A poll on whether skeptics should shut up about Christianity

I can’t resist, though I think this puppy has already been Pharyngulated (I haven’t looked). But why not let your views be known on an issue important to all of us—accommodationism? This is the weekly poll at About.com: Agnosticism/Atheism:

It’s accompanied by give-no-ground editorial by secularist Austin Cline, which includes this:

Christianity isn’t an oppressed minority; Christianity is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that this nation has ever experienced. Christianity doesn’t need to be pandered to, it needs to be challenged, questioned, stood up to, and even mocked at times. Christians who don’t get that are still part of the problem because they still think that their religion merits special deference and privileges.

As of 6:15 Boston time, here are the results, which make me think that the squidly minions have discovered the site. But why not add our voices:

 h/t: Ant

85 Comments

  1. Jolo
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it was…

  2. Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Not yet mentioned by PZ, as far as I can see…

    About.com must just attract the awfully strident kind of atheist.

    /@

  3. Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I have an assortment of memes, top ten lists and Poes dedicated to Christianity. If I can’t make fun of the Sky Fairy,well, I just wouldn’t want to live in a world like that.

    • Marella
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, my life would have no meaning, and I’d probably go out raping and murdering.

      • microraptor
        Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

        It might even cause me to realize the pointlessness of eating babies.

        • J
          Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          “The pointlessness of eating babies”? What are you, some kind of Christian?? How else are we supposed to achieve eternal life if not by stealing their delicious youth?

          • microraptor
            Posted May 6, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

            Homeopathic baby extract pills.

            And persecuting oppressed religious majorities.

  4. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t seen it on The Endless Thread, no.

  5. Posted May 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Excellent piece by Mr. Cline.

  6. Posted May 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    As a counterpoint, imagine the Christian persecution complex if we demanded that Christians stop attempting to proselytize their own religion. We would be accused of bullying because their holy book explicitly tells Christians to go out and convert the world.

    • stevehayes13
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Their god, Jesus, explicitly tells them to pray in private (Matthew 6:6); but they take no notice. They do as they do, not because they are commanded to do so by their gods, but because they justify their own biases and prejudices by their gods.

      • Posted May 6, 2012 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        He (Matt 5:34) also tells them not to take oaths, but to let their aye be aye and their nay be nay, but you have to go to special lengths NOT to swear on the same bible that says it!

  7. R. Lee Bays
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    That said…guys like this Pastor Sean Harris over in Fayetteville, NC are doing a fine job of representing Christianity without our help! ( Pastor Sean Harris Biblically Correct, Morally Bankrupt http://wp.me/p2jrVY-mG )

  8. mordacious1
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow! 80 people have said that we have an obligation not to rock the boat or offend christians. Must be 78 christians and the Colgate twins.

  9. Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    “Atheism” is trivial. That’s why Mr. Cline receives the “ehhh” majority on a poll thusly worded, even in a room of atheists.

    I am totally atheistic. Yet I know for a fact that I am far more in alignment on essentials with many “well, there’s got to be a Higher Power” types and even some outright church-goers than the majority of atheists I have met.

    Until “atheists” stop focusing on the fact that they are atheistic and instead win the war proactively for “this world of particulars” and reason as an absolute, they will only be seen as annoying crackpots.

    Frankly, in Western culture, the theists are only encroaching legally in a few places. The attempt to claim that a fetus is a person, thus voiding a pregnant woman’s right to control her body, is the main one.

    The behavior in which theists do the most damage is legal. It is the indoctrination of their children into massive belief in the irrational, in the supernatural, even to the point of terrorizing them with threats of an eternity burning in hell for not believing in god. Just contemplate what it would take to back theists off that behavior.

    Sadly, many ‘atheists’ commit the same atrocity, but in a secular fashion, by holding non-god irrational axiomatic beliefs and indoctrinating their own children in them.

    • Marella
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      “The important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to both.”

      http://xkcd.com/774/

      • Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        1) what is the converse of the point you just “made?”

        2) do you really think that psychologizing is something to be proud of?

        • Posted May 6, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

          1. I think the converse would be if you could find a single atheist parent – let alone a majority – who does as you say, that is, tells their children firmly that there can not possibly be a God, and that they will be punished (with eternal torment?) if they believe in one. I think most did as mine did, and say “Well a lot of people believe that, dear, but your father and I don’t.”

          2. Does the cap not fit? Leaving out any psychology, the fallacy is called “Tu quoque” (You’re another).

          • Posted May 6, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

            Yes, the fallacy is tu quoque, and more colloquially psychologizing. Marella’s point is rejected in either case.

            The converse of the message in that cartoon? “It does not matter if you are right or wrong, your claim to be right is an offensive and despicable act on its face.”

    • Tim
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Yawn.

    • sensevisual
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      “Frankly, in Western culture, the theists are only encroaching legally in a few places. The attempt to claim that a fetus is a person, thus voiding a pregnant woman’s right to control her body, is the main one.”

      Few places?

      Just your example concerns more than 50% of the population of most countries.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, many ‘atheists’ commit the same atrocity, but in a secular fashion, by holding non-god irrational axiomatic beliefs and indoctrinating their own children in them.

      Could you give a specific example of such a belief?

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      Your message is a little unclear, but I gather that you think the so-called new atheist movement has its priorities misplaced? Your next-to-last paragraph would seem to outline what you think /should/ be the focal point, which I assume is to change the culture itself.

      Personally I’m inclined to agree, but then I suspect we (whatever that means) all would. I thought the whole thrust of the Gnus’ argument was that we need to encourage a cultural climate in which magical thinking is seen for what it is and not accorded undue respect. In fact I would say that’s the hallmark of the movement and the only argument that justifies the appellation “new”.

      Perhaps the atheists you’ve met (those mentioned in paragraph two) are of the accommodationist flavor?

      And lastly your closing paragraph, which was the one most likely to get a rise out of readers, was also the vaguest, deigning only hint at some nefarious axioms that are no doubt propagating through the secular humanist community as we speak. Could you unpack that one a bit?

    • Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Here is the toxic axiomatic belief I encounter frequently in atheists to which I am referring. While it takes shape in quite a variety of formulations, this one is the most straightforward:

      “There are no absolutes.”

      • Old Rasputin
        Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm… a smaller suitcase inside the first. Fair enough. In your defense, I did say “a bit”. Do you mean absolutes as in the speed of light?

        Are you invoking a more philosophically rigorous notion, something like a “non-contingent object”? I would say for most folks of our disposition formal logic and mathematics might qualify.

        Then there’s the colloquial usage of the phrase, meaning “you can’t ever be sure how events in your life will unfold,” which is not particularly controversial for anyone except maybe Laplace’s Demon.

        My final (and best) guess is that you are alluding, however vaguely, to moral relativism and that you don’t much care for it.

        • Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          no, not moral relativism. metaphysical and epistemological nihilism.

          “There are no absolutes.”
          “We can’t be absolutist certain of anything.”
          “There is no such thing as certain proof.”
          “We can’t say anything is proven to be true”
          “There is no such thing as objective reality/”
          “Reality is socially constructed.”

          The atrocity is that relativism “as such” is glorified; the conscious person is elevated to the status of God in that they “create reality as they move along.”

          The atrocity is the imposition of this paradigm on children. My contention is that metaphysical nihilism is not natural or healthy, since a child’s “work” is to discover that the world exists outside of himself, that he is one thing in a universe of things.

          Another way of saying this: “all well and good, you did not indoctrinate your child into God, but did you support her in the discovery that no

          I wish to be clear: it is not “atheism” or “atheists” that I am faulting. As I said “atheism is trivial.” It is a negative: without god. It does not provide the person’s metaphysical stance.

          • Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

            I pasted to quickly….trucated paragraph should read:

            Another way of saying this: “all well and good, you did not indoctrinate your child into God, but did you support her in the discovery that no substitute, including Your Self, is needed.”

          • sensevisual
            Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

            I was writing to refute your points, until I noticed that you those are not your opinions, but rather the opinions you ascribe to a STRAW-MAN, which like every straw-man, only says dumb things that can be easily refuted.

            Maybe you can give a name to those “atheists who hold non-god irrational axiomatic beliefs” so we can bash them TOGETHER.
            Discussing the “toxic beliefs” of non-existent people is boring.

            obs: Please, I hope it is someone rich and famous, who can afford the time and a PR department, because bashing some goth kids who say dumb things when defending their atheism is just cowardly.

            • Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

              what is your root belief, the truth that stands at the base of your soul?

              • Marella
                Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

                That reality exists, and that it is worth knowing as much about it as possible, however difficult and unpleasant it may be.

              • Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

                @Marella

                Thank you for replying. Most people don’t. (Except theists! They love to declare their belief in God.)

                I share your conviction. I think a lot of good could be done against theism and magical thinking in general if we made it a point to speak up FOR “reason and reality” versus AGAINST god.

              • sensevisual
                Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

                “what is your root belief, the truth that stands at the base of your soul?”

                That no one is better than anyone else. No one.

                obs: I must state I don’t believe in “souls”, with “bases” or not.

                obs2: Ah, you were fishing for “toxic beliefs”? Took me a while to notice.

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

                I don’t have a soul. Next question.

                /@

            • Posted May 6, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

              “…bashing some goth kids who say dumb things when defending their atheism is just cowardly.”

              Just one example: The professor in the International Baccalaureate program at a high school in Denver informed me that their entire premise, internationally, was to throw water on anyone with certainty qua certainty, anywhere in the world, because “there are no absolutes.” This was on the occasion of my being a guest lecturer in the Theory of Knowledge course in that program. I am sure I was an easy target for her deconstruction of my position of the certainty that Reason can achieve — the day after my departure.

          • Old Rasputin
            Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            Well, thanks for elaborating.

            As far as I can tell, your complaints can safely be redirected to the Postmodernism department. Your last two axioms are practically the definition of that ideology and are about as far as you can get from the science-minded approach that I (wrongly?) associate with people who call themselves atheists.

            Your example justifying why such postmodernist thinking is an atrocity when foisted upon the young, (“a child’s “work” is to discover that the world exists outside of himself, that he is one thing in a universe of things”) is also 100% in line with that same pro-science mindset that (I would wager) the majority of those calling themselves atheists enthusiastically endorse, and probably, pass on to their children. In fact /that’s/ the axiom at the bottom of scientific inquiry: that there /is/ a coherent (mostly)deterministic objective reality “out there” which obeys predictable laws; that we are in fact a thing in a world of things and can learn things about those things. It’s an axiomatic assumption, but not one that most people are willing to do without, and certainly not most atheists. You and I and the vast majority of self-identifying atheists are in agreement on this point.

            You claim not to be faulting atheists, but you must be faulting /somebody/. Who is committing the atrocities? And why? I agree with you that atheism as you define it is utterly trivial (c.f. non-stamp-collecting), but it was you that chose to single out this characteristic for discussion. For example, you didn’t choose to write “I know for a fact that I am far more in alignment on essentials with many “well, there’s got to be a Higher Power” types and even some outright church-goers than the majority of POSTMODERNISTS I have met.” or “Sadly, many ‘EPISTEMOLOGICAL NIHILISTS’ commit the same atrocity..”

            • Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

              In my personal experience, many atheists I know hold the postmodernist axiomatic belief. They are not all scientists.

              If what you say is true, that most scientifically-oriented atheists hold the position “the world exists outside of myself, that I am one thing in a universe of things” I would be very happy. If they are consistent with it.

              This would mean that there is no infinite regress problem, that induction would be completely validated as the main tool of scientific discovery, that proven theories should always be declared proven with no apology or hedging, since the “within the context of validated human knowledge about that which exists” is always the underlying framework -and the only framework possible for ‘truth.”

              Here is my acid test for this: In any statement presented as true, are the referents of all nouns proven to exist?

              • Old Rasputin
                Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                Well, I certainly can’t speak for your friends, but without having actually taken a poll, I can say with a pretty high degree of confidence that most of the denizens of *ahem* websites like this one or say, Pharyngula, take a rather dim view postmodernist thought as do all the well-known public voices for atheism. …and /of course/ we’re not all scientists.

                I’m claiming that not only do “most scientifically oriented atheists” hold the position that “the world exists outside of myself, that I am one thing in a universe of things,” but that, for all practical purposes, almost every human being holds this position. But if you really want to get down to philosophical brass tacks, then, yes, we must admit that this conclusion is based on certain assumptions. Yes, maybe the laws of physics will change tomorrow, or maybe the solipsists are right (though I doubt that any honest-to-goodness proponents of such an extreme epistemological position actually exist, much less terrorize their children with it), or maybe I really am a brain in a vat. No one’s losing any sleep over these ideas though.

                If I understand induction to mean “seeking general conclusions about the world based on empirical evidence”, then I think we can safely say that it is by definition the main tool of scientific discovery. Induction and science are by nature a little messy, depending as they do on fallible human beings with brains evolved to comprehend reality indirectly and imperfectly, and may not lead to truth in the really-really-definitely-for-sure true sense, but who gives a shit? The problem with an ultra rigorous definition of the word “truth” that doesn’t depend on some kind of empirically derived data/premises being fed into the system is that it’s just not very useful. Sure, you can safely assert, “if P then Q,” but if you want to talk about airplanes and tape worms, you’re going to make some additional assumptions and settle for the provisional truth of science. It will have to do. And it does. The fact that it’s useful, that it /works/ is validation enough for me as well as most of my fellow scientifically-minded atheists.

                Is this what you meant by “within the context of validated human knowledge about that which exists” (with the disclaimer: “we admit that that knowledge ultimately rests on certain assumptions, but nobody, save a few thoughtful philosophers and not-so-thoughtful adherents to postmodernist fruit-loopery, is really worried about it”)?

                I wouldn’t say it’s the only possible framework for truth, just the only useful one.

              • Posted May 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

                “…almost every human being holds this position. ”

                Not one theist, if they actually believe their beliefs, believes “the world exists outside of myself, that I am one thing in a universe of things.” They believe in a universe with things that are not things.

                Additionally, don’t you know some people who believe in luck (for real) or astrology (for real) or reincarnation or precognition, or ….any number of things. These are also disqualified, since they believe their thought controls “things” or their soul somehow “survives” death and they can migrate or they can project their intelligence somewhere to assimilate data, etc.

            • Posted May 6, 2012 at 1:09 am | Permalink

              Nicely played, Old Rasputin.

              /@

    • Roz
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      I let my daughter (now 17 yrs) go to church group every friday when she was a tween because I thought it wouldn’t do any harm, and then ‘Easter camp’..well she came back very confused and it took her weeks to ‘get over it’. (And this is a child who spent her first years going to Jehovah’s Witness meetings with me (I was raised by a JW mum). Enough already!

      Now I’m going to do things a little differently with my son (4yrs). No more accomodationism. Religion is a bullshit waste of time. Rather than let him go through all that confusion and learn the hard way. Life is too short. He can learn an appreciation of nature and scientific learning because it’s something REAL.

      • mordacious1
        Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        I promised my wife that I wouldn’t force my view (atheism) on our kids, but I wouldn’t hide it from them either. I let her catholic family take the kids to church and I let them go to Sunday school with their friends (in fact my daughter won a prize for being the most knowledgeable student about the bible). My son lost interest right away and didn’t want to go anymore because “those people bother him”, but my daughter still goes occasionally. She’s dating a morman of all things (one that turned her on to smoking btw…jerk). Both of my kids are confirmed atheists, the youngest being 17. I think kids are smart enough to figure out truth from fiction if given both sides, mine did.

        • Roz
          Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          Better hope she doesn’t marry and have children with the Mormon then :)

      • lamacher
        Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Despite (perhaps because of) being raised in a fundamentalist preacher’s home, our kids were raised ‘without benefit of clergy’, so to speak. Their lives have been carried out without any trappings of religion, with commendable results. Our grandkids are taken to nature parks, beaches with fossils, hiking trails, and the like, on weekends rather than to Sunday School and church, and the results, again, are commendable. I envy them the time put into useful pursuits.

      • Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Here’s how I worked it out: I never proactively slammed theists to my son. I just conducted our world without god! That did the trick. God is not natural; it has to be carefully carefully taught.

        I will admit I had one terrific asset: his mother is Jewish without a trace of religion! No temple, no seder, no torah, no bar mitzvah etc. While I did not end up getting along with her, my son did, mostly, and her Jewish atheism rubbed off, but he is even less religious and Jewish than her.

        My son has proactively and spontaneously thanked me many times for not indoctrinating him into God.

        Whew!

        • Roz
          Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          I think there’s a huge difference between raising a child without religion and proactively slamming theists. I wouldn’t proactively slam any sector of the community to my children.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      I want to hear more details of this hidden “atrocity” of poor children being indoctrinated into atheism.

      • stevehayes13
        Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Methinks you will have to wait a long time before you are provided with an atrocities.

      • Posted May 5, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        there is no such thing as “being indoctrinated into atheism.” Atheism is not “something to believe in.” It is simply an identification of what one does not believe in.

        • Roz
          Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          Exactly right. Why do people not understand this simple fact?

        • Notagod
          Posted May 5, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          Except there is this one – John Donohue wrote:

          Sadly, many ‘atheists’ commit the same atrocity, but in a secular fashion, by holding non-god irrational axiomatic beliefs and indoctrinating their own children in them.

          Which I wondered about in the same way Grania Spingies expressed.

          After reading your other comments I guess you might be referring to the strict sense of science, that nothing can be known with absolute certainty. If that is the case, I find it disconcerting at times as well but it does have validity, to keep the mind open to at least listening to other thoughts. Its far better than the christian method of absolute certainty about something even when all evidence is against it.

          • Posted May 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

            I don’t agree.

            “… at least listening to other thoughts.”

            and the idea that “nothing can be know for certain” having validity…

            to my mind opens the door to the irrational. What “other thoughts” can there be? Romulan thought? The only thought and truth we know about is human thought and truth. This is validated by reason in reality. “Nothing can be known for certain” holds the record for an absolute astounding self-immolating toxic contraction that should be trounced on by all Rationals but which instead is casually tossed off as the most obvious and trivial absolute truth.

            • Posted May 6, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

              I guess that depends on what you mean by “for certain”. Certainly (!) it is possible to know some things beyond all reasonable, rational doubt, where the likelihood of their not being true is vanishingly small.

              But all we ever do is create models of reality.

              Even to say something like, to take one of Jerry’s frequent examples, a molecule of water comprises two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen assumes that we know “for certain” what an atom is. Which is a less accurate – and less certain – model of reality at higher energy scales.

              /@

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

                The emerging development of new models at higher energy scales does not invalidate nor lessen the certainty and truth of the H20-atoms level. That level is certain and unshaken.

                Just as I do not need the atomic model to know, love and use a bowl of soup, the chemical engineer in the context of his work does not need to operate at the string-theory level, which, by the way, is not more accurate and more certain. The chemical engineer does, in fact, know for certain what an atom is — in his context. The key concept in knowledge is context.

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Are you certain?

                Then the chemical engineer doesn’t, in fact, know for certain what an atom is. All he – or she – has is confidence in how the atomic model behaves within the limits of mensuration.

                If the key concept in knowledge is context then context puts bounds on “certainty”.

                /@

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                You have it backwards.

                Context is the norm.

                Certainty as dictated by theists and nihilists is the aberration, if Infinite Perfection is stipulated as required for truth validation.

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                Huh? First you say, “‘Nothing can be known for certain’ … should be trounced on by all Rational[ist]s”; now, “certainty … is the aberration”. That doesn’t seem consistent.

                /@

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                Certainty inside the appropriate context is vital; certainty as demanded by theists and epistemological/metaphysical nihilists is toxic.

                Here is your marker: if someone chides or hedges about your truth claim outside your context, they are a hippie, a troll or an assassin, depending on the importance of your need for truth at the moment.

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                Reasserting my position: not only is certainty attainable, I contend any hedging or bailing out is an error. This statement includes the wrapper “in the appropriate context.” Example: the chemical engineer, in pursuit of a new compound, relies on the certainty of the makeup of elements. He knows that iron has the atomic number 26 and knows tremendous detail about the physical facts about iron. He has total certainty of these facts.

                Now his imaginative daughter asks him one night, “daddy, when you were talking about iron the other night, how can you be so certain it would combine with oxygen to form rust in another dimension, like the ones my teacher says are in string theory? She says nothing is certain.” At this moment, the chemist’s duty, in my opinion, is not to concede that he is uncertain, but rather to put a firewall around context and very firmly reassert his certainty and how tremendously important that certainty is to human activity, right down to her allowance. Frankly, I think he also has a duty to thrash that teacher verbally to his daughter.

                Context dropping, and deliberate context cross-leakage, opens the door to the irrational. Theists certainly make great hay out if it. Contrary to the disbelief voice against me in this thread, so do many atheist metaphysical/epistemological nihilists, especially in academia.

                This is part of my larger position that it is far more important for Rationals to assert what they do believe in, namely objectivity and reason as an absolute, than to spend any energy on “fighting for atheism.”

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                “Certainty … is vital.” How so? Eep., when it’s unattainable. The best you can reasonably hope for, within any context, is, as I said before, to know things beyond all reasonable, rational doubt, where the likelihood of their not being true is vanishingly small. But if that is what passes for “certainty” in your book, then we’re in accord.

                /@

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                i meant to type:

                Contrary to the some voices raised against me in this thread, so do many atheist metaphysical/epistemological nihilists, especially in academia.

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                “He … knows tremendous detail about the physical facts about iron.” All of which have error bars.

                If you are asserting certainty only “within a context” then it seems to me you are transferring uncertainty to the bounds of that context.

                What would Benjy Mouse and Frankie Mouse say?

                /@

              • Posted May 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

                i did not get your mouse reference, nor do i know what an error bar is.

                Can you identify what uncertainty exists for the chemical engineer in his world?

              • Posted May 7, 2012 at 1:21 am | Permalink

                Then shame on you! Twice!

                If you do not know what an error bar is then, it seems to me, you have no business making assertions about certainty, in a chemical engineer’s world or any other.

                As for the mice, Google “well-defined limits of doubt and uncertainty”.

                /@

              • Posted May 7, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

                No shame. I do not need to know the buzz words to make my points. I’ll take your avoidance as a non-response.

              • Posted May 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Of course you’re free to take it that way, if you wish. Just as I’m free to choose not to be your unpaid tutor.

                This is not a matter of “buzz words”, but one of very basic concepts in empirical science, accessible to most anyone with a high-school education in the subject, your astonishing ignorance of which critically undermines your pronouncements on “certainty”.

                /@

                PS. Your ignorance of the Douglas Adams reference is evidence of only your cultural poverty; it has no relevance beyond providing a satirical gloss.

              • Posted May 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                War of words declined and my first draft to smash your post — I won’t bother to even write it.

                Restating my position: I am pointing out that there is such a thing as metaphysical and epistemological nihilism, personified by the toxic axioms “There are no absolutes” and/or “we cannot be certain of anything”, which many non-theists and non-postmoderns spread like poison. They take advantage of the fact that in science, all truth claims carry the wrapper of context. The ploy is to yank the properly seated context statement — no matter in what local buzz terminology it is couched — away from the project in mind in order to hijack it as proof of their generalized nihilism.

              • microraptor
                Posted May 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                Citations needed, John. You keep making claims about people doing this but you’re not actually showing any evidence that it’s some sort of widespread phenomenon.

              • Posted May 8, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

                I gave one real-world example, the International Baccalaureate Program. It is in the thread above, the 20th response down in post 9.

                While I realize that some have already commented to me here to ‘take it to the postmoderns, those whacky non-scientists, still I will cite the Sokal Hoax. Sokal exposed the intense agenda in an important part of academia to extend the postmodernist conceit into hard science. For instance, the transformation of “mores are socially constructed” into “reality is socially constructed.” This last pronounced with straight face and no qualifiers.

                The Sokal affair was a major battle in what is know as the “Science Wars.”
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_wars
                my insincere apologies ahead of time if linking wikipedia is offensive to some here. use it as a jumping-off pivot.

                My claim that this is a serious problem? Direct contact with young people in mentoring situations. Putting aside the God-convicted young people, the rest of them are more or less infected with the nihilist pull-down. Perhaps one out of 20 I encounter ignores both, firmly, and thinks, “No, objective reality exists, I am an existent among existents, I am curious to find out and validate the truth about the world.”

              • Posted May 9, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

                A “war of words”? Hmm… I’m criticising you for your ignorance of some simple ideas that are very relevant if not fundamental to this discussion, and I’m using words to do so… And that’s a “war of words”? And you could “smash my post”? Well, maybe… 

                I’m still having trouble with this pronouncement: “in science, all truth claims carry the wrapper of context”

                In what “wrapper of context” can your hypothetical chemical engineer be absolutely certain of the physical properties of iron? In practice, in a quotidian context, his (or her) certainty is bounded by the limits of mensuration (“error bars”); that is, it is not absolute. (Which is not to say it’s not certain enough for her (or his) needs, but that’s not what you’re asserting.)

                More fundamentally, in another “wrapper of context”, in the realm of quantum theory, absolute certainty is physically impossible. A physicist cannot be absolutely certain of a particle’s position and momentum at the same time; there is always some fuzziness about one or both of these properties at the scale of Planck’s constant. (Google “Heisenberg”.) (But, again, that doesn’t stop her [or him] from doing useful work.)

                /@

              • jgury
                Posted May 9, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

                “This is part of my larger position that it is far more important for Rationals to assert what they do believe in, namely objectivity and reason as an absolute,”
                Reason as an absoulte? Reason as an absolute is a reasonable belief? Absolute belief in reason is objectivity? Uhhh, right.

              • Posted May 9, 2012 at 5:58 am | Permalink

                do you wish to offer an alternative to reason as validation of truth?

  10. Posted May 4, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Yes, skeptics should shut up about Christianity — just as soon as Christians shut up about atheism.

  11. Kiwi Dave
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    About.com is dated 3 May 2012, but the first two comments are dated February 2008.

    I’m confused.

  12. Old Rasputin
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    If we’re going to keep doing the poll thing, someone’s going to have to coin a verb for it. We can’t be properly said to be pharyngulating anything.

    Weitwash? Coyne-undate? There’s got to be something better that’s clever without being groan-inducing…

    • microraptor
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Torpedoing?

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      coynterweit, discoynt

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 5, 2012 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      Ah, yes….Jerrymandering

      • Old Rasputin
        Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

        Oh no! “Jerrymandering” is going to be a tough act to follow. It’s pretty much watertight. Your punnage is indeed of the very first order.

    • still learning
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      How about hiJACking?

  13. Kevin
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    “Christianity is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that this nation has ever experienced. ”

    What is a vacuous troll comment doing in the body of the posting?

    Also, the premise of this posting is fanciful to say the least. Stop acting like you are “defending to the death” your right to talk gibberish. No-one is stopping you.

    • jgury
      Posted May 9, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Indeed. As an ideology it is more troll reasonable to substitute Capitalism for any Religion in that statement and expand it to the entire world: Capitalism is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that the world has ever experienced.

      • jgury
        Posted May 9, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        Indeed, Marx thought Capitalism far more harmful and in need of violent revolutionary opposition than any Religion. Of course inasmuch as Religion was a tool of the ruling classes and petty bourgeoisie it needed to be wiped out, but that was supposed to follow as a natural process. Stalin and Mao were a bit more proactive in their facilitation of that natural order I think it is fair to say, regardless of how they felt about the truths of atheism.

  14. Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    86% of respondents don’t think Christianity should be given special privileges?

    Faith in humanity: restored!

  15. Piero
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t see the point of online polls. If it involves religion, even incidentally, it will be pharyngulated. Don’t webmasters know about PZ and his minions? (And I could be maybe half a minion). No poll stands any chance of being representative once it’s been mentioned on Pharygula. Which I find fair enough: if religionists don’t care enough abaout their beliefs to find out about such polls and contribute, then a pharyngulated poll is an both an unrepresentative and a most representative poll, in the sense that it doesn’t represent people’s beliefs, but it certainly represents te beliefs of those who care about their beliefs (or lack thereof).

  16. Posted May 9, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    “Christianity is an ideology which has been behind every unjust tradition and power structure that this nation has ever experienced. ” Like the tradition of civil rights and leaders like MLK for example.


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