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[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), April 3, 2006 at 8:58pm] Trackbacks
Hostility to Atheists III - Why Does it Matter?

Although I am an atheist myself, I have never, until this series of posts, commented on atheist issues publicly. I didn't do so because I thought that, ultimately, hostility towards atheists was a relatively unimportant issue. After all, American atheists are, by and large, an affluent, successful group that has not in recent decades suffered much from systematic discrimination. Although I oppose government endorsement of religion and think many instances of it are unconstitutional, ultimately I don't believe that "In God We Trust" on coins and the like are major issues worth going to the barricades over.

I do not believe that atheists in this country are an "oppressed" group, and I would not support affirmative action for atheists or reparations for atheists. And I certainly don't want people to feel sorry for us and commiserate with our status as "victims." However, there are several ways in which widespread anti-atheist prejudice causes real harm.

I. Discrimination in Child Custody Cases.

In a recent article, co-blogger Eugene Volokh has documented numerous instances where atheist and agnostic parents lose out in child custody disputes because of judicial bias against their religious views. The cases Eugene cites are not situations where there is a "disparate impact" against atheists or cases where some atheist had a subjective feeling that the judge was biased against him. These are cases where the judges themselves state in published opinions that a principal reason for awarding custody to one parent is the atheism of the other. Obviously, for every case where a judge was willing state such a thing in public, it is likely that there are other cases where such considerations influenced judicial decisionmaking without being documented. Many of the cases cited in Eugene's paper are recent, and they are by no means confined to the Bible Belt.

II. Exclusion From Public Office.

As I noted in my previous post, open atheists are almost completely excluded from the highest elected and appointed positions, and there are extremely few even in low-level ones. To be sure, this does not mean that atheists are wholly without political influence. They can still use their votes and campaign contributions to try to influence theist politicians. Nevertheless, there is at least some benefit to having members of one's own group in positions of political power. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why virtually all other groups - from evangelical Christians to homosexuals - consider it important to have at least some such representation. Moreover, symbolism matters too, even if its importance is often overstated. Most would agree that there is something wrong with a political system if no Jew or black or Catholic were ever able to attain high public office - even if Jewish, black, and Catholic voters were effectively represented by political leaders from other groups.

Nor should we completely discount the harm to those atheists would like to pursue careers in public service. By writing this series of posts, I have probably signed away whatever chance I might have had of becoming a federal judge. While this has never been an important objective for me, it certainly could be for other ambitious atheist lawyers.

III. Social Exclusion.

While the extent to which this is a problem varies greatly from place to place and is very difficult to measure, it probably is a significant issue in some areas. As some of the atheist commenters to my first post noted, atheists often have to hide their views in order to avoid opprobrium in situations where believers feel perfectly free to express theirs. For many, this is a minor problem that rarely occurs, but for others it can be a more serious one. I am willing to bet that there is a considerable number of "closet atheists" out there, though of course there are no firm statistics. While closeted atheists probably don't suffer as much as closeted gays do (because atheism is, for most, a less fundamental element of identity than sexual orientation), neither is the suffering completely trivial. Certainly, few theists would be willing to tolerate a situation where they had to keep their own religious beliefs secret.

Except for the first, none of the above problems can or should be remedied through government coercion. But that does not mean that we should just ignore them.

UPDATE: Many of the child custody cases cited in Eugene's article deal not with disputes between atheists and theists but disputes where one parent was more observant than the other and/or provided more religious training (often in the form of church attendance) to the child. See footnote 4 of Eugene's paper (linked above). In some ways, this actually makes things even worse for atheists, since a judge who favors a more-observant theist over a less-observant one is likely to disfavor atheists even more than less-observant theists. As Eugene observes (pp. 1-2), "presumably an outright atheist would be at even more of a disadvantage" in such a jurisdiction than the less observant of two theist parents. Theoretically, instruction in atheistic thought could also perhaps be considered "religious" teaching, but the decisions cited by Eugene make it clear that they have in mind theistic training and/or church attendance only. Nonetheless, I regret my failure to make this distinction in the original post, and I hope this update remedies the mistake.

Perseus:
Most politicians have to hide their true beliefs about any number of issues if they want to get elected. Why should religion be any different?

Indeed, I suspect that even in a conservative Republican Administration, private atheists have a disproportionate influence on public policy.
4.3.2006 10:20pm
RainerK:
Very courageous post, thank you. I hope by the time you might seek a judgeship, attitudes will have changed and the country will be less polarised. I blame that for more of the hostility than actual beliefs. But don't ever get nominated to the Supreme Court. Not a chance. What you said as a baby will be held against you.
I agree that only your first point warrants government action, but I do wish Congress would set the tone and do away with invocations.
4.3.2006 10:21pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
My feeling is that Posner is an atheist. I recall him writing in Sex and Reason that most intellectuals no longer believe in God: I assume he counts himself among them.

So you can make it, Ms. Somin--you simply have to reach Posner's stature.

Best of luck.
4.3.2006 10:28pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Scott: I should note that "Ilya" is a man's name, and Ilya is in fact a Mr.
4.3.2006 10:30pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
Eugene:

I should apologize. Sorry, Mr. Somin--too much time spent with romatic languages and their genders.
4.3.2006 10:37pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
God, it would be delightful to be able to edit one's comments.

romantic
4.3.2006 10:38pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
I've been an atheist in the past, at least twice. I find I have always edited my religious views in order to avoid confrontation when I was a theist, an agnostic and an atheist. It just depends on the company.

Yours,
Wince
4.3.2006 10:53pm
Ilya Somin:
Posner is an interesting case. He may well be an atheist (I have met him and debated him in print, but have not discussed this issue). However, to my knowledge he was not an open one at the time he was appointed and confirmed back in 1981. If anyone on this list has more specific evidence, certainly let me know.

I do think that Posner's statement about most intellectuals not believing in God is an exaggeration. Many reject organized religion without necessarily rejecting belief in God.
4.3.2006 11:09pm
Jared K.:

God, it would be delightful to be able to edit one's comments.

I realize Scott Scheule has not made an outright declaration of atheism, but he seems to have implied it, and for that reason I find the above sentence quite amusing.
4.3.2006 11:12pm
Stephen Macklin (mail) (www):
I generally divide atheists into two admittedly simplistic categories. The first group are the Everyday atheists. Their atheism is neither a badge of courage nor shame. It merely represents how they view the world.

The second are the God Fearing Atheists. These are they type who would file a suit if the President said "God bless you" when the First Lady sneezed.

I am part of the first group, and I find the second utterly annoying.
4.3.2006 11:14pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"If anyone on this list has more specific evidence, certainly let me know."

When Posner guest blogged on Brian Leiter's blog, Leiter described Posner as an atheist, which label Posner didn't reject. But then when Posner went on to describe his views, it seemed more like "soft"-atheism or agnosticism.
4.3.2006 11:25pm
KAJ:
I think Posner qualifies as an athiest. He guest-blogged on Leiter's site a while back, and described himself in this way (point 2):

I am not an agnostic, if by that is meant (and this is the sense I have of the term, though it may be an idiosyncratic sense) someone who is perplexed as to whether or not there is a God; who regards this as an interesting question to which he happens not to have the answer. I am someone who simply doesn't feel the presence of God in my life. That I think is the typical state of the nonreligious person, and corresponds to what I assume is the feeling of a eunuch about sex. The eunuch knows that sex is important to many people, but he doesn't have any feeling of that importance. Sex doesn't exist for him. God doesn't exist for me.

That pretty neatly sums up the way most athiests I know feel about religion. Except, perhaps, that it leaves out just how bewildering it can be to have believers insist that this cannot be so, or that if it is so, there's something fundamentally wrong with you.
4.3.2006 11:29pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"I do think that Posner's statement about most intellectuals not believing in God is an exaggeration. Many reject organized religion without necessarily rejecting belief in God."

That's true. However, I would say that based on my observation, most PHILOSOPHERS don't believe in God. Some would argue that if you do, you aren't a "true philosopher."

Leo Strauss behind closed doors used to say things like "philosophers are PAID not to believe in God." Saul Bellow had Allan Bloom remarking that "no true philosopher can believe in God."

These Straussians even go back and impute "secret" or esoteric atheism to philosophers who didn't, on the surface, claim to be atheists like Locke, Hobbes and others.
4.3.2006 11:29pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
Ilya:

I just found (guided by Divine Providence) a post of Judge Posner's on the topic.

Brian said I'm an atheist, but the word has two distinct meanings. The first is a person who does not have a sense that there is a God—who, in short, is not a religious person. The second is a person who adheres to the doctrine that there is no God. That is a metaphysical proposition that does not interest me. You cannot convince a religious person that there is no God, because he does not share your premises, for example that only science delivers truths. There is no fruitful debating of God's existence.

I realize I'm being vain, but I can't imagine someone of Posner's intelligence believes in God.
4.3.2006 11:31pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I realize I'm being vain, but I can't imagine someone of Posner's intelligence believes in God.


There are some present day folks, just as intelligent as Posner, who believe in God. And contra the Straussians, some of them are philosophers (unless, they are secret atheists).

I'm thinking of John Finnis, who not only believes in God, but was rated by Brian Leiter as one of the greatest living philosophers.

I once saw Finnis speak at Princeton and didn't understand a damn word he said.
4.3.2006 11:47pm
ray_g:
Exclusion From Public Office: I wonder how much of this is prejudice against atheists or just against non-mainstream people? Would a Wiccan have a better chance being elected than an atheist? I don't think so. I thought the concerns like JFK being Catholic were a thing of the past, but I remember a lot of IMO silly discussion media about Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Leiberman being Jewish, and lately about a couple of political figures (sorry, I don't remember their names) being Mormon. For good or ill people are more comfortable with the familiar, and it doesn't surprise me that is reflected in how they vote.
4.3.2006 11:50pm
Ilya Somin:
Thanks for the interesting info on Posner. His position is still a bit unclear to me. You can consistently believe that there is a God but also believe that you haven't felt his presence. An omnipotent being can easily hide his presence from you if he wants to!

B
4.3.2006 11:53pm
Enoch:
Social exclusion? If you're prepared to ignore God Himself, why should the opinions of mere mortals concern you? =D
4.3.2006 11:56pm
Kovarsky (mail):
i uncloseted myself when one of my friends asked me to say grace.

"dear god, i'd like to thank you for letting socially construct you and for giving many americans comfort in their times of chrisis."

i have no idea why they asked me to say grace in the first place, given that i'm nominally jewish.

great post by the way. i had no idea that so many people had such bizarre ideas about what motivated atheists. as if there's not more transaction-cost barriers to becoming atheist than there is to effectively inheriting religious affiliations from one's parents. i certainly don't feel persecuted, but i do find the thought that we do it to be anti-conformist to be fantastically strange.
4.3.2006 11:57pm
david blue (mail) (www):
Lots of smart people believe in God, and lots of smart people don't. Whether you like Scalia or not, it's hard to deny that the guy is smart, yet I just heard him give a speech in which he exhorted his audience to be willing to be "fools for Christ's sake" (quoting Corinthians), by which he meant it's OK to believe - as he does - in the literal truth of the immaculate conception, Christ's resurrection, and other miracles, although you should expect that what he derisively calls the "sophisticated" world will consider you a "fool" for doing so.

All of that said, I think Posner's remarks quoted earlier in this thread leave no doubt that he doesn't believe that God exists - he just isn't interested in debating the point. (Quite sensible, in my view, since he's quite right that it's a debate that cannot be won by either side.) Nor is there any doubt that he will never be nominated to the Supreme Court - for lots of reasons including but not limited to his non-belief.
4.3.2006 11:59pm
Ilya Somin:
I don't deny that there is some prejudice in the electorate against Jews, Mormons, and others. However, the fact remains that there are NUMEROUS prominent Jewish and Mormon politicians (considerably more than their proportion in the general population, in fact). Yes, people groused about Lieberman's Jewishness, but he DID become a major party nominee for VP on a ticket that won the popular vote. No major party in its right political mind would nominate an atheist Veep.

The same is true of numerous other small (and sometimes disliked) denominations, such as Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and so on, all of which have members in elected office. On the other hand, there are ZERO open atheists in comparable positions. That is a difference in kind, not just degree.
4.4.2006 12:00am
ray_g:
That should have been ".. in the media..".

A thought occurred to me - what if a candidate, when asked about religious beliefs, politely stated that it was not relevant, it was policy position that was important, but if you really feel you need to know I am a (insert description here). Probably wouldn't go over well.
4.4.2006 12:00am
Kovarsky (mail):
although i do like to maintain my jewish identity so that i can claim certain cultural influences: woody allen, albert einstein, jesus.
4.4.2006 12:01am
Kovarsky (mail):
on a more serious note, i'm not so sure that posner isn't simply guilty of being particularly articulate about a religious sentiment that many people have. e.g. einstein.

he does take pain to describe himself as agnostic, which is not quite the same as an atheist. one can believe in the big watchmaker and still be agnostic.
4.4.2006 12:03am
Randy R. (mail):
I'm not an atheist, I'm closer to agnostic, but with a good dose of New Ageism, and plenty of spirituality. I honestly don't know what to say when people ask my religion. Perhaps I should just say, why do you assume I have one?

My close friend is deeply spiritual and believes in God, but he also has a hard time defining himself. When someone asks him his religion, he gets rather indignant, and he says that his relationship to God is the most personal relationship he has, and who are you to inquire about it?

I think people like to ask what religion you are for the same reason they ask what political party you belong to, or whatever. They want to put you in a box so that they can understand you quickly and easily, and not have to judge you as an individual.
4.4.2006 12:04am
david blue (mail) (www):

An omnipotent being can easily hide his presence from you if he wants to!



That is precisely why Posner is exactly right never to debate the point with a believer. It is also why, in my view, an atheist should never express absolute certainty that God does not exist - because the possibility of an omnipotent being cleverly concealing its existence, and perhaps even leaving what appear to be clues as to its nonexistence (as a test, or for some other divine reason beyond our human understanding) can never be excluded. Nor, for that matter, is it possible to exclude the possibility that evolution really is an elaborate series of deceptive clues left by a wrathful God to separate the faithful from the heathen. Hypotheses like those, however, simply end rational discussion.
4.4.2006 12:05am
Paul McMahon (mail):
The matter of exclusion from public office should be considered as a probabilistic matter. Given the relative scarcity of announced atheists, how many would rationally be expected in higher office? None? So, why is this an issue?
4.4.2006 12:06am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
You want hostility?? try telling someone you're a Satanist. In Georgia.
4.4.2006 12:08am
ray_g:
Ilya: I don't disagree. I am just struck that the nominally secular, liberal, supposedly tolerant MSM seem to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing a candidate's religion, even when the candidate themselves don't talk about it much, as IIRC Mr. Leiberman did not. Or at least not until the media made an issue of it.
4.4.2006 12:08am
Ilya Somin:
Social exclusion? If you're prepared to ignore God Himself, why should the opinions of mere mortals concern you? =D

-Interesting question. The answer is that I don't worry about the opinion of beings that don't exist, but do care (at least to some extent) about the views of those who do.
4.4.2006 12:10am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
You think his position is "unclear"? Seriously? That's pretty clear, particularly his comments on atheists.

I don't think the difference between agnostics and atheists is important to believers, but for what it's worth, Posner is pretty clearly agnostic.

And you're right to think your posts make you ineligible to be a federal judge. President Bush said clearly he'd never nominate a judge who didn't believe in God. I've always been shocked no one thought it even mildly problematic.
4.4.2006 12:13am
Tom952 (mail):
Suppose you have a fellow who states:
"Why, sure I'm a Christian. I believe in forgiveness and redemption, the brotherhood of man. Without it, we would end up like those hate filled murderers in the Middle East. But all that stuff spewed by Robertson and Falwell is nonsense. I know good and well that the Bible contains errors, and I know those two idiots do not speak for God."

Is this person a Christian, atheist, agnostic, or something else?
4.4.2006 12:22am
Reg (mail):
Sorry Kant, Descartes, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Pascal, Locke, Plato, Kierkegaard, Adam Smith, Newton, Leibniz, Rousseau and all you others. The atheists say you aren't real philosophers. I wonder why it is nobody likes atheists?

Seriously though, I can't think of a good reason why metaphysical views shouldn't be open to criticism and discrimination. This idea that religion ought to be outside the realm of public debate lacks justification. If I publicly profess my profound and deeply held beliefs in scientology, I'd expect to be mocked. If I am an atheist in a primarily Christian country, I'd expect to experience some inconvenience. For such a minority, atheists have been awfully successful in stripping all public forums of religion and removing it as a justification for public policy. I don't see anything wrong with a country enacting laws that take into account the dominant religious beliefs. And like it or not, atheism is a religious belief, in that it states that God exists is a false statement. There is nothing inherent in that statement that should privilege it over the opposite statement: that God exists is a true statement.

If you want to be elected, convince us your beliefs are correct, or band together in an atheism community, like a Deerborn for atheists. You can have meetings where everybody gets together and mocks those silly theists.

To the extent the post complains that there are still some awkward social situations with theists, I'd say, get over it.
4.4.2006 12:22am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"If you want to be elected, convince us your beliefs are correct"

That's true. The only reason Lieberman ever won is that he convinced 40% of Connecticut to convert. The circumcisions were a bitch, I'm told.
4.4.2006 12:27am
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
Thanks, Prof. Somin, for highlighting this issue here. I found your posts and the comments interesting--if sometimes frustrating--reading. A few interrelated comments.

The Boy Scouts is a good case study. At 16, I self-selected out of the Boy Scouts largely because of long-brewing skepticism of my cradle Catholicism and of religion more generally. To be fully honest, Boy Scouts became a lot less socially appealing as I got older too, but I really did think a lot about all the pledging allegiance to and faith in God and country and the questions I'd have to answer to become an Eagle Scout. I didn't really think about my sexuality until later, but now as a gay man I can look back and see how the organization could make a self-aware gay member uncomfortable (though I don't really associate it with my own experience). I think if I were able to interview the Scouts who knew me then, few would care about keeping gays out, but quite a few might stick to their guns about religiosity being a prerequisite to being a member. So, its interesting now to see both the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church so heavily associated with their condemnation of homosexuality when I personally felt much more hostility as an atheist than as a gay man from those organizations (which is to be expected from the Church but not necessarily the Scouts).

The Boy Scouts example is also interesting because I think, while no analogy is perfect, the analogy of sexuality to religion is much more useful than the analogy of sexuality to race or sex, which are so much more often used. Sexuality and religion both require a certain degree of conscious thinking and behavior, but also involve deep levels of conscience and subconsciousness that I think the government should not--and is not well suited to--try to change in people. Jews and atheists are particularly useful analogies because both tend to be small minorities in their communities (at least in the West), both tend to be spread far and wide geographically.

I think your point about institutionalized anti-atheism and social ostracism is well taken as applied to kids. But I think as religious or atheist adults we tend to socialize with and date people we relate to on a very basic level, and people's skepticism or faith seem to me very legitimate reasons for being able to easily relate or not relate to someone.

I think your points about anti-atheism in child custody and public officeholding are much more poignant and, in these cases, the prejudice has much more far reaching effects. There are lots of ways in which the American style of vetting politicians really makes politicians unrepresentative of the people (e.g. politicians can't admit to having experimented with recreational drugs or slept around even though those are pretty common things to have done). I trust that straight politicians can be genuinely sensitive to the concerns of gay people, even if many politicians in office today are afraid to speak very sensitively about the topic and I think a growing number of straight voters trust gay politicians to fairly reprsent their concerns. I don't think the same can be said about atheist voters and religious politicians or religious voters and atheist politicians, if there are any.

Aspects of our society that discourage us from doubting accepted wisdom like the de facto religious requirement for holding public office bother me a lot. I think religion can do a lot of good and thoughtful religious people can find a lot of inspiration in their faith. But I think our laws and culture should not discourage people from being skeptical. And if all our politicians and divorced parents have to vow faith in God, then I fear households and policies that are either dishonest or unfairly and destructively discriminatory.
4.4.2006 12:33am
plunge (mail):
The current President Bush has actually been very respectful towards nonbelievers, taking special care in mentioning that people of no faith at all are just as good as others. That's something that almost no Democrat I know of has done. Credit where credit is due.
4.4.2006 12:33am
ralph.m (mail):
"Hypotheses like those, however, simply end rational discussion." They don't "end rational discussion." The problem is that reason is simply not a sufficient guide, that is, it is logically possible that God exists, it cannot be proven, via reason that he does not. Atheism is perhaps more irrational than theism if not more so.
4.4.2006 12:38am
Shangui (mail):
That's something that almost no Democrat I know of has done. Credit where credit is due.

Carter did (and does) it. Bill Bradly basically refused to talk about his religious beliefs, as I recall.

Bush can afford to do it politically because no one would ever use such comments to claim he is hostile towards religion. Most Democrats are not given that kind of slack on the issue.
4.4.2006 12:39am
Kovarsky (mail):
plunge,

um, that remark is up there with the "hey, i'm pro-gay" comments. you aren't going to get people of that particular viewpoint/orientation to act thankful for somebody acknowledging another human being's intrinsic equality.

i don't understand what democrat or republican has to do with it, although i'm quite confident your claim about no democrats doing it lacks any statistical basis whatsoever.
4.4.2006 12:41am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"The current President Bush has actually been very respectful towards nonbelievers, taking special care in mentioning that people of no faith at all are just as good as others."

Not true at all. It was a conscious change in course. But before that point, after the Newdow Pledge decision, he said that he'd solve that problem by only appointing judges that believed all rights came from God.

BTW, for those of you discussing rational beliefs: do you think "I don't believe in God" and "There is no God" are equivalent statements?
4.4.2006 12:42am
ralph.m (mail):
The sentiment in this post is problematic because discrimination per se is no evil. We don't elect terrorists either (or substitue some other perceived evil view). Social exclusion is not coercion. No one would argue that social exclusion of pedophiles is wrong because there is no merit to being a pedophile. Liberty must allow for social exclsion, or else it is not liberty.
4.4.2006 12:42am
Kovarsky (mail):
and i'd at that wittgenstein is a pretty badass philosopher that would get ferociously angry if anybody disputed the existence of a god.

o einstein wasn't bad either.
4.4.2006 12:43am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"The atheists say you aren't real philosophers. I wonder why it is nobody likes atheists?" The atheists professors of political philosophy to whom I refer, the Straussians, would argue that probably over half of the members of that list were closet atheists.

The Straussians also, by in large, support religious conservatives and are influential in the Bush administration.
4.4.2006 12:44am
plunge (mail):
"The problem is that reason is simply not a sufficient guide, that is, it is logically possible that God exists, it cannot be proven, via reason that he does not."

That depends on what you mean by "sufficient." Some would argue that the limitations on reason are basically limitations on what one can honestly claim to know. If we are limited in what we know, we're limited in what we know. Pretending that we aren't limited, and DO have some alternate way of knowing, isn't necessarily a good thing.

"Atheism is perhaps more irrational than theism if not more so."

Just another nitpick: simple claims cannot be illogical or logical. Neither the lack of belief, nor the belief in no God, nor the belief in God, can any of them be described as "rational" or "irrational" in isolation.
4.4.2006 12:45am
SenatorX (mail):
What about Atheist Jews? Is that double points?

Or..dare he say it? Atheist, Jewish, and GAY!!!!!
Let us imagine this person (no not you Kovarsky). Triple bonus points for mob hatred.

That communist tie in to Atheism chaps my ass. Socialists!! Bah. Rather the absolutist connection between religion (or at least the Platonic Western form) and socialism (equality for all).

Libertarian atheism for me thanks. One great thing about atheism is we don't have to sell it. You are never going to argue someone into being an atheist. It spontaneously erupts in people exposed to enough knowledge and hypocrisy, both of which are quite common these days.
4.4.2006 12:46am
Kovarsky (mail):
ralph.m,

fine, then who gets to choose the indicia of discrimination. o - the majority - great.

if you cannot identify a nonrelgious, rational means of distinguishing political exclusion of atheists from political of exclusion of terrorists, well, i'll let your imagination fill in the blank.
4.4.2006 12:46am
Kovarsky (mail):
senatorx

i'm actually an atheist libertarian. i believe in government action only when two conditions are satisfied

(1) market failure
(2) the government action is superior to the imperfect private ordering

i end up looking like a progressive because i think we kid ourselves about market failure. but i'm coming from a good place....
4.4.2006 12:51am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I think Jews may underestimate the popular revulsion toward atheists, because simply by being Jewish, a lot of Christians give them a pass. Plus, it's normally the nuclear and extended family itself that tends to be the strongest pressure against admitting atheism or secularism, and I think for Jews, this tends to be much less pronounced.

As a cultural Protestant, so to speak, I've often been a bit jealous of this. I'm extremely aware that by publicly announcing my atheism, I would alienate much of my extended family. It's a powerful disincentive.

Really, I think this is why it is often ex-Christians who get the chip on their shoulder about religion. When you grow up having to play along and pretend and having to hide your true beliefs -- knowing that if people found out what you really thought you would be ostracized -- a lot of people, like myself, start to get indignant. Growing up in an extremely closed-minded culture will do this.

Really, I think it's something that's very hard to understand unless you've experienced it. Not that every individual from a conserative culture that comes to reject their religion feels this way, but I know that it is not uncommon.

If there are Jews who feel they've had this similar exprience, I'd be interested to hear.
4.4.2006 1:01am
Wintermute (mail) (www):
Perhaps the best we can do is try to enforce things like "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" and the Establishment Clause.

I just Googled up this interesting link:
Religious Affiliation of the U.S. Supreme Court
where they have done the stats lookup and math for us.

Catholics are 56% of the Court but only 24.5% of the US population.

Jews are even more over-represented on the Court. Somehow I'm not too worried about that, but increasing it further would please me no more than making the Court majority Catholic has.

Glance at the figures yourselves.

The driving force behind Christianity and Islam is the human desire for individual eternal life, once the claim only of Pharoahs, which Jesus massified, although religion's other functions of mythical explanations and attempts to manipulate natural phenomena, and social ordering through ritual and taboo, also account for its appeal.

Despite the wide use of scientifically-advanced technology by believers, the notion of the individual eternal soul and the persistence of your basic herd instincts, combined with differential birth rates, bode ill for a human race free of religion. It may be that only a situation of extreme scarcity giving rise to rule by an atheist clicque can wean mankind of unprovable beliefs. Remember, it was Mao Zedong who told the Dalai Lama, "Religion is poison."

Those of you who have not read Kevin Phillips' recent article, How the GOP Became God's Own Party, or new book American Theocracy might like to do so.
4.4.2006 1:05am
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
There are Jewish atheists and Muslim atheists. Atheists and agnostics without the adjective are, pretty much by definition, Christian atheists and agnostics.

I think of myself as a cultural Christian. I don't see why I have to believe in God to accept the Judeo-Christian ethic. Most atheists who "reject" Christianity turn out to have been raised in an evangelical or conservative Christian household. But that's no reason to reject a perfectly good moral code.
4.4.2006 1:09am
Kovarsky (mail):
morality is an evolutionary phenomenon.
4.4.2006 1:16am
anon295641 (mail):
I have to agree with Posner's description of atheism. One is not an athiest in the same manner one is a theist. Theism is an affirmitive stance, I believe in God, or even stronger, I have interacted with God. Theists still think of themselves as Theists even in entirely religous communities because God often defines their lives.

However, I think of myself as an Athiest only to the extent I deny the above, Theism. Were I not surrounded by Theists I would no more feel like an Athiest than I feel like someone who doesnt believe in Unicorns or that 2+2=5. God exists would just be one of millions of other false statements.

I believe that this is what Posner means when he says "God does not exist for me."
4.4.2006 1:17am
ralph.m (mail):
prove that matter exists outside our perception. it can't be done. so it shouldn't be very controversial that one cannot prove God's non-existence. I am not arguing that God exists but of the limtis of reason. By irrational I meant less solid grounds for believing, sorry...
4.4.2006 1:22am
ralph.m (mail):
my point about terrorists and pedophoiles is not that atheists are morally, or intellectually equivalent to terrorists or pedophiles. it's that discrimination of a given group must be attacked by defending the merit of that group's characteristics.
4.4.2006 1:23am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
David Blue,

>Nor, for that matter, is it possible to exclude the possibility that evolution really is an elaborate series of deceptive clues left by a wrathful God to separate the faithful from the heathen.<

My theory is that if there's a God, he gave us the Bible as a test (ok, I'm being ethnocentric, but whatever) to see who had the fortitude to reject the notion despite the threatened consequences. Then those people who do get to go to heaven, while all the sycophants end up in hell. Call it the Marcus Wager, if you will.
4.4.2006 1:23am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Kovarsky,

>morality is an evolutionary phenomenon.<

Isn't everything?
4.4.2006 1:25am
SLS 1L:
discrimination of a given group must be attacked by defending the merit of that group's characteristics.

I think you have things backwards. Generally, the burden of proof is rightly on those who want to discriminate to offer a justification. In this case, the problem is that there's no substantial evidence of any kind that atheists are categorically worse people in any way, or that we're even statistically more likely to be worse.
4.4.2006 1:32am
Kovarsky (mail):
ralph.m,

my point about terrorists and pedophoiles is not that atheists are morally, or intellectually equivalent to terrorists or pedophiles. it's that discrimination of a given group must be attacked by defending the merit of that group's characteristics.

i understand you weren't equating the two groups. my point was that similar "social exclusion" is not the phenomenon that keeps the respective groups out of positions of power.

by the way, someone threw a syringe at bonds. don't get me wrong - i think bonds is the antichrist - but that's just too much.
4.4.2006 1:43am
Kovarsky (mail):
on a more serious note,

i think the reason you see more acceptance of monotheistic religious minorities than of atheists is the sublimated belief that our moral rules flow fundamentally from unquestioning religious belief.

that's why i was only being half-gadfly when i said that morality is an evolutionary phenomenon. the idea that an atheist necessarily rejects certain deeply embedded moral principles lies - I believe - at the center of the public's distrust.
4.4.2006 1:57am
Medis:
ralph.m,

And to make SLS 1L's point more concrete, take the cases in which a judge cites a person's atheism as a reason not to grant them custody of their child. Should such a person have the burden of persuading the judge of the merits of atheism? Shouldn't it just be enough that the person is otherwise a good parent?
4.4.2006 2:00am
Fishbane (mail):
I realize I'm being vain, but I can't imagine someone of Posner's intelligence believes in God.

I don't see that as fair. As an atheist, I think that is being a little presumptuous.

While there are reasons to think that atheists as a general rule are smarter than the median, that does not translate into the notion that intelligent people are more likely to be atheist. Any atheist (or anyone else, for that matter) who thinks that would do well to take a class in statistics.

As I said in an earlier posting, my lack of faith just isn't that important to me. I'm much more interested in concerns in the present, encouraging institution that behaves morally, and making us all better off. To the extent that others fear me because I don't start from the same basis they do, well, yes: there's a danger of a culture war there. But my question is simply, why? I'm not dangerous. I'm about as American dream as one can get, aside from the fact that I haven't headed for the suburbs yet. Give me a couple of years, I'm working on it.

Honestly, the big question is whether to do law school here, or try to transplant the business overseas. What could be more American?
4.4.2006 2:02am
Medis:
Kovarsky,

I think there is an interesting substructure to the dynamic you note. It seems to me that certain religions preach that humans are chaotic and wicked by nature, and that the only thing keeping them from behaving very badly, and indeed almost insanely, is the coercive threat of divine punishment. Typically, I think atheists not only disbelieve the part about divine punishment, but they also disbelieve the part about the inherent wickedness of humans.

I'm not sure pointing that out will comfort many such religious people (I assume they would think atheists terribly naive on this issue), but I wonder if making that clear would at least help some religious people understand why many atheists do not believe that the absence of divine regulation of human affairs is bound to lead to a general state of chaos and wickedness.
4.4.2006 2:11am
Mike :
ralph.m's claim Atheism is perhaps more irrational than theism if not more so fails, even with his later explanation that by "irrational" he meant less solid grounds for believing.

Yes it is true that we cannot conclude by logic alone that God does not exist (after all, as others have noted above, He may be very good at hiding). But this result only gets God into the same category as leprechauns and unicorns.

It is true that we cannot conclude by logic alone -- and this is what I take ralph.m to mean by rationality -- that leprechauns do not exist. It seems rather a leap of logic to go from that claim to the statement that not believing in leprechauns is more irrational than believing in them.
4.4.2006 2:17am
SLS 1L:
Medis: if that's what people who are hostile to atheists are thinking, then they're not thinking very clearly at all. Lots of religions have no concept of divine punishment in the afterlife. I don't see people who are hostile to atheists, allegedly on those grounds, demonstrating the same degree of hostility toward Jews, or even the sorts of liberal Christians who don't believe in Hell.
4.4.2006 2:19am
Medis:
SLS 1L,

I don't think there is a simple answer as to why some religious people are more hostile to atheists than to other non-coreligionists who do not share their core religious views. But I suspect that at least some people do assume that other religions must provide some sort of divine regulatory scheme for human affairs, and that atheism is unique in lacking some supernatural answer to the alleged problem of natural human wickedness. At least that is what I have gathered from some of the comments here and elsewhere.
4.4.2006 2:29am
Kovarsky (mail):
Medis,

I am not going to pretend to be on the vanguard of evolutionary psychobiology, but I do think that "moral" traits seem to be ones that are also evolutionarily favored.

But you are absolutely right - a combination of Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky is about the last intellectual iconography that is going to convince evangelicals of any religion that atheists are innocuous.

I would add that religious coercion emanates from phenomena other than the possibility of divine retribution and punishment. The church or synagogue coerces socially in the same way that any cultural institution does.

Jimmy Rollins swung at a 3-0 pitch for the 2nd time in 156 career chances. And Henry Rollins is awesome.
4.4.2006 2:29am
SLS 1L:
Mike: we should add that there's virtually nothing we can prove by logic alone, aside from pure mathematics. This holds for positives as well as negatives.

While some people have purported to provide logical proofs of the nonexistence of God, only some atheists buy them. I disbelieve due to a combination of reasons (the inconsistency and moral incoherence of purported revelatory texts, the problem of evil, etc.), none of which separately or together amounts to a logical proof, imho.
4.4.2006 2:32am
plunge (mail):
"um, that remark is up there with the "hey, i'm pro-gay" comments. you aren't going to get people of that particular viewpoint/orientation to act thankful for somebody acknowledging another human being's intrinsic equality."

And yet, Bush, or whomever writes for him, took iniative, went out of their way to include "people of no faith at all" in their lists of good American folks. He didn't have to do that. So I give credit. And if you read what I wrote, I didn't say that no democrat has done anything like it. I said "almost no."

"prove that matter exists outside our perception. it can't be done."

And yet, its a moot point, since merely by engaging in this discussion, you concede the point. Accepting pragmatic axioms isn't the same thing as proving or not proving.

"so it shouldn't be very controversial that one cannot prove God's non-existence."

Again, you're forgetting deduction. There's no general argument against proving anything deductively.

"I am not arguing that God exists but of the limtis of reason."

It's GOOD that reason is limited. That's a STRENGTH.
4.4.2006 2:38am
Kovarsky (mail):
SLS 1L,

As I tried to make clear in my reply to Medis, I think the operative phenomenon on this score is religious coercion. I think Medis was a little too granular in citing the coercive idea of divine reward and punishment. I think religion coerces in a variety of ways - the religion's theology is but one. The religion's rules about family, cultural norms, etc. also exert coercive force.
4.4.2006 2:40am
Kovarsky (mail):
SLS1L

Mike: we should add that there's virtually nothing we can prove by logic alone, aside from pure mathematics.

We can't even do that - see goedel.

Plunge,

I think you are missing my point. I am not "giving credit" for any gesture that I believe to be morally required. The idea that someone deserves "credit" in the manner you describe starts from the baseline proposition that whether or not atheists should be treated equally is properly the subject of some sort of discussion.
4.4.2006 2:46am
SLS 1L:
Kovarsky - sorry to get off on a completely irrelevant tangent, but doesn't Godel's famous theorem say that not all mathematical propositions are provable or disprovable, not that none of them are? I only claim that some are; iirc, the proof of the Complex Spectral Theorem on finite vector spaces does not require any empirical assumptions.
4.4.2006 2:50am
Medis:
As an aside, I think it is worth noting that no discussion of arguments regarding the existence or nonexistence of God can go very far without first agreeing on exactly what sort of thing would or would not qualify as "God".

Kovarsky,

I think it is somewhat obvious that humans are by nature social beings, and that we are thus equipped by nature to have, or to develop with normal stimuli, characteristics that make us behave in socially-cooperative ways. In that sense, the notion of humans as naturally chaotic and wicked really does make little sense from an evolutionary standpoint, because such a species would not have survived in a competitive world.
4.4.2006 2:53am
Kovarsky (mail):
SLS 1L,

I could be wrong about this, but I remember from reading "Godel, Escher, Bach" (a fantastic book by Doug Hofstader) that the idea is that any symbolic system cannot justify itself. I believe it says that ANY symbolic system, even Principia Mathematica, cannot be self-proving.

But someone correct me if I'm wrong - I'm hardly a number theory guru.
4.4.2006 2:55am
Kovarsky (mail):
Medis,

I agree that it's obvious that we could expect much "religious morality" to be equally likely to develop as a consequence of our inherent social interdependence.

I just acknowledge that I'm probably a poor barometer for how that argument would be received by many that distrust atheists in the first instance.
4.4.2006 2:58am
Medis:
Kovarsky,

Just to clarify a bit, I wasn't offering a claim about what I believe religion does to "coerce" (or otherwise promote) norms. I was attributing to certain religious people a view about why the divine regulation of human affairs is necessary.

Indeed, I would agree that religions can influence norms in all sorts of ways irrespective of their theological content. But that suggests that perhaps religion per se is not in fact necessary at all for norm reinforcement (insofar as other institutions can perform the same fucntions), and I was trying to describe the views of those who strongly believe otherwise.
4.4.2006 3:00am
SLS 1L:
Medis: I think I'll let the theists tackle the question of what would or wouldn't qualify as "God." But as for your response to Kovarsky, evolution guides members of a given species to cooperate in some ways and compete with (or even attempt to actively harm) each other in other ways. This is not exactly an either-or proposition.

The characterization of humans as naturally wicked vs. naturally good vs. naturally neither wicked nor good has a lot to do with how high your standards are.
4.4.2006 3:02am
SLS 1L:
Kovarsky - as for the Godel's Incompleteness Theorem point, I believe your characterization and mine are both accurate. In fact, "this logical system is consistent," is one of the statements that is neither provable nor disprovable within a given logical system. But things are still provable within the system, which is all I meant to say.
4.4.2006 3:05am
tom schofield (mail):
While hostility toward atheists is obviously not good, I can offer an additional reason why hostility to atheism exists. Some people believe (for better or worse) that the United States was founded for a religious citizenry, and that only a people who bound themselves by the laws of a religion would be restrained enough to make a democratic republic like ours work in the long term. Now, of course most VC regulars don't agree about the above postulate, but many others do. For them, atheists are welcome in America, but atheism does not mesh with their understanding of our national identity. Is that intrinsicly unfair? Well, perhaps. This objection has been raised in other debates (gay marriage) for some time, quite eloqently. Should I choose to believe in atheism, people may tell me that it's incompatible with the underpinnings of our society. Consequently, as long as I believe in atheism, America will seem to keep me at arms length, unsure how to reconcile my right to believe according to the dictates of my own conscience with the need to discourage a worldview that is incompatible with our government as designed. Again, according to the comments on this site, the in-house atheists are much sharper than I am, and will no doubt disagree with the above labeling of atheism as 'incompatible', but regardless of whether or not some later post rips this one apart, there are people out there that see the situation as I have described it, and atheists will continue to sense unease from them. I have no solution, but taking the concerns of the opposite side seriously usually helps the conversion process.
4.4.2006 3:13am
Kovarsky (mail):
tom,

i think you're absolutely right. in fact, i think that's the reason why atheism is unusually "closeted." for whatever reason, i'm uniquely aware of how unwelcome that belief is. i obviously disagree with you about how compatible it "really" is with the american identity. it all depends on who defines identity.

it's really a shame, too. i imagine one day when i have kids, and i honestly want to raise them atheists - for reasons that i think are very legitimate and are certainly within my parental prerogatives. we just don't take the idea that the first amendment protects atheism that seriously. i think as a constitutional matter that's probably right - but it's profoundly troubling on a personal level. atheists still encounter a bit of a "get real" attitude whenever they try to carry that atheism into the real world to secure any sort of exemption from anything. i don't really care, and i don't really feel coerced, but i do worry about raising my children in a way that i deem appropriate as a parent.
4.4.2006 3:22am
Bezuhov (mail):
"You can have meetings where everybody gets together and mocks those silly theists."

Well, minorities do what they have to to survive. While Posner's approach is appealing, especially to a non-atheist like myself, in a liberal society I'd think we'd want to be more protective of minority opinions than to expect all atheists to think or behave likewise. If one truly misses the entire appeal of faith, then I'd imagine one would have at least some distaste for all the intellectual energies wasted by my fellow citizens.

Such things are not a whole lot of their business, but I'd be hesitant to begrudge them the right to lodge at least mild protest.
4.4.2006 3:37am
Bezuhov (mail):
The converse holds too, of course, and is often not protected, at least by social mores, and increasingly legal ones, despite the content of my particular belief compelling me, peacefully, to lodge the opposite protest.
4.4.2006 3:41am
Kovarsky (mail):
i would point out that not all atheists think theism is stupid.
4.4.2006 3:42am
Bezuhov (mail):
"atheists still encounter a bit of a "get real" attitude"

If its any consolation, non-atheists get it at college, or sometimes earlier if one attempts to take the non-atheism any more seriously than Santa Claus.
4.4.2006 3:43am
Bezuhov (mail):
"The characterization of humans as naturally wicked vs. naturally good vs. naturally neither wicked nor good has a lot to do with how high your standards are."

Or the ability to distinguish the ideal from the real.
4.4.2006 3:51am
Hank:

I realize I'm being vain, but I can't imagine someone of Posner's intelligence believes in God.


Of course many intelligent people believe in God. But believing in God is not a matter of intelligence. It is a psychological need, and one may have that need whether one is intelligent or not, the way that one may feel depressed whether or not one objectively has a reason to feel depressed. I do not mean to insult believers any more than I mean to insult depressed people, as no one is responsible for his psychological needs. I do consider myself fortunate, however, not to have the need to believe in God, because I prefer not to believe in anything of which I have no evidence. At the same time, I recognize that a believer may consider himself fortunate to be able to believe, because of the comfort (or whatever) that belief provides for him.
4.4.2006 6:14am
Hank:
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of Herman Melville: "He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us."
4.4.2006 6:37am
Medis:
SLS 1L,

On the definition of "God"--it seems to me that even an "atheist" needs to have some definition of "God" in mind, because otherwise how do they know what it is they don't believe in? To give some concrete examples, I've seen people define "God" as "everything", or as "whatever caused the Universe to exist". If one takes such definitions seriously, then I suspect that most atheists would not be disinclined to believe in the existence of "God" as defined in those terms. I should note, though, that I usually find that even the proponents of such definitions tend to sneak a little more into their conception of "God", even if they are not explicit about doing so.

On natural goodness or wickedness--I am definitely not suggesting that all atheists tend to think that humans are naturally good in the same sense as some religious people tend to think that humans are naturally wicked. I am just suggesting that the atheist's typical lack of a religious belief in the wickedness of humans helps to explain why they see no particular need for divine regulation of human affairs.

Personally, though, I would suggest that while it is true that intraspecies conflict and violence is a natural response to certain conditions, the peaceful management of such conflicts, where possible, tends to be mutually beneficial. I also think that most humans are naturally inclined--at least with the proper stimuli during their youth--to go along voluntarily with such regulatory measures, at least insofar as they perceive that such regulations provide mutually-beneficial conflict management. And the proof of this thesis is that humans throughout history, in every society, have tended to actually go along with such regulations with much less external enforcement than one might otherwise assume would be necessary. In other words, people really do tend to "internalize" social norms.

Of course, these tendencies are far from perfect (although I think much of that can be explained by the case-by-case perception that certain regulatory measures are no longer mutually-beneficial), and certain individuals may be far less inclined to voluntarily go along with regulations (to "internalize" norms) than others. But it does seem to me that overall humans are naturally inclined to this sort of manangement of conflict through "internalized" regulations. And in that highly-qualified sense, I think humans are indeed naturally "moral"--and again, I'd cite for proof the actual dynamics of human societies throughout history.
4.4.2006 9:11am
Robert Lutton:
In my experience, the hatred of atheism is based on the same subconscious problem as homosexuality. When a heterosexual meets a gay person he or she is forced to think about the question; "am I gay?".

When a person who believes in a supernatural world encounters someone who does not, they are forced (mostly against their own wishes) to confront the possibility that a core belief is just a fantasy. No wonder they hate us.
4.4.2006 9:42am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Robert Lutton,

Definitely. It sounds smug, as atheism invariably sounds smug, since you're telling people that God really isn't anything more than a grown-up Santa Claus. But I think it's true. Most religious belief in America really isn't compatible with the idea of nice well-meaning atheists. If you can be nice and well-meaning and still be an atheist, it seriously calls into question the whole Christian theory of good and evil and heaven and hell.

Most Christians seem to believe that faith is what gets you to heaven. They don't want to think that perfectly wonderful people are going to reject that faith for perfectly wonderful reasons and then spend eternity in hell. It just doesn't work -- atheists have to be evil, because there's no question that they're going to fry.

Plus, of course, many people are simply insecure in their faith, and fear themselves that God is just a grown-up Santa Claus. So, again, this creates some resentment toward those arrogant jerks who act like they're so much above it. They'd much prefer if we would just pick our own fantasy, so they could simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we know any better than them.
4.4.2006 11:43am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I'd add that I think this is actually why many Christians are so insistent that atheism IS a belief system, because they want to act like it's just another inferior religion. Many refuse to even accept that someone could actually just dismiss the whole notion of religion. There's very much a structural problem with Christians, at least traditional Christians, admitting that true rejection of religion is a reasonable and valid position.

Again, it's why they say there are no atheists in fox holes. It's the religious need to marginalize atheists in any way possible.
4.4.2006 12:00pm
Taeyoung (mail):

In my experience, the hatred of atheism is based on the same subconscious problem as homosexuality. When a heterosexual meets a gay person he or she is forced to think about the question; "am I gay?".

When a person who believes in a supernatural world encounters someone who does not, they are forced (mostly against their own wishes) to confront the possibility that a core belief is just a fantasy. No wonder they hate us.


I think it sounds smug and is also obviously wrong.

I mean, suppose someone comes up to you and says that the world you know is, in fact, nothing but an illusion, and that we are all being grown in vats to power some kind of robotic dystopia! This, uh, "forces" you (against your own wishes!) to consider the possibility that one of your core beliefs (assuming you believe in the reality of the material world) is in fact wrong!

And yet, the usual response to such a person would be to brush him off as just another raving loony.

I suspect this is rather closer to what the religious feel, when they are confronted by an atheist.
4.4.2006 12:04pm
Hank:
Taeyoung: Nice try, but the problem is that many people are insecure about their sexuality and many people are insecure about their religious beliefs, but few are insecure about the existence of the material world. The reason that many people are insecure about their religious beliefs but few are insecure about the existence of the material world is obvious: their five senses reveal the latter to them, but not the former. Of course, this begs the question of whether what the five senses reveal is real, but few people are troubled by that. In ordinary life -- i.e., with respect to everything but religion -- people rely on their five senses in determining what is real and what is not. Why shouldn't they be insecure about the exception they make for religion?
4.4.2006 12:18pm
Whatever:
I think it is important to redirect attention to the Posner quote earlier in the thread. Atheism is not opposition to religion or to the percieved existance of god. Atheists are not necessarily the big tough fourth-graders who tell all the first-graders that Santa Claus does not exist just to see them cry.

Atheism simply means "without god" and I think Posner's analagy with the eunoch is particularly apt (smart guy, Posner). Atheists do not necessarily have different moral instincts than theists, nor do they necessarily reach different moral conclusions. In fact, I think that you would find that atheists' moral actions are probably indistinguishable from those of theisits.

The only point of debate is the source of moral guidance. Theists attribute their moral sense to god, atheists attribute the same moral sense to something else (innate empathy, evolutionary instinct, whatever...)

What strikes me as crazy are those who still insist that atheists are some sort of selfish monsters risen from philosophers' nightmares.
4.4.2006 12:22pm
Hank:
If anything, some atheists have a stronger moral sense than some believers, because some believers feel confident that, because they are religious, they are moral, regardless of the conduct in which they engage.
4.4.2006 12:26pm
Medis:
Taeyoung,

Perhaps I have spent too much time in the company of philosophers, but in my experience, rather than "brushing off" that possibility, reflective people are willing to think seriously about it. Ultimately, the fact that we can't really rule out the "brain in a vat" possibility based on our experiences is pretty interesting, and potentially instructive, even if it doesn't really have much in the way of direct practical import.

Of course, maybe you are focusing on the idea that a person would assert this not just as a possibility, but as an actuality. Which is not entirely unheard of--some philosophers like Berkeley were not too far off from such a vision, and perhaps the monadology of Leibniz stands out as an exemplar of a truly strange metaphysical system. Still, asserting a belief in the actual existence of the Matrix world--not just as a metaphor, but as a literal description of our world--probably would strike most of us as pretty insane.

But it seems to me that is not because the details are so odd, but rather because we know it was just presented in a movie. In other words, some specific religious beliefs can seem pretty fanciful as well (the Matrix has nothing on Dante's Inferno in that sense). Hence, the "insanity" of the Matrix believer lies in the fact that he as accepted a movie as his gospel, not just that he has some odd beliefs.
4.4.2006 12:31pm
Taeyoung (mail):
Taeyoung: Nice try, but the problem is that many people are insecure about their sexuality and many people are insecure about their religious beliefs, but few are insecure about the existence of the material world. The reason that many people are insecure about their religious beliefs but few are insecure about the existence of the material world is obvious: their five senses reveal the latter to them, but not the former.

And yet, many religious people I know honestly consider atheism to be potty, and possibly nothing more an affectation. Hmm. I think the notion that there's some subconscious anxiety there is nothing more than wishful thinking our part. Are there people insecure about their religious beliefs? Almost certainly -- people leave their religions or convert or whatever all the time. But enough for this to be true?

In my experience, the hatred of atheism is based on the same subconscious problem as homosexuality. When a heterosexual meets a gay person he or she is forced to think about the question; "am I gay?".

When a person who believes in a supernatural world encounters someone who does not, they are forced (mostly against their own wishes) to confront the possibility that a core belief is just a fantasy. No wonder they hate us.

You must be joking.
4.4.2006 12:37pm
Taeyoung (mail):

their five senses reveal the latter to them, but not the former.

And singling this bit out for a response, one fairly common experience (or so I gather) among religious Americans is the sense of a direct experience of the Divine. Their five senses may not be revealing it to them, but an awful lot of them plainly feel that something experientially is.
4.4.2006 12:40pm
ctw (mail):
I would submit that there is way too much intellectualizing going on here about what religious people are "thinking" when they confront the concept of "atheist". based on the relevant statistics and demographics plus personal experience, I'd bet the following are true for most of them:

- they have never met one
- in the unlikely event that they have, atheism didn't come up
- in the even less likely event that it did, the atheist didn't attack religion, was quite polite, and changed the subject
- the religious person assumes that anyone who claims to be irreligious either has never thought about the issue or has back-burnered it for the moment but will "come around" sooner or later (death bed, foxhole, tragedy, etc)

the point being that most religious people almost certainly have no well-defined concept of "atheism" or "atheist" (and, it's worth noting, probably neither do most irreligious people - as noted by several commentors, apathy re god probably is much more prevalent than any deep commitment to atheism/agnosticism). their reactions to the word are knee-jerk and thoughtless - similar to the pavlovian reaction to "liberal" successfully promoted by the RNC.
4.4.2006 12:52pm
Whatever:
Taeyoung's "Brain in a Vat" problem is rhetorically no different than the old tree falling in the woods question. Namely: Can we be certain of anything in the absence of knowledge? The short answer is obviously no, but the long answer is a more insightful: "Does it really matter?"

I am not certain that god does not exist. I believe that god does not exist. My beliefs are occasionally wrong (I believed, for example, that LSU was going all the way), but they are informed and are quite removed from certainty. Certainty requires that something be indisputable, belief is an informed hypothesis.

To claim that because we cannot be certain of anything atheists are all just confused or crazy is ludacris. Atheism is defined by a lack of belief in the existance of god, not the certainty that god does not exist. When you use the brain in a vat problem or the tree falling in the woods problem you are poking holes in certainty, not belief.

And, as was said earlier, if you arrived at the belief that we were brains stewing in vats in a robotic dystopia, what would that change? (hint: answering this question by making reference to what Keanu Reeves did is cheating.)
4.4.2006 12:53pm
Houston Lawyer:
I believe this string shows why there is large scale antipathy towards athiests. Most "professed" athiests are smug in their beliefs and openly refer to the religious as deluded or just plain stupid. What a way to win friends and influence people.

Christians have long been tarred with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberson and many ostensible leaders who are far worse. Athiest get Madalyn Murray O'Hare. The fact that these people don't actually represent you doesn't get you a free pass.
4.4.2006 12:59pm
Taeyoung (mail):
When you use the brain in a vat problem or the tree falling in the woods problem you are poking holes in certainty, not belief.

And Robert Lutton appears to be claiming the existence of atheists undermines religious believers' belief. Or perhaps just their certainty in their belief. But either way, I think the notion is a bit fantastic, and that religious folk are about as likely to think we atheists are dotty as they are to confront some black, gnawing doubt at the heart of their god-guided existence, feel angst at the dread confrontation, and take their negative feelings out on other atheists.

Mostly, I imagine they are simply dismissive, and the conversation moves on.
4.4.2006 1:10pm
Medis:
Houston Lawyer,

You seem to be ignoring the many atheists here who have commented that they do not think that religious people are stupid. But I do think your selective response is illuminating as to why some religious people show unusual animosity to atheists, as opposed to other non-coreligionists.

Taeyoung,

I don't think all religious people feel insecurity about their religious beliefs. But I do think it is common for many modern people to feel a tension between their religious beliefs and some of their other beliefs (eg, many report a tension between something like what they glean from modern science or history and what they believe as a matter of religious faith). Given that religious people themselves sometimes report this tension, I don't think it is unfair to ask whether some religious people might be projecting onto atheists some of these internal voices.
4.4.2006 1:13pm
Medis:
Taeyoung,

We cross-posted, but I think your last post seems to be contradicted by the conversations we have been having in these comments. In other words, clearly many religious people do not merely see atheists as "dotty".
4.4.2006 1:16pm
SLS 1L:
ctw: Actually, if atheists are 3% of the population (or even just 1%), then it's extremely likely that people have met one. The difference is that most people don't know they've met one, because atheists don't wear giant "A's" on their foreheads.
4.4.2006 1:16pm
Taeyoung (mail):
And, as was said earlier, if you arrived at the belief that we were brains stewing in vats in a robotic dystopia, what would that change?

Well, I think one would re-evaluate the goods one pursues in life. E.g. if you think you will have a child, but you also think you are actually stuck in a vat somewhere, you might question whether the person with whom you have sex and the child who results are "real," or whether they are simply virtual constructs. Or possibly it might throw you into Truman-show style doubt. Are my relationships real at all?

You might also conclude that there is most likely a near-total the absence of "real-world" consequences for your actions. After all, a system in which incidental death in the virtual reality translated into the death of the man-in-vat would be awfully inefficient for robots using humans as their power sources, no? It's possible to draw conclusions from that, morally speaking, I think.

It's also possible to conclude, if you believe there is no time and no ultimate progression in history (it all being a simulation) that you have no moral obligation to, e.g. ensure the virtual environment is not degraded, provide for future generations of your own and other families, etc.

I think there are possible nontrivial consequences here.
4.4.2006 1:23pm
EricK (mail):
After reading the article cited by Eugene Volokh, I was still looking for exactly how atheist where singled out more than any other religion, or beliefs. On the issue of elected officials. If you don't demonstrate that your beliefs are in line with the majority of voters then you are not going to be elected regardless of what your religious beliefs are.
4.4.2006 1:30pm
Taeyoung (mail):

We cross-posted, but I think your last post seems to be contradicted by the conversations we have been having in these comments. In other words, clearly many religious people do not merely see atheists as "dotty".

True, many also see us as Evil! Heh.

Re:
Given that religious people themselves sometimes report this tension, I don't think it is unfair to ask whether some religious people might be projecting onto atheists some of these internal voices.


They might, yes. But given that most religious people (that I know, at least) are mostly dismissive of atheists and atheism, I don't think this is really a major issue. I don't detect much discomfort with atheists. The scenario reads much more like wishful thinking.

And I bet the "tension" there is from the huge numbers of Americans who feel that the theory of evolution contradicts Genesis, not from any deep anomie about God.
4.4.2006 1:31pm
EricK (mail):

(link)Robert Lutton:
In my experience, the hatred of atheism is based on the same subconscious problem as homosexuality. When a heterosexual meets a gay person he or she is forced to think about the question; "am I gay?".

When a person who believes in a supernatural world encounters someone who does not, they are forced (mostly against their own wishes) to confront the possibility that a core belief is just a fantasy. No wonder they hate us.


This assumption is completely false. When a man meets a homosexual, the question that he asks himself is; "how could that person be attracted to another man?" Only homosexuals believe that heterosexuals are insecure about their sexuality. Much the same as when meeting an atheist the question is; "how can they not believe in God?'
4.4.2006 1:39pm
CJColucci (mail):
When a man meets a homosexual, the question that he asks himself is; "how could that person be attracted to another man?"
Really? As a practicing heterosexual who has met many homosexuals, I can report that I have never asked myself that question. I haven't felt any insecurity about my own sexuality, either, for what that's worth, but then I wasn't raised to hate, fear, or just go "ick" about, all those men who are taking themselves out of the market for women.
4.4.2006 1:55pm
dweeb:
I. This may be. But it's up to society to democratically arrive at a definition of what's best for the child. Sociologists and psychologists have found benefit in religious belief that does not hinge on whether the belief is valid. It's no different from a judge deciding on the basis of which parent will tell the child there is a tooth fairy.

II. Too bad. There aren't (thankfully) a lot of scientologists in public office either. People are free to use whatever basis they desire in deciding who to vote for.

III. Social exclusion - cry me a river. It's called Freedom of Association.

Here's the thing - antipathy toward athiests is a component of any religious belief structure. Just as an athiest is free to believe that religion is false, a religious person is free to believe there's something wrong with the athiest. No one is required to agree with you, vote for you, spend time with you, like you, or be happy if their kids marry you. It is what it is; get over it. The religious believer doesn't care what you think of him; he cares what his deity thinks of him. It's not his fault if you don't have anyone but your fellow man to seek approval from, and it doesn't ethically obligate him to give it to you.
4.4.2006 1:59pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"When a man meets a homosexual, the question that he asks himself is; "how could that person be attracted to another man?" Only homosexuals believe that heterosexuals are insecure about their sexuality. Much the same as when meeting an atheist the question is; "how can they not believe in God?'"

At last, the voice of sanity. I am continuously amazed that people, most notably gays and athiests, so obviously not representative of the wider population, could think that their ponderings about that wider population have any relation to the real world.
4.4.2006 2:00pm
FXKLM:

Actually, if atheists are 3% of the population (or even just 1%), then it's extremely likely that people have met one. The difference is that most people don't know they've met one, because atheists don't wear giant "A's" on their foreheads.


I'm not so sure. Atheists might be 3% of the population, but they are extremely unevenly distributed throughout the country. I think it's very possible that many Americans have had no personal contact with an atheist.
4.4.2006 2:03pm
Randy R. (mail):
Of course, it's silly to generalize about how people really react when they meet gay people. As a gay man, I have found the reactions span a wide spectrum. So basically everyone is correct when they describe how heteros react when they meet a gay person. I suspect the same is true for meeting an atheist.

Having said that, though, I think there is indeed merit to the claim that at least some people are insecure in their beliefs or their sexuality, and theses are the people that tend to react very strongly against gays or atheists. Those who are quite comfortable or secure in their beliefs or sexuality will just dismiss others, but insecure people have something to prove to themselves and to their friends and associates.

Again, that's certainly not all people. But to say the assumption is completely false, is, well, false.
4.4.2006 2:09pm
EricK:
Randy,
So if I have a strong reaction to a bad smell, not trying to equate homosexuality to a bad smell just an example, does that mean that I am insecure about my sense of smell?
4.4.2006 2:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Actually, the ponderings of gay people, atheists and other groups that are marginilized have a great deal to do with the greater society. It is precisely those groups that are marginilized, the ones that are on the outside looking in, the ones that don't get to play in the regular reindeer games, that often have a better objective perspective on the wider society.

History has taught us that often, it's just these groups that push the wider society to new insights, discoveries, philosophies and so on. Remember: At one time, Christians were persecuted and were just a small sect in ancient Rome. But they were effective in part because they came up with an alternative moral code and belief system. They saw the inequities of the roman world, the injustices, and they proposed something better.

In the US, blacks were severly marginilized throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and yet out of the rejected world came a new form of music -- the blues, and later, jazz.

The same can be said for gays and atheists. The wider society SHOULD embrace atheists, because they force us to confront basic truths, it makes us question what really IS the best interests of the child, whether God is on our side in any particular war, whether we should act as though God exists or whether we should as though no god exists.

So celebrate the ponderings of everyone. It could be the jolt that convinces you further about your beliefs, or (shudder) it might actually make you abandon them. In any case, it's always good to rethink your life from time to time.
4.4.2006 2:28pm
Taeyoung (mail):
It is precisely those groups that are marginilized, the ones that are on the outside looking in, the ones that don't get to play in the regular reindeer games, that often have a better objective perspective on the wider society.

We're marginalised by society . . . yet we have a better objective perspective on society? Does no one else think there's something awfully unpersuasive in that juxtaposition?
4.4.2006 2:31pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"I. This may be. But it's up to society to democratically arrive at a definition of what's best for the child. Sociologists and psychologists have found benefit in religious belief that does not hinge on whether the belief is valid. It's no different from a judge deciding on the basis of which parent will tell the child there is a tooth fairy.

II. Too bad. There aren't (thankfully) a lot of scientologists in public office either. People are free to use whatever basis they desire in deciding who to vote for.

III. Social exclusion - cry me a river. It's called Freedom of Association.

Here's the thing - antipathy toward athiests is a component of any religious belief structure. Just as an athiest is free to believe that religion is false, a religious person is free to believe there's something wrong with the athiest. No one is required to agree with you, vote for you, spend time with you, like you, or be happy if their kids marry you. It is what it is; get over it. The religious believer doesn't care what you think of him; he cares what his deity thinks of him. It's not his fault if you don't have anyone but your fellow man to seek approval from, and it doesn't ethically obligate him to give it to you."

If this was applied to Jew's instead of atheists, there would be plenty of people crying foul. It's a huge double standard.
4.4.2006 2:36pm
Ben Riley (mail):
Ilya, how come we didn't start an atheist law group while at YLS? Or did you, and I just wasn't aware?

Really enjoyed your posts this week.

Hope all is well,
Ben Riley
4.4.2006 2:41pm
EricK:
Atheist in western societies, still grew up with a sense of Judeo-Christian values/morals. So while atheist do not believe in God, I would argue that their basic sense of right and wrong come from religious views. Maybe if more atheist would openly state their views there would be hostility towards them.
4.4.2006 2:44pm
Hank:
Religious believers in western societies still grew up with a sense of Enlightenment values/morals. So while believers claim to derive their values and morals from religion, I would argue that their basic sense of right and wrong come from their Enlightenment values. I am serious and am not merely parodying the previous comment. Believers tend to find in their religion statements that support the beliefs they already hold -- and hold on the same bases that atheists hold theirs. And they reject the statements in their religion that are inconsistent with the beliefs they already hold.
4.4.2006 3:02pm
Peter Wimsey:
Atheist in western societies, still grew up with a sense of Judeo-Christian values/morals. So while atheist do not believe in God, I would argue that their basic sense of right and wrong come from religious views. Maybe if more atheist would openly state their views there would be hostility towards them.


What are these "judeo-christian" values? Support of slavery and subjugation of women? Elimination of anyone with different beliefs? And just where does anti-semitism (of which there is a long history, now perhaps finally fading out) fall in the "judeo-christian" value system?

In fact, the values of modern western civilization are demonstrably non-christian and non-jewish. Values such as toleration of different points of view, democracy, pluralism, freedom, respect for the individual. All of these are values that came from the enlightenment, values that came despite particular religious views.
4.4.2006 3:07pm
SLS 1L:
Believers tend to find in their religion statements that support the beliefs they already hold -- and hold on the same bases that atheists hold theirs. And they reject the statements in their religion that are inconsistent with the beliefs they already hold.
Absolutely. It wasn't that long ago that a lot of people, already predisposed to racism, tried to justify it based on the Bible. That isn't regarded as sound theology today, but who can seriously claim that people regard racism as less acceptable because of changes in Biblical interpretation, rather than that Biblical interpretation has changed because racism has become less acceptable? The same goes for traditional gender roles, gay rights, anti-Semitism, and any number of other things: people who are predisposed to support these things find them in the Bible; people who are predisposed to oppose them find grounds for opposition in the Bible.

I don't mean that the beliefs are inauthentic: I'm sure these people are 100% sincere when they say they think the Bible supports them. I'm making a claim about causality: in general, moral beliefs cause theological ones, not vice versa.
4.4.2006 3:11pm
Medis:
Taeyoung,

It should be noted that Ilya's posts have actually narrowed the focus of our discussion considerably. We are not talking about all religious people, because undoubtedly many (maybe even most) religious people in America have no animosity toward atheists (as an aside to others: it doesn't take a majority to make atheists unelectable--just a very adamant minority). We are also not talking about religious people who show equivalent amounts of animosity to all non-coreligionists, atheists included. Rather, we are specifically talking about people who seem to have more animosity for atheists than for other non-coreligionists.

So, while it may be true that most religious people you know are merely dismissive of atheists (or perhaps even neutral), these discussions are specifically about understanding the minority of religious people with the views defined above.

dweeb,

I'm actually not aware of any research that shows it is important that a parent promote a religious worldview per se. Rather, my recollection is that the effect in question could be generalized to any sort of organized worldview. In other words, I don't think the research supports the idea that it matters whether the parents sit their children down with the Bible or with The Wealth of Nations.
4.4.2006 3:15pm
EricK:

What are these "judeo-christian" values? Support of slavery and subjugation of women? Elimination of anyone with different beliefs? And just where does anti-semitism (of which there is a long history, now perhaps finally fading out) fall in the "judeo-christian" value system?


You are confusing judeo-christian with Islamic.

Take a look at the last 5 Commandments, read the New Testament, and take a course in western civ, then come tell me that basic moral values are not founded in religion.
4.4.2006 3:26pm
SLS 1L:
EricK, from the NIV:
"You shall not murder.
"You shall not commit adultery.
"You shall not steal.
"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Exodus 20:13-17 (NIV). Prohibitions on murder, adultery, theft, and perjury are universal across cultures, or nearly so. The last one - the prohibition on coveting - might be more unusual, but it's disapproved of neither in our laws nor in our culture. Our capitalist system, for better or worse, is based on covetousness and greed, and appears in at least some tension with that Commandment.
4.4.2006 3:43pm
Hank:
Showing that moral values coincide with the last 5 Commandments tells us nothing about what founded them. Perhaps (or should I say "undoubtedly") the last 5 Commandments grew out of then-existing moral values, which were "founded" by, perhaps, natural selection.
4.4.2006 3:44pm
ctw (mail):
"if atheists are 3% of the population (or even just 1%), then it's extremely likely that people have met one"

you ignored my reference to demographics. as noted by FXKLM, atheists almost certainly aren't uniformly distributed geographically. some heavily religion-infused environments (eg, rural, urban ethnic conclaves) will likely be atheist-sparse where as the environments inhabited by readers of this blog are likely to be atheist-dense. plus the ambiguity between being irreligious and atheist clouds any statistics derived from typically simplistic poll questions. eg, my personal friends, chosen based not-at-all on religious orientation, are almost all irreligious but would probably never self-label as "atheist", being sensitive to how loaded and misleading that word can be. I'll stick with my bet.

BTW, to the "get over it" crowd. "mr" somin's post(s) addressed some purely practical issues that are perfectly legitimate to raise. as best I recall, of the 100s of commenters few if any have "whined" or cried "victim"; in fact, several have specifically pointed out that our atheism/irreligiosity is seldom if ever a burden and we are often among the privileged economically and socially. hence, the implicit chastisement is disingenuous and sophomoric.

speaking for myself, my concern isn't for personal welfare, which is just fine, thank you. it's for the welfare of the country as the more mindless versions of religion become more infused into the political arena. the ignorance implied by some attitudes towards atheism/irreligiosity (several expressed here, disappointingly) are inevitably reflected in election results, and that should be a concern to any thinking person, religious or not.
4.4.2006 3:44pm
Medis:
EricK,

I think you are confusing correlation with causation. Basic imperatives like "don't kill" and "don't steal" have appeared in virtually every moral system throughout human history, and so the fact that they appear in both religious codifications of morality as well as other codifications of morality does not mean that the former caused the latter. Rather, they all seem to have some common cause (which would probably be the basic needs of human societies).
4.4.2006 3:45pm
Kovarsky (mail):
aptly named Dweeb,

To echo Medis, I would love to see your data. Please include it on your next post.

Glenn,

But it's up to society to democratically arrive at a definition of what's best for the child. Sociologists and psychologists have found benefit in religious belief that does not hinge on whether the belief is valid. It's no different from a judge deciding on the basis of which parent will tell the child there is a tooth fairy.

Where on earth does "it" say childrearing is not a parental prerogative as long as it does not interfere with other social objectives (I can recommend about 30 supreme court cases that say otherwise).

Too bad. There aren't (thankfully) a lot of scientologists in public office either. People are free to use whatever basis they desire in deciding who to vote for.

Of course they can. That doesn't mean that social norms should sanction these bases. You are free to vote for a candidate on the grounds that you dislike his oppenents skin color. Nobody can punish you for it, but you don't seriously think social norms should condone this behavior, do you?

III. Social exclusion - cry me a river. It's called Freedom of Association.

See the response above.

You seem to equate the legality of certain practices to whether or not they are culturally desirable. I'm not clear why you do that, other than perhaps that you are not being particularly thoughtful.
4.4.2006 3:50pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"The wider society SHOULD embrace atheists, because they force us to confront basic truths, it makes us question what really IS the best interests of the child, whether God is on our side in any particular war, whether we should act as though God exists or whether we should as though no god exists."

I agree. But you know what they say, a mind is like a parachute, keeping it open all the time is a real drag. Critical reflection is not the only productive activity in which a mind can be engaged.

"I would argue that their basic sense of right and wrong come from religious views."

"I would argue that their basic sense of right and wrong come from their Enlightenment values."

The above two are not mutually exclusive, indeed I would argue that history suggests some mutual dependence, even if it only expresses that dependence across generations cyclically.
4.4.2006 3:58pm
Kovarsky (mail):
by the way, the entirety of that post was to be addressed to dweeb, not to glenn
4.4.2006 4:08pm
dejapooh (mail):
I have been developing a personal belief system though I have not figured out what to call it. Perhaps Irrelevantism. I believe that God is Irrelevant. If there is a God, I can not believe he (she/it/they) is egocentric. Because of this, prayer is irrelevant. In the end, going to heaven or hell is based upon what kind of person you are. If you are a net gain person, a person who overall makes the world a better place, makes people happy, causes little or no pain, up you go. If you are a net loss, down you go. If there is no God, and you are a Net Gain person, you are likely to enjoy the benefits of being such. You are a reasonable and responsible member of society and are more likely to live in a reasonable and responsible way. If you are a net loss, you will probably suffer the consequences of that. Given all of this, the existence or non-existence of God is irrelevant and should have no impact upon your behavior and how you treat other people.
4.4.2006 4:12pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Isn't Bernie Sanders an atheist?
4.4.2006 4:16pm
Randy R. (mail):
Eric:
I don't understand your comment about smells. A person can have a bad reaction to eating shellfish or nuts, or even a foul smelling person. Those are involuntary, physical reactions. It has nothing to do with my point about a voluntary reaction to the idea of a gay man or an atheist.
4.4.2006 4:17pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Paul,

I think you mean colonel sanders.

Dejapooh,

I believe that is utilitarianism.
4.4.2006 4:17pm
Sydney Carton (www):
'What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word ?'

'Yes, we jolly well do,' said Scrubb. 'Can you tell me what it's like?' asked the Witch. (thrum, thrum, thrum, went the strings).

'Please it your Grace,' said the Prince, very coldly land politely. 'You see that lamp. It is round and yellow land gives light to the whole room; and hangeth more-over from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun I is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.'

'Hangeth from what, my lord?' asked the Witch; and I then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: 'You see ? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children's story.'

'Yes, I see now,' said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone. 'It must be so.' And while she said this, it seemed to her to be very good sense.

Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, 'There is no sun.' And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. 'There is no sun' After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. 'You are right. There is no sun.' It was such a relief to give in and say it.

'There never was a sun,' said the Witch.

'No. There never was a sun,' said the Prince, and the Marsh-wiggle, and the children.

For the last few minutes Jill had been feeling that there was something she must remember at all costs. And now she did. But it was dreadfully hard to say it. She felt as if huge weights were laid on her lips. At last, with an effort that seemed to take all the good out of her, she said:

'There's Asian.'

'Asian?' said the Witch, quickening ever so slightly the pace of her thrumming. 'What a pretty name! What does it mean ?'

'He is the great Lion who called us out of our own world,' said Scrubb, ' and sent us into this to find Prince Rilian.'

'What is a lion'?' asked the Witch.

'Oh, hang it all!' said Scrubb. 'Don't you know? How can we describe it to her ? Have you ever seen a cat ?'

'Surely,' said the Queen. 'I love cats.'

'Well, a lion is a little bit - only a little bit, mind you -like a huge cat - with a mane. At least, it's not like a horse's mane, you know, it's more like a judge's wig. And it's yellow. And terrifically strong,'

The Witch shook her head. 'I see,' she said, 'that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, than we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, and so you imagined a bigger and better lamp and called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without copying it from the real world, this world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that art a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed of such toys ? Come, all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Asian. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.'

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn't hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and coldblooded like a duck's. But he knew it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, "What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins."

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

"Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!" cried Scrubb and Jill.
4.4.2006 4:18pm
Sydney Carton (www):
quite a bit of typos in that excerpt I posted, but I think the point is made. I think that's why people are hostile to athiests. Their world is so dull.
4.4.2006 4:20pm
Taeyoung (mail):

So, while it may be true that most religious people you know are merely dismissive of atheists (or perhaps even neutral), these discussions are specifically about understanding the minority of religious people with the views defined above.

I have not followed as closely as perhaps I should, but the numbers in Ilya's first post are 40% and 48% for surveyed anti-atheist sentiment. Certainly, this may still be a minority of religious people, but it seems like a very substantial minority of religious people.

The number who would actually vote against atheists for being atheists, or who think giving atheists custody is wrong, shun atheists etc. is perhaps somewhat smaller, but one would still expect it to be substantial.

And for this group of people, again, I think the Lutton model is highly unrealistic. Disliking someone doesn't always reflect underlying insecurity about those qualities you think distinguish you from that person. When you decide you don't want to associate with people whose views you find utterly wrong (and perhaps even loathsome), after all, we don't usually take that as an indication of a deep-rooted insecurity about whether you might hold those beliefs yourself. Instead, we typically take it as an indication that you think you are right, and that they are on the wrong side of the pale.

Unless, of course, we're from the wrong side of the pale ourselves, in which case we may be inclined to jeer unpersuasively that deep-down they're just scared we're right.

I don't think perceiving insecurity in their rejection of atheists and atheism is correct. I don't think it is helpful in understanding this minority of religious believers -- quite the reverse, even, I think it encourages an unhealthy intellectual complacency in individual atheists, and that this operates as a bar to understanding. More helpful, in my view, is the attempt to understand from their perspective what they find objectionable in atheism, what consequences they (rightly or wrongly) think flow from atheism, and how they could be persuaded to take a different stance.

Attempting to reframe their opinions as a psychological problem (insecurity) is a dead end, since they can do it right back. There's no fruitful resolution.
4.4.2006 4:21pm
Taeyoung (mail):

quite a bit of typos in that excerpt I posted, but I think the point is made. I think that's why people are hostile to athiests. Their world is so dull.

I don't find it so. You're confusing the witch's presumption of total knowledge with a belief that there are no gods. They're . . . not the same thing. I imagine most atheists would have to agree that humans operate from a base of limited knowledge. The pleasures of mystery and of discovery are not closed to us any more than they are to you.
4.4.2006 4:26pm
Randy R. (mail):
ABout marginilized people being objective:

Perhaps objective isn't the right word. What I mean is that marginilized people often don't buy into the majority view. If most of the world consisted of blond haired people, and these blond haired people said that blond haired people are smarter, better looking and nicer than non-blond haired people, then many blond haired people would accept that without question.

However, non blond haired people, who don't have a stake is making themselves feel good in this type of society, would question whether blond haired people are smarter, better looking and nicer precisely because they are not part of that sort of groupthink.

As a gay man, I've met tons of people in my life. My experience is that most straight men think that almost the entire world is straight, that gay men are almost always effeminate, and that it is only these effeminate gay men who have sex with other men. I, not having any stake in proving my masculinity to other men, however, have no problems informing them that there are a great number of straight men, even ones with wives and children, who seek sexual encounters with other men. I have some friends who sorta specialize in straight men. And every time a religious or conservative convention is in town (I live in Washington, DC), the male prostitute business goes way up, because they are quite discrete about it. These men just don't call it 'sex.'

They don't see the hypocracy -- I do.

As for atheists and other non-Christians, they have have already exposed the hypocracies of religion, by showing us that most Christian religions do not live up to their own standards of loving all neighbors as they love themselves.
4.4.2006 4:27pm
Randy R. (mail):
Regarding manservants:

Before the civil war, most Bibles used the word slaves. After the war, the word slaves was excized, and manservant replaced it.

I love that story of one of the medieval popes was given a great gift, and in gratitutde, he offered 12 slaves to the gift giver. Don't ask me the source of this, I don't recall. But for at least a thousand years, the catholic popes supported slavery.
4.4.2006 4:29pm
EricK:
My main point is that just because one person believes in God and another does not, doesn't mean that they cannot share the same values. I have known many atheist over the years and been good friends with many of them. The one thing that I would do if I was an atheist running for office would be to highlight the fact that I did share the same morals with the voters and less on the fact that we disagree on if there is a God or not. Then you can concentrate on the issues and mudslinging.
4.4.2006 4:33pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Sydney,

quite a bit of typos in that excerpt I posted, but I think the point is made. I think that's why people are hostile to athiests. Their world is so dull.

Really? You pasted in a C.S. Lewis passage. I love those books - they're great stories. I enjoy great books, particularly wildly imaginative ones.

What, on earth, does my fidelity to the underlying religious subject matter have to do with whether I'm capable of enjoying them.

Would you please elaborate on your dullard remark.
4.4.2006 4:38pm
Taeyoung (mail):
However, non blond haired people, who don't have a stake is making themselves feel good in this type of society, would question whether blond haired people are smarter, better looking and nicer precisely because they are not part of that sort of groupthink.

Oh sure. However, they do have a stake in opposing (and perhaps denigrating) the society that marginalises them. Their perspective, from the margins is at least as biased as the perspective of whoever sits at the pinnacle of society. And to the extent they form part of an organised subgroup oriented around their collective marginalisation, they have their own corrupting groupthink to contend with.

Not to say we should ignore marginalised groups (atheists, gays, etc.). Their views deserve to be heard as well, and perhaps even accorded some special weight, in proportion as they are disadvantaged. But we should view their claims with the same suspicions of bias, distortion, and special pleading as we would view any other group in society.
4.4.2006 4:43pm
Medis:
Taeyoung,

I don't think there is a single explanation for why some religious people show more animosity toward atheists than other non-coreligionists. But I don't think your generic "right/wrong" analysis works too well to explain this tendency, precisely because presumably they also think that other non-coreligionists are also "wrong" about what they believe. And yet it appears that some people are less inclined to "shun" other non-coreligionists than they are inclined to "shun" atheists. It is for that tendency we are seeking explanations.

As for whether "psychological" explanations are productive--that really depends on exactly what is going on. Some commentators here have expressed some fairly outlandish assumptions and stereotypes about what atheists are like. Perhaps they can be disabused of these notions by rational discourse. But perhaps not--it seems to me that depends in part on how they arrived at those assumptions in the first place.

And obviously giving a "psychological" explanation is not itself a remedy, but it can suggest possible remedies. For example, suppose it were actually true with some people that although they rationalize "shunning" atheists on the assumption that atheists are all nihilists, in fact they are "shunning" atheists because they assume that atheists disdain religious people (eg, as stupid).

An atheist explaining to such a person why they are not a nihilist may make very little headway in resolving such feelings because they would only be addressing the rationalization, and not the actual cause. But an atheist who figured out what was actually going on could seek ways to indicate that he or she did not think religious people are stupid, and that could actually be productive in the sense that it could help foster mutual respect and lower animosity.

Again, I realize this all depends on what is actually going on. But I have to say I think your assumptions about the inherent rationality of most people when it comes to their feelings about atheists are a bit naive, and largely refuted by the evidence that we have seen in these comments.
4.4.2006 4:45pm
Taeyoung (mail):
I, uh, selected the wrong quote there. Which is why my post sounds nonsensical. I should have excerpted:

What I mean is that marginilized people often don't buy into the majority view. If most of the world consisted of blond haired people, and these blond haired people said that blond haired people are smarter, better looking and nicer than non-blond haired people, then many blond haired people would accept that without question.

However, non blond haired people, who don't have a stake is making themselves feel good in this type of society, would question whether blond haired people are smarter, better looking and nicer precisely because they are not part of that sort of groupthink.
4.4.2006 4:45pm
Fuhugwagatz (mail):
You forgot IV.

"Burning in Hell."
4.4.2006 4:49pm
Taeyoung (mail):
they also think that other non-coreligionists are also "wrong" about what they believe.

I think there is a general ecumenicalism that leads to this -- they see common ground and they tend to go for it. Atheists don't share the preferred common ground.

And obviously giving a "psychological" explanation is not itself a remedy, but it can suggest possible remedies. For example, suppose it were actually true with some people that although they rationalize "shunning" atheists on the assumption that atheists are all nihilists, in fact they are "shunning" atheists because they assume that atheists disdain religious people (eg, as stupid).

An atheist explaining to such a person why they are not a nihilist may make very little headway in resolving such feelings because they would only be addressing the rationalization, and not the actual cause. But an atheist who figured out what was actually going on could seek ways to indicate that he or she did not think religious people are stupid, and that could actually be productive in the sense that it could help foster mutual respect and lower animosity.

Oh, I agree. But that's not a "psychological" reason in the sense I meant it above. Your hypothetical simply presumes that religious people are operating off of false premises, and that correcting those premises will eliminate some measure of the prejudice atheists face. That accords fairly well with my own view.

With "psychological," I was responding in particular to the notion that atheists are really hated because religious people are taking their deep-rooted insecurities out on us. I mean, how does that help? Shall we give them therapy to reassure them in beliefs atheists think are objectively inaccurate? The interpretation is about as useful as actually proposing that religious people really are dumber than atheists. That's what I meant by "psychological."
4.4.2006 4:52pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"it's for the welfare of the country as the more mindless versions of religion become more infused into the political arena."

It's happened before, usually following the more heartless versions of Enlightenment values holding a bit too much sway. We survived, and even at times thrived.
4.4.2006 4:55pm
BobN (mail):
And yet, Bush, or whomever writes for him, took iniative, went out of their way to include "people of no faith at all" in their lists of good American folks. He didn't have to do that. So I give credit. And if you read what I wrote, I didn't say that no democrat has done anything like it. I said "almost no."


The only reason Bush has to go out of his way to "include" non-believers is that he's done such a fabulous job of marginalizing us in the first place. No other President has done such a great job of making it clear that when he speaks to his "fellow Americans" he doesn't mean atheists, gay people, or other various "immoral" groups.
4.4.2006 4:56pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney - very clever. It's amazing how I missed all the apologetical arguments in Narnia when I was a kid - when I reread LWW recently, I was was tremendously amused by finding "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" in the first 20 pages or so. Great stuff.

Still, the Witch's arguments aren't very good analogies to anti-God arguments. Most notably, the kids have seen the sun, Aslan, Narnia, etc., with their own eyes, and can show them to others. There's no such analogy for theism: show me a god doing the stuff gods do, and I'll believe you that it exists.
4.4.2006 5:05pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"As for atheists and other non-Christians, they have have already exposed the hypocracies of religion, by showing us that most Christian religions do not live up to their own standards of loving all neighbors as they love themselves."

We're Christians because we're hypocrites, not because we're not. Comes with being human. Some are able to overcome it better than others, and some find religion to help them do so. I don't understand the persistance of this critique.

I'm curious, do you live up to all your own standards? If I did, I'd look for some higher standards.
4.4.2006 5:05pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Kovarsky,

You don't have to have faith in the underlying subject matter to enjoy the books. I didn't mean to suggest that it was required to enjoy the books.

What I was getting at, which Taeyoung picked up on, was the idea that religious believers are free to believe in the supernatural, whereas athiests must restrict their thinking to what their senses tell them. Taeyoung said, in response: "The pleasures of mystery and of discovery are not closed to us any more than they are to you."

I think they are closed to athiests. Oh, there's a lot to be discovered in the physical world that might give great pleasure. But there's more. G.K. Chesterson said it best:


The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives. They have both locked themselves up in two boxes, and are both unable to get out...

The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad... The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.
He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt is gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) [sic] free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret to mysticism is this: a man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do... Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits…The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason…Materialists and madmen never have doubts…Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; whey you destroy mystery you create morbidity...

The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world... The transcentalism by which all men live has primarily much the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as a kind of splendid confusion. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitible, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of all lunatics and has given to them all her name."
4.4.2006 5:09pm
Kovarsky (mail):
BobN,

I think you are being too hard on Bush as a matter of rhetoric. I thin kthe more accurate statement is that Bush does mean that we are fellow americans, but when he says "fellow americans" i don't believe he wants to create the inference that everybody that is a fellow american is entitled to have the government make what the president believes to be exceptions to generally applicable moral or positive rules.
4.4.2006 5:10pm
Peter Wimsey:
EricK - if we actually followed "judeo-christian values," our society would look a lot more like an islamic society. SLS 1L already posted some of the commandments and noted that these were common rules of behavior common to every society. He did not point out that the biblical penalty for adultery is death by stoning. Not coincidentally, this is also the biblical penalty for apostasy. However, unlike in some Islamic countries, western civilization generally ignores these biblical injunctions.

Look at the first commandments:

"God spoke all these words, saying: I am God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, from the place of slavery. Do not have any other gods before Me. Do not represent [such] gods by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water below the land. Do not bow down to [such gods] or worship them. I am God your Lord, a God who demands exclusive worship. Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for [their] descendants, to the third and fourth [generation]. But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands [of generations]. Do not take the name of God your Lord in vain. God will not allow the one who takes His name in vain to go unpunished. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God your Lord. Do not do anything that constitutes work. [This includes] you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maid, your animal, and the foreigner in your gates. It was during the six weekdays that God made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. God therefore blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and mother. You will then live long on the land that God your Lord is giving you.



(Numbering systems vary, so I didn't number them.) These don't look like the moral basis of western civilization to me...perhaps honoring your parents is imporant, although this element seems less distinctive in western societies than it does in India or Japan.

In the new testament, Paul tells us that that man is over woman just as christ is over the church. He also tells us that women should wear headcoverings. Happily, the punishment for failing to obey these sanctions is not stoning, so there is some progress. But these remain injunctions that are specifically *not* part of western culture; on the contrary, an important feature of western culture is that it specifically ignores these bibilical injunctions.

Thus, I continue to stand by my point that: (1) the important moral bases of western society (democracy, pluralism, tolerance, freedom, respect for the individual, etc.) are not biblical values; and (2) not only are our western values extra-biblical; our western values also require us to ignore many values that are fairly plainly stated in the bible.

Islamic countries practicing sharia do neither.
4.4.2006 5:15pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Sydney,

Absurdly false dichotomy between reason and imagination. I get every bit as much wonder and mystery out of lord of the rings as anybody gets out of the bible - although i happen to not believe that any of it actually happened.

The passage to which you cite premises the notion that imagination is somehow neutered because you cannt believe in the literal occurrence of the underlying events imagined. That is just, as a cognitive matter, incorrect.
4.4.2006 5:17pm
ralph.m (mail):
the most profound axiom of knowing is that every event has a cause, but that cannot explain why (or how, if you will) we exist. so scientists can go ahead and explain all of natural phenomenon--back to the big bang--all morality as evolutionary phenomenon--and I will still say that it has not yet come close to demonstrating that God does not exist. That is why I think Atheism is radically arrogant.
4.4.2006 5:35pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"No other President has done such a great job of making it clear that when he speaks to his "fellow Americans" he doesn't mean atheists, gay people, or other various "immoral" groups."

Quotes?

The power you enjoy by perpetual outrage is a local maximum. There are more fruitful approaches.
4.4.2006 5:37pm
ralph.m (mail):
From the lastest Commentary:

The focus in this new book is on culture as an instrument not of personal expression (as in Triumph) but of social order. For Rieff, every such order, whether it is an aboriginal band of hunter-gatherers or a high technological civilization, is predicated upon a "sacred order": that is, a universe of meaning from which society derives its authority—internally, so as to give force to its rules and interdictions, and externally, so as to assert its validity against competing universes of meaning. But since a sacred order is something intangible, it can only sustain a social order if it first assumes palpable, visible form. Such forms constitute what we know as culture, an "arrangement or order of words, images, bodies" comprising what Rieff designates, in the subtitle of his book, "the aesthetics of authority."

But not every work of literature or art upholds the authority of the sacred order; some can also serve to undermine it. For a century or so, the most celebrated ones have been of the latter category. These Rieff refers to as "deathworks," his term (he is a great coiner of terms) for a work of art that poses "an all-out assault upon something vital to the established culture."


That seems to be a rather clear explication of why people are hostile to atheists, that atheism is inimicable to the social order. This is, of course, entirely independent of the validity of atheism.
4.4.2006 5:38pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney:
What I was getting at, which Taeyoung picked up on, was the idea that religious believers are free to believe in the supernatural, whereas athiests must restrict their thinking to what their senses tell them.
You're confusing atheism and empiricism. Often conflated, but not the same thing at all, if only because empiricism is 100% compatible with theism. Consider the philosophers who purported to have derived the existence of God from empirical observation, i.e. the Argument From Design. I, for my part, am agnostic as to the "supernatural" [1] in general, but a disbeliever as to deities specifically.

In any case, my senses tell there's plenty of variety in the universe. Here's stuff I believe exists but I have never seen: electromagnetic fields, the European Union, planets circling other stars, quarks, interstellar dust, vector spaces, moral law, inaccessible events (because I'd have to move faster than light to reach them), Justice Scalia. You may find such things tedious, but I find them fascinating.

[1] Whatever that means; I have never found the natural-supernatural distinction to be particularly intelligible.
4.4.2006 5:41pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"I get every bit as much wonder and mystery out of lord of the rings as anybody gets out of the bible - although i happen to not believe that any of it actually happened. The passage to which you cite premises the notion that imagination is somehow neutered because you cannt believe in the literal occurrence of the underlying events imagined."

You confuse the telling of a good story, and hence, imagination, with mysticism. One can certainly be imaginative without mysticism. For mysticism and imagination are only partially linked, not wholly. What's missing from an athiest's imagination is the possibility that IT MIGHT BE TRUE. That entirely changes one's perspective, giving (or imposing) a certain humility on a person. So the mystic is free to use all the gifts of logic and reason, but also allows for the possibility of something greater: the existence of the supernatural. A man wedded to reason and his senses as his only basis for BELIEF in things seeks to understand everything through the lens of his senses and reason only. There can be no allowance for any bit of the supernatural in such an analysis. But the mystic is not as rigidly close-minded as the man who worships at the altar of Reason. And the man of Reason necessarily dismisses anything that cannot be explained through reason. Of course, his reason could be completely imagintive and also an airtight argument: everyone in the world conspires against him - the fact that they deny it is proof of the conspiracy! It's an airtight reasonable argument. It's creative and imaginative. It's also insane. Such is the path of reason without mysticism. No humility, no supernatural exuberance in the possibility of something greater. And so, as Chesterson explained (in many more pages than this mere summary), reason becomes a trap to the mind, closing it off of to the greater possibilities of wonder.
4.4.2006 5:43pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Most notably, the kids have seen the sun, Aslan, Narnia, etc., with their own eyes, and can show them to others."

Um, no they can't. That's the point. In the beginning of the Dawn Treader, Eustace teases them about their silly beliefs. Takes him awhile to believe it even after he's transported there himself.

Of course the whole thing is allegory, and according to Tolkien, a pretty clumsy one at that. Still enjoyed it.

Le Guin's Earthsea series provides an excellent counterpoint. Pullman a more odious one.
4.4.2006 5:48pm
BobN (mail):
There are more fruitful approaches.


Register to vote? check

Vote? check

Arrange for dual citizenship? check

It's hard to imagine terribly more fruitful approaches considering the success the GOP has had with "moral outrage" these last few years, but I'm open to suggestions...
4.4.2006 5:49pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Taeyoung,

>I suspect this is rather closer to what the religious feel, when they are confronted by an atheist.<

Then why the hostility? Clearly many religionists don't just disagree with atheists, but they look at atheism as a moral shortcoming. There has to be some reason for this, no?
4.4.2006 5:49pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"Here's stuff I believe exists but I have never seen: electromagnetic fields, the European Union, planets circling other stars, quarks, interstellar dust, vector spaces, moral law, inaccessible events..."

All of those things can be inferred from reason. I'm not confusing athieism with empiricism, if by that you mean reliance on mere senses. Athiests are free to think, obviously. The problem is, they only think within the rigid confines of their reason. Their imagination is limited by the fact that they never allow for the possibility of belief in the supernatural.

Anyway, you say you believe in moral law? Oh really? That's very interesting. Whose morals, I wonder? Which standard are you going to judge them by?
4.4.2006 5:53pm
SLS 1L:
Bezhov - ah, fair point. But the kids have still seen those things with their own eyes, and have plenty of corroborating evidence as well. I don't think many of us really want to say that Eustace was making an epistemological mistake by refusing to believe in Narnia before he actually arrived. Lewis is playing a game by conflating Eustace's disbelief with his choice to be mean to the others.
4.4.2006 5:56pm
Preferred Customer:
The theists and the non-theists talk past each other--neither can believe, being so bound up in their own worldview, that the other experiences the world in a way as valid as the way that they do.


[R]eason becomes a trap to the mind, closing it off of to the greater possibilities of wonder.


This is a particularly interesting contention. I think wonder, true, honest wonder, is possible even in a non-theistic context. I commend to you "Decoding the Universe" as an example, which sets out in layman's language a number of the more profound oddities of the universe. No theism whatsoever, but you cannot help but experience wonder at the idea of superposition, e.g., or the notion that there may (or, perhaps, must) be an infinite number of worlds out there just like our own.

The universe is truly a strange and wonderous place, with or without a deity controlling it all.
4.4.2006 5:58pm
Taeyoung (mail):
Re: Marcus
Then why the hostility? Clearly many religionists don't just disagree with atheists, but they look at atheism as a moral shortcoming. There has to be some reason for this, no?

Well, yes. Perhaps they think we are potentially dangerous raving loonies. And indeed, given what many religious people evidently think of non-theistic foundations for morality, that seems a reasonable guess, no?

Re: Sydney Carton
Their imagination is limited by the fact that they never allow for the possibility of belief in the supernatural.

Well, but atheists can manage "as good as," you know. Plenty of atheists believe in aliens, after all, and Clarke's law gives even the most science-minded of us license to believe in fairies, should the fancy strike us.
4.4.2006 6:03pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"I think wonder, true, honest wonder, is possible even in a non-theistic context."

Of course it is. But it is inherently limiting. The mystic always has greater freedom.
4.4.2006 6:03pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sydney Carton,

>I am continuously amazed that people, most notably gays and athiests, so obviously not representative of the wider population, could think that their ponderings about that wider population have any relation to the real world.<

The only thing nuttier may be the belief of religionists that they understand the basis for atheism. Evil or deeply traumatized seem to be the two general assumptions from most people.

We're not talking about why they're religious, though, but simply why they don't like us. Generally, we take issue with the idea that it's just because we're a bunch of jerks. My theory, as I said, is that they don't like atheists because it's incompatible with most versions of Christianity to think of atheists as nice wonderful and loving people. Secondly, related to the fact that many people are insecure in their religious beliefs, they consider it arrogant for someone to think they're so smart as to reject what the vast majority of the world believes. Thirdly, the word "atheist" is itself a pejorative in much of the country, probably somewhere between "murderer" and "bastard." So people are pretty well indoctrinated with the idea that atheists are bad people too. These are some basic reasons why I think people don't like or trust atheists. Am I completely off base?
4.4.2006 6:06pm
ralph.m (mail):
I was reminded in reading the comments about the social exclusion of non-voters. Telling certain people you decided not to vote (e.g. most of Washington, D.C.) is a sin similar to atheism in their minds. That is, it's an assault on the social order. Voting requires that most people vote, and by not-voting, or believing that voting actually won't accomplish anything (it won't), it is contrary to the order.
4.4.2006 6:06pm
Preferred Customer:
Further on the wonder point:



Regard this picture for a moment, and think about it. Think about all the galaxies visible. All the stars that make up all the galaxies. All the worlds orbiting those stars, inhabited, or maybe not. The infinite quiet of space, deep and vast. The places that the human race will never see, never experience--or that, perhaps, we will.

Now tell me that you need to believe in a god to feel wonder.
4.4.2006 6:07pm
Preferred Customer:
Sorry, can't get the link on that picture to work--I was looking at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field shot, available on Wikipedia.
4.4.2006 6:09pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Preferred Customer: "This is a particularly interesting contention."

Please don't assume that my quotes of Chesterson are an attack on reason, per se. Obviously, I don't think that at all. In fact, Chesterson himself wrote Orthodoxy primarily as a DEFENSE of reason:

The last chapter has been concerned only with a fact of observation: that what peril of morbidity there is for man comes rather from his reason than his imagination. It was not meant to attack the authority of reason; rather it is the ultimate purpose to defend it. For it needs defence. The whole modern world is at war with reason; and the tower already reels.

The sages, it is often said, can see no answer to the riddle of religion. But the trouble with our sages is not that they cannot see the answer; it is that they cannot even see the riddle. They are like children so stupid as to notice nothing paradoxical in the playful assertion that a door is not a door. The modern latitudinarians speak, for instance, about authority in religion not only as if there were no reason in it, but as if there had never been any reason for it. Apart from seeing its philosophical basis, they cannot even see its historical cause. Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed.
4.4.2006 6:10pm
Preferred Customer:

"I think wonder, true, honest wonder, is possible even in a non-theistic context."

Of course it is. But it is inherently limiting. The mystic always has greater freedom.




That's kind of like saying "I get more out of seeing the color red than you do." It's pretty hard to prove, one way or the other.
4.4.2006 6:11pm
Sydney Carton (www):
damn. sorry about the bold. don't know how THAT got in there.
4.4.2006 6:12pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"It's pretty hard to prove, one way or the other."

No it isn't. I'm free to believe in the existence of angels. Athiests aren't.
4.4.2006 6:13pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney:
Athiests are free to think, obviously. The problem is, they only think within the rigid confines of their reason. Their imagination is limited by the fact that they never allow for the possibility of belief in the supernatural.
Frankly, I have never been able to make heads or tails of the idea of the natural-supernatural distinction, which seems pretty arbitrary to me. Is magic "natural" or "supernatural"? It violates natural law, you might say, but usually when something appears to violate "natural law" we conclude that our understanding of the natural law is incorrect. Why is it "natural" for invisible force fields to affect events in our brains, but "supernatural" for immortal souls to do so? So can you please explain in some other terms what I'm barred from believing in because I'm an atheist? This is a genuine question.
Anyway, you say you believe in moral law? Oh really? That's very interesting. Whose morals, I wonder? Which standard are you going to judge them by?
Whose morals, you ask? Nobody's, probably; I suspect everyone is wrong in at least some ways, as is everyone's understanding of physical laws. What standard, you ask? Rawlsian reflective equilibrium seems better than anything else, and certainly better than purported "revelations" that tell us that adultery and apostasy should be punishable by a public, painful, and drawn-out execution, or that the appropriate response to conquering a city is to kill everyone in it except the female virgins, who should be raped instead, or that the "sin" of incorrect factual belief will be punished with eternal suffering. To take just a few examples from one popular text.
4.4.2006 6:14pm
Sydney Carton (www):
SLS,

I'm using colloquial terms. But if you want to be highly technical, there is, at some point, no distinction between the "supernatural" and the "natural," because both are things created by God. Angels are both supernatural and natural. But the terms that everyone uses describe angels in such a way to emphasize their other-worldliness and ability to act outside the confines of things like gravity, time, space, etc. Don't let the terms confuse you. I'm sure you're sophisticated enough to understand these everyday terms without getting hung up over them.

"Rawlsian reflective equilibrium seems better than anything else, and certainly better than purported "revelations" that tell us that adultery and apostasy should be punishable by a public, painful, and drawn-out execution, or that the appropriate response to conquering a city is to kill everyone in it except the female virgins, who should be raped instead, or that the "sin" of incorrect factual belief will be punished with eternal suffering. To take just a few examples from one popular text."

I wager that if you were to study the activities of humanity over time, raping and pillaging would find more prominence than Rawlsian indifference. Just for the record. You said you believed in "moral law." But in reality, all you're saying is that you believe your preferences should be made law. That's another thing entirely.
4.4.2006 6:23pm
Royal (mail):
Peter Wimsey,
At the weddings I have attended, Paul's injunction that men are above women is always explained as "Men are to be in relation to their wives as God is to the Church." This is a favorite Judeo-Christian image. I note that, according to Christianity Jesus (God) served his fellow men and put forth the idea that he who wishes to be greatest should serve the least of his fellows. Further, according to Christian faith, Christ died for others' sins. By this logic, the man should serve his wife, even as she serves him, and he should even die if necessary for her. Hardly the cut and dry dominance you suggest.

Further, you comment that:
Thus, I continue to stand by my point that: (1) the important moral bases of western society (democracy, pluralism, tolerance, freedom, respect for the individual, etc.) are not biblical values; and (2) not only are our western values extra-biblical; our western values also require us to ignore many values that are fairly plainly stated in the bible.

You cite Paul against these moral values, but neglect to mention other Pauline (and Lucan) concepts, such as tolerance of those of those who are not as bound by religious strictures (a major source of doctrinal conflict in the early days of the Church), to say nothing of Paul's repeated personal service of those he wished to convert or worship with. Remember, Paul traveled all over Greece, Asia Minor, and the Levant. Tolerance, pluralism, and respect for individuals would certainly have been necessary, and seems to be in evidence. Further, Jesus's teachings seem to lend themselves to endorsing tolerance, respect for the individual (free will...), etc.

If you are going to quote the Bible, please remember that there is context involved. Just as a lawyer would not consider several sentences out of a law without looking at the whole, and considering related opinions, please extend the same courtesy to other important documents, some of which have had many years of related opinions, and themselves span very long periods of time.
4.4.2006 6:25pm
Kovarsky (mail):
ralph.m,

the most profound axiom of knowing is that every event has a cause, but that cannot explain why (or how, if you will) we exist. so scientists can go ahead and explain all of natural phenomenon--back to the big bang--all morality as evolutionary phenomenon--and I will still say that it has not yet come close to demonstrating that God does not exist. That is why I think Atheism is radically arrogant.

we appreciate that you think atheism is arrogant, well, just because. but perhaps you can enlighten us and explain the content of the completely unspecified default assumption from which we depart in our arrogance.

why is it our burden to prove he doesn't exist if we don't seek to convert anybody to atheism?
4.4.2006 6:27pm
Preferred Customer:

"It's pretty hard to prove, one way or the other."

No it isn't. I'm free to believe in the existence of angels. Athiests aren't.


A theist, however, must force all observations into his or her particular theistic paradigm. A non-theist has no such limits.
4.4.2006 6:28pm
Taeyoung (mail):

A theist, however, must force all observations into his or her particular theistic paradigm. A non-theist has no such limits.

Put somewhat differently, atheism is not constrained by heresies.
4.4.2006 6:33pm
ralph.m (mail):
It is the burden of anyone who claims to know something, or believes something to be true, to have a valid basis for doing so. I have always understood atheism to mean: to know that God does not exist. It seems to me that the capacity of the human mind (and the amount of information we have) is quite far from being able to know that God does not exist. Agnosticism is certainly not arrogant. The default assumption should be: I don't know.
4.4.2006 6:35pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Sydney,

"It's pretty hard to prove, one way or the other."

No it isn't. I'm free to believe in the existence of angels. Athiests aren't.


My atheism makes me no more "unfree" to believe in the "existence" of angels than a theist's christianity makes him "unfree" to believe in a jew's burning bush.
4.4.2006 6:35pm
ralph.m (mail):
btw I did not mean that I, ralph.m, do not know what the default assumption should be but that I, ralph.m, think that it should be 'I don' know.'
4.4.2006 6:36pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney - you've got me confused. I said nothing about "indifference" (are you confusing reflective equilibrium and the veil of ignorance?) and less about what ought to be made human law. "X is morally wrong" is not a sufficient reason for banning X.

The fact that other people have engaged in horrors is not exactly a refutation of the position that people can determine right and wrong through the application of judgment. I am not committed to treating others' judgments as an infallible guide to morality, but the Christian is committed to so treating the Bible (and I have yet to hear any explaination of why "God says to do X" entails "X is morally right").
4.4.2006 6:39pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"A theist, however, must force all observations into his or her particular theistic paradigm."

MUST force ALL observations? Oh really? I don't think you really mean that. Because it is an incredibly stupid thing to say.

What you're really suggesting is that mystics have no reason, and make claims that thunder and lightning represent the anger of the gods instead of the interaction of weather patterns. But you misunderstand me. I can believe that thunder and lighting happen because of weather patterns totally explicable by science. AT THE SAME TIME, I can believe that they represent the anger of the gods. The two are not mutually exclusive. Re-read my first quotation of Chesterson: "He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not." A ridiculous statement, from a logical standpoint, but it's perfectly understandable to ordinary men. So too with mysticism. A man can be perfectly rational, can be a molecular biologist or rocket scientist and committed to reason, and yet believe in things like the virgin birth, or fairies, or whatever. Athiests are so limited that they don't understand how the belief in the supernatural illuminates all other things.
4.4.2006 6:39pm
Taeyoung (mail):

I have always understood atheism to mean: to know that God does not exist.

I'm afraid you have laboured under a misunderstanding then. Atheism means you don't believe in God. Or in gods, as the case may be. Some atheists may make a claim to knowledge of the nonexistence of God. But not all.
4.4.2006 6:39pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sydney Carton,

>I think that's why people are hostile to athiests. Their world is so dull.<

Are you really open to the idea that atheists' lives aren't actually dull at all?

I think you'd be very surprised if you actually made an effort to find meaning to life outside of religion. Personally, I find life very meaningful and worthwhile as a religious skeptic. In fact, I feel like religion is kind of a cop-out in the real search for meaning in life. Maybe it's not a cop-out for most Christians, but it would be for me.

Unrelatedly, I think my comments have been more anti-religious than anyone else here, but I'm far from hostile to religious people, nor do I think they're stupid. I have friends and family who are religious and who I'm sure are smarter than me, but I'm pretty sure they're also wrong about their religious beliefs. One way I know this is because they disagree with eachother just as much as they disagree with me...

In any case, I do think religion is silly and harmful, but it's not that I think religious people are stupid. The idea that atheists say worse things about religious people than various religious people say about eachother, though (or themselves say about atheists, for that matter), is I think plainly untrue. Thus, I don't see how one can say this accounts for the unique hostility toward atheists.
4.4.2006 6:39pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Ralph.m,

It is the burden of anyone who claims to know something, or believes something to be true, to have a valid basis for doing so. I have always understood atheism to mean: to know that God does not exist. It seems to me that the capacity of the human mind (and the amount of information we have) is quite far from being able to know that God does not exist. Agnosticism is certainly not arrogant. The default assumption should be: I don't know.

On the basis of this reasoning, can you please differentiate the "arrogance" of an atheist from the "arrogance" of any theist that - as opposed to "i don't know" - believes that god does exist.
4.4.2006 6:40pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Sydney,

Re-read my first quotation of Chesterson: "He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not." A ridiculous statement, from a logical standpoint, but it's perfectly understandable to ordinary men.

It's unintelligible from a logical standpoint, but quite rewarding from a literary one. That has nothing to do with "believing" in anything.
4.4.2006 6:44pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"Put somewhat differently, atheism is not constrained by heresies."

No, it's worse. Athieism is self-constraining: "It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."
4.4.2006 6:44pm
SLS 1L:
Royal - to put it bluntly, how are "democracy, pluralism, tolerance, freedom, respect for the individual, etc." compatible with the stoning of heretics, as the Bible commands? Where are they to be found in the numerous Biblical pronouncements that slaves should obey their masters, even in the translations that call them "servants"?
4.4.2006 6:46pm
ralph.m (mail):
I stated that 'I don't know' should be the default position, not a position one must always hold. And I did not defend theism, btw. But the concept of God is at least an attempt to grapple with the problem, as opposed to atheism, which is a wholly inadaquate explanation for it.
4.4.2006 6:49pm
Preferred Customer:

MUST force ALL observations? Oh really? I don't think you really mean that. Because it is an incredibly stupid thing to say.


That's a bit harsh, no?

Actually, I think you are misunderstanding my point. I don't mean to say that a theist must abandon all reasoned inquiry, or that a theist cannot incorporate reasoned inquiry into their belief structure. Obviously, theists can (and do) do this all the time, to varying degrees. As you say, a theist can believe in weather, while also believing that a god made weather.

What a theist cannot believe is that a god did NOT make weather, or that a god different from his own made the weather, or that there are physical observations that contradict his or her theistic paradigm. As Taeyoung put it, a theist is constrained by heresies.

A non-theist (or "weak atheist") has no such constraints. A non-theist might be surprised to learn that a god created the weather, but if a non-theist truly learned this (i.e., concluded it after reasoned inquiry into available evidence), there's nothing that would prevent the non-theist from reaching that conclusion.

Put another way, a theist is "free to believe in the existence of angels," but also MUST believe in the existence of angels, if that's what their faith requires. That's inherently limiting.
4.4.2006 6:49pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
>Atheism means you don't believe in God. Or in gods, as the case may be. Some atheists may make a claim to knowledge of the nonexistence of God. But not all.<

It's the big religious fallacy that somehow atheism pretends to more certainty than any other belief. They've basically built "arrogant" into the definition. I think many many fewer atheists would claim to "know" that there is no god than there are Christians who would claim to "know" that there is one. The idea that atheists claim to more certainty than religious people is exactly backwards.

Not that I blame Christians for this. If I was inclined to believe the Bible, I'd claim certainty in my faith too.

In any case, whether one is unduly certain and whether one is religious or non-religious are separate questions. There's no reason why "unduly certain" should be part of the definition of being an atheist.
4.4.2006 6:50pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"That has nothing to do with "believing" in anything."

Sure it does. Mysticism is the belief of some higher power beyond mortal understanding. Since it exists beyond our understanding, we're conscious of it only as an apparent contradiction (especially since it is something believed, not seen. Actual "evidence" of God wouldn't be faith, but fact). But these contradictions are things that ordinary men understand quite plainly in everyday life. Hence, men admire youth because it was young and old age because it was not. The daily contradictions we gladly accept in our own lives evidences the greater reality of man's mysticism. And by allowing ourselves to accept these contradictions, reality becomes clear.

But to a morbid, rigid, rationalist athiest, contradictions like the quip about youth and old age are "unintelligible from a logical standpoint." Ordinary men don't think that way. It's quite intelligable. Everyone knows what that phrase means.
4.4.2006 6:54pm
Kovarsky (mail):
ralph.m,

I stated that 'I don't know' should be the default position, not a position one must always hold. And I did not defend theism, btw. But the concept of God is at least an attempt to grapple with the problem, as opposed to atheism, which is a wholly inadaquate explanation for it.

then i submit that most atheists are closer to the "i don't know whether god exists" scale than are devout theists, and therefore that whatever "properly" subjects atheist to certain social scorn is not the arrogance associated with unusual deviation from deistic uncertainty.
4.4.2006 6:59pm
SLS 1L:
To interject myself into the discussion of what atheists believe and "arrogance," I, an atheist, believe there are no gods. I also think I am justified in so believing. I wouldn't say I "know" there are no gods, because "know" sounds like more certainty than I have.
4.4.2006 7:01pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Athiests are so limited that they don't understand how the belief in the supernatural illuminates all other things."

Some do, some don't. If I were at work in a darkroom, I surely wouldn't appreciate you opening the door and ruining my photos.
4.4.2006 7:03pm
Kovarsky (mail):
sydney,

enough with the language games.

But to a morbid, rigid, rationalist athiest, contradictions like the quip about youth and old age are "unintelligible from a logical standpoint." Ordinary men don't think that way. It's quite intelligable. Everyone knows what that phrase means.

of course everybody knows what the phrase means. just like people understand what the liars paradox seeks to express, even if you can't solve the paradox itself. to a not-morbid, not-rigid atheist - just as with a not-morbid, not-rigid anybody - the statement is received in precisely that way.

to be generous, your posts pretty nakedly betray that you just think atheists are boring. that's fine, but please stop trying to argue the point from some rigorously defined logical premises.
4.4.2006 7:05pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney - I have no idea what kinds of "contradictions" you're talking about. Can you please elaborate and provide examples? The thing about youth and old age certainly isn't a contradiction in the logical sense [1], and as far as I can tell has nothing to do with higher powers of any kind.

[1] Among other reasons, admiration does not involve the expression of truth or falsity.
4.4.2006 7:07pm
Kovarsky (mail):
to make a quick note - i only said that sydney's citation was "contradictory" because he said it was. i'm not interested in his premises (which also seem profoundly flawed), but with his conclusion. that's why i shifted to the liars paradox example.
4.4.2006 7:09pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sydney Carton

>But these contradictions are things that ordinary men understand quite plainly in everyday life. Hence, men admire youth because it was young and old age because it was not.<

I haven't followed the whole conversation, but it makes sense to me. We admire youth for certain aspects, such as the innocense and curiosity, but we admire old age too for the experience and the wisdom. I don't think an atheist is at any disadvantage in appreciating that kind of thing... I'm not even sure how they would be.

I mean, I could make an argument about how theists totally miss out on the excitement of wondering what our place really is in the world, and what really is the point to it, and the whole excitement of the unknown, of being here alone, and forging our way ahead. Indeed, I think just accepting a religious view point of the world means throwing out a lot of what I consider interesting and exciting about life.

I think I'd be pretty silly, though, to assume that your life sucks because you think differently than me. I'm not really sure how your assumptions about atheists are any better.
4.4.2006 7:11pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"Put another way, a theist is "free to believe in the existence of angels," but also MUST believe in the existence of angels, if that's what their faith requires. That's inherently limiting."

Now you're being just nonsensical. "A X is free to believe in the existence of Y, but also MUST believe in the existence of Y if that is part of what being X means."

Substitute "reason", "athiest", "theist", "belief", at will. The statement has the same effect in all instances, making your argument pure bunk.
4.4.2006 7:11pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Sydney,

In your rush to call thing's bunk, you seem to miss the very pedestrian point that you are not more "imaginative" just because you believe something exists. I do not live in a more rewarding world because I think gozer the gozerian is coming over for dinner, although I might live in a mental institution.
4.4.2006 7:15pm
Preferred Customer (mail):

Now you're being just nonsensical. "A X is free to believe in the existence of Y, but also MUST believe in the existence of Y if that is part of what being X means."

Substitute "reason", "athiest", "theist", "belief", at will. The statement has the same effect in all instances, making your argument pure bunk.


Sorry, I really don't understand this post.

Christians are, in a sense, "free" to believe in Christ--but it's probably more accurate to say that Christians must, by definition and dogma, believe in Christ. Any observations that tend to contradict Christ's existence must either a) be downplayed, or b) be explained away.

A non-theist, or "weak atheist," has no belief about god. Whether Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, Odin holds reign in Valhalla, or Zeus casts lightning bolts down from Olympia, it's all the same thing to the non-believer. Each is equally likely (which is to say, not very likely; but not impossible).

To use an absurd example: A Christian, confronted with Thor standing in the street, would deny Thor's existence (or at least his importance). A non-theist would (theoretically) be open to proof that Thor was who he said he was.
4.4.2006 7:19pm
SLS 1L:
Sydney - as for the point about theism being limiting, I think your conclusion was the point. If belief system X requires that you believe P and belief system requires that you believe not-P, it's silly to say that one is more "limiting" than the other.

In any case, isn't this kind of irrelevant? How, exactly, does not believing in God require you not to believe in angels, magic, werewolves, or what-have-you? Adherence to good standards of reason and evidence requires you not to believe in such things, but adherence to such standards is hardly necessary to make you an atheist, since people can be atheists for bad reasons as well as good ones.
4.4.2006 7:26pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"I do not live in a more rewarding world because I think gozer the gozerian is coming over for dinner, although I might live in a mental institution."

Heh. Again, you imply that imagination breeds insanity, when in reality it is unchecked reason that does. (aside: "rewarding" is not the term I used, I said in my second post on this thread that athiests were dull.)

I wouldn't think you insane in you believed in Gozer. I'd think you were pretty interesting. But if you believed in NOTHING like Gozer, and believed only in YOURSELF, like Napoleon did, or any number of egomanical people of the world, then I would think you were insane. And also dull. There's nothing duller than a man who believes in nothing but himself. What else is there but for him? It's a sad, lonely world. Give me the guy who believes in Gozer anyday, over a man who believes in himself alone. The Gozarian would be a much more interesting companion. He may be many other things, too. But as far as I can tell, men who believed only in as much as their reason and senses could take them, were utterly small, and limited men. What a sad, lonely life. Give me the Gozarian anyday.
4.4.2006 7:28pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"A Christian, confronted with Thor standing in the street, would deny Thor's existence (or at least his importance). A non-theist would (theoretically) be open to proof that Thor was who he said he was."

The example is meaningless, because a belief confirmed in truth no longer requires belief. It becomes a fact, and hence, when confronted with the reality of Thor and the corresponding un-reality of Christianity (for example), Christians would become believers in Thor, and athiests would also become believers in Thor. The reality of the supernatural would be confirmed, and there would be no need in distungiushing between athiests and theists. Everyone could accept the truth as the reality of the fact that 2+2=4.
4.4.2006 7:34pm
Colin (mail):
Again, you imply that imagination breeds insanity, when in reality it is unchecked reason that does.

Carton appears to simply be freely defining insanity, dullness, and any number of other perjoratives as synonymous with atheism. His approach seems to be a fair example of unreasoned hostility to atheism.
4.4.2006 7:37pm
EricK:
For those of you that think that the religious hate atheist because they are insecure in their beliefs, do you really believe that? If so lets change that statement to include a different group. "The reason atheist hate pedophiles is that they are insecure in their sexuality." How many people would actually believe that?

To be clear I don't hate atheist, I don't even dislike them. I also don't believe that the majority of religious people hate them either, study or no study.
4.4.2006 7:39pm
Sydney Carton (www):
"Carton appears to simply be freely defining insanity, dullness, and any number of other perjoratives as synonymous with atheism."

I'm not the one who suggested a belief in Gozer would land me in a mental institution, bub.
4.4.2006 7:40pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"I mean, I could make an argument about how theists totally miss out on the excitement of wondering what our place really is in the world, and what really is the point to it, and the whole excitement of the unknown, of being here alone, and forging our way ahead."

I'm a theist, and I wonder those things. I just pay attention to a different set of clues and consider different signs significant in looking for answers.

In fact, it seems to me the universe of available clues/signs would be broader for a theist than an atheist. Isn't that part of the appeal of atheism, that it discards superfluous hypotheses?
4.4.2006 8:07pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Bezuhov,

By that logic, then the maximal possibility set would be defined by someone that believed in ALL religions. That is, of course, hardly "imaginative." It is indiscriminate.

Erick,

I think that there are two strains to the "insecurity" argument. The "strong" argument, as I see advanced primarily by Marcus1, is that atheists uncomfortably confront theists with the reality that there is not god. That is not - personally - the view that I subscribe too. I believe there is the "weak" version of the argument - that to which Medis and I subscribe - that some of the subconscious discomfort with atheism is the mistaken idea that it is incapable of producing a value system.
4.4.2006 8:18pm
Bill (mail):
On a grander scale:

Modernity is inimical to religious belief (as everybody and their brother has pointed out).

So, hostility to athiests is closely related to hostility toward modernity. That would be significant I think.

Not that I really buy into that line 100%. But just to keep things in perspective...
4.4.2006 8:51pm
Taeyoung (mail):

I believe there is the "weak" version of the argument - that to which Medis and I subscribe - that some of the subconscious discomfort with atheism is the mistaken idea that it is incapable of producing a value system.

Again (and stop me if I'm boring you :P) that doesn't sound like insecurity to me. That just sounds like false premises. And while in some or most people, certainly, it's subconscious, there has been, in these threads, no shortage of people quite conscious of the idea, and also of the opinion that it is correct.
4.4.2006 8:55pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sydney Carton,


"Carton appears to simply be freely defining insanity, dullness, and any number of other perjoratives as synonymous with atheism."

I'm not the one who suggested a belief in Gozer would land me in a mental institution, bub.


Well, it's a question of which shoe fits. I'm actually kind of surprised you're willing to stand up and defend a belief in Gozer. In any case, your insistence that atheists necessarily lead uninteresting lives is just strange. In fact, I'd suggest you're extremely unimaginative if you think religion is absolutely, surely, and positively the only pathway to an interesting life.

I mean, it's one thing to say you need religion to make your own life interesting. But to say that everybody else needs religion as well to make their lives interesting? You must consider yourself very knowledgable...

Incidentally, I feel like your same argument could be made by a drug addict in regard to their mind-altering substance of choice.
4.4.2006 9:22pm
Bezuhov (mail):
Well, the usual Occam's Razor explanation of atheism forecloses a lot of possibilities. By design. And this is often more a feature than a bug, which would be my answer if anyone asked me why God makes atheists.

"By that logic, then the maximal possibility set would be defined by someone that believed in ALL religions. That is, of course, hardly "imaginative." It is indiscriminate."

Well the two are hardly mutually exclusive, so you've still got some reductio left before reaching full absurdum (and I believe we're nearing the internet record for comments in a thread before doing so).

Is the set "Metaphysical (or supernatural if you'd rather) beliefs" not larger than the set "Metaphysical beliefs that conflict with Christian Dogma"? I'm unconvinced that a pissing contest about access to belief sets really solves anything, but would contend that there are some goodies in the former set to which atheists deny themselves access which are conducive to a great deal imaginatively. Too conducive for our own good, perhaps.
4.4.2006 11:26pm
Robert Lutton:
Taeyoung

Sorry, I have been out working so I haven't had a chance to reply to your various points. I wasn't trying to ignore you.

you say that;


"I think it sounds smug and is also obviously wrong.

I mean, suppose someone comes up to you and says that the world you know is, in fact, nothing but an illusion, and that we are all being grown in vats to power some kind of robotic dystopia! This, uh, "forces" you (against your own wishes!) to consider the possibility that one of your core beliefs (assuming you believe in the reality of the material world) is in fact wrong!

And yet, the usual response to such a person would be to brush him off as just another raving loony.

I suspect this is rather closer to what the religious feel, when they are confronted by an atheist."



I accept your example but I am unconvinced. I think that an intelligent, sensitive person would be disturbed by this possibility if they had never considered it. They would have to be pretty unimaginative if this didn't give them pause and make them think to themselves, 'could this be true? how would I know?' Especially if this was presented to them in as an idea to think about not as a dictum.

This is exactly the kind of conversations I used to have when I was younger and not as sensitive to other peoples feelings. My lack of religious belief would come up because I was youthful and saw no reason to hide it.

People would say to me "Aren't you worried about going to hell? How can you not believe?"

I would reply; "I don't see any reason to believe. You tell me that there is this all powerful being that wants me to believe in him, but can't find some way to convince me or even raise the issue in my mind that he exists. That doesn't sound very powerful"

This would go on back and forth till I began to see that this was just making the other person nervous and unhappy and I would change the subject.


Later you say;


"one fairly common experience (or so I gather) among religious Americans is the sense of a direct experience of the Divine. "



I beg to differ. The common experience is unthinking acceptance of what they were taught.

Finally you say;


"And for this group of people, again, I think the Lutton model is highly unrealistic. Disliking someone doesn't always reflect underlying insecurity about those qualities you think distint name) is a big part of it.


Disliking someone because they have a different view of the supernatural seems irrational to me and I think that the "Lutton model" (hey, cool name) is a big part of it.
4.4.2006 11:28pm
Preferred Customer:

The example is meaningless, because a belief confirmed in truth no longer requires belief. It becomes a fact, and hence, when confronted with the reality of Thor and the corresponding un-reality of Christianity (for example), Christians would become believers in Thor, and athiests would also become believers in Thor. The reality of the supernatural would be confirmed, and there would be no need in distungiushing between athiests and theists. Everyone could accept the truth as the reality of the fact that 2+2=4.



I'm not sure everyone could (or would). There is plenty of evidence that is nearly as clear as Thor standing in the street regarding the age of the Earth--yet some persist in believing it is 4,000 years old. There is also plenty of evidence about evolution; evidence that is simply irrefutable (in that we actually observe evolution occuring). Is a strain of bacteria developing drug resistance more opaque than Thor standing in the street? Yet some people persist in favoring their theistic paradigm over what their senses tell them.

All of this is to say that if you believe something to be true about the world, it impacts the way that you process information. Take a pedestrian example--the world believed Saddam Hussein to be hiding WMDs. In the face of that belief, equivocal evidence was interpreted in a certain way, reinforcing the belief. Evidence tending to suggest the contrary conclusion was disregarded as being incredible, or simple fabrications. Is this any different from the theist who perceives evidence contradicting his or her beliefs as part of a plot, either human or supernatural, to conceal the existence of a god?


I'd think you were pretty interesting. But if you believed in NOTHING like Gozer, and believed only in YOURSELF, like Napoleon did, or any number of egomanical people of the world, then I would think you were insane. And also dull. There's nothing duller than a man who believes in nothing but himself.


We can probably agree on most of that, though there are a lot of dull things in the world. You are presenting a bit of a false choice, though. Non-theist does not equal megalomaniac. Just becase someone does not believe in Gozer or the Third Rectification of the Voldrani does not believe that they only "believe" in themselves. A non-theist can "believe" in a lot of other things, some utterly fascinating, some far more confounding than anything in the Bible (e.g., quantum mechanics). As I said above, a non-theist can believe that the world is an infinitely baffling and bizarre place (which can be confirmed with observation), without believing that there is a central organizing intelligence. I am not sure why a non-theist quantum scientist would be a dullard, in your mind--to me, that's someone I would much rather talk to than, say, the pope.
4.4.2006 11:54pm
Bezuhov (mail):
"Is a strain of bacteria developing drug resistance more opaque than Thor standing in the street? Yet some people persist in favoring their theistic paradigm over what their senses tell them."

Please. You're as bad as the people who want me to believe in God because they see Jesus in a patch of rust on a silo. Just because one thing evolves doesn't mean necessarily all things do, which is an hypothesis considerably too broad to be meaningfully falsified.

Good working assumption though, and quite fruitful in producing testable theories which are falsifiable. I'm curious to see whether other processes might be at work, but I guess I'll have to wait until the inquisition lets up a bit before finding out.
4.5.2006 3:09am
Bezuhov (mail):
To be clear, the processes I'm speaking of would be related to Darwinian evolution as Quantum Mechanics or Relativity are to Newtonian Physics. The question of the compatibility of theistic paradigms with either one is separate but not unrelated.
4.5.2006 8:39am
Medis:
A couple specific issues:

ralph.m: There is very little evidence for the thesis that atheism is necessarily inimical to social order, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary. I think one of your basic problems is that you aren't grasping that "atheism" isn't a worldview, and that "atheists" actually have a wide range of different worldviews which functionally may play the same role for them in terms of answering moral, political, and social questions as a particular set of religious doctrines may play for a religious person.

Moreover, there is actually very little evidence that one needs any sort of coherent philosophy, doctrine, etc., whatsoever in order to be a productive and nondisruptive member of a society. Apparently, all that is really required is that you have internalized the relevant social norms and regulated your behavior accordingly. Whether or not you have provided a coherent philosophical justification for doing that has no necessary relevance to your conduct. Indeed, I dare say that most people probably haven't bothered to really work out a coherent philosophy of life, the universe, and everything, and it is really quite "arrogant" of intellectuals, of any stripe, to claim that somehow the very existence of societies depends on everyone being a good intellectual.

Sydney Carton: you are relying on a silly caricature of "atheists", rather than inquiring into what real atheists might really believe, think, and experience. Again, I think one of your basic mistakes is that you are treating "atheism" as if it were a worldview, when in fact it is not. "Atheists" can and sometimes do believe in the existence of nonobservable things (things outside of the realm of the senses), and some even believe in things outside of the realm of natural laws. Some even claim to have "mystic" experiences, to believe in "magic", and so on.

Atheists can also appreciate irony, contradictions, paradoxes, and good jokes. Atheists can appreciate the beauty and wonder of the natural world, both on the smallest and the most grand scales. Atheists can also imagine that there are real worlds, and real beings, which they have never seen. And so on.

Indeed, your reliance on arguments such as that atheists have a stunted aesthetic experience simply because they do not believe in angels should have suggested to you the inherent flaws in your argument, particularly in light of the fact that many religious people also do not believe in angels in particular. As it turns out, the only thing atheists are necessarily limited from believing in is one of the most aesthetically-limited things human imagination has ever conjured--the completely abstracted notion of "God". In contrast, particular conceptions of God--Zeus, or Shiva, or a very nice Jewish man who can perform benevolent magic--are not aesthetically distinct from, say, aliens with powers humans do not have. Moreover, religious people are all limited to one of these conceptions, so functionally they are disbelieving the existence of virtually everything concrete that the atheist is also disbelieving, minus one.

On a general point:

I think we can define a general form of justification for animosity toward atheism in light of the sorts of comments we are seeing. This basic form is:

"Atheists, because of their beliefs, are necessarily people of type X. Since type X is a bad sort of person to be, it is OK for us to show a particular animosity toward atheists."

Variations on this form of argument would include: atheists are necessarily immoral people; atheists are necessarily antisocial people; and atheists are necessarily people who hate or disdain religious people.

In some people, some of these false assumptions about atheists may simply be the product of ignorance, deception on the part of third parties, or misunderstandings, and therefore subject to correction through rational discourse. Some of us have suggested, however, that in some people the adoption of these assumptions, and arguments of this type, may in fact just be rationalizations for a prior feeling of hostility toward atheists. In that sense, one would have to address the root cause of the hostility, rather than the rationalization, in order to have any hope of fostering mutual respect.

And I think one of the plausible root causes is indeed that "atheists" are a stand-in for "modernity" in general, and the perceived threat that "modernity" poses to traditional religious beliefs. Indeed, I would suggest that this helps explain one of the most common false assumptions about atheists--that they claim to have proof that God does not exist. And I do think it is reasonable to suspect that for some religious people, their projection of this sort assumption onto atheists is based in part on their internal concerns about whether their own traditional relgious beliefs have been fatally undermined by modern developments. And whether or not one deems this a "psychological" explanation, to address such a root cause, atheists would have to find a way to assure religious people that atheists have nothing to add to whatever internal doubts or concerns religious people may already have.

But perhaps that cannot be done in all cases. It does seem to me that at least some religious people believe that God is making himself known to all people, including atheists, and that atheists must have some character flaw that explains why they are denying God's presence. Accordingly, the very existence of an atheist without such a character flaw would be a counterexample to one of their core religious beliefs, and therefore there is nothing an atheist can do to undermine the sense in which his or her very existence represents a threat to such a person's core religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, that is not a very hopeful conclusion. But personally, I doubt that many people fall into this category, although I suspect some do. Rather, I think that most Americans who have an intuitive hostility to atheists for which they are supplying rationalizations would be satisfied simply with an indication that atheists don't think they have anything to add whatever concerns those Americans already have about their religious beliefs.
4.5.2006 11:14am
Royal (mail):
SLS 1L:
I don't know if anyone is reading this thread at this point, but there's a well known parable about he without sin to be the first to throw the first stone at a sinner.
4.5.2006 12:19pm
ctw (mail):
"On a general point: ..."

I think this is about as complete and coherent a statement of the issue as is likely to be composed in this forum. thanks.

I might elaborate just a bit on your "worldview" observation. my experiences suggest that atheists (narrow, literal sense, ie, a-theists) probably have do have worldviews that overlap to a significant degree. but they also overlap to the same degree with those of many (most?) similarly situated theists. so the error is in trying to create the implication theism -> worldview X, atheism -> worldview Y, Y = -X. ("-" = logical "not").

I think this is captured in a theme common to several comments, viz, most often people don't recognize an atheist if they meet one. that's because collectively they differ from similarly situated theists only in a single, non-salient characteristic. trying to extrapolate that single difference into unique character flaws, distorted worldviews, misbehavior, inadequate aesthetic sensibilities, unfulfilled lives, etc., is a fool's errand, one surprisingly popular in a forum of such erudite commenters.
4.5.2006 12:22pm
Tom952 (mail):
Isn't discrimination against atheists just good old fashion religious persecution?
4.5.2006 11:53pm
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Sydney,
But you misunderstand me. I can believe that thunder and lighting happen because of weather patterns totally explicable by science. AT THE SAME TIME, I can believe that they represent the anger of the gods.


Wow. Can you do all that plus believe that "thunder represents the angst of the chipmunks", and walk and chew gum at the same time?

I read all the great responses to your silly statements. They are pretty much exactly what I would have wrote, but what is the point? You are wallowing in your irrationality like a dog rolling in the carcass of a dead animal. You seem to cherish the claim that you are free to believe things despite the fact that they are false and error prone.

Why would anyone want to be free to believe that thunder represents the flatulence of the Leprachauns? I mean you're free to believe that too aren't you?

Your Chesterton quotes are hilarious:
"Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do... "

Oh, really? I suppose he has statistics to back this up. I seem to remember quite a few poets and artist types that were stark raving mad.

If you are wondering why I'm not treating you with kid gloves here. Well you have made the quite arrogant assumption that you know the workings of my mind without actually getting input from me. Since I know how my mind works and it doesn't work the way you say it does, well that kind of irks me. That plus you think the people responding to you are stupid.

We have plenty of evidence here that you like to ignore empirical data and just make things up, and quote people like Chesterton who does the same. Can you back up any of the long list of unsubstantiated assertions he makes, or that you do? Of course not. It's just a long list of slurs, each of which is easily refuted but why waste my time with each. I'd be here all night.

Thanks for entertaining me with that chestnut about Napolean. It was a real treat.
But if you believed in NOTHING like Gozer, and believed only in YOURSELF, like Napoleon did, or any number of egomanical people of the world, then I would think you were insane.

You are so sure of your bigoted view that atheists only believe in themselves, go insane with logic, and are boring that anyone you disaprove in these ways you assume is an atheist. I have news for you Napolean was hardly and atheist. He was brought up by a very devout Catholic mother and was brainwashed extensively. Here is what he has to say about his belief.
" Upon the throne, surrounded by generals far from devout—yes, I will not deny it—I had too much regard for public opinion, and far too much timidity; and perhaps I did not dare say aloud, ` I am a believer.' I said, ` Religion is a power, a political engine,' but even then, if any one had questioned me directly, I should have replied, Yes, I am a Christian.' And if it had been necessary to confess my faith at the price of martyrdom, I should have found all my firmness. Yes, I should have endured it, rather than deny my religion ! But now that I am at St. Helena, why should I dissemble that which I believe at the bottom of my heart? Here I live for myself. I wish for a priest. I desire the communion of the Lord's Supper and to confess what I believe."

He regrets not being more forthright about his faith, and indicates he always had faith all along. That certainly doesn't sound like atheist to me. Of course, now your going to trot out anonomous quotes attributed to him by his enemies.

Sorry, buddy, he's one of yours. That along with all those crazies who think they are napolean and hear god speaking to them. After all that's something they are free to believe that perhaps even you are not so willing to admit to. ... or am I wrong.

Which brings up the obvious question, are you free to believe you are Napolean and that god speaks directly to you? Now don't let the fact that you are Sydney get in the way. Why can't you be both. You know, let yourself not be restricted by those pesky contradictions. You can both be and not be Napolean.

Cheers. :)

Oh, I'll give you just a smidge of seriousness before I go. The reason we atheists utilize the logical tool of checking for contradictions is to reduce error. That's what reason is all about, error reduction. You can't just add a dash of irrationality to the mix and get a better product. Well tested beliefs plus poorly test ones do not result in some superior form of belief. It only results in error.

One last observation. Chesterton wouldn't know a contradiction if it bit him on the nose. None of his examples of contradictions were true contradictions.
4.7.2006 4:34am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Ilya,

I don't buy the idea that the question on whether you would want your child to marry an atheist is a good measure of intolerance. I think the question, "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group" is not strong enough to indicate a lack of tolerance. There are many understandable and rational reasons to believe that such a marriage may not work out. It really is never good to have a marriage between people with diametrically opposing viewpoints.

I think one could come up with a better question like. "If your child had already converted to be a member of group X, then would I approve of their marriage to another person of this group".

You could also scale the question:
"If my child wanted to marry someone of group X I would, A) Approve B) Disapprove C) Disown them D) Kill them.

The other thing I was wondering is how you came to the conclusion that there isn't much discrimination against atheists if you spend your whole life hiding the fact? Or did I misunderstand you. You know things have changed quite a bit since I was a kid due to people like Madelin O'Hair. It's a lot easier to hide your atheism when you are not being forced to mouth public prayers in school.

I think most of the credit for tolerance of atheists as adults goes to the fact that it is easy to hide and if you are good at your job it is harmful to your employer to take your atheism into account. Employers who discriminate in a free environment have to pay for their prejudices with lost profits. If you have ever read Sowell you will know that even when there was outright racism against illiterate black sharecroppers in the south post allebellum they still managed to bargain their wages up to parity with similarly situated whites.

Atheists don't have to wear the color of their beliefs on my skin so that even further protects them from discrimination.
4.7.2006 4:54am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
Bezuhov,

Isn't that part of the appeal of atheism, that it discards superfluous hypotheses?


You've put the cart before the horse. Atheists don't decide on their atheism first and then assume the trappings of atheist belief. You have also made a false assumption. You can be an atheist and accept superfluous hypotheses if you please.

I also don't understand why you assume that discarding superfluous hypothesis is an appealing act? I think it would be quite appealing to do the opposite and believe I was the most handsome guy on the planet.

Atheism is merely the lack in belief in a god. That's it and there is no other overriding requirements. It isn't some club with appealing rules.

Think "Aleprechaunist" whenever you want to remind yourself what atheism is about. People who do not believe in leprechauns are Aleprechaunist. They do not need to have any other attributes in common for them to be in this group other than the fact that they do not believe that leprechauns exist. Thus this group includes communists, protestants, hindus, and some subset of the catholic community. Some are strong Aleprechaunists and say that they "know they don't exist" while other more timid types say "well I wouldn't go that far, but I certainly don't believe in them".

I would also do you good to remember that not only were Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot Aleprechaunist but so was Hitler, Mohammed, and Ghengis Khan. Thus if you believe in Leprechauns you can say, "Well we Irish drunks who've seen the leprechauns may drink to much [I'm Irish] and that's a moral sin, true, but you damn Aleprechaunist are responsible for the murder of over 110 million people, woe unto the enlighenment and the horrors it has brought." Quite a good comeback to those Aleprechaunists who disparage our quite evident drinking habits.

Now as you might expect the people who are Aleprechaunists are not all of the type to "discard superfluous hypotheses". Some don't believe in Leprechauns but sure do like to believe in Nessie, or UFOs. Many have come to their Aleprechaunism in other ways. Some just were never told about the leprechauns, some hate short peoples, some dislike the color green, while others don't like the greed inherant in searching for pots of gold.

The same goes for Atheists. Some portion of which used the error reducing methods of reason to arrive at the position where they can no longer believe in a god. One of those error reducing maxims is "Occams razor". So yes there is a correlation but it is not a strict one. Nor was there an appeal to occams razor other than that it helps in the reduction of error. Occams razor is not in some core set of axioms, and was itself arrived at by a process of error reduction.

The entire basis of reasons is a hierarchical system of trial and error. Our knowledge rests on this foundation as does our morality and existence. After all our senses themselves were derived by a process of trial and error, called evolution. So to have our ethical systems, cultural systems, philosophical systems, and scientific systems.
4.7.2006 5:31am
Brian Macker (mail) (www):
David Blue,

An omnipotent being can easily hide his presence from you if he wants to!
That is precisely why Posner is exactly right never to debate the point with a believer.


So too can a leprechaun hide, clever and magical fellows that they are.

So am I wrong to say colloquially that I know that leprechauns do not exist? Especially if I do not believe as you do that knowledge can be absolute. I think of knowledge as being information that is well tested against reality, not as something that is proven in some absolute manner.

I suggest you go over to the usenets and watch some of the strong atheists there tear new orifices in the arguments for the existence of certain conceptions of god. Usually by showing a form of self-contradiction in the definition of god that is proposed. Not every formulation of god is immune to what even you would consider absolute disproof.

The problem is that when the contradiction is shown to some believers they say, "So much the worse for the principle of non-contradiction". In fact we have one Sidney here who jumps to that conclusion immediately. I've seen this before. The next step is for the trounced subject to request a proof that contradictions cannot occur in existents.

This issue is problematic for someone who believes that knowledge consists of absolutes, and also believes that knowledge is foundationalist. I on the contrary do not consider the principle of non-self-contradiction to be something that we know absolutely and foundationaly. We know it tentatively like all knowledge and it was arrived at by trial and error. We have tested the principle thoroughly and have never found it lacking. There exists no absolute proof that this maxim regarding contradiction always works since proofs themselves assume non-contradiction.

So we are left with assuming that the principle of non-contradiction works, then trying to break it. When it appears to be unbreakable we throw it on that pile we call knowledge and move on to other things. We will revisit it later if need be should it be shown to be false and shuffle whatever else needs shuffling. In the meantime it works and works well.

So to me knowledge is a pile of information that is well tested against reality and itself, and may contain errors, nay will contain errors. I have no reason to believe that non-contradiction does not work, I know that the existence of leprechauns would contradict many other well tested pieces of information on the pile, therefore I know that it cannot be on the pile of knowledge with them. Therefore, I can deduce from other things I know that leprechauns do not exist.

What are those other pieces of knowledge that contradict the existence of leprechauns? Well the conservation of mass for one, optical laws for another, etc.

So you may not be comfortable saying that you know leprechauns don't exist but I do. After all you have to feel uncomfortable with that statement since I can claim whatever powers for leprechauns as are required to tip the scales from absolute certainty to unreasonable doubt, which is the point that you are willing to throw in the towel.

This is what the phrase "Incredible claims require incredible evidence" refers to. My pile of knowledge, that is. When you make an incredible claim like "someone has risen from the dead" you are going to have to overturn a whole bunch of knowledge, which was well tested. One cannot do this merely because some shallow thinker is gullible enough to buy a tall tale. One needs not only the claim but one needs it to be backed up with credible evidence, and it needs to be well tested itself.

So that's one strong atheists opinion on the philosophical foundations of weak atheism. Note that this same line of reasoning does not apply to igtheism. Igtheism is a reasonable response to claims of "omnipotent beings". Weak atheism only works when absolute certainty is justified. I don't think any philosopher has yet to justify that without serious and credible objections by others.
4.7.2006 6:32am