Baggini asks atheists to be humble and form a “coalition of the reasonable”

Julian Baggini appears to veer back and forth in his posts on religion and atheists like a drunken driver careening from one side of the road to another.  At some times he says that atheists are right; at others he decries us for dogmatism and shrillness.  His latest post at the Guardian is in the latter vein, as you can tell from its title, “Give me a reasonable believer over an uncompromising atheist any day.” He’s asking all of us to adopt a few virtues as we “search for common ground” in the debate between faith and atheism. Of course, it’s not at all clear what sort of common ground there can be here: it’s a clash between two completely different worldviews: one based on evidence and reason, the other on dogma, superstition, and revelation. What sort of “compromise” is possible?

 In the search for common ground in the religion debate, I suggest the virtues of sincerity, charity and modesty can do this work.

By sincerity, I don’t mean simply that people genuinely believe what they say. Rather, they are making a genuine effort to discover the truth and are able to question honestly the beliefs they were brought up with or have adopted in adult life. As some put it, they are fellow seekers.

In this vein, I’d suggest that atheists are far more “sincere” than believers, for many of them used to be religious, and rejected faith because of the lack of evidence. Many of the rest of us feel likewise. And really, how many believers, save the extremely liberal ones, are racked with doubt, constantly engaged in seeking the truth about God?

By charity, I mean the effort to try to understand the views and arguments of those we disagree with in the most sympathetic form we can, being critical of their strongest versions, not their weakest ones or straw man caricatures.

I plead “not guilty” here, as I’ve read many sophisticated theologians and have found that it’s all, at bottom, a bunch of piffle.  Besides, shouldn’t we often attack the form of faith held by believers themselves, not just the weak apophatic tea dispensed by theologians?

By modesty I simply mean some real sense that we are all limited in our understanding and that no matter how sure we are, we could be mistaken. Even when others go very wrong indeed, we can recognise that there for either the grace of God or the luck of chance go I. This kind of modesty is not incompatible with having strongly held beliefs and certainly doesn’t require agnosticism.

Yep, all scientists (well, most of them) admit that we could be wrong about God, but if you look at the evidence, I’d bet on the no-God side.  In my taxi on the way to the airport, I talked to my cab driver, who was a Muslim and wanted to expatiate on God. He told me that the Qur’an gave scientific evidence for the origin of life (“it came from dirty water—like pig water”). I asked him if he didn’t think that he’d be a Baptist had he been born in Mississippi, or a Catholic if born in Spain. He admitted as much, but went on to defend Islam as the true faith. (It is the accident-of-birth form of belief that I consider one of the most telling arguments against the truth of a given faith.)

The point is that yes, we should recognize that many people are brainwashed into their faiths as victims of circumstance. Maybe I would have been a Muslim had I been born in Lahore.  But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t argue against Islam—or any religion—with all the fervor I can muster.  What kind of modesty should I have? If a religious person has arguments for the existence of God, let him bring them on. Since I haven’t seen any good ones, I guess I’ll remain “immodest.”

But what is the “coalition of the reasonable” for which Baggini is asking? So far as I can determine, it’s his ill-fated attempt to get the faithful and nonbelievers to agree on a set of principles for “reasonable faith”.  Baggini set out four of them here:

1. To be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practise a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices. Any creeds or factual assertions associated with these things, especially ones that make claims about the nature and origin of the natural universe, are at most secondary and often irrelevant.

2. Religious belief does not, and should not, require the belief that any supernatural events have occurred here on Earth, including miracles that bend or break natural laws, the resurrection of the dead, or visits by gods or angelic messengers.

3. Religions are not crypto- or proto-sciences. They should make no claims about the physical nature, origin or structure of the natural universe. That which science can study and explain empirically should be left to science, and if a religion makes a claim that is incompatible with our best science, the scientific claim, not the religious one, should prevail.

4. Religious texts are the creation of the human intellect and imagination. None need be taken as expressing the thoughts of a divine or supernatural mind that exists independently of humanity.

For obvious reasons, particularly points 2 and 4, Baggini failed to convince the faithful (see his post on the failure here).  I have no opinion on the first three points, for as an atheist I can’t see dictating what religion should or should not involve. But it’s palpably true that most religions do involve the supernatural, a theistic God, and claims about the real world. You’re not going to get many Catholics, Baptists, or Muslims to accept these four points.

I do, however, agree on point 4.  But you’ll not get the faithful to agree on that.  Given the nature of faith, Baggini’s “coalition of the reasonable” is doomed to failure, and he knows it.  He’s reduced, in the end, to lambasting atheists for not being “reasonable” enough, even though the faithful rejected his tenets even more vehemently than did the atheists.

Baggini’s is a losing battle, and demonstrates that there is no rapprochement between the scientific and religious views of the world.   But we knew that all along.

His final exhortation:

 . . . I really do think that the most important divide in the religion debate is not between believers or non-believers, but between those who show the virtues of reasonableness and those who do not.

That’s why I’ve often had more fruitful dialogues with some Catholics and evangelicals than I have with some fellow atheists. Our allies should be all those who don’t just proclaim the virtues of reasonableness, but live by them, whether atheist or agnostic – or any stripe of religion.

The question I have to ask is this: “Allies in what?” Baggini never answers that.


  1. gbjames
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    With shrill stridency, I subscribe.

  2. Frank
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “The question I have to ask is this: “Allies in what?” Baggini never answers that.”

    Allies in a mutual admiration society among “reasonable” people – which provides a positive reinforcement for a social primate that gains self-esteem and contentment via the praise and acceptance from others.

    • MadScientist
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      The Mooney self-admiration club?
      Meh, Baggini can have Mooney, I haz pizza.

  3. PB
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    This is an elaboration of from a very difficult and precarious position. Baggini the atheist is attacking atheists’ position as unreasonable, but he himself is attacked by the non-atheists (double negatives..) as being unreasonable.

    Yet, his allies ( which he declares mostly non-atheist rather than atheist as himself) are the reasonable ones …

    Precarious. Need lots of expatiation !


  4. J James
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Whether or not a drunken driver, Baggini makes a point worth considering. Those who choose to greet any person of faith with unwavering intolerance fail to address the discussion spectrometrically; i.e., if you see belief systems on a scale of 1 to 7 (ala Dawkins), with beliefs based upon pure faith as a 1 and beliefs based upon absolute evidence as a 7 (Dawkins himself is a 6, right?), a voice at a 7 (or even a 6) who would address everyone else as a 1 may fail to attract (nay, may positively alienate) the ear of an otherwise reasonable and potentially educable 4 or 5; losing in the process opportunity. Argumentum ad hominem from either end of the spectrum is not the equivalent of reason.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      If evidence was absolute you would have a point.

      However there is no such thing around, at least outside the ramblings of philosophers. All observation and theory is quantified with uncertainty, and indeed you can see unprecedented variation now and then without necessarily having any broken physics.

      As for not standing by one’s convictions, I think Rosenhouse would say that it is ‘missing the point’:

      “Other psychologists do basic research on social marketing. Curtis Haugtvedt hopes social marketers in the field will use what he’s learned about persuasion as a result of his laboratory experiments on recycling. So far, he’s found that emotional appeals–like the famous ad showing an American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he confronts pollution–work better than cognitive ones when it comes to persuading people to recycle. Emphasizing that “everyone else is doing it” also helps. (Emphasis Added)”

      It may well be that the utmost edges of the Overton window is the most successful positions.

      • J James
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        Read the Rosenhouse piece (thanks for that). Understand there is not much point in deploying reason (still always prefer reason) in the face of abject fundamentalism. Accommodation is just a politer term for appeasement; don’t advocate that either (creationism as science never). However, if the point is to abandon reason in favor of brand marketing, the “Native American” with a tear in his eye (glycerin BTW) has more appeal to my sentiments (and hence thinking) than, say, a churlish hominine head swap à la Lurie.

        That there is no certainty is precisely my point. Most of us fall between 1 and 7 on the Dawkins scale. Evolution is not “unthinkable” to most (at least in the US so say the sociologists … wonder if they have historic trends for this in the US.)

        As to those others? We won’t ever move the window far enough for them to recognize the illusion of certainty. (Hope to marginalize them.) As to the educable, you can’t employ reason unless there is meeting, respect (at least as to person and process if not principle) and discussion (possibly Baggini’s naïve thought). However, if reason does fail, and the strategy becomes employment of marketing psychology, I would use the second generation Italian who looks Cherokee for my advertising campaign.

        • prochoice
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

          I am 7 as in:
          -There is no god demanding abortionforbidding and euthahasiaforbidding laws.
          -There is no god demanding to teach stupidity or against state scchools altogether.
          -There is no god demanding to forbid the best painkillers, a.k.a. diacetylmorphine.

          There are only some members of the overpopulated species calling itself “sapiens”, who use this trick to justify their powercraving ways.

          That philosophical “you can´t prove a negative” is for airy philosophical ideas only.

          Mr. Baggini mixes up academic discussions with little relevance and very real politics with very ugly outcome. Trying to hide this mix-up may well give him a drunken feeling.
          Trying the old “We are in one boat”-trick on groups dissenting for good reasons surely will.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      This would be a good point if any significant voices in the atheist committee were urging people to greet people of faith with intolerance.

      But they aren’t.

  5. Tim
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    About these “fruitful” dialogues with Catholics and evangelicals that Baggini describes: what fruit did they bear? Did Baggini agree that he’ll be less dogmatic about demanding evidence for what he believes and, ya know, entertain some delusions now and then? Did the god botherers agree to gives us a wink when they’re children to believe skydaddys and monster demons under the bed?

    • Tim
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      …they’re indoctrinating children with a belief in skydaddys and monster demons under the bed?

    • Naked Bunny with a Whip
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      I’m going to guess that they were “fruitful” in the sense that both Baggini and his theistic compatriots agreed on how nasty those unreasonable atheists are.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Correct conclusion. Two hundred points!

      • Sigh
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        It’s a Bingo!

    • MadScientist
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      I think you missed the part about ‘sincerity’. Baggini is saying you should nod and say ‘yes, that’s nice, Jesus/Allah/Horus is The Savior” while you hold your crossed fingers behind your back. There is nothing as sincere as a lie nor as reasonable as The Faithful.

  6. newenglandbob
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I’ll have my Baggini toasted with cheese and lettuce. What a sad clown he has become.

  7. Runst
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I get so tired of all this “Why can’t atheists be more reasonable” whining. What is more reasonable than asking that people provide some evidence, or at least a sound argument, for their beliefs?

    I’m also fed up with people who claim that it’s unfair to reject religion before you have considered the arguments of the venerated “sophisticated theologians”. First of all, those arguments invariably turn out to be more verbose versions of the simple arguments any believer might come up with, and which I have already rejected. Secondly, how many theologians were atheists until they began their studies and were actually converted by the “sophisticated”, convoluted arguments they encountered in academia? Even if you managed to find a rare example of this, it’s obviously the case that most theologians were religious from the get-go. Belief comes first, fancy theology second. Clearly, they didn’t need sophisticated arguments to become believers, so why should they get to hide behind more sciency-sounding gobbledygook now?

    • S A GOULD
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Atheists should consider the feelings of the religious first. (And then not speak.)

      And women should be less strident, gays should not flaunt their sexuality and blacks should not continue be so damn scary to white people.

      Does that cover it?

      • Marella
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        Oh I think in this vein we could demand that Greens stop telling us we’re destroying the planet and the poor should stop being so damn badly dressed! If the disabled had any consideration they wouldn’t flaunt those wheel-chairs in that upsetting way either.

  8. alexandra
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Off topic: There was a Reason Rally in DC this past Saturday. As you all know. I live too far away and am too old to attend but salute the idea and the people who did rally.
    NPR had a long segment on the pope visiting Mexico and Cuba.( It also had, led off with, most appropriately, a leading item on the tragic murder in Forida). The pope followed that. NPR, acting like the MSM ALWAYS covers the pope with adulation.
    Not a word about the Reason Rally. I E wrote NPR to complain yesterday – will do it again today,sending as well the photos that came in this AM of the secular assembly. Are any of you out there willing to verbally assault NPR for its bias? I would love to know that NPR was getting the news that secular events, ideas, are legit, prevalent,growing, and that the secular world is pissed at being ignored by the religiously-biased media.
    Alexandra M NH

    • Jeff D
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      NPR did “cover” the Reason Rally, but only in advance of the event, and in a short piece that was O.K. and reported by — you guessed it — Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR’s “religion and spirituality” reporter and self-described “science writer.”

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Hey, but they did cover a couple of hundred “tea party” types who had a demonstration yesterday against healthcare for all. 10,000 rational people vs. 200 right wing extremists. Who do we expect our “public” radio to cover?

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      NPR has been consistently disappointing in so many stories, on many topics. Their choices have been terrible, their lack of investigation and research unrelenting.

      I’ve given up listening. Too distracting to be rendered verrrry upset by radio noise.

  9. stevehayes13
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Baggini is a fellow traveller.

    He has been banging on about this ‘dialogue’ for ages – and he has had more than enough evidence from the religious to show that they really do believe in their silly, supernatural stories. He has even admitted it himself.

    The only purpose his so called dialogue serves is to characterise non-believers as ‘militant atheists’ – which is precisely the strategy of the god believers.

    That fact that Baggini is a philosopher simply underlines just how redundant Philosophy (and especially, Theology) is. When an academic calls for the equal treatment of evidence free assertions and a commitment to evidence and reason, said academic should be shown the door; the one marked ‘exit’.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Ha, that is a good catch! (I had forgotten his credentials.)

    • lamacher
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      To quote Richard Feynman:”Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.”

  10. Steve
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The great difference depends upon the reliance or rejection of revelation. It is the factor that distinguishes religion and philosophy: revealed wisdom vs. discovered wisdom.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I’ll give Baggini the big FAIL he himself acknowledges. I think both sides are tired of the likes of him, atheists that are reasonable by all other fields of investigation as well as religious that wants much more special pleading than Baggini offers.* (If we take atheism as skepticism applied to religion, the empirical investigation into the claims of superstition. Why not?)

    So what is the special pleading on behalf of religion that Baggini deems necessary?

    As noted here, Baggini wants empiricists to leave a reasonable empiricist position. Instead they should embrace the notion of equal weight between observable facts and unsupported belief.

    This, for reasons only known to Baggini, he calls ‘sincerity’. That this would mean rejecting empirical sincerity and embrace accommodationist ‘sincerity’ doesn’t bother him, because he is ‘sincere’.

    In doing so Baggini has shown a supreme effort of being ‘charitable’ to atheists, by completely ignoring what they say. Instead he is embracing a strawman of his own invention, that skepticism isn’t applicable to skepticism. Or in other words that there is no ‘modesty’ which he defines as capability of recognizing error.

    Do I need to point out that Baggini seems less than ‘modest’ when he proposes that there is a lack on a specific side of a cultural divide without having or asking for the statistics to back him up? What would convince Baggini that he is ‘modestly’ mistaken?

    If this is ‘reasonable’, how does it apply to the religious already? Baggini doesn’t say, likely Baggini doesn’t know, because Baggini doesn’t care. According to accommodationists it is only the strident gnu atheists that should accommodate the twisted ‘truth’ of their and others religious beliefs, by way of the same special pleading that operates through all of religious culture.

    * At the very least they want no criticism, probably because it can make them uncomfortable and detract from their brainwashing of children. And it’s “strident”!

    So if not a theocratic state, at least a theocratic moral or perhaps for good measure a law of suppression of expression.

    I just wish I could see Baggini and his ilk try to “accommodate” that! Alas, it will never happen.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I like your comments about “sincere”. I think that is at the core of Baggini’s position: if someone is “sincere” it doesn’t matter what evidence supports their philosophy.

      Sincerity and nicety, above all else!!

      • lamacher
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget “deepity”.

  12. andrewD
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Whilst I cannot speak for anyone else, I will listen to believers when they produce a proof of the existence of god at least equal to that for Evolution, Quantum mechanics and plate tectonics. Until then there is no reason to listen to theologians, religious leaders or accomodationists other than the fact that they are a front for a power structure which I reject.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Nicely strident, andrewD. I approve!

  13. salon_1928
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    My take is that for a lot of people (possibly Baggini…), Atheism is the “smarty-pants” position. I think it’s irritating to him and we get this charming piece as a result. It’s a strange piece as well. It’s like he’s saying to the religious, “you’re doing it wrong” and then constructs this unrealistic model of proper religious belief whereupon believers and non-believers can apparently find some sort of middle ground.

  14. Daryl
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    If I remove the title, byline (not sure if that’s the right term?), and final paragraph, the piece seems pretty reasonable to me.

    Baggini notes that:

    One of the most important things I have learned over this series is that attempting to forge an alliance between people of “liberal” faith and atheists based on shared beliefs results in a very small club indeed: worth joining, but unlikely to make much impact.

    I would say his new attempt at forming an alliance based on sincerity, charity, and modesty meets the same fate. Frankly, the atheists by and large play by these rules; believers don’t. As for his assertion in the final paragraph, it seems to purposely be written very vaguely:

    That’s why I’ve often had more fruitful dialogues with some Catholics and evangelicals than I have with some fellow atheists.

    He could say the exact same thing in reverse: that he has often had more fruitful dialogues with some fellow atheists than I have with some Catholics and evangelicals. It’s written so vaguely that I don’t think there’s really anything meaningful being said here.

    • bsherrick
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s reasonable – I think it’s weird. Baggini seems to be saying that religious believers and atheists can find common ground, so long as believers are willing to concede every single point of disagreement (see points 1 through 4 above). Defining “religion” out of existence will indeed result in “common ground” – yay philosophy!

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Here is a question prompted by the thread:

    As the onslaught of accommodationists attacking gnu atheists for their alleged “stridency” (aka open criticism on religion) wind down, is it time for some posts analyzing how well such a whining, ultimately tiresome strategy have fared? Or did that response already happened years ago?

    I mean, we all know how ineffectual accommodationism would be if it was accepted.* And we all know it wasn’t accepted anywhere, nor is likely to be. But do we know the backlash against atheism?

    As long as we are still seen as strident, we can’t very well be seen as whining – I hope. So I guess we won that one!?

    * I am not talking about being necessarily strident at all times. There are times, opportunities and positive outcomes for many or most strategies.

    However, accommodationism isn’t an ordinary strategy of positive action but of negative reaction, hitting all the wrong notes.

  16. Claimthehighground
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Quite simple really. Baggini gets the religiosos (we can start with Ham & Craig and the rest of the crowd) to agree to his four principles. That puts reason, rational exploration and results based on evidence as the default position, with supernaturalism as the outlier. Revise our laws, customs and practices to support the default position. Then we’ve got a deal.

  17. Peter
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Yes, Julian, when two people are arguing over whether 2+3 equals 7 or equals 5 instead, they both must “search for common ground, and “find the right mean between the two”. Gee, that last looks pretty easy—we’re all delighted that the answer is 6, or should be, according to the latest faddish, thoughtless philosopher, writing for that has-been paragon of my political sympathies, which I stopped buying 25 years ago.

    • Rob
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Or the example I’ve given before:

      I want you to give me $1M, you don’t want to give me any. Therefore, you will give me $500K in the spirit of compromise.

      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink


        Both good examples.

        Compromise is just not applicable in some contexts.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      As is often the case, the comic xkcd had a great piece on “compromise” with fanatics.

  18. Yakaru
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I suggest Baggini consider civil rights and human rights if he’s looking for common ground between religious people and atheists. I think he would find nearly all atheists already waiting there, and he’d be doing a service if he could convince a few more religious people to show up there as well.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink


    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink


  19. Egbert
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Baggini wrote his article a few weeks ago, and no doubt he’s shifted his non-position again during that time.

    Baggini may not realize it, but his form of moderation can be equated to conservatism. He wants to halt the breaks on the atheist progressives and thinks there is some common ground between reason and faith.

    New atheism isn’t about common ground but the opposite, a growing conscious awareness that religion is oppositional to reason and to our modern liberal ideas of justice.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Your last para — qft.


  20. Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that the real undertone seems to be ‘How can religion regain control’. Atheists do not look to convert people. They do to take a hard look at ideas. Of the few atheists that I have met (most seem to keep quiet about it) I find a good moral outlook and a strong sense of value. Contrary to some of the ‘poor us’ outpourings from various church representatives. I do not see any organisations wishing to persecute the religious. I do believe that many religious folk are beginning to take a closer look some of these religious rants. Credibility is the real key as society looks at what has got us where we are today. The biblical aspect falls flat on its face purely because the truth it portrays is insufficient for today’s world of science and technology. We no longer need those tired old parables and questionable miracles. Look around at the astounding progress of science, medicine and technology. We have outstripped the gullibility required to be religious. We do want ethics and morals, we do want fair play. We want our children to develop unencumbered by fear and bigoted restraint. Let the children become confident people first and along the way closely examine all forms of human values. The truly credible will be properly assessed rather than a dictate adhered to without question.

  21. Sastra
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    So you have two sides, each one saying the other side is wrong.

    One side thinks that the basic problem is that the other side has not reasoned correctly. They need to approach their hypothesis as clearly, consistently and objectively as possible. They’re wrong because they’re making errors.

    The other side, however, thinks that the basic problem with the first group is their attitude, nature, and emotional characteristics. They need to stop approaching the issue as a hypothesis and become the kind of people who want to believe. They’re wrong because there’s something wrong with their hearts.

    Okay now — I know which group seems more “humble” to me. And it’s not the group which is mewling on about how meek and mild their faith has made them.

    Baggini frustrates me because he KNOWS better.

  22. dunstar
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    so does being humble mean entertaining the fantasies of the religious no matter how absurd? lol. can we at least pat them on the head and give them a gold star as we nod our heads to them in reasonable agreement?

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      No, being humble means being willing to entertain the notion that you might have absurd notions. It’s the opposite of patting them on the heads. I think this discussion is ridiculously unfair. I don’t understand why all you people are so upset at this guy for suggesting you look for common ground. He’s not saying you believe bullshit without evidence or anything like that. You do not have common ground in some areas, yes, duh, we got that. But you DO in some areas, and we can look there too! We don’t have to be pricks and focus on disagreement all the time. IT’s annoying when religious people do it, and it’s annoying when atheists do it.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        “We don’t have to be pricks and focus on disagreement all the time.”

        Did someone make this argument? I don’t recall seeing it. Ever.

        When discussing the topic of religion, exactly how is an atheist supposed to talk to a religious person? It seems to me that in this context the only interesting conversation is going to be based on disagreement. What’s to agree on? And how is what you ask any different from saying to the atheist, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all.” (a.k.a. “Shut up.”)?

        • dunstar
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          lol yes please tell me what’s to agree on? they tell me oh there’s a God. I ask could you please tell me more about this God and your evidence for it? lol.

          So what can I agree on with them? That they “firmly” believe that there is a God? lolz. Or how about, ” I really really really think there is a God”? lolz.

          What if I ask “Ok how about harry potter”? I really really really think he exists. Can you please show me some agreement that I believe harry potter really really really exists and told me that you can’t drive on Thursdays. So can you please not drive on Thursdays out of your respect for me belief. lolz. Is that what you mean about being reasonable? I just wanna be clear.

          • dunstar
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

            Yeah I don’t think that’s what humble means. That’s what condescension means. lolz.

        • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          I understand your point. I agree that it is perfectly fine to call bullshit. But here is why I said what I said about being pricks. This blog post is critical about the idea that it’s better to be a reasonable believer than an uncompromising atheist. I think that’s a hobson’s choice, but the context of the proposition is that an uncompromising atheist is one that never looks for common ground, while a reasonable believer is one that is willing to do so. Read the article, it’s clear to me that’s his point. By definition, an uncompromising atheist thus focuses on disagreement all the time.
          So when discussing the topic of religion, of course I think you should be clear and honest about where you disagree, that’s necessary and useful. But you can only go so far by butting heads. What’s wrong for looking for areas where you agree, even when discussing religion? If you start looking for it, you might be surprised to find some, particularly in the areas of public behavior, law, and ethics.

          • Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

            Well, yes, there might be common ground around public behaviour, law and ethics. But that tends to be where religions have adopted secular, humanistic values already.

            The likely problem is that they’ll insist that those values come from their beliefs.

            And that provides no foundation for resolving those areas where we disagree on public behaviour, law and ethics.


            • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

              I agree that IF they insist those values come from their beliefs (not all religious people claim that!), then it MIGHT be a problem. But it’s case by case. I think Baggini is saying that if you LOOK for common ground, you will tend to find it. If you LOOK for a problem, as you seem to be doing here in a purely hypothetical although reasonable example, then you are likely to find that problem too. It’s confirmation bias. I agree ethics come from secular sources. I think it’s just important to look for common ground and not assume any silly opinions. If the other person thinks a teacup is telling them how to act, then you have to say, I suppose, well, I don’t agree with your Teacup theory. From there, if you want to fight, you can focus on teacups, but if you want progress, you can move to other areas. It’s annoying, but it really does work. Eventually they might figure out the Teacup is a lie, but that’s not necessarily my primary job.

              • dunstar
                Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                lol. what are you taking about? they just told you they have an imaginary friend they have no evidence for? are you telling me that it’s not “reasonable” for me to assume they have a silly “opinion”? lolz.

                just replace the word “god” with “pink unicorn” lolz. are you telling me someone that tells me they have an imaginary pink unicorn friend is less reasonable than someone that tells me they have an imaginary god that guides them? lolz.

              • Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

                @dunstar I never said they are reasonable. I said “look for common ground.” YEs, they believe in pink unicorns. Look for common ground. Yes, they hold irrational beliefs. Look for common ground. Maybe they are racist asshole homophobes from North Idaho that have seven wives and have sex with their own daughters. OK, call the police. But if they are just holding weird bizarre dangerous stupid ideas, then you can do more good by looking for common ground than by refusing to admit anything they say might be reasonable.

          • gbjames
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            “By definition, an uncompromising atheist thus focuses on disagreement all the time.”

            Your uncompromising atheist is a straw man. Show me one. Just one will do.

            My uncompromising atheist is one who does not pretend agreement where none exists. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a “compromising atheist” is a dishonest one, or at least a closeted one.

            Someone in another thread (sorry, I don’t remember who it was) provided a useful example of the compromise being asked for. Some of us think 2+3=5. Others claim that it equals 7. Are we to expected to compromise around the number 6?

            • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

              I think you make an excellent point in terms of the definition of uncompromising, and also mea culpa for saying “always,” which is always a mistake. 🙂
              First, your point in a way is a good example in fact of what Baggini seems to argue. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit or just misreading him. But really, I see nobody here but me giving Baggini any slack at all. Everyone here seems focused on attacking him, and not looking for any common ground with him. That’s kind of ironic.
              But second, I think it’s YOUR uncompromising atheist model that is the straw man in the sense that it is set up to refute something Baggini did not argue. The term “uncompromising” comes from Baggini’s essay, and we should use it in the way we might suppose he meant it to have a fair discussion about him, don’t you think? I’m sure that he is not saying that your type of uncompromising atheist is unpleasant or worse than a starry-eyed Teacup worshipper. The type he is probably referring to is the type that when you discuss religion with them, they focus on areas of disagreement and not on areas of agreement the vast majority of the time.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                I’m not having a discussion with Baggini, I’m talking with you, the apparently well-to-do cook.

                You provoked this conversation with a variation of the tired accomodationist “strident/shrill/agressive/intolerant atheist” rant saying that people are being “pricks” who “focus on disagreement all the time”. With not a single example as evidence. Step back a moment and check your irony meter. It is either broken or you are deaf.

                It is not reasonable to walk into a room and shout insults at people, claiming that they are being offensive. It is not reasonable to expect atheists to pretend that their central point of disagreement with believers is not important or that it should be “compromised” for the sake of being polite. You are making unreasonable demands.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

                “Everyone here seems focused on attacking him, and not looking for any common ground with him.”

                Because we looked and didn’t find any – on the topic of religion.

                I can find plenty of common ground with believers when the topic isn’t religion. I spend 6 hours last Saturday at a convention with other delegates from the political party I grudgingly support. I’m sure some of them are believers, and we found plenty of common ground on political issues.

                If we had been discussing religion, we probably wouldn’t have found any.

                If Julian Baggini were to write an essay about politics, or public service, or literature, I might very well find some common ground with him. But he wrote an essay on religion.

  23. Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I am sure you have heard arguments for the existence of God before. I will not try an follow suit with philosophical arguments, rather, I’d make a psychological point. Now, every logical desire, has a concrete, real satisfaction to that desire, correct? For example, if I really want salmon, one has to guess that I have at least seen or tasted salmon before, whereas a person who has never seen or tasted salmon could not possibly hunger for it. Now, you might say that there are people who desire dragons, or zombies, or so on and so forth, but those desires come from subjective emotions and live on as dreams.
    C. S. Lewis, among others have identified a unique desire. It can be described as a desire of a desire, the memory of a memory, a want for something you cannot even define and, yet, the want itself is more pleasurable than any satisfaction of the other desires. Now, if this is a true desire, must there not also be a satisfaction to it? If so, then whatever or whoever is its satisfaction is to be defined as God.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Ontological arguments are dead. Considering what we know now about the brain and neurons, mere language constructs, such as “desire of a desire” are simply as nonsensical as “north of the north pole” or “married bachelors”.

      All ontological arguments rely on human thoughts to be like neutrinos: weightless entities traveling through matter. All thoughts such as “desire” are based on memory, and now memory is shown to be 100% physical:

      When you die, your calcium stays in your brain, and your memories stay in this physical world, on earth, the same as your nose, your tongue, your toes: inert, but here. No see God. No need for religion.

      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        first off, this isn’t an ontological argument, it’s a psychological one. Second, I’d point you to G. K. Chesterton’s “Everlasting Man,” specifically the wind in the trees argument.

        • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          I think it’s ontological. Scott seems to be talking about the claims about the nature of being, whether there is an essence, a spirit, whether qualia exist, etc. This goes beyond psychology, but in my opinion, is becoming more well understood by neuroscience and certainly religion has nothing but ancient superstition and baseless conjecture to offer, conveniently justifying their own dogma.

          • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

            I think you see the irony in you saying mind (i.e. mind is not the same thing as brain). In any case, we can argue all day about semantics, but the point is that ontological arguments start from a definition of God and move to prove that God, as defined, exists. As you can see, that is not what I am doing. Second, I think you very wisely neglected to reply to the G. K. Chesterton point, simply because it points out science’s inadequacy to prove everything and the folly of trying to do so.

            • Scott near Berkeley
              Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

              Your argument is exactly how an ontological argument is formed:

              C.K. Chesterton knew nothing about the functioning of the human brain. From the brain functions come the mind, and consciousness. These are manifestations of physical phenomena. Your own mind just did a dozen phosphorylations in reading my post here, yet you know nothing about how it happens, what it is, how it works.

              Science News, in the last few issues, have run some breakthrough reports about consciousness.
              If one cares to read them, one gets the distinct future forecast that religious belief will be basically defunct in 95% of people by 2020. The science is just too persuasive. It is, a fantastically complex entity, our human bodies. But it is also 100% material, no spirit or disembodied vapors.

              And did Chesterton have any idea of the scope of the brain? None. In fact, the numbers are beyond casual understanding. If you started counting the neurons in your own prefrontal cortex, one per second, it would take you 140 million years. Years, million. That is not a misprint. Such things are beyond human scaling. And C.K. Chesterton never even had a chance.

              • Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

                You say, “From the brain functions come the mind, and consciousness.” Dr. Susan Blackmore of the UK argues that this assertion is a basic fallacy undergirding much of consciousness theory. It assumes the Cartesian Theatre, involving a Mind set apart, which watches the show through our eyes and ears. This is an illusion. In fact the watching, the show, the brain, it’s all the same thing. Physical processes. The mind does not emerge as a separate entity. There is no evidence of such a separate nonphysical thing and attempts to find it have failed repeatedly. Yet the illusion is so strong we persist in acting as if the Cartesian Theatre is real.

              • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                No. You’ve got it backwards. What Scott said is entirely consistent with Blackmore.


              • PB
                Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                Very good, Scott!

                I hope somebody with good writing skill writes a book about relationship of material brain to mind, reasons and all sociological sciences – the way the book Selfish Gene related genes and macro biology.

                Got the feeling my wish will soon be granted by a future wealthywriter …


    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      John S. Wilkins demolishes that argument here.

      The only thing it proves is that the idea of God exists.


    • bsherrick
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink


    • Marella
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      I want to be a fairy, so does that mean that fairies must exist?

    • Steve
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      Sorry, this failed on me. But hey, I’m just one person.

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Some people want something, and therefore it exists. Yeah, it works for me.

      I want to captain a starship.

      • Steve
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

        Hopefully theism will never get to leave the planet.

        • Ray Moscow
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

          What does a starship need with god? [/Star Trek 5]

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      “Now, if this is a true desire, must there not also be a satisfaction to it?”

      No. That doesn’t follow at all.

      • Steve
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        Oh, pooh. We all know god(s) wouldn’t make us have any desires that we couldn’t get satisfied.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      “Now, you might say that there are people who desire dragons, or zombies, or so on and so forth, but those desires come from subjective emotions and live on as dreams.

      C. S. Lewis, among others have identified a unique desire”

      C. S. Lewis identified a desire that’s just like the desire for dragons or zombies.

  24. Pray Hard
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    When I first read Richard Dawkins, I perceived him to be a bit much for me. But, he wasn’t and I quickly came to see his position and merge with it, same with Hitchens, Coyne, Dennett, Harris, et al. No longer do I see a way that two fundamentally different things can coexist in harmony, mutually complement each other or whatever kum ba ya du jour position is out there on any given day. In fact, rather than being saddened by this, I’m completely happy with it because it reflects a necessary positive change in my mind about something I’d been trying to somehow reconcile for a long time. I figure the religious can draw whatever metaphors they want about science and religion and we can be civil to each other on the street, but I think science simply has to march onward and leave the religious to self implode by their own choices.

  25. Pray Hard
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Oh, all the comments by wingnuts about atheists being strident, shrill, etc. are nothing but projection by them. That is, they are shrill, strident, confrontational, unforgiving, uncompromising, etc. I can make a five or ten minute loop from my house (in Texas) and see any number of shrill and strident religious billboards, yard signs, business marquees, bus stop benches, church marquees, bumper stickers, window stickers, telephone pole signs, fence signs, t-shirt messages, Jesus fish, etc., whereas, I can drive all day and never see an atheist, secularist, rationalist or scientist anything. So, hmmmm, seems like the typical religious, professional-victim tempest in a teapot to me.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      So correct!! Projection is exactly the definition of the actions of the religionists.

      • Egbert
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Projection and immaturity.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          Projection and cowardice. You have to be brave to steer away from the siren of immortality. Cowards take the comfortable road.

        • bsherrick
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

          And “delusion” – I know the word sounds harsh/strident, but it really is appropriate in the circumstances and I mean no disrespect beyond the dictionary definition.

          • Egbert
            Posted March 26, 2012 at 4:02 am | Permalink

            Let’s drop delusional and call it ‘insane’ and now I think we’ve got the psychology of the true believer.

  26. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    As a metaphor, consider the paper shopping bag that has become damp. The shopping bag is full of bottles, cans, food items. When the damp bag gives way (that is, when the supernatural is found to be impossible, simply by observation that zero amount of calcium, zero, leaves your brain when you die, and that calcium would be required to transmigrate your memories to another ‘realm’)…when the damp bottom of the bag gives way, and the eggs in the carton smash, when the bottles break, when the fruit is bruised, when cans roll off into the sewer opening, these are not a consequence of the (atheist) bystander who warned you, “The bag is going to give way.” The sharp sound of glass breaking, the cans bounding off, the tomatoes splatting…these are not a consequence of the un-shrill, un-strident bystander. These are a consequence of the bag giving way. It should be called as it is.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      To carry this a bit further, it’s not the observing bystander who had a bag of “eternal life”, “justice for perceived wrong”, “meeting lost relatives who died”, “heavenly existence”, “love of a supreme being”, und so weiter. Why should he be yelling? It is the bagholder yelling, and blaming the observer; It is the bagholder who has lost. Of course he’s yelling, and his ears lay close to his mouth!

      Of course, the bystander has lost nothing. He had no bag. He lost nothing. He’s silently shaking his head.

  27. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Stuff like this is what will sink the grand yacht “S.S. Religion”:

    Stuff like this is surfacing weekly. And, with the internet, it may not affect, grown, arrogant religionists. But, their children will soon give up on the supernatural.

  28. Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    You ask “what common ground?” and wonder what kind of compromise is possible. I think that common ground does exist between believers and non-believers. Obviously the common ground has nothing to do with faith! It has to do with the desire for people to live good lives, perhaps. It might have to do with the desire to have a just society. The point is that common ground must be sought on a case by case basis. Open inquiry into the truth will in my view always lead away from faith, since faith is based on claims without evidence. However, discussion between believers and nonbelievers on questions of morality, law, behavior, and other relevant issues can proceed even in the face of total disagreement about why such things are important.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      To elaborate on my response to the similar point you made above (#22): “discussion … can proceed even in the face of total disagreement about why such things are important.”

      No, it can’t, because “why such things are important” is exactly the problem. Even a reasonable believer is likely to go back to doctrine and dogma rather than evidence and reason.

      Being right for the wrong reasons is still wrong.


      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Well, honestly, to say discussion cannot proceed simply because you disagree on a matter of importance is just factually incorrect. Happens all the time. I must be misunderstanding you. So what if they are wrong? I mean, I’d like them to agree with me that reason should always trump faith, and the fact that they don’t is a matter of real concern for society, but we can still talk about questions of morality, law, etc. and come to agreement. We actually have to, and we already do so all the time. You can have discussions and come to agreements even while disagreeing about why you agree!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      “However, discussion between believers and nonbelievers on questions of morality, law, behavior, and other relevant issues can proceed even in the face of total disagreement about why such things are important.”

      Thank you, Captain Obvious.

      Is anyone claiming the contrary?

  29. Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I think there is room for compromise and finding common ground. The common ground has to be found on a case by case basis. We can disagree about whether there is a god or gods and still have reasonable discussions about what actions are moral, what types of laws we should pass, how to behave in the public sphere, etc. Types of compromises that can be made include allowing prayers at football games as long as every religious or nonreligious viewpoint is represented on a rotating basis, including the idea of simply making a statement about how you hope the game goes well and ending by saying there is no god. Compromises are not necessarily evil and might be opportunities for learning on both sides.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Atheist: X is moral because it maximises the common good. [For example.]

      Religionist: No, X is immoral because my God says so.

      Yep, a very reasonable discussion.


      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        You really are striving hard to find a place where there is no common ground. I agree that in an area where you can find no common ground, then you are stuck. So instead of fuming about that, just relax and move the discussion to an area of common ground. Example: “I believe homosexuality is moral because it allows people who love each other to express that love.” Theist: “No, homosexuality is immoral because my God says so.” You could then say, fuck, what a dogmatic asshole, totally not look for common ground, and go post on a blog about it. Or you could say, “Why do you think God forbids it?” This is a cool way to shift a theist into an argument that is really a rational one. Or you could say “If a man loves another man but does not have sex with him, just holds hands and smiles a lot, is that forbidden?” Believe me, you have some common ground here if you look for it. You just have to practice and give up your ego. YOu can always find disagreement, that’s easy. Common ground is more productive but harder to find sometimes.

        • gbjames
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          This is bogus. What is the common ground between someone who thinks people should be left to live their lives as they wish as long as they don’t harm others and someone who thinks homosexuals should be killed because that’s what their holy book says should happen? Maybe they should compromise and just castrate gays? Or maybe the compromise would be that gay people would be imprisoned?

          The compromise with a person from Crazytown is moving halfway to Crazytown.

          No. Honesty demands that you call it as you see it. Writing a blog posting that explains why Crazytown is crazy is far more valuable than holding hands with the Mad Hatter because you both like chocolate ice cream.

          • Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            Who ever said you have to hold hands with the Mad Hatter? Amusing analogy, and of course you call it as you see it, duh! Finding common ground does not have to mean you hold hands and give up your principles. You ask “what is the common ground,” but you seem as interested in that answer as your imagined irrational homosexual murderer is about holding hands with you. The common ground will depend on the person you are talking to. It does not show up magically, you have to look for it. That’s the point. There is always common ground, and I think it is usually worth considering it, as a tactic if not a moral principle. Not every Christian is out to murder fags. I find that Christians often bring their personal morality to their religion and then ascribe it to God after the fact. Your example is intentionally extreme to make a point, but it suggests that you have a rather hysterical view of Christians. You probably give off a pretty hostile vibe to them. You sure as hell do to me right now.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

              If you think this is all just an imagined example you need to do some googling. Start with this one: “Uganda kill the gays law”. The example I gave is not dreamt up in my fevered imagination.

              Now, explain to me the common ground I’m supposed to find with someone who thinks that the God of the Universe demands that a woman who commits adultery should be stoned.

              Tell me where the common ground is with people who believe that we don’t need to protect the environment because Jesus will be back soon and he’ll take care of it all. Maybe “OK, we won’t bother with any of that silly environmental legislation until 2050, and then if Jesus hasn’t arrived we’ll talk about it again.”?

              If I seem hostile to that sort of belief, well yes, I am. But you’re the one who walked into the room telling people that the were “pricks”.

              • Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

                I did not tell anyone here that they were pricks. I said “we don’t have to be pricks and focus on disagreement all the time.” I’m sorry you took that personally but really that was your choice, not mine. And I’m not saying that you are making up that people are irrational and full of hate. I should have said “hypothetical” but I said “imaginary” so you are jumping all over me in your apparent rush to disagree with as much as you possibly can.
                So what I’m trying to say, and you seemingly keep ignoring it, is that finding common ground is not something you do with groups of people in the abstract. You do it in person. You do not focus on the obvious disagreements, you look for common ground. LOOK FOR common ground. That requires effort. I got that you don’t want to, but it is possible. And I submit it’s worth doing.
                AGAIN, you don’t give up your beliefs, you don’t agree with things just to make friends, and you don’t keep your mouth shut about things you believe in. Will you just try to think for a second? I get it, yes, people hold dumb beliefs for dumb reasons. I get that it’s frustrating and they often use power to do stupid evil things. That’s life. I’m not a pollyanna. I’m not saying let’s sing cumbayah. You’re not listening.
                You asked, “tell me where the common ground is with people who believe we don’t need to protect the environment because Jesus will be back soon.” It’s individual. You have to practice. You look the person in the eyes, take a breath, and LOOK.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

                Frankly, wealthychef, I don’t see much point in your abstract desire to “look for common ground” on the subject of religion. Why should we?

                Person A and person B have incompatible views on subject X. Instead of confronting X you would have us change the subject to Y which the two people can agree on. What value is this distraction? The problem of X remains and will remain indefinitely as long as it goes unaddressed. You make is sound as if the evils that result when people believing that fictional beings guide our lives are either unimportant or can be solved by ignoring them.

                And who said that atheists (uncompromising or otherwise) don’t make common cause with people (who happen to be theists) on subjects that are independent of faith? You make that assertion but provide no evidence that these people exist. I don’t know any. I’ve spent years active in my community working alongside believers on public matters that have nothing to do with anyone’s faith. When they put aside their faith notions it works. But as soon as they wander into god-bothering territory and claim that our endeavor is somehow religious, I push back.

                Bad ideas are bad ideas. When you are confronting bad ideas there should be no false compromise.

                It is not reasonable for you to think that the rest of us should shy away from honestly confronting bad ideas so that you (or anyone else) can pretend that the differences don’t exist.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            The compromise is to think people should be left to live their lives as they wish as long as they don’t harm others, while still revering the holy book that says homosexuals should be killed as a great source of wisdom.

            No, thanks.

            • PB
              Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

              Why wealthychef just say what does he mean by “common ground” ? Stop talking around and say something concrete.

              Building a hospital together, atheists, christians, moslems?

              Or a “Foundation of Science and Gods”? (oh, Templeton had done that –> but is this it, chef? if so, just spill it out!)

              A graduate course in “Atheism and Non-Atheism” ?



    • Steve
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:03 am | Permalink


      allowing prayers at football games

      But not baseball games? But not before eating your meal in a restaurant? But not before paying for something at the checkout counter? But not before the start of each and every school class?

      How in the world did you come up with this plan, that all football games would allow prayer before the game?

      And what about, say, a theology that held that the only proper place for prayers was in a very private place, like a closed off (from all other people) closet?

      • Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        LOL, I must be totally being unclear here. Look, it’s just an example. The idea is to find common ground with people. It’s not the solution to all problems, it doesn’t convince theists to be atheists. It just is decent behavior and has the important effect of bridging the conversation to enable you to shift out of an impasse if you want to. If you want to just sit there and tell someone why you don’t believe in their God, fine. I think it’s important we call a spade a spade, and believe me, I’m no striking violet in that area; people know I’m an atheist. One day on the volleyball court I invited Jesus to strike me dead and laughed while all my fellow players obviously were stunned, it was hilarious. There is value to being a gladiator in the public arena. But I think sometimes there is also value to showing that you can understand another’s perspective. It wins points. It’s just a tool in the toolbox. You don’t have to use it, and I can tell you’re never going to, so let’s just shut up about it. LOL

        • Steve
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Oh, but I do employ the tool of understanding other people’s perspective. I don’t know upon what you would presume that I would NEVER use that tool. I am using that tool right now, trying best as I might to understand your perspective.

          More times than not, it seems to me its the theists that fail to consider another’s perspective. Gosh darn, most have been given a commandment(s) to absolutely never give other perspectives any thought whatsoever (only the perspective that has been divinely revealed to the official priesthood and handed down to the laity is allowed/sanctified).

  30. MadScientist
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    “Give me a reasonable believer …”

    Ooooohahahahahahaha! Baggini is so funny – doesn’t he know that the deliberate rejection of reason is what makes the believer? If anyone gets the chance, ask Baggini to fetch a left-handed screwdriver.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s unreasonable to think that because a person is unreasonable in the area of religion, you have no common ground with them.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        No common ground with regard to the existence of a supernatural entity. “Does the supernatural exist, or not exist?” I do not believe for that question, there can be any partial response.

        Yes, as automobile drivers, we all share a common regard, a common ground, as to the rules of the road. And morality, we don’t want anyone to hurt us, or do bad things to our property, this we all agree. But Baggini is attempting to impose the realistic attitudes of non-religious arenas onto the question of the existence of a Diety.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          er, Deity!!

        • Posted March 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

          Baggini does not not seem to argue what you are saying he argues in my reading. Can you provide a snippet from his article that shows how he is attempting to impose what you say he is? Perhaps he is known to argue such a thing and I’m missing some subtext about Baggini. But in this article, he sounds very reasonably to be arguing for people to be humble about their own positions and look for common ground.

          • bsherrick
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

            Baginni is indeed arguing for “people to be humble”, but the “people” in question are the religious believers – Baginni is asking them to give up belief in the super natural! Now that would be one humble “believer”!

            • Posted March 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

              Unlikely they’ll come around, at least during a single conversation. That’s why seeking common ground is a big advantage. It’s psychology. If they see you as having common ground with them, it can induce them to take a step or two in your direction and it’s totally unreasonable to expect anything more than that. I think a lot of people here don’t understand what the “conversion” process looks like. Changing from Christianity to atheism doesn’t happen overnight, it’s slow. Unless you are very logically minded, which most people aren’t, people are not going to just snap! decide to be atheist. They might have to let go of their precious ideas one by one. IT’s a process, not the result of an argument. For me, it was a long journey before I decided, damn, I’m an atheist, how about that? So we should be patient with the poor ignorant fools and just look for areas where we can see their point of view as a friend, so they can trust us to when we show them see other ideas too.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

                Different strokes for different folks.

                I do not object to you taking a slow-and-fuzzy approach to conversation. I object to you telling those of us who don’t that we’re doing it wrong.

                Whether people change “just snap!” or slowly over time is kind of irrelevant. To my mind it is a bit disrespectful to treat people as if they can only handle a little bit of reality at a time. There is a mountain of evidence on one side and nothing on the other. I’d be offended if I was a believer and someone was doling out little bits of piecemeal argument because they didn’t think I could handle the real thing.

                Please provide evidence that the forceful “gnu-atheist” approach is a failure. Because, from where I sit, out-front, honest and clear confrontation of religion has done more in ten years than polite closeted atheism accomplished in two centuries.

              • Tulse
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

                To my mind it is a bit disrespectful to treat people as if they can only handle a little bit of reality at a time.

                This cannot be said too often. It is the accommodationists who show a deeper disrespect for the religious, viewing them as if they are children to be coddled, and as if their beliefs are not even worthy of intellectual analysis and contention. It is the Gnu Atheists who actually engage the content of the beliefs of the religious, that treat those claims as worthy of argumentation. That is far more respectful.

              • Steve
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

                poor ignorant fools


              • Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

                To the point that finding common ground is intellectually disrespectful and that somehow I’m backing down by doing so or not being fully expressive, I think I am understanding something. You guys are all treating this as if discussions about religion are always entirely an intellectual proposition. That is the way most of us here at this blog approach life. But not all humans approach life that way, and my “find common ground” approach is designed to appeal to the parts of the brain that are not rational. You might think it’s disrespectful; I think that not expecting everyone to analyze religion through reasoned argument is more respectful of the way many people live their lives. When you hit what looks like an impasse, I think it’s good to be flexible and move to common ground. Warm fuzzes win points and it’s not disrespectful to seek out common ground.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Greta Christina wrote a blog post last year that speaks very well to this subject. I recommend it because it very well represents my point of view on the subject. But I think it is worth the read in any case. Diplomacy and Accomodationism Are Not The Same Thing


              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                “I think that not expecting everyone to analyze religion through reasoned argument is more respectful of the way many people live their lives.”

                Whereas I think it’s condescending to not expect someone to analyze religion through reasoned argument.

      • MadScientist
        Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        This “common ground” thing is a waste of time – that has been shown over and over again. None of the religious people who matter would accept Baggini’s proposal and such people have said time and time again why they will reject what Baggini is offering. It is nothing new, and I don’t understand why people like Baggini like to create a strawman to represent the atheists and then offer up the same unpalatable proposal to the religious. As the ancient Romans would say, the fool persists in repeating mistakes.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink


  31. DV
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I long for the day when religion becomes like smoking. Illegal in most places, and increases your insurance premium.

    • dunstar
      Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      lol. can’t we all just pat them on the head now? give them a gold star every time they don’t make a mess of the world. tell them ok we’re all going to have a discussion now so please go sit over there for a while and please don’t crap everywhere and then we’ll bring you up to speed of what we’ve come up with and sure you can complain about it. throw tantrums if you want but if you don’t we’ll give you some candy and ice cream.

  32. Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    “Give me a reasonable believer over an uncompromising atheist any day.”

    And what, “pray” tell, is a COMPROMISING atheist? Someone who does not believe any supernatural creator God exists but rather believes a supernatural creator God does exist???

    If so, then By Golly, give ME a reasonable believer (one who believes a supernatural creator God exists but rather does not believe any supernatural creator God exists) over an uncompromising theist any day!

    And if not, then PLEASE RETHINK that non-sequitur utterance, Julian Baggini!

    Honestly, I do NOT want any of whatever Baggini smokes or drinks…

  33. Marella
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    A ‘reasonable believer’? To paraphrase House, there are no reasonable believers, because if they were reasonable they wouldn’t be believers.

  34. Ray Moscow
    Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Here Baggini insists that atheists should call themselves ‘heathens’. Doesn’t he realise that ‘heathen’ is a religious term, and some pagans use it for themselves already?

    I propose that we call ourselves ‘Shakers’ instead since at least they are virtually extinct.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

      An acquaintance of mine at work (a lapsed Catholic) could never tell the difference between atheists (like me) and pagans. He thought I should dance naked round a mulberry tree sacrificing virgins on May Day or something. I could never figure out whether he really thought that or was just stringing me along. He never offered to supply any sacrificial virgins though.

      Anyway, ‘heathen’, ‘rationalist’, ‘atheist’ – any of those will suit me.

      • Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        “Religion is often our friend” — Very rarely. However, the religious sometimes can be.


      • PB
        Posted March 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        This is so true, among the (truly) religious, “atheist” means someone who dance naked, drink blood — pagans — unreasonable, unethical, will-rape-me-soon; not an intelligent white-haired gentleman, even a sharp-eyed baldy, and definitely infinitely couldn’t be better than themselves in any way!

        This is the sympathy that people like Baggini tries to elaborate among the religionists, and he know he won’t lose there (of course he won’t win in atheist circles, but there are target market and there are not ..).

        BTW, does anyone know whether Baggini’s hobbies include cooking? 😀

  35. phyllogynist
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    The worst thing is, he’s Not Even Wrong, just absurd. How could anyone expect all atheists to agree on any policy or strategy, beyond the lack of gods? (Amidst all the godless liberals at the Reason Rally, there was a good sprinkling of deity-free Ron Paul supporters as well, go figure.) The only sensible point in his screed would be that some atheists should be friendly and conversational… but plenty are.

    So either he isn’t paying attention, or his real point is that confrontational atheists should shut up. And (I think I’m channeling Ophelia here) that just won’t do. It’s not just Greta Christina who can come up with 99 or more reasons to be angry about religion. Don’t tell people to shut up, tell them how they’re wrong. That’s the kind of reasonableness that most of us employ, and expect in return. It’s a reasonableness that respects everyone, whether the religious like it or not.

  36. NoAstronomer
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    “And really, how many believers, save the extremely liberal ones, are racked with doubt, constantly engaged in seeking the truth about God?”

    Personally, I find the extremely liberal believers the most insincere of all. How many of them know that there are problems with their beliefs yet refuse to question them?


  37. Egbert
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Baggini has now written his heathen manifesto, which reads a bit like new atheism from points 2 to 8 and then accommodationism from points 9 to 12. I would keep points 2 to 8 but get rid of the word heathen and replace it with freethinker.

    • Andrei
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      The point on “scientism” is total BS. Are there any atheists, new or otherwise, who would claim that the battle of Hastings has to be explained in terms of fermion-boson interactions? Or that love is best understood in terms of neuron firings? Is “scientism” a correct term to describe this sort of attitude? I always thought it was “physicalism” or something…

      Also, on point 7, why everyone seems to assume that if the human life does not have a cosmic meaning, it is somehow depressing or “dark side”? Perhaps it is the best thing about life that it does not have any cosmic meaning.

      • Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Good point, that last, Andrei. For decades I (for one among many godless humanists who also) have said that IF there is no Almighty supernatural creator God (as there sure seems not to be) to dictate the meaning and purpose of the cosmos and Life, THEN the GOOD NEWS is that we humans are free to give all the full richness of meaning and purpose to life that WE freely CHOOSE to give it!

        (Or alternatively — for the strict rigorously mechanical determinists among us — we are at least free to enjoy the realistic illusion that we humanists “choose” to give meaning and purpose to life, such actually being rigorously mechanically determined ultimately by the initial conditions of the universe .)

    • Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      See also #34.

  38. Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Reasonableness Vs Rationality.

  39. Posted March 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this, I found both Baghini’s odd proposal and this reply very interesting.

    There seems to be a division of perspectives, not just the most obvious one between supernaturalists and naturalists but also between people who see the clash of viewpoints itself as a primary concern, and those who find the detailed content of beliefs less important than what we do with them to produce thinking. The latter are those who consider beliefs themselves to be more akin to tools of thought than direct representations of reality. So for example, they assume that people can reason to the truth eventually even though starting from
    different assumptions.

    I think that’s where Baggini’s virtues come into play, they allow for people to start from different points yet reason together when it matters. I agree in principle with this essentially pragmatist notion.

    The reason I think Baggini’s proposal is odd though is that I suspect only pragmatists would agree that beliefs are tools, many people seem to argue that the specific things we believe drive our reasoning through logic to the consequences of our assumptions, so the bad assumptions have to be rooted out, and foremost among them supernaturalism and magic. In fact, I suspect that the pragmatist, perspectivist epistemology is held by a minority, and their way of thinking is often not perceived as reasonable but attempting an impossible and unwanted compromise.

    The very understanding of what it means to be reasonable differs here.

  40. Posted March 26, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Just an attempt to ease his conflicted mind. Now he can say, “Well I tried.” It is kind of pathetic in a way.

  41. marvol19
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Is it just me, or do at least 3 out of 4 points of ‘reasonable faith’ each take away precisely the pillars of faith/religion?

    Viz., scientific claims = origin of universe, creation of life; scripture = word of god (or at least directly inspired by god); and religious practise is primarily a means to please god or follow his rules.

    That’s all reasonable but leaves very little room for faith. Which is fine by me but I can’t see many religious agreeing because it leaves no room for god to ‘come from’.

    • Steve
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      No, it’s not just you, marvol19. I thought as much when I read it, and others have posted similarly. +

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Well if you redefine atheism as reasonable belief, then we can find all kinds of common ground with reasonable believers.

      There are “believers” like that. Karen Armstrong and John Shelby Spong are two examples. They’re basically pantheists who pretend to be in the Christian tradition. But as someone upthread said, they aren’t the believers who matter. The ones who have influence on society are the ones who really believe in the hocus pocus.

  42. ForCarl
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I can have all kinds of conversations on all kinds of topics with my catholic friend and we can agree reasonably and rationally on those topics. We can not, however, have the same kind of conversation about religion because my friend, by virtue of her belief system, can not argue from any point of reason or rationality. Therefore, in my view, Baggini is wrong on this.

  43. truthspeaker
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    As to this:

    “By charity, I mean the effort to try to understand the views and arguments of those we disagree with in the most sympathetic form we can, being critical of their strongest versions,”

    I’ve tried. Oh, have I tried. Even their strongest versions are unreasonable. I keep waiting for some believer to provide a reason for believing that gives me a reason to consider it seriously. I’ve been waiting for 41 years and still haven’t heard or read anything that even comes close.

    • dunstar
      Posted March 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      this is what they mean by reasonable faith.

      Imaginary God (as man, anthropomorphic) is reasonable. So they want everyone to leave them be with this fantasy.

      Imaginary God (as a unicorn) is unreasonable. lol. They start saying that everyone is building up a Strawman…..errrr Strawunicorn.

      They completely leave out or ignore the part that it’s both imaginary with no proof.

  44. Posted March 27, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Certainly a staunch ally, this Baggini. But whose ally?

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