P.Z. Myers posted his remarks made at the recent Secular Humanist Conference the other day, and I really think, if you haven’t read it, that you should. I’ll wait.
For those who don’t have the time to read the whole thing (and it’s not that long) here are a few choice quotes:
The sea our country is drowning in is a raging religiosity, wave after wave of ignorant arguments and ideological absurdities pushed by tired dogma and fervent and frustrated fanatics. We keep hearing that the answer is to find the still waters of a more moderate faith, but I’m sorry, I don’t feel like drowning there either.
This sets up nicely his core point, given on a panel with Victor Stenger, Eugenie Scott and Chris Mooney discussing the current dispute in the free-thought movement about whether we should play nice with the theists and try to slowly convince them of the error of their ways, or whether we should confront them on all of the delusional thinking and nip it in the bud at the moment we see it – the so-called confrontational vs. accommodational approach to active atheism.
P.Z. gets to the heart of the dispute here, in my not so humble opinion:
There is another motive for our confrontational ways, and it has to do with values. We talk a lot about values in this country, so I kind of hate to use the word — it’s been tainted by the religious right, which howls about “Christian values” every time the subject of civil rights for gays or equal rights for women or universal health care or improving the plight of the poor come up — True Christian values are agin’ those things, after all. But the Gnu Atheists have values, too, and premiere among them is truth. And that makes us uncivil and rude, because we challenge the truth of religion.
Religion provides solace to millions, we are told, it makes them happy, and it’s mostly harmless.
“But is it true?”, we ask, as if it matters.
The religious are the majority, we hear over and over again, and we need to be pragmatic and diplomatic in dealing with them.
“But is what they believe true?”, we ask, and “What do we gain by compromising on reality?”
Religion isn’t the problem, they claim, it’s only the extremists and zealots and weirdos. The majority of believers are moderates and even share some values with us.
“But is a moderate superstition true?”, we repeat, and “How can a myth be made more true if its proponents are simply calmer in stating it?”
I’m having a little discussion with a theist over on an old post I wrote three years ago, titled Burden of Proof and Hearsay, and I think what Myers says in his preliminary remarks to the panel discussion are relevant to my discussion with J, who initially questioned my premise that the Bible would never be admitted into a trial in an American court of law, when the matter at issue was the existence of god. The discussion has degenerated into the usual atheist/theist peripheral arguments about the existence of god, rather than sticking to the post issue of the reliability of the bible, but that’s OK. Any port in a storm.
Without getting into details, (you can read it yourself) Philly questioned why I was wasting my time with J. The answer is in what Myers said to his panel. I’m interested in truth, because truth matters, but to focus on side issues, like whether the Bible was written by Matthew, Mark Luke and John, (they didn’t, because they most likely don’t exist themselves) or whether there is some independent historical corroboration for everything in the Bible (there isn’t), is to get distracted with irrelevancies. So on that point, Philly is right.
I may need to define “truth” here.
When I’m talking about truth, I’m talking about reality. Do we live in a world, a solar system, a universe created by some unreachable, esoteric supernatural being that created us as a sort of play thing, an experiment in creation, if you will. Was the entire universe created as his little ant farm, specifically so we could play in it and he could be amused by our worship of him? Or is What We See, What We Get? Is the truth that the earth is what science says it is, a very small, almost infinitesimal speck in an immense universe, with us simply by-products of natural forces that originally created that universe? Or is the earth a product of magic, conjured up by a conscious entity who refuses to make himself known except through revelation to select individuals, most notably living in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Are we living in a realistic, naturalistic world, or someone’s fantasy?
That’s the truth I am referring to.
The entire point of all these discussions, at their core, (whether on the surface it appears that way or not) involves the central question between atheist and theist – does god exist? Theists believe he does, coming into the discussion, because of what they call faith, which is simply believing in something without the necessity of evidence. Atheists don’t, coming into the discussion, and ask for evidence the theist finds pointless. For some reason in these peripheral discussions, faith doesn’t seem to be enough, so theists like J look outside their faith to justify their beliefs. If there is some truth in the Bible, (like perhaps some archeological confirmation that the stories in the New Testament are not pure fiction, a la the Chronicles of Narnia) then that helps their faith along, notwithstanding the fact that if they have faith, they do not need such evidence. Faith should be enough.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
We can argue about these kinds of detail all day, but none of them are evidence for the existence of a supernatural being, much less the personal god that Christians believe in, or the vengeful god that Muslims believe in. So when I see a theist arguing these irrelevant details, irrelevant to the ultimate question, I have to confront them, because, deep down, the theist is not arguing the details, he’s bolstering his belief in the existence of god with “facts” that don’t, in fact, bolster those beliefs.
The fact is that there really is no evidence, no proof that a theist can point to for the existence of god(s) because the supernatural does not exist, and even if it did, facts or evidence produced in the natural world would then be, ipso facto, natural also.
The best result of the argument I am having with J is to dissuade him from his beliefs, by convincing him that his reliance on the Bible to confirm his belief in his god is misplaced, but I have no illusion that I will do so, because his refuge is to say “I don’t need the Bible to believe in God, all I need is my faith.” Mark my words, if the discussion goes far enough (it won’t) he’ll do that. In the end, they all do (except maybe Cl, who will characteristically sidestep the issue).
Back to accommodation. I am on the side of the confrontationists. Any silly belief, no matter how innocuous or comforting to the believer should be dealt with harshly, because silly, superstitious thinking gives shelter to, and accommodates more delusional, superstitious thinking. If you can convince a theist that just one thing they believe is nonsense, you’ve chipped out a very large chunk in the wall they erected in their psyche to protect their superstitious belief. To fail to confront it gives them the illusion that even you, an atheist, agrees that there is some plausibility to their beliefs.
Truth does matter. Theists will tell you that they too are seeking truth, but in fact they are not. They have already found truth, or so they believe, and are simply looking for confirmation. Their truth involves, if you strip it down to its essential elements, magic, fear and dogma.
- Magic is how their god does what he does.
- Fear is why they believe in him. Fear of death, fear of people unlike them, fear of the future.
- Dogma is how they talk themselves into not thinking, not questioning, and not learning. Dogma proclaims that someone else has already figured everything out, so you need not worry your pretty little head about anything, it’s all taken care of.
All three of them are antithetical to truth.
The point with “truth” is not that I am sure I possess it, but that I AM sure that others don’t – especially when they invoke anything supernatural. My telling them so does not make us equals – both espousing our own variations on “truth”.
It’s not easy – finding truth. But it’s often very easy to see where it DOESN’T reside.
Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. In fact, I failed to.
You are wasting your time with J because he’s just doing what any of them do and that’s shift the discussion to a tangential argument that they feel they can at least argue, if not win. It’s perfectly summed up in the ice cream scene from Thank Your for Smoking.
I’ve considered for some time now that the problem is a lack of critical thinking, and that is the root. Religion is just another symptom of that root problem, a particularly nasty one which helps feed and propagate it. If you do away with religion (somehow) but don’t address critical thinking, the nonsense will just manifest elsewhere, be it magnets, shakras, crystals, lucky ties, or what have you.
Will have to check out that movie, Philly.
While I largely fall in the confrontational camp, I don’t think it means confront everywhere all the time. Context matters.
I recall mentioning in a different thread the god bothering stuff one of my wife’s cousins is constantly posting on Facebook. I could choose to confront her on some of the stuff she posts, but I think the most likely outcome is that I would upset her and then the story would spread from one family member to the next how Mae’s husband is mean and rude and then my wife would have to deal with the fallout.
I did sort of confront her once when she posted a link to a news article about one dog that saved another dog from getting struck by a car and she wrote something along the lines of “Even dogs have guardian angels.” In reply, I linked to a news article in which a blind man’s seeing eye dog was struck and killed by a reckless driver and I asked where was that dog’s guardian angel, on a coffee break, making sure to end it with a smiley face to soften the blow.
Tommy – absolutely agree about the “context” thing. However, for me, all that really means is that I choose when and how much I confront. It doesn’t change my basic philosophy that magical thinking should be opposed, rather than just silently put up with just because some people don’t seem to do anything truly harmful with such thinking. I strongly think that such thinking is always a bad thing, but some of it is worse than others.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of degree. Do we only oppose racism in those who openly practice it and want to own slaves, or do we oppose it in everyone, regardless of degree? Religion is exactly the same. It causes harm both to the individual and to society as a whole by promoting irrational, non-critical thinking. Once you open the door to religious nonsense, you’re more likely to accept other irrational ideas such as astrology and ghosts and aliens. You teach it to your children. It affects how you vote. It affects how you think. Like it or not, irrational thinking patterns do have an effect on how you live your life, how you treat those around you and how you try to shape larger society around you.
That’s why you cannot pick and choose which degrees of religion to oppose, it has to be opposed as a whole and strenuously.
Well, thanks for setting me straight, Cephus. I guess I’ll have to start treating my god-believing neighbor (who doesn’t oppose choice for women, supports gay rights, and firmly accepts the theory of evolution) with the same stern resolve that I would use on a supporter of Kent Hovind or a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Look, let’s not generalize too much. Everything is situational. Even with something like racism – you would be well advised to alter the degree of your opposition between someone who is uncomfortable around people of a different race and someone who actively seeks the destruction of such people.
I recognize that the only thing you and I have in common (for CERTAIN) is that we don’t believe in gods. But if we both revere the notions of reason and rational thinking, then we have to be able to differentiate on these issues. When we can’t, we dangerously flirt with dogma ourselves.
There’s a difference between altering our degree of opposition and not opposing it at all. Religion is a social evil, period. Just because you can cite personal examples of people who ostensibly hold religious beliefs and aren’t child-raping monsters doesn’t change the fact that religion is a social evil. I’m sure you can find plenty of blatant racists who are socially active, nice, kind, charitable people. That doesn’t change the fact that they hold a foolish, irrational, unsupported belief which is dangerous and damaging, both to themselves, to their families and to society at large.
So no, I’m not recommending you go beat down the door of your neighbor and demand they give up their religion, you’d end up behind bars for giving it a try, but religion, like racism, needs to be opposed strenuously in all places and for all people. Just because it’s a little old grandma who bakes cookies for homeless children, she still believes something that is patently false.
What issue will I sidestep, John? As always, I’m more than willing to talk to you from any angle, especially if you wish to attempt a genuine conversation that won’t devolve into personal insults.
Just lead the way, and I’m game.
Well, the “genuine conversation” is right there for you in post. Or did you shut down when you saw two initials?
It seems you’ve misunderstood. I’m not necessarily interested in commenting on this post. I’m interested in continuing the discussion SI and I began a year or so ago, if nothing else, just to falsify his claim that I “sidestep” the issue of evidence / faith. That’s simply false.
Although, if you’d like my opinion on one or more aspects of this post, I’m more than happy to give it to you. Ask away.
Call it what you will, sidestepping, willful ignorance, or even douchery, but you must certainly do. You’ve made ridiculous claims about atheist definitions for evidence, as if we’re somehow concocting an alternative definition when it’s people like you who are trying to do that by wishing to include such things as uncorroborated testimony and faith as evidence. Whatever sliver of intellectual honesty you may have had took flight like allegedly your discs did when you tried to argue that event as evidence of the supernatural.
Idiocy or douchery, I really don’t care the means because one way or another the end with you is always a sidestep of whatever matter is at hand. Christ, you’ve just given the best example yet just now by saying, “I’m not necessarily interested in commenting on this post.”
I’m not looking for your contributions, nor am I interested in revisiting past discussions. You had your opportunity a long time ago.
No, you’re best as an example of who not to argue with.
IOW, you’re sidestepping my invitation to continue our discussion of evidence – just as I thought. No worries buddy; I’d rather not pound sand either. I just wanted to clarify who’s really doing the sidestepping here.
Typical Chiefian “logic” – cherrypick your opponent’s comment to “prove” your point! As usual, in your zeal to insult, you overlooked the fact that I told John Evo I was more than happy to give him my thoughts on whatever issue he chose to raise. Man, how did you get so good at this? BWAHAHAHA!!
BTW, we’re about to whoop your boys up tonight in game 5, suckafish! Oh!
Actually John, I’m with Cephus here. What you’re arguing is to give the neighbor a break because he only shoots up in private and doesn’t bother anyone with it. You know that’s bullshit. Yeah, if my neighbor could keep his shit under control then I wouldn’t be bashing down his door to get him to stop, but I’m not going to hold my tongue around him if the topic came up just because he donates to the ACLU and votes the way I like. Come on, wtf are you saying?
What I’m certainly NOT saying is that there are some types of magical thinking that aren’t worthy of challenge. I think what I AM saying is pretty clear. That there are different levels and styles of approach, and that the harm of the dogma has something to do with which level and style I’ll use. I would bet that you do the same all the time. That’s all.
*ALL* forms of magical thinking are worthy of challenge. You are right in that there is a time and a place for everything, breaking down their door because they’ve got a Bible is foolish, but refusing to address their beliefs at all, under any circumstances, is equally foolish. There is no such thing as harmless religious dogma, anyone who believes anything absurd without evidence is going to cause harm, no matter how slight, to themselves, their families and to larger society.
I don’t disagree a bit.
Now, now, chilluns… y’all play nice with one another, hear?
CL – I’ve known Philly for about 4 years and I don’t think I’ve heard the word “baseball” come out of his mouth once. I doubt he cares that the Giants are about to make you feel personally successful somehow.
“the fact that I told John Evo I was more than happy to give him my thoughts on whatever issue he chose to raise.”
The fact IS, you are the one who came on here (and mysteriously dragged Gideon along with you – AGAIN) and stated you are not a sidestepper and would gladly engage. What is it that you are glad to engage in? Well, any thoughtful person might suggest that you should be glad to engage in the thing that SI is saying you will sidestep. But we aren’t dealing in thoughtfulness here, are we? No. You claim that it is somehow about a conversation you had with SI at some completely different time. That sounds like “sidestepping” to me, and I think reasonable minds would concur. Then you point out to Philly that you had also told me that you would give your opinions here, if only _I_ would direct specific questions at you! Again, a sidestep. You can read the post. You know what you would disagree with. You don’t need me to play the straight-man for you. Sidestepper.
It’s all so clear, cl. Your efforts at muddying the waters notwithstanding.
For goodness sakes, lighten up. It was a joke, a passing jab if you will. Besides, we lost anyways!
Do you really not know? In the context of believers, evidence, and ending up at “all I need is faith,” SI claimed that I “sidestep.” That’s false. When we had our discussion on evidence, I tried a good half-dozen examples. Hell, SI even conceded that one of them constituted “weak evidence for theism.” Yet, post after post after post, he pulls this weird exaggeration technique whereby he claims “there is no evidence for the supernatural.” So, when I saw that he was still fixated on me after months had gone by, and making a false claim about me, I spoke up. Make sense? And, guess what? When I offered to pick up right where we left off, SI sidestepped right around that, didn’t he? Yeah, so concerned with truth!
John, what in the world are you talking about? To “sidestep” means to go around, to not deal with, etc. When it comes to claims about evidence for theism, I don’t sidestep. SI made a false claim, and then, he exposed his own hypocrisy by sidestepping my offer to continue the debate. Can you really not see that? Are you guys really that bent?
Nonsense. I read this post. I didn’t have anything to add. That’s not “sidestepping,” it’s “not feeling I have anything pertinent to add.” Even still, if you’re so sure I’m “sidestepping,” then why don’t you just ask me some questions about the post? If in fact I am sidestepping, you won’t get any answers. If in fact you are mistaken, we’ll end up having a discussion about the post.
It’s that easy. In fact, I’ll even toss you a bone:
Archaeology is rife with confirmation about various New Testament stories: the Herodian sites, the Pontus Pilate inscription at Caesarea Maritima, the James Ossuary, the House of Peter in Capernaum, the early 1990s the finding of the burial box of the high priest Caiaphas, etc. SI misleads his readership to believe there is a vacuity of evidence in this regard, when in fact the opposite is true. What scholarship!
Let me guess: that’s sidestepping too, right?
Uh, you are aware of who’s on the thread, right? That’s like asking a leopard to lose its spots.
For goodness sakes, lighten up. It was a joke, a passing jab if you will. Besides, you lost anyways!
It would help if a) you had read the post and b) quoted me in context. You quote-mined my words to say the exact opposite of what I actually said. That’s worse than sidestepping.
Completely off topic rant:
It amazes me people still watch baseball. Not only is the sport dull, but MLB is mostly a celebration of how in order to get what you want you just need more money. There are plenty of teams who will never succeed because their entire payroll is less than what another team spends on maybe 3 players. That’s bullshit, and hardly what I call sport, and don’t even get me started on the steroids and shit. In the NFL, you can get suspended for eating the wrong protein bar from GNC because it might contain something on the NFL’s forbidden substances list whereas in MLB you can go from 180lb to being so large you can’t get your hands into your pockets in one season and no one says a word. MLB is bullshit.
Feel better? 😉
Damn it, Philly… now I have to take back my assertion that you never say the word “baseball”!
You appear to expression suspicion at theist’s like J who – despite their claims that faith is sufficient – are eager to use evidence to bolster their claims. The insinuation is something like, “If you really believe faith is sufficient, then why are you concerned with factual evidence?” Right? If so, here’s my take: faith is sufficient for personal belief, but when talking with an atheist, I respect the fact that my faith is not sufficient for their belief. Therefore, I attempt to meet them on their own ground by appealing to the external evidence that I believe corroborates my faith. Make sense? If so, hopefully you can see there’s not necessarily a contradiction or inconsistency.
Now, about the other thing, if the sentence I quoted last comment is in fact a concession that such archaeological confirmation exists, then yeah, you’re right: I did read that sentence wrong. However, that’s not the same thing as “quote-mining” you, as the latter requires an intent to defraud.
So, to clarify, do you agree or disagree that archaeology has confirmed that there is in fact truth to many of the New Testament stories? Even if you agree, I understand that you perceive such to be “irrelevancies,” and that would bring us right back to the “central question” again: is there evidence for “gods” or “the supernatural?”
…and, the whole point of me being on this thread is to remind you that this is no fact at all. It’s a biased assertion that ignores available evidence.
I agree with you about the pathetic politics in MLB. However, there’s pathetic politics to one degree or another in all organized sports. With baseball, I just try to look past that and enjoy the actual sport itself. Besides, I know you’re an arrowhead pride type of guy anyway. Of course, we’re just getting started this year, but hell, at least your boys have the #1 rushing attack in the league right now, not to mention gains in health. If they keep that up it looks like you might not need to be “prayin’ for them Chiefs” much this year!
Since you’re a fellow Californian, what are your thoughts on Prop 19?
CL – I’m against prohibition. People should be free to live as they choose and only criminally punished for actual harm committed against the larger society. We don’t punish people for drinking themselves into a stupor – nor should we. However, if while drunk, they beat another person, we punish them for battery. If while drunk they get into a car and injure someone in an accident, we punish them for it. If they steal money in order to feed their addiction, we punish them for theft. They don’t get a break because they were drunk or because they are addicted. In fact, in some cases it can actually be the _opposite_ of a mitigating factor.
Allow people to make there own personal choices and to live with their own personal consequences, while continuing to punish them when they violate the social contract by doing harm to others.
Obviously, I’ll vote _for_ Prop 19.
Subject switch – you said, “that’s not the same thing as ‘quote-mining’ you, as the latter requires an intent to defraud.”
Not necessarily. Quote-mining can be the result of intellectual laziness, in which one runs across some words that one would like to use in ones example of something; when one should have carefully weighed the entire context of those words as used by the author, prior to grasping on to them for use in making a point. It is one hearing what one _wishes_ to hear in the argument of another and seizing on a portion of the argument that represents this “wish”. Again, this is intellectual laziness.
That’s not to say that you aren’t partially right. It _can be_ a case of one seizing on a sub-portion of a larger argument, simply out of malice and fraudulent argument. It’s just not the _only way_ to view the causation of quote mining.
Re Prop 19, would you feel the same way if it were cocaine? Heroin? Crack? Or, to bring it full circle, faith?
You see, I resonate with your comment that, “People should be free to live as they choose and only criminally punished for actual harm committed against the larger society. ” So, when read SI’s,
…I honestly see that as a dogmatic infraction against personal liberty, stemming from a bias against religion no less insidious than bias against marijuana users. Another problem is, who’s to become the arbiter of “silly” beliefs? Recall that heliocentrism, relativity and air travel were all once denounced as “silly beliefs.” Even if we can answer the question of who’s to become the arbiter of “silly beliefs,” shouldn’t we only “deal harshly” with “silly beliefs” when they cross the line of, “…actual harm committed against the larger society?” For example, when a religious nutjob – or an atheist nutjob – kills a bunch of people on behalf of their beliefs? However, should atheists “deal harshly” with a believer who simply minds their own business and isn’t harming “the larger society,” simply because that atheist deems their belief silly? SI, with his across-the-board comment about “dealing harshly with superstitious belief,” appears to say yes, but I think that’s silly. What do you think?
The truth of that assessment will vary from case to case, yet, SI doesn’t include any sort of “limiting conditions.” There are atheists who are respectful and tolerant of faith [imagine that!], and yet, this doesn’t mean they agree to any plausibility thereof. In the same way, I tolerate people’s lack of faith, even though I find no plausibility in their naturalist “worldviews.”