A one-sided “dialogue”

A recent post at The Intersection has praised the one-sided dialogue on faith and science recently sponsored by The American Association for the Advancement of Science (and funded, of course, by Templeton).  Scientists, so the post says, should approach the faithful with humility, because, after all, even though the tenets of faith are wrong (the author is an atheist), it can offer consolation in time of trouble.  Because of this, we should refrain from not only trying to convert the faithful, but from criticizing their faith at all:

Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance religion plays in many people’s lives–which implies that we can hardly expect believers to discard their faith based on philosophical considerations, no matter how persuasive these may seem to many secularists or scientists.

At the AAAS event, the pastor David Anderson told an unforgettable story underscoring this point–the story of a single mother who just lost her husband, and has two poorly behaved kids, disciplinary problems who keep getting in trouble at school. Does this woman care about the latest scientific discoveries about, say, asteroids? No, explained Anderson, “because an asteroid has just hit her family.”

Science, alone, is no consolation in this context. Religion gives this single mother something she can lean on. Religion, explained Anderson, provides one with inspiration, whereas science provides information (and science fiction provides entertainment).

So how do you get into true dialogue with religious believers when you’re coming from the scientific perspective? Once again, Anderson had an answer. He said his church would certainly welcome scientists who wanted to come and visit, and talk to the attendees–and added that many churches, and many pastors, feel the same way.

But, Anderson added, that will not be the case if the scientists show up wanting to convert, or deconvert, or debunk, or whatever.  Or if they give off an air of superiority, the sense that they are smarter than everybody else. That won’t fly. It will shut down dialogue, rather than encouraging it.

It is not only in the science-religion context, of course, that humility is called for, and where superiority is counterproductive. The same is true of any dialogue, almost by definition. But again, that shouldn’t be a problem for science–is not the scientific method itself fundamentally based on a kind of humility before nature?

I think it shows far more respect for the faithful to engage their arguments honestly and openly than to pat them on the back and say, “There, there—even though I don’t share your beliefs I won’t risk upsetting you by questioning them.”  But Mooney’s post is not about any kind of constructive dialogue.  How could it be, if one side is forbidden to have its say?  The post is about why scientists should give more respect to religion.

Further, the claim that “we can hardly expect believers to discard their faith based on philosophical considerations, no matter how persuasive these may seem to many secularists or scientists,” is ridiculous, of course.  This is a deliberate distortion in service of the notion that, despite the claims of those horrid New Atheists, science and faith are compatible.

There are in fact many, many people who have discarded their faith because its tenets were either philosophically insupportable or came into direct conflict with the palpable facts about the world.  You know many of these folks, who include Dan Barker, Russell Blackford, all the preachers who, as documented by Dennett and LaScola, lost their faith, and many commenters on this website (chime in if you’re one of them).

And me.  As Jeremy Manier wrote a while back in The Chicago Tribune, I was brought up in a Jewish household believing in God, and accepted His existence without question, until, in 1967, I suddenly realized that there was no evidence for any of the claims of faith and became an instant atheist. It literally happened in a few minutes.

Yes, it may be too much to expect most religious people, steeped in faith from birth, to reject religion.  But there are the children, too.  Keep them from being brainwashed, and see how many voluntarily choose faith over atheism when they reach majority.  I would guess that if religious brainwashing of children were prohibited, atheism would increase drastically within a generation.  The vast majority of people are religious not because they chose their faith voluntarily—because it made more sense than other faiths—but simply because they were brought up that way.  It is not too harsh to call this brainwashing.

To those who say, “Religion will be with us always,” I respond, “Look at Europe.”

Speaking of converts to atheism, many of us know of Eric MacDonald from his posts on this and other websites.  He was once an Anglican priest, but now writes eloquently of the problems with religion. One of his posts, which I want to highlight here, appears in a good discussion of the Intersection post at Butterflies and Wheels:

This is bizarre! What is the matter with that man?! [Chris Mooney, author of The Intersection post]. He may be an expert at communication, but all he seems able to communicate — and he does it well — is his own lack of understanding, his resolute inability to understand what anyone else is saying.

One of the things that bothers me more than anything in the absurd assumption that is being made when people talk about the compatibility of religion and science is the sheer diversity, and, so often, perversity, of religious belief. Religions come in so many different shapes and sizes, that the claim that religion is consistent with science is almost certainly false for most religions and for most religious beliefs. If the claim is being made that practicing a kind of cumulus shaped spirituality, without any clear ontological commitments, is consistent with doing science, then, of course the answer is, yes, there is no problem. You can even do it and take an interest in collecting match boxes. But if the religious belief happens to be that someone, somewhere, has authority to speak in the name of a transcendent being for which there is no evidence, that this transcendent being speaks to and communes with, human beings, that it has made an appearance in various guises in the world, that it causes miracles to happen and bodies to rise, or brings luck and good fortune to the favoured, punishes the wicked (for any given religious definition of what that word mean ins its various religious iterations) and authorises outrageous immoralities and injustices in its name, then it is not compatible, and it fatuous to suggest otherwise. Nor is there room for dialogue with this sort of thing. Until people start to recognise that when they speak about religion they are not speaking only about the nice people in the church across the street, who seem so culturally warm and fuzzy, and probably pretty fuzzy minded too about what their beliefs imply, they are also speaking of pretty distressing forms of belief and the injustices and inhumanities that flow from then. And just repeating some slogan about the compatibility of religion and science does a great disservice, not only to science, but to the victims of so much religion.

For, religion, despite all the warm and fuzzy notions that it seems to connote for so many people, is not warm and fuzzy. It misleads and misdirects. It abuses children, not only by deforming their lives with physical and emotional and sexual abuse, but by much of the religion that is taught, which is of an incredibly destructive sort, very often indelibly so. It ruins lives and imaginations, it binds them to forms of thinking that are the product of ancient cultures, when people banded together on the side of their god against others on the side of theirs, and while it may have given them protection, it also required their submission and all the hatreds that are born of it. This is still being demanded. There is no other way to teach religion. It is a form of authoritarianism, and even those who attempt to convey a more humane, even secular form of religious thought, will be constantly undermined by people who, in faithfulness to tradition, return people to the faith once delivered to the saints, or whatever group happened to be first and therefore the model of faithfulness.

And it is really tiresome that someone like Chris Mooney, who obviously knows nothing whatsoever about religion and its claims, continues to blight the world with his assinine slurs that he vainly makes about an imagined group of people whom he calls the New Atheists, without any understanding of them either. (He seems a remarkably uninformed person.) I say we adopt the name, because it’s a good way of making a distinction between people who think that religious believers have something to contribute to the future of the world other than theocracy and injustice, and those who think that religion has had its chance, and needs now to be opposed in the name of more effective ways of knowing about and changing the world. The trouble with Chris Mooney is that he really doesn’t know about religion or atheism. And that’s why he can’t have a dialogue, but I have read so much good stuff on Jerry Coyne’s site, here on B&W and on Pharyngula and Dawkins.net, etc., that really is dialogue, and he’s not paying attention. But I suspect that, even if he was, he would not be able to understand. That’s the difference between someone who knows about framing, and those others who know how to put something in the frame.

Russell Blackford has also highlighted this post at Metamagician.  Go visit B&W for more good discussion of compatibility.

123 Comments

  1. Sigmund
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I grew up in a rather typical Irish catholic family situation and can remember the two specific arguments that were enough to convince me, as a teenager, to become an atheist. First the point that contingency of birthplace plays such an enormous role in the specific religion most people believe. Second reading “Why I am not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell, who pointed out something that is generally avoided in open ‘polite’ conversation – that the Jesus of the New Testament is a rather flawed character. Yes, that Jesus said some good things (about forgiveness, the golden rule, caring for the poor etc) but he also said some terrible things (notably the idea of eternal hellish torture for those that don’t accept his rule) and some false things – that he would return before some of those living at the time had died. For me Russell’s points were a logical argument that broke down the emotional defense that belief in a ‘perfect’ archetype like the traditional Jesus entails. This emotional reliance on a ‘perfect’ individual is also common to Islam where Mohammed (to any objective standards, a severely flawed individual) is frequently praised as the best man who ever lived and a model for all subsequent men to follow.
    As for Mooneyavelli, he’s chosen his niche as the US version of Andrew Brown – except without Browns knowledge of science or his realization that there should at least be some attempt at balance.

  2. Lettuce
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I’m Irish and, therefore a Catholic; I stopped believing when, at age 8 in Hagerstown, Maryland, I looked around the church and it became clear to me… Nobody believed.

    I did serve in masses afterward.

    My son has heard very little about God, he doesn’t believe and can’t figure out why his friends believe.

    • Janet Holmes
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      What made you so sure no-one believed?

  3. Kevin
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I was in third grade Sunday school class. The nice lady told us this story about how this man name Noah was told by god to build an ENORMOUS boat. And how all the animals in the WORLD came to that boat. And then how it rained for 40 days and nights, flooding everything that wasn’t on the boat.

    And I thought to myself, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”.

    Instant atheist.

    I went to church for many years after that…mainly sitting there trying to prevent myself from yelling “fuckedy fuck fuck fuck” out loud…but that’s pretty much what was running through my head.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I suspect that our resident UU adherent will be along shortly to provide us all the wonderful benefits of a church without god.

      Meh. Join the Kiwanis or SERTOMA. You’re using “church” to make yourself feel SUPERIOR to non-church-goers. It’s annoying and insulting. Quit it.

      • Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Who is the resident UU? I’ve mentioned it a few times, but never to feel superior.

  4. Insightful Ape
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I think we should never criticize heroin users since they draw a deep comfort from their habit.

    • Janet Holmes
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      Indeed, and if they have faith that it won’t hurt them well who are we to disabuse them? That would just be cruel and arrogant!

    • Posted June 23, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      I am all for not criticizing heroin users not because of the comfort they derive from their habit, but because it is counterproductive and helps foster stigmas that contribute to making treatment of addiction very difficult.

    • llewelly
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Mooney isn’t arguing we shouldn’t criticize heroin users. Mooney is arguing that no-one should be allowed to point out that heroin use has dangers.

    • articulett
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      Well if the damn heroin users kept their damn heroin use to themselves and didn’t require me to show “respect” for their addiction, then they’d never hear a word of criticism from me. It seems they are miffed to even imagine that someone might THINK their heroin use is problematic. What they really seem to be asking for is permission to get others addicted under the guise of “respect”. Mooney gives them that permission.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      We can’t really expect them to give it up.

  5. Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I’m Irish Catholic/ Russian Jew, and to make matters worse, my parents sent me to a Presbyterian primary school.

    There is only so much cognitive dissonance that one can endure before reality makes its debut.

  6. Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I remember when I got past the age where my folks told me that Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, easter bunny etc were just stories for little children, I then assumed that god and all that were just the same kind of thing. (to be honest, up until that point i was more concerned with the easter bunny, tooth fairy and santa claus, and the clear material benefits they provided in this world)

    I still find it just as amazing that grown up intelligent adults actually believe the things they do where religion is concerned.

  7. Darrell E
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Chris Mooney continues to reveal himself as substandard in his chosen profession. Whether or not framing is a useful and valid concept for dialogue, Mooney’s contribution to that argument is worthless. His idea of framing, as actually practiced by him, amounts to no more than sucking up to his targets. He uses lies, misdirection and misinformation to ingratiate himself to his target. He patronizes them. This is the same MO used by con artists, carnies and used car salesmen. He does this supposedly so that they will then be willing to accept a bit of reality as revealed by science. Except, when has he ever gotten around to trying to teach them some of that science revealed reality? As far as I can tell he never has. Instead of actually implementing his great discovery of how to persuade the religious to accept a bit more reality, he spends all his time on just the sucking up part, and of course trashing the New Atheists™.

    I never did understand his success as a writer either. His writing is pedestrian at best, pretty much sucks at worst. His ideas, despite his efforts to frame them as insightful, paradigm shifting and novel, are boring and stale. “Get in the fookin sack” is about all the response that Mooney now merits.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Extra points for the Dara O’Briain reference.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Your points are the reason I stopped reading The Intersection many months ago.

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      “he spends all his time…”

      I might be a resident devil’s advocate however. I don’t agree with Mooney on accommodation, but remember Mooney wrote “Republic War on Science” before devoting himself to science “communication”. In general, most scientific accommodationists are putting the ends before the means, wrong tactics to achieve the right strategic goal, etc. That’s bad, but he’s not claiming God intervened in evolution either (Francis Collins). And quality of writing doesn’t correlate with success, as measured in sales.

      • tomh
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Norwegian Shooter wrote:
        he’s not claiming God intervened in evolution either (Francis Collins).

        But he is claiming that those who do promote such a view should be catered to and never criticized. That doesn’t seem so praiseworthy.

      • Darrell E
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        That’s bad, but he’s not claiming God intervened in evolution either (Francis Collins).

        I agree and understand this point in isolation, but in the context of my little rant, I do not understand what you mean by this.

        And quality of writing doesn’t correlate with success, as measured in sales.

        Yes I know. The reasons a person become popular are varied and seemingly infinite. In Mooney’s case I think he is just a good used car salesmans.

        As for “The Republican War On Science”, compared to his later writings the only plausible conclusion is that it was a fluke (1/2 joke). Though “War” is by far his best writing that I have seen, the writing was indeed pedestrian.

      • Posted June 22, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        tomh, just stirring the pot, not praising.

        Darrell E, not meant in context of your rant, just an aside.

  8. Dan L.
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    But, Anderson added, that will not be the case if the scientists show up wanting to convert, or deconvert, or debunk, or whatever. Or if they give off an air of superiority, the sense that they are smarter than everybody else. That won’t fly. It will shut down dialogue, rather than encouraging it.

    Well, how about this: I’ll stop acting like I’m intellectually superior to you when you stop acting like you’re morally superior to me. Fair’s fair, right?

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      I’m a theist, and I don’t make any such claims about your moral inferiority or my moral superiority. I firmly believe that morality is something that we can discover through reason (but not through science), which means that atheists and theists not only both CAN discover it, but MUST discover it. I also believe that I can justify this with reference to a figurative interpretation of Genesis (actually, I claim that ANY interpretation of Genesis would have to include that fact).

      I also am unwilling to accept that you are or even might be intellectually superior to me just because you don’t have a belief that I do.

      So, taking all of that into account, how should all of the atheists deal with someone like me? When you write your posts and comments and give off that intellecutally superior vibe, how do you make sure that the theists who DON’T consider you morally inferior are treated fairly and excluded from that attitude?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Way to spew out a straw man argument that is claiming to be humble but oozes arrogance, verbosestoic.

        • Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          I never claimed anything about humility in my reply, just that I didn’t consider atheists morally inferior (and went on a bit about why), and challenged why I should consider myself intellectually inferior just because you don’t believe something I do. So, you would rather that I consider you morally inferior, then?

          As for it being a strawman … he clearly stated that he’d stop acting intellectually superior about being an atheist if I stopped acting morally superior about being a theist. My pointing out that at least one theist doesn’t and so then, at least in dealing with me, he shouldn’t act intellectually superior if he really wants to be fair seems a pretty reasonable argument and reply to me.

          • gillt
            Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            Verbosestoic: “So, taking all of that into account, how should all of the atheists deal with someone like me?”

            Um, you’re not a special and unique snowflake?

            Why, after insisting how rational they are, do
            theists (even creationists) always think this an interesting question? Do you want us “deal” with you by awarding you a gold star for every sentence in the Bible you try to rationalize?

            Here’s a hint: start with the stories in the Bible you believe literally happened, and why all the other holy books have it wrong, and therefore your god instead of all the other possible gods.

      • Dan L.
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        So, taking all of that into account, how should all of the atheists deal with someone like me? When you write your posts and comments and give off that intellecutally superior vibe, how do you make sure that the theists who DON’T consider you morally inferior are treated fairly and excluded from that attitude?

        I wasn’t making a logically rigorous philosophical argument. I was pointing out that it’s hypocritical and counterproductive to make blanket accusations like “atheists adopt an air of intellectual superiority.” Certainly some atheists do; some theists do as well. Likewise, members of each side frequently adopt an attitude of moral superiority.

        I can’t prevent other atheists from being jerks; saying atheists aren’t allowed in the clubhouse because they’re jerks is a) not completely true and b) not completely fair. And again, I can reverse the accusation, since quite a few believers do indeed insist that the religious are morally superior to atheists. Saying this is true of all theists is also neither true nor fair.

        I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of failing to engage with atheists because of their perceived “attitude of intellectual superiority.” In other words, treat me fairly and I’ll treat you fairly.

        • Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          Re-read your original quote. It did not say that all atheists acted like that, and therefore didn’t say that atheists aren’t allowed in the clubhouse. At most, taking it in the full context, it might have implied that the New Atheists did that, but it seems to me that it would do that by defining part of what it means to be a New Atheist as having that sort of attitude. In short, that quote seems to suggest that they won’t engage in discussions about atheism/theism with atheists who are jerks. I feel that you are perfectly justified in treating theists who are jerks — ie those who take that morally superior angle — in the precise same way.

          If you’re willing to have an open dialogue without presuming that you’re right and rational and they are wrong and irrational just because of the differences in your beliefs, I commend your attitude. And if you want to leave theists who insist that if you are an atheist you must be morally inferior out of that dialogue, I find that perfectly acceptable as well.

          • Dan L.
            Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            It did not say that all atheists acted like that, and therefore didn’t say that atheists aren’t allowed in the clubhouse. At most, taking it in the full context, it might have implied that the New Atheists did that, but it seems to me that it would do that by defining part of what it means to be a New Atheist as having that sort of attitude.

            If “New Atheists” just means “atheists who are jerks,” then Mooney needs to be clear about that, as do other commentators. It’s not clear at all what “New Atheist” means given:
            a) Dawkins, frequently reviled as New Atheist, is constantly chided for being “philosophically unsophisticated” and “scientistic”; also for being “strident,” “militant,” etc.
            b) but Daniel Dennett, a respected analytical philosopher, is also called a New Atheist. Dennett, while sometimes a bit of a gas bag, is certainly not strident or militant and
            c) Dawkins is no more vitriolic than, say, Samuel Clemens or Robert Ingersoll or Bertrand Russell.

            So it’s not clear that “New Atheist” means “atheists who are jerks,” because we have plenty of Old Atheists who were flaneurs (a fancy French word for “jerks”) and plenty of New Atheists who are measured and respectful.

            Taking in the full context, as you say, should resolve some of the difficulties here. 1) No one on the panel was an atheist or has a reputation for familiarity with the atheist position, 2) Mooney’s “question” was clearly actually intended as a contemptuous one-liner — with no one there to defend the atheist position, no less, 3) Mooney routinely demonizes anyone who thinks the assertion “science and religion are compatible” is not true prime facie; anyone who wants to ASK whether this is true, or even what is meant here by “compatible” is “extreme” and “arrogant,” and let’s never forget “militant.”

            So you can get as huffy as you like, but I’m not the one trying to push anyone who disagrees with me out of the conversation.

            • Dan L.
              Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              By the way, if ANY of Dawkins, Dennett, Russell, Ingersoll, or Clemens counts as a New Atheist, I’d be proud to be able to count myself one as well.

            • jdhuey
              Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              I had assumed that the moniker ‘New Atheist’ referred to any atheist that

              1). published a book after 9/11
              and;
              2). claimed that religion was not only wrong but harmful (with some reference back to 9/11)

              The only real distinction between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ atheist is that ‘new atheists’ have a more receptive audience.

            • Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

              You know, I ALMOST fell for this, but not quite.

              The problem here is that you are going on about things that a) were not actually relevant to your initial statement and b) are not true. The original quote was not from Mooney, but was Mooney quoting someone else (Anderson). There is nothing to suggest that Anderson was referring to the New Atheists, and Anderson clearly is not that all atheists should be pushed out of the conversation. He limited it to a very specific set: those who come in with the aim to convert and debunk, or t hose who claim superiority. Mooney might go further and link it to New Atheists, but in both cases they think that there are productive discussions that can be had with some atheists. So your claim that they want to push all atheists out of the conversation would only be true if all atheists had to act that way, as a condition of being an atheist and getting into the conversation.

              Now, you can argue that. You can claim that it follows that attempts to criticize religion will always fall into the category of trying to deconvert or debunk religion. That might be a fair argument, and it’s a shame that you didn’t, you know, actually MAKE it. I’m not sure that that’s what he really means; I tend to think he’s likening it to people who show up on your front door to preach the Good News. I n short, people who don’t just want to express their beliefs and have a reasonable conversation about the differences, but who make it a goal to ensure that at the end of the conversation you definitely share their beliefs (or lack of them).

              So, if you’d started on about preaching, and asked Anderson to accept that religious people who preach are just as problematic — from the other side — you’d have a reasonable point. Unfortunately, again, you didn’t make that argument. Instead, you argued about the moral superiority line, which is completely different.

              Basically, you started essentially by claiming that it was reasonable for atheists to act as if they are intellectually superior because of theists who act morally superior. I pointed out that there is at least one theist who doesn’t do that — me. I also don’t preach, to tie into the more reasonable objection. So, again, if you are going to adopt that intellectually superior attitude towards all theists, how do you ensure that you treat those who do not exhibit the bad behaviours fairly? You yourself said “Fair is fair, right?”. So, don’t you think you should examine whether or not you’re really being fair?

          • CW
            Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

            “presuming that you’re right and rational and they are wrong and irrational just because of the differences in your beliefs”

            You’re mistaking something there. I do not presume that everyone that has beliefs different than my own is therefore wrong and irrational. I do, however, acknowledge that someone is wrong and irrational when the beliefs in question are demonstrably wrong and inherently irrational.

            • Posted June 23, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink

              Actually, that still isn’t justified. Let’s start with the reasonable assumption that they have a different opinion on the topic than you do, in that they think something right that you think wrong. Here are the possibilities:

              1) You know something they don’t, through no fault of theirs. Once you point that out to them, they will then accept that they were wrong and you were right. Since they didn’t know that fact, while they were wrong they were not irrational; based on what they reasonably knew, their belief was reasonable.

              2) They are aware of all the things you know, and disagree about what it means. In this case, they might actually be right, and the two of you need to sit down and hash out who is right and how to prove who is right. You can’t, in that case, presume that they are wrong because they disagree with you; they obviously find some flaw in your arguments that makes it seem less convincing to them than they do to you. That they are not as convinced in you are is no indication — necessarily — that they are irrational or even wrong.

              3) They accept your facts, accept the consequences of your arguments … but still believe anyway. That’s probably irrational — and probably wrong — since it would result in the person holding conflicting beliefs and being aware of such.

              4) They ignore all facts and evidence that contradict their position. This, again, would fit irrational.

              The category that I think people should care about is 2), and maybe 1). Your comments here seem to only work for 3) and 4).

              And that’s three, so I’m done for the day.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        It is quite likely nonfactual that anyone ever will be able to discover a system for morality, given that it is hardwired into us by evolution – we now know that atheists and theists alike react the same in moral situations. (Though the rationale trying to fit a story on the reaction certainly varies.)

        It isn’t relevant to try to justify a pick-and-chose selection of any text in any case. But the above mean that it would be impossible to find a relevant system in that ad hoc selection.

        [Mind, one can always fit an algorithm to any finite sequence of random numbers. So the claim isn’t that such an ad hoc algorithm is any more impossible than the selection to fit in the first place. The claim is that the ad hoc algorithm will surely look like the irrational ad hoc it is.

        Which pretty much describes religious texts in the perception of rational readers. So now we know why. :-D]

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          Oops! I realized that I never answered the main question:

          “how do you make sure that the theists who DON’T consider you morally inferior are treated fairly and excluded from that attitude?”

          Since the attitude is perceived and not factual, it isn’t a problem that can be, or even need, addressing. It is up to the theists to realize (or not) that they are making a mistake.

          And in fact that mistake is the very one that underlies the conception of the label “New Atheism” in the first place, the perceived arrogance when there is none.

        • Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          That’s a bit strong. Not everyone responds in the same way to moral situations, and the responses to some moral problems almost certainly differ to a statistically significant degree between atheists and theists – e.g. I’d expect to see such differences if people were asked questions about homosexuality.

          When we integrate the work of Marc Hauser, Jon Haidt, and others who are operating in this field, the situation is probably a bit more like this (though the research is getting more refined all the time and I’m not claiming to be up with the very latest).

          When it comes to classic moral dilemmas involving danger, such as the trolley cases that moral philosophers and moral psychologists love so much, there is no real difference between atheists and theists. For example, very high proportions of both think that it’s okay to divert the trolley in the classic case of five people about to be run over and one person on the rail we could divert it to. The various elaborations of this also don’t seem to produce different proportions of the possible answers between theists and atheists. This holds cross-culturally (though some moral psychology experiments do get different proportions of answers between different cultures; this certainly applies to certain fairness games).

          In all, there seems to be little difference between atheists and theists on issues that atheists would see as central to morality, such as helping out in situations of danger, being honest and fair, etc. If there are differences, they are likely to be in areas that many atheists see as peripheral but many theists see as central, such as sexual morality.

          Of course, this is consistent with what you’re getting at.

          • Chris Slaby
            Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            The issue with religion is, however, that if there were a “good” (religious) reason for saving the one person on the other tracks at the cost of the five people that the faithful, at least some of them, truely might be compelled to do that. It’s cliche at this point, but true nonetheless–religion gives good people reasons to do bad things.

            Atheism isn’t an ideology or a truely organized group. We are simply a bunch of people united in our un-belief and thus we cannot be motivated by that ideology (since un-belief is in fact a lack of ideology). Yes, there are reasons for us not to believe, basically rationalism, but rationalism isn’t an ideology in the same way that hierarchical organized religion/theism is. Some point to Stalin as being motivated by rationalism (if that is indeed the source of atheism, the argument would go). I maintain, however, that rationalism as a motivator and religion as a motivar are two different things. If you call yourself a rationalist and a fellow rationalist (there is no hierarchy here, so there’s no one officially telling you what to think or do, as is the case with religion) tells you to, as a good rationalist, do something, you, as a rationalist, by definition, will weigh the pros and cons of doing that thing and simply won’t (cannot) do it (just because someone told you as a rationalist you must). On the other hand, this is exactly how religion works. A religious authrotiy (or perhaps even an equal in your faith) tell you that you must do someting as a good member of your faith. Many people with stop and think (despite the tendency of religion to hope to avoid this), but nonetheless, being told to do something as part of your religion is a valid form of motivation for doing something, on its own. And thus this is the different between the rationalistic (non-ideological) foundations of atheism and the ideological basis of theism.

      • Janet Holmes
        Posted June 23, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink

        “I firmly believe that morality is something that we can discover through reason (but not through science)”

        Exactly what does this mean? Even if I didn’t think you were intellectually inferior due to your silly beliefs, statements like this would do it!

        • Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

          Um, it means that science is empirical and inductive and therefore descriptive, morality is normative, and you can’t get normative claims from descriptive mechanisms. At least, that’s the stance I take on the is/ought distinction. Sam Harris, recently, disagrees, but his dealing with the is/ought distinction tends to be one that gets it wrong, as he argued that it was moral relativists that cared about that distinction while I, a strong absolutist (or deontologist or whatever they’re calling it this week), also care about that distinction, at least in part because I AM an absolutist and think that there is one right moral code. But, I argue, you won’t be able to get that by going out and looking at what people currently think moral, because they might be wrong. Evolutionary arguments — we evolved this way, or it was hardwired in by evolution — don’t work because, again, all that evolving promotes reproduction, not necessarily morality. It MIGHT be the case that it gets morality, but it needs more than that.

          Now, it is, therefore, not obvious that science can, in fact, work on morality, and it is not possible to argue that philosophy doesn’t work using reason. If science can’t do the normative but philosophy can, you can see how my statement is supported. It can — and has been — argued, as I’ve already pointed out. But it is not clearly wrong.

          So, it seems that here you are considering me intellectually inferior for understanding the field we’re talking about, whereas you don’t seem to have that understanding. That should give anyone pause, no?

          • Insightful Ape
            Posted June 23, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

            Can anyone still think that V is anything other than a troll bent on threadjacking and causing aggravation?
            Just look at this one sub-thread if you have any doubts.

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 23, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

              I just skip over V’s comments. They are rarely worth reading.

            • Microraptor
              Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

              He reminds me a lot of John Kovic, only without the Klingon joke or the constant name-dropping.

            • Microraptor
              Posted June 24, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, that should be John Kwok the (just what does he do besides patting himself on the back and talk about where he went to school, anyway). John Kovic is a cartoonist who has absolutely nothing to do with anything here, as far as I know.

      • articulett
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:20 am | Permalink

        I want to go on record as saying I feel intellectually superior to you, verbosestoic.

        I don’t think it affects the conversation one way or the other. When someone feels “saved” for what they believe, it’s unlikely that any tone will further scientific understanding. (And why should any scientist care what superstitious people believe, anyhow? Why should your magical beliefs be any more respected than a Scientologists?

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted June 24, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          Don’t set the bar so low for yourself.

        • Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          I’ll return the question to you: why DO you care about my beliefs? If you want to engage or eliminate them, you care about them, and also you do seem to care about whether or not your beliefs that relate to my beliefs are right. Thus, you care, and then that should drive how you relate to me and to the issues.

          So, when you tell me why you care, I’ll tell you whether or not you stating and acting intellectually superior to me is likely to be reasonable and effective in fulfilling that purpose.

          • Microraptor
            Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

            Can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t care for your personal beliefs, just when you try to pass some ancient myths off as being factually true.

            • Microraptor
              Posted June 24, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, that should read “don’t care about your personal beliefs”

          • articulett
            Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            I don’t care about your personal beliefs and opinions anymore than you care about about my beliefs and my opinions of you.

            I care about wrong beliefs, because it makes people vulnerable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7BQKu0YP8Y

            I’m pretty certain that if rational people start treating religious superstition the way they treat other superstition, people will become increasingly embarrassed of their beliefs and begin keeping them to themselves. Some will even get the courage to question their beliefs. Eventually most believers will die out and the new generations will live in a world where fewer people are susceptible to such delusions.

            Coddling the faithful slows the process to the detriment of all. If there are no invisible beings (and despite eons of belief in such things there is no evidence that any such beings exist), then all such belief is delusional. If there are no such thing as souls, then there is no need for any religion and all the mental manipulation that goes with it.

            I didn’t create these big lies, and I want nothing to do with furthering them.

            • articulett
              Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

              BTW, I trust that if any such beings are real, the evidence will accumulate (as it has for evolution) and scientists will, naturally, be all over such evidence to refine and hone it so we could know more.

          • articulett
            Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

            I’ll remind you that atheists don’t claim to have access to divine truths. Whereas, all religious people claim to know things they cannot know (that god exists, for example.) Moreover, religious people know that many other religious people are delusional– fooling themselves– as off base as the believers in Greek Myths. And yet they conclude they are above such human folly. In my opinion this is more arrogant than anything an atheist believes.

            I’m not “acting” intellectually superior. I have the opinion that atheists ARE intellectually superior. The average I.Q. and education of the atheist versus their theistic peers supports my observations. But it’s still just an opinion. Moreover, I’m of the opinion that most theists are of the opinion that their faith makes them better than all those who don’t share their faith– otherwise they wouldn’t be of whatever faith they belong to.

  9. J.J.E.
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I started off in an evangelical/YEC environment, but my religious “intensity” was low after I was about 10 or so. When I went to college (despite my joining the CCC) I was drifting more towards my own personal liberal version of Christianity that probably would fit in well with the Episcopal church. By the time I hit gradschool, I drifted into unconsciously agnostic. Upon discussing religion with a few classmates, I more or less settled on ignostic and have been there ever since. If I don’t feel like describing what “ignostic” means, I’ll usually just say “atheist”, which is close enough.

    My steps of deconversion involved:

    1) Freshman college “humanities of the western world” ranging from Homer to Freud and including wide range of other religous/mythological authors in between. Simply reading the arguments of so many religions was the first major chink in the faith armor. Though I was a bio major (with a dual emphasis in evolution and biochem), it was the humanities that tested my faith more than biology.
    2) Hearing my evangelical cousin decry evolution on the authority of a community college course in anthropology my cousin took. Oh, and my cousin was going to “pray for me” for majoring in evolution. Hearing such willful attempts at brainwashing really caricatured the faith argument for me. That pushed me into “liberal” faith.
    3) Reading NA publications and pondering 9/11 brought me from accommodationist/fatheist to a less timid version of godlessness.

  10. Jonn Mero
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Noticed that somewhere it was referred to ‘convert to atheism.’ That is such a wrong term in as much as it should be ‘come to your senses’.
    Having the good fortune of growing up in a place, in a country, where religion and the religious were considered somewhat retarded, life has been much more fulfilling with the awe of being alive, and being able to learn about and explore this glorious planet.
    Unfortunately it is in places polluted by daft buggers, aka believers, of different persuasions. But I guess we need something to point and laugh at.

  11. Sajanas
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I do get really tired of NOMA. Trying to give morality and ethics to religion and fact and history to science doesn’t really work out, because the religious people want it all. Oh sure, they say that they can accept the scientific world view, but pretty much every religion has an origin story that is different from the actual one. The moment we stop teaching science, that’s when they’ll start up with Genesis again.

    Another point, I really am tired of people expecting their pastors to be therapists. People, certainly you can get advise from a pastor/priest/whatever, but that woman with the two disobedient kids would be far better off going to someone who had some training beyond “Well, the Bible says love them, or stone them to death”. These people are taught scripture, but that in itself is no substitute for hands on experience with these problems, over an over again. Its like trying to get a tooth pulled by a friend that pulled out a tooth once, rather than a trained professional who does it every day.

    • Microraptor
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      “I do get really tired of NOMA. Trying to give morality and ethics to religion and fact and history to science doesn’t really work out, because the religious people want it all.”

      You forgot to mention that they haven’t shown themselves able to handle what they have been given.

  12. Gary
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I was a biology and religion double major in college. It was precisely the study of philosophy of religion that made me realize “they are all just making this stuff up.”
    And when my sister died of leukemia a few years ago, I found it oddly comforting to understand that this was a random act in an indifferent universe. No need to understand “why” such a horrible thing happened.
    So, my experience is exactly the opposite of Mooney’s assertion.

    • Microraptor
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      You know, this brings up one of my other big pet peeves with religion: claiming credit when they pray for a cure.

      Seriously, how arrogant is that? It’s like a great big “up yours” to people like you, because it carries the strong implication that your sister wasn’t special enough for their god to save.

  13. Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    And then there’s this schmuck:

    At the AAAS event, the pastor David Anderson told an unforgettable story underscoring this point–the story of a single mother who just lost her husband, and has two poorly behaved kids, disciplinary problems who keep getting in trouble at school. Does this woman care about the latest scientific discoveries about, say, asteroids?

    I escaped from the angst and tedium of teenage life by reading science books. Would it stretch the imagination too far to picture this woman escaping from her troubles for three and a half minutes to watch a Carl Sagan remix on YouTube? (Ethan Frome borrowed a pop-science book on biochemistry.) The hack novelist in me sees this woman at home in mid-morning; she’s packed the sullen children off to school and has nowhere to go, because her old job was not as recession-proof as she’d thought. She starts flipping through the TV channels, past infomercials for things she can’t afford to buy, until she lands on a rerun of Mr. Wizard’s World. And for a little while, she sees children who are still bright-eyed and curious, living in a well-kept world which makes sense.

    No, explained Anderson, “because an asteroid has just hit her family.”

    Oh, that’s that then. And what consolation does faith have to offer — the assurance that her husband’s death was just part of God’s plan? The assertion that she didn’t deserve him because she wasn’t a “Titus 2 woman”? The insistence that her son will burn in eternal Hellfire because he felt up a girl and got a cheap pentagram tattoo?

    And what does this have to do with the substantive point the “New” atheists have been making — you know, the one Paul Dirac was making in 1927:

    If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented.

    Widely held religious beliefs about the way the world is and how it came to be are, in fact, divergent from the truth. Anecdotes about how belief made some person’s life less miserable do not change this.

  14. H.H.
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    It may be true that believers’ need to believe is so strong that they’ll refuse to abandon their faith even in the face of reason and evidence. But from whence did this religious conviction spring? They were taught it. Funny how religious institutions can brainwash children from birth, lie to their congregations, omit great bodies of evidence which undermine their core claims, and basically do everything in their power to confuse people on the state of reality; but then blame their flock’s confusion on their own individual “need to believe.”

    Sure, maybe a woman inculcated with lies from birth has, in adulthood, grown to depend on those lies. But would she be in that position if she had grown up having all the fact available to her from the start?

    Pastor David Anderson completely fails to mention his role in shaping and maintaining the religious delusions of the members of his congregation. How can he know what other coping mechanisms they may have developed if he hadn’t actively worked to poison their minds? If religious belief is so intractable and permanent, then why the f*%#@ do the clergy work so hard to hide inconvenient truths and keep their flocks in the faith?

    • Kevin
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I was thinking about this last night.

      If the “truths” of the bible are so self-evident, if the belief in religion is so pervasive and persistent, if the benefits of religiosity are so compelling, then WHY do you need to head off to church every week?

      Why not one-and-done? Surely, there are better ways to spend Sunday morning…me, I do the crossword puzzle and read the funnies. Or go hiking. Anything but sit on an uncomfortable bench listening to someone tell me how worthless I am without “god”.

      Religion needs the constant reinforcement because it’s completely at odds with reality. Only through constant brainwashing does it persist.

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Eggzactly. I was just writing a little note to myself on that very subject about half an hour ago. Religion is (where it is) pervasive, and clerics work hard to keep it that way, then they tell us over and over and over that religion is naturally, human nature-ly, pervasive and inescapable. Shell game.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Circular logic is so circularly circular, isn’t it?

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Sure, maybe a woman inculcated with lies from birth has, in adulthood, grown to depend on those lies. But would she be in that position if she had grown up having all the fact available to her from the start?

      Excellent question.

  15. KP
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “Religion gives this single mother something she can lean on. Religion, explained Anderson, provides one with inspiration”

    Setting aside all the great arguments that other commenters have given to challenge this statement, this isn’t the real problem with religion anyway. It’s the truth claims that are the problem (and yes, I recognize that the claim that “God is helping the single mom through her crisis” is a truth claim, but it’s a relatively harmless one). Religion truly offends when the “faithful” come out claiming that religious explanations of the natural world are on equal footing with scientific ones. Refuting these claims comes not from lack of “humility” but from a basic moral duty to stop the promulgation of lies about areas in which volumes of facts are known.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I recognize that the claim that “God is helping the single mom through her crisis” is a truth claim, but it’s a relatively harmless one

      To be more precise, the claim “Belief in a god is helping the single mom” is relatively harmless — the claim “The Christian God is helping the single mom” is far more contentious.

  16. Chet
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Chiming! I was religious, and convinced by the evidence that atheism was more accurate.

  17. Sunil
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I was a “spiritual” person who prayed to god every night for most of my life, and was jolted into atheism in just two days when I read the sci-fi novel “Evolution” by Stephen Baxter. It forced me to think really hard about evolution, and when I did that, I realised that God wasn’t necessary to explain anything.

  18. Josh
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    >(chime in if you’re one of them)

    I’m one of them. I was raised as an orthodox Jew, and fully believed in the tenets of the Jewish faith that were drilled into me as a child. Then at around 14 I started to read science and history books and began to realize that many of those tenets were probably false (such as a 6000 year old universe, and the historicity of the bible) and that I had no reason to think that some rabbis were privileged to secret communications from another realm. I can’t say I totally rejected everything as fast as Jerry did, but by the time I started college I was a full fledged atheist.

  19. Szwagier
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Chim-chiminey.

    Never christened, never baptised, no religion in the house at all when I was a kid. Wanted to go to Sunday School when I was about 8 because it sounded fun to my 8-year-old mind.

    The folks said “no”. That was the end of it. Became an agnostic apathetic (“don’t know and don’t care”) soon after, where I remained until I moved to a country where the power of the church has to be seen to be believed (Poland).

    Since which time I’ve been absolutely and implacably opposed.

  20. jdhuey
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Even if a well reasoned, reality based discussion does not convince a theist to completely abandon his delusions, I suspect that there is a great deal of good that comes from simply undermining unquestioned certainty.

  21. Josh Slocum
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Thank you for mentioning children, Jerry. It makes me truly angry that the Mooneys of the world care so little about the damage inflicted on vulnerable people (not just children), and so much about propping up the social infrastructure that keeps it going. The accommodationists characterize religion as ennobling and emotionally vital to believers. “Taking it from them,” as they’d stupidly characterize rational argumentation, is akin to some sort of emotional or intellectual rape in their view.

    Why can they not see how positively liberating it can be to have some help throwing off the shackles?

    I had to work all this out myself as a child. Being aware from a very young age that I was gay, I was tormented by the certainty that I was going to burn in hell. I prayed to God every night for years, begging to wake up “normal.” It’s hard to convey the existential horror – others who’ve suffered from guilt, feelings of inadequacy (it doesn’t just have to come from sexuality issues) will know what I mean.

    One day when I was about 10, it suddenly dawned on me: the religious adults around me, including my family, were crazy. It wasn’t me. It made no rational sense that I should earnestly beg God for help, but still remain responsible for a “condition” I didn’t choose and had (sadly) tried to reject.

    The whole edifice came crumbling down. God was a made up story that kept blinkered adults in its thrall, and allowed them to do very evil things while believing they were helping. I was extremely angry at the adults in my world for a long, long time. How I would have been overjoyed for just a little bit of help, just one other person who wasn’t afraid of saying, “It isn’t true, it’s not your fault, and you don’t have to feel this way.”

    Think about abused, submissive, self-hating women, gay kids, believers tormented by the idea they were born unworthy, pastors who’ve lost their faith but are terrified to tell anyone. Why don’t the accommodationists care about these people? They – the victims – have the superior ethical claim. Their suffering takes moral priority over the desires of the publicly pious to remain in their comfortable, never-confronted, never-challenged faith.

    Mooney and company are not only intellectually wrong; they’re ethically blind.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      “The whole edifice came crumbling down.”

      Oh, dear. I didn’t so much mix my metaphors as puree them. Tumble or crumble, reader’s choice!

    • Darrell E
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I had to work all this out myself as a child. Being aware from a very young age that I was gay, I was tormented by the certainty that I was going to burn in hell. I prayed to God every night for years, begging to wake up “normal.” It’s hard to convey the existential horror – others who’ve suffered from guilt, feelings of inadequacy (it doesn’t just have to come from sexuality issues) will know what I mean.

      This is the aspect of religion that seems most horrible to me. Your description of your personal struggles* as a young boy are heart breaking and infuriating. Putting a child, or anyone for that matter, in a position to feel and think such things about themselves for reasons which are complete bullshit is one of the worst things I can think of that people can do to other people short of physical torture. And religion does this casually on a regular basis.

      Just another product of authoritarianism. The elders, the fathers anyway, will always be wiser and better than their children. What a poisonous mindset. Not to mention trivial to falsify. Any decent human being would raise their children to understand that they are capable of exceeding their parents, and actively help them to do so.

      *Such an inadequate word in this case, but I had a complete block trying to come up with something better.

      • articulett
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:32 am | Permalink

        I think it’s immoral to tell trusting children that they can suffer forever and ever–

        Religion creates this fear and then they offer faith as the solution.

        This is the way religions perpetuate themselves. Accommodationist perpetuates this mind virus.

    • Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Think about abused, submissive, self-hating women, gay kids, believers tormented by the idea they were born unworthy, pastors who’ve lost their faith but are terrified to tell anyone. Why don’t the accommodationists care about these people? They – the victims – have the superior ethical claim. Their suffering takes moral priority over the desires of the publicly pious to remain in their comfortable, never-confronted, never-challenged faith.

      Mooney and company are not only intellectually wrong; they’re ethically blind.

      This, a thousand times this.

      • Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Yes.

        Another source of profound misery for children brought up religious is fear of hell, not just for themselves but for loved others. I know people who had that and it is no trivial thing.

        Really “devout” adults, horribly, seem not to mind a bit.

        • Josh Slocum
          Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          Oh, it certainly is. And that was part of my misery as a child. Stark staring raving terror of where I was going to end up.

          There are adults out there who let go of the concept of hell intellectually years ago, but admit it still has the power to scare them emotionally. Richard Dawkins wrote about one such woman in TGD.

          Ophelia – I suspect the adults who appear not to mind the concept really do, but tamp down fear for their own souls by focusing on who else they can threaten with eternal torment. Misery loves company, especially when one can convince one’s self that someone else deserves to burn even more.

          It’s wicked.

  22. Tim Martin
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    “I think it shows far more respect for the faithful to engage their arguments honestly and openly than to pat them on the back and say, “There, there—even though I don’t share your beliefs I won’t risk upsetting you by questioning them.””

    This, a thousand times. It’s amazing how many conflicts I have with people who don’t get this – if I don’t have some intellectual respect for you, I won’t bother bringing up my disagreements with you in the first place.

    Also, chime!
    I was brought up somewhat religiously, and was always concerned with the meaning of things and with difficult philosophical questions. At some point in early college, I realized on my own that I didn’t really have a reason to believe in the tenets of Christianity, and so I switched my religious affiliation to “undecided” (which matched my major). Still, I associated strongly with “Christian values” and the general concept of one god who possibly cares about us, etc. Learning more about the natural world was actually what allowed me to let go of that. The strongest single change in my beliefs actually occurred after reading WEIT – that was when I really realized that there’s no need for god in the equation of life. In fact, there was no need for god in the equation of anything. And it really was relieving when that happened.

    • Darrell E
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      The strongest single change in my beliefs actually occurred after reading WEIT – that was when I really realized that there’s no need for god in the equation of life. (emphasis mine)

      Just anecdotally, that seems to be a common realization that many claim contributed to their letting go of their religion. I guess that is one of the main reasons so many religious leader types argue so strenuously against, and lie so constantly about evolution. They have noticed that if a person achieves a certain understanding of evolution, that person is much more likely to loose their religion.

      • articulett
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        Yes, because evolution makes sense in a way the god story never could.

        I never could make sense of any god… but I still believed in the inane notion that faith and feelings could lead to truth. This made me ripe for New Agey kinds of woo that “resonated” with me (it “felt” true).

        Working with brain damaged people eventually made me question the idea of a soul. Once I realized how unlikely a soul was, all the worries about trying to “believe the right thing” fell away. The world makes much more sense without the woo.

        Some believers will say things like “what does it matter if it’s true or not–?”

        Well, to ME, it matters a lot. I don’t really want to be living my life fooling myself.

  23. KP
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    As long as everyone’s chiming in:

    I was raised in a fairly low-key Catholic setting, though I think my parents were more devout than they let on or than the impression I got from my church. It was California Catholic after all! LOL.

    By the time I got to be a competent biology student (9th grade; so THAT’S why creationists want to change HS biology textbooks!) I realized there was no place for God in the explanation of the natural world. Straddled the atheist/agnostic line for a while — usually depended on how loud/incompetent/criminal the fundamentalists were being at any given time. Would say I was mostly atheist during that time. Between 9/11, Katrina, a couple of personal tragedies, etc., I will now openly say atheist without reservation (and want to re-write my personal history to claim that I never even straddled the line!).

    • articulett
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      I was raised Catholic too, but I’m not sure it ever really “took”. I always found religion embarrassing…

  24. gillt
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Also a bio major (currently doing cancer research). In addition, I took a philosophy of eastern religions course, a Medieval philosophy course and a philosophy of religion course. All combined my 12 previous years of Catholic schooling never stood a chance.

  25. Tacroy
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance religion plays in many people’s lives…

    Is there anything that doesn’t work for? Let’s find out!

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance Barney plays in many people’s lives…

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance hallucinogens play in many people’s lives…

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance cannibalism plays in many people’s lives…

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance killing sprees play in many people’s lives…

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance human sacrifice plays in many people’s lives…

    Still, surely the New Atheists must on some level recognize the critical importance ritualized rape plays in many people’s lives…

    I guess not.

  26. Dan L.
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I was raised Christmas/Easter Catholic, but I was a precocious child and probably a little more philosophically sophisticated than my parents even then — I’d ask the grownups about stuff I’d heard about in church or in the lead up to my first communion. You know, how can the trinity by three AND one, why not two, doesn’t the Holy Ghost thing feel a little tacked on to you? I never got any satisfying answer, and I could never make any sense of this God talk and how sincerely all the grownups seemed to believe in it.

    Then I asked my brother something about God and found out that not believing in God is actually an option. The inconsistencies in the whole “religion” story suddenly made a whole lot of sense — they’re the same inconsistencies that a parent uses to catch a child in a lie.

  27. Ty
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Chime.

    Raised in a fundamentalist evangelical household. Had a very similar de-conversion episode that took all of about five minutes one day.

    It was the flood story that did me in.

  28. Richard
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I went through a New Age phase when I was 18-19, reading Carlos Castaneda, et. al. I guess I was never a whole-hearted believer and I matured out of it before my 20th birthday. It was the late seventies and the New Age virus was contagious. I already had some immunity to it since my father was a non-religious scientist and I was raised with almost no religion. Thanks, Dad!

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    The reasons for actually engaging organized religion, a sad fact of the world, in a factual manner has been well treated already.

    I’m chiming in for the group, but the details of my several rounds of out-and-in between my mother’s religion and my father’s atheism is boring. Suffice to say that I finally grew out of the childishness after entering the university and made up my own mind for good, and that I’m really tired of religionistas questioning if I know religion or “have thought about it”.

    Latest from the cock up as priest that against all regulation was trying to affect my official “resignation” from The Church of Sweden (for moral reasons – as well as tax reasons, not the least) – and served to drive the religious message home. How come the religious are never officially required, as such, to act moral and with humility?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      Mm, I guess I should add for completeness that when you apply your mind to the problem, reality wins.

      From inside a religion, the privileged place (of the special brand and what not) never bothers. But the university teaches you how science works, and that cosmology say is actually grounded in more than “explanation”, i.e. storytelling.

  30. Ken Pidcock
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I was an unusually devout (well-brainwashed?) child of a Christian family, and struggled with doubt in adolescence. I really hated to give it up, and it took a couple of years to realize that I hadn’t really lost anything and that I should be grateful that I could be honest with myself.

    I suspect that belief, as an adult, is not a very pleasant experience for most. I recall a comment from Stanley Fish (in a blog post attacking new atheists!)

    The religions I know are about nothing but doubt and dissent, and the struggles of faith, the dark night of the soul, feelings of unworthiness, serial backsliding, the abyss of despair.

    I know this is, in large part, a kind of macho martyr routine, but he surely expects his readers to nod in agreement.

    This is something I should not want to take from peopls?

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      peopls?

  31. ennui
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    *chimes* Me–raised Nazarene with all the trimmings: church 4x/week + vacation bible school, church camp, youth choir tours, bible quizzing, nightly family bible study and prayer, missionary grandparents, tithing + missions payments, hellfire guaranteed.

    What finally got me going down the road to atheism was an inter-denominational road show called “Shatter the Darkness,” which preached that one could become demon possessed by rock music. I was 11 years old and couldn’t stop laughing. I actually read the bible 3x after that, plus a philosophy dictionary. Atheist by 14, abandoned by rest of family by 18.

    Plus, what Josh said. And I will admit to being a sometimes flaneur, if Mooney will admit that he has developed into an atomic douche.

  32. AL
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Religion, explained Anderson, provides one with inspiration, whereas science provides information (and science fiction provides entertainment).

    This is a questionable (not to mention question-begging) way of apportioning domains to these three enterprises. It’s quite possible for science to be informative AND inspiring and entertaining. It’s also possible for religion to be all three of these things as well, but not quite in the way that Anderson likely imagines (religion can inform us to some extent about group psychology, but religion’s claims about the supernatural and metaphysical have yet to be established as “informative”).

  33. Luke
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m one of those people who lost their faith because of its unsupportable assertions – and I am very glad of it.

    I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist. It was a member of the SDA church who published the book on Geology which started off the “scientific Creationism” movement. I went to SDA schools through high-school, and in my 8th grade science class was taught that marine fossils on mountaintops prove the Biblical flood. Ironically, the book also gave a cursory (and Creationist) overview of plate tectonics. One of my best friends, who was three years older than me, was an atheist and we used to walk around the neighborhood discussing religion all the time. Eventually, in my junior year of high school, I finally found that I was unable to defend my religious beliefs and turned to searching the internet during Bible class for defense. As I compared my pro-Christian arguments to their counters, my faith began to give way and I gradually moved toward atheism, for several months still praying for God to help me figure things out “his way.” I graduated valedictorian of my high school class with one other (closet) atheist, coincidentally the next best student. Only just under two years after last using the argument that “evolution is like a tornado going through a junkyard and assembling a fully functional Boeing 747,” I entered the University of Maryland majoring in Biological Sciences: Ecology & Evolution, which is where I am right now.

    • articulett
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      Great story– 2 thumbs up!

      I was a Valedictorian too, and if I was as outspoken then as I am now, I would have included the following in my Valedictory speech: “Faith and feelings are not a way to anything objectively true, and don’t trust anyone who tells you they are.”

      • Darrell E
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        “Faith and feelings are not a way to anything objectively true, and don’t trust anyone who tells you they are.”

        Nicely Said! I’ll have to try to remember that phrasing.

  34. jose
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    “Religion gives this single mother something she can lean on.”

    So does heroine.

  35. Doc Bill
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I, too, was raised in a traditional Episcopal house, attended church regularly, was an acolyte (for the Power and Prestige, don’t you see!) and I got caught up in all sorts of Sixties stuff: Castenada, Maharishi Yogi (not the bear) and all sorts of mystical stuff.

    The summer of 68 I worked in a medical lab with a Mormon, a Monk and a guy named Al who could make things work and invented stuff. The punchline of this joke is that out of all the lunchtime religious/mystical discussions I had with those guys it was Al who said, “I haven’t been to church since I learned to think for myself.” And that was it. I never went again.

    I had been on the edge for a while and just needed that little push. Thanks, Al, wherever you are!

  36. Wowbagger
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    “Religion gives this single mother something she can lean on.”

    What about racists? Their (similarly unsupported) perceptions of the superiority of their ethnicity gives them something they can lean on.

    What about misogynists? Their perceived superiority of ownership of a penis gives them something they can lean on.

    What about anti-vaccers? Their opposition to the perceived ‘big pharma’ gives them something they can lean on.

    What about AGW denialists? What about homeopaths? What about flat-earthers? What about alien abductees? Why are their crutches so much less important than those of the conventionally religious?

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Shhhhhhhh, Wowbagger! That’s Strident and Shrill ™!

      • articulett
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:52 am | Permalink

        (maybe even a tad “militant”–)

  37. Bob Johnson
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    If we are to refrain from criticizing activities which provide consolation, then I must ask if this includes alcohol?

    Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Old Grand Dad have comforted many a lost soul. Surely we can overlook the multitude of problems – medically and socially and instead focus of the joy and comfort.

    • Wowbagger
      Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      If we are to refrain from criticizing activities which provide consolation, then I must ask if this includes alcohol?

      Because of that wonderful two-word concept every woo-soaked godbot uses when discussing religion, even if he/she doesn’t know it by name: [jazz hands] special pleading!

      • Wowbagger
        Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Correction: that should read ‘…every woo-soaked godbot, faitheist, new militant accomodationist, and fawning suckup to the religious majority…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 4:01 am | Permalink

      He! I thought of alcohol (and other drugs too), but didn’t know how to put it succinctly. Thanks!

      [And of course Wowbagger has it correct; there is really a multitude of deluded (or otherwise harmful) practices and beliefs to compare organized religion with. Special Pleading™ is what makes the religionistas world go around.]

  38. bad Jim
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    As long as we’re telling de-conversion stories, I was riding home on the bus from junior high, passing the Catholic church, observed that I hadn’t thought about God for a while, and realized that I didn’t believe at all. Not at all? I asked myself. Am I missing something? I considered asking my sister, but wound up talking to my dad, who explained that we weren’t atheists – which would require an impossible certainty – but agnostics. I stopped saying “under God” when reciting the pledge of allegience. No one noticed.

  39. Mikulas
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    God is dead.
    Nietsche

    Nietsche is dead.
    God

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Memes survive,
      but facts live forever.
      Atheist

  40. Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    “It is not only in the astronomy-astrology context, of course, that humility is called for, and where superiority is counterproductive. The same is true of any dialogue, almost by definition.”

    There you go, Chris Mooney, I fixed it for you. No need to thank me, but you have to fix the rest yourself just replace science with astronomy and religion with astrology in your intersection post.

  41. Posted June 23, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Science, alone, is no consolation in this context. Religion gives this single mother something she can lean on. Religion, explained Anderson, provides one with inspiration, whereas science provides information (and science fiction provides entertainment).

    I take a great deal of exception to the notion that science can’t also provide inspiration. I am extremely comforted in times of adversity, by the wonder of the incomprehensibly huge universe and by both the things we know about it and (in some ways moreso) by the things we do not.

    It is through science that I have even the tiniest inkling of my place in time and space. It is through science that I begin to grasp how remarkably infinitesimal not just I am, but the entirety of the human race is, in comparison to the whole of reality. It is also through science that I understand that every bit of what we are, every bit of what we see, has traveled incomprehensible distances through time and space to be here – now.

    Information, rather than inspiration? What offensive drivel. The whole of reality to explore, mysteries abounding and this isn’t inspiring?

    What could possibly be more inspiring than the story of our existence and how we came to be here, from a inconceivably dense ball of matter – through incomprehensible distances through time and space? The explosion that got things rolling, the coalescence of gasses that became a sun. The massive, swirling, churning gravity well, that brought together bits of matter and gasses to coalesce into planetary bodies. Our own planet, born of gravity and fire – eventually cooling and tiny, simply celled creatures evolving into what we see around us.

    Not inspiring? Seriously? Give me a damned break.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 23, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      I am constantly awed by the fact that in the vastness of trillions of cubic lightyears of nothingness at 3K, there is an infinitesimal bit of coagulated stardust that has over billions of years brought forth consciousness. What could be more awe-inspiring than that?

    • articulett
      Posted June 24, 2010 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      I was a single mother (widowed) with a difficult kid, and science was what inspired me. I didn’t want to be fooling myself any more, and I loved learning about the world… I got a Masters in Genetics. I’m sorry that the hypothetical mother in the story got such a poor and useless substitute.

  42. Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I think it shows far more respect for the faithful to engage their arguments honestly and openly than to pat them on the back and say, “There, there—even though I don’t share your beliefs I won’t risk upsetting you by questioning them.”

    This sums up my frustration at the whole “faitheist” debate. They’re treating religious people like little children, it’s incredibly condescending.

    There might be some truth to it, but still, incredibly condescending. It’s basically saying that religious people are too fragile to debate and thus should be left alone.

    • Posted June 23, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      I am not all that far out from my shedding of my religious beliefs and can happily attest to this. This is not to say that I was all that appreciative of people who insulted me because of my beliefs. But I am no more a child who can’t take it now, than I was then.

      And harsh criticism was a huge element to finally tipping me over the edge.

      • articulett
        Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink

        I always wonder if coddling religious people makes religious people feel entitled to coddling.

        Why should we be bending over backwards to make people feel good about what they manage to BELIEVE?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      The faitheist approach sometimes strikes me as classist. Sure, atheism is fine for us middle-class, educated, thinking folk, but the proles will never understand it. The masses need their opiate.

  43. Andy
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    One of the misconceptions of the “old” atheism was that you can’t argue people out of their faith. Quite the contrary! People get argued out of their faith all the time; they get evidenced out, too. So many theists have literally never been exposed to the best arguments and evidence for science and positive atheism.

  44. Sam
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Haha so if you want to have a dialogue, you must not criticize the other side’s beliefs! A bit like saying if you want to have a conversation, you’re not allowed to use words.

  45. Jackie
    Posted June 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Thankfully God was not a subject in my childhood home, but around 8-10 years old I frequently accompanied a pious friend to church and sunday school, where I was a holy terror. One summer holiday when I was 12 and standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean, I felt such well-being and joy that I thought I was feeling God (a la F Collins). So in my adulthood my personally crafted God stood for everything right and good and natural. The Jesus stuff was just wierd.
    Two years ago I moved to a small town from a large metropolis: to Chilliwack, BC, which is reputed in recent history to have the most churches per capita of any place in N. Am.
    The vibe was scary. Everyone belonged (it seemed) to the Jesus club except me. Discovered NA. Relief. Sanity.
    Recently a somewhat half-hearted evangelist came to my door. I think he was feeling low and trying to cheer himself up by going out and talking scripture and God. I enthusiastically told him there was no god, that the world and we were here by a magnificent chance for which we may be grateful, and sent him on his dejected way with a recommendation to check out Dawkins etc. Reverse evangelicalism.

  46. efrique
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    Scientists, so the post says, should approach the faithful with humility, because, after all, even though the tenets of faith are wrong (the author is an atheist), it can offer consolation in time of trouble. Because of this, we should refrain from not only trying to convert the faithful, but from criticizing their faith at all

    Anti-drug campaigners should approach junkies with humility, because, after all, even though ideas like “mind-altering drugs are truly helpful” are wrong, such drugs can offer consolation in time of trouble. Because of this, we should refrain from not only trying to get the addicted off such drugs, but from criticizing their drug-use at all

  47. articulett
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Science is the only tool we humans have to weed out the truth from our various beliefs and misperceptions. I am strictly opposed to using science to further any supernatural beliefs, because it dulls the sharpest tool we have for understanding our universe.


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