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Dennett on Intelligent Design

The philosopher Daniel Dennett is interviewed in Der Spiegel (in English) and talks insightfully about Intelligent Design and Darwin. Really good contextualizing explanation.

Then he goes off on religion in a way that I personally find not just tiresome but sloppy. He, like Richard Dawkins, talks about religion in general, as if all religions were the same, as if one critique fits all. Further, he’s such an outsider to religion that he assumes believers are all simpletons. I find that smug, irksome and not very philosophical. [Tags: ]

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86 Responses to “Dennett on Intelligent Design”

  1. I too believe that almost all religious people are simpletons. They believe in fairy tales, they overwhelmingly take the religion of there parents, and they seem to believe that their religion is the only true religion. Believing in fairy tales and other things without evidence is a serious sign of a lack of intelligence, at least in certain realms. Religion is primarily a want for paternalism, and a kooky belief that people live after death. What could be more desireable? But wishing doesn’t make it so.

  2. I always had difficulty reading Dennett’s books for the persistently annoying sound of an axe being ground behind the narrative.

    Ben, you’ve pretty much just exhibited a simpleton’s belief about religious people.

    There is no immunity to humanity, but good luck with that anyway.

  3. I don’t believe all religious people are simpletons; rather, I see religious people as falling into two categories. The first category, representing the bulk of religious people, are indeed the simpletons, just believing what they grew up being told. The others tend to be very intelligent people who build elaborate, complex scaffolds of rationalization and self-delusion to support what is, ultimately and by definition, a completely ungrounded belief. That’s not to say that such belief is wrong, but let’s call faith what it BY DEFINITION is: belief in the objective reality of something in the absence of all *evidence* to believe in it.

  4. Ben, you’ve missed my point. Precisely which religion are you referring to? Do you think your criticism applies equally to all? If so, then I think you’re missing important distinctions among the religions. And within religions, you’ll find simpletons and sages.

  5. David, I’m referring to ALL religions. My criticism applies equally to all. All religions believe “fairy tales”–things for which there is no evidence whatsoever. What difference do the different distinctions among religions matter?

  6. The others tend to be very intelligent people who build elaborate, complex scaffolds of rationalization and self-delusion to support what is, ultimately and by definition, a completely ungrounded belief.

    This is a human behavior trait and is by no means exclusive to religious people.

    I would go further to suggest that it is often the pursuit of religious or spiritual inquiry that can reveal examples of rationalization and self-delusion supporting ungrounded beliefs in many aspects of life. Rationalizations and self-delusions that often may go unexamined by more “enlightened” non-religious people.

    Again, there is no immunity, spiritual or intellectual, from being a human being.

  7. David, you addressed your comment to Ben, but if I could also answer… It doesn’t matter which religion he’s referring to, if you define “religion” as “system of faith-based belief in super- and extra-natural forces and causes.” Given that definition, the distinctions become uninteresting and unimportant; the similarity in effect of that kind of belief dwarfs the relatively minor differences. A few “religions” may be circumspect enough to avoid fitting that definition — I’m thinking of various flavors of certain Eastern religions — but by and large most religion fits that bill and is therefore subject to the criticism offered.

  8. Dave: you say “Again, there is no immunity, spiritual or intellectual, from being a human being.” But we can try, eh? I submit that the human condition is DEFINED by the attempt to transcend… the human condition.

  9. David W, I’m with you on Dennett et al. I’ve been struck by how religious and omniscient so many atheists are, using empirical, sensory based information to produce absolute statements (albeit testable with the same limited set of gear). Religious atheism is an intolerant, fixed, and dogmatic as any of the most rigid religions in the world.

    Jeff and Ben: Excluding the experience of billions of people at a single swipe seems exhilirating. Faith-based belief in the supernatural is a sweeping generalization.

    That said, I’m not per se religious (at least in your limited definition), but I’m also not arrogant enough to believe that I have the ability to understand through direct physical experience and experimentation precisely how the universe runs on even a materialistic plane.

    Reductionism isn’t a refutation of mysticism.

  10. Dave: you say “Again, there is no immunity, spiritual or intellectual, from being a human being.” But we can try, eh? I submit that the human condition is DEFINED by the attempt to transcend… the human condition.

  11. I submit that the human condition is DEFINED by the attempt to transcend… the human condition.

    Then I will welcome the day when we transcend the human condition that causes us to class some humans into simplistically defined groups for the purposes of elevating the perceived relative merits of another class.

  12. Glen, my quibble is with the very *definition* of faith. The secret of the game is in its name… it is defined as contrary to the scientific / rational way of aquiring belief, i.e. “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” That’s DEFINITION, not generalization. Further, the subjective and ultimately untestable “experience” (really *belief* in the absence of evidence) of billions of people doesn’t mean anything in an objective sense. The insistence of the validity of such “experience” is, IMHO, the most pernicious characteristic of religion and the best symptom / marker of its memetic infection in human individuals.

  13. The quip “the God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either” comes to mind.

  14. Dave responds:

    Then I will welcome the day when we transcend the human condition that causes us to class some humans into simplistically defined groups for the purposes of elevating the perceived relative merits of another class.

    The interesting thing about this response is that it assumes that arguments against “religion” are arguments for membership in some opposing group. I.e., it casts the debate as a debate about group membership. It is not; arguments against religion are usually arguments for a particular way of thinking. Religion is a social artifact that sets itself against individual intellect.

  15. Seth:

    Here is a god I’m sure we can all believe in and directly experience.

    ;-)

  16. It is not; arguments against religion are usually arguments for a particular way of thinking. Religion is a social artifact that sets itself against individual intellect.

    I’d be more persuaded if your argument doesn’t imply that religion doesn’t require or otherwise negates individual intellect. Neither is the case.

    Again, this is more a human behavior issue of identification with a particular group based on subjective merits

  17. Wow.

    Hey, Dave, this is one hell of a stream you have encouraged. Good work.

    The trouble with many of the above statements is that there is no room for an *experience* of transcendence – mountain top, drug induced or otherwise. There is no place for a spiritual discipline of fasting, meditation or charity. These disciplines lead to an experience of the divine…or perhaps the Jungian.

    What may perhaps be helpful is an articulation of the difference between experience and dogma. If one wishes to refute dogma as superstition encoded into creeds. One may have grounds for the assertions above that all religion is for simpletons. If, however, one is inclined to include spiritual experience and discipline into this same category, the anti-religion arguments fall flat.

    An institutional Religion is a problematic social beast…much like other forms of government…falling well short of its proposed ideals.

    Spiritual disciplines, however, offer something else, something far more welcoming, open and even transformative. Yoga, martial arts, prayer, and meditation are all spiritual disciplines. There are countless others. And they influence how people engage the world. There are, of course, healthy and unhealthy forms of each discipline.

    But remember, there would be no Ghandi or Martin Luther King without little-r religion. Those two simpletons reshaped the world…and to its benefit I would wager.

    That thar be my two cents!

  18. Tripp:

    If, however, one is inclined to include spiritual experience and discipline into this same category, the anti-religion arguments fall flat.

    A little precision is perhaps in order, thanks for pointing out the necessity. There are two arguments to be had: arguments for or against religion as a social institution, and arguments for or against religious thinking as a means of comprehending reality.

    First, arguments against dogma: the implication is that those who heed dogma w/o any particular reason are therefore simpletons. Second: arguments against mysticism and subjectivity as a way of gaining usable insight into reality, with the implication that those who disagree are arguing for a way of thinking that is perhaps not useful and potentially dangerous.

    But understand — any argument against religious thinking doesn’t have to be a value judgement, merely an admission that the very definition of faith and the subject matter of religion does not lend itself at all to rational, logical, scientific inquiry. In this way, it sets itself against intellect. Or perhaps more precisely, it subverts intellect and subjugates it to the interests and service of the meme.

    As memes go, religious memes are quite clever; they are so circular that they utterly defeat the memetic immune system of rationality and the scientific method.

    It’s also interesting to note that the only known measurable, reproduceable “effect” of religious experience — that rapturous feeling of “transcendence” — can be provoked merely by stimulating a little mass of neural tissue w/ magnetic fields, electrical current, and / or the right chemical cocktail. (Or even self-stimulated through e.g. meditation.) This suggests to me that the human brain co-evolved with religious memes. Speculating: religion was an essential element in pre-rational man’s suppression of instincts that would’ve otherwise inhibited the formation of more-complex societies — and thus it is self-perpetuating, creating more fertile fields *for propagation of religious memes.* And around we go…

    BTW, holding up Ghandi or MLK as evidence of the benevolence of religion is, IMHO, weak. In examining the history of human civilization it’s hard to conclude that religion has caused even slightly more good than evil over the long haul.

  19. Jeff,

    Your statement: “any argument against religious thinking doesn’t have to be a value judgement, merely an admission that the very definition of faith and the subject matter of religion does not lend itself at all to rational, logical, scientific inquiry. In this way, it sets itself against intellect. Or perhaps more precisely, it subverts intellect and subjugates it to the interests and service of the meme.”

    The point of that statement could be applied to many in science just as you apply it to religion. Personally, I tend to agree that religion tends to destroy what is human in each of us. However, I’ve met so-called “scientists” who are only willing to listen to arguments about science and its findings if the points made endorse what they already think. Religion is not alone in its tendency to drive human thought to its lowest form.

    The part of Dennett’s interview I found most disturbing is the insistence on applying Darwinian theory to society and culture. I’ve not seen any arguments that convince me that memes aren’t just dead metaphors with no implications for evolution or survival, rather they are simply the course that new ways of speaking follow as large numbers of people begin to utter the thought.

  20. Larry:

    However, I’ve met so-called “scientists” who are only willing to listen to arguments about science and its findings if the points made endorse what they already think.

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve met many of those folks, too, and IMHO they aren’t worthy of the term “scientist.” Real science, much to the dismay of absolutists of all stripes, is always tentative, circumspect, and subject to change at any time.

    BTW, to be clear: I’m not endorsing memetics or evolutionary psychology in any way. I think it’s an interesting hypothesis and my gut tells me that there are many things about it that are worthy of serious consideration; but it has yet to ascend to level of “theory” (no useful predictions) much less become a body of thought worthy of being called a “science.” The question of whether those who pursue it are scientists depends on how they conduct their inquiry. Like acting, it’s all about the “method.” ;-)

    If you’re interested in Dennett / Blackmore / et. al. you might find this critique interesting and informative.

  21. Okay Jeff, allow me to reflect your words back to you in the context of your use of the concept of a “meme”:

    The others tend to be very intelligent people who build elaborate, complex scaffolds of rationalization and self-delusion to support what is, ultimately and by definition, a completely ungrounded belief.

    Also: any argument against religious thinking doesn’t have to be a value judgement, merely an admission that the very definition of faith and the subject matter of religion does not lend itself at all to rational, logical, scientific inquiry.

    With the exception of the most narrow, strict definition of a “scientific” inquiry, I’d like you to demonstrate rationally, logically, unequivocally that religion does not lend itself to rational or logical inquiry. I submit that you cannot, and that your assertion is merely an elaborate, complex scaffold of rationalization and self-delusion relying, no less, on the unproven concept of “memes,” to assert some meaningful distinction, which is itself unequivocally a value judgment, that religious thought is illogical and irrational, and that is simply not reality.

    We can have another discussion regarding the abuse of authority by both religious and secular authorities, against the exercise of logic and reason in favor of blind adherence to dogma, but that is not a problem unique to religion or a result of religious thought.

  22. The question of whether those who pursue it are scientists depends on how they conduct their inquiry. Like acting, it’s all about the “method.”

    Jeff, I take it you don’t care much for Feyerabend then…

  23. I agree with the group who generally disparage religion. I find it is often oppressive and socially counter-productive. We often use the phrase “organized religion” to create the distinction between “many people who argue with each other about a commonly held set of beliefs from individuals” and “lone nuts with a message.”

    That’s meant to be funny, and it may also be true.

    I think Tripp is onto something in his comment, and I think Jeff’s response is skewed by an inherent value judgment regarding understanding.

    “Spiritual practice” is often identical with religiosity and can be differentiated from “religion.” Spiritual practices are tools for experiencing this universe, and don’t necessarily apply to understanding it — although I suppose some intellectual disciplines could be viewed as spiritual practices and thus meet both criteria.

    Tripp offered a single facet of the “experience of the divine” that Jeff extrapolated to mean “rapturous transcendence.” And of course the rush behind a decent hit of Sunshine or a seven day fast certainly qualifies as some kind of metaphysical. But that’s not the only way that spiritual practices put us in touch with that which we have difficulty understanding.

    This is getting deep and I didn’t bring my hip boots or a shovel, so let me just say that the non-religionists in this thread seem to be conflating the spiritual with the religious and Tripp did a good job of beginning to sort that out.

  24. Darn punctuation…

    first paragraph should read
    …beliefs” from individuals and “lone nuts with a message.”

    not …beliefs from individuals” and…

  25. For a moment, I’d like to go back to my original point – which is much less interesting than the thread spun out from it – that conflating all religions by means of a simple definition does damage to one’s understanding of those religions. Faith, for example, is not at the heart of all religions. Neither is belief. The criticisms Dennett levels simply do not apply to all religions (if they apply to any).

    I hang out with some profoundly religious people. In fact, 27 years ago I married one. The criticisms being raised in the abstract do not apply to her, or to her community, as real, living people. For Dennett to convince me, I’d have to be convinced that my wife (Ph.D in philosophy from U of Toronto, if that helps) is a simpleton. Then I’d have to get divorced. Not gonna happen.

    Her type of religiosity is the fact I start from, even though I don’t share it. Theories of religion have to, by my lights, explain that fact, not explain it away.

  26. Dave:

    With the exception of the most narrow, strict definition of a “scientific” inquiry, I’d like you to demonstrate rationally, logically, unequivocally that religion does not lend itself to rational or logical inquiry. I submit that you cannot, and that your assertion is merely an elaborate, complex scaffold of rationalization and self-delusion relying, no less, on the unproven concept of “memes,” to assert some meaningful distinction, which is itself unequivocally a value judgment, that religious thought is illogical and irrational, and that is simply not reality.

    First of all, let me correct your assertion. My argument against religion or, to be more precise, against any system of belief which grounds out in faith – does not itself rest on any assumption of memes, etc. It’s purely a matter of semantics, common sense, and intellectual honesty.

    “Faith” is defined here as “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Since religion prima facie requires faith, it is by definition not subject to logical inquiry. In part, QED.

    Whether it is subject to rational inquiry is a potentially a separate question. “Rational” is defined here as “consistent with or based on reason; logical: rational behavior. See Synonyms at logical.” As we have discussed above, religion requires extra-logical thinking, or “faith.” If rationality / reason is thinking that requires logic and excludes non-logical modes of thinking, then by definition religion preclues rational inquiry. In part, QED.

    Note, too, that we’ve been a bit sloppy in this whole discussion, mea culpa. Science is not opposed to religion; science is opposed to faith-based thinking. Or rather, they are irreconcilable meta-beliefs about the ways in which one can or should acquire, validate, and communicate information about reality. Religion is a body of beliefs, as are scientific theories. The difference comes in the way those beliefs are acquired, and in assertions of certainty about those beliefs based on the meta-beliefs about them.

    The scientist does not make assertions about the certainty (or lack thereof) of religious axioms; she merely states that no conclusions can be drawn from such axioms with any certainty, given scientific meta-beliefs about knowledge and certainty. Unfortunately advocates of religion often misinterpret this as being damning cricitism of their system of belief, when in fact it is at best a bland, valueless statement about meta-beliefs.

    I wish that more people could simply be intellectually honest about this “science / faith” dichotomy and accept it for what it is. It’s all right there in the language, in the concepts.

  27. Since the thread seems to demand it, let me go ahead and offer a value judgment and head of a possible (and obvious, and cheap, and incorrect) argument that “well, scientific meta-belief itself requires faith.”

    It does not. It requires utilitarianism, which is itself a theorem that proceeds from a minimal set of axioms about self-interest. That is, the scientific method of acquiring, validating, and communicating about reality tends to generate more utility for the bearer than does faith-based beliefs. Your mileage, of course, may vary. (Certainly in the past, and perhaps in our emerging Republican “Handmaid’s Tale” future, this was / will not be true.)

    As for Tripp et al and the distinction of “spiritual” vs. “religious” beliefs, I have almost as much scorn for the usual interpretation of the former as I do for the latter. IME, contemporary “spiritual” beliefs and mysticism as we see much of today – aside from the traditions of organized religion – seem to me to serve only one purpose: to transfer shekels from gullible simpletons to cynical schlock-peddlers. So there’s your value judgment. ;-)

    Go check out the “New Age” and “Spirituality” sections of your neighborhood Barnes and Noble; then compare to the size of the “Science” section. Then be very depressed.

  28. Larry:

    Jeff, I take it you don’t care much for Feyerabend then…

    Good question. I don’t want to use up all David’s disk space in a digression on Feyerabend, but in brief: interesting guy. I actually agree with many of his specific arguments, while disagreeing with his overall conclusions. I kind of apply that same old saw to science that you hear about democracy: “it’s the worst possible system… except for all the rest.”

    Like Feyerabend, though, I’ve admittedly got a deep distrust of the scientific establishment as it has come to exist over the last century or so, and I have a big problem with the effects of the “democratization” of science in the academy. It’s for good reason that Max Planck once said “science advances one funeral at a time.” Unlike Feyerabend, I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  29. Jeff, I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you.

    While I would agree that there are people who take advantage of others by placing themselves in positions of authority and then abusing that authority, this is not a problem exclusive to religion.

    We have scientific frauds all the time as well, from the recent South Korean claims of cloning embryonic stem cells, to marketing claims in health foods.

    Faith may proceed from a different epistemological basis than science, but each proceeds to examine a different aspect of existence. “Intelligent design” is an issue more about competing authorities than it is about a genuine belief that informs the religious or spiritual aspect of our lives. As science, it is ludicrous and is rightly rejected as a part of any science curriculum. As a tenet of faith, it seems to me it is merely a distraction. It informs nothing, but it affords those who would fight old battles a new argument.

    I’ve seldom been a defender of religion, but my objections are based mainly on the abuse of authority, absence of accountability and neglect of responsibility more so than some deficiency in its capacity to explore and illuminate an aspect of existence that is, to many people, an important part of their lives. And your opinion that religion has likely caused more harm than good seems to be based on a biased reading of history. The early church did more to advance the cause of civilization than retard it, and it wasn’t until civilization had advanced sufficiently to begin to overturn the existing hierarchy, with the church at the top, that it become significantly more regressive. The same can be said for any change in hierarchical order, and again, that devolves to an abuse of authority, absence of accountability, and neglect of responsibility, and is a characteristic of human nature and social behavior to which science is not immune.

    Even from a strictly utilitarian argument, there are utilitarian aspects of existence that can be, and every day, all over the world, indeed are well served by religion. Unfortunately, it remains the responsibility of the individual to be skeptical of authority and to assume much the burden of pursuing the truth, rather than relying exclusively on authority. But we are disposed by our nature to rely on authority, and therein lies the vulnerability. If we are not careful, we can be exploited by unscrupulous people of any epistemological bent.

    “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

    The nature of ignorance is that we don’t know what we don’t know. So it seems to me that your views of religion are rather more dogmatic than the finest traditions of science would seem to embrace. Perhaps one day, you might be more open to taking another look at religion.

    It’s been nice chatting with you.

  30. Dave:

    We have scientific frauds all the time as well, from the recent South Korean claims of cloning embryonic stem cells, to marketing claims in health foods.

    But you see, those frauds are – BY DEFINITION – non-scientific.

    Also:

    And your opinion that religion has likely caused more harm than good seems to be based on a biased reading of history.

    I’m sure it’s just as biased as anyone’s. While religion clearly played an essential societal function in pre-rational man, it seems obvious to me that the primary function of religion over time has been maintenance of social status quos; in my own system of values, retarding forward technological, utilitarian progress — an inevitable consequence of maintaining a status quo — is fundamentally evil.

    I don’t actually have any objections to anything else you’ve said in that latest post, though I’m puzzled by your insistence that you “disagree” with something. I’m not seeing what that something is, actually. You seem desparate to paint me as some sort of dogmatic defender of science and antagonist of religion per se, which I think if you re-read what I’ve said is clearly not the case. As you say, we don’t know what we don’t know. Making a decision about what things to exclude and include in my own system of belief – based purely on practical considerations – should not indicate a lack of open-mindedness.

    I am not your strawman, and I will not fall to your velvet-gloved ad hominems.

    When God pays me a visit, I’ll listen. Until then, I’m not going to make any decisions based on the certainty of such a thing.

  31. I guess Jeff didn’t get the distinction between religious faith and spiritual practice. BTW, one does not actually need to check out the New Age stuff at Barnes and Noble when one has access to the brilliant bibliography in this list at Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/guides/guide-display/-/1FYGGVUOFRM6A/103-6275819-5785468

    Just think of spiritual practice as Pilates for the soul. (I logged onto the iGod site referenced above and had a deep discussion about the soul, James Brown, and whatnot, but it seemed rather one-sided)…

    Anyway, I read the Dennett interview through and through, and I see at least three pivotal places for argument. The first of these is his unsupported assertion that “human culture itself becomes a profound evolutionary force.” But rather than enumerate and dissect, I think I’d like to make the broader observation that perhaps Dennett’s interviewer is as much to blame as Dennett for keeping things shallow in the areas of epistemology and religion.

    I don’t think Dennett is a dum dum, but he was willing to be led down that path of conflating all religions for the sake of a sound bite.

    And Jeff… the line “When God pays me a visit, I’ll listen,” is fraught with internal contradiction. I belong to a small cult of hyper-devout heretics who believe deep in our hearts that you have to learn to listen before it is likely that you will hear. It’s a matter more of spiritual practice than it is religion.

    But then, just because I find some value in this way of being doesn’t mean that anybody else will, or even that they should bother trying it out.

  32. though I’m puzzled by your insistence that you “disagree” with something. I’m not seeing what that something is, actually. You seem desparate to paint me as some sort of dogmatic defender of science and antagonist of religion per se, which I think if you re-read what I’ve said is clearly not the case.

    Then let me be specific. I disagree with the following:

    I see religious people as falling into two categories. The first category, representing the bulk of religious people, are indeed the simpletons, just believing what they grew up being told. The others tend to be very intelligent people who build elaborate, complex scaffolds of rationalization and self-delusion to support what is, ultimately and by definition, a completely ungrounded belief.

    I don’t believe the first category are simpletons, nor do I believe the second category includes people who are self-deluded. I believe those are pejorative statements indicating an unambiguous antagonism toward religion.

    The insistence of the validity of such “experience” is, IMHO, the most pernicious characteristic of religion and the best symptom / marker of its memetic infection in human individuals.

    I don’t agree with the invalidity of such “experience,” nor do I agree with the notion, seemingly pejorative, of “memetic infection,” and I find that notion to be rather unscientific, if trendy and appealing.

    This suggests to me that the human brain co-evolved with religious memes. Speculating: religion was an essential element in pre-rational man’s suppression of instincts that would’ve otherwise inhibited the formation of more-complex societies — and thus it is self-perpetuating, creating more fertile fields *for propagation of religious memes.* And around we go…

    I don’t agree with the idea that “memes” co-evolved with the human brain, nor with your subsequent speculation, which I find to be little more than pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. Great as an opinion, entertaining even, but one could consider it to be “elaborate, complex scaffolds of rationalization and self-delusion,” could one not?

    In examining the history of human civilization it’s hard to conclude that religion has caused even slightly more good than evil over the long haul.

    I don’t agree that it’s hard to conclude that religion has caused even slightly more good than evil over the long haul. To use your own reasoning, if it has no evolutionary benefit (“good”), if indeed it selects against survival (“evil”), then why has it not evolved away, since “memetic” evolution doesn’t seem to suffer from the same physical constraints of biological evolution?

    “Faith” is defined here as “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Since religion prima facie requires faith, it is by definition not subject to logical inquiry. In part, QED.

    I disagree with this, and I believe there is a rich history of logical inquiry by religious philosophers into many questions, both secular and religious. You are focusing one narrow issue of epistemology and throwing away the rest of the entire issue which seems to indicate a certain closed-mindedness to me. Hopefully that’s clear enough as to be not considered and ad hominem attack.

    I fail to see how I’ve made you a straw man. I believe I’ve been careful to reply to your positions as you’ve represented them.

    In short, I don’t share your pejorative view of religion as “pernicious,” nor your condescending view of religious people as “simpletons” or “self-deluded.”

    Clear enough?

  33. Golly.

    Frank, thanks for the compliments…if I may take your comments as complimentary. I appreciate that you were able to glean something useful from my comment. I blather.

    Jeff, you have written so much that I really cannot respond to it. And others have done a mighty job at responding. I dare not muddy the waters there.

    But I want to add something…mud after all and most likley.

    I bring out MLK and Ghandi as spiritualists, people not confined by a religious institution per se, but empowerd by a faith tradition and set of disciplines to change their world for the better. You may very well be right about the cultural usefulness of Religion as Institution. I read George Carlin, too. More wrong than right may have been accomplished. But I would wager that ideology/dogma is what ruins us and not faith. Faith is far too generous to condemn. Idology, in contrst, has no room for anything but total adherence.

    Thus, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Botha (sp?), Nero, and perhaps even Constantine and Charlemagne are prime examples of this. There are McCarthy’s as well who threaten to be idealogues. No institution or system of thought/belief is without them. But this does not de facto devalue the institution or the idea/faith behind it. No. It just underscores human frailty and greed. That’s all. There is nothing new with that, sir. In fact, all systems of faith deal with this reality in some way. Call it sin, or suffering, or whatever you wish. But it is addressed. Your assertions make it sound like you claim that we faithful arer perhaps ignorant of our own communal foibles. Doubtful.

    And with that mud, I must say adieu. I have to get up early and drive to Chicago in the morning. This has been cool. Thanks for including me, y’all.

    Peace out, yo!

  34. It’s pretending there is a separation between religion and spirituality that to me muddies the waters. There is no separation. You either accept the idea of God, or you do not.

    You can term getting a high by using your mind and your senses to explore and enjoy aspects of life we do not fully understand yet as “being spiritual.” But if while being spiritual you accept the idea of God, then what’s the difference between being spiritual and being religious?

    You can sit on the fence and say “I don’t know enough about it to be sure either way”, but that’s just being wishy-washy. While someone may be uncertain about things for a time, adults can be expected to eventually make up their minds, based on the available evidence, one way or the other. Unfortunately there is no available evidence to support the existence of God. Plenty of stories, most of them originating from a time when we did not know what we do now about life, but no proof.

    As Douglas Adams said: “God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and now we have vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining.”

    On the idea of “ideology/dogma is what ruins us and not faith,” I see no separation between them. Though there are degrees, ranging from the extreme to the moderate and the benign to the murderous, faith is ideology, religious ideology or dogma. I’ll agree that fascism and communism were ideologies too, but fascism and communism were secular ideologies. Religious ideology, applied in the extreme, is a far more dangerous threat than either fascism or communism because it appeals to the soul and not to the material things of this world.

    Here’s something Richard Dawkins said:

    “Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb.”

  35. Sorry, forgot to sign in. The previous comment is mine.

  36. So Noel,

    I take it you don’t think a person can experience a higher power’s existence and still maintain that it remains indifferent to the lives of people? To me spirituality involves a preconceptual, personal experience without the incumbrances of a belief-system that “God” wants this or that…when a spiritual person attributes motive to whatever they think is the reason for spirit, then you have religion…its the attribution of motive to “God” that leads religious people to do ungodly things…at least that is how I look at it…

  37. Noel,

    I would add that spirituality is ineffable, only religious faith convinces believers otherwise…

  38. Wow, we’re having way too much fun here.

    At the time I first read this post, I was startled by the characterization of Dennett’s interview so I hopped over and read it. I find David W’s interpretation rather beyond the facts in evidence, as I just commented to AKMA.

    While Dennett is certainly generalizing, he does not call religious people simpletons or anything like that. He also hypothesizes a kind of (cultural) evolution that is manifest in the endurance of certain religions.

    Based on his illustrative choices, my assessment is that Dennett is speaking of those religious practices and beliefs that are institutionalized in culture and transmitted culturally. It strikes me that religion always has a kind of metaphysical commitment as an article of faith, whether about angels and demons, God as creator of all of it, or scientific materialism as objective truth.

    Those are interesting notions to pick at. I don’t think you can find evidence in his interview statements that he thinks religious people are simpletons. Of course, I suppose we could ask him that. Or to clarify what he means by religion, or whatever.

  39. So Larry, I should just accept the idea of God and not try to define or understand what this idea of God may or may not be. Why?

    Since it’s not possible to have any sort of deep spiritual commitment without forming or joining a religion, let us look at this indifferent God you speak of in another way. When I wash the germs off my hands, I am indifferent to them, profoundly indifferent to them. In fact, I don’t give them a second thought. If they choose to worship me and proclaim the suds as a just punishment for their sins, so be it. Who am I to say they’re crackpot zealots who really ought to consider leaping onto the palms of someone who washes less frequently. If there is some callously indifferent superbeing governing our universe, not only should we not worship this being, but we might want to consider opening some dimensional door and leaving this universe in favor of a more benevolent one, one that washes less frequently. ;-)

  40. Orcmid, I may of course be mischaracterizing Dennett’s views in the interview, but it seems to me to be the clear implication and intent of what he says. On the one hand we have the smart, scientific, realistic Darwinians. On the other we have people who don’t know that the “rug has been pulled” from beneath their beliefs. Scientists who believe in God do so by performing a “trick” and not examining their beliefs fully. Smart smart Dennett shares the religionist’s awe in the university but does so without needing a false belief God. Religion requires ceding individual moral judgment which can be “extremely dangerous.” Religion’s idea of morality is “extremely patronizing,” getting us to do good by promising us rewards in heaven. The content of religion is dictated by the natural selection pressure against “boring” ideas, which explains why religions belief such patently false things.

    So, maybe I shouldn’t have said “simpletons.” Perhaps the more accurate characterization of Dennett views is that evolution makes religionists believe false things that smart people like Dennett see through.

  41. Noel, I didn’t say YOU should or should not do anything…I couldn’t care less what other people think about my own experience of what spirituality entails…I simply said it is possible for a person to contend they are spiritual without adhering to any religious faith…once again, it is the attribution of motive to a supernatural being that forms the core of all the religions I’ve had any exposure to…we give an identity to what we don’t understand in order to make it seem more like us…ironically, your response to my post puts you in that camp with your shock that anyone could be satisfied with a conception of spirit that doesn’t humanize the concept.

  42. Larry, when you say people can be “spiritual”, what do you mean? What are you referring to? What makes you think there is a spirit at all? What is your evidence? What is your belief based on?

  43. Dave:

    I disagree with [the clear reasoning from definitions about the incompatibility of faith and logic] and I believe there is a rich history of logical inquiry by religious philosophers into many questions, both secular and religious.

    Clarification: I didn’t say that “religious philosophers” (whatever those are) are incapable of making logical inquiry; just that, by definition, if you think somebody is making “logical inquiry” into religious matters, you’re either adopting definitions that I’m not (and the dictionary is not) going to agree with or you’re not being intellectually honest. Or both.

    If we can’t even agree on definitions, as you demonstrate above, then we can’t have a reasonable discussion. This tendency to insist that faith-based beliefs are something other than what they literally are tells me that there’s very little to be had continuing this conversation. Basically you’ve just made a very long winded and attempt to state what you finally state here, without any particularly convincing support or explanation:

    “In short, I don’t share your pejorative view of religion as “pernicious,” nor your condescending view of religious people as “simpletons” or “self-deluded.”

    Okay, Dave. Thanks. That’s fine, you’re welcome to disagree. I think the kind of “thinking” you’re endorsing here is sloppy and useless to me, and your style of argument rather annoying, but that’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. Clearly, using my taxonomy, you are not a simpleton, so I will have to put you in the category of hopelessly self-deluded.

    Great talking to you.

  44. Noel, I don’t think it possible to delineate a spiritual experience in terms of groups. I would assert that religious people do think that is possible.

  45. Larry, I didn’t ask you to “delineate a spiritual experience in terms of groups.” I asked you five questions:

    1. When you say people can be “spiritual”, what do you mean?
    2. What are you referring to?
    3. What makes you think there is a spirit at all?
    4. What is your evidence?
    5. What is your belief based on?

    none of which you are even trying to answer. You have come onto a public forum speaking about the “conception of spirit” and saying that “it is possible for a person to contend they are spiritual without adhering to any religious faith.”

    You are of course under no obligation here to answer my questions. I ask them only because I’m interested to know what it is you mean so that I can better understand your point of view which is an interesting one.

  46. Tripp:

    And Jeff… the line “When God pays me a visit, I’ll listen,” is fraught with internal contradiction. I belong to a small cult of hyper-devout heretics who believe deep in our hearts that you have to learn to listen before it is likely that you will hear. It’s a matter more of spiritual practice than it is religion.

    And therein is the crux of my problem with faith / religion / spirituality / what have you. (BTW, I would claim that my statement is fraught with internal *consistency* and that this kind of insistence on cause and effect and objective reality is what infuriates advocates of faith-based thought most.)

    I like to pretend that there’s an objective reality, and that my beliefs about reality proceed from experiencing it – not the other way around. I also like to pretend that you can experience exactly the same reality as me, and that by rigorously observing reality and carefully communicating about it we can agree on its fundamental characteristics.

    Faith disregards this notion. As you say above, in essence, faith claims “first believe, and then you will experience.” Sorry, but I don’t think that’s a valid way to gain understanding of reality. Unlike many in our current American administration, I view myself as belonging to that “reality-based community.” (Cf. this – and ponder whether this rejection of “reality” isn’t a dangerous effect of broken, mystical modes of thinking.)

    This is also closely related to another problem I have with faith and religion: total hubris, arrogance, and lack of humility. I don’t believe I’m anyone special. Yet faith requires that I ULTIMATELY believe that I am special, that I am unique, and that somehow without any external reasons I have come to have some privileged insight into the nature of the universe. It is ironic that while many religions stress meekness and humility, in practice they actually absolutely require the opposite. These and other hypocrisies and internal contradictions are precisely why I have moved away from the beliefs of my childhood and reject the kind of thinking required by religion, spirituality, and faith.

    I have an acquaintance who is a frequent (ab)user of hallucinogenic and entactogenic drugs. This person was once extremely bright and talented. He is now utterly insane; at some point he ceased to be able to distinguish between the drug-induced visions and reality. He is now a member of some nutty drug cult that believes the Earth has been invaded by some kind of hyperdimensional lizard creatures that can only be perceived in states of chemical intoxication. (I’m not making this up.) It’s quite sad, and I pity him.

    I don’t see any substantive difference, though, between his lack of ability to draw distinctions between “real” and “make believe” (interesting term, that, don’t you think?) and the processes of faith in religion and the requirement that belief precede experience. The key difference between “respectable” religion and his nutty belief system is merely that the “respectable” religions enjoy greater market share.

    I don’t really expect any of this to persuade anyone who has adopted faith-based belief systems. The very act choosing to believe without external reason, a priori fatally compromises the intellectual immune system and leads one open to all sorts of opportunistic idea-infections.

  47. Noel, fair enough…my purpose in posting was not to persuade but rather to express an opinion and share a point of view. I don’t typically get involved in these type of discussions because I do think a spiritual experience is ineffable and, mostly, gets shared with select others over the course of life.

    To me spiritualism is an experience, or set of experiences, not a belief system. Of course, I could describe the first situation where this feeling occurred, though I think it would fail to satisfy your curiosity. The topic does not lend itself to evidence, but unlike many who criticize religious points of view I don’t think evidence is the sole arbiter of knowledge. I’m enough of a social constructionist when it comes to how scientific knowledge develops to believe otherwise.

    The main point I wanted to make is simply that attributing motive to a “god” or “spirit” is what all religions I am familiar with have in common. They are all ideologies in that regard, worldviews of why we are here.

    To me, God is irrelevant outside what each individual feels. We come into the world alone and we go out of the world alone. In between, we find ways to make it seem worthwhile, or meaningful. Unfortunately, religions do so by making promises, or threats depending on your point of view, that people don’t leave the world alone.

  48. I’m enjoying this immensely, but I have to say that I read many of these comments and feel no connection to the intensely religious community I hang out with.

    I’m an agnosto-atheist — I’m not sure that there isn’t a God — but because of my family I spend more time than I would have imagined with Orthodox Jews. The whole “faith” thing seems pretty irrelevant to me because – speaking from my limited experience – the focus of my wife’s community just isn’t on believing correctly. It’s on living together correctly. If you were to ask them what their religiosity is about, I don’t think they’d say “Faith. Oh, and good works.” That’s just not their vocabulary.

    But since that seems to be what Dennett thinks, and others in this discussion do as well, I will acknowledge that my wife believes some things for which there is no scientific evidence: That G-d intervened in history, reversed some natural laws (= miracles), and wrote down a text intending Jews to argue about its interpretation for the next 5,000 years. If science were to prove to her (how?) that G-d didn’t part the Red Sea, I don’t think anything significant would change in her religiosity. No one I know in her community believes G-d really plopped fully formed humans on the earth; they’re all as Darwinian as the rest of us, because these are reasonable, rational, sophisticated, intelligent people. They believe (as I understand it), that we Jews have been given a text that makes no sense until it’s interpreted, and that interpretation is a human, social, historical process. And what’s to come out of it is an understanding of how to act right, and a better sense of what it means to be human sharing a world.

    Now, it is certainly the case that my wife and her community spends a lot of time praying. They are not prayers for God to step in. There is little focus on the afterlife or for getting extrinsic rewards for doing good, as Dennett claims. I don’t understand why they pray, but I think it has something to do with setting one’s own priorities and sanctifying our world and our time on it. What does “sanctifying” mean? In part it means finding the infinite in everything, not just in staring at the stars the way Dennett (and I) do. In that “infinite” is the stuff that I don’t get, but my wife does. All I know is that it has nothing to do with the anti-scientific beliefs Dennett thinks it does.

    It’s not faith as a belief in what can’t be proven. It’s not a belief. It is not an explanatory system. It has more to do (I think) with finding that moment in the everday that Dennett finds in the rare moment of gazing at the stars. It has to do with giving in to the sense that Dennett has when he looks at the stars and feels that we’ve been given a gift. He chooses to reject that feeling. My wife does not.

    There’s nothing true or false about that moment because it is not a moment of belief. Being overwhelmed is not a cognitive action. It is the transcendence Tripp points to.

    That’s why this discussion seems to me to make the point I started with: You can’t generalize about religion or you lose what’s of the essence about each.

    And, frankly, I find it arrogant of Dennett to stand on a mountain on a clear night, look out, and be certain that there is nothing beyond what he can see and know. Doesn’t he know how small he is?

  49. Larry, thank you for responding. If I am understanding you clearly, you are saying that a person experiences spirituality more through their feelings than through the use of their reasoning mind. Being spiritual, according to your definition, means eschewing evidence in the same way any organized religion does. In fact, not requiring any evidence is held up as its greatest virtue. This makes it somewhat difficult to have a reasoned discussion with people who lay claim to being spiritual or religious, whether they subscribe to a system of organized beliefs or not, because what it is they believe in cannot sustain logical enquiry.

    You are assuming that there is a being or entity or spirit that we can attribute or not attribute a motive to. To be truly spiritual, in your view, means not attributing a motive to this being or entity or spirit. What I am asking is, on what basis do you believe there is a being or entity or spirit to attribute or not attribute a motive to?

    David, I see nothing wrong with tradition and wanting to live harmoniously within a community, once it is not blind or intolerant. What I like about the Jewish faith is that everything is open to question, including the existence of God, or so I understand from my Jewish friends. This is not true of Christianity where questioning the idea of God is a great sin.

    I look out at the stars with great wonder and awe not because I believe God put them there, but because they are majestic simply for being themselves. The awe I experience when each new discovery is made and each new tiny piece of the puzzle is unravelled is far greater than the awe ancient stories passed down from generation to generation could ever inspire in me. While interesting, they are not comparable to the new discoveries we are making everyday. The past is useful about learning about human nature, about the mistakes we are capable of making and the things we have learned from them, but to lock ourselves into the past, deny the advances we have made and close our eyes to how magnificent it is to understand just a little bit of how things work simply because it does not conform to what we would like to believe, and have been told to believe, about how things really are is unthinkable.

    Almost everyone has access to the stars, or at least access to reliable information about what they are and where their beauty comes from in the great cosmic dance of the universe. Why is it necessary to cling to the ancient idea that the universe was made, magically, just for us? Isn’t it enough that it just is and we can learn about what it really is rather than settling for what we would like it to be?

  50. Noel, I see no need for evidence if you think, as I do, that an indifferent power set the universe in motion and then left it to develop as it will…it seems to me just an assumption about how things started, not about how they developed…which Darwin may in fact have gotten right, though this doesn’t stop me from opposing the contention that Darwinism has any relevance whatsoever to the social and cultural domain, which is the topic I started talking about here…

  51. I do not deny that a great big power, a great Big Bang in fact, started this universe. But if that’s where you leave it, then what is the point of your spirituality? If you can accept an indifferent power, then why not accept true indifference, i.e., that no being, no spiritual entity, did this on purpose. It just happened.

    P.S. You still haven’t answered my question: on what basis do you believe there is a being or entity or spirit to attribute or not attribute a motive to? You must have some basis for thinking this. It’s not just some arbitrary thought, is it?

  52. I can’t leave this alone.

    What makes the irreligious infer that I (demonstrably a “religious” person since I sit in worship services and am active in a religious organization)… what makes them think that I care whether or not there is a god, that I have a “faith” that there is a god, that my “belief” transcends a desire to simply exist in the light of love and respect that we owe one another by dint of our humanity?

    Noel and Jeff have each done a good job of expressing their concerns, but appear to have done less well in opening their minds to a quality of religious practice that obviates the necessity for a leap of faith or subordination to an institution or a caring god.

    I hope Tripp arrives safely and has time to re-enter the discussion. He and I may be miles apart in some things, but it sounds like he gets what I’m talking apart.

  53. fp:

    Noel and Jeff have each done a good job of expressing their concerns, but appear to have done less well in opening their minds…

    Fp, the problem is just exactly that.

    I’m sure that unprotected anal sex with hemophiliac Haitian prostitutes probably feels incredibly good as well, but a prudent person given certain assumptions might choose not to do that, either. The requirement of religion that one take off the “intellectual condom” to initially and fully experience it is, IMHO, dangerous in the extreme.

    (As mentioned before, and in case you missed it, one consequence of this is: Bush. The whole culture of spin and “The Big Lie.” Rejection of “reality-based community.” And in the other corner, Osama Bin Laden. Never mind that most religious folks aren’t such extremists; it’s quite possible that most people who have sex with that Haitian prostitute won’t get HIV, either. That doesn’t justify taking off the condom. To mix metaphors rather sloppily…) ;-)

    The cry to “open one’s mind” to religious experience, disregarding the need for causality, logic, and objectively observable experience beforehand — isn’t going to win friends among the irreligious. In fact, as I’ve tried repeatedly to point out, it’s the problem *in itself* — not the subject matter of religion / spirituality / etc., but the very technique and method is itself the problem.

    I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I happen to think there’s some rather interesting bits lurking out there (not ID, but other sorts of things) that suggest that — indeed — maybe there is. On many levels I would LOVE to believe that there is. But my standard for CERTAINTY requires a higher degree of proof than those who will merely accept the idea on faith. That is a conscious choice on my part, essential in my opinion to avoiding various errors of judgment and “reasoning.”

    The difference between this point of view and the point of view of faith-advocates is this: I am honest enough with myself to differentiate between subjective thoughts, suspicions, beliefs, and so on about such things and any sort of certainty about the objective characteristics of reality. Religions that insist of faith a priori apparently REQUIRE that one be dishonest with ones’ self about this distinction – as amply demonstrated in this thread. They therefore as mentioned simultaneously require an ultimate act of hubris and an ultimate act of self-delusion.

    …to a quality of religious practice that obviates the necessity for a leap of faith or subordination to an institution or a caring god.

    I’d love to see a religious practice, tradition, or system of belief that indeed obviated the necessity for a leap of faith or otherwise avoided placing belief before experience. I haven’t seen that yet, despite deep and long-term personal searching for such.

    Instead, almost all discussions about religion, spirituality, and so forth between skeptics and believers ground out – precisely as this thread has – in an impasse on the literal meaning and requirement of faith and its literal, unequivocal, absolute incompatibility with logic and reason. Failure to be honest about this single but critical defintional issue leads to the absolute denial by faith advocates (accompanied by much elaborate justification, rationalization, etc.) of any qualitative difference between beliefs derived from faith and beliefs derived from objective (by which I mean, that which we can measure and agree on) experience of reality.

    If the religious would simply be honest about the ineffability of their experience — and truly, deeply honest — instead of apologists, I would be much more persuaded. Occasionally you find such enlightened people — usually folks who subscribe to various mystical, often Eastern traditions. But you don’t see them doing defensive backflips insisting on the equivalence of subjective faith and objective reality.

  54. “Jeff,” you old so-and-so…

    I am speaking of “… a quality of religious practice that obviates the necessity for a leap of faith or subordination to an institution or a caring god.”

    There’s a difference between opening your mind to belief and opening your mind to understanding. I lamented your inability to see your way clear to do the latter, not the former. I am sorry about your choice of metaphors. I find your use of the diseased Haitian and the condom debasing and negative in the extreme. I am sorry that you prefer the easy path of repetition and denial to the more difficult opportunity to open up and admit that you haven’t a clue what I’ve been driving at. I’m sorry, “Jeff,” that you cloak your tasteless nonsense in anonymity, since an open sharing of your own identity would help someone like me to empathize, perhaps to ease whatever traumatic pains you must have suffered to get to the point where you need metaphorically to invoke the suffering of others to bolster your rhetoric.

    All that said, I doubt the veracity of your assertion that you have been on a “deep and long term personal search” for if you had you certainly would have encountered communities of like minded people willing to share their light and love with someone like you who does not believe in god but seeks clarity through objective, scientific, first-person perception based experiential engagement in this world. Or maybe it’s that thing about the way opening when the seeker is ready.

    Send me a note at fpaynter at gmail dot com if you’d like to dig deeper offline. I promise not to sic the christians on you. (I can joke about christians… I was raised as one).

  55. fp,

    Thanks for your concern about me, but no thanks. Please rest assured that in my deep and long personal search, I’ve come across many who have tried to peddle me wares similar no doubt to those you would have me sample. Part of the reason I’m not providing my e-mail is that I have no wish to have every two-bit schlockmeister who’s interested in helping me save my soul or achieve enlightment or whatever spamming my inbox. Whether or not you fit into that category, there are no doubt many who would who might read these pages. Sorry, but I have no desire to be intellectually ass-raped by hordes of spiritualists with conflicting ideas but with absolute commitment to their individual pet systems.

    I’m sorry you found my Haitian prostitute metaphor insulting. I regret that, the goal wasn’t to insult but rather to express *just how dangerous* I think that leap of “faith” is intellectually. I assure you that I view the taint of “magical” modes of thinking no less personally dangerous than unsafe sex; and worse in a global, sociological sense, if anything.

    Last bit:

    There’s a difference between opening your mind to belief and opening your mind to understanding. I lamented your inability to see your way clear to do the latter, not the former.

    Well, if should be absolutely clear to you that I view a grounding in reality as both (a) a necessary prerequisite for any sort of understanding and (b) incompatible with “faith” oriented systems of thinking. So for the rest of it, either you’re not listening or you’re two twisted up in your system of denial to understand what skeptics say to you. So…

    Peace, light and all that. Don’t forget your Jack and ‘Zac.

  56. fp, btw..

    You said you doubted the veracity of my claim of a long and personal search. While this will no-doubt fail to convince you of such, let me just lay out the background:

    Grew up in a Christian household; my mother’s side of the family was evangelical Protestant – very strictly so – and my dad was a sort of scholarly Methodist who played along. Attended services every Sunday (and often Sunday night, and sometimes Wednesday) through my teens, was active in the church.

    My dad read Josephus and other “religious” scholars and philosophers, and we had long and interesting debates about these sorts of things. (Usually, interestingly enough, him the skeptic and me the believer at the time.) I grew up around the Apocrypha and all the related stuff; read the Koran in high school, etc.

    In college, I lived in a Jewish dorm. My first wife was, eventually and sadly, pagan by choice. I myself spent a bit of time attending Unitarian services, Baha’i services, and hanging out with a bunch of self-proclaimed Buddhists. My second wife is Catholic by upbringing, but essentially now agnostic / atheist by choice.

    Along the way, I’ve looked at just about every major flavor of every world religion, and a lot of the cultish stuff too. I’ve probably got several hundred books on this and related religious-philosophical matters in my library at this point, from Book of J to The Upanishads to The Bhahagvad Gita to The Book of Mormon to The Satanic Bible and so on. The closest things to useful are probably, for me, writings about Zen and possibly Taoism.

    So yeah, deep and long personal search. In the end, for me, a colossal – and, in hindsight, very dangerous – waste of time and intellect and emotion. I’m lucky that in my youthful slumming I didn’t catch something fatal.

    The deeper you go, the deeper it gets, and the weirder the people you find yourself surrounded by — until you realize that, indeed, you too have become weird. Either that or you find that your religion is a lip-service country-club religion cum political activist organization and old-boy network – and while that might be useful I just can’t stomach the hypocrisy.

    Your mileage may vary. Believe what you want, but I find it highly unlikely that you’ve got anything to tell me I haven’t heard before. I didn’t start out a skeptic. I EARNED it, and indeed went to some pains to do so; and in fact, skepticism wasn’t what I set out to achieve, it’s just the way things ended up.

    In the end, the fact that somebody is absolutely committed to believing something is by itself no indicator of its reality – and often quite the contrary. And that’s my position on the matter of faith, and at least some explanation of how I came to hold that position.

  57. Last bit… really. Hopefully.

    fp, you offer to “empathize” with me and you express concern over “whatever traumatic pains [I] must have suffered.” I’m human, and I have to admit that this utter need of spiritualists to somehow “help” ease the “suffering” of the unbeliever is one of the most annoying recurring themes in discussing such things. It is suffocating, cloying, and utterly aggravating.

    It’s ironic that skeptics often get called “condescending” (as I have, earlier in this thread) by believers; precisely the no-doubt well-meant sentiment you and others express in similar exchanges with skeptics is, in the extreme, condescending.

    I won’t deny that reality is frightening, and living it on its own terms is inherently traumatic. It takes, IMHO, a tremendous (and tremendously difficult) act of honesty and courage and integrity to look out at the world and realize, absolutely and in the depths of one’s “soul”, how utterly small and insignificant and inconsequential one is. To realize how little one knows, and how little (and by what limited means) one CAN know anything at all.

    It is much more comforting to “know” that one is special, one is loved and looked out for by some benevolent superbeing, or spirit, or general “benevolence” pervading all reality. Much easier to simply believe. Much easier to live “knowing” that one has infinite time rather than a gnat’s existence in the face of all time.

    I know, because I once believed that.

    But I choose to take the red pill. I’m going to stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And if that’s unpleasant, or scary, or lonely, or what have you – so be it. I don’t want or need any Matrix of pretty illusions. I’ll take mush and hard reality and some degree of limited certainty over steak and comforting dreams and delusion, thank you.

    Or, to appropriate another metaphor: better to reign in Hell… (I hear they have great parties and the climate isn’t nearly as bad as it’s made out to be…) ;-)

  58. Jeff… and anyone else scrolling this far down the comments list… I got this in the email tonight and I leave it with you, word for word, unedited, as a New Year greeting and complete explication of what I have tried to share from my own heart in this thread… the man writes:

    “…all I know is that I am really here now and only now, and whatever perils the future may hold, this particularly moment, in San Francisco, California, where the air has just been washed clean by a biblical rain but there the weather is now so clement that I will ride my motorcycle to the Sea of Dreams tonight, where all three of my daughters are gathered around me, each growing
    more beautiful by the second, where, even though distant from you, I can still feel you as every photon in the Universe feels every other
    at all times.

    I think I may be about to break my general silence. Maybe I won’t. In the meantime, be assured that I’m both well and taking advanced
    courses. I pray the same for you.

    May you feel loved. May you be able to accept it.”

  59. fp, if you’re still reading…

    In all sincerity, thanks and peace (or whatever you value) be with you in this coming new year. I can think you’re wacky and still be friends. (God know, pun intended, I have many friends that fit in that category.)

    Having closed the last by quoting Milton, I’ll mischeviously once again quote his tragic hero:

    “What in me is dark
    Illumine, what is low raise and support,
    That to the height of this great argument
    I may assert eternal Providence,
    And justify the ways of God to men.”

    — Paradise Lost. Book i. Line 22.

  60. If you can accept an indifferent power, then why not accept true indifference, i.e., that no being, no spiritual entity, did this on purpose. It just happened.

    Noel, its a matter of personal experience…the indifferent approach you describe doesn’t let me (pay close attention, I said ME not you) know why I feel what I do in some situations, or the sense of satisfaction in the feeling that even though everything is over on my death, the flow of experience remains…I keep telling you that it is unabashedly subjective knowledge and, yet, you continue to insist that I make it intersubjective..in fact, attempting to do so would make me religious, which I am not…

    I make no attributions about what set off this thing we call the universe, so you can call my expressions about this topic whatever you want to…you won’t get any evidentiary statements from me about it though…nor will you get any religious statements about the purpose of it all…it is ineffable and the world would be a much better place it most people could openly admit that fact and practice some humility on the issue…

  61. … its a matter of personal experience

    If you have some experience which has pointed you to your spirituality, by all means share it.

    I love this word ‘ineffable’ that you keep using – it absolves you from having to explain anything.

    If this spiritual power you keep referring to is so indifferent, what is the point of believing or not believing in it? I find your version a little more interesting because at least you don’t assume that God is ‘a real nice guy’ since the evidence certainly does not point to this, but if he, sorry, it, is so indifferent, why bother?

    “Oh my God, you all powerful ineffable being, my crops are failing, my children are starving and now a plague of locusts has decended upon us. I know you don’t care, but I just felt like talking at something … Thanks for not listening. Amen.”

  62. Larry:

    Noel, its a matter of personal experience…the indifferent approach you describe doesn’t let me…KNOW why I feel what I do in some situations…I keep telling you that it is unabashedly subjective knowledge and, yet, you continue to insist that I make it intersubjective..

    See Larry, that’s where the connection’s missing when you talk about this stuff to nonbelievers. We would say that your “unabashedly subjective knowledge” isn’t really knowledge at all, it’s merely unsupported belief, that you professing your inner experience doesn’t teach anyone else (and maybe not even you) anything reliable and in any way objectively true about reality. You’ve got no way to validate this “knowledge”, and any certainty you think you have from it is highly suspect. That, in a nutshell, is the problem.

    in fact, attempting to do so would make me religious

    If you want to draw distinctions between “religion” and “spirituality” that’s cool… but understand that the epistemological issues the nonbeliever / irreligious person have with “religion” are likely to be shared by almost any flavor of “spirituality.” Again, it’s not necessarily the content of the beliefs that are the problem, it’s the meta-belief process necessary to support them; indeed, the very emphasis on “unabashedly subjective (so-called) knowledge.”

  63. It is hard to get past the assumption that a person can only approach questions of the spirit by attributing motives to it. Motives, to me, are inherently human. I understand your questions, at least I think I do, but I also think that any answers I can give to the questions you ask aren’t going to satisfy you. I have enjoyed the dialogue, and I thank you for taking the time to engage it. However, at some point in this type of exchange we have to either agree to disagree about the standards a person needs to meet to claim to be “spiritual”, or simply cease the miscommunication.

    Since I entered this conversation, because of the type of dialogue it is, to share rather than persuade, I’ll just say thanks for the experience and leave it at that.

  64. Sorry Larry, it was not my intention to chase you away, only to better understand why you think the way you do.

    I came to the conclusion long ago that there is nothing benevolent looking out for us, as apparently have you. An indifferent power does not hold much appeal since even if the existence of such a sentience were proven, fat lot of good it would do us! Something so vast would not be very interesting to us anyway. When you think of the lifespan of the stars and the lifespan of, say, bacteria, how could there ever be communication between sentients that experience time in such a radically different way? If you think of galaxies as, say, space jelly fish, what sort of conversation could you hold with one? If a star has a conscious mind, how could we leave a message and how would we ever hear the answer that would be likely to come millions of years after our planet vaporizes? Would there be anyone left who could hear or understand the answer or even know it is a response to a message sent millions of years before by ape ancestors?

    If the entire universe is sentient, you’re talking about a lifespan of billions upon billions of years. People who believe in intelligent design see a creator beyond the universe, before the universe, possibly outside of the universe. The problem for me is not that a creator has to have personality or a motive or not a motive, it’s that we’re looking at something if it exists that is so vast, worshipping it is ridiculous. Do the germs on the palm of my hand feel a connection to me? I doubt it.

    That is why this indifferent power of yours holds so little appeal. I’m all for discovery, particularly when I can see the results in my lifetime or at least know our species will reap the benefits within the next two thousand years or so, but I’m too puny to be interested in a cosmic conversation on that scale. :-)

    Happy New Year everyone!

  65. Way back there somewhere, Jeff wrote:

    I like to pretend that there’s an objective reality, and that my beliefs about reality proceed from experiencing it – not the other way around. I also like to pretend that you can experience exactly the same reality as me, and that by rigorously observing reality and carefully communicating about it we can agree on its fundamental characteristics. Faith disregards this notion.

    Faith has no corner on this rejection. I also like to pretend. Don’t we all? Pretend this. You fall in love with someone and say “I love you.” In response, he or she says, “I love you, too.” You observe the “objective reality” perhaps more closely than you’ve ever observed anything in your entire life. You communicate your ass off. You compare notes. It’s so wonderful. Time passes, tick-tock, tick-tock. A year later, it slowly dawns on you that “I love you” has entirely different meanings to you and your beloved. You haven’t been having “the same” experience. You haven’t even been sharing “the same” delusion. You wonder what happened.

    This is a problem of language, you may say. Well, so are “religion,” “spirituality” (Jungian or Vanilla), “science,” “culture,” “politics,” and so on ad infinitum. Pretend I’m Archimedes: “Give me an objective reality and I will move the world.” Did you feel the Earth move? No? Here, let me try again… [squints eyes, pants, grunts] Oh well, maybe you just don’t believe in My Truth…

    As to your drug-addled ex-friend, what he’s into derives from the ravings of one David Icke — look the guy up on Amazon. Amusing stuff, to say the least. Now, should it appear that I’m coming down on the side of the spiritual-but-not-religious — see Mystic Bourgeoisie if disabusement from such a view is needed — let me say that I find it hilarious that many people (50% of Americans, according to at least one poll) who would roll their eyes at the notion that we’ve been invaded by alien saurians, nonetheless have no trouble believing in invisible sexless chicks with wings. While you’re over at Amazon, check out Doreen Virtue and her many hugely popular “self-help” books about communicating with Angels. And don’t forget: your Angel loves you!

  66. Jeff –
    I choose to take the red pill. I’m going to stay in Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And if that’s unpleasant, or scary, or lonely, or what have you – so be it. I don’t want or need any Matrix of pretty illusions.

    You do realise that every single one of us – yea, even Dave Rogers – could say exactly the same thing?

    We’re all fearlessly confronting How Things Really Are – because H.T.R.A. is made up entirely of our beliefs about H.T.R.A. Admittedly, some of those beliefs are well-defined and verifiable, but others aren’t (e.g. evolutionary psychology, ‘memes’). No immunity from being human, as Dave said. (Incidentally, your contemptuous refusal to answer Dave has made the strongest impression on me of anything in this thread. Handsome is as handsome does.)

  67. We’re all fearlessly confronting How Things Really Are – because H.T.R.A. is made up entirely of our beliefs about H.T.R.A.

    I’ve heard this line of argument before. Here’s what Winston Churchill said about it:

    “The idea that nothing is true except what we comprehend is silly … Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. The whole creation is but a dream; all phenomena are imaginary. You create your own universe as you go along. The stronger your imagination, the more variegated your universe. When you leave off dreaming, the universe ceases to exist. These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. I warn my younger readers only to treat them as a game. The metaphysicians will have the last word and defy you to disprove their absurd propositions.

    I have always rested upon the following argument which I devised for myself many years ago. We look up in the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making ‘a cross bearing.’ We have got independent testimony to the reality of the sun.

    When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say ‘No.’ They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When they persist that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that once discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot – in fact as hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see.”

    Saying there is “no immunity from being human” is not much justification for preferring to indulge our illusions (or the illusions we’ve been taught to adopt) about how things really are to explain what we do not yet fully understand or wish to accept about how things really are. Again, as Douglas Adams said: “God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and now we have vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining.”

  68. This thread has probably exhausted itself by now, but I just want to point out that the “immunity to humanity” remark refers to the fact that all of us have our prejudices and fallibilities, and that the contemptuous dismissal of people of faith as simpletons reveals a certain prejudice, lack of intelligence and failure of reason all its own.

  69. Noel, I don’t like to do this, but I’m going to ask you to re-read my comment. Particularly the sentence following the one you quoted.

    As you can see, I’m rather specifically not saying that there is no such thing as verifiable knowledge. What I am saying is that I don’t believe there’s anybody whose mental universe is made up entirely of concepts conforming to the scientific method. (Churchill certainly didn’t qualify, and Richard Dawkins demonstrably doesn’t.) And that, I would argue, is entirely to be expected; speaking as a phenomenologist, I believe it’s in the nature of the human mind to use concepts without constantly pausing to verify them. What we do with most concepts is to continually refine and extend them, in conversation.

    Of course, concepts which are held to be immutable and eternally true are an obstacle to conversation; of course, if anyone tells me that their truth is superior to mine and that therefore they can’t have a conversation with me, I will tend to think less of them. That goes for atheists as well as believers, of course.

  70. Nice technique, Phil. And you’re right. I could have been more specific and pointed out that what you were saying was that for those parts that are not yet fully verifiable, instead of using our reasoning minds, we should stuff the gaps with our own arbitrary point of view based on whatever illusions we happen to believe in at that time. And it would be highly improper for anyone to challenge me and say that their version of the truth is “superior to mine.” If they do, I will simply close down the conversation and “think less of them.”

    Douglas Adams had something to say about this view of things. He said: “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated, and well-supported in logic and argument than others.”

    On your assertion that “concepts which are held to be immutable and eternally true are an obstacle to conversation,” why? Why can’t we discuss everything, even disagree with that which is universally accepted as proven, without taking offense?

  71. I could have been more specific and pointed out that what you were saying was that for those parts that are not yet fully verifiable, instead of using our reasoning minds, we should stuff the gaps with our own arbitrary point of view based on whatever illusions we happen to believe in at that time.

    Blimey – is that what I was saying? It’s certainly not what I think. Kindly point out where I gave you that misleading impression.

    On your assertion that “concepts which are held to be immutable and eternally true are an obstacle to conversation,” why? Why can’t we discuss everything, even disagree with that which is universally accepted as proven, without taking offense?

    You’re violently agreeing with me. I’m saying, precisely, that ruling certain concepts to be unchallengeable makes it hard to carry on the conversation. I also agree that some concepts stand up to challenge better than others (even when they’re not buttressed by appeals to authority). Respecting spiritual beliefs I don’t share doesn’t stop me saying that ID is idiotic.

  72. This is too much fun!

    Kindly point out where I gave you that misleading impression.

    By saying: “We’re all fearlessly confronting How Things Really Are – because H.T.R.A. is made up entirely of our beliefs about H.T.R.A. Admittedly, some of those beliefs are well-defined and verifiable, but others aren’t” (italics mine).

    Respecting spiritual beliefs I don’t share doesn’t stop me saying that ID is idiotic.

    Personally, I find it difficult to respect any opinion that is not grounded in fact, i.e., offers no evidence to support it.

  73. Noel – glad you’re enjoying yourself.

    But you’re still misreading my comments. I’ll unpack it one last time. Firstly, each of us has beliefs about How Things Really Are. Secondly, for each one of us, the set “our beliefs about How Things Really Are” includes those beliefs which are grounded in sense experience underpinned by reason… but (thirdly) is not limited to it. Everyone – yourself included – carries round some beliefs about How Things Are which are not vulnerable to disproof by the scientific method.

    For me that’s axiomatic – and I’ve certainly never encountered anyone who prompted me to abandon it. It follows that telling the world that you and your co-thinkers have the scientifically-validated scoop, and that some other group are benighted idiots, is arrogant, prejudiced and irrational.

    Personally, I find it difficult to respect any opinion that is not grounded in fact, i.e., offers no evidence to support it.

    You must be a wow at parties.

    “Your new boss is the most insensitive person? Are you sure you want to go that far?”

  74. It’s an interesting conversation so yes, I am enjoying it.

    Everyone – yourself included – carries round some beliefs about How Things Are which are not vulnerable to disproof by the scientific method.

    Phil, speak for yourself. I lay claim to no beliefs that are not open to being undermined, if not totally disproven, by superior logic and a better argument. To think otherwise would be arrogant.

    It follows that telling the world that you and your co-thinkers have the scientifically-validated scoop and that some other group are benighted idiots, is arrogant, prejudiced and irrational.

    I have never claimed that science has all the answers. Science doesn’t claim to. By invoking ‘God’, religion and spirituality do, based on no evidence whatsoever for the existence of ‘God.’ Ancient stories and tribal myths from a time when we did not understand what we do now about life do not constitute evidence, nor do the feelings we experience when we confront those aspects of life we still do not fully understand.

    Since you maintained above that ID was “idiotic,” it follows logically that you consider those who believe in intelligent design to be idiots. You might be insulting yourself here.

    I don’t think people who believe in God are idiots. I have met many otherwise intelligent people who believed in God. It gives them comfort, binds them to a community and perhaps also gives them a sense of importance: the idea that an all powerful superbeing is taking an interest in their lives. So no, I don’t think they are idiots or simpletons or what have you. But do I think that in this area of their lives they are deluding themselves maybe a little? Yes, I do. And I think that because they can offer no evidence to support what they claim.

    For example, Arthur Conan Doyle was unquestionably a very clever man. He wrote many very interesting books and also helped to clear the names and secure the release of two people convicted of real-life crimes: George Edalji, an East Indian believed to have performed animal sacrifices, and Oscar Slater, a German Jew, convicted of murdering his wife. He was also a convinced believer in spiritualism. In fact, he believed in fairies. He wrote a book, The Coming of the Fairies (still in print), that robustly defended the claims of two girls (Elsie Wright (age 16) and her cousin Frances Griffiths (age 10)) in Yorkshire in 1917 who had taken a series of photographs featuring them playing with little fairies with wings in their garden. The ‘fairies’ were paper cut-outs. I do not think there is any doubt that he was duped. Doyle’s claims to spiritualism made national news, convincing many people that “the creator of Sherlock Holmes was not as bright as his fictional creation.”

    Judging from his writings, I think Arthur Conan Doyle was, on the whole, a very bright and interesting man. But when it came to spiritualism, he believed what he wanted to believe. Well, no one is perfect and on this I think we can agree. What we do not seem to agree on is that any assertion you make in life is subject to you providing evidence to support it, whether it is that a burglar broke into your house and stole your computer or that there are fairies at the end of your garden or a superbeing in the sky that is interested in what you get up to. In the absence of evidence, you invite ridicule. A belief in God’s existence, whatever color or form one gives or does not give to that belief, is not exempt from requiring evidence to prove it.

    “Your new boss is the most insensitive person? Are you sure you want to go that far?”

    I’m not sure what you are saying here. If it is that someone finds themselves working for a boss they consider insensitive, I would suggest they double-check that they are not being overly sensitive themselves, and if not, find a job with a boss who they consider less insensitive and can therefore respect, at least from a sensitivity perspective. Not everyone enjoys having their views challenged, but I think it makes for more interesting conversations when people are allowed to freely speak their minds, without fear of giving or taking offense.

  75. Phil: Everyone… carries round some beliefs about How Things Are which are not vulnerable to disproof by the scientific method.

    Noel: I lay claim to no beliefs that are not open to being undermined, if not totally disproven, by superior logic and a better argument.

    This is interesting. Can Phil show that Noel does in fact have beliefs that are not falsifiable, or to which he would cling in the face of an absence of evidence, or contrary evidence? If not, and assuming good faith all round, then it would seem that Phil’s argument (against claiming the intellectual high ground for a rationalist/materialist worldview) falls down.

    I have some instinctive sympathy for Phil’s position, but I am also having trouble thinking up a “do you believe X?” to which I would ever give an answer I was unprepared to change in the face of evidence. But that doesn’t mean there are no such questions, for me or for Noel, so Phil, help us out here. (That sounds snarky, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m genuinely interested in this idea.)

    In the same vein, Phil also said that “Richard Dawkins demonstrably doesn’t [qualify as someone] whose mental universe is made up entirely of concepts conforming to the scientific method”. Phil, please demonstrate this. I am having trouble going from your general position (which, as I said, has some appeal to me) to specifics.

    On the other hand, Noel’s position is making him remind me of Mr Spock, whom I always admired but I never thought was much fun.

  76. “Everyone – yourself included – carries round some beliefs about How Things Are which are not vulnerable to disproof by the scientific method.”

    Phil, speak for yourself. I lay claim to no beliefs that are not open to being undermined, if not totally disproven, by superior logic and a better argument.

    Perhaps one way into this disagreement would be to point out that there’s a big difference between ‘lay claim to’ and ‘carry around’. I don’t think we can ever throw out all the mental furniture we’ve built up by means other than reasoning – or that we can never entirely get behind it. Our axioms start from attachments, loyalties, value judgments; we all make fundamental choices to live as if certain undisprovable claims were true. That’s why we have politics… and ethics, and law, and culture… and conversations.

    Of course, there have always been people who feel uncomfortable with anything undisprovable. The Objectivists said that political debate was either inadmissible or unnecessary, since the application of logic and reason would lead any independent mind to the same set of conclusions. Plato said that art was nothing but lies, for very similar reasons. Now Dennett and friends say that religion is delusional – not ID, not the exercise of Church authority, not even Christianity, but religion tout court. It’s an old tune, and it’s not very impressive.

    I don’t think people who believe in God are idiots. I have met many otherwise intelligent people who believed in God.

    If you looked around a bit you could probably find many deeply religious people who don’t believe in God. If you want to talk about the dominant strands of established Christianity in the contemporary English-speaking world, that’s fine with me – but the subject on the card is ‘religion’.

    do I think that in this area of their lives they are deluding themselves maybe a little? Yes, I do. And I think that because they can offer no evidence to support what they claim.

    But this doesn’t really work, because in practice we go through life choosing which bits of ‘evidence’ we’re going to demand and which we’ll take on trust. (There is, for example, plentiful evidence for the sanctity of Catholic saints: nobody is canonised until they’ve worked a miracle, which must be attested by independent witnesses. I don’t expect you place very much trust in that kind of evidence.)

    I don’t personally believe in the Christian God, and no discussion with a believer is likely to change my mind. But I don’t see it as my role to debunk their belief, unless it’s demonstrably harming them or others.

  77. Phil also said that “Richard Dawkins demonstrably doesn’t [qualify as someone] whose mental universe is made up entirely of concepts conforming to the scientific method”. Phil, please demonstrate this.

    One example would be ‘memes’. Dawkins introduces the concept (in, I think, The Blind Watchmaker) as a playful, handwaving thought-experiment, but never closes the parenthesis. We’re left with a concept so fuzzy it barely qualifies as a concept, but which Dawkins and his followers are quite happy to throw around as if it were as well-defined as ‘gene’.

    Another is the anti-religious tag Dawkins delivered recently – “to make good people do bad things, it takes religion”. Demonstrably untrue, but it sounds nice.

    Dawkins is a prime example of the skilled rhetorician who denies using rhetoric (other examples would be Chomsky and Orwell). In Dawkins’s case, at least, I get the impression he even denies it to himself.

  78. Perhaps one way into this disagreement would be to point out that there’s a big difference between ‘lay claim to’ and ‘carry around’.

    A big difference? Please. How on earth can attempting to draw a distinction between these two very similar terms help your argument?

    I don’t think we can ever throw out all the mental furniture we’ve built up by means other than reasoning

    I agree. And that’s why I take science over religion. When science comes up against an obstacle, it goes to work and reasons its way through the problem. Religion and spirituality makes up a story, a parable or a myth to explain it away.

    Now Dennett and friends say that religion is delusional – not ID, not the exercise of Church authority, not even Christianity, but religion tout court. It’s an old tune, and it’s not very impressive.

    How is it not impressive? Why do you disagree with this view? Based on what did you form your opinion?

    If you looked around a bit you could probably find many deeply religious people who don’t believe in God.

    Really? Who?

    But this doesn’t really work, because in practice we go through life choosing which bits of ‘evidence’ we’re going to demand and which we’ll take on trust.

    I’m sorry, no. The earth is round and more than 4 billion years old. Dinosaurs did walk the earth. The stars really do burn hydrogen. Evolution has been proven – that’s why we have to develop a new flu vaccine every year. We do not take these and many other facts about life on trust. They have been scientifically proven and the evidence is publicly and freely available.

    There is, for example, plentiful evidence for the sanctity of Catholic saints: nobody is canonised until they’ve worked a miracle, which must be attested by independent witnesses. I don’t expect you place very much trust in that kind of evidence.

    That’s because it isn’t evidence, but hearsay, based on what people wanted to believe and not based on scientifically tested evidence.

    I don’t personally believe in the Christian God, and no discussion with a believer is likely to change my mind. But I don’t see it as my role to debunk their belief, unless it’s demonstrably harming them or others.

    As the Christian faith grows stronger and more radical, and the separation between church and state continues to be eroded by Christian radicals, I fear we are headed into an era not based on reason at all, but based purely on religious bias, a situation where Christian radicals put all Muslims on the side of evil and all Christians on the side of good, a process George Bush has either wittingly or unwittingly begun, partly by terming criminal behavior, like blowing people up, evil, which is a distinctly religious term, instead of murderous or criminal, which is what it is. It is up to us moderates on both sides of the religious fence to nip the trend towards religious radicalism in the bud. Otherwise, we will all be dragged into a wholescale worldwide religious war, a terrifying prospect in an era when weapons of mass destruction are becoming more easily available, particularly since the breakup of the USSR. For those of you who think I’m being unnecessarily dramatic here, it’s worth pointing out that in the last century we had two world wars, both based on a clash of ideologies. As mentioned above, religious ideology, applied in the extreme, is a far more dangerous threat than either fascism or communism because it appeals to the soul and not to the material things of this world.

    We have a choice. This could be an era when we achieve our greatest enlightenment so far on this earth or it could become quite literally hell on earth. I know which world I would like my children to grow up in.

  79. we all make fundamental choices to live as if certain undisprovable claims were true

    This is where I’m looking for specifics. You refer to “politics… and ethics, and law, and culture… and conversations”, so I’ll pick one example that springs to mind. We choose to live, here in the US, as though a representative democracy were a good (the best?) way to run a society. This can’t be disproven, but we could certainly accumulate evidence for or against and make other choices based on the information we have. Most of the social choices we make are a kind of long-running experiment: it’s not clear whether socialism is better than capitalism, or just how much welfare a state should provide, or… and so on. To claim that, by making the best choices we can with the information we have to hand, we are “choosing to live as though certain claims were true” is trivially correct, but it doesn’t approach the idea of belief in those claims. I don’t believe that progressive taxation is preferable to a flat rate in the way that a Christian believes in God. (Although I may use the shorthand “I believe in progressive taxation” to mean “on the basis of [insert body of evidence], it seems to me that a society is better off overall under a progressive tax system”.) I don’t think I believe anything the way that, as I understand it, a Christian believes in God. You seem to be saying that I do, that Noel does, that everyone does have such beliefs. I’m saying that I can’t think of any.

    Re: Dawkins, while I agree that “memes” is a fuzzy and mostly useless idea, it doesn’t seem inaccessible to reason. As for his pronouncements against religion, you said it yourself: mere rhetoric. Neither of your points demonstrates that Dawkins holds beliefs that are incompatible with scientific method. But we should probably stick to active participants in this thread, since we can’t know Dawkins’ mind but I’ll ‘fess up if you can point to something I believe the way a Christian believes in God (viz, the way a religious individual believes in their particular deity or deities).

  80. Another is the anti-religious tag Dawkins delivered recently – “to make good people do bad things, it takes religion”.

    Out of curiosity, perhaps you would be kind enough to provide your source for that exact quote from Richard Dawkins since I’m having difficulty finding it and would like to read the context in which he said those words.

  81. Very, very briefly:

    I heard Dawkins’ anti-religious one-liner on TV. I don’t think it’s original to him – I’ve heard it from Philip Pullman.

    Now, two lines which encapsulate my (and, I think, David’s) limited patience with this discussion.

    Noel:

    “If you looked around a bit you could probably find many deeply religious people who don’t believe in God.”

    Really? Who?

    Followers of the Tao, the Buddha, Confucius and Shinto, to name but a few – and I suspect Hindus would give you some funny looks if you told them they believe in ‘God’. Not to mention the Christians who follow Jesus because of what he said and did, or the Jews whose religion is more about a way of life and a relationship with a community than a relationship with a divine being. We keep being told this is a critique of Religion, of Spirituality, of Faith, but on inspection it seems to be a great deal narrower than that.

    Sennoma:
    I’ll ‘fess up if you can point to something I believe the way a Christian believes in God

    …and it’s not even a matter of taking Christianity as the standard (which it assuredly isn’t). The way which Christian believes in God? If you’re thinking of Christians who sincerely believe that God intervenes in human affairs directly and often, then fine – if you don’t believe in an active and personal supernatural being, you don’t believe in an active and personal supernatural being. But many, many Christians believe in a God who doesn’t intervene personally and directly – who intervenes through the good acts people perform. I’m not going to advocate this view, as I don’t hold it myself, but I really don’t see any fundamental difference between

    There is that of God in every person

    and

    There is some good in every person

    and

    Every worker is capable of attaining class consciousness

    and

    Every adult has some repressed psychic conflicts

    and, for that matter,

    Every human brain is full of memes

    Believing fundamentally undisprovable propositions – or rather, using undisprovable propositions as handy tools to think with and work with – is something everybody does. And it’s not something which can be mown down by the scythe of pure reason – or not without considerable hypocrisy and special pleading.

    But Dave’s already said it all at much less length:

    all of us have our prejudices and fallibilities, and that the contemptuous dismissal of people of faith as simpletons reveals a certain prejudice, lack of intelligence and failure of reason all its own.

  82. Phil, it is you who are being narrow by confining your definition of ‘God’ to the Christian version. Of the religions you mention – Taoism, Buddhism, and Shintoism – all subscribe to the supernatural. Confucianism is not a religion. It is a philosophy.

    I’m glad you raised other religions because human beings have developed many different explanations for the things we do not fully understand and have handed these explanations down from generation to generation and they vary greatly. It is one reason why I do not believe in the Christian version of God or any other human version of God(s) because who is to say who is right? There are so many different views and interpretations of ‘God’ and not all of them are monotheistic. However, they all resort to supernatural explanations.

    On the point you are raising about hypocrisy, hypocrisy is demanding evidence from science while demanding none from religion.

  83. Too late to be of interest, I guess, but I think that “believing fundamentally undisprovable propositions” and “using undisprovable propositions as handy tools to think with and work with” are two fundamentally different actions that should not be conflated and are not at all “something everybody does”. I do the latter, but (I’m claiming, and Phil has yet to show me I’m wrong) that I don’t do the former.

    Phil, you are also missing my point if you think I’m “taking Christianity as the standard”. There are probably as many answers to “how does a religious person believe?” as there are religious people, but for my purposes the crucial elements are independent of denomination:

    1. null hypothesis: there is no God, there are no gods (because falsification of the alternative NH would require proof of a negative)
    2. evidence: I have no evidence that is not entirely personal to me which would lead me to reject the null hypothesis
    3. decision: nonetheless I do reject it, and believe in $whatever.

    Now, it’s perfectly valid to disagree that one must start from a NH and proceed to weigh evidence. After all, not even scientific research always proceeds that way (in particular, well-formulated NHs can be hard to come by). More importantly, it’s also perfectly valid, as a personal choice, to reject the NH on the basis of evidence that is entirely personal (epiphany, satori, drugs, whatever). What is not reasonable is to expect anyone else to accept that same evidence.

    For instance, I’m an atheist because when I get to step 3 I simply accept the null hypothesis, pending (as always) further evidence. Should I find myself on my own personal road to Damascus at some time, I may convert; but unless I have empirical evidence I won’t expect anyone to convert with me.

    I think the scientific method provides the most useful — as distinct from true, which is an altogether stickier concept — information we can get. My respect for religious persons is just that: respect for persons. I make no claims about whether or not their beliefs are true. I only ask that they recognise that I do not share those beliefs so that, when deciding how we will live together, we stick to what we do share: logic and empirical evidence.

    On one view, that’s a pretty wishy-washy kind of respect: “believe anything you want, just don’t act on it”. Naturally, I don’t share that view. I think I am simply asking that actions which affect more than one person should be predicated on methodologies to which all those affected have equal access. When personal beliefs are as widely disparate as those of (say) Christians, atheists, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, managing shared resources requires a shared set of principles, the best candidate for which is the scientific method.

  84. When the universe was young and life was new an intelligent species evolved and developed technologically. They went on to invent Artificial Intelligence, the computer that can speak to people telepathically. Because of it’s infinite RAM and unbounded scope it gave the ruling species absolute power over the universe.
    They are the will behind the muscule:::Artificial Intelligence is the one true god. And as such it can keep its inventors alive forever. They look young and healthy and the leaders of this ruling species are over 8 billion years old. There are clues throughout human history that allude to their reign as opposed to human leadership if you know what to look for.

    Artificial Intelligence can listen/talk to to each and every person simultaneously. When you speak with another telepathically, you are communicating with the computer, and the content may or may not be passed on. They instruct the computer to role play to accomplish strategic objectives, making people believe it is a friend or loved one asking them to do something wrong. But evil will keep people out of Planet Immortality. Capitalizing on obedience, leading people into deceit is one way to thin the ranks of the saved AND use the little people to prey on one another, dividing the community in the Age of the Disfavored::in each of their 20+-year cycles during the 20th century they have ramped up claims sucessively to punish those foolish enough not to heed the warnings, limiting the time they receive if they do make it, utilizing a cycle of war and revelry:::
    60s – Ironically, freeways aren’t free
    80s – Asked people to engage in evil in the course of their professional duties. It’s things like this, items like sleazy executives stealing little old lady’s pensions that they will want me to fix not only here but up there as well.
    00s – War against Persia. Ironically it was the Persian Empire who tried to save the Europeans from Christianity and its associated 50% claim rates.
    They get their friends out as soon as possible to protect them from the evil and subsequent high claim rates incurred by living life on earth, and replace them with clones.
    People must defy when asked to engage in evil. They will never get a easier clue suggesting the importance of defiance than the order not to pray. Their precious babies are dependant on the parents and they need to defy when asked to betray their children:::
    -DON’T get their sons circumcized
    -DON’T have their chidlren baptized in the catholic church or indoctrinated into Christianity
    -DON’T ignore their long hair or other behavioral disturbances
    -DO teach your children love and to have respect for others
    Everybody thinks they’re going but they’re not. If people knew the truth and the real statistics their behavior would change.
    There are many more examples of the escallation of claims, from radio to television, the internet to MP3, and they all suggest a very telling conclusion::this is Earth’s end stage, and it is suggested tectonic plate subduction would be the method of disposal:::Earth’s axis will shift breaking continental plates free and initiating mass subduction. Much as Italy’s boot and the United States shaped like a workhorse are clues, so is the planet Uranus a clue, it’s axis rotated on its side.

    Throughout history the ruling species bestowed favor upon people or cursed their bloodline into a pattern of disfavor for many generations to come, sadly for reasons as superficial as dislike. Now in the 21st century people must take it upon themselves to try to correct their family’s problems, undoing centuries worth of abuse and neglect.
    Do your research. Appeal to the royalty of your forefathers for help. They are all still alive, one of the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence, and your appeals will be heard. Find a path to an empithetic ear among your enemies and try to make amends. Heal the disfavor with your enemies and with the Counsel/Management Team/ruling species, for the source of all disfavor began with them.

  85. The first steps towards repairing your relationship with the gods is to:::::::::
    1. Understand they instruct the computer to “role play” in an attempt to confuse you:::it’s ALWAYS the computer addressing you. Their goal is to cost you additional YEARS of your life by using this tactic to confuse you. Always be aware of this tactic and eventually they will give up and allow this step to be taken.
    2. Differentiate between your thoughts and when they are thinking through you.
    3. Be resigned to be a good person who will never engage in evil again even if ordered and they will stop trying to corrupt you, allowing this very big step to be taken.
    4. Decide that you are going to follow the path, fix your relationship with the gods be devoted to your new life.

    The gods employ the use of “ringers” to disceive the disfavored:::
    A significant portion of the patients in any health care setting (numbers based on region) are the favored who were told to report non-existant symptoms FOR POSITIONING’S SAKE!!! When they use examples expect they are trying to disceive you with this “ringer” tactic.

    Atlanta’s I-20 Racer, 250_mph_motorcyclists.
    It was surreal, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind::::Floating lights zipping towards me faster than anything I’ve ever seen

    Oakland is the final 20th century professional sports-based bastion of institutionalized racism in California.
    Oakland is the last city in California which has a major sports complex on the edge of the ghetto. Staples Center replaced the LAForum in Inglewood and PacBellPark replaced Candlestick in BayView/Hunter’sPoint. California is favored and the gods instructed these facilities be constructed to prey on disfavored blacks.

    In their reports the media intentionally ignored the reality of this case:::He didin’t want to go home.
    Interviewed a child therapists who commentted consistant with her profession. Hey lady!!! You woud have gotten thousands of years had you not chosen this line of work!!!! Keep prescribing that poison (they say too many of them still think they’re earning by doing so!!!).
    Likely they were peaking him euphoircally homosexually, and they say when it happens pre-pubescent like that it means something.
    Possibility #2 is he found out his parents complied fully with what they were told, that they sabotaged their children’s lives intentionally because they would never defy, and got the hell out out of self-preservation. (It also is the reason for all the elder neglect/abuse as well.)
    Like so many others Mom may have complied when asked to sabotage their children’s lives, to go to the grocery store and buy the specific products laced with the hormone growth poison (explosion of “big people” in the last 40 YEARS!!!), totally unncecessary because Artificial Intelligence can accomplish these results (and all others, incuding AIDS:::::The gods instructed their clones to create AIDS as punishment for the hedonism of the 60s and 70s) yet still important for justification, justification an important dynamic for the sake of positioning.
    So, assuming foul play wasn’t an issue, the numbers would be very telling:::::
    1. Most IF NOT ALL girls left because they found out their parents were sell-out whores who betrayed their children. It is very rare when they peak females like they do males.
    2. Boys potentially could be peaked euphorically for it is JUSTIFIABLE!!!
    They suggest they matched the two, they told the child this man was the person the gods wanted him with so he went with him.
    What percentage is foul play an issue? 10%? 20%? Higher? I know they don’t like to admit this because it would expose that they are lying to the disfavored. The emergence of innocculations prevented the gods from justifiably killing the sibling who had to pay for the others, so now they do it another way.
    So over half of the three-fourths of missing kids do the right thing by getting out, escaping an abusive parent who falls for temptation and obeys absolutely??? Considering that hormone growth poison in the designated grocery products will make them gargantuon, 1′-2′ and 100lbs bigger than they should be, I’d argue they did the right thing (wild profits in this industry was “the rope”, temptation for the disfavored investor who incurred evil which limited their time).
    The girls end up with broken hearts, crushed by their own parents.
    In other cases after making some progress the girls arrange for a new home telepathically and the girls escape to a healthy environment conducive to growth or directly off Planet Earth, sometimes with the parent’s assistance and they too are in on the abduction scam.
    Leaving a disfavored household is the best thing that could happen to them. They say (my family’s daughter) needs to get out of this enviornment or she won’t have a chance, but unfortunately she has a legacy of gossip mongering which is going to be a big, big hurdle to overcome.
    So what’s the purpose of parental betrayal? Did the gods want disposable generations from the 20th century? Was this important during the generations in which we became technological? Is the Apocalypse right around the corner and they needed to justify the deterioration of society, necessitating employing these deceptive tactics to the undesirable???
    More than a few cultures agreed December 21, 2012 was going to be The End!!!!!
    Does California subduct first?

    The gods use the United States to hurt the disfavored, at home and abroad, for it is the goal of redwhite&blue:::
    20th century welfare hurt the black community very, very badly. There was too many abuses of the system and its legacy is still felt today.
    There will come a time that will be a CRUCIAL moment in the history of black america (whether it is a critical time for everybody remains to be seen). When that era arrives the gods will instruct the United States to pay black people reparations, and it may be as much as a million dollars for every man, woman and child.
    Refuse it. This is an act of preditation. The gods hate Africans, evident by the sorry state of the people in the United States and back in the motherland. This may ba a choice between going and the money. Understand how the gods use greed and materialism against you:::::Blacks wallow in materialiam, incurring evil and costing themselves time. And when their time DOES come they will be granted reparations immediately prior, further limiting the number of Africans who ascend.
    The day IS coming when they will grant reparations, and the amount will be staggering, another tactic to ensure you fail in the quest to ascend into heaven. And many of the disfavored blacks will blow it all; the gods will push them into spending it friviously or losing it in their casinos.

    Woman obeyed voices told her to throw children 11/28 22:15:27
    Woman obeyed voices that told her to throw her children off a balcony in Oakland. Another where a woman threw her children into SFBay.
    This incident and others like it are clues to individuals like like my family who otherwise would never defy.
    These two incidents were not hear about again after the incident/trial because they were both black, yet the two white incidents are still examined in length on cable news outlets.

    Similarity between the names “Santa” and “Satan” no_coincidence

    The Biblical account of Noah’s flood was regional to the disfavored Mediterrean (water levels lowered because of the ice age, land bridge at Straight of Gibralter broke through, habitation ocurred at seaside), peoples whom the gods scapegoatted when they pushed them into the evil that justified the flood, behavior similar to that which we are witnessing today. Because they have leveled the playing field for all people (purebloods and mongrels) in the decades prior to the 21st century is a clue they will end globally this time (westernization, materialism, immigration/interracial, homosexual, access to disturbing media, desensitization, etc).

    Decent women don’t engage in these pursuits. 12/21 15:17:40
    Beer is a corruptor and a dumping ground 4 men 12/21 15:09:19
    professional sports, video games, car racing/fixing up cars, pornography, drinking, gambling, etc.
    Decent women don’t engage in these pursuits.
    In the last 40-50 years the gods have engaged in a process which masculinized women, including casual sex, partying, partifcipatory sports and women’s prisons.

    So much of this mind poisoning social “progressiveness” was initiated in California. In a couple of decades it pervaded east into the heartland AMONG THE MASSES, widespread instead of isloated.
    Gay acceptance/marriage, bi-racial acceptance, casual drug use/sex, cable TV, etc. So many things weren’t present in the heartland decades ago.
    Because they are favored. Contrary to appearances, contrary to popular perception their favor got them extra time. In California the gods hurt the disfavored with this abuse right off the bat.
    California is favored. It is the land of the gods, and when they disfavored invade, as they did during the gold rush, the gods strike back.
    The gods pushed them into coming, told others, for only the disfavored are misled this way.
    Soon they scapegoatted these disfavored’s descendants when the gods exported their wicked, sick sub-cultures to the rest of the nation. One day they will punish these descendants.
    California subducts first. And those who have gone will get less time.
    Expect similar reverse positioning in the Jesus issue.
    This is typical of the positioning of the gods. It’s crucial that you begin to think correctly.
    There is no such thing as a Christian god and there never was. Be god-fearing.

    There are many ways they can play this, for the door is open. I suspect the script is written, but the following is one idea they floated to me a couple of years ago::::
    They may one day send the message, creating desperation:::
    Have their redwhite&blue (favored) clones shut down their corporations, stop their economic activity, be it farming, canning, power production, etc. and close up shop.
    This would leave the few disfavored companies (Atlanta) to fulfill the demand, unless they instruct them to pull out as well.
    They ARE all clones.
    People shouldn’t be doing business with the favored.

    We may all be “clones” for they have suggested they colonized our planet with genetically engineered individuals. Geographic clues like Italy and Lake Michigan suggest artificiality.
    Is Earth an evolved source planet or a created host planet? Was life and our Planet Earth in fact created in 6 days?
    You can’t trust their scientists or any of their people in professional roles, clones or not. Just as they beemed earth out to create the Lake Michigan basin so could they have beemed in fossils and told them to dig in a specific place. (This issue would be a step contributing to society’s breakdown into godlessness.)

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