pageok
pageok
pageok
"Theophobia":

Rick Hills (PrawfsBlawg) writes:

Just a few days ago, I was discussing a mutual friend with a former colleague. The latter was astonished by our mutual friend's Christianity: "What's up with that?!" he exclaimed, expressing bewilderment and even nervousness at the thought that a well-regarded -- indeed, by academic standards, famous -- professor could believe in the existence and beneficence of an omniscient and omnipotent God. If was as if our Christian friend had declared that the world was flat or was dabbling in alchemy. My former colleague even worried that, if a serious academic could believe in God, he was capable of believing in, or attempting, anything — attempting to walk across the East River unaided by a water taxi, gunning down students in hallways, speaking in tongues at a faculty meeting, you name it.

Hills goes on to label this attitude "theophobia" and explain why he disagrees with it, among other things because "there is no obviously persuasive reason to believe that religious belief as such has any more harmful consequences than lack thereof."

Here's my quick thought on the subject: I tend to agree that fear of religious belief as such (as opposed to of specific religious beliefs) is probably unjustified, for the factual reasons Hills mentions.

But I take it that many irreligious people who are bewildered by others' religious beliefs aren't afraid of the beliefs so much as they find them factually unfounded — much like they would find beliefs in astrology, ghosts, werewolves, or for that matter the Greco-Roman pantheon to be factually unfounded. For that matter, I take it that even many Christian academics would disapprove, on empiricist rather than theological grounds, of those who say they believe in Zeus, Xenu, the Zodiac, or vampires. Why should we be surprised that irreligious academics would take the same view, but as to factual claims of the existence of God as well as to the other factual claims? (Note that there were some very interesting responses to these arguments in the comments to this post of ours from late 2005.)

This is especially so as to beliefs "in the existence and beneficence of an omniscient and omnipotent God." So perhaps what Prof. Hills is seeing is more disapproval of those who are seen as unduly willing to believe in what the disapproving person sees as fairy tales, rather than disapproval of those who are seen as morally or practically threatening.

dearieme:
What meeting an otherwise rational believer teaches you is the remarkable ability of the human mind to compartmentalise itself. Presumably a similar explanation holds for a lawyer who is a decent and loving husband and father.
6.19.2008 1:34pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
What is most astonishing is how disconnected they must be from mainstream American life, where announcing your atheism causes similar bewilderment and dismay.
6.19.2008 1:45pm
yankev (mail):
In certain circles, voicing a belief in G-d is seen as a serious breach of etiquette, and as evidence that the speaker is not quite rational and not to be fully trusted. Phobia is an apt description -- pick up a copy of Stephen Carter's "Culture of Disbelief."
6.19.2008 1:46pm
decentlovinglawyer:
Was the harsh lawyer-smack necessary, dearieme? Is there truly something intrinsic in a legal career that is at odds with being a decent and loving or otherwise good person? Or could you just not resist the easy, offensive "joke"? And what does that say about you?
6.19.2008 1:47pm
L.A. Brave:
Hills says:

If was as if our Christian friend had declared that the world was flat or was dabbling in alchemy.

Ironic that he mentions alchemy, because it is exceedingly more plausible than the existence of a benevolent God.

Alchemy was scientific pursuit of a perfectly plausibly theory; that elements of one type could be transmuted into elements of another type. Of course, this goes on throughout the universe in burning stars, as well as in particle accelerators and nuclear reactors here in Earth. In fact, gold particles have been created in a lab.

In hindsight, the alchemists, the proto-chemists, weren't that far off. They were basically right, but had the metaphysics wrong. Moreover, much their methodology was sound and laid the foundation for modern chemistry and science as a whole. Separate the metaphysics from alchemy and it is indistinguishable from chemistry. Indeed, the very techniques of alchemy helped bring about its demise as an acceptable model for the universe.

So while the alchemists dropped their model and became proper scientists, the theologians have held fast to their 6,000 year old model of the universe, producing far less evidence for their model than the alchemists ever did.
6.19.2008 1:50pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
So perhaps what Prof. Hills is seeing is more disapproval of those who are seen as unduly willing to believe in what the disapproving person sees as fairy tales, rather than disapproval of those who are seen as morally or practically threatening.
You could probably say the same about Global Warming and those who believe in it. Of course, many of the same profs who find belief in a superior being irrational do believe that man is causing irreversible global warming. I would suggest that it is harder to prove the global warming than disprove the existence of a superior being, possibly because the religious have had several millenia to hone their arguments.
6.19.2008 1:55pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
(aside: I am not a Christian, nor am I religious. I do tend to observe this sort of stuff.)

But I take it that many irreligious people who are bewildered by others' religious beliefs aren't afraid of the beliefs so much as they find them factually unfounded -- much like they would find beliefs in astrology, ghosts, werewolves, or for that matter the Greco-Roman pantheon to be factually unfounded.


But that's the thing : most people who consider the term "intelligent Christian" to be an oxymoron *are* concerned about high-ranking religious individuals precisely because of those beliefs; that believing in an invisible man in the clouds automatically indicates a predisposition to (other?) illogical beliefs, including potentially dangerous ones.

Not only is that a rather cruel assumption, but it's not supported by the evidence -- radical Christians are less likely to believe in illogical things like UFOs or a working Social Security fund than the average individual. It also matches no other similar case. It's not difficult to find an advocate of string theory who will also tell you exactly how stupid, unverifiable, untestable, and unable to provide predictable results intelligent design theory is.

You can see this sort of If Jesus Then Aliens mentality in a lot of common media these days, so it's not surprising that people who seldom interact with devout religious individuals assume such is the case.

That, I think is rather harmful, and it's not mere disapproval of an individual's religious beliefs, but assumption that religious beliefs automatically indicate a potentially dangerous lack of logical capability. I'm doubtful it fits into the DSM's definition of a phobia, and that sort of classification tends to belittle the viewpoint of many individuals, but it's certainly harmful to individuals with those religious beliefs, and to conversation with those individuals.
6.19.2008 1:57pm
AF:
I think Professor Volokh's post accurately describes why some atheists look down on relgious people. It also reveals the error in that point of view.

Some -- not all -- religious people do not "believe" in God in the sense one believes in unicorns. They believe in God in the sense one believes in justice, or progress, or the perfectability of human kind. For these people, belief in God is an ideal, an article of faith, not the acceptance a falsifiable proposition about the physical world.

Ridiculing these people for the intellectual error of "believing" in God makes no more sense than ridiculing someone else for the intellectual error of "believing" in an unattainable secular ideal.
6.19.2008 1:57pm
L.A. Brave:
yankev:
You are pretty much correct.

I generally look at a religious believer the same way I look at any "true believer", whether they are a cryptozoologist, a 9-11 Truther, an antivaccine crusader, a ghost hunter, or anyone else pushing the latest pseudo-science. Part loathing, part pity, but rarely fear.
6.19.2008 2:01pm
J Croft (mail):
I know a pretty atheist who believes in ghosts. I know several others who think global warming is man-made. Another believes GW Bush ran for President solely to oust Saddam Hussein. We all know that Rosie O'Donnel believes that steel doesn't burn.

I doubt that we could find anyone who holds what all of us might agree upon as a minimally intersecting, irreducible set of logical views.
6.19.2008 2:05pm
anonthu:
As far as I know, belief in Zeus is unfounded; Christian faith has long been recognized as being empirically falsifiable.
6.19.2008 2:05pm
NI:
AF, if you want to define "God" as a social construct like justice, progress, or human perfectability, fine, but that's not my understanding of theism.

And as an atheist, I'm not afraid of belief in God. What I am afraid of is theists trying to make this country into a theocracy. It's not that religious people want to practice their faith; it's that they want to lay the trappings of their faith on American society. It manifests itself in opposition to abortion, gay marriage, evolution, as well as in demands for school prayer and "biblical economics".

I do think belief in God is comparable to belief in unicorns. Now, imagine that unicorn-believers were politically well organized enough that laws were actually passed based on what the unicorns think is best (as expounded upon by a unicorn priesthood), and demands were made that all of us -- not just the believers -- conformed our conduct to what the priests told us the unicorns want. Imagine further that the unicorn-believers have had a near monopoly on the appointment of federal judges for eight years and basically run the Justice Department. Then perhaps you can understand what it's like to be an atheist in this culture, and why there is so much hostility directed at religious belief.
6.19.2008 2:05pm
corneille1640 (mail):

So while the alchemists dropped their model and became proper scientists, the theologians have held fast to their 6,000 year old model of the universe, producing far less evidence for their model than the alchemists ever did.

Well, some believers have held fast to the 6,000 year old model of the universe, but not all. What about Francis Collins, the evangelical who was one of the heads of the human genome project and who published a book defending what he saw as the consistency between his faith and much of the accepted scientific view of evolution and the history of the universe?


But I take it that many irreligious people who are bewildered by others' religious beliefs aren't afraid of the beliefs so much as they find them factually unfounded

Mr. Volokh, undoubtedly you're on to something, but I have two comments:

First, someone (perhaps even a member of that amorphous group of "many" irreligious people) might be able to disagree with, or oppose, a given religious belief for both factual reasons (i.e., that person finds the belief unsupported by evidence, etc.) and for non-rational reasons (e.g., that person simply hates religious people and religion in general). I don't mean to imply that all people who oppose religion do so out of irrational "hate" or "fear," only that an admixture of irrationality might, with some people, contribute to their opposition to a religious belief.

Second, I submit that we tend to overuse the word "phobia" to mean "hate," probably out of the reasonable but still debatable inference that basis for hate is fear. We are left with the spectacle of people free to insist that they don't "fear" whatever they're accused of hating without having to answer the real charge of an irrational hatred for whatever group/concept/person/idea is referred to. In other words, maybe "theophobia" is just a figure of speech.
6.19.2008 2:06pm
NI:
Anonthu, Christian faith may be recognized as falsifiable by Christians who already believe it; everyone else points and laughs.
6.19.2008 2:07pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
So while the alchemists dropped their model and became proper scientists, the theologians have held fast to their 6,000 year old model of the universe, producing far less evidence for their model than the alchemists ever did.


Er, last I checked Roman Catholic dogma has been in favor of at least old earth creationism for close to a hundred years, and stated that the Big Bang theory could well be correct for at least half that. Given that the Torah phrase "yôm" is as often a vague period of time as a specific day, that's really not outside of the actual textual interpretation.

There are young earth creationists out there, and given that the theory is rather unfalsifiable, there probably always will be, but the automatic assumption that a devout theologian will believe in that specific oddity of textual interpretation effectively requires you to believe that the last half-dozen popes weren't theologians.
6.19.2008 2:07pm
anonthu:
Pointing and laughing is certainly one way to respond. Noted.

But please be clear: are you denying its falsifiablity, or, based upon the evidence, do you consider it falsified?
6.19.2008 2:13pm
Brett Bellmore:

that believing in an invisible man in the clouds automatically indicates a predisposition to (other?) illogical beliefs, including potentially dangerous ones.


Religion is generally taught to children at such an early age, that normal mental defenses against nonsense simply don't apply, or more to the point, grow up around it and take it for granted. Like doing a xenograft into a fetus, the mental 'immune system' does not attack what is already present when it forms.

For that reason, believing the religion you were raised in is not the least bit indicative of a tendency to believe other nonsense. Indeed, it may even have a protective effect, by filling that mental "receptor" so that nothing else can reach it.

Coming to believe in a religion after attaining adulthood, OTOH, that's a quite different matter. That's not a normal exception to the functioning of a mental 'immune system', it's evidence that system isn't working.
6.19.2008 2:13pm
whit:
i read a very good article, god knows where, recently that showed that among quantum physicists and other VERY smart scientists in very "hard" science fields especially physics, that there are a surprising # of theists in that group.

many in academia are atheist/agnostic, but what was suprising was that there were more theists among those who studied the actual nature of the stuff that makes up the universe (quantum physics, etc.) than there were in fields like the humanities, women's studies, etc.

the old school notion was that academics were "like way too smart man to believe in that antiquated religious dogma...", but there was also the notion that there IS (less so now than 10-20 years ago) a LOT of anti-religious bigotry in academia such that for a prominent academic, especially a scientist to profess a belief in god was dangerous - socially, to their career, etc.

that is not so much true anymore.

“If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use.”

- Robert Griffiths, physicist and winner of the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics
6.19.2008 2:14pm
Smokey:
This attitude applies in spades toward Mormons [I'm not one]. The fact that Mormons are some of the most honest and trustworthy folks anyone could have for a neighbor seems to be trumped by the reflex demonizing of people we don't understand.

And Bruce Hayden is right on-target regarding otherwise intelligent people who still believe in this fairy tale:
...many of the same profs who find belief in a superior being irrational do believe that man is causing irreversible global warming.
You can drag them to the government's own charts and show them. Doesn't mean a thing; they're True Believers, and facts are merely a minor inconvenience.
6.19.2008 2:15pm
ejo:
you can add that many atheists, including some here, express amazement that one questions their non-belief based on the results that flowed from those beliefs in communist nations. much like the libertarians who don't like it pointed out that the party attracts neo-nazis and anti-semites like moths to a flame.

by the way, any academics want to address the academics against naming a center for Milton Friedman at U of C? that article, from yesterday's Tribune, should be ripe for comment here.
6.19.2008 2:16pm
whit:
brett,

it is astounding how many in the scientific fields (specifically physics) come to either a belief in god, or at least a grudging acceptance that it's a possibility (iow a kind of atheist-emerging agnostic continuum), and NOT from being brought up in some sort of heavy religious tradition.

your entire post is basically an exercise in question begging, since you are already so certain that religious belief is "nonsense" of course vs. explaining why this is the case
6.19.2008 2:17pm
Mad Max:
We all know that "phobia" is only used as a suffix when liberals want to signify that anyone who disagrees with them politically is mentally disordered. The suffix obviously can never be applied to liberals, since their views are always factual and rational, and thus mentally as well as politically correct.
6.19.2008 2:18pm
Dave N (mail):
the theologians have held fast to their 6,000 year old model of the universe
This is the fallacy of many atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers--the tendency to lump all people of faith with those who are easiest to mock.

Even many fundamentalists will tell you that the universe is not 6000 years old--that they can believe the Bible is literally true but that Genesis 1, in describing the creation of the universe, does not define the concept of what a "day" is or how long such a "day" would be. Likewise, Genesis 1 generally describes the order that life emerged.

Non-fundamentalist believers (and even some fundamentalists) will also tell you (if you ask rather than sneer) two other things: 1) that much of the early Bible (the stories of the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, etc.) are allegories and can be understood as such. More importantly, the Bible is not the literal word of God in the sense Muslims believe the Koran is.

I agree that these are concepts of faith, but I also believe that the validity (or the lack thereof) of religion deserve more serious arguments than strawmen about Christian theologians collectively believing the world is only 6000 years old.
6.19.2008 2:22pm
BGates:
What I am afraid of is theists trying to make this country into a theocracy.
“What Barack Obama has accomplished is the single most extraordinary event that has occurred in the 232 years of the nation’s political history. ... The event itself is so extraordinary that another chapter could be added to the Bible to chronicle its significance.”
Now, imagine that...demands were made that all of us -- not just the believers -- conformed our conduct to what the priests told us the unicorns want.
Barack Obama WILL REQUIRE YOU to work. He is going to DEMAND that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation and that you move out of your comfort zone. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage.
Plenty more along those lines here.
6.19.2008 2:24pm
L.A. Brave:
corneille1640 and gattsuru:
I wasn't saying all Christians believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. I am saying they believe in a model of the universe that is 6,000 years old. (In fact, I got the number wrong. The Bible was written about 3,500 years ago. 6,000, as you note, is the age of the Earth according to young earth creationists). The Bible is nothing more than a compilation of state of the art physics, circa 1,000 BC (i.e., "God did it").

In any case, plenty of people do believe the Earth is that young. Many Christians do literally believe in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Flood, and many other miracles in the Bible.

whit:
I'd like to see that article. A recent study found that only 3.3% of Royal Society members believe in God. In the 90s they found that about 7% of members in the American National Academy of Sciences shared the belief. Maybe you find those numbers "surprising."

I'm sure lots of scientists believe in an Einsteinian God, but that's not really God at all. That's basically Spinoza.
6.19.2008 2:24pm
AF:
AF, if you want to define "God" as a social construct like justice, progress, or human perfectability, fine, but that's not my understanding of theism.

The error lies in imputing your understanding of theism to everyone who says they "believe in God."
6.19.2008 2:26pm
ejo:
throw in that many academics still believe in communism, if only they were in charge of the system and not those nasty actual communists-talk about still believing in the tooth fairy.
6.19.2008 2:28pm
Javert:

"there is no obviously persuasive reason to believe that religious belief as such has any more harmful consequences than lack thereof."

Tell that to Galileo. And then, of course, there are the innumerable religious wars, the Dark Ages, and various inquisitions.

"Theophobia" is a thinly disguised attempt to turn a philosophic position, atheism, into a psychological problem -- ala xenophibia. Would it be intellectually respectable to call its opposite "atheophobia"?
6.19.2008 2:29pm
NI:
Anonthu, it is both non-falsifiable, and such evidence as is available points to its being false. (I note that it is difficult to prove a negative -- I can't, for example, prove that unicorns don't exist -- but the burden of proof is on the one asserting the positive.

Whit, do you have any kind of a citation for your assertion that scientists tend to become theists? That sounds like propaganda to me. I do know there are several studies showing an inverse correlation between intelligence and religious belief.

Ejo, atheism isn't a belief system, any more than non-belief in unicorns is a belief system. In other words, it tells you what I DON'T believe; not what I DO believe. Sure, Stalin didn't believe in God, but he didn't believe in unicorns either. Why are you so certain it was his non-belief in God rather than unicorns that caused his mass murder?
6.19.2008 2:29pm
Al Maviva (mail):
I always enjoy seeing the vindictiveness that a lot of militantly atheistic people show. It convinces me that right or wrong, life is better if we aim to live according to a code that says to practice forebearance and charity, and to love one's neighbor. Is that bile and condescension that a lot of you spew the best you can manage? Even if the topic weren't religion it's distasteful.

In some ways, the dismal prospects for life without any notion of even a theistic god or transcendant values convinces me of the essentiality of god, as much or more than the Thomistic syllogisms on the subject.
6.19.2008 2:30pm
Brett Bellmore:
Whit, you'd get "a grudging acceptance that it's a possibility" from me, too, and I'm pretty far towards the atheist end of the agnostic spectrum. Unfalsifiable beliefs are, by definition, possible, aren't they?
6.19.2008 2:30pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Imagine further that the unicorn-believers have had a near monopoly on the appointment of federal judges for eight years and basically run the Justice Department. Then perhaps you can understand what it's like to be an atheist in this culture, and why there is so much hostility directed at religious belief.


So, a bit like 1999? *rimshot*

Sorry to bring up Godel's Incompleteness Theorem in a debate on logical thought, but the nature of logic is such that you've got to base whatever your belief system is off some illogical premise. Even secular humanism breaks down to a good many essential and unprovable assumptions, such as humanity being more worthwhile than other species, that a search for objective truth and building a better world are "good" and fairly high on the priority list.

Those may well be oft-agreed on assumptions, but that's all they can be. It takes some mental gymnastics to come up with a premise that logically leads to them, and every attempt to do so only results in a different unprovable premise.

There's nothing inherently wrong about that, self-evidently. But it's just a different breed of unicorn.
6.19.2008 2:30pm
whit:

This attitude applies in spades toward Mormons [I'm not one]. The fact that Mormons are some of the most honest and trustworthy folks anyone could have for a neighbor seems to be trumped by the reflex demonizing of people we don't understand.



i have to agree. growing up on the east coast, in a liberal city, on the campus of a ivy league college... i had never met a mormon (or at least somebody who told me he was a mormon).

now, here in WA i know many. doing some research i learned that mormons are among the most successful groups in the country - low crime rate, low out of wedlock birth rate, low murder victimization rate, low aids contraction rate, etc. similar to other highly successful groups like japanese americans (whose one major blip is in suicide rate) and jews in terms of success.

so, whatever you can say about mormonism as a belief system (see: pj orourke's comments on the inventiveness of mormon mythology) CLEARLY the crossover of their belief system into life strategies is HIGHLY successful. the one major issue mormons have is high levels of obesity. interestintly, considering their high obesity levels they have correspondingly low heart attack etc. levels.

they also do really well in shows like "so you think you can dance" and "american idol".

and olympic weightlifting

:)
6.19.2008 2:31pm
L.A. Brave:
AF:
Let's talk about a personal benevolent God. Christ as your personal savior. A woman that gave birth without insemination. A man that performed miracles and rose from the dead. I'm talking about people who believe in that sort of thing.

If you want to dress up Kant or Spinoza and call it the God of the Bible, go for it. But that's not Christianity to an overwhelming majority of people that call themselves Christian.
6.19.2008 2:32pm
NI:
AF:


The error lies in imputing your understanding of theism to everyone who says they "believe in God."


No, your fallacy is equivocation -- assigning new meanings to words.
6.19.2008 2:32pm
Smokey:
whit:
...what was suprising was that there were more theists among those who studied the actual nature of the stuff that makes up the universe (quantum physics, etc.) than there were in fields like the humanities, women's studies, etc.
I'm not surprised at all by that. Just look at the totally logical Periodic Table of the elements, then explain how it all just "happened". It's clear to me that there is a rational design behind it. Same with mathematics, physics, and all the hard sciences.

The Humanities are where you'll find Greek mythology.
6.19.2008 2:33pm
Wallace:
The modern acadmic has more superstitions than a medieval peasant, but doesn't acknowledge it.

I've met many people with advanced degrees (JDs, MDs, Phd's) who find belief in traditional monotheistic religions to be absurd, but believe things that are equally lacking in evidence:

* feng shui,
* autism is caused by mercury in vaccines,
* removing old fillings can improve one's health,
* an unseasonably warm day in any month is directly attributable to the Bush administration's environmental policies, etc.
* reiki treatments

Isn't "theophobia" an appropriate designation for someone who regards monotheism as a baseless superstion, but does not scrutinize modern new agey superstions to the same degree? Especially when some of the new agey superstions have been scientifically tested and found wanting (whereas monotheism really can't be proven or disproven).
6.19.2008 2:35pm
NI:

In some ways, the dismal prospects for life without any notion of even a theistic god or transcendant values convinces me of the essentiality of god, as much or more than the Thomistic syllogisms on the subject.


But wanting something to be so doesn't make it so, even if the alternative is bleak (which in this case it really isn't). Sure, I'd like to believe in a benevolent God. I'd also like to believe I'm going to win the lottery and the adorable 22 year old file clerk my office just hired wants to sleep with me. But the fact that I would be better off if those things were true, does not make them true. Bottom line, God either exists or he doesn't; it's a question of fact; and the consequences either way are irrelevant.
6.19.2008 2:35pm
LM (mail):

So perhaps what Prof. Hills is seeing is more disapproval of those who are seen as unduly willing to believe in what the disapproving person sees as fairy tales, rather than disapproval of those who are seen as morally or practically threatening.

A group as numerous as atheists is bound to have a broad, diverse range of attitudes on this question. I'm sure some feel as you suggest, others not. But if you doubt there's a contingent whose views toward religion and the religious are not only disapproving, but downright hostile, read the comments to any Sam Harris blog on Huffington Post.
6.19.2008 2:37pm
NI:

Those may well be oft-agreed on assumptions, but that's all they can be. It takes some mental gymnastics to come up with a premise that logically leads to them, and every attempt to do so only results in a different unprovable premise.


Ah, but the difference is that my premises -- logic and science -- actually work when put into practice, and produce observable results. True, I can't prove that all of this isn't a figment of my imagination, but I can prove that things work better using logic and science than not.
6.19.2008 2:38pm
L.A. Brave:
Smokey:
This is just the argument from incredulity. You can't think of any way it could have happened, so God must have done it.

There are certainly other plausible explanations, and experiments under way to test them.
6.19.2008 2:38pm
whit:

Tell that to Galileo. And then, of course, there are the innumerable religious wars, the Dark Ages, and various inquisitions.



doesn't prove your point. the 20th century was the first century that had anything resembling official state run atheist governments in a matter of several DECADES managed to wipe out FAR FAR FAR more people than christians did in the inquisition, etc.

state run "official faith" is exceptionally dangerous is the real point and that holds at least as true for atheism as it does for any brand of theism, as the 20th century proved.

people in power tend to do nasty things to those that upset their orthodoxy is the real point. as a matter of history, that orthodoxy was, to a large extent religious. but when replaced by other orthodoxies like communism and atheism it PROVED the problem was not religion. the problem is MAN.
6.19.2008 2:39pm
corneille1640 (mail):

"there is no obviously persuasive reason to believe that religious belief as such has any more harmful consequences than lack thereof."


Tell that to Galileo. And then, of course, there are the innumerable religious wars, the Dark Ages, and various inquisitions.

Those examples prove that religious belief has been used to justify atrocious actions. But those examples do not prove that religious belief, "as such" is necessarily harmful. The burden on one who would prove that religious belief "as such" is harmful is to demonstrate a necessary connection between religious belief and the harm it adds. Some of the other commenters on this thread, for example, have at least tried to prove this by claiming a disposition to have a religious belief might entail a disposition to do harmful things. I don't buy their argument, but at least they are trying to draw a connection and are advancing an argument much more defensible than merely pointing out instances where belief was used to justify something bad
6.19.2008 2:39pm
whit:

Ah, but the difference is that my premises -- logic and science -- actually work when put into practice, and produce observable results


which is great, but irrelevant. science doesn't disprove religion, and is not incompatible with religion. it's like comparing chairs and fruit. they serve different purposes, etc.

but the idea that science (or men of science) have to be atheist, is absurd.

many theists find the more they study science (SCIENCE DAMN YOU... south park) the more their faith is strengthened not weakened.

your attitude reminds me of the russians who, when they launched the first man into space snarkily proclaimed that god must not exist because there was no guy with a beard sitting up their in the firmaments.
6.19.2008 2:43pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I wasn't saying all Christians believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. I am saying they believe in a model of the universe that is 6,000 years old. (In fact, I got the number wrong. The Bible was written about 3,500 years ago. 6,000, as you note, is the age of the Earth according to young earth creationists). The Bible is nothing more than a compilation of state of the art physics, circa 1,000 BC (i.e., "God did it").


Er, the model of the universe used by the Roman Catholic church has been modified several dozen times within the last fifty years. I should not need to remind intelligent individuals these days that the Vatican has a friggen stellar observatory or three. Jesuits were the first individuals to classify the stars by emission spectra. Everyone remembers the trial of Galileo, but Nicole Oresme's work predated Galileo's by a hundreds of years and said similar things, but instead of getting house arrest earned the man a bishop's hat.
6.19.2008 2:43pm
ejo:
might it be because communism didn't make stamping out a belief in unicorns or persecution of unicorn believers a centerpiece of its ideology? makes my points about the defensiveness of the poor atheists, though.
6.19.2008 2:46pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Tell that to Galileo. And then, of course, there are the innumerable religious wars, the Dark Ages, and various inquisitions.


Galileo's problems were significant, but more due to offending bad people with power. Oresme came up with the same answers a few hundred years earlier -- in the friggen Dark Ages -- and was rewarded for improving the understanding of science.
6.19.2008 2:46pm
Kazinski:
Yet you have serious scientists postulating that "mathmatical formulas create reality" (from Instapundit). Isn't that awfully close to intelligent design? I'm an atheist myself, but I have a profound respect for the religious. Just because my mind is too small to comprehend the concept of a greater being that creates and controls the universe, doesn't mean I can't admire that attribute in others. And if they're wrong then so what?
6.19.2008 2:48pm
whit:

Those examples prove that religious belief has been used to justify atrocious actions.


and of course as you imply same belief is neither sufficient nor necessary for atrocious actions, as the pogroms, forced starvation, killing fields, etc. all done by officially ATHEIST goverments has proven all too well.

iow, it's a power/people thang. it aint a religion thang
6.19.2008 2:52pm
L.A. Brave:
whit:
In fact, the rise of these so-called atheist governments coincides with plummeting rates of violence throughout the world. Even if you include state-sponsored genocide, we are living in the most peaceful period in history. Steven Pinker notes that the true tipping point came during the Age of Reason.

Steven Pinker has obliterated this myth.

And for good measure, some scripture (excerpts from Numbers 31):

And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.

Moses said unto them: [...] Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
6.19.2008 2:52pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
(Full Disclosure: I am a Christian)

I certainly agree that the fear of theism is unfounded. I agree with Professor Hills that much of it has to do with the ignorance and/or the bad experiences some academics have had with theists. For example, I just read an article about how many Christians misunderstand the Goth subculture due to their lack of interaction with Goths. Also, I personally groan every time I see the televangelists who claim that “Jesus is poor and needs your money” (which would leave anyone with a bad impression of Christianity).

However to simply dismiss religion as “irrational” and therefore false is unfair. Theism is non-rational-- that is, cannot be proven or disproven logically. Theism is NOT irrational-- that is, there are arguments and evidence that tend to support the existence of God. Of course, an atheist would argue that there are arguments and evidence for their contentions too. Neither side, however, can sit down and logically come to the conclusion that one or the other MUST be true-- this is where faith comes into play.

What bothers me is the often knee-jerk dismissal by academics for anyone who professes Christianity. Again, as with Professor Hill, my evidence is largely anecdotal-- often from my personal experience. How is it that theism somehow makes a person irrational in other areas of life? If a person does not believe in God, that is his prerogative. I do not question his abilities as an historian or mathematician or physicist-- yet I believe his fundamental worldview (the fundamental assumptions people make about the universe and any moral implications thereof) is wrong and against the evidence. I would only debate his work if it contradicted my beliefs, and I would argue my position within the rules and evidence of the applicable field. Why can I not receive the same respect?
6.19.2008 2:52pm
anonthu:
Anonthu, it is both non-falsifiable, and such evidence as is available points to its being false.

Huh? Read that again: it cannot be falsified, but it is falsified by the available evidence-sorry, "points to its being false". Which is it?

If the latter, which of the "evidence that is available" points to its being false?

Around the time of Jesus' death, the resurrection was pretty clearly recognized (by both sides) as the key test: "show me the body".

I do know there are several studies showing an inverse correlation between intelligence and religious belief.

I don't get it. I dimly perceive that you are somehow belittling me, but I lack the intellect to fully comprehend it.
6.19.2008 2:53pm
Rogi (mail):

might it be because communism didn't make stamping out a belief in unicorns or persecution of unicorn believers a centerpiece of its ideology? makes my points about the defensiveness of the poor atheists, though.


Maybe Stalin learned these wonderful virtues while a student at a seminary when he was younger? We can only speculate what his "disease" was, but of course atheism was a good alternative for Stalin because the religious dogma was in direct competition with Communist dogma. I grew up in one of the former Soviet republics and noticed similarities between Evangelical indoctrination at an early age and Communist indoctrination at an early age. They just replaced "God" with "Communist Party".
6.19.2008 2:54pm
LM (mail):
Smokey:

I'm not surprised at all by that. Just look at the totally logical Periodic Table of the elements, then explain how it all just "happened". It's clear to me that there is a rational design behind it. Same with mathematics, physics, and all the hard sciences.

The problem is, Smokey, that "obviousness" is a notoriously unreliable basis for logical reasoning. It doesn't inform argument. It stops it.
6.19.2008 2:56pm
L.A. Brave:
gattsuru:
Ok, the Catholic church keeps adjusting the "true" Christian model of the universe. Never mind what the Bible says. Allegory, after all.

What is the position of the Catholic Church on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the miracles of saints? Allegory? Symbolism? What do the Vatican laboratories have to say about that stuff?
6.19.2008 2:58pm
Fub:
Eugene Volokh wrote in original article:

This is especially so as to beliefs "in the existence and beneficence of an omniscient and omnipotent God."
Existence, Omniscience and omnipotence are one thing. But beneficence? The same guy who would have me stoned for enjoying bacon wrapped scallops au gratin? Sheesh!
6.19.2008 2:58pm
Javert:

Galileo's problems were significant, but more due to offending bad people with power.

Who (just coincidentally?!) were deeply religious.


Some of the other commenters on this thread, for example, have at least tried to prove this by claiming a disposition to have a religious belief might entail a disposition to do harmful things. I don't buy their argument, but at least they are trying to draw a connection and are advancing an argument much more defensible than merely pointing out instances where belief was used to justify something bad.

History is the great laboratory for testing the beneficial and harmful consequences of basic ideas. Perhaps I wrongly assumed that VC readers knew that history.
6.19.2008 2:59pm
whit:

But the fact that I would be better off if those things were true, does not make them true. Bottom line, God either exists or he doesn't; it's a question of fact; and the consequences either way are irrelevant.



part 1 is true. it is a statement of fact. part 2 is not true. one famous greek dood (i don't recall which) basically made your first point and said he might as well believe, because if he did, and acted according to god's laws, and god DIDN'T exist, it's no harm no foul once he died, but if god did exist then yer set up in pole position for the afterlife :) that's kind of cynical/pragmatic, but still kind of kewl too.

regardless, we'll all find out when we die (or there will be nothingness and we won't find out - default etc.). but to say it doesn't MATTER whether god exists, is nihilistic and nonsensical. of course it matters. it's one of the fundamental questions of the ages - why are we were, etc.

we evolved our intelligence (or it was created etc. bla bla) and it gives us the ability to ASK these questions, seek enlightenment, create art, poetry, etc. to explore these areas. whether it's cosmic accident (tm) or god's plan, not asking the question or denying the importance of it, is ridiculous and diminishes our experience on earth
6.19.2008 2:59pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Prof Hills says his acquaintance expressed "nervousness". That's anxiety, not an inability to understand.
EV's reconstruction of what Hills said and most likely thought is strange, unless he's interested in defending the professoriate.
6.19.2008 3:00pm
whit:

Who (just coincidentally?!) were deeply religious


it IS coincidental

would one have been in worse shape questioning the official belief system of the catholic church, as galileo did or the powers that be in the soviet union?

hmmm?

one was officiallty theist, the other was officially atheist.

NEITHER took kindly to some darn academic challenging their authoritah.

so, yes it IS coincidental.

men enjoy power and protect their power jealously and violently. THAT is the lesson of history. the idea that this is a necessary result of religious belief is disproven, as it is quite likely in ANY official belief system - such as communistic atheism when those in power have too much power.

that is the lesson of history.
6.19.2008 3:02pm
anonthu:
he might as well believe, because if he did, and acted according to god's laws, and god DIDN'T exist, it's no harm no foul once he died, but if god did exist then yer set up in pole position for the afterlife

Pascal's wager

don't let the pressure get to you
6.19.2008 3:03pm
NI:

Huh? Read that again: it cannot be falsified, but it is falsified by the available evidence-sorry, "points to its being false". Which is it?


Not at all. We're talking about amounts of evidence. It takes X amount of evidence to conclusively prove that God doesn't exist. I don't have that much; I only have a smaller amount, but the smaller amount all points to God not existing.

That's not enough for me to say that the existence of God has been disproven (i.e., is falsifiable), but it is enough for me to say that what evidence as is available points to God not existing. We're talking quantity, not quality.
6.19.2008 3:03pm
LM (mail):
whit,

people in power tend to do nasty things to those that upset their orthodoxy is the real point. as a matter of history, that orthodoxy was, to a large extent religious. but when replaced by other orthodoxies like communism and atheism it PROVED the problem was not religion. the problem is MAN.

No, it proved the problem wasn't exclusively religious. Intuitively, I agree with your point. But logically, I'm just sayin'....
6.19.2008 3:04pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I'm not surprised at all by that. Just look at the totally logical Periodic Table of the elements, then explain how it all just "happened". It's clear to me that there is a rational design behind it. Same with mathematics, physics, and all the hard sciences.


I think that's mostly the tendency for humans to notice order and patterns. The periodic table is actually a mess, and I'm convinced that a kind deity would have come up with a few better options than flourine for a good electron donation, and the whole field of elements past number the late 60s are just plain ugly. It only looks clean because scientists went out of their way to find a cleanish metric (in this case, outer electron shell in a neutrally charged atom).

Let's not even get into how often irrational numbers come up.
6.19.2008 3:05pm
anonthu:
OK, but back to my first point: there is a crucial event central to the Christian faith - the resurrection - and this was recognized by the Pharisees as well as the apostles.

If no resurrection, Christian faith is false
If resurrection, Christian faith is true
6.19.2008 3:08pm
Anon21:
BGates: You're kidding, right? Do you also watch the Colbert Report to get a sense of what leading right-wing pundits are saying?
6.19.2008 3:08pm
NI:

which is great, but irrelevant. science doesn't disprove religion, and is not incompatible with religion. it's like comparing chairs and fruit. they serve different purposes, etc.


Whit, Philosophy 101: It is difficult if not impossible to prove a negative. Science can't disprove the existence of God, unicorns, elves, or pink elephants. But that's not the proper question.

The question is: What specific evidence do you have for the existence of God? The person claiming something exists is the one with the burden of proof. Science does have to disprove God, or pink elephants. It just asks if there's any evidence for them. If there is no evidence for it, that's the end of the discussion.
6.19.2008 3:09pm
Constructively Reasonable (www):
"Let's not even get into how often irrational numbers come up."

My favorite number is ((Pi) + i)^e
6.19.2008 3:10pm
NI:
Sorry, I typed too fast. The above should read: Science does NOT have to disprove the existence of God, unicorns, elves or pink elephants.
6.19.2008 3:10pm
NI:

OK, but back to my first point: there is a crucial event central to the Christian faith - the resurrection - and this was recognized by the Pharisees as well as the apostles.


Anonthu, the fact that someone writes a book and claims that something happened does not make it so. Do you hold the Scriptures of other faiths to the same standard -- if it's in their book, it must have happened?
6.19.2008 3:12pm
L.A. Brave:
anonthu:
I don't think you are on the right tracks. Other aspects of the Bible have been falsified. If your standard for validity of Christianity is the truth or falsity some "crucial event," then you've already lost with Adam and Eve.
6.19.2008 3:15pm
whit:

In fact, the rise of these so-called atheist governments coincides with plummeting rates of violence throughout the world



well, apart from the pesky SCORES OF MILLIONS of people killed all to further atheistic communism.

breakin a few eggs and all.

i mean, except for those pesky scores of millions of people, what a great non-violent century! gawd, give me a break.

reminds me of the marion berry quote about crime being not so bad in DC if you don't count all the killin's!
6.19.2008 3:15pm
LM (mail):
NI,

Science does NOT have to disprove the existence of God, unicorns, elves or pink elephants.

That's only relevant to anyone who claims God can be proven scientifically. Whit's point is that God can exist, not be scientifically provable, and not be contradictory to the precepts or legitimacy of science.
6.19.2008 3:16pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
What is the position of the Catholic Church on the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the miracles of saints? Allegory? Symbolism? What do the Vatican laboratories have to say about that stuff?


I don't believe they even consider the book of Genesis to be allegory or symbolism, merely text with some translation issues. As pointed out before, the Jewish word for 'day' used in the creation story does not always (or often) mean a specific period of time.

Again, I'm not a Christian, nor religious, so I'm not exactly well-versed on the matter. I believe that the official dogma is that the texts were divinely inspired, and accurate.

The Roman Catholic church actually has a group of scientific laboratories set up to review modern miracles and some older ones, and seems to be rather skeptical, or at least skeptical enough to find some as incorrect or have a conventional scientific explanation.

But the rest of those seem fairly correct criticisms of common religious belief which goes in contradiction with commonly believed science. I suggest sticking to them, rather than the New Earth Creationist strawman.
6.19.2008 3:17pm
whit:

Science does NOT have to disprove the existence of God


of course not. but it's irrelevant to the issue: god either exists or not. or maybe BOTH are true. after all, to quote rudy cheeks channeling prof. feynman - it's a complex world.

it's just as ninnylike to think that religion is in conflict with science, taking that from a scientific atheist point of view, as taken from an intelligent designer/anti-science pov.

same disease
6.19.2008 3:18pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Issac Newton ranks as one of the great scientific intellects of all time, and he wrote more on religion than on natural science. While Newton secretly held some radical theological beliefs, he definitely rejected a purely materialistic concept of nature."Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion." Another great intellect, Gottfried Leibniz, was hardly an atheist. Leibniz's contributions to intellectual thought are truly astonishing including the co-invention of the calculus, conservation of energy in mechanics-- In his book History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell went as far as claiming that Leibniz had developed logic in his unpublished writings to a level which was reached only 200 years later. Are we to believe that people like Newton and Leibniz were merely conforming to the religious doctrines of their times?

Many people do find theological thought threatening because it threatens their world view including their relativistic concept of morality. For example the gay Mafia finds it almost mandatory to reject the Torah. How can they cope with Leviticus 20:13, "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." How can they cope with this other than complete rejection?

Modern academics are hardly rational. They accept evolution in general, but reject it's inescapable implications. As such they create their own theologies.
6.19.2008 3:19pm
whit:

Whit's point is that God can exist, not be scientifically provable, and not be contradictory to the precepts or legitimacy of science.



thanks. there are also those in fields such as mathematics, etc. that see their field of study AS the language of god, so to speak.

many would argue that the post-quantum theory universe is MORE consistent with theories of god than our prior scientific/mathematical beliefs. it's certainly COOLER and more "mystical".

really cool movie by daren aranofsky (sp?) btw called Pi on this subject (well, kind of on this subject)
6.19.2008 3:21pm
whit:

Modern academics are hardly rational. They accept evolution in general, but reject it's inescapable implications. As such they create their own theologies.



Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day - Bertrand Russell
6.19.2008 3:23pm
L.A. Brave:
gattsuru:

It is not a strawman. Despite what the elite members of one sect of one style of Christianity say, 63% of Americans believe the Bible is literally true. That, according to Rasmussen, a very well respected pollster.

60% of Americans believe the Earth was created in 6 days.

And these are surveys are all Americans, not just religious Americans.
6.19.2008 3:23pm
Student:

The person claiming something exists is the one with the burden of proof.


True so far as it goes, but the only only person they need to prove anything to is themselves. You of course are free to believe what you like, and prove it to yourself by whatever standards you think sufficient.

And stop waving "science" around like it's some sort of ultimate truth. Science is nothing more than a method of estimating probabilities. Where is the evidence for dark matter or dark energy? How do you know that the "evidence" for dark matter or string theory or gravity really is evidence of the existence of those things? Evidence of "dark matter" that can't be detected might as well be evidence that our current understanding of the universe is hopelessly flawed....How long did it take for our understanding to evolve to the point where we know the earth revolves around the sun? How much longer before we realized we don't orbit in perfect circles? How much longer before we thought we knew that Newtonian physics could explain everything in the universe? How long did we spend arguing over something as simple as whether light consisted of particles or waves? And now we think we know that Einstein was wrong.....
6.19.2008 3:25pm
whit:

No, it proved the problem wasn't exclusively religious. Intuitively, I agree with your point. But logically, I'm just sayin'


but logically, i am saying this. atheism as a widely held (officially held) concept DID NOT REALLY EXIST to any extent prior to the 20th century, the bolshevik revolution, etc.

religion was the default, whatever religion that might have been (greek, norse, whatever).

man used WHATEVER BELIEF SYSTEM HE HAD to justify his actions (for good or evil).

so, logically speaking, it should be expected that MAN would tons of evil (and good too) in the name of religion

thinking what you think would have been at least inductively valid prior to the 20th century, cause n= essentially zero for examples of mankind being equally (or more so) heinous in atheistically inpired fervor.

but the 20th century PROVED that the issue wasn't merely "not exclusively religious" as you put it, but NOT AT ALL religious. not at least when one defines religious as "god referencing" because nature (and man) HATES a vacuum and when god isn't their to fill it, atheism, communism, etc. work at least as well (imo better) at inspiring murder and stuff as compared to religion

note also that most religions (islam being an unfortunate counterexample) have undergone reformation. christian masters are NOT burnin peeps at the stake, etc. that's OLD news.

but to put it succinctly - it's aPEOPLE thing, not a god thing
6.19.2008 3:34pm
yankev (mail):

No, your fallacy is equivocation -- assigning new meanings to words.
Oh, like defining marriage to include a union of two people of the same sex?
6.19.2008 3:38pm
whit:

The person claiming something exists is the one with the burden of proof.


except many, if not most theists aren't claiming they can PROVE that god exists. they claim they have FAITH/BELIEF that he does. there is a HUGE difference.

to quote:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1

science has not found the grand unifying theory (tm) and religion has not found the proof of god's existence.

but again, science is not religion. the scientific method (tm) is good. science does not (and generally cannot) address the issues that religion addresses and vice versa, with SOME (little ) intersect.
6.19.2008 3:38pm
L.A. Brave:
A. Zarkov:
Are we to believe that people like Newton and Leibniz were merely conforming to the religious doctrines of their times?


The fear of death or complete ostracizing will make someone believe in just about anything.

More to the point, though, these were men that wanted to understand everything about the universe. It wasn't just Newton. Copernicus, Kepler, and so many others thought they were just explaining the manner in which God carried out his aims. No rational person in their place could envision a world without God, because so much of the world wouldn't make sense to them without it. We now have the luxury of scientific explanations for phenomenon that they just knew had to be divine.
6.19.2008 3:39pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
I believe that God created both people and written language, so that people would use a correct mixture of both lower case and upper case characters when writing.
6.19.2008 3:40pm
LM (mail):
ejo:

might it be because communism didn't make stamping out a belief in unicorns or persecution of unicorn believers a centerpiece of its ideology? makes my points about the defensiveness of the poor atheists, though.

This is still a correlation fallacy. Just because a Communist kills a priest or burns a church doesn't mean his agenda is religious. When the Inquisition targeted "heretics", the motives and the ends were religious. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., were not on a mission to prove the non-existence of God or convert believers to atheism. They had political, not religious agendas. They targeted their purported political enemies. To the extent those victims included the religious, and to the extent their propaganda vilified religion, it served political ends, not atheistic ones.
6.19.2008 3:41pm
yankev (mail):

But beneficence? The same guy who would have me stoned for enjoying bacon wrapped scallops au gratin? Sheesh!
Fub, let me reassure that Orthodox Judaism, at any rate, would not put you to death by stoning or otherwise for eating whatever it is you chose to eat. If you are not Jewish, Orthodox Judaism does not care what you eat (okay, it does say not to eat a piece of a still living animal). And even if you are Jewish, there is no death penalty for eating prohibited foods.
6.19.2008 3:42pm
jack brennen (mail):
Whit -

"in very "hard" science fields especially physics, that there are a surprising # of theists in that group"

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "surprising." I work in physics and yes we have theists, I would guess 10--25% depending on where in the agnostic continuum you draw the line. Would you consider that surprising? It may be more than the rest of academia, but still theoretical physics is most certainly not a representative slice of the U.S. Most are in a pretty minimalistic religious place (deist, Unitarian, reform Judaism, etc.), but there are Baptists, Catholics, Jainists, Eastern Orthodox, etc. I happen to be an atheist but I have no problem collaborating with theists and have found them to be every bit as smart as the non-believers. I will say though I have never met a Biblical literalist (or young Earther, or Intelligent Design proponent) physicist.
6.19.2008 3:43pm
whit:

And stop waving "science" around like it's some sort of ultimate truth. Science is nothing more than a method of estimating probabilities. Where is the evidence for dark matter or dark energy?


science (and math) does not work without certain assumptions that cannot be proved. same with geometry for that matter. note also that geometry requires you assume falsehoods about the nature of a "flat" spacetime, that are actually (apparently) false in our current conception of curved spacetime.

in order to DO science we must make similar assumptions about the nature of observance (and then there's the whole theory that you CAN'T observe without changing the observed), instrumentation, perception, logic, memory, etc.

science "works" on a # of principles - repeatability, provability, certain assumptions about stuff (matter cannot be destroyed, etc.) and concepts (occam's razor, etc.).

science also goes through MASSIVE paradigm shifts where what was SO friggin obvious turns out to be completely (sometimes) or partially not true.

i do find that a # of people in their zeal to deny even the possibility of god, etc. become very religious in their understanding of science, as oxymoronic as that may sound. and of course nobody has parodied that better than south park.

again, the idea that religion and science are in conflict, or even worse - that one cannot be a good scientist and also be a theist, are just absurd.
6.19.2008 3:44pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Who (just coincidentally?!) were deeply religious.


I honestly don't know one way or the other on that. He did get his hands smacked by Pope Urban VIII, but the same man had defended Galileo during the earlier controversy on the matter -- letters from the time suggest that Galileo used some of Urban's arguments for the character Simplicius, not a particularly good way to make friends -- and some of his criticizers were relatively secular. Moreover, during his first condemnation many religious and (relatively) secular officials stated that they had no problem with discussion of heliocentric theory as a hypothetical construct (fairly common at the day, and Dialogues had explicit authorization from the Inquisition to discuss it as such if both sides of the debate were presented fairly).

There were religious individuals involved, for the simple reason that nearly every person of power outside of a secular university professor was rather devout by modern understanding, making the matter less of a coincidence and more of a certainty. The inherent motivations were still as much political as religious or scientific, though.

The Church was irritating and had more than its share of frustrating politically-minded egoists. That doesn't mean they were trying to deny science that they had funded two hundred years before.
6.19.2008 3:45pm
Jiminy (mail):
Most of the scientists that I know are in the same camp as Einstein or Dawkins. That God may or may not exist is not entirely the point. It's nice to be able to point at a single being of Creation, and a lot of the work of science and the scientific method is driven towards understanding the mysteries of the world.

It's entirely another thing to say that "God made me shoot the President", or "Jesus is sitting next to me, and said that you should vote against gay marriage." Or even "The Bible says you should do it this way, but that other guy said the Bible means something else, but he's wrong because God told me."

If you said someone was a Christian, it holds a different context vs a Catholic or a Pentecostal Christian... Newton believed in a God and one that wanted him to uncover His mysteries and order present in the world.

The Blind Clockmaker.
6.19.2008 3:45pm
Bad (mail) (www):
Here's where the "former colleague" gets it wrong. There is a difference between a belief being, in terms of logical justification, no different that "attempting to walk across the East River unaided by a water taxi, gunning down students in hallways, speaking in tongues at a faculty meeting, you name it" and it being different in terms of social and cultural likihood. Beliefs are generally bounded by culture, and fairly predictable when it comes to what sorts of behavior they might inspire.

If someone tells me that they have faith in Jesus, that faith may seem itself wholly unjustified, but it does not tell me that they are just as likely as not to tell me the next minute that they believe in Keebler elves. In fact, I can pretty well predict not only what they will believe in tomorrow, but what sorts of things they aren't likely to believe in (i.e. a whole host of kooky beliefs that Christianity actually looks down upon).

There may be some small correlation between being likely to believe in one improbable thing and others, but this effect is generally far stronger with beliefs that also lie outside of the general culture (i.e. UFO-ologists being more likely to believe that Bigfoot exists).
6.19.2008 3:46pm
L.A. Brave:
Student:
When we switch on the LHC, there is a good chance we will get much closer to figuring out dark matter.

In any case, "science" is not ultimate truth, and people that claim as much are incorrect. It is a process that generates truth. Newtonian physics are perfectly true for almost everything you want to do here on Earth. And they are roughly true for how a lot of the universe works. But if you want to fly a satellite to Jupiter, Newtonian physics is most certainly not true. The calculation won't be precise enough.

Newton was "wrong" in an important sense, yet he was right enough to get us pretty damn far. Yes, Einstein was wrong about quantum mechanics, but he was right enough to land us on the Moon and Mars.

If you want perfect truth now or ever, then a non-falsifiable hypothesis is your only answer.
6.19.2008 3:48pm
Mark Jones:
One of the reasons I drifted away from my Southern Baptist upbringing was just this conflict. I'm not supposed to believe in witches, wizards, elves, fairies, leprechauns, ghosts, UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster...but I am supposed to believe in the bible and all it contains? Why? What makes that different, other than the circular argument that it's infallibly true? (Of course, even as a kid I knew better than to actually ask this question out loud...)
6.19.2008 3:48pm
whit:

I will say though I have never met a Biblical literalist (or young Earther, or Intelligent Design proponent) physicist.



yes to the former. not so much on the latter.

there is a difference behind believing in intelligent design (that there is an intelligent designer behind evolution, the creation etc.) which is not a radical belief for a scientist vs. a proponent that intelligent design should BE TAUGHT AS A COMPETING THEORY TO EVOLUTION

that is an entirely different thing.

if you have any conception of a "creator" you have a concept of intelligent design, generally speaking. although some have a concept of god that exists as a effect of our existence, moreso than a cause.

but that is an ENTIRELY different thing than being an intelligent design proponent as are represented by the nimrods that derbyshire so effectively skewers.
6.19.2008 3:49pm
Bad (mail) (www):
"gattsuru says: Sorry to bring up Godel's Incompleteness Theorem in a debate on logical thought, but the nature of logic is such that you've got to base whatever your belief system is off some illogical premise."

I'm nitpicking here, but I think you mean "unfounded" or "unsound" premise, not illogical. Plain claims cannot be "illogical" unless they are incoherent or unintelligible. To asses whether something is logical or not, that "something" needs to be some sort of reasoning from this claim to that, and it is the reasoning that is logical or illogical, not the claim by itself.

"I experience stuff" is not a claim that's logical or illogical. It could be wrong, but there's no real logic (other than of the grammatical sort) in there to analyze.
6.19.2008 3:56pm
Ex parte McCardle:
I always find amusing comments like those of A. Zarkov @ 2:19. No one questions that Newton and Leibniz were very, very great scientists. But that doesn't make every one of their beliefs either rational or true.
Newton's alchemical studies with mercury may well have hastened his death. Would Zarkov be willing to say that there must be something to alchemy since Newton was so devoted to it?

Leibniz's panpsychism dictates that every single particle which constitutes the physical universe is a conscious percipient. Again, would Zarkov argue that Leibniz was such a great thinker that he couldn't possibly be totally wrong about this?
6.19.2008 3:57pm
whit:

Just because a Communist kills a priest or burns a church doesn't mean his agenda is religious.


rubbish. when your religion is atheism (religion is the opiate of the masses and an enemy of the state), then killing theists because they are a threat to your belief system IS a religious agenda, by any reasonable understanding of the word.

it's just that the theist who kills (inquisition, etc.) or tortures to promote conversion is using those means (murder, torture) to enforce belief in god.

the other is using the EXACT SAME FRIGGING MEANS for the same GOAL (conversion or destroying the apostate), except HIS belief is in, to use a boolean construct - NotGod


Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc., were not on a mission to prove the non-existence of God or convert believers to atheism. They had political, not religious agendas. They targeted their purported political enemies


the idea that a political agenda is distinctive from a religious agenda when your OFFICIAL STATE RELIGION *is* atheism is simply absurd. or the idea that a political agenda is really distinctive from a religious agenda, is also sillly, in that respect. it's the same frigging thing.

an officially atheist state, purging believers because they are a threat, is just as religious/political as an officially religious state purging nonbelievers (in their brand of belief) . it is about as exact a parallel you will find in the world.

you are drawing this false dichotomy between religious and political agendas when talking about STATES and their official religions.

it sounds to me like metric a**loads of cognitive dissonance and kickin in and you just don't want to see the obvious parallels between things that are about as similar as we see in human experience.
6.19.2008 4:00pm
LM (mail):
Whit,

I believe in the intelligent design of the universe. In other words, I believe in God. But I don't believe in Intelligent Design, which is the product of a political agenda to shoe-horn my aforementioned belief in intelligent design into the realm of science for the purpose of cultural engineering.
6.19.2008 4:00pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
The most important lesson is tolerance. Thoughtful atheists cannot ignore the empirical evidence that large numbers of demonstrably intelligent and well educated people believe in what they would consider fairy tales in other contexts.

So long as exorcism is part of Catholic doctrine, one must pretty much accept the idea that the Pope and other prelates still believe in demonic possession. So, officially, may several members of the U.S. Supreme Court. That does not make them any less scary smart.

It only irks me a little bit that it's the 21st centry and the building I work in does not have a floor numbered 13 (of course, there is a 13th floor, it just isn't called that).

It is fun, however, to watch adherents of organized religions (and those who don't wnat to appear atheist-leaning) when they try to state logical grounds for thinking that newer religions (e.g., Mormonism, Scientology)
are somehow silly.
6.19.2008 4:00pm
NI:

except many, if not most theists aren't claiming they can PROVE that god exists. they claim they have FAITH/BELIEF that he does. there is a HUGE difference.


But that belief is purely in the realm of the arbitrary -- I think something is true just because I do. Even granting that all of us start with presuppositions, one still has to show why their particular presuppositions are superior. And your comment shows why science and religion are indeed incompatible: they are in disagreement about how knowledge is acquired. One requires demonstrable facts; the other allows people on faith to believe whatever they like.

But going back to the point of this thread, it's a free country and if someone wants to believe in God or keebler elves, he's free to do so. The legislature should not, however, pass laws that require me to act as if keebler elves exist, or that I have my time taken up with paying honor to keebler elves every time I attend a public function. And to the extent there is fear of theism, that's what it's about.

And again, atheism has nothing to do with communism. Atheism tells me what Joe Stalin didn't believe; it doesn't tell me what he did believe. And by the way, it wasn't atheists who crashed planes into buildings on 9/11.
6.19.2008 4:00pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
It is not a strawman. Despite what the elite members of one sect of one style of Christianity say, 63% of Americans believe the Bible is literally true. That, according to Rasmussen, a very well respected pollster.

60% of Americans believe the Earth was created in 6 days.

And these are surveys are all Americans, not just religious Americans.


Looking at RasmussenReports.com, I can only find a number for only 54% believe the text to be literally true, which would be rather surprising given that that itself is the dogma for the Catholic and Lutheran Church, to my knowledge. Beyond that point, I can not logically tie together young earth creationism and a belief in the Earth's creation in six days, especially without knowing the format of the question.
6.19.2008 4:02pm
NI:

the idea that a political agenda is distinctive from a religious agenda when your OFFICIAL STATE RELIGION *is* atheism is simply absurd. or the idea that a political agenda is really distinctive from a religious agenda, is also sillly, in that respect. it's the same frigging thing.


Whit, atheism is no more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby. Give it up. The absence of something (belief) is not merely a different form of belief.
6.19.2008 4:03pm
whit:

We now have the luxury of scientific explanations for phenomenon that they just knew had to be divine.



except the quantum revolution etc. has opened FAR more questions than we have answered. not to mention chaos and complexity theories.

the universe is far weirder and more mystical (imo) now than it was 100 years ago.

and there are far more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy (props to the bard)
6.19.2008 4:03pm
Bad (mail) (www):

The person claiming something exists is the one with the burden of proof.

whit: except many, if not most theists aren't claiming they can PROVE that god exists. they claim they have FAITH/BELIEF that he does. there is a HUGE difference.


Seems more like a huge cop-out. First of all because it's not likely statistically true (you seem to be speaking of a more philosophically sophisticated theism than really exists in most cases), but more importantly, the issue is simply that theists want to treat, and in many cases want others to seriously consider treating, the existence of their God as true. It doesn't matter whether they claim they can prove it or not. The burden of proof is still on them if they want anyone to believe it's a true or reasonable basis on which to make further claims or justifications for this or that.

Science is generally at an advantage here because, while it like anything relies on basic axioms that must simply be assumed, those axioms just luckily happen to the be the very same ones necessary to operate sensibly in the very same physical world we're having the argument in. And so they are pretty much unavoidable. i.e. theists basically have to implicitly concede empirical/real world axioms to even have a discussion about the matter, but non-theists have no such need to concede any additional axioms that theists might propose.
6.19.2008 4:05pm
Rogi (mail):
Keebler elves don't exist? Then who's been making my cookies this whole time. They taste so magical.
6.19.2008 4:05pm
whit:

Whit, atheism is no more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby. Give it up. The absence of something (belief) is not merely a different form of belief.


this has been explained dozens of times. STRONG atheism (god does not exist) IS a belief system.

absence of belief (weak atheism) i would agree is NOT a belief system

and the soviet union (and others) did not merely have an absence of belief. official doctrine (tm) was that god doesn't exist.

that is a distinction with a difference.

and when you kill, torture and expel people based on their belief, which is contrary to your belief (and claiming you know god does not exist IS a belief), it's a belief system

again, strong atheism is a belief system.
6.19.2008 4:07pm
ejo:
so, on one hand, any atheist will tell you to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that religion is the root of evil, wars, pestilence, ignorance, etc. (ignoring the issue of how many schools, libraries and universities were founded by people of faith-can someone name the hundreds of universities founded by organized atheism?)

conversely, when the body count of communism, with its atheism and hatred/stamping out of religion, the opiate, is pointed out for the proposition that it comes to the table with its own blood soaked hands, suddenly the atheists swallow their whistle and get all defensive. atheism has nothing to do with communism-I will probably defer to Marx and the actual practitioners of communism as opposed to you, okay?
6.19.2008 4:09pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
I'm nitpicking here, but I think you mean "unfounded" or "unsound" premise, not illogical. Plain claims cannot be "illogical" unless they are incoherent or unintelligible. To asses whether something is logical or not, that "something" needs to be some sort of reasoning from this claim to that, and it is the reasoning that is logical or illogical, not the claim by itself.


Unfounded would work as well, although I think it misses a lot of the word emphasis. Unsound not so much. There are a good number of illogical and unfounded beliefs that are still sound, and every secular humanist belief does follow the properties of logical soundness: they do not rely on fallacies, nor do they have false premises.

But a claim can be illogical, simply by being unsupported by logical thought. Many premises are illogical for the 'universe' of their arguments, and we simply have to assume they are true or false for the entire discussion to work.
6.19.2008 4:11pm
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
Kozinki:
I'm an atheist myself, but I have a profound respect for the religious. Just because my mind is too small to comprehend the concept of a greater being that creates and controls the universe, doesn't mean I can't admire that attribute in others. And if they're wrong then so what?
Well, the problem is that they have this book, see. And this "greater being" that you refer to apparently assisted in the drafting of this book. Now, the book at times says some really terrible things. Even worse, it says that many of these terrible things should be the law of the land. Many people accept this and want to make these terrible things into the law, and they want the best "book interpreters" to be the lawmakers. So I'm not as placid as you are.
6.19.2008 4:12pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
except the quantum revolution etc. has opened FAR more questions than we have answered. not to mention chaos and complexity theories.


Quantum mechanics aren't really difficult to explain, only difficult to understand. There's no real need to believe that a god makes superpositions collapse, it's just remarkably frustrating to understand the model in the first place to understand what superpositions are or why they collapse.
6.19.2008 4:13pm
Rogi (mail):

except the quantum revolution etc. has opened FAR more questions than we have answered. not to mention chaos and complexity theories.

the universe is far weirder and more mystical (imo) now than it was 100 years ago.

and there are far more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy (props to the bard)


Like dark matter, anti matter, quarks, possibly superstrings, etc. As much as i like quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, it opened up a whole new realm of idiocy on part of the New Agers. Maybe we can can get the leftist Law of Attraction believers in one corners and conservative Evangelicals in the other, and let them pray/think positively about overcoming the other group. This will determine once and for all which type of voodoo is more powerful.
6.19.2008 4:14pm
L.A. Brave:
A question to the believers here. Is there any scientific advancement that would make you discard your beliefs?

For example, what if we:
1) Create life in a lab synthetically (we're damn close)
2) Extend human life to 500 years? 10,000 years?
3) Create a child, gestated fully in a lab, from the DNA of two fathers? From the DNA of 2 men, 2 women, and 2 cows? From wholly synthetic DNA?

Is the explanation always going to be "God wants it this way"?

To me, I think the advancement towards the reverse engineering of the brain and the elimination of death is probably the most damning for religion. If you can live forever in a state of constant pleasure here on Earth, what rewards are left for Heaven?

I guess at that point the argument becomes 1) we were in Heaven all along, or 2) rapture is right around the corner.
6.19.2008 4:17pm
Rogi (mail):

I guess at that point the argument becomes 1) we were in Heaven all along, or 2) rapture is right around the corner.


I thought we were in purgatory all along. But then the Catholic Church got rid of the purgatory. So now I'm simply at work.
6.19.2008 4:20pm
billhilly:
I think Soviet atheism was necessary to perpetuate the true Soviet religion of pseudo-Marxist philosophy. Stalin recognized that theism in general and Orthodox Christianity in particular would have been problematic to his program. He was religious about atheism about the same way he was religious about a-capitalism, a-individualism, or any other ideology that might possibly get in his way. If he’d have thought a particular brand of theism would have helped his cause, he’d have run with it.
6.19.2008 4:20pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's not often I go onto a blog's comments threads and have Christians explaining in heated terms why I should accept Jesus.
But, boy, those atheists are certainly energetic in insisting everybody get with their program.
In fact, they sound as if they're trying to overcome a bit of internal doubt.
Anyway, this started with the reaction of Hills' acquaintance and, to my way of thinking, EV's mischaracterization of it.
6.19.2008 4:24pm
Bad (mail) (www):
"whit: it sounds to me like metric a**loads of cognitive dissonance and kickin in and you just don't want to see the obvious parallels between things that are about as similar as we see in human experience."

And you, quite simply, plainly don't understand the logical consequences of a negative definition. Which is that non-believers have nothing necessarily in common with each other other than one particular thing they DON'T have in common.

In short, the idea that I am like Mao and at risk for anything he did because we both don't believe in a God is as silly as me being like Jesus and being likely to heal lepers as he was because we both don't listen to N-Sync.
6.19.2008 4:24pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
science doesn't disprove religion, and is not incompatible with religion. it's like comparing chairs and fruit. they serve different purposes, etc.
It depends on which religion. Science is incompatible with evangelical Christianity, which takes it as a point of doctrine that life came into existence via special creation. The same goes for any other religion that makes a similar claim. However, science is not incompatible with lots of other religions, like, e.g., liberal Protestantism, Unitarian Universalism, or (as I understand it) Buddhism.
OK, but back to my first point: there is a crucial event central to the Christian faith - the resurrection - and this was recognized by the Pharisees as well as the apostles.

If no resurrection, Christian faith is false
If resurrection, Christian faith is true
I've long found this argument puzzling. Any 9th level cleric could have pulled that one off. It probably wouldn't even require a 5th level spell, since he was only around temporarily—you could probably write a 4th-level temporary raise dead.

Seriously, there was (let us suppose) one guy with magic powers, and this somehow establishes that he was omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenelovent? That the entire Bible, none of which was written while he was alive, was divinely inspired? And so on for every other article of Christian doctrine.

Magic powers have long struck me as way, way, way more plausible than Christian theology.
6.19.2008 4:25pm
corneille1640 (mail):

History is the great laboratory for testing the beneficial and harmful consequences of basic ideas. Perhaps I wrongly assumed that VC readers knew that history.

It's not so much a question of "knowing" that history of religiously inspired persecutions and bloodshed. We could probably have a contest to see how many of us can find examples of religiously inspired harm. It's more a question of what that history proves.

The examples, no matter how numerous, of people using religion to justify atrocious acts prove by themselves only that religion can be so used. They do not prove that it is always used in that fashion. More important, these examples do not demonstrate that religious belief inexorably leads to such atrocious acts.
6.19.2008 4:25pm
L.A. Brave:
whit:
Exactly. To weak atheists (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, etc) Stalin's "strong atheism" is just as bad as Christianity. Just another non-falsifiable method of belief. I don't see how you've helped you case by pointing that out.
6.19.2008 4:25pm
Vanceone:
Look, there's one thing everyone seems to forget. Atheists blame religion for everything bad in the world--"What about the Inquisition? Proof that God doesn't exist!!!!"

But why wouldn't it be just as easy to blame Satan? I fully blame Satan for Stalin as well as the Inquisitors and today, the Wahabists. Evil is evil, whether you call it religion or Atheism.

And as for why God doesn't delete Satan, well, there IS such a concept as freedom of choice, which wouldn't very well be able to be exercised if we had no choices.
6.19.2008 4:28pm
corneille1640 (mail):

A question to the believers here. Is there any scientific advancement that would make you discard your beliefs?

If the answer is no, then that suggests, at least for the person so answering (assuming the person is honest), that the beliefs are non-falsifiable and therefore cannot be disproved by science.
6.19.2008 4:31pm
ejo:
atheism/ists like to posit that they are the rational scientific creative types. "rational atheism" didn't create any great scientific flowering in any of the countries where it was tried-it actually seems to have correlated more with mass slaughter and mounds of skulls. on the other hand, the irrational, religious, apparently brainless west with its churches and yahoos, somehow managed to advance science greatly while creating universities/schools/etc.

I guess we can't correlate mass murder with atheism-it just seemed to happen. I guess we can't correlate great art, architecture and learning with the Churches where they exist-it just happened by coincidence.
6.19.2008 4:33pm
Rogi (mail):

Look, there's one thing everyone seems to forget. Atheists blame religion for everything bad in the world--"What about the Inquisition? Proof that God doesn't exist!!!!"


No Vanceone, we're not forgetting your straw men arguments about all atheists.



But why wouldn't it be just as easy to blame Satan? I fully blame Satan for Stalin as well as the Inquisitors and today, the Wahabists. Evil is evil, whether you call it religion or Atheism.


I'm glad that you don't blame atheists for atheism. It's not our fault, it's Satan.
6.19.2008 4:34pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"If was as if our Christian friend had declared that the world was flat or was dabbling in alchemy."

What an unintentionally accurate way of putting it.
6.19.2008 4:34pm
L.A. Brave:
corneille1640:
That is one theory. The other theory is that it would be evidence of just how hard wired certain brains are for "true belief" and pattern seeking.

And just because a person can't think of something that might falsify their belief does not render that belief non-falsifiable. That is just an argument from incredulity, a favorite among believers of all stripes.
6.19.2008 4:38pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
so, on one hand, any atheist will tell you to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that religion is the root of evil, wars, pestilence, ignorance, etc. (ignoring the issue of how many schools, libraries and universities were founded by people of faith-can someone name the hundreds of universities founded by organized atheism?)
FWIW, I'm an atheist, and I would deny any such claim. Though I don't know why you're looking for "organized atheism," which would be a completely pointless exercise.
STRONG atheism (god does not exist) IS a belief system.
Not really: it's just a single belief. Strong atheism is even consistent with the existence of souls, afterlives, angels, reincarnation, and other metaphysical beliefs associated with religion. You have to add a vast amount of stuff to strong atheism to get anything remotely resembling a system.
6.19.2008 4:38pm
Fub:
yankev wrote at 6.19.2008 2:42pm:
Fub, let me reassure that Orthodox Judaism, at any rate, would not put you to death by stoning or otherwise for eating whatever it is you chose to eat. If you are not Jewish, Orthodox Judaism does not care what you eat (okay, it does say not to eat a piece of a still living animal). And even if you are Jewish, there is no death penalty for eating prohibited foods.
Thanks. I'm relieved by your confirmation, but not surprised. I was just raggin' on the capital prohibitions in Leviticus that Christians selectively ignore.

Being a Backslid Buddhist I only got declared an honorary Jew. My friends said I nagged them more about their health than their own mothers. That, and I like cabbage soup.
6.19.2008 4:40pm
Guest12345:
If your standard for validity of Christianity is the truth or falsity some "crucial event," then you've already lost with Adam and Eve.


Things look really bad for science then. I'd go so far as to wager that everything we know about the universe is wrong(*).

Additionally I'd like to point out that all scientific theories are based on unprovable assumptions. So, it might be a little wise for the atheist sort to not be overly smug when contemplating theists. Someone who believes in a god of some kind may just turn out to be more rational than you.

--

* The definition of wrong being that for any particular theory there it will fail to correlate or predict observations.
6.19.2008 4:41pm
titus32:
This post seems off the mark. Is Prof. Volokh saying he would be surprised that an acquaintance was a Christian (or Moslem, or whatever), just as he would be surprised that an acquaintance believes in werewolves?

As I re-read the excerpt from Hills, I believe his friend's reaction is objectively strange. If half of Americans are Christians (I don't know that if that is the right number), then why would anyone be surprised that an acquaintance is a Christian? And why would anyone else (ahem) compare this 50 percent to people who believe in Zeus?

If all Prof. Volokh is saying that there are people who view Christianity as no different than belief in werewolves, then fine. But that really doesn't have anything to do with Prof. Hills' point.
6.19.2008 4:42pm
billhilly:
Atheism is not a religion. Thos who are religious in their atheism do so for other reasons. Why would anyone want you to NOT believe in something unless there was a purpose behind it?

To further a political cause that would be in conflict with religious beliefs maybe?

To prove how smart you are that you’ve figured out and rejected theism perhaps?

Satan, Loki, or the one-armed man made you do it?

People don’t do things unless they think they’ll benefit from it. Plato had that figured out. Most atheists don’t care what you don’t believe in. Those that do have ulterior motives.
6.19.2008 4:44pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
The examples, no matter how numerous, of people using religion to justify atrocious acts prove by themselves only that religion can be so used. They do not prove that it is always used in that fashion. More important, these examples do not demonstrate that religious belief inexorably leads to such atrocious acts.
I agree with this one. People tend to find what they want to in religious doctrine. Don't like black people? Black people suffer from the mark of Cain! Don't like racism? That mark of Cain stuff was total bullshit. Like capitalism? The Bible mandates it! And so forth and so on.
6.19.2008 4:46pm
Tom952 (mail):
"If was as if our Christian friend had declared that the world was flat or was dabbling in alchemy."

That's exactly it. Several statements in the bible imply the world is flat. Other biblical statements contain factual errors about animals and nature. If an academic, a professional thinker, professes fundamentalist religious beliefs based on the bible being literally the inerrant work of "God the Creator of the Universe", it is a stunning non-sequitur.
6.19.2008 4:50pm
L.A. Brave:
Guest12345:
That is a pretty tough standard for "wrong." I've alreayd noted in another posted how science isn't about perfect truth. It is simply a process to generate productive truths about the world.

The physics of the Bible are perfectly "true" if all you need to do is build a chariot or sail a barge down the river. But if you want to pump all the water out of your silver mine or fire your cannon balls more accurately, you are going to need Newton. Newton gives you plenty, unless you want to send a satellite to Mercury. In that case, you need Einstein's relativity.

So Einstein wasn't perfectly right, but he's good enough to keep our cell phones and satellite TV working.

So we know or current scientific models will change in the future. Are you saying that makes them equally as "true" or "false" as the model presented in the Bible?

Again, if you want perfect truth, you have to embrace a non-falsifiable hypothesis.
6.19.2008 4:55pm
Rogi (mail):

Someone who believes in a god of some kind may just turn out to be more rational than you.


Even a scientist who believes in God and places great trust in his/her scientific theories which are wrong?
6.19.2008 4:56pm
NI:

this has been explained dozens of times. STRONG atheism (god does not exist) IS a belief system.


Not exactly. I can't prove there isn't a china teapot orbiting the planet Mars. Further, the available evidence suggests there isn't. That's enough for me to declare there isn't. Now, if pushed, I will admit I can't prove it and it's theoretically possible, but the chance is so remote that I'm prepared to discount it and just say to a full moral certainty that there isn't. So, by your rationale, am I strong atheist or a weak one on the question of whether a china teapot orbits Mars?

By the way, another significant point you're missing is that aggressive communist hostility to the church stemmed in no small part from the fact that the Russian Orthodox church had actively opposed the communist revolution and done what it could to maintain the czars in power. Church and state had been one and the same. So I think Stalin's hostility to the church was mostly political.
6.19.2008 4:56pm
CJColucci:
Every one of us -- me included -- believes some weird shit or other. Some weird shit is weirder than other weird shit, and some of it is what we call "religious."
Although I don't find the case for the existence of some sort of deity particularly persuasive -- in fact, I find it pretty damn thin -- I don't have a problem with someone coming out the other way. To the extent that I draw inferences about someone from his or her view on the subject depends on the details of his or her view and what he or she thinks ought to happen differently in public life because of it.
For example, most of us have some kind of moral structure we work with. As a basic social fact, for most of us that structure is religiously-oriented. I suspect that most of us believe in broadly similar versions of goodness and niceness because we have some moral structure, and the religious or non-religious character is largely irrelevant. There's genuine convenience in having some group tradition to work with, and here atheists are at a disadvantage. Religions have prescribed ceremonies of much beauty and grandeur for ddealing with life's passages, and often compelling stories to illustrate otherwise dry moral points. Attempts at forming atheist equivalents falter on the logic that it is easy to form a stamp-collector's club and very hard to form a club of people who don't collect stamps.
I'd go further and say that many people have a moral structure that would conflict with the religions they profess if they really understood them. I don't get worked up about any of this, and all I care about is that we recognize our common human ability (or inability) to be moral human beings despite differences on theological questions.
Some religious beliefs, however, are just plain nuts, like the belief that the Bible is both literal and inerrant, and everything that follows from that. I largely agree with Brett that adhering to the religion you were raised in doesn't prove much one way or the other about whether you're a credulous hind, but adhering to the more obviously loony beliefs is different. If you simply adhere to some tradition in which you were raised that does not compel you to believe obvious nonsense that has real-world consequence (compare the belief in the Virgin birth, a largely ceremonial belief of no real-world consequence, with the belief that the earth is 6,000-odd years old), fine with me. If you want to eschew delicious foods like ham because it is the custom of your people, who call themselves Jews or Muslims, no skin off my nose, and more for me. If you insisted on arguing with me that there was some good reason you, or, more important, I, should not eat ham, then we have a problem, but I'm not going to get into your face and call your beliefs silly unless you provoke me -- or ban the sale of pork products. Can't we all just get along, secure in the knowledge that each of us believes an enormous amount of nonsense, and try not to make a big deal about it?
6.19.2008 4:58pm
anonthu:
If your standard for validity of Christianity is the truth or falsity some "crucial event," then you've already lost with Adam and Eve.

Well, my purpose was to hold up the resurrection-a central tenet of the Christian faith-as an example of an empirically falsifiable component.

It would be hard to describe it as "why I believe", but sure, I'd gladly stake the validity of my faith on the resurrection...
6.19.2008 5:00pm
LM (mail):
Whit,

it sounds to me like metric a**loads of cognitive dissonance and kickin in and you just don't want to see the obvious parallels between things that are about as similar as we see in human experience.

Why would I resist that, and why the rant? I'm not an atheist, and I'm not an apologist for atheism or Communism. An innocent victim is an innocent victim, so I'm not suggesting one murderer is better than another. I'm merely pointing out the logical difference between having a theocratic agenda and having a political/economic agenda that happens to include targeting the religious as one of many suspect groups. What's cognitively dissonant about that?

When the Inquisitor extracted your conversion by torture, he thought he was doing God's work. When a communist barred religious practice, he wasn't doing it for atheism. Unlike the Inquisitor, he wasn't offended that you had a different theological belief than his. His thoughts were strictly political and economic, bureaucratic and functional.

That's also, by the way, why Communist religious bans were, to at least some extent, "don't ask don't tell." Public worship was punished. Churches and synagogues were shuttered. But the great public secret was that religious beliefs and practices persisted privately. The Inquisition and its ilk of theocratic purge states had no patience for that sort of pragmatism, because it was the actual belief that mattered, not consolidation of political and economic power, which they already firmly possessed.

the idea that a political agenda is distinctive from a religious agenda when your OFFICIAL STATE RELIGION *is* atheism is simply absurd.

But the atheism is not an official state religion. As others have pointed out, it's not a religion, period.
6.19.2008 5:12pm
Mr. X (www):
I'm sure lots of scientists believe in an Einsteinian God, but that's not really God at all. That's basically Spinoza.


Or the Stoics before him, or Thomas Paine after.
6.19.2008 5:20pm
NI:

Well, my purpose was to hold up the resurrection-a central tenet of the Christian faith-as an example of an empirically falsifiable component.


Anonthu, the problem with positing the resurrection as falsifiable evidence of Christianity is that how do you replicate it? I can falsify the temperature at which water boils because anyone who disagrees with my findings is welcome to repeat the study himself. But a one-time event is a little different.

I will grant that if someone showed up with cold, hard evidence that Jesus rose from the dead it would go a long way toward proving that Christianity is true. For that matter, if God decided to step in front of a television camera and introduce himself, that would resolve the question of his existence. But falsifiability usually goes to being able to do controlled experiments.

Put another way, the question of whether Queen Victoria ever existed is a question for history, not science. And I'm aware of no scientific question on which the existence of Queen Victoria is necessary for resolution.
6.19.2008 5:23pm
Rogi (mail):
As a former U.S.S.R. citizen, that atheism was a state religion is news to me.
6.19.2008 5:24pm
ejo:
"it's not a religion, period"-it's just a belief system where, in countries that practiced it most militantly, repression and backwardness flourished, not knowledge, brilliance or enlightenment. those, I am afraid, are facts.
6.19.2008 5:38pm
billhilly:
Not believing in something is a belief system?
6.19.2008 5:40pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Well, my purpose was to hold up the resurrection-a central tenet of the Christian faith-as an example of an empirically falsifiable component.
What evidence could falsify the claim that Jesus was resurrected? We could always find some historical documents saying "I was in Jerusalem when this guy was killed, and he didn't come back to life," but that's hardly falsification. The documents might be forged, or deliberate untruths, or just wrong because they were around but didn't see the risen Jesus when it happened.
6.19.2008 5:41pm
LM (mail):
whit,

but the 20th century PROVED that the issue wasn't merely "not exclusively religious" as you put it, but NOT AT ALL religious. not at least when one defines religious as "god referencing" because nature (and man) HATES a vacuum and when god isn't their to fill it, atheism, communism, etc. work at least as well (imo better) at inspiring murder and stuff as compared to religion

That atheist regimes committed the sort of atrocities in the 20th century that theocratic ones committed previously doesn't refute the possibility that either's was driven by ideology, human nature, other factors, or combinations thereof.

but to put it succinctly - it's aPEOPLE thing, not a god thing

I'm inclined to agree, just not for the reasons you give.
6.19.2008 5:43pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
That atheist regimes committed the sort of atrocities in the 20th century that theocratic ones committed previously doesn't refute the possibility that either's was driven by ideology, human nature, other factors, or combinations thereof.
I thought it had to do with their being totalitarian Communist states.

In any case, this issue is irrelevant to truth.
6.19.2008 5:52pm
BGates:
Anon21 - Michelle Obama was the source of my second quote. Are you saying she's as unconvincing a parody of a Barack supporter as Colbert is of a right-wing pundit?
6.19.2008 6:08pm
Javert:

The examples, no matter how numerous, of people using religion to justify atrocious acts prove by themselves only that religion can be so used. They do not prove that it is always used in that fashion. More important, these examples do not demonstrate that religious belief inexorably leads to such atrocious acts.

So what would you take as proof? And would you apply those standards, whatever they are, to this issue with respect to communism and socialism. Socialists make your same argument when socialism is blamed for millions of deaths in the twentieth century: a mountain of examples don't prove that socialism kills. Stalin et al. were just misguided.
6.19.2008 6:09pm
anonthu:
Anonthu, the problem with positing the resurrection as falsifiable evidence of Christianity is that how do you replicate it? ...But falsifiability usually goes to being able to do controlled experiments.

Laboratory or experimental replication is most certainly not a requirement for falsifiability.

What evidence could falsify the claim that Jesus was resurrected?

His body?

(And to save you a post, I don't mean a present-day archaeological excavation!)
6.19.2008 6:09pm
dearieme:
"STRONG atheism (god does not exist)": but who is this god who does not exist? Is it Thor, Odin, Vishnu, Allah, Jehovah.... that do not exist, or just all bar one?

And what has any of those coves got to do with the "god" conjured out of the gaps and infelicities of quantum mechanics, string theory or whatnot? How would such a god relate to the folklore of desert's edge vagabonds, for example?
6.19.2008 6:20pm
Orielbean (mail):
To use the gun-advocate saying and apply it to religion-sponsored hate and murder - religions don't kill people, people kill people.
6.19.2008 6:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Ex parte McCardle:

"Would Zarkov be willing to say that there must be something to alchemy since Newton was so devoted to it?"


In Newtons's time yes. Given the limited information he had available to him about the nature of matter, he devotion might have been reasonable.

"Leibniz's panpsychism dictates that every single particle which constitutes the physical universe is a conscious percipient."


There's some evidence that Leibnitz did not take his monad theory seriously. See Russell's book History of Western Philosophy. His weirdness on this is a little like our current dark energy and string theory.

I cited Newton and Leibniz of an example of two highly intelligent individuals who were not atheists. I know people who think belief in religion is so irrational as to cast aspersions on a person's ability for any logical thought. Of course I recognize this an an extreme position.
6.19.2008 6:43pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
titus.
I get the impression that the mutual friend was also a professor. Thus the fact that such and such a number of Americans aka normal people are Christians is not the point. The friend was nervous to find a professional colleague was a Christian.
6.19.2008 6:56pm
L.A. Brave:
A. Zarkov:
You make my point earlier. Newton believed in God, just as he believed in alchemy, because of the limited information he had about the universe. He needed God there because he needed a rulemaker with discoverable rules.

Citing individuals from a time where genuine, open, and professed religious belief was near 100% proves little. Before Darwin, really, no one could envision a designer-less universe. Perhaps examples of devoutly religious scientists after Darwin would make your point.
6.19.2008 7:04pm
titus32:
Richard, you may be right, but the academy or not, that someone would be "bewildered" that a colleague was a Christian -- just as they would be if their colleague believed in werewolves -- strikes me as strange. I understand it may just be rhetoric for the sake of the post.
6.19.2008 7:15pm
frankcross (mail):
Atheist folk, you can't prove the existence of the external world around you or even your own body (you might just be in the Matrix). Yet you don't put a burden of proof here. You accept it because it is functional for your lives. The same is true of the beliefs of many Christians. Of course, some of the religious believe in things that may be falsified, but religious faith is not falsifiable, just like the existence of an external world is not falsifiable.
6.19.2008 7:20pm
Pat C (mail):

I cited Newton and Leibniz of an example of two highly intelligent individuals who were not atheists. I know people who think belief in religion is so irrational as to cast aspersions on a person's ability for any logical thought.


There are lots of things that an intelligent person could well believe in the 17th Century that an intelligent person should not believe in today. Could people live on the moon? Is insanity caused by demons? Are continents fixed and unmoveable? Are there life forms that originate spontaneously without an ancestor? Can one communicate with the dead (I'm thinking of spiritualism here, which many intelligent people believed although perhaps not as early as the 17th century).
6.19.2008 7:23pm
Dave N (mail):
I knew a Congregationalist minister (in Utah) who once preached a sermon (and put the title on the board outside his church for the world to see) entitled, "The Atheism of Christianity."

The sign drew more than a few double takes.

The point of the sermon was that the Romans generally let the locals (whoever the locals might be) practice whatever religion they wanted because it did not interfere with the way the Romans ran their empire. However, the Romans persecuted the early Christians because the Christians very adamantly proclaimed there was no other religions and, in particular, condemned the deification of the Roman Emporer.

Not hugely germane to the discussion at hand--but often during these Christian-Atheist debates I think of his sermon title and note the irony.
6.19.2008 7:30pm
Northeastern2L:
For those arguing that atheism is a "belief system," could you please list the tenets of said system?

And then, please explain how both Ayn Rand and Stalin subscribe to the same belief system, yet have no other beliefs in common.
6.19.2008 8:05pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
L.A. Brave writes: "Before Darwin, really, no one could envision a designer-less universe." This is not true. Educated people had been reading Lucretius for 1900 years when Darwin wrote. Lucretius expounded a hedonistic materialist theory of something very like the Big Bang and the theory of evolution around 55 B.C., and he got his theory from Epicurus and Democritus, who lived centuries before him. He claimed to believe in useless 'gods' who live at the edge of the universe and have no contact with our world, but most people thought he was just pretending not to be an out-and-out atheist. He certainly taught that we are nothing but concatenations of atoms bashing together in the void, that we and everything in the world came to be without any help from any kind of god, that there is nothing in the world but matter, and that life after death is a childish fantasy. Yet somehow millions of people, many of them quite intelligent, have found Christianity more plausible than Lucretianism.
6.19.2008 8:12pm
Rich Rostrom (mail):
In this essay, Theodore Dalrymple noted
I once made the mistake of writing an article in a left-wing publication saying that, in my experience, the best people were usually religious and on the whole religious people behaved better in their day to day lives than non-religious once: and I wrote this, as I made clear, as a man without any religious belief.

As a frequent contributor to the public prints, I am accustomed to a certain amount of hate-mail... I don’t think I have ever hated anyone as much as some of my correspondents have hated me.

Suffice it to say that I have never received such hate mail as when I suggested that religious people were better than non-religious in their conduct.

Theophobia certainly exists. There are several excellent examples in this thread.
6.19.2008 8:26pm
NI:

it's just a belief system where, in countries that practiced it most militantly, repression and backwardness flourished, not knowledge, brilliance or enlightenment. those, I am afraid, are facts.


That would also describe most religious societies, including Europe for 1500 years. It does not, however, explain why most of today's atheistic societies -- Western Europe, Scandinavia in particular -- are the least backward and repressed countries on earth. In every statistic that matters -- health care, life expectancy, education -- they clobber us hands down.
6.19.2008 8:27pm
Kazinski:
People that say science disproves religion are fools. A creator all powerful enough to create this infinite universe would certainly start by designing the physical laws that would keep the universe ordered. In fact it would be a pretty stupid god that would create all this without giving some thought to how it would all work, and make sure it would keep running if he goes on vacation or something.

Those of us that are computer programmers know that the key to creating complex systems is to carefully define the scope and the abilities of the system so it runs flawlessly even when we are on vacation, no matter what the numbnuts users do. I can't see how universes are much different than computer programs in principle.
6.19.2008 8:36pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
People that say science disproves religion are fools. A creator all powerful enough to create this infinite universe would certainly start by designing the physical laws that would keep the universe ordered. In fact it would be a pretty stupid god that would create all this without giving some thought to how it would all work, and make sure it would keep running if he goes on vacation or something.
Who says science disproves "religion"? Science does disprove a number of specific religions, most notably modern evangelical Protestantism, whose theological tenets are inconsistent with science. But does anyone claim science disproves all religions, including Unitarian Universalism?

Incidentally, you, like many others here, seem to be making the error of conflating "religion" with the Judeo-Christian conception of God, or something like it. Though you'd be hard-pressed to find people who claim science has disproved that either.
6.19.2008 8:49pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
It does not, however, explain why most of today's atheistic societies -- Western Europe, Scandinavia in particular -- are the least backward and repressed countries on earth.
You do realize you're on a board populated mostly by libertarians and conservatives, right? I personally agree but you shouldn't expect to convince people here with this line of thought.
6.19.2008 8:52pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
The “religion” threads on this blog are really amazing examples of the self identification of academic bigotry. If they were not so obviously earnest, I would swear some of the militant atheists here are imposters really trying to discredit academia.
6.19.2008 9:29pm
frankcross (mail):
Actually, the data I've seen suggests that Vietnam may be the most atheist country or at least second. And China is more atheist than the US.

But in general developed, liberal democratic countries are more atheist than underdeveloped countries. I suspect this is because for some of the poor religion is a sort of opiate. But for others it is a thoughtful choice.
6.19.2008 9:49pm
Ex parte McCardle:
At the risk of revisiting minutiae, A. Zarkov, I hardly think Lord Russell's History is evidence for anything about Leibniz's monadology except evidence about Bertrand Russell's view of panpsychism (which Russell's Principia writing partner A. N. Whitehead had resurrected): namely, that it was so self-evidently absurd that surely no one of Leibniz's intellectual power could have believed it.
6.19.2008 9:55pm
Frater Plotter:
The most important lesson is tolerance. Thoughtful atheists cannot ignore the empirical evidence that large numbers of demonstrably intelligent and well educated people believe in what they would consider fairy tales in other contexts.

There are, however, limits to tolerance. One of the best examples of these we see in various European countries now, particularly France and the Netherlands. In these places, an official and cultural commitment to ethnic and cultural tolerance has led to the development of violently intolerant immigrant subcultures.

The one thing tolerance cannot tolerate is intolerance.

You can have religious freedom, but it ends when your religion teaches that you must kill dissidents, heretics, or apostates. It ends when you try to take over a tolerant and diverse country and impose your religion by law. It ends when you teach your children to be killers, or deprive half of them of an education.

Tolerance cannot survive if it is weak -- if it is mere ignorance and apathy. In order to survive, tolerance must be an active awareness of tolerable differences and an active rejection of intolerable ones.
6.19.2008 10:17pm
TDPerkins (mail):

For those arguing that atheism is a "belief system," could you please list the tenets of said system?


It is trivially easy to at least list one, that there is no God. In fact, it's the definition of Atheism. Why do you imagine a belief system needs more than one tenet?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
6.19.2008 10:25pm
gov98 (mail):
Anonthu, the problem with positing the resurrection as falsifiable evidence of Christianity is that how do you replicate it? I can falsify the temperature at which water boils because anyone who disagrees with my findings is welcome to repeat the study himself. But a one-time event is a little different.

I will grant that if someone showed up with cold, hard evidence that Jesus rose from the dead it would go a long way toward proving that Christianity is true. For that matter, if God decided to step in front of a television camera and introduce himself, that would resolve the question of his existence. But falsifiability usually goes to being able to do controlled experiments.

Put another way, the question of whether Queen Victoria ever existed is a question for history, not science. And I'm aware of no scientific question on which the existence of Queen Victoria is necessary for resolution.


I don't know if immediately after this was written NI realized the implications of what he wrote, but the importance is incredibly huge.

This statement, in and of itself admits the very idea of the big bang and evolution on a time scale that pre-dates our existence is not science. It is not science at all.

And that is why Adler's posts on evolution or any of the others who assume 6-day Creationism is foolishness are just deceiving themselves as to the "Scientificness" of their position.

This is the point Christians often try to make, but are ignored or maligned.

The simple fact of the matter here is...the question of how did we get here is not a question Science can answer. It's a question of History. And without some kind of witness to testify to the past how do you know what happened...How do you even confirm the meaning of the "circumstantial" evidence if you have no way to confirm its meaning and its application to 100 years ago let alone 1000. There is no way.

However, the Bible clearly testifies and predicts the existence of Science today. It did so 2000 years ago stating the following II Peter 3:3-6
"Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocknig, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded by water."

If the Bible is true in its testimony there, then should you not be concerned that its testimony is true in other places. If a witness is trustworthy in that which can be confirmed by extrinsic evidence it certainly makes the unconfirmable aspects of its testimony more credible. Yet so many deny the Bible this basic principle.

Science is impotent to deal with the issues of History. Creationism can not be falsified any more than ape to man evolution can, but that's precisely because they are both questions of History not questions of science.

That's the best part about NI's statement I'll restate it again because it's so great.

Put another way, the question of whether Queen Victoria ever existed is a question for history, not science. And I'm aware of no scientific question on which the existence of Queen Victoria is necessary for resolution.

The same is true of ape to man evolution...are the reproducable aspects of natural selection important? Yes, but are the irreproducable conjecture of ape to man evolution in anyway relevant to science? NO, so the idea that Creationism or ID or whatever is "dangerous" is destroyed. It is no more dangerous then an erroneous (if erroneous) understanding of History, which perhaps more archeology will confirm or repudiate but that is not the realm of Science...
6.20.2008 12:29am
Ricardo (mail):
It's not often I go onto a blog's comments threads and have Christians explaining in heated terms why I should accept Jesus.
But, boy, those atheists are certainly energetic in insisting everybody get with their program.
In fact, they sound as if they're trying to overcome a bit of internal doubt.


When I lived in San Francisco I don't remember any atheists coming around my neighborhood ringing my doorbell early Sunday morning and distributing pamphlets about why I should be an atheist. Christians on the other hand...

Issac Newton ranks as one of the great scientific intellects of all time, and he wrote more on religion than on natural science.

As someone else already pointed out, Newton believed in a lot of bizarre things. Alchemy was one as was, apparently, the view that the menstrual blood of prostitutes had magical properties. As you, Zarkhov, point out, alchemy was at least an early attempt to get at the truth but one could say the same about religion. It's not clear what Newton or others might have to say about religion if we were to resurrect them and expose them to developments such as the detection of background radiation in the universe, the theory of evolution, quantum physics and others. Lots of smart people accepted the argument from design and, before Darwin came along, there wasn't a particularly good answer to this argument.

Many people do find theological thought threatening because it threatens their world view including their relativistic concept of morality. For example the gay Mafia finds it almost mandatory to reject the Torah. How can they cope with Leviticus 20:13, "And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." How can they cope with this other than complete rejection?

Unless you are going to come out in favor of capital punishment for same-sex sodomy, isn't it "mandatory" that you reject this charming verse? Similarly, if you believe in the use of violence for self-defense, you have some work ahead of you in dealing with the "turn the other cheek" doctrine (the boilerplate response from Christians is to ignore that verse and talk about Jesus booting the moneylenders from the temple--fair enough, but good to know even you don't believe everything in the Bible). Or if you believe that lending at interest is essential to modern society or that we shouldn't stone adulterers to death.

In other words, if you don't want to live in a society that resembles Saudi Arabia, you are inevitably forced to reject certain passages of the Torah or Bible. It's not just the "gay mafia" who do this. It's anyone with common sense.
6.20.2008 12:41am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
gov98:

Nice point about the distinction between history and science. If I'm following you, the Ark question is also a matter of history. The bible says that God instructed Noah to build an ark that was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall. And then he was to put two animals of each species onto the ark. As a question of history, we have no witnesses of the event except the Bible.

But do you really think that science can tell us nothing about whether this story can be true? A cubit is about 1.5 feet. Lets be generous and say its 2 feet. That means that the ark would be 600 feet long, by 100 feet wide, and 60 feet deep. Assuming a rectilinear boat, for maximum volume, this would have a maximum displacement of 3.6 million cubic feet, or about 26.9 million gallons. This gives a maximum displacement of appox. 112,000 tons.

Now, there are over 4500 mammal species, over 10,000 bird species, over 8000 reptile species, over a million different kinds of insects (some estimates are as high as 30 million insect species), over 4,000 spiders, and over 2000 scorpions. Taking two of each, that means the ark was holding at least 2,000,057 animals. These are just the observed species. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out what the likely range for the volume and weight that all of these animals would take up.

Now figure out the feeding requirements for all of these animals for the seven months they were on the ark. And figure out how much all of the food would weigh, and what volume it would take up. If the amount of space or the weight that all of the above would take up is greater than the ark's capacity, then there is something wrong with the story. I haven't done the calculation, but I'm pretty sure that the ark would not have been big enough to hold every species and all of the food for them. I also sometimes wonder who mucked out the stalls.

Science can be used to falsify historical statements. If something couldn't have occurred because it violates natural law, then it is pretty reasonable to conclude that the event did not occur. You don't need a witness to know that Icarus' wings did not work even before they melted from getting too close to the sun.
6.20.2008 2:11am
Michael B (mail):
"When I lived in San Francisco I don't remember any atheists coming around my neighborhood ringing my doorbell early Sunday morning and distributing pamphlets about why I should be an atheist. Christians on the other hand..."

No, atheists don't do that on a Sunday morning, they often skip the proselytizing bit altogether, work through the courts or lobbyists and the executive and legislative branches in order to ensure the greater population is made to conform to their dicta whether they believe in it or not. And that's assumming they're forced to work in a democracy. The 20th century bears witness to what can occur when they gain supremacy in non-democratic regimes.

"But I take it that many irreligious people who are bewildered by others' religious beliefs aren't afraid of the beliefs so much as they find them factually unfounded — much like they would find beliefs in astrology, ghosts, werewolves, or for that matter the Greco-Roman pantheon to be factually unfounded. For that matter, I take it that even many Christian academics would disapprove, on empiricist rather than theological grounds, of those who say they believe in Zeus, Xenu, the Zodiac, or vampires. Why should we be surprised that irreligious academics would take the same view, but as to factual claims of the existence of God as well as to the other factual claims? (Note that there were some very interesting responses to these arguments in the comments to this post of ours from late 2005.)"

You should simply go all the way here, go for the FSM, the flying speghetti monster, because that's the reasoning you're employing. The "factual claims" of the existence, or non-existence, of God, can be variously argued and has been - at least from the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle - on the basis of natural theology alone. That is not "proof" in a positive or absolute sense, but likewise the anti-theist cannot support their claims with positive proofs either. Philosophically understood, it reflects a certain aporetic quality. To take a more specific example, the philosophy of mind is a frequent subtext or subspecies of the theist vs. anti-theist exchange and if you read the papers of both serious and honest analytic philosophers, including those who are otherwise anti-theistic or agnostic, they will admit, via closely reasoned arguments, that a full-bore dualism is entirely viable (in contrast to a purely materialist outlook wherein any dualistic interactionism is denied). So claims, about "factual claims," are not what you imagine them to be.

Claiming the flying speghetti monster, or the greek pantheon, or Thor, etc. is all of a piece with a "grade-A theism" is a bit like saying you once saw mathematics misused by structural engineers and people suffered for it, so you're not going to trust those darn mathematicians ever again. And yes, that's an analogy only, not a precise parallel, due to the nature of the theistic vs. anti-theistic argument and what it reflects vs. the nature of mathematics and what if reflects in a more limited sense, but it's an apt enough analogy nonetheless.
6.20.2008 2:20am
gov98 (mail):
Mr. Pratt,

I think science to some degree can tell us whether such things in the past are possible, unlikely, probable, and the like. At the same time however, as evolutionists like to point out when creationists point out the statistical unlikelihood of evolution as described to occur, that the fact that "it" happened makes the probabilities irrelevant.

In a similar manner if the parting of the Red Sea is impossible (which from my understanding it is not), and yet the Bible says it happens but clearly explains it to be an act of God, then has science disproved the parting of the Red Sea, or has science proved merely, that if the Red Sea parted it had to be an act of God? This is most clear with Joshua's long day.

As to the Ark, I doubt the Ark needed to carry so many different animals, the volume of the Ark was quite large and many species of animals are actually quite small (Dogs for example are a comparatively large species.) I do not know, as I was not there, exactly how many animals would have been on the ark, but if the descriptions of kinds is any indication, the total number of animals needed to represent all life on earth may indeed be quite less.

The fascinating thing about the flood of course, is how many cultures share a similar flood account, in the law, if you have 20 witnesses who all say something happened, but all tell it a little differently but remember major points and the victim tells a detailed story consistent with those 20 accounts do the variation confirm or repudiate the account of the victim? Classically we say (even the jury instructions themselves state) that inconsistencies are common in two people who see the same thing, so if there was many oral records and one written it would incredibly likely to see the flood story develop as it has. All the while history tries to explain away all these different testimonies (and in fairness they do so as a good defense attorney would attempt to do.)
6.20.2008 8:57am
ejo:
atheistic societies-have to disagree with you there. while they may be atheistic now, the countries mentioned certainly didn't develope or evolve in that way. essentially, the "atheism" that you say now controls them is a parasitic free rider which attached itself to these countries.
6.20.2008 9:42am
Seamus (mail):
Tell that to Galileo. And then, of course, there are the innumerable religious wars, the Dark Ages, and various inquisitions.

The *Dark Ages*? WTF? Are we now supposed to blame religious believers for the invasions of the Western Roman Empire by the Germans and of Europe by the Arabs, Northmen, and Magyars? (Well, the Arabs, maybe.)
6.20.2008 9:46am
Seamus (mail):
Suffice it to say that I have never received such hate mail as when I suggested that religious people were better than non-religious in their conduct.

That sorta proves Dalrymple's point, doesn't it. (Reminds me of the way a lot of Moslems say "Islam is not a violent religion, and we'll kill you if you say it is.")
6.20.2008 10:05am
Kazinski:
The most ridiculous argument made by the anti-religion and particularly anti-Christian crowd is the "religious wars" issue. Since before the dawn of civilization people have fought wars, some over religion, some over politics, some over natural resources, many just as an excuse for conquest, booty (all kinds), and domination.

War is part of human nature, and if you go back through history and find civilizations that were peaceful and non-aggressive, they are just as likely to be devout (e.g. the Irish of the dark ages) as some of the more warlike civilizations (e.g. the Arabs of the 7th century). I don't remember there being much of a religious motivation when Tamerlane stacked 70,000 skulls in a pile.
6.20.2008 12:28pm
traveler496:
It's not just the lack of evidence that gets a lot of non-believers, or even the extremely unfortunate fact that most religions promote superstitious belief (under its synonym "faith") in order to support their otherwise-difficult-to-support belief systems. It's also, in many cases, the specific things believed, and what those beliefs may imply about the judgement and sensibilities of the believers.

I gather, for instance, that the God of the Christian bible first hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh wouldn't let Moses' people go to the promised land, then killed lots of very young Egyptian kids as part of his response. (Please correct me if I've got this wrong, because it's a strong and admittedly rather bizarre sounding claim). If so, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the object of Christians' worship, and the source of their morality, is a capricious mass murderer of innocent children. I mean, it's not a subtle conclusion - assuming I got the story right, it's just staring you in the face.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to at least begin looking askance at the judgement of someone who claims to worship and derive their morality from a capricious mass murderer of innocent children. Does it?

Oh, I forgot to mention up front another thing that irks many nonbelievers - it is that one is effectively barred from running for significant public office unless one professes one's own irrationality by claiming to adhere to one of the many acceptable superstitious belief systems (as distinguished from the many equally superstitious, but unacceptable, belief systems). This fact makes it harder than it would otherwise be to ignore the whole thing.

That said, the most interesting thing about this area to me is that there are undeniably many intelligent, conscientious, decent people who consider themselves true Christian believers, attend church over the long term, read and think carefully about the Bible, etc. And yet these good (I do mean good) folks apparently never think to ask their pew-neighbor "gee, did you notice right here in chapter X where the object of our worship and source of our morality murders masses of innocent children?" I'm aware of at least some of the mechanisms which discourage even this most basic kind of questioning, but I would never have suspected how effective they could be if the evidence weren't all around me.
6.21.2008 1:46am
Angry Sam (mail):
How interesting that the overwhelming number of posts loaded with spite and anger seem to be in defense of religion...
6.21.2008 8:49am
Believer (mail):
I'd like to add a few observations.
The "Unicorn" mantra for instance. A Unicorn was found last week, it was featured on msnbc.An apparent mutation of a small deer.
Pliny the Elder discribed the Unicorn in his Natural Histories. It was obviously what we know as the Rhinocerous.

Does the Unicorn exist as described in greek Myth? Probably not.
Can the Unicorn exist, or have existed in the dim past in an as yet unknown form? Not at all unlikely.
Skeletons of a deerlike animal contemporary with the Ancient Greeks , and bearing a straight antler central to the brown ridge, bordered by tow tiny spikes on either side, were found in the 70's or 80's. So the probability that the Unicorn of mythology is based on an actual animal is high.

A few years back a fellow was denigrating belief in God by using another supposedly mythical creature, the "Giant Purple Hippopotamus".
I pointed him to a site devoted to the study of the "Giant Hippoptamus" which it so happens is a deep purple in color due to seepage of blood serum through its pores.

Modern Physics has pretty much put the kibosh on crass materialism. More things pass between heaven and earth than were dreamed of by that particular philosophy.

PS
Someone mentioned the National Academy of Sciences religion survey. Last I heard 60% of the Scientists contacted had chosen not to participate in that survey, which makes any conclusion drawn from it statistically worthless.
6.21.2008 3:57pm