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A Flawed Atheistic Defense of Religion:

Atheist writer Karl Reitz has the following interesting atheistic defense of religion:

Religion has been under more fire than usual lately [by writers such as Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens]....

Most reviews of these books and interviews with the authors have raised the not-so-hot record of atheistic societies. The authors, of course, promptly dismiss these concerns. As The Economist review of Mr. Hitchens "God is not Great" puts it:

"To the objection that irreligious fascists and communists found plenty of non-religious reasons for murder in the 20th century, Mr Hitchens retorts that these beliefs were types of secularised religion, and as such do not count."

However, it is not clear at all why "secularized religions" should not count. A world in which everyone stopped believing in God would likely provide fertile ground for such secular faiths. These secularized religions are what we would really have if we somehow got everyone to stop believing in God....

The obvious examples of secularized religions are communism, socialism, and fascism, each of which generally involves worshipping government by slightly different rituals or for slightly different reasons......

Even if the secular authors' ire is well-justified, we are never going to live in a world in which the vast majority of people don't have faith in something, whether that something is God or Government. As an atheist I feel much less threatened by someone who is willing to put off perfection by relegating it to another place than I do by someone who thinks they can create it here and now.

Reitz is certainly correct in concluding that many religions are less harmful than the very worst atheistic ideologies, such as communism (though he is wrong to assert that "fascism" was an atheistic ideology; most fascists, including Adolf Hitler, believed in God, and some, such as Franco were supported by the religious establishment in their societies). But Reitz is wrong to assume that "secularized religions" such as communism are the only realistic alternatives to traditional religious belief. Reitz does not deny that atheism is in fact compatible with a wide range of views on moral and political issues (a point which I defended in detail here). But he appears to assume that the an embrace of harmful secular ideologies is the most likely result of widespread atheism. Empirically, this is false. There are numerous majority-atheist nations that show no signs of falling prey to communism or other similar ideologies. Consider the cases of Japan, the Czech Republic, and Denmark, among others - in all of which atheists are the majority of the population (for detailed stats, see here). Even in those countries where majority atheism was combined with horrendous totalitarian rule, it does not follow that atheism caused the atrocities. Indeed, communists seized power in Russia and elsewhere at a time when populations of those countries were overwhelmingly religious. It was the rise of communism which caused the rise of atheism in these countries, not the other way around. Officially imposed atheism was just one facet of a broader totalitarian ideology. And atheism certainly does not entail "worshipping government." Many of the greatest advocates of libertarianism - including Hayek, Friedman, and Ayn Rand - were atheists.

Finally, Reitz is overly dismissive of the possibility that religious ideology can also lead to totalitarianism and other abuses. He appears to believe that religious folk are immune to such temptations because they relegate the search for utopian "perfection" to the afterlife rather than trying to "create it here and now." Some believers do indeed fit this characterization. But many do not. Osama Bin Laden is just one example of a religious believer who clearly does think that he has a religious duty to help his God create perfection by acting in the "here and now." Even communism, the classic example of a secular totalitarian ideology, had its religious supporters, such as the "liberation theologists."

Both religious and secular ideologies can lead to horrible oppression. It depends on the details of the ideology in question. The spread of atheism does not in and of itself make such an outcome more likely. Neither does religious belief somehow immunize a society against it.

Atheists should oppose government-imposed atheism, just as we should be against government imposition of religion. But there is no reason to believe that the voluntary adoption of atheism poses any greater risk of spreading harmful ideologies than does voluntary adherence to religious beliefs.

UPDATE: The original text of this post accidentally misidentified Daniel Dennett as "Brian Dennett." I have now corrected the error, which was helpfully pointed out by commenters.

Colin (mail):
Atheists should oppose government-imposed atheism, just as we should be against government imposition of religion. But there is no reason to believe that the voluntary adoption of atheism poses any greater risk of spreading harmful ideologies than does the voluntary adoption of religion.

Amen.
6.11.2007 5:47pm
Zathras (mail):
The only thing these examples of atheist ideologies have shown is that when people cease to believe in God they will believe in something else, whether it is communism, fascism, libertarian economics, environmentalism, etc. Belief is the one constant factor that is inseparable from human experience.
6.11.2007 5:58pm
wm13:
Umm, within living memory Japan caused quite a lot of suffering worldwide (or at least all around the Pacific rim) in the service of a secular ideology. I'm not sure that's your best example.
6.11.2007 6:06pm
Daniel950:
The only thing these examples of atheist ideologies have shown is that when people cease to believe in God they will believe in something else...


Another Chesterton quote proven right.
6.11.2007 6:08pm
Ilya Somin:
Umm, within living memory Japan caused quite a lot of suffering worldwide (or at least all around the Pacific rim) in the service of a secular ideology. I'm not sure that's your best example.

Actually, the ideology in question was explicitly tied into Shintoism, then the official state religion (which at that time included the worship of the Emperor as a "god"). Majority atheism is primarily a post-WWII phenomenon in Japan.
6.11.2007 6:11pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

most fascists, including Adolf Hitler, believed in God,
Sorry, but the evidence on this is mostly contrary. He wasn't adverse to using vaguely Christian rhetoric to get German conservatives to back him, but in private, he made it very clear that he didn't believe in much of anything. Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich indicates that Hitler thought the SS's bizarre neo-paganism was nonsense--that if they were going to put on religious pretenses, better to pick something like the Catholic Church, that at least had some tradition behind it. This is hardly the mark of a person that believes in much of anything.

More indicative is how the Nazis took a pre-World War I slogan, "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Gott!" ("One people, one nation, one God" (emphasizing that in spite of the many states that became Germany in 1870, they were one nation who shared one religion), and turned it into "ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer". Talk about chutzpah! Replacing God with Hitler!
6.11.2007 6:17pm
Guest101:
Who's Brian Dennett? Do you mean Daniel Dennett?
6.11.2007 6:19pm
David Buehler, Ph.D. (mail) (www):
Erratum: It's "Daniel Dennett"

[see the book 'Dennett and his critics' or the recent article by D.B.Hart in FIRST THINGS ["Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark," (c)2007 First Things: January, 2007.]]

David Buehler,PhD
Providence College (RI)
6.11.2007 6:19pm
Ilya Somin:
Sorry, but the evidence on this is mostly contrary. He wasn't adverse to using vaguely Christian rhetoric to get German conservatives to back him, but in private, he made it very clear that he didn't believe in much of anything.

Not believing in Christianity is not the same thing as not believing in God. Hitler's statements (including a private one noted in the link I provided) make it clear that he did believe in the latter.
6.11.2007 6:23pm
Randy R. (mail):
"The only thing these examples of atheist ideologies have shown is that when people cease to believe in God they will believe in something else, whether it is communism, fascism, libertarian economics, environmentalism, etc. "

Hmmm. So basically atheists are communists, fascists, and horror of horror, environementalists?

Religionists assume that if you don't believe in God, you simply MUST believe is some sort of anti-human ideology and want to perpetrate some sort of evil upon the land. Of course, they are wrong.
6.11.2007 6:28pm
ejo:
can the atheists, while disclaiming their fellows in thought such as the communists, please point out this Shangri La of a country created by atheists. given how bright and creative these atheists are, there must be a country or state founded and based on their principles, not those icky jewish and christian ones, where all the trains run on time and every meal is a feast.
6.11.2007 6:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Hmmm. So basically atheists are communists, fascists, and horror of horror, environementalists?

Religionists assume that if you don't believe in God, you simply MUST believe is some sort of anti-human ideology and want to perpetrate some sort of evil upon the land. Of course, they are wrong.
That's certainly wrong. But it is the case that the sort of fanatic who in a previous century might have been lighting up the auto da fe, finds something new to kill people over. Instead of religion, he finds something else to worship--like Mother Earth.
6.11.2007 6:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Not believing in Christianity is not the same thing as not believing in God. Hitler's statements (including a private one noted in the link I provided) make it clear that he did believe in the latter.
It's a rther bizarre claim for Hitler to have made, considering his vigorous efforts to suppress the Catholic organizations once in power. Especially because so much of the Nazi program was implemented with maximum cruelty--completely contrary to his claim. For example, non-Aryans in the T4 program were not humanely killed, but subjected to unnecessary suffering.
6.11.2007 6:34pm
Ilya Somin:
can the atheists, while disclaiming their fellows in thought such as the communists, please point out this Shangri La of a country created by atheists.

Communists are only "fellows in thought" of other atheists in the sense that both groups don't believe in God. In the same way, Osama Bin Laden is a "fellow in thought" of all other religious believers.

As for a successful country founded by atheists, how about the Czech Republic, a majority-atheist state which has one of the most rapidly growing economies and vibrant civil societies in Europe?
6.11.2007 6:35pm
nunzio:
It seems that ideology is the big thing to worry about. People who are tenacious in their beliefs, whatever they are, cause a fair amount of trouble.
6.11.2007 6:37pm
e:
I must believe? Maybe so, but I may be half way through this life and haven't figured out a universal theory yet. I like a solid scientific method, but that certainly cannot provide all answers, and doesn't seem like the ideology I'm supposed to have absent others.

My question to those who suggest that communism and socialism have atheist roots - don't they also have some roots in the tenets of our major religions? Both logic and sacred texts can be abused, but at least reason sometimes admits error.
6.11.2007 6:47pm
Zathras (mail):
Randy R: Religionists assume that if you don't believe in God, you simply MUST believe is some sort of anti-human ideology and want to perpetrate some sort of evil upon the land. Of course, they are wrong.

I said nothing of the sort. The beliefs could be very humanist as well. The only point I was making is that belief itself does not disappear with the absence of God.
6.11.2007 6:47pm
wm13:
The Czech Republic, eh? Isn't that a little like being reduced to citing the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe? Could we have a country more than 50 years old, or with more than 10 million people, that didn't have its religious organizations suppressed by the prior government?

Now Denmark, that would be more persuasive. The only problem is, it's not clear that Danish culture and institutions were built by atheists, only that the current population isn't very religious.
6.11.2007 6:47pm
OnlyShawn (mail) (www):
...Randy, you missed the point there, I think, which was:

"Belief is the one constant factor that is inseparable from human experience."

OP wasn't saying anything equating atheism with any of the other primary belief structures...they're not inclusive of each other, it's simply the (seemingly unquestionable, to me) notion that we all hold primary belief in something; you can't not have a functioning god.

Nobody's saying that atheists need be anti-human ideologues...if you want to kill people, you'll use whatever's at hand, the bible, the state, the environment...

Would you disagree? As an, I assume, atheist, do you really believe in nothing whatsoever? What's the one thing that you simply could not do without, the one thing that drives your life more often than anything else, and with more force? I'd guess we won't get to that in an internet forum, but if we hung out for a while, you'd see my savior (whether it be the functioning ones that I flirt with or the one I profess), and I'd see yours...I just don't see how it could be *nothing*.
6.11.2007 6:48pm
Zathras (mail):
Nunzio: It seems that ideology is the big thing to worry about. People who are tenacious in their beliefs, whatever they are, cause a fair amount of trouble.

However, the examples of places where there is little tenaciousness in beliefs is not great either. Look at modern European countries such as France. A general malaise is what you get when you have a lack of belief.
6.11.2007 6:50pm
Orielbean (mail):
Zathras - could that be more of a chicken / egg problem? Perhaps the malaise is due to their secular problems like a poor economy...
6.11.2007 7:03pm
nunzio:
Not believing in things tenaciously is not the same as lack of belief.

It just means having a little humility in your beliefs and recognizing that moral beliefs aren't really provable.
6.11.2007 7:03pm
AppSocRes (mail):
IS: The evidence I have on the topic suggests that Hitler was opposed to all existing organized religions. He had plans for eventually eradicating Protestant and Catholic clergy just as thoroughly as he planned to eradicate Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, etc., etc. I suspect that any belief in god(s) that he might have had was most akin to the squishy, new-age "theologies" of aging California hippies, i.e., god{s} that validate anything the owner of said god(s) believes in or wants.
6.11.2007 7:05pm
Houston Lawyer:
I think you could tie the rise in belief in man-made global warming to the demise in the belief in religion. The question is whether the alternative belief system will have a high regard for individual human life. The evidence so far is not good.
6.11.2007 7:09pm
Taeyoung (mail):
Majority atheism is primarily a post-WWII phenomenon in Japan.

I think there's a lot of "cultural" religion, though, for lack of a better term. People going to the local temple for New Years, shrines to dead ancestors, shinto priests for groundbreaking at construction sites, etc. Sort of like Confucian "religion," it might not be backed by any actual belief in the metaphysics supposedly underlying these religious rituals and observances, but it's a set of religious observances all the same. Wasn't Judaism a ritual religion in this sense -- i.e. largely unconcerned with private belief -- at one point? In any event, I'm not sure "majority atheism" accurately captures the situation, either for Japan or for South Korea. In one sense, it's accurate, but in others, it's kind of misleading. It's like atheists in the Church of England. They're atheists, but . . .
6.11.2007 7:16pm
Zathras (mail):
The quotes in the link given by IS are not conclusive of his beliefs while Fuhrer, as they are either 20 years old or given to one who was not in his inner circle, with whom he was typically extremely guarded. Much more revealing is the following quote given by Albert Speer in his book Inside the Third Reich:

[Hitler speaking] "You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good. The Mohammedian religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?"
6.11.2007 7:25pm
Virginia:
Second what Taeyoung said re: Japan. Not believing in "God" doesn't necessarily make one an atheist. It may just mean one's religion isn't Judeo-Christian.
6.11.2007 7:28pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
"To the objection that irreligious fascists and communists found plenty of non-religious reasons for murder in the 20th century, Mr Hitchens retorts that these beliefs were types of secularised religion, and as such do not count."


That sounds a lot like how many of Hitchens’ fellow travelers who used to try to defect criticism of communism in the USSR and PRC by saying that they weren’t really communist.
6.11.2007 8:02pm
Randy R. (mail):
" The only point I was making is that belief itself does not disappear with the absence of God."

Again, I must disagree. I do not 'believe' in evolution any more than I 'believe' in gravity.

Houston: "I think you could tie the rise in belief in man-made global warming to the demise in the belief in religion. The question is whether the alternative belief system will have a high regard for individual human life. The evidence so far is not good."

Houston, of course, proves my original point. Religionists stake everything on their 'beliefs', and evidence is of no use to them. I myself go back and forth between atheism and theism (hey, what do I know?) but just because one is an atheist doesn't mean that one must believe in something else. An atheist can just reject all belief systems and go with the evidence of truth.
6.11.2007 8:10pm
Guest101:

To the objection that irreligious fascists and communists found plenty of non-religious reasons for murder in the 20th century, Mr Hitchens retorts that these beliefs were types of secularised religion, and as such do not count.

This is a sadly common and lame retort on the part of the angry atheists-- Dawkins has made the same argument, I believe in The God Delusion, or perhaps elsewhere. It's not entirely clear to me what "secularized religion" is, but whatever it is, it would seem not to be vulnerable to Hitchens, Dawkins et al's primary objections to "real" religion-- the implausibility of an omnipotent creator, etc.

But the validity of communism as an argument against atheism also strikes me as rather weak. Even if most communist societies were atheistic, it seems to me (though I could be wrong) that the oppression of religion was more for pragmatic purposes of the totalitarian state, not because communism is inherently atheistic. In any event, one cannot rationally chose between theism and atheism by comparing body counts; even if it turns out that the widespread lack of belief in God does carry negative social consequences, a proposition that I certainly would not concede other than arguendo, that's not an argument for the existence of God; at most, it's a (weak, in my view) argument for propagating religious belief without regard to its truth.
6.11.2007 8:26pm
Ilya Somin:
Much more revealing is the following quote given by Albert Speer in his book Inside the Third Reich:

[Hitler speaking] "You see, it's been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn't we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good. The Mohammedian religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?"


Perhaps, but this comment is not inconsistent with belief in God (a belief that Hitler expressed on numerous occasions, public and private).
6.11.2007 8:52pm
Ilya Somin:
In any event, I'm not sure "majority atheism" accurately captures the situation, either for Japan or for South Korea. In one sense, it's accurate, but in others, it's kind of misleading. It's like atheists in the Church of England. They're atheists, but . . .

Atheism is just the lack of belief in God. It is not a total absence of any cultural influences that originally had religious sources. If you define atheism in the latter way, there probably aren't any atheists anywhere (at least not in significant numbers).
6.11.2007 8:55pm
Ilya Somin:
The Czech Republic, eh? Isn't that a little like being reduced to citing the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe? Could we have a country more than 50 years old, or with more than 10 million people, that didn't have its religious organizations suppressed by the prior government?

Prior to the last 50 years, there WERE no societies that had a majority of atheists. To claim that atheism is somehow flawed for this reason is much like saying that racial equality is flawed because there are not great nations "more than 50 years old" that were founded by believers in that principle.
6.11.2007 8:57pm
Ilya Somin:
The evidence I have on the topic suggests that Hitler was opposed to all existing organized religions.

True enough. But that is not incompatible with belief in God. Lots of people have believed in God while being hostile to organized religion - Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, for example.
6.11.2007 8:58pm
plunge (mail):
Anyone who alleges that there is such a thing as a characteristically secular ideology has left the realm of rational discussion: they have demonstrated that they do not understand what the word secular even means.

Non-believers are an OUTGROUP. It's almost completely ridiculous to assert that Christians in general have anything to answer for from the actions of Nazi Christians. But it's definately 100% absurd to claim that the actions of Stalin have anything to do with any other non-believer.

It's like saying that if a non-baseball player mugs someone, all non-baseball players should examine what it is about not being baseball players that causes them to mug.
6.11.2007 9:04pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
But he appears to assume that the an embrace of harmful secular ideologies is the most likely result of widespread atheism. Empirically, this is false.


Is it? How exactly does one demonstrate that this “empirically [] false”? It seems to me that the facts support Reitz’s hypothesis that more likely than not “secularized religions are what we would really have if we somehow got everyone to stop believing in God.” People are going to believe in something if they don’t believe in God and the track record of the last century suggests that atheist societies are more likely to follow a Marxist socialist than a Randian libertarian path.
6.11.2007 9:09pm
rfg:
The problem does not lie with belief or unbelief. The problem lies in the inability to consider or admit error coupled with the political power to enforce one's religious mandates on others.

Believers who accept that there might be other valid belief systems are not a problem. It's the ones that insist on their way and only their way that become a problem to everyone else if they gain political power or influence.
6.11.2007 9:14pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Non-believers are an OUTGROUP. It's almost completely ridiculous to assert that Christians in general have anything to answer for from the actions of Nazi Christians. But it's definately 100% absurd to claim that the actions of Stalin have anything to do with any other non-believer.


Not really, if one believes in a moral code that should guide one’s actions then it is perfectly reasonable to judge the actions of those who don’t follow that code and determine to the extent to which their actions are a result of deviating from that code.

Simply put – the notion that you cannot judge people who aren’t part of your culture by the standards of your culture is bulls***.
6.11.2007 9:16pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Reitz calls himself an atheist, but I'm not buying. Reitz declares,

I am atheist because I don't believe in faith, which I believe is the common dogma shared by traditional religion and secularized religions. This means that my atheism is somewhat foggy; because you can't prove that there isn't a God any more than you can prove that there is one, both are un-testable.

But of course this "foggy" pronouncement is the language of agnosticism, not atheism. Disbelieving in faith, for example, is neither sufficient nor necessary for atheism: There are believers who believe because of what they see as evidence; and there are those who have "faith" in nontheistic religious tenants (e.g., certain sects of Buddhism).

Nor, incidentally, has the inability to "test" a belief ever been the criterion for pronouncing it ridiculous or irrational. (Cf.: "My car doesn't use gas; instead, it is powered by thirty-seven invisible leprechauns.")

Anyway, while I've heard many an atheist misstate his position as agnosticism (one often needs to disabuse self-described "agnostics" of the notion that atheism entails absolute certainty), I've never heard an agnostic misstate his position as atheism, as Reitz seems to here. That being so, while it's possible this peculiar error is symptomatic of authentic fogginess, I'd at least like to flag the alternative possibility that Reitz is disingenuously claiming the mantle of "atheism" so that he can more persuasively malign atheists. (It surely is interesting that his most conspicuous public pronouncement as an atheist is to defend religion, no?)
6.11.2007 9:35pm
Triet (the med student) (www):
"Atheism is just the lack of belief in God"
If true, then you must further define it. Judeo-Christian God?

Otherwise, I agree with that statement AND also agree with Taeyoung. Coming from a Vietnamese-American family and having lived in Vietnam, I can attest that the 81% "Atheist/Agnostic/Nonbeliever in God" is grossly incorrect. Most Vietnamese may not believe in a savior crucified on a cross, but they do believe in a supreme power(s) that influences their lives.

Some pray to their ancestors, some to Buddha, some to the Gods of the rice in small temples that dot their rice fields. Some pray to all three. Some pray morning and night while others visit pagodas on special Buddhist holidays.

So, if atheism is not believing in a Judeo-Christian God, then yes, Japan and Vietnam and most of Asia might be predominantly atheist. However, if that is the case, than your statement

"Prior to the last 50 years, there WERE no societies that had a majority of atheists."

is incorrect also--most of Asia fits the bill.
6.11.2007 9:38pm
Waldensian (mail):

As an, I assume, atheist, do you really believe in nothing whatsoever?

I see no good reason to believe in God. I see no good reason to believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. So I don't believe in either.


I do believe in many things. They just aren't supernatural.
6.11.2007 9:40pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):
I think that from a completely practical point of view, religion has many things to be said in its favor-- chief being that it provides a fairly effective way to inculcate socially beneficial "morals" into each successive generation. I'm not saying this couldn't be done by a secular method, just that religion has an awfully big head start.

Given the historical and cultural status of religion, I think it makes perfect sense to see it as one of the primary storehouses of moral thinking for Western societies. Before we all run out and destroy that age-old machinery, perhaps we'd better think of exactly how we plan on replacing it for future generations, no?

How about this-- it is not that atheistic societies are prone to totalitarianism, but that they are prone to moral confusion, which can show itself in a variety of social pathologies? I believe any society can only contain a certain "critical mass" of people with "little to no moral center" before all hell starts to break out. This "critical mass" is probably as low a 10-15% of the adult male population.

What kind of "hell" am I talking about? Well, criminality and corruption, for example. Many societies in the Third World are completely crippled by rampant corruption. Then, there is the more First World problem of people losing any sense of "meaning" in their lives-- a diffuse, existential crisis that I think has hampered Europe since the end of the Second World War. And drug abuse/alcoholism, which could easily have its roots in depression and meaninglessness. And the dissolution of the family, and the decline of institution of marriage. The rampant consumerism that practically defines life in the USofA. The list goes on and on.
6.11.2007 9:40pm
e:

"Atheism is just the lack of belief in God"

Perhaps more accurate: Atheism is the lack of belief in god(s), afterlives, or other unicorn-esque myths. Is it truly an -ism, or is that where atheism and agnosticism collapse, in that an atheist is open to more evidence supporting myths?

Can someone please explain the communism argument? It seems that atheists could support either absolute capitalism or communism, just as religious types could through imbalanced theories of sharing or responsibility.
6.11.2007 9:52pm
plunge (mail):
Thorley Winston: "Not really, if one believes in a moral code that should guide one’s actions then it is perfectly reasonable to judge the actions of those who don’t follow that code and determine to the extent to which their actions are a result of deviating from that code."

This is exactly what I mean: the foggy, confused reasoning. Non-believers are not a group with any affirmative commonality. Looking at what one has done and then trying to pin it on others makes no sense at all.

"Simply put – the notion that you cannot judge people who aren’t part of your culture by the standards of your culture is bulls***."

I didn't say that you couldn't judge people who don't follow a particular code, so your response is just attacking a straw man. What I said is that trying to treat an outgroup like an ingroup for the purposes of comparing the actions and values and one to another makes no sense. There is no "secular" moral code, because "secular" just means non-religious: it doesn't tell you anything about what moral codes anyone practices. Many secular people practice and value very very different things.

Again, it's as goofy as claiming that because one non-hot dog tastes awful, all things that aren't hot dogs taste awful. It makes no sense to argue like that.
6.11.2007 9:54pm
plunge (mail):
It's as is often the case, worth noting that different people define atheism differently.

This makes things very confusing. It's probably easier if people just use the word "non-believer" in place of "atheism" so they can be more clear what they mean (since this is generally what they actually want to talk about).
6.11.2007 10:00pm
Guest101:

How about this-- it is not that atheistic societies are prone to totalitarianism, but that they are prone to moral confusion, which can show itself in a variety of social pathologies? I believe any society can only contain a certain "critical mass" of people with "little to no moral center" before all hell starts to break out. This "critical mass" is probably as low a 10-15% of the adult male population.

Henri,
Your conclusion only follows if you assume that "atheists" equal "people with 'little to no moral center,'" which both empirically and as a matter of common sense is simply nonsense. Putting aside the fact that Ilya's post identified three majority-atheist societies that have not descended into amoral anarchy by their lack of belief in the supernatural, is there any evidence that the crime rate in the United States is any higher among atheists than among the population as a whole? Do you really expect to see Ilya or Daniel Dennett out raping and pillaging in a fit of existential angst brought on by their sudden "moral confusion" in lacking an omnipotent father figure to tell them right from wrong? Despite the fact that this point has been made over and over and is demonstrated every day by the number of atheists who don't become depraved sex-crazed cannibalistic drug addicts, it amazes me that theists seem fundamentally incapable of grasping the point that, despite the church's claim to the contrary, human ethics neither began nor end with religious fiat, nor is fear of some supernatural boogie-man the only thing keeping any well-adjusted human being, theist or otherwise, from indulging in whatever orgies of perversion that theists seem to believe we'll succumb to in the absence of the belief that an invisible man in the sky is watching over our shoulder every moment.
6.11.2007 10:04pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Guest101, Henri might have a point: Perhaps religion has a unique "deterrence" effect on a very small, sociopathic minority of persons who, loosed from its perceived punitive measures, would otherwise take Ivan Karamazov's sentiment a little too much to heart.
6.11.2007 10:41pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
These sorts of discussions always seem to rest on a correlation therefore causation fallacy. Ilya's points at the top debunk the claim that there is clearly even a correlation between evil acts and atheists societies but even if we were to grant that atheist societies tended to be more 'evil' it would establish nothing.

Given that we do not now have a long tradition of 'secular religion' or institutional non-theist moral teachings there is going to be a strong inclination for those who are concerned with acting morally to look to religion for guidance. If for no other reasons that religion is the only salient institution (with a few small exceptions) that claims to have the moral answers. Thus we should expect that people who are inclined to be good will be more likely to become religious.

In other words if you are a crack addicted rapist living on the street who doesn't give a shit about anyone you are a lot less likely to bother joining a religion than someone who is trying hard to live a good life. The same sort of thing could be at work at the cultural level as well, namely those cultures who put a greater value on moral virtue will thereby encourage their members to look to an institutional purveyer of morality.

None of this is at all related to the only question we care about: would the world be a better place without religion?. I think it's a close call but I do think the answer is yes. Partially because without religion it would make people just a little bit more likely to think about the matter. Mostly though things would be exactly the same because most people's moral behavior or lack thereof has to do with the way they were taught to behave as children not the supposed theological justification. At best religion is just a club for good people. It's members might be better people but if so it's just because who they chose not because of a causal effect.

I could very well be wrong but the only way to find out is with real empirical research and I don't know if anyone really wants to get these results.
6.11.2007 10:47pm
plunge (mail):
Honestly, as an atheist and one fairly skeptical of religious CLAIMS, I still am not all that hot on attacking religion period or wondering what the world would be like without it. I think people like Harris and Dennet and Dawkins have a lot of good points against the roles religion plays in our culture, but I still don't see why religion can't change for the better, and maybe will. Better to just stick to criticizing bad logic, non-believer hysteria, creationism, and so on, and let the religious work out what they want religion to be. I don't need to get into figuring out whether or not Allah exists to argue against suicide bombing.
6.11.2007 11:05pm
Reg (mail):
"Non-believers are not a group with any affirmative commonality"

I disagree. How are you defining "affirmative commonality?" Atheists have in common the fact that they affirm the proposition: "God does not exist." In my experience, this affirmation leads the group called atheists to have some similar traits. One of those traits would be a tendency to insist on empirical reasoning and be rather intolerant and hostile to any metaphysical claim. Another would be that atheists are more libertine in their morality. I can't say that I have ever met a stoical atheist.
6.11.2007 11:06pm
plunge (mail):
"Atheists have in common the fact that they affirm the proposition: "God does not exist." "

Well, first of all, no. As I said, this is part of the confusion over different uses of the word atheist. But most atheists (and most USAGES of the term) mean by atheism just that they are non-believers, making them a pure outgroup, with no common assertions about anything other than describing themselves. If you want to insist on defining as atheists only people who make that claim, ok, but now you are talking about a very small group, and one that happens to exclude most of the major "atheists" as well as simply ignoring the general case of non-believers.

Other than that, you are just pushing anecdotal characterization. Plenty of atheists deal in metaphysics just fine, and plenty of atheists are stoics. You just haven't met or don't notice them (out of confirmation bias).
6.11.2007 11:18pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Randy R.-

I do not 'believe' in evolution any more than I 'believe' in gravity.

Ah, but you do very much believe in a rational universe that follows immutable laws, e.g. evolution and gravity. You have no real proof that the universe is so configured; all science takes this as a fundamental assumption (absent of course proof to the contrary - and I daresay, you would find it a Sisyphean task to prove such a negation).

...but just because one is an atheist doesn't mean that one must believe in something else.

However (and leaving aside my above point), faith/belief seems to be rather central to a significant portion of human experience. Atheism either denigrates this as the dysfunction of insufficiently developed intellects (or to return to my above point, an insufficently developed faith in reason), or turns to an alternative object of faith (e.g. Rand's egocentricity).

An atheist can just reject all belief systems and go with the evidence of truth.

Truth? And you have the temerity to challenge the belief in God?
6.11.2007 11:47pm
plunge (mail):
"Ah, but you do very much believe in a rational universe that follows immutable laws, e.g. evolution and gravity. "

I think it's pretty clear that this is a special case: our common physical reality is pretty much unavoidable, and pretty much EVERYONE treats it as real and rational in practice, theists and atheists both. So it's a given. It's the theists that make particular assertions ON TOP of this: their claims are not synonymous with it, and do not qualify for the special case.

"However (and leaving aside my above point), faith/belief seems to be rather central to a significant portion of human experience."

Only if you define those things so vaguely that they are almost meaningless. Using a more specific definition of religious or supernatural or theistic faith, then no, it at the very least isn't a universal or necessary.
6.12.2007 12:03am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Reitz is certainly correct in concluding that many religions are less harmful than the very worst atheistic ideologies

Certainly you aren't including Christianity as one of the many religions that are less harmful than the very worst atheistic ideologies. Intra-christian sectarian violence began almost from the beginning of the religion and continues until this very day. Some of mankind's most devastating wars (e.g., the Thirty Years War where up to 30% of the population may have died) were religious wars between protestants and Catholics. All kinds of genocides, wars and atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christ.
6.12.2007 12:22am
Waldensian (mail):

All kinds of genocides, wars and atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christ.

Which is why we should adopt, once and for all, the concept of the Buddy Christ.
6.12.2007 12:32am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Though I'm not an atheist, I have nothing against it as indeed, two of my co-bloggers are fervent atheists. And, I note atheists, as a group, have better social indicators -- less likely to commit crimes, go to prison, or be poor.

(Atheists' better social indicators may not be a consequence of atheism; but rather both the atheism and positive social indicators may result from the same underlying cause -- well-educated, brighter people are both more likely to be atheists and less likely to commit crimes or be poor.)

Yet, I wonder if, like controlled socialism, atheism works well only among small homogeneous groups. I don't think if America became majority atheist, society would improve; indeed, we'd probably get a lot less interesting.

Though I am not a "multiculturalist," I think, after our Founders, that religious factionalism can be a socially positive thing -- so long as those factions are properly balanced in the right way with, the right set of laws guaranteeing equal rights for all, and as long as those factions ultimately conform to the tenets of liberal democracy.

I like a society with atheists, agnostics, liberal Christians, traditional Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. With all of them respecting liberal democratic norms.

If any social group doesn't respect the over arching principles of liberal democracy -- i.e., the Declaration of Independence -- then multiculturalism or multireligionism could be quite harmful.

As the Founders believed, "out of many, one" -- the right way to do pluralism. On religious matters, they didn't just embrace pluralism, but the key Founders thought nearly all world religions (including many non-biblical ones) were valid ways to God. Indeed, sometimes they oddly intimated that polytheistic religions worshipped the same one God -- Nature's God -- they worshipped. For instance, John Adams wrote the following to Jefferson, Oct. 4, 1813 (I did the best I could with the Greek):


θέμίς was the Goddess of honesty, Justice, Decency, and right; the Wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations and Counsells. She commanded all Mortals to pray to Jupiter, for all lawful Benefits and Blessings.

Now, is not this, (so far forth) the Essence of Christian devotion? Is not this Christian Piety? Is it not an Acknonowledgement [sic] of the existence of a Supream Being? of his universal Providence? of a righteous Administration of the Government of the Universe? And what can Jews, Christians, or Mahometans do more?

…Moses says, Genesis. I. 27. [”]God created man in his own image.” What then is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the Being and Attributes of the Supream Being: The Resemblance, the Image the Shadow of God in the Intelligence, and the moral qualities of Man, and the Lawfulness and duty of Prayer, as clear[l]y asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians the Persians the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?…I believe Cleanthes to be as good a Christian as Priestley.


Joseph Priestly was, by the way, Jefferson's and Adams' spiritual mentor. Calling someone "as good a Christian as Priestley," is probably as high a complement you can get on religion from Adams.
6.12.2007 1:24am
Randy R. (mail):
juris: "Ah, but you do very much believe in a rational universe that follows immutable laws, e.g. evolution and gravity. You have no real proof that the universe is so configured; all science takes this as a fundamental assumption (absent of course proof to the contrary - and I daresay, you would find it a Sisyphean task to prove such a negation)."

Nope. Of course science bases much of it's theories and explanations upon certain assumptions. And when those assumptions are proven incorrect, then science corrects itself. With religion, you are never allowed to prove anything incorrect. Evolution is true until it is proved to be untrue. Scientists don't really undertstand how gravity works, but they know it does. Perhaps in some corner of the universe, it doesn't work they way we predict, in which case, science will willingly rewrite the textbooks. When has religion ever rewritten a textbook based upon new evidence?

"However (and leaving aside my above point), faith/belief seems to be rather central to a significant portion of human experience. Atheism either denigrates this as the dysfunction of insufficiently developed intellects (or to return to my above point, an insufficently developed faith in reason), or turns to an alternative object of faith (e.g. Rand's egocentricity)."

No, it does not. Many atheists believe, for instance, in treating others as they wish to be treated. Most atheists have no problem with religionists: the problem begins when the religionists claim to have a lock on the truth, or that atheists are immoral, and so on.

"Truth? And you have the temerity to challenge the belief in God?"

This isn't the proper forum to discuss the existential issue of the truth. I can define it quite narrowly -- truth is not mere belief. Religionists can believe that there was a woman who gave birth without being impregnated, a 'virgin' birth if you will. Science tells us this cannot happen. Therefore, anyone who says it did is basing it purely on belief and nothing more. The day that science will be able to replicate this act, then I will agree it could have happened.

Miracles MAY occur. I'll grant you that. But I certainly won't hold my breath waiting for one to happen. As Dostoevky once wrote, "All prayers come down to this: Please God, make two plus two NOT equal four."
6.12.2007 1:37am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
BTW: Anyone interested in more of Adams' heterodox religious beliefs see the following post.

Adams, like all of the other key Founders, thought a society was better off with "religion" than without it, but defined religion so broadly as to include almost any creed, including polytheistic ones which he, in his mind, turned into monotheistic ones.

Yet, Adams also believed in granting "rights" to atheists.

"Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 432, Library of Congress; as seen in James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 20.
6.12.2007 1:42am
Michael B (mail):
A substantial debate between Richard Taylor and William Lane Craig, both profs and Drs. in phil., Is The Basis Of Morality Natural Or Supernatural?.
6.12.2007 1:54am
e:
Is it wrong to crave a word filter to convert "God" to "god(s) and equivalent(s)." Sometimes people think they're a bit too special.
6.12.2007 2:27am
plunge (mail):
Ah Craig: a man for whom, apparently, it is enough to simply say that God "makes" things "be" wrong or right.

I might as well assert that _I_, and not God (lets stipulate that God does, in fact, exist) make murder be objectively wrong, but careful folks, tomorrow night and tomorrow night only I'll be making it right, before making it wrong again the following evening!

Now how are you going to argue against me? If you'd done your homework, you could present some sort of argument based on the mechanism of how things are "made" objectively wrong. And then you could thus claim that I don't have that capacity, or that only a God has it. But have you done your homework? Can you explain what the capacity is that I lack and God has, even in a vague sense?

If not, then how can you argue against me? If you assert instead that the burden is on me to explain how I "make" murder be wrong, then that's fine. But then the burden shouldn't be any less on someone like Craig and his claim that a God has something to do with whether or not murder is wrong (such that if God was not there performing the function, it would be morally permissible). Talking about goodness flowing from a holy nature or divine lawgiving clearly does not qualify: all of that is either simply giving a cutesy name to a process still not explained or simply begging the question.
6.12.2007 3:34am
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

Once again your characterization of someone else's argument fails to rise to so much as the level of caricature. Incoherence and intellectual insolvency masked with disdain.
6.12.2007 5:06am
randal (mail):
As an, I assume, atheist, do you really believe in nothing whatsoever? What's the one thing that you simply could not do without, the one thing that drives your life more often than anything else, and with more force?

Um... cigarettes? This is a strange question. I expect most people have more than one belief. I don't like this pressure to choose one 'main' belief with which to identify yourself. Does everyone need to be categorized by an ideology?

Although I'm not religious, I don't identify as "atheist" (or "agnostic"). I've never heard either term rationally defined. Doing so requires defining "God" - and the only people with an interest in doing that are religious. So to identify as "atheist" requires accepting a definition of "God" and then rejecting it. How is that sensible? Why would anyone define themselves as "not whatever you are"? It's just rude and self-defeating.

This is also why I can't get too worked up about the pledge or the money. The word "God" is largely content-free. "In God we Trust" says nothing more than "we like to think we have some sense of perspective" in succinct form.
6.12.2007 5:20am
ATRGeek:
The bottom line for me is that it is still far too early in history for religious and non-religious people who believe in liberal principles (liberal in the broader, historic sense, as represented by the Constitution of the United States) to be fighting amongst ourselves. The far more important task is to make common cause against the people, both foreign and domestic, who do not believe in liberal principles, whether they are religious or non-religious.
6.12.2007 9:14am
plunge (mail):
Michael, either argue WHY it is a caricature, or argue against it, or say something of substance. Otherwise, please do not waste everyone's time.
6.12.2007 10:22am
plunge (mail):
randal"Why would anyone define themselves as "not whatever you are"?"

Because many people insist things like "everyone is X" and act for the purposes of arguments that belief Y can be taken for granted. It IS worthwhile and informative to note that, in fact, not everyone is X or believes Y. There's nothing rude about noting this, unless you really believe that its rude for a minority to note its existence and defend itself from attacks against its character. It's also not necessary to strictly define God: its more than enough to simply point to the concept of others, note that one does not share it, and be done with the matter.
6.12.2007 10:33am
Tom952 (mail):
What's the one thing that you simply could not do without, the one thing that drives your life more often than anything else, and with more force

The knowledge that objective, knowable facts ultimately control everything in the world.
6.12.2007 11:37am
CJColucci:
We all have to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink.
6.12.2007 12:18pm
Mark Field (mail):

"Atheists have in common the fact that they affirm the proposition: "God does not exist." "


This is just playing games with paradox: Is there a set which contains all and only those members which are not members of any set?
6.12.2007 1:57pm
ejo:
have any atheists yet answered a question from an old thread as to where their opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the actions of themselves and others come from? I remember non-responses and screeching with none willing to admit that they accepted judeo-christian moral teachings and skipped the "God" part.
6.12.2007 2:42pm
markm (mail):
I'm an atheist, but this is ridiculous:

Certainly you aren't including Christianity as one of the many religions that are less harmful than the very worst atheistic ideologies. Intra-christian sectarian violence began almost from the beginning of the religion

If 200 years after Christ's crucifixion counts as "almost from the beginning". Or please cite some Christian sectarian violence before the 3rd Century AD - I don't know the history of that era in detail, but AFAIK Christians were too busy hiding from pagan persecutions to have much chance to start violence of their own.

and continues until this very day. Where? When? All I see is a few cases of people so nutty (Manson, Jim Jones, abortion-doctor murderers) that they might as well have acted in the name of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Buddha (the Sarin attacks in Japanese subways), or a dog named Sam - as compared to the murders of 100 million or more by worshippers of Marx, or the tens of thousands (at least) willing to kill in the name of Allah...

Some of mankind's most devastating wars (e.g., the Thirty Years War where up to 30% of the population may have died) were religious wars between protestants and Catholics. All kinds of genocides, wars and atrocities have been carried out in the name of Christ.

True, and all over two centuries in the past. I would be happier if modern believers in the more conservative forms of Christianity could show me any significant doctrinal changes from when our ancestors massacred each other in the name of Christ, but it's not a big deal, because it's quite clear that they don't do that anymore. I live next door to a fundamentalist who holds church services in his garage. I am quite confident they won't walk over here and attack me because I'm an atheist, or because some other atheist put a crucifix in a jar of urine and called it art. (If that was an atheist; I suspect someone who does such things still cares far too much about Christianity to really be an unbeliever.) Compare that to the Muslims who rioted - and killed many of their Muslim neighbors - because cartoons depicting Mohammed were printed in Denmark.

The problem isn't religion, Marxism, Naziism, etc., it's fanaticism. It takes fanatics to, for instance, ignore the common humanity of a group of people and exterminate them because they are Kulaks or Jews, or declare, "Kill them all, God will know his own", or to hang members of your small community as witches. It takes a fanatic to strap on a bomb and set out to blow up schoolchildren along with yourself. Communists and Nazis in many ways mirror the characteristics of religions gone bad - intolerance, self-righteousness, utter imperviousness to any evidence contrary to their beliefs - but that's just the mark of organized fanaticism.

So, did Christianity change in ways that suppress dangerous fanaticism and keep it restricted to preaching, not acting, or did Christians change? Christian institutions and traditions do act to slow down and limit fanatics, but I think that it was more that the people changed and the institutions followed. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the bulk of the world's Christians (in Europe and it's colonies) came to identify themselves by nationality rather than by sect. That also led to bloody conflicts, but it did have a moderating effect; it's much easier to think that converting all the (surviving) Catholics to Lutheranism, or vice versa, is possible and desirable, than it is for Germans to try to wipe out the French entirely, or vice versa. And once people accept that they'll always be living alongside those not of their group, people will develop rules of war and other customs that limit the viciousness of conflicts and the bitterness that follows after the war is over.
6.12.2007 3:00pm
Randy R. (mail):
ejo: "have any atheists yet answered a question from an old thread as to where their opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the actions of themselves and others come from?"

For some, it's the Golden Rule. For others, it's that whatever action you do comes back to you with equal or greater force (that's sort of a mystical argument). Some just agree to treat all people with great respect. Others look to the great philosophers for guidance, such as doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

For me, at least, I try to follow the words of Jesus who said, Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Even though I might be an atheist, that doesn't mean I reject the philosophy or teachings of all religions. Confusious phrased the golden rule a bit differently, he said do NOT do unto others that which you would not like done to yourself.

Another thought is that every action I do defines myself as a person. If I cook my own pasta, I define myself as a pasta cook. On the other hand, If I go out to eat, I define myself as a restaurant goer. I can be both, and I am happy with those definitions of myself. If I cheat a merchant, I define myself as a cheater. Is that how I want to define myself? No. So I don't cheat people.

As a practical matter, all these tell me that I shouldn't murder or torture other people or animals, among other things. I don't cheat people not because a god will punish me, but that's not the type of person I aspire to be. Do I always acheive my apsirations? No. But at least I am always trying. And i try not because of a negative (if I don't do this, I will be punished by a god), but rather a postive (if I don't do this, I will be happy and a better person.) Positive motives have been shown to be better than negative motives in actaully achieving something.
6.12.2007 3:08pm
plunge (mail):
ejo, I kind of remember it as exactly the opposite (and maybe we didn't "admit" what you claimed because we like, think you were wrong?).

As for myself, my opinions on rightness and wrong of actions come from principles I value, which are based on empathy, ideas of fairness, and so forth. I don't hold to judeo-christian moral teachings.

I also, as I argued above, don't think there is any coherent argument to be made as to how a God has anything to do with rightness or wrongness of anything. If you want to argue that, then you will need to explain how this works, and how it is any different than any other value (for instance, virtually all such arguments that rest on the idea that one cares about the commands of God to respect the lives of others, which is no less arbitrary and uncompelling than simply caring about them directly, AND more indirect).
6.12.2007 3:11pm
e:
ejo - I'm not the best spokesperson, but do have several thoughts on the topic.

Some judeo-christian moral teachings are "good." But both reason and other religions can produce the golden rule, a general prohibition on murder, and ban on screwing your sibling's mate. Think also about when the teachings conflict and you must reason through priorities. Sometimes punishment is proper, sometimes forgiveness. Reason tells you that the teachings developed out of human experience, and only then were compiled into a religion.

Christianity is just one of many religions. It shares moral lessons with others. Most of those lessons have had varying interpretations within the religious community. The interpretations look beyond the text to reason.

If new divine instructions appeared by some miracle and told you to f__k a turtle and murder your neighbors, is that your source of morality, or can you fall back on reason and intuition? Atheists who follow basic social conventions do not choose not to murder based on some divine word (penned by man), but because of an independently derived morality. They are not lost or evil without faith, but thinking that they are indicates that you only stay on the good path because you think your religion forbids other paths. Religion may provide comfort, but is not necessary, and all evidence indicates that it fails to prevent many many transgressions. Both the faithful and non-believers can rationalize bad behavior.

I was raised by Christian parents, but know others who were not. You may think that my morality thus is rooted in religion, but that vision of a vacuum is incorrect. The stories of the bible were written by man and can be replaced by other stories produced by non-Christian cultures. It is a social process of setting norms, not just a religious one.
6.12.2007 3:17pm
Mark Field (mail):

Where? When?


Northern Ireland comes to mind. That said, I agree with your basic point that such violence is fairly rare today.


have any atheists yet answered a question from an old thread as to where their opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the actions of themselves and others come from? I remember non-responses and screeching with none willing to admit that they accepted judeo-christian moral teachings and skipped the "God" part.


It obviously cannot be the case that non-believers are forced to accept Judeo-Christian ethics and are just concealing the fact that they've done so. Why is this obvious? Because a great many societies have managed to establish basic moral rules without ever having known of Judaism or Christianity.

As for ultimate reliance on God, Buddhists, for example, don't rely on divine revelation for moral values. Non-believers can adopt their values the same way.
6.12.2007 4:48pm
Randy R. (mail):
As for Judeo-Christian ethics, let us not forget that the Bible has plenty of violence in it, much of it okayed or sanctioned by God. God seems to have no problem smiting entire populations. Heck, even in Sodom and Gommorah, God was willing to kill all people regardless of innocence.

These are morals I can do without.
6.12.2007 5:15pm
CJColucci:
have any atheists yet answered a question from an old thread as to where their opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the actions of themselves and others come from? I remember non-responses and screeching with none willing to admit that they accepted judeo-christian moral teachings and skipped the "God" part

Yes, they have. Your contrary recollection is mistaken.
By the way, what moral teachings are you thinking of that are distinctly judeo-christian?
6.12.2007 5:56pm
a knight (mail) (www):
Although it is nit picking, I believe there may well be problems of bias in the Zuckerman Atheism rates by country data you cited. The page itself identifies potential problems in communistic countries that have a history of suppressing religion.

The page states that the polling data portrayed percentages of "people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or non-believer in God". I perceive a potential bias against practitioners of some Eastern Religions. Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism come to my mind readily. If great care was not undertaken in the translation of the terms atheist, agnostic and god, to assure a control of meanings across culture barriers, many believers of these three religions could identify as atheistic, agnostic or god non-believer, and still practise their personal faith with great devotion.
6.12.2007 6:09pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
A few comments:

It is equally unsurprising and uninformative to note that declared atheists tend to engage in less violence or other harmful social indicators. After all these are the people who are educated enough and well off enough to be able to disparage religion without serious fear of harm and engage in philosophical debate. It tells us nothing about the effect of religion on moral behavior.

Ultimately I agree the question of whether the world would be better off without religion is kinda pointless. The only real question is whether religion is true. We don't ask whether believing in evolution or a spherical earth makes people better. It is enough that they are true. All I meant to say is that to the extent we care about the answer to any question in the area it is whether religion makes the world better or not.

I think this debate about the origins of morality exposes the real difference between science and faith. Yes, we always have to assume some things without proof. Indeed it's pretty clear that one could never have a proof of scientific induction. So yes, if religious folks really took some really simple principle to be totally axiomatic and acted as if this was true you could argue they were on the same epistemic footing. However, if this was indeed the case we would expect religious folk to be willing to modify the rest of their faith when arguments show it to be problematic.

In particular it seems evident that for something to count as objective morality it can't be something that it even makes sense to change. The comment above about waving the badness of murder for the night makes this wonderfully clear. In fact despite their claims to the contrary most religious folk believe morality exists prior to god. The proof being the simple fact that they believe the statement, "god is good," is contentful. If 'good' just meant whatever god wanted/said then 'god is good' would be a totally trivial statement. The only way to make sense of this is to say that morality is something external to god and he behaves in a way that accords with this.

The real difference between science and theism is not that one presupposes god and the other does not but in the methodology used to draw conclusions from those fundamental assumptions. Were religion to react to these arguments by changing their doctrine (yup, I guess god is just telling us what he knows about morality not making it) or to react to historical findings about the bible with changes to their beliefs about what happened at the resurrection there would be a fair argument about epistemic equality. Instead religion tends to work backwards from the conclusions that are emotionally salient and important to the members rather than forward from any simple list of axiomatic principles.

The day some complex hard to understand work of obscure theologian causes a church to repudiate a closely held emotionally central belief of nearly all it's parishoners I'll reevaluate this opinion.
6.12.2007 6:19pm
Tom952 (mail):

have any atheists yet answered a question from an old thread as to where their opinions on the rightness or wrongness of the actions of themselves and others come from?

Morality can be defined as the rules people must observe in an ideal world. Right and wrong can be thusly defined.
6.12.2007 6:43pm
randal (mail):
Because many people insist things like "everyone is X" and act for the purposes of arguments that belief Y can be taken for granted. It IS worthwhile and informative to note that, in fact, not everyone is X or believes Y. There's nothing rude about noting this, unless you really believe that its rude for a minority to note its existence and defend itself from attacks against its character. It's also not necessary to strictly define God: its more than enough to simply point to the concept of others, note that one does not share it, and be done with the matter.

Then why not simply state that you are not religious? That makes it clear you are not X nor believe Y. Saying you are not religious isn't rude, I agree.

Saying you are athiest is different. It says, not only do I not believe in religion, I looked into it, found one aspect I particularly dislike (God), and, accepting your definition of God, have decided to go around proclaiming my rejection of one of your core beliefs.

That's rude. Why do that, when you can just say you aren't religious?
6.12.2007 7:17pm
plunge (mail):
"Then why not simply state that you are not religious? "

But that IS what I DO state.

"Saying you are atheist is different."

I disagree. It's the same exact statement.

And the fact is that a lot of religious people HAVE made arguments that I think are bogus, and guess what: I can say so, and that's not "rude." I have looked into religion and decided that it wasn't for me. Why can't I discuss that? You basically paint things so that merely disagreeing with people is some sort of evil conspiracy. I'm sorry if someone's "core belief" is that I'm going to burn in hell and they don't like it that I disagree with them. But I don't see how it's "rude." That just seems like a very phony, very artificial appeal to a degree of civility that no one actually respects UNLESS it is useful to help shut up non-religious people, who like anyone else have opinions and ideas and values.
6.12.2007 7:28pm
randal (mail):
I don't think there's anything wrong with disagreeing. Saying you aren't religious means you disagree. Of course there's nothing wrong with discussing the arguments.

The problem comes when you adopt disagreeing with someone else's belief as worthy of identifying yourself as being an affirmative believer in. When you think about that, it's bogus. You are identifying your core belief system on the sole basis of its being an explicit rejection of someone else's core belief system. Don't you think that's a bit simultaneously selfish and needy?

It reminds me of a toddler who only wants whatever his little sister is playing with... and not to share, but to deprive.
6.12.2007 7:56pm
plunge (mail):
"The problem comes when you adopt disagreeing with someone else's belief as worthy of identifying yourself as being an affirmative believer in."

I think you are confused. Atheists are not an "affirmative believers in." We are an outgroup.

"You are identifying your core belief system on the sole basis of its being an explicit rejection of someone else's core belief system."

This is a pretty slanderous straw man. Who said that atheism is a "core belief system"???

"Don't you think that's a bit simultaneously selfish and needy?"

I think via misrepresentation or confusion, you could certainly portray it that way, yes. But I don't think its a fair portrayal. It's a remarkably nasty and mean spirited one, in fact.
6.12.2007 8:25pm
e:
The distinction between "Atheism" and "non-believer" is silly and annoying because those of us who are faithless (although I do have some faith in people if not supernatural myths) must face a society that often asks us what our religion is. As if a religion is required for a life well lived. So many of us pick the category closest to "question doesn't apply." I know I offend with the "myth" business. I should restrain myself. Like the believers should restrain themselves in applying their faith as if it were reason. I'm happy to believe myths when I get enough evidence. I'm happy to accept some lessons from myths even if I suspect (or believe for now, lacking further proof) that the myths are myths. I'm happy that myths give other people comfort. I'm not particularly happy that myths often divide people.
6.12.2007 8:40pm
juris_imprudent (mail):
Randy R.

When has religion ever rewritten a textbook based upon new evidence?

Kind of a silly question in that religion isn't predicated upon evidence, now is it?

Most atheists have no problem with religionists

Eh, we were talking about Hitchens and Dawkins at the start of this thread. Of course there are many atheists as you describe - but they don't tend to be the ones getting the attention.

The day that science will be able to replicate this act, then I will agree it could have happened.

By that standard the universe must not exist because science cannot replicate the act of it's creation. ;-) And don't even get me started on dark matter and dark energy.

Despite what the hard-core religionists and atheists assert - science and religion are not diametrically opposed; they are instead orthogonal. The conflict occurs when one attempts to misuse the tool at hand (i.e. when all you have is a hammer...).
6.12.2007 10:06pm
The Miss Binky & Amazing Jack Show (mail) (www):
Wow, this has turned into quite an interesting and tangential discussion. Obviously, the subject of religion sparks a tremendous amount of passion in people. Even the introduction of the paradigms befitting Godwin's law, raised so early in the thread couldn't stop this runaway train.

As far back as history can record, people have been killing, imprisoning and torturing each other, ostensibly over religion and it continues today. Since the 13th century scuffle between Pope Bonifice VIII &King Philip IV paved the way for separation of church &state in a violent way, people have continued to ignore history - and the fate suffered by this pope who, according to Dante was last spotted in the eighth concentric circle of hell - while continuing to propagate the myth that "religion" is the justifiable impetus for violence &control.

The truth is, "religion" is used here pejoratively and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that these wars waged on the battlefield or in the courthouse, or elsewhere, in the name of "religion" have nothing whatsoever to do with religion at all, rather it is about CONTROL. Things haven't changed much in two millenia.

"Religion" or "Secular Religion" including but not limited to most generally, anything that ends in an "ism", are one in the same &nothing more than a moniker to establish something as an authority and thus to establish control of the masses.

"Religion", when referring to the existence of a "Supreme Being" is the red-herring used to rally the troops because it is the strongest common denominator known to mankind that has the perverse ability to incite action - which would not otherwise be spurred in many - in the greatest amount of people. "Religion" or fear of the unknown is universally ingrained in some form or another, in everyone who has spent a significant amount of time on this planet. It is only by disciplined analysis and willingness to search for answers, does a person liberate themselves from the inveigling sophistry of religious persuasion by those using it to further an agenda. Even if you were raised an atheist or an agnostic, nobody kept you in a cave &I'm sure everyone reading this has been witnessed to in some form or another.

If you're reading this and you don't believe in a God, it is most likely that you were given the information and subsequently made a decision against it, through diligent research of viable alternatives. Even people in third-world countries have some sort of God that they believe in...which is why the missionaries can have a decent shot of changing their minds: they dress better and they eat better, thus, their God must be more powerful than the third-worlder's living in squalor. Religion is the hackneyed old rabbit that gets pulled out of the hat, when the position a person or group is espousing cannot stand on it's own merit. It's a cheap ploy but that doesn't seem to stop it from being used over and over...because it works!

It doesn't seem to matter to any zealot, that history is only as good as it records and recorders and one book, does not an entire story tell.

Religion is insidious when those espousing their personal beliefs feel a compulsion to force them on you, be it through fear of eternal damnation or fear of imprisonment or worse. ...but that's what makes it such a handy and well-worn tool.

To quote Shakespeare: "...For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law's delay, the insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy take, when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country from whose bourn, no traveler returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than to fly to others we know not of...thus conscience does make cowards of us all and thus, the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pith and moment. With this regard, their currents turn awry and lose the name of action...."

Pretty powerful stuff...fear of the unknown".

I know he was talking about ending his own life there, but ending your own, or having someone threaten your mortality, your freedom or your livlihood would all bring one to the same contemplation: is it worth it? History repeats itself and "Religion" (not to be confused with a belief or dis-belief in God, god or gods) in one form or another, will remain the pervasive sword of Damocles hanging over those in the perceived weaker positions.

Mention religion and everybody goes nuts because it hits something, either positive or negative, but almost always controversial in everybody. It is the great sleight-of-hand trick to keep your eyes off the man behind the curtain. Although this is just my opinion, I don't believe Hitler really cared much about whether God truly existed or not...he was more interested in deifying himself and any mention of religion was just a means to an end.

There's safety in numbers and the biggest organization of believers in an "ism" is the one most likely to rule the world.
6.12.2007 11:07pm
The Miss Binky & Amazing Jack Show (mail) (www):
Another thought is that every action I do defines myself as a person. If I cook my own pasta, I define myself as a pasta cook. On the other hand, If I go out to eat, I define myself as a restaurant goer. I can be both, and I am happy with those definitions of myself. If I cheat a merchant, I define myself as a cheater. Is that how I want to define myself? No. So I don't cheat people.


That is the Taoist definition of karma. Most people think karma means that whatever they do will come back to them and when they don't see that happening, it seems to give them the ability to do more harmful things without compunction for right and wrong because nothing happened that time. Which is why the Taoist definition of karma is more accurate: What you do, defines who you are.

John Lennon understood it: "Instant karma's gonna get you"
6.12.2007 11:40pm
randal (mail):
What I'm hearing is that it's convenient to identify as "athiest".

My point is that it's unwise. The term is borderline pejorative. It's like the difference between "pro-life" and "anti-choice" - except worse, since, as plunge points out, it confuses an outgroup with affirmative belief. It suggests an active hostility towards religion - a reasonable interpretation, as I've laid out in my previous posts.

"Athiest" is a term used by believers to put all non-believers in the same category, that category being "those people who don't believe in God the way we have defined it". Why would we accept that categorization? It's not rational from the perspective of someone in it, since such a person doesn't accept the terms of the category. My guess is that every "athiest" would believe in "God" if allowed to freely define "God" - like, "collective human experience" or "genetics" or "the anthropic principle plus quantum mechanics" or "the pineal gland".

There is a difference between "your question doesn't apply to me" and "I accept your premise - your God is relevant to my belief system - and I reject your God". I think it's important for us non-believers to hold our ground on that.
6.12.2007 11:50pm
plunge (mail):
"My point is that it's unwise. The term is borderline pejorative."

Well, as I've already argued, only if you torture logic till it screams and invent a whole bunch of extra connotations no one ever stated.

"except worse, since, as plunge points out, it confuses an outgroup with affirmative belief. "

Um, no: outgroups are not "confusion." The confusion is found in those that confuse them with affirmative descriptions.

Some atheists DO have an active hostility to religion, and not a defacto illegitimate hostility. Some don't.

The theists DO get to set the definition of what god is: THEY are the ones making the claim, they can define things.

Honestly, I don't see what your problem is with any of these terms. I really don't care too much whether someone uses atheist or non-theist, and I don't see how either term is really better or worse than the other by itself.
6.13.2007 12:36am
Michael B (mail):
"... either argue WHY it is a caricature, or argue against it, or say something of substance. Otherwise, please do not waste everyone's time." plunge

I stated it didn't so much as rise to the level of caricature. When you evidence a thoroughgoing incompetence, and then add to that wastreling incompetence yet another attempt at browbeating into submission, via harangue and contempt and snide, when you fail in such a stark and risible manner, it's not my job to cover up your incompetence and snide and your own lack of substance.

That's worth noting, it's worth calling attention to that fact, precisely because, among the DD&H (Dawkins, Dennett and Harris) epigones and sock puppets, arguments that all too often are vacuous are sandwiched in between pre-analytic and post-analytic snide and contempt. Dawkins, among others, has never quite explained how his glossed but still oafish contempt, used to mask intellectual incompetence and mendacities, has worked its way into supposedly "rational" discourse.
6.13.2007 10:18am
plunge (mail):
No, I'm afraid a bunch of invective doesn't qualify as an argument. Please try again.
6.13.2007 10:48am
ejo:
how can religion be such a detriment to learning given the numbers of institutes of higher education founded by religion (as opposed to atheists, who might take over a department but are a little lax on actually creating them)? also, the obsession with blaming war on religion when war existed prior to the founding of the current major religions is somewhat suspect. wars and killings have occurred and continue to occur for all sorts of reasons apart from one's religion. certainly, in the past century, the bloodiest killers were not acting from religious motive-although the atheists here don't like to talk about the atheists doing it then.
6.13.2007 2:23pm
plunge (mail):
Those arguments are certainly worthwhile against sloppy critiques of religion, but I'm not sure they really are accurate against the current crop of critics: i.e. Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, etc. All of them are fairly careful to deal with these issues directly. As such, you seem to be mostly tilting at straw men.

And the attempt to link the behavior of some non-believers to others makes no fundamental sense at all: it's even LESS sensible than trying to pin suicide bombings on all guys with turbans.
6.13.2007 4:21pm
Michael B (mail):
"All of them are fairly careful ..."

Yea, about as careful as a PBR sanctioned bull in a china closet. And is that an "argument"?

Hilarious.
6.13.2007 5:23pm
plunge (mail):
Someday Michael, you will contribute something of substance to one of these discussions. I await that day.
6.13.2007 5:31pm
Michael B (mail):
6.13.2007 6:15pm
plunge (mail):
We can trade insults, or you can engage in debate. It's ever and always your choice, but I think it's pretty clear to everyone in these threads that you are the one not living up to the bargain. I'm open to debate any claims you want to make. You are unwilling or unable to engage in any that I make, except by vague characterization and insult.
6.13.2007 6:56pm
Michael B (mail):
The God Genome, Leon Welseltier

Dawkins' Atheism and Dawkins' Certainty, J. Derbyshire

Both of whom, if I recall correctly, are self-described atheists.
6.13.2007 7:18pm
plunge (mail):
"Comment Policy: We'd like the posts to be civil, of course (no profanity, personal insults, and the like), but we're also hoping that people try to be as calm, reasoned, and substantive as possible."

Note that last part. Either you can engage in debate, consider and argue against the arguments of others, or you really aren't serving any purpose as a commenter. Merely linking to articles anyone could find and read on their own and which you will then refuse to discuss the content of in any case isn't in keeping with the spirit of commenting.
6.13.2007 7:25pm
Michael B (mail):
You need to look into the mirror more closely and more steadfastly and only then voice your J'accuse. I consider nothing you've offered to be in line with more serious "engagement." Too, I disagree wholesale with your accusations, characterizations, certainly your ad hominem inferences and attacks, and much of the remainder as well.

The Athiest Manifesto

The God Gene
6.13.2007 7:43pm
Michael B (mail):
And good grief. If you don't respond to me I can assure you I will return the considerable favor. You might notice in this thread that I rather benignly posted an unobtrusive note concerning an exchange, a debate, between R. Taylor and W. L. Craig, the entirety of that comment is repreduced directly below:

A substantial debate between Richard Taylor and William Lane Craig, both profs and Drs. in phil., Is The Basis Of Morality Natural Or Supernatural?.

I was fully planning to post the comment, simply some info for anyone who might be interested, and then leave this thread, beyond reading it. It was you, however, who replied to it in an utterly misrepresentative manner (indeed, an incomprehensible manner), adding some snide as well.

Practice what you preach. Lead by example. For a change.
6.13.2007 8:23pm
plunge (mail):
I have practiced what I preach. I make arguments, and I respond to the arguments of others. You link spam and insult other posters without any willingness to discuss anything. You make all sorts of accusations, without, apparently, understanding that accusations (like "incomprehensible" or "misrepresentative") are meaningless unless you are willing to defend them.
6.13.2007 8:45pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge, again, let me emphasize my prior comment. (And that you refer to the entirely germane writings of a Wieseltier, Plantinga, Novak and other thoughtful commentators as "spam" is yet more revealing. I certainly don't agree with everything these writers produce, but their pieces don't reflect "spam" and the most casual, while still critical, reader knows this. You've dug yourself into a hole. You should quit digging.)

The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum
6.13.2007 11:26pm
The Miss Binky & Amazing Jack Show (mail) (www):
ejo:
how can religion be such a detriment to learning given the numbers of institutes of higher education founded by religion (as opposed to atheists, who might take over a department but are a little lax on actually creating them)?

----
You made me laugh there. btw, I went to Catholic school for 11 years.

----
also, the obsession with blaming war on religion when war existed prior to the founding of the current major religions is somewhat suspect. wars and killings have occurred and continue to occur for all sorts of reasons apart from one's religion. certainly, in the past century, the bloodiest killers were not acting from religious motive-although the atheists here don't like to talk about the atheists doing it then.

-----

I will reiterate my opinion here from the previous post, I don't think evidence can point to any war being geniuinely motivated by religion. I think it is used at an alarming rate, as the excuse for war though. If you look at the crusades, they were politically motivated so that the church could gain power over the crown and thus, over the masses...it didn't work but that didn't stop them from trying.

Before that - although I find motives behind biblical text to be somewhat suspect - you have to admit, they were recording history through their own biased perspectives but nevertheless, some things in there are indisputable...such as wars that were waged. Motives behind them were ostensibly religious, but lets face it, King David was trying to get boned during one war where he led the poor sap husband of Bathsheba out on the front line.

Right or wrong, people are constantly using the name of God to further their own agenda. How else do you explain these suicide bombers? Okay, you can substitute "Country" for "God" but it's the same result...which leads me back to my original assertion that it is a ruse, to spur people to into action.

I think that many times people engage in conflicts in the hopes of defending their God but the inherent flaws in human nature always seem to be exposed on the battlefield (metaphorically or otherwise) and it usually turns out that what they were fighting for, somehow became lost in the quest for power &control, if it was ever about anything other than that to begin with.

I know my last post (and probably this one too) made me look like an atheist to the naked eye...but I am actually a Catholic...and damn proud of it, haha!

I don't happen to agree with a lot of things about any organized religion however, but thankfully, I have gotten past the point of looking to the priest or pope as my savior...so I guess I can remain a Catholic without having to worry about the church washing my brain...God knows they had 11 years to give it a good honest try!
6.14.2007 12:43am
plunge (mail):
What even a causal reader would know, Michael, is that you are lying: I didn't say that their _writings_ were spam. I said that you just dropping in links into a discussion and then refusing to discuss the ideas contained in the links is spam.

If you are not willing to actually debate what I say about them, then at least have the intellectual honesty not to say anything at all. Referencing them but then refusing to discuss the matter with anything other than insults is pointless, rude, and pretty clearly violates the comment policy.
6.14.2007 2:21am
Michael B (mail):
I've never refused a serious engagement, but I'm not obligated to respond to incomprehension and silly reductions of someone's arguments. That would be pointless. Nor was I "lying," which is a rude presumption itself.

But keep playing that final card you have up your sleeve, perhaps someone will be impressed with it, but I think it's a joker and in the precincts of rational discourse wild cards are not allowed. And quit pouting.
6.14.2007 11:11am
plunge (mail):
"I've never refused a serious engagement, but I'm not obligated to respond to incomprehension and silly reductions of someone's arguments."

Well that works out well for you I guess, since you can simply reflexively declare all opposing views to be such whether they are or they aren't, and that's pretty much all you ever do in these discussions. But if you aren't prepared to defend these accusations and show that they have some merit, however, they are just accusations, no different than anyone can make. In the end, all it becomes are reflexive excuses to avoid every argument you can't answer (which in practice seem to be most of them).

"Nor was I "lying," which is a rude presumption itself. "

Not at all: the facts of the matter are plain to see. I said something (that you were spamming), and then you said I said something different than what I said (that the writings of the linked people were themselves spam). See how I can actually back up my claims with facts and reason? You need to try doing that.
6.14.2007 11:36am
Michael B (mail):
"... since you can simply reflexively declare all opposing views ..." plunge

Well, you must be lying. Firstly, I'm obviously not addressing "all opposing views," I only addressed your reduction of Craig's argument, noting how jejune and feeble, even laughable, it is. Secondly, I didn't do so "reflexively" as I'm quite familiar with Craig's line of thought in the previously referenced link and compared your own characterization with my knowledge of Craig's thinking, as illuminated in that piece. Hence, ironically, you're the one who evidences the reflexive declaration, not I.

As to the "lying" charge, again, certainly not. At the very worst it was a misunderstanding. That you reflexively charge me with "lying" reflects precisely on your "method," such as it is.

Keep digging though.
6.15.2007 12:47am
plunge (mail):
"Firstly, I'm obviously not addressing "all opposing views," I only addressed your reduction of Craig's argument, noting how jejune and feeble, even laughable, it is."

And yet you've done that over and over, not just to me, but to others. You either refuse to make substantive arguments at all, just pop in to insult people, or you post links to material that claim make your case, but you then refuse to defend or discuss because you immediately declare all criticism to be "laughable" without ever defending THIS assertion either. These tactics, if nothing else, are incredibly intellectually lazy. There is nothing you've said or done in any of these threads that could not have been said by someone who hasn't even read his own links or the discussion he's commenting on.

Even more silly, when this behavior is pointed out, your response is to simply repeat the charge back at your opponents, despite it making no sense (since I and others HAVE at least presented extensive argument, meaning that it makes no sense at all to say that we've dodged things or engaged in pure insults: my characterizations of your are conclusions any fair minded person can come to after observing your behavior)

And if it really was a misunderstanding, then why not correct yourself?
6.15.2007 12:03pm
Michael B (mail):
Well, I've continued herein despite the tedium and only because I've wanted to see if your egocentrism can be dented. I'm now close to believing that's an impossible task. In part to demonstrate that egocentric quality, the following:

Firstly, in whole or in substantial part I disagree with your all your characterizations and will not address them for fear of devolving into even further tedium, but I will address your final question, repeated here:

"And if it really was a misunderstanding, then why not correct yourself?" plunge

1) You have already corrected me (in terms of your intentions) and I did not contradict that correction, I did not slight your correction in the least.

2) Nor did I charge you with a yet more presumptuous charge, such as a charge of deceit or "lying."

3) What I did contradict was in fact your own charge - stating, despite the more than merely plausible evidence that I was simply mistaken - that I was "lying."

4) File this one under: "lead by example". Why did you not correct yourself vis-a-vis the charge of "lying," given the more than plausible alternative? You are forever asking questions, insinuating, presuming, etc., yet you fail to hold yourself to the standards you set for others - i.e. a demonstration of that egocentrism.

5) When you arrogate to yourself the warrant to speak for "everyone" and "anyone," as your have done in this thread, it's a particularly glaring example of that egocentrism and presumption. You speak for yourself and no one else unless they have said otherwise, but you certainly don't speak for "everyone" and "anyone."

You insinuate and presume a great deal, speaking for "anyone" and "everyone" is but one reflection of that larger condition. You fail to hold yourself to the standards you would apply to others and I continue to be supremely unimpressed with your ability to reason seriously and critically, demonstrated herein, also in other threads, such as here. In general, you don't seem to understand what close or rigorous reasoning demands of people. You pout and become acrimonious because I don't treat you with kid gloves. Several other things could be said but I'll leave it at that, it's late.
6.15.2007 6:08pm
plunge (mail):
Snore. Endless paragraphs of accusations. If you are so bored, then why not like, actually get back into the substantive discussions that the rest of us enjoy instead of just slinging insults?

If you don't respect me or my arguments, shrug. But if you want to talk about examples, consider, say, someone like Craig, who you've linked to several times. Craig clearly thinks that many of the arguments of his opponents are complete junk, and says so. But Craig, unlike yourself, still (mostly) takes the time to explain what he believes to be the flaws. Why? Because doing THAT is actually illustrative and interesting as a debate. Endlessly repeating "you are egocentric" and "I am unimpressed by your ability to reason" is not. Who cares that you have nasty things to say about your opponents? All anyone ultimate cares about on these boards are whether you can provide sound substantive responses to arguments.

Again: "Comment Policy: We'd like the posts to be civil, of course (no profanity, personal insults, and the like), but we're also hoping that people try to be as calm, reasoned, and substantive as possible."

If you can't follow that, in particular the latter issue, why are you here at all?
6.16.2007 1:47pm
Michael B (mail):
Yes, more of the same, and still not holding yourself to the same standard you insist others conform to. Intellectually, u r a child, whining and pouting and demanding that your presumption and silliness be cossetted and treated seriously while further acting as if it's your right to hold court. Again, this is worth remarking upon because the heritage DD&H is serving is one where snark, sneers and snide are front-and-center among their epigones and sock puppets, while serious engagement is all too often peripheral, if it exists at all.

Before you can teach you have to consciously cultivate the ability to learn.
6.16.2007 5:34pm