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Tilting at Windmills

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March 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

"JUST DON'T MARRY AN ATHEIST, OK?"....The final frontier:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in sharing their vision of American society. Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

....Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years, says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the studys lead researcher.

That 3% number is tricky, though. The real number seems to be in the range of 3-9%, and if you count "nonreligious" as the same thing it's more like 15%. What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

As for trends toward increasing social tolerance, though, I'm not sure atheists really count as a "glaring exception." It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves. I never have, anyway, but maybe I've just been lucky. (And a Californian.)

UPDATE: Of course, it's true that making an obnoxious nuisance of yourself is generally considered a social faux pas no matter what you believe. On the other hand, it's also true that religious people seem to get away with it an awful lot more than us nonbelievers:

Robert Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?

George H.W. Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

I don't think he ever apologized for that even after the election was over and the Christian Right had abandoned him.

UPDATE: Andrew Sabl emails to say that he tried to fact check this quote a year ago and was unable to verify it. Apparently nobody but Sherman heard Bush say this, and although Sherman says he has a tape of conversation he's never released it.

I don't know how reliable Sherman is, but for now it looks like this should be taken with a significant grain of salt.

UPDATE 2: I've exchanged several emails with Sherman, who says he took notes during his exchange with Bush but didn't tape it. The tape, he says, is an "urban legend." More here.

Kevin Drum 3:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (551)

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Comments

Hoo Boy...

Posted by: obscure on March 23, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

You have to pledge a belief in God to become an Elk. I know several people who have lied to obtain membership, but they may be agnostics.

Posted by: Hostile on March 23, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves.

Or, really, so long as we never make it publicly known that we're atheists. "Obnoxious nuisance" for our kind generally just means "not in the closet."

And God (cough) help us if we ever express dissent from religion in liberal political circles. Then we're worse than Hitler.

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Have you ever had the occasion to speak to members of "American Atheists"? These people make capital-L libertarians look soft and cuddly. Give the rest of us a bad name.

Posted by: mike s on March 23, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 25-30% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

I guess I dont follow why you want to pretend that atheist has the same meaning as agnostic or someone who doesnt support any particular organized religion.

The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

Now it may be that Americans are just as dismissive of agnostics as they are atheists, but it isnt roughly the same thing.

Agnostics and atheists may be natural allies on a lot of issues, but that doesnt make the terms even remotely equivalent and if you are going to lump them together you should make clear that your definition isnt actually the real definition.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

For some reason, it's hard to get people even to accept that one is an atheist, even by self-declaring. They try hard to get you to admit you're an agnostic, or argue theology and try to shift the burden of proof to make the very position seem unreasonable.

It's an extremely threatening thing to claim of oneself. It's something people don't like to hear.

Posted by: eyelessgame on March 23, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Are agnostics counted in any of those groups, Kevin? If so, which one(s)?

I always loved this Python exchange:

"What about us atheists? Why should we have to put up with that sectarian turmoil?"

"We're lapsed atheists, dear."

Posted by: PCashwell on March 23, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Good thing I married a Buddhist.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 23, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Like I said -- see Catch22 above. There is no such requirement for atheism as "an affirmative belief that God does not exist." To many atheists, atheism is a lack of belief. If you ask me if I believe in any gods, I say no -- the same as if you asked me if I believed in werewolves.

That answer makes me an atheist. I don't believe. I don't make an affirmative belief about anything related to gods; I simply *don't* believe in them.

Posted by: eyelessgame on March 23, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"...Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry."

Americans allow their children to marry?

Posted by: thecoach on March 23, 2006 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

".....I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Of course fervent Christians can do exactly the above and end up running the government, heading major corporations, building and leading mammoth churches, rubbing elbows with political, cultural and economic elites and generally getting praised for their deeply held religious convictions. Not so for us heathen non-believers. Bush 41 famously declared atheists shouldn't even be accorded equal citizenship. My take: Religion, not money, is the root of all evil.

Posted by: steve duncan on March 23, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Confidential to craigie: breathe, baby. Just breathe.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Amy Sullivan, of course, will somehow link this with the Democrats' incivility to religion.

Posted by: n.o.t.l.f. on March 23, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to recall no less than George Will stating that something like 30% of Americans are not religious. I guess it depends on how hard you poke people.

And there are lots of people like Mrs craigie, who doesn't believe in God, yet believes in all kinds of other stuff like "things happen for a reason" and "there's something out there."

Perhaps these people could believe in God, if the believers weren't so violent

Posted by: craigie on March 23, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22:
The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist.

You're mistaken. Atheism, according to a broad consensus of us who call ourselves atheists, is merely the lack of belief in gods.

Take a look:
http://tinyurl.com/62pnw

http://tinyurl.com/2vbhe


It certainly doesn't help atheists' standing in society that most of said society can't be bothered to learn the most basic things about us.

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

No more than Protestants, say, deny the validity of Catholics' religious beliefs, or Christians those of Jews, or Christians those of atheists, when you come down to it. Any belief system that claims to be absolute, as most religions do, will by definition deny the validity of the religious beliefs of those who do not share that view.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Confidential to craigie: breathe, baby. Just breathe.

Ha!

I'm calm, I'm calm...

I was actually just discussing this the other day with a friend, who is an atheist. He is about to live (in sin!) with a woman who is religious. He pointed out that she literally cannot understand him when he says that atheism isn't a belief system like, say, hinduism.

Religious people think a certain way, and assume that non-religious people think the same way, but just with different parameters. This, I'm coming to understand, is the source of a lot of the problem.

Posted by: craigie on March 23, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think you can say an atheist actively denies the "validity" of other religions just because they believe there is no god. I mean, you can argue that, but then you need to argue that christians deny the validity of all other religions, jews deny the validity of all other religions, etc., etc. Making that distiction only for atheists is just a way to impunge and insult them.

The dick atheists I've met will posture that everyone's an idiot for believing in god (and they tend to vote republican and call themselves libertarian, fyi), and the regular atheists will just say they don't believe there's a god.

This makes them just about exactly the same as dicks/not dicks from any relligion. Suggesting such an aggressive, intolerant attitude is particular ot atheists is a load of crap.

Posted by: The Tim on March 23, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Atheist" is such a loaded term culturally that one hardly knows what to make of this "survey".

"Atheist", like, say, "socialist", has been attached to so many smears over so many years that it has a life well beyond anything it may actually signify denotatively.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"Good thing I married a Buddhist."

I second that. They're much less pushy than most religious types.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I concur with Catch 22, above. Atheism is not the same thing as agnosticism; atheists believe that there is no god, whereas agnostics freely admit that there might be.

And grouping "people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously" in with atheists is, for the purposes of discussing this study, a serious stretch. Most of those people are precisely as you observe them to be - they do believe in God, they're just lazy.

The point of the article - that atheists are seen as "beyond the pale" by most Americans - is interesting and slightly disturbing. But your attempts to increase the 3% figure by conflating agnostics and lazy believers in with actual atheists is, well, erroneous, to a level that you very rarely stretch to.

Posted by: S Ra on March 23, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, everyone else already jumped on catch22's b.s. Good for us!

Posted by: The Tim on March 23, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

I see several comments where people assert that its ok for atheists to call themselves atheists, my point is that its likewise ok for agnostics to call themselves agnostic.

I get tired of people who follow organized religions who think thats the only way to be religious. Such people oftner mirror what Kevin says here that if you dont "attend church nor do anything else [that is apparent to me] that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously" then you cant be religous or believe in God.

For some people their relationship with God is personal. You dont need to go to a church or follow particular rituals to demonstrate that you take your "belief seriously." I may not look religous to you, or follow any of the organized religious every command and dictate, but that doesnt mean Im an atheist.

-Agnostic Christian whose tired of the holier than thous and doesnt need the your not serious about religion from atheists either.

Some may say Agnostic Christian is an oxymoron, so be it. My belief system is a lot more Christian than most of the right wingers out there in my opinion.

Posted by: AgnosticChristian on March 23, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

You have to pledge a belief in God to become an Elk. I know several people who have lied to obtain membership, but they may be agnostics.

Membership in the Elks, the moose, the optimists, and all these 50s collectivist organizations is going down, down, down.

Posted by: Religious skeptic on March 23, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

but aside from that I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves.

Ah, yes, "don't ask, don't tell." Worked out real well there for the gays, didn't it?

The only reason that atheists are less of a discriminated minority is that we're very hard to identify and pin down. If needs must, we can always reverse our position, at least publically. If you're a member of a persecuted race, that's harder to do.

But sometimes this living in the closet business infuriate me, and does feel like persecution. Buddhists can get elected; Jews can get elected; but have you ever seen one single politician say "I don't believe in God, I don't go to church, that doesn't mean I'm a bad person and I respect other people's beliefs"? That dreaded epithet "atheist" plays worse than most racial slurs, with the added advantage that the prejudice and stigma attached to the label is one of the last publically acceptable ones.

Posted by: Jason Stokes on March 23, 2006 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

As long as we're on the subject:

There are actually different sorts of agnosticism, too. You have the common "soft" agnosticism, which is basically a confession of personal ignorance, but you also have "hard" agnosticism, which states that not only does the agnostic not know if there is a god, no one else does either, i.e. it is impossible for anyone to know whether or not there is a god.

Which just goes to show you can hold almost any viewpoint and be a dick.

Posted by: S Ra on March 23, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, everyone else already jumped on catch22's b.s. Good for us!

Perhaps then you can distinguish between the meaning of agnostic and atheist? Can you really not tell the difference?

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK
after the election was over and the Christian Right had abandoned him.

If you believe the RR ever carried any truck for the elder Bush, you are sorely mistaken.

GHWB may have got down on his knee once or twice, and sure hell maybe they even batted their eyelashes all pretty, but I can tell you now there was never ever anything between them.

Posted by: dunno on March 23, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how many parents would want their kids to marry a "socialist"?

On the other hand, how many would be truly upset if they married someone from, say, Sweden?

The point is, the smear attached to the word rules in these surveys.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Match meet gasoline

I think Oliver speaks for me on this one

"I believe there is a force to the universe, I just don't commit to any particular man behind the curtain" - Oliver Willis

Posted by: daCascadian on March 23, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

My grandparents (and my great-grandparents) on my maternal side where either agnostic or atheists. And they were devout about their non-beliefs.

But they certainly not more tolerant. Especially my grandfather, who would visibly express his displeasure at integrated news desks on television.

They were all die-hard Republicans too. (Although some for the mere status of it and not wanting to appear as immigrants.)

So as my grandfather would say: the masses are *sses. He certainly wouldn't have cared that you didn't find his belief system suspect. Because he thought the same of you.

Posted by: DC1974 on March 23, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

atheists believe that there is no god, whereas agnostics freely admit that there might be.

But even that's stating the case too strongly. While some atheists believe, in an affirmative sense, that there is no god, other atheists merely feel a lack of belief in a god or gods. It's not that they believe there's no god, it's just that they have no religious impulse or feelign whatsoever. For example, I don't strongly believe that there is no Zeus -- I just don't care one way or the other.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Some may say Agnostic Christian is an oxymoron, so be it. My belief system is a lot more Christian than most of the right wingers out there in my opinion. Posted by: AgnosticChristian

Not really. A "belief system" and a religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can identify with and practice the alleged teachings of Christ, but that doesn't mean you accept his divinity and all the other nonsense.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 23, 2006 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an atheist living in a big city. If I ever have to relocate to a conservative/religious area, I wonder how long I'll be able to keep my mouth shut before the whole town knows I'm going to hell.

Posted by: Librul on March 23, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Atheists are negative, bitter, people. Why would I want to be married to somebody like that?

You already know that Republicans and religious people are happier. You want to be happy? Easy: Become a religious Republican and marry a religious Republican!

Posted by: FrequencyKenneth on March 23, 2006 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

atheists believe that there is no god, whereas agnostics freely admit that there might be.

In general, treating the distinction between an agnostic and atheist as a hard one is probably just wrongheaded.

Obviously, there are degrees of belief in the idea that there is no God, as there are degrees of openmindedness to the possibility that God exists.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22, please follow the links I posted above. You quite literally do not know what you're talking about.

Here they are again:

http://tinyurl.com/62pnw

http://tinyurl.com/2vbhe

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Catch 22: Yes, there is a difference, and no one denies it. Atheists state a disbelief in God, while agnostics make no statement of belief one way or another. That doen't mean that atheists "deny the validity" of others' religious beliefs, any more than, say, Jews "deny the validity" of, say Catholicism. It depends, of course, on what you mean by "validity."

Posted by: Anthony Greco on March 23, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

A friend of mine claims God is the set of all sets, yet this set is not a deity. Is he an atheist? He says he believes in this 'god'. I say the set of all sets is just a mental construction he created so he does not have to deny the existance of God.

Posted by: Set of All Sets on March 23, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

If being an atheist merely requires not believing in God, then all infants are atheists.

While this may be a nice debating point, it doesnt accord with the usage in the English language.

For example, I don't strongly believe that there is no Zeus -- I just don't care one way or the other.

I just happen not to believe in God in the same way I don't believe in Zeus, may also be a nice debating point, but it also doesnt reflect usage in this country either althoug insofar as it implies a complete indifference to to the existence of God I suppose that differentiates it from agnostics. Then again, I doubt 25% of the country is completely indifferent to existence of God either.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Set of all sets,

And what, pray tell, is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves?

The Devil?

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: You are correct, although Zeus here tells me that He's got a lightning bolt with your name on it.

There's just lots of confusion surrounding the terms "atheist" and "agnostic". The popular view, at least in America, is that "atheist" means one who explicitly denies the existance of a god. The "weak atheist" who neither believes nor denies the existance of a god is, at least popularly, generally called an agnostic.

You might consider that to be only one sort of atheism. Still, I daresay that the "man on the street", i.e. the American interviewed for the study in question, would identify someone who professes ignorance about God, but does not deny that there is one, not as an atheist, but rather an agnostic.

I recommend to anyone interested in the subject the Wikipedia article on the subject. It's quite good.

Posted by: S Ra on March 23, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Not really. A "belief system" and a religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can identify with and practice the alleged teachings of Christ, but that doesn't mean you accept his divinity and all the other nonsense.

In fact, many of the early Christians, such as the Thomas Christians who followed the teachings in the Gospel of Thomas, didn't accept Christ's divinity. Thomas Christians believed that every human, and not just Jesus, had a spark of the divine within them.

Some early Christians thought that Jesus was literally God made flesh, others thought that he was born mortal but had been elevated to divinity after his death, some thought he was merely a prophet. We only accept Christ's divinity now because the John Christians, who followed the Gospel of John, (and, to a lesser extent, the Matthew, Mark and Luke Christians) won out in the end over the Thomists.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

"But sometimes this living in the closet business infuriate me, and does feel like persecution."

Really? I am an atheist, and I don't feel like I live in a closet or persecuted. Maybe it's just the liberal mindset, that no matter what, you will feel persecuted.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 23, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

It's time to form a PAC.

Infidels for America Regained

Posted by: Lucy on March 23, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Become a religious Republican and marry a religious Republican!

Absolutely. Just look at "Drug Rush" Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich -- six happy marriages all told!

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Librul,

I grew up in a small Midwestern town, and overcame my Baptist/Catholic upbringing to become, at different times, and agnostic/atheist/deist. (At this point, I can freely admit to myself that it's possible that some greater being did create all of this, I just think It could care less about how we live our lives and surely doesn't want to be worshipped).
Anyway, while it was bad enough saying that you didn't believe in God in a small Midwestern college setting, moving farther South afterwards was even more difficult.

As soon as I started my job, the question wasn't, "Do you go to Church?" it was "What Church do you go to?" I admit I wussed out several times and said, "Well, we really haven't found the right one yet." But these days I'm more comfortable with myself and my job, and will happily tell my co-workers about my (lack of) belief if it comes up.

So, yeah, they'll find out pretty quick. And some of them will try really hard to save you. But a lot of the others will respect your personal choice and just pray for you on their own time. :)

Posted by: Timewalker on March 23, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Jason Stokes wrote:
The only reason that atheists are less of a discriminated minority is that we're very hard to identify and pin down.

I think this is why atheists have a reputation for being "in your face." I'd say the majority of the people publicly identified as atheists are assertive types who like to argue with people or shock them. Most people can have no idea how many atheists they know, because the subject doesn't come up unless one of the acquaintances is a proselytizer. Non-assertive believers can be observed going to church or temple, or they will occasionally participate in a church wedding or funeral. When your nice, quiet neighbor doesn't go to church, there may be many reasons. How could you know whether he is lazy, he considers his spiritual life private or he is an atheist? Since such a large proportion of the population believes in God, I think most people assume that other people also believe unless explicitly told otherwise. The only atheists they "know" are the ones that are out there aggressively challenging belief in God--like the guy trying to take "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I tell the truth if asked, but I don't introduce myself as an atheist. There is a huge down side to doing so. In places other than the California coast or New York City, you become targeted for conversion.

Posted by: cowalker on March 23, 2006 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I find this study to be very suspect. I have never found the lack of religion to be an issue.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 23, 2006 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22, please wake up. Nonbelievers long ago reached a clear consensus on this stuff, notwithstanding the fact that you had no idea.

Atheists are people who do not hold an affirmative belief that god(s) exist. (Some, but NOT ALL, atheists go further and believe that "Gods do not exist.")

Agnostics are people who do not claim to know whether god(s) exist. (Some agnostics go further and believe that it is impossible to know whether gods exist.) The Greek gnosis means "knowledge."

All of this is explained at great length at the two websites I've directed you to twice now, as well as hundreds of other places on the Web.


While this may be a nice debating point, it doesnt accord with the usage in the English language.

Oh, "the usage in the English language." I.e., "the way that people like me who can't be bothered to investigate what labels actually mean to the people they apply to use those labels."

The "usage" you're relying upon is ignorant, Catch.

One hopes that tolerant (and marginally literate) people of whatever religious perspective will agree that minority groups have the right to self-definition. The idea that most any minority group is required to accept the characterization that an uncaring (if not hostile) majority thrusts upon them strikes me as enormously illiberal, not to mention oppressive.

Words like Negro, Colored, Black, African-American, homosexual, gay, queer, Indian, Native American, handicapped, disabled and so on, I hope we can agree, carry the meanings and background connotations that the minority groups denoted by them say they carry. (The same, only with more oomph, goes for words like nigger, faggot, dyke, redskin, cripple, etc.) The idea that any of these groups should be expected to knuckle under to a frequently ignorant conventional wisdom is, I think, repugnant.

Especially in light of evidence (like the stuff Kevin cites) that atheists are more disapproved of in the U.S. than any of the minority groups mentioned above, it seems unavoidable to me that the definition of atheism that is broadly accepted by those of us who are actually in the minority group is the one that should carry the day.

Or, of course, we could go with the ignorant, bigoted majority and join Catch22 in attempting to shove a definition down the throats of a minority group despite their clear dissent.

It seems to me we shouldn't.

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Religion, not money, is the root of all evil.

Ayn Rand said altruism is the root of all evil, but I think religion is, too. The archeological record has priest/kings appearing with the first written language of the Sumerians. These priest/kings were able to convince/persuade their villages to dig canals and build citadels. I also think they were able to exhort the village into attacking the neighboring village.

Great communicators, the first priest/kings, created mythology to rationalize their will so that the villagers, also known as the dumbfounded, would obey them as interlocutors of a deity. Thus started our never ending history of demagoguery.

Posted by: Hostile on March 23, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, I'm agnostic about my atheism in that I explicitly deny the existence of God although I'm open to the possibility that something might convince me otherwise.

Posted by: Timothy Francis Sullivan on March 23, 2006 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Librul, WHAT? Get out of Chitown, you heretic!!!

(Hey, are you having as much fun as I am watching the Topinka and Oberweis supporters at each other's throats?)

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan:

actually you're wrong on the gnostics.

The Gospel of Thomas was a gnostic work...its influence is hard to ascertain...its clear that Paul wrote against the gnostics...while the author of the Gospel of John had some contact with them and used some of their terminology (albeit reaching different conclusions).
Gnosticism qua gnosticism existed before Christianity and simply syncreticized with elements of Christianity. as far as the belief system of gnosticism can be characterized and pinned down: it was a mystery religion (popular at the time)...emphasizing the goodness of the spiritual and the evilness of the physical world. insofar as some gnostics overlapped with Christianity...they seem to have identified Jesus with the Demiurge (borrowed by gnosticism from neo-Platonism)...essentially a subordinate creator deity. so, it's not exactly correct to say that gnostic "Christians" did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

there is a lot of confusion about the Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts today because it's been fashionable, kind of like the resurgence of Kabbala (which isn't really like traditional Kabbala)...and the misleading and inaccurate popular-level works of people like Pagels don't help.

if you want, I can introduce you to some of the standard academic texts.

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

You know, I am reminded that we seem to have ruffled Left Wing Phil's feathers on this topic. Phil, if you're out there, come back. We miss you.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

The popular view, at least in America, is that "atheist" means one who explicitly denies the existance of a god. The "weak atheist" who neither believes nor denies the existance of a god is, at least popularly, generally called an agnostic.

Well, as many people have said it's just very hard to draw a bright line. I don't believe in God, and generally call myself an atheist, but I don't know if that means that I explicitly bother to deny his existence. I also don't believe in Zeus, Odin, Toutatis, Manitou, Quetzalcoatl, fairies, unicorns, angles, water nymphs, witches, vampires, elves, gnomes, the healing power of crystals, or Ryan Seacrest, but that doesn't mean I spend my time explicitly denying their existence either.

To me they're all pleasant nonsense, myths we create in order to help us make sense out of a frightening and confusing universe. I do, though, understand how people feel a spiritual impulse -- I just don't feel that impulse needs to be directed at a mythical all-powerful father figure, which is what belief in God is for most (though not all) people when you get down to it.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Catch22, please wake up. Nonbelievers long ago reached a clear consensus on this stuff, notwithstanding the fact that you had no idea."

Oh please, fuck off, no one's bound by the findings of your little imaginary "nonbeliever" convention.

"...attempting to shove a definition down the throats of a minority group despite their clear dissent..."

How is this different from what you're doing, again?

Posted by: Hands off on March 23, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: if you want, I can introduce you to some of the standard academic texts.

First you have to start writing in full sentences. It's for your own good--they'll require it if you ever get into law school.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22 asks the excellent question:

> Perhaps then you can distinguish between the
> meaning of agnostic and atheist? Can you really
> not tell the difference?

Ask them. "Do you believe any gods exist?"

Agnostic: "I don't know."
Atheist: "No."

Just like werewolves. "Do you believe any werewolves exist?" Some people will say "I don't know", others will say "No". It's not hard to distinguish.

You can even distinguish two sorts of agnostics: those who are personally unsure of whether any gods exist (they are considering the presented evidence, and have not made up their mind), and those who believe the question to be fundamentally unanswerable.

Posted by: eyelessgame on March 23, 2006 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Atheists are people who do not hold an affirmative belief that god(s) exist. (Some, but NOT ALL, atheists go further and believe that "Gods do not exist.")

That certainly contradicts the dictionary definition of atheist, I'd think.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

When you die your nitrogen still exists, and it passes into another part of the nitrogen cycle.

Is reincarnation explained by the nitrogen cycle?

Posted by: Hostile on March 23, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

As an athiest, the Bush quote shocked me, even for him. (He has made some interesting religious statements from time to time) I knew I did not have fond attitudes toward him but I was not aware I am not considered a citizen or patriot. I guess I should just stop voting and supporting our troops. I guess I should also tell my wife to stop being an election judge as she is an athiest as well.

What was I thinking!!!

Posted by: Gary on March 23, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Freedom Fighter,
"Liberal mindset", yeah right. Republicans own all three branches of government, yet still feel oppressed.

Posted by: DR on March 23, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

The easiest umbrella to sit under is the Unitarian umbrella. There you can fit whatever your beliefs may be without the central dudes telling you what you have to believe. We have Jews, Christians, Athiests, Agnostics, Buhdists and whatever else worshiping/meditating together. We have a multitude of classes that can satisfy the interests of anyone. It there is an intellectual inquiry that you want to pursue, chances are there are a few other members who are interested and a class will be formed at some point. It's a great community of folks who are open to ideas and spirituality and respect the beliefs of others, even if it isn't their cup of tea.

Of course, the folks in Texas still think I am going to hell as a Unitarian but it is about as shocking as telling them I am a leftie (which also draws shocked looks). Telling them I left the Christianity of my youth would be much, much worse!

Posted by: rain39 on March 23, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Is it just me or does the study seem like bunk? Is there a link to the actual study?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 23, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Agnostic does not believe in existence outside of themselves.
Atheist is anti God. Thus they want God removed from everything.
America was founded for freedom of religion, they mistakenly want freedom from religion and will go so far as to not want us to practive our free speech by even invoking our Saviors name.
Thus since they have taken on this advesasial role, it is understandable where they rank in the list. Also please don't include all the others you listed. A peson who does not believe in God is not an Atheist.

Posted by: daveyo on March 23, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: actually you're wrong on the gnostics.

Them's fightin' words!

No one tells me I'm wrong on the gnostics -- no one, you hear me!

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Rieux,

Nice tirade. Turns out we are both in the minority in this country.

If you want to include weak atheism as part of the definition of atheism, its no skin off my back thats for certain. It does sound a lot like what agnostism sounds like. Perhaps Im wrong about what agnostic means, but it seems a lot what your link refers to as weak atheism.

In so far as using English usage, the topic of conversation isnt categorzing what an atheist has to be or doesnt have to be, but evaluating public opinion about atheism. Understanding what most people seem to mean (ie. convnetional wisdom) is essential to gaining any insight into to what polls may or may not mean.

Sure you can say the masses wallow in their ignorance, but then again your analysis of opinion polls from which this stems is hardly helpful.

Whatever the accuarcy of the definition of atheism, my response was to Kevin Drums passing judgment on what he determined to be "serious belief" in a persons religion and his assertion that if you dont go to church or have some over ceremony or practice that he can see you can conclude that an individual doesnt take their religous beliefs seriously.

Perhaps Im wrong and most people when responding arnt thinking about strong atheism, but I doubt it. Thats not passing judgement on whatever you want to call your self or however you describe your beliefs, just dont force others who dont share the label atheist and deny their interpretation of their own beliefs.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

Wow. No wonder nobody likes us! We're pretty unpleasant people, apparently. And entirely made of straw!

How do I "deny the validity of others' religious beliefs", anyway? What does that even mean?

Posted by: eyelessgame on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm an atheist, but I don't spend much time thinking about it. I didn't think other people did either. I could be wrong.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

"A peson who does not believe in God is not an Atheist."

Well, that sure cleared things up.

Posted by: eckersley on March 23, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps then you can distinguish between the meaning of agnostic and atheist? Can you really not tell the difference?"

That was in regard to your assertion that an atheist by definition actively refutes the validity of any religion. That's a load of b.s., #1, #2, that can be said for every religion. See my earlier post where I already said all this crap.

Posted by: The Tim on March 23, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

There's just lots of confusion surrounding the terms "atheist" and "agnostic". The popular view, at least in America, is that "atheist" means one who explicitly denies the existance of a god. The "weak atheist" who neither believes nor denies the existance of a god is, at least popularly, generally called an agnostic.

While the folks here might debate the fine points of atheist vs. agnostic, I think that for most Americans, including the people in this survey, atheist=someone who doesn't attend church. Most individuals have picked up their religious practice from their childhood indoctrination and have never really given it serious contemplation. They just know they are better than other folks. It's much more comfortable that way.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on March 23, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

""Liberal mindset", yeah right. Republicans own all three branches of government, yet still feel oppressed."

How come it's the liberals that are always whining? How come all the professional protesters are invariably liberals?

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 23, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Gary:

um, that was Bush the father not Bush the son.

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK
You're mistaken. Atheism, according to a broad consensus of us who call ourselves atheists, is merely the lack of belief in gods.

According to a broad consensus of those of us who use the English language, that's not what the word "atheist" means. Compare atheist vs. agnostic.

Now, I'm not a big one for linguistic prescriptivism, but I am big on communication. When you're talking outside of your own belief community with the broader English-speaking world, you might want to keep that context in mind.

Just as (though the difference between the narrower and broader use is reversed, here) while I might refer to Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter Day Saints as "members of pseudo-Christian cults" when talking with other credal Christians, I try to avoid it when talking in broader groups, unless there is an important reason for using the terms in the way that is common to the group I'm a part of but a bit unusual for the broader group, and then I try to highlight the distinction that I am applying.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Moi:
Atheists are people who do not hold an affirmative belief that god(s) exist. (Some, but NOT ALL, atheists go further and believe that "Gods do not exist.")

frankly0:
That certainly contradicts the dictionary definition of atheist, I'd think.

Really? Find me a dictionary definition that that contradicts. (How about the ones quoted at, say, http://tinyurl.com/5u8wp ?)

That's a meetable challenge, of course. Dictionaries merely report the way various words are used within a language. "Atheist" and "agnostic" are, unfortunately, all too often used ignorantly--and so that shows up in dictionaries. (Check out the primary definition of "atheism" at http://tinyurl.com/pxtth . Can you understand why atheists might be a wee bit perturbed about having our basic definitions defined by books like that one?)

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

From the article: Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

Response by Stefan:
No more than Protestants, say, deny the validity of Catholics' religious beliefs, or Christians those of Jews, or Christians those of atheists, when you come down to it. Any belief system that claims to be absolute, as most religions do, will by definition deny the validity of the religious beliefs of those who do not share that view.


Spot on Stefan. Atheists only deny the validity of one more religion than the many that theists deny.

A side observation - I've lived long enough to witness an interesting transformation in the attitudes of conservative Christians in the U.S. In the 1950's (and long before and some time afterward) there was widespread prejudice against Jews. But sometime since then attitudes many conservative Christians have morphed into the acceptance of something called "the Judeo-Christian tradition". Given the widespread earlier prejudice against Jews (that, of course has not completely dissipated), that phrase strikes me as quite incongruous, if not outright ironic.

TK

Posted by: TK on March 23, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Agnostic does not believe in existence outside of themselves.
Atheist is anti God. Thus they want God removed from everything.
America was founded for freedom of religion, they mistakenly want freedom from religion and will go so far as to not want us to practive our free speech by even invoking our Saviors name.
Thus since they have taken on this advesasial role, it is understandable where they rank in the list. Also please don't include all the others you listed. A peson who does not believe in God is not an Atheist."

Ooooo. Ick. Don't sit next to me on a plane or anything.

Posted by: The Tim on March 23, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

so, it's not exactly correct to say that gnostic "Christians" did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

Well, I meant more in the sense that they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus the way modern Christians, do, i.e. in the sense that Christ is literally God himself. They felt that Jesus was a divine being, but not the divine being.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK
In fact, many of the early Christians, such as the Thomas Christians who followed the teachings in the Gospel of Thomas, didn't accept Christ's divinity. Thomas Christians believed that every human, and not just Jesus, had a spark of the divine within them.

This particular belief is also a belief of some modern Christian groups (I believe, for instance, the LDS have a similar, if not identical, belief, which is one -- among several -- reasons they were part of the illustration in my previous post.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, yes, Unitarianism. A "religion" so vacuous and pointless it makes watching paint dry look like a worthwhile pastime.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

A more interesting way to classify people among those who believe in the 'power' of prayer and those who think it is bunk.

It is bunk, of course, but somehow many do think that one must pray. Even if God exists, prayer is a totally useless exercise.

Posted by: lib on March 23, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK
No more than Protestants, say, deny the validity of Catholics' religious beliefs, or Christians those of Jews, or Christians those of atheists, when you come down to it.

Well, credal Christians have specific major areas of non-denial, and ditto with Christian and Jews, but all of those feature quite a lot of (occasionally violent) denial of each others religious views, so its kind of like saying "X is wt? No more than water is wet" and thinking you've effectively denied the wetness of X.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II wrote: Good thing I married a Buddhist.

MJ Memphis wrote: I second that. They're much less pushy than most religious types.

Buddhism does not address the existence or nonexistence of "god" at all, although one of the Buddha's fundamental teachings is that everything is impermanent and nothing has an independent existence separate from all that is (the teaching of "nonself"), which would seem to contradict the notions of "god" found in Middle Eastern monotheistic religions. On the other hand, Buddhism is entirely compatible with atheism. It makes no claims regarding anything "supernatural".

Buddhism addresses the human experience, specifically the reality of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering. Buddha taught that human beings can attain the cessation of suffering (nirvana, a.k.a. "enlightenment") through their own efforts, just as he himself did, and taught methods and practices for realizing this goal.

The highest ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the Bodhisattva, an "enlightened (bodhi) being (sattva)" who strives to liberate not only himself or herself, but all sentient beings from delusion and suffering, not by "pushing" a belief system or ideology, but through understanding and compassion. Seems to me that being married to such a person would be pretty nice.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 23, 2006 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Pardon my usage of the meaning "strong atheism" for the atheism. I standby my suspicion, that when most people put down atheism thats what they are thinking about when they proverbially say they dont want their daughter to marry an atheist.

Perhaps they also include weak atheism, but I suspect without having the polling data that if asked they would put strong atheists at the bottom of their list.

In my opinion, "weak atheism" and "strong atheism" are fundamentally different. Nope not that one is worse or better than the other, but rather they are distinct and that strong atheists are probably a lot closer to the 3% figure cited whilte weak athesits broadly defined the 10-15%

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Agnostic does not believe in existence outside of themselves."

Actually, that would be what, a solipsist? Different thing entirely.

"Atheist is anti God. "

So, by that formulation I guess most thinking adults are anti-Santa Claus, anti-Easter Bunny, anti-fairy, and so forth. Clearly you aren't in the "thinking adult" category, however.

"America was founded for freedom of religion, they mistakenly want freedom from religion and will go so far as to not want us to practive our free speech by even invoking our Saviors name."

You have the freedom to invoke whatever name you want. I have the freedom to tell you to go piss up a rope. And everyone's happy, eh?

"A peson [sic] who does not believe in God is not an Atheist."

You must have a very interesting view of what constitutes an atheist.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

My whole problem with organized religion is accepting a group's entire set of values wholesale -- it defines you. You say, "I'm Catholic", and all of a sudden, providing you grant no other specifics, BAM, that's what you are. You're put into all these boxes.

With this is mind, I hope we can appreciate the irony of taking all these people (the ones who hate being put into boxes), and putting them INTO A GIANT BOX CALLED "ATHEISM".

Guess what... if I have to play by a bunch of rules to be agnostic, forget it. I'm not agnostic anymore. I cannot be described, baby.

Posted by: eckersley on March 23, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK
Given the widespread earlier prejudice against Jews (that, of course has not completely dissipated), that phrase strikes me as quite incongruous, if not outright ironic.

Given that the earliest Christians were Jews, and did not think of themselves as no longer Jews because they were Christian, it is the prejudice, rather than the belief in a Judeo-Christian tradition, that has always struck me as incongruous.

But then, so has the defense of particular beliefs of right-wing political Christianity as something related to a Judeo-Christian tradition when they have little to do with Judaism and aren't all that universal in Christianity either.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Frist!

Posted by: Sam on March 23, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

If God exists and reveals Herself, nothing about me or my behavior would change, assuming She was a benevolent God. If She was a vengeful God, then I guess under threat of damnation, I would have to obey their authority, just like the people of North Korea obey L'il Kim.

Put me down as an apathetic agnostic: I do not know and I do not care. But if you put my feet in fire I will express whatever you require.

Posted by: Hostile on March 23, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: I also don't believe in Zeus, Odin, Toutatis, Manitou, Quetzalcoatl, fairies, unicorns, angles, water nymphs, witches, vampires, elves, gnomes, the healing power of crystals, or Ryan Seacrest, but that doesn't mean I spend my time explicitly denying their existence either.

Odin and Zeus, sure, but you doesn't mention me at all *sniff*...

Posted by: S Ra on March 23, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

The easiest umbrella to sit under is the Unitarian umbrella.

My parents are Unitarians and I was raised as one. After a couple of unproductive exploratory side trips, I ran as fast as I could into the welcoming arms of atheism.

Eighteen years of listening to self-congratulation and smugness about the "open-minded" and "liberal" UU tradition wore me out. There seemed to be no end to the snide remarks about the sad, misguided trinitarians and pantheists of the world. Even now, my mother can't seem to stop herself from making snarky comments about Catholics.

I am well aware that not all Unitarians are like this. I know dozens of great ones. But it was a very off-putting religious experience for a child.

I also realize some atheists are equally self-congratulatory, but I'm fortunate enough not to have encountered many of them. And of course we don't need to speak further of the horrifying self-righteousness of many religious folk.

Anyway, I'm a grownup now so I can maturely tell anyone who starts with me on this topic to SHUT UP.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

>"Religious people think a certain way, and assume that non-religious people think the same way, but just with different parameters"

I keep coming back to this... everyone here should read "The God Gene"... it explains a LOT about humanity, and why it is behaves the way it does.

>"You already know that Republicans and religious people are happier"

This is literally true on a neuro-chemical level.

Deeply religous people typically have the genetics that cause the production of 'natural narcotic' substances (like endorphrins) which provide a pleasant sense of calm and well-being.

Production of these substances is increased by the presense of 'reinforcing feedback'... association with people who dress, talk, think and have belief systems that match their own.

i.e. Being with those who share a common world view creates a pleasant neurochemical environemnt.

On the other hand, confrontation or exposure to 'alternative realities' decreases production of these pleasant substances.

Hence, like a junkie in withdrawl, those with the god gene will typically become anxious and engage in violent behaviors to restore their reinforcing environment.

In a nutshell, the human condition is based on removing contradictory stimulus.

Modern genetic science provides the underlying answer to the above... people remove contradictory stimulus because it's in their genes.

This genetic construct no doubt, had great selective value (to the gene anyway) when rival bands of humans roamed a hostile planet killing each other with spears and clubs. Reinforcement with within a tribal group, calming fears in a dangerous wold... all good.

Today, with biological agents and nuclear weapons, it will likely be the death of us all... including the 15% of the population who don't carry the gene and hence don't need the associated belief systems.

Posted by: Buford on March 23, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Aw, wait....Crap!

Posted by: Sam on March 23, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, the dictionary I usually go to online is dictionary.com, which provides this definition of atheist:

One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

Note the use of the word DISBELIEVES, which strongly implies that an atheist believes that God or gods don't exist. Certainly, if you DISbelieve in the existence of God, it's obviously a stronger statement than your simply NOT believing one way or the other -- i.e., treating God's existence as an open question you haven't yet resolved, which, by your definition, would ALSO be counted as atheism.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

"According to a broad consensus of those of us who use the English language, that's not what the word "atheist" means. Compare atheist vs. agnostic."

On contrary, your own link defines atheism to mean exactly what he said: A lack of belief in God.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

No more than Protestants, say, deny the validity of Catholics' religious beliefs, or Christians those of Jews, or Christians those of atheists, when you come down to it.

I'd actually be a lot stronger with this statement. Take (Protestant) prayer in schools: historically, it's not the atheists that have gotten seriously pissed and litigious about it, it's the Catholics. To an atheist, Protestant prayers are just hocus-pocus, but to Catholics some are heresy. The vast majority of atheists will have a lot less of a problem with a wide range of religious beliefs, since they don't feel threatened by the beliefs themselves.

Posted by: ericblair on March 23, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

eyeglassgame made me realize that I'm both an agnostic and an atheist.

I'm a "hard" agnostic in that I find compelling logic in the idea that nobody can know whether god exists. But knowledge is different from belief, and if you ask me whether I believe that god exists, I have no hesitation in answering "No."

I'm quite clear in my belief that there is no god. I'm equally clear in my belief that I can't prove it, any more than anybody else can prove the opposite.

Posted by: Karl on March 23, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Well, credal Christians have specific major areas of non-denial, and ditto with Christian and Jews, but all of those feature quite a lot of (occasionally violent) denial of each others religious views, so its kind of like saying "X is wt? No more than water is wet" and thinking you've effectively denied the wetness of X.

Yes, but that was in response to someone saying that "atheists deny the validity of others' religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing." My example above was meant to show that while some atheists may deny the validity of others' religious beliefs, this does not make atheists different in any meaningful way from anyone else who's a member of an absolute belief system. Christians, for example, not only do not share the belief systems of Hindus, they actively deny their validity. I'm not denying this tendency in some strains of atheism, I'm denying that it's in any way unique to atheism.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I don't think Republicans "should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots".

Just all evens out, I guess.

This simply has to do with the absolute failure of both education and television, where any school can be, at the drop of a pin, intimidated by some gang noxious screwballs on this matter, and where every single tv show has at some point had a great wallow in pompous religiosity.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

[Buddhists are]... much less pushy than most religious types.

The Tibetan Buddhist dictatorship prior to Tibet's liberation by the Chinese Communists, was a pretty pushy and bleak place.

Posted by: on March 23, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Why is it always about what atheists don't believe? Most atheists only think about religion once a month or less.

BTW, does my lack of "patriotism" and "citizenship" put me under at a greater risk of being wiretapped or being sent to GitMo?

Posted by: B on March 23, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

"Note the use of the word DISBELIEVES, which strongly implies that an atheist believes that God or gods don't exist."

Nonsense.

Disbelieve:

1. To refuse to believe in; reject.

2. To withhold or reject belief.

Withholding or rejecting belief that God exists is not at all the same thing as believing that God does not exist.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

TK: the reason: though only 3% of us are atheists, we wield tremendous power.

Pretty soon the Christians, Jews, AND Muslims will be cowering together in fear of us.

Muhahahahah!

Seriously, though, the combination of atheism with enlightened self interest (minus crass commercialism) is a powerful meme.

Posted by: xmd on March 23, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

"The Tibetan Buddhist dictatorship prior to Tibet's liberation by the Chinese Communists, was a pretty pushy and bleak place."

Well, I can't say I'm a fan of theocracy in any of its forms. But individual Buddhists are less pushy on average than individual members of the big monotheistic religions- mainly Christianity in the US.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Rieux, I'm not sure you're right when you say that most nonbelievers have reached a consensus on the difference between the terms. I think I can speak for the majority of those who would term themselves atheists or agnostics in saying that I believe that there is not a god, and that I do not believe that I have sufficient knowledge or evidence to conclude anything for certain. If you asked me, while I'm at work, 'Is your apartment being broken in to right now?', I would probably answer 'No'. If you than asked me how I could be so certain, I'd answer that I'm not, just that it's quite unlikely, and that I have no reason to belive it's happening. By your definitions, I'm both an atheist and an agnostic. There isn't a useful distinction.

I agree with whoever said above (sorry, forgot who) that there's just a continuum of 'confidence' in one's belief or nonbelief. A vague, but maybe more useful, distinction might be to label the nonbeliever extremes as agnostic and atheist, with most falling between. In this context, which I think more accurately reflects most nonbelievers out there (certainly myself and everyone I know) the debate seems a little silly. We can all agree that some given Olympic sprinter is 'fast', and we can all agree that some given couch potato is 'slow', but most people will fall far from these extremes.

Posted by: ChiSox Fan in LA on March 23, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

What is you bleive in a god, but a badm nasty god who delights in tomenting us all out lives? What does they call that belief?

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on March 23, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: I also don't believe in Zeus, Odin, Toutatis, Manitou, Quetzalcoatl, fairies, unicorns, angles,

And I thought everyone believed in angles.

Posted by: E. Henry Thripshaw on March 23, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I consider myself an "intellectual" agnostic, and an "emotional" atheist. That is, I have no good argument for God's non-existence. It's possible there's some sort of God or gods, I suppose (looking around the world, the Greek god system makes a lot of sense). But I feel no belief, and as someone who was once quite religious, I know that real belief is a distinctive state that is very different from non-belief. Agnostics, from what I can tell, are only rarely those who are struggling with belief. Usually, they simply don't give the matter much consideration and when they do, it's very much an intellectual exercise, skirting over the experience of belief. This seems a fairly reasonable perspective for anyone who has not had the experience of faith. At any rate, I tend to refer to myself as an atheist - but not in front of, say, my parents, who speak of atheists like they would of child molesters, rapists and murderers. They are politically middle-of-the-road suburban NE Catholics, by the way. I think there's a lot to the idea that atheists are a loathed minority.

Posted by: pyewacket on March 23, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Not trying to label anyone but, has anyone considered the possibility of identifying people's belief systems based on their observable behavior? If you did this, would you see any difference between an agnostic and an atheist?

Posted by: cowalker on March 23, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

You know, I think Kevin's original point was you could figure 1/4 of the population or so are "essentially atheist". Yes, it's sloppy, but I think in that point he was using atheist as "don't actively worship anything to the point where you might as well put them in the atheist camp".

But, as we've seen here, atheist is a four-letter word and it seems some people have some sort of creepy obsession about it. I mean, "anti-god"?

Even if that's true, so what? If some speck of dust on a floating ball hurtling in space has the nads to assert there's some dude, some unseen, unknowable dude that controls it all down to what position the specks of dust have sex in, then any other speck of dust on that floating ball has the right to tell him to shove it up his corn-hole.

Posted by: The Tim on March 23, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0:
Note the use of the word DISBELIEVES, which strongly implies that an atheist believes that God or gods don't exist.

Really? (Hm--something tells me you didn't follow the link I provided for you.) Maybe you should try looking up "disbelieve":

v. tr.
To refuse to believe in; reject.

v. intr.
To withhold or reject belief.


Sure seems to me that a "weak" atheist (i.e., a person who can state neither "I believe god(s) exist" nor "I believe no gods exist") nonetheless withholds affirmative belief in gods and perhaps even rejects and refuses it.

So, in short--no, you're wrong. "Disbelief" is an entirely adequate term for "weak" atheism.

Which is, perhaps, why dictionary.com has "denies" as a separate portion of the definition of "atheist." By your reading, "disbelieves or denies" is redundant.


I maintain that Proof By Dictionary is of limited value, because dictionaries merely reflect usage--even ignorant and bigoted usage. But in this case, your dictionary proves atheists' point, not yours.

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

"The Tibetan Buddhist dictatorship prior to Tibet's liberation by the Chinese Communists, was a pretty pushy and bleak place."

As opposed to the colorful and happy Disneyland Tibet has now become after the Chinese Communists invaded and murdered the monks, raped the nuns, burned down the monasteries and tortured and jailed anyone else who resisted.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

For anyone interested in the damaging nature of organized religion today, read The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. This is an absolute must read. http://www.samharris.org/

Posted by: Sarah_Seattle on March 23, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'd bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

If "do anything that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously" is your standard, I'd say the number approaches 97%.

"Turning the other cheek", "give onto the least of these", "easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for the rich man to enter heaven" these are the avowed beliefs of Christians, but they seem to be not so popular among American Christians.

According to American Christians, Jesus was really only concerned with what his neighbor did with his genitals.

Posted by: Ray on March 23, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe female atheists should consider wearing headscarves.

Posted by: anonymous on March 23, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

And I thought everyone believed in angles.

Not me. I'm a circle man from way back.

Though sometimes I'll bend and admit the existence of ovals.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Not trying to label anyone but, has anyone considered the possibility of identifying people's belief systems based on their observable behavior? If you did this, would you see any difference between an agnostic and an atheist?"

If you did this, then chances are you would come to the conclusion that 97% of the US population are atheists. The other 3% are the ones that annoy the other ones by knocking on their doors to prosletyze or by sticking Chick tracts under their car windows in the parking lot.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist,

Look, if you REJECT belief in something, don't you think that's a little stronger of a statement than to take a position of complete open-mindedness regarding that issue?

Maybe you have some cover in the term "withhold", instead of "reject", but certainly the nuance of DISbelieving something suggests that you are NOT being open to both possibilities, right? In any case, if you argue that what's really being suggested here is the "withholding" possibility, then you have reduced your self to one alternative definition of "disbelieve" inside of one alternative definition of "atheist", which also includes the clearer possibility of "denying" God's existence. That's pretty tenuous, I'd think.

The problem for the alternative definition offered up by rieux is that he would be obliged to call a completely open mind about God's existence a case of "atheism". That hardly seems compatible with the dictionary definition of "atheism".

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

"who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously."

there goes bigotted, closed-minded, uncritically thinking Kevin again ...this time equating going to church with being serious about faith - what a idiot.

the opposite would more likely be true; that people who DON'T go to church as unthinking zombie stooges to be talked at for one hour per week not having the vaguest idea what is being said or what it means, are more likely to have given God serious thought and what that all might mean.
.

Posted by: justfred on March 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

You never ran away from the smugness and self-congratulation you were raised in, squawkstop. You just applied them to your political opinions.

But thanks for this post. It certainly helps to explain how you ended up the way you have.

Posted by: Henrietta on March 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Or, of course, we could go with the ignorant, bigoted majority and join Catch22 in attempting to shove a definition down the throats of a minority group despite their clear dissent."

Well, I'm pleased to see that we haven't antagonized the "assertive types who like to argue with people or shock them", as Cowalker put it.

I don't suppose that it's relevant, but the OED, Merriam Webster, and Dictionary.com all agree with Catch22. They trace the definition to the 1860s, describing the modern Sophists. So, if I understand you properly, agnosticism is an unfair label cruelly imposed on a group that's been around since before English existed as a language. When did Atheists get together and decide to expand the definition of atheism to include so many more people? Wikipedia says 1979, but I'd like to hear from an expert.

Posted by: Ruck on March 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Besides which, rieux and others are making the case for the alternative definition of "atheist" based on common usage.

Well, a lot of us commoners on this thread are contradicting you on this very point. What are we? Chopped liver?

Posted by: frankly0 on March 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Though sometimes I'll bend and admit the existence of ovals. "

Splitter!

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

the Chinese Communists invaded and murdered the monks, raped the nuns, burned down the monasteries and tortured and jailed anyone else who resisted.

That is Dalai Llama propaganda.

Posted by: on March 23, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Disestablishmentarianists Unite!

I was sloppy in the comment that atheists deny the beliefs of other religions (note to self, this only applies to strong athiests, but also to many believers in other religions)

I still think Kevin is in error to assert that by his criteria that 25% of the country are atheists or that they must not take their own religous beliefs seriously since they dont go to a church or follow practices he observes.

Perhaps a new category is order, those who do not share a belief in one of the mainline organized churches. Ie. some variety of disestablishmentarianism(DE for short)banner or what not.

General principles:
Support separation of church and state
Not be a follower of an established heirarchical church which dictate how one should and should not exercise their belief or disblief in God or gods.

Strong DEs deny the validity of established religions; weak DEs dont care to think about that too much.

Sorry to offend the weak atheists around, and to inadverntely support a right wing talking point about what all those atheists are up to skulking behind the scenes.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 23, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Well, I meant more in the sense that they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus the way modern Christians, do, i.e. in the sense that Christ is literally God himself. They felt that Jesus was a divine being, but not the divine being."

"Gnostic Christians" identified Jesus with the Demiurge...(or Logos..see the John-author's use of the same terminology) ...and thus not really human at all. they certainly saw Jesus as a deity in a way that they did not see humans

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

ChiSox fan:
I believe that there is not a god, and that I do not believe that I have sufficient knowledge or evidence to conclude anything for certain.

You sound like a "strong" atheist and an agnostic to me. What's the problem?

By your definitions, I'm both an atheist and an agnostic. There isn't a useful distinction.

Of course there is: (a)theism is about belief; (a)gnosticism is about knowledge (gnosis). They're entirely different spectra; there's nothing crazy about being both an atheist and an agnostic. In fact, lots of (generally liberal) theists are agnostics. Again, what's the problem?

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Catch22:
I was sloppy in the comment that atheists deny the beliefs of other religions (note to self, this only applies to strong athiests, but also to many believers in other religions).

Thank you; I appreciate this. That earlier comment was the reason I reacted harshly.

I can live with the common misconceptions about what "atheism" means when they're not used to slam us.

Posted by: Rieux on March 23, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

That is Dalai Llama [sic] propaganda.

No, that is absolute documented fact.

And it's Lama, not Llama. He's a monk, not a South American quadriped.

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II wrote: Good thing I married a Buddhist.

MJ Memphis wrote: I second that. They're much less pushy than most religious types. Posted by: SecularAnimist

I guess I should clarify. Good thing I married a Japanese Buddhist, the Unitarians of Asia.

Posted by: Jeff II on March 23, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

"If you did this, then chances are you would come to the conclusion that 97% of the US population are atheists. The other 3% are the ones that annoy the other ones by knocking on their doors to prosletyze or by sticking Chick tracts under their car windows in the parking lot."

Exactly. I long ago concluded that most people who prattle on about their belief in God and Jesus and their "spiritual journey" and all the rest of it aren't really religious in any meaningful sense of the word. Functionally, they're atheists, and their supposed "religious" beliefs don't make any real difference to their lives.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

I've always felt that God could clear this up in a minute by appearing.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on March 23, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

As a person who will not profess to know that which cannot be proven I seem to fall on the Atheist side. In my experience I have found that most religions support an agreed upon "code of ethics" that all who suscribe to that particular belief must abide by. Religious folks have a very hard time accepting that I can have a moral ethic without the supervision of some unseen being. They just can't understand that I can behave when the only consequence of breaking my ethos is the dissapointment that I feel in myself. Religion or no, however, I feel that people generally want to be good and to promote the same. Unfortunately all sides tend to push thier way as THE WAY otherwise thier moral code may lose its absolute feel.

Posted by: Cyrus on March 23, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

I believe our existence is explained by our ability to accellerate the transformation of energy and matter to less ordered and less useful forms.

Does that make me a stiff atheist or a flacid agnostic?

Posted by: B on March 23, 2006 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

And it's Lama, not Llama. He's a monk, not a South American quadriped.

But maybe in one incarnation he/she could be both!

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on March 23, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Memphis MJ

"Not trying to label anyone but, has anyone considered the possibility of identifying people's belief systems based on their observable behavior? If you did this, would you see any difference between an agnostic and an atheist?"

If you did this, then chances are you would come to the conclusion that 97% of the US population are atheists. The other 3% are the ones that annoy the other ones by knocking on their doors to prosletyze or by sticking Chick tracts under their car windows in the parking lot.

I don't think it would be as much as 97%, Memphis MJ. Most people have church weddings, bury their dead from a church, give a bar/bat mitzvah for their offspring, go to Midnight Mass on Christmas or pray with the hospital chaplain, and they never consider not doing these things on the grounds that they don't believe in God. These are all observable actions, even if they're infrequent. These people are simply not pro-actively religious.

I wonder if an agnostic would be doing these things based on the Pascal's leap proposition, or would the agnostic abstain like the atheist? Each individual would react differently I'm sure.

I'm told it's easy to get a seat at Midnight Mass these days, but I think there's been little decline in the number of people who claim to be Catholics. They still want a funeral mass for grandma and church weddings for their kids.

Posted by: cowalker on March 23, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'm quite clear in my belief that there is no god. I'm equally clear in my belief that I can't prove it, any more than anybody else can prove the opposite.Posted by: Karl on March 23, 2006 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

This statement resonates with me. I have thought for as long as I can remember that you won't know the answer until you die -- and maybe not even then. I find the belief in God as practiced in so many religions to be really rather bizarre, but I am always mindful that this is MY perspective, and so I keep this mostly to myself.

I wish those on the other side of the fence such as GHWB and the religious/intolerant & loony fringe would practice likewise.


Posted by: E. Henry Thripshaw on March 23, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Question for those who believe that to be an atheist you must affirmatively believe that god does not exist: how many of you describe yourself as atheists?

Posted by: denise on March 23, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Gnostic Christians" identified Jesus with the Demiurge...(or Logos..see the John-author's use of the same terminology) ...and thus not really human at all. they certainly saw Jesus as a deity in a way that they did not see humans

But not all Gnostics or even all early Christians saw Jesus as the Demiurge or divinity. For example, in Origen's third century commentary on John, Origen notes that while the other gospels spoke of Christ as human, "none of them clearly spoke of his divinity, as John does." And many of the terms that we now think of as indicating divinity, such as "Messiah" or "son of God" were, in the first century AD, used to indicate human roles.

Pagels, for example, notes that "The Christians who translated these titles into English fifteen centuries later believe they showed that Jesus was uniquely related to God, and so they capitalized them -- a linguistic convention that does not occur in Greek. But Mark's contemporaries would most likely have seen Jesus as a man, though one gifted with the holy spirit, and divinely appointed to rule in the coming kingdom of God."

Posted by: Stefan on March 23, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

I've always felt that God could clear this up in a minute by appearing.

God is all around us because God is the set of all sets which includes everything including the set of all sets that do not include themselves as members and the set of all sets that do include themselves as members and the set of sets that are not God which is the null set which is included in the set of all sets....

God is tired now and is going to rest for a bit.

Posted by: God on March 23, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

Thripshaw, Stefan, MJ, hee. The Great Geometry Schism of 2006.

Henrietta: You never ran away from the smugness and self-congratulation you were raised in, squawkstop. You just applied them to your political opinions.

Aw, Jay, it's not smug or self-congratulating to want to keep you away from preteen girls after your remarks of the other day. It's just good sense, son.

Hedley: I've always felt that God could clear this up in a minute by appearing.

Indeed. And none of this is-he-or-isn't-he human form business, either. Something like the Cubs winning the World Series would convince me.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

>>> What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.

I totally agree with this. I suspect there are a number of people who "believe" because, as fictions go, it is [or used to be] a fairly innocuous and agreeable fiction, it includes Christmas and Easter, the kids like it, so why not?

Posted by: Lynn on March 23, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, someone probably already posted this above, I know I read something similar in all the religious posts while Kevin was gone.

Atheism and agnosticism are not just two different beliefs, they are about different subjects.

Atheism (and Theism) concern a belief in gods. Agnosticism concerns a belief in the limits of knowledge about gods.

It's quite possible to be atheist and agnostic. "I don't believe in any gods, but I don't know for sure whether gods exist"

And it's possible to be theist and agnostic. "I do believe in God but I don't know for sure whether gods exist."

They are beliefs concerning related but distinct subjects.

Posted by: Boronx on March 23, 2006 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

cowalker- I guess I interpreted the question differently. By "observable behavior", I meant "actively follows the tenets of their religion to a noticeable degree." By that standard, I don't notice any significant behavior in daily activity between your average atheist, christian, or whatnot. A lot of the things you mention are as much social as anything else. I don't, for example, qualify a Homer Simpson type who goes to church because his family expects him to go, absorbs little or nothing from the experience, and doesn't act any differently than if he hadn't gone, as having the "observable behavior" of a religious person. Personally, I've spent a lot of time in Buddhist temples, but it hasn't turned me Buddhist yet.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

I don't, Denise, But I would describe myself as agnostic.

I just feel like saying that atheist/agnostic is just a difference between belief and knowledge is a kind of overly-literal interpretation. It also sounds a lot like an attempt by real, hard atheists to make everyone think that their beliefs actually more similar to theirs in a more substantive way than they are.

Posted by: Ruck on March 23, 2006 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Also, Denise, it seems like there is no definition for someone who believes that some kind of god might exist, but that that knowledge is impossible to obtain by any person. This seems strange to me.

Posted by: Ruck on March 23, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate: "Atheist--One who denies the existence of god." Three percent sounds about right for this number. Of course, we atheists don't experience active discrimination, because we carry no visible markers. Unless one advertizes the fact (Kevin's working definition of obnoxiousness), being an atheist is observationally equivalent to being the much larger group of nonobservant persons. In my workplace, though, I'd bet upwards of 50 percent would consider themselves atheists of at least nonbelievers.

Posted by: Matt on March 23, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Matt, you don't understand. Webster's is in on the whole shadow conspiracy to alienate and marginalize atheists by branding them with krazy epithets.

Posted by: Ruck on March 23, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

What if you believe in a god, but a bad, nasty god who delights in tomenting us all our lives? What do they call that belief?

Posted by: the fake Fake Al on March 23, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

I just feel like saying that atheist/agnostic is just a difference between belief and knowledge is a kind of overly-literal interpretation.

That depends on the value you ascribe to unfounded beliefs. If you are able to hold your unfounded beliefs in low regard, and recognize that your belief in them has no bearing on their veracity, such a distinction between atheism and agnosticism is obvious and basic.

IMHO, it's actually used by softer atheists as a way of distinguishing themselves from the hard atheists you mention and to illustrate an area of agreement with agnostics who do believe in some god or other.

Posted by: Boronx on March 23, 2006 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, we atheists don't experience active discrimination, because we carry no visible markers. Unless one advertizes the fact (Kevin's working definition of obnoxiousness), being an atheist is observationally equivalent to being the much larger group of nonobservant persons.

Well, I guess that depends on where each of us would draw the line.

I really don't talk about my absence of belief, not because I'm trying to hide it but because it generally doesn't come up among my friends and family. I don't much care that Daley Plaza is filled with Christmas trees, menorahs and Kwanzaa displays every December. I think the creepy 1950s addition of "In God We Trust" ought to be removed from the coin of the state, though I'm not going to battle over it.

But I would not swear on a bible or take an oath that required me to invoke God.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

What if you believe in a god, but a bad, nasty god who delights in tomenting us all our lives? What do they call that belief?

It hardly makes sense to believe in any other kind of god.

The Greeks really had the god's numbers: A bunch of petty, vindictive, emotional, fickle and untrustworthy childish bastards.

Posted by: Boronx on March 23, 2006 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

(sorry for flipping your name before)
MJ Memphis:

By "observable behavior", I meant "actively follows the tenets of their religion to a noticeable degree." By that standard, I don't notice any significant behavior in daily activity between your average atheist, christian, or whatnot.

I totally agree with you there. Very few Americans allow religion to come between them and the American lifestyle. Going by lifestyles--how money and time are spent on daily activities and how decisions are made about sex, the discipline of children, etc.--the differences are miniscule. It was this observation of what really mattered to the people who were telling me about God that confused me as an eight-year-old would-be saint. If we're talking ETERNITY here, why isn't my family delighted to drive me to church every Saturday for the special services the nuns are urging us to attend?

I still think I would have become an atheist in high school when I got curious about other religions, and ended up thinking they were all equally plausible, and therefore all equally implausible. And then there was that thing about the food chain that depends on sentient beings devouring each other alive to survive.

Thanks for the comments.

Posted by: cowalker on March 23, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

The Greeks really had the god's numbers: A bunch of petty, vindictive, emotional, fickle and untrustworthy childish bastards.

How can you say that about Maggie Smith, Laurence Oliver and Ursula Andress?

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan:

although much is not known or is merely speculative about early Christianity (we actually know quite a bit more about the gnostics)...
I should say (as I noted above) that Pagels is not exactly reliable...she is not well-respected in the academic world..she's a popular level writer and she has an axe to grind.

and she's dead wrong on a lot of what she writes about the gnostics...

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to ones exposure to diversity, education and political orientationwith more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.

Well fuck, who would ever have predicted that?

Posted by: craigie on March 23, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

I don't recall much hostility directed my way when I was a vocal atheist; but wow ! did I ever get it when I became a believing blasphemer. That really pisses them off.

As Doc Holliday says in my favorite play, "Doc Holliday and The Angel of Mercy":

"I no longer believe. It didn't take long for me to join the ranks of the atheistical. Blasphemy is what outrages people, not disbelief. My father used to raise hackles with his assertion that although God created the heavens and the earth in six days, the effort killed Him. The Major would have made fewer enemies if he had simply come out for atheism."

This is absolutely true. Try telling a Christian, for instance, that God is a prick. Tell them you believe, that you absolutely believe in God, but that he is a lousy no-good murdering prick, then get the hell out of town as fast as you can. Atheists can always be converted, so there's hope for them, but nasty-mouthed blaspheming smart-asses are too much for believers to put up with.

Posted by: buddy66 on March 23, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan:

> actually you're wrong on the gnostics.

And you, my friend, make a glaring mistake:

> gnostics overlapped with Christianity...they seem
> to have identified Jesus with the Demiurge

Not remotely. Jesus is the true God. The Demiurge is identified with
Jehovah. In the creation story, the Serpent is the voice of Jesus.

> (borrowed by gnosticism from
> neo-Platonism)...essentially a subordinate creator deity.

No, not a subordinate creator diety (though there
were several depending on which Gnostic system used).
The single creator of the world of flesh and matter.

> so, it's not exactly correct to say that gnostic
> "Christians" did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.

They very much believed in the divinity of Jesus -- but as the Divine
Spark which all people seek and not as the Creator of the fallen world.

> there is a lot of confusion about the Gospel of Thomas and
> the Nag Hammadi texts today because it's been fashionable,
> kind of like the resurgence of Kabbala (which isn't really
> like traditional Kabbala)...and the misleading and inaccurate
> popular-level works of people like Pagels don't help.

Elaine Pagels is a Princeton University Chair of religion.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's "if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else " is analogous to saying that people who claim to be Democrats but never vote or get involved in causes are actually Republicans. Nice rhetorical device, not actually true.

Being an atheist is definitely a recipe for being targeted for discrimination in much of the country, and not just Red parts. A lot of the 'baggage' we carry is driven by the atheism of the Communists, that is, Atheism equals Communist equals anti-American equals traitor. At this point, I'd say the percentage of atheists in America who are that way because of Marxist ideas is relatively small, but in, say, 1960, it may have been true that most avowed atheists were Marxists of some stripe.

And yes, the 'noisiest' atheists are pretty disreputable. Your nice quiet atheist will never 'come out' to most people, while your nice quiet Christian will at least know people from Church, or mention it in passing as simply part of their life - "Sorry I didn't get your call - my Church group was at the ball game". So, most people won't know any nice Atheists, while they will know nice Christians, even nice Jews in many places. The numbers of Jews and atheists are reasonably similar, but Jews are more 'visible' in normal life, and so have a chance to build a positive image.


Posted by: rvman on March 23, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

>>If you are able to hold your unfounded beliefs in low regard, and recognize that your belief in them has no bearing on their veracity, such a distinction between atheism and agnosticism is obvious and basic.

See, this is my problem. It seems to me like there is an implicit acknowledgement in this attitude that belief is somehow less relevant to a fundamentally religious dialogue than logic, and that it's a boon to hold the practice of belief in low regard. That seems to presume definitive knowledge that logic is the only way to adequately answer a question about faith, which seems counterintuitive at best and more than a little circular.

It also seems to lead inevitably to the positive rejection of god, because the person has defined the question from the start in a way that rejects the consideration of the religious perspective, because it is illogical.

I guess to sum up, I don't understand why coming to a logical conclusion delegitimizes belief in this case. I mean, it's like answering a math problem with a color. In a way, it ignores the real issue at hand.

Posted by: Ruck on March 23, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

The biggest problem with atheists is that they're right.

And what are you going to scare them with? Going to hell? What's that, like a place where the President is a criminal, the Vice President shoots people, the Congress doesn't care about anything other than accumulating more power for their party, the Supreme Court is full of paleoconservatives more interested in controlling a woman's uterus than protecting voter's rights or the Constitution, and the media is complicit in all of it?

Oh no, the just and omnipotent God would never allow for something like that, or the Holocost or the genocide of Armenians or American Indians or whoever. There's just so much evidence, isn't there, that no only is there a god, but that he cares sooooo much about all of us and our problems. Sure, take a look at the world and tell me about all the evidence you see for that.

Those damn atheists, they're the problem what with their rationality and logical thinking. Damn it they might even think that if we gave up on the superstition of religion and instead used our minds we might actually make this world, the one we actually live in, a better place instead of just waiting for some fairy land in the sky.

Posted by: kidkostar on March 23, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

but you also have "hard" agnosticism, which states that not only does the agnostic not know if there is a god, no one else does either, i.e. it is impossible for anyone to know whether or not there is a god.

Which just goes to show you can hold almost any viewpoint and be a dick. Posted by: S Ra on March 23, 2006 at 3:42 PM

Does that make Immanuel Kant a dick then? I mean your definition of "hard agnostic" is exactly the same as Kantian Agnosticism. He argued that one can neither empirically or logically prove that God(sic) exists.

Therefore all religious belief requires a 'leap of faith'.

I don't think that qualifies him as a "dick", though. Isn't that term more appropriate for someone who aggressively promulgates their beliefs and vigorously attacks everyone else who disagrees?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 23, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK
On contrary, your own link defines atheism to mean exactly what he said: A lack of belief in God.

Not, it said "disbelieves", compare, from the same source, disbelief vs. unbelief, and particularly note that the latter (even in the weaker, "reluctance", sense) is less neutral.

Its pretty clear, I think, that in general use by most speakers, atheism is affirmative disbelief while agnosticism is negative (or perhaps "passive" is better) unbelief.

Now, I don't challenge the right of people who call themselves atheists to use a broader definition that includes what might in general use be called "agnostics" (and, in certain contexts, I find the use of "agnostic" as a pure reference to epistemological theory to be more useful, too.)

But I think that its as pointless to sidetrack conversations where clarity can be reached about what is being discussed with insistence on using their groups terminology as it is when credal Christians insist on the same thing in a conversation where self-styled Christian groups like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons are being discussed within the rubric "Christian", but they insist they be labelled "pseudo-Christian cults".

The semantic points usually have nothing to do with the substance. Its especially tendentious when the complaint is about the common use of the word when the subject matter is a survey of the public, not of the group with the exceptional definition.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to define the atheist. To say the atheist doesn't believe in God or has a disbelief in God is using a term "God" that implies that there is such a thing. So to define the atheist, a description must be used that for the atheist is a non-entity or non-existent. For instance how can I not believe in something that I do not comprehend as having any reality. Atheists do not believe in devil worship either, there's just nothing there to not believe in.

Everyone should believe in something-I believe that I will have another beer.

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't think it would be as much as 97%, Memphis MJ. Most people have church weddings, bury their dead from a church, give a bar/bat mitzvah for their offspring, go to Midnight Mass on Christmas or pray with the hospital chaplain, and they never consider not doing these things on the grounds that they don't believe in God. These are all observable actions, even if they're infrequent. These people are simply not pro-actively religious."

Do you really think these activities have any real substantive religious content for most people who engage in them? I'm about as hardcore an atheist as they come, and I like to go to church weddings and funerals ("like" maybe isn't quite the right word for funerals). I also like to go Midnight Mass at Christmas. It reminds me of my childhood, and just seems like a nice, christmassy thing to do. I'm even Godfather to a couple of children in my extended family.

I don't think most people do these things for religious reasons. They do them for reasons of tradition and ceremony, for family reasons, because sometimes it's just nice to dress up, get together with family and friends, and go through the motions of religious tomfoolery.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

SetofAllSets, your friend wouldn't happen to be named Randy, would he?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 23, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

It's hard to define the atheist.

Only to the theists.

Posted by: flyme on March 23, 2006 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK
Take (Protestant) prayer in schools: historically, it's not the atheists that have gotten seriously pissed and litigious about it, it's the Catholics.

More, as I recall, the Jehovah's Witnesses. At least, in the case of the major landmark cases.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,
"Not, it said "disbelieves", compare, from the same source, disbelief vs. unbelief, and particularly note that the latter (even in the weaker, "reluctance", sense) is less neutral."


It defines "disbelief" as an absence of belief, meaning that it supports the definition of atheism you cited it to challenge.

And don't call me "Not."

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, are you having as much fun as I am watching the Topinka and Oberweis supporters at each other's throats?)Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 4:13 PM

Yes shortstop! I hope they bleed each other dry. Blagojevich has his problems, but we'd be up shit creek if the voters allowed another Republican into the governor's mansion.

BTW, why don't we call the agressive atheists "evangelical atheists"?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 23, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK
To say the atheist doesn't believe in God or has a disbelief in God is using a term "God" that implies that there is such a thing.

No, it doesn't.

It implies the the term has a definition, not that it refers to something in the real world.

Using a term doesn't imply that the term refers to something that exists.

It doesn't even imply that the term refers to a logically coherent concept (for instance, its very easy to say "I don't believe in four-sided triangles" -- using the term "four-sided triangle" doesn't imply that such a thing exists or even logically could exist.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK
It defines "disbelief" as an absence of belief

No, it defines it as refusal, or reluctance, to believe. (At least, the American Heritage definition, which is the "same source" I was referring too, I think there are more sources listed for that particular term than the earlier ones, which might be confusing the issue.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah_Seattle wrote: For anyone interested in the damaging nature of organized religion today, read The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. This is an absolute must read.

I don't disagree that there is much in organized religion today that is harmful to the well-being of humans, other sentient beings, and the Earth's biosphere.

My objection to Sam Harris is that he attributes the source of violence and hatred to religion, just as others have attributed and do attribute them to communism, or capitalism, or nationalism, or racism, or any of a number of "isms", whereas I believe they arise from the basic nature of the human animal. Violence and hatred are inherent, integral, deep-seated parts of what human beings are. The various "isms" including organized religion are just avenues through which the violent and hateful aspects of human nature express themselves. Pretending that these qualities are put upon us by some external force like religion, instead of recognizing that they arise from within us, as part of our evolutionary heritage, is in my opinion not helpful.

Many hideous things have been done in the name of religion, but equally hideous things were done by the explicitly and aggressively atheistic ideologies and regimes of Stalin and Mao. On the other hand, many people have lived their entire lives devoted to improving the well-being of the most downtrodden, impoverished and suffering people in the world, in the name of religion.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 23, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Oh no, the just and omnipotent God would never allow for something like that, or the Holocost or the genocide of Armenians or American Indians or whoever. There's just so much evidence, isn't there, that no only is there a god, but that he cares sooooo much about all of us and our problems. Sure, take a look at the world and tell me about all the evidence you see for that."

Oh, but haven't you heard? They've got a trump card for that argument: "God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform".

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

To believe in God is to have "faith". Faith that he exists. One cannot have "faith" that he does not exist. That might imply a vaccuum somehow or that he can be conjured up in such a way as to have the possibility for someone to have no "faith" that he is there. The non-atheist attempts to define the atheist using terminology that is not considered reality by the atheist. The non-atheist cannot perceive life without some sort of belief system and therefore must define the atheist as one without it. It's impossible to define something that is unreal-as God is. Thus the atheist. Man attempts to define God because God is a mental invention and exists only with faith that man's own invention can manifest itself somehow. The atheist cannot define that which is not there by using terms that define this nothingness.

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,
"No, it defines it as refusal, or reluctance, to believe"

No, it uses various words ("withhold," "reject," "refuse") regarding belief in God, all of which denote an absence of such belief.

An absence of belief that God does exist is not the same thing as a belief that God does not exist.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

The term "God" is used as a definition or word used to help define another term. "God" is a word that has meaning, whether real or unreal, to most everyone and it is this meaning that is used to help define the atheist. Real or unreal is not the issue because that depends on each person's belief system. But used in the definition of atheist as a description, the use of the term implies that it has potential for existence. Else wise, why use it? How and when is four sided triangle used to describe another term? Poor example.

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,
So are you claiming there is no causal relationship between religion and good/bad behavior, or what? You first seem to admit that religion is a cause of harm ("there is much in organized religion today that is harmful to the well-being of humans") but later seem to retreat into the claim that religion is merely a pretext or excuse for harmful actions (harm done "in the name of" religion) that have some other cause.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK
The term "God" is used as a definition or word used to help define another term. "God" is a word that has meaning, whether real or unreal, to most everyone and it is this meaning that is used to help define the atheist. Real or unreal is not the issue because that depends on each person's belief system. But used in the definition of atheist as a description, the use of the term implies that it has potential for existence.

"Potential for existence" is a series of words that, each being sensible on its own, makes no sense together. A thing either exists or does not exist. A thing cannot have a "potential for existence", as it must exist to have a potential for anything.

And, no, using a term to define another term does not imply that the term refers to something that exists, has the "potential to exist" -- whatever that means -- or expresses a logically coherent idea.

Else wise, why use it?

Because the idea of God exists whether or not God exists or "has the potential to exist", and there are people who believe that idea reflects something that exists in reality, and people who believe that it does not, and therefore, the term used for the idea is needed in the definitions of either of those groups.

It has nothing to do with whether God "has the potential to exist."

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years

Speaking of Gnosticism, if the general public were aware of its resurgence and its tenets (and the comments here show that even the well-educated and intelligent often misunderstand them) then they might be inclined to dislike it even more than atheism. Gnosticism is the ultimate wellspring for anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment thought -- and it's particularly opposed to established religion.

Whereas atheists and agnostics might be inclined to be indifferent to religion, neo-Gnostics of many stripes see religious institutions as one of the primary means of imprisoning and obfuscating the consciousness of humans (for other common methods please see The Matrix) and will badmouth ecclesiastical institutions all day long until the archonic cows come home.

In some sense, that makes Gnosticism even more antithetical and opposed to organized religion than atheism.

Fortunately for them, there aren't all that many Gnostics (way less than say, Wiccans, and probably about as many as Heathen Reconstructionists) so they'll problem remain unnoticed. And Phildickian Gnostics know better than to draw attention to themselves by advertising their existence, preferring to work in secret against the powers that run the Black Iron Prison like their grey-robed Christian ancestors --

-- which is smart because there can't be more than about twenty-five of them, and when your numbers are that low you can't afford to lose a single person to marauding chthonic Powers.

Posted by: Windhorse on March 23, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist: I am saying that violence and hatred are a part of human nature. They are not "caused by" religion or any other belief system or ideology. They are part of what we are as animals. Religion may channel them in certain directions, but so can and so do other belief systems and ideologies.

When I say that "I don't disagree that there is much in organized religion today that is harmful to the well-being of humans, other sentient beings, and the Earth's biosphere" I am thinking of, for example, religious opposition to the use of birth control, and the religious belief that human beings have a special status above and apart from the rest of the natural world and that non-human animals, plants and the rest of the Earth's biosphere exist for the benefit of human beings.

From what I've read of Sam Harris, and from the title of his book which a previous commenter mentioned (which I have not read), he seems preoccupied with the idea that organized religion is a uniquely virulent cause or source of violent and hateful behavior. I don't think that's true. There are plenty of examples of violent and hateful behavior, including very large scale, very destructive violent and hateful behavior, that have nothing to do with religion. A lot of them have to do with simple greed. For example, Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 23, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: A thing either exists or does not exist. A thing cannot have a "potential for existence", as it must exist to have a potential for anything.

Quantum physics has shown that such notions of "things" that "exist" or "don't exist" do not correspond to fundamental reality.

The wave function that describes a quantum entity such as an electron or a photon when it is not being observed can certainly be interpreted as describing a "potential for existence", in that such an entity can only be (and can accurately be)described in terms of the probabilities of it appearing with certain properties when an observation (measurement) is performed. Until an observation is performed, objective reality consists only of possibility; it is observation that transforms possibility into actuality.

"No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon." -- Niels Bohr

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 23, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding that GHWB quote, I was at the Air Force Academy in '95 when he came to speak. At the end of his speech, during the Q&A, a guy I know (and someone very open about his atheism) read that quote and asked Pres. Bush if that was true. Bush denied it, and seemed to be so flustered by the question that he cut off answering the next question to again deny that he would ever say something like that.

Posted by: Monkey Puzzle on March 23, 2006 at 7:22 PM | PERMALINK

Secular:

Agree very strongly with you here.

Windhorse:

Hehe ... I just caught PhilDickian Agnosticism a few days ago, as a matter of fact.

Consider me still closer to a wishy-washy Unitarianoid Pegalsian Gnostic -- at least for now.

Gods, where's Gnathan to Gnash his teeth at these terms when you need 'em, eh? :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

PhilDickian Agnosticism = PhilDickian Gnosticism

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a non-religious Chicagoan and so are most of my friends, family and neighbors. We only make up only 15% of the pop? Non church goers might push that to 25%? Boy that's depressing.

Posted by: Sauce on March 23, 2006 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist and atheism are pejoratives. Why take a name given to you by your persecutors? Why accept invitation into a binary conflict erected for the sole purpose of persecuting you?

Only recently I had to interrupt an acquaintance of mine (a subscriber to the Catholic religion) who commenced a colloquy by presumptively labeling me an atheist. I said to him, "I am not an atheist", and I refused to be labeled by him as such. His query interrupted, he returned to his work.

Since I do not subscribe to his belief system, why would I define myself within the framework of that belief system?

When I am asked "why don't you believe in God?", I simply must answer "that I am not you, so that thought simply never enters my mind".

I refuse to have my existence defined as a negation for someone else's narrative convenience. That is what Fiction is for.

Posted by: Oh Oh! on March 23, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

God is an atheist.

Posted by: JimBobRay on March 23, 2006 at 7:29 PM | PERMALINK

Too many comments to scroll to see if my point has already been made, but he goes. Americans are much more accepting of agnostics than they are of atheists. Atheism is enherently a pugnatious denial of what the vast majority of people believe, and they don't appreciate it. Kevin gets close when he remarks on the obnoxiousness factor, but doesn't seem to realize that just proclaiming such a belief is the equivalent of deliberately farting in someone's face.

Posted by: nimrodflanders on March 23, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK
Atheism is enherently a pugnatious denial of what the vast majority of people believe, and they don't appreciate it.

I don't think it so much that there is anything inherently pugnacious about affirmative disbelief, I think its that, for a lot of even fuzzy believers, the idea of affirmative disbelief is inherently unsettling. In some cases, it goes farther, and challenges their worldview, as they believe that the immanence of divinity is such that assertive disbelief should be impossible; in some cases it is particularly unsettling because they believe that people are fundamentally immoral beings that can only be held in check by the threat of eternal punishment, and while passive unbelievers might fear the possibility of divine wrath, active disbelievers can't be cowed at all.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Almost two hundred comments, and I'm still not over GHWB's initial statement. That's really amazing, considering all of the things you could say to an atheist short of not being worthy of citizenship or patriotism.

Posted by: hank on March 23, 2006 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

To add yet more spin, I wonder if anyone every surveyed a person's comfort level with the ultimate existence or non-existence of a God with their professed beleif.

I would guess that those who are, personally, completely comfortable with the concept that there is no "God" are pretty much already atheists or agnostics.

I mean, it would be pretty odd for a person to say, "well, when I die I suppose it will be like before I was born, endless nothingness, eh, whatever" and then say, "on the other hand, I attend church three days a week."

This might account for the hard feelings for atheists. If the atheist, God forbid (pardon the pun!), is correct, a state of affairs exists which is personally terrifying for a believer.

Posted by: hank on March 23, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

"No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon." -- Niels Bohr

I'm pretty sure Bohr was religious, but that's almost a disproof of the existence of God.

Posted by: Boronx on March 23, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

My wife believes in G-d and I respect that.

As long as she doesn't try to indocrinate the kids.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on March 23, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK
My objection to Sam Harris is that he attributes the source of violence and hatred to religion, just as others have attributed and do attribute them to communism, or capitalism, or nationalism, or racism, or any of a number of "isms", whereas I believe they arise from the basic nature of the human animal.

You'da man, Secu-An.

A thing either exists or does not exist. A thing cannot have a "potential for existence", as it must exist to have a potential for anything.

This reminds me: Some years ago, when I was a raging Chomsky acolyte, I noticed that one topic on which Chomsky was in complete alignment with his nemesis William Buckley was the principle of Identity. Both these intellectual luminaries subscribed to the "if A then not not A" religion.

And... clearly it's Hooey. Both because language is not precise, and because "objects" are not discrete, self-sufficient entities. Flux, not material, is the ultimate reality.

But there is a danger in intellectualism, of being seduced by words.

Posted by: obscure on March 23, 2006 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Atheism" means "lack of theism," i.e. absence of a belief in a god or gods. (See definition of theism at www.dictionary.com) That makes those who have no opinion whether there is/are god(s) atheists, as well as those of us who affirmatively believe that there is/are no god(s). That said, in my experience most people use "atheist" only to refer to the second group of people.

It is indeed remarkable that atheists are one of the few groups left that it's generally considered fine to discriminate against. Imagine the furor that would have occurred if 41 had made a like remark about Jews, blacks, gays, etc. But when he says that he doesn't consider atheists citizens -- a collective yawn.

Before my wife and I married, she told her parents that I was an atheist. They weren't overjoyed about that, but accepted it. I asked her how they would have reacted if I had been a religious black man. She said they would have disowned her.

Although my in-laws would certainly say that they are Lutherans, and believe in God, and my mother-in-law likes wearing a cross now and again, I question the depth of their religious convictions. We recently had a lot of work done on our house, and lived with them for over a year. I was surprised that they never went to church during that period of time, not once. They're both in their 80's with health problems -- somehow I would think that just out of self-interest (trying to ensure that they'll go to heaven) they would be making more of an effort to cozy up to God. I frankly wonder how seriously a lot of believers take their belief in an afterlife. If they really believe that they're going to heaven after they die, why do most people do everything possible to prolong their lives?

Posted by: Frederick on March 23, 2006 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

You know what? I really doubt even a significant fraction of the people called in this poll really gave a fig about the technical distinction between atheism and agnosticism, much less the difference between their "hard" and "soft" variants.

The study hasn't been published yetjust the press release announcing the results. When we see the methodology, we'll know for sure, but my suspicion is that it didn't provide these distinctions in any detail to the respondants before asking them the questions.

More than likely, I'll bet, the prevailing understanding of what "atheism" means in America is actually this: an atheist is someone who refuses to join a church on principle. From that perspective, an atheist and an agnostic are pretty much the same thing.

Read the press release. The study purports to show "findings [that] seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good." That's a viewpoint that doesn't give a flip whether you are personally conflicted about whether you can prove that God does or doesn't exist. It's actually pretty stark.

The study seems to show that Americans generally think that you don't have to attend any church if you don't feel like it, but you better be theoretically willing to join one. If you aren't, then you're a moral degenerate unfit for membership in civil society.

Are we clear about that, yet? America doesn't care whether you call yourself an atheist, an agnostic, a "bright" or a freethinker, an objectivist, or whatever. If, as a matter of principle, you aren't willing to identify yourself as an adherent of some religion or another, then you're scumlower than queers, wogs and Al Qaeda. That's what America thinks of atheists.

Posted by: s9 on March 23, 2006 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

What if I do believe there is some supernatural power in the universe that does not give a rip that mankind even exists or may not even have a consciousness that could communicate any kind of message to man? Does that still make me an athiest?

In this part of rural america, someone who is not a Christian is lumped into the athiest category and is generally regarded as some kind of outcast. Having one's non theistic beliefs rub off on one's spouse can put you into the devil's camp with the inlaws.

As long as we can protect and maintain the separation of church and state, the separation of church and public schools, and the integrity of scientific education in our public schools, I really don't give a shit what others want to label my belief system. When our democratic government can no longer referee the clash of world beliefs and sides with the theistic majority, then we have a real problem.

I guess I cannot recall any hate crimes that have been committed against athiests lately. Rather than place myself in a minority, I prefer to believe that my free thinking makes me more free than I would otherwise be if I believed in an anthropomorphically evolved view of a deity.

Posted by: lou on March 23, 2006 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

How's this? There's Atheists and Militant Atheists who seek to impose their beliefs on others (by being loud and using the court system).
The Militant ones give the others a reputation for being Assholes.

Although they are all just proud and stupid.

On God and the existance of evil.... what makes you think that God is obliged to make every earthly suffering go away? Its like watching kids ride bikes... if you want them to really ride a bike, the boo-boos are a risk.

Coming from Asia, I have to say that there are problems with Buddhism. If we are all being reincarnated and punished/rewarded for past lives
then someone's disadvantages at births are his fault.

The Tibetians were treated badly by China but its a fact that the Tibetian monarchy supported slavery.

The battle against 'suffering', who's cure is fighting 'desire' has also led to some nasty beliefs. Like Monk suicide by starvation or self-immolation. After all, its just pain and they are coming back anyway.


Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

I think most people hear the word atheist and think it means someone, probably sworn to the service of Satan, who is trying to expunge all religion from the Earth, particularly their own.

On an earlier thread about this topic there were several commenters who were certain that atheism was a religion in itself of some kind and that atheists are trying to 'convert' others, which is almost exactly like saying a nudist is just nuts for clothes.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

But you have to admit, atheists exist who feel that visible Crosses and visible Prayer offend them ..or any mention of religion in school history textbooks.... who then go to all those lawsuits.

Those guys are pretty high-profile.

Kinda like if the only Christians you knew were Fred Phelps.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,
"Atheist: I am saying that violence and hatred are a part of human nature. They are not "caused by" religion or any other belief system or ideology. "

Then how come some societies exhibit much less violence and hatred than others? How come our own society has become much less violent than it used to be? You're claiming that violence and hatred have nothing to do with culture and that they're determined solely by genes ("human nature"). I think that claim is preposterous.

"When I say that "I don't disagree that there is much in organized religion today that is harmful to the well-being of humans, other sentient beings, and the Earth's biosphere" I am thinking of, for example, religious opposition to the use of birth control,"

Well, is the cause of that harmful behavior religion, or is religion just a pretext for the true cause, "human nature?" Again, first you seem to deny that religion causes harmful behavior, to claim that religion is just a vehicle or pretext for the true cause ("human nature"), and now you seem to be saying that religion itself ("religious opposition to the use of birth control") is the cause.

"From what I've read of Sam Harris, and from the title of his book which a previous commenter mentioned (which I have not read), he seems preoccupied with the idea that organized religion is a uniquely virulent cause or source of violent and hateful behavior. I don't think that's true."

I do. But again, in some of your statements you deny not merely that religion is a "uniquely virulent" cause or source of harmful behavior, but that it is a cause at all. So why the "uniquely virulent" qualification now? That suggests you think religion is a cause of harm, just not a "uniquely virulent" one.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

Besides Atheists have no moral beliefs other than that imposed by society or their personal preferences. After all, nothing they don't see or feel is real?

They make great serial killers.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

"but I think there's been little decline in the number of people who claim to be Catholics."

Two words: hispanic immigrants. That's what keeps the Catholic Church going in America.

Posted by: Doctor on March 23, 2006 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

"They make great serial killers."

Actually, if you read up on serial killers, you will find a disproportionate number are highly religious.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

If they really believe that they're going to heaven after they die, why do most people do everything possible to prolong their lives?

Posted by: Frederick on March 23, 2006 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

That's like asking why Christians don't all just commit hari-kiri?

You live because God tells you to live even though life is harder then heaven. 'Go forth and multiply'?

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Here is an interesting survey.

A majority of Americans believe the use of torture is sometimes justified.

Christian Americans approve of the use of torture much more than secular Americans do.

And Catholics approve of torture more than both seculars and white protestants. 56% of Catholics think torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified, and an additional 16% think torture is "rarely" justified. Only 26% think it is "never" justified.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

McA, "Besides Atheists have no moral beliefs other than that imposed by society or their personal preferences"


An atheist would reject a moral belief 'imposed' by society or anyone else. The moral beliefs of an atheist develop primarily from their own experiences of interpersonal politeness.

I think that's probably true of every atheist, however well-read they are.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wow ... another one of *these* threads :)

I usually participate in them, but I've hung back this time. Most of the stuff that's needed to be said has been said already. No point in being a showoffy knowitall like I did the other times and introduce terms like epistemological vs ontological.

My own views should be known. I'm in broad sympathy with SecAn's critique of Sam Harris. The thing which undermines Atheist's argument that religion is some sort of unique form of human perfidy is the fact that Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were all avowed atheists (well, truthfully, I'm not so sure about Hitler).

I will agree, though, that what's uniquely perfidious is *any* dogmatically held system of beliefs or ideas. Free market fundamentalism is as wrongheaded as doctrinnaire Leninism. And yes, Virginia, there are indeed dogmatic atheists -- though not all atheists, even strong ones which hang their views around a definite arpeture of thought (how's that for a clever way to avoid saying "ideology" or "belief system") are odiously dogmatic. Especially the truly scientifically oriented ones who avoid the metaphysical a-priori assertions and just say show me the falsifiables, baby.

Me? I'm a strong agnostic. I believe there are certain things that the human mind may be incapable of knowing -- including the nature of consciousness. But I try not to be dogmatic about it by allowing myself to remain open to any argument or evidence that might prove me wrong. Mainly I feel agnosticism is more approprate (technically I'm an atheist agnostic -- I feel no belief in god, either) because it allows other people who think and feel differently than I their due. If they have subjective and powerful experiences of the numinous that they can call nothing else but god -- I cannot refute them without climing inside their heads, which is impossible. I could try to psychologize and/or pathologize this I suppose (as many atheists do), but I don't feel that's particularly respectful. People are people and tolerance is as tolerance does.

And there you have the Alpha and Omega according to yours truly.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

I used to be well-read, then I got a computer.

McA,

Do "You live because God tells you to live even though life is harder then heaven." ?

When science discovers immortality, will that forever debar you from God?

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, if you read up on serial killers, you will find a disproportionate number are highly religious.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, if you believe in nothing other than punishment by the state or hedonism...how can someone be expected to have any moral fortitude or commitment?

If you marry an atheist and grow old, other than alimony, what commitment do you have?

I guess Satanism or belief variants that let you kill heathens as a religious duty would be a good motivating force for Serial Killers. Atheists would logically just hire hookers or Dominatrix and not tell their wives. After all, if no one knows there are no social penalties involved.

Posted by: Mca on March 23, 2006 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

A very large proportion of schizophrenics have been noted to have strong religious fixations. And while genuine sociopaths tend to believe in nothing but themselves and their own ends, pure sociopathy is rare, even in serial killers.

Most serial killers fall into the latter category and have obsessive thoughts about religion. Charlie Manson, for instance.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

McA on March 23, 2006 at 9:25 PM:

Atheists have no moral beliefs other than that imposed by society or their personal preferences.

Oh, that's weak...Everyone's moral beliefs are imposed by society or resulting from their personal choice, regardless of what they do or don't believe...Sad thing is, some people never realize that they can choose what they want to believe.

They make great serial killers.

Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK serial killer, was listed as the president of the Christ Lutheran Church congregation, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and held other leadership positions at the church in his 30 years as a member.

Need another example?

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

McA, "If you marry an atheist and grow old, other than alimony, what commitment do you have?"


Love, friendship, compassion, fond memories, children, hobbies, a few of your favorite things?


"Seriously, if you believe in nothing other than punishment by the state or hedonism...how can someone be expected to have any moral fortitude or commitment?"

Did you actually see someone say that?

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Catch22

You wrote "The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them."

I definitely agree with you that Kevin Drum is lumping agnostics in with atheists. I, for example, am an atheist. I gather that you are an agnostic. Thus we can have a theological debate without religion. Obviously there are many people who do not have a firm opinion on the existence of God. They are clearly agnostics and not atheists.

I am interested in the question of people who have no hope that there is a God, nor any fear that there is a God but do not have (or do not accept that they have) an affirmative belief in the non existence of God. They are like the tolerant religious people who, for example, say "I am a Jew (Christian) and I think that Jesus isn't (is) God, but don't deny the validity of your Christian (Jewish) belief that Jesus is (isn't) God"

Now that, I just don't get. It makes no sense to me. It seems to me to violate logic. I can say that I don't have proof that God doesn't exist, that I don't think that belief in God is the result of an intellectual mistake, that my faith in the non existence of God is similar to other's faith in the existence of God and what all, that I know they might be right and I might be wrong, but I can't claim that I believe that their beliefs do not correspond to reality and are, thus, false.

To me this is not intollerance, it is just logic.

I think a key word in your definition of agnostic and atheist is "valid". Evidently a belief can be "valid" without being true and one can believe a belief is "valid" without sharing it.

I suspect the word is a dodge. So abstract as to be vague. I have written at narcissistic length about my beliefs about others' religious beliefs and I have no clue as to whether I think their beliefs are valid.

I honestly think that the word is a way to avoid either offending people or lying by using a word which makes them think that one does not think that their beliefs are false when one does.

Posted by: robert waldmann on March 23, 2006 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

When science discovers immortality, will that forever debar you from God?

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

Until, he tells me otherwise. But they'd have to discover invulnerability as well to protect me from accidental Death.

-------------

? I'm a strong agnostic. I believe there are certain things that the human mind may be incapable of knowing

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

No issues with agnosticism.

Although I would wonder how much thought/prayer this got before you decided you will never know. The value of resolving the 'life after death' issue tends to increase as people age or in stressful situations - and most people don't deal with the issue until then.

-----------------

Christian Americans approve of the use of torture much more than secular Americans do.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

So what? Even if its not true, Atheists believe in nothing. So unless that torture invited retaliation by another country, who cares?

Just proves that Secular Americans haven't thought through their beliefs.

Besides, the whole 'torture' thing is always just a definition debate. You'll find its been abused so much, most Police interrogations are now 'torture' (mental duress).

Posted by: Mca on March 23, 2006 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

Secular people suffer the real-time pangs of conscience just like everybody else.

It's utterly fallacious to believe that the nonreligious are all somehow moral nihilists with no internalized prohibitions against acting like shitheads.

Religious people tend to act more brazenly like shitheads to others, because they can delude themselves into believing that they're really *not* acting like shitheads, but following a divine law.

And that's, once again, the problem with dogmatic ideologies.

Whatever sort they are, they tend to strip other people of their humanity. Other people become mere cogs in a conceptual system, whether of John Calvin's or Vladimir Lenin's.

The greatest philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, grounded universal ethics in the Categorical Imperative:

Human beings are never means to an ends but always an ends in themselves.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Love, friendship, compassion, fond memories, children, hobbies, a few of your favorite things?

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

You can't see them. So you don't believe in them. Besides so many people kill for love, love must be evil. So you can't believe in that either.

Like I said, most atheists don't really think through their beliefs and arguments.

Posted by: Mca on March 23, 2006 at 9:58 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

"I'm in broad sympathy with SecAn's critique of Sam Harris. The thing which undermines Atheist's argument that religion is some sort of unique form of human perfidy is the fact that Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were all avowed atheists (well, truthfully, I'm not so sure about Hitler)."

That's rather like saying that my argument is undermined by the fact that Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot all had dark hair. Unless you can produce evidence of a causal relationship between their atheism and their bad behavior, there's no reason to believe there is one. I have never seen any serious evidence to suggest that mere belief in God, or the mere absence of belief in God, has any significant impact on behavior.

In fact I think it is rather clear, as Sam Harris amoung others has argued, that the ideologies that motivated those men were in fact a kind of religion, even though they don't meet the formal definition; in their case, a set of firm convictions about human nature and human society unsupported by evidence and held as a matter of faith.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Mca, you sure are a hard workin' troll.

Posted by: di on March 23, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

very large proportion of schizophrenics have been noted to have strong religious fixations.

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of them also eat food. I'm not giving up on food.

----------------

Secular people suffer the real-time pangs of conscience just like everybody else.

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

Some you should do anything you can get away with and don't feel guilty about?

And this is meant to reassure me on the sanity of atheism.

By the way, if you take that to its logical extent, you should raise children to have no conscience. Its just a factor that limits their pleasure in life.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Mca, you sure are a hard workin' troll.

Posted by: di on March 23, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

Pet topic. I've been trying to convert the posters on this thread.

Did you realise a relationship with God is a great joy in your life.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot Stalin in my list. Not sure what color his hair was.

By the way, were they really "avowed" atheists? I must admit I've yet to take my Vow of Atheism, but I plan to enroll in atheist seminary real soon now and take the plunge.

Hitler, by the way, seems to have been a theist, and possibly a Christian. He certainly claimed publicly to be a Christian, but other Christians, rather understandably I suppose, seek to exclude him from their ranks. They say he was only pretending to be a Christian for political reasons.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 9:40 PM:

(well, truthfully, I'm not so sure about Hitler)

Hitler was a devout Roman Catholic, at least until he committed suicide. From Mein Kampf:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise.

More at the link, if your stomach is strong enough...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

McA,

You can't see love, or friendship? You must have had neither.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

I just find it interesting that one must define atheist with the terms "not believing" or "dis-believer" and somehow must use the term "God" or "religious belief" as the subject of what he doesn't believe in. There seems to be no better definition, apparently.

If, for example, there was a planet consisting of people that never considered the existence of a God and therefore had no perceived consideration of this entity, then how would a believer, say from this planet, define in terms that they understood, what they were or what an atheist was? Remember the terms God, or other likewise concepts could not be used since these people would have no idea of the meaning of these terms. It could not be defined for them as disbelief in something that they had never even considered. How would their atheism be defined for them in terms that they could understand?

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

Stop with the nihiliism straw men already. It's tiresome. People act MOL morally whether they believe or not -- that is an objective, verifiable fact. Would you like to venture a guess as to how many atheists there are behind bars vs in the general population?

I'd guess less, but I'm open to the evidence.

Atheist:

We're essentially saying the same thing. Ideologies -- even explicitly atheist ones -- calcify into somthing which is functionally similar to religious dogmatism.

And I'm not saying that the atheism of that rogues' gallery I listed somehow *caused* them to behave without humanity. I wouldn't say that anymore than SeAn would.

But certainly their inhumanity manifested itself and found a convenient set of rationalizations in the various doctrines they embraced.

Oh and McAristotle again:

The idea of basing a belief in god in the afterlife is kind of, umm, old fashioned. It used to be intellectually respectable with Pascal's Wager -- but Calvin really tore it a new one by coming up with predestinarianism.

He said it was the height of human arrogance to try to seek favor with God merely to avoid burning for eternity. You were either saved, or damned -- period.

Not that anyone should believe orthodox Calvinism, of course. Even the churches which have evolved from Calvinism don't.

Just saying that it's pretty intellectually cheesy to embrace a set of beliefs which don't otherwise make sense just in case, you know, I might go to hell if I don't.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

Hitler was a devout Roman Catholic, at least until he committed suicide.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Do you think the current Pope would agree with your assessment? Apparently he was in an illegal seminary and would have been arrested for his beliefs.

And Hitler used a reversed Hindu symbol as his 'swastika'.

Saying you believe in something, doesn't mean you believe in something. Lots of new agers claim to believe in everything at once.


Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

McA, if your religion is the only thing keeping you from starting a career as a serial killer, good on ya, stay religious. However, kindly avoid projecting your neuroses onto the rest of us. The prisons over here in the good ol' USA are full of Christian murderers, rapists, and general thugs, and it's the Christians who are more prone to shooting or blowing up people they disagree with, so spare us your argument ad rectum about how atheists are so much more prone to crime.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Frederick Douglass said that the worst slave owners, and the worst people he'd ever known, were the religious slave owners.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

Did you realise a relationship with God is a great joy in your life.

Why no, please, tell me more. I take that you are Christian? Perhaps you should use this thread as an opportunity to sincerely share your testimonial about how accepting Christ as your personal Lord and Savior brought joy to your life. Maybe you could leave your home phone number in your post in case others here, who are touched by your heart-felt devotion to spreading Christ's love, wish to ask you questions later.

Posted by: di on March 23, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

It is odd how people want disbelievers to be "spiritual" or prefer disbelief to be phrased as "I don't know", rather than "I doubt". I wonder why athiests are singled out this way. It can't be because our disbelief is seen as an attack on other's beliefs, can it? I mean, people whose religions are mutually exclusive get along, right?

Posted by: Mark on March 23, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

How would their atheism be defined for them in terms that they could understand?

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

It wouldn't without defining God first.

---------------

People act MOL morally whether they believe or not -- that is an objective, verifiable fact.

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, but if you believe in nothing, you don't have a logical reason for any moral beliefs other than your early childhood programming of a conscience (which is a disadvantage imposed on you by unenlightened parents).

Sure, believers aren't perfect. But active believers have a framework within which they can be better prople.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

Atheists with a-priori ontological assumptions embrace a metaphysical system. To the extent that this system is no more falsifiable than Aquinas', one must avow to it.

Not all atheists, however, necessarily base their views on hardcore metaphysical assumptions.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,
"Mainly I feel agnosticism is more approprate (technically I'm an atheist agnostic -- I feel no belief in god, either) because it allows other people who think and feel differently than I their due. If they have subjective and powerful experiences of the numinous that they can call nothing else but god -- I cannot refute them without climing inside their heads, which is impossible. I could try to psychologize and/or pathologize this I suppose (as many atheists do), but I don't feel that's particularly respectful."

I'm not sure how you think you could "refute" their experiences even if you could climb inside their heads.

We have no evidence that there is a God. We have lots and lots of evidence that people sometimes sincerely believe they "experience" things that aren't really there. Rationally, it doesn't make sense to sit on the fence about the nature of these people's experiences. The evidence suggests that they are experiencing some kind of hallucination or other altered state of consciousness. Is it possible that their experiences really are some kind of encounter with the divine? Yes, it's possible. But it's also possible, per Bertrand Russell, that there's a china teapot orbiting the sun between the Earth and Mars.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

This is offtopic and I'm probably too dense to be reading it correctly, but this article seems to say scientists have discovered a method of generating gravity,

http://www.physorg.com/news12054.html

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

How can there be such a thing as a "doctrinaire" atheist, rmck? Atheism is all about not having a doctrine.

Religious people really don't understand the mind-set of atheists. This reminds me of when I first moved to Richmond, Virginia, erstwhile capital of the Confederutsy. Well-educated Southerners are taught from roughly the cradle upwards that Lee and Jackson and Meade were great heroes, and that Grant and Sherman were disreputable and evil.
Now, their assumption about Yankees is that we tend to believe exactly the opposite...that our feelings about Grant and Sherman parallel those about Lee, etc.

And the answer is.....

We don't, as a rule, care much one way or the other. And to this day they can't quite get their minds around that.

Posted by: jprichva on March 23, 2006 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

We have no evidence that there is a God.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

You don't have evidence there isn't a God either.

Or evidence that any moral beliefs should exist other than hedonism.

For evidence of an unseen, how's this? For almost all of human history, most of the planet believes in God or Spirits or Reincarnation.

If these were all wasted beliefs, atheism would be a major force in human history. Its not.

Unless you think you are smarter than everyone else because of reading Charles Darwin - there's lots of evidence of more than atheism being out there.

Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

There's a tremendous amount of evidence from primate research that altruism and cooperative behaviour are selected for by evolution.

The religion is just the fairy tale to talk about yourself.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ever notice that when you pray that you're just basically talking to yourself? Or in group prayer that you are just talking to the group? Isn't this mysterious?

Ever notice how God's existence is pretty much totally dependent upon your faith that he is there? And that basically you can't imagine that without your faith he might not even exist?

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

I gather, Mca, that you aren't intrested in being a sincere witness for Christ? I really am intrested in reading your testimonial. How are you are going to answer your Creator on the day you are called to heaven and stand in judgement for your actions. When you are standing naked before God, what are tell Him when he asks why you did not open your heart to a non-believer who wanted to hear about the Gospel of Truth? Seriously, as a Christian, I wouldn't think you'd want to pass this opportunity up. Don't you have the courage of your convictions?

Posted by: di on March 23, 2006 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Bill Kristol an atheist?

Posted by: Blue Nomad on March 23, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

I tend to ignore fulminations like yours against "odiously dogmatic atheists" and "hardcore metaphysical assumptions." Phrases like that are clearly intended to provoke rather than critique.

If you were to say merely that you take a dim view of atheists who claim to be certain that there is no God, I would agree with you. But such people tend to bother me much less than they seem to bother you, perhaps because it seems to me they are quite rare.

Atheism isn't really about dogmatic or hardcore anything. It's really just an application of rational skepticism to a particular question.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Evidence of the unseen,

http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_mm.html

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

We couldn't see that before, and we didn't think it was there.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Why does the pope have to be enclosed in a bullet proof container when displayed publicly? Is that a display of questioning faith?

Posted by: MRB on March 23, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

McA, do yourself and the rest of the Collective a favor and stick to something you know, which is...

...

...um...

...

...anyway:

Do you think the current Pope would agree with your assessment?

Not my assessment, but a future Pope (Pius XII) did sign the Concordat of 1933, which specified the Catholic churchs rights in the Third Reich. There is some disagreement as to whether this was meant to indicate support for Nazi Germany or to keep the Catholic church in Germany.

"I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so," Hitler told Gerhard Engel, one of his generals, in 1941.

Need more?

And Hitler used a reversed Hindu symbol as his 'swastika'.

Every movement appropriates symbols...Read this quick history of that particular symbol, and then quickly realize that you have no point.

Saying you believe in something, doesn't mean you believe in something.

But you said you believe in God...Soooo...you don't really believe in God, right?

Lots of new agers claim to believe in everything at once.

Again, your point in saying this is?...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

These may be dark times for President Bush and the GOP, but Republicans are happy. Or at least happier than Democrats. That's the unsurprising conclusion of the annual survey of American happiness ("Are We Happy Yet?") by the Pew Research Center. Just as predictably, conservatives like George Will are happier still about what they see as vindication for their blighted ideology.

On this as on so many other topics, Will has the morality play utterly backwards.

For the full story, see:
"The Republican Mind: Don't Worry, Be Happy."

Posted by: AvengingAngel on March 23, 2006 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

> We have no evidence that there is a God. We have lots and lots of
> evidence that people sometimes sincerely believe they "experience"
> things that aren't really there. Rationally, it doesn't make sense
> to sit on the fence about the nature of these people's experiences.
> The evidence suggests that they are experiencing some kind of
> hallucination or other altered state of consciousness. Is it
> possible that their experiences really are some kind of encounter
> with the divine? Yes, it's possible. But it's also possible, per
> Bertrand Russell, that there's a china teapot orbiting the sun
> between the Earth and Mars.

Ahh, yes, the artypical Atheist Conversion Argument -- topped
off, as per usual, with a snickering Russellian straw man.

This sort of thing from dogmatic athists is a large part of why I'm
agnostic. The more I hear it, the less attractive atheism becomes.

Note the absolute (nay, sickeningly smug) intellectual confidence.
There's just no way, given a fair perusal of the logic and evidence,
that any other person could possibly arrive at a different conclusion.

Well, bro -- Russell me no Russells.

I'm an Immanuel Kant man, myself.

I find this sort of thing as skin-crawly as I do behaviorism.
It demands a total denial of a person's subjectivity.
A person who had a numinous experience is not allowed
the dignity of explaining it for themselves.

Look, one of the reasons agnosticism is attractive to me is that
I don't have the need to deny people their experiences of reality.

What is it? I don't know. Furthermore, I'm comfortable not knowing.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush: Hitler was a devout Roman Catholic...

Good one. I got another for you. An incredible article from Common Dreams on the amazing parallels of 1930s Germany to our current, um, regime, also has this and another prayer from Christian Hitler:

"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers ... was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.
"In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders...
"As a Christian ... I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice..."

Somehow, Hitler missed the Golden Rule part of Scripture and so do a lot of Christians.

You know, of all the atheists I know, only one is an ass, but even he isn't as big of an ass as a lot of Christians I know. Otherwise, I like atheists a lot as I have found them to be honest, kind, and compassionate.

Me, personally, I'd fall into the nonreligious group if that means doesn't attend church but I believe strongly in All That Is or the Infinite Mind. I like the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Gnostics, and Buddha, Hindu teachings, but mostly Religious Science. I'm a spiritual mutt. I dunno where I would be classified in a Pew study or Census survey other than maybe New Age.


Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 23, 2006 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

McA: If you marry an atheist and grow old, other than alimony, what commitment do you have?

A very curious statement from someone who has admitted to multiple divorces.

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

Spiritual mutt
Bounds forward, leaving all the
Purebreds in the dust

(wink)

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

"A very curious statement from someone who has admitted to multiple divorces."

On the other hand, shortstop, I guess it does explain a lot about McA. When you clearly don't have much capability for making friends or forming relationships, it must be really comforting to have a big invisible friend to fall back on.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

"Ahh, yes, the artypical Atheist Conversion Argument -- topped off, as per usual, with a snickering Russellian straw man. This sort of thing from dogmatic athists is a large part of why I'm agnostic. The more I hear it, the less attractive atheism becomes. Note the absolute (nay, sickeningly smug) intellectual confidence. There's just no way, given a fair perusal of the logic and evidence, that any other person could possibly arrive at a different conclusion. Well, bro -- Russell me no Russells."

Thank you for that persuasive rebuttal. You certainly made mincemeat of my arguments. Boy, do I feel silly!

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morph: Yes shortstop! I hope they bleed each other dry. Blagojevich has his problems, but we'd be up shit creek if the voters allowed another Republican into the governor's mansion.

Blago is an idiot, but of course I agree with you! Sometimes I watch the utter disintegration of the Illinois Republican Party and sigh rapturously to myself, envisioning it on a national scale. The power of positive visualizing techniques!

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

> I tend to ignore fulminations like yours

But you responded to me anyway. Hmmm ...

> against "odiously dogmatic atheists" and "hardcore
> metaphysical assumptions." Phrases like that are
> clearly intended to provoke rather than critique.

Or maybe you just don't have a grounding in basic philosophical
terminology. Look, I don't mean to appear like a showoff, but
my best friend's a philosophy PhD candidate and we jawbone about
this stuff all the time. Most of it I picked up by osmosis ...

> If you were to say merely that you take a dim view of atheists who
> claim to be certain that there is no God, I would agree with you.

Except you appear to exhibit precisely that type of certainty.

> But such people tend to bother me much less than they seem to
> bother you, perhaps because it seems to me they are quite rare.

But they do tend to show up in swarms
on blogs when the issue is discussed :)

> Atheism isn't really about dogmatic or hardcore anything.

Weak atheism is just an absence of belief. Strong
atheism demands asserting a non-falsifiable. To quote the
quantum physicist, the theory's so bad it's not even wrong.

> It's really just an application of rational
> skepticism to a particular question.

No it's not, because rational skepticism would
admit the possibility that god might exist.

Agnostics are the true skeptics.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't mean to leave out that, of course, I do know some Christian and Jewish folk I like who are compassionate and truthful and also agnostics! : )

Haikus!!!! Yow!

Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 23, 2006 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Hee. I swear I could picture you yelling that out, and I don't even know you!

Posted by: shortstop on March 23, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Batman might exist in a parallel universe, and you could find a physicist to talk about it, that doesn't really help the argument. Our arguments here are limited to the world we can live in.

Posted by: cld on March 23, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

You're obviously getting quite agitated. You're not reading what I write, and you're now attributing to me beliefs that contradict what I have actually said.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

God-belief is a fucking joke. We're all atheists with regard to Zeus. God believers are chopping heads off people as we speak. So fuck your god and your belief in that fairy tale.

Posted by: Zaine Ridling on March 23, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Drum, you're really something.

Look, the number is damn near 100% if you include anyone who ever had any sort of doubt.

Hell, if you count like they do reading ability in Virginia, you can get the number over 100%.

Why not let us atheists define who we are? People who don't think they're atheists? They aren't.

Posted by: lettuce on March 23, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect we don't suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don't insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves. I never have, anyway, but maybe I've just been lucky. (And a Californian.)

Drum, do you even read what you write, because you sure can write faster than you can think.

As exceptional as you believe California to be, it's not. It's just like everywhere else, only with a strange 'tude.

And if by "obnoxious nusiance" you mean "opening your mouth like any other American", you might be right.

As long as I shut up and play along I'm probably good.

It's not like Christians have a god-damned marble ediface on every other corner proclaiming THEIR beliefs.

Haveing to shut up is, itself, a form of ostracism.

Are you reall THAT beat down, Drum?

Posted by: lettuce on March 23, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

I'm not remotely agitated.

I responded to your last post point-by-point.

What exactly am I misreading?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Apollo 13 on March 23, 2006 at 11:09 PM:

Hitler missed the Golden Rule part of Scripture and so do a lot of Christians.

Dunno how this fits in, but it's worth mentioning:

"There are some who call themselves Christian, and who attend worship regularly, yet perform no Christian actions in their daily lives. There are others who do not call themselves Christians, and who never attend worship, yet perform many Christian actions in their daily lives. Which of these two groups are the better disciples of [the] Christ... Jesus did not invite people to become his disciples for his own benefit, but to teach and guide them in the ways of goodness. And if a person can walk along that way without ever knowing the earthly Jesus, then we may say that he is following the spirit of [the] Christ in his heart." - Pelagius, 4th Century

The problem is with some (not all) Christians who believe that performance of good acts are not possible without a belief in Jesus...This from people who look for their their moral center in a book rather than finding it within themselves.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

I never denied the possibility that God exists. I explicitly affirmed that possibility. Atheism doesn't deny the possibility that God exists, either.

And if you really think you've posted a serious response to my argument about people who claim to have "experienced" God, never mind. Your idea of a serious reply is so different from mine that you're not worth bothering with further.

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush quote smells like urban legend and Monkey Puzzle's report and Bush's reported denial sound plausible. Can anyone substantiate the quote?

Posted by: Ross Best on March 23, 2006 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

For me, the most frustrating aspect of these kinds of discussions is that the participants invariably confine themselves entirely to Western concepts of belief or disbelief. We hear that the world is becoming one place, but when it comes to our investigations into the purpose of life, we stop dead at the line that separates the Judeo/Christian/Muslim (Bible Religions) beliefs from Eastern ideas.

I was an atheist once. At 14 I advertised myself proudly as the youngest atheist in my city. I knew enough about the Bible, to out-argue any Christian, which is easy to do because the Bible contradicts itself endlessly. You can make that book say anything you want it to say.

My atheism made it to around age 35 when the big experience came. No one, I repeat NO ONE who has had an experience like that ever goes back. Realer than real. Profounder than profound. Blissful and satisfyingmakes even the best sex seem like a trifle. 20 years as an atheist wiped out in seconds! I realized then that I had been an atheist merely because I had shut my mind to the vastly more sublime and logical ideas from the Eastern side of the planet.

An evolved person must understand Eastern concepts about our reason for being. Atheists have actually done a lot of good paving work in this direction. When you jettison the virgin births and the turtles with worlds on their backs, the resulting empty space is very attractive to some very profound experiences.

Posted by: James of DC on March 23, 2006 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

The most compelling argument I've ever encountered to the myth that "there are no atheists in foxholes" is the true story "Touching the Void," about two British mountain climbers in The Andes. After crushing his knee, dangling over a precipice for hours, finally to be cut loose and smashing down into a crevass where he spent an agonizing, lonely, terrifying, and desperate night, he reports that he never once felt a need to believe something he had never before believed in.

Posted by: John Norris on March 23, 2006 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

MJ Memphis on March 23, 2006 at 11:16 PM:

On the other hand, shortstop, I guess it does explain a lot about McA.

Didn't know that about McA; I had him pegged for a Moonie...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

God is an atheist. He does not believe in a "higher being" than himself.

What cannot be explained is attributed to the the supreme atheist. Before science and the scientific method there was theistic explanation, a basic human need to understand the universe. Disease was caused by devils, not microorganisms. The earth was the center of the universe. Galaxies could not be seen and did not exist.

Before the scientific enlightenment the church and state (as one) could force you to your knees to pray or burn you at the stake.

Religion is a powerful emotion promising an afterlife and a supreme supervisor. These are two powerful supports for fragile beings in a difficult world.

Posted by: deejaays on March 23, 2006 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

Grapecrush: You are stupid.

You want to claim Hitler was Catholic to score points of the Catholic Church. Your basis is Hitler's statement but like I've said, his actions. are inconsistent with what he says.

You wish to question my belief? So what? why should I care what you think? That's an assumption. As Kevin's original articles points out. Most atheists are unwashed scum who don't believe in body odour because they can't smell themselves.

We just try to convert you out of respect for God.

---------

Shortstop: I admitted to multiple divorces?

----------------------

The problem is with some (not all) Christians who believe that performance of good acts are not possible without a belief in Jesus...This from people who look for their their moral center in a book rather than finding it within themselves.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 23, 2006 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Actually the book says love God with all your heart and then adds the Golden Rule as secondary to that. Which is a big difference?

Good luck finding a moral center within yourself. After all according to atheist logic there is no evidence that there is anything within yourself but organs.

Posted by: Mca on March 23, 2006 at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush: This from people who look for their their moral center in a book rather than finding it within themselves.

So true, so true!

Saw Bart Ehrman on Jon Stewart last week. Bart was a devoted "born again" who began studying the Bible intensively and became alarmed as he examined the original texts in Greek and Aramaic. Seems that there are a lot of stories like the stoning of the adulterous woman of "He without sin, cast the first stone" fame and other stories that were added to the Bible. They never were in the original scrolls. Also, of a thousand copies made by scribes of the original texts, no two are identical. They're all different. Needless to say, Bart is no longer a Bible literalist. He has a new book entitled, Misquoting Jesus. Yet another book for me to get.

So my comment supports your statement. Something about that "kingdom of God is within" I would definitely agree with.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 23, 2006 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

James of DC,

"I realized then that I had been an atheist merely because I had shut my mind to the vastly more sublime and logical ideas from the Eastern side of the planet."

What are these "vastly more sublime and logical ideas," then?

"An evolved person must understand Eastern concepts about our reason for being. "

What are the Eastern concepts about our reason for being? What reason is there to believe that these proposed reasons for being are the true reasons?

Posted by: Atheist on March 23, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

God is an atheist. He does not believe in a "higher being" than himself.......
These are two powerful supports for fragile beings in a difficult world.


Posted by: deejaays on March 23, 2006 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

God is not an atheist. He believes in himself.

Plus what makes you think denying God vehemently makes you not fragile?

I'd say atheists are fragile, they are terrified at the concept of something they can't define. They need to be in your face about it, because they are in denial and need reassurance. A truly self-assured person with no belief would just fake belief if he needed to.

And given the great achievements of many believers, its hard to argue that they are all that fragile.

Your Voltaire converted on his deathbed. Neitzche said God is dead, but he's dead and the Church is still on this Earth.


Posted by: McA on March 23, 2006 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush: This from people who look for their their moral center in a book rather than finding it within themselves.

Needless to say, Bart is no longer a Bible literalist. He has a new book entitled, Misquoting Jesus. Yet another book for me to get.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 23, 2006 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

So you agree that looking for moral center in a book is stupid but need to buy books to reassure your own beliefs.

Hey, at least I can look at other arguments because my belief stands up to examination.

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

> I never denied the possibility that God exists.

Yet you're aruging in every single post that he doesn't.

> I explicitly affirmed that possibility. Atheism
> doesn't deny the possibility that God exists, either.

Well this is contrary to the definitions of atheism we've been
hashing out here all night. Again, weak atheism is simply the lack
of belief -- which is close to a kind of passive agnosticism. But
strong atheism explicitly rejects the possibility that god exists.

Now, you don't seem like you're arguing very passively. You
seem like you have some pretty definite ideas. If this is true,
then you need to confront the fact that your definition of atheism
is incorrect. A person who doesn't deny the possibility that god
exists is, by universal definition, an agnostic, not an atheist.

Either that, or a weak atheist who neither knows, believes nor cares.

> And if you really think you've posted a serious
> response to my argument about people who claim
> to have "experienced" God, never mind.

Well, I didn't think your response to my initial post was
particularly serious, either. You were making a preponderance
of evidence argument (there's little evidence to show that there
is a god and plenty of evidence to show that people who have what
they call numinous experiences are hallucinating). Well, that might
work in a civil lawsuit, but it doesn't definitively prove anything.

And then there's James of DC who just
described his numinous experience.

Do you know what that is better than James does himself?

> Your idea of a serious reply is so different from
> mine that you're not worth bothering with further.

Well, my idea of serious responses doesn't entail a petulant
assertion that I won't respond anymore to a person I've
been debating for several hours -- unless I truly mean it :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Bob,

Why don't you exercise some of your bitchin' philosopical chops, and explain why Bertrand Russel is a wanker for us? Explain why the orbiting tea pot is any less likely than the Christian God. (Without turning it into a popularity contest - mass hallucinations are still hallucinations...)

I suppose you'd describe me as a "dogmatic" atheist, but I'm willing to concede that, just like the tea pot, anything is "possible." The probability of any particular belief system being "correct," however, is infinitessimally small.

When it comes to our purpose here on earth, I don't pretend to have any answers, but I do reserve the right to mock true believers as I see fit. By and large, though, I am content to follow Iris De Ment's advice and just "let the mystery be."

Posted by: athos on March 24, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

McA,
As usual you misintepret and distort and project on to others/me your way of thinking rather than listening with ears that can hear the other.

My beliefs come from within. I read books to understand how others believe and what they have to say. I take what resonantes with my inner knowing and toss the rest. I can see from what you post, you rely on others to tell you what to believe. You may not undertand this metaphor, but "If you meet the Buddha on the way, kill him" Masters aren't invested in creating a following. They desire for others to master, not to have mastery over another.

Pffft. That probably went over your head I can guess. But I forgive you.


Peace, all.

Got an early morning. Carry on, fellow liberals.


Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 24, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

McA,
As usual you misintepret and distort and project on to others/me your way of thinking rather than listening with ears that can hear the other.

My beliefs come from within. I read books to understand how others believe and what they have to say. I take what resonantes with my inner knowing and toss the rest. I can see from what you post, you rely on others to tell you what to believe. You may not undertand this metaphor, but "If you meet the Buddha on the way, kill him" Masters aren't invested in creating a following. They desire for others to master, not to have mastery over another.

Pffft. That probably went over your head I can guess. But I forgive you.


Peace, all.

Got an early morning. Carry on, fellow liberals.


Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 24, 2006 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

McA, "God is not an atheist. He believes in himself."

You're projecting.

"Your Voltaire converted on his deathbed. Neitzche said God is dead, but he's dead and the Church is still on this Earth."

You have the most wonderfully creepy way of putting things. Voltaire was never an atheist, which didn't prevent Catholics from regarding him that way. He and rmck1 are probably on the same page,

". . .I must tell you what happened to me one day. I had just had a closet built at the end of my garden. I heard a mole arguing with a cockchafer; 'Here's a fine structure,' said the mole, 'it must have been a very powerful mole who did this work.' 'You're joking,' said the cockchafer; 'it's a cockchafer full of genius who is the architect of this building.' From that moment I resolved never to argue."

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

athos:

Well, you and me have talked this through before on another thread, and we're pretty much on the same page.

As I've said, I'm an atheist agnostic, which is pretty damn near identical to how you've described yourself. I can find no belief for myself (nothing on an emotional or non-rational level that compels faith) and yet I can't logically reject the possibility that god exists, because you can't falsify that proposition and test it.

Now I never said that ol' Bertrand was a wanker. He's quite an ingenious fellow, and he'd slay my ass on higher mathemtics, for sure. Hell, even lower mathematics, for that matter.

But Immanuel Kant is still da man :)

My problem with that flippant little counterexample of Russell's is that it's just a reductio ad absurdum, to make the point that you can't prove a negative. Well, duh.

Why do I entertain the notion that we might be created sans all evidence for it? Because if it were not true, it would violate cause and effect as we understand it.

Now that's no proof of anything, you understand. Maybe we *did* arise ex nihilo in a process that we don't fully understand.

But it's a damn hard one to wrap one's mind around.

So until such time as we get some solid evidence, I'm content to remain openminded about it.

Hell, maybe if we build a big enough supercollider and get close enough to the energies of the Big Bang, we'll flesh out the Standard Model and figure out the First Cause at last ...

Seriously.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Mostly the same page.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Mca on March 23, 2006 at 11:52 PM:

You want to claim Hitler was Catholic to score points of the Catholic Church.

No, Hitler claimed he was Catholic. I had no say in the matter. My point in bringing Hitler and the BTK killer into this conversation was to counter your ridiculous 'Atheists make great serial killers' comment. Remind me not to mention that Josef Stalin attended a Russian Orthodox seminary.

Your basis is Hitler's statement but like I've said, his actions. are inconsistent with what he says.

First, I'll refer you to the Pelagius quote in my 11:38pm post. Second, I'll refer you to the quote from Mein Kampf in my 10:08pm post. He used his religious beliefs to justify his actions...It didn't matter to Hitler that you believed his professed Christian faith, only that he found some twisted moral center in his faith.

You wish to question my belief?

I really don't care what you believe, nor do I wish to question whatever it is that you believe. That's your personal business...as matters of religious or areligious or nonreligious belief should be.

Why should I care what you think?

Good start...Next question: Do we have to believe the exact same things in the exact same way?

We just try to convert you out of respect for God.

Sorry, I'm not an atheist...As for the whole conversion thingy, make sure that you are not doing it for your own validation/edification...

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear". - Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear". - Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Why not question with boldness the lack of an existance of God? And God approves of what he wants not what you think he wants.

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

grapey:

*Awesome* Jefferson quote :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Grape_crush:

Plus on the serial killer thing.

The difference is Christianity states it opposes those acts. So trying to blame it for actions by someone who says he is one then takes actions to the contrary is unfair.

If a serial killer said he was an atheist but sacrificed to Baal regularly, I'd question if he was an atheist.

Atheism has no comment other than to avoid punishment and not feel guilty.

No offense, but atheism is very shallow analysis. Follow through, show me your vision of an atheist world and tell me where morality comes from?

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

283 comments and not one talked about how it has only been ..one nation under God for less than 50 years. Before that it was "out of many, one" and there was separation of church and state.

I guess this is why I don't come by as much anymore.

Posted by: psychohistorian on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

Read Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical (moral) Reason.

Pay attention to the Kingdom of Ends.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

"because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear" -Thomas Jefferson

Plainly he didn't have Yahweh in mind.

"Follow through, show me your vision of an atheist world and tell me where morality comes from?

Emily Post.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

Rules to live by,

http://www.dearsocialgrace.com/etiquette_quotations.htm

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

McA on March 24, 2006 at 12:51 AM:

Why not question with boldness the lack of an existance of God?

Why not? That's actually the first intelligent comment that you've posted on this thread.

And God approves of what he wants not what you think he wants.

You are contradicting yourself. By saying that 'God approves of what he wants', you are professing to know the mind of God...and in the next part, 'not what you think he wants', you basically state that there's no way to know what God wants.

Which is it?

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

grapey:

No, that's just an argument to study the hell out of the Bible so you can be sure you know what God wants :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: rmck1

Well this is contrary to the definitions of atheism we've been hashing out here all night. Again, weak atheism is simply the lack of belief -- which is close to a kind of passive agnosticism. But strong atheism explicitly rejects the possibility that god exists.


For the moment, assuming that it is the position of strong atheists that it is not possible that a particular god exists, what kind of "possibility" are you referring to here? For something to logically impossible it must be self contradictory. Some conceptions of god(s) are self contradictory and therefore can be shown to be logically impossible.

This just hints at the semantic morass we can quickly sink into if we aren't especially careful to agree to the meaning of terms (like "possibility") before proceeding very far into an in depth discussion of these kinds of matters. I think that at heart the disagreement you two are having revolves around your taking strong atheism to posit a formal proposition - God (whatever that is) does not exist. As such it could be construed as a logical claim. And one could reasonably point out that to "prove" (another tricky word) this claim would involve proving a negative. Other than it being demonstrable that the characteristics of the God entity are self contradictory - in which case the God would be logically impossible - it seems that one cannot prove a negative. BUT strong atheism could be taken to be not about asserting a formal proposition that God does not exist, instead it could be said that strong atheism is the BELIEF that God does not exist. And one could argue that the belief that God does not exist is as defensible as the belief that the tooth fairy does not exist.

I humbly suggest that ya'all slow down a bit and hash out what each you intends each critical term to mean.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

You are contradicting yourself. By saying that 'God approves of what he wants', you are professing to know the mind of God...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

Well, isn't the assumption God wants conversion by reason also an attempt to know the mind of
God?

I am assuming that God exists and has wants but that's about it. I am not specifying what those are when I challenge Jefferson's statement.

Plus if an omnipotent God wanted me to be converted by reason, he could just send a physical miracle of sufficient clarity that could not be dismissed by others around me as a hallucination. Since he doesn't, conversion by faith & reason would seem to be more logical?


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

It is disturbing how some belivers seem to be saying that they would have no clue about right and wrong if they were to some day stop believing in God.

I think Jesus's words "For what profit is there to gain the whole world and lose you own soul" are more meaningful to many athiests than to many believers.

Posted by: david1234 on March 24, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

And one could argue that the belief that God does not exist is as defensible as the belief that the tooth fairy does not exist.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

No. The tooth fairy's behaviour is well defined enough to do the 'catch your parent's at night' test.

My parents were more subtle. They gave me the money then took the tooth. When I asked about the under the pillow, thing they said he was outsourcing to parents in Asia...

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

Rules to live by,

http://www.dearsocialgrace.com/etiquette_quotations.htm

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

And why follow those rules when no one is looking?
Superstition, belief in karma. Some worship of 'good for the sake of good'?

The only logical conclusion of atheism is hedonism.

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

Why follow them when no one's looking? What are you doing when no one is looking when any morality would be applicable?

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

"It's true that we generally can't get elected to high political office, but aside from that ..."

How'd you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln.

[apologies if I'm not the first. Couldn't wait to read the thread.]

Posted by: The apostrophe in Republican't on March 24, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

For what profit is there to gain the whole world and lose you own soul" are more meaningful to many athiests than to many believers.

Posted by: david1234 on March 24, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

How? If you don't believe in what you don't see you don't believe in a soul or afterlife or a conscience (other than as brainwashing by your parents.

But you can see, taste and grope the world!

Atheists who don't believe in total hedonism are in denial about their spiritual beliefs.


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

What are you doing standing in an empty room by yourself where any morality is involved?

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

Why follow them when no one's looking? What are you doing when no one is looking when any morality would be applicable?

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

So its cool to torture frogs and hire hookers if no one will find out or tell people you know?

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

McA on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 AM:

So trying to blame it for actions by someone who says he is one then takes actions to the contrary is unfair.

I'm not blaming Christianity for the actions of some of its believers any more than I blame adherents of Islam for the actions of some of its believers.

If a serial killer said he was an atheist but sacrificed to Baal regularly, I'd question if he was an atheist.

Agreed, but how is that relevant to this discussion?

Atheism has no comment other than to avoid punishment and not feel guilty.

If that were true, there'd be many more atheists in the world, dontcha think? Belief in a god or holy authority-type figure is not a precondition for the ethical behavior.

No offense, but atheism is very shallow analysis.

Analysis of what?

Follow through, show me your vision of an atheist world and tell me where morality comes from?

No, I'm more of a 'chop wood, carry water' person...Actually the American equivalent, 'make love, drive car'...Precious little of the former, too much of the latter, I'm afraid...

As for the source of all morality, look in your mirror.

rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:07 AM:

No, that's just an argument to study the hell out of the Bible so you can be sure you know what God wants.

Heh. Watch the heads spin as they try to reconcile God contradicting Him, Her, or Itself.

Since y'all like the Jefferson quote, here's another chestnut:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. - Buddha
Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

"atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them."

Oh yeah, unlike religious people. They ALL share others' religious beliefs. They NEVER deny their validity.

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha HA HA HA HA ha .... !!

Posted by: Don't Forget the Apostrophe on March 24, 2006 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

"I am assuming that God exists and has wants"


Really, now.


But, you're right about Hedonism, in the strict Classical sense, rather than the debased Christian sense.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: McA

No. The tooth fairy's behaviour is well defined enough to do the 'catch your parent's at night' test.

------------

You don't seem to have a very magical conception of tooth fairies. If they see that one is trying to detect them, they enter into a parent's consciousness and direct them to put a coin under the pillow.

I will admit that theists do a good job of hiding their gods in the gaps.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

"So its cool to torture frogs and hire hookers if no one will find out or tell people you know?"

But the hookers are there, and the frogs are there!

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Hostile, you've got to go to apatheticagnostic.com and get yourself anointed into the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic.

Credo: We don't know and we don't care.

A few more lines to it, but it's all contained on the coffee cup.

With the certficate and $25, you can perform weddings here in Sunny California!

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 24, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

I've got it! What the appeal of manic preachers is for Protestants --they want to be souled!

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

"the Chinese Communists invaded and murdered the monks, raped the nuns, burned down the monasteries and tortured and jailed anyone else who resisted."

Then they went to the factory and made toasters for Wal-Mart.

Posted by: The Apostrophe in Republican't on March 24, 2006 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

"I wonder if an agnostic would be doing these things based on the Pascal's leap proposition, ..."

I'd like to hear more about his Pascal's leap thingy, cuz I do occasionally (having been dragged to church for years as a kid) reciting along with the Lord's Prayer, or singing Amazing Grace at a funeral.

There's a poetry thing going on with religious ritual, and having grown up with the King James Bible, I know what I'm talking about.

So ... agnostic, but feelin' the poetry, where does that put me?

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 24, 2006 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

McA,
The only thing that limits the behavior of sociopaths is fear of punishment. They abide by the "11th commandment": Don't get caught. The discussion of sociopaths here is limited to criminals better described as psycopaths. The typical criminal sociopath is a confidence game schemer. I am unsurprised by your allegation that only the threat of punishment prevents anti-social behavior. It is the typical projection of the sociopath. You excuse your own evil by asserting that everyone is just as bad as you are. However, slime trails like yours while depressingly common are not even a majority let alone the universality you claim them to be.
Their are plenty of atheists who behave ethically for the sake of the greater good because the sight of suffering sickens us and we refuse to contribute to it.

Posted by: joe on March 24, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Lest someone skimming misconstrue, the question posed was, ""Follow through, show me your vision of an atheist world and tell me where morality comes from?"

To which Bob suggested Kant and I suggested Emily Post and this excellent website,

http://www.dearsocialgrace.com/etiquette_quotations.htm

McA: And why follow those rules when no one is looking?

cld: Why follow them when no one's looking? What are you doing when no one is looking when any morality would be applicable?

McA: So its cool to torture frogs and hire hookers if no one will find out or tell people you know?

cld: But the hookers are there, and the frogs are there!


Which I thought was clear, but I am informed isn't. Hookers are people too, and so are you, and rules of common etiquette apply as much to you, and to hookers, as to everyone else, no matter how many people are with you. If you were to set about torturing frogs in private this will certainly have an effect on you, an effect that will not improve your appearance or your relationship with others. Have you ever seen a picture of a murderer who looked genuinely attractive?

If somebody looks worse afterwards, it's wrong. That is literally all there is to it.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

Their are plenty of atheists who behave ethically for the sake of the greater good because the sight of suffering sickens us

Posted by: joe on March 24, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Why does it sicken you? That's just socialization because nothing exists you can't see. You can't see a greater good.

Secondly, why are sociopaths evil? That's the conscience they are born with.

------------

So its cool to torture frogs and hire hookers if no one will find out or tell people you know?"

But the hookers are there, and the frogs are there!

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Well, the frogs can't talk and the hookers ain't always into blackmail so no one back home would ever find out. Besides, if no one catches me - I can always kill the witnesses.

Besides there is no evidence of a greater good and no one can know what it is. Are you sure all of you are really atheists?

You all sound like humanists (who deny God but believe in some moral obligation to humanity as a whole).


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

psychohistorian on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 AM:

283 comments and not one talked about how...

Probably because: A) We know that already, and B) This thread looks more like a Beliefnet discussion than a political one...

I guess this is why I don't come by as much anymore.

Sorry to hear that. No sarcasm intended.

McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:22 AM:

Well, isn't the assumption God wants conversion by reason also an attempt to know the mind of God?

I dunno...Talk to Jefferson about that one. If I were to guess Jefferson's intent, it would be that fully informed choice is preferable to unquestioning devotion...Kinda fits in with that era in American history...

I am assuming that God exists and has wants but that's about it.

Assuming that God has wants implies some insight into the mind of God.

Plus if an omnipotent God wanted me to be converted by reason, he could just send a physical miracle...

A lot of people wonder why an omnipotent being, the Creator of All, doesn't do just that if he/she/it wants worshippers.

Since he doesn't, conversion by faith & reason would seem to be more logical?

Actually, it seems to be a pretty inefficient way for a Supreme Being to accomplish its goals, whatever they are...

McA on March 24, 2006 at 1:36 AM

If you don't believe in what you don't see you don't believe in a soul or afterlife or a conscience

Belief in any of these things does not require belief in a Supreme Being. A person can possess a conscience without a belief in a god.

other than as brainwashing by your parents.

And that does not occur in religious/theist households? Please.

But you can see, taste and grope the world!

Sure. Anyone can, regardless of their religious conviction...Or lack thereof.

Atheists who don't believe in total hedonism are in denial about their spiritual beliefs.

That is your opinion, which, in my own opinion, is incorrect...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

Have you ever seen a picture of a murderer who looked genuinely attractive?

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

Yes. If you include women who have had abortions.

But why believe in etiquette?

There are situations where the person you are rude to won't get back to you or retaliate. And there are people who don't feel bad doing bad things.

If you believe in an inclination towards being good in the human heart. That's a belief.

And if you accept that, why not accept there's a creator with an opinion on what is or isn't good?


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK


Grape_Crush,

'Assuming that God has wants implies some insight into the mind of God.'

Assuming God has no wants is also an assumption on the mind of God.

'Actually, it seems to be a pretty inefficient way for a Supreme Being to accomplish its goals, whatever they are...'

Why would God want to be efficient? Infinite power remember? He can waste some.

Besides, you are assuming he needs to be efficient.

'A lot of people wonder why an omnipotent being, the Creator of All, doesn't do just that if he/she/it wants worshippers.'

The logical assumption is free will and that he views faith of having some value.

If he just wanted worshippers, he would never have created humanity with the capacity for choice in the first place. Or he can just destroy all that exists and create anew instead of converting the ungreatful by clear physical evidence.

If God exists, his lack of action to replace us implies so value to free will and faith.

'That is your opinion, which, in my own opinion, is incorrect...'

But that's your opinion, that its only my opinion. Like I said, atheists are pretty guilty of not exposing their beliefs to serious reasoning or logic. They just argue everything is an opinion - which is an assumption.

'Belief in any of these things does not require belief in a Supreme Being. A person can possess a conscience without a belief in a god.'

And why does that conscience exist?

And how is that conscience not a superstition like Karma or the Wiccan Rule of Three?

And why would you bring someone up with a conscience if the only reason it existed was traditional upbringing methods?

You'd bring them up all 'Machiavelli' and 'Will to Power'.


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

Have you ever seen a picture of a murderer who looked genuinely attractive?

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

This is a belief system. If you don't do good things Eros will make you unattractive!

Its just not anthropomorphic (man-shaped).

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

TK:

This was an excellent, thought provoking post until you got to here:

> BUT strong atheism could be taken to be not about asserting a
> formal proposition that God does not exist, instead it could be
> said that strong atheism is the BELIEF that God does not exist.
> And one could argue that the belief that God does not exist is
> as defensible as the belief that the tooth fairy does not exist.

And then I saw the wires ... in your loaded tooth fairy similie.

The existence of the tooth fairy is demonstrably falsifiable. 13-
-year-old brother hides a video camera in the corner of the room,
parents slip the coin under the pillow, five year old wakes up and
finds a quarter, exclaims "the Tooth Fairy!," older and a good deal
more cynical bro sez c'mere for a minute and watch this videotape.

On the level of logical proposition, atheism falls flat because,
as you say, you can't prove a negative either way -- at least for
the sort of deities that are internally consistent. Logicians
have definitively demonstrated this since at least Kant.

But I think you're correct that the more tenable type of strong
atheism amounts to a belief. And this is interesting because we've
seen atheists on this thread continually decry that atheism is a
belief system but rather a lack of belief. But a lack of belief
would elicit the response "No opinion" if asked whether god exists.

Atheists instead tend to have rather strong opinions on the subject.

This stance of ontological certitude turns to epistemological mush
when atheists try to communicate to others why they believe so
strongly. A belief-driven atheist becomes a functional agnostic
-- forced to admit that they can't disprove the existence of god
-- unless they're willing to trot out the logical arguments, which
work for folks who are not acquainted with formal logical argument.

When that fails, of course there are all the attacks on *particular*
religions from theology, sociology, Biblical hermeneutics,
evolutionary psychology. They're all wonderful arguments and I
agree with many of them -- but they don't finally prove god doesn't
exist, just make a strong but nonetheless not definitive case
that the belief in a particular religion is somehow dysfunctional.

What you're left with is an atheist apologia
-- a justification of the faith of atheism.

I feel bad for atheists, truthfully. They're nailed
on logic so they fall to defending something that
they're not supposed to believe in -- belief itself.

> I humbly suggest that ya'all slow down a bit and hash
> out what each you intends each critical term to mean.

Any questions?

Cal Gal:

Pascal's Wager is the idea that, since the existence of god is neither
provable nor disprovable, enough chance exists that god does exist
(including the hereafter, and the rewards and punishments for this
life) that it's prudent to behave *as if* god exists, just in case.

Sort of like spiritual life insurance :)

My problem with this is that I think if god exists, though,
he'd be able to figure out if you were faking it all along :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK

McA, "There are situations where the person you are rude to won't get back to you or retaliate."

Which increases the experience of the unattractive, the wrong, the difficult, and is entirely your own fault, which you should have avoided. That you may be in a condition of being too overwhelmed with the unattractive, the wrong and the difficult yourself to be able to think straight may not be totally your own fault, but it shouldn't be thought of as normal, or as justification.


"And there are people who don't feel bad doing bad things."

Which is a medical condition. The brain scans of sociopathic people show a lot of abnormal responses.


To describe my views as a 'belief system' isn't relevant. My understanding of nature simply does not involve the supernatural. However, if you would really like to understand my view as a religion, this theology is just about exactly what I would subscribe to,

http://www.churchofreality.org/wisdom/

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

bob, "But a lack of belief
would elicit the response "No opinion" if asked whether god exists."

Actually, that is my opinion. But when you try to provide physical explanations for religious experience, religious people are very threatened. And when you object to them fostering their particular brand of distraction on every street corner, they get very threatened. Because they're having an immune response. My opinion in this only seems strong by contrast. Suppose everyone were an atheist, but there was one guy who thought otherwise. We'd all think he was some far out nut.

Pascal's Wager is about the same as wearing safety goggles all day in case the Vice President turns up with a gun.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

McA on March 24, 2006 at 2:52 AM:

Assuming God has no wants is also an assumption on the mind of God.

Correct...So why are you making assumptions about God in the first place?

Why would God want to be efficient?

Again, you are making assumptions about what God wants or doesn't want.

Besides, you are assuming he needs to be efficient.

I stated my opinion that relying on faith to gain worshippers was inefficient, not that God possessed or lacked any quality of efficiency.

The logical assumption is free will and that he views faith of having some value.

Again with the assumptions. This time, it's about what God values. How do you know the mind of God, which you say is unknowable?

If he just wanted worshippers, he would never have created humanity with the capacity for choice in the first place.

Right. So why the emphasis on 'converting' people?

Or he can just destroy all that exists and create anew instead of converting the ungreatful by clear physical evidence.

IMHO, that's inefficient.

If God exists, his lack of action to replace us implies so value to free will and faith.

His lack of action could just as easily be sheer laziness or disinterest...implying that God is the Supreme Absentee Dad...

How's that for a conclusion?

Like I said, atheists are pretty guilty of not exposing their beliefs to serious reasoning or logic.

Yet I'm not an atheist, and you haven't once asked me about my beliefs. You just make assumptions.

They just argue everything is an opinion - which is an assumption.

Yet here you are, making assumptions all over the place...Or are you arguing your opinion?

And why does that conscience exist?

"I think, therefore I am"...

...Unless you are talking about some moral conscience, which is developed by several factors, of which religious belief is a possible factor. But not the only one.

And how is that conscience not a superstition like Karma or the Wiccan Rule of Three?

Or a superstition like the Will of God or Hand of Fate or Lady Luck?

Again: Belief in a Supreme Being is not a precondition for possessing a moral conscience.

And why would you bring someone up with a conscience if the only reason it existed was traditional upbringing methods?

Define 'traditional'.

You'd bring them up all 'Machiavelli' and 'Will to Power'.

Actually, I'm thinking more along the lines of Aesop's Fables, The Once and Future King, and frequent nature hikes, among other things...Lots of hugs and kisses too.

--------

Do we have to believe in something, or can we be comfortable not knowing?

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 4:18 AM | PERMALINK

re: pascal's wager. I take it back. It's more unlikely than that. It's like voting for Republicans in the expectation that they aren't parasitic whores.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

Which increases the experience of the unattractive, the wrong, the difficult, and is entirely your own fault,

.....

"And there are people who don't feel bad doing bad things."

Which is a medical condition. The brain scans of sociopathic people show a lot of abnormal responses.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

But why should I feel fault? If I receive no return from it, why the motivation?

So. Good is good and anyone is not is sociopathic.

So, to be moral atheist I have to believe that we are human, a species with no creator but natural selection, who is biologically designed to have some morality based on the 'golden rule'.

I'll say that's an assumption no more illogical than my belief that there is something divine behind all this with a definition of good.

----------------

Actually, I'm thinking more along the lines of Aesop's Fables, The Once and Future King, and frequent nature hikes, among other things...Lots of hugs and kisses too.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 4:18 AM | PERMALINK

Why? If you believe in atheism, all the good stuff applies only for public relations.

Why burden your children (your gene-carriers) with the weakness of a conscience? Just teach them how to fake it.

-----------

Again: Belief in a Supreme Being is not a precondition for possessing a moral conscience.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 4:18 AM | PERMALINK

No. But a genuine Atheist cannot explain this 'conscience' that he uses for his moral guidance without resorting to superstitions like Fate.

And once you start using superstitions like Fate, there's not a lot separating you from the religions that evolved from these beliefs (Hinduism and the Wheel of Life, Wicca and the Rule of three, Shintoism).

-----------

Pascal's Wager is about the same as wearing safety goggles all day in case the Vice President turns up with a gun.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

Except the goggles are invisible, weightless and help you through the tough parts of life. Not much of a burden at all.

There is no advantage to atheism except some perverse superiority complex from thinking you are smarter than 'believers'. Which is not different from the 'self-righteousness' of a cult.


Posted by: Mca on March 24, 2006 at 5:42 AM | PERMALINK

My understanding of nature simply does not involve the supernatural. However, if you would really like to understand my view as a religion, this theology is just about exactly what I would subscribe to,

http://www.churchofreality.org/wisdom/

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

Cld, you are a humanist not an atheist. The 'Church of Reality' is just humanism dressed up with the claim that the moral system and reason is a natural good built into reality.

But you have no science for this, no proof, no chain of reasoning. Just philosophy - so how can you say that assumption is not 'supernatural'. Its certainly not scientific.

Its not Deistic as you have no god but nothing differentiates your Church from a worship of Nature, or a cult that worships the shared human spirit.

Your assumption is that humanity should be moral and reasoning just 'cos it is.

I believe humanity should be moral and reasoning but not afraid of faith because that was God made us to be.

Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 5:50 AM | PERMALINK

Yep McA,
I was socialized to feel pain when I witness other's suffering --as a third generation atheist. Eternal damnation and beatings didn't figure in it. What did figure was being talked through the consequences of my behavior for others and my parents being there for me when I needed them. I am sick to death of pompus blowhards like you who, without a shread of evidence, claim that atheism invariably leads to amoral behavior. This is especially disgusting coming from a poster who has expressed glee at the torture and murder of innocents.

Posted by: joe on March 24, 2006 at 5:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yep McA,
I was socialized to feel pain when I witness other's suffering --as a third generation atheist. Eternal damnation and beatings didn't figure in it. What did figure was being talked through the consequences of my behavior for others and my parents being there for me when I needed them. I am sick to death of pompus blowhards like you who, without a shread of evidence, claim that atheism invariably leads to amoral behavior. This is especially disgusting coming from a poster who has expressed glee at the torture and murder of innocents.

Posted by: joe on March 24, 2006 at 6:03 AM | PERMALINK

"There is no advantage to atheism except some perverse superiority complex from thinking you are smarter than 'believers'."

This is silly. The only "advantage" to atheism is that it anchors one to the real world of observables instead of the fictional world of religious fantasy. None of the atheists I know possess this fictitious "superiority complex" that religious paranoids like McA imagine us to have.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK

Someone mentioned that you have to pledge to believe in God to join the Elks.

This came up for me in weekly Girl Scout meetings when the pledge was recited ("I will do my best to serve God and my country..."). One of my Scouts whispered to me, when I was an assistant leader, "my parents said there isn't a god."

I told her she could handle it however she wanted: skip that word and say nothing, say "dog" instead of "god" (no one will notice, and I am sure she already serves her dog a lot anyway), or talk to her parents about it.

I saw no reason to let one little three-letter word, otherwise irrelevant, interfere with arts and crafts, friendship, and camping.

Posted by: just browsing on March 24, 2006 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

"George H.W. Bush: No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

Even if he did say that he has a right to feel that way. He just doesn't have the right to make it law.

Besides, there is no such thing as an atheist.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know how reliable Sherman is, but for now it looks like this should be taken with a significant grain of salt.

It's about time *somebody* on the left said that.

Posted by: E. Nonee Moose on March 24, 2006 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker42:

Well you're just being provocative, obviously :)

You realize you're going to get swarmed by atheists, right?

I have my rather serious problems with atheism as a consistent system of thought as it should be apparent upthread -- but I wouldn't dare to deny the identity of *any* group of self-identified individuals.

You may as well say "Besides, there's no such thing as gay people."

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

Joel:

> The only "advantage" to atheism is that it anchors one
> to the real world of observables instead of the fictional
> world of religious fantasy. None of the atheists I know
> possess this fictitious "superiority complex" that religious
> paranoids like McA imagine us to have.

You realize, I hope, how comically self-contradictory this is.
On the one hand, you assert that the atheists you know have
no "superiority complex." On the other hand, you *demonstrate*
this superiority complex by asserting that 1) atheists live
in a world of facts while religious people live in a world of
fantasy and 2) by making a crack about "religious paranoids."

I mean, you can't very well deny you possess a superiority
complex by arguing that your worldview is, indeed, superior :)

Atheism is not a philosophically tenable position. It's
ontologically vacuous and epistemologically incommunicatable.

It's either a propositional assertion that can't
be logically proven or it's another belief system.

Bob (Militant Agnostic: I don't know and YOU don't either)

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

Forgive me for climbing on my early-morning Strong Agnostic High Horse(TM). No insults to anyone intended.

I guess my main point is that atheism has to apply the same standards of rational skepticism it uses on religion to itself.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker, throwing stuff at the wall: Even if he did say that he has a right to feel that way.

Of course he does. And we have the right to mock him for it.

Besides, there is no such thing as an atheist.

You're using a religious mindset again. We just aren't looking for validation on this. With the exception of a small minority (and you'd be wrong to assume that the most vocal people in this thread are particularly representative of either atheism or agnosticism), we don't care that much.

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

"I mean, you can't very well deny you possess a superiority
complex by arguing that your worldview is, indeed, superior."

Nonsense. I didn't argue that atheism is "superior," I mentioned the "advantage" of atheism over theism. There are disadvantages, too. For example, atheists can't just flip open the bible to find a guide to action. Another example: atheists look forward to nothingness after they die. So your argument betrays exactly the kind of paranoid logic I referred to. You jump to conclusions.

"I don't know and YOU don't either."

On the contrary, I *do* know my beliefs. I know I don't believe there is a god. Thus, I am an atheist. Busted again, rmck1.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

A significant grain of salt, as in you posted something that is more than likely untrue.

Posted by: Chad on March 24, 2006 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an atheist living in a big city. If I ever have to relocate to a conservative/religious area, I wonder how long I'll be able to keep my mouth shut before the whole town knows I'm going to hell.
Posted by: Librul

Been there; done that.

As I written here, in these circumstances you are not allowed to simply abstain from stating your beliefs, or lack of same, because people will aggressively demand to know, within seconds of your introduction, what church you attend.

It's scary and intimidating.

If you quietly try to deflect this unwarranted invasion of privacy of belief and merely say that you aren't affiliated with any church, you're immediately given the full court sales pitch for their favored institution with load affirmations as to why their preferred brand of superstitious mumbo-jumbo and why the clergyman who peddles it is superior to all the other competing brands of same.

The other side simply DOES NOT recognize any validly to your choice and you find yourself at significant risk of ostracism in every social interaction.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Pray

Posted by: Pray on March 24, 2006 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Oh gods ... I should never move to the South, I guess.

You know how I'd handle that? First I'd tell them that I I've thought about religion very deeply and I just haven't found any satisfactory answers for myself. Then I'd probably engage them in a discussion of how they resolved the theodicy question. Over coffee and biscuits. For as long as they cared to engage me.

By the time they were bored to tears a few times, I think I'd win a grudging respect from a few of them and find myself on a much shorter social calendar.

And that way, everybody would benefit :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK
But you have no science for this, no proof, no chain of reasoning. Just philosophy - so how can you say that assumption is not 'supernatural'. Its certainly not scientific. ... I believe humanity should be moral and reasoning but not afraid of faith because that was God made us to be.

McA, you are incoherent, as always.

How can you criticize on the basis of 'not scientific' when your position is not scientific?

FYI, many secular people, and for that matter many Buddhists, derive morality from reason. That is certainly my view.

Your statements about God are completely unsupported by evidence and completely irrational.

The only problem is, you're not bright enough to see this...

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Well, it's 339 comments in, so odds are Dr Morpheus won't see this, but respond I shall:

Me: Which just goes to show you can hold almost any viewpoint and be a dick.

Dr. Morpheus: Does that make Immanuel Kant a dick then? I mean your definition of "hard agnostic" is exactly the same as Kantian Agnosticism. He argued that one can neither empirically or logically prove that God(sic) exists.

Therefore all religious belief requires a 'leap of faith'.

I don't think that qualifies him as a "dick", though. Isn't that term more appropriate for someone who aggressively promulgates their beliefs and vigorously attacks everyone else who disagrees?

"Can" implies possibility, not certainty. Immanuel Kant might have been a dick, or might not have been - I never met him, nor have I read a biography of the man. But I do not assert that strong agnosticism is dickery.

First off, my statement was meant to be humorous.

Secondly, I do not state that strong agnostics are dicks. My statement denies the assumption that all agnostics are not dicks.

Just as you say, "['dick' is] more appropriate for someone who aggressively promulgates their beliefs and vigorously attacks everyone else who disagrees." Weak agnosticism, the mere statement of ignorance, does not lend itself well to that sort of behavior. It is difficult to promulgate a opinion held only about oneself.

Strong agnosticism, however, does lend itself to promulgation - and thus my statement. Even agnostics can be dogmatic jerks. But that statement is not a tautology.

To answer your questions: No, it does not make Immanuel Kant a dick. Yes, that term is precisely more appropriate for the behavior you describe.

And I stand firmly by my original statement.

Posted by: S Ra on March 24, 2006 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Here's what's happening my area at the moment:

During Hurricane Rita a local Catholic residential facility of some kind (a nursing home or some such) sustained serious roof damage and water damage.

One sheetrock wall developed cracks in which a maintenance worker claimed to see the image of a crucified Christ.

The nuns hung a gilt frame on the wall enclosing these cracks and set up an altar. Flowers and candles and such...

They're now claiming that this piece of cracked sheetrock is performing 'healing miracles' for those who lay their hands on it.

This was reported by our local ABC affliate with all seriousness as 'news'.

Dark Ages here we come/right back where we started from....

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

"but I wouldn't dare to deny the identity of *any* group of self-identified individuals."

Aw but the look on their face when I say that is a kodak moment if I ever saw one. But you're right, I do often say things just to get a reaction but I usually do it face to face. Not quite as much fun on the net.
I'm personnaly a christian leaning agnostic.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

S Ra:

I dunno. As a strong agnostic myself (and bane of atheists everywhere -- MUAHAHAHAH :), I actually think it's easier to avoid dogmatism than it is for a strong atheist.

Strong agnostics base their position on the inherent limits of human knowledge. Thus, they don't tend to make assertive, dogmatic statements about the way things are for other people. We carry an inerent respect for the subjective states of others. If someone claims to have seen god, we're less inclined to try to psychologize that than a strong atheist would. We're more content to just leave it alone as how that person understands themselves and not obsess over what the experience "really means."

I guess that makes us natural born phenomenologists.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

My null hypothesis is that there is no god. Every day in my life is an experiment that tests that null hypothesis. So far, I have found no reason to reject the null hypothesis. Your mileage may vary.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

"Of course he does. And we have the right to mock him for it."

Absolutely and I will defend to the death your right to do so. So mock away my bruh-thah.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker42:

Christian agnostic ... that's interesting. Can you amplify that? Are you a Pascal's Wager agnostic -- taking out a little "hereafter insurance"? Or does you agnosticism simply amount to an acknowledgement that you can't use rationality to justify faith -- which I think would probably be a fairly common position among a lot of more theologically liberal Christians?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Are you familiar with the marvelously scabrous 70s cartoonist B. Kliban? The guy who had a brief moment of fame in the early 80s with his cat stuff? (A cat sitting on a stool with with an acoustic guitar a la Robert Johnson: "Mousies, mousies, what I love ta eat / Bite they tiny heads off / nibble on they tiny feet")

He has a great one from Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head (or is it Whack Your Porcupine?):

Miracles #42: The Virgin Mary appears to a foreign car in Denver.

If you haven't seen it, you'd just have to imagine :)

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker: So mock away my bruh-thah.

I'll keep that in mind.

CFShep: Don't feel alone in this. Miracles involving sheetrock, skid marks, rust stains, bird poop and papayas get reported as news in big-city news all the time, too.

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

sorry: big-city media, not big-city news. Seldom is actual news involved.

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Mca on March 24, 2006 at 5:42 AM:

Why? If you believe in atheism, all the good stuff applies only for public relations.

No. If a person claims to be an atheist, they are simply saying they disbelieve in a god or gods.

It is easy to see how a person who feels that all Good things come from God equate a lack of belief in God to a lack of belief in Good...The atheists I have spoken with find that to be a faulty equation; Good exists within themselves, and belief in God is not necessary for doing Good works.

Why burden your children with the weakness of a conscience? Just teach them how to fake it.

Why, then they'd grow up to be icky Republicans, and we'd have to disown them...

No. But a genuine Atheist cannot explain this 'conscience' that he uses for his moral guidance without resorting to superstitions like Fate.

Not true. Atheist joe at 6:03 AM explained the basis of his moral conscience, which had nothing to do with gods or fate.

And once you start using superstitions like Fate...

Which, in joe's case, he doesn't, so the rest of your comment doesn't apply.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Or there's the George Booth New Yorker cartoon of a four greasy mechanics clustered around an open car hood, looking in.

Visual Hint: Booth's a Southerner with an affinity for the squalid.

Head guy is talking to the car owner. Caption:

"There are evil spirits in your clutch housing. The men have called a priest."

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Bob, I number a couple of B. Kliban's works among my permanent library so naturally I know the cartoon in question.

Some people will apparently go to great lengths to avoid replacing sheetrock - I figure the guy's gonna run out of relatives claiming to be miraculously healed before much longer.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Reading grape's last, which excerpts McA posts I was too busy rolling my eyes to fully read (sorry if I got the number of your Christian-commitment-based divorces wrong, McA--is it only one?), I'm struck yet again by the patent inability of so many religious folk to view atheism from outside their own world views.

They truly cannot seem to avoid making the assumption that non-believers ascribe godlike qualities to ourselves, or that we necessarily operate from a moral void. It's like talking to sheetrock.

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

grapey:

Why are you *even bothering*?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1:"Christian agnostic//Can you amplify that?"

Certainly, BTW I said christian LEANING agnostic. I prefer to believe the christian story and I like alot of and attempt to live by many of the christian principals, the golden rule, judge not lest ye be judged for instance. However (comma), I acknowledge that I might be wrong and recognize that I have no right to tell others that if they don't believe as I do then they will burn in hell. I don't really know what comes after death and make no pretenses of the kind but when I do think of a "God" it would be the christian version.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep: Don't feel alone in this. Miracles involving sheetrock, skid marks, rust stains, bird poop and papayas get reported as news in big-city news all the time, too.
Posted by: shortstop

Sure thing. I well remember the one involving a defaced billboard in Dallas. There's also the moldy grilled cheese sandwich which was auctioned on eBay.

No end to some people's credulity. Witness those who still belive in GWB...

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

shortstop:

I think this is more McA's cultural authoritarianism. Somebody pegged it earlier as projection: *He's* got evil, nasty, dominating impulses that he'd just love to act out (and which his foreign policy ideology allows) -- so this means naturally that *everybody* has them to the same extent.

And if religion saved him from himself, it's obviously our only hope.

But few people are as unreflective. The amazing thing is that he actually fancied himself trying to convert us last night :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

It's like talking to sheetrock.
Posted by: shortstop

But in McA's case, the sheetrock answers back.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

:)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

"There are evil spirits in your clutch housing. The men have called a priest."

Bob
Posted by: rmck1

Easy for you to laugh. I once had my mechanic tell me that my car was possessed. I *think* he was joking but you can't be too sure.

It was a Ford, so I'm pretty sure the demon in question was Republican or UAW...one of the two.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker42:

*nod* Works for me -- and apparently for you as well.

Good deal.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

"I once had my mechanic tell me that my car was possessed."

Are you sure he didn't say "Re-possesed? Which was a pretty funny movie BTW. *grins*

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Lurker, *grins* back at ya.

We held a sort of exorcism - Bell, book (I can't recall which one - may have been 'Consumer's Digest') and candle...I'd be delighted to able to tell you that it levitated, spun around around several times and expelled a pea soup residue.

The neighborhood kids would have dug that.

But, alas, no. Not ever an oil stain in the shape of the Virgin. Nada.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

My all-time favorite Booth auto mechanic cartoon (and there are lots of them):

A really squalid garage with a car in the foreground and a good, ohh, I dunno, seven? -- ten? -- fifteen? dogs scattered throughout the shop. One's chasing its tail, one's scratching its ear, most are napping. Scruffy mongrels to be sure.

And then there are maybe three ancient mechanics in a similar state of torpor, leaning against the car, sitting in the corner.

Car owner's dressed in a flannel suit. Garage owner sez to him:

"We've located the problem, Mr. Lundquist. Dog hair in the fuel line."

That fricken' cracks me up every time. Just how long did that car have to sit there waiting to be repaired for something else, sheesh ...

I love George Booth almost as much as I do B. Kliban.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1 posted:

This was an excellent, thought provoking post until you got to here:

> BUT strong atheism could be taken to be not about asserting a
> formal proposition that God does not exist, instead it could be
> said that strong atheism is the BELIEF that God does not exist.
> And one could argue that the belief that God does not exist is
> as defensible as the belief that the tooth fairy does not exist.

And then I saw the wires ... in your loaded tooth fairy similie.

The existence of the tooth fairy is demonstrably falsifiable. 13-
-year-old brother hides a video camera in the corner of the room,
parents slip the coin under the pillow, five year old wakes up and
finds a quarter, exclaims "the Tooth Fairy!," older and a good deal
more cynical bro sez c'mere for a minute and watch this videotape.

On the level of logical proposition, atheism falls flat because,
as you say, you can't prove a negative either way -- at least for
the sort of deities that are internally consistent. Logicians
have definitively demonstrated this since at least Kant.

But I think you're correct that the more tenable type of strong
atheism amounts to a belief. And this is interesting because we've
seen atheists on this thread continually decry that atheism is a
belief system but rather a lack of belief. But a lack of belief
would elicit the response "No opinion" if asked whether god exists.

Atheists instead tend to have rather strong opinions on the subject.

This stance of ontological certitude turns to epistemological mush
when atheists try to communicate to others why they believe so
strongly. A belief-driven atheist becomes a functional agnostic
-- forced to admit that they can't disprove the existence of god
-- unless they're willing to trot out the logical arguments, which
work for folks who are not acquainted with formal logical argument.

When that fails, of course there are all the attacks on *particular*
religions from theology, sociology, Biblical hermeneutics,
evolutionary psychology. They're all wonderful arguments and I
agree with many of them -- but they don't finally prove god doesn't
exist, just make a strong but nonetheless not definitive case
that the belief in a particular religion is somehow dysfunctional.

What you're left with is an atheist apologia
-- a justification of the faith of atheism.

I feel bad for atheists, truthfully. They're nailed
on logic so they fall to defending something that
they're not supposed to believe in -- belief itself.

> I humbly suggest that ya'all slow down a bit and hash
> out what each you intends each critical term to mean.

Any questions?

------------

I see that you, too, have a rather limited concept of the magical powers of tooth fairies.

I will grant you that someone who says they are a strong atheist and yet not have a belief that gods do not exist is, under the most commonly accepted use of the term "strong atheist", not being consistent. You seem, though, to think that belief that gods don't exist is not logical because there is no "proof" (I'm not sure what you mean by that word) that gods exist. I think, though, that we all have had beliefs that at some time were not "proven" but were justifiable on the basis of some assumptions about the way things are and our experience.

As to the notion that strong atheists, if they accept they cannot "prove" gods do not exist, are "functionally" agnostic, I think that depends on what one means when they use the term, "know" - which I think happens to be a particularly difficult term to nail down. You seem to imply that if it is logically possible something exists, then one cannot "know" that it doesn't exist. This is an extremely stringent criterion for knowledge. As long as I could come up with internally consistent characteristics for tooth fairies, dragons, pink unicorns, etc. under this criterion one would have to admit they don't know such things don't exist. Further, under this criterion, one would have to admit that they don't know if reality is solipsistic or not, or whether or not the reality they experience is due to a Matrix (like the movie) set up - since such possibilities are internally logically consistent. Under that criterion, about the only thing one could say they know is what their experience *is*, but not know if what they experience is an accurate "reflection" of what it appears to be. If one chooses to use "know" that way, it's fine by me but I think that it is hardly much of a failing for a strong atheist, then, that they are also agnostic with respect to the "knowing" that gods don't exist - since under that criterion the only thing anyone "knows" is what their own experience *is*. But, of course, there are many other ways in which we use the term "know".

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

TK:

Thanks for your reply.

I'm going to have to get a cuppa coffee and reread that a few times before I tackle it.

I don't forsee any major problems, though; I think we're basically on the same page. I'll dispatch those annoying Russellian tooth fairy reductios, though :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:37 AM

Why are you *even bothering*?

Preaching to the choir, even one as incapable of singing in unison as we are, is pointless and a bit boring.

Discussions like this help me to define what I believe and perhaps give others a thought or two to chew on...Or maybe I'm just casting these words into the void.

I really don't know, but I take some small joy in the action.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Bob wrote to grape_crush,

Why are you *even bothering*?

Bob, for a person as prolific as yourself to question the validity of another commenters muse strikes me as unseemly.

Why bother indeed?

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

grapey:

Well, far be it for me to tinkle into yer bathtub -- much less all over yer rubber duckie :)

By all means carry on, son.

Although CFShep's right. We should call him The Talking Sheetrock -- a miraculous visitation!

ROTFL !

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

obscure:

Well, don't take that too seriously -- and consider the context. McA had toddled off to bed and we were all sort of chitchatting lightly.

But grape's post did provoke a response from shortstop, so I guess it wasn't all in vain ...

I certainly have zero objection to grapey's contributions. It was more directed at being re-idioted by seeing McA's original post.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:"I'd be delighted to able to tell you that it levitated, spun around around several times"

I had '72 (year might be wrong) Merc. comet GT given to me a long while back. The previous owner had been charging the battery while the battery was still installed and connected in the car. He un-hooked it while I was standing there (he had already given me the keys and they were in my pocket) and when ground was removed it sparked and the starter relay kicked and the starter began to turn. The car was moving because it was in gear. The only way we could stop it was to jump in, press the clutch, fumble out the keys and bump the starter switch. We named the car Christine.
Never saw such a thing before or since. I won't blame anyone who doesn't believe me because I would have thought this impossible before that. Oh and it never did anything wierd after that either.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

In an earlier post I said, "You seem, though, to think that belief that gods don't exist is not logical because there is no "proof" (I'm not sure what you mean by that word) that gods exist."

What I meant to say was, "...that gods do not exist."

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Buddhism does not address the existence or nonexistence of "god" at all, although one of the Buddha's fundamental teachings is that everything is impermanent and nothing has an independent existence separate from all that is (the teaching of "nonself"), which would seem to contradict the notions of "god" found in Middle Eastern monotheistic religions. On the other hand, Buddhism is entirely compatible with atheism. It makes no claims regarding anything "supernatural".

That's an almost insultingly reductionist take on Buddhism. Like all the major religions it has pretty widely divergent branches, many of which are explicitly theistic. I live in Japan and have visited a lot of Buddhist temples in my time, and except for those affiliated with the Zen sect there are devotional statues of Buddhist gods in every single one. People pray to these images and ask for their intercession in worldy affairs just as do Christians and Jews. Many Buddhist sects also believe in heavens, hells, demons, ghosts, reincarnation, and lots of other things that meet any ordinary person's definition of the word "supernatural". Don't try and boil down a religious tradition that is every bit as diverse as those of Christianity or Judaism into nice little easily digested, bluestate America-friendly NY Times Sunday magazine packets, please.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

I do, however, believe in the gods of horse racing.

What a fickle bunch they are, too, and almost never give me a good exotic play by considerately spelling out the order of finish in the cracks in the track parking lot's paving.

"It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong - but that is the way to bet." Damon Runyon

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep:"I do, however, believe in the gods of horse racing.

What a fickle bunch they are"


No to mention the traffic gods. Living in the Wash DC area, they seem to be the Loki's of the bunch.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

"I feel bad for atheists, truthfully. They're nailed
on logic so they fall to defending something that
they're not supposed to believe in -- belief itself."

This is simply nonsense. Atheism (A = without; theism = belief in a god, or the supernatural) is just that: an absence of a belief in god. I can affirm my atheism by simply saying that I have an absence of a belief in god. I can go further and point out that there is no evidence for a god and thus my null hypothesis is that there is no god. The burden of proof does not lie with me to prove that no god exists (proving the negative, which is impossible), it lies with those who claim the existence of god to prove that it exists (to prove the affirmative).

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

No to mention the traffic gods. Living in the Wash DC area, they seem to be the Loki's of the bunch.
Posted by: Lurker42

While DC's traffic is legendary, we've got ya in a pissing contest.

Just consider for a moment what it would be like, if, as in Baton Rouge (pre-hurricanes pop. around 225k) if virtually overnight you had a 50% increase in population.

Here we've had 40k - 45k increase on a base of 115k - you don't even want to know from traffic, suger.

And none of them know where they're going - the aimless driving around just to be doing something has abated somewhat since they've spent all the FEMA cash but it's still a snarled mess.

Posted by: CFShep on March 24, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

That's an almost insultingly reductionist take on Buddhism.

I take your word for it that gods and the supernatural do show up in parochial Buddhism.

But if you take the teachings seriously, and study the literature seriously, you will come closer to what the Buddha actually taught as opposed to the sort of thing you're talking about.

And the Buddha's actual teachings are fairly characterized in the quotation you cited.

*There is some talk in Buddhism of other realms of being not accessible to normal consciousness. But a belief in these realms is wholly irrelevant to the teachings.

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

Me: "I never denied the possibility that God exists."
You: "Yet you're aruging in every single post that he doesn't."

I have no idea why you think there's a conflict between the belief that God does not exist and the belief that it is possible that God does exist. Try to understand the fundamental difference in meaning between these two statements:

1. I believe there is no china teapot orbiting the sun.
2. I believe that it is not possible that there is a china teapot orbiting the sun.

"Well this is contrary to the definitions of atheism we've been hashing out here all night."

No it isn't. As many people have already pointed out, Atheism in the broad sense just means an absence of belief in God. Some Atheists (me for example) go further and believe that God does not exist. And a few go further still and believe that it is not possible that God exists.

"A person who doesn't deny the possibility that god exists is, by universal definition, an agnostic, not an atheist."

No, an agnostic is someone who believes that we do not, and possibly that we cannot, know whether God exists. Agnosticism is a belief about the limits of knowledge concerning God's existence. Agnosticism can be compatible with both theism and atheism.

"Well, I didn't think your response to my initial post was particularly serious, either. You were making a preponderance of evidence argument there's little evidence to show that there is a god and plenty of evidence to show that people who have what they call numinous experiences are hallucinating). Well, that might work in a civil lawsuit, but it doesn't definitively prove anything."

It wasn't merely a "preponderance" of evidence argument. I believe there is no evidence that God exists. I don't understand why you think my argument is not "particularly serious." And I never claimed "definitive proof." Once again, you are attributing to me a position I have not stated and do not hold.

"Do you know what that is better than James does himself?"

I don't know. I don't even know what James thinks it is. He didn't really say anything meaningful about the nature of his experience other than that he found it very "profound" and "real." He didn't say he thinks it was an experience of God. He didn't say he thinks it was an experience of the supernatural. I don't know what he thinks it was an experience of.


Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep
I see, I understand, I yield. *Chuckling*

So the traffic gods screw with you also. Just to cruel for words.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Unless you can produce evidence of a causal relationship between their atheism and their bad behavior, there's no reason to believe there is one. I have never seen any serious evidence to suggest that mere belief in God, or the mere absence of belief in God, has any significant impact on behavior.

Pol Pot's goons went around slaughtering monks and nuns because they refused to renounce their religious beliefs. One can't say that atheism was necessarily the cause of this bad behavior, but it was certainly used as a justification for it. The CCP's brutal repression of Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhism, and other religious movements in China is likewise defended by appealing to its atheistic belief system. I haven't read Harris' book, but apparently he ends up intimating that we may just need to nuke the Muslims in the Middle East to prevent them from nuking us first. That certainly sounds to me like using a personally held conviction (in this case virulent hostility to religion) to justify an act that by any reasonable ethical system would be an abomination, which is something that theofascists generally do. So yes, there are atheofascists out there as well.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Joel:

> "I feel bad for atheists, truthfully. They're nailed
> on logic so they fall to defending something that
> they're not supposed to believe in -- belief itself."

> This is simply nonsense. Atheism (A = without; theism = belief
> in a god, or the supernatural) is just that: an absence of a
> belief in god. I can affirm my atheism by simply saying that
> I have an absence of a belief in god. I can go further and point
> out that there is no evidence for a god and thus my null hypothesis
> is that there is no god. The burden of proof does not lie with
> me to prove that no god exists (proving the negative, which is
> impossible), it lies with those who claim the existence of god
> to prove that it exists (to prove the affirmative).

Incorrect. The burden is shared equally.

Cf. Immanuel Kant.

And play nice or I'll upload you the quote.

And Kant doesn't translate very eloquently to English.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

"And play nice or I'll upload you the quote."

heh.

Do that. And while you're at it, please share with me the proof that Kant is the final word on this topic.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Joel:

Nahh ... right now I have two other posts to respond to. You'll have to take a number :)

Playing duelling dogmas has never been of particular interest to me.

If you won't accept the word of the greatest Enlightenment philosopher whose famous proof in support of agnosticism has never been refuted, hey ... no skin off my nose, y'know?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

"The existence of the tooth fairy is demonstrably falsifiable. 13- -year-old brother hides a video camera in the corner of the room, parents slip the coin under the pillow, five year old wakes up and finds a quarter, exclaims "the Tooth Fairy!," older and a good deal more cynical bro sez c'mere for a minute and watch this videotape."

This argument is nonsensical. All that videotape would, or might, prove, is that the Tooth Fairy did not provide the quarter on that occasion. It would not prove that the Tooth Fairy does not exist.

"And this is interesting because we've seen atheists on this thread continually decry that atheism is a belief system but rather a lack of belief."

For the umpteenth time, the term "atheism" encompasses both a mere absence of belief that God exists (the "a-" prefix means "without"), and a belief that God does not exist.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

"The burden is shared equally."

If the atheist assertion is that a god cannot exist, then yes. That is not what I wrote. I wrote that the simplest assumption is that god doesn't exist (the null hypothesis). No burden of proof exists for the lack of this assumption. The burden is entirely on those who assert the existence of a god.

I eagerly await your Kantian refutation of Occam's Razor, and your proof that Kant is the final word on this topic.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

But if you take the teachings seriously, and study the literature seriously, you will come closer to what the Buddha actually taught as opposed to the sort of thing you're talking about.

And the Buddha's actual teachings are fairly characterized in the quotation you cited.

And if you take Christian literature seriously, a lot of modern mainstream Christian practice and belief goes right out the window as well - there is after all a school of New Testament scholarship that argues that Christ didn't claim to be divine, but rather that his disciples added that element afterwards. Theologically that's a pretty big point of divergence. It's very hard to characterize any religion that's 2000+ years old in a way that's entirely consistent, or to say with certainty what the "original" beliefs of the religion were. As far as the Buddha's actual teachings go, well, scholars of Buddhism run into the same problems that scholars of other religions do in the sense that it's very hard to distinguish between "canonical" teachings and things that were added later. You can identify a certain core set of principles and precepts, it is true, but not so many as to craft a completely consistent belief system with no holes. While I'm not an expert by any means it's my understanding that there are very different historical interpretations of the teachings, translation problems, etc. just as there are in biblical scholarship - the Dhammapada and the like have not existed in a hermetically sealed bubble for the past two millenia any more than the Bible has. Language is a slippery thing, especially when it's stretched out over hundreds of miles and thousands of years of history.

*There is some talk in Buddhism of other realms of being not accessible to normal consciousness. But a belief in these realms is wholly irrelevant to the teachings.

It is to some people, but not to others. Just as mysticism is relevant to some Christians and Jews, but not to others. In my observation many Japanese Buddhists pray - not meditate - pray. The devotional, theistic elements of the religion (and the teachings thereof) ARE the religion as these people experience it. The ethics and material worldview may be similar to those of nontheistic Buddhists, but the metaphysics are very different. As a westerner, I'm very hesitant to say what Buddhism *is*, but one thing I'm comfortable saying it's not is the kind of simple, New Agey, dogma-free religion lite that some westerners seem to perceive it to be.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

"I feel bad for atheists, truthfully. They're nailed on logic so they fall to defending something that they're not supposed to believe in -- belief itself."

Atheists are "not supposed to believe in belief itself?" Where did that come from. And what does "not believe in belief" mean, anyway? Are you now claiming that atheism means a total absence of belief about anything? Or what?

Your statements really are becoming more and more bizarre.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Atheists are "not supposed to believe in belief itself?" Where did that come from. And what does "not believe in belief" mean, anyway? Are you now claiming that atheism means a total absence of belief about anything? Or what?"

I'm agnostic about the existence of rmck1.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Joel, you seem to be definining God entirely in empirical terms, as an unproven hypothesis. That doesn't seem to me the correct framework for thinking about the question, because God, being supernatural, is by definition beyond the grasp of empiricism. Such a being may or may not exist, but I would argue it's possible we cannot even conceptualize that existence in objective logical terms, much less prove or disprove it. As a theist, my belief derives entirely from my subjective experience of the world in which I live. Incidentally, I think a nonlogical conception of God is the only one that would make sense theologically as well as metaphysically/epistemologically.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

Sez who (other than you and Kant) that I have to share the burden of proof? Why am I required to even take this seriously? Belief in supernatural beings, to me, is not a legitimate opposite viewpoint, it is a mild form of neurosis. What exactly is there to debate?

Posted by: jprichva on March 24, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Such a being may or may not exist, but I would argue it's possible we cannot even conceptualize that existence in objective logical terms, much less prove or disprove it. As a theist, my belief derives entirely from my subjective experience of the world in which I live. Incidentally, I think a nonlogical conception of God is the only one that would make sense theologically as well as metaphysically/epistemologically."

I don't know what a "nonlogical" conception of God, or conceptualizing God's existence in some other way than "objective logical terms" is supposed to mean.

Perhaps you mean that you think the mere idea of God in someone's mind constitutes "existence" of God. In that sense of "existence," any conceivable thing "exists"--God, the Tooth Fairy, Sherlock Holmes, whatever. I don't think that's a terribly useful way to use the word "exist."

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

If Clinton knows of the GHWB quote and is still his friend then Clinton is just another species of slime.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on March 24, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Well, judging from the news reports coming in around my neck of the woods, it may be safer for us atheistic types to marry other atheistic types anyway. The wife of a minister from Selmer, TN (a small, "God-fearing" town of just under 5,000 not far from Memphis) found dead in his parsonage has now been charged with first-degree murder in her husband's death. Good thing she was grounded in those religious values, eh?

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 24, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I would say atheism and humanism are so entwined it would be illogical to have one without the other, though I appreciate the agnostic view.

The 'normal' psychology that McA is positing here is the psychology of a sociopath so it's little wonder he seems to be unaware of the really large body of evidence from primate research on how altruism and cooperative behaviour are selected for by evolution. It's McA's type that is selected against by evolution (at least before the complex development of religion), its' milder form being the standard social conservative numbskull, but McA geniuinely seems to be arguing in favor of a sociopathic maniac as the standard model of human behaviour. I think we should recognize here that he is probably on his local police watch list for one reason or another.


bob, "I guess my main point is that atheism has to apply the same standards of rational skepticism it uses on religion to itself.", and, earlier, 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'.

If you can prove that latter statement, the former statement will hold water, but until then it's like saying we can define white by saying it's not pretty.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Joel, you seem to be definining God entirely in empirical terms, as an unproven hypothesis."

Right.

" . . . I would argue it's possible we cannot even conceptualize that existence in objective logical terms, much less prove or disprove it. As a theist, my belief derives entirely from my subjective experience of the world in which I live."

Then, unless I defer to you for understanding god, I cannot come to an understanding of the evidence for the existence of god.

No thanks.

Posted by: Joel on March 24, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Pol Pot's goons went around slaughtering monks and nuns because they refused to renounce their religious beliefs. One can't say that atheism was necessarily the cause of this bad behavior, but it was certainly used as a justification for it."

I seriously doubt that Pol Pot "used" atheism as a justification for killing monks and nuns (do you have any evidence?) It's hard to understand how this could even be done. ("There is no God, therefore these people should be killed." How does that follow?)

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Might as well be arguing about the existence of ghosts.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on March 24, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The real Don P. returns at long last.

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

MJ: It will be interesting to hear what her story is, eh?

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't know how reliable Sherman is, but for now it looks like this should be taken with a significant grain of salt."

Wait a minute. He's changed his story? He's now claiming he did make a tape? Where did he say this? Dammit, Kevin this is really goddam annoying. Sherman has long said he didn't make a tape. Now you say he says he did. WTF?

Posted by: s9 on March 24, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

TK:

> I will grant you that someone who says they are a strong
> atheist and yet not have a belief that gods do not exist
> is, under the most commonly accepted use of the term
> "strong atheist", not being consistent.

Well, it's more than a belief. It's an ontological assertion.
Strong atheists don't merely claim that they don't believe in
god (agnostics and weak atheists do the same), they also treat
this as if it were fact about the world. Perhaps you could call
it "belief" in the sense that a literalist Christian believes --
this sort of belief is the functional equivalent of a fact which
should be true not merely for themselves but for everybody.

> You seem, though, to think that belief that gods don't
> exist is not logical because there is no "proof" (I'm not
> sure what you mean by that word) that gods do not exist.

No not at all. Beliefs are not facts, and there are many things that
we all believe without concrete evidentiary proof which are quite
prudent to do so. For instance, the sun rising tomorrow. We know
that it will only inferentially, through induction; there is nothing
logically inconsistent about a world in which the sun won't rise
tomorrow. (Hume called this the Inductive Fallacy). We cannot
find any evidence of the sun's behavior save from past events.
Nonetheless, we plan our lives confidently around this eventuality.

> I think, though, that we all have had beliefs that at some time
> were not "proven" but were justifiable on the basis of some
> assumptions about the way things are and our experience.

Absolutely. As I've said, I'm an atheist agnostic. I find
no belief in god myself, but I also know I can't rule out the
possibility. I have no debates with people who don't believe
in god, when they take belief to mean a truth they've discovered
to be true for themselves. It's when people (atheists) extrapolate
this belief into a concrete (and confident) ontological assertion
about the nature of the world that these dialogues with me persist.

> As to the notion that strong atheists, if they accept they cannot
> "prove" gods do not exist, are "functionally" agnostic, I think that
> depends on what one means when they use the term, "know" - which I
> think happens to be a particularly difficult term to nail down.

Well there's knowledge from personal experience. A lot of religious
and spiritual people have felt a connection with the numinous realm
that has at least helped strengthen their spiritual/religious beliefs.
This is a form of knowledge to which I personally have no access.
And precisely because I don't -- and because these people are far
from all being crackpots -- I'm not qualified to judge this knowledge.
That's one form of knowing. Another much more common form is simply
constructing a logical proof. On that test as Kant has shown, it's
impossible to rule in or rule out the existence of god definitively.
Furthermore, to deny the existence of god is to deny our most
fundamental knowledge about cause and effect. While I can't prove
humanity didn't arise ex nihilo, I find this thought as spooky and
illogical as non-spiritual people find the idea that ghosts exist.

> You seem to imply that if it is logically possible something
> exists, then one cannot "know" that it doesn't exist.

Metaphysically speaking, yes. All logically consistent
metaphysical systems -- tooth fairies, cups orbiting the sun,
the Flying Spaghetti Monster, dragons, pink unicorns -- are
unfalsifiable. That's why science doesn't bother with them :)

> This is an extremely stringent criterion for knowledge. As long
> as I could come up with internally consistent characteristics for
> tooth fairies, dragons, pink unicorns, etc. under this criterion
> one would have to admit they don't know such things don't exist.

Precisely. And the stringent nature of this criteria is what makes
*trans-observable* knowledge possible at all. Because science
only credits phenomena that can be concretely proven or disproven.

> Further, under this criterion, one would have to admit that they
> don't know if reality is solipsistic or not, or whether or not
> the reality they experience is due to a Matrix (like the movie)
> set up - since such possibilities are internally logically
> consistent. Under that criterion, about the only thing one could
> say they know is what their experience *is*, but not know if what
> they experience is an accurate "reflection" of what it appears to be.

Well, that's the phenomenonalism of Bishop Berkeley, which is a
rabbit hole that radical skepticism seduces us into falling into.
Which is why I take the logical proofs for the existence/nonexistence
of god more seriously, ultimately, than I do the subjective experience
of belief. Because it's logically indeterminate, I am persuaded
that it's simply something that we cannot know in a way that can be
shared as we share empirical knowledge. Even though my beliefs --
which include a well-developed critique of religions -- lead me to
function as if I were an atheist and not hedge my bets a la Pascal.

> If one chooses to use "know" that way, it's fine by me but I
> think that it is hardly much of a failing for a strong atheist,
> then, that they are also agnostic with respect to the "knowing"
> that gods don't exist - since under that criterion the only
> thing anyone "knows" is what their own experience *is*.

Well, you're functioning then on your belief system rather than
your rational proof, which is understandable. But it leads to a
trap that agnostics avoid, because you're basing your views of
religion on a whole suite of arguments from theology, history,
sociology, evolutionary psychology and depending on them to
rest your case that god doesn't exist. While these arguments
can be extremely strong, they are still not definitive.

I'm going to have to find Kant's argument for the
indeterminacy of the existence of god and upload it here.

> But, of course, there are many other
> ways in which we use the term "know".

And, for that matter, believe.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know what a "nonlogical" conception of God, or conceptualizing God's existence in some other way than "objective logical terms" is supposed to mean.

To put it simply, in my view God is something that's felt or not felt, not something known or not known. The vocabulary of objective knowledge is entirely too clumsy and inappropriate for the task of discussing faith - it's like trying to use a sieve to strain the salt from seawater. One needn't be a mystic or have had a religious experience to acknowledge that human consciousness experiences certain things which logically make no sense and can't be fully articulated in words - ever been in love?

Perhaps you mean that you think the mere idea of God in someone's mind constitutes "existence" of God. In that sense of "existence," any conceivable thing "exists"--God, the Tooth Fairy, Sherlock Holmes, whatever. I don't think that's a terribly useful way to use the word "exist."

Absolutely not what I meant, but I would point out the fundamental difference between God and mythical/fictional beings of this sort. God (defined as a transcendant spiritual presence in the universe, not the anthropomorphic man in the sky who throws lightning bolts or whatever) is something for which the existence of which the majority of humanity has an intuitive subjective sense (even if cultural filters dictate the personal aspects which that presence takes on). I've never heard anyone say they feel in their heart the presence of the Tooth Fairy, Sherlock Holmes, and the like. This doesn't prove that God exists in the sense that concrete objects in the material world can be proven to exist, of course, but there is certainly room for faith to co-exist with reason, given that reason's capacity to conceptualize God is so very limited.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon:

Bingo.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop: Perhaps some variant of "The devil made me do it!"

Local media is reporting that they met at the Church of Christ-affiliated Freed-Hardeman University, and that locals in Selmer were fond of his "straight by the bible" sermons.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 24, 2006 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Then, unless I defer to you for understanding god, I cannot come to an understanding of the evidence for the existence of god.

No thanks.

We're talking past each other here. You're asking for objective proof of the reality of an awareness that is fundamentally subjective, is all I'm saying. I don't ask you to accept that subjectivity as unquestionably real - only to acknowledge that it's not something you can speak to. I've no beef with atheists, in fact I love them in the agapic sense, insofar as I think they contribute a great deal to the spiritual quest of humanity (whether they see it that way or not).

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Might as well be arguing about the existence of ghosts."
Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08!

Well maybe not arguing about it but it might make for a fun discussion.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

"Well there's knowledge from personal experience. A lot of religious and spiritual people have felt a connection with the numinous realm that has at least helped strengthen their spiritual/religious beliefs. This is a form of knowledge to which I personally have no access. And precisely because I don't -- and because these people are far from all being crackpots -- I'm not qualified to judge this knowledge. That's one form of knowing."

How do you know their experience is a "connection with the numinous realm" (what is the "numinous realm?") rather than some other kind of experience that they falsely attribute to such a connection?

Illusion, delusion and hallucination are common in human beings. People often believe they perceive things that aren't really there, or believe things happen that don't happen. The mind sometimes manufactures false memories and suppresses real ones. This is the human lot. Why is it impausible that experiences some people attribute to a "connection to the numinous" are also examples of delusions, illusions or hallcinations?

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

What does an agnostic dyslexic insomniac do?
...Lie awake at night wondering if there is a Dog.

Posted by: Lurker on March 24, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

"...Lie awake at night wondering if there is a Dog."
Posted by: Lurker

Oh nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

And lo dog did come unto him in the night and spaketh unto him saying, "Grrrr-woof"

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon,
"To put it simply, in my view God is something that's felt or not felt, not something known or not known. The vocabulary of objective knowledge is entirely too clumsy and inappropriate for the task of discussing faith - it's like trying to use a sieve to strain the salt from seawater. One needn't be a mystic or have had a religious experience to acknowledge that human consciousness experiences certain things which logically make no sense and can't be fully articulated in words - ever been in love?"

So God is, or is something like, an emotion, like love? Something "felt?" Then again, I think it's just an abuse of language to say that you believe God "exists," or at least to say that without making clear the attenuated sense in which you are using the word.

I'm still not sure whether you're saying you think God is subjective, merely a product of the mind, or something that exists independently of the mind and that human beings may perceive through some mechanism analogous to the senses. Your likening of God to an emotion, something "felt," and your statement that you don't "conceptualize" God in "objective logical terms" suggests that you do think it (he? she?) is simply a subjective, mental phenomenon, but other things you have said imply you think God exists in some objective sense.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK
I seriously doubt that Pol Pot "used" atheism as a justification for killing monks and nuns (do you have any evidence?) It's hard to understand how this could even be done. ("There is no God, therefore these people should be killed." How does that follow?)

Really, very easily.

"1. There is, clearly, no God or supernatural element of reality."
"2. These people say there is/are a God/Gods/supernatural elements of reality."
"3. Therefore, these people are liars."
"4. The particular types of lies they are telling are of a type designed to enable the enslavement of the masses by a privileged class (cf. Marx and the 'opiate of the masses'.)"
"5. Therefore, these people are dangerous liars working to enslave the people, and, as such, enemies of the people."
"6. Therefore, they must be killed."

Posted by: cmdicely on March 24, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

> "Well there's knowledge from personal experience. A lot of
> religious and spiritual people have felt a connection with the
> numinous realm that has at least helped strengthen their spiritual/
> religious beliefs. This is a form of knowledge to which I
> personally have no access. And precisely because I don't -- and
> because these people are far from all being crackpots -- I'm not
> qualified to judge this knowledge. That's one form of knowing."

> How do you know their experience is a "connection with the numinous
> realm" (what is the "numinous realm?") rather than some other kind
> of experience that they falsely attribute to such a connection?

I don't. And nor do you.

> Illusion, delusion and hallucination are common in human beings.
> People often believe they perceive things that aren't really
> there, or believe things happen that don't happen. The mind
> sometimes manufactures false memories and suppresses real ones.
> This is the human lot. Why is it impausible that experiences
> some people attribute to a "connection to the numinous" are
> also examples of delusions, illusions or hallcinations?

It's not implausible at all. In fact, it happens daily in mental
hospitals. A great many schizophrenics have religious fixations.

What I'll ask *you* is why do you find it implausible that
some of these experiences could also be entirely sincere?

Xeynon seems to have had them. James of DC alluded to an
experience that made sex seem like so much weak tea (or whatever
metaphor he used) which he attributed to a religious awakening.

Now you can sit there and play armchair psychologist, of course, but
you do so at the risk of trivializing these people's subjectivity.

One of the main reasons I'm agnostic as opposed
to atheist is that I refuse to do that to people.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

I seriously doubt that Pol Pot "used" atheism as a justification for killing monks and nuns (do you have any evidence?) It's hard to understand how this could even be done. ("There is no God, therefore these people should be killed." How does that follow?)

Evidence? I've been to Cambodia. I visited some of the monasteries that he turned into pigpens and latrines, after he had slaughtered the residents. I saw the skulls of the monks he had clubbed to death. Believe me, there's no controversy about the fact that he was a vicious persecutor of religion.

Now as to why - It's true that he didn't use atheism per se to justify his atrocities, nut than neither did the Conquistadors use theism to justify theirs. But just as belief in God was combined with triumphalist, militaristic beliefs about the nature of that God to justify enslaving and slaughtering the Native Americans, for the Khmer Rouge militant atheism was an integral part of the philosophy that led them to commit genocide, according to the following logic - a.)objects of religious belief aren't real, b.)religion belief is primitive, pernicious superstition, c.)religious organizations are oppressive institutions which stand in the way of the workers' paradise by perpetuating false beliefs to keep people from rising up against the overlords in the here-and-now, d.)therefore, we are justified in slaughtering practioners of religion (which in Cambodian culture means almost everyone, as it's customary in that part of the world for every young man to become a monk for a certain amount of time) as enemies of progress. The crucial assumptions there are (b) and (c), which are obviously not beliefs that rational, ethical atheists share. But they ARE the kind of twisted notions that can grow out of triumphalist atheism - just as "My God is better than yours" religious intolerance can grow out of theism. So I think it's safe to say that belief in no-God can just as easily figure in morally odious belief systems as belief-in-God(s) can.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon & cmdicely:

You both ran down virtually the same list to explain how the dogmatic atheism of the Khmer Rouge can (and did) justify slaughter.

Heh ... great minds and all :)

Well done, both of ya.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

So God is, or is something like, an emotion, like love? Something "felt?" Then again, I think it's just an abuse of language to say that you believe God "exists," or at least to say that without making clear the attenuated sense in which you are using the word.

Not God, so much as belief in God. I'll clarify by saying that I believe it's possible that God does have an objective existence, but in no way do I think that it is empirically verifiable, since that existence would by definition transcend the very universe which provides empiricism's fundamental frame of reference. We can only infer on the basis of subjective feeling or lack thereof, we cannot prove or disprove.

I'm still not sure whether you're saying you think God is subjective, merely a product of the mind, or something that exists independently of the mind and that human beings may perceive through some mechanism analogous to the senses. Your likening of God to an emotion, something "felt," and your statement that you don't "conceptualize" God in "objective logical terms" suggests that you do think it (he? she?) is simply a subjective, mental phenomenon, but other things you have said imply you think God exists in some objective sense.

Hope I clarified that. I don't think the two notions are inconsistent. I don't know if God exists objectively (I'm a strong agnostic in that I think that no one can), but I believe it to be so, and while it's possible that the subjective experiences that lead me to do so have no objective referrant, it is just as much an irrational supposition to conclude that as the opposite.

Posted by: Greg on March 24, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Doh, last comment was me, under a different alias..

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Personally I feel the presence of Sherlock Holmes in my heart, I just don't like to brag.

""...Lie awake at night wondering if there is a Dog."

from The Adventure of the God Who Barked in the Night.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Pol Pot, and every other repressive dictator, viewed religious organizations as explicitly political organizations, necessarily rivals to their totalitarianism, which is why they acted to destroy them as they acted against every other rival political organization.

Attacking their belief system was attacking into their strength, a tactic we know too well from Karl Rove. There's nothing truly atheistic about this activity that is reasonable in the context we are discussing here.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

jprichva:

> Sez who (other than you and Kant)

Hey, don't be knockin' da Man From Koenigsberg, now. If you knew how
many clerics committed suicide after they read Kant's proof because
they lost their faith, you'd prolly be singin' a different tune :)

> that I have to share the burden of proof? Why
> am I required to even take this seriously?

Logical necessity? *shrug*

> Belief in supernatural beings, to me,
> is not a legitimate opposite viewpoint,

Belief in ex-nihilo creation in violation of cause
and effect is pretty spooky, though. It's not
exactly a trivial reason to suspect a Creator.

> it is a mild form of neurosis.

Every person who's not an atheist is neurotic?

> What exactly is there to debate?

Well, the dogmatism of many atheists, for one.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK
As a westerner, I'm very hesitant to say what Buddhism *is*, but one thing I'm comfortable saying it's not is the kind of simple, New Agey, dogma-free religion lite that some westerners seem to perceive it to be.

Xeynon,

Religion lite? I don't know what that is. But I think it is substantially true that the essence of Buddhism is the rejection of speculative belief.

Now, it is fact of human nature that our minds very much desire something to cling to. So the purest forms of Buddhism are very difficult to achieve. But anyone who takes up the study of the canon will be inexorably coaxed in this direction. Anyone who takes up the practice will likewise.

Nagarjuna characterized the apex of the teachings as (paraphrasing) "the rejection of all speculative views." The Buddha himself declined to answer metaphysical questions on the grounds that such discussion "is not useful."

And if you take Christian literature seriously, a lot of modern mainstream Christian practice and belief goes right out the window as well

Yes, indeed.

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:43 AM:

Well, far be it for me to tinkle into yer bathtub

No offense taken; I don't know how many times I've asked myself the same question...

...Keep on truckin'...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

All about ex nihilo creation and how physicists get something out of nothing,

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/vacuum.html

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

OK, you can't prove there is a God.

And you can't prove there is NOT a God.

What evidence does anybody have that God, if She exists, gives a flying fart about mankind?

Apart from all the really stupid hoo-hah about how you can't have morality without believing in a supernatural power, what difference does it make whether there IS or IS NOT a Supernatural Being of some darned sort (plenty of disagreement as to the sort, BTW) if that Supernatural Being doesn't do anything demonstrably (to us mere mortals) Supernatural? All the faces of the Virgin Mary on Grilled Cheese Sandwiches don't count.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 24, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal
"What evidence does anybody have that God, if She exists, gives a flying fart about mankind?"

Or WO-mankind for that matter.
Sorry, couldn't resist... IT's FRIDAY!!!! God or no God :)

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal:

"What'll'ya have, hun?"

"Virgin Mary Special with tomato and a cuppa coffee."

:)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

TK:

> I will grant you that someone who says they are a strong
> atheist and yet not have a belief that gods do not exist
> is, under the most commonly accepted use of the term
> "strong atheist", not being consistent.

Well, it's more than a belief. It's an ontological assertion.
Strong atheists don't merely claim that they don't believe in
god (agnostics and weak atheists do the same), they also treat
this as if it were fact about the world. Perhaps you could call
it "belief" in the sense that a literalist Christian believes --
this sort of belief is the functional equivalent of a fact which
should be true not merely for themselves but for everybody.

---------

I think it would peculiar to accept a meaning of "belief" that did not include some significant measure of ontological commitment to the truth of that which was said to be believed. But a commitment to the truth of a position does not necessarily imply that one is also expressing a formal proposition that constitutes a claim that engenders a burden of proof. I believe reality is not solipsistic - I have a commitment to the truth of that - but I would not state that as a formal proposition that would engender a burden of proof. I imagine almost everyone believes reality is not solipsistic (provided you are actually all "out there" :-), yet it is not possible to prove that it isn't.

----------

> You seem, though, to think that belief that gods don't
> exist is not logical because there is no "proof" (I'm not
> sure what you mean by that word) that gods do not exist.

No not at all. Beliefs are not facts, and there are many things that
we all believe without concrete evidentiary proof which are quite
prudent to do so. For instance, the sun rising tomorrow. We know
that it will only inferentially, through induction; there is nothing
logically inconsistent about a world in which the sun won't rise
tomorrow. (Hume called this the Inductive Fallacy). We cannot
find any evidence of the sun's behavior save from past events.
Nonetheless, we plan our lives confidently around this eventuality.

----------

I would say that that is pretty much what many strong atheists do. A lot depends on what one decides is to be considered proper evidence.

----------
> I think, though, that we all have had beliefs that at some time
> were not "proven" but were justifiable on the basis of some
> assumptions about the way things are and our experience.

Absolutely. As I've said, I'm an atheist agnostic. I find
no belief in god myself, but I also know I can't rule out the
possibility. I have no debates with people who don't believe
in god, when they take belief to mean a truth they've discovered
to be true for themselves. It's when people (atheists) extrapolate
this belief into a concrete (and confident) ontological assertion
about the nature of the world that these dialogues with me persist.

----------

Since you can't rule out the possibility that reality is solipsistic, you think it is not "legitimate" to commit to belief that reality is not solipsistic?

----------

> As to the notion that strong atheists, if they accept they cannot
> "prove" gods do not exist, are "functionally" agnostic, I think that
> depends on what one means when they use the term, "know" - which I
> think happens to be a particularly difficult term to nail down.

Well there's knowledge from personal experience. A lot of religious
and spiritual people have felt a connection with the numinous realm
that has at least helped strengthen their spiritual/religious beliefs.
This is a form of knowledge to which I personally have no access.
And precisely because I don't -- and because these people are far
from all being crackpots -- I'm not qualified to judge this knowledge.

----------

Such psychological assessments can be very tricky, but there are very plausible non-supernatural explanations for the experiences that others claim. The fact that many of these noncrackpot experiences are contradictory to one another means that it must be the case that a great many people erroneously attribute truth to these experiences that cannot all be true. And if a very great many of them cannot be true because they contradict other similar experiences, it is not a stretch to suspect that they *all* may not be true. You may not feel justified in making judgments about those experiences, but that does not mean that others are completely off base for choosing to do so.

----------

That's one form of knowing. Another much more common form is simply
constructing a logical proof. On that test as Kant has shown, it's
impossible to rule in or rule out the existence of god definitively.

---------

Believing something is so is not tantamount to claiming that it is not possible that the belief could be incorrect; e.g., believing that reality is not solipsistic does not imply that one rejects the notion that it is possible that it may be solipsistic.

----------

Furthermore, to deny the existence of god is to deny our most
fundamental knowledge about cause and effect. While I can't prove
humanity didn't arise ex nihilo, I find this thought as spooky and
illogical as non-spiritual people find the idea that ghosts exist.

---------

You have occasionally stated things that I have a hard time comprehending. These last statements fall into that category.

----------
> You seem to imply that if it is logically possible something
> exists, then one cannot "know" that it doesn't exist.

Metaphysically speaking, yes. All logically consistent
metaphysical systems -- tooth fairies, cups orbiting the sun,
the Flying Spaghetti Monster, dragons, pink unicorns -- are
unfalsifiable. That's why science doesn't bother with them :)

> This is an extremely stringent criterion for knowledge. As long
> as I could come up with internally consistent characteristics for
> tooth fairies, dragons, pink unicorns, etc. under this criterion
> one would have to admit they don't know such things don't exist.

Precisely. And the stringent nature of this criteria is what makes
*trans-observable* knowledge possible at all. Because science
only credits phenomena that can be concretely proven or disproven.

----------

Once again, I'm afraid I do not understand what you are saying here.

----------

> Further, under this criterion, one would have to admit that they
> don't know if reality is solipsistic or not, or whether or not
> the reality they experience is due to a Matrix (like the movie)
> set up - since such possibilities are internally logically
> consistent. Under that criterion, about the only thing one could
> say they know is what their experience *is*, but not know if what
> they experience is an accurate "reflection" of what it appears to be.

Well, that's the phenomenonalism of Bishop Berkeley, which is a
rabbit hole that radical skepticism seduces us into falling into.

----------

Yet that seems to be the criterion you are positing for "knowing".

----------

Which is why I take the logical proofs for the existence/nonexistence
of god more seriously, ultimately, than I do the subjective experience
of belief. Because it's logically indeterminate, I am persuaded
that it's simply something that we cannot know in a way that can be
shared as we share empirical knowledge.

----------

When you say things like "...logically indeterminate...we cannot know..." and then follow it up with a term like "empirical knowledge" it is difficult to follow what you are intending to say.

----------

Even though my beliefs --
which include a well-developed critique of religions -- lead me to
function as if I were an atheist and not hedge my bets a la Pascal.

> If one chooses to use "know" that way, it's fine by me but I
> think that it is hardly much of a failing for a strong atheist,
> then, that they are also agnostic with respect to the "knowing"
> that gods don't exist - since under that criterion the only
> thing anyone "knows" is what their own experience *is*.

Well, you're functioning then on your belief system rather than
your rational proof, which is understandable. But it leads to a
trap that agnostics avoid, because you're basing your views of
religion on a whole suite of arguments from theology, history,
sociology, evolutionary psychology and depending on them to
rest your case that god doesn't exist. While these arguments
can be extremely strong, they are still not definitive.

----------

I'm sorry to say, but that response strikes me as a non sequitur.

----------

I'm going to have to find Kant's argument for the
indeterminacy of the existence of god and upload it here.

----------

This is an odd forum to be having this kind of discussion and based on the fact that I am having such a hard time understanding many of your points, I'm beginning to suspect it might be best to accept that we have had a good opportunity to share our views with one another and perhaps let this exchange lapse.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

St. Gregory Palamas, Pray for us.

Guide us to understand the distinction between Divine ousia and energeiai so that we may not talk past one another on this thread. Lead us to praxis so that we may test the claims of Hesychasm, rather than, like the fool who has never seen the ocean and and spends his days mocking shipbuilders, deny truths that we have not fully and experientially investigated.

Amen.

Posted by: The Acolyte on March 24, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cal Gal:

Good questions.

I honestly haven't a clue.

Can I have one of your french fries? :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

(sorry if I got the number of your Christian-commitment-based divorces wrong, McA--is it only one?),

Posted by: shortstop on March 24, 2006 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

No. Never divorced. Happily married.

----------

Good exists within themselves, and belief in God is not necessary for doing Good works.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

So good exists within themselves? What does that mean. Or your metaphysical crap about a conscience. Why a conscience?

Your only source of morality other than social pressure is an assumption. Which you can't see or scientifically test.

What's the difference between assuming Good exists and God exists?

-------------------

What evidence does anybody have that God, if She exists, gives a flying fart about mankind?

Apart from all the really stupid hoo-hah about how you can't have morality without believing in a supernatural power, what difference does it make whether there IS or IS NOT a Supernatural Being of some darned sort

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 24, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe you just think he doesn't give a flying fart? I think his giving mankind a conscience is a sign of some care along with some respect for our freedom to make mistakes.

The 'how can you have morality without a higher power thing' is a question atheists can't answer.
Atheists don't believe in what they can't see, touch or fit in their view of reality. That's why they challenge all religions.

However, other than to avoid social punishment, there is no reason for a atheist to avoid evil without witnesses.

You can argue it makes you feel good to be good, but if you were a real atheist you'd recognise that is a superstition and be prepared to discard it for personal gain.

Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.


Posted by: McA on March 24, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK
Furthermore, to deny the existence of god is to deny our most fundamental knowledge about cause and effect.

How?

Posted by: cmdicely on March 24, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

McA:Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

AWESOME! sign me up!! :)


Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

The Acolyte:

Nice post, Windhorse.

Only *you* would drop in a reference to the Hesychasm -- whatever the *Hades* that is :):):)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

A conscience seems an obvious outgrowth of altruistic and cooperative behaviour.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

That's does it, ladies 'n' germz.

McARISTOTLE DONE CONVERTED ME ! I'M SAVED, I'M SAVED -- PRAISE MOLOCH !

Now I understand, my strong atheist brothers 'n' sisters. I was so wrong in the past. But now ... I SEE THE LIGHT OF THE HOLY GNOSIS !!!

I AM ONE OF YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now where by Zeus's beard are my goddamn temple virgins?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism."

Yeah, I wish.

Of course, those of us who actually live here can tell ya most of the amoral hedonists in America are professing Christians.

PS- Shortstop- the preacher's wife just confessed to the murder. No word yet on what her story is.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on March 24, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK
However, other than to avoid social punishment, there is no reason for a atheist to avoid evil without witnesses. ... Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

McA, why are you such a stupid Jackass?

Morality is derived from reason. That means, looking at the world and observing the consequences of human behavior.

You're a Jackass.

I observed that.

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Now where by Zeus's beard are my goddamn temple virgins?

Bob
Posted by: rmck1

ah,ah,ah. Not till you blow yourself up.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Now where by Zeus's beard are my goddamn temple virgins?

Bob
Posted by: rmck1

ah,ah,ah. Not till you blow yourself up.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

I honestly don't know ... it stands as an extremely strong intuition for me more than anything else.

Secular Animist is into quantum mysticism (which the NYT questioned in a book review last week) and claims to have the solution -- that the universe is constantly being created and destroyed in a "web of cauality." I'm not sure I understand that well enough to try to refute it.

But leaden ol' me is still stuck down here on earth with Aristotle. I just can't get past the First Cause.

I'm not saying that particle physics might not provide large chunks of the answers as our supercolliders approach Big Bang energy levels and we flesh out more of the Standard Model.

But I don't comprehend any paradigm that would junk the idea of a primal cause -- well beyond the understanding of this universe -- for getting things going.

Divine intelligence or preordained by physical laws we simply don't understand yet?

I haven't a clue. I don't think anyone does, although there are certainly some neat speculations out there by larger minds than this one.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hey this has been fun and yet fascinating. Have a good weekend all.

Posted by: Lurker42 on March 24, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

You too, L-42. TGIF, bay-bee !

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

What, it's Friday? Where's the cat? There is no cat!

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


from,

http://www.thereisnocat.com/

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK
The 'how can you have morality without a higher power thing' is a question atheists can't answer.

Sure they can. Not only can they, but they have, in a number of different ways. Humanism is entirely about deriving morality without reference to supernatural entities.

Atheists don't believe in what they can't see, touch or fit in their view of reality.

No one believes in what they can't fit in their view of reality, pretty much by definition. Frequently, atheists may be empiricists, and place particular weight on what can be seen or touched, but there is no necessary relation between the two concepts.

However, other than to avoid social punishment, there is no reason for a atheist to avoid evil without witnesses.

Well, no, this is not true, at all. The desire to do good itself can be such a reason. Most people -- religious and otherwise -- would agree that acts done with not from desire to do good but merely to escape punishment, human or divine, are, at best, amoral even if they have good results. It is true that atheists may have less reason than theists to engage in such socially beneficial but fundamentally amoral actions, but certainly they have no less motivation to do actual moral good or avoid actual moral evil. Now, if one presumes that God is real and that faith in God is advantageous in understanding actual moral good and evil, it may be that atheists have a more difficult time doing actual moral good, but, as a Christian myself, I'm not necessarily convinced that a wrong idea of God is necessarily any less harmful for that capacity as disbelief in God, so I'm disinclined to think that atheists are, even in that respect, categorically morally disadvantaged compared to theists.

Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

No, any personal behavior, whatever the spiritual beliefs or disbeliefs are that are contained in the worldview of the actor engaging in it, that seeks personal reward only without concern for the good of others as an ends unto itself, rather than merely as a means to advancing one's personal gain is amoral hedonism.

That is as true of a "Christian" who does deeds with good results not out of love but out of fear of Hell as it is of an atheist who maximizes his material station in life without concern for the costs to others.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 24, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Am I the only poor fool suffering this, or did the server just burp for about half an hour?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

I think it doesn't like threads this long. I also have the impression it has a particular dislike of me because sometimes it just won't access, no matter what.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

McA: ...However, other than to avoid social punishment, there is no reason for a atheist to avoid evil without witnesses.

So what you're saying is, you have no sense of right-and-wrong whatsoever, and the only thing that has ever restrained you from a crime spree at any given instant is that there's someone looking over your shoulder.

This was a genuinely appalling confession, really, especially when one considers that the censor looking over your shoulder is a figment of your imagination.

You can argue it makes you feel good to be good, but if you were a real atheist you'd recognise that is a superstition and be prepared to discard it for personal gain.

Feeling good is a superstition? You mean that when you feel good, you may be suffering from delusion, because in actual fact you don't feel good? I can understand how one's subjective impressions might lead one to delusions regarding events in the real world, but I can't wrap my mind around the concept that one could be mistaken about one's own internal, subjective emotional state.

Posted by: W. Kiernan on March 24, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

I don't. And nor do you.

I didnt claim to. In fact, I expressed great skepticism that their experience is a connection to the numinous realm.

It's not implausible at all [that the experiences some people attribute to a connection to the numinous are in fact just delusions or illusions or hallucinations] .

Good. Then you agree with me on that.

What I'll ask *you* is why do you find it implausible that some of these experiences could also be entirely sincere?

I dont find it implausible at all that these people are being sincere. Many or most of them probably sincerely believe that they have experienced a connection to the numinous realm, an awareness of the presence of God, or whatever. But simply because a belief is sincerely held obviously doesnt mean that the belief is true. A schizophrenic may sincerely believe that he hears voices when he is in fact hallucinating.

Now you can sit there and play armchair psychologist, of course, but you do so at the risk of trivializing these people's subjectivity.

Im not playing armchair psychologist, Im explaining the reasons why I think these people are probably mistaken about the nature of their beliefs. I dont know what trivializing these peoples subjectivity is supposed to mean.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan: actually you're wrong on the gnostics. ...so, it's not exactly correct to say that gnostic "Christians" did not believe in the divinity of Jesus...

Some would say Jesus was no more divine than any other human whether he or she knows it; entos humos or the theandros. See Jean Yves-Leloup. Also Carl Gustav Jung, Stephan Hoeller.

...emphasizing the goodness of the spiritual and the evilness of the physical world.

That's overly simplified. The "divine within" doesn't necessarily mean to reject the physical. However, that also doesn't mean deny evil in the world depending on what one's inner knowing recognizes as "wicked" beyond obvious violations such as killing another. I wonder if there were any vegan gnostics... hmmm.

there is a lot of confusion about the Gospel of Thomas and the Nag Hammadi texts today because it's been fashionable...

Fashionable leads to confusion? Jeso Pete! We're talking about religion -- beliefs and dogma that change over time. Martin Luther ring any bells? In 1969, the Catholic Church officially repealed Gregory's labeling (which wasn't based on anything factual or scriptural) Magdalene as a whore. Things change.

And also, there aren't a lot of scholars of Sahidic Coptic, which made the information come slowly from the Nag Hammadi (discovered in 1945), unlike centuries and centuries of orthodox Christian writings or other religious texts. Your words make it sound trendy, faddish. That's not very respectful. Don't know what your beef is with Dr. Elaine Pagels of Princeton but maybe those "academics" are jealous of her Pulitzer Prize nomination. Funny how you didn't cite who those academics are. My guess is the orthodox academic crowd. So what. Christian Gnostics were unorthodox.

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo! Well done, Bob!

So much of Christian Gnosticism was purged by the end of the 4th century with the rise of the orthodox Christian ecclesia; Christian Gnostic teachers were banished as heretics and persecuted, their sacred texts destroyed. What was left came through the filter of the heresiology. So to say exactly what early Christian Gnostics believed precisely is debatable especially given the orthodox sourcing. An anthropological excavation might upend what's been considered to be true thus far.

Not until 1945 (Nag Hammadi) have we gotten a better glimpse into the sacred writings of the Gnostics and not many scholars can translate Sahidic Coptic as I said before. Also, how old the writings are is in dispute -- some say the the Sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas are as early as 50 C.E. predating the canonical Gospels and it may be contemporaneous with the Q texts and thought to be the missing sourcebook for the canonical Gospels (Helmut Koester of Harvard University); others think portions of the Gnostic gospels date no earlier than the 3rd century. Other Gnostic gospels such as The Gospel of Mary [Magdalene] discovered in Egypt in 1896, may date as early 2nd century.

All this means is that it's an educated guess at best to say what Christian Gnostics believed precisely. Ireneaus complained of Gnostics, every one of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability; for no one is deemed perfect, who does not develop... some mighty fiction. Interpretation of Gnostic texts also, as with most religious writings, has an element of subjectivity.

And this, Bob, made me LOL: Gods, where's Gnathan to Gnash his teeth at these terms when you need 'em, eh? :)
Along with CFShep's retort about "sheetrock" and your reply, We should call him The Talking Sheetrock -- a miraculous visitation!

ROTF... Good one!

Xeynon: This doesn't prove that God exists in the sense that concrete objects in the material world can be proven to exist, of course, but there is certainly room for faith to co-exist with reason, given that reason's capacity to conceptualize God is so very limited.

Excellent point.

Lurker42: No to mention the traffic gods. Living in the Wash DC area, they seem to be the Loki's of the bunch.

And add to CFShep's traffic situation...Satan's got Atlanta in his brimstone grasp. Apropos for the Bible Belt, too.

Thus sayeth McJudas: Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

Your condemnation carried to its full conclusion is just immoral hypocrisy (Is that redundant?).


Anybody else wondering what McJudas did with the money he got for missionary school?


Carry on, y'all.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on March 24, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"Evidence? I've been to Cambodia. I visited some of the monasteries that he turned into pigpens and latrines, after he had slaughtered the residents. I saw the skulls of the monks he had clubbed to death. Believe me, there's no controversy about the fact that he was a vicious persecutor of religion."

This is all irrelevant to my question. The evidence I asked for was not evidence that Pol Pot persecuted religion (I agree that he did), but that he used atheism as a justification for killing monks and nuns. Do you have any such evidence?

From what I understand of his ideology, Pol Pot killed religious clergy for the same basic reason he killed doctors and teachers and civil servants. He had a hatred of all intellectuals, a group he defined very loosely to include basically all educated people and all people who might spread ideas that threatened his goal of a utopian classless agrarian society in which virtually the entire population would live very simply and work full-time at agriculture.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon: In my observation many Japanese Buddhists pray - not meditate - pray.

Yet the Buddha himself taught that prayer is like foolishly standing on the bank of a river and asking the other bank to come to you, when the intelligent thing to do is build a boat and row across the river.

Xeynon: As a westerner, I'm very hesitant to say what Buddhism *is*, but one thing I'm comfortable saying it's not is the kind of simple, New Agey, dogma-free religion lite that some westerners seem to perceive it to be.

In The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, a.k.a. The Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says clearly that he teaches no doctrine, and he repeatedly told his followers that they should not become attached to his teachings, which were only a means to the end of realizing nirvana. Using the metaphor mentioned above, he said that once you have crossed the river in your boat, it is foolish to pick up the boat and carry it on your shoulders when it has served its purpose and is no longer needed.

Since Buddhism is about 2,500 years old, it is certainly not "New Agey".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1 wrote: Secular Animist is into quantum mysticism ...

I am not. There is nothing "mystical" about my understanding of quantum physics.

... claims [...] that the universe is constantly being created and destroyed in a "web of causality."

If you look deeply at any phenomenon -- something very simple, perhaps a sheet of paper on your desk -- and ask yourself "what caused this phenomenon to be?", and you consider all of the phenomena and elements and events that had to occur to bring that sheet of paper into existence, and then consider all the phenomena and elements and events that had to occur to bring those phenomena into existence, and so on, you will find that there is indeed a vast web of causality underlying that simple piece of paper, a web which ultimately embraces the entire universe.

All things that are, arise from all that is.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Greg/xeynon,
Not God, so much as belief in God."

So you think belief in God is something akin to an emotion. I basically agree with that. The usual way theists express this is to say that their belief in God is a matter of faith.

"I don't know if God exists objectively (I'm a strong agnostic in that I think that no one can), but I believe it to be so, and while it's possible that the subjective experiences that lead me to do so have no objective referrant, it is just as much an irrational supposition to conclude that as the opposite."

It would be irrational to deny the possibility that there is an objective referent, but it is rational to conclude that their experience probably has some other cause than an encounter with or perception of such an object. We can explain their experience empirically as a hallucination, illusion, delusion or some other kind of false experience. We have mountains of evidence that such experiences occur quite often in human beings, and no evidence that there is a God.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist wrote: We can explain their experience empirically as a hallucination, illusion, delusion or some other kind of false experience.

Slapping a label on something is not the same as explaining it.

it is rational to conclude that their experience probably has some other cause than an encounter with or perception of such an object.

A preference for pre-determined conclusions that are in accord with your a priori beliefs is not particularly rational.

I have noticed that most people who like to use the word "rational" as a club to beat up people whose ideas or beliefs are different from their own never define exactly what they mean by "rational". It appears to be a euphemism for "that which is in accord with my beliefs".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

McA on March 24, 2006 at 3:01 PM:

So good exists within themselves? What does that mean.

A person's sense of morality resides within them...Even if you do believe in God as a/the source of morality, at some point you probably have made a choice as an individual to obey your own interpretation of God's will.

Or maybe you never realized that you had a choice.

Or your metaphysical crap about a conscience. Why a conscience?

Why not? BTW, are you confusing a consciousness with a conscience?

Your only source of morality other than social pressure is an assumption. Which you can't see or scientifically test.

False. I can see the effect of my actions on the world around me, and I generally choose to perform those actions that will create the greatest amount of Good...'Good' having different connotations on a person-by-person basis...

What's the difference between assuming Good exists and God exists?

Good question. Both are pretty abstract concepts. However, you can posit the existence of one without requiring the existence of the other.

I think his giving mankind a conscience is a sign of some care along with some respect for our freedom to make mistakes.

Again, I think you are confusing a consciousness with a conscience...Besides, the idea of God 'giving mankind a conscience' is a matter of faith, and cannot be proven.

The 'how can you have morality without a higher power thing' is a question atheists can't answer.

Actually, it's been answered in this thread, quite a few times.

Atheists don't believe in what they can't see, touch or fit in their view of reality.

Not true. Atheists don't believe in the existence of a god or gods, no matter how many times you choose to willingly define it incorrectly.

That's why they challenge all religions.

And religions challenge each other, and different sects within each religion challenge each other...We'd all be a lot better off if we stopped thinking about the unknowable so much, watched our kids play, and have a slice of pie.

However, other than to avoid social punishment, there is no reason for a atheist to avoid evil without witnesses.

However, other than to avoid social punishment, some theists require the threat of punishment from a higher being to 'avoid evil'.

According to your logic, if the only thing that makes a person 'avoid evil' is the threat of punishment from an outside authority, how does the moral development of theists and atheists actually differ?

You can argue it makes you feel good to be good

Sure, but then we'd get into the whole self-gratification versus altruism debate...

but if you were a real atheist

You don't get to define that term, any more than I get to define what a 'real theist' is. Definitions and terminology apparently aren't your strong suit...

you'd recognise that is a superstition and be prepared to discard it for personal gain.

Plenty of 'real theists' discard or pay lip services to their beliefs for personal gain...I'd say that is an unfortunate facet of human behavior, not a result of belief or non-belief in in a god or gods...

Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

So what you are saying, McA, is that without your belief in God, you'd be wealthier and getting laid a lot more...That's interesting; I've always heard that everything's easier when you believe in God...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Further to the rational basis of morality:

We behave morally to reduce our suffering and to reduce the suffering of others.

Joseph Goldstein, an American Buddhist teacher based in Massachusetts, quoted the Buddha saying,

"If you knew, as I do, the benefits of generosity, you would not let a single meal go by without sharing."

Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush wrote: I can see the effect of my actions on the world around me, and I generally choose to perform those actions that will create the greatest amount of Good

You act to realize (i.e. make real) value. That's what we all do. That's what any life form and indeed any system that is capable of altering its internal state or external environment by its actions does.

What do you value?
What actions do you believe will realize value?
Act accordingly.

"Do as thou will shall be the whole of the law."
-- Aleister Crowley

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,
"A preference for pre-determined conclusions that are in accord with your a priori beliefs is not particularly rational."

A preference for conclusions that are supported by evidence, and against conclusions that aren't, is rational. The evidence does not support the conclusion that the experiences in question are caused by an encounter with God.

Posted by: Atheist on March 24, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist: The evidence does not support the conclusion that the experiences in question are caused by an encounter with God.

You are hand-waving at hypothetical evidence and hypothetical experiences in support of a sweeping generality about an undefined term.

What specific actual evidence are you talking about, and what specific actual experiences, and what exactly do you mean by "God"?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

I never look at Salon because I can never remember what I have to shut off to make it work, but this interview with Edward O. Wilson (if the link works correctly), speaks to the whole question here,

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/03/21/wilson/print.html

A key passage,

Let me follow up on this because I've heard you call yourself a deist.

Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist.

Why not?

You know, being a good scientist, and having been drawn up short so many times on my own theories and speculations -- as all honest scientists are -- I don't want to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity. I think that would be a mistake to say there is no God or supernatural force. As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing? Well, that's a question I'm happy to leave to the astrophysicist -- where the laws of the universe came from and what is the meaning of the origin of existence. But I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity.

That is the distinction between theism and deism.

That is the distinction. So I am not a theist, but I'll be a provisional deist.

To be a deist, you're saying maybe there was some creator, some presence, that set in motion the laws of the universe.

Maybe. That has not yet been discounted as a hypothesis. That's why I use the word provisional.

It's fascinating because everything you've said up until now suggests that you should be an atheist. Why hold out the specter that maybe there was some divine presence that got the whole thing going?

Well, because there's a possibility that a god or gods -- I don't think it would resemble anything of the Judeo-Christian variety -- or a super-intelligent force came along and started the universe with a big bang and moved on to the next universe. I can't discount that.

Let's just play this out for a minute. If there was this creative ... whatever you want to call it...

Intelligence.

This intelligence that got our universe going, what happened to that intelligence? Did it go off to the next universe?

That's what I mean. That's exactly what I said. (Laughs)

Thirteen billion years ago, it left and went somewhere else?

Well, they are now either lurking on the outer reaches of the universe, watching with some amusement as the eons passed, to see how the experiment worked out, or they moved on. Who can say?

I think this is actually of great importance when we're talking about science and religion. There are a lot of people who discount the literal interpretation of the Bible because it does not square with modern science. And even God is such a loaded word. What if we put that word aside? Can we talk about energy or some sort of cosmic force?

That's why I say, I leave this to the astrophysicist.

Not the religious scholars?

Oh, of course not. They don't know enough. Literally. I hope I'm not being insulting. But you can't talk about these subjects now without knowing a great deal of theoretical physics, particularly astrophysics and developments in astronomy concerning the origins and evolution of the universe. But one thing we may very well be able to understand from start to finish -- we haven't done it yet -- is the origin of life on this planet. And that's what counts for human beings. Where we came from. And it's beginning to look -- it's looking pretty persuasively -- that we are in fact ultimately physical and chemical in nature, and that we evolved autonomously on this planet by ourselves. There's no evidence whatsoever that we're being overseen or directed in our evolution and actions by a supernatural force.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

cld, quoting (I think) Edward O. Wilson: "As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing?"

The remark that Wilson attributes to Hans Kung simply demonstrates that it is possible to string words together in such a way that they have the valid grammatical structure of a sentence, yet are nonsense -- like the example given by philosopher Alan Watts: "Why is a mouse when it spins?"

"Nothing" is just an intellectual concept. The reason there is "something" and not "nothing" is that "nothing" does not exist, and cannot exist, since it is, by definition, nonexistence.

To propose that there could be "nothing" instead of "something" is to propose that nonexistence could exist. Again, this is just tossing words around in ways that appear to make sense but are actually meaningless.

At this point I remind myself of the Buddha's advice that metaphysical speculation is unprofitable and to be avoided.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 24, 2006 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, that was Wilson saying, "As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing? Well, that's a question I'm happy to leave to the astrophysicist -- where the laws of the universe came from and what is the meaning of the origin of existence."


I just threw it all in because I thought the interview covered nearly everything said in this thread, but all from a single person.

Posted by: cld on March 24, 2006 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK
how are we to explain there is something and not nothing?

Here's the line from Nagarjuna that really floats my boat:

There is neither existence nor non-existence, nor both, nor neither.
Posted by: obscure on March 24, 2006 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Thanks for the extensive EO Wilson quote.

I pretty much put myself in his camp, and for the same puzzlement over Hans Kung's question.

I only wonder why he'd call himself a provisional deist and not an agnostic. He seems to hinge his argument on lack of adequate knowledge atm -- though certainly not in the strongest of agnostic terms that we're somehow congenitally incapable of knowing.

Frankly, I don't know if I'd go that far, myself. Only assert that our present state of knowledge is woefully insufficent to answer the question.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

Such psychological assessments can be very tricky, but there are very plausible non-supernatural explanations for the experiences that others claim. The fact that many of these noncrackpot experiences are contradictory to one another means that it must be the case that a great many people erroneously attribute truth to these experiences that cannot all be true. And if a very great many of them cannot be true because they contradict other similar experiences, it is not a stretch to suspect that they *all* may not be true. You may not feel justified in making judgments about those experiences, but that does not mean that others are completely off base for choosing to do so.

The fact is, many of these experiences are NOT substantively different from each other. Read Dr. Andrew Newberg's writings on the neurology of religious experience.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

We can explain their experience empirically as a hallucination, illusion, delusion or some other kind of false experience. We have mountains of evidence that such experiences occur quite often in human beings, and no evidence that there is a God.

You can suppose that that's the explanation. But I don't think that supposition is made on particularly strong empirical grounds. Once again Newberg says that religious experience and delusion a la schizophrenia actually have very little in common physiologically. Religious mystics actually tend to be extremely lucid, high functioning members of society and don't share any important characteristics with delusionals.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

A preference for conclusions that are supported by evidence, and against conclusions that aren't, is rational. The evidence does not support the conclusion that the experiences in question are caused by an encounter with God.

OK. Let's say you're colorblind and can't distinguish blue from green. Everything looks green to you and you have no idea what this other color "blue" that people are always talking about is. By your logic, it's reasonable for you to conclude that blue doesn't exist, since you don't have any personal experiential evidence that it does, and hence that there is no objective evidence that when other people say they are experiencing the color blue, they are seeing something "real" rather than merely deluding themselves. Perhaps atheists are "spiritually colorblind", as it were. When we get to this level of metaphysical speculation, the very concept of objectivity falls apart, because we are speculating about things we have no way to measure or objectify given that we cannot fully eradicate the fundamentally subjective nature of our experience of the world.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

secular animist:

Good points all re: the Buddha's original teachings, but I think it's important to remember the historical context in which he lived. He wasn't trying to found a new religion in tension with the predominant beliefs of his time, merely to teach practices that functioned independently of those beliefs, and my understanding of his take on metaphysical speculation was not so much that it's bad, but that it's not necessary to see the underlying spiritual truth of the world. In a way, though, I think you could say the same about Christ or Muhammad or any other major religious figure - they were much more in to teaching ethics and practical norms than metaphysics, and as with Buddhism the religions they founded only took on complicated metaphysical systems afterward. But I'm a Quaker myself and have only recently started studying Buddhism, so I must admit that my understanding of it is quite limited.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

From what I understand of his ideology, Pol Pot killed religious clergy for the same basic reason he killed doctors and teachers and civil servants. He had a hatred of all intellectuals, a group he defined very loosely to include basically all educated people and all people who might spread ideas that threatened his goal of a utopian classless agrarian society in which virtually the entire population would live very simply and work full-time at agriculture.

This is true. But the fact is that Buddhism, especially the Theraveda variety practiced in Cambodia, is not a hierarchical, politically active religion like Islam or American Christianity. Before he started killing them, the monks didn't really pay him much mind. There was no reason for him to suspect that they would be a threat to the agrarian utopia he wished to establish, other than the conclusions his dogmatic hostility to religion had led him to reach. I agree with you that atheism in the simplest sense is not the determining factor, but neither was theism the determining force in the Crusades or 9/11. It's the violent or intolerant beliefs that grow out of that (a)theism that are the problem, and my point was that non-belief can give rise to such notions just as easily as belief. For what it's worth, the Killing Fields memorial in Phnom Penh makes explicit mention of Pol Pot's attempt to eradicate his peoples' spiritual legacy among his crimes.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon:

Extremely lucid, well-written posts with which I concur.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Such psychological assessments can be very tricky, but there are very plausible non-supernatural explanations for the experiences that others claim. The fact that many of these noncrackpot experiences are contradictory to one another means that it must be the case that a great many people erroneously attribute truth to these experiences that cannot all be true. And if a very great many of them cannot be true because they contradict other similar experiences, it is not a stretch to suspect that they *all* may not be true. You may not feel justified in making judgments about those experiences, but that does not mean that others are completely off base for choosing to do so.

The fact is, many of these experiences are NOT substantively different from each other. Read Dr. Andrew Newberg's writings on the neurology of religious experience.

Posted by: Xeynon

----------

I would say that interpretation is a facet of the experience and at a minimum the interpretations are very often contradictory.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Such psychological assessments can be very tricky, but there are very plausible non-supernatural explanations for the experiences that others claim. The fact that many of these noncrackpot experiences are contradictory to one another means that it must be the case that a great many people erroneously attribute truth to these experiences that cannot all be true. And if a very great many of them cannot be true because they contradict other similar experiences, it is not a stretch to suspect that they *all* may not be true. You may not feel justified in making judgments about those experiences, but that does not mean that others are completely off base for choosing to do so.

The fact is, many of these experiences are NOT substantively different from each other. Read Dr. Andrew Newberg's writings on the neurology of religious experience.

Posted by: Xeynon

----------

I would say that interpretation is a facet of the experience and at a minimum the interpretations are very often contradictory.

I should add that the frequency of differences other than just interpretations is still sufficient to cause one to, at least, wonder about the veracity of such experiences.

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Argh! When I wrote, "I should add that the frequency of differences other than just interpretations is still sufficient to cause one to, at least, wonder about the veracity of such experiences.", instead of "veracity" meant to say "verity".

Posted by: TK on March 24, 2006 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

TK-

As the Greek philosopher Democritus said, honey tastes sweet to some people and bitter to others, looks yellow to some and orange to others, and it certainly doesn't follow that because different people experience it in radically different ways that it doesn't exist. Supposing God does exist and is an infinite being as most major religions maintain, there is no reason to believe that such a being wouldn't be able to manifest in an infinite variety of ways. That said, there DOES seem to be a baseline commonality in these experiences - Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns, who have basically nothing in common theologically, nonetheless describe the experience in strikingly similar terms - as a losing of the self, combined with a felt connection to the infinite. Culturally contingent labels only come in later, when they are asked to explain the experience vis-a-vis their own religious background.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 24, 2006 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist:

> What I'll ask *you* is why do you find it implausible that
> some of these experiences could also be entirely sincere?

> I dont find it implausible at all that these people are
> being sincere. Many or most of them probably sincerely
> believe that they have experienced a connection to the
> numinous realm, an awareness of the presence of God, or
> whatever. But simply because a belief is sincerely held
> obviously doesnt mean that the belief is true. A
> schizophrenic may sincerely believe that he hears
> voices when he is in fact hallucinating.

Sorry. Seriously bad word choice; I shouldn't have said sincere.

Let me try this from a different angle, because we seem blocked
in communication because we haven't defined tsome of the issues
around how religious experience relates to religious truth.

In most major religions, very broadly speaking you have two streams,
an exoteric tradition of scripture and explicit religious doctrine
and an esoteric tradition of direct religious experience. In Buddhism,
as Xeynon has noted, you have the popular traditions which have
prayers to theistic gods who intercede for you, have temple statuary,
a body of do's and don't much like, say, Catholicism. Then there are
Zen and other traditions which focus not on doctrine or gods but on
on finding spiritual enlightenment (apprehending the world as it
really is) through practices like meditation. In Christianity there
are sects that focus on the Bible, the teachings of Jesus and the
Commandments, and there are "holy roller" sects that stress speaking
in tongues and other "spirit filled" activities. In Islam, there
are the literalist Salafis and the mystical Sufis. And there's
something similar in Judaism with Torah and Talmud vs the Kabbalah.

Now what empirically or scientifically minded people like to do is
to evaluate the truth of religion exclusively through their body of
doctrine or the outward behavior of their worshippers. I think these
things are very important; religions tend to stress their texts as
the revealed word of truth, and the behavior of religions people is
often more revealing about what they truly believe than what they say.

But I think this only tells part of the story, even for the more
literalist sects. In all religion there's a place for a directly
apprehended experience of spiritual truth that's very hard to
communicate to other people -- or even shorts it out entirely,
as in speaking in tongues. In all mystical traditions, the goal
is to cultivate these mental states, which are access to a higher
truth than ordinary experience. This is what Xeynon is saying.

> "Now you can sit there and play armchair
> psychologist, of course, but you do so at the
> risk of trivializing these people's subjectivity."

> Im not playing armchair psychologist,

No, that's exactly what you're doing.

> Im explaining the reasons why I think these people are
> probably mistaken about the nature of their beliefs.

Exactly; you're not taking them at their word.

Now obviously ... you could encounter a delusional person babbling
about identifying with Jesus on the cross (a common fixation of
paranoiacs). Or you could encounter somebody who's just described
one of these experiences and you don't know for sure if they're
sane. It's always prudent to doubt what anyone tells you about
the inherent truth of an intensely personal experience. But it's
on a gradient. If somebody told me that, say, they were abducted
by aliens I think I'd require firm proof before I believed them --
a souvenier from the spaceship that didn't come from Wal Mart :)

But what happens when you've known this person for years and you
have every reason to believe that they're sane ... and all of a
sudden one day they tell you about a transcendent religious experience
of such utter bliss it made sex seem trivial. Would your immediate
reaction be to consider them starting to lose their marbles?

> I dont know what trivializing these
> peoples subjectivity is supposed to mean.

Well, if you insisted to your friend in the last example that the
only rational way to explain what he just told you is that he's
batshit crazy -- and he looked at you blankly after describing
his experience -- that would be denying his subjectivity.

What's the *actual* nature of these experiences? Are they
purely psychological and speak nothing further about the
nature of cosmic truth? Many people inisist this is the case.

There's certainly reasonable grounds for believing that to be true.

There is, however, no way of concretely proving it, either.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist:

> rmck1 wrote: Secular Animist is into quantum mysticism ...

> I am not. There is nothing "mystical" about my understanding
> of quantum physics.

Okay, forgive me for sticking an au courant appellation on
your views I got from a NYT piece last week which notes a trend
of fusing quantum concepts with questions in consciousness
theory and Eastern spirituality. Supposedly this beggan with
two books, The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters
(both of which I've read somewhere back in the Pliestocene).
Current speculation is that the wave function collapse is somehow
supposed to be implicated in our understanding of consciousness.

I do think you've merged a little Buddhism with your
physics from time to time, correct me if I'm wrong ...

> "... claims [...] that the universe is constantly
> being created and destroyed in a "web of causality.""

> If you look deeply at any phenomenon -- something very simple,
> perhaps a sheet of paper on your desk -- and ask yourself
> "what caused this phenomenon to be?", and you consider all
> of the phenomena and elements and events that had to occur
> to bring that sheet of paper into existence, and then consider
> all the phenomena and elements and events that had to occur
> to bring those phenomena into existence, and so on, you will
> find that there is indeed a vast web of causality underlying
> that simple piece of paper, a web which ultimately embraces
> the entire universe.

Sure; the Butterfly Effect. But I note you avoided the potential
retrocausality paradox implicit from the last time we discussed
this with cmdicely in a religion thread. I've yet had it
demonstrated to me that cause and effect -- no matter how
ramified, no matter how many effects are causes of other
causes, that cause and effect moves in one direction.
In fact, as Kant observes, our perception of time is in
fact none other than our perception of cause and effect.

If there's a larger understand of this, it eludes me. And
that's why in this linear picture of cause and effect demands
a First Cause, as apparently our universe does with a Big Bang.

So the paradox of creation ex nihilo -- the Uncaused Cause -- is
not a trivial concept. It's at least the strongest argument I've
encountered that's keeping my mind open on the question of God.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 25, 2006 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

Atheism carried out to its full conclusion is just amoral hedonism.

So what you are saying, McA, is that without your belief in God, you'd be wealthier and getting laid a lot more...That's interesting; I've always heard that everything's easier when you believe in God...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 24, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

No. I believe being good leads to a more fulfilled life here and after death because of God who sees everything. You don't have that.

You just have your abstract concept of good.
Which you admit is just an abstract concept.

You question Spiritual Experiences as hallucinations. But can you show me that your 'good' is not a hallucination or superstition?

Atheists without a moral code have no place feeling superior than deists.

Atheism carried to its logical extreme is what SecularAnimist champions in 'Do what thou will is the whole of the law' - Utility Maximization which is in less flattering terminology, Hedonism.

And when I was sorting through the religions, I am instinctively uncomfortable with Hedonism. I see no advantage to it. Or to put in terms SecularAnimist would understand, "I see no value in believing life has no purpose".


Posted by: Mca on March 25, 2006 at 6:25 AM | PERMALINK

Grape Crush,

No offence but you are really thick.

I just noticed that in the same post you dismiss God because there is no proof of his existance, But you argue its Ok to believe in consciousness or conscience or Good or whatever term you use to justify morality.

I say atheists are pretty shallow intellectually and you prove it.

Why subject the idea God exists to a higher level of proof than your consciousness/conscience/Good?

Look stop asking us for evidence. Its not the job of believers to do more than share our views.
You want evidence or a spiritual experience, ask God for it?

Its no harder to do than accepting the assumption of Good or becoming a Hedonist like SecularAnimist.

What are you afraid of?

Did you ever realise the word God comes from the word Good?

Posted by: McA on March 25, 2006 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

Since there has never been *any* evidence for the existence of God, and the concept does not help explain anything, and there is a paradigm (Darwin, science etc) that can at least account for this universe (the only one we know anything about), why bother with monotheism? Cultural tradition? Occam's razor would suggest it is a fifth wheel.

Posted by: shoebeacon on March 25, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

McAa, starting his/their shift at the Moonie disinformation factory...

At 6:25:

I believe being good leads to a more fulfilled life here and after death because of God who sees everything.

I believe being good leads to a more fulfilled life here and after death...the rest is where I have a lot of questions.

You don't have that.

I don't think I should need that to in order to do Good...And for the third time, I'm not an atheist, despite how much you need to characterize me as such.

You just have your abstract concept of good. Which you admit is just an abstract concept.

I also admitted that God is an abstract concept; are you agreeing with that as well?

You question Spiritual Experiences as hallucinations.

No, I haven't...If you have a 'spiritual experience' or the experience of eating an apple, the human brain doesn't make a significant distinction between the two.

But can you show me that your 'good' is not a hallucination or superstition?

No more than you can show a god or gods not to be a hallucination or superstition...'Good' is ultimately what you believe and experience it to be, just as 'God' is ultimately what you believe and experience it to be.

Atheists without a moral code have no place feeling superior than deists.

But atheists with a moral code should be free to feel superior? No one has a corner on inherent superiority over others.

Atheism carried to its logical extreme is...Hedonism.

Theism carried to its logical extreme is...Helotry...See, I can make grand, unfounded pronouncements, just like you.

ONCE again, belief in a Supreme Being is not a precondition for the development of a moral conscience/moral awareness.

And when I was sorting through the religions, I am instinctively uncomfortable with Hedonism.

Hedonism isn't a religion any more than Helotry is. Again, you aren't very good with definitions and terminology, are you?

I see no advantage to it.

Hmmm...Holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain, a psychological definition of Hedonism, should sound familiar to someone acquainted with the Christian concepts of Heaven, Hell, and eternal punishment...

Or to put in terms SecularAnimist would understand, "I see no value in believing life has no purpose".

Which you are, of course, free to believe. I can imagine that Secular Animist would argue that belief in a Supreme being is not a precondition for having purpose...

At 6:35pm:

No offence but you are really thick.

You may want to re-think the tactics you are using to try and convert non-believers...Distortion, dihonesty, and insult probably aren't going to work in your favor...

I just noticed that in the same post you dismiss God because there is no proof of his existance

No, I didn't. Other commenters here, perhaps, but not me.

But you argue its Ok to believe in consciousness or conscience or Good or whatever term you use to justify morality.

Yes, I do.

I say atheists are pretty shallow intellectually and you prove it.

You haven't proved anything like that. You'd rather try to prematurely declare victory in a debate than try to understand the ideas presented in the debate...Doesn't your God-given sense of Good have some prohibition against dishonesty?

Why subject the idea God exists to a higher level of proof than your consciousness/conscience/Good?

I haven't. I've clearly stated that both are pretty abstract concepts. Don't the McAa's do any coordination between themselves before posting their crap?

Look stop asking us for evidence.

Get out of my government, then.

Its not the job of believers to do more than share our views.

So you are not interested in converting anyone anymore. Good...Get out of my government now, please.

You want evidence or a spiritual experience, ask God for it?

I have. I think the line might be disconnected...But I could be wrong.

What are you afraid of?

Being eaten alive by wild animals, for one.

Did you ever realise the word God comes from the word Good?

So Good existed before and theefore separate from God? That's an interesting proposition, one which might support my assertion that belief in a Supreme Being is not a precondition for the development of of a moral conscience/moral awareness...A person can believe in Good, but not necessarily in God...Thanks for the supporting argument, 'tho I'm sure that it was unintentional...

Posted by: grape_crush on March 25, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

McAristotle:

Okay, I'm going to grant you that the Judeo/Christian religious tradition in the West did a great deal to found ethical principles that the civilized world takes for granted today. Especially the idea of the sanctity of the individual, which led to legal and political equality. Very very important concept for liberals and lefties, you'll notice -- including of course, those atheist socialists and commies.

But let ask you this. The J/C tradition wasn't the only wellspring of Western ethics. There were also the ancient Greeks. And if you've ever read Plato (as every educated person should), you'll realize that these guys spent an inordinate amount of time sitting around and asking questions about what makes the Good Life. The last thing anyone can accuse Socrates of is being a moral nihilist -- even though the city of Athens put him to death for being an atheist, and in that way "corrupting the morals of the young."

But notice something: "Corrupting the morals of the young" had nothing to do with sticking his dick into adolecent boys. Male Greek citizens adored doing that, and spending long drunken evenings celebrating the beauties of all kinds of love -- not least an older man for a young boy. Read The Symposium. The Greeks weren't gay; they married women and had families. They just liked to do, you know, young boys as kind of a hobby.

This is also true of your namesake Aristotle, who was tutored by Plato (maybe Plato stuck his dick into him after the lessons) and whose books on ethics were extremely influential for the development of the Christian church. Why did you name yourself after an ancient Greek boy banger, McA? Probably because Christians to this day (not to mention logicians and analytic philosophers) revere Aristotle for his extremely well-focused analyses of timeless issues.

The intellectuals of the cultural right, you realize, spend a lot of time championing the study of ancient Greek civilization -- for, you know, their insights into moral questions. Leo Strauss was a classics professor and Plato scholar who schooled a large number of the founding generation of neocons. And his pupil Allan Bloom fired an extremely significant shot across the bow of the leftist academy with The Closing of The American Mind.

Allan Bloom also died of AIDS. Hehe, maybe moral philosophy wasn't the only thing he learned from the ancient Greeks :)

Now I'll grant you something else: There was also probably a connection between Athenian loosey-goosey sexual morality and their conception of the gods. Their gods weren't paragons -- except of physical beauty (not counting Hephestius). They were superempowered ordinary people with supremely human vices: vanity, jealousy, lust, duplicity, poor anger management. But it didn't stop the Athenians from holding the worship of the gods to be the foundation of a morality essential to the welfare and legitimacy of the state.

And thus putting people to death who challenged their reality, let alone moral authority. But not for shtupping rosy-cheeked boys.

So here's the question I'll leave you with. If both the ancient Greeks and the J/C tradition contributed essential elements to a Western ethic we consider universal -- why should we hold Jehovah's concept of sexual morality any higher than that of the Greeks? If the reason it's wrong for adults to ream out 13-year-olds is that it violates their personal autonomy, why can't we extend that rationale to the empowerment of women to have full control over their bodily functions, and to furthermore be fully equal as people?

If you respond that this kind of liberation will lead to cultural decadence -- well, then you make the point that cultural decadence is inherently implicit in the Western moral ethic you're trying to uphold.

Enjoy cutting through this Gordian knot :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 25, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

OK. Let's say you're colorblind and can't distinguish blue from green.

Now let's say that you do spectral analysis between what others call blue and call green. You note there is indeed a distinction between the two.

You decide to carry out an experiment. Carefully preparing pairs of green items to look identical to you, except that one of each pair reflects in a spectrum of green that others call blue.

Running an experiment, almost everyone you test is capable of correctly naming the blue item every time. Reluctantly, you must conclude that blue is a real phenomoenon, and you are color blind.

Similar experiments have been done by 3-color scientists to determine that a very rare type of person sees in a fourth color that most of us can't see.

Now imagine that most people you meet, when the conversation turns to "blue", say that seeing blue is like looking at the color of god. That they feel one with god when they look upon blue things.
Would it necessarily follow from your discovery that blue is real that it is also divine? Does it follow from the people's very real religious experience that their interpretation of the experiment has any merit?

Posted by: Boronx on March 25, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx:

Except that a colorblind scientist living in a colorblind world (and this is a common thought experiment in nature-of-consciousness studies) would not likely have a theory of spectral analysis for a phenomena (color) that they don't have any evidence exists.

Have you ever read the Isaac Asimov short story Nightfall? (I believe it's called Nightfall -- in any case it's one of his more famous stories). It's about a planet in a solar system with three suns, and has thus lived in perpetual daylight for most of its existence. The civilization on it is technologically comparable to Earth's -- save in one area. They haven't evolved any kind of modern lighting, because it never gets dark. Except every millennia or so ... when due to the characteristics of long-term orbit interactions, an eclipse falls and plunges the planet into darkness which lasts about 12 hours.

The people, naturally, totally panic. They break out torches (which they invented during the last nightfall). They revert to a bestial, superstitious form of behavior and become convinced the world is going to end.

Then the eclipse ends and everybody goes whew and back about their business.

The point should be pretty obvious. You can't expect people to have developed theories about -- much less be able to manipulate -- phenomena that they don't encounter in their direct experience and which show no evidence of existing otherwise.

Maybe the existence of color would have been inferred after developing mastery of the physics of the light they see -- the way we inferred the existence of radiation. But you'd have to state that explicitly, because the default assumption would be that since they had no evidence of the phenomena of color, they'd have no possible understanding of it.

Interestingly, this is not the usual purpose of bringing up this thought experiment in nature of consciousness debates. The example veers off thusly: Say the colorblind scientist found a whole bunch of books on color, which not only explained what color was in ordinary experience, but which ran through all the technical and scientific explanations for it. Say the scientist studied this data and had an intellectual mastery of it -- but still had no direct experience of color themselves.

The question posed is -- is it fair to say that this colorblind scientist understands color as well as somone who merely sees and experiences it? If not -- what exactly is missing from their understanding?

It's a more complex question than it looks at first glance.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 25, 2006 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1,

In all religion there's a place for a directly apprehended experience of spiritual truth that's very hard to communicate to other people -- or even shorts it out entirely, as in speaking in tongues. In all mystical traditions, the goal is to cultivate these mental states, which are access to a higher truth than ordinary experience. This is what Xeynon is saying."

Like TK, I have a hard time understanding what youre trying to say half the time. The above paragraph is yet another example of this. You refer to a higher truth than ordinary experience, for example. Whats that supposed to mean?

Exactly; you're not taking them at their word.

For the reasons I have explained, I think they are probably mistaken about the nature of their experience, just as someone who is experiencing any other kind of hallucination or illusion is mistaken. If thats what you mean by not taking them at their word, then, yes, thats what Im doing. I dont think theyre necessarily lying. They may sincerely believe they have experienced an encounter with God (or a connection with the numinous, or however you want to describe it), but I think they are wrong.

If somebody told me that, say, they were abducted by aliens I think I'd require firm proof before I believed them -- a souvenier from the spaceship that didn't come from Wal Mart :) But what happens when you've known this person for years and you have every reason to believe that they're sane ... and all of a sudden one day they tell you about a transcendent religious experience of such utter bliss it made sex seem trivial. Would your immediate reaction be to consider them starting to lose their marbles?

Im not saying theyre insane. Im saying theyre probably wrong. Mistaken. In error. Under a false impression. I dont know how to communicate this idea more clearly. People make mistakes about their experiences all the time. It is very common. It doesnt mean theyve lost their marbles, its just a consequence of the fallibility of human perception and memory and other faculties. We are prone to making mistakes about what we see and hear and remember. We are prone to wishful thinking. We are prone to believing to be true what we want to be true, even in the absence of evidence that it is true, and sometimes in the face of evidence that it is false. This is the human condition. You yourself seem to have a healthy skepticism towards claims of alien abduction. I just dont understand why bringing the same skepticism to claims of divine encounters and connections with the numinous seems to make you so angry and resentful.

Posted by: Atheist on March 25, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

"OK. Let's say you're colorblind and can't distinguish blue from green. Everything looks green to you and you have no idea what this other color "blue" that people are always talking about is. By your logic, it's reasonable for you to conclude that blue doesn't exist, since you don't have any personal experiential evidence that it does, and hence that there is no objective evidence that when other people say they are experiencing the color blue, they are seeing something "real" rather than merely deluding themselves."

Nonsense. You have "personal experiential evidence" in the form of your knowledge that most people do claim to be able to distinguish blue from green. Furthermore, scientists have discovered the physical basis of colorblindness. Of course, it's logically possible that everyone who claims to see blue is lying, and that the alleged scientific support for their claims is in reality the product of a vast conspiracy amoung scientists to hide the truth, but that seems highly implausible.

As TK pointed out, one of the reasons to be extremely skeptical that experiences such as yours really are some kind of perception of or encounter with God or some other supernatural agent is that they are so often mutually contradictory. Two different people may, with apparently equal degrees of sincerity and conviction, make two different and mutually contradictory claims of truth on the basis of this kind of experience. The characteristics of these experiences strongly suggest that they are more likely to be hallucinations or delusions of some kind rather the product of some "sixth sense" or extrasensory perception.

Posted by: Atheist on March 25, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"I agree with you that atheism in the simplest sense is not the determining factor, but neither was theism the determining force in the Crusades or 9/11."

But I never said theism was the determining force in the crusades or 9/11. In fact, I explicitly said:

'I have never seen any serious evidence to suggest that mere belief in God, or the mere absence of belief in God, has any significant impact on behavior.'

I do believe that religions caused the crusades and 9/11. It wasn't mere belief in God that caused men to perpetrate those atrocities, it was belief in various religious doctrines having to do with the nature and will of God, of man's relationship to God, of God's means of communicating with man, and so on.

You still haven't offered any evidence that I can see that Pol Pot's atrocities can be attributed to atheism. As far as I can tell, atheism was entirely incidental to his actions, and if you took his ideology exactly as it was, but replaced atheism with theism, it wouldn't have made any difference at all.

Posted by: Atheist on March 25, 2006 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Now imagine that most people you meet, when the conversation turns to "blue", say that seeing blue is like looking at the color of god. That they feel one with god when they look upon blue things.
Would it necessarily follow from your discovery that blue is real that it is also divine? Does it follow from the people's very real religious experience that their interpretation of the experiment has any merit?

It doesn't necessarily follow, no. But I never claimed that it does. rmck1 made this point quite elegantly, but I'll reiterate what I said earlier about the fundamental, inescapable subjectivity of religious experience - unlike the physical manifestation of color, there is no way to objectively measure it (as with the subjective experience of color - see my example above about some people seeing honey as brown and some as yellow, despite the fact that you could objectively demonstrate that both groups are seeing what physically, objectively is the same phenomenon). Sure, religious experience has certain brain signatures you can pick up with a PET scan, but that is true of literally ever other human experience as well and doesn't remotely prove that religious experience is "just in the head", anymore than certain neurons associated with the activity of drinking milk firing proves a glass of milk is just in your head when you drink it. Given the data we have, and the data we lack, that is a valid hypothesis, but it is not a valid scientific conclusion, and the difference between those two is EVERYTHING, something which committed reductionists tend to ignore.

Objects of religious belief are fundamentally metaphysical, i.e. utterly beyond the grasp of science or objectivity, but we *all* still formulate personal metaphysical systems even if we can't prove what we say about them empirically. Is it possible to correlate scientific facts and concepts with a reductionist, atheistic metaphysics? Sure. But it is also possible to correlate them nicely with a theistic, purposeful one. Lots of things in nature (the ever-increasing complexity of the physical world, the so-called "anthropic principle", the precise mathematical beauty and harmony of the universe on every level from the sub-atomic to the astronomical, the vast, ever-evolving, wondrous diversity of life on this planet) I take as evidence of a creative intelligence/spirit behind the world, a "prime mover" as Aquinas put it, God as creator of the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure book. My understanding of science fundamentally strengthens and underscores my religious intuition, rather than threatening it. Science doesn't prove God's existence (which I don't think it can or should try to - I've never liked the "God of the gaps" argument either scientifically or philosophically). But it accords with it as a principle of belief.

I'd add that as a theist, I think a God that was so imminent in the world as to be objectively observable would be theologically incoherent in any rational, consistent religious metaphysics. To me the idea that God would want to be believed in and worshipped by choice rather than logical necessity makes intuitive sense - I'd compare my intuition of it to the sensibility of a writer or painter who prefers you acknowledge them by experiencing their work directly for its beauty, verisimilitude, emotional impact, etc. rather than obsessing over their personal role in creating it. Da Vinci didn't scrawl his name on "The Last Supper", and Shakespeare didn't insert himself into the final scene of Hamlet to say "I'm Will Shakespeare and I wrote - fabricated - this play, so as real as it seemed it's just something I made up", and I believe God doesn't manifest directly for a similar reason. Faith is an act of gratitude, and an obtrusive deity that was always popping up in objectively observable ways would render it meaningless, the same way it's meaningless to make a statement of faith in squirrels or peanut butter or the sun or any other object of everyday experience. Belief has to be a choice to be anything more than an empty gesture. The great religious traditions all acknowledge the vital role that doubt plays in faith (cf. Job, Thomas, "the dark night of the soul", etc.) and I consider my own flirtation with atheism a vital moment in my spiritual life to this point. I also think that nonbelievers and skeptics play a vital role in the spiritual life of humanity as a whole. They ask questions that keep us spiritually humble, and that is vitally important.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 25, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Now imagine that most people you meet, when the conversation turns to "blue", say that seeing blue is like looking at the color of god. That they feel one with god when they look upon blue things.
Would it necessarily follow from your discovery that blue is real that it is also divine? Does it follow from the people's very real religious experience that their interpretation of the experiment has any merit?

It doesn't necessarily follow, no. But I never claimed that it does. rmck1 made this point quite elegantly, but I'll reiterate what I said earlier about the fundamental, inescapable subjectivity of religious experience - unlike the physical manifestation of color, there is no way to objectively measure it (as with the subjective experience of color - see my example above about some people seeing honey as brown and some as yellow, despite the fact that you could objectively demonstrate that both groups are seeing what physically, objectively is the same phenomenon). Sure, religious experience has certain brain signatures you can pick up with a PET scan, but that is true of literally ever other human experience as well and doesn't remotely prove that it is "just in the head", anymore than certain neurons associated with the activity of drinking milk firing proves a glass of milk is just in your head when you drink it. Given the data we have, and the data we lack, that is a valid hypothesis, but it is not a valid scientific conclusion, and the difference between those two is EVERYTHING, something which committed reductionists tend to ignore.

Why do we lack data that would allow us to draw a conclusion? Because the objects of religious belief are fundamentally metaphysical, i.e. utterly beyond the grasp of science or objectivity. But we *all* formulate personal metaphysical systems even if we can't prove what we say about them empirically. Is it possible to correlate scientific facts and concepts with a reductionist, atheistic metaphysics? Sure. But it is also possible to correlate them nicely with a theistic, purposeful one. Lots of things in nature (the ever-increasing complexity of the physical world, the so-called "anthropic principle", the precise mathematical beauty and harmony of the universe on every level from the sub-atomic to the astronomical, the vast, ever-evolving, wondrous diversity of life on this planet) I take as evidence of a creative intelligence/spirit behind the world, a "prime mover" as Aquinas put it, God as creator of the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure book. My understanding of science fundamentally strengthens and underscores my religious intuition, rather than threatening it. Science doesn't prove God's existence (which I don't think it can or should try to - I've never liked the "God of the gaps" argument either scientifically or philosophically). But it accords with it as a principle of belief.

I'd add that as a theist, I think a God that was so imminent in the world as to be objectively observable would be theologically incoherent in any rational, consistent religious metaphysics. To me the idea that God would want to be believed in and worshipped by choice rather than logical necessity makes intuitive sense - I'd compare my intuition of it to the sensibility of a writer or painter who prefers you acknowledge them by experiencing their work directly for its beauty, verisimilitude, emotional impact, etc. rather than obsessing over their personal role in creating it. Da Vinci didn't scrawl his name on "The Last Supper", and Shakespeare didn't insert himself into the final scene of Hamlet to say "I'm Will Shakespeare and I wrote - fabricated - this play, so as real as it seemed it's just something I made up", and I believe God doesn't manifest directly for a similar reason. Faith is an act of gratitude, and an obtrusive deity that was always popping up in objectively observable ways would render it meaningless, the same way it's meaningless to make a statement of faith in squirrels or peanut butter or the sun or any other object of everyday experience. Belief has to be a choice to be anything more than an empty gesture. The great religious traditions all acknowledge the vital role that doubt plays in faith (cf. Job, Thomas, "the dark night of the soul", etc.) and I consider my own flirtation with atheism a vital moment in my spiritual life to this point. I also think that nonbelievers and skeptics play a vital role in the spiritual life of humanity as a whole. They ask questions that keep us spiritually humble, and that is vitally important.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 25, 2006 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry for the double post. Internet problems.

As TK pointed out, one of the reasons to be extremely skeptical that experiences such as yours really are some kind of perception of or encounter with God or some other supernatural agent is that they are so often mutually contradictory. Two different people may, with apparently equal degrees of sincerity and conviction, make two different and mutually contradictory claims of truth on the basis of this kind of experience.

The problem is, TK is just simply wrong on the facts about this. Read the study I mentioned above. The people Newberg studied describe the experience as fundamentally the same despite very different religious backgrounds. It's only when asked to relate it to their own doctrine that contradictions emerge, and it doesn't take a neurologist to see that religious doctrines often contradict each other (but then so, often, do the doctrines of science, at least until the "Grand Unified Theory" comes along. Perhaps there is also a "Grand Unified Theory" of religion on the way.)

The characteristics of these experiences strongly suggest that they are more likely to be hallucinations or delusions of some kind rather the product of some "sixth sense" or extrasensory perception.

As far as I can tell there is absolutely zero basis for this statement other than your own arbitrary a priori assumptions. What characteristics are you talking about? The fact that they relate to something beyond scientific observation? Well, if it's beyond scientific observation of course it's going to be impossible to verify objectively. That doesn't mean it's not real, or even that it's likely that it's not real. It just means science can't shed any light on the question one way or the other. Dark matter is beyond direct scientific observation, but we assume it exists because the data don't make sense if it doesn't. The same logic could be applied here, given the data show that the vast majority of humanity are spiritual believers of some sort. You can propose an alternate explanation, that the vast majority of humanity are falling prey to delusions, but you have no evidence of that whatsoever to back you up, just as people who say it's not dark matter but the activity of angels that keep the cosmos ordered have no evidence to back up what they're saying. You're engaging in metaphysical speculation, not science, and I'm sorry, but it's not any closer to science by virtue of its materialism or atheism. Science is methodologically naturalistic, not methodologically atheistic - the two are entirely different.

You still haven't offered any evidence that I can see that Pol Pot's atrocities can be attributed to atheism. As far as I can tell, atheism was entirely incidental to his actions, and if you took his ideology exactly as it was, but replaced atheism with theism, it wouldn't have made any difference at all.

Go back upthread and read my post. Pol Pot was a hard-line Marxist. An intolerant variety of atheism which not only denies the existence of the supernatural but holds that religious institutions and religious practice are the enemies of human progress and should be eradicated is a fundamental tenet of hardline Marxism. The ONLY reason he attempted to eliminate Cambodian Buddhists - who were not opposing him politically - was his adherence to this perverse doctrine. I'm not attacking your personal atheism here. But it seems to me ludicrous to suggest that hostility to religion by nonbelievers has not been used to justify historical atrocities, just as hostility to one religion by believers of another has been used to justify slaughter. Religion is in no way unique - it is a human institution and is prey to the same fallability that all human institutions are. But secular/atheistic ideologies have just as bad a record as religious ones, so I don't think it's fair to say that it's religion, rather than our flawed human nature, that's the problem.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 25, 2006 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

There was a discussion of the Sherman quote at the Straight Dope Message Board last fall:
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=336611

We were hoping that somebody who lives near the George Bush Presidential library might have a look at the records, specifically the religious matters archive. http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/find/whorm/religion.html

Posted by: M4M on March 25, 2006 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon:

Okay, I think I've gone as far as I can go with hardline atheists here, so let me turn my attention on some of the things you've put forth, because I think the discussion would probably be more fruitful. You've said most of the things I would have liked to have said to Atheist and TK, besides.

First, a question, then an observation. Why do you call yourself a theist? It seems that you have a pretty broad-based concept of the divine, something which could certainly include the more intellectual traditions of Buddhism which are decidedly non-theistic (though I wouldn't go as far as to call Zen a species of atheism, as some have here). Theism implies a more-or-less anthropomorphized deity who listens to prayer and responds in terms corresponding to human emotion: He is "angry" or "displeased" or "glorified," etc. And theistic gods also intercede in daily human affairs. Unless I've gotten my definition of theism wrong, I think it would be far more accurate to call the refined spirituality I've seen you describe here a form of deism, not theism.

Secondly, I'd like to lay out one of my biggest problems with the Christian tradition, an issue of theology and not of metaphysics or philosophical argument, but one which absolutely annuls any possiblity I might find belief in a Christian church..

When I hear people say that god wants to be believed, it absolutely makes my skin crawl. I can think of nothing more corrupt in the character of a supreme creator than this. Here's why:

It's the theodicy problem. I don't believe it's adequately justified in either the Catholic or Protestant traditions.

If god is both all-powerful and all-good -- why does evil exist? Strikes me that if god is not all good but of limited power (as in dualistic / gnostic cosmologies) -- then he's a cosmic sadist. All powerful and all good yet untold amounts of grotesque suffering by innocents unfolds daily. Why?

Augustine fixed this problem (out of battling with dualist heresies as bishop of Alexandria) by proposing Original Sin, straight from Adam to you, transmitted through semen. There you go. Innocent babies suffer horrible agony and meaningless death because man is a Fallen being.

The Protestant solution, after a few centuries of arguing with Calvin over predestinarianism, is even worse. Life is a Test, and we are given Free Will to negotiate it. Evil, therefore, is purposeful. It's what we have to confront and triumph over to past the Test. Only a few can manage it of course, and only through the Grace granted by believing in Jesus Christ. And everybody else goes directly to Hell -- do not pass Go, do not collect $200 -- for .... *drumroll, please* The Greater Glory of God.

I can think of nothing more morally degenerate than this. The Holocaust of the Jews, the genocide in Darfur, the A bombs on Japan, the mass slaughters of Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and innumerable tyrants through the ages, the countless miseries of disease, famine and natural disasters are all for the idle amusement and ego satisfaction of the Supreme Being.

I have no clue how anybody who's thought this through manages to reconcile this, although I suppose they do somehow ...

It seems to me that if there is a God, and this God truly loved His creatures, and for whatever reason He knows that we were born into a fallen and corrupt material universe with hazards aplenty, and that He wanted us to live by a set of commands that perhaps would go against our natural inclinations but which would pay dividends in the long run -- He would damned well have made His existence known to us in a way that no one with the faculty of reason could deny it.

And this, more than any clever philosophical argument, is why, though I remain intellectually agnostic, am for all practical purposes a functional atheist.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 26, 2006 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Bob,

Firstly, the theism/deism thing - thank you for catching me on sloppy word choice, I was primarily using the term "theist" to set my self in opposition to "atheism" without attending to all the implications that it carries. Strictly speaking I am a deist, in that I believe God exists but doesn't make a habit of interfering in the natural world, at least not in a way that we can observe (i.e. contravening the laws of nature - like Aquinas I don't discount the possibility that God's will plays out through events that our spatially and temporally limited human perspective sees as random). This deist God is the abstract spiritual presence I spoke of, and interestingly something along these lines is common among the world's great religions - in Christianity the "God beyond God", actuus purus or "pure being", in Hinduism Brahmin or "ultimate reality", the Dao in Daoism, the "ground of being" in Buddhism, etc.

I think the personal, theistic characteristics that various religions ascribe to this God are largely an outgrowth of humanity's limited conceptual palette. We have some sense of the infinite, but to borrow a phrase that Christian theologians used about the pagans, we see it "through a glass darkly" - an infinite being is a very difficult concept to get one's limited human brain around, and hence we reach for vocabulary that is more familiar to us to describe it, and in so doing anthropomorphize and limit it. I am not particularly interested in any one personal conception of God; however I do believe there can be a place for a personal theistic God in spirituality, the role of which I see not so much as to answer prayers by, say, granting miracles, but to give the believer strength to face the spiritual challenges that the human condition presents through faith and a sense of connection. This personal aspect can take on a variety of forms or even not exist at all as in Daoism or nontheistic varieties of Buddhism; it doesn't particularly bother me that different groups of humans have ascribed vastly different personal characteristics to it. The mistake I think many believers make is in concluding that their personal, blinkered, prejudiced, limited understanding of the divine is the divine - hence all the evil that religion abused has begotten. Another teaching that is common to the world's great religions is that spiritually, we are very flawed creatures, and while we ought to be mindful of this and remain humble we often forget it. Fortunately, when one looks at the history of the various religions, one does see a theological progression toward the realization that humanity's ability to comprehend transcendant truth is limited, and that we ought to be mindful of our own capacity for doing evil in the name of things we believe.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK


As for your second point, the Problem of Evil - well, that's obviously a tough one, and I'm not about to solve a conundrum that has preoccupied religious thinkers for centuries, but I will give you my *personal* take on it. Firstly, regarding God's omnipotence - I haven't any clue what an all-powerful God creating a universe ex nihilo could or couldn't do - that degree of power is unfathomable to me. Any creative person - an artist, a musician, an engineer (all common metaphors for God-as-creator, incidentally) - will tell you that there are always tradeoffs to be made in design or composition, that perfection is an ideal and not a realistic goal, and perhaps even a God empowered to create a universe works under similar contraints. I have no idea, so I try to refrain from thinking I could have done better. An alternate take on it is that this perfect world does exist in the afterlife, and that our time on earth is just preparation for that, but as an absolute agnostic with strong doubts on the matter of life after death that isn't a position I'm comfortable taking.

I happen to think, however, that even if God DID have the power to create a world free of suffering, it wouldn't necessarily be a boon to any intelligent life that might evolve in it to do so. For our lives, and our spiritual and ethical choices, to be meaningful, they must really be choices - we must have free will, because without it we would merely be mechanistic extensions of God's will. And with free will comes the opportunity to choose unwisely, ignorantly, or even evilly, and hence cause suffering - it's a package deal. Suffering due to natural causes - disease, death, and the like - is the result of a similar, related tradeoff. For us (not just us, any intelligent, spiritual species that might be out there) to act on choices we have freely made we we must have the opportunity for change and growth. Providing that opportunity meant creating a universe that evolves and permits change, wherein the beings that dwelt would themselves evolve and be capable of change. In order for newer, better things to emerge, old ones must die and fade away, something that applies to our ideas and visions of ourselves as well as to our biology. A world free of suffering would be static, and in a static world the meaning of choice would be diminished. The entropy, suffering and death we observe in the natural order are the necessary cost of the mutability that allows us to choose meaningfully.

I think of the relationship of God to humanity as analagous to that of a parent to a grown child in some ways - we are loved, but we must be let go and cannot be protected from everything. Our choices (including the choice to acknowledge or love our parent) are our own at this point, and God cannot rightly interfere. Honestly, I find this conception of God more appealing than some sort of divine puppetmaster pulling all the strings of the universe. Even if such a God were benevolent and prevented us from suffering by such interference, that would come at the cost of depriving us of our freedom. That was Sartre's conception of God and while I don't share his atheism I do share his distaste for the notion of being a cosmic child.

Just my take - obviously it's not definitive.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 2:55 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: ghgfh on March 26, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Religion is in no way unique - it is a human institution and is prey to the same fallability that all human institutions are. But secular/atheistic ideologies have just as bad a record as religious ones, so I don't think it's fair to say that it's religion, rather than our flawed human nature, that's the problem.

The sense of this argument undermines your earlier attempt to attribute Pol Pot's atrocities to "atheism." It is not the doctrines themselves (theistic or atheistic) but rather our deep tendency to cling to and identify with ideas that is the flaw in our nature of which you speak.

On the question of whether "experiences of the divine" can be mistaken or not, clearly, subjective experience cannot be refuted, because it cannot be shared. The only thing subject to refutation are our statements about those experiences. Anyone can have "an experience of the divine," but as soon as we start talking about what we experienced, including using the label 'divine', then the speculation and hence the trouble, starts.

You said something, Xeynon, which I think is insightful:

A world free of suffering would be static

From a Buddhist perspective, the cause of suffering is the impermanent nature of reality. Everything--everything--is subject to change, and therefore incapable of providing satisfaction.

The highest form of reason involves letting go of our dependance on language and ideas and instead paying close attention to the moment-to-moment activity of our minds.

Seeing into the nature of our minds--patiently cultivating mindfulness--loosens our clinging to objects & ideas.

From the Diamond Sutra:

"Then the Bhagavat thus spoke to him: 'Any one, O Subhuti, who has entered here on the path of the Bodhisattvas must thus frame his thought: As many beings as there are in this world of beings, comprehended under the term of beings (either born of eggs, or from the womb, or from moisture, or miraculously), with form or without form, with name or without name, as far as any known world of beings is known, all these must be delivered by me in the perfect world of Nirvana. And yet, after I have thus delivered immeasurable beings, not one single being has been delivered. And why? If, O Subhuti, a Bodhisattva had any idea of--belief in--a being, he could not be called a Bodhisattva (one who is fit to become a Buddha.) And why? Because, O Subhuti, no one is to be called a Bodhisattva, for whom there should exist the idea of a being, the idea of a living being, or the idea of a person.'"
Posted by: obscure on March 26, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon,

The problem is, TK is just simply wrong on the facts about this. Read the study I mentioned above. The people Newberg studied describe the experience as fundamentally the same despite very different religious backgrounds. It's only when asked to relate it to their own doctrine that contradictions emerge, and it doesn't take a neurologist to see that religious doctrines often contradict each other (but then so, often, do the doctrines of science, at least until the "Grand Unified Theory" comes along.

I think you missed the point. The experiences may be fundamentally the same in terms of their intensity or their dissimilarity to experiences of ordinary sensory perception or in other ways, but different people make contradictory claims of truth on the basis of experiences of this kind. With respect to theism, the contradictions may have to do with the number of Gods, or the nature God, or will of God, and so on. A Christian, for example, may claim to be certain on the basis of such an experience that Jesus is the Son of God. A Jew or a Muslim may claim, with equal conviction, to be certain that Jesus is not the Son of God. A monotheist may claim to be certain that there is one and only one God. A polytheist may claim to have experienced encounters with multiple Gods. Obviously, these contradictory claims cannot all be correct.

As far as I can tell there is absolutely zero basis for this statement other than your own arbitrary a priori assumptions. What characteristics are you talking about?

The characteristics by which we distinguish hallucinations, delusions, and other kinds of false experience from sense perceptions. Things like infrequency, inconsistency, and unrepeatability. In fact, experiences attributed to encounters with God, Demons, Angels and other supernatural entities seem to be closely correlated with the kind of physical conditions that we know are associated with hallucinations. This includes things like fasting, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, the infliction of physical pain, and the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs.

A good analogy to "religious experiences" of the kind you are claiming is the issue rmck1 raised: claims of alien abduction. These claims may be "fundamentally the same" in certain respects, but they differ dramatically in others. I don't doubt that many or most of the people who claim to have been abducted by aliens strongly and sincerely believe that that is what really happened to them. But the inconsistent and sometimes contradictory claims these people make, the absence of empirical evidence in support of their claims, and the known vulnerability of human beings to false experiences such as hallucinations, strongly suggests that these people are simply wrong. And the same goes for people who claim to have "experienced" God or some other supernatural agent or "reality."

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"Go back upthread and read my post. Pol Pot was a hard-line Marxist. An intolerant variety of atheism which not only denies the existence of the supernatural but holds that religious institutions and religious practice are the enemies of human progress and should be eradicated is a fundamental tenet of hardline Marxism."

This claim is simply false. Marxism is not a "variety of atheism." Marxism and atheism are two different things. One is a political ideology and the other is an absence of belief in God or a belief that there is no God. You consistently conflate and confuse atheism with social and political ideologies.

Again, your claim is that there is a causal connection between atheism and violence/harm. You cannot establish that alleged connection simply by pointing out that some atheists have done bad things. Where is your evidence that atheism was the cause, or a cause, of this behavior?

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

The sense of this argument undermines your earlier attempt to attribute Pol Pot's atrocities to "atheism." It is not the doctrines themselves (theistic or atheistic) but rather our deep tendency to cling to and identify with ideas that is the flaw in our nature of which you speak.

I tried to make clear in my earlier argument that it wasn't that I thought PP's crimes were per se attributable to atheism, but rather that atheism was a fundamental, influential tenant of the doctrine to which he ascribed, a doctrine that led him to specifically target religious believers for extermination. As for the fundamentally flawed nature of human beings, as a nominal Christian I would describe it as a tendency to pride, to place ourselves before others and assume for ourselves power or knowledge that we do not and cannot have, to succumb to self-righteousness and judge others, to put ourselves in God's place as it were. I think this is not really that inconsistent with the Buddhist take on things that you present, inasmuch as power to stop the world from changing, to make it fulfill our desires, or to bend it to our will, things that I think Christ would agree with the Buddha in saying are humanly impossible, is the forbidden fruit we most often covet, and in attempting to obtain this desire we we fall prey to the weaknesses I just eluded to and bring about suffering. One of the issues I do have with Buddhism, though, is that I find the more radical version of the doctrine of nonattachment too passive and detached - it seems to me there are some ideas (respect for our fellow beings, kindness, love, compassion for the poor and downtrodden, etc.) that are worth clinging to, as doing so more often than not inspires us to make noble sacrifices under difficult circumstances, to attempt to allay the suffering of others rather than merely accept it as inevitable. One thing I have noticed living in Japan is that Buddhist temples don't tend to be nearly as active as Christian churches in charitable activities, and I wonder if this doctrine has anything to do with it.

On the question of whether "experiences of the divine" can be mistaken or not, clearly, subjective experience cannot be refuted, because it cannot be shared. The only thing subject to refutation are our statements about those experiences. Anyone can have "an experience of the divine," but as soon as we start talking about what we experienced, including using the label 'divine', then the speculation and hence the trouble, starts.

Very true. But to me this is primarily a problem of language - the religious experiences I've had are, in the truest sense, ineffable. I can reach for words to attempt to describe them, words like divine, and here I do so because in this case my interlocutors have a shared cultural vocabulary and that word is one I can come up with that sort of weakly evokes what the subjective experience is like. But I fully acknowledge the utter futility of trying to express it - obviously an atheist who doesn't share my penchant for experiencing this phenomenon is going to find that description wanting, and possibly conclude that I must be deluded. And the description frankly is wanting. But it's impossible to offer a description that isn't wanting.

From a Buddhist perspective, the cause of suffering is the impermanent nature of reality. Everything--everything--is subject to change, and therefore incapable of providing satisfaction.

The Buddhist take on this I find really interesting - it's a very unique approach to the problem. I don't agree that it necessarily follows that things that are subject to change are hence rendered incapable of providing satisfaction - some pleasures are enjoyable precisely because of their ephemerality in my view - but on the whole I find it appealing, and I certainly agree that excessive attachment causes problems. There's a strain of this kind of thinking in the Middle-Eastern monotheistic religions as well, though, as in the fatalistic notion in Islam that one ought to accept things one can't control as Allah's will rather than fight the inevitable, or in the vows of Christian monastics, which are taken precisely because attachment to earthly things is thought to be impede one's ability to see truth. I disagree with the Buddha (and Socrates, who made a similar claim) that human evil is solely the result of ignorance - I for one certainly have upon occasion what I would describe as "evil" impulses, and the reason I rarely if ever act upon them is precisely because I am not ignorant of their result and know they would cause suffering if I follow through on the impulse. Occasionally, despite having this knowledge, I succumb to temptation and do something selfish or hurtful nevertheless.

The highest form of reason involves letting go of our dependance on language and ideas and instead paying close attention to the moment-to-moment activity of our minds.

Seeing into the nature of our minds--patiently cultivating mindfulness--loosens our clinging to objects & ideas.

I think mindfulness is something we ought to cultivate, and I got interested in meditation as a path to it before I learned anything about Buddhism, but as I mentioned above I don't think it's true that all ideas are equally unworthy of being clung to.

From the Diamond Sutra:

"Then the Bhagavat thus spoke to him: 'Any one, O Subhuti, who has entered here on the path of the Bodhisattvas must thus frame his thought: As many beings as there are in this world of beings, comprehended under the term of beings (either born of eggs, or from the womb, or from moisture, or miraculously), with form or without form, with name or without name, as far as any known world of beings is known, all these must be delivered by me in the perfect world of Nirvana. And yet, after I have thus delivered immeasurable beings, not one single being has been delivered. And why? If, O Subhuti, a Bodhisattva had any idea of--belief in--a being, he could not be called a Bodhisattva (one who is fit to become a Buddha.) And why? Because, O Subhuti, no one is to be called a Bodhisattva, for whom there should exist the idea of a being, the idea of a living being, or the idea of a person.'"

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"I happen to think, however, that even if God DID have the power to create a world free of suffering, it wouldn't necessarily be a boon to any intelligent life that might evolve in it to do so. For our lives, and our spiritual and ethical choices, to be meaningful, they must really be choices - we must have free will, because without it we would merely be mechanistic extensions of God's will."

So why didn't God create us such that we have free will, but always choose good? Or why didn't he create us such that more of us choose good more often? Why didn't he create more Gandhis and fewer Hitlers? If you claim that a necessary consequence of having free will is that you will sometimes make bad choices, are you then claiming that God does not have free will, or that God sometimes chooses badly? And how can there be the "perfect" afterlife you proposed earlier if free will necessarily entails bad choices? Does that mean we don't have free will in the afterlife, or that we sometimes make bad choices in it (in which case it wouldn't be perfect)? I don't think this "free will" explanation of moral evil makes much sense. It just introduces more problems.

"For us (not just us, any intelligent, spiritual species that might be out there) to act on choices we have freely made we we must have the opportunity for change and growth. Providing that opportunity meant creating a universe that evolves and permits change, wherein the beings that dwelt would themselves evolve and be capable of change. In order for newer, better things to emerge, old ones must die and fade away, something that applies to our ideas and visions of ourselves as well as to our biology."

Huh? Why must beings die and fade away? Why can't they just keep changing? And why is natural evil (diseases and disasters) a necessary consequence of a changing world? Why couldn't God have created the world and beings such that they change and evolve without there being natural evil? And why is change and evolution necessary anyway? What would necessarily be wrong with a "static" world? Is the "perfect afterlife" that you (as well as most traditional theists) propose also changing and evolving? If so, why, if it's already perfect? Like your proposed "free will" solution to the problem of moral evil, your proposed "change and evolve" solution to the problem of natural evil just seems to raise more problems and questions than it answers.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone else on this thread come down with a splitting headache the day before yesterday and have to spend a couple of hours walking it off?

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"I'd add that as a theist, I think a God that was so imminent in the world as to be objectively observable would be theologically incoherent in any rational, consistent religious metaphysics. To me the idea that God would want to be believed in and worshipped by choice rather than logical necessity makes intuitive sense - "

Sorry, but this doesn't make any sense either. First, you seem to think that if God gave us empirical evidence of his existence we would be compelled to believe in him. In fact, you even go so far as to claim that such belief would be a "logical necessity." That's nonsense. Empirical evidence does not support claims of truth to a standard of logical necessity, even if the evidence is believed. And of course we would be free to disregard or dispute the evidence anyway, just as creationists, for example, disregard or dispute the evidence for evolution and an ancient universe.

So I don't see that you've provided a coherent explanation of why God, if he exists and wants us to believe he exists, does not provide empirical evidence of his existence.

But let's suppose you did come up with a coherent explanation of that. Your argument still doesn't make any sense, because the "intuitive" evidence of God you claim to have is obviously limited and disputed. If God wants us to believe he exists, but for whatever reason wants to demonstrate this to us via our "intuition" rather than empirically, why doesn't everyone share your "intuition" that he exists? Does he only reveal himself in this way to some people and not others? Why would he do that, if he wants everyone to know he exists? Or are you claiming that God shows his existence to everyone in this "intuitive" way, but some people just choose to ignore this demonstration? Or what?

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Xeynon,

The evidence of religious experience in others is only the evidence of religious experience and no evidence of anything else.

People who see a full spectrum of color invisible to a color blind person can prove the difference in their color perception by a thousand obvious tests. Two fruit juices that might look identical to a color blind person but taste different, say. The person who could see a full spectrum could identify which was which just by looking at it.


Pol Pot, like every other dictator, viewed any other power structure as a direct rival to himself and tried to wipe it out. Describing it as superstition was just a way to attack into its' strength, e.g. Karl Rove.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

No matter how much scientific proof is developed about the origin of the universe and life within it, an agnostic or religious believer will always be able to say, that's because god got it all going in the first place. Their argument will just forever backpedal into the vacuum. Or the pre-vacuum. So worrying about it, on it's own merits, is altogether pointless. From a biological or sociological point of view, it can be pretty interesting, but to allow yourself to get sucked into the vacuum along with them is simply failure.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not denying the reality of religious experience, but I am denying the interpretation of it from someone in that, necessarily, subjective state. If somebody from a stone age tribe showed up in an emergency room with a burning pain in his gut and insisted he was possessed by a demon and wanted an exorcism and the doctor found out it was a kidney tumor, is the doctor wrong?

Defending the validity of a subjective state is like romanticising victimization, it's like Stockholm syndrome. Why don't you drive a car blindfolded? Does the blindfold not sharpen your hearing?

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think you missed the point. The experiences may be fundamentally the same in terms of their intensity or their dissimilarity to experiences of ordinary sensory perception or in other ways, but different people make contradictory claims of truth on the basis of experiences of this kind. With respect to theism, the contradictions may have to do with the number of Gods, or the nature God, or will of God, and so on. A Christian, for example, may claim to be certain on the basis of such an experience that Jesus is the Son of God. A Jew or a Muslim may claim, with equal conviction, to be certain that Jesus is not the Son of God. A monotheist may claim to be certain that there is one and only one God. A polytheist may claim to have experienced encounters with multiple Gods. Obviously, these contradictory claims cannot all be correct.

Firstly, people who report mystical experiences don't tend to make the kind of doctrinal claims you're attributing to them, but rather to report a sense of closeness and unity to the fundamental nature of things, the spiritual underpinnings of the universe, a finding which cuts across cultures. A Christian may say that s/he "saw Jesus and felt close to God", but that is not the same as saying that they determined from their mystical experience that Jesus is the son of God. That belief is merely a frame through which they see the experience - Jesus is their personal conception of God, as it were. That kind of cultural frame is common to all experience. We reach for the language with which we are familiar to describe things. Say you grew up in a culture without sugarcane, and every sweet you ate was made with honey. I grew up in a culture where the opposite was true. Now we both experience some new sweet sensation. You are naturally going to describe the experience by relating it to honey, because that's the only template for "sweetness" that you have, while I'm going to talk about it in terms of sugarcane. A third person might talk about maple syrup. That doesn't mean that we didn't all experience the same sweetness when we ate the food in question, despite the fact that we're giving contradictory accounts of why the food in question is sweet. Replace the word "sweetness" with "God" or "ultimate spiritual reality" or whatever, and the words "honey", "sugarcane", and "maple syrup" with "Jesus", "Allah", and "Brahma", to name three, and the same is true of religious experience, with the important caveat, of course, that unlike with the mystery sweet we can't know who's ultimately right via empiricism.

Even if such claims were common, and we were to accept that the people making them believed they are accurately describing the experience, you would still be guilty of confusing the after-the-fact interpretation of an experience with the experience itself. An experience needn't be mystical to generate contrary claims of truth - eyewitnesses to, say, a bank robbery, may give very different accounts of what happened, despite the fact that they had the same original experience, and it doesn't follow from that they both had contradictory hallucinations and the bank robbery didn't objectively happen. They just don't remember it correctly. If the object of mystical experiences is real, a possibility to which you reluctantly acquiesce, there's no reason to suspect it would be in any way different than a bank robbery in terms of subsequently generating reliable, consistent truth claims, especially given that mystical experiences are relatively uncommon and aren't generally described by those who experience them as coming in the form of ordinary sense perceptions, and that human beings are really bad at interpreting experiences apprehended even through senses which we DO have a lot of practice using. Whatever the fundamental nature of God, it's quite possible that were one to experience it one would find that thought tangled up in one's head with one's previous knowledge of religious matters, memories of previous religious experience, etc. and generate conflations as a result.

Finally, it's not exactly news that religious doctrines contradict each other on numerous points. Heck, most religious doctrines contradict themselves on numerous points. You don't need to interview people who've had mystical experiences to know that. There are numerous ecumenical approaches to unifying them, but as the farthest thing from a scriptural literalist and a former student of translation, semiotics, and linguistic deconstructionism to boot, I have no problem whatsoever with acknowledging the limited ability of even the most brilliantly metaphorical language to convey religious truth. Theologians have been on to this problem for centuries.

The characteristics by which we distinguish hallucinations, delusions, and other kinds of false experience from sense perceptions. Things like infrequency, inconsistency, and unrepeatability.

That may be true of some sorts of religiously tinged hallucinations, but it is certainly not true of the type which I'm talking about - these are people who pray/meditate and have consistent mystical experiences on a regular basis.

In fact, experiences attributed to encounters with God, Demons, Angels and other supernatural entities seem to be closely correlated with the kind of physical conditions that we know are associated with hallucinations. This includes things like fasting, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, the infliction of physical pain, and the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs.

Again, you're talking about hallucinations of a religious character, which are *not* the same as the experiences I'm talking about.

A good analogy to "religious experiences" of the kind you are claiming is the issue rmck1 raised: claims of alien abduction. These claims may be "fundamentally the same" in certain respects, but they differ dramatically in others. I don't doubt that many or most of the people who claim to have been abducted by aliens strongly and sincerely believe that that is what really happened to them. But the inconsistent and sometimes contradictory claims these people make, the absence of empirical evidence in support of their claims, and the known vulnerability of human beings to false experiences such as hallucinations, strongly suggests that these people are simply wrong. And the same goes for people who claim to have "experienced" God or some other supernatural agent or "reality."

It's not a good analogy at all. Fundamentally, the experiences are described as being very different on a perceptual level by the people experiencing them. Hallucinating people tend to describe "seeing" or "hearing" things that objectively aren't there. People having these religious experiences don't describe it that way. My own, more limited religious experiences haven't taken this form either, but rather a sort of intuitive, nonsensory apprehension of a spiritual presence around me.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

This claim is simply false. Marxism is not a "variety of atheism." Marxism and atheism are two different things. One is a political ideology and the other is an absence of belief in God or a belief that there is no God. You consistently conflate and confuse atheism with social and political ideologies.

Please take another look at my previous post, as with all due respect I think you have misread it. The sentence in question: An intolerant variety of atheism which not only denies the existence of the supernatural but holds that religious institutions and religious practice are the enemies of human progress and should be eradicated is a fundamental tenet of hardline Marxism. I don't see how you interpreted that sentence to mean that Marxism is identical to atheism, unless you stopped reading halfway through. All I said is that intolerant atheism is a characteristic of Marxism, which is indisputably true. As for consistently "conflating and confusing" atheism with political/social ideologies, if you re-read my posts you will see that I have done absolutely nothing of the sort. Other posters in this thread certainly have, but not me. I am far too sympathetic to nonbelievers myself and have far too many friends who are atheists to make such a fundamental error.

Again, your claim is that there is a causal connection between atheism and violence/harm. You cannot establish that alleged connection simply by pointing out that some atheists have done bad things. Where is your evidence that atheism was the cause, or a cause, of this behavior?

No. You are reading into what I've written something that's not there - I have NEVER claimed a "causal connection" between mere atheism and violence. What I have claimed is that atheism carried beyond the level of mere nonbelief and into intolerance for religion can be and has been used as a justification for violence, in the same way that religious belief carried too far can be. Hardline Marxism is committed to this intolerant strand of anti-religionist atheism. You want evidence of this? Since the advent of Marxism, hardline Marxist regimes (USSR, Communist China, the Khmer Rouge, etc. - have shown a marked tendency to persecute religion. Sam Harris is so fervent in his atheism that he actually ponders genocide against religious believers. All I'm saying is that atheists are capable of the same sorts of atrocities as religious believers - it's a question of tolerance, not religiosity or lack thereof.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

So why didn't God create us such that we have free will, but always choose good?

If our choice was 100% predictable, our will would be free, how?

Or why didn't he create us such that more of us choose good more often? Why didn't he create more Gandhis and fewer Hitlers?

Again, in my view it's not up to God, it's up to us.

If you claim that a necessary consequence of having free will is that you will sometimes make bad choices, are you then claiming that God does not have free will, or that God sometimes chooses badly?

Let me clarify - a necessary consequence of human free will. I have no idea how to characterize God's free will.

And how can there be the "perfect" afterlife you proposed earlier if free will necessarily entails bad choices? Does that mean we don't have free will in the afterlife, or that we sometimes make bad choices in it (in which case it wouldn't be perfect)?

I didn't propose a perfect afterlife - I said others believe in it, but that I have my doubts, for the reasons you suggest. But were I defending this position, I'd say that there is no reason to suspect the afterlife would in any way resemble our existence on Earth. We might not be presented with the same kind of moral dilemmas, or be presented with the same type of temptations - who knows?

I don't think this "free will" explanation of moral evil makes much sense. It just introduces more problems.

You don't think philosophers and theologians haven't already thought about and debated all this? More importantly, do you think I have the patience to regurgitate complicated arguments for someone who shows every sign of being a knee-jerk reactionary and will reject them without even bothering to finish reading them? Sheesh. Atheist, if you want to debate theology, educate thyself.

Why must beings die and fade away? Why can't they just keep changing?

The physical laws of the universe. Nothing is created without something else being destroyed, at least after the moment of primal creation. I already explained why I don't believe God would make a habit of interfering with the natural laws of the universe.

And why is natural evil (diseases and disasters) a necessary consequence of a changing world? Why couldn't God have created the world and beings such that they change and evolve without there being natural evil?

I also already told you I don't care to speculate about what God could or couldn't do. But assuming any kind of world was possible, well, what's natural good from one perspective is bound to be natural evil from another in a finite world with limited resources, where God doesn't always intrude to tinker with things. The dinosaurs had to die for mammals to inherit the earth.

And why is change and evolution necessary anyway? What would necessarily be wrong with a "static" world?

I thought I explained this clearly. In a static world, you can't meaningfully choose, because choice implies the potential for change, which stasis excludes.

Is the "perfect afterlife" that you (as well as most traditional theists) propose also changing and evolving? If so, why, if it's already perfect?

Again, I didn't propose it, because honestly I don't know how it would work. That's why I don't like to speculate about the afterlife.

Like your proposed "free will" solution to the problem of moral evil, your proposed "change and evolve" solution to the problem of natural evil just seems to raise more problems and questions than it answers.

Again, you're flattering yourself to the mirror but betraying your ignorance to the rest of us if you think it took a smart atheist such as yourself to come along and discover these conundrums for all us benighted little believers. Welcome to the party. It's been going on for centuries.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"Firstly, people who report mystical experiences don't tend to make the kind of doctrinal claims you're attributing to them, but rather to report a sense of closeness and unity to the fundamental nature of things, the spiritual underpinnings of the universe, a finding which cuts across cultures."

I don't think that's true at all. I think the majority of "mystical experiences" involve more than some vague claim of "closeness and unity to the fundamental nature of things" (I don't know what that phrase is even supposed to mean). They usually involve specific claims about an encounter with a supernatural entity (usually God, but sometimes Demons, Angels, Spirits, etc.). You said that your own belief in God is based on what you believe to be an experience that had an "objective referent."

Here's an example of a typical "mystical experience:" Joseph Smith claimed that, one morning sometime around 1820, he had an encounter with God and Jesus in which God told him that Jesus is his Son and that all existing forms of Christianity were wrong. Do you believe this is what really happened? Or are you skeptical of Smith's interpretation of his experience?

If you agree with me that there are good reasons to be skeptical of Smith's claim, why aren't those also good reasons to be skeptical of yours? I see no evidence that Smith was any more likely to be lying than you are. I see no evidence that Smith's experience was any less intense or vivid than yours. I see no evidence that Smith was any more fallible than you are.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone else on this thread come down with a splitting headache the day before yesterday and have to spend a couple of hours walking it off?

If this is what happened to you, let me ask you a question. Why did you come back to post some more? I for one enjoy a good debate and intelligent challenges to my assumptions. You don't seem to.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon
"It's not a good analogy at all. Fundamentally, the experiences are described as being very different on a perceptual level by the people experiencing them. Hallucinating people tend to describe "seeing" or "hearing" things that objectively aren't there. People having these religious experiences don't describe it that way. My own, more limited religious experiences haven't taken this form either, but rather a sort of intuitive, nonsensory apprehension of a spiritual presence around me."

First, "religious experiences" often do include claims of "seeing" and "hearing." Joseph Smith, for example, claimed that he saw God and that God spoke to him. But the point is irrelevant anyway. Why does the fact that you believe you are aware of God's existence through some mechanism other than sensory perception mean that that experience is any less likely to be a hallucination or delusion than if you believed you actually saw or heard God? The fact that you cannot relate the experience to any of the senses through which we perceive the world does not in any way imply that there really was an "objective referent" rather than that it was a product of your imagination.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

"If this is what happened to you, let me ask you a question. Why did you come back to post some more? I for one enjoy a good debate and intelligent challenges to my assumptions. You don't seem to."


No, I was wondering if it might have been attributable to a collective mystical experience.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but this doesn't make any sense either. First, you seem to think that if God gave us empirical evidence of his existence we would be compelled to believe in him. In fact, you even go so far as to claim that such belief would be a "logical necessity." That's nonsense. Empirical evidence does not support claims of truth to a standard of logical necessity, even if the evidence is believed. And of course we would be free to disregard or dispute the evidence anyway, just as creationists, for example, disregard or dispute the evidence for evolution and an ancient universe.

OK, point taken on the first sentence. But I'd say that the contention still holds true even if I use a less stringent threshold than "logical necessity" - let us say, "a choice justifiable on solely rational grounds" instead. Doubt, and outright denial, have to be admissable. On point B.), I'd point out that creationists are hardly being logical when the reject the evidence re: these things.

So I don't see that you've provided a coherent explanation of why God, if he exists and wants us to believe he exists, does not provide empirical evidence of his existence.

I did provide an explanation. Choosing to believe in something you know exists is not a meaningful act.

But let's suppose you did come up with a coherent explanation of that. Your argument still doesn't make any sense, because the "intuitive" evidence of God you claim to have is obviously limited and disputed. If God wants us to believe he exists, but for whatever reason wants to demonstrate this to us via our "intuition" rather than empirically, why doesn't everyone share your "intuition" that he exists? Does he only reveal himself in this way to some people and not others? Why would he do that, if he wants everyone to know he exists? Or are you claiming that God shows his existence to everyone in this "intuitive" way, but some people just choose to ignore this demonstration? Or what?

Honestly, I don't know. Maybe God wants to give atheists room to deny (my position). Maybe it takes a certain intuitive faculty that all people don't have. Maybe God doesn't particularly care what you, personally, think. You're asking me questions you know will elicit answers you can dispute, no matter what I tell you my sense of it is. That's the nature of theological debate.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

The evidence of religious experience in others is only the evidence of religious experience and no evidence of anything else.

Huh? I never said anything to the contrary. I have many times, explicitly, stated that it doesn't prove that religious experiences are "real". But concluding that they are false requires making leaping a gap that you can't bridge with science.

People who see a full spectrum of color invisible to a color blind person can prove the difference in their color perception by a thousand obvious tests. Two fruit juices that might look identical to a color blind person but taste different, say. The person who could see a full spectrum could identify which was which just by looking at it.

The colorblindness thing was an imperfect metaphor, which you seem to be continuing to insist on taking literally - I already said, the objects of religious experience are metaphysical, which means they aren't empirically observable like color is. Hence it's easy to see why colorblindness is a well-understood scientific phenomenon, but "spiritual colorblindness", if it indeed exists, is not. But for the last time, "metaphysical" is not equivalent to "not real".

Pol Pot, like every other dictator, viewed any other power structure as a direct rival to himself and tried to wipe it out. Describing it as superstition was just a way to attack into its' strength, e.g. Karl Rove.

Cambodian Buddhism is not a power structure, though. It's not hierarchical. There's no high priest who sits in a national temple and issues dictates which influence politics. It's simply a part of the peoples' everyday existence, like raising pigs, and attacking it on political grounds made about as much sense as attacking pig raising. Considering that Pol Pot explicitly said religion needed to be wiped out, I think it's fair to take him at his word. Besides, I could use the very same logic you're applying here to say the Crusades were all about Middle Eastern geopolitics in the 12th century and had nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

No matter how much scientific proof is developed about the origin of the universe and life within it, an agnostic or religious believer will always be able to say, that's because god got it all going in the first place. Their argument will just forever backpedal into the vacuum. Or the pre-vacuum. So worrying about it, on it's own merits, is altogether pointless. From a biological or sociological point of view, it can be pretty interesting, but to allow yourself to get sucked into the vacuum along with them is simply failure.

cld, I agree with you that worrying about it is pointless. And that it's something that it's possible for rational people to disagree about without ever being able to overcome each others arguments. And that there's no point for someone in your position to get "sucked into the vacuum", as you put it. Given that all of those are the case, why are you always the last one in the thread ranting and raving whenever the topic turns to religion? Are you not allowing yourself to get sucked into the vacuum?

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"If our choice was 100% predictable, our will would be free, how?"

That would depend on what you mean by "free." You're the one making the "free will" argument, so you need to explain how free will is incompatible with predictability, if you think this is a problem. If free will is incompatible with predictability, then that would seem to pose a problem for the claim that God both has free will, and always chooses good.

"Let me clarify - a necessary consequence of human free will. I have no idea how to characterize God's free will."

Huh? Again, this just begs the question of what you mean by "free will." You now seem to be saying you mean different things by the term when you apply it to God and to human beings. So what does it mean in each case? And if bad choices are a necessary consequence of free will in one case, why aren't they a necessary consequence in the other?

"I didn't propose a perfect afterlife - I said others believe in it, but that I have my doubts, for the reasons you suggest."

You proposed it as a possible solution to the problem of moral evil, and I was responding to that proposal and explaining why I think it doesn't make sense.

"But were I defending this position, I'd say that there is no reason to suspect the afterlife would in any way resemble our existence on Earth. We might not be presented with the same kind of moral dilemmas, or be presented with the same type of temptations - who knows?"

Then why didn't God create this life in the same way? Remember, the problem you're trying to solve here is the problem of moral evil. Either moral evil is a necessary consequence of free will, or it isn't. If it is a necessary consequence, then either we cannot have free will in the perfect afterlife, or the afterlife is not perfect. If moral evil is not a necessary consequence of free will, then why didn't God create the world such that we have free will without moral evil?

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not denying the reality of religious experience, but I am denying the interpretation of it from someone in that, necessarily, subjective state. If somebody from a stone age tribe showed up in an emergency room with a burning pain in his gut and insisted he was possessed by a demon and wanted an exorcism and the doctor found out it was a kidney tumor, is the doctor wrong?

I'm afraid you simply don't have grounds to deny their interpration of it. Your kidney tumor comparison is ill-chosen. That's a superstitious explanation for a physical condition that science can easily explain, not a religious experience of something transcendant, which is what we're talking about, and, if in fact it exists (something that, again, I am willing to acknowledge is not an empirical fact) is beyond the grasp of science.

Defending the validity of a subjective state is like romanticising victimization, it's like Stockholm syndrome. Why don't you drive a car blindfolded? Does the blindfold not sharpen your hearing

Do you have a girlfriend? Do you love her? Is that not a subjective state? Do you like pizza? Is the pleasure you experience when you eat it not subjective? Come off it, please. Despite your inherent preferences, the world is not a completely objective place. All human knowledge of the world, including the part we observe "objectively", gets passed through the subjective filter of our sensory systems and our brain. I for one am going to tell you that, yes, I know I love my girlfriend, yes, that's subjective, and no, it is nothing whatsoever like Stockholm syndrome. You seem to have crossed the line into ranting and raving here.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think the majority of "mystical experiences" involve more than some vague claim of "closeness and unity to the fundamental nature of things" (I don't know what that phrase is even supposed to mean). They usually involve specific claims about an encounter with a supernatural entity (usually God, but sometimes Demons, Angels, Spirits, etc.). You said that your own belief in God is based on what you believe to be an experience that had an "objective referent."

Uh, not the kind of spiritual experiences I'm talking about. I'm talking about what Zen Monks achieve through intense meditation, or Franciscans through prayer, or Sufi mystics through chanting - none of these people are claiming they met angels or devils walking around on the street. And please stop pulling the "I don't even know what that's supposed to mean" rhetorical gambit. You obviously speak English. You're obviously educated enough to know the meaning of those words. Piece it together, instead of pretending that my secondhand description of the experience is utterly nonsensical. As for my own experience, I never claimed that I KNOW the experience had an objective referrant, and I never ascribed any personal characteristics to what I believe the referrant to have been in any case. I'm talking about the sense of awe, my place in the universe and connection to the infinite that I feel when I walk into a house of worship or sacred site - any such place, be it a Cathedral, a sacred Shinto grove, or a Buddhist temple. If this doesn't mean anything to you, then I can't explain it to you, anymore than (to use the previous example) I can explain what blue looks like to someone who can't perceive it.

Here's an example of a typical "mystical experience:" Joseph Smith claimed that, one morning sometime around 1820, he had an encounter with God and Jesus in which God told him that Jesus is his Son and that all existing forms of Christianity were wrong. Do you believe this is what really happened? Or are you skeptical of Smith's interpretation of his experience?

I don't think this is at all a typical "mystical experience" - it's certainly not what I have been talking about all along. See above. But yes, I am extraordinarily skeptical.

If you agree with me that there are good reasons to be skeptical of Smith's claim, why aren't those also good reasons to be skeptical of yours? I see no evidence that Smith was any more likely to be lying than you are. I see no evidence that Smith's experience was any less intense or vivid than yours. I see no evidence that Smith was any more fallible than you are.

My experience in no way contradicts my logical, rational understanding of the world. I didn't see angels or a flash of light, I didn't hear voices or heavenly harps playing, and I didn't meet Jesus. In short my experience had nothing whatsoever in common with a hallucination. I just.. felt something. And I knew that I believed. If you want to be skeptical of that, be my guest. It is after all my subjective experience and I can't share it with you. But don't then deign to tell me the nature of MY experience, and how much it has in common with hallucinations (something I've also experienced), when I know the two were nothing alike. And don't call me irrational because I believe something you don't - that simply doesn't make sense. I believe my friend Michelle is a great person, a belief you can't share since you've never met her. The fundamental subjectivity of that belief doesn't invalidate it.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Atheist, go read some theology. Google "the problem of evil". Do something, because I don't feel like hashing through this with you.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

"why are you always the last one in the thread ranting and raving whenever the topic turns to religion? Are you not allowing yourself to get sucked into the vacuum?"


Excellent Question! Perhaps I am the face of reason the believer glimpses as he vanishes into the ether? I think it's turned twice to religion, now.

I have never said the subject was uninteresting. I think its' very interesting. But 99% of the conversation on the topic is preposterous. Or, actually, the fraction of the conversation on the topic that is not preposterous is so small I couldn't make a reasonable estimate.

It has been misunderstood for political convenience and because, in its' intensity and subjectivity, it's personal. It's been easy to make into a politically priveleged subject, and the people susceptible to it feel their political privileged is enshrined in the Constitution, and I think this is the fundamental basis of corruption of a democracy.

As a politically privileged subject it's a lot like sex a hundred years ago. The kind of social restrictions that applied to women and sexual subjects generally are the same kind of thing present today in the privileged status of religious dementia in public life.

Religious conservatives often like to claim that others are restricting their freedom simply through the excercise of their own freedoms.

That Cambodian Buddhism was not hierarchical doesn't make it less a force in the life of society. Anything that says there is something other than the dictator is offensive to the dictator and, to him at least, will represent a political force.


I think the only reasonable basis on which religious organizations can exist in a democracy is that the democracy must recognize them as either political organizations or health care corporations, and tax and regulate them accordingly.

But, further, that they would have to be regarded as subversive political organizations, and their adherents disqualified from holding office. The same applying to corporate executives generally.

I don't expect my view to prevail in the near future.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
The physical laws of the universe. Nothing is created without something else being destroyed, at least after the moment of primal creation. I already explained why I don't believe God would make a habit of interfering with the natural laws of the universe.

This is irrelevant. Youre trying to account for natural evil. Your answer was that natural evil is a consequence of a universe that changes and evolves, which requires that beings die and fade away. My response was to ask why beings have to die and fade away to accommodate change and evolution. Why couldnt beings just change and evolve too? Why couldnt God have created the physical laws of the universe in that way? Why couldnt God have created the laws of nature such that the world evolves and changes without natural evil?

"I thought I explained this clearly. In a static world, you can't meaningfully choose, because choice implies the potential for change, which stasis excludes."

Then again, how could we meaningfully choose in the static world of the perfect afterlife?

But I'd say that the contention still holds true even if I use a less stringent threshold than "logical necessity" - let us say, "a choice justifiable on solely rational grounds" instead. Doubt, and outright denial, have to be admissable. On point B.), I'd point out that creationists are hardly being logical when the reject the evidence re: these things.

Huh? Your argument was that God doesnt reveal himself through empirical evidence because if he did our belief in him would be compelled rather than a matter of choice, and he wants us to believe he exists through choice rather than compulsion. You previously claimed that the compulsion would be a matter of logical necessity but now say it would just be a matter of a choice justifiable on rational grounds. But if it were merely a choice justifiable on rational grounds, it would not be compelled, would it? We would still be free to ignore or dispute the rational grounds. People do it all the time on all sorts of questions. So the claim that empirical evidence for God would force us to believe he exists is nonsense.

A further problem with your answer is that if the "intuition" and "religious experiences" by which you and others believe in God are as powerful and compelling as you say, they would seem to leave even less room for the choice to disbelieve than empirical evidence.

Honestly, I don't know.

Then I dont know why you think your attempts at answering the problems I have described here deserve to be taken seriously. If you admit that they create dilemmas and inconsistencies that you cannot resolve, then the problems remain unsolved and your theism is implausible for that reason.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have the grounds for denying the subjective experience of someone else? If someone is blindfolded and getting around by hearing alone and I say to them 'don't walk that way you'll fall down the stairs' and they go ahead and walk that way anyhow because they don't hear the stairs, then I think it's fair to say their 'subjective experience' is faulty.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

Well guys, it's been fun, but I gotta run. My day's just getting started over here. You're both obviously smart people who've thought about these issues and I appreciate what you have to say. I relish this kind if dialogue because it keeps me on my toes.. see ya'.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"As for my own experience, I never claimed that I KNOW the experience had an objective referrant, and I never ascribed any personal characteristics to what I believe the referrant to have been in any case."

I didn't say you claimed to "know" it had an "objective referent." You said you believe that it did. And that supposed "objective referent" is God, or something that led you to believe in God. So in that respect, your experience is the same as those of all the other people who claim to have had experiences that they attribute to an encounter with or perception of God or something that causes them to believe in God. If we are properly skeptical of their interpretations of their experiences, why shouldn't we be properly skeptical of your interpretation of yours, too?

"I didn't see angels or a flash of light, I didn't hear voices or heavenly harps playing, and I didn't meet Jesus."

Right. You had an experience that you believe had an "objective referent" (your words) and to which you attribute your belief in God.

"In short my experience had nothing whatsoever in common with a hallucination. I just.. felt something. And I knew that I believed."

Your experience obviously has a lot in common with hallucinations. You believe it was an encounter with an "objective referent," but there is no evidence that any such referent exists. The experience, by your own account, was powerful and vivid, which is also characteristic of hallucinations. You (apparently) cannot recreate the experience at will. It just seems to have happened to you one day out of the blue. The experience does not seem to have been shared by many other people, if any. These characteristics are all suggestive that it was a product of your imagination. Not necessarily a hallucination in the technical sense, but some kind of delusional or illusory state akin to a hallucination.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

Yeesh, you guys are tenacious.. Let me just hit a few last points. In one fell swoop.

Perhaps I am the face of reason the believer glimpses as he vanishes into the ether?

Ah, I see you. You're one of them arrogant "intellectual superiorist" atheists...

Religious conservatives often like to claim that others are restricting their freedom simply through the excercise of their own freedoms.

And they're 100% wrong about that. But not all religious people are "religious conservatives".

But, further, that they would have to be regarded as subversive political organizations, and their adherents disqualified from holding office. The same applying to corporate executives generally.

You big on the constititution? Familiar with the "test of office"?

I don't expect my view to prevail in the near future.

And I'm glad it won't.. It's a tad, oh what's the word... fascistic?

Then I dont know why you think your attempts at answering the problems I have described here deserve to be taken seriously. If you admit that they create dilemmas and inconsistencies that you cannot resolve, then the problems remain unsolved and your theism is implausible for that reason.

Two points - a.)Don't make the mistake of thinking I haven't thought about these things. Just because I don't care to spend half the day typing out rationales for my beliefs or answers to your every question doesn't mean I don't have them. Smarter people than you or I have been believers in God, and these debates are not settled intellectual questions for good reason. b.)Show a little humility. This entire conversation has been a prosecution of my beliefs and assumptions. The reason you've got me on the defensive is, well, I'm bothering to defend them. Whenever I've bothered to point out logical errors and inconsistencies in your worldview, you either mischaracterize what I say, claim you don't know what I'm talking about, or worst of all, ignore entirely what I've said in favor of trotting out another canard or strawman you can beat up on. I'll break it to you real gentle - no human being, anywhere, has a 100% logical worldview that they can defend perfectly at all times, including you. We aren't built like that.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

You believe it was an encounter with an "objective referent," but there is no evidence that any such referent exists.

Which I acknowledged.

The experience, by your own account, was powerful and vivid, which is also characteristic of hallucinations.

And characteristic of lot of chocolate mousse, rock concerts, the Super Bowl, and a lot of other things as well. Your point?

You (apparently) cannot recreate the experience at will.

Wrong.

It just seems to have happened to you one day out of the blue.

WRONG.

The experience does not seem to have been shared by many other people, if any.

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

You sure do seem to know a lot about me for never having met me. What was that about not playing armchair shrink?

These characteristics are all suggestive that it was a product of your imagination. Not necessarily a hallucination in the technical sense, but some kind of delusional or illusory state akin to a hallucination.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"I'm afraid you simply don't have grounds to deny their interpration of it. Your kidney tumor comparison is ill-chosen. That's a superstitious explanation for a physical condition that science can easily explain, not a religious experience of something transcendant, which is what we're talking about,"

The kidney tumor comparison is entirely appropriate. You call the tribesman's interpretation a "superstitious explanation" of a physical phenomenon he doesn't understand, but what reason is there to think that your interpretation of your experience isn't also a "superstitious explanation" of a physical phenomenon you don't understand? You're both attributing your experiences to supernatural agents (in his case, a Demon; in your case, God).

What's most depressing is your lack of humility, your refusal to take seriously the highly plausible possibility that your experience was a simply delusion or hallucination of some kind, something manufactured by your mind, a consequence of some unusual physical state that your brain was in at the time.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"Two points - a.)Don't make the mistake of thinking I haven't thought about these things. Just because I don't care to spend half the day typing out rationales for my beliefs or answers to your every question doesn't mean I don't have them."

I don't know if you've thought about them or not, but I do think the fact that you have not posted a solution to the problems we've described is most likely because you don't have a solution. You've half-admitted that you don't have a solution, anyway.

"Smarter people than you or I have been believers in God,"

Intelligence is no guaranteed protection against irrationality and foolishness. Lots of intelligent people hold lots of different, and often mutually contradictory, religious and mystical beliefs. Social conditioning, wishful thinking, emotion and other influences can impair the judgment of even the brightest minds.

"This entire conversation has been a prosecution of my beliefs and assumptions. The reason you've got me on the defensive is, well, I'm bothering to defend them."

If you don't want to "bother" defending your beliefs, then don't.

"Whenever I've bothered to point out logical errors and inconsistencies in your worldview,"

What logical errors and inconsistencies in my worldview? I haven't seen you point out any yet.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK
One of the issues I do have with Buddhism, though, is that I find the more radical version of the doctrine of nonattachment too passive and detached - it seems to me there are some ideas (respect for our fellow beings, kindness, love, compassion for the poor and downtrodden, etc.) that are worth clinging to, as doing so more often than not inspires us to make noble sacrifices under difficult circumstances, to attempt to allay the suffering of others rather than merely accept it as inevitable.

This is an important and subtle point. It is easy to confuse 'non-attachment' with indifference. Let me paraphrase, to the best of my ability, a story told by a Buddhist teacher during a retreat I attended. The story was based directly on the recorded words of the Buddha, though I don't know which text they came from.

A follower asked the Buddha, "Is it true that part of the teaching involves cultivating love for other beings?" The Buddha replied, "No. Cultivating love for other beings is not part of the teaching, it is the whole of the teaching."

One thing I have noticed living in Japan is that Buddhist temples don't tend to be nearly as active as Christian churches in charitable activities, and I wonder if this doctrine has anything to do with it.

I don't know the answer to this. It may have something to do with resources.

I disagree with the Buddha (and Socrates, who made a similar claim) that human evil is solely the result of ignorance - I for one certainly have upon occasion what I would describe as "evil" impulses, and the reason I rarely if ever act upon them is precisely because I am not ignorant of their result and know they would cause suffering if I follow through on the impulse. Occasionally, despite having this knowledge, I succumb to temptation and do something selfish or hurtful nevertheless.

You aren't the only one! But seriously, what exactly makes an impulse 'evil'? If we look closely at some of our worst impulses, usually we find that they are based on fear. Like, the desire to deliberately harm another person. We feel an urge to take "pre-emptive" action (sounds familiar doesn't it?) But the bottom line is that justifiably or not, we feel threatened. We want to remove the threat.

In most cases, we exaggerate the threat posed by our 'adversaries' through ignorance. Also through ignorance, we believe that aggression will advance our interests, when in the overwhelming majority of cases, it will not. A very typical case--for me--is lashing out with harsh words or insults in response to a person we regard as obnoxious. I am frequently guilty of this here on this blog.

This goes against the teachings, but it is very difficult sometimes to resist our conditioning. It takes a lot of attention to the moment to step back and take a deep breath in the heat of an argument.

I don't think it's true that all ideas are equally unworthy of being clung to.

I agree. It is definitely helpful to hold onto wholesome ideas when the alternative is to lapse into re-active behavior. But, as in the allegory of the raft mentioned by Secular Animist, we strive to treat the teachings like a raft. Use them while we need them, discard them when we have moved on to a higher level.

Posted by: obscure on March 26, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

"WRONG"

So if your experience didn't happen out of the blue, what events or activities were associated with it? And if you can recreate your experience at will, how do you do that? And how do you know that any other people have shared your experience?

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

Repeated surveys have shown that 10 to 25 percent of ordinary, functioning people have experienced, at least once in their lifetimes, a vivid hallucination hearing a voice, usually, or seeing a form when theres no one there. More rarely, people sense a haunting aroma, or hear music, or receive a revelation that arrives independent of the senses. In some cases, these become transforming personal events or profound religious experiences.

Such hallucinations may occur to perfectly normal people under perfectly ordinary circumstances. Hallucinations can also be elicited: by a campfire at night, or under emotional stress, or during epileptic seizures or migraine headaches or high fever, or by prolonged fasting or sleeplessness or sensory deprivation or through hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or hashish There are also molecules, such as the phenothiazines (Thorazine, for example), that make hallucinations go away. It is very likely that the normal body generates substances that cause hallucinations, and others that suppress them

Whatever their neurological and molecular antecedents, hallucinations feel real. They are sought out in many cultures, and considered a sign of spiritual enlightenment. Amoung the Native Americans of the Western Plains, for example, or many indigenous Siberian cultures, a young mans future was foreshadowed by the nature of the hallucination he experienced after a successful vision quest. There are countless instances in the worlds religions where patriarchs, prophets or saviors repair themselves to desert or mountain and, assisted by hunger or sensory deprivation, encounter gods or demons. Psychedelic-induced religious experiences were a hallmark of the Western youth culture of the 1960s. The experience, however brought about, is often respectfully described by words such as transcendent, numinous, sacred, or holy.

Here is a description of hallucinations by Louis J. West, former medical director of the Neuropsychiatric Clinic at UCLA. It is taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica

It appears that all human behavior and experience (normal as well as abnormal) is well attended by illusory and hallucinatory phenomena. While the relationship of these phenomena to mental illness has been well documented, their role in everyday life has perhaps not been considered enough. Greater understanding of illusions and hallucinations amoung normal people may provide explanations for experiences otherwise relegated to the uncanny, extrasensory, or supernatural

--Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

obscure:

Thank you for injecting some civility back into this debate!

You aren't the only one! But seriously, what exactly makes an impulse 'evil'? If we look closely at some of our worst impulses, usually we find that they are based on fear. Like, the desire to deliberately harm another person. We feel an urge to take "pre-emptive" action (sounds familiar doesn't it?) But the bottom line is that justifiably or not, we feel threatened. We want to remove the threat.

It's not always pre-emptive. Sometimes, for example, someone does something hurtful to me, and I feel a desire for revenge. Revenge is in my view a pointless act that only engenders more suffering - I am a definite believer in turning the other cheek - but I feel the desire for it nonetheless.

In most cases, we exaggerate the threat posed by our 'adversaries' through ignorance. Also through ignorance, we believe that aggression will advance our interests, when in the overwhelming majority of cases, it will not. A very typical case--for me--is lashing out with harsh words or insults in response to a person we regard as obnoxious. I am frequently guilty of this here on this blog.

Agreed. I have refrained from indulging that very impulse recently myself. :)

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

cld: "I don't expect my view to prevail in the near future."

xenyon: "And I'm glad it won't.. It's a tad, oh what's the word... fascistic?"


My argument there was, literally, against fascistic motive and behaviour.

As we have it now, corporate personhood and religious privilege are as yet separate, but often almost the same thing, except the corporate interest doesn't involve the personal, subjective, immune response of the religious person. If we reorganized our law to view religious organizations as either political organizations or corporations, with no recognition of religious privilege, that would create an identity of these interests in the two parties that doesn't exist now, which would be just exactly what we see in fascistic practice.

In countries that don't have such extensive religious problems as our own, that would matter a lot less, and probably wear off in a few generations, but we are stuck here in the US with a special case, which is why I added that participants in these things should probably not be allowed to vote, for the good of humanity.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

The kidney tumor comparison is entirely appropriate. You call the tribesman's interpretation a "superstitious explanation" of a physical phenomenon he doesn't understand, but what reason is there to think that your interpretation of your experience isn't also a "superstitious explanation" of a physical phenomenon you don't understand? You're both attributing your experiences to supernatural agents (in his case, a Demon; in your case, God).

The difference is that science can definitively disprove the existence of his demon - it can point to a physical malformity in his body and account for the pain it causes at every step from the nerves on up. With religious experience, science can do nothing of the sort - for the nteenth time, it...does...not...follow.. that because a phenomenon unobserved in the physical world has a neurological signature, it is only in the brain.

What's most depressing is your lack of humility, your refusal to take seriously the highly plausible possibility that your experience was a simply delusion or hallucination of some kind, something manufactured by your mind, a consequence of some unusual physical state that your brain was in at the time.

MY lack of humility? Seriously, I almost crapped my pants laughing when I read that. In practically every post I've made, I've acknowledged the possibility that it was a delusion. You're the one spewing out arbitrary metaphysical assumptions as certainties left and right.


I don't know if you've thought about them or not, but I do think the fact that you have not posted a solution to the problems we've described is most likely because you don't have a solution. You've half-admitted that you don't have a solution, anyway.

The solution I've gotten has taken me a lifetime of introspection to achieve, would fill a book, and is premised on a metaphysical system that you don't share. Hence not only would it be utterly unwieldy to post it, you'd just disagree with it from the start anyway. Because we disagree does not, however, make me wrong. Tell me, why should I bother? I really don't need your intellectual stamp of approval on my beliefs.

Intelligence is no guaranteed protection against irrationality and foolishness. Lots of intelligent people hold lots of different, and often mutually contradictory, religious and mystical beliefs. Social conditioning, wishful thinking, emotion and other influences can impair the judgment of even the brightest minds.

Let me then revise my statement to say that lots of intelligent people have offered nuanced, rational metaphysical arguments that accord with the data and also with their faith in a higher power. Let me also inform you of this - faith is not easy. It's not a comforting security blanket in a harsh world. It's not a talisman against doubt or despair. It's a difficult, emotionally and spiritually trying process of self-discovery. Please spare me the condescension of explaining what something you don't have is to me, who does have it. Or should I explain what "humility" means to you, and even the score? ;)

If you don't want to "bother" defending your beliefs, then don't.

I've enjoyed it to this point, but I'm getting very tired of it now.

What logical errors and inconsistencies in my worldview? I haven't seen you point out any yet.

You're not paying attention, then. Either that or you're not understanding the things I'm saying. For one example - you believe that only objectively observable phenomena are likely to exist, am I correct? And you deny the likely validity of any and all subjective phenomena, right? What then of different subjective experiences of what is objectively the same phenomenon (the color of honey example)? Do these subjective experiences not exist? What of pleasure? An experience that is physiologically the same may be pleasureable to one person and painful to another. Does this difference not exist? What of love? You're not telling me you experience the feeling for people to whom you're close to objectively (as a swirling mix of hormones and neurological pulses in your brain) rather the subjectively (as a feeling), are you? What of abstract, subjective human concepts like "justice" or "freedom" or "revenge"? What of consciousness? What of your firm nonbelief? If one of your criteria for accepting a subjective experience as referring to something "real" is that other people share it, does the fact that 90%+ of humanity are believers in some nonphysical spiritual reality or another not give you pause? Furthermore, how do you even know we can objectively observe anything? What objective proof do you have that we're not all just brains in jars, living in a Matrix like dream world? You've wandered far afield from the safe grounds of science and found yourself in the jungle of philosophy, where most scientists have far too much sense to tread, and you appear not even to realize it. And I'm the one lacking in humility. Truly priceless. :-D

So if your experience didn't happen out of the blue, what events or activities were associated with it? And if you can recreate your experience at will, how do you do that? And how do you know that any other people have shared your experience?

I've already answered at least two of these questions. But I'll do so one more time. A.)Prayer, meditation, and visiting holy places. B.)By praying, meditating, and/or visiting holy places. C.)Because I've talked to them about our common spiritual experiences.

(long technical definition of hallucination

Utterly irrelevant. My personal experiences don't involve normal sensory input, and as I said before, bear no resemblance whatsoever to hallucinations, which I've also experienced. In any case, there is no proof that ALL objects of hallucination are unreal (even though I agree with you that there is reason to be skeptical in cases like these).

It appears that all human behavior and experience (normal as well as abnormal) is well attended by illusory and hallucinatory phenomena. While the relationship of these phenomena to mental illness has been well documented, their role in everyday life has perhaps not been considered enough. Greater understanding of illusions and hallucinations amoung normal people may provide explanations for experiences otherwise relegated to the uncanny, extrasensory, or supernatural

This is what scientists are doing. But their research simply does not support the conclusion that the phenomena in question are the result of wishful thinking or pathology. Read the study. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/034544034X/sr=8-1/qid=1143426700/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-8674336-0019356?%5Fencoding=UTF8

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

As we have it now, corporate personhood and religious privilege are as yet separate, but often almost the same thing, except the corporate interest doesn't involve the personal, subjective, immune response of the religious person. If we reorganized our law to view religious organizations as either political organizations or corporations, with no recognition of religious privilege, that would create an identity of these interests in the two parties that doesn't exist now, which would be just exactly what we see in fascistic practice.

In countries that don't have such extensive religious problems as our own, that would matter a lot less, and probably wear off in a few generations, but we are stuck here in the US with a special case, which is why I added that participants in these things should probably not be allowed to vote, for the good of humanity.

Now for the first time I'm going to have to ask you what you mean. Because I have no idea. Wait, on second thought, I'm really not that interested.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

So here's the question I'll leave you with. If both the ancient Greeks and the J/C tradition contributed essential elements to a Western ethic we consider universal

Posted by: rmck1 on March 25, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if you add in the Indian stuff which had some contact with the Greeks. Morality predated even the Judaean traditions, depending on some interpretations. And there are plenty of credible, liberal Churches that have gone 'soft' on sexual immorality in other Churches opinions.

I don't care so much on who came first as I believe that God endowed humanity with a sense of morality independent of his relevations (and there's bible verses that support this).

I reject the ethics of 'anything by consenting adult is OK' (as an aspiration because I wish I was purer of thought) because:

1. The God of the Bible says so, and he's given me so much

2. The Bible tells us in a lot of theological disputes to look for 'fruit of the Spirit'. I don't see a lot of that in the sexually liberal lifestyle, which is supporting evidence to me my interpretation is correct.

---------------

Grape Crush: Am I right in that in your last post you admit to not being an atheist and being a believer in Good in its own right?

"one which might support my assertion that belief in a Supreme Being is not a precondition for the development of of a moral conscience/moral awareness...A person can believe in Good, but not necessarily in God"

Its just a choice on your part on the Supernatural to believe in Good but not to believe in God.

Have you ever thought that a Creator might be a good explanation why there is a Good?

Stopping the thought process there is hiding in a comfort zones.

------------------

But, further, that they would have to be regarded as subversive political organizations, and their adherents disqualified from holding office. The same applying to corporate executives generally.

I don't expect my view to prevail in the near future.

Posted by: cld on March 26, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Well, people like you should be recognised as opposing freedom of religion in constitutions and barred from political office.

Posted by: Mca on March 26, 2006 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

It appears that all human behavior and experience (normal as well as abnormal) is well attended by illusory and hallucinatory phenomena.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

So you believe in Good for Good's sake? But classify all spiritual experiences as hallucinations?

That's two assumptions you have to make.

I started with one.

Amorality is wrong. That and spiritual experiences pointed me toward a relationship through prayer with a moral God.

Posted by: McA on March 26, 2006 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,
"The difference is that science can definitively disprove the existence of his demon"

Nonsense. Science cannot definitively disprove the existence of gods, demons or any other purported supernatural entities. It can no more disprove the tribesman's supernatural Demon than it can disprove your supernatural God.

"- it can point to a physical malformity in his body and account for the pain it causes at every step from the nerves on up."

And science can point to physical/chemical changes in the brain, and to at least some of the causes of those changes (hallucinogenic drugs, sleeplessness, etc.) that account for "religious experiences." Invoking God is as unnecessary and unsupported an assumption to explain your experience as invoking Demons is to explain the tribesman's.

"MY lack of humility? ... In practically every post I've made, I've acknowledged the possibility that it was a delusion."

Yes, your lack of humility. I'm not sure you've even conceded the mere possibility that your experience was a delusion of some kind, but the point is that, rationally and scientifically, it's not merely possible, it's highly plausible that your experience was a delusion or has some other purely naturalistic explanation. Where have you acknwoledged this?

"The solution I've gotten has taken me a lifetime of introspection to achieve, would fill a book, and is premised on a metaphysical system that you don't share."

The questions I have been asking, and the problems I have been describing, regarding your theological speculations are not complicated or difficult to express or understand. They represent some fairly basic and obvious inconsistencies in the ideas about God and evil and free will and human beings and so on that you have been describing. If it would take you a book-length response to answer these problems, if your "answer" would be that complex and convoluted, that alone would suggest your answers are highly dubious. The more elaborate and baroque your theology has to become to even pass a test of internal consistency, the more assumptions you have to pile on to make it all hang together, the more doubtful it becomes. But I very seriously doubt that you have even convoluted solutions to these problems, let alone clear and straightforward ones.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

Let me then revise my statement to say that lots of intelligent people have offered nuanced, rational metaphysical arguments that accord with the data and also with their faith in a higher power.

Maybe they have, but those arguments, if they have been made by anyone, are not in evidence here, and the theology they are defending may be very different and more consistent than the one you have described, so this claim is irrelevant. Im challenging the theology that you have been describing here. Alluding to arguments by other people that may not even rest on the same premises you have made here is not a serious response to that challenge.

For one example - you believe that only objectively observable phenomena are likely to exist, am I correct?

No, youre not correct. I dont have any belief about how likely it is that non-objectively observable phenomena exist.

And you deny the likely validity of any and all subjective phenomena, right?

I dont know what this means. Its another one of your impenetrably vague formulations. What do you mean by validity in this context? What do you mean by subjective phenomena? Ill take a guess that you mean, for example, love. So your question then becomes Do you deny that love is likely valid? I dont know what that question means. I think love is an emotion that serves important functions in human relationships and societies, functions that I value. If thats what you mean by valid, then, yes, I think love is valid. But I dont really know what you mean.

"What then of different subjective experiences of what is objectively the same phenomenon (the color of honey example)? Do these subjective experiences not exist? What of pleasure? An experience that is physiologically the same may be pleasureable to one person and painful to another. Does this difference not exist?

Depends on what you mean by exist. Under the standard use of the word, no, I dont think they exist.

If one of your criteria for accepting a subjective experience as referring to something "real" is that other people share it, does the fact that 90%+ of humanity are believers in some nonphysical spiritual reality or another not give you pause?

I dont know where you get your 90%+ figure from. I suspect youre just making it up, and that its wildly exaggerated. But I would say that, in general, the greater the number of people who claim to be able to perceive or in some way have direct experience of an entity , the more likely it is that that entity exists to be perceived. If Gods existence were as universally and consistently claimed as the existence of the sun in the sky, then I would give much greater credence to the claim.

Furthermore, how do you even know we can objectively observe anything? What objective proof do you have that we're not all just brains in jars, living in a Matrix like dream world?

I dont have any objective proof. I may be a brain in a vat or a computer simulation. Im still waiting for you to provide examples of these alleged logical errors and inconsistencies in my worldview. Can you find even one? God knows, Ive pointed out enough in yours to keep us busy for days.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Nonsense. Science cannot definitively disprove the existence of gods, demons or any other purported supernatural entities. It can no more disprove the tribesman's supernatural Demon than it can disprove your supernatural God.

Point well made, and well taken - but spare me the constant refrain of "nonsense". It's insulting, and neither of us deserve to be insulted. This is a civil discussion, I hope. I suppose the difference, then, is that the object of the tribesman's supernatural belief is a being embedded in the natural world, that doesn't accord with the laws of nature and whose existence is inferred from a condition easily explained by natural laws. A transcendant God is not embedded in the natural world and can accord with natural laws, and frankly I don't think there's a good scientific explanation for the existence of the conception - spare me the speculation about "self-consciousness of the immune system" or the Darwinistic explanation for the existence of religious faith, because I don't find either of those particularly compelling scientific arguments (and neither do a lot of scientists).

And science can point to physical/chemical changes in the brain, and to at least some of the causes of those changes (hallucinogenic drugs, sleeplessness, etc.) that account for "religious experiences." Invoking God is as unnecessary and unsupported an assumption to explain your experience as invoking Demons is to explain the tribesman's.

How many times do I have to tell you, what I experience does not in any way resemble these hallucinations you keep talking about? I'm not sleep-deprived, I'm not fasting, I'm not on drugs, I simply look at the universe in an utterly lucid state, and feel an inherent sense of beauty, order, and peace, a spiritual presence.

Yes, your lack of humility. I'm not sure you've even conceded the mere possibility that your experience was a delusion of some kind, but the point is that, rationally and scientifically, it's not merely possible, it's highly plausible that your experience was a delusion or has some other purely naturalistic explanation. Where have you acknwoledged this?

What we have here is conflicting metaphysical systems. Your metaphysics is entirely materialistic, so you are committed to explaining everything in terms of observable material causes. I agree that in your system, your explanation of my experience is highly plausible. But I see absolutely zero reason why I should necessarily adopt your metaphysics. My metaphysics is only partially materialistic, in that I believe the physical world is essentially material, but that it is not necessarily the only level of reality there is, and that it's possible for certain material phenomena (e.g. the brain function of religious experience) to correlate with spiritual phenomena on a higher plane of existence. This system is 100% consonant with the data in every field of modern science, and questions like why this brain activity should be subjectively experienced as faith in a higher power make a lot more sense in it in my opinion. In fact given the limitations of the mechanistic conception of the universe that quantum mechanics is showing us (so quantum physicists say - I make no claim to understand what they're talking about) - it may be fair to say that a purely materialist metaphysics is LESS in agreement with modern science than one that admits nonmaterial realities. On a fundamental level we have different, subjective (yes there's that word again) assumptions. Because of this we will never agree.

The questions I have been asking, and the problems I have been describing, regarding your theological speculations are not complicated or difficult to express or understand. They represent some fairly basic and obvious inconsistencies in the ideas about God and evil and free will and human beings and so on that you have been describing. If it would take you a book-length response to answer these problems, if your "answer" would be that complex and convoluted, that alone would suggest your answers are highly dubious. The more elaborate and baroque your theology has to become to even pass a test of internal consistency, the more assumptions you have to pile on to make it all hang together, the more doubtful it becomes. But I very seriously doubt that you have even convoluted solutions to these problems, let alone clear and straightforward ones.

Given my metaphysical assumptions, my theology is not THAT convoluted - the vast majority of this hypothetical book would be devoted to answering objections like the ones you've raised. Let me add, though, that any theory, not just theological ones, succumbs to internal inconsistencies at some point. A few examples from science. Is light a wave or a particle? If natural selection developed as a way for genes to replicate themselves, and is the sole driving force of evolution, why did it result in species that A.)exhibit biological altruism, B.)are unbelievably complicated biologically but really pretty poor at what is supposed to be their fundamental purpose, replicating genes, and C.)exhibit phenotypes that ought to be highly maladaptive (e.g. bright colors on birds)? You are welcome to whatever opinion you choose to have of my theological speculations. Frankly, I don't care, because it is becoming more and more apparent that you close-minded and hence in my view not a person whose opinion is worth giving a great deal of thought to.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

"Utterly irrelevant. My personal experiences don't involve normal sensory input, and as I said before, bear no resemblance whatsoever to hallucinations, which I've also experienced. In any case, there is no proof that ALL objects of hallucination are unreal (even though I agree with you that there is reason to be skeptical in cases like these)."

I think you must not even have read the quote you are dismissing as irrelevant. Hallucinations, by definition, don't involve normal sensory input, either. And hallucinations certainly include experiences attributed to non-sensory encounters with supernatural agents like gods and demons. In other words, your experience, as you have described it here, is most definitely consistent with an hallucination.

"This is what scientists are doing. But their research simply does not support the conclusion that the phenomena in question are the result of wishful thinking or pathology. Read the study. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/034544034X/sr=8-1/qid=1143426700/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-8674336-0019356?%5Fencoding=UTF8"

Your link is not to a "study," it's to a book purchase page on Amazon.com. And your comment preceding the link is a complete nonsequitur. I didn't say that all hallucinations are pathological or the result of wishful thinking. In fact, the quote I provided, which again you show no evidence of having actually read, explicitly states that hallucinations occur in normal people and are not necessarily pathological. Hallucinations are sometimes pathological, and sometimes represent things people want to be true (and other times what they fear). If you think the book you reference contradicts anything I have said about hallucinations, please provide a quote and citation. I very seriously doubt that you will be able to.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe they have, but those arguments, if they have been made by anyone, are not in evidence here, and the theology they are defending may be very different and more consistent than the one you have described, so this claim is irrelevant. Im challenging the theology that you have been describing here. Alluding to arguments by other people that may not even rest on the same premises you have made here is not a serious response to that challenge.

My theology is similar to that of a lot of religiously minded scientific believers. Many of your attacks rest on premises I never stated as being part of my theology (e.g. "God is both all powerful and all-good") That's not something I believe, at least as the formulation is usually understood.

Im still waiting for you to provide examples of these alleged logical errors and inconsistencies in my worldview. Can you find even one? God knows, Ive pointed out enough in yours to keep us busy for days.

The difference is, I at least try to understand what you're saying - when somebody attacks one of your arguments, you just wave it off with a dismissive phrase like "impenetrably vague formulation". My questions re: subjectivity and objectivity are not that hard to understand, nor are they vague. They are fundamental issues in epistemology. Part of the problem seems to be that you are unaware that these distinctions even exist. Take a class on the philosophy of mind sometimes - neurologists are not the last word on how mental processes work.

I dont know where you get your 90%+ figure from. I suspect youre just making it up, and that its wildly exaggerated.

No, it's not. Check the data before you spout off.
http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

Only 16% of the world's population is "nonreligious", but half of those people are theists who merely don't practice an organized religion. That leaves 8% who are atheist/agnostic/whatever. So 92% of the world's people are believers. Seems to me 92%>90%.

Can you find even one? God knows, Ive pointed out enough in yours to keep us busy for days.

I've already pointed out numerous ones. But as I said, either you're ignoring what I say, or you lack the conceptual tools to realize the saliency of the criticisms I'm making. I'm not to blame for that. You can keep yourself busy for days - I've got better things to do. No offense, but next time I want to debate an atheist, I'm going to find one who's got more interesting things to say.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 26, 2006 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

"I suppose the difference, then, is that the object of the tribesman's supernatural belief is a being embedded in the natural world, that doesn't accord with the laws of nature and whose existence is inferred from a condition easily explained by natural laws. A transcendant God is not embedded in the natural world "

Huh? The tribesman's Demon and your God are both supposed supernatural entities that have been invoked to explain a natural phenomenon. There is absolutely no difference in this respect. And your invocation of God is no more plausible or supported by evidence than the tribesman's invocation of a Demon.

"My metaphysics is only partially materialistic, in that I believe the physical world is essentially material, but that it is not necessarily the only level of reality there is, and that it's possible for certain material phenomena (e.g. the brain function of religious experience) to correlate with spiritual phenomena on a higher plane of existence."

This is all completely irrelevant. As I have said I don't know how many times, it's possible that your experience was caused by an encounter with God. Just as it's possible that mental illness or kidney failure or pain is caused by Demonic possession. If Gods and Demons are defined as supernatural agents whose existence cannot be confirmed or refuted using the methods of science, then obviously it is logically possible that these claims are true. The issue isn't whether they are possible, it's whether they are plausible. To rehearse the basic argument one more time, we have mountains of evidence that people sometimes experience hallucinations and other altered states of consciousness that cause them to believe in things that aren't really there. We have no evidence that there is a God. Therefore, it is more rational, much more rational in fact, to believe that your experience was probably caused by something like a hallucination than that it was caused by God.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

atheist, you are a serious fuckwit

Posted by: bob jones on March 26, 2006 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

xeynon,

"Given my metaphysical assumptions, my theology is not THAT convoluted - the vast majority of this hypothetical book would be devoted to answering objections like the ones you've raised."

That's exactly the problem in your previous reply that I described. If it would take you a book-length response to answer the problems I have described, if your theology has to be that complex and convoluted just to be internally consistent, then it is even more implausible. The more assumptions you need to pile on, the harder it is to justify. And this is just a test of internal consistency. Even if your theology were internally consistent, rather than plagued with the kind of inconsistencies I have described, you still wouldn't have any other evidence to support it.

"No, it's not. Check the data before you spout off.http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html"

I think your assumption that the nominal religious affiliation of broad population groups is a reliable indicator of the incidence of belief in supernatural entities is completely unjustified. I don't think there's any reliable data on how common belief in the supernatural is on a global basis.

"I've already pointed out numerous ones."

No you haven't. You haven't even identified one. Quote these alleged "numerous" logical errors and inconsistencies in my worldview.

Posted by: Atheist on March 26, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

Now that I've looked up Andrew Newberg I'm wondering what we have to argue about. He provides clear evidence of exactly what non-theists have been arguing through these past several threads on this topic.


http://www.andrewnewberg.com/default.asp


He tosses one out to the Other Side at the top of the Q&A here,


http://www.andrewnewberg.com/qna.asp


but is careful to assure us, without putting it so bluntly, that religious experience could be described as the experience of the self-consciousness of the immune system.

The difference in our perspectives is that he seems not much interested in organized religion as a political phenomenon.

I wish I had looked at this earlier and say thank you to Xeynon for pointing me toward it.

Posted by: cld on March 27, 2006 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

Now that I've had some time to digest the whole thing, I'd like to say thanks, Atheist and cld - and I mean that sincerely. I got a little heated there, but I didn't mean anything personally. While obviously we have very different fundamental assumptions and were bound to argue to different conclusions, I made some errors in arguing from my own baseline and didn't give my own philosophy its best possible articulation, and I must concede that you did a good job of catching me on them - you scored some very good points on me in this debate. No faith that cannot stand up to rational scrutiny is something I'd want to have, so I really do appreciate this kind of conversation.

Posted by: Xeynon on March 27, 2006 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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