Good posts on grar topics October 2, 2011 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to see a list of Metafilter posts about potentially dangerous topics that led to respectful, interesting conversations.

We talk a lot about things Metafilter doesn't do well. When those things are done well, it's worth looking closely at how the post was framed. When people complain about their divisive posts getting deleted, it would be nice to point to what a good post on a controversial topic looks like.

At risk of jinxing it, I'd like to commend this post as a great example.
posted by roll truck roll to Etiquette/Policy at 2:26 PM (81 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

I had the same thought reading that thread, such thoughtful commentary from knowledgeable people on a topic that could easily have gone all LOLXIAN.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:34 PM on October 2, 2011


Keeping things on a religious tip, this recent thread concerning ... Varieties of irreligious experience ended up being quite functional -- not that it didn't, in its 900+ comments, endure a few small firefights.

Maybe my serotonin's just a bit out of whack (in a good way) but I have noticed a gradual positive shift in MeFi's ability to have a discussion concerning religion that doesn't just inevitably fall in predictable dung flinging. And I do think it's a direct result of all manner of previous threads that have gone horribly wrong and inevitably ended up here in Meta where folks have slowly, over time, figured out how to actually listen to each other ... which is what tended to happen in that thread. Somebody would say something a little carelessly. Somebody else, rather than just responding in kind, would actually seek clarification from the initial poster, who often as not, would rephrase or retract (slightly) ... and so on. People kept talking.

The secret to me is people actually listening, which is weird in a mostly text-based environment, but there you go -- 21st century synaesthesia in full effect.
posted by philip-random at 2:52 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks for pointing out that thread, philip-random. As is often the case, I Instapapered the essay and never got back to the discussion after reading it.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:57 PM on October 2, 2011


Peter McDermott once said that, in this thread, "the civil discussion between fake and toekneesan is Metafilter at its very best."

That stuck with me as a very high compliment.

At the time, it was a particularly controversial topic, and I daresay it might still be, though it doesn't hold a candle to like, cat circumcision or baby declawing.
posted by fake at 3:28 PM on October 2, 2011


On the ethical implications of eating meat/small-scale slaughter, aka "Tastes like convenience." Contentious topic, good conversation. "Unnatural selection" produced some interesting commentary on hunting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:49 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


At risk of jinxing it, I'd like to commend this post as a great example.

The first comment on it seems to me a drive-up LOLXIAN comment to me, so I was glad to see the thread itself develop into something less YAR HAR HAR-y and more in-depth.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hmm, this made me realize- it would be interesting to see the Popular page sliced by tag instead of overall time. I wonder if you could get a rough-cut "best of" a given topic that way.
posted by mkultra at 4:42 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think this one, on Mormons and archaeology went well, but of course, there were some who didn't bother to actual click through. Why is that? Doesn't everyone read before commenting or is that a silly notion?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:36 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading before commenting reduces your chances of making an above-the-fold comment, which garners 174% more favorites on average than a below-the-fold comment. Maximizing ATFs is a necessity if you want to have a shot at winning MetaFilter.
posted by brain_drain at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2011


Holy shit that mormon post did get really good, especially this post by Doleful Creature.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:19 PM on October 2, 2011


Everything in moderation, including moderation. When things do go well, it can be because of the invisibile hand of the mod. We know what's left, but we don't always know what has been trimmed. Don't get me wrong, that isn't a bug it's a feature. But before I take credit for being an example of Metafilter at its best, I think the reason I show up every day is at least partially attributable to great members, but also the response from mods, and the example and tone that they set. Good threads might not be good if it weren't for the work they do that we don't see. They aren't editors, but if the conversation is good, it may be because of clean up, and re-railing. I would link to an example but I don't know know to link to a group of deleted shitty comments.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:33 PM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought the discussion on the Mormons and archaeology post was great, the framing of the original post wasn't so great. I'm not going to listen to 8000 hours of talk when I can read the same content in 10 minutes. My eyes work so much faster than my ears.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:40 PM on October 2, 2011


Am I the only person who thinks it's productive even when we fight? I don't bookmark posts or have the google-fu that some of you have, but I've seen some really productive "work" come out of pretty nasty arguments here. I mean, at least I've learned a lot. I tend to stay out of the discourse but from a spectator stand point, the blue and sometimes the gray can be really illuminating. I've always thought that progress was the product of conflict handled well.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:09 PM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think "handled well" is the key bit there. Handling it well doesn't mean you have to be passionless and clinical in discussions, but efforts to discuss in good faith go a long, long way. In Metafilter discussions, as in relationships, contempt is a deadly thing.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:53 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Varieties of irreligious experience ended up being quite functional -- not that it didn't, in its 900+ comments, endure a few small firefights.

I actually didn't think it was a 'few small firefights,' I think it was kind of poisoned by the toxic contempt taz refers to. That's why I left the thread after a while. I haven't been back to see what happened after.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2011


Last year I did a post called Christians in the Hand of an Angry God, and to this day I'm still amazed how civil the conversation went, considering the author touched on abortion, homosexuality, and how the Republican Right co-opted Christianity to lure in the religious vote.

I like to believe that there were so many grar-worthy topics in such a small area, that they simply cancelled each other out.
posted by quin at 8:13 AM on October 3, 2011


Varieties of irreligious experience ended up being quite functional -- not that it didn't, in its 900+ comments, endure a few small firefights.

Maybe the single biggest hurdle grar-topic-related threads have is that a large population of posters see them as excuses to recycle their thinly-related talking points. That thread started with a few on-topic comments and then a big pile of comments just arguing about theodicy or the banality of religion or how Christians are destroying the American political system or whatever. I mean, shit, this post about an interview with an actress from a sitcom had to endure a ridiculous load of arguing against theism from people who didn't, apparently, even notice what the link was.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Varieties of irreligious experience ended up being quite functional -- not that it didn't, in its 900+ comments, endure a few small firefights

I haven't counted but I think that at least 300 of those comments were over the application of a word whose definition the pro-theist side later admitted to not knowing. I guess that's functional for a MF religion debate.

And miko I'm sorry if I was on the toxic contempt side. From our side, as vorfeed sumarized:
"My perception of most of this thread is that people have slagged on atheists for being insufficiently precise when talking about matters of faith, or their categorizations. Then when precise language is then used, it's ignored."
Respect is somewhat challenging when you're treated that way.

That's not particular to religion debates, more of a general internet argumentation tactic.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:34 AM on October 3, 2011


What word are you talking about?

Respect is somewhat challenging when you're treated that way.

I'm tired of this kind of thing being imagined as one-sided. I was accused of doing a "bullshit fan dance," among other disheartening things, which was my cue to bow out.

There are very few people who can say that every post they made in that thread was respectful. I just reviewed all my contributions in cold blood and I'm reasonable proud of the way I conducted myself, but I would not say the same about very many others, with a few notably obvious exceptions. Passions led and there was a great deal of rudeness, and the feelings of persecution are, I think, misplaced. One risk of seeing what looks like a 'good' discussion proceeding peacefully is not having any idea how many people had already deserted it or never waded in because their expectations are justifiably negative.

In any case, respect is be challenging, but it's possible to respect others even when they aren't respecting you. It's worth trying but difficult to achieve; but when I fail at achieving it, "they made me do it" doesn't make me feel any better about my own conduct.

The thread brought me to a couple of profound realizations: one, that many people who are drawn to this discussion are drawn for the very reason that it's a scab they can't stop picking, and they have little patience and a short fuse with the topic. They come in ready for a fight, not a discussion. And secondly, I realized that one of the reasons I am religious is because at the end of the day, I value and need compassion, and any practice that promotes compassion, much more highly than I value and need correctness. Since then I have kind of reinvigorated my practice, a humorously ironic result for this thread. At any rate, I still enjoy participating in worldview-type threads a lot, but I will sooner be scurrying at any hint of 'spoilin'-for-a-fight'-iness.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeesh. English much? Sorry for all the typos.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on October 3, 2011


When people complain about their divisive posts getting deleted, it would be nice to point to what a good post on a controversial topic looks like.

Oft times, the right picture is worth far more than a thousand words.
posted by y2karl at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2011


I don't know that I know what "respect" would have meant in that thread. On certain topics it seems like someone will say that any criticism of topic X is inherently disrespectful. Maybe that somehow does not represent the plurality of opinion on the side being criticized, but how can one know?
posted by Chekhovian at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2011


On certain topics it seems like someone will say that any criticism of topic X is inherently disrespectful.

No, of course that's not what I mean. I mean something very simple: not being insulting.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on October 3, 2011


But again - what's the word people disagreed on the meaning of? I just don't understand what that refers to.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on October 3, 2011


I believe you had dropped out by then, but it was "gaslighting" *I shudder to type the word again.*
posted by Chekhovian at 9:18 AM on October 3, 2011


not being insulting
If you have any examples in mind where I was insulting, then please feel free to post or memail me (my deliberate insults at fraac don't count :-P). I don't think I was overly rude, and I'd be curious to see the "otherside's" reaction.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2011


Personally I think I'm on the same page as Miko (if I'm reading her correctly) in that I really enjoy the idea of threads that discuss various or specific worldviews, but I'm much more interested in talking about how they function and learning about them and their limitations and strengths or whatever and I'm not at all interested in having a Last Man Standing Battle Over Why Those People Are Wrong, especially since the Battle has not ever resulted in anyone on Metafilter saying 'Oh you know what you're right and I concede let's get ice creams since I am now an atheist.' I don't think that's interesting or fun.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:32 AM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


a Last Man Standing Battle Over Why Those People Are Wrong

YOU SEXIST HAMSTER!!!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:49 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you have any examples in mind where I was insulting

Oh, I don't know and I'm not going to go mining for them. Of those who were being insulting I remember a specific few and you're not one of those. It looks like you were actually making a very sincere conversational effort there at the end at least (I shudder to go back in too).

What Shakesperian said is a great take on where I'd like to be coming from now on. I've never tried to convince anybody to be a theist, just want to be able to have a conversation about various worldviews without it getting so ugly and personal.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2011


'Oh you know what you're right and I concede let's get ice creams since I am now an atheist.'
Please, at least at admit that both sides are equally culpable on that acctount.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:54 AM on October 3, 2011


I will gladly admit that. The only reason I didn't say 'atheist/theist' was because I thought that looked confusing. Both sides are definitely equally culpable on that account.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:57 AM on October 3, 2011


Please, at least at admit that both sides are equally culpable on that acctount.

I really don't see it. I've never once tried for a heartbeat to convince anyone to become a theist. Maybe others have, but I think the claim would need to be substantiated and if there are examples I can only think of a few individuals it might come down to. But in that thread and elsewhere, Dawkins-sympathizing athiests have asserted that everyone should be an athiest and the world would be better for it. Some of them want to know the details of individuals' beliefs in order to systematically break them down and convince them to change. That's not cool IMO.
posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dawkins-sympathizing athiests have asserted that everyone should be an athiest and the world would be better for it. Some of them want to know the details of individuals' beliefs in order to systematically break them down and convince them to change.

I'll proudly plead guilty to both charges.

I thought koeselitz (a believer) made a good point:
Frankly, if people didn't try to convert me, I'd be a bit insulted. People who aren't interested in converting me don't really care what I think or what happens to me.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2011


I don't agree with koeselitz' point; it's a very unfamiliar sentiment to me. I really don't need strangers to care about converting me, and find it strange that my beliefs would be a subject for a stranger's inquiry.

I don't support conversion attempts and find them intrusive, no matter who is doing the attempting.

As well, as many of us know, it's most often not benevolent emotions like caring or concern that generally motivate conversion attempts (though there are exceptions). Live and let live seems to me to be the best basis for civil society.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


strange that my beliefs would be a subject for a stranger's inquiry

I am interesting in all of my fellow primates, and not just out of altruism. To paraphrase de Tocqueville, truly enlightened self interest necessitates profound concern for the well being of others.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2011


gah, *interested in
posted by Chekhovian at 10:28 AM on October 3, 2011


I've generally found people who are interested in converting me don't care what I think, at all, unless and until it happens to be exactly what they believe I should think. That's usually a pretty awkward starting point for a conversation.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:32 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also believe in concern for the well being of others, but that's precisely why I don't meddle around in their belief systems. My concern for them means that they should be entirely free to think through the related issues for themselves and choose their own perspective; I'm happy to discuss things with them but can't imagine being so presumptive as to want to substitute my belief system for theirs, and work to make that happen.
posted by Miko at 10:36 AM on October 3, 2011


don't care what I think, at all
I don't want this to sound rude, but I do find what the various theists out there think to be interesting, but in a purely clinical, sociological experiment, kind of way. Its like studying the behavior of Amazonian tribesman, its intellectually interesting, but that doesn't mean I'm going start wearing a hollow wooden log over my dingus.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:37 AM on October 3, 2011


I mean, the thing about starting a conversation with someone, whether it's about sports or bowties or the weather or religion, is that conversation requires that you be willing to listen as much as you are willing to speak. Conversion attempts are necessarily self-serving, I think, because unless I'm approaching you with the idea that I think my worldview is superior to yours and you should share it but I'm willing to be persuaded by your part in the conversation, how can I reasonably expect you to be willing to be persuaded by me?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


can't imagine being so presumptive as to want to substitute my belief system for theirs, and work to make that happen

Well for me my "belief system" feels like more like mathematical proof, you know, evidence, deduction, induction, etc. I've very willing to debate any of the points you care to, and if you present better evidence or reasoning, I think I would be willing to change my perspective.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:41 AM on October 3, 2011


Wow, "profound concern for the well being of others" get rewritten as "a purely clinical, sociological experiment" in just two posts. At least you're being honest now. Still...ick.
posted by neroli at 10:42 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't disbelieve in any of those things, though, Chekhovian. They simply don't substitute for my religious beliefs. You can believe in those things and I can believe them along with you, and still have no need to revise my wordview.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on October 3, 2011


I can believe them along with you, and still have no need to revise my wordview
Now that is fascinating to me.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:45 AM on October 3, 2011


The world is so full of a wonder of things, isn't it.
posted by Miko at 10:46 AM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, "profound concern for the well being of others" get rewritten as "a purely clinical, sociological experiment" in just two posts. At least you're being honest now.

Had you asked to me finish the de Tocqueville reference, I would have explained that his profound concern in others was motivated by ultimate fear that they might cause the collapse of social order, and then cause his head to be removed from his neck. That is why one logically must be concerned by the wellbeing and beliefs of others.

I think a fair amount of my concern is from simple solidarity with my fellow primates, but I'm not claiming to be a saint or anything.

Still...ick.
Now I'd call that personally insulting.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:49 AM on October 3, 2011


because unless I'm approaching you with the idea that I think my worldview is superior to yours and you should share it but I'm willing to be persuaded by your part in the conversation, how can I reasonably expect you to be willing to be persuaded by me?

One of the stranger experiences in my life was a conversation on the street with a Scientologist. He asked me questions about whether I'm happy and what I want in my life. I wasn't trying to punk him; I answered his questions as honestly and succinctly as I could. And he told me that he didn't really think Scientology could help me.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:50 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


My belief is that religious persecution is bad – whether it's persecuting someone for being religious, not being religious the flavor you prefer, or not being religious at all. And from what I've seen, speaking generally, zealots on all fronts seem equally eager to separate heads and necks.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:57 AM on October 3, 2011


That is why one logically must be concerned by the wellbeing and beliefs of others.

In shared civil projects in a civil society, yes, and in voluntary associations, yes. But in the private sphere of belief, I don't think so. In other words, I deplore the incursions of religion into politics or into protected spaces like abortion clinics. But I find the incursions of religion into the church down the street where they are the subject of a shared conversation to be basically fine and none of my business. So much more so the thoughts of the individuals concerned.

In the end, the problem is that I may not accept your solution. It may well be you who will contribute to the collapse that takes my head off. That's why I spend more time focusing on the structures required for shared peaceful existence civil society than worrying about what whispers might be inside people's heads.
posted by Miko at 10:58 AM on October 3, 2011


Miko, I must be misreading your comment. If you are saying that atheists should be forbidden from putting forth their views or questioning the beliefs of religious people in public discussions on religion, then your point is just breathtakingly hypocritical and sanctimonious.

incursions of religion into the church down the street where they are the subject of a shared conversation
So is a post about religion on metafilter some kind of church equivalent for you?

worrying about what whispers might be inside people's heads
I don't really care about what goes on in your head. If you put it forth in a public forum, then you invite risposte.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2011


My belief is that religious persecution is bad
And is public religion the only form of speech that you claim deserves protection?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2011


I could be wrong but I think Miko's point is that public policy-related argument should remain secular; theists ought to keep their theism out of politics, and if they stick their theism into politics, atheists should argue against it on policy grounds rather than leveling arguments against theism (because that isn't what the argument is really about anyway, and because that isn't going to have any effect).
posted by shakespeherian at 12:25 PM on October 3, 2011


atheists should argue against it on policy grounds rather than leveling arguments against theism
I, for one, will argue against these things on every level possible.

because that isn't going to have any effect
Maybe, but I feel compelled to try
posted by Chekhovian at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2011


Miko, I must be misreading your comment. If you are saying that atheists should be forbidden from putting forth their views or questioning the beliefs of religious people in public discussions on religion, then your point is just breathtakingly hypocritical and sanctimonious.

Again, the use of those words heads for the territory of uncalled-for insults. What is that about? Why go to 11? They don't apply, because you're right, you are misreading me, but what on earth do you hope to gain by calling your interlocutor, someone giving you their attention and working hard to discuss ideas with you, something like "sanctimonious?" What kind of response do you expect there? It's not a super-productive strategy for meaningful discussion.

Anyway, I don't think you understand what I am saying, and the words you are writing there didn't come from me. What I am saying is that in discussions of religion, even if you want to state your own beliefs or want to question some beliefs someone has been willing to publicly share, it is respectful to avoid insult, and it is respectful to acknowledge the full human rights of others to believe what they want to believe, regardless of whether you think those beliefs reflect the truth, as you understand it, or not.

The public sphere in the US - legislation, policy, school boards, anything we take on as a civic burden, anything that may affect an individual's access to the rights and responsibilities they have as citizens - those contexts, I strongly believe, must remain secular, since historically we support the idea that there should not be any establishment of a state religion, and as de Tocqueville himself says many times, the multiplicity of religions in a democracy based on equality demands secular governance. I'm a passionate defender of the secular civic sphere and agree that it's the place to take on statements and actions that threaten to limit freedom or unfairly constrict opportunity.

Voluntary associations, on the other hand, have no burden of universal inclusivity; they make their own rules and promote their own shared values. Membership is the choice of the members. Voluntary associations may have strict or loose codes of conduct or speech, and as long as all members are there of their own free will, that's their right. The Klan, for instance, is a voluntary association. The NAACP is. A darts league is. A prayer group is. A train-sniffer's forum is. Different associations have different rules, and as long as they break no laws, their agreed-upon rules, made public for the members, are their only authority. MetaFilter is a voluntary association.

In some voluntary associations, it might be that it's part of the purpose of your association to discuss the beliefs of others. Maybe it's specifically a religious discussion group, where an individual's worldview is the subject of inquiry, discussion, dissection, and challenge. You may want MetaFilter to be that place for you. I'm not sure, though, that a tenet of MeFi participation is that it's normative to ask for details on, and then aggressively deconstruct, the religious belief systems of others. I'm not sure it's why we're here. It may be why some people are here, but certainly not all or even most. Discussing worldview as a topic can be totally interesting; discussing religious history or the varities of irreligion, or personal experience with religion, all can be interesting. But fewer people will participate in those interesting sorts of discussions if they find that they can't broach the topic very often without soon having it demanded that they account for the last detail of their personal belief, endure sneering commentary on it, and somehow accept these direct attacks on their private beliefs as a well-meant gift.

I can understand your argument about well-being, but for me it ultimately falls too short to cover the ground you'd like it to. I think enlightened self-interest is a useful concept, but I think it falls far short of more altruistic motivators of behavior like courtesy, civility, and compassion.

I am, like you, concerned with the behavior of other people in the shared systems I belong to. But I'm not concerned about their beliefs. Beliefs are invisible, intangible, and personal. I can't see them or touch them. They belong entirely to the person holding them. I can argue against behavior in the shared civil and voluntary organizations I belong to, appealing to the shared civic principles we have tacitly or overtly agreed to as members of that community. I can argue against encoding these beliefs into laws or limitations which curtail my rights. But I can't possibly do anything about anyone's internal beliefs, and don't consider it my right to do so, and don't want to do so. Beliefs change only when a person is internally motivated to change them, and freedom of thought is essential to all other freedoms. A diversity of belief systems is something I think is fairly essential to a robust, dynamic, and creative society.

I have been on record throughout the recent discussion that I am entirely comfortable and accepting of atheism, the existence of atheism, the establishment of atheist societies, ensuring that self-identified atheists are treated equally under law and in society, not insulting or excluding athiests. I am thankful to the many who have made personal appeals on these points in discussions, and mounted a strong argument that these are civil liberties issues that require protection, and human issues which should elicit sympathy. There, I"m in full agreement. I certainly don't have a problem with atheists talking about atheism, any more than I have a problem with theists talking about theism.

I do have a problem when people of either sort decide it's their business to go beyond respectful discussion and to begin dictating the beliefs of others, or even just randomly critiquing the beliefs of others when those others have not offered their beliefs to be critiqued. I think that that effort is undemocractic and illiberal, I deplore it in religious fundamentalists and I deplore it in irreligious fundamentalists, and when it's accompanied by stated assumptions that one party is wiser and knows better than others, and thus their worldview should be the default for everyone and all others, so clearly misguided, should be hounded out of existence, I find it resembles the kind of bid for power that associates closely with strategies of paternalism and colonialism.

Note that that effort is quite different from just discussing views. Discussing views, questioning views - I think that can all be done appropriately, I enjoy doing it myself, and the thread which occasioned this post was a good example of what it looks like. But what happens sometimes is that views aren't just calmly questioned or investigated, they're dismissed, minimized, trivialized, or snottily challenged in a dumb-show that attempts to pass as honest discussion, when it's clear to everyone that no minds are open to be changed or to grow.

This is the irony of the project of trying to change other people's beliefs: it's not welcome. And the more intrusive these efforts become, the more people simply opt out of the conversation. Who wants to play this game? Very few people. The very people that some anti-theists claim they most want to change become the people who simply won't talk about it with the anti-theists any more, because they deplore the tactics used. Those people are gone outta here, and no longer available to be changed. In some cases, like me, they even get pushed further over into a more entrenched theistic position. Personally invasive tactics are not a good strategy for changing minds. Those who really and sincerely want to change minds may want to examine the approach more carefully. I'm not sure, though, that people who take that approach really do want to change minds. I think there is some other agenda there, or the tactics would surely have been abandoned long ago.

Finally, I still feel the same clarity on what is really important in questions of what it's all about. I don't believe that what's really important is rightness or perfect understanding of the universe' mechanics. Enlightened self-interest is certainly a useful tool in building a more comfortable society. But enlightened self-interest is not the same thing as, and nowhere near as powerful as, sympathy, helpfulness, and compassion. I more badly need to align with those values than with correctness or self-interest. In the end, in most lives, they are more important and more meaningfully difference-making.

And sympathy and compassion can be embodied by any human being of any religious persuasion or none at all. I notice when people are practicing it, I really appreciate it, I know others do, and I respect and learn the most from people who can embody it, regardless of their worldview.
posted by Miko at 9:07 PM on October 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


you're right, you are misreading me
If my predicate was false then my consequent is cheerfully withdrawn :-)

it is respectful to avoid insult, and it is respectful to acknowledge the full human rights of others to believe what they want to believe, regardless of whether you think those beliefs reflect the truth, as you understand it, or not

Most of the serious atheists I've "worked with" on this site have been pretty good about this in my view. I shouldn't toot our horn too much, but generally we tend to value rational argumentation. Certainly purely rational and impersonal discussion is the goal to which I aspire. I'm sure I've failed at times during the "heat of battle" and if you feel like I've personally insulted you, then I do apologize.

I'm not sure, though, that a tenet of MeFi participation is that it's normative to ask for details on, and then aggressively deconstruct, the religious belief systems of others.

Now this is interesting. We're actually metalking rather than completely stealing the thread! My first response to this would be that this sounds like a boxer complaining about being punched when he steps into a boxing ring (perhaps this is too cruel an analogy, but it does sound good, doesn't it? I'll try to soften it).

Certainly there are plenty of people willing to put forth religious beliefs as rationally based, empirically deducible things. That came up a lot in the later part of the Mormon archaeology thread. Does debating them count as stepping on your toes?

having it demanded that they account for the last detail of their personal belief, endure sneering commentary on it, and somehow accept these direct attacks on their private beliefs as a well-meant gift

I do regret anything I've said that has come off as sneering. I have plucked low hanging fruit at times, but in my mind its always been done cheerfully. I wouldn't claim that I'm immune to righteous indignation occasionally (well even frequently ;-) ), but important issues should develop strong passions.

It may be why some people are here, but certainly not all or even most.

That's a good question. My sloppy sampling would suggest that threads either become short things where ~20 people say "cool, thanks for sharing", or long campaigns of ~100+ comments that end in trench warfare and bloodsport. It would be interesting to see some statistics on this.

I was really dissipointed that the thread on the deaf girl hearing for the first time drifted into fierce arguments about what "deaf" meant and then into analysis of media coverage of pretty white girls. It seems like metafilter can easily reach criticality over trivial bullshit, so I'm not sure how you could prevent from happening with really serious issues.

So I think what's left from your great response that I haven't covered is pretty much the question of how public atheists can/should be. The way it seems to me is that criticism of public atheism usually seems to boil down "don't be so strident about it" (I'm not saying you're doing this in your post(s), I need to read your post another 8 times before trying to summarize you)

Regarding the generalized reaction I see, I'm going to steal KirkJobSluder's excellent point (forgive the bold), that he made just above the point of your own that you referenced earlier:
I've come to view "strident/militant atheist" as about the same thing as "strident feminist" and "in-your-face queer." It's a game of Calvinball. And unfortunately, it means that it's impossible to have a conversation about great articles like the one in the FPP.

It does seem like what we're told is that whatever we do is "too in your face", and that we just shouldn't say anything about it because it will only offend people and lock them deeper into their views. That feels like a recipe for extinction to me. Gays didn't win acceptance by meekly keeping quiet about their lives.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:14 PM on October 3, 2011


Well, I spoke to the stridency thing in my response to KirkJobSluder shortly below that: Stridency is fine, but stridency, in any kind of activism, is not always the best go-to strategy. I don't think that acknowledging that stridency can be helpful at times should be interpreted as license to be rude.

It does seem like what we're told is that whatever we do is "too in your face", and that we just shouldn't say anything about it because it will only offend people and lock them deeper into their views. That feels like a recipe for extinction to me. Gays didn't win acceptance by meekly keeping quiet about their lives.

I don't think atheists should "keep quiet" about their lives, or that people should talk about their views. I really think that's all good. I just wish for a situation in which there were better boundaries: in which 'me talking about my views' doesn't translate to 'me haranguing you about your views.'

The Civil Rights analogies come up a fair amount. I'm never entirely sure they're apt, because civil rights arguments tend to revolve on membership in classes that were not chosen by the member: race, gender, and sexuality are usually understood to be categories you are assigned involuntarily, and the politics around that comes down to 'it's unfair to punish people for category membership which they didn't choose.' But religious belief or non-belief is, to me, more like political belief than category membership. It's a view, it's personal, it can change. Yes, you can have discussions about beliefs, even persuasive ones. But because the topic is personal, you get much farther by staying respectful. Even though, among likeminded friends, I might be "Right wingers are such freaking moronic self-centered assholes," I know right out of the gate that I'm not going to get far in a persuasive discussion starting a conversation that way.

Certainly there are plenty of people willing to put forth religious beliefs as rationally based, empirically deducible things. That came up a lot in the later part of the Mormon archaeology thread. Does debating them count as stepping on your toes?

I guess I'm developing the sensibility that if someone is willing to play along with that kind of conversation voluntarily, and are offering their beliefs for critical evaluation, that it is fair to engage them in conversation. But my experience has been that when I want to talk about other topics related to theism - the specifics of certain denominational outlooks, maybe, or the need for a more vocal Christian left, or the varieties of irreligion, or tolerance in general, from a theist perspective, the topic tends to not to stay focused on the points I've been willing to engage on, and instead swings around not to the other topics but to "what's your theism about, here, let me tell it to you."

I think sometimes it can be hard for interrogators with a strong agenda about ending theism to pick up on the nuance of when critical evaluation is being asked for and when it isn't. Most people, especially here, who associate with some kind of faith group are fully aware of the range of critical evaluations of their beliefs. It's not that all theistic people - at least those on MeFi - are theistic because no other conceptions of the universe have ever occurred to them, because they aren't familiar with empiricist arguments, because they haven't been swayed to them at times, because they have never noticed the discrepancies and unlikelihoods in some of the dogma associated with their religions. Some people may have been raised in fairly isolated environments where they haven't come across this thinking, but I'd venture to say that most people, especially older people, have had plenty of opportunity to consider and reconsider their identification with a religious group and examine their own beliefs critically, been challenged by their own reasoning and that of closer friends than the people they speak to online, and are still willing to maintain their personal set of beliefs.

I'd say that's true for me; having identified as atheist for many years in earlier life, I certainly understand the basic arguments for atheism. They aren't news to me; it's not that I haven't been exposed and need to see the light. I'm sure this is true for most people willing to speak up as religious on MeFi - it's not that no one ever challenged us before; it's not that challenge is lacking in any of those folks' life experience, so challenge is not likely to bring about the conversion some anti-theists seek. So I guess one reason I don't enjoy the challenge conversation is that I don't enjoy plowing old ground very much. I'm definitely not interested in mounting arguments for the existence of God from within a materialist framework; that's a really silly enterprise. I'm not interested in rolling out my beliefs for evaluation: I get plenty of that in my personal life. What I'm interested in is, maybe, the kind of conversation we could have about our individual life experiences, and about bettering the world, and even about cosmology, without pulling anyone in for re-education.

In practice, what this starts to mean is that people that want to have my conversation increasingly bow out of, or never enter, the threads in which they're most likely to happen. They've learned to do this because they end up getting drawn into the other conversation, and when they do, they get hammered over the head, which no one really wants to volunteer for. Often the dynamic becomes that two people or groups of people end up arguing that they don't fit the stereotype, while, sometimes, in their responses, also stereotyping the other person or group.

Have to get ready for work, but what I'd argue for is just (a) more respect and (b) better boundaries about where one person ends and another begins. It may or may not happen, and if it doesn't that's fine, but I imagine the number of people willing to engage in those religiously-related topic threads will continue to stay at low levels and that will tend to increase the echo-chamber effect.
posted by Miko at 4:09 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


an enthusiastic agnostic Amen to what Miko just said, particularly the last part, particularly this bit:

It's not that all theistic people - at least those on MeFi - are theistic because no other conceptions of the universe have ever occurred to them, because they aren't familiar with empiricist arguments, because they haven't been swayed to them at times, because they have never noticed the discrepancies and unlikelihoods in some of the dogma associated with their religions. [...] I'd venture to say that most people, especially older people, have had plenty of opportunity to consider and reconsider their identification with a religious group and examine their own beliefs critically, been challenged by their own reasoning and that of closer friends than the people they speak to online, and are still willing to maintain their personal set of beliefs.

I guess it's just one of the ongoing imperfections of online discourse that you're not immediately aware of the relative age, experience etc of the people you end up talking to. Often, this is a very good thing. But sometimes not. In the context which Miko has just described, the enormously frustrating part is when you realize that you're getting lectured at by somebody maybe thirty years your junior who, earnest as they may be in pursuing their life's adventure, just don't have a clue of what it's like to have been somewhere, bought the various t-shirts and then come to realize that it just wasn't the right place for them, often for a myriad of quite complex, ultimately humbling reasons.

Again I find myself coming back to Henry Miller's rosy crucifixion epiphany: that most suffering in life is not necessary but you don't get to grasp this wisdom until you've first done your fair share of suffering.
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on October 4, 2011


Phillip-random: I'm still surprised at your love for that thread, given that you tried to Godwin it, TWICE.

Miko, we seem to be talking past each other here.

Stridency is fine, but stridency, in any kind of activism, is not always the best go-to strategy.

That wasn't the point of KJS's comment, or mine. What we were both saying is that whenever Atheists say anything in forum's like this we are dismissed out of hand for "shrill stridency". Then when these accusers are asked for specific instances of rude strident atheism ruining everything, they cannot seem to provide any definite examples.

Thus it seems to me that blanket accusations of rudeness and stridency are nothing more than a way to limit to debate and silence particular positions. There's an excellent article in the New Yorker that tells a parallel story:

"Dickens thought that large contradictions could be tamed through small moments of justice. He believed in the power of changing hearts, and that’s what you believe in, Orwell says, if you “do not wish to endanger the status quo.”

But in cases where the status quo involves systemic injustice this is no more than a temporary strategy. Eventually, such injustice requires more than a change of heart."


I'll respond more thoroughly later, when freed from the various tyranny's of work.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2011


I'm not sure about the relevance of the Dickens quote to your points - you seem to be saying that your project is, in fact, to bring about individual changes of heart. Otherwise, once again, why care about what other people believe?

What we were both saying is that whenever Atheists say anything in forum's like this we are dismissed out of hand for "shrill stridency".

That's an exaggeration. At least here on MeFi, I have heard objection to this imputed dismissal a lot more often than I've heard actual instances of the dismissal. It may be that it's something people feel happens to them elsewhere and they carry that sensibility over here, but it's categorically untrue that Atheists can't say anything on MeFi without this dismissa. I spend a lot of time reading the words of Athiests saying lots and lots and lots of things without being dismissed.

And even recognizing that, I still think that there are times when stridency isn't the best way to be heard, as well as times when it is. I say that as a strident feminist, a strident leftist, and a strident food activist. It's OK to call people strident when they're behaving stridently. For instance, in discussions of feminism, I've certainly been called to account when things I said were harshly and needlessly anti-male. It was right to call me out in certain shared contexts those times. "Strident" isn't a bad word; it's an approach. If you're being strident, own it. I don't go to strident all the time. I sure can, it's powerful sometimes, but it's not always the productive strategy.

Then when these accusers are asked for specific instances of rude strident atheism ruining everything, they cannot seem to provide any definite examples.

I provided a list of definite examples in the last thread, which was just full of them. Then, because it was impossible to deny their existence, the next gambit was "Oh ho, so it's the Tone Argument! Not only can I be nasty to you, I can make it seem like your fault!"

Sigh. Around we go again.

The thing is, none of it matters if you just plain don't want to have a civil, respectful discussion.
posted by Miko at 11:36 AM on October 4, 2011


I provided a list of definite examples in the last thread, which was just full of them.

I read those examples when they came up, and I guess I don't quite understand. Some of them are harshly critical of religion in general or the consequences they allege to be the result of religion. But I don't see much personal nastiness there. I suppose I need to read them more carefully when I have the time. Someone did call religious zealots "horribly dangerous" in one of your links, but again that's not personal insult.

I might have missed a personal insult in that list, if so, could you highlight it for me please? Well, doubly highlight it I guess?

civil, respectful discussion
It seems like what you want is discussion where no one strongly criticizes religion in any way. This is why I linked to the New Yorker article and quoted the Dickens criticism. My reading of your comments is that you would okay with very mild rebukes directed at religion but not any serious efforts for structural change.

I say harsh criticism is necessary for serious change, one cannot get there adiabatically.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:10 PM on October 4, 2011


Here's the part of that essay that I should have quoted [emphais added by me]:

"[he] did not seek a fundamental shift of political power or a revolution in social mores,” Sims says. Folsom operated out of a sense of noblesse oblige: privileged whites, he believed, ought to “adopt a more humanitarian attitude

Activists were interested in using the full, impersonal force of the law to compel equality. In fact, the Supreme Court’s landmark desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended Folsom’s career, because the racial backlash that it created drove moderates off the political stage. The historian Michael Klarman writes, “Virtually no southern politician could survive in this political environment without toeing the massive resistance line, and in most states politicians competed to occupy the most extreme position on the racial spectrum.” Folsom lost his job to the segregationist John Patterson, who then gave way to the radical George Wallace. In Birmingham, which was quietly liberalizing through the early nineteen-fifties, Bull Connor (who notoriously set police dogs on civil-rights marchers in the nineteen-sixties) had been in political exile. It was the Brown decision that brought him back. Old-style Southern liberalism—gradual and paternalistic—crumbled in the face of liberalism in the form of an urgent demand for formal equality. Activism proved incompatible with Folsomism."

Analogously, it feels like what you're saying is that Atheists need to wait their turn and let things gradually unfurl, rather than seeking dramatic change in the way religion is used/viewed/exploited. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

Additionally it would seem that the "religious middle" has been driven from the stage in the same way that the "racial middle" was 50 years ago. That seems to be the core of your complaint, and you seem to wholly blame atheists for it. Again, please correct me if I am wrong.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:37 PM on October 4, 2011


Phillip-random: I'm still surprised at your love for that thread, given that you tried to Godwin it, TWICE.

Chekhovian, for the record, my two alleged "Godwins" are:

1. responding to your point that "... bad religion is the most effective tool used throughout history to make otherwise good people do bad things."

with ... "Recent history (the past hundred years) certainly does not bear this out and here I'll just casually throw out four names: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot."

2. responding to Vorfeed's question "... Since when are "convincing", "persuading", "marketing ideas", "pushing worldviews" etc. the ultimate in terrible horrible no good very bad things, anyway? Did I miss a memo?"

with ... "Extrapolate and call it all propaganda and I'm thinking you can tie to an ugly little guy called Joe Goebbels, in Berlin circa 1926. ... not that I'd want to Godwin the thread or anything"


So ... dismiss me out of hand for "shrill Godwincy" if you must. But I'd prefer that you accepted that maybe every now and then, a reflection on the actions of the Third Reich might be relevant to a given discussion. Or does that threaten your position?

Worth noting: I do, in retrospect, wish I'd kept Hitler's name out of that first comment as it's entirely arguable that there was a religious underpinning to his actions -- not Christian per say but certainly some kind of gnostic, occult thing.
posted by philip-random at 3:26 PM on October 4, 2011


PR: I think that the whole point of Godwin's law is that third reich never enters a thread in half measures. I'm not afraid to have that discussion with you, but I don't think it would be productive for either side, nor would it bring up points not already heavily explored by others.

I'm more interested in Miko's question of what exactly s as polite in one of those threads. I'm going give my take on each of the qualms she raised earlier. So lets meta the meta okay?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2011


Miko: Lets examine the list of disheartening things you nailed to the door.

There are a lot of them, so I'd like to start with what I'd deem the four most incendiary or possibly insulting. I think the items I've chosen are those that an unbiased observer would have chosen as the "highlights", but if you disagree and would like me to examine one of the others, please let me know.

wasting everyone's time. I think this just a less politic way of making the point that delmoi made way back in comment 2. I'd say the hard atheists and the soft believers like you (if that's an acceptable term) are generally speaking at right angles to each other. Much of the thread was spent arguing definitions of religion, religiosity, media representation, statistics, etc.

I'd say the atheist camp has generally been pretty clear about its primary target and I'm not sure any proponents of that side showed up. So instead it was sort of an asymmetric battle of cross purposes, which I don't think anyone would call the "most efficient use of attention and energy".

So was it just his particular phrasing that offended you?

Promote ignorance and bigotry . Lets expand to his full paragraph:
Obviously, not all religionists fit this characterization. However, to whatever extent anyone believes in magic, that is the seed of ignorance and bigotry that all religion is founded on and seeks to expand.

Do you disagree that religious belief is founded on magic? We could use a synonym for magic if you prefer, but the point would be same, just with different packaging. Religious belief means invocation of supernatural agent, isn't that what the dictionary would say?

So if you substitute magic for the actual cause (where that cause is known), isn't that ignorance? If I seriously told you that your head cold was the result of imbalanced humors and too much black bile or something, wouldn't you call me ignorant?

It is self-evident that ignorance is the root of bigotry. You could argue that religion doesn't always lead to ignorance I suppose, but you didn't choose to do that. I think that would also get us back to "what is religion?" and statistics and media representation again, which doesn't seem to a fruitful dialogue. Given his assumptions about those statistics and such, was this a dishonest chain of reasoning for him?

Again it seems that what hurt you here were just the particular words "ignorance" and "bigotry". If he had used naiveté and bias instead, would that comment have made your list?

silly and bizarrely paternalistic to imagine that humanity is better off with untruths, though.

If you hold that religious beliefs are untrue, then it would be paternalistic to insist that other people believe them for their own good. That's the definition of the word as far as I understand it. I'd say this is more of specialty point, valid only for people that don't believe in religious stuff, but think that others should for their own good. If you believe in strict religious stuff (speaking loosely here) then it would not be paternalistic to hope that others would too.

shrill, hypoctical bullies who... grind an axe. I don't think what Kirk said here was particular to religious debates on the blue. I've certainly called people assholes during debates over other topics, that's the internet right? At least there's more cosmic worth to hyperventilating over the fate of our all our souls then, over the particular features of the new iPhone.

From those points I analyzed I would deduce that what you are particularly offended by is word choice. If we'd gotten out our thesauri and chosen less loaded synonyms I don't think that you would have been quite so disheartened.

I don't see a generalized pattern of personal attacks in the statement you listed. Nor I don't see impoliteness at any significant level. It would seem that to "be polite" by your standards would require that religion always be handled with the softest possible pair of kid gloves.

I won't apologize for word choice. If strong language offends you, then you should grow up.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2011


if that's an acceptable term

It's not an acceptable term to me.

Do you disagree that religious belief is founded on magic?

Yes, I disagree with that.

It is self-evident that ignorance is the root of bigotry.

That isn't at all logically self-evident. Arrogance, intolerance, and self-importance are also among the roots of bigotry.

it would be paternalistic to insist that other people believe them for their own good.

I don't insist that people believe anything for their own good. That is indeed paternalistic! We agree. Of course, I also don't think they should believe what you believe for their own good, and I'm surprised that you do when you acknowledge it's paternalistic.

I would deduce that what you are particularly offended by is word choice

Sometimes, maybe, but honestly what I am most offended by is the idea that one person's cosmology is the right one and should be subsituted for another person's. I am deeply and profoundly opposed to that. When it's accompanied by harsh words and a sneering tone, it's positively alienating. It's not so much that I'm offended, as I find it unpleasant to stay around and work that much harder at a discussion in which I'm so clearly unwelcome.

I won't apologize for word choice. If strong language offends you, then you should grow up.

I chuckled. If anything is a childish thing to say, that is. Of course, I am very much grown up. I've reason suspect I'm a fair amount older than you are, and I know I'm mature, maybe too much so. Anyway, lots of water under the bridge.

I guess I experience it differently than you do, Checkhovian. In the end, the only people remaining to argue in an unfriendly atmosphere will be the extremely combative and the extremely naive. I'm neither. I no longer wonder at the way so many theists on MeFi remain undercover, or simply avoid religion threads which devolve into a pro-theist/anti-theist argument. Why bother? They have better things to do and to think about. I have spent far too much time already discussing this stuff with people who are so clearly not of goodwill that even I am amazed at myself.

I'm sorry you find it so inadmissible to think that we might not all want to adopt your worldview. We don't, so you may find you continue to be happiest only when having discussions with people who already think as you do. I don't think you'll win many converts with the current approach. What stands out to me most -- more than rationality, more than factual knowledge, more than tactics - is the sheer lack of human sympathy embedded in the idea that your thoughts are more exalted than theirs.. Thanks to this go-round, I've decided I also really have more interesting topics and activities to spend my time on.
posted by Miko at 6:28 PM on October 4, 2011


Chekhovian, I'm most likely reading you wrong, but more and more it's coming across to me that Miko is saying she doesn't want to have conversations where the goal is to delineate how wrong-headed a particular metaphysics is, because in her understanding that isn't something that can be concretely nailed down; you do want to have those conversations, which is entirely your right to do, but it seems that you are trying to explain to Miko why the conversation she wants to have is the same as the conversation you want to have. It isn't, and that's not bad. But it isn't the same conversation.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 PM on October 4, 2011


I've reason suspect I'm a fair amount older than you are, and I know I'm mature, maybe too much so. Anyway, lots of water under the bridge.

Look Miko, if you want to debate the technical merits to of the satire in Hot Shots vs Loaded Weapon 1, or whether G1 transformers was the best or not (it was), and yes I cried when Prime died, or how revolutionary active memory was in Zelda, I will do that to prove my age to you. Whatever test you demand would probably have to be from either movies, games, or toys, because I didn't do much else as a kid.

You neglected the possibility that I'm just a particularly delayed adult here. I'm hurt.

it seems that you are trying to explain to Miko why the conversation she wants to have is the same as the conversation you want to have

Haven't I been saying that we've been talking at cross purposes for a while now? But people do seem to want to have that conversation anyway. What I've been wondering in this meta-meta was what counted as rude in these simultaneous yet different conversations people keep having.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:50 PM on October 4, 2011


Haven't I been saying that we've been talking at cross purposes for a while now?

I guess, but it's not like that's beyond your control.

What I've been wondering in this meta-meta was what counted as rude

IT seems like there aren't really enough people here to have this conversation right now. A lot of people who would object to the rude aren't here because they avoid this stuff like the plague, so you won't be able to hear from them. And a lot of other people just aren't here. It's a really small thread. So if you find people who do want to have the "prove me wrong!" conversation, no reason not to have it, I suppose.

That's definitely not the conversation I want, but because it's difficult for that to get noticed in the whole bloodsport of other-person-is-wrong-proving, it never works. Reasonable people (on all sides) just bow out eventually. So I guess if your goal is to end up playing that game with the people who want to play, you can have that. It just means leaving the rest of us out.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on October 4, 2011


You neglected the possibility that I'm just a particularly delayed adult here.

You're definitely a fair amount younger than me, but both things can still be true.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miko, I hope your retirement savings are nice and secure then. My limited understanding of the issue is that you want minimal volatility when you close to "that age".
posted by Chekhovian at 9:09 PM on October 4, 2011


One last serious point, then I'll get off your lawn.

Sometimes, maybe, but honestly what I am most offended by is the idea that one person's cosmology is the right one and should be substituted for another person's. I am deeply and profoundly opposed to that.

That's exactly it though, what I've put forth is not one person's cosmology, its the real world's cosmology as best as we can determine. You know why this new cosmology is different than any previous one any previous individual or society has ever had? ITS MUCH WEIRDER.

Quantum Mechanics is weird, General Relativity is weird, Emergence and Nonlinear dynamics is weird! Every previous human belief system is local and provincial in comparison, and primitive, horribly primitive. The old stuff was juju, voodoo, and magic. This is real.

This new cosmology also much less satisfying. It doesn't assure you that everything will be alright in the end, that good people will be rewarded, bad people punished etc. Its even eliminated the need for a first cause. We can now understand how the universe could have begun without anything special to set it into motion.

Effect without cause. That's weird!

With all your life experience, don't you want humanity to grow up and see beyond the limits of bronze age tribalism? The real world is so much more profound than any of those childhood toys.

is the sheer lack of human sympathy embedded in the idea that your thoughts are more exalted than theirs..

I've never tried to claim that they were my thoughts. These are things we see in the lab. Effects that happen in the real world. No one owns them. I certainly can't take credit for them.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:34 PM on October 4, 2011


This is a really nice relaxing chaser for all this rancor, great visuals, easy music:
Feynman explains beautry and science
posted by Chekhovian at 11:15 PM on October 4, 2011


what I've put forth is not one person's cosmology, its the real world's cosmology

It's your adopted cosmology. The real world doesn't have a cosmology; it just exists. A cosmology is a human construct.

Your cosmology is definitely supported by evidence from the real world, but what exists in your mind as your understanding of the universe is your personal cosmology. What you share with other people who identify as Atheists is a shared cosmology, thgugh of course you each have points in common and points of difference with one another, as was clearly evident in the last thread. If there were only one cosmology, no Atheists could disagree. We see that they do.

Again, not anti-science here. I've read everything Feynman wrote, years ago. I grew up among engineers and physicists, and so understand the basic principles in physics and find the frontiers of science really interesting. I don't contest the understandings of science. (I also never like being lectured on the authority of SCIENCE! by people who are not theoretical scientists themselves, though, because I tend to find that when you scratch the surface of their faith in science, their understandings usually aren't much better than mine. On the other hand, when I have had the opportunity to sit around the dinner table with really sharp science minds, the conversations about this topic are usually a lot more complicated and interesting than the conversations that tend to happen with lay anti-theists.)

None of that makes much of any difference to my worldview. I wouldn't be able to say your worldview is 'better' or 'more real' than my worldview, because most of your worldview, except for your conclusions, is contained in my worldview. I don't disagree with your facts. I just don't think they matter much in regards to my beliefs, practices, and behavior.

The thought systems are separate. Science actually can't answer all questions and doesn't even attempt to answer many important questions. Things "we" see in "the lab" are evidence about the mechanics of the world, but they speak to nothing more, they point, in themselves, to no conclusions. They don't direct people as to how to live or make decisions. That requires interpretation and personalization. I can think about how the two systems interact, which is relatively entertaining speculation sometimes, but in reality my thoughts and those of most other active people I know are very rarely occupied with accounting for the creation of the universe. It's just not a super practical way to spend the day if you're not employed in the sciences to do just that, and so for laypeople it has little of use to offer. If I'm going to think about the big questions, my mind is more often occupied with how and what kind of religious practice may lead to insights about how to become a better person and do a better job in the world and in my life. A perfect and complete understanding of the workings of the universe is, fortunately, not necessary for that.

As you can see I'm not a fundamentalist or Biblical literalist. But I am definitely religious. This is far more common than might be imagined, and belief and the practice of belief is usually a lot more complex, at the individual level, than people taking up these arguments against theists seem to think.
posted by Miko at 4:55 AM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I promised I'd stop provoking you, but then you keep it up with the personal insults. First you question my maturity, because apparently only senior citizens can really understand things, then you implicitly impugn my CV:

I also never like being lectured on the authority of SCIENCE! by people who are not theoretical scientists themselves

Should I solve some sort of non-linear differential equation using multiple scale analysis for you? I'm not claiming there's anything incredibly special on my CV, but I'm not totally unfamiliar with science.

And frankly, I'm unimpressed by your links:
"The website has been put together by a group of academics and researchers at the faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, and at the University of Oxford."

I would be willing to read them more carefully and discuss them with you, but I suspect you will simply resort to more personal attacks when your reasoning fails.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:27 AM on October 5, 2011


Chekhovian, no one in this thread is poo-pooing science. Miko is not anti-science. She is saying that science only investigates scientific issues, and metaphysics are extra-scientific issues. That is not diminishing science.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:33 AM on October 5, 2011


That is not diminishing science.

I didn't say that she said that. I said that she seems to be intent on personally attacking me.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2011


I don't see any evidence of that.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:38 AM on October 5, 2011


Look I'd be more than happy to argue the non-overlapping magisteria question (clearly I think Gould was wrong), but when I'm meant with comments like "you're simply not mature enough to understand how things really are" or "your understanding of the science is too shallow", then there isn't much common ground left for discussion.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:49 AM on October 5, 2011


When did she say either of those things? She said that she was mature and older than you because you told her that if strong language offends her, she should grow up. She didn't say that your understanding of science is too shallow, she said that your attempting to demonstrate the superiority of your cosmology based on the wonders of science wasn't compelling because she knows just as much science as you do. You're reading insults into this stuff, man.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Chekhovian: "I said that she seems to be intent on personally attacking me."

Dude, this is MetaTalk. If someone were actually attacking you here, you'd know it, no "seems to be intent on" mealy-mouthing. It's Thunderdome in here, brother. Miko's practically baking you cookies.
posted by mkultra at 1:07 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian, there's no intent to harm. Shakespeherian's right; you told me to "grow up," so I wanted to let you know that I grown up, and in addition be honest that I found that remark to be an attempt to dismiss me and that that is kind of childish. I don't know what your understanding of science is, but I haven't seen anything to convince it's more sophisticated than mine or any other layperson's. I do stay up on lots of scientific issues and speculation in podcasts and reading, though, so I encounter some really interesting and sophisticated views. It gets challenging to mount arguments that science can offer a perfect understanding of the universe, because almost all theoretical scientists readily agree that while it's intensely powerful, it's up in the air as to whether a perfect understanding is even achievable, and even if it were, it would still not answer any questions that aren't empirical.

I don't wish you any harm and am not bothered by what you want to believe. I just hope I can offer mine from time to time without it being seen as an invitation to try to mess with it.
posted by Miko at 6:07 PM on October 6, 2011


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