Jesuit college teaches atheism!

Well, as reader Diane G. told me when she sent me this link, “Don’t get your hopes up.” And indeed, although, as the Washington Post reports, the Jesuit-run Regis College at the University of Toronto is starting a new course, “Responding to 21st-Century Atheism,” it isn’t all it appears to be. (Why are Jesuits running a college at the University of Toronto, anyway?)

It’s an attempt, says the Rev. Scott Lewis, for people of faith to understand and come to terms with the increasingly muscular secularism and atheism that has arisen in Western societies over the past generation.

Atheism “has become militant, aggressive and proselytizing,” said Lewis, a Jesuit scripture scholar, who teaches the class with three other scholars. “It’s made great in-roads and is now socially acceptable. If you’re young and educated and believe in God, you’re (seen as) a jerk.”

When I read that second sentence, my reaction was identical to that of one commenter:

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While the course examines the increasing polarization between non-believers and people of faith, it will not be about confronting secularists or engaging in polemics, Lewis stressed before the first class of about 155 students in the adult-education program.

Both sides need to lighten up, he said.

“One idea for atheists to leave behind is that people who believe are stupid or naive,” Lewis suggested. “And perhaps we should leave behind the idea that an atheist is someone who is not ethical or a good person.

I like that “perhaps”—as if Lewis isn’t quite sure!

The comments, by the way, are not pro-Catholic: another sign public nonbelief is becoming more acceptable in the U.S. Here’s another:

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What is the syllabus?

Lewis said he’ll look at both sides of the debate. “What we will be focusing on is our response to individuals who have thrown down the gauntlet and say ’To believe in God is not to be believe in science, and to believe in science is not to believe in God.’”

The course comprises two lectures from Lewis; a look at psychology and atheism from Jesuit psychologist Rev. Joe Schner, who will examine whether the human brain is hard-wired for religion; an examination of suffering by Michael Stoeber, who told the introductory class that the “New Atheists” tend to overemphasize “the underbelly of the Catholic Church”; and a theological and philosophical perspective from Jesuit Gordon Rixon.

What—no atheist lecturers? (Well, at least they admit that the Catholic Church has an underbelly!)

However one parses the numbers, nonbelievers are undoubtedly getting bolder and even celebrated, as evidenced by best-seller lists in recent years. Lewis and other instructors conceded they will find it hard to avoid mentioning “New Atheist” authors Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but said they would not dwell on the trio.

Why would they even consider not mentioning those New Atheist authors? But of course they won’t dwell on them, for those are the three who have posed the strongest challenge to faith.

Lewis said he’ll look at both sides of the debate. “What we will be focusing on is our response to individuals who have thrown down the gauntlet and say’ To believe in God is not to be [sic] believe in science, and to believe in science is not to believe in God.’”

“There’s a little fundamentalism on both sides of the aisle.”

There’s that “fundamentalist atheist” trope again. What, exactly does it mean for an atheist to be “fundamentalist”? What Lewis means, actually, is “passionate and strong-minded.”

Apparently there’s also theodicy, though I’m not sure why it’s included in this course:

Central to the course will be the question of suffering — “the oldest religious question in the world,” Lewis said. “Why, if there’s a good God, do we have suffering, especially of the innocent?”

It’s also the hardest question for Abrahamic religions, and one that has never received a satisfactory answer. If you want to befuddle a religious person in private or public debate, ask them that question, then stand back and watch the fun!

What about evolution?

As for science and Darwinism, the biblical book of Genesis “is not a science book and should not be read as one. Our faith does not rise and fall on the age of the Earth.” And people of faith are at a threshold moment: “We cannot continue thinking of God in traditional ways and still accept Darwinian science.”

Lewis said it’s not uncommon for Catholic thinkers to believe in evolution. The course will include the work of the Rev. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was also trained as a paleontologist and geologist. Teilhard de Chardin accepted Darwinism as fact as early as the 1930s, but his writings were condemned by the Vatican.

Whenever I hear the phrase “the Bible (or the book of Genesis) is not a science book,” I read it as “the Bible is not true.” For it, and the Catholic church, make epistemic claims that are indeed scientific, in the sense that they can be empirically tested—at least in principle.  So if the Bible isn’t a science book about Genesis, Adam and Eve, or the Exodus, why is it a science book about the divinity of Jesus and the Resurrection?

And about Catholic thinkers “believing” (I prefer “accepting”) evolution, I echo the comment of Thomas Carlysle resonding to Margaret Fuller’s comment, “I accept the universe”: Gad, they’d better! Accepting evolution (with the caveat that humans evolved a soul) is the official position of the Catholic church.  Anyone who considers himself a “Catholic thinker” better take note of the multifarious evidence for evolution.

Nevertheless, 29% of American Catholics remain creationists. To me, that shows that when science conflicts with what you want to believe—even if the science is accepted by Church dogma—you can still reject the science. In a Time Magazine pol in 2006, 64% of Americans stated that they’d reject a scientific fact if it conflicted with the tenets of their faith.

At any rate, this is a sham course in atheism, one that would certainly please the Templeton Foundation. Its whole purpose is apologetic: to show how to answer the New Atheists rather than truly come to grips with their arguments.  In other words, it’s about how to keep believing what you want to believe despite some nagging criticism. Stay classy, University of Toronto!

I close with a final comment from a reader of the Post piece:

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149 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Atheism is now socially acceptable?

    Perhaps, if you’re socializing primarily with other atheists.

    • Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      One might use the success of books like TGD to show that atheism is becoming more widespread. But that’s not the same thing as socially acceptable. The people reading those books are probably largely still in the closet. I’m not even totally out myself. Those closest to me know, but they’re not happy about it. And many other acquaintances probably suspect, but I feel I have to maintain the gray area to avoid all sorts of practical headaches.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Apparently, atheism qualifies as “socially acceptable” when people in liberal, diverse, academic, and/or urban areas no longer feel afraid — or ashamed — to admit it.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps, if you’re socializing primarily with other atheists.

      Who else is there to socialise with? If I examine my address book I find a couple of people who I know to profess to being Wicca (mostly as a joke), a handful of people who I know to be church-going goddies of some sort (Talmud-Jews, Jesus-Jews, Mohammed-Jews, Hindis ; I don’t know of any other temples in this area), and the hugely overwhelming majority who either keep their religion entirely to themselves (if they have any) or who have no religion of any detectable shape or form.
      It must be weird feeling a need to find out what someone’s religion is before actually finding out who they are and whether they’ve got something interesting to say.

      • Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        I’m going to agree with your last sentence because you’re referring to theists, correct?

        The religious people with whom I (often must, but also choose to) associate make their theism amply known all on their own. I do not feel the need you describe. They also broadcast their opinions of atheists, again, with no prying by me.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          The religious people with whom I (often must, but also choose to) associate make their theism amply known all on their own. I do not feel the need you describe. They also broadcast their opinions of atheists, again, with no prying by me.

          To do either of those would be considered very bad manners, to start with, and likely to be greeted with “And you think it is important that we know this? Why?”
          It doesn’t even reach the level of “don’t ask, don’t tell” ; it’s at the level of “who is interested?”

      • Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Also, I’m doubtful that your experience is typical, and by “socially acceptable”, I don’t think “among only your chosen friends and acquaintances” is meant.

        My comment was tongue-in-cheek, meaning that atheists do not enjoy acceptance in society at large, only among their own small social circles.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          My social circle is as large as I can manage while also having a job. Actually, it’s probably bigger than when I was last offshore.
          If you don’t choose to associate with someone, then you must have some other reason to associate with them. – Work? Work is most emphatically not a place where religion is EVER to be discussed. We used to have redneck Septics come over here to teach us “Tartan A-rabs” how to drill holes in the ground, and they often tried ramming thier religion into our faces too; not a good way of remaining in work in the UK oilfield these days – if the Brits don’t tell you where to get off, the Noggins, Bosnians, “real A-rabs”, Nigerians, Malaysians or Indians are likely to tell you where to get off. Really, mentioning religion at work is a pretty big no-no. It’s likely to get you NRB’d.
          - Family? There are members of my family who I’ve told “I don’t care to have your religion shoved in my face.” And when they’ve persisted, I stopped the car, told them to get out and walk the rest of the way home. Never spoken to them since. no loss.
          - Friends of friends? See discussion of family above. Contrary to popular opinion, you can choose your family, or at least, you can choose the ones that you wish to associate with. The rest, you can ignore at funerals and don’t actually need to contact otherwise.

          • Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            I’m not certain what you’re trying to argue.

            We’re all well aware that we have the power to choose, to a great extent, the people with whom we socialize.

            This is not relevant to the issue of atheism-acceptance in society at large. The conflation of these two issues is where the humor in my original comment (was supposed to have) originated.

            • gravelinspector
              Posted January 30, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

              I’m not certain what you’re trying to argue.

              If you don’t like having to deal with theists in society, then tell them (with whatever degree of force you deem appropriate) to shove off.
              Probably (perhaps?), many of them do not realise just how offensive their behaviours are to other people. By not telling them “take your religion out of my face, or take your SELF out of my face”, you’re abetting their claim to being the socially dominant group of people.
              I’m suspecting that you’re from a society where the religious haven’t been shoved out of public life – perhaps you’re in America? – so someone in your society really does need to force the religious to take their religion back into their private life. It’s something that that society in particular needs (along with health care, gun control and any number of other improvements).
              I wasn’t looking for humour. There was some intended?

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                Yeah,Jeez, it was just a casual joke for chrissakes.

    • brujofeo
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Did anyone watch “The Good Wife”last night? It addresses this question, in a rather droll way, in the context of a political campaign.

      Several years ago, a friend and colleague, Eddie Tabash, ran for political office, making no attempt to hide his atheism.

      He was trounced, of course, in spite of the fact that he was the far superior candidate. And this was in Los Angeles, the realm of hell-bound infidels.

      • Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        I did in fact see that – at least the bit in question w Maura Tierney. Which is a remarkable coincidence as I never watch tv.

        Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Prejudice against atheists has not been addressed to the degree other forms of prejudice have.

  3. Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Brian Westley aka Merlyn LeRoy does a lot of sterling service going round loads of websites and advocating for atheism (in contrast to those of us who stick mostly to atheistic websites like this one). Brian/Merlyn deserves a medal.

  4. @eightyc
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    whoa. that’s awesome.

    I’m gonna audit that class if they start it! lolz.

    Well the University of Toronto is made up of several colleges. I myself went to St. Michael’s college, which was founded by Basilians.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      Are those the guys who study basilisks? ;)

      • @eightyc
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        lol.

        Yes. That’s when they’re not pontificating about the make believe stuff.

      • Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        No, it’s people who subscribe to Fawlty thinking

        … I’ll get my coat.

  5. Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Wow, I had to look up Regis College to find where it is. Just another bogus religious school at U of T. (There is no than one of them.) Can’t believe they found 150 people to throw their money out the window like that.

    You can see how disparate these people are. Christian religion is dead here, their churches are empty and no one talks much about it. People immigrating to Canada tend to be the most religious here, especially the Muslims.

    This entire “militant atheist” thing is wearing a bit thin and means nothing to coming from people who spend their entire time coercing people to believe in nonsense.

  6. @eightyc
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    [...Whenever I hear the phrase “the Bible (or the book of Genesis) is not a science book,” I read it as “the Bible is not true.”..]

    lol. Actually the Bible is a 2000 year old comic book whose fans took their superhero a little too seriously.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Ha, ha! One thumb up.

  7. Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    You’ve picked out some excellent comments there – I agree with them all! (Though I was 16 & still in Catholic school when I stopped believing)

  8. Martin
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Taken on face value, Catholics believe atheists will go to hell for not believing. All atheists (‘fundamentalist’ or otherwise) are saying is that Catholics will have the same afterlife fate that we’ll have – ie, none. So by not allowing them to put themselves above us, we’re militant, aggressive, etc?

    And yeah, there’s no legal separation of church and state in Canada so that’s why you get public Catholic colleges and schools. But churches here have nowhere near the influence here that they do in the USA.

    • Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      The double-standard here is sickening.

      The religious would impose legislation affecting everyone’s private lives. Legislation that accords with their dogma. You need an abortion? You want to marry your same-sex partner? Too bad. My religion says that’s not ok.

      Atheists work hard to keep legislation neutral. If you think homosexuality or the right to choose is wrong, fine. We won’t force you to have an abortion or be gay. But you can’t take that away from everyone else. This insistence on neutrality and fairness is supposed to be “militant”, “aggressive”, “proselytizing”?

      How many times must it be explained that “keep religion out of government” does not equal “you can’t be religious”???

  9. Sines
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I understand the idea behind “The Bible is not a science book”, but we all know why that falls short.

    That being said, it does raise new theological questions. The Tower of Babel, for example, must now be a metaphorical tale. But I have to ask, what purpose does it serve? I see only a story where Yahweh sees a bunch of humans working together and achieving great things. No mention of wickedness or anything, just doing great things and building a sweet tower.

    And of course, Yahweh can’t have anyone working together and doing great things. So, he ruins it all.

    So, please. Tell me, apologists… what is the metaphorical intent in making Yahweh look like a Care Bears villain?

    • Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      awesome mental image. The whole tower of babel thing does make this god seem like a whiny brat that has to kick over anything it doesn’t like.

    • Jer
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      That actually is the entire point of the Tower of Babel story. The gods are all powerful, and men are worms in comparison. If men get too uppity, the gods will just strike them down to prevent it. So watch out – the gods are greedy and vengeful and very, very protective of their power. Don’t do anything to provoke them or you may find yourself cursed.

      When translated into the language of monotheism, the whole story takes on a different turn (and it was originally about “the gods” not “God” – the plurals are still in there and it’s similar to other myths that have been found on old clay tablets dug up in the desert) – now it’s a single God who is worried about His power being stolen by the humans working together. And then if you twist it into a God who is all good and all powerful, the story becomes nearly nonsensical – to the point that Christians have to read it as a “just so” story about why the world is full of different languages, instead of the warning about not pissing off the gods that it was intended as.

      If you read it as a story where the Olympians are dealing with humans, the story makes perfect sense – you’d expect Zeus and Ares and Hera and the others to act like that.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        Ah, but Zeus and Ares and Hera are much more fun. I know, ‘cos I’ve seen ‘em on TV ; )

    • raven
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      But I have to ask, what purpose does it (the Tower) serve?

      Read the story.

      God confused the people’s language because he was afraid of humans.

      Gebesis 11 NIV:

      6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language

      The gods were afraid that humans cooperating would become too powerful.

      The same reason the gods kicked humans out of Eden.

      The gods are perfectly correct to be afraid of humans. When we stop believing in them, then they die.

      • raven
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        Xians have a collection of lies and cons to make their magic Inkblot book say whatever they want it to say.

        AKA as biblical exegesis.

        The Tower story clearly makes the gods look weak, malevolent, and fearful. What is so wrong about people cooperating to achieve things?

        The biblical Rorschachists say among other excuses that the sin of Babylon was pride. It is contradicted by the clear words of the story.

        It also didn’t work, typical of the gods incompetence. When they sabotaged the humans abilities, the people were piling mud bricks up to make a tower. These days we have bone way beyond that and have robots on Mars and around Saturn among other accomplishments. And the xian god is hiding behind the Big Bang and in danger of being evicted once again.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Two brilliant comments, much enjoyed and appreciated!

      • gravelinspector
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        6 The Lord said, [...] 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language

        That, I take it, would be one of the many places where the polytheism that predated monotheistic Judaism shows through? (I’ve never bothered to commit such lists to memory. Why would one?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:13 am | Permalink

        “The gods are perfectly correct to be afraid of humans. When we stop believing in them, then they die.”

        You’ve been reading Terry Pratchett, haven’t you? ‘Small Gods’ was the most applicable book, as I recall.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      The metaphorical intent of the stories of the Bible is best revealed when they are read as cautionary advice being given to a particularly rebellious toddler.

      You are too little and foolish to decide for yourself, or to do things by yourself. You are naughty and small: admire how wise and big is God the Authority who made you. Hush up, stop wriggling, come here, and behave yourself! The theme is hammered in over and over again, illustrated in different ways.

      People find that this idea resonates from deep within and sounds suspiciously familiar, as if were once taught to them long. long ago. But how could that be? Hmmm. We must all be born “knowing” about God, I guess.

  10. eric
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    It bothers me to no end that people equate secularism and atheism. Jesuits are supposed to be the learned, philosophical branch of Catholicism.

    You’d think that the learned, philosophical branch of a sect that used to argue for secularism in the US because protestants tried to use state power to keep them politically marginalized would know the difference.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Like many words, the term “secularism” is legitimately interpreted in different ways. This becomes a problem, however, when people mix up the different meanings.

      When people mix the meanings up on purpose, it’s called “equivocation.” When people mix the meanings up on purpose for religious reasons, it’s called “apologetics.”

  11. Erp
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    The local Jesuit university, Santa Clara, has had an open atheist as adjunct faculty in Religious Studies since 2007.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Heh. “Adjunct”.

      In academic-speak, that means “someone we pay $500 a semester to teach a class and has no other academic standing within the university.”

      I was adjunct at NYU for a couple of semesters, teaching non-degree-track classes on writing and public relations. I was SOOOOOO not “on the faculty” of NYU.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    The U of T has two kinds of member colleges “constituent” and “federated”. The federated schools have a lot more independence and autonomy from the University admin, and have separate financial endowments. All three of the church-affiliate schools at U of T are “federated” rather than “constituent”. All the “constituent” schools are non-denominational. (U of T was originally officially Church of England and then decided to have no ties with a specific church.)

    That said this course looks like it’s strictly polemical in nature- an attempt to bolster once side of the debate. And Teilhard de Chardin’s reconciliation of evolution and Christianity is the worst available although still extremely popular. As Wikipedia puts it
    “In 1961, Nobel Prize-winner Peter Medawar, a British immunologist, wrote a scornful review of the [Phenomenon of Mind] for the journal Mind, calling it “a bag of tricks” and saying that the author had shown “an active willingness to be deceived”: “the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself”.”

    The Jesuit School in Berkeley, CA has a course on new atheism in their !*sociology*! department which if not perfect (I really wish they did not have Karen Armstrong on the syllabus) is at least better than this (they have in fact had open & outspoken atheists in their student body in the past)

    • Marella
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Oh god, Karen Armstrong; I read her “History of God”, and enormous volume at the end of which I concluded that if there is a god it is of no relevance to humanity at all. What a load of waffle. I was astonished to find she actually claims to be some kind of believer, because her own writings make it clear that god, if not actually non-existent is certainly a pointless waste of time for humans to try to know anything about. Anyone who reads Armstrong and comes out a Christian wasn’t paying attention.

  13. Kevin
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Well, I guess I am a “fundamentalist” when it comes to my atheism.

    There is no such thing as any god.

    That’s as fundamental as it gets. If someone wants to argue the fine gradations, OK, I’ll play along. I like sport debate as well as the next person, and the occasional person can be educated out of their religio-credulity.

    But the fundamental question is whether or not there exists something called a “god” or “gods”. And the fundamental answer is “no”.

    Everything else, as Rabbi Hillel once commented, is detail.

  14. Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    “both sides need to lighten up” aka “sit down and shut up, atheists, how dare you take a stand”.

    ““One idea for atheists to leave behind is that people who believe are stupid or naive,”

    I do not believe that all theists are stupid or naive. I think a lot of them have been told such mythic nonsense by people they trust and have mistakenly transfered that trust to the false claims of the bible. They put that trust there and then their self-worth follows. If they admit that the religion is nonsense, then they have to admit that they made a grave error and no magical being agrees with them.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Sometimes, neither stupid nor naive, just profoundly, deeply, and utterly wrong.

  15. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    @eightyc

    “I’m gonna audit that class if they start it!”

    The course started on January 16; please see Catholic Register article: http://tinyurl.com/bgrstaz

    If you don’t want to audit the 8 week course, you can spend $50.00 to attend a one day seminar on Saturday, April 13, 2013 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. However, “Seating is limited. Please register early to avoid disappointment.” http://www.regiscollege.ca/Windows_On_Theology

    • @eightyc
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Awesome! Thanks for the info.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Thanks!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      It would be nice to get a report here, afterwards….

    • Dr. J
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I’m not entirely sure how registering early will avoid disappointment…sounds like the seminar might be plenty disappointing whether you register early or not.

  16. steve oberski
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    If you can’t burn them any more then you might as well starting projecting your own worst faults onto them.

    • Jim Bradley
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Ahh yes – the tired old biased sample of Catholicism over history – forgetting of course that nearly all groups have engaged in some sort of atrocity at some point in time — oh yes, atheists (and committed materialists to boot, such as Lenin) too!

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        As we all know, the atheists did not kill people in the name of atheism–they did it in the name of ideology. Catholics killed in the name of Catholicism, and they still do it by propagandizing against condoms in HIV-infected nations. Plus they still engage in terrorizing people.

        I don’t recall atheists engaging in mass child rape in the name of atheism, either.

        • @eightyc
          Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          lol.

          This is what theists don’t quite get about the unnecessary label of “atheism”. The word only exists because theists believe in an invisible guy in the sky which they have no evidence for.

          lol.

          Dictators (like Lenin) killed people in the name of not believing in unicorns, fairies, goblins, spiderman, the x-men, ironman, etc etc as much as they killed people in the name of not believing in your particular superhero, Jesus.

          lolz.

      • raven
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Ahh yes – the same old tired defense of xian atrocities down through history.

        You forgot Hitler, a Catholic and his millions of willing killers, all Catholics and Lutherans.

        And of course, xian atrocities continue on a nearly daily basis. Xian terrorism has been a serious problem in the USA for decades.

        In terms of body counts, the Catholics are so far the all time historical leaders. They’ve killed tens of millions. These days it is pregnant women in Ireland and other places, and Africans who get infected with HIV and die of AIDS.

        One of my old female (and Catholic) relatives died in a Catholic hospital long ago. She had uterine conplications due to a pregnancy and bled out and they did nothing.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        That’s right, if everyone does it, it can’t be that bad.

        Speaking as the descendent of a person burned for heresy (Edward Wightman, 1612, luckily after he became a father), I always remember that those beacons of light and truth, the Christian Churches, had a policy of killing people with heterodox opinions. That they have ceased to do this is due only to external pressure. “Kill them all, and let God sort them out,” was said by a Catholic Bishop, not the villain in an action film.

        At the same time Lenin (and Stalin and Mao and Hitler [no, not saying he was an atheist]) killed his heretics in the name of doctrines which require just as much faith as the Christian ones.

        I have always seen the two groups as two sides of the same coin, preaching of the corruption of this world, and the purity of the believer, according to doctrines that are made up of half-truths, and requiring that non-believers be put out of the way in the quest for perfection.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          ” . . . doctrines which require just as much faith as the Christian ones.”

          Excellent!

      • steve oberski
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Let’s not forget Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, with whom the Catholic church colluded to trample the rise of democracy.

        And a pope who is a Hitler youth alumni who reinstated holocaust denying bishop Richard Williamson who infamously said “I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler … I believe there were no gas chambers”.

        There is apparently no anti-human policy so disgusting and regressive that this religion of hate does not rush to embrace it.

        This is the institution that espouses an absolute morality as revealed to an old man who hears voices in his head and you claim the hypocritical defence that others do this as well.

        You are treading dangerously close to moral relativism and better people than you have been burned at the stake for this sort of heresy.

        The Catholic church used to think that slavery was fine and now they no longer do.

        They used to think that child rape, homophobia, misogyny and anti-semitism was fine and they still do while the secular world is coming to the conclusion that all these beliefs do not lead to the increase of human well being.

        If your church can only determine the morality of an action after the fact and only when the moral zeitgeist has already been changed by secular values then as Stephen Fry put it, “Then what are you for ?”.

        What bloody good is your morality if you can only justify it with the defence that everyone else did or does it ?

  17. DrBrydon
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    So are they just going to engage atheist thought through the writings of Catholic apologists? What about “engaging the best arguments” for atheism?

    That’s like taking a course on James Fennimore Cooper, and reading only Twain’s “Fennimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”.

    From the article in the Catholic Register:

    Atheists are, of course, welcome to take the course. Lewis concedes that the Regis College crowd tends to be pretty solidly theistic.

    “It’s kind of like preaching to the choir,” he said.

    No kidding.

  18. Jim Bradley
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t see secular universities held to the the same standard that it appears the Jesuit university is being held in this post: i.e. that secular theology classes should have content which is demonstrably pro-theology. It’s just another case of “okay for me, not okay for you”.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      This is a snarky and trollish comment; nobody is suggesting that the course be pro-atheism, just that it give a balanced view. And even if it doesn’t, we can still make fun of it!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      That is a problem.
      Expelled scholar of Mormon history can’t find work
      Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2006
      by Daniel Golden.
      Most secular universities do not have theology departments, but many have “religious studies” departments, and taking a skeptical view tends to turn off both the students, who are looking for a comfie experience, and the rich alumni who might fund such a department.

    • eric
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I don’t see secular universities held to the the same standard that it appears the Jesuit university is being held in this post.

      Then you aren’t looking very hard or haven’t taken a philosophy class in one. Not once in any of the philosophy classes I took, did a class about X involve only opposition commentary on X without any primary source material written by/about X. Every good philosophy professor should include a discussion of primary source material, and an exploration of the pros andcons of all sides of the debate. That’s regardless of university affiliation.

      And yes, I’d expect a philosophy class focused on intelligent design to do the exact same thing. I.e., read Anaxagoras, Cicero, Paley, on up through Behe, and not just their critics.

  19. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Lewis said he’ll look at both sides of the debate.

    Right, because there are precisely two “sides.” You either believe in God or you don’t. Never mind that a theist would still have to choose how many gods, what is the nature of that god(s), and what He wants from us. There’s a lot if distance between theism in general and the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

  20. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Loved the online comments! Nailed it!

    I do believe that the Gnus and sites like Jerry’s are attracting more and more attention and are having a big impact. IMO we’re experiencing a groundswell that is going to overthrow religious domination and make atheism acceptable, much as has happened in recent times for people who are gay.

    Last night the Good Wife episode on CBS wove atheism into the plot and dialog, noting that 15% of people are nonbelievers. At one point the main character in the show (“The Good Wife”) shocked people by revealing that she is an atheist. You can watch the episode here:

    Good Wife declares her atheism!

  21. Posted January 28, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I love the argument that the bible isn’t a science text book. if it’s not literally true from where does it gain it’s authority? if it’s not really the inerrant word of “god” from where does it draw it’s warrant as the moral handbook for all mankind? If Adam and Eve isn’t really true what IS the basis of original sin? Has original sin been rescinded, like limbo? We’ve gotten too loud, asked too many tough questions and too many theists are stymied, so the church has to step in and teach them what to think again…

    • Sastra
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Atheists have no problem with the Bible being full of metaphors. It sure is. But we think what it’s presumably being metaphorical about is also a metaphor.

      Everything traces back to experiences in the natural world; nothing can be grounded in revelations about some other one.

  22. Sastra
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    While the course examines the increasing polarization between non-believers and people of faith, it will not be about confronting secularists or engaging in polemics, Lewis stressed before the first class of about 155 students in the adult-education program.

    Damn right your Catholic class on atheism “will not be about confronting secularists or engaging in polemics.” That’s because if you seriously undertake to do so you will LOSE, won’t you?

    No, instead it looks like it’s going to focus on why the hellbound need to just lay back, agree to disagree, live and let live, and stop being so damn polarizing all of a sudden.

  23. Barbara
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    You wrote, “[The problem of suffering is] also the hardest question for Abrahamic religions, and one that has never received a satisfactory answer. If you want to befuddle a religious person in private or public debate, ask them that question, then stand back and watch the fun!”

    Some Christians are ready for it. My brother believes that God allows (but does not cause) suffering in a process that will pay off with great good for us someday – after we’re dead, of course. This is like the way parents sometimes need to imposed suffering (early bed times, loss of privileges grounding, etc.) on children to help them grow up as responsible adults.

    When really pressed about the suffering of millions of years of animals (he’s too bright and educated to disbelieve evolution) he said they don’t count.

    (We’re in the middle of a fun debate on God, morality, etc., ourselves. I suspect that minds will not be changed but that debating skills will be improved.)

    • Kevin
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      So, what about people who don’t suffer during life?

      Do they get a lower-quality heavenly experience? Does their apartment not come with the kitchen upgrade? No gas-log fireplace? Does their heavenly hash not have the raisins in it?

      Heaven is an absolute. You either get there or you don’t.

      And, of course, there are thousands upon thousands of Christian religious sects and denominations that will declare that the path to heaven is ONLY through a belief in Jesus’ divinity. That any other requirement (implicit or explicit) is bogus.

      TL:DR; your brother is probably committing a heresy according to the dictates of his church. Not too long ago, he’d be burned at the stake for expressing his belief.

      • Barbara
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        Actually, my brother seems to believe that the afterlife is not an absolute heaven / hell thing. He expects continued life, learning, and growth, with some people finding this next life more pleasant and others finding it initially more painful because of choices they’ve made in this life.

        Therefore, the fact that some people suffer more than others in this life wouldn’t be a problem for him.

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          How convenient. And he believes that on the basis of what, exactly?

          I can’t even remember when I had to give up believing in things just because I wanted them to be so. A long time ago.

          • Barbara
            Posted January 28, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            Well, I agree with you. I suspect that the belief in a continued future life with more learning and choices follows logically from a strong belief in God being good and just. (The world being as it is certainly doesn’t fit the idea that God is good and just; you have to come up with something else.)

            I suspect that my brother and I will continue to argue about this intermittently for the rest of our lives.

            • Diane G.
              Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

              Well, it’s nice that you can characterize it as a “fun debate.” I hope the continuing conversation maintains that level of civility. And who knows? Opinions could change over time. :)

            • brujofeo
              Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but after you both die, only one of you will get to continue the argument. ;-)

              • gbjames
                Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

                No. Neither will.

              • brujofeo
                Posted January 28, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                Uh, yeah, gbjames–that was the joke that I was making. I even put the little smiley-face in there to make it obvious. I apologize for the residual subtlety that made the joke impenetrable.

              • Posted January 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

                Well, not knowing your proclivities, brujefeo, I wasn’t sure if it was sardonic or sportive. :-o

                /@

        • Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

          I have a theist friend who has a similar concept of Heaven. The trouble is, you have to ignore so much Biblical theology to get to that conclusion that it brings you back to the question “Why believe any of the Bible?”.

          • Roux Brownwell
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            Sounds a little like Origen, who thought that the afterlife would be a chance for those who led impious lives to gradually attain salvation. This sort of kinder, gentler afterlife was stamped out by Augustine & others in favor of the current retributive punishment model.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        Heaven is an absolute. You either get there or you don’t.

        Remember that this is the Holy Roman Catholic Church under discussion. Purgatory. Limbo.

  24. Rain
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Lewis said he’ll look at both sides of the debate. “What we will be focusing on is our response to individuals who have thrown down the gauntlet and say ’To believe in God is not to be believe in science, and to believe in science is not to believe in God.’”

    Yeah, all three people that said that. Okay, well have fun focusing on things people don’t say. Make sure to spend lots of time on that.

  25. Rain
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    “New Atheist” authors Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but said they would not dwell on the trio.

    Whatever happened to the “Four Horsemen”? Did they become like the Marx brothers when everyone forgot about Zeppo? Maybe Daniel Dennett needs a new agent. Maybe try shaving once in a while.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      No, not shaving! That would sap the source of his strength.

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      Who’s Gummo then?

      /@

  26. Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    There’s that “fundamentalist atheist” trope again. What, exactly does it mean for an atheist to be “fundamentalist”? What Lewis means, actually, is “passionate and strong-minded.”

    More precise might be “Zealous and Dogmatic”. The Altemeyer and Hunsberger study Atheists: a groundbreaking study of America’s nonbelievers sheds some light to the degree to which these fit, based measuring some samples. (Answer: very slightly, but a lot less than with actual religious fundamentalists.)

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    So what about the challenge to faith from Krauss in comparison?

    I thought Krauss was pushing the observation that our universe must have emerged spontaneously, which in that case is a tad stronger than Dawkins unlikely creator.

    Or is it about the most prominent challengers?

    If you’re young and educated and believe in God, you’re (seen as) a jerk.

    No, as mustang4me noted. But you are seen as an idiot. Not personally as people can accept double standards, but as a member of a group proclaiming idiocy.

  28. MNb
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    “Atheism has become militant, aggressive and proselytizing,”
    Yeah, hordes of well-armed atheist militia go door to door, threatening poor believers with severe beatings if they don’t say goodbye to their god immediately.

    • brujofeo
      Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I am going to do exactly that. As soon as I get issued my short-sleeved white dress shirt, skinny tie, 1950s Buddy-Holly style glasses, and that cool atheist nametag.

      • Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. I killed your Sky-Father. Prepare to cry.”

        /@

  29. alttaawiil
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    “One idea for atheists to leave behind is that people who believe are stupid or naive”

    yes, the correct term is ‘sucker.’

  30. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    My god. It is about time that someone decided to teach people the differences. I do feel that it is disturbing that people feel that you can’t be religious and scientific. You can examine things any way that you want and see that you can be a believer and still be scientific. There is no naivety in believing in God or any higher being.

  31. Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on njgarrell and commented:
    you can be a believer in science and God or whatever one chooses to believe in.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Yes one can be. One can be schizophrenic. One can be confused and one can keep two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time.

      That does not mean that the ideas are compatible. Science and religion are incompatible with one another because the employ incompatible techniques for describing reality. The fact that one can practice (say) chemistry in the lab and also believe that the Mighty Favog guides our every move doesn’t make Favog-worship and chemistry compatible.

  32. Donal
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    How many Jesuits have studied geology? It might help them gain a better perspective on our place in the world. However science will never be able to explain everything. People like Hitchins and Dawkins alienate truly cultured people because they imply that the scientific method is infallible. There is abundant evidence in paradigm shifts such as Quantum Theory and Plate Tectonics that the quest for explanations will continue indefinitely. How many centuries will pass before we can explain why people respond to the music of Mozart? Why is it that the process of becoming a convinced atheist requires us to sacrifice our ability to retreat into the world of the imagination through products like novels, cinema, art and music? The ability to willingly suspend disbelief is a very human characteristic.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      A couple of corrections.

      1. Neither Hitchens nor Dawkins ever implied that the scientific method was infallible. Their only claim is that it is currently our best method for discovering reality.

      2. The fact that science may or may not be able to explain “everything” is irrelevant. Religion explains nothing at all about truth or reality.

      3. Never say never.

      4. Atheism says nothing at all about being able to use your imagination for pleasure or relaxation. It “requires” nothing. It is only a state of disbelief or rejection of the multitude of religious claims up to this point.

      • Donal
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        A couple of rejoinders.
        1.Science is about explanations not about reality.
        Reality is an individual experience, not a collective accord that science can legislate.
        One has only to look at the mess caused by the quasi-religious belief in Climate Change adopted by many so-called ‘scientists’ to see that the science emperor’s suit is fairly threadbare.
        2. I am a scientist, not a seeker after ‘truth’ whatever that is. My geological perspective leads me to wonder whether science in the next millenium will still be as far from ‘truth’ as it obviously is today.
        3. See 2.
        4. Baby and bathwater spring to mind.

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          1. Er, most people’s definition of ‘reality’ is in fact not about personal experience. Would you say that schizophrenic hallucinations are part of reality? Or just a part of a person’s experience? In that sense, science absolutely is about reality!
          I won’t rise to the bait of “quasi-religious belief in climate change”.

          2. I very much doubt that, given your response in 1!

          4. Maybe for you. Have you considered the possibility that people have different opinions from your own?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          “the quasi-religious belief in Climate Change”, “I am a scientist”.

          Look out, we have a self confessed science denialist on the thread! No science organization denies climate science or its finding of the current AGW regime.

          Yes, a person can deny a fellow science and/or its findings while being an (not referenced) “scientist”. But that is as bizarre as being religious and being a “scientist”.

          Such a person can be a proficient technician at best, never fully immersing himself/herself in testing his religion/science denial as much as other areas, always pushing his gods into the gaps of science instead of embracing it.

          Science is about explanations not about reality.

          As I discussed in my previous longish comment, it is doubtful mathematics and physics et cetera are about “explanation” as much as fact and theory.

          Testing for reality is the basis of all our mechanics – classical, relativity, and quantum – in the form of testing for “if rocks kick back”, i.e. Samuel Johnson’s refutation of magic. Say, action-reaction of Newton.

          So science is explicit and explicitly about reality.

          • Donal
            Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink

            Torbjörn Larsson,

            As a very experienced geologist, I have first hand experience of the fluctuations in global climate over the past 800 million years. I accept that the Earth has warmed a few degrees since the Little Ice Age; however the Met Office now admits that global warming has diminished or ceased in recent years. My objection is addressed to quasi religious proponents of the theory that the earlier warm phase was caused by emissions of CO2 rather than an expression of a natural solar cycle.
            I can argue this point at great length with supporting peer reviewed refeences but this is not the place to do it. However I’ll give you a flavour of the argument:

            In 1989, proposals by Professor Sir John Houghton led to the announcement of a new centre for climate change research in the Met Office — then called the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.
            Houghton has denied saying: “Unless we have disasters, no one will listen.” However in the Sunday Telegraph September 10, 1995 Houghton was quoted as saying:
            “ God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved: the effect will be the same. If we want a good environment policy in the future, we’ll have to have a disaster. It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.

            Houghton has thus long been interested in using the conflation of science and religion to influence public policy. Houghton and Baroness Thatcher have both been judges of the £1,000,000 Templeton Prize, awarded annually for “affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

            He was brought up as a Calvinistic Methodist in the Presbyterian Church of Wales, remained a strong Christian throughout his life. He sees science and Christianity as strengthening each other and believes strongly in the connection between Christianity and environmentalism. Houghton’s evangelical Christianity combined with his scientific background has made him a significant voice in evangelical Christian circles. He is currently an elder at Aberdovey Presbyterian Church.

            Houghton was the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, an organisation “connecting Environment, Science and Christianity”, where he has compared the stewardship of the Earth, to the stewardship of the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve. He is a founder member of the International Society for Science and Religion.
            Thus Houghton in concert with the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace has been instrumental in generating an unparalleled level of commitment amongst his acolytes.
            Houghton considered the United States absolutely key to the question of climate change. In 2001, he walked the grounds of Windsor Castle with Calvin B. DeWitt, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin. The two, later joined by the Bishop James Jones of Liverpool, England, started organizing conferences on both sides of the Atlantic to convince U.S. evangelicals that human-generated warming poses a threat to God’s creation.

            QED

            • Posted January 30, 2013 at 2:50 am | Permalink

              Sorry, Donal, I think your comment’s incomplete. You were starting to say something about quantum electrodynamics… ?

              /@

            • Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:20 am | Permalink

              Well that’s a lovely little mini-biography but I really don’t think your point has been supported sufficiently.

              • Donal
                Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

                J:
                Sir John Houghton FRS, was former chair of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and we know where that led us. The Royal Society, which prides itself as being the prime custodian of scientific integrity, has chosen Houghton to author their magisterial pronouncement on the validity of human induced climate change. Ho Ho Ho.

                It gets worse. Nature, the weekly periodical considered to be the Bible of scientific integrity, has become an enthusiastic proseletizer for the necessity of urgent action about climate change. Their editors seem to think that science, properly applied, can odefeat an overwhelming natural process, thus exhibiting hubris worthy of King Canute.

              • Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:44 am | Permalink

                @Donal
                Once again, you haven’t actually addressed any of the science, you’ve merely said that people are calling for urgent action, which is thoroughly supported by the scientific data and consensus within the appropriate scientific community!

              • Donal
                Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

                J:
                I can argue the science of Climate Change till the cows come home but it won’t alter the opinions of Houghton acolytes, amongst whom I guess you would number yourself. I’ll simply point you to a couple of well established facts that climate alarmists elide or ignore.

                1. CO2 is HEAVIER than air.

                2. Plants continue to INCREASE their uptake of CO2 up to a temperature of 27 degrees C. That is higher than todays average temperature, even in tropical rain forests.

                3. Water vapour is more important than CO2 as a so-called greenhouse gas.

              • Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

                @Donal

                1. CO2 is HEAVIER than air.
                Is that a joke? You have heard of things like diffusion, wind & so on? Why doesn’t oxygen sit below a layer of nitrogen? After all, it’s heavier, right? Why do we get clouds if water’s heavier than air?

                Now I definitely think you’re just trolling for attention, so I will cease to give you any.

              • Donal
                Posted January 30, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                J
                It wasn’t a joke to the family who were asphyxiated in a cattle slurry pit last year. They died from breathing a mixture of CO2, H2S and NH3 generated by the decomposing slurry. It was not removed by the wind or by diffusion, it remained at a low level around the pit. This should not be surprising as noxious H2S has a molar weight of 34, compared to the molar weight of air, which is 29. The molar weight of CO2 is 44 so it has a much greater tendency than H2S to linger close to the ground — unless the ground is warm and there is high wind and strong convection. This is basic science that I thought everyone knew.

            • Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

              Donal wrote: “the Met Office now admits that global warming has diminished or ceased in recent years.”

              The Met Office says: “Despite the uncertainties, all models show that the Earth will warm in the next century, with a consistent geographical pattern.”

              I think we have an unreliable witness, m’lud.

              /@

              • Donal
                Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:25 am | Permalink

                Ant
                The Met office can be quite sanguine in predicting that the Earth will warm in the next century — as none of us will be alive to contraadict them in 2100 – 2199.

              • Posted January 30, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

                That’s wilfully misconstruing the statement. Clearly they mean over the next (approx.) one hundred years; hence the caption, “Predicted temperature rise to 2100”

                In any case, it doesn’t excuse your earlier deceitful misrepresentation of the Met Office’s position.

                /@

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      “Truly cultured people”?

      What exactly would you call those many of us who are not the least alienated by Hitchens and Dawkins?

      Do you intend to insult us or does this sort of thing just slip from your fingers unwittingly?

    • Posted January 29, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      So is the ability to willingly suspend intelligence. We just try to discourage that.

    • rr
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Donal:

      Why is it that the process of becoming a convinced atheist requires us to sacrifice our ability to retreat into the world of the imagination through products like novels, cinema, art and music?

      Atheists create and enjoy the arts just like everyone else. If you need to lie to support your opinion maybe some self-reflection is called for.

      • Donal
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        rr

        It seems that creative and cultured atheists permit themselves to accept the illusion of reality conveyed by the object of artistic creation whilst they deny an identical self-delusion to religious believers.

        • rr
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Can you unpack that in plain English? Or is ambiguity a requirement for you?

        • gbjames
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          I have no idea what you are trying to say here. Near as I can tell it is something like “mean atheists don’t let anyone enjoy art”. Which would be palpable nonsense.

          • Donal
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            rr & gbjames
            Just think about it — the penny will drop.

            Yeats’ epitaph revisited by atheists:
            “Cast a cold Eye.
            On Science, on Art.
            Rapture, pass by !”

            • gbjames
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

              It would be nice if you would just say what you think, Donal. You are not contributing to any sort of meaningful communication. It seems to me that you are hiding behind obscurity and confusing that with profundity. It ain’t.

            • rr
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

              Donal, I know what you’re trying to say: atheists are cold unemotional Vulcans, and the religious are warm and loving humans. It’s pretty stupid if you think about it.

              • Donal
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                rr
                That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m simply pointing out that if suspension of disbelief is acceptable when an atheist appreciates a work of art, then what is sauce for the atheistic goose should unquestionably be sauce for the religious gander.

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                But, as I noted elsewhere, they’re not even both birds, or even both chordates.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                Donal, are you arguing that religion is just a work of art and believers are no different than, say, readers of Harry Potter novels?

              • Donal
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                Don’t like ‘just’.
                Religion is at least as fine a work of art as physics. If in doubt, stand inside an English cathedral and look around.

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                I think you’ll find you’re confusing religion with architecture, a perfectly secular pursuit. I’d put the NHM in London, a “temple of science” if there is such a thing, on a par with the majority of cathedrals.

                /@

              • Donal
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                I think you are confusing the NHM, which is a veritable temple to BIOLOGICAL Science with the Science Museum, a few hundred yards away, which is one of the ugliest and most through-other public buildings in London.

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Hardly. And biological science is still science.

                /@

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Bollocks. It’s not identical at all.

          Atheists (most people, in fact) who permit themselves to accept the illusion of reality conveyed by the object of artistic creation understand perfectly well that it is an artistic creation. (But see Galaxy Quest.)

          Religious believers’ self-delusion, however, is taken to be a substantive description of the real world (outside their own heads). (Which, to be very clear, it is not.)

          /@

          • Donal
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            Ant writes:
            Atheists (most people, in fact) who permit themselves to accept the illusion of reality conveyed by the object of artistic creation understand perfectly well that it is an artistic creation. (But see Galaxy Quest.)

            ** By approaching the ‘work of art’ objectively the atheist sees the product merely as a fabrication and misses the intended enlightenment.

            Religious believers’ self-delusion, however, is taken to be a substantive description of the real world (outside their own heads). (Which, to be very clear, it is not.)

            **That is their individual reality, and if it works for them, who are we to be precriptive?

            • gbjames
              Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

              ** By approaching the ‘work of art’ objectively the atheist sees the product merely as a fabrication and misses the intended enlightenment.

              How do you know this to be true? It is nothing but ignorant assertion.

              ** That is their individual reality, and if it works for them, who are we to be precriptive?

              Bully puckey. We have every right to challenge delusional personal “realities” when religious people seek to enforce their “reality” on the rest of us. Keep your “reality” to yourself if you don’t want it challenged.

            • Posted January 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              Moar bollocks!

              Atheists don’t necessarily approach art objectively; maybe you’re thinking of art critics?

              In any case, what is “enlightenment”?

              There’s no such thing as “individually reality”, only individual perceptions of reality, which are, of course, real, but not, of course, the plenum of reality.

              Being prescriptive is a social good where religious believers’ delusion causes others (or themselves) harm; e.g., denying a child proper medical care or killing a child because they are thought to be a witch.

              /@

        • raven
          Posted January 29, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          whilst they deny an identical self-delusion to religious believers.

          Not right at all.

          If the religionists would just stay under their rocks and tell their lies to each other, no one would care. Free country and all that.

          But they can’t and won’t do that. They are always trying to impose their religion on us and our society. Sneaking creationism into our kid’s science classes, oppressing women, hating gays, rewriting history, killing nonbelievers if they can get away with it. It goes on and on and never stops.

          The fundie death cult xians created the New and Militant atheists. I know this, I was a xian myself for decades until I ran into the female slavers and creationists.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      However science will never be able to explain everything.

      Irrelevant. We also don’t know that, the universe is finite.

      People like Hitchins and Dawkins alienate truly cultured people because they imply that the scientific method is infallible.

      H&D speaks to truly cultured people because they recognize the scientific method is the only method that works.

      paradigm shifts

      Define “paradigm shifts” testable or admit that it is the deepity it is.

      the quest for explanations will continue indefinitely

      Science doesn’t do “explanations”.

      Read Scott Aarosson on mathematics. Modern mathematical proofs and their validations are zero “explanation”. They are both zero knowledge string manipulations without espousing examples. And proofs are analogous to physics theories, validation to tests.

      He is currently wondering if mathematics will arrive to a similar understanding of “explanation” as it did for proof&validation. But it looks to be ‘examples showing how to apply the theory’, no more.

      In that case they are possible pathways (specific examples) within a theory. And while the universe is finite, the possible pathways are infinite.

      But that has nothing to do with finite facts and theory, or finite actual (historical) pathways, of a configuration finite observable universe.

      becoming a convinced atheist requires us to sacrifice

      Bullshit. Statistically atheists are more well educated and intelligent both, and so presumably enjoys instead of sacrifice culture and imagination.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Oops. Scott Aaronson.

      • Donal
        Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Torbjörn Larsson: I followed some of your earlier comments about Quantum effects and found them quite illuminating, so I respect your opinions. However I feel that physicists generally are in no position to criticize people who harbour intangible belief systems because the cornerstone of physics is itself based on a belief system.
        I am speaking of the velocity of light.
        This has not been determined by careful measurement but was DEFINED in 1983 by the International Committee on Weights and Measures to be 299,792,458 m/s. ie nine significant figures.
        Interestingly, the fine structure constant, as everyone knows, is 1/137.0359997867 ie thirteen significant figures. It is derived by dividing the electron charge squared by the product of Planck’s constant and the speed of light.
        Of course, the last four figures in the fine structure constant are simply a matter of undiluted FAITH— as no result of any calculation involving multiplication or division can have more significant figures than the input parameter with the least number of significant figure – the velocity of light. QED

        • Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          You might want to do a little more research before you comment any further. Your fine structure calculation seems to be missing a factor of pi. The difference between h & hbar is a rookie one.

          • Donal
            Posted January 29, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

            Of course. When a physicist requires an endless supply of significant figures, he can always rely on pi to serve the necessary. This doesn’t resolve the sig.fig limitations of c though, so my criticism stands.

            • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              Your argument about significant figures is bogus. That definition of csets the ratio of two units; it is arbitrarily precise. It could as easily have been defined as 299,792,458.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,001 m s⁻¹.

              Following your argument, that would mean we could calculate the fine structure constant to many, many more significant figures, which is plainly absurd.

              In fact, particle physicists would generally choose a system of units where c and ħ both have unit values. So the precision of the fine-structure constant is practically limited only by the precision with which we can measure e, since π is known very precisely.

              /@

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                PS. Apologies. I expected the value to wrap at the commas.

              • Donal
                Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                Ah, yes, the endless supply of sig.figs argument rears its ugly head again.
                Somebody somewhere has to calibrate all this physics stuff and anchor it to reality. That means conducting an actual MEASUREMENT to better than nine significant figures.To my knowledge, that has never been done. Yet physicists cheerfully quote fourteen sig.figs as a matter of every day reality. It is time to call them out and ask them how they calibrate their beloved constants.

                Otherwise the platinum kilogramme in Paris will find itself defined in terms of the CONVENTIONAL velocity of light.

                In case anyone doubts this, here’s how it works.

                The key to the electron mass is, perhaps surprisingly, the definition of the Rydberg constant from atomic spectroscopy: R¥ = a2mec/2h, which involves the fine-structure constant a, the mass of the electron me, the speed of light in vacuum c, and the Planck constant h, all of which we take to be expressed in SI units.

                Since the kilogram is defined in the International System of Units (SI) to be the mass of the platinum-iridium international prototype of the kilogram housed at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) near Paris, the mass of the electron in kilograms is just the ratio of the electron mass to the mass of that standard kilogram. This means that one end of the chain of experiments and theoretical expressions that leads to the value of the electron mass must involve a comparison to the BIPM kilogram–the ONLY SI unit that is still based on a material object. ”
                Thus we are just a short step away from redefining the standard kilogramme in terms of the conventional velocity of light, in spite of all the inherent uncertainties that I have been discussing with a sense of gentle futility.

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                I’m not quite sure how mass is relevant to the argument.

                In any case, your argument would be far better if you’d accurately quoted the fine-structure constant in the first place. “Fourteen significant figures” is a straw man.

                /@

          • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            And a factor of 2! ;-)

            /@

            • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              I think forgetting a factor of 2 proves my credentials as a physicist, doesn’t it? :P

              • Posted January 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                Ah, yes!

                Which reminds me of a story told by Francis Halzen, then as now a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (tenure!)*. On Einstein’s birthday, a local tv news crew visited the physics department to get some sound bites on Einstein’s legacy. When they came into Francis’s office, he was in the midst of a knotty calculation, and shouted at them: “Get out! Get out! I’m looking for a factor of two!!”**

                /@

                * Good grief! He still has the same secretary, too!
                ** E = ½mc²?!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 30, 2013 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      “Why is it that the process of becoming a convinced atheist requires us to sacrifice our ability to retreat into the world of the imagination through products like novels, cinema, art and music?”

      That is complete bollocks. All that is required to be an atheist who likes imaginative works is the ability to distinguish between reality and imagination. To quote a sample of one (!), over the years I’ve become more firmly atheistic, yet more accepting of fantasy such as e.g. Terry Pratchett (also an atheist by the way, would one accuse him of lack of imagination?) I just know it’s fiction, is all. (Which is not to say that Pratchett’s magical characters don’t throw light on many human and societal foibles).
      And I see no possible conflict between atheism and musical appreciation.

      Where I draw the line is in fantasy masquerading as fact – which about sums up religion. It’s like the difference between Randi the genuine conjurer and Uri Geller the phony psychic.

      • Donal
        Posted January 30, 2013 at 3:57 am | Permalink

        infiniteimprobabilit
        So. You suspend your awareness of reality and immerse yourself in a Pratchett novel, allowing yourself to be carried along on a narrative of science fiction, emerging finally blinking, to realize that it was probably all bollocks but glad to have enjoyed the transcendental experience.
        And then you assert that this is somehow different from the Jesuit who swallows the body of Christ at Mass and emerges blinking into the graveyard wondering whether transubstantiation had actually occurred but glad to have enjoyed the transcendental experience.
        So your fantasy is acceptable but the Jesuit’s isn’t?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 30, 2013 at 4:16 am | Permalink

          Oh this is easy.

          YES, because I *know* it’s fantasy, whereas the Jesuit believes it’s real (or professes to, at least). Can you see the difference?

          And besides, you’re shifting the goalposts bringing Jesuits into it. Your original post just claimed that atheists couldn’t use their imagination. Demonstrably wrong.

  33. Posted January 30, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “…for those are the three who have posed the strongest challenge to faith”

    You are not so bad yourself!

    In my view whyevolutionistrue as well as work by Dr Peter Boghossian are essential reading… not to mention, we should all read Darwin’s Origin..
    I was also particularly impressed by Allen Orr, Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg on analysis of Thomas Nagel’s admitted unfamiliarity with evolution.


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