Books Ring Mah Bell's Reviews > God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
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May 28, 08

bookshelves: religion-or-not
Read in December, 2007

I read this months ago and never got around to the review...

Simply stated, Hitchens puts into words all the reasons I shy away from organized religion. The prejudices, sexism, the overall foolishness...

At the same time, he seems oblivious to the fact that there are religious people out there doing great things; feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, building for the homeless.

Hey Hitchens! I get that you are atheist. That's fine, but knock that chip off your shoulder already! Belief that decent religious people exist does not mean you have to agree with them or believe in their God.

Mr. Hitchens, may I suggest a few new titles for your book?
Try "God Can Be Great, But Freaks Poison Religion" or "How Jerks Screw Up Religion".
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 91) (91 new)


message 1: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I feel about Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins the same way I imagine nice, normal, intelligent Christians do about frothing fundamentalists who ban evolution textbooks and bomb abortion clinics.

They're embarrassing.


message 2: by Jessica (new)

Jessica That is putting it mildly.


Books Ring Mah Bell pompous ass came to my mind.


message 4: by Xander (new)

Xander outstanding points, BRMB.


message 5: by Monica (new)

Monica Good review BRMB. Hitchens seems full of himself and comes across as if he has to be right about everything...a big turn off.


James ... Except a fairly large chunk of the book is spent addressing the issue of good deeds performed by the faithful, and dismantling that argument as a valid support for religious belief and teaching. You may not agree with his assessment but I wouldn't say that anyone who's read the book could say he's oblivious to it.


message 7: by Matt (new) - added it

Matt Mazenauer Oblivious? I'm not sure you read the same book as I. Yes, he's ranty and calling out the extremism, but he very clearly mentions (dozens of times) throughout the book that the good that religion does is far ouweighed by the evil. This is definitely addressed.


Books Ring Mah Bell It has been so long since I have read it... all I recall is he seemed pissed. cranky. in need of a nap.

maybe that was just me. (entirely possible)


message 9: by Shelly (last edited Apr 30, 2009 06:39PM) (new) - added it

Shelly I think his tone can turn people off. Maybe that's what happened with you and some others with similar experiences with the book. I happen to like him, but I have a penchant for cocky assholes.


James I think just about anyone would agree that Hitchens's tone can be off-putting, but for anyone to claim that he doesn't address good deeds done by religious people is an indication of selective reading (or, more likely, simply not actually getting more than 50 pages into the book).


message 11: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 30, 2009 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Haven't read it, but I know Hitchens doesn't deny that religious people do great things. He just doesn't emphasize it in his religious criticism. And it's not like people haven't already long established that religious people do good things. In fact this is the norm. One major point that these new atheist writers are trying to point out is that people don't need to harbor religious beliefs in order to do these good things. For most of human history it's been assumed that "there are no atheists in fox holes", that atheists are morally defective, that there is no basis for morality whatsoever unless one posits that a Magic Sky Daddy has handed down Ethical Standards, etc. I think that Sam Harris (a hero of mine) sums it up well with (to paraphrase slightly), "Religion gives people bad reasons to do good things, when good reasons are readily available." It amazes me that people are so shocked and appalled by the backlash from these new prominent critics of religion. It's been a long time comin'. And a lot of nonbelievers are pleased to finally be included within mainstream discourse. I understand why people, including other nonbelievers, are put off by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc, but I implore them to think about exactly why it is that these writers are frustrated with the cultural deference to religious belief, or appear "angry", "cranky", "strident", etc, or if they really are these things at all. I'd say they're passionate and that unless people can marshal decent arguments against them, merely writing them off as "angry" is just unwarranted. I think that people regularly encounter the same amount of righteous indignation and polemicism in all sorts of other areas of human discourse that don't get written off for having a target and taking aim at it with gusto. The standards seem to change when it comes to the subject of religion though, and I'd say this is part of the problem. Also, I think that Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are better ambassadors of the so called "New Atheism" then Dawkins and Hitchens, because they seem to have a deeper understanding of just how important religion is to the vast majority of people and have much more pragmatic way of presenting their critiques.


Books Ring Mah Bell
This makes me want to go back and re-read. Seriously. Thanks guys... I had no other books on my to-read list!

As I stated above, it very well could be that I was reading selectively. His tone is often abrasive... and I may not have been in the mood for it and simply shut him off. Normally, I'd say I like people with a little passion, but I suppose Benny Hinn has passion for his beliefs and I don't like him at all.
No sir.

MFSO, I agree that Dennett is an excellent ambassador for the new atheists... I pick him over Hitchens any day.


message 13: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 30, 2009 07:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Sam Harris is the best of the Big Four in my opinion. Also, he wrote and had his book published before them as well, even though Dawkins subsequent fame made people think he was the "new kid on the block." Dennett makes a few references to his first book in Breaking the Spell. I've got a pretty severe intellectual crush on the guy. I suggest checking out his stuff on YouTube, reading his books, and checking out his website.


message 14: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell I heard Dennett on the Dennis Prager show. I thought he came off as a little condescending. Or maybe I'm influenced by the fact that he's a an evolutionary psychologist and therefore believes that religion is a selected evolutionary trait, which I disagree with.

I like P.Z. Myers blog Pharyngula. Although maybe I would like him less if I heard him speak instead of reading him.


message 15: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 30, 2009 07:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Dennis Prager is awful. Pretty much on par with the intellectual prowess and ideology-advancing tactics of the Limbaughs of the world, judging from the stuff I've heard. Here's an extremely apt (a huge understatement) picture that a fan of Sam Harris drew after his e-mail debate and two appearances on Prager's show:




message 16: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 30, 2009 07:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio And Dennett is a philosopher by trade but does draw heavily from evolutionary psychology and evolutionary theory in general in his work, so it's totally understandable that one would come to that conclusion about him. I'd be interested to hear why you find the evolutionary assessment of the origins and developments of religious beliefs and institutions to be faulty. Surely there's many specifics to get into about particular theories about the evolutionary trajectory of religions, such as the subjects of group selection, memes, various positions on adaptionism, etc...


message 17: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell That's very true. I only listen to him when he has a good guest on who can point out his idiocy.


message 18: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 30, 2009 09:54PM) (new)

I never understood the popularity of these atheism books. They are extremely unlikely to convince anyone who is a believer. (In fact, the people whose beliefs they most pointedly criticize will most often reject them out-of-hand -- by the title alone.)

I think most atheists and agnostics (like me) are already well aware of the logical reasons why religious beliefs are untenable positions and how "religions poison everything." The main problem, of course, is that religious people are often not orientated in a position that values logic in the same way; that is, religions often value faith in religious mysteries (tenets which defy reason) and sometimes view logical reasoning as an impediment to mysticism or to an authentic relationship with god.

In other words, I guess, just like political pundits for the left and the right, the atheistic bestselling writers like Hitchens are generally just preaching to the proverbial choir. If they augment or clarify an atheist's position... to what effect? I am sufficiently a non-believer and doubt that these writers are providing me with ammunition to convince believers of their errors (for the reason stated above).

There are exceptions, naturally, but I imagine they are few and far between. Mostly, pundits -- political and religious -- just moderate an insular discussion among like thinkers (or fan the flames of the opposition).

Am I saying books like this, ideally, shouldn't exist? No, not at all. I just can't imagine wanting to read one. I'd just rather read about issues where the positions are not bifurcated into positions which mostly cannot speak to/with each other. At least politics -- as opposed to religious discourse -- ostensibly attempt to speak the same language; religious and anti-religious positions (especially of a polemical nature) don't and perhaps can't even "hear" each other, y'know?


message 19: by James (last edited Apr 30, 2009 10:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

James David, I can vouch that at least one born-again Christian (a deeply committed one with a B.A. in Theology) was "converted" to atheism over the course of several years and credits the so-called New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al) with convincing him. It may be surprising to someone who is "inside" the nontheist camp -- it was surprising to me! -- but these guys do change minds sometimes.

That said, of course these guys preach primarily to the choir... but isn't that always an important role in any emerging philosophy? "God is Not Great" often rehashed ideas that I already had, but it also came at atheism from angles I had never considered before, and gave me new perspectives which strengthened old arguments, and new rebuttals for some of the classic theist positions.

I mean, everybody knows that politicians spew bullshit, but does that diminish the effectiveness of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"? Does the knowledge that governments tend to screw the poor make Swift's "Modest Proposal" redundant? I would argue not: sometimes the greatest thing an essayist can do is to give a framework for elaborating, strengthening, and articulating the concepts we already know to be true.


message 20: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Apr 30, 2009 10:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio David, I really do feel like I understand where you're coming from, but I think that the main point these writers are trying to make is that "faith" is a cop out. At least this is the main point of Sam Harris's work. He's trying to show that the entire notion of "faith" is something that all religious people categorically reject until they apply it to their particular system of religious beliefs -- and they reject all other forms of "faith" for good reason. He's simply trying to make it clear that this should be extended one step further. Christians reject the "faith" of Muslims and visa versa, etc, etc. I can't say enough about how important I think his particular criticisms are.

When it comes to him and Dennett (I'm not so sure about Hitchens and Dawkins) they're not just going into the same arguments against the existence of god that you and I are extremely familiar with. Rather, I think that they do a rather commendable job of appealing to people's common sense and general ethical aspirations. Harris has basically phrased it this way: we can no longer afford the luxury of strong belief without evidence because so many of these beliefs are directly responsible for so much unnecessary suffering and since the advent of massively destructive technology the potential of civilization-razing. Of course there are myriad non-religious ideologies that also deeply separate human communities, but the major present day religious traditions take this Balkinization to transcendent, OtherWorldly extremes and are based on little else than wishful-thinking spun out of control over millenia. I think his appeal is definitely more directed at non-fundamentalists, though I will say that fundamentalists can be argued out of their faith-based convictions, even if it is currently few and far between as far a we can tell. In any case, I think that it is a worthy goal to raise these issues and at least get a more honest dialogue going about them. I could go on and on about all of this, but I'm going to hit "post" and sign off for now...


message 21: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2009 06:53AM) (new)

James, I am truly interested in your "conversion." Can you pinpoint any specific lines of reasoning that most strongly influenced you?

I was raised Catholic, and as a child and teenager, my religious beliefs were based not so much positively on a conviction of the belief in a god, but negatively, as a talisman against bogeymen, retribution, and the biggie -- elternal damnation. But I must confess that philosophical or atheistic thinkers didn't convince me of the absurdity of it; it was I who -- following my own inkling, my own relationship to the world -- arrived at a firm disbelief. I don't think that if I had been initially committed to the belief in a positive sense that I could have been moved to think otherwise -- without some sort of significant personal transformative experience. But this is all wild speculation and is exactly the reason that I am curious about your experience.

And, yes, I would agree with your statement, "That said, of course these guys preach primarily to the choir... but isn't that always an important role in any emerging philosophy?" but only to the extent that we are speaking of philosophies which attempt to appeal primarily to reason. Again, if religion and philosophy are not speaking the same language, so to speak, it's difficult for me to imagine either side "crossing over" without some kind of personal epiphany. ("Epiphany" itself almost makes it sound mystical, and in a way it is. Embarking upon religion after atheism or atheism after passionate religion conviction is something akin to Kierkegaard's leap of faith. It's a total abandonment of the method of discourse and understanding that one has based his or her most essential convictions upon.)

MFSO, I appreciate your response. I guess I am not arguing that strong believers will never be dissuaded from their beliefs, but I think people like Hitchens are unlikely to be the ones to accomplish it... in the same way that Michael Moore or Keith Olbermann are unlikely to convince FoxNews viewers of the error of their ways.

And I still maintain than a strongly committed believer who can be argued out of his/her position is the exception to the rule -- and this conversion of thought may signal that the belief wasn't particularly strong (in a positive sense) to begin with.

Also, I think that the most persuasive defenders of atheism remain people like Nietzsche and Freud -- who pointed to deeply underlying motivations for religious belief of which believers themselves are consciously unaware. In overly-simplified terms, it makes sense that we should desire a god but makes little sense that we should choose to believe in one.

I'm not sure what modern thinkers significantly add to this definitive argument. Everything else seems superfluous -- and most of this sort of debate seems to be snippy partisanship which only fortifies opponents' positions.

Oh, and of course I agree that "faith" is cop-out, but arguing this position isn't likely to convince those with strong faith because the discourse of faith teaches them that influences which divert them from their faith (e.g., Sam Harris) are, at best, misguided or, at very worst, demonic. It's hard to pry people out of the hermetic world of faith-based thought, which can be in fact reinforced in some perverse way (for the believer) by counterargument.


message 22: by Shelly (new) - added it

Shelly I think that in many ways it's all a matter of exposure. I wish I could say, like you David, that from an early age I realized that what I was being taught at my neighbor's church, or at bible camp, just didn't add up. Sadly, it took me awhile and some religious experimentation before I gave it some "deep thought." I don't think I'm alone in that prior to my "conversion" to atheism I really didn't question my beliefs too much, I just had them.
Then I came to a point in my life where I was exposed to atheists who would ask me all kinds of questions about why I was religious and what I got out of it and why I believed there was a god, etc, etc. And for the first time in my life I was like "I have no idea. " Up until then (I was 22) I had never heard an argument against the existence of god.

You're right, though, when you say a "strongly committed" believer most likely won't be argued out of their position. I wasn't gun-ho for god.

In the last year I've had Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses come to my home and try and sell me on the nuttiness of their philosophies. Sometime I just feel like they shouldn't be the only ones out there brow-beating their message to the masses.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2009 06:40AM) (new)

Yeah, I agree, Shelly. It is about time religious people had to endure some of the evangelism we've had to put up with for so long. (Let's go door-to-door! Wanna? I'll print up some tracts. What should our uniform be?)

But Hitchens doesn't really qualify as brow-beating (in my opinion) because books are very easily ignored, especially when the title itself points to its polemicism.




Books Ring Mah Bell I just laughed my dupa off at the image of you and Shelly in some crazy outfits (tassels and SARS masks) going door to door... "Good afternoon. Would you like to hear the good news?"

Beautiful image.

Thanks for the great reading this morning on this thread....

I need D. Russ to return and explain why he does not believe in that religion is a selected evolutionary trait, and I also need James to return and discuss his conversion. We are all friends here, guys, let it rip.

(otherwise, I'm sending David and Shelly to your door)


message 25: by Shelly (new) - added it

Shelly ExCATly! My sister told me she went to a chiropractor who had a crucifix hanging on the wall of his waiting room and pamphlets about god and spirituality on his coffee table. Could you imaging walking into a waiting room with a huge stencil on the wall that says "There is no god" ?

I love the idea of the uniform. Should we just invert the Mormon one and do long sleeve black shirts with white ties and white pants? Too 'The Hives"?


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

Too 'The Hives"?

Ha!


Books Ring Mah Bell Could you imaging walking into a waiting room with a huge stencil on the wall that says "There is no god" ?

That place would be blown up in a matter of minutes here in my town!

"the Hives" - here we go with the visuals again. Freaking awesome!


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2009 07:07AM) (new)

My sister told me she went to a chiropractor who had a crucifix hanging on the wall of his waiting room and pamphlets about god and spirituality on his coffee table. Could you imaging walking into a waiting room with a huge stencil on the wall that says "There is no god" ?

Shelly, right here you have absolutely nailed a metaphor for separation of church and state. If we were to enter a waiting room and saw no religious pamphlets or iconography, we would not, ergo, assume the dentist was an atheist or was promulgating atheism.

The problem is when the dentist becomes the U.S. government. Idiots -- there's no other word for them -- who like the idea of "In God We Trust" or Ten Commandments monuments on courthouse lawns or directed prayer in school somehow equate the government's silence on religion as an implicit denunciation of it or as a victory for atheism. Such spurious "reasoning"! A "victory for atheism" would be a monument that explicitly stated there was no god, not the omission of any statements about religion one way or the other. Why does the government need to comment upon (even symbolically) or endorse religion (OR atheism) in any way? What value is there in it?

"Oh. Lookie at that pretty monument! I had forgotten all about the Ten Commandments and America's {so-called} religious heritage! I think I'll go be more moral and Christian now... Thanks, monument!"


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I think the simplest way to de-legitimize "faith" is to play several games of "what if?" with believers. No Christian can give an account of why it is more reasonable to have faith in their God but not in Allah. Or Zoroaster. Or Poseidon. Or faith that the Holocaust never happened. Insert your favorite widely marginalized and crazy sounding ideas at leisure. "Faith is simply the license otherwise reasonable people give one another to keep believing in something when reasons fail." -Sam Harris.



message 30: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 07:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Also, on the subject of "deconversion" (as some like to call it) there are plenty of examples on hand. The guy who hosts the somewhat popular public access show "The Atheist Experience" was a strong believer for somewhere around 20 years. Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine and popular science writer was a born-again Evangelical Christian in his teens and early twenties and now clearly is not. There are several books circulating now as well about former preachers and priests who've gone through the same experience and feel all the better for it.


message 31: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 07:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Also, I think that the most persuasive defenders of atheism remain people like Nietzsche and Freud

I have to disagree with this since neither of them really went through the arguments for or against the existence of God. I think they both (especially Nietzsche) had really insightful things to say about the effects of religion on human social, cultural and psychological dynamics but they both wrote with the notion that no such Being exists or even possibly exists. It was a given for them. There are plenty of academic books on the subject that do carefully go through all of the exhausting and detailed arguments for and against and I think that these atheistic arguments tend to be the most convincing about the "truth of religion" issue. However, like you, I didn't need to read these things to conclude that none of the god-talk that circulates adds up to anything coherent. Though I have continued to think deeply about the issues since then, and seem to just keep finding more and more reasons to not believe in anything supernatural whatsoever. And now I am far more concerned with the pernicious effects of these myths-touted-as-truths on the world I live in, but a big part of this obviously involves explaining the failed hypothesis of theism.


message 32: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2009 08:27AM) (new)

Again, MFSO, I agree with the "what if" argument, but often I find the truly committed don't require "reason" to endorse their views. They can easily just say the other religions are mistaken -- in whatever way -- and they have been graced with a truer, more authentic religious understanding. (Or, in the more liberal perspective, that all religions are paths to god.)

I have brought up the "what if" scenario to true believers, and they generally seem unfazed by it. It seems that religious devotion often, in this respect, is analogous the passion that leads many Americans who've never left America in their lives to insist, "We're #1! We're #1! We're #1!" Who needs evidence? Their being American is the legitimating factor.


message 33: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 07:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's true that there's just no budging some people. But I think we have to try. And I know you're not saying "Don't try", so I guess I'm just speaking more generally here. I think that liberal apologetics is what will probably erode religion from human society long before scientific-minded atheism will. Because liberal religion like, say, Unitarian Universalism, or the "Emergent Church", "Post Modern Christianity", etc, etc, etc, are essentially godless yet still invoke the language of faith with words like "faith", "God", and so on. I think many people are simply attached to words and don't think to deeply about what they actually represent.




message 34: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2009 07:36AM) (new)

Yes, I am aware that Nietzsche never put forth a systematic argument against belief in God. (He never really put forth a systematic argument for anything.)

What I am saying is that when, for instance, in On the Genealogy of Morals, he outlined the possibility of another use for belief other than belief for belief's sake, he -- like Freud -- cast a shadow upon the apparent psychological world.

Even if Freud never addressed religion at all -- and of course he did -- his theory of the unconscious (even when it doesn't pertain specifically to religion) was highly persuasive to me because he acknowledged that our motivations are not always apparent to us. This seemed to coordinate perfectly with religious belief.

So, yes, while they didn't deal specifically with atheism (and its defense), they are still the most persuasive to me.

I liked it when a professor I knew referred to Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx (with respect to religion) as "the masters of suspicion."


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I love On the Geneology of Morals. I actually was yelling "Yes!" aloud at a coffee shop the first time I read it, specifically throughout the second essay.

What I find most persuasive depends upon which god is being argued for. When it comes to the God of the Big Three Abrahamic Monotheisms I find that "the problem of evil" is just utterly insurmountable. I feel that this God is just as false a notion as 2+2=5. Other less logically impossible gods I find can be dismissed by the very fact that there's no empirical evidence for them and that faith is a cop-out as previously mentioned and not an piece of the argument. Then of course, nearly every other fact about the world makes the concept of an intelligent being with interests in us, or the variety of stories promulgated as facts in ancient literature like the Bible and Qur'an, and all the other tenets of religious traditions appear to be deeply implausible versions of reality at best.


message 36: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 07:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio David Hume had some good critical arguments as well.


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

I think many people are simply attached to words and don't think to deeply about what they actually represent.

Yes, yes, yes, MFSO. People love tradition, symbols, ritual... all of these. It amazes me how many times I hear "tradition" (in some guise or another) used as a reason for doing or thinking something of consequence.


message 38: by Shelly (new) - added it

Shelly I'm waiting to hear a woman's voice on the issue. I'd love for some woman to argue against religion based on how misogynistic it is.

Bellsy?


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Shelly wrote: "I'm waiting to hear a woman's voice on the issue. I'd love for some woman to argue against religion based on how misogynistic it is.

Bellsy?"


Try Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Also, men can decry misogyny. It's been known to happen.


message 40: by Shelly (new) - added it

Shelly Try Ayaan Hirsi Ali Will do, Thanks!

Also, men can decry misogyny. It's been known to happen.

Yeah, but... Where my girls at?!


message 41: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 08:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio For some info on specifically gender equality based arguments against religion:

Feminist Philosophy of Religion


message 42: by James (last edited May 01, 2009 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

James David -- My apologies if it sounded like I was referring to my *own* conversion. I was talking about a friend, who came to Christianity through extensive research and thought, decided to dedicate his life to theology, and then found (in his words) that "[his:] faith could not withstand the New Atheist arguments".

But I absolutely agree with you that this is by far the exception to the rule, if only because there is almost no one around today who actually studies theology (John Milton would turn in his grave if he could read the biblical "studies" of Rick Warren). In fact, the only people who seem to really know their scripture these days are students of literature, who read it (appropriately) as mythology.

This last part is a major point in Hitchens's book: he concedes the fact that the greatest thinkers up to the 18th century were theological in nature, but that elegant religious thought is simply no longer possible because the holy books now fail to explain the world in which we live. That duty is far better carried out by science, and it's hard to imagine that if Milton were around in 1960 rather than 1660 that he would still be a Christian.

I think I've digressed, but I don't really remember where I meant to go in the first place....


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

Oops. Sorry, James! I read into your comment.

This is/was a good discussion, people.


message 44: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 01, 2009 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio It's often been said by naturalists and non-theists of all kinds that before Darwin the argument from design developed by William Paley was the best hypothesis available. Not that it supported any particular version of god, but it more reliably supported the plausibility of some sort of "intelligent design." However, many of the ancient Greek philosophers essentially saw through this (and understood the principles of a "bottom-up" formation of complexity rather than the "top-down" variety which proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism rely on and see as the only option) long before monotheism or Plato even existed. They simply didn't have the empirical evidence nor the theory of biological evolution at their disposal. And today current evolutionary theory elegantly explains how complex things can emerge from simple things.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio That was in response to the last paragraph James wrote.


James I think you're right about the bottom-up vs top-down approach to nature. I would imagine that our culture would have matured, scientifically and philosophically, at a much faster rate under a Hellenistic rather than a monotheistic belief system. The Greeks and Romans, for instance, could take separate aspects of nature and assign them to individual gods who were each seen to have unique personalities; while this explanation is no more correct than the Christian one, it at least eradicates all of the pussyfooting necessary to justify the apparently cruel and often stupid behavior of a single, all-powerful deity. The cognitive dissonance created by the monotheistic worldview has brought about all types of retrogressive anti-intellectualism from the silencing of Galileo to the squashing of stem cell research to the illegalization of paper recycling in Muslim theocracies.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio James wrote: "I would imagine that our culture would have matured, scientifically and philosophically, at a much faster rate under a Hellenistic rather than a monotheistic belief system. The Greeks and Romans, for instance, could take separate aspects of nature and assign them to individual gods who were each seen to have unique personalities; while this explanation is no more correct than the Christian one, it at least eradicates all of the pussyfooting necessary to justify the apparently cruel and often stupid behavior of a single, all-powerful deity."

That's a really, really good point. I hadn't thought of it that way before. Of course some apologists for monotheism love to wax theoretical about how monotheism is somehow responsible for the creation of personal liberty, democracy, etc, which involves deeply convoluted and flawed arguments and ignores the entire secular wing of the Enlightenment and a variety of ancient Greek thought that was largely suppressed by the dominance of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

Again, great points above. I'm really glad to have read them.




message 48: by Books Ring Mah Bell (last edited May 01, 2009 10:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Books Ring Mah Bell The cognitive dissonance created by the monotheistic worldview has brought about all types of retrogressive anti-intellectualism from the silencing of Galileo to the squashing of stem cell research to the illegalization of paper recycling in Muslim theocracies.

James, I'm glad you are here. True, True, True!

Shelly, I feel terrible saying this, but the misogynistic nature of some religions isn't #1 on my list of reasons why I detest organized religion. This probably makes me a terrible woman. Seriously, one of my beefs with the Catholic church is the misogyny. (the other beefs... the obscene cover up of molestation/abuse, those pesky Crusades and Inquisition things, and the current Pope.) But the woman haters alone are not the thing that originally turned me off...

Thanks for the link in 41, MFSO!

I concur with David. Excellent discussion, guys. (and gals)


message 49: by Dave (new)

Dave Russell I need D. Russ to return and explain why he does not believe in that religion is a selected evolutionary trait

I'm here to fulfill you needs.

In order for religion to be a selected trait it needs to have some advantage that help that helps the religious person survive, but the arguments evolutionary psychologists come up with not only undercuts the position that religion is inherently harmful, but the arguments themselves are also unconvincing, such as the argument (and I've heard Hitchens expound this) that during the Middle Ages believers got health care through their churches, thus increasing their chances of survival. Like I said this kind of undercuts the point that religion poisons everything, but it also seems to me that Medieval "health care" was often more dangerous than no health care at all.

P.Z. Myers takes the view that religion that is the byproduct of cognitive abilities that are evolutionarily selected.

Here's another take by him on the whole question of evolutionary psychology which my immature mind found amusing.




Books Ring Mah Bell D. Russ! The "immature" take on evolutionary psych was HILARIOUS! Funniest thread I have read in a long long time... thank you for fulfilling my needs. (it makes up for that Naipaul book you sent - yeah, I know, I asked for it.)


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