 111 congress.
there are almost certainly other “cryptic atheists” in Congress, who take advantage of the conventional assumption by Americans that affiliation with a religion connotes theism.
Now why would candidates for public office want to pretend that they were religious or theistic if being a-religious or a-theistic was not discriminated against?

Studies show that atheists are distrusted more than any other faith-based orientation. Unfortunately that link doesn't include the tables of data.

In many states, children are required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which states that the US is "...one nation, under God...". Can you imagine if we passed a law requiring children to say, "...one nation, praise be to Allah..."? Christians would be justly crying religious persecution.

Like I said, I hate playing Oppresion Olympics, but it's undeniable that atheists are, in aggregate, viewed as untrustworthy, spiteful, and unable to make moral or ethical decisions.
posted by muddgirl at 10:59 AM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


"...or to question the assumption that everyone is religious."
Sorry, missed it on preview.
posted by metaBugs at 10:59 AM on August 20, 2009


You want terrorism? How about receiving death threats for standing up for the constitutional right to free speech when that speech includes non-religious sentiments?
posted by muddgirl at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2009


Julie Fucking Burchill.

Now upgraded to Tanya Gold.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am curious how anyone explains their atheism without fundamentally coming off as smug/dismissive, etc. of those who believe? Like, I am really, really interested in this. I'm not talking about "I'm atheist but you're a believer and that's fine." I'm talking about any explanation of atheism regarding why one believes that way, what that means about one's worldview, etc. It seems to me that it is impossible to state atheistic beliefs without being as dismissive of believers as believers are of atheists.

For example, many believers believe that atheists are going to hell, are fundamentally broken human beings, and need rescuing from themselves because they refuse to acknowledge that they are Children of God, separated from him (and therefore not their best selves), and they should be eternally thankful to have been given the rules of God (in the case of Judaism) and/or the sacrifice of Christ (Christianity) to make them worthy of God's presence. Even if a believer has a more "liberal" belief system wherein they think that atheists just "don't get it," such a tenet still presumes a right/wrong dichotomy. Both of these beliefs are inherently dismissive and condescending toward atheists.

Many atheists believe that believing in God is akin to believing in Santa Claus, where both are intangible figures that we are taught to believe in at one time or another. With Santa Claus, everyone finds out that there is no such thing, because when we grew up our parents admit that they were acting out for Santa Claus, making presents appear on his behalf. For those that grow up and leave the faith for atheism, it is as though they've figured out all the people around them are doing things "in the name of God," and are making things happen on "his" behalf, when there is really nothing there. Just like there was no Santa Claus (and I'm not talking about historical St. Nick). This belief is inherently dismissive and condescending toward believers. It really makes believers seem delusional.

I say this as a confirmed atheist, who was once a very public believer. My Dad was a preacher and most of my family and many of my friends are still believers. I find I have no idea how to express my atheism without fundamentally asking them to shift their entire worldview, so we stick to theological discussions instead. I can talk abstractly about God all day long, or about the history of certain theological beliefs, etc., but I know if I talked about why I don't believe in God, I would be seriously offending a number of people who I dearly love.

I acknowledge that Dawkins can be incendiary, but I honestly don't know how he can state his worldview without coming across as a total smug asshole to anyone who has a modicum of belief. I sure haven't figured out how to do it.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2009 [35 favorites]


Faith is by no means 'non-thinking,'

How so, practically speaking?
posted by kathrineg at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm an agnostic, and I approve this message.

Are you sure?
posted by prak at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


This belief is inherently dismissive and condescending toward believers. It really makes believers seem delusional.

Correlation/Causation
posted by Sys Rq at 11:16 AM on August 20, 2009


I acknowledge that Dawkins can be incendiary, but I honestly don't know how he can state his worldview without coming across as a total smug asshole to anyone who has a modicum of belief. I sure haven't figured out how to do it.

If your worldview is that everyone who does not share your worldview is not only an idiot but also dangerous, then you're right that stating your worldview will always come across that way. But it is, I think, possible to not believe in God while at the same time not believing that everyone on earth who does is a dangerous idiot.
posted by The World Famous at 11:17 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So before I read this thread, I just found Dawkins unpleasant because I am a person of faith and I think his tone is unnecessarily insulting, unproductive, and sometimes mean for the sake of mean. Now I also find him distasteful because I believe in civil rights, gay rights, and because I was seriously physically abused as a child. Huh.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2009


How is that a correlation/causation issue, Sys Rq?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2009


Faith is by no means 'non-thinking,'

How so, practically speaking?


Well, I'm not really a "believer", but I think it would be wise to point out St. Augustine here, and many other very logical, clearly intelligent people who were working within the framework of Faith in order to try to make sense of some of the darker corners of the implications of belief.
posted by hippybear at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2009


Note: I am almost certain I will regret even dipping my toe into this particular pool.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2009


(Note to dickwads: Learn from metaBugs. That's how you do that.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on August 20


it takes a real asshole to make me look classy, sys rq
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:23 AM on August 20, 2009


How is that a correlation/causation issue, Sys Rq?

"It really makes believers seem delusional." They already do. Might as well say, "Pointing at the sky makes it seem blue." That the sky happens to be blue at the time you're pointing doesn't mean your finger made it happen.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2009


I find I have no idea how to express my atheism without fundamentally asking them to shift their entire worldview, so we stick to theological discussions instead. I can talk abstractly about God all day long, or about the history of certain theological beliefs, etc., but I know if I talked about why I don't believe in God, I would be seriously offending a number of people who I dearly love.

One option is to be open about your atheism but not feel the need to discuss the details of it with religious people, the same way that you can be a Buddhist or Muslim and not get into it with Christians about how your views with religion don't line up with theirs. I've been an atheist for pretty much all my life, and frankly there aren't many times when it comes up. When it does come up, I'll talk about it unless I feel like the conversation is going to move into trainwreck territory, in which case I'll try to change the subject. I think religion tends to be a highly personal thing, and for me at least it doesn't make sense to get into a lot of discussions, let alone arguments, with other people about it.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:31 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


(Note to dickwads: Learn from metaBugs. That's how you do that.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:55 AM on August 20

it takes a real asshole to make me look classy, sys rq
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:23 PM on August 20


I meant that metaBugs argued the point in a way that won me over, rather than berating me like a total fucking dickwad (note: just joshin') for merely skimming some boring-ass legalese.

Asshole, yes. Classy, no. Let's call it a draw.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:34 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


You ask for evidence and when you can't be bothered to do more than skim some "boring ass legalese" you come back with more shrill handwaving. Instead of calling it a draw, let's call it "you are a disingenuous debater" and leave it there.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


kathrineg: Faith is by no means 'non-thinking,'

How so, practically speaking?


See the Terry Eagleton article linked upthread. Ignore anything he has to say about Dawkins, but take a look at all of the issues of debate and discussion and thought that he notes as belonging to the history of religious practice. I'm not sure who said it first, but in a Salon article I read awhile back, Anne Lamott said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty-- for a great many people of serious religious life, 'faith' refers to a continual process of wrestling with one's own beliefs and worldview and metaphysical understanding. I by no means am trying to suggest that there are no blind-faith adherents in the world, but blind faith is by no means the only kind of faith, and I honestly doubt, despite the impression one might get, that it is anywhere near the style for the majority.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


I by no means am trying to suggest that there are no blind-faith adherents in the world, but blind faith is by no means the only kind of faith, and I honestly doubt, despite the impression one might get, that it is anywhere near the style for the majority.
posted by shakespeherian


There's a difference between the "personal style of faith" that individuals have and the doctrine of the religion that those individuals belong to. Eagleton specifically claims that questioning and doubt are core principles of Christianity. This is false.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:49 AM on August 20, 2009


I meant that metaBugs argued the point in a way that won me over, rather than berating me like a total fucking dickwad (note: just joshin') for merely skimming some boring-ass legalese.

Asshole, yes. Classy, no. Let's call it a draw.
posted by Sys Rq


A draw it is, then.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2009


I know if I talked about why I don't believe in God, I would be seriously offending a number of people who I dearly love.

That's their problem not yours. The thing that sticks in my craw about religion is exactly what i dislike about campitalism. It requires that others believe and practice to make your own belief and practice secure. So, I treat my own non-belief -- I was raised without religion and so I never had to leave it, I literally never had it, so I don't have that sort of rebel thing going on and no family tussles about this -- as if it were my own religion if you will just one that doesn't segue with other peoples' religions.

That is, we don't share a god and we don't share tenets of faith -- the things you do "just because" not the things you do because they have other tangible explicable benefits -- but there are actually a lot of things we share as humans. I'm particularly sharing and philanthropic and social justice oriented and those are things that sometimes bring people towards religion, for whatever other reason. These are things we share and we can find common ground on, the same as if we all watched American Idol. For society to be society, we need things that we share. For a lot of people, they think that thing should be religion. I disagree. For other people, they think that thing should be capitalism [we all want to earn money and spend money and buy a house and strive to earn more and buy more, right? Um... no]. I disagree.

However, I don't get to opt for being alive someplace where everyone agrees with me. Realistically, right now, that is not my choice. So, because I believe to some extent a "play it as it lays" philosophy will keep me from dropping dead of a GRARGRAR heart attack, leaving me free to go be me and continue my good works, I choose to present my choices this way. I don't disagree that I think religion generally has been incredibly harmful to a lot of people, especially as a tool of opression and hatred. I also see it as having done some good (and no I'm not going to play the numbers game over whether the evil outweighs the good, it's sunny out and I'm making yogurt dip) for groups of people and specific people I know. My choice, for me, is this one. If people want to get all up in your business about your choices and that makes them unhappy, that's their own issue with their own personal god, not with you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


You ask for evidence and when you can't be bothered to do more than skim some "boring ass legalese" you come back with more shrill handwaving. Instead of calling it a draw, let's call it "you are a disingenuous debater" and leave it there.

Idea: Instead of linking to some, YES, boring-ass legalese and expecting someone to read it top to bottom, including the thirty-odd irrelevant paragraphs, maybe it would be wiser to extract the relevant portion and paste in in-thread?

But then you wouldn't get to berate me, would you?

The purpose of debate is persuasion. Scolding and berating are not effective means thereof. Who's disingenuous?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:52 AM on August 20, 2009


Apparently:

Person A believing Person B will suffer the eternal torments of hell for not believing in God = not insulting to person B

Person B believing Person A is grossly mistaken = insulting to person A
posted by unSane at 11:54 AM on August 20, 2009 [15 favorites]


"It really makes believers seem delusional." They already do. Might as well say, "Pointing at the sky makes it seem blue." That the sky happens to be blue at the time you're pointing doesn't mean your finger made it happen."
posted by Sys Rq at 11:28 AM on August 20


Are you saying that believers are already delusional, so my saying that they seem that way is correlative? Because that is what your example indicates.

Of course my saying that believers seem delusional does not make them delusional, anymore than pointing at the sky and saying it is blue makes it blue. If the sky is blue it is because of an inherent quality of the air (like how it refracts light) and if a believer is delusional it is because of an inherent quality of belief (like how belief is an acceptance that something is true or exists without evidence).

I don't think all believers are raving lunatics. I think that our brains are set up to believe and it is really hard not to. Our ability to recognize patterns in the world (even when they don't exist) is one of our greatest strengths as humans. I also think that the brain can be trained not recognize patterns where they don't exist.

On the one hand I think you were trying to pidgeon hole my example, but on the other hand, I'm still not sure how your callout of correlation/causation achieves this.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:00 PM on August 20, 2009


Ok, look. I think that Dawkins misunderstands religion in a number of key ways, partly because he dips into the psychology of religion using a theory grounded in population biology. But I really think Dawkins is being treated to an unfair double-standard here. No one seemed to be keen on calling out Obama's repeated claims that America's spectrum of religious faith could be the groundwork for a new civic renaissance. But Dawkins is called a bigot akin to an anti-semite for the conviction that human culture could be better if it was more secular.

The fact of the matter is that we don't see the blatant appeals to religious faith because we are in a culture saturated with it. The dominant discourse, not only in religious writing but in political rhetoric, and art and culture as well, says that nonbelievers are both foolish and harmful in ways both small and large. Dawkins is a pariah in America for saying things that liberal people of faith routinely express in the public eye with great admiration.

We are the people who can't see the ghosts and spirits in front of us. Who deny the horrible threat until it eats us. Who let Tinkerbell die. Who don't look at the universe and see wondrous creativity and structure. We have no moral standards, because without God there can be no moral standards. We have a hole in our heart, especially on Christmas. We do not have the power to defeat evil, until we believe in something with equal devotion. In spite of the wonders we've seen, the grail is just a cup.

It really baffles me that Dawkins is vilified for things that are openly claimed by people of religious faith without much comment. Practically every religion has claims to be the rational conclusion based on evidence. There are people I deeply love who I disagree with in regards to theology. We both think the other is delusional to some extent. They think I'm denying the evidence and experience of the supernatural. I think they are seeing what they want to see. Amazingly, we can get along without accusations of bigotry.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I was surprised the mods didn't do something about what turned into an embarrassment, yet another example of recognizable names being fighty and acting like they're getting paid by the word.

Yeah, yeah, FAMO.

Same old story. Same old song and dance.
posted by ambient2 at 12:08 PM on August 20, 2009


KirkJobSluder: It really baffles me that Dawkins is vilified for things that are openly claimed by people of religious faith without much comment. Practically every religion has claims to be the rational conclusion based on evidence. There are people I deeply love who I disagree with in regards to theology. We both think the other is delusional to some extent. They think I'm denying the evidence and experience of the supernatural. I think they are seeing what they want to see. Amazingly, we can get along without accusations of bigotry.

I don't recall Dawkins being referred to as a bigot in this thread (maybe I missed it, or it was in the other thread, which I haven't read), but I don't follow the logic that Dawkins shouldn't be called out for doing ugly things simply because there are a great many people whom he opposes who do the same ugly things. My distaste for Dawkins' religion-related rhetoric is in no way an endorsement of similar rhetoric from religious people, and I think that should be clear.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:11 PM on August 20, 2009


for a great many people of serious religious life, 'faith' refers to a continual process of wrestling with one's own beliefs and worldview and metaphysical understanding ... blind faith is by no means the only kind of faith, and I honestly doubt, despite the impression one might get, that it is anywhere near the style for the majority.

That is certainly true. I've done it myself. 'Faith' is that gap between evidence and belief and at least some of the faithful spend a lot of time staring into that gap in an attempt to close it. But the gap won't close, and the gap is inhabited by monsters. Animal suffering, the death of children, the fate of unbelievers, the evil done by fundamentalists, crusades, holocausts, inquisitions.

In science, when there's a gap like that, there's an impetus (however imperfect) to fill it. 'Faith' is not a good. See: Copernicus, Einstein, Newton.

In Theology, however, the gap never seems to close. We have no better answer now to why a loving Abrahamic God would permit the suffering of the innocent than we did two thousand years ago, or probably ever. What we get is either a lot of handwaving, or a concession that yes indeed it's a mystery, or a redefinition of God that defines away the problem. Faith -- the ability to fervently believe a proposition despite not only lack of evidence, but fairly compelling evidence against it -- is seen as a good.

I'm not down with that.
posted by unSane at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Person A believing Person B will suffer the eternal torments of hell for not believing in God = not insulting to person B

Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please? Although there are without a doubt a great many religious people who believe this to be the case, it by no means describes all, or even a majority, of people who consider themselves religious. I don't know whether you're being ignorant or disingenuous, but enough already.
posted by dersins at 12:19 PM on August 20, 2009


shakespherian: Except that if you want to turn the attention to those "ugly things" (which I don't really see as that ugly) then we really have to purge our lives and culture of a whole bunch of admirable and beautiful things. Start with the current U.S. President who has rarely been ashamed of praising the civic virtues of faith. Dump Lewis's Narnia of course, but also Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in which his re-visioning of Christian faith is a prominent subtext. I, for one, am not about to restrict myself to only the secular works of Arvo Part or delete Beethoven's 9th from my ipod.

Every religion believes that it is so wonderful, so beautiful, so self-evident that the non-believer is foolish or deluded not to join, and would be saved if he or she does. Heck, political ideologies say the same thing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:26 PM on August 20, 2009


We have no better answer now to why a loving Abrahamic God would permit the suffering of the innocent than we did two thousand years ago, or probably ever.

I cannot imagine that you are making this statement with full awareness of every answer to that question that has been advanced in the last two thousand years. I'll accept that you have not heard an answer that satisfies you, though.

A great many people have been and continue to be successful in finding satisfying answers to their deep theological, existential, and philosophical questions. That does not, of course, mean that those people do not still exercise faith as to many things.

Every religion believes that it is so wonderful, so beautiful, so self-evident that the non-believer is foolish or deluded not to join, and would be saved if he or she does.

This is simply not true of every religion.
posted by The World Famous at 12:28 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Person A believing Person B will suffer the eternal torments of hell for not believing in God = not insulting to person B

Person B believing Person A is grossly mistaken = insulting to person A


I haven't participated in this discussion so far but I have to say something at this point. I was raised religious (Catholic). I haven't believed in God for over twenty years and I've considered myself an Atheist for quite some time. Almost every time I have a conversation with religious people (and for that read Christian) that I don't know well, something which I never, ever bring up I hasten to add, I've been told that I cannot possibly be an atheist. It's just not possible. I've even been told on a couple of occasions that I can't be an atheist as otherwise I'd kill myself. I find this really insulting. I have never questioned someone's religious belief. Yet in my experience it's perfectly OK for religious people to do that to me. I've actually been in situations where atheists have done that to religious people and I find it the height of douche-baggery. This, I feel, is a two-way street.
posted by ob at 12:33 PM on August 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I find it the height of douche-baggery. This, I feel, is a two-way street.

Douche-baggery is a Goddamned highway, if you ask me. Which you didn't.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:35 PM on August 20, 2009


Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please? Although there are without a doubt a great many religious people who believe this to be the case, it by no means describes all, or even a majority, of people who consider themselves religious. I don't know whether you're being ignorant or disingenuous, but enough already.

'simplistic... ignorant... disingenous'

Christians have been busy redefining Hell for generations for the exact reason that its such a problematic concept. I don't know what the current formulation is... 'separation from God' or some kind of eternal oblivion. However, either religion favors the faithful with some kind of goodies or it doesn't. I'm assuming those are not minor goodies, like Smarties, but something major, like Eternal Life. So you can recast that option however you like. The result still obtains.

And amazingly I didn't have to insult you! How about that!
posted by unSane at 12:37 PM on August 20, 2009


KirkJobSluder: Except that if you want to turn the attention to those "ugly things" (which I don't really see as that ugly) then we really have to purge our lives and culture of a whole bunch of admirable and beautiful things. Start with the current U.S. President who has rarely been ashamed of praising the civic virtues of faith. Dump Lewis's Narnia of course, but also Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in which his re-visioning of Christian faith is a prominent subtext. I, for one, am not about to restrict myself to only the secular works of Arvo Part or delete Beethoven's 9th from my ipod.

Maybe I misunderstood you before, but I haven't suggesting purging anything from anything, even Dawkins' religion-themed comments. I've only tried to explain why I find them distasteful, and why others object to his tone. I don't think he needs to shut up, but to calm down; by 'ugly things' I was referring to Dawkins' stridency, his smug dismissiveness, and his absolute certainty that he is far, far smarter than those with whom he disagrees. I certainly don't think his opinion should go unheard, only that it should be presented in language more geared towards dialogue and communication than shrillness.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:40 PM on August 20, 2009


> Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please?

No, we can't, because militant atheists clutch it to their breasts and need it for a security blanket the way believers clutch their beliefs. Which might indicate that a certain virulent form of atheism is quite comparable to a certain virulent form of religion. Hmm.

Some people here seem to think the fact that they agree with Dawkins automatically means that Dawkins can do no wrong, and those who have objections to him must be religious fanatics or trolls. If those people cannot understand why people who do not fall into those categories have problems with Dawkins, they have poor reading skills.
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I cannot imagine that you are making this statement with full awareness of every answer to that question that has been advanced in the last two thousand years. I'll accept that you have not heard an answer that satisfies you, though.

No doubt I haven't heard them all but I hope that through some kind of Darwinistic (egads!) meme (Oh noes!) selection process, I am familiar with the most coherent of them.

Not only haven't I found a satisfying answer, I haven't found a remotely satisfying answer. I have heard a lot of handwaving ('to test our faith'), some mumbling ('God moves in mysterious ways'), a whole lot of tortured reasoning about original sin and a fallen world which somehow absolves Mr Deity for any of it, including the stuff that has nothing to do with humans eg. animal suffering, and a fair amount of throwing of hands into the air ('Who knows? It's too deep for us humans").

The closest approximations have been C20th attempts to redefine God as some kind of prime mover who sets the universe in motion and possible fiddles a bit with quantum doohickies. Unfortunately these approaches succeed in direct proportion to the degree to which they strike God from the equation entirely.

So what answer satisfied you?
posted by unSane at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's have an argument about Richard Dawkins!

He was an underachieving NBA center, but was certainly a crowd-pleaser. And while clearly a derivative of Muhammad Ali's, certainly his larger-than-life persona continues to influence professional athletes today.

Oh, wait. I was thinking of Darryl Dawkins.

Still, I like to visit the planet Lovetron whenever I can...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was referring to Dawkins' stridency, his smug dismissiveness, and his absolute certainty that he is far, far smarter than those with whom he disagrees.

To be fair, he's probably smarter than most of them, because he is a very smart person.

Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please?

No, we can't, because militant atheists clutch it to their breasts and need it for a security blanket the way believers clutch their beliefs.


I have never met a militant atheist, so I wouldn't know, but the vast majority of Christian religions believe that unbelievers will be punished somehow, or at least, left out of the party. The party is less fun in the more liberal religions, though.
posted by kathrineg at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]



Dawkins has become too much of a fundamentalist in his convictions and his aggressive advocacy. He has made significant contributions to how lay-people/ non scientists can discuss scientific theories- but using these theories (which have flaws as many theories do)to jump from sharing information and discussing its meaning to actively promoting atheism is to abandon inquiry in favor of reductionism. It does nothing for dialog and it limits science. Plus now he's become a personality which, to me, is unbecoming for someone who is, in my view, supposed to be a seeker, an expander of information, beholden to no one.

I'm not an atheist and I am a scientist if that matters.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 12:48 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you saying that believers are already delusional, so my saying that they seem that way is correlative?

Yes; no. You originally stated that atheists made the religious seem delusional, and that this was bad; i.e., you blamed atheists for the religious seeming delusional. Yes, the atheist is pointing it out; yes, the religious person seems delusional. The former, however, is not the cause of the latter.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:49 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hope that through some kind of Darwinistic (egads!) meme (Oh noes!) selection process, I am familiar with the most coherent of them.

I have heard a lot of handwaving ('to test our faith'), some mumbling ('God moves in mysterious ways'), a whole lot of tortured reasoning about original sin and a fallen world which somehow absolves Mr Deity for any of it, including the stuff that has nothing to do with humans eg. animal suffering, and a fair amount of throwing of hands into the air ('Who knows? It's too deep for us humans").

As distasteful as this may seem to you, you might want to study the history of theology a bit, since there is no Darwinistic meme selection process that somehow familiarizes the general public with deep and complex philosophical writing through pop culture.

Your original point, as you stated it, was that "we have no better answer now to why a loving Abrahamic God would permit the suffering of the innocent than we did two thousand years ago, or probably ever." I posit that, while we may not, as a society, have a definitive and undisputable answer to the question, we certainly have better ones than we did two thousand years ago. Your response seems to indicate at least an implicit agreement with that.

So what answer satisfied you?

I'm not sure I've found a 100% satisfactory answer to that question. I ponder quite a bit about the topic, though. I do think that humanity has progressed philosophically in the last 2000 years.
posted by The World Famous at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2009


languagehat: Except that no one claimed that it was universally held by most religions. It is, however, a very popular belief within Christianity as practiced in America, a core part of the liturgy that I spoke every Sunday morning for a good 10 years of my life, and something that is fairly kosher to express in American public discourse.

As well it should be. I have no wish to restrict the religious practices or discourse of a large percent of my fellow Americans.

Some people here seem to think the fact that they agree with Dawkins automatically means that Dawkins can do no wrong, and those who have objections to him must be religious fanatics or trolls. If those people cannot understand why people who do not fall into those categories have problems with Dawkins, they have poor reading skills.

The funny thing is. I don't agree with Dawkins. But I do have an interest in basic fair play, and I'm finding most of the criticisms of him to be oddly disjointed from the reality of what I've read from him, often published in The Humanist alongside much more strident attacks on religious faith. And especially when he's criticized on things like "tone," I have to wonder what's really going on here.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:59 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, the atheist is pointing it out; yes, the religious person seems delusional. The former, however, is not the cause of the latter.

That's some pretty arrogant nonsense there. I call you a toadface. Yes, I'm pointing out. My pointing it out isn't the cause of your toadfacedness.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:01 PM on August 20, 2009


I never stated that atheists made the religious seem delusional or that I blame atheists for the religious seeming delusional...I never meant to imply that the former was the cause of the latter.

I thought it was clear I was saying that to an atheist, belief seems delusional, because of the nature of belief, ie. the acceptance of something as true or existent without evidence. It doesn't matter if there's an atheist pointing a finger or not. That is something else entirely. I'm sorry if my wording did not make that clear.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:04 PM on August 20, 2009


kirkjobsluder: Every religion believes that it is so wonderful, so beautiful, so self-evident that the non-believer is foolish or deluded not to join, and would be saved if he or she does. Heck, political ideologies say the same thing.

Not every religion.

Jews, Sikhs, Druze and Zoroastrians do not. Sikhs in particular believe that all faiths are given an equal ability by G-d to reach some sort of salvation. They encourage Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians and Hindus to be better Hindus.

Modern day Jews don't believe people need to be saved from anything, don't believe in hell or any other sort of eternal damnation, nor do we believe in proselytization. We don't want non-Jews to convert unless they are sincere about it and determined to do so.
posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]



I'm Catholic..ish. If I hear someone telling me that belief is so wonderful, so beautiful, so self-evident n the nicest thing I can say is that I'm suspicious. Because, for me, it's not. It's hard and it's rigorous. It's not something I run around talking about like my yoga session this morning...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 1:11 PM on August 20, 2009


However, Dawkins (and other atheists) are not calling people of faith delusional to be insulting. They are pointing out that the conclusion (there is a God/Divine Spirit/Ground State of the Universe) does not reasonably follow from the evidence or line of argumentation presented, or violates strongly-supported theories of how the universe works.

Now personally, I think Dawkins makes a mistake in the inferential move from Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism and miracles to excluding such things as scientific pantheism or some modern liberal views of God.

Belief in God, in Dawkins's view, is something akin to the gambler's fallacy, which people tend to get wrong regardless of intelligence unless they've been specifically trained against it (and even then are likely to get wrong in certain contexts). To say that Dawkins uses the term to imply a general cognitive defect rather than a specific form of incorrect (in his opinion) thinking is a pretty bad and shallow misreading of his work.

zarq: Sorry, I should have been more clear. All religions won't "save" people from damnation, which is limited to a handful. Most will promise that one's life will be better in some way by having and practicing faith than leading a faithless life.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:21 PM on August 20, 2009


unSane - Christians have been busy redefining Hell for generations for the exact reason that its such a problematic concept. I don't know what the current formulation is... 'separation from God' or some kind of eternal oblivion. However, either religion favors the faithful with some kind of goodies or it doesn't. I'm assuming those are not minor goodies, like Smarties, but something major, like Eternal Life. So you can recast that option however you like. The result still obtains.

Yes, this is something I've been wondering about for ages. I was raised religious and taught to believe in Satan as a literal being (tempting Jesus three times during his visions in the desert, etc) and so, by extension, that Hell is real.

Since then, the Christians I've spoken to about this have either said that I'm destined to Hell (but that they'll pray for me, which is a touching gesture) or have been extremely vague. The aggregate of those conversations is:
1) Yes, we all get eternal life
2) No, Hell isn't real ...but:
3) Only by accepting Christ as saviour can we get into Heaven.
4) So atheists will go... er... [changes subject]

So I've never been able to get a straight answer about what they believe will happen to me. The few Muslims I've asked were more direct: yes, I'm in for some torment. The only Hindu I've asked said I'll be reincarnated, probably as something less fun than the healthy, strikingly attractive* human that I am now. Of course this isn't a guide to what all religious people think everywhere, but it is a guide to what the religuous people I actually know think is going to happen to me. And yes, I find being judged to deserve eternal torment more upsetting than being told "I think your premise is flawed".

*OK, she didn't really say that bit

languagehat - Some people here seem to think the fact that they agree with Dawkins automatically means that Dawkins can do no wrong, and those who have objections to him must be religious fanatics or trolls.

I think I'm guilty of this to some extent. One gets so defensive about the position that it becomes instinctive to automatically defend everyone who agrees, even against fair criticism. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when the person is unfairly vilified so often. It's sort of an inverted ad hominem.

hellboundforcheddar - Plus now he's become a personality which, to me, is unbecoming for someone who is, in my view, supposed to be a seeker, an expander of information, beholden to no one.
That's a good point. If he believes it's an important message and that he's doing genuine good spreading it -- and I think it's undeniable that he's managed to raise the subject in the public awareness and get a conversation going, at least in the UK -- I don't see how that's avoidable.

Also, seeing your username in this thread made me laugh.
posted by metaBugs at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Dawkins' shining moment was when he compared Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to Hitler. Of course Coulter has compared both Obama and McCain to Hitler, but then neither of them are Rabbis.
posted by caddis at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2009


metaBugs Well, I'm one of those of a certain faith who believe it's all about love simple as that. Hell is just a treasured metalhead accessory and no much else.

Anyway, I've studied a lot of his earlier work on genes and phenotype, a big part of the DAwkins package, and a not insignificant amount is disputed or superceded by more recent work. So, I see a lot of theory tenacity and ego in his efforts now and I can't help but feel dimming enthusiasm for him. This, and after the 3rd or 4th time I saw him on TV debating and demolishing fundies who couldn't at all compete with his intellectual power I lost a lot of respect. What kind of a debate is that?
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 2:07 PM on August 20, 2009


"Ideologies are marvelous when used in the companies of other ideologies. They become boring and doctrinaire as soon as their merits lead to the removal of their opponents."

-Paul Feyerabend
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2009


No, we can't, because militant atheists clutch it to their breasts and need it for a security blanket the way believers clutch their beliefs.

To be called a militant member of a religion, one usually needs to kill people and bomb buildings, or at least advocate such actions. To be a militant atheist, however, one only needs to be unapologetic about one's lack of religious belief.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


The term "militant" is often used as a metaphor, rather than a literal description. This is true of both religious people and of atheists (and lots of other things, too).

If your point is that you think the term is used strictly in the literal sense for religious people, whereas it is applied only metaphorically to atheists, I disagree, as I have not observed that.
posted by The World Famous at 2:15 PM on August 20, 2009


I think Dawkins' shining moment was when he compared Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to Hitler.

And how, precisely, did he do so, caddis? What was the point of comparison? Because when you know the whole story, as you and I both do, it's evident that the comparison is apt and frankly pretty funny. But it's sadly unsurprising that you choose to leave out the details, knowing that the truth is much less shocking that your omission would lead the reader to believe.

Did you know, ladies and gentlemen, that when Rabbi Boteach talks about evolution, he gets all yelly and shrieky and crazy, just like the much-beloved scene in Downfall? How disingenuous not to mention that.

And now you know . . . the rest of the story.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


What kind of a debate is that?

Well, the kind we seem to need to have over and over, because as a life long atheist, I can tell you that many, many people with any religious belief whatsoever have felt free to dismiss me and everything I say without any evidence whatsoever.

So yeah, I want debate. And if those people weren't smart enough to debate with Dawkins, they shouldn't have stepped into the ring. Or maybe they could have prayed for guidance....
posted by lumpenprole at 2:20 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am posting in a thread of moderate controversy.
posted by Iron Rat at 2:20 PM on August 20, 2009


A man who habitually Godwins in debates, is himself Godwined.

Not a good day for either, but the whole story strikes me as a cross between Rashomon and Pride and Prejudice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:31 PM on August 20, 2009


Did you know, ladies and gentlemen, that when Rabbi Boteach talks about evolution, he gets all yelly and shrieky and crazy, just like the much-beloved scene in Downfall? How disingenuous not to mention that.

I didn't realize that there was a "but he really does shout like that" loophole to Godwin. Good to know.
posted by The World Famous at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2009


Surely you only have to think of Montaigne to know that faith is compatible with the greatest of reasoning minds?
posted by Abiezer at 2:34 PM on August 20, 2009


Ding Ding Ding!

Ice cream truck!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:37 PM on August 20, 2009


> I think I'm guilty of this to some extent. One gets so defensive about the position that it becomes instinctive to automatically defend everyone who agrees, even against fair criticism. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when the person is unfairly vilified so often. It's sort of an inverted ad hominem.

Thank you very much for saying that. It's rare to see such openness and honesty, and you inspire me to try harder to practice it myself.

> To be a militant atheist, however, one only needs to be unapologetic about one's lack of religious belief.

Apparently you think that if you're right, it's impossible to also be an asshat. You may find that not everyone agrees with you.
posted by languagehat at 2:38 PM on August 20, 2009


THIS DAWKINS STUFF IS KILLING METAFILTER's uptime i swear to god
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:54 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


for real, I'm gasping for breath over here. I cannot hit F5 fast enough.

which may, come to think of it, be contributing to the problem.
posted by shmegegge at 2:55 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


i swear to god
How unseemly of a supposedly neutral moderator to stake out such a blatantly theist position here!
posted by Abiezer at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't ever think it is funny to compare a Rabbi to Hitler.
posted by caddis at 2:58 PM on August 20, 2009


THIS DAWKINS STUFF IS KILLING METAFILTER's uptime i swear to god
posted by cortex at 5:54 PM on August 20 [+] [!]


It's weird but I can not get that virus in the compiler thread to take a comment.
posted by caddis at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2009


I fail to see how an atheist expressing his real feelings makes him dangerous or unqualified to comment on other matters, while all manor of christian blabber must be respected.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


coming up next on Stuff Caddis Doesn't Think Is Funny.....
posted by lazaruslong at 3:01 PM on August 20, 2009


Jews, Sikhs, Druze and Zoroastrians do not. Sikhs in particular believe that all faiths are given an equal ability by G-d to reach some sort of salvation. They encourage Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians and Hindus to be better Hindus.

Er, surely you see that there's a category of human beings whose validity is being implicitly denied, here? And that this has a direct bearing on the discussion at hand? Sorry, but that quote is not a great example of how religion doesn't deny certain rewards to the unfaithful...
posted by vorfeed at 3:04 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't ever think it is funny to compare a Rabbi to Hitler.

Nor Dawkins with Farrakhan. So it goes, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:15 PM on August 20, 2009


The World Famous: Well, technically it's not a Godwin if the comparison is actually meaningful and appropriate.

Saying that contemporary atheists are prone to genocide like Hitler (one of Boteach's points) is clearly a Godwin, because Hitler's own writings are not very consistent on that issue.

Saying that a contemporary speaker has a similar style of oration to Hitler may be a Godwin, depending on taste and judgment. It's probably not a wise comparison to make, in any case.

Saying that Charlie Chaplin looked like Hitler in The Great Dictator is not a Godwin, neither is the statement that Heidigger was a Nazi. Both are historic facts.

Now I think it was a pretty stupid thing for Dawkins to write, but only because it would be pulled out of the context of the flamewar and used in this way. As far as I'm concerned, Boteach lost the moral ground when he made a pretty obvious historical slander one of his talking points.

languagehat: I'm not certain how that particular conclusion comes out of the text you quoted.

The problem is a pretty clear double standard IMO in which atheists are judged as "asshats" for expressing opinions that are ubiquitous from a Christian point of view in arts, letters, and political rhetoric.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:16 PM on August 20, 2009


Well, technically it's not a Godwin if the comparison is actually meaningful and appropriate.

The crux of Dawkins' point - as confirmed by his own explanation of it when called out - was basically: "You know who else shouted when they gave speeches? Hitler!" I'm no Godwin expert, but that seems like it fits to me.

The problem is a pretty clear double standard IMO in which atheists are judged as "asshats" for expressing opinions that are ubiquitous from a Christian point of view in arts, letters, and political rhetoric.

Are Christians really only rarely judged as asshats for expressing those opinions? Honestly, are you complaining that people don't regard Christian asshats as asshats often enough?
posted by The World Famous at 3:24 PM on August 20, 2009


My only question on Richard Dawkins is whether he was known as Dicky Dawkins at school. This is the real burning issue.
posted by mippy at 3:25 PM on August 20, 2009


Sweet unholy monkey piss. Go hug your kids or something. This is stupid.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:25 PM on August 20, 2009


zarq, I'm not really following you. Firstly, I don't get how you know what Dawkin's intent was when he made those statements. I read the whole paper that you excerpt above, as well as his books...

Just want to mention that I've been reading Dawkins avidly since The Blind Watchmaker was published in mid 80's. I do enjoy the man's writing on scientific topics, even though a small number of his theories are now disputed.

His intent should be immediately obvious to anyone who has read the bulk of his work on the topic.

...and it seems pretty clear that those statements are made as supporting arguments for a premise: That religious indoctrination of children is a bad thing, and abusive.

We're really talking about three Dawkins' assertions here:

1) All religion is a destructive meme
2) All faith stifles openness, intellectual honestly and scientific inquiry
3) *Blind* faith is a tool which uneducated, lesser intellects use to dismiss and subvert science. (See his TED talk, here.)

Which leads us to his conclusion: A child who is taught to follow their parents' religious convictions is being abused by them. Religious teaching is mental abuse and all religious doctrines are destructive, intellectually dishonest and actively prevent their followers from investigating the world around them.

This is simply not the case. Judaism is a decent example of a religion that encourages scientific inquiry. Modern, mainstream Jews are taught to question, doubt, investigate and learn about the world around them.

Considering your vociferous defense of him above, I don't expect you to agree with me here, but all of these premises and conclusions are flawed because they are being phrased as absolutes.

That's an argument that has evidence for its validity in existence in religious conflicts around the world. Whether or not you agree is certainly an interesting conversation, and probably a worthy debate. But to go through all the work of setting up examples and evidence for the results of childhood religious indoctrination is more than saying some random shit to demonize your opponents.

I didn't mean to imply that he's "saying some random shit." I recognize that he supports his arguments. I simply feel that the conclusions he draws are inappropriately all-inclusive, and the manner in which he does so is simplistic and insulting.

I have a problem with Dawkins' sweeping declarations against all faiths. All faiths are not evil, bad or abusive and in general neither are their adherents. There are plenty of religious doctrines that preach peace, personal enlightenment and improvement through positive moral / ethical values without making judgments about the validity of other belief systems.

It's simply not constructive nor accurate to accuse all parents of harming their children by teaching them faith, or religious principles. I agree that some religions have been used to cause great harm to children. However, that's not an argument against faith -- it's an argument against a disgusting corruption of power within some organized religions. There's a difference.

Dawkins is on solid ground when he sticks to explanations of the ways in which blind faith can act to discourage scientific inquiry. I don't dispute that. But by refusing to differentiate between those religions which embrace open mindedness and encourage intellectual investigation and those which do not, he undermines his argument. He further destroys his credibility by stereotyping and attacking his opponents.
posted by zarq at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


The World Fameous: The crux of Dawkins' point - as confirmed by his own explanation of it when called out - was basically: "You know who else shouted when they gave speeches? Hitler!" I'm no Godwin expert, but that seems like it fits to me.

In which case, it's not because intentional or ironic Godwinning doesn't really count. But it was a terribly bad thing to say regardless.

Are Christians really only rarely judged as asshats for expressing those opinions? Honestly, are you complaining that people don't regard Christian asshats as asshats often enough?

No, I'm saying that atheists should not be judged as asshats for expressing confidence in the rightness of their views, or the potential benefits of a more secular world. I don't feel that Barak Obama is an asshat for expressing the view that religious faith will build a better America, and I don't feel that Dawkins is an asshat for expressing the view increasing secularism will build a better U.K..
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:39 PM on August 20, 2009


I agree, KirkJobSluder.
posted by The World Famous at 3:41 PM on August 20, 2009


Jews, Sikhs, Druze and Zoroastrians do not. Sikhs in particular believe that all faiths are given an equal ability by G-d to reach some sort of salvation. They encourage Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians and Hindus to be better Hindus.

Er, surely you see that there's a category of human beings whose validity is being implicitly denied, here?

I'm not sure that validity is the right term. I could be wrong.

I'm pretty sure that none of those four religions proselytize or pursue non-believers, even though they do (sometimes begrudgingly,) accept willing, sincere converts. My understanding is that they generally accept non-theists for who they are and do not believe anyone human being is superior or inferior to to any other, based on that person's beliefs, or lack thereof.
posted by zarq at 3:51 PM on August 20, 2009


Apparently, this, is, my, day, to, overuse, the, freakin, comma. :P Sorry
posted by zarq at 3:57 PM on August 20, 2009


Sorry, I should have been more clear. All religions won't "save" people from damnation, which is limited to a handful. Most will promise that one's life will be better in some way by having and practicing faith than leading a faithless life.

Definitely.
posted by zarq at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2009


I know I've had some smirky things to say about Dawkins in the past, but now, you know, I just don't care. I think "Brights" is hilarious, I think "atheists for Jesus" is even funnier, and it's entirely possible, as a Christian, for me to appreciate his arguments so long as I do some internal editing (like substituting the word "religion" with "evangelical fundamentalist Christianity"). He's a clever guy. Arrogant, sure, but I think most academics tend that way. It'd be nice if his more devoted fans could accept criticism for their guy without dropping such obvious trollbait as "all religion is evil", but then I get pretty defensive when people speak ill of my idols, too.

So whatever. This Christian would sooner have a beer with Dawkins than most of his fans.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:11 PM on August 20, 2009


Pfft. Dawkins laughs at your four winds. He laughs from his mountain.
posted by fleacircus at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


So whatever. This Christian would sooner have a beer with Dawkins than most of his fans.

I think the only person I could not say this about is G.G. Allin. His fans may actually be less reprehensible than their idol.
posted by bunnytricks at 4:39 PM on August 20, 2009


game warden to the events rhino: I've got mixed feelings about many of the views expressed on this thread but if you did ever want cast-iron evidence of Dawkins's deafness to how he comes across, his tonal problems etc, it would be the profoundly cringemaking horror that is The Brights.

Are you being sarcastic? Seriously.

Sure, the concept seems a little tone-deaf, but I'm not really picking up "profoundly cringemaking horror" anywhere in that essay.
posted by zarq at 4:39 PM on August 20, 2009


I suppose I interpret the argument against childhood religious indoctrination as having less to do with where the particular dogma falls on the "nice and inquisitive" scale and more with the, in his view, negative value of indoctrinating kids without the mental faculties to critically evaluate the religion. So it doesn't matter how "great" or "liberal" the religion is, installing faith in kids before they know what the hell the adult in the pulpit is talking about is a bad thing. I agree with this.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if those people weren't smart enough to debate with Dawkins, they shouldn't have stepped into the ring.

Lumenprole- a quick clarification - these were situations in which discussion was suspiciously set up with unskilled, unsophisticated opponents - Creationist-types. The smackdowns did not impress.

posted by hellboundforcheddar at 5:14 PM on August 20, 2009


My understanding is that they generally accept non-theists for who they are and do not believe anyone human being is superior or inferior to to any other, based on that person's beliefs, or lack thereof.

I really don't think that this applies to some segments of Judaism. For the record.
posted by kathrineg at 5:41 PM on August 20, 2009


Dawkins used to make me uncomfortable, as a fledgling atheist. Then I realized that was his point, and that he's a pretty smart guy that gets a lot of negative press in the US because he's British and is responding to work in a British milieu

It's quite amusing and amazing and refreshing, the degree to which Christianity is ridiculed in Britain. On the most recent episode (the one with the splendid David Mitchell) of Charlie Brooker's new show, You Have Been Watching, a TV-watching-fake-game-show-vehicle-for-taking-the-piss-out-of-television, he blurts out 'fuck a jesus!' in surprise at one point, and it becomes a running joke.

Not gonna see that in America, not even on cable.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:59 PM on August 20, 2009


I really don't think that this applies to some segments of Judaism. For the record.

You're right. It doesn't. For clarification's sake, I mean the majority of Jews. In this country that would refer to the mainstream sects, Reform and Conservative Jewry, which constitute about 80% of us.

Orthodox Jews constitute about 6% of all Jews in the US, and even the smaller percentage of those who self-identify as "Modern" have been known to be intolerant towards gays, minorities and non-Jews. For gays specifically, see Trembling before G-d, Wrestling with G-d and Men and the not-so-recent nasty dustup at Yeshiva University over Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer which devolved into massive community homophobia in the Haredi / Hasidic Borough Park community in Brooklyn.
posted by zarq at 6:06 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW, the comments in that last link (the "massive community homophobia" one) may make you want to shake the posters by the shoulders and scream at them -- or just weep for humanity.
posted by zarq at 6:10 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The guy in a gartel and a rekel who has his own shtenda in back of your shteibel could be a homo"

Um.
posted by dersins at 6:15 PM on August 20, 2009


It's quite amusing and amazing and refreshing, the degree to which Christianity is ridiculed in Britain.
Yep, pace metaBugs' salient outlining of the how the established church is inextricably intertwined with and embedded in our institutions, my experience growing up in the UK was almost entirely secular, despite being the child of practising Catholics (Irish immigrant stock) and attending a Church of England primary school.
We had religious morning assemblies, complete with some unenthusiastic hymn-singing, but even the Religious Education classes were an introduction to the ideas of various world religions in even-handed academic style with no indoctrination. Nobody paid it much mind. If you want to get social-historical about it, the history of England is replete with jeremiads from vicars and proselytisers bemoaning the heresy and paganism of the lower orders, e.g.
I think the major battles had been won the generation before mine with the legalisation of homosexuality, the Oz blasphemy trial and so on - which is not to say things were then perfect, we had Clause 28, took a while before the age of consent was equalised for all and faith schools remain problematic etc. The idea that creationism would be taken at all seriously again seemed about as likely as teaching flat earthism, but I understand that is creeping back a bit with new evangelical movements (aping the US model in many ways) and fundamentalisms from other faiths, especially Islam.
posted by Abiezer at 6:17 PM on August 20, 2009


If he's got his shtenda in the back of my shteibel, I don't think he's the only of us that's homo.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:23 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that Dawkins writes mainly against the Jewish/Muslim/Christian faiths. He writes against using religion as a means to control, against baseless superstitions, and against simplified conceptions of a "personal" God. (I personally think he's correct to call such stuff unfounded and probably untrue. He certainly sounds more sane than Eagleton.)

But there are other ways to define God that coincide just fine with science. To revel in the mystery of this vast place is indeed a kind of spiritualism, and to call the wholeness of our universe "God" is completely in line with certain non-Abrahamic religions.

Even Bertrand Russell embraced this attitude. In Logic and Mysticism he suggests that life is at its most profound when experienced mystically, but knowledge must come under the scrutiny of logic and science. Thus, we can live spiritually, but we come to "know" scientifically. Perhaps we come to understand with a combination of the two.
I might revel in the world of intelligibility which still remains to me, but although I have an idea of this world, yet I have not the least knowledge of it, nor can I ever attain to such knowledge with all the efforts of my natural faculty of reason. It is only a something that remains when I have eliminated everything belonging to the senses… but this something I know no further… There must here be a total absence of motive - unless this idea of an intelligible world is itself the motive… but to make this intelligible is precisely the problem that we cannot solve.
- Immanuel Kant
posted by ageispolis at 6:25 PM on August 20, 2009


6.44 It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.

6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are no questions left, and this itself is the answer.
posted by ageispolis at 6:33 PM on August 20, 2009


I think the only person I could not say this about is G.G. Allin. His fans may actually be less reprehensible than their idol.

Before he died I'd probably agree. Today I'd much more readily have a beer with Skeleton GG than any of his fans. They might keep their body fluids to themselves, but apart from that there's scant difference between GG and his non-ironic fans. Of course I base this blanket assertion solely on the one and only Murder Junkies show I ever went to, so maybe at other shows his diehard fans weren't walking up to random people and sucker punching them in the face or grabbing at anything female within arm's reach (and this show was with their new singer), but I doubt it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:35 PM on August 20, 2009


Andre Dawson should be in the hall of fame, and I say that as an atheist.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 6:50 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not enough OBP, too many injuries, Stylus. Though he was a favorite of mine as well.
posted by Kwine at 8:13 PM on August 20, 2009


Judaism is a decent example of a religion that encourages scientific inquiry.

Evidence? It should be possible to detect whether this is actually the case by seeing if Jews are disproportionately represented amongst scientists, shouldn't it?
posted by Ritchie at 8:25 PM on August 20, 2009


Evidence? It should be possible to detect whether this is actually the case by seeing if Jews are disproportionately represented amongst scientists, shouldn't it?

Jews are disproportionately represented in all of the professions, including the sciences, and visibly among the winners of scientific accolades. But you need a more sophisticated model to tell whether that says anything about attitudes towards science specifically, since science is just one of many prestige areas in which Jews have been unusually prominent in the last 150 years or so.

(In case you were asking the question not tongue-in-cheek, yes, Jews are disproportionately represented in science, making up 22% of Nobelists across categories. But the conclusion does not necessarily follow.)
posted by grobstein at 8:35 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Religion, to me, is like guns. It can be, in certain circumstances, a good thing, but generally it's intended purpose is, if not evil, than certainly tribal and violent towards those who are not a member of the specified group. This much, I think, is hard to argue against if one looks throughout history up until, I don't know, today.

To take a number of arguments in this thread on at once:

1. Faith doesn't preclude thinking in general, as there are uncountable theologians who have put a great deal of thought into their faith, and there are many great sicnetists, mathemeticians and so on who were devoutly religious. But "faith" as a concept, is, in fact, the opposite of thinking, on a certain issue. It is beliefs, handed down from those above you in the hierarchy, in which you must believe despite all evidence to the contrary. You may doubt, and you may think upon them, but eventually, to be a part of the group, you must join the groupthink, despite all. Such is faith.

2. It is, indeed, fucked up and wrong to determine that children belong to a religion because their parents do. Kids are killed "in the name of God" over this shit, because that's what religion does. That does not mean, however, that taking kids to church is "child abuse." The thing religion is best at - in fact the entire reason it exists and what it was created for - is community building. There is much to be gained from children being exposed to all ages of a community in such a setting where, for the most part, moral values are being taught. The indoctrination level is there, but in most American Christian and Jewish churches (which are what I have experience with) it isn't at the level of Madrassas.

3. Dawkins isn't "the atheist Anne Coulter." Please. The atheist Anne Coulter doesn't have a microphone. At best, he's the atheist Michael Moore - a guy who does the research, has good points, but has been made such a lightening rod for the other side that those who agree with him are as likely to groan at his presence as genuflect, because he just brings so much trouble with him. THis isn't his problem - it's just that the other side has done a great job of branding him a pariah.

4. Sys Rq - I like you, but seriously, if you keep claiming that atheists don't face persecution you're just making yourself out to be an asshole, and I doubt that's what you're trying to do. We do face persecution, specifically from Christians. Thank you.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:37 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


2. It is, indeed, fucked up and wrong to determine that children belong to a religion because their parents do. Kids are killed "in the name of God" over this shit, because that's what religion does. That does not mean, however, that taking kids to church is "child abuse." The thing religion is best at - in fact the entire reason it exists and what it was created for - is community building. There is much to be gained from children being exposed to all ages of a community in such a setting where, for the most part, moral values are being taught. The indoctrination level is there, but in most American Christian and Jewish churches (which are what I have experience with) it isn't at the level of Madrassas.

Just responding to this part because it's some of what I was arguing.

Specifically, I would argue that children being exposed to all ages of a community in a setting where moral values are taught and learned would be better accomplished in a non-religious environment. The parents. And their children. Together, without the clergy.

Regardless of where that particular community with that particular religion falls on the scale between Awesome Liberal Women and Gay Loving Christian Church and Maybe Not As Awesome Prone To Violence Specific Madrassa, and I'll admit that's a wide range with many data points that most would consider palatable, the children are receiving these instructions and lessons from an inherently authoritarian entity.

The parents are taken back a notch by the addition of the clergy (as if kids didn't have enough authority figures trying to mold them this way and that) and taken back another by adding the Deity as the ultimate authority figure.

Kids aren't only learning how to interact with a community when they attend a church. They are also learning a specific set of rules for that community, the breaking of which frequently results in punishment of some form entrenched in the core religious texts, and developing a sense of "otherness" by evaluating community interaction with the framework of an exclusionary club of co-believers.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:40 PM on August 20, 2009


Did you know, ladies and gentlemen, that when Rabbi Boteach talks about evolution, he gets all yelly and shrieky and crazy, just like the much-beloved scene in Downfall? How disingenuous not to mention that.

Nevertheless, the comment was anti-Semitic and finding it funny......
posted by caddis at 9:43 PM on August 20, 2009


Is this where I come to complain about the Sadie Hawkins dance?
posted by not_on_display at 11:28 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please? Although there are without a doubt a great many religious people who believe this to be the case, it by no means describes all, or even a majority, of people who consider themselves religious. I don't know whether you're being ignorant or disingenuous, but enough already.

I don't know about this. I've run across the faith vs. works argument many times (Google gives 12.5 million results.) A lot of it seems to be Protestants criticizing Catholics, saying that the latter believe you can get into Heaven based on good works alone, while the former believe that faith alone will get you into Heaven. The arguments against this mostly say that both faith and works are necessary to get into Heaven. Both of these positions require faith as a prerequisite for Heaven. Where do they expect all of the people who don't go to Heaven to end up?

This is a big part of why Christian Missionary work was so widespread in past centuries. They were saving souls. What were they saving them from? If only the believers and faithful will be saved, that really implies that the rest will be lost.

A know a lot of Christians and most of them don't tell me that I am going to Hell for being an unbeliever. But this mostly seems to be like they're giving me a pass, that they like me and they aren't too concerned with the specific doctrines of their faith, which say otherwise.

Maybe this used to bother me more. But I realized that, if I don't accept the premise, why should I be offended in whatever conclusions the faithful reach about the state of my soul. As one who only believes in this material world, I don't. What I do mind is how the religious majority treats non-belief.

I wouldn't begin to claim that anti-atheist discrimination is anything like gay-bashing and overt racism. But it's a lot easier for atheists to pass.

I do think that it's telling that no member of the US Congress self-describes as atheist. I realize that it is no longer 1964, but Life Magazine did call Madalyn Murray O'Hair, "The most hated woman in America." There is certainly some sort of anti-atheist bias in the US.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:07 AM on August 21, 2009


It is, indeed, fucked up and wrong to determine that children belong to a religion because their parents do.

I tend to think that some religions lend themselves to a "dynastic" mindset. Judaism and Christianity, certainly.

One doesn't have to accept that, though. My kids will grow up learning about my religion from a young age. We already take them to services. When they're old enough not to be confused, my wife and I will introduce them to other religions, to let them experience the rituals and traditions of each. We will also educate them about agnosticism and non-theism. Then they'll get a chance to make their own decisions. My parents raised me that way, and I always thought it a sensible approach.

Other people can do what they like with their own kids. However, I like the idea that mine will learn what their parents believe, and then be able to make an informed decision to their spiritual life (including an absence of faith, if they so choose,) as individuals.

Kids are killed "in the name of God" over this shit, because that's what religion does.

*sigh* That's what extremists do. That's what the mentally ill do. Mainstream religion doesn't preach murder for obvious reasons. Vilify religion all you like, but at least be honest about it. The distinction matters.

And while I'm on the subject of distinctions, Jews houses of worship can be referred to as synagogues, temples or shuls. "Church" is a word that has referred solely to Christian houses of worship for 1800 years. The only "Jewish Churches" that exist are Messianic, the Christian missionaries.
posted by zarq at 12:19 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where do they expect all of the people who don't go to Heaven to end up?

Hell. Eternal damnation. They're quite clear about it, too. It's not something that's particularly ambiguous in Christian beliefs.

Re-read what dersins wrote, please:

"Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please? Although there are without a doubt a great many religious people who believe this to be the case, it by no means describes all, or even a majority, of people who consider themselves religious. I don't know whether you're being ignorant or disingenuous, but enough already."

I could be wrong, but I believe the point he is making is that there are many religions that do not believe in eternal damnation or salvation for non-believers. All religions do not share the same beliefs as Christianity, whatever the sect. How many on this list believe in some form of heaven or hell?
posted by zarq at 12:28 AM on August 21, 2009


There is certainly some sort of anti-atheist bias in the US.

There is a great deal of Christian antipathy towards non-Christians in this country.
posted by zarq at 12:32 AM on August 21, 2009


I could be wrong, but I believe the point he is making is that there are many religions that do not believe in eternal damnation or salvation for non-believers. All religions do not share the same beliefs as Christianity, whatever the sect. How many on this list believe in some form of heaven or hell?

More than half, which would seem to be most. But since, a lot of this thread is discussion the US and UK, it would seem to be even more than that. Most of this discussion has been with regard to Christianity in the US.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:35 AM on August 21, 2009



some thoughts, some people were suggesting that their is more to faith than blind faith. But this, as Kierkegaard and Dawkins both recognise, is a fallacy. Their is no evidence for God in the world, really. This doesn't mean its wrong to believe, but that faith literally requires the belief in the absurd ' as he shows in fear and trembling. However, unlike Dawkins, Kierkegaard believes that this acknowledging of the belief in the absurd is not a bad thing.

I am an atheist, for the reason that, like Dawkins, I believe a world view based on reason alone has normative validity over the belief in the absurd. However, I can understand Kierkegaards position and respect it. That being said Kierkegaard would be a deeply heterodox theologian, and his view is for me, the only sustainable theological position.



.....
Also:

Sometimes, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:54 PM on August 20 [+] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by munchbunch at 4:15 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Of all the things that life makes it easy to believe in, the absurd is pretty high up there. )

I also think it's worthwhile to be more nuanced. Most ancient religions don't believe in hell, or the after life at all. That's a relatively new thing on the religious scene, starting with Christianity and Islam. Likewise, the idea of a religion as a thing that you choose according to your belief, a matter of self identification, like ideology, as opposed to a component of your ethnic/tribal heritage, is also more Christian than universal. For me, not teaching any kids I may have that they're Jewish would be like not teaching them that they're (at least half) white/Canadian/American/etc. People come from specific places and cultural settings, and obscuring that denies them their cultural heritage, and there's nothing inherently just about that.

This whole atheist debate feels very Christian/post-Christian to me. That's fine, since we live in a mostly Christian nation, but recognizing the actual scope of the conversation seems both more intellectually careful and culturally sensitive.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:46 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


munchbunch: some thoughts, some people were suggesting that their is more to faith than blind faith. But this, as Kierkegaard and Dawkins both recognise, is a fallacy.

The point I was making is that faith does not mean not-thinking, and Kierkegaard is a fine example of someone for whom faith involved an awful lot of thought.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:57 AM on August 21, 2009


orthogonality: How many times have I heard anti-gay bigots explain that they don't hate all gays, just the "obnoxious" ones who "flaunt" their homosexuality in Gay Pride parades?

How many times have I heard racists explain that they don't hate all blacks, just the "obnoxious n----rs" who "give all blacks a bad name"?

Dawkins doesn't hide or apologize for his atheism, and that leads to a lot of hate. Bur as we've seen in the Civil Rights movement and in the Gay Rights movement, it's only that, not meekness, that leads to change.


There's a glaring problem with this line: it's that all, literally all, at least to my knowledge, of the people who have been tearing down Dawkins in this thread are atheists themselves. So if you want to follow that analogy, it's like gay people saying "jesus, that guy doesn't have to act so faggy" or black people saying "why is that guy acting out stereotypes?"

Is there a difference? I think so. I don't claim it's simple; but I do think that the Dawkins-hating atheists whom you're painting with the 'bigoted believer' brush deserve at least a little more credit.
posted by koeselitz at 5:26 AM on August 21, 2009


(If MeFi had stuck to 8-bit counters like everyone did in the good old days, this thread would have been over by now.)
posted by effbot at 5:37 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: But "faith" as a concept, is, in fact, the opposite of thinking, on a certain issue. It is beliefs, handed down from those above you in the hierarchy, in which you must believe despite all evidence to the contrary.

Okay, here's a good moment for me to wade in; I'm trying to avoid the whole 'Dawkins up/Dawkins down' thing, since anger (which people tend to feel about him, no matter what side they're on) clouds judgement.

But I can tell you that I think this is one point of misunderstanding which has caused a good deal of headache; I don't think Dawkins understands how faith is supposed in western religions to work, although I don't blame him for it or hold it against him, and I think this misunderstanding has led to a lot of antipathy toward faith by atheists. Heck, one might say that it leads to a lot of 'atheism' itself.

The point is this: faith is not about scientific questions. If evidence can be presented with regard to a particular matter, it is not a matter of faith, but of intellectual speculation. Modern American 'Christians' may not understand this often, but that's to be expected, I guess; the point is that the teaching of all the branches of the Christian church, the Islamic faith and the Jewish religion teach this teaching: that, if you can offer evidence about something, it's not a matter of faith. Not at all. St Thomas explained this quite rationally and clearly: if someone can point to evidence, then already any conscious human being is turning that evidence over in their minds and pondering it, and should end up making a guess based on the evidence and rational considerations; trying to turn back that tide is so unnatural that it bends people's minds and turns them into loons. (Viz. the American Conservative movement.)

St Paul said, way, way back, that faith is about 'things unseen;' it's pretty clear what he meant, and even if it hadn't been, the fathers of the church were on hand a few years later already to explain that it meant this: if we're talking about something which can be observed, which might be proven or disproven, something about which we can even imagine evidence appearing... then we're not talking about faith. We're just not.

Religious people - Christians, Muslims, and Jews, especially - are not people who believe particular things contrary to the evidence. They are people who believe particular things about which there could never be any evidence in the first place. That might seem to make them even more insane - and I don't mind that Dawkins and many others thinks so. Personally, I don't think I'll ever be cool with simply believing something which I know I'll never know. But at least there's this: in their essential form, Christians are not enemies of the rational approach to the world. They are supposed to be its friends.

But when I say that, I have a feeling I'm talking less to you atheists and more to the vast 'Christian' horde which needs to absorb this lesson.
posted by koeselitz at 5:42 AM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


unSane: Apparently:

Person A believing Person B will suffer the eternal torments of hell for not believing in God = not insulting to person B

Person B believing Person A is grossly mistaken = insulting to person A


I am not one of those who would go around claiming this, but I always get a bit confused at this; why are either of those things 'insulting'? And when we're talking about weighing a possible matter of life and death with possibly wasting your entire life following a religion which is a lie - when, in other words, so much is at stake no matter what you start out believing - what would possess us to worry about whether we're being insulted when we talk about it?

If someone actually believed that I was going to suffer eternal torment because of what I believed, and if that someone actually came to me and tried to change my mind, would I really respond by being insulted? And, likewise, if someone came to me and explained urgently that I'd been taken in and tricked into believing a lie, and that I was spending my entire life in service to that lie - could I really be insulted that they'd tried to help me out of it?

Pride kind of seems like a silly thing to bring into this discussion.
posted by koeselitz at 5:57 AM on August 21, 2009


if we're talking about something which can be observed, which might be proven or disproven, something about which we can even imagine evidence appearing... then we're not talking about faith. We're just not.

We already know that people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, bring people back from the dead, or be reincarnated. It doesn't seem to make a difference to the vast majority of Christians.
posted by kathrineg at 6:23 AM on August 21, 2009


kathrineg: We already know that people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, bring people back from the dead, or be reincarnated.

Presumably, that's what makes them supernatural.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:33 AM on August 21, 2009


We already know that people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, bring people back from the dead, or be reincarnated. It doesn't seem to make a difference to the vast majority of Christians.

We actually don't know that. We know that we don't know how to do any of those first three things (unassisted), and that it seems extremely unlikely that anyone could do any of those first three things without some kind of outside assistance (e.g., a big old hypodermic full of something potent that starts someone's heart a la Pulp Fiction). Of the fourth thing, of course, we have absolutely no information whatsoever -- you may not believe in reincarnation and that is well and good, but if you can show me scientific proof that no one is reincarnated, I will eat my left shoe.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:33 AM on August 21, 2009


If someone actually believed that I was going to suffer eternal torment because of what I believed, and if that someone actually came to me and tried to change my mind, would I really respond by being insulted?

The entire idea that I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say is a threat. Someone who says this is threatening me with eternal torment in order to convert me to their religion. They may feel like they are saving me from that life of torment by spreading the good news, but considering that I live in the US, I already know the "good news" and any attempt to convert me is not informative as much as it is coercive.

They're not trying to convert me by taking my children or putting me in prison or torturing me or bankrupting me; I suppose I should be grateful for that.

And, I guess I have to put in this disclaimer, some Christians are different, some are liberal, there are Jewish people in the US, etc.
posted by kathrineg at 6:37 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


faith is not about scientific questions

You kind of lost me here. To me there are no faith questions or scientific questions, there are just questions. But if I buy your argument for a moment, then I'm inevitably drawn to ponder about the exact point at which one leaves off and the other begins, and that strikes me as being a dead end of inquiry.

One uses the same brain matter to think about the gods as about the chair you're seated upon. One employs the same general intelligence in accepting that, for example, the Lord created the world in six days as one does in taking a calculus exam. Maybe I misunderstood your argument and its implications (in which case I'd appreciate an intellectual leg-up), but it seems arbitrary to introduce distinctions.

Faith and science do not need to be corralled off from each other. Since faith is a type of thinking, that type of thinking is open to scientific investigation, prodding, testing, and commentary. Why does the belief in gods arise? Once it has arisen, why does it continue? Why do some people believe more strongly than others? Why do some people cease to believe? These don't strike me as necessarily metaphysical questions.
posted by Ritchie at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This thread sucks lozenge.
posted by Mister_A at 6:39 AM on August 21, 2009


Religious people - Christians, Muslims, and Jews, especially - are not people who believe particular things contrary to the evidence. They are people who believe particular things about which there could never be any evidence in the first place... in their essential form, Christians are not enemies of the rational approach to the world. They are supposed to be its friends.

This is what I mean about defining God away. What you describe here is a God who does not intervene in the world. Who left no evidence that he was responsible for Creation, who performed no miracles, who did not intervene in human history, who does not answer prayers. This is a God who is empirically indistinguishable from a God who does not exist.

Leaving aside whether it is reasonable to believe in such a God, it is just a plain fact that 'religious people' by and large DO NOT believe in this kind of God. They believe in a God who answers prayers and redresses injustices and parts the Red Sea and resurrects his Son and so on and so forth.

Yours is the God that theologians conveniently have in mind when they claim that scientists should butt out or read some Aquinas. But God-as-s/he-is-worshipped is a different creature.

(For my own part, the journey went from belief in a conventional Mr Deity, to belief in a withdrawn and invisible God of the kind you describe, to a realization that I had multiplied entities in a classic violation of Occam's razor, and complete comfort with atheism).

One final point: atheism is not incompatible with a spiritual life. You do not have to believe in a God or gods or ghosts to believe that our current physical understanding of the world does not adequately describe reality.
posted by unSane at 6:46 AM on August 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


koeselitz: Well, I think much of the anti-Dawkins hate comes from a well-intentioned concern that his views make it harder for those of us with "live and let live" attitudes regarding religious faith. And to some extent, I share those concerns. However I think this concern can be expressed without grotesquely exaggerating his flavor of atheism and his advocacy to the extremes we've seen so far. My fellow "live and let live" atheists need to apply that philosophy to Dawkins as well as our religious family and friends.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2009


...which brings me to another point, which is that the God described by theologians and the God worshipped in small churches and synagogues and mosques across the world are very different from one another and have been for more than a century.

If you sat down the average C of E parishioner or mainstream US protestant churchgoer and introduced them to the God of, say, Terry Eagleton, I think the best you could hope for would be a blank stare. And hide the pitchforks.
posted by unSane at 7:01 AM on August 21, 2009


The entire idea that I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say is a threat.

Nthing this.

Coercive preaching / missionary work / conversion attempts are threats, and profoundly disrespectful of their target audience.
posted by zarq at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2009


We already know that people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, bring people back from the dead, or be reincarnated. It doesn't seem to make a difference to the vast majority of Christians.

We actually don't know that. We know that we don't know how to do any of those first three things (unassisted), and that it seems extremely unlikely that anyone could do any of those first three things without some kind of outside assistance (e.g., a big old hypodermic full of something potent that starts someone's heart a la Pulp Fiction).


--Turning one thing into another is in the realm of science, not faith
--Restarting someone's heart or bringing them back from a coma are in the realm of science, not faith
--What floats and what doesn't float and why is in the realm of science, not faith
--What causes and cures blindness is in the realm of science, not faith
--The treatment and diagnosis of mental illness is in the realm of science, not faith (even if you call it "demon possession")

Or I guess we could turn away from the hard sciences and go to Matthew, where Jesus states that people who seek righteousness will be given food and clothing; something which is even more provably false.

I'll give you reincarnation, although no one that I know about has ever been dead for three days and then woken up fresh-faced and ready for action quite like Jesus did. Of course Jesus had Thomas feel his wounds, people witness the specific acts of the crucifixion so we can believe, but I guess it's still a matter of faith.

This is a losing game, though, because the answer is always "Jesus has nothing to do with science".
posted by kathrineg at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


My fellow "live and let live" atheists need to apply that philosophy


Are there really any other kind, though? I just can't remember ever seeing, hearing about, or knowing any proselytizing atheists. The raging atheists I know (of which I am one) are raging in the sense of their personal beliefs, as applied to them, and while they will happily expound on the topic if asked, I don't know anyone who actively goes around trying to shove the way they feel down anyone's throat. Yes, Dawkins is very vocal on the subject, but he publishes books. That people don't have to buy. He doesn't stand on street corners handing out tracts, he doesn't knock on doors, he doesn't try to start anti-prayer groups in schools- it is very easy for anyone who doesn't want to hear what he's saying to tune him out. The converse is NOT true- it is impossible for someone who doesn't believe to not be touched by the constant onslaught of religious belief and belief that you SHOULD be religious, at least in America.

I see people in these threads going on about pushy atheists, and how they "hurt the cause", as opposed to the quiet, live-and-let-live atheists who just go about their business. But A) I have rarely, if ever, seen the former and B) considering the stridency of the opposing side, I really couldn't blame anyone who wants to stand up for him or herself in public and actually make the argument.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 7:16 AM on August 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


The converse is NOT true- it is impossible for someone who doesn't believe to not be touched by the constant onslaught of religious belief and belief that you SHOULD be religious, at least in America.

Not to mention the many laws that seek to force religious adherence, with the full force of government behind them.
posted by kathrineg at 7:19 AM on August 21, 2009


Not to mention the many laws that seek to force religious adherence, with the full force of government behind them.

I just got my official US Passport in the mail yesterday, you know the one with the idiot inspirational quotes on every ugly page. At least three and arguably four of the maybe 11-12 quotations are about god or the creator. To be fair, one of them is from the Constitution.

That said, I worry about as much about being threatened with Hell as I worry about being threatened with cooties. Other people's fictional boogeymen aren't really menacing to me [caveat: teaching impressionable kids, blah blah...]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ritchie: One uses the same brain matter to think about the gods as about the chair you're seated upon. One employs the same general intelligence in accepting that, for example, the Lord created the world in six days as one does in taking a calculus exam. Maybe I misunderstood your argument and its implications (in which case I'd appreciate an intellectual leg-up), but it seems arbitrary to introduce distinctions.

Not all intellectual pursuits are empirical, though. Philosophical questions, questions of morality, questions of good art v. bad art, whether I am in love with you, etc. are all things that people can spend an awful lot of thought on without once invoking the scientific method. So, yes, one employs the same general intelligence when investigating matters of theology and matters of astronomy, but one does not use the same methods; and to say, as Dawkins does, that using non-scientific methods of investigation means that one is not thinking is willfully disingenuous.

As well, simply because some religious claims (God created the earth in six days in a particular order) are demonstrably false due to scientific understanding of the relevant phenomena does not mean that all religious claims and thoughts are therefore beholden to scientific understanding.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:36 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The entire idea that I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say is a threat. Someone who says this is threatening me with eternal torment in order to convert me to their religion.

No. Saying to someone "quit smoking or you'll get cancer" isn't a threat. According to their belief system, not believing in god leads to hell, therefore they want you to quit your harmful belief. Also, if you don't accept their belief system, the statement is as threatening as me telling you: do what I say or I'll shoot you with my mind boogers.

I will, too.

on preview: jessamyn anticipated my mind boogers.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2009


The raging atheists I know (of which I am one) are raging in the sense of their personal beliefs, as applied to them, and while they will happily expound on the topic if asked, I don't know anyone who actively goes around trying to shove the way they feel down anyone's throat.

Your personal lack of experience with such people is not proof that they don't exist, nor does it excuse their behavior. Coercion is wrong, whether it comes from a non-theist or a theist.

I've been called stupid in several ways by people I know who are atheists because I have certain beliefs, (which by the way, I would never dream of imposing on anyone. My beliefs are my own.) I've been openly mocked by people I once thought were close friends for keeping kosher, for believing in what they termed as "an imaginary deity," and an ex-friend decided it would be a good idea to rant at me for "mutilating" my son by having him circumcised. She likened it to child abuse -- which sadly, seems to be an ongoing theme.

Again, as I've said upthread, I don't really give a damn what other people believe, as long as they don't impose their convictions on me. I reject people who feel they need to force their beliefs down my throat uninvited. My experience with atheists and Christians has been fine, for the most part. But immaturity and disrespect of others certainly isn't limited to one group.
posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


No. Saying to someone "quit smoking or you'll get cancer" isn't a threat.

--Cancer is real and smoking causes it
--People don't have to live their lives exactly how I say they should to avoid cancer

A better analogy is "stop smoking and start coming to my house once a week and listening to me talk and give me money and read this book and do exactly what it says or you'll get cancer"
posted by kathrineg at 7:54 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


That said, I worry about as much about being threatened with Hell as I worry about being threatened with cooties. Other people's fictional boogeymen aren't really menacing to me [caveat: teaching impressionable kids, blah blah...]

Does that caveat mean you agree with the assertion that a parent who indoctrinates their children in their religion is harming them?
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on August 21, 2009


You imposed your beliefs on your son by circumcising him. I don't necessarily think you were wrong for doing so.
posted by kathrineg at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2009


BTW, I didn't using the term "child abuse" on purpose. It feels too much like flame bait.
posted by zarq at 7:55 AM on August 21, 2009


Does that caveat mean you agree with the assertion that a parent who indoctrinates their children in their religion is harming them?

You weren't asking me, but in some cases yes, it harms them and others around them who have to put up with those kids. In some cases it does not harm them.
posted by kathrineg at 7:58 AM on August 21, 2009


Yes, if people are openly mocking you, that is just as bad- it doesn't matter which side it's coming from. I don't condone that. My point is that when taken into account the millions of ways, currently and historically, that people have had religion shoved down their throats, I think you do have to have a bit of understanding of how fed up people get, and I don't really blame them for fighting back. Doing so by calling you stupid is indeed counterproductive- I just don't think that atheists as a whole are anywhere near as vocal or coercive as the religious, nor do they have anywhere near their numbers.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:00 AM on August 21, 2009



--Cancer is real and smoking causes it
--People don't have to live their lives exactly how I say they should to avoid cancer


1). Are you saying religious people don't believe in hell and are just doing it to coerce you? That's an entirely different argument than the one you were making above. I think we can all agree that atheists who pretend to believe in religion in order to further their goals are bad. Otherwise, the analogy stands.

2). Yes they do, if you = people who know how to prevent cancer. Again, I'm working under the assumption that the religious people in question actually believe their beliefs. If you aren't, we're having a totally different argument.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:04 AM on August 21, 2009


Is it possible to derail a thread in the gray which is already a derail from a thread in the blue?

She likened it to child abuse -- which sadly, seems to be an ongoing theme.

You cut of part of your son's penis. When we talk about African cultures which practice female circumcision we call it an abusive practice. If male circumcision isn't abusive, why not put it off until the child is old enough to decide for themselves?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:05 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I was cringing so much while typing that first sentence that I misspelled off.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:07 AM on August 21, 2009


a parent who indoctrinates their children in their religion is harming them?

It's not really the sort of conversation I'd have with strangers on the internet. I think threatening a child with eternal damnation is a totally different animal than threatening an adult with it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


You imposed your beliefs on your son by circumcising him.

Yes, I did.

I don't necessarily think you were wrong for doing so.

Okay.

Thanks for your opinion.

You weren't asking me, but in some cases yes, it harms them and others around them who have to put up with those kids. In some cases it does not harm them.

Exactly. We agree on this. By the way, it's nice to finally see a nuanced take on the subject. Thank you.
posted by zarq at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2009


quickquickquickquickPLEASE stop debating circumcision RIGHT NOW

I just wanted to nip this in the bud

sorry

posted by shakespeherian at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not really the sort of conversation I'd have with strangers on the internet. I think threatening a child with eternal damnation is a totally different animal than threatening an adult with it.

Fair enough.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2009


This is a losing game, though, because the answer is always "Jesus has nothing to do with science".

And that's really it. If these things were scientifically likely, they wouldn't be remarkable, and so no one would tell stories about them. The whole point is that Jesus does things we can't do. You can believe them or not, but "that's impossible!" isn't going to change anyone's mind on the subject, no.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it possible to derail a thread in the gray which is already a derail from a thread in the blue?

Is it your intention to do so?

You cut of part of your son's penis. When we talk about African cultures which practice female circumcision we call it an abusive practice. If male circumcision isn't abusive, why not put it off until the child is old enough to decide for themselves?

I really have no interest in discussing the potential merits or damage that may be caused by male circumcision, nor whether the practice should or should not be considered abusive. Nor am I going to discuss my personal religious beliefs on the subject, or my motivation(s) for giving my son a bris. Frankly, that's none of your business.
posted by zarq at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2009


YHBT. YHL. HAND.
posted by dersins at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2009


CIRCUMCISIONRICHARDDAWKINSBOYZONEJE-SUS
SPANK YOUR KID DECLAW YOUR CAT
CALL THAT ONE GUY LANGUAGEFAT
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


if you can show me scientific proof that no one is reincarnated, I will eat my left shoe.

Can you scientifically prove that there isn't an invisible unicorn in my closet? No, you can't. Is your inability to disprove said unicorn's existence a rational reason to believe in it? No, it's not.

Also, what unSane said, which is what Dawkins said. A lot of the lines of argument in this thread are straight out of The God Delusion. Either a religion posits an interventionist God, which makes claims that amount to testable hypotheses, or they have a non-interventionist God who is indistinguishable from a non-existent one. Dawkins spends most of his time arguing against the former because that's what the majority of religious folks in the US believe in.

Also, when Thomas Aquinas or Paul were talking about things that can't be seen or measured, humans could see and measure a great many fewer things than they can now.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:00 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


My point is that when taken into account the millions of ways, currently and historically, that people have had religion shoved down their throats, I think you do have to have a bit of understanding of how fed up people get, and I don't really blame them for fighting back.

I do understand. It's a worthwhile fight.

Doing so by calling you stupid is indeed counterproductive - I just don't think that atheists as a whole are anywhere near as vocal or coercive as the religious...

Agreed.


...nor do they have anywhere near their numbers..

As for numbers... an estimated 1.1 billion people are secular/agnostic/atheist. Outnumbered, sure. But that's a pretty large population!
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2009


Musical interlude
posted by Dumsnill at 9:09 AM on August 21, 2009


You imposed your beliefs on your son by circumcising him.

You imposed your beliefs on your son by sending him to school, teaching him table manners, scolding him for sticking his tongue out at the lady next door. Belief imposition is how humans do things. It's only when the belief is controversial that we notice all the imposing going on.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


As for numbers... an estimated 1.1 billion people are secular/agnostic/atheist. Outnumbered, sure. But that's a pretty large population!

Read the fine print: "half of this group is 'theistic' but non-relig." Even if that chart is accurate, you are off by more than half a billion people.
posted by grobstein at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2009


Can you scientifically prove that there isn't an invisible unicorn in my closet? No, you can't.

I kind of CAN, actually, unless it's also intangible. (or really tiny)

Is your inability to disprove said unicorn's existence a rational reason to believe in it? No, it's not.

But again, we're not talking about rationality. Hammers, nails, et cetera
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:37 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: I have not read any of Richard Dawkins' words directly. I am going strictly on what has been quoted in here and in other places, and I freely admit that I've only scratched the surface.

It looks like Dawkins is taking on religiousity in general. It also looks like he was influenced primarily by dealings with the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in particular by some of the more conservative subsets of same. And, true, if you were to follow some of his thought experiments to their logical conclusions, one could understand the logic behind a dismissal of the religious mindset.

Where I have my discomfort with this mindset, however, is in how others have processed it, which may not be Dawkins' lookout at all. Religious outlook is much, much more nuanced than some are lead to believe -- this is my biggest bugaboo with religious discussions here, that the most fervently anti-religious folk somehow seem to have the conception that all Christians think absolutely alike. And they just don't. There is a wide, wide range of nuance and a lot of different types of beliefs on a lot of different points.

And it's that that I object to, that generalizing that "oh, you're Christian, which means you obviously think like every other Christian does, which means that you believe this and that and that you behave in this and that way and blah blah blah." Something tells me that this isn't quite what Dawkins was getting at, but he does get quoted an awful lot in these kinds of attacks.

I'm not sure what, if anything, Dawkins could do or may have done to nip this in the bud; it's very possible his work is indeed more nuanced, and it's just that people are pulling out the sexier quotes to support their own prejudices. Honestly, it wouldn't be the only time that kind of thing has happened, so this may be more of a matter of Dawkins' words being used to nefarious purposes by others. And hell, people do that with the Bible.

So at the end of the day, it's not Dawkins that's the problem, it's that some other people are buttheads.

And that's all I have to say about that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I kind of CAN, actually, unless it's also intangible. (or really tiny)

How would you prove it, exactly?

But again, we're not talking about rationality. Hammers, nails, et cetera

So then you'd agree with Dawkins that religious belief is irrational?
posted by ludwig_van at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2009


This is a losing game, though, because the answer is always "Jesus has nothing to do with science".

And that's really it. If these things were scientifically likely, they wouldn't be remarkable, and so no one would tell stories about them. The whole point is that Jesus does things we can't do. You can believe them or not, but "that's impossible!" isn't going to change anyone's mind on the subject, no.


It's not that they're unlikely, it's that they either didn't happen or there's a deity who healed some sick people inexplicably and then quit doing so, in the face of enormous human suffering. OK then.
posted by kathrineg at 9:54 AM on August 21, 2009


Read the fine print: "half of this group is 'theistic' but non-relig." Even if that chart is accurate, you are off by more than half a billion people.

Nice catch, thanks.

Still, dividing it into two groups: (nontheistic and theistic-but-nonreligious) would still keep both groups in the 4th and 5th spots on the list.
posted by zarq at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2009


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posted by Burhanistan at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2009


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2009


My butt itches.

EDIT: Wait, I scratched it. It doesn't itch anymore.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:04 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


But again, we're not talking about rationality. Hammers, nails, et cetera

Yes, although faith is usually the metaphorical hammer.
posted by kathrineg at 10:07 AM on August 21, 2009


This is a losing game, though, because the answer is always "Jesus has nothing to do with science".

How do you know that Jesus and his disciples didn't possess some awesome science knowledge that far outstrips anything we know today? This idea that you've got the universe figured out in toto because you built a little model for yourself is arrogant and short sighted.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really have no interest in discussing the potential merits or damage that may be caused by male circumcision, nor whether the practice should or should not be considered abusive. Nor am I going to discuss my personal religious beliefs on the subject, or my motivation(s) for giving my son a bris. Frankly, that's none of your business.

See, this is part of the problem. Because you're religious, you're allowed to bring up your own beliefs, call people wrong for speaking against them, and then immediately follow that up with "that's none of your business" when people try to discuss them with you.

Atheists don't have that social privilege. You've spent the entire thread being quite clear about how you think atheists in general (and Dawkins in particular) are wrong about religion, and, in particular, are wrong to claim that the religious treatment of children amounts to abuse. You've provided quite a bit of opinion and linkage to back up that idea, and you've made repeated claims about different religions' beliefs and treatment of children, as though this is a matter which is open for discussion. Yet the minute the issue comes down to your own religion's treatment of children, bam: it's your faith and you don't have to justify it, even though you yourself repeatedly brought up your own religion as a refutation of the idea that religions are abusive.

If that's the way it works, then why isn't believing that religious indoctrination amounts to abuse a "personal" matter which can be brought up in mixed company and then automatically defended with "that's none of your business, and if you disagree then I'm being 'openly mocked'"? Why do atheists have to justify their opinions about faith, while you do not? Why are Dawkins' statements about religion "simplistic", "insulting", and fodder for endless refutation, yet your own counter-statements are inviolate?

It seems to me as if one side of the argument is more equal than the other, here. Frankly, something which you brought up out of the blue, used as a counterexample in an argument, and then expressed a personal opinion on cannot, by definition, be something you "really have no interest in discussing" and "none of your business". If you're allowed to claim that your friend was wrong about your religious choice in this matter, and you're unwilling to provide evidence as to why or discuss the matter further, then it seems to me that the rest of us are allowed to claim that she was right... and so is Dawkins.
posted by vorfeed at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2009 [13 favorites]


How do you know that Jesus and his disciples didn't possess some awesome science knowledge that far outstrips anything we know today? This idea that you've got the universe figured out in toto because you built a little model for yourself is arrogant and short sighted.

Oh wow, I like this one. First, how is the belief that Jesus and his disciples didn't have any awesome science knowledge that outstrips what we know today the equivalent of believing that we have the universe figured out in toto?

Second, how do we know that Jesus and his disciples didn't posses an awesome flock of immortal invisible unicorns, one of which is living in my closet right now?
posted by ludwig_van at 10:20 AM on August 21, 2009


vorfeed, do you seriously think a circumcision derail would have served anyone's purposes? And do you think ActingTheGoat (or pretty much anyone else) would be able to have that discussion in good faith? Is there something about this thread that's different from any other thread where circumcision discussions have gone so poorly?

Where are you getting that atheists "have to justify their opinions about faith?" I've certainly never asked anyone, atheist or otherwise, to justify anything, and I haven't seen the religous people on metafilter do so either.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:20 AM on August 21, 2009


First, how is the belief that Jesus and his disciples didn't have any awesome science knowledge that outstrips what we know today the equivalent of believing that we have the universe figured out in toto?

How did you get from a to b there? No equivalence. But the idea that people can build these simple logical deductive arguments that can prove the existence or non existence of something is asinine. You can make sense in your own head but that doesn't mean it has any applicability to the actual real world beyond your brain. Too bad if you don't get that.

Secondly, you should go back in the closet.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2009


So then you'd agree with Dawkins that religious belief is irrational?

That's hard to answer, because rationality isn't an easy term to define. Certainly religious belief has proven useful, for good or ill, so I guess you could call it rational in that sense. Personally, I don't know that it's rational to believe in something that can't be perceived or measured. I'm pretty sure that it's not. But religious faith is about believing in such a thing (or things) anyway, which makes it a sucker's game to attempt debunking the existence of god/gods on that basis.

It's not that they're unlikely, it's that they either didn't happen or there's a deity who healed some sick people inexplicably and then quit doing so, in the face of enormous human suffering. OK then.

This actually gels with some religious ideas.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2009


But the idea that people can build these simple logical deductive arguments that can prove the existence or non existence of something is asinine.

Or maybe I just know that Jesus didn't have awesome science knowledge because I'm omniscient like that.

Besides, even if Jesus did have awesome science knowledge, it would still mean that Jesus' miracles are within the realm of science and therefore not matters of faith, which is my point anyway.
posted by kathrineg at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2009


This idea that you've got the universe figured out in toto because you built a little model for yourself is arrogant and short sighted.

Dude, don't talk about religion like that. It's pretty disrespectful.
posted by kathrineg at 10:32 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


How did you get from a to b there? No equivalence.

Seriously? This was your comment.

How do you know that Jesus and his disciples didn't possess some awesome science knowledge that far outstrips anything we know today? This idea that you've got the universe figured out in toto because you built a little model for yourself is arrogant and short sighted.

Sentence 1: "Why are you sure that Jesus didn't have better science knowledge than we do?"
Sentence 2: "You think you've got the universe all figured out."

Did you not mean to imply that these two sentences have anything to do with one another? If so, maybe you should compose your comments more carefully.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2009


You're right. I didn't flesh out my line of thinking. However, this is possibly the worst use of time for all parties involved so I'll say adios.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:36 AM on August 21, 2009


How do you know that Jesus and his disciples didn't possess some awesome science knowledge that far outstrips anything we know today?

Can't speak for his disciples but Jesus clearly had surfing figured out long before it got popular with the rest of us. How else do we explain all that walking on water stuff?
posted by philip-random at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2009


~ This idea that you've got the universe figured out in toto because you built a little model for yourself is arrogant and short sighted.

~ Dude, don't talk about religion like that. It's pretty disrespectful.


I vote we close this pointless discussion up now that we've reached "I know you are but what am I?"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2009


I don't think it was a pointless discussion, but yeah, looks like it's about over.
posted by kathrineg at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2009


To clarify, I mean "pointless" in the sense that discussions about Dawkins never reach any sort of resolution, as they always tailspin into What's Wrong with Atheists/Religion, and as people bat criticisms back and forth, they get gradually less reasonable. Like other topics without resolution - like whether it was a good or bad idea to make Greedo shoot first - people just get angrier until either a) it gets derailed into something people can talk about in a humorous, more relaxed vein or b) it gets closed up. I know I can also just remove this thread from Recent Activity if I don't want to see it anymore, but I was hoping that by mid-afternoon today we'd have some entertaining derail into something completely unrelated, as the Grey is famous for, but that didn't happen. Maybe I just haven't waited long enough.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2009


I know you are but what am I

It is doubtful that this phrase will ever reach equilibrium.
posted by effbot at 11:07 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


vorfeed, do you seriously think a circumcision derail would have served anyone's purposes?

No, I don't. We've been through it before. That said, I find it very telling that one side of the argument is allowed to bring it up, express an opinion on it, and then immediately shut down further discussion. There is no way that it'd be anywhere close to socially acceptable for me to suddenly come out with the opposite opinion in mixed company, and then claim that it's "nobody's business" -- that sort of automatic acceptance speaks quite clearly to what Dawkins is talking about.

Where are you getting that atheists "have to justify their opinions about faith?" I've certainly never asked anyone, atheist or otherwise, to justify anything, and I haven't seen the religous people on metafilter do so either.

zarq has, throughout the thread, claimed that Dawkins is wrong to say that religion is abusive. It is, in his words, "simply not the case". He has quoted Dawkins' many justifications for that claim, and provided counterexamples aimed at proving them wrong. Yet when his own counterexample is called into question in the exact same way, suddenly it's not right or wrong, but "nobody's business".

If Dawkins has to provide logical justification for his opinion, and is not simply allowed to state it as a given -- and zarq seems to think so -- then it seems only fair that zarq should have to provide justification for his opposing opinion. And if not, then "religion is inherently abusive" is just as "personal" as "religion is not inherently abusive"... except we all know that one of those animals is much more equal than the other, don't we?
posted by vorfeed at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2009


That said, I find it very telling that one side of the argument is allowed to bring it up, express an opinion on it, and then immediately shut down further discussion.

Yeah, the get-out-of-discussion-free card gets old quick.
posted by kathrineg at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, this is part of the problem. Because you're religious, you're allowed to bring up your own beliefs, call people wrong for speaking against them, and then immediately follow that up with "that's none of your business" when people try to discuss them with you.

That's not what I'm doing. Please re-read my comment more carefully.

My response was made to counter the idea that atheists do not "shove the way they feel down anyone's throat." I have had personal experiences with atheists who have done so, and brought up examples.

The point is not whether my friends were making correct or incorrect statements. It is that their opinions weren't solicited, and as a result I felt they were trying to impose them on me.

This is the same objection which nontheists (and incidentally, I do as well,) have to theists who attempt to convert them. Who the hell asked them for their opinion? Why the hell should we have to believe as they do?

Vorfeed, I do not impose my religious convictions on other people, nor do I preach, proselytize or try to convert others to my religion. For that matter, I do not need to justify my beliefs to anyone and I don't ask anyone to justify their beliefs to me. I remain convinced that religious conviction should be a private matter. So when I post here, I try to speak in generalities about religious beliefs. Judaism teaches this... Christianity teaches that... etc. I have done so in this thread.

In short, I do not ask people to believe what I do. I don't shove my beliefs down their throats. In return, I ask only that people respect my right to do so unmolested.

You've spent the entire thread being quite clear about how you think atheists in general (and Dawkins in particular) are wrong about religion, and, in particular, are wrong to claim that the religious treatment of children amounts to abuse.

Please read this comment again. I disagree with your assessment of what I have been doing.

I said specifically that "I have a problem with Dawkins' sweeping declarations against all faiths." I said that "the conclusions he draws are inappropriately all-inclusive and the manner in which he does so is simplistic and insulting." I said that I agree "that some religions have been used to cause great harm to children. However, that's not an argument against faith -- it's an argument against a disgusting corruption of power within some organized religions. There's a difference."

I praised Dawkins several times in my comments, as well. For his writing. For his analysis of scientific concepts. I praised him for being "on solid ground when he sticks to explanations of the ways in which blind faith can act to discourage scientific inquiry."

But I also said that "by refusing to differentiate between those religions which embrace open mindedness and encourage intellectual investigation and those which do not, he undermines his argument. He further destroys his credibility by stereotyping and attacking his opponents."

Vorfeed, do you see the distinction I'm making? He's condemning all religions for having qualities that some do not possess. He is also conflating organized, structured religion with faith -- religious belief. In addition, I acknowledged that he is correct that faith can be an obstacle to rational, logical thought.

In the comment I link to above, I explain why I believe this undermines his specific characterization of indoctrinating a child with their parent's religion as child abuse. In that and other comments, I also mention that "Accusing [parents] of abusing their children by teaching them religion is neither helpful nor constructive."

You complain that I am using my own religion as an example which should refute Dawkins' opinion of ALL religions. I did nothing of the sort. I said that his premise is flawed because it is inappropriately all-inclusive. I did not refute his claims, outright. In fact, I supported some of them. I simply think that some of his assertions (not all,) should not be applied to all religions, and used my own as an example of a religion that is open to scientific inquiry, and doesn't try to suppress it.

You've provided quite a bit of opinion and linkage to back up that idea, and you've made repeated claims about different religions' beliefs and treatment of children, as though this is a matter which is open for discussion. Yet the minute the issue comes down to your own religion's treatment of children, bam: it's your faith and you don't have to justify it, even though you yourself repeatedly brought up your own religion as a refutation of the idea that religions are abusive.

This is a reasonable argument. If the question about circumcision had been put to me in a general, abstract, non-personal manner, I might very well have discussed it. It wasn't. The question was phrased in a way that I interpreted as a personal attack. For the reasons I state above, I'm will not discuss my personal, religious beliefs or motivations with anyone. However, I am perfectly willing to discuss my opinion of religion, religious concepts, ciriticisms and hypocrisies as a non-expert.

If you think that's hypocritical of me, c'est la vie.

Why do atheists have to justify their opinions about faith, while you do not?

Were Dawkins' assertions phrased as opinions or declarations?

I'm a little confused by this statement. You seem to be saying that it is your impression that I have not tried to support the vast majority of what I've said in this thread. Several sentences back you say I've done so with "quite a bit of opinion and linkage."

When it came to a single instance in which I perceived a personal attack, I shot it down. Other than that, I've been far more prolific in this thread than any other I've participated in for months.

If that's the way it works, then why isn't believing that religious indoctrination amounts to abuse a "personal" matter which can be brought up in mixed company and then automatically defended with "that's none of your business, and if you disagree then I'm being 'openly mocked'"?

I think I've explained this adequately now. If you need me to break it down further, I will.
posted by zarq at 11:25 AM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


zarq has, throughout the thread, claimed that Dawkins is wrong to say that religion is abusive.

No, that's not what I said.

It is, in his words, "simply not the case".

Context: (Emphasis is mine)
We're really talking about three Dawkins' assertions here:

1) All religion is a destructive meme
2) All faith stifles openness, intellectual honestly and scientific inquiry
3) *Blind* faith is a tool which uneducated, lesser intellects use to dismiss and subvert science. (See his TED talk, here.)

Which leads us to his conclusion: A child who is taught to follow their parents' religious convictions is being abused by them. Religious teaching is mental abuse and all religious doctrines are destructive, intellectually dishonest and actively prevent their followers from investigating the world around them.

This is simply not the case. Judaism is a decent example of a religion that encourages scientific inquiry. Modern, mainstream Jews are taught to question, doubt, investigate and learn about the world around them.

Considering your vociferous defense of him above, I don't expect you to agree with me here, but all of these premises and conclusions are flawed because they are being phrased as absolutes.
I was quite specific. My problem with Dawkins' position is he is making a blanket declaration that ALL religions are abusive. And my examples were intended to explain why such an assertion may be right about some religions but perhaps not all of them.
posted by zarq at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2009


You imposed your beliefs on your son by circumcising him.

You imposed your beliefs on your son by sending him to school, teaching him table manners, scolding him for sticking his tongue out at the lady next door. Belief imposition is how humans do things. It's only when the belief is controversial that we notice all the imposing going on.


Circumcision is meant solely to fulfill a specific religious obligation; it is not undertaken voluntarily by the child (it is imposed upon him); it permanently affects him; it has no benefits for the child in secular society; it has obvious drawbacks including physical pain and loss of function.

That's quite different from teaching your child to say please and thank you.

I guess there are some people who prefer cut men, so there is that.
posted by kathrineg at 11:44 AM on August 21, 2009


vorfeed: If Dawkins has to provide logical justification for his opinion, and is not simply allowed to state it as a given -- and zarq seems to think so -- then it seems only fair that zarq should have to provide justification for his opposing opinion. And if not, then "religion is inherently abusive" is just as "personal" as "religion is not inherently abusive"... except we all know that one of those animals is much more equal than the other, don't we?

I see what you're saying, but I do think there's a difference between, on the one hand, Person A saying 'You (Group X) is raising your children in a destructive manner' and a member of Group X saying 'That is pretty offensive, could you please back up that statement?' and, on the other hand, a member of Group X saying 'This is how I raise my children, and I don't think I need to justify it.' Maybe I'm simply reading the situation(s) incorrectly, but I don't see that as a double standard-- X isn't telling A how to raise his children, and would like to refute his claims to knowing better than X how to raise X's children. That doesn't mean that X needs to explain how they raise their own children.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:46 AM on August 21, 2009


It was a bad idea to make Greedo shoot first.
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2009


It was a bad idea to make Greedo shoot first.

Greedo had a choice, man.
posted by The World Famous at 11:51 AM on August 21, 2009


I hate the typically short-sighted way in which people consistently fail to recognize the agency of the blaster itself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:52 AM on August 21, 2009


That's what happens when you have such lax blaster control laws.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2009


I'm so going to start a band called "Agency Of The Blaster."
posted by The World Famous at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm alright with Greedo shooting first, because when I saw Star Wars at the drive-in way back when I thought he had shot first. It was only later that someone explained to me, no, Han shot first. Watching it again on cable some years later, it then looked to me like Han saw Greedo reaching for his piece. When Lucas later retouched this scene to make Greedo shooting first, OK, maybe that lacked subtlety, maybe it made Han more of a "good guy", but wasn't Lucas trying to depict Han as the scruffy outlaw with a heart of gold anyway?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:58 AM on August 21, 2009


Psst - I don't think he likes being called "scruffy."
posted by The World Famous at 11:59 AM on August 21, 2009


I think one of the key issues here is that Lucas just has no directorial instincts where gunfights are concerned. It is not a dialect of cinematic language in which he can fluently speak. His is an untreated cleft action-editing palette, if you will.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2009


Proposed Even Specialer Edition version of that scene: do it as a shot-for-shot remake of the climactic duel from Barry Lyndon.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:07 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is armchair psychology, but I wonder if one contributing factor to the prequels sucking so much is that Lucas sort of saw himself (or is image of an ideal self) in Han Solo's character (see "scruffy" above) and just didn't have that personal connection to the prequels, since Han was not in them.

Also, maybe the reason the guns' "bullets" in Star Wars move so slowly is that that allows schlubs like Han Solo to dodge them, and Lucas wanted to create a universe where Han Solo wouldn't just get killed in his first scene - regardless of who shoots first.

Is it child abuse to raise my kids watching Star Wars?
posted by The World Famous at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2009


That certainly becomes more apparent in Princess Leia's rescue, as she's firing at a phalanx of stormtroopers. That was just embarrassingly unconvincing.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2009


On blasters... John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design
posted by Artw at 12:12 PM on August 21, 2009


Suggestion: the relative slowness of blaster fire proves that Star Wars and Dune take place in parallel timelines.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2009


Proposed even more special edition:

"My Dinner With Greedo," wherein Han and Greedo sit in that booth for the entire movie, talking.
posted by The World Famous at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, maybe the reason the guns' "bullets" in Star Wars move so slowly...

Okay, but the Storm Troopers: What's with all the armour? It doesn't seem to stop much.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2009


(It is funny that the blaster fire is slower than the doors, though.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:16 PM on August 21, 2009


Take an MG-42 to the star wars universe and you'd be a god.
posted by Artw at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2009


You cut of part of your son's penis. When we talk about African cultures which practice female circumcision we call it an abusive practice. If male circumcision isn't abusive, why not put it off until the child is old enough to decide for themselves?

I did not intend to answer this. For what it's worth, I am uncomfortable doing so, and have some misgivings posting this comment.

Judaism teaches that a bris is supposed to be performed when a male child is 8 days old. The boy should be larger than 5 pounds, to make sure that their life isn't endangered.

I own a book on brisim and could probably answer the Jewish justifications in depth here at some point (i loaned it to a friend a couple of weeks ago who just had a baby boy,) But my understanding is that the reason it's done at such an early date is so that the child won't remember the pain.

There are probably additional religious justifications for why it's done at 8 days. I'm personally unaware of them. If they were explained to me in the past, (no doubt by the mohel,) I have forgotten.

As to why one is considered mutilation and the other is not, male circumcision is not female circumcision. Female circumcision destroys functionality of a woman's sexual organs and this is why we refer to it as mutilation. I've seen studies that have drawn conflicting conclusions about whether male circumcision also destroys functionality. My personal opinion is that it does not. I own a circumcised penis and am obviously able to use it for its intended function. (That said, I'm also aware of the folly in using myself as an example. "Fish have no word for water", and all that.) I'm cognizant of the slightly increased health risks that uncut men may have.

Given all of these factors, I reluctantly agreed to my son's bris. My wife and I had several huge arguments about it, actually. Because, despite the fact that I believed intellectually that my son was not being mutilated by the procedure, I was still going to allow a man to take a shiny fucking scalpel to my tiny, preemie newborn son's genitals. In fact, if I'd had my way, the bris never would have happened.

We both cried during the service. (Well, all three of us, including my son.) I didn't watch it happen.

The answer you are looking for is that while I know the reasons the religion gives for a bris, in my heart, personally I'm not entirely sure if the procedure should ever be performed or if it truly has value. I have never followed my religion blindly. After lengthy discussions with my wife, I made a conscious choice, and now don't particularly regret it. I don't personally believe it's abuse. I do believe I have a right to that belief, just as others are free to disagree with me about it.

Life is complex, and is often irreducible. That's pretty much how I feel about ritual circumcision.

As I've said upthread, my objection to my ex-friend's reaction wasn't about her opinion. It was over her arrogant gall in assuming that she should try to force me to change my mind. Our conversation was pretty nasty, and I found it highly distasteful.

FWIW, I'm pretty much done discussing this subject now and I don't particularly care to debate it. If anyone wants me to discuss it further, please be polite. I will refuse to respond to anything that smacks of baiting or trolling.
posted by zarq at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design

This is probably FPP material on its own.
C-3PO
Can't fully extend his arms; has a bunch of exposed wiring in his abs; walks and runs as if he has the droid equivalent of arthritis. And you say, well, he was put together by an eight-year-old. Yes, but a trip to the nearest Radio Shack would fix that. Also, I'm still waiting to hear the rationale for making a protocol droid a shrieking coward, aside from George Lucas rummaging through a box of offensive stereotypes (which he'd later return to while building Jar-Jar Binks) and picking out the "mincing gay man" module.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2009


Is it child abuse to raise my kids watching Star Wars?

You can have my DVD's when you pry them from my cold, milk-stained fingers.
posted by zarq at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2009


This is probably FPP material on its own.

Go for it.
posted by Artw at 12:25 PM on August 21, 2009


zarq, you're ruining the whole "faith is un-thinking" meme. Cut it out. You're going to force the argument into "ok, religious people do think about their faith, but they're wrong and stupid."

The point of all of this is that of course the Jedi have immense power if the entire non-religious world in which they exist operates based on impractical physics. In our world, given the physics that operate here, the Jedi and their religious fundamentalist views would have considerably less power, since they would not be able to deflect real bullets with a sword. Their power relies less on incredible physical feats assisted by the Force, and more on the fact that blocking a slow-moving "piece" of light with a sword would not be that hard even without the Force.

Is it child abuse when Anakin is diagnosed with an imaginary homeopathic medical condition and whisked away to a monestary at a young age? Dawkins would probably say yes. But that's because Dawkins lives in a world where you don't need a robot to translate for you what another robot is saying and where Dawkins never has to worry about a giant teddy bear tearing his arms of when he loses at CGI Chess.
posted by The World Famous at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2009


The Star wars series is just another example of the problem of sequels. Once you have your first sequel, they just shit out one after another until they finally shit out a sequel so putrid that nobody will consume it.
posted by idiopath at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2009


"Circumcision is meant solely to fulfill a specific religious obligation; it is not undertaken voluntarily by the child (it is imposed upon him); it permanently affects him; it has no benefits for the child in secular society; it has obvious drawbacks including physical pain and loss of function."

Bullshit. Circumcision is also done because of social norms, perceived hygienic benefit, and the case can further be made that it reduces AIDS transmission.

As a side note, I am incredibly glad that I know and am friends with atheists in real life, because if I wasn't, I might be prone to assuming that they were all shrill crybabies full of absolute statements, smug contempt, theological ignorance, persecution complexes and permanent butthurt.

Someone way upthread said that they had engaged with long-standing questions like the problem of evil, looked to religion and found no satisfying answers. Then good, it sounds like being an atheist is the best choice, and I don't mean that glibly. But just because you've not found any satisfying answers doesn't mean that your way is the only way to look, or that you have a universally applicable standard of "satisfying." There are plenty of things that don't satisfy me with regard to the world's theological traditions—that's why I don't really believe in them.

All the other stuff, the demands that people justify their faith, that theists somehow get a free pass, that faith is a threat, that faith is irrational—that's all pretty much bullshit, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of faith. Which is fine, again, if you don't get faith no one should expect you to be faithful, and if you're an adult identified as an atheist it's pretty unlikely that you ever will. But the bad behavior of some folks who are faithful isn't a justification for bad behavior on your part, and every bullshit argument—most of which should be out of the rhetorical vocabulary by the end of high school—doesn't make me think, Boy, those atheists sure are smart! They've convinced me! It makes me think, God, what a bunch of insecure whiners.

That I have atheist friends who I respect, and there are even plenty of MeFi atheists I respect—and far more MeFi atheists whose views outside of those on faith I respect—and plenty of great atheist thinkers and writers makes this vaguely unfair, in that comparing the blather of this thread to Russell or Sagan immediately makes it clearly derivative, but it's not like I'm Paul Tillich, but it also makes clear how much heat and how little light the usual gang of atheist shouters here can deliver. I also realize that atheists are somewhat hampered by a negative case, rhetorically—I don't think that not believing requires very much justification at all, if any, whereas while faith itself stands outside of justification, there's at least a lot more to talk about and defend. Since no one should ever try to argue someone into faith (in part because faith stands outside justification, in part because it's rude), that someone is an atheist is only really interesting because most people don't start out that way, so nearly every atheist has a story about how the came to be an atheist.

I realize that went pretty long as a "side note," but I doubt it will be read in good faith, no pun intended, anyway. So I might as well end this by derailing in a different direction—while I think that Dawkins' work on memes is interesting, I think that he tends to overstate the applicability of this model, and I think that the broader adoption of Dawkins' mimetic terminology is both much cruder and much dumber than Dawkins' initial speculative arguments, to the detriment of intelligent discussion of cultural shift. But I do confess that I haven't read The Devil's Chaplain, where Dawkins purportedly makes a stronger case.
posted by klangklangston at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


zarq, you're ruining the whole "faith is un-thinking" meme. Cut it out. You're going to force the argument into "ok, religious people do think about their faith, but they're wrong and stupid."

That's pretty much inevitable, isn't it? :D :D

The thread seems to have passed me by anyway. ;)
posted by zarq at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2009


I'll personally never understand why they went with prequels when side stories would have been so much more interesting.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This theory of inevitable sequel putridity also may have some corollary application to internet threads about subjects people at most change their minds about once or twice in a lifetime, typically requiring years of torturous self questioning.
posted by idiopath at 12:33 PM on August 21, 2009


Go for it.

Done.

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2009


Circumcision is also done because of social norms, perceived hygienic benefit, and the case can further be made that it reduces AIDS transmission.

"Male circumcision, already shown to reduce the incidence of H.I.V. infection in men, also reduces transmission of both herpes simplex virus Type 2 and human papilloma virus, a study has found." More.
posted by zarq at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2009


Our story so far: I make an fpp about the petition for an apology to Turing, a gay british founder of the discipline of computer science. This leads to a derail about Dawkins, with its own metatalk post. This leads to a starwars derail leading to an fpp featuring c3p0, a gay robot with a british accent. Somehow this almost makes sense.
posted by idiopath at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


C3-P0's involvement hurts the cause.
posted by The World Famous at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I'll personally never understand why they went with prequels when side stories would have been so much more interesting.

Not only that, but for absolutely no reason the prequels are populated by the same handful of minor characters as the original films. So apparently the reason to make prequels rather than parallel stories is simply that there are only about ten interesting people in the entire galaxy.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2009


(And by that, I mean that C3-PO's involvement in the Rebel Alliance hurts the Rebellion. Because he's a bumbler.)
posted by The World Famous at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2009


Little known fact: the Star Wars movies were actually all financed by the principals, who are not really either actors or characters so much as stars in their own group-hagiography. The reason the prequels are still about them is that they're the only ones Lucas could get the cash from.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


My problem with Dawkins' position is he is making a blanket declaration that ALL religions are abusive.

You know, for a neutral observer who's only sampled the entire atheist vs. theist debate (including this thread) occasionally, it's a bit interesting that it's completely impossible to figure out if your description of Dawkins' position is 100% accurate or at least partially filled with straw -- the whole fucking Internet is full of people screaming at the top of their lungs about how their interpretation of what others have said and done is the only correct one.

As a side note, I am incredibly glad that I know and am friends with atheists in real life, because if I wasn't, I might be prone to assuming that they were all shrill crybabies

Well, this observer have seen good arguments and bad arguments from both sides. If you think that everyone on the opposite side is equally bad, I suspect you need a hug (and/or a beer), not a MeFi discussion thread.

Note: Everyone needs a hug. (And a Weißbier.)
posted by effbot at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2009


I was quite specific. My problem with Dawkins' position is he is making a blanket declaration that ALL religions are abusive. And my examples were intended to explain why such an assertion may be right about some religions but perhaps not all of them.

For the reasons I state above, I'm will not discuss my personal, religious beliefs or motivations with anyone. However, I am perfectly willing to discuss my opinion of religion, religious concepts, ciriticisms and hypocrisies as a non-expert.

If the counterexample to the claim that all religions are abusive/anti-science/etc is "this particular one is not", then the question of whether or not that religion's practices are abusive/anti-science/etc is paramount. It's not just "personal". Thus, to me, it sure seems like you're countering with another "inappropriately all-inclusive" claim -- that the religions you claim aren't harmful are, in fact, not harmful as a whole. If you're allowed to say "For clarification's sake, I mean the majority of Jews", and yet still use "Judaism isn't harmful" as a solid counterexample, then why can't Dawkins say "religion is harmful" and then, upon encountering any specific argument, move the goalposts to "the majority of religion"? I mean, you're not likely to find any religion anywhere which could never, ever be judged harmful in any of its tenets or practices, right? And who determines "harmful", anyway? For example, who gets to "win" if you and Dawkins have different definitions?

That's the problem, here: it seems to me that you are holding Dawkins to one standard, and simultaneously leaning upon certain cultural prejudices to avoid standing up to that standard yourself. If Dawkins can't say that all religions are harmful, then how can you say that all of Judaism, Sikhism, etc. are harmless? Just as finding one single harmless counterexample within world religion would seem to shatter Dawkins' argument, so would finding one single harmful counterexample within Judaism (or, indeed, any particular religion) seem to shatter yours.

In short: when you say "He's condemning all religions for having qualities that some do not possess", you need to demonstrate that "some" do not, in actuality, possess them, at all. You can't just assume and/or assert that as an unsupported (if popular) fact, and that's mostly what I'm seeing from you in this thread.

You seem to be saying that it is your impression that I have not tried to support the vast majority of what I've said in this thread.

No, it's my impression that you did a great job of supporting the vast majority of what you've said in this thread. The problem is that the counterexamples that support was made of might not be solid. "Such an assertion may be right about some religions but perhaps not all of them" naturally includes the possibility that "such an assertion may be right about all religions", but you're still acting as if Dawkins shouldn't suggest so.
posted by vorfeed at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2009

Secondly, you should go back in the closet.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:24 PM on August 21 [+]
Tell us how you really feel, B'stan.
posted by jtron at 1:32 PM on August 21, 2009


Nor am I going to discuss my personal religious beliefs on the subject, or my motivation(s) for giving my son a bris. Frankly, that's none of your business.

"Male circumcision, already shown to reduce the incidence of H.I.V. infection in men, also reduces transmission of both herpes simplex virus Type 2 and human papilloma virus, a study has found."

How is anybody supposed to respond to that? "I'm not going to discuss it." "It wasn't a God thing, it was a vaccination thing! Yeah, that's the ticket."

Why not just admit that Han shot off Gredo's foreskin, unprovoked?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2009


Binary arguments are for tards.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Binary arguments are for tards.

Please don't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:47 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Binary arguments are for load lifters and moisture evaporators.
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on August 21, 2009


For the record:

You cut of part of your son's penis. When we talk about African cultures which practice female circumcision we call it an abusive practice. If male circumcision isn't abusive, why not put it off until the child is old enough to decide for themselves?

Male circumcision and female circumcision aren't necessarily equitable operations. For a male circumcision to be equitable to female circumcision, you wouldn't just cut off part of the penis -- you would cut of THE ENTIRE penis. Female "circumcision" is more accurately referred to as "clitoridectomy" -- the entire clitoris is removed. That is somewhat on a grander anotomical scale than just removal of the foreskin.

I am not denying that some find the removal of a foreskin to be a mutilation. However, until they're removing not just the foreskin but the entire rest of the schlong along with it, don't call it the same thing as "female circumcision", because it ain't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


This isn't the Dawkins thread you're looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2009


So a dude can make an insulting comment likening foreskin removal to FGM (which EmpressCallipygos handily dismissed) in a very pointed way towards another member and isn't called out but then making a "binary arguments are for tards" joke at the bottom of a long thread is bad? Priorities are shot.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:01 PM on August 21, 2009


I'll personally never understand why they went with prequels when side stories would have been so much more interesting.

What I'll never understand is why Lucas chose to start the prequels where he did. If there's one thing they teach you on the first day in Hollywood, it's never write a story about a kid or an animal. Not only are you in for hellish shooting schedules to make sure you comply with child labor laws, but also most child actors suck. Lucas should have known that from the get-go.

Great, now I'm pissed at Lucas again.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2009


so how about that richard dawkins eh
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2009


Burhan, it's more that intentionally and over a long period invoking something that you know is kind of a sore spot is gratuitous and it'd be nice if you could not do that. These aren't two points on a single axis, it's two different axes entirely.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:06 PM on August 21, 2009


How is anybody supposed to respond to that?

You could dig up the research and notice that it's done in a part of the world where sexual attitudes and behaviours (multiple partners, age-disparate sex, no condoms) are very different from what you're used to, and is based on a self-selected group of men that tends to have lots of unprotected sex with multiple infected partners, and that plenty of research on people in the industrialized world has yielded results that are different enough to make many researchers somewhat sceptical about whether foreskin-or-not is more than just a tiny part of the equation, and halfways through that line of thought, you end up watching an animated Hans Rosing talk about HIV, solid lasers, and Swedish midsummer sex, and ten minutes later, you no longer remember how you planned to wrap up this sentence or how it's connected to evolution in the first place, so you decide to have another beer.
posted by effbot at 2:55 PM on August 21, 2009


I wonder if wookies circumsize.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:56 PM on August 21, 2009


Vorfeed: .....could you say everything you just said in your comment above, but pretend I'm about, oh, six years old?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:05 PM on August 21, 2009


animated Hans Rosing talk about HIV, solid lasers, and Swedish midsummer sex

Um, I've seen the Robot Chicken Star Wars episode, too, and that is not how I would describe it at all.
posted by The World Famous at 3:09 PM on August 21, 2009


Sounds more like the Family Guy one.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2009


Like clockwork, it is predictable how Dawkins' arguments are rejected by people mostly unfamiliar with them, conflating unrelated elements of his scientific research (and elements of research that are not even his) with his work exposing fraudulent aspects of organized religion in a strained effort to somehow discredit his repeatable observations about how superstition can be encouraged in others through largely manipulative, deceptive practices that share much with common street magic.

Most of the objections seem to come from understanding at a pop-culture level, shared from tidbits of misinformation amplified here and there like a deranged game of Telephone. When he gets mentioned in the context of a larger discussion that is mostly divorced of the nature of religion and superstition, therefore, people with their blunt axes to grind about the guy invariably ignore the substance behind that subject matter, grinding away with a grab-bag of ignorant tropes, strawmen and dubious (if imaginative) analogies. A larger and more important discussion about, for example, what civil rights secular and non-secular people share in common gets left behind by their trolling.

As much as the atheism/theism debate is tiresome, as tiresome is the constant barrage of ad hom.-based derails against Richard Dawkins, started by people who seem to think insults are a strong basis on which to build a case against his ideas. When people have to resort to those shrill techniques, it's an obvious sign their arguments never had much a leg to stand on, even if it managed to derail a discussion about the violent assaults the British government committed against Alan Turing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, for a neutral observer who's only sampled the entire atheist vs. theist debate (including this thread) occasionally, it's a bit interesting that it's completely impossible to figure out if your description of Dawkins' position is 100% accurate or at least partially filled with straw

It's completely impossible to figure out? Couldn't you, like, read Dawkins' book?

My problem with Dawkins' position is he is making a blanket declaration that ALL religions are abusive. And my examples were intended to explain why such an assertion may be right about some religions but perhaps not all of them.

First, the claim in question isn't that "religions are abusive." The claim is that it's abusive to brand a child with a particular religion before they are capable of understanding what that means. He says talking about "Christian children" and "Muslim children" makes as much sense as talking about "Democrat children" and "Republican children."

Second, I don't have my copy of The God Delusion on hand, but I think Dawkins makes it pretty clear that much of his criticism is directed at a particular strain of religion, one which happens to be quite widespread in the US. Objections to the tune of "oh but MY religion isn't like that, it's much more liberal and nuanced" are beside the point.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2009


"Circumcision is meant solely to fulfill a specific religious obligation; it is not undertaken voluntarily by the child (it is imposed upon him); it permanently affects him; it has no benefits for the child in secular society; it has obvious drawbacks including physical pain and loss of function."

Bullshit. Circumcision is also done because of social norms, perceived hygienic benefit, and the case can further be made that it reduces AIDS transmission.


OK, cool, although those social norms are disappearing as we speak here in the US. I guess there is a perceived hygienic benefit, which puzzles me in a country with access to clean running water and soap. Studies disagree about its role in disease prevention. Of course in the case of religious circumcision in the US, it's really done for religious reasons as part of a religious ceremony.

Really, I understand why people do it and have no desire to condemn them or picket their ceremonies or whatever. I would never argue with someone about their child's circumcision. If I had a son and his father wanted his son circumcised, I would consider it seriously. Still, religious circumcision is imposing your religion on a child in a real, tangible, and irreversible way. If acknowledging the reality of that makes me a super asshole atheist, okay. Whatever.
posted by kathrineg at 5:00 PM on August 21, 2009


I think Dawkins makes it pretty clear that much of his criticism is directed at a particular strain of religion, one which happens to be quite widespread in the US. Objections to the tune of "oh but MY religion isn't like that, it's much more liberal and nuanced" are beside the point.

While there may be something, somewhere where Dawkins states this clarification (and I don't think there is), everything of his that I have ever read and every talk he's given that I have watched says exactly the opposite. Maybe he is using "religion" and "God" as defined terms, and he defined them in a prologue to something somewhere as something other than "all religious belief" and "every concept of deity," like saying "hereinafter, the term RELIGION shall refer strictly and exclusively to the following narrow sects and theif followers . . . ." But if that's the case (and I am certain it is not), then 99% of what he says makes no sense whatsoever.

I always understood him to be railing against the very notion of religion and of deity as unscientific and, therefore, harmful to society. But maybe I understood wrong. I have not read all of his writings, but I have read some, so I would really like to see if there is somewhere where Dawkins explains that he's only talking about one strain of religion.
posted by The World Famous at 5:04 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

All the other stuff, the demands that people justify their faith, that theists somehow get a free pass, that faith is a threat, that faith is irrational—that's all pretty much bullshit, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.
Huh. OK. Well, I think that people can disagree with you about these things without misunderstanding faith, especially the bit about faith being a threat. Although I'm not sure if you're referencing my opinion that proselytizing is threatening; or the idea that faith itself is something to be feared. There's a much stronger case for the latter.
Which is fine, again, if you don't get faith no one should expect you to be faithful, and if you're an adult identified as an atheist it's pretty unlikely that you ever will.
A lot of atheists used to be faithful (as did I), does that mean that we "get" faith? Or are you saying that if we really understood faith, we would be faithful?
But the bad behavior of some folks who are faithful isn't a justification for bad behavior on your part, and every bullshit argument—most of which should be out of the rhetorical vocabulary by the end of high school—doesn't make me think, Boy, those atheists sure are smart!
I really don't think that disagreeing with theists counts as particularly bad behavior, in the grand scheme of things. Unless you mean something else?
posted by kathrineg at 5:18 PM on August 21, 2009


The only reason I don't particularly like Dawkins is that Today's Atheism™ seems to have become all about him, about his thoughts, about what he's written, to the point that I almost feel I should be capitalizing the pronoun, and his quotes in this thread should be labeled with chapter and verse.

Dawkins—that is, the phenomenon of Dawkins—has essentially turned atheism itself into a religion, and the worst kind of religion, too; exactly the kind of religion it rails against: An evangelical crusade of what essentially amounts to bigotry, or at the very least, antagonism.

While I am personally atheist, I tend not to identify as such simply because I do not wish to be associated with Dawkins' (and Hitchens' and Maher's) atheism, which isn't what I'd call purely atheistic or areligious, but rather anti-religious. Instead, when I do label myself, I go as Fanatical Agnostic, because I really could not possibly care less.

I'm pretty sure the back-and-forth ain't helping anyone but the makers of antihypertensive medication.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always understood him to be railing against the very notion of religion and of deity as unscientific and, therefore, harmful to society. But maybe I understood wrong. I have not read all of his writings, but I have read some

Well, have you read The God Delusion? Unfortunately someone borrowed my copy and never gave it back, or I could look for quotes. But his point is that he's not referring to a few "narrow sects" -- he's talking about Abrahamic religion as practiced by the large majority of believers in the US.

I mean, do you think that the type of nuanced, liberal, theologically-educated Christianity which many of the folks on metafilter profess is the same as the religion practiced by the majority of self-identified Christians in the US?
posted by ludwig_van at 5:19 PM on August 21, 2009


"If acknowledging the reality of that makes me a super asshole atheist, okay. Whatever."

No, acknowledging that religious circumcising indelibly imposes religion on a child doesn't make you a super atheist asshole. Pretending that statement is equivalent to saying that circumcising is a solely religious exercise that has no positive attributes and only negative ones is disingenuous, and pretending that you'd been called an asshole instead of having your statement declared bullshit is also bullshit whining.
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on August 21, 2009


Dawkins—that is, the phenomenon of Dawkins—has essentially turned atheism itself into a religion, and the worst kind of religion, too; exactly the kind of religion it rails against: An evangelical crusade of what essentially amounts to bigotry, or at the very least, antagonism.

I hate to break it to you, but the worst kind of religion involves forcible conversion, theft, torture, enslavement, and/or murder. Not obnoxious proselytizing or bus ads or pissy condescension or whatever it is you're on about.
posted by kathrineg at 5:27 PM on August 21, 2009


Fair enough. I guess that was slightly hyperbolic on my part. Still, though. It's not exactly awesome.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:29 PM on August 21, 2009


I mean, do you think that the type of nuanced, liberal, theologically-educated Christianity which many of the folks on metafilter profess is the same as the religion practiced by the majority of self-identified Christians in the US?

No, I don't. But I think that, for the purpose of Dawkins' thesis, the distinction is irrelevant. I may be mistaken, though. I have read some, but not all, of The God Delusion. I hope to finish it at some point. He doesn't think that some religious belief is totally fine, though, does he? Because if he does, that would honestly turn my whole impression of Dawkins on its head.
posted by The World Famous at 5:30 PM on August 21, 2009


No, acknowledging that religious circumcising indelibly imposes religion on a child doesn't make you a super atheist asshole. Pretending that statement is equivalent to saying that circumcising is a solely religious exercise that has no positive attributes and only negative ones is disingenuous,

My point was not that it has only negative attributes, my point was that religious circumcision is done solely for religious reasons and that any positive consequences are secondary and accidental. In that sense, religious circumcision is really not comparable to teaching your child manners, and pretending like they are similar impositions on a child is ridiculous.

pretending that you'd been called an asshole instead of having your statement declared bullshit is also bullshit whining.

OK, next time make it more specific who is butthurt or whiny or a shrill crybaby or whatever and we won't have that problem.
posted by kathrineg at 5:38 PM on August 21, 2009


In that sense, religious circumcision is really not comparable to teaching your child manners, and pretending like they are similar impositions on a child is ridiculous.

It also doesn't impose any actual religious beliefs on the child, though. So really, teaching manners is a lot more of an indoctrination akin to the sort of ideological brainwashing that Dawkins rails against.
posted by The World Famous at 5:41 PM on August 21, 2009


Vorfeed: .....could you say everything you just said in your comment above, but pretend I'm about, oh, six years old?

If I'm understanding zarq's argument right, it's that Dawkins is wrong to say "all religion is destructive". That's because, according to zarq, some religions aren't. But my point is that, when he says "I can prove it: here is a religion that isn't destructive", then he's making the same sort of argument: "all the tenets of this religion are nondestructive". Well, no, they're not, not if somebody can find even one destructive tenet. And the religions in question are very big, and nobody quite agrees within them; thus, it's easy to find some destructive tenets, which leads us straight to the No True Scotsman fallacy. And sure enough, zarq uses lots of qualifiers, like "modern, mainstream" and "extremists"... as if the latter don't quite count as members of their own religion.

On top of that, there's no single standard for deciding what's destructive and what isn't, which means zarq can lean on certain cultural assumptions we tend to make about religion: namely, that it's positive unless there's some sort of obvious atrocity going on. I don't agree that that assumption is valid, and I doubt Dawkins would, either. Dawkins' actual argument is very broad. He believes that religion is inherently harmful as an idea, not just that it's harmful because it includes X, Y, and Z which are harmful in and of themselves. zarq phrased Dawkins' conclusion as "religious teaching is mental abuse and all religious doctrines are destructive, intellectually dishonest and actively prevent their followers from investigating the world around them"; well, that's only one subset of Dawkins' claims, and even it is a much broader claim than "all religions proselytize, indoctrinate their children into blind faith, and/or are against science", which seem to be the specific claims zarq is attacking.

Those are definitely specific examples of destructive intellectual dishonesty, but they're not necessarily the only ones religion fosters. Thus, finding a religion which doesn't include them isn't enough to refute Dawkins.
posted by vorfeed at 5:43 PM on August 21, 2009


By the way, on Dawkins' site right now there's an announcement of an even where Dawkins and Brian Eno are doing a live discussion in September. I think that's the first time that I have ever thought "wow, I would really like to go to that Richard Dawkins speaking engagement." Of course, hearing Brian Eno go on for an hour about what an idiot I am might not be so fun. But it would probably be better than hearing his honest assessment of my musical abilities.
posted by The World Famous at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2009


He doesn't think that some religious belief is totally fine, though, does he?

Not really -- but he certainly distinguishes between moderate religious belief and literalist/fundamentalist religious belief. I believe God Delusion devotes a chapter to Dawkins' argument for why moderate religious belief is still a bad thing -- if I recall, his reasoning is that moderate religion creates an atmosphere where fundamentalist religion can thrive by giving privileged status to faith. He says that as long as faith is given an elevated status in society, as he claims it is now, people will be able to hold crazy/dangerous beliefs and justify them as matters of faith. I may not be doing his argument justice, but I definitely thought this was the weakest part of the book and I'd like to hear him defend this further.

He also explains that while his main beef is not with the sort of folks who believe in some kind of non-interventionist-God, non-literalist, non-supernatural religion, he doesn't think it makes sense for them to identify their beliefs as religious, thereby associating themselves, however loosely, with the fundamentalist types, and contributing to the idea of faith-as-inviolable-justification.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:46 PM on August 21, 2009


It also doesn't impose any actual religious beliefs on the child, though. So really, teaching manners is a lot more of an indoctrination akin to the sort of ideological brainwashing that Dawkins rails against.

Interesting point, although I think manners are pretty basic socialization and nobody's going to hell for reading at the table or what have you.
posted by kathrineg at 5:46 PM on August 21, 2009


"I mean, do you think that the type of nuanced, liberal, theologically-educated Christianity which many of the folks on metafilter profess is the same as the religion practiced by the majority of self-identified Christians in the US?"

It's statements like this that make me suspect that critics of Christianity often know very little about Christianity, especially Christianity in America. The majority of religious Americans are Protestant, a division that by its nature encourages schism and individual reflection, and within its umbrella can mean just about anything. The only real common thread is that they believe in the resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ, which can mean anything from biblical literalism to a grand skein of metaphors and Marxism. I don't think the majority of self-identified Christians practice the same religion, functionally, and that belief is shared by a great many Christians regarding their fellow sects.

Not only that, it evidences a pervasive attack on the weakest, theologically, forms of Christianity as a technique to impugn the strongest, more rigorous forms. That this is met with accusations of the Courtier's Reply shows that those atheists who would make such a weak case have no real interest in engaging in any sort of measured criticism—if they did, they would find out that their staunchest allies against the worst forms of Christianity are the theologically robust Christians.
posted by klangklangston at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I'm understanding zarq's argument right, it's that Dawkins is wrong to say "all religion is destructive". That's because, according to zarq, some religions aren't. But my point is that, when he says "I can prove it: here is a religion that isn't destructive", then he's making the same sort of argument: "all the tenets of this religion are nondestructive". Well, no, they're not, not if somebody can find even one destructive tenet. And the religions in question are very big, and nobody quite agrees within them; thus, it's easy to find some destructive tenets, which leads us straight to the No True Scotsman fallacy. And sure enough, zarq uses lots of qualifiers, like "modern, mainstream" and "extremists"... as if the latter don't quite count as members of their own religion.

....Maybe you need to pretend I'm three and dumb it down further.

Because it sounds like you're saying, "it's not true to say 'some religions aren't destructive' even if you find one that isn't, because some of them are. And therefore 'some of them aren't' means the same as 'all of them are are'". and that's right where you've lost me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 PM on August 21, 2009


400 GET
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:57 PM on August 21, 2009


I realize that Protestantism covers a wide range, and I don't have any kind of data on how many folks believe in this or that flavor of it, so let's ignore my comment about the majority -- I'm not sure if that's a point that Dawkins makes or not. My point is that Dawkins' criticisms of literalists don't apply to non-literalists and he understands that. He argues that where religions make hypotheses about the universe they are provably wrong, and where they don't make hypotheses about the world (as in many of the more nuanced, theologically-rigorous forms) they are basically superfluous. You can argue with any of those conclusions, but saying he doesn't appreciate the range of Christian belief seems like missing the point.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:57 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Upon further reflection:

He also explains that while his main beef is not with the sort of folks who believe in some kind of non-interventionist-God, non-literalist, non-supernatural religion, he doesn't think it makes sense for them to identify their beliefs as religious, thereby associating themselves, however loosely, with the fundamentalist types, and contributing to the idea of faith-as-inviolable-justification.

See, this just sounds like more of the No True Scotsman fallacy, only coming from Dawkins instead of from fundamentalist Christians.

It's true of any philosophy -- if you believe in the philosophy, why should you not profess yourself to be a believer in that philosophy just because others who believe it happen to be less able to contain their own zeal?

This kind of thinking is exactly why you have so many young women now saying, "I'm not a feminist, but...." and then going on to state something that is PRECISELY a feminist viewpoint.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Huh. OK. Well, I think that people can disagree with you about these things without misunderstanding faith, especially the bit about faith being a threat. Although I'm not sure if you're referencing my opinion that proselytizing is threatening; or the idea that faith itself is something to be feared. There's a much stronger case for the latter."

Especially the bit about faith being a threat? No, fundamentally that's the furthest from the truth. The practice of religion can involve threats, but the underlying faith cannot by definition. Faith has to be uncoerced to be legitimate, which is part of why children can't have real faith. There is not, in fact, a stronger case for the latter.

"A lot of atheists used to be faithful (as did I), does that mean that we "get" faith? Or are you saying that if we really understood faith, we would be faithful?""

I don't doubt that some atheists used to be faithful, but from your incredibly poor showing of understanding faith, I doubt you were. I feel uncomfortable with anyone doubting anyone's faith but their own, but you seem to have a stupid understanding of it now, so it follows that you had a stupid understanding of it then.

"My point was not that it has only negative attributes, my point was that religious circumcision is done solely for religious reasons and that any positive consequences are secondary and accidental. In that sense, religious circumcision is really not comparable to teaching your child manners, and pretending like they are similar impositions on a child is ridiculous."

Again, bullshit. If you'd wanted to say "religious circumcision" you could have, but since the vast majority of American circumcisions are not done primarily for religious reasons, and since "solely" precludes "secondary," you overstated your case and got called on it.

"OK, next time make it more specific who is butthurt or whiny or a shrill crybaby or whatever and we won't have that problem."

Sure—You got all whiny and butthurt when it was pointed out that you were wrong, and attempted rhetorical squirming instead of saying, "Yeah, I overstated my case because I was all whipped up with the righteousness of atheism. Sorry, it's my first time in one of the MeFi a/theism grudge-matches, and I didn't realize that people were prone to being combative and pedantic dicks, but I recognize my own responsibility in that."

Boom, then we go off to Star Wars.
posted by klangklangston at 6:10 PM on August 21, 2009


"But my point is that, when he says "I can prove it: here is a religion that isn't destructive", then he's making the same sort of argument: "all the tenets of this religion are nondestructive". Well, no, they're not, not if somebody can find even one destructive tenet."

You're wrong there—he just has to demonstrate that one sect is non-destructive on balance, not that they hold no destructive views. You're mistaking the burden of proof in the syllogism.
posted by klangklangston at 6:12 PM on August 21, 2009


"Not really -- but he certainly distinguishes between moderate religious belief and literalist/fundamentalist religious belief. I believe God Delusion devotes a chapter to Dawkins' argument for why moderate religious belief is still a bad thing -- if I recall, his reasoning is that moderate religion creates an atmosphere where fundamentalist religion can thrive by giving privileged status to faith."

This is an argument that a lot of people have a problem with, myself included. I don't have the God Delusion on hand—I only had to read chunks of it for some class years ago—but it amounts (if I recall correctly) to a giant ad hominem that is overly dismissive when it comes to the positive aspects of faith, and is one of the weaker points in his argument with theology as a whole. Unfortunately, that's pretty much where it needed to be the strongest—nearly everyone agrees that extremists are bad news. But a book with the central thesis that extremists are bad news wouldn't really be a best-seller, so he dressed it up with some challops and ignored things like Locke's letter concerning toleration.
posted by klangklangston at 6:19 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's true of any philosophy -- if you believe in the philosophy, why should you not profess yourself to be a believer in that philosophy just because others who believe it happen to be less able to contain their own zeal?

Because he thinks the supernatural claims of the belief system are false, and all of the other benefits of the belief system (community, moral teachings, etc.) can be obtained independently of the supernatural beliefs. If the oft-made claim that one can't be moral without religion were true, Dawkins could be accused of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but it's not, so he says we should jettison religion entirely and replace it with other things.

Anyhow, like I said, I don't have the book here, so I'm going to stop trying to paraphrase its positions. But I'll add that I recall Dawkins saying he had originally intended the book to be titled "The God Hypothesis" because his main point was that religions make hypotheses that are subject to scrutiny like any other, rather than existing in some rarefied realm shut off from rational inquiry, as it's popular to claim. However, the publisher didn't think that title would sell enough books, so they went with "The God Delusion." I wish he'd stuck with the former. And my impression of the book, which I read in its entirety, differed substantially with klang's, and I think it'd be great if people read the book before trying to refute its arguments.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:30 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


KK providing another first class example of why it's the arguments of the theists rather than the atheists which drive me towards atheism.

'By their fruits shall ye know them"
posted by unSane at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


KK providing another first class example of why it's the arguments of the theists rather than the atheists which drive me towards atheism.

If you're deciding whether or not God (or really anything) exists based on how well a group of people argue about it, you're doing it wrong.
posted by The World Famous at 7:09 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"argues." Sorry. Forgot the "s."
posted by The World Famous at 7:10 PM on August 21, 2009


You're wrong there—he just has to demonstrate that one sect is non-destructive on balance, not that they hold no destructive views. You're mistaking the burden of proof in the syllogism.

If a man lives 99% of his life calmly but then goes on a rampage, he is certainly "non-destructive on balance", but that's not enough to disprove a statement like "the man is destructive". If he's destructive, then the shoe fits, despite how nice the non-destructive part of his life may be. The same goes for "abusive", "coercive", etc. That's exactly what Dawkins is saying about religion: he's not claiming that every single thing about every single religion is destructive, he's claiming that there's something destructive about all religions. Disproving that means a lot more than "demonstrating that one sect is non-destructive on balance", because there can still be something deeply destructive about a mostly non-destructive sect (for instance, zarq admitted that "faith can be an obstacle to rational, logical thought").

I'd question whether zarq has shown the sects in question to be "non-destructive on balance", anyway... his statements seem to be in service to refuting specific claims (proselytism, indoctrination, anti-science), not to proving the non-destructiveness of these religions in general. I was quite specific. My problem with Dawkins' position is he is making a blanket declaration that ALL religions are abusive. And my examples were intended to explain why such an assertion may be right about some religions but perhaps not all of them: again, that assertion can still be correct even if you find a religion which is "non-abusive on balance". If somebody claims that ALL women are abusive, that's not disproved by the one lady who only beats her kids on Tuesday morning -- you've got to find somebody who isn't abusive.
posted by vorfeed at 7:23 PM on August 21, 2009


So, vorfeed, under your logic, it is accurate to say "atheism is destructive," or "Dawkins is destructive," given that they destroy faith? I think you are setting a burden of proof that can come back and bite you.
posted by The World Famous at 7:24 PM on August 21, 2009


Because he thinks the supernatural claims of the belief system are false, and all of the other benefits of the belief system (community, moral teachings, etc.) can be obtained independently of the supernatural beliefs. If the oft-made claim that one can't be moral without religion were true, Dawkins could be accused of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but it's not, so he says we should jettison religion entirely and replace it with other things.

Anyhow, like I said, I don't have the book here, so I'm going to stop trying to paraphrase its positions.


Okay, let's turn around this statement:

Because he thinks the supernatural claims of the belief system are false...

Well, let's take a moderate Christian. We'll call him Earl. Now, Earl doesn't believe the "supernatural claims" are false; whether Earl is right or wrong about whether they're false or not is beside the point. Earl just believes what he believes, and that's that. Earl, however, is also moderate in his beliefs, and thinks Fred Phelps and other rabidly fundamentalist Christians are totally missing the point, in fact. But Earl does believe the "supernatural" claims of Christianity -- to wit, Earl believes in the Divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. As for the rest, he takes a live-and-let-live attitude to how other people live their lives -- we're all just trying our best at being better people, Earl thinks, and this is just the model Earl's following. Other people do other things, no big.

What you're saying, though, if I understand you correctly, is that Earl should stop saying he's Christian and let the Fred Phelps of the world be the only ones calling themselves Christian....because Earl may be wrong about Jesus' divinity, and because it would make other people feel better. What Earl believes, you're saying, is irrelevant; Earl has to base his identity on what other people think about what he believes, you're saying.

That sounds somewhat presumptuous, to my mind. I think Earl would just kind of blink a few times and then say, "....well, good luck telling other people what to do, I guess."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2009


So, vorfeed, under your logic, it is accurate to say "atheism is destructive," or "Dawkins is destructive," given that they destroy faith? I think you are setting a burden of proof that can come back and bite you.

My logic has nothing to do with proving the accuracy of statements like "atheism is destructive" or "religion is destructive". In fact, it's entirely agnostic (tee hee) as to whether the statement in question is true or not. All my argument refers to is the burden of proof in disproving such statements. You can make such a statement if you want to, true or not; my point is that cherry-picking cases in which it didn't destroy anything isn't enough to disprove it.

Again, this is a specific problem with the logic of a specific refutation of a specific claim, not a general logic problem a la "you must hate hot dogs because they're destructive to mustard".
posted by vorfeed at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2009


my point is that cherry-picking cases in which it didn't destroy anything isn't enough to disprove it.

I think the big problem with your proposed analysis is that it is seems to be directed at whether a given sect or religious organization is entirely without fault. Whether an organization is faultless has nothing to do with the question of whether belief in God, per se, causes harm without exception.

If the specific claim is "all religious organizations or sects have, at some point, done something normatively bad," they I agree with you. I also think it's a pointless claim and a stupid inquiry.
posted by The World Famous at 8:20 PM on August 21, 2009


I don't doubt that some atheists used to be faithful, but from your incredibly poor showing of understanding faith, I doubt you were. I feel uncomfortable with anyone doubting anyone's faith but their own, but you seem to have a stupid understanding of it now, so it follows that you had a stupid understanding of it then.

I look forward to more amazing insights like this one. Whenever you're ready!
posted by kathrineg at 8:26 PM on August 21, 2009


See, this is part of the problem. Because you're religious, you're allowed to bring up your own beliefs, call people wrong for speaking against them, and then immediately follow that up with "that's none of your business" when people try to discuss them with you.

Atheists don't have that social privilege.


they most certainly do on metafilter - no one's forcing you to post or argue anything - you are free to say "that's none of your business" to us any time you like

that some people will conclude that you aren't willing to stand up and defend your opinions is hardly any different than someone, for example, you, saying that zarq can't stand up and defend his opinions

people often want to put others' beliefs, actions, whatever on trial here and they often forget that there's no subpoena power in being a metafilter member and you can't MAKE people argue about things they don't want to argue about

he's stated his opinions and so have you and neither one of you HAS to go on and on in an attempt to defend them - so stop playing the victim card - you're every bit as free to participate or not as he is
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


kathrineg: The entire idea that I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say is a threat.

Christians do not believe this.
posted by koeselitz at 8:50 PM on August 21, 2009


If I'm understanding zarq's argument right, it's that Dawkins is wrong to say "all religion is destructive".

if st francis' life, a well known follower of religion, can be demonstrated to be more constructive than destructive than it follows that all religion is not destructive

or joe shmoe christian down the block

this black and white world you seem to inhabit has nothing to do with reality - all i have to do is find a non-destructive example of religion working to prove the statement "all religion is destructive" wrong

in other words, just one black swan proves that not all swans are white

---

If a man lives 99% of his life calmly but then goes on a rampage, he is certainly "non-destructive on balance", but that's not enough to disprove a statement like "the man is destructive".

then why do we put these people in prison for life?

you're really stretching here - i don't think anyone would claim that a person who goes on a rampage is "non-destructive"

---

My logic has nothing to do with proving the accuracy of statements like "atheism is destructive" or "religion is destructive".


---

and on another note - the vast majority of christians do not believe in reincarnation, so i'm rather puzzled as to why people have been arguing about it
then why defend the idea that "all religion is destructive"?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:07 PM on August 21, 2009


hmmm - i screwed up the formatting on that last section

My logic has nothing to do with proving the accuracy of statements like "atheism is destructive" or "religion is destructive".

then why defend the idea that "all religion is destructive"?

---

and on another note - the vast majority of christians do not believe in reincarnation, so i'm rather puzzled as to why people have been arguing about it
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 PM on August 21, 2009


Well, let's take a moderate Christian. We'll call him Earl. Now, Earl doesn't believe the "supernatural claims" are false; whether Earl is right or wrong about whether they're false or not is beside the point.

No, it's most certainly not beside the point. I think Dawkins would tell Earl he shouldn't believe in the supernatural claims because there's no evidence for them.

But I'm not him, and if you want to argue with his points you should read his book.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:14 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


ludwig_van's point is the key here: Dawkins, and not every atheist, would argue that any belief in the supernatural, no matter how innocuous it may seem and no matter how good a person the believer is, is dangerous to humanity because of its inherent falsity and illogic. He argues (and again, I'm really distilling it down a lot here, and I don't intend to be misstating his position) in essence that any non-scientific belief is inherently harmful. His position is extreme and, frankly, impossible to implement in the real world. (Did I get that right?)
posted by The World Famous at 9:26 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it's most certainly not beside the point. I think Dawkins would tell Earl he shouldn't believe in the supernatural claims because there's no evidence for them.

The reason I said it's beside the point is that I am confining myself strictly to the "should moderate religious believers call themselves believers still". That is a separate point from "is religion true". It'd take a lot more discussion for Earl to stop believing, so in the interim, we're taking it as read that he believes, even if others don't, and discussing how Earl should refer to himself. Which is, as I said, a separate issue.

I've never been talking about the truth or non-truth of a religion, I've been confining myself strictly to how people of differing philosophies relate to each other.

But I'm not him, and if you want to argue with his points you should read his book.

....Wait. Who was it who was complaining that those who profess religions get to play the the "but I don't want to talk about it" card while non-theists "don't get to do that"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 PM on August 21, 2009


EmpressCallipygos, ludwig_van is reluctant to put words in Dawkins' mouth. ludwig_van pretty clearly does not subscribe to every single idea of Dawkins and has stated clearly that he does not recall everything that's in the book.

"I don't want to talk about my beliefs" is one thing (and it's something I greatly respect). "I don't remember what the book says" is another (and I respect that, too).
posted by The World Famous at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2009


Dawkins, and not every atheist, would argue that any belief in the supernatural, no matter how innocuous it may seem and no matter how good a person the believer is, is dangerous to humanity because of its inherent falsity and illogic.

I don't think this is a good statement of his position at all. It's not that illogic is inherently harmful and must be stamped out -- plenty of illogic is harmless. But he argues that there's no reason to believe in things for which there's no evidence. And if you don't believe in things for which there is no evidence, you have no reason to subscribe to a belief system which takes those claims as its central tenets. But going back and forth to see who can better encapsulate his thesis seems like a waste of time.

Who was it who was complaining that those who profess religions get to play the the "but I don't want to talk about it" card while non-theists "don't get to do that"?

It's not that I don't want to talk about Dawkins' book, it's that I don't want to defend it without it in front of me for someone who hasn't read it.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:55 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, I figured since we have gotten to the point of asking what Dawkins' position actually is on specific issues, I sent him an email, inviting him to chime in about his actual positions if he would like. Maybe, if we are lucky, he may even be able to answer a few questions. Or he could decline to respond, we will see.
posted by idiopath at 10:04 PM on August 21, 2009


Does Dawkins know anything about Star Wars? If not, I'm not sure we want him here.
posted by The World Famous at 10:16 PM on August 21, 2009


"If a man lives 99% of his life calmly but then goes on a rampage, he is certainly "non-destructive on balance", but that's not enough to disprove a statement like "the man is destructive". If he's destructive, then the shoe fits, despite how nice the non-destructive part of his life may be."

No, that's absurd and false on its face; for someone who insists on logic, you should do better.

Under your rubric, if a man saves one million lives by killing one, he's destructive; that "destructive" is meaninglessly broad and an inapt description. At the very least, "destructive" loses its normative value. You might as well endorse wearing a screen over your mouth so you don't destroy any bugs.
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 PM on August 21, 2009


You might as well endorse wearing a screen over your mouth so you don't destroy any bugs.

You know, that would make a pretty good religion.
posted by The World Famous at 11:30 PM on August 21, 2009


So, I figured since we have gotten to the point of asking what Dawkins' position actually is on specific issues, I sent him an email, inviting him to chime in about his actual positions if he would like.

That'd be interesting, to say the least, even though I think his website is a pretty handy resource for people genuinely curious about where he's coming from, and pretty much everything brought up in this thread could be answered there. Still, I'd welcome a visit from Dawkins.

Also, I have to say it's pretty cool of him to be serializing his next book through the Times.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:53 PM on August 21, 2009


kathrineg: We already know that people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, bring people back from the dead, or be reincarnated. It doesn't seem to make a difference to the vast majority of Christians.

That's not true at all. People can walk on water if there happen to be stones exactly where they place their feet; they can come back from the dead if they weren't really dead but actually under the influence of a particular illness with certain qualities; and they might believe that they've been reincarnated because of some kind of mental illness or a desire to believe it. The object of faith isn't that it happened; it's why it happened. Think about it: if you or I saw every single miracle described in the Torah and the New Testament, it probably wouldn't be enough to convince us; we'd point out quite rightly that there can be simple explanations for why things like this might happen. But the religious don't claim that there aren't explanations; on the contrary, they claim that the explanations themselves were created by God at the beginning of time as part of his plan. There's really no scientific argument for or against that kind of proposition; it's unfalsifiable.

me: faith is not about scientific questions

Ritchie: You kind of lost me here. To me there are no faith questions or scientific questions, there are just questions. But if I buy your argument for a moment, then I'm inevitably drawn to ponder about the exact point at which one leaves off and the other begins, and that strikes me as being a dead end of inquiry.

One uses the same brain matter to think about the gods as about the chair you're seated upon. One employs the same general intelligence in accepting that, for example, the Lord created the world in six days as one does in taking a calculus exam. Maybe I misunderstood your argument and its implications (in which case I'd appreciate an intellectual leg-up), but it seems arbitrary to introduce distinctions.


Science isn't all-encompassing; this seems to be something people forget constantly nowadays. It was never meant to be. It's a specific thing that should be used in a specific way; and scientist who's seen a horribly misrepresented 'study' or a painfully biased medical 'trial' knows this well.

Science as we call it today is the attempt to understand causes by repeating them and by observing their effects. It's that specific, and it helps to remember this: it isn't just "thinking about stuff" or "being rational" - science is the attempt to understand causes by repeating them and observing their effects. It has been this since Galileo, Francis Bacon, and Benedict Spinoza, on through Galvani and Faraday and Maxwell and Einstein; every scientist of every kind on every level follows this simple process of trying to understand causes by repeating them and observing the effects. An astrophysicist has it rough; it's often hard for him to repeat the causes he's studying, so he has to settle for trying to find cases that are similar and extrapolating from the similarities to determine regular and consistent patterns. However, that extra bit of legwork he has to do doesn't mean he isn't capable of real science, and astrophysics has gone very far. The biologist, the ecologist, the geologist, and so on: all of them are practicing a very specific and very rigorous discipline, a discipline which has given us so much.

But it would be utterly irrational to attempt to apply that model to everything, and my experience is that people who spend a lot of time doing science are the first to admit this. Specifically, since science is about trying to understand causes by repeating them and observing their effects, it isn't possible to be scientific where (a) there is no possibility of repeating the cause experimentally or (b) there is no possibility of observing the effects.

This isn't religious dogma; it's only the rational view. It would make absolutely no sense to try to determine experimentally whether I look pretty or whether George is noble; "pretty" and "noble" aren't observable or quantifiable things like "rectilinear" or "blue."
posted by koeselitz at 12:07 AM on August 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


"But he argues that there's no reason to believe in things for which there's no evidence. And if you don't believe in things for which there is no evidence, you have no reason to subscribe to a belief system which takes those claims as its central tenets."

This is an inherent sticking point, and shows the misunderstanding of the nature of faith—faith is necessarily a priori. That's why Dawkins (and other atheists—this is a point that goes back as far as rationalism) is essentially correct, but why it's only applicable to a particular style of "faith" that isn't very robust or examined.

Faith is irrational, unjustified and unjustifiable—if you have a reason, if there is evidence for a belief, you're not taking it on faith. Which is part of why there's a fundamental disconnect, and why the best writings on faith focus on the consequences of faith. There are some folks, particularly American fundamentalist evangelicals, who start with trying to convince someone else to have faith, especially through a prosperity doctrine, in order to "save them" and promote some material benefit, and they promote a contradictory and easily refuted view of faith.

So yes, there's no reason to believe in things for which there's no evidence, which means that the reach of faith should be constrained, especially when it comes to public endeavors (where the law is concerned, questions of faith should be de minimis). But that's a political question, not a theological one. And in a world where it's pretty inarguable that there are evil acts perpetrated by believers and non-believers, it seems silly to argue that the question of faith is foundational—Dawkins essentially inverts the traditional, and wrong, argument that without God there can be no morality. And he's no more right than those who would say that atheists shouldn't be trusted or are amoral.

I do recognize that I'm arguing a very narrow definition of faith, but it's this faith from which all other religious faith must necessarily spring, and this mode of thinking which is consistently misunderstood. There is simply no way to argue away faith externally—faith must fall from internal argument, from doubt (the quote mentioned above that certainty is the opposite of faith is dead on). Once holding a faith, from that point it's an axiom from which things proceed; if they do not proceed, you do not have faith.
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 AM on August 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Shoulda previewed—Koeselitz gets what I'm saying (he's probably read Fear and Trembling too).

It's also worth noting that notions of history, narrative and experience were very different when the Bible was written, especially the OT parts. It's a different mode of communication even from, say, Pliny's natural histories, which show the struggle between empirical and verifiable information and metaphorical "truths" that are seen outside of time and the material realm. The miracles are a good example of that, where taking them on faith demonstrates an acceptance of an immanent world where these things truly happen, while simultaneously granting their impossibility.
posted by klangklangston at 12:31 AM on August 22, 2009


Is it child abuse to raise my kids watching Star Wars?

Well Dawkins might think so... if like, Harry Potter, it's filthy potentially damaging unscientific irrationality. One of the many reasons, I consider him to be a dick.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:19 AM on August 22, 2009


Well Dawkins might think so... if like, Harry Potter, it's filthy potentially damaging unscientific irrationality. One of the many reasons, I consider him to be a dick.

Pretty uncharitable. If you read beyond the Daily Mail's "shocking headline", Dawkins simply says "I think [Harry Potter] is unscientific... whether or not that has a pernicious effect, I don't know... perhaps it's something for research."

What exactly did he say there that was untrue or ought to characterize him as a dick? That fantasy books about wizards are in fact not based on science? SHOCK HORROR!
posted by modernnomad at 5:53 AM on August 22, 2009


ludwig_van pretty clearly does not subscribe to every single idea of Dawkins and has stated clearly that he does not recall everything that's in the book.

Fine, but I'm not necessarily specifically talking about Dawkins' views as such. I'm talking about a larger general idea -- to wit, that generalizing ANY kind of belief system to the point that you think "all believers believe x, y, and z", and then projecting the actions of the some onto the rest of them, is unfair. Whether Dawkins expressly does this or no, a lot of people in here do this. Part of the reason why may be because of DAwkins, but a larger part, I think may come from their own selves.

Mind you, I'm not saying ludwig_van does this; I don't recall enough conversations with him to be sure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:36 AM on August 22, 2009


That's not true at all. People can walk on water if there happen to be stones exactly where they place their feet; they can come back from the dead if they weren't really dead but actually under the influence of a particular illness with certain qualities; and they might believe that they've been reincarnated because of some kind of mental illness or a desire to believe it.

Really? "No, you CAN do [impossible thing], if by [impossible thing] you mean [completely different possible thing]!"

But the religious don't claim that there aren't explanations; on the contrary, they claim that the explanations themselves were created by God at the beginning of time as part of his plan. There's really no scientific argument for or against that kind of proposition; it's unfalsifiable.

Please explain this. They don't claim that miracles actually happen miraculously, but that miracles are mundane events which can be subjectively, and incorrectly, interpreted to be miraculous? And that God intended it this way all along?

It would make absolutely no sense to try to determine experimentally whether I look pretty or whether George is noble; "pretty" and "noble" aren't observable or quantifiable things like "rectilinear" or "blue."

Of course "pretty" and "noble" are observable. But I just deleted my paragraph arguing this point because it's irrelevant. Religions make claims about the way the universe works and those claims are either true or false. These claims are not akin to "you're pretty."

Faith is irrational, unjustified and unjustifiable—if you have a reason, if there is evidence for a belief, you're not taking it on faith.

So why is it that for some questions, we consider it acceptable or valuable to find answers with no regard for evidence, whereas for others we would regard that as absurd and counter-productive? Why is it that it's good for me to believe the claims of e.g. The Bible without any evidence for them, but it's not good for me to believe in the claims of e.g. Star Wars? Or should people just apply this sort of thinking to anything they feel like?

So yes, there's no reason to believe in things for which there's no evidence, which means that the reach of faith should be constrained, especially when it comes to public endeavors (where the law is concerned, questions of faith should be de minimis). But that's a political question, not a theological one.

This sounds like you're saying it's ok to believe without evidence as long as you only believe some of the time. What if people truly believe in their religion, and truly believe that religion tells them that e.g. homosexuality is wrong? Are they supposed to go around believing that all of the time but forget that they believe it when they step into a voting booth?
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos:

Could you imagine the possibility of a religion that would leave a believer, on a whole, a worse person? Less moral, a net drain to their society?

Dawkins does not claim that all religions are bad, but rather that every faith leaves a believer a less valuable member of society than they could have been as a non-believer, or, at best, identical to a non believer.

Does this make him more of a dick than the Christian who claims that people are improved through Christ or that Christianity is the engine that drives the greatest societies to greatness? Does this make him more of a dick than the Muslims who say that the most just society is one that honors the word of the Prophet?

The only dickish thing about Dawkins is that he wants to be able to argue about religion the way we argue about politics. I, personally think that our standards of politeness are misguided, and we very well should be able to talk shit about religion just as much as we do about politics, since so much of politics is dominated by people's religious convictions. I recognize that this is a controversial position, and I don't actually engage in this sort of shit talking most of the time because it isn't at all productive as long as people hold it to be pretty much unacceptable fighting words.

Regarding the equation of religious education to child abuse, it is interesting to note that this came from a personal circumstance of his: his child was indoctrinated into catholicism against his will and without his knowledge. Of the various ways he could have rationalized his visceral repulsion at this circumstance, this is definitely preferable to claiming some sort of right of chattel over his child's mind.
posted by idiopath at 10:09 AM on August 22, 2009


Could you imagine the possibility of a religion that would leave a believer, on a whole, a worse person? Less moral, a net drain to their society?

There are two, given, specific faiths where I can see that, yes. The two that I'm thinking of are also the only two that do not have any rule of reciprocity in their moral codes -- in other words, they are the only two that do NOT have any kind of expression of the concept that you should treat others the way you personally wish to be treated. Those two are Satanism -- which SORT of says that, actually, but it just amends it to "treat others the way you would want to be treated -- unless it'd be too much of a hassle for you" (I'm paraphrasing wildly, there) -- and the World Church of the Creator, which is basically white racial supremacy gone religious.

Every other single faith in the world has a reciprocity statement in it - i.e., "treat others the way you wish to be treated" -- and that point, at the very least, is an encouragement to a faith's followers to "think of the other guy before you do something to him, eh?" So if someone doesn't follow that, I can't find fault with the religion, but only with the follower for bending the rules to suit his own gains.

Dawkins does not claim that all religions are bad, but rather that every faith leaves a believer a less valuable member of society than they could have been as a non-believer, or, at best, identical to a non believer.

It is where Dawkins says that EVERY faith leaves a believer a "less valuable member of society" that he loses me, for the examples I've pointed out above. Because while there are SOME faiths that advocate becoming a dick, those are rare -- the vast majority preach otherwise. And in all cases where someone practices otherwise, I think you'll find that it's more often them trying to cheat on the rules than what the rules say themselves. And that's just human nature -- we like to try to find loopholes. We as a species are selfish and self-interested, and the point of all of these religions and philosophies of any and all stripes is supposed to get us to NOT be so selfish all the time.

So for the people who are interpreting what their faith teaches in a way that makes them "less valuable to society" (how do you quantify "valuable" anyway, by the way?), the problem is the people themselves trying to find a loophole. And for the poeplw ho are "identical to a non-believer", well, if they're identical, then what does anyone care how they got there, so long as they GOT there?

Does this make him more of a dick than the Christian who claims that people are improved through Christ or that Christianity is the engine that drives the greatest societies to greatness? Does this make him more of a dick than the Muslims who say that the most just society is one that honors the word of the Prophet?

No. But there's a difference between "people are improved through Christ" and "people are improved through Christ, BUT ARE LESS VALUABLE TO SOCIETY WITHOUT CHRIST." Which most Christians actually don't even say, incidentally -- only the dickish ones do.

It's not the "my philosophy would make everyone better" that sticks in my craw, it is the "but the people who don't ascribe to my philosphy are LESSER PEOPLE" that does.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2009


"So why is it that for some questions, we consider it acceptable or valuable to find answers with no regard for evidence, whereas for others we would regard that as absurd and counter-productive? Why is it that it's good for me to believe the claims of e.g. The Bible without any evidence for them, but it's not good for me to believe in the claims of e.g. Star Wars? Or should people just apply this sort of thinking to anything they feel like?"

Who said it was good for you to believe the claims of the Bible without any evidence for them? Ah, yes, I know, some other Christian who's not here. Aside from that, there are several answers. First off, keep in mind that I don't particularly believe the claims of the Bible, so I'm not the best person to defend them. I think the question of whether there was an actual Abraham is immaterial to what the story of Abraham and Isaac can say about faith, or whether there was an actual Job is immaterial to what the story can say about the problem of evil. Second off, it's good to consider claims in terms of evidence when we're dealing with material problems, so I wouldn't recommend you attempt to use the force to levitate or anything, but it's meaningless to consider claims in an empirical sense regarding, say, what Luke's redemption of his father shows us about family, because at a fundamental level neither of those characters exist. Did Luke really bring out the good in Darth? No, because those were actors in a story, and those events never really happened. The Bible is more difficult than that, because a lot of the characters in it can be argued to have had a historical existence. But that just puts it in the realm of books like E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. Some of his historical claims are true, and no doubt some of his emotional claims are true, but that doesn't mean that the book is empirically accurate.

Biblical literalism is a fairly recent invention, and one that would have been entirely alien to folks in 0 AD.

Finally, I'd say that if you don't have faith and wish to treat everything empirically, it's not good for you to believe the claims of the Bible. It won't enrich your life, you won't be smarter or happier. But you're a songwriter, so you should know what it means to have something be true but not empirically true—you accept the claims of songs as representing the songwriter, but you allow impossible things to happen for all sorts of other reasons.

"This sounds like you're saying it's ok to believe without evidence as long as you only believe some of the time. What if people truly believe in their religion, and truly believe that religion tells them that e.g. homosexuality is wrong? Are they supposed to go around believing that all of the time but forget that they believe it when they step into a voting booth?"

Within a pluralistic democracy, there will always be those who believe in the negation of democracy and pluralism. Chantal Mouffe's reply to John Rawls on the fundamental untenability of assumptions of rationality in the body public (and liberalism) with a suggestion of zones of contention is a good thing to read here. But hopefully my prior reply will shine some light on why I think that's the wrong question to ask regarding belief.
posted by klangklangston at 10:37 AM on August 22, 2009


"Could you imagine the possibility of a religion that would leave a believer, on a whole, a worse person? Less moral, a net drain to their society?

Dawkins does not claim that all religions are bad, but rather that every faith leaves a believer a less valuable member of society than they could have been as a non-believer, or, at best, identical to a non believer.
"

And people can't see how that's insulting and contemptuous, not to mention false? Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., they would have been better or identical to non-believers without their faith? Bullshit on its face.
posted by klangklangston at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dawkins does not claim that all religions are bad, but rather that every faith leaves a believer a less valuable member of society than they could have been as a non-believer, or, at best, identical to a non believer.

Does this make him more of a dick than the Christian who claims that people are improved through Christ or that Christianity is the engine that drives the greatest societies to greatness?


it doesn't make him a dick - it does make him less of a scientist

just how would a person go about proving that "faith leaves a believer a less valuable member of society", anyway? - i can't think of an experiment that would work, nor could i see how it would be repeatable - and valuable according to whose "objective" criteria?

of course, the christian isn't fettered by something like that as he doesn't claim to be against faith

dawkins, on the other hand ...

Regarding the equation of religious education to child abuse, it is interesting to note that this came from a personal circumstance of his: his child was indoctrinated into catholicism against his will and without his knowledge.

so basically he's passive aggressively claiming that someone, perhaps his ex, "abused" his child

just like he passive aggressively claims that some of us aren't "bright"

and claims that he's against faith but then makes statements about religious followers that are based on nothing more than his beliefs

hmm, maybe he is a dick
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who said it was good for you to believe the claims of the Bible without any evidence for them? Ah, yes, I know, some other Christian who's not here.

I was responding to the argument you made when you said:

"Faith is irrational, unjustified and unjustifiable—if you have a reason, if there is evidence for a belief, you're not taking it on faith."

I think the question of whether there was an actual Abraham is immaterial to what the story of Abraham and Isaac can say about faith, or whether there was an actual Job is immaterial to what the story can say about the problem of evil.

Of course, but while we can similarly learn a lot from Hamlet or Captain Ahab, religion is distinct from literature, isn't it? What's the distinction? If I read the new testament the same way an English student reads Hamlet or Moby Dick, is that grounds for calling myself a Christian?
posted by ludwig_van at 11:30 AM on August 22, 2009


klangklangston: And in a world where it's pretty inarguable that there are evil acts perpetrated by believers and non-believers, it seems silly to argue that the question of faith is foundational—Dawkins essentially inverts the traditional, and wrong, argument that without God there can be no morality. And he's no more right than those who would say that atheists shouldn't be trusted or are amoral.

Except that he doesn't. Dawkins repeatedly points to variations on the Golden Rule as examples that religion does often come up with some pretty good moral frameworks. It's just that those frameworks have little to do with the proposition that there is a God, and the belief in God is is not required for those moral precepts. He's also not blind to the historic moral failures of secular thought as well. Or to use the Gaiman/Prachett maxim: "People tend to be good in spite of their religion." But I've seen few calls that political movements should disown either Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett for attributing to human nature and reason what religions claim as religious virtue. Both atheists and theists love our mothers, baring extreme circumstances, and we turn to religious texts or ethical arguments to justify our sensibilities, not to convince us that we should go against our sensibilities to do so.

And contrawise, the transcendental argument for God on the basis of morality usually doesn't say that atheists are inherently immoral, just that we are mistaken or in denial as to the fundamental basis of the moral laws that we already follow.

EmpressCallipygos: No. But there's a difference between "people are improved through Christ" and "people are improved through Christ, BUT ARE LESS VALUABLE TO SOCIETY WITHOUT CHRIST." Which most Christians actually don't even say, incidentally -- only the dickish ones do.

Except that one follows the other. When Obama puts people of faith on a pedestal as central to the revival of American democracy, it's fairly obvious which values he's choosing to champion. But I certainly wouldn't argue that Obama is an asshat who shouldn't be associated with the gay community because he expresses belief that religion makes better citizens. (That he's using gay rights as convenient for his political schedule is another matter.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:32 AM on August 22, 2009


And people can't see how that's insulting and contemptuous, not to mention false? Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., they would have been better or identical to non-believers without their faith? Bullshit on its face.

He claims that religion makes someone a worse person, the corollary, if that were true, is that Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been better people without their respective religions. Not that they are worse than non-religioius people as a class.

And why is this an insult? It is only an insult if your religion defines who you are. He is insulting religion, not people who believe in it.
posted by idiopath at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2009


"Can you imagine if we passed a law requiring children to say, '...one nation, praise be to Allah...'? Christians would be justly crying religious persecution."

Err, they might justly cry linguistic persecution, but not religious persecution. "Allah" is the Arabic word for "God". Arabic speaking Christians use the word "Allah" instead of the word "God" all the time, because they speak Arabic.
posted by Jahaza at 12:02 PM on August 22, 2009


"I was responding to the argument you made when you said:

"Faith is irrational, unjustified and unjustifiable—if you have a reason, if there is evidence for a belief, you're not taking it on faith."
"

Which isn't an argument for honoring the claims of the Bible, any more than honoring the claims of Buddhism or post-Navajo syncretism. The Judeo-Christian tradition is just one avenue for the expression of faith, and it does not follow that all claims made from a position of faith are equally valid, a distinction that seems lost on many atheists.

"Of course, but while we can similarly learn a lot from Hamlet or Captain Ahab, religion is distinct from literature, isn't it? What's the distinction? If I read the new testament the same way an English student reads Hamlet or Moby Dick, is that grounds for calling myself a Christian?"

Sure. Why not? I mean, I gave my definition of Christian upthread in regard to the diversity of American Christianity, but if you feel that reading the New Testament from a critical perspective makes you a Christian, I would simply expect you to be able to explicate how that follows from your underlying understanding of faith. But since I'm not a Christian and don't have much of a dog in the fight regarding Christian identity, my approval won't get you into any Church picnics. I would say that reading the NT like an English student is different than being enfolded in the transcendental truth of the NT, the same as I would say that reading Moby Dick like an English student is different than being enfolded in the transcendental truth of Moby Dick, but since, again, faith isn't something that lends itself to easy explanations and I don't particularly feel like you have any real desire to understand faith qua faith, or even respect the faithful, it's not particularly important for me to make sure that you really get it.

As a side analogy: You can say that it's possible that there is life on other planets, intelligent life. You can even say that it's probable. Those are different statements from saying that you believe there is life on other planets, and that you have faith that there is life on other planets. The first two are rather empirical statements, the latter isn't so much. Now add to that another belief—that we will come into contact with intelligent life from another planet. That you have faith that we will. Now, outside of the empirical discussion of probability, you have to accept that this could happen at roughly any time—there's nothing to say that SETI won't pick up the signal tomorrow, even though it's incredibly unlikely. Given that faith, though, you have to decide with that faith in mind how you want to live your life—how you want to order your affairs, how you want human society to look, all of these values extend from that glimpse of faith. Now, that's a faith without any non-materialist beliefs, nothing supernatural or miraculous, save the infinitesimal odds of it actually happening. But if you believe it will happen, and there's no way of predicting when, you should behave as if it is immanent. And while other people can and should have their own priorities regarding how much emphasis and value to place on this faith, there's no real grounds for them to constrain your faith unless it's demonstrably harmful to society (not just yourself).
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on August 22, 2009


"Or to use the Gaiman/Prachett maxim: "People tend to be good in spite of their religion.""

Which is a funny quip, but facile—it was specifically the religious language of Martin Luther King Jr. (and to a lesser extent Ghandi) that made them able to achieve as much as they did. You can then say that if everyone were areligious, MLKjr wouldn't have had to use the rhetoric of religion, but that not only moves the goalposts but assumes so many counter-factuals (that there'd be some other rhetorical tradition which would be available for poor blacks and also accepted by whites; that everyone would have rationally accepted calls to justice based on logical considerations or general empathy; that there'd be another tradition of social justice within the US that MLKjr would have been a part of) that it's like arguing that people tend to be good in spite of capitalism.
posted by klangklangston at 2:35 PM on August 22, 2009


Except that one follows the other. When Obama puts people of faith on a pedestal as central to the revival of American democracy, it's fairly obvious which values he's choosing to champion.

....I'm sorry, but how does this follow? Is it not possible that he's putting a person on the pedastal for their actions, and Obama actually in truth doesn't give two shits about their faith? Is it not possible that Obama is putting them on a pedastal because they're doing admirable action, and he would be still putting them on a pedestal whether or not they were Christian, Jewish, atheist, Pastafarian, or claimed to receive wisdom from a small blue rock they found under their bed one morning?

Has Obama expressly stated that "people of faith are the people we should emulate", or has he merely lauded people who just happen to be people of faith, and you're just maybe possibly reading things a TINY bit into it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:36 PM on August 22, 2009


kathrineg: The entire idea that I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say is a threat.

Christians do not believe this.


Many Christians do. Especially likely to believe this are the ones who proselytize.
posted by kathrineg at 2:44 PM on August 22, 2009


Is it not possible that he's putting a person on the pedastal for their actions, and Obama actually in truth doesn't give two shits about their faith?

Then why would he mention faith at all?

Anyway, does anyone have the actual transcript or an article about this speech/statement by Obama?
posted by kathrineg at 2:49 PM on August 22, 2009


He claims that religion makes someone a worse person, the corollary, if that were true, is that Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been better people without their respective religions.

I know! Just imagine what Ghandi and King could've been, what they could've achieved, if only they'd been atheists. What a waste.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:57 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Which isn't an argument for honoring the claims of the Bible, any more than honoring the claims of Buddhism or post-Navajo syncretism.

Which is why I said "e.g. The Bible."

it does not follow that all claims made from a position of faith are equally valid, a distinction that seems lost on many atheists.

Again, how does one decide if a proposition belongs to the category of "things which should be taken on faith" or "things which should be believed even when contradicted by evidence" versus "things which shouldn't be believed without evidence?" Clearly everyone places most propositions in the latter category, but believers say that some certain propositions belong to the former. And if not all faith claims are equally valid, how do we choose between them, if evidence and justification play no part?

It seems to me that the only consistent and rational solution is to disbelieve propositions for which there is no evidence until such time as they're proven true ("I have a bridge to sell you in New York," "There are fairies living in my garden," "God created the earth in six days") and to believe propositions for which there is evidence until they're proven false ("The sun will rise tomorrow," "Humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor," "The earth is 4.5 billion years old").

Sure. Why not?

Because I don't believe the new testament describes real events or carries any more authority than any other work of fiction. If I don't believe in the divinity of Christ or the existence of God, I think everyone would agree it would be dishonest to call myself a Christian because I admire the new testament as a work of literature.

EmpressCallipygos:

...I'm sorry, but how does this follow?

Look, you said this:

there's a difference between "people are improved through Christ" and "people are improved through Christ, BUT ARE LESS VALUABLE TO SOCIETY WITHOUT CHRIST."

And you're wrong, there is no difference. These two statements are logically equivalent. "X is improved by Y" is exactly the same thing as saying "X is worse without Y."

Some Obama transcript is totally irrelevant -- this is fundamental logic here.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:02 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And while other people can and should have their own priorities regarding how much emphasis and value to place on this faith, there's no real grounds for them to constrain your faith unless it's demonstrably harmful to society (not just yourself).

I never said anything about constraining anyone's faith. I don't think it should be illegal to believe in proposition which lack evidence. But I've yet to come across a reason to do so, or even a consistently applicable principle for doing so, other than simple authority by fiat ("I am the Lord your God! Do as I tell you, not as those other guys tell you!")
posted by ludwig_van at 3:07 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: Of course, the argument that faith made Ghandi and MLK great fails on the observation that their opponents were just as grounded in faith-based rhetoric to deny liberty and rights. In fact, there are some pretty good studies that show that many of the social concerns that drive religious conservative rhetoric are inversely proportional to measures of religiosity. The argument that religion motivates people to treat each other well, much less do great things, fails the most basic of statistical tests.

Of course, we can argue about the relationship between religion, faith, spirituality, and ethics until the cows come home. But it's a bit of a derail from the base question of whether one is an asshat for believing that one is right, or that the world would be a better place if more people shared his beliefs. People who believe that religion makes you more moral are in my opinion, wrong, and mistaken. But I don't think they are assholes for thinking that I'm wrong about the origin of my ethics.

EmpressCallipygos: I'm sorry, but how does this follow? Is it not possible that he's putting a person on the pedastal for their actions, and Obama actually in truth doesn't give two shits about their faith?

Not when he's explicitly uses his own personal narrative as someone who discovered personal faith in adulthood, and felt personally driven by said faith to champion social justice causes. When Obama talks about faith and civics, he explicitly makes the case that a deep faith and true spirituality drives civic-minded activism. Not that he's praising people who just happen to be incidentally religious.

Which, as I said, is entirely his prerogative and I don't begrudge him that belief, or his expression of it. On the other hand, holding a similar position wrt atheism does not automatically make one an asshat.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:01 PM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


kathrineg: Many Christians do. Especially likely to believe this are the ones who proselytize.

They actually don't. But you can bring some in and show them to me if you like; I haven't met them. Even the worst I've met don't believe what you're accusing them of.

I have a feeling you, like me, feel a certain amount of bitterness about the 'faithful' owing to having had to spend a large amount of time amongst them as a younger person; and if there's anything these boffos are good at, it's sideways abuse. But you can't let that bitterness rule your thinking, else you're just turning into one of them.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2009


ludwig_van: I don't think it should be illegal to believe in proposition which lack evidence. But I've yet to come across a reason to do so...

What reasons have you found for believing in propositions for which there are evidence? What reasons have you found for believing that evidence itself is credible?
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 PM on August 22, 2009


ludwig_van: I don't think it should be illegal to believe in proposition which lack evidence. But I've yet to come across a reason to do so...

What reasons have you found for believing in propositions for which there are evidence? What reasons have you found for believing that evidence itself is credible?


Do you mean this? This is the position that religion is correct because nothing is true.
posted by grobstein at 8:33 PM on August 22, 2009


These two statements are logically equivalent. "X is improved by Y" is exactly the same thing as saying "X is worse without Y."

But neither is saying "X IS worse WITH Z", which is what it sounds like Dawkins is saying.

There's a difference between "you'll be better off with this quality, but if you don't have it, eh, you're still pretty okay", and "you'll be better off with this quality, but if you DON'T have it, you will be less valuable to society."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 PM on August 22, 2009


lazaruslong: To put it another way, Dawkins believes religious indoctrination of kids is a Bad Thing. Saying so doesn't mean he is demonizing anyone.

You misunderstand the word 'demonize.' It clearly isn't literal. To 'demonize' someone is to say that they are people who are Bad, or, more precisely, to say that they do Bad Things.

Demonizing is exactly what Dawkins is doing. Whether he's correct is another matter. Sometimes it's right to demonize. People do Bad Things sometimes. 'Demonize' is generally an inflammatory word used defensively by people who want to discredit a moral accusation. I think that the best course is to be indifferent to the inflammatory word and let it be as it is. If Dawkins believes a certain thing is cruel and hurtful, I'd think there was something amiss if he didn't demonize it.

My own sense is this: Religion is essentially a set of moral codes - that is clearly its heart, and it's hard to see much more to it than that, especially as it's commonly practiced. I've never read anything by Richard Dawkins which convinces me that religion is anything more or less than a simple moral teaching. Simple moral teachings are precisely what children need to be indoctrinated with; anyone who's even watched a child being raised knows that indoctrination happens naturally every single day a child is raised, and that such indoctrination is necessary to their growing up. The point is to do the indoctrinating carefully while always leaving enough space for thoughtfulness and encouraging creativity and all the impulses which many years later will help a child break free of her or his childhood beliefs and mindsets.

The fact is: kids don't want or need the literal and exact truth in the same way that adults do. This isn't to say that we should lie to them; it's to say that they are perceptive enough to appreciate that sometimes images and metaphors are the only way to communicate meaning. Not just children but almost everyone in our society believes, for example, that everything is made up of atoms, and that atoms consist of little balls stuck together in the middle called 'neutrons' and 'protons' and that these are orbited by other little balls called 'electrons.' This is close enough to the truth to be a noble lie; it gets to the heart of the matter and communicates the gist of it to an extent that the layperson can understand, even if any atomic scientist knows it's actually bunk, since neutrons, protons and electrons aren't really little balls at all, and since they don't behave like a tiny gyroscope but in much more strange and interesting ways.

I don't think it's evil to tell children fairy tales; I don't think it's evil to tell them about Santa or the Easter Bunny or Baba Yaga or whatever other strange mythic creatures one dreams of. I think that, on the contrary, it's good for kids to have the mind-opening experience of hearing creative and exciting stories which tempt the imagination and stretch the mind's ability to believe things it hears. These stories can carry moral meanings; they can communicate profound things about what's right and what's wrong, how important friendship or loyalty are, how essential it is to honor other people and care fo them. Most of all, fairy tales are worth telling to kids because kids, who aren't as dumb as people think, often ask:

"Is that really true?"

which gives a parent a chance to reaffirm probably the most important lesson that can ever be taught:

Some people say it's true, and some people say it's not. I don't really know.
posted by koeselitz at 8:47 PM on August 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


ludwig_van: I don't think it should be illegal to believe in proposition which lack evidence. But I've yet to come across a reason to do so...

me: What reasons have you found for believing in propositions for which there are evidence? What reasons have you found for believing that evidence itself is credible?

grobstein: Do you mean this? This is the position that religion is correct because nothing is true.


I'm not arguing that religion is correct. I just asked a question. Also, where did you get truth? I didn't mention truth. I mentioned evidence. Are you saying that truth presumes that we have credible evidence?
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 PM on August 22, 2009


How is anybody supposed to respond to that? "I'm not going to discuss it." "It wasn't a God thing, it was a vaccination thing! Yeah, that's the ticket."

ActingtheGoat, I responded to your original question. Even though I didn't particularly like the way you phrased it, and despite my dislike for talking about my personal religious beliefs / convictions / conflictions in public forums, I answered.

If you missed the response, you have the opportunity to read it now.

If you did read it and still decided to give me a smartass answer, then you and I are done here.
posted by zarq at 8:58 PM on August 22, 2009


But neither is saying "X IS worse WITH Z", which is what it sounds like Dawkins is saying.

You don't know what Dawkins is saying because you haven't read the book he wrote. I'm not going to argue with you about logical negation. Y is good = not Y is not good.

What reasons have you found for believing in propositions for which there are evidence? What reasons have you found for believing that evidence itself is credible?

The nice thing to do would be to admit that you're not asking this honestly before anyone wastes their time replying.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:24 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


dersins: Can we put this simplistic, ignorant canard to bed once and for all, please? Although there are without a doubt a great many religious people who believe this to be the case, it by no means describes all, or even a majority, of people who consider themselves religious. I don't know whether you're being ignorant or disingenuous, but enough already.

zarq: I could be wrong, but I believe the point [dersins] is making is that there are many religions that do not believe in eternal damnation or salvation for non-believers. All religions do not share the same beliefs as Christianity, whatever the sect.


This thread is really all over the place, and there are all sorts of interesting comments (particularly those by zarq) which I wish I'd had the chance to respond to 'in the moment.'

For what it's worth, while many Christians nowadays seem to have a very rigid idea of heaven and hell, it seems to be worth noting that, as in most matters, 'Christians nowadays' are not in general representative of what Christians have been like over most of the course of history. Specifically, the Christian notion of hell is widely divergent. Personally, I'd say the best modern explication can be found in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce; however, to be strictly theological, Christians should take heed: the Orthodox Church teaches now, as it always has, that heaven and hell, far from being rigid, are quite fluid; and the fathers of the Church have always and will always teach that God may move people from hell to heaven or from heaven to hell if he so wishes. If he wanted, they say, he could put everyone in heaven; and some (see for example St Origen) have even taught that hell is merely a waystation on the road to heaven.

At the very least, it seems that, once again, the easy assumption that the modern nutjob is a accurate representative of Christians in general is sadly quite false.
posted by koeselitz at 9:26 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


My own sense is this: Religion is essentially a set of moral codes - that is clearly its heart, and it's hard to see much more to it than that, especially as it's commonly practiced. I've never read anything by Richard Dawkins which convinces me that religion is anything more or less than a simple moral teaching

This of course is nonsense. If religion involved only moral teachings and no supernatural claims etc. it wouldn't require faith.

Simple moral teachings are precisely what children need to be indoctrinated with;

The fact is: kids don't want or need the literal and exact truth in the same way that adults do.


So what you're saying is: "Silly rabbit, religion is for kids!"
posted by ludwig_van at 9:30 PM on August 22, 2009


me: What reasons have you found for believing in propositions for which there are evidence? What reasons have you found for believing that evidence itself is credible?

ludwig_van: The nice thing to do would be to admit that you're not asking this honestly before anyone wastes their time replying.


How the hell could I be asking that question 'dishonestly'? Are you really concerned that I'm trying for some sort of 'gotcha' moment where I say: 'AH HA! - I've now proven that religious people are better than atheists because there is no such thing as rationality! I WIN!'

I'll put that fear to rest, then. Religious people who want to act as though it's pointless to be rational - or as though, as they often put it, 'it takes faith to be an atheist' - completely mistake the entire nature of the human experience. Anyone with even two or three neurons to rub together can see plainly that rationality seems to be the wellspring of all that is good, all that is pleasing, joyous and worthwhile, in human existence. To act as though faith in apparently random or arbitrary things is exactly the same as the insistence that beliefs make some kind of sense is to imply that we can take or leave rationality if we choose, utterly at our whim. Rationality is such a deep source of pleasure and comfort and utility that I don't know how anyone who makes that kind of implication can live with themselves; in short, to reject rationality is to reject what it means to be human.

Because I believe this so firmly, I have to admit to myself that I can see no rational basis for believing that the universe itself is rational. I wish I could. I don't say that idly; I can plainly see that I can't experience or interact with the universe in a way that isn't strictly rational, and therefore if things really don't make sense in the final analysis the entire framework on which everything in my life and the lives of billions upon billions of other people rests is a sham, a lie. So I don't just wish I could find a rational basis for believing that rationality itself applies to the universe; I feel urgently the need for that rational basis of rationality itself.

But I don't know that there is one. I won't stop looking - even this search is, I think, an essential part of the human experience - but I haven't found one yet.

The mystics and teachers who mean the most to me - Maimonides and Meister Eckhart, for example - have often taught that God is a word which refers specifically and almost exclusively to that which is beyond us in every way, above us in every aspect, and completely incomprehensible. Maimonides taught that the notion of 'theology' is a false one; to him, it was a fantasy to believe that God could be made comprehensible. Religion makes the most sense to me as an acknowledgment of the irrational. As much as Maimonides may have taught this, he also stood in service to the foundations and institutions that made Judaism a rational faith: anyone who's ever tried looking at the Talmud knows that it is chiefly a set of logical puzzles and exercises designed to practice the mind of the initiate.

There's no moment here where I trap you into proving yourself irrational. There's no 'a ha - SEE! You're irrational, too!' Unfortunately, I meant the question: I'd like to find somebody who can offer me justification of evidence itself, and a basis for a completely rational justification of rationality itself. That would mean a road to something really clear and coherent. But I care too much about rationality to be irrational in its defense.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 PM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


kathrineg: Many Christians do. Especially likely to believe this are the ones who proselytize.

They actually don't. But you can bring some in and show them to me if you like; I haven't met them. Even the worst I've met don't believe what you're accusing them of.

I have a feeling you, like me, feel a certain amount of bitterness about the 'faithful' owing to having had to spend a large amount of time amongst them as a younger person; and if there's anything these boffos are good at, it's sideways abuse. But you can't let that bitterness rule your thinking, else you're just turning into one of them.


Actually, I was raised boring old Sunday Lutheran, although I don't see what that has to do with anything. Nor am I bitter. Still a fan of the hymns.

I don't see how you can claim that no Christians believe that people who don't do certain things will go to hell.

Unless you're saying that if they claim that then they're not Christians, which, okay, feel free to define Christianity however you want, but it's a bit silly.
posted by kathrineg at 10:02 PM on August 22, 2009


I'm sorry, but human beings are not rational.
posted by kathrineg at 10:08 PM on August 22, 2009


ludwig_van: This of course is nonsense. If religion involved only moral teachings and no supernatural claims etc. it wouldn't require faith.

You presume that moral teachings don't require faith. But it requires real faith, especially when you haven't lived very long yet, to choose to be an ethical person and to do the right thing rather than the convenient thing.
posted by koeselitz at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


kathrineg: I don't see how you can claim that no Christians believe that people who don't do certain things will go to hell.

But that's not what you said. You said that Christians believe that "I (or anyone) will go to hell unless I join some little in-group and do exactly what they say." And that's clearly not what the worst Christians, people I often refer to as 'so-called Christians,' believe. They believe that you'll go to hell if you don't have a 'personal relationship with Jesus,' or if you don't 'accept him into your heart;' these petty shadows of religious rites are relatively arbitrary, but they're not the same thing as 'joining a little in-group' and following its prescriptions to the letter. That's not a trivial difference.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on August 22, 2009


kathrineg: Actually, I was raised boring old Sunday Lutheran, although I don't see what that has to do with anything. Nor am I bitter. Still a fan of the hymns.

Ah - sorry. One less victim, I suppose. That's good.

posted by koeselitz at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2009


"Male circumcision, already shown to reduce the incidence of H.I.V. infection in men, also reduces transmission of both herpes simplex virus Type 2 and human papilloma virus, a study has found."

I wonder if I could get funding for a study on the relationship between removing a child's finger and toenails and the incidence of fungal infections in later life?

We don't declaw nearly enough babies, to my mind.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:44 AM on August 23, 2009


As far as the circumcision/HIV connection goes: I'm still doubtful of any and all studies concerning this, as almost all of them have been conducted in an environment that is frankly emotionally charged and I don't really know where the money's coming from or going on them. And even if I did trust them, it seems that at best they indicate that circumcision prevents female to male transmission—not male to female transmission; and we haven't really got enough data to say whether it prevents male to male transmission. Furthermore, the WHO is pretty clear that the benefit is significant and yet minimal—by which they mean that there's a large statistical advantage of great use in fighting HIV as an epidemic, but rather small personal advantage given that there are numerous ways to avoid HIV infection that are far more effective.

It seems to me that cutting off a portion of a baby's penis simply on the rough off-chance that it'll incrementally decrease his statistical likelihood to catch an STD—on the basis of a small set of studies done over a short time period—is uselessly cruel. In the end, no one would even begin to try to justify such an act on such grounds if they didn't already believe that circumcision is justified as a religious sign.

Personally, though I've tried not to wade into the whole circumcision debate, I think it's really a moot point not worth arguing over. For thousands of years, Jews have circumcised their children as a sign; I hardly think they're likely to stop now. People in Europe and North America may abhor this as a barbarous practice, but even if I agreed with them I can't see how circumcision is barbarous enough to prevent a civilized society from subsisting. Yet again, it's not really up to me. If the people of the West decide they'd rather not have circumcision in their countries, then they can go ahead and try to put a stop to it; but as long as there are Jews in Europe and North America, I think there'll be circumcision, too. In other words, eradicating the practice of circumcision would probably mean getting rid of all the Jews.

Not much to discuss, really.
posted by koeselitz at 3:02 AM on August 23, 2009


I believe in sky fairies and cutting off parts of little boys' weenies.

Care to have an intellectual debate?
posted by fleacircus at 4:01 AM on August 23, 2009


You don't know what Dawkins is saying because you haven't read the book he wrote. I'm not going to argue with you about logical negation. Y is good = not Y is not good.

Well, if it's NOT what Dawkins is saying, then why do you continue to make this specific argument? SOMETHING must have prompted you to bring it up, no?

Unless it's what YOU think? Do YOU think that a person is "less valuable to society" if they're not atheist? Is that what you're trying to say?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2009


Can't we go back to arguing about Greedo? That was fun.
posted by languagehat at 6:51 AM on August 23, 2009


...Okay, I went a bit far there in my last comment. ludwig_van, my apologies; I'm flagging my own self.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:00 AM on August 23, 2009


As much as I'd love to keep going round on this, I think someone asking "what's your evidence for believing in evidence" is as good a signal as you're going to get that an argument is over.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2009


ludwig_van: As much as I'd love to keep going round on this, I think someone asking "what's your evidence for believing in evidence" is as good a signal as you're going to get that an argument is over.

"Hello, my screen-name is ludwig_van, and I really can't handle questions that are more complicated than 'would you like some peanut butter and jelly, son?' Such questions make me run away crying."
posted by koeselitz at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2009


okay, that's it - punching the button before I get even more pissed off
posted by koeselitz at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2009


Chill out broshua. I think I've been pretty patient with this thread, but I can't go on forever. Google "problem of induction" for yourself if you want.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2009


koeselitz: You misunderstand the word 'demonize.' It clearly isn't literal. To 'demonize' someone is to say that they are people who are Bad, or, more precisely, to say that they do Bad Things.

The problem here is that when we say that someone has been "demonized" we usually mean a much harsher (and frequently untruthful) degree of censure than just saying that someone has done a bad thing. Saying that people generally shouldn't use bottled water because it has few benefits and significantly greater environmental impact than tap water is advocacy. Saying that people who drink bottled water murder dolphins and baby polar bears cs demonization.

The root of it comes from the dark days when minority groups (such as German Jews) were actually described or painted as demons in an effort to make them scapegoats for current political problems.

Demonizing is exactly what Dawkins is doing. Whether he's correct is another matter. Sometimes it's right to demonize. People do Bad Things sometimes. 'Demonize' is generally an inflammatory word used defensively by people who want to discredit a moral accusation. I think that the best course is to be indifferent to the inflammatory word and let it be as it is. If Dawkins believes a certain thing is cruel and hurtful, I'd think there was something amiss if he didn't demonize it.

On the contrary. It is generally an accurate term used to point out when a party in a debate has employed rather extreme hyperbole in trying to discredit the other person.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:52 AM on August 23, 2009


My dictionary defines "demonize" as "portray as wicked and threatening".
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:33 AM on August 23, 2009


And that's clearly not what the worst Christians, people I often refer to as 'so-called Christians,' believe. They believe that you'll go to hell if you don't have a 'personal relationship with Jesus,' or if you don't 'accept him into your heart;' these petty shadows of religious rites are relatively arbitrary, but they're not the same thing as 'joining a little in-group' and following its prescriptions to the letter. That's not a trivial difference.

I guess we'll never agree; faith-based salvation is a great talking point, but in practice certain things must be said and done for someone to keep on the big guy's good side.
posted by kathrineg at 11:10 AM on August 23, 2009


After careful analysis, I've come to the conclusion that a number of mefites piece together the topic of a post not from the links, nor from the post text, but from reading the first two words and the first comment.
posted by Tobu at 1:56 PM on August 23, 2009


Correction, to take into account the evidence at hand: the first two words they feel strongly about, and the first comment.
posted by Tobu at 1:59 PM on August 23, 2009


Star Wars is the most misunderstood movie ever made, because in reality, the Empire is a righteous government trying to maintain order in a galaxy being overrun by terrorist Rebel forces.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:20 PM on August 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


ludwig_van: ... someone asking "what's your evidence for believing in evidence" ...

My point was only that nobody said this. "Evidence" is by no means the same thing as "reasoning."
posted by koeselitz at 3:55 PM on August 23, 2009


Star Wars is the most misunderstood movie ever made, because in reality, the Empire is a righteous government trying to maintain order in a galaxy being overrun by terrorist Rebel forces.

Absolutely. That's why Lucas lifted the awards ceremony at the end from The Triumph of the Will; Star Wars was the Starship Troopers of its time. I think so, anyway. I mean, the alternative -- that Lucas copied nazi propaganda for a feel-good moment in his film based on sheer aesthetics -- implies that Lucas is a filmmaker with no sensitivity to or even interest in the real world, and I think his body of work clearly demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:58 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Firefly/Serenity is clearly Star Trek as seen from the other perspective.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:10 PM on August 23, 2009


(Sorry- Star Trek the Next Generation)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:10 PM on August 23, 2009


koeselitz: You misunderstand the word 'demonize.' It clearly isn't literal. To 'demonize' someone is to say that they are people who are Bad, or, more precisely, to say that they do Bad Things.

The problem here is that when we say that someone has been "demonized" we usually mean a much harsher (and frequently untruthful) degree of censure than just saying that someone has done a bad thing.

Webster's definition (#1b) seems to fit what I intended to say:

"to characterize or conceive of as evil, cruel, inhuman, etc."

Dawkins accuses parents of abuse (I linked to this upthread,) if they indoctrinate their own children into their religions.

I'm pretty sure I used the word properly, given this context.
posted by zarq at 8:34 AM on August 24, 2009


You know, for a neutral observer who's only sampled the entire atheist vs. theist debate (including this thread) occasionally, it's a bit interesting that it's completely impossible to figure out if your description of Dawkins' position is 100% accurate or at least partially filled with straw -- the whole fucking Internet is full of people screaming at the top of their lungs about how their interpretation of what others have said and done is the only correct one.

If you're convinced that everyone's interpretation on the subject is subjective and as a result it is impossible to tell which are valid, then the only suggestion I can give you is to read Dawkins' books (especially The God Delusion,), watch his TED talk, read his essay "Viruses of the Mind" and draw your own conclusions.
posted by zarq at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2009


Now if only we can tie this into hipsters, the metafilter circle of hate will be complete.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:07 AM on August 24, 2009


Now if only we can tie this into hipsters, the metafilter circle of hate will be complete.

HURF DURF UNCUT INDIE ROCKERS?
posted by zarq at 9:26 AM on August 24, 2009


Speaking of circumcision ...
posted by Bookhouse at 10:01 AM on August 25, 2009


Uh, muslim babies are circumcised...right??

Now I'm thinking about Obama's penis, great
posted by kathrineg at 11:27 AM on August 25, 2009


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