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POLITICS/LEGAL/CURRENT EVENTS > Nothing pisses off fundamentalists quite like atheism

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message 1: by Charissa (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new)

Charissa (dakinigrl) Richard Dawkins' best-selling atheist manifesto The God Delusion was at the centre of a growing row over religious tolerance yesterday after the Turkish publishers of his book were threatened with legal action by prosecutors who accuse it of 'insulting believers'.

Erol Karaaslan, the founder of the small publishing house Kuzey Publications, could face between six months and a year in jail for "inciting hatred and enmity" if Istanbul prosecutors decide to press charges over the book, which has sold 6000 copies in Turkey since it was published this summer.

Full article:
http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/...


message 2: by Trevor (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:03PM) (new)

Trevor This is very interesting. In a recent interview on an Australian religious radio program Alister McGrath, author of The Dawkins' Delusion, claimed that one of the problems with Dawkins was that he was a bit of a coward. That he attacked Christianity because it was a soft target and ignored Islam because that would have been politically more dangerous.

I feel Dawkins' point was that all religion is equally dangerous as religion has a fundamental problem with rational discussion, due to all religion being based on faith. Faith is the antithesis of reason. It is hardly surprising then that there would be religious followers who would seek to ban access to such a book.

At least McGrath attempts to argue against Dawkins, no matter how unsuccessfully, rather than seek to ban the reading of his book or imprisoning the publisher as we see in Turkey.

It is unquestionably a good thing to live in a society where the powers of the church have been so curtailed that the option of banning such books, or burning those who write them, have been removed from the ambit of the religious.


message 3: by Jonatron (last edited Jan 03, 2008 10:13PM) (new)

Jonatron Atheists can be dangerous fundamentalists, too. :-)

As far as finding truth, yes, the problem is faith vs reason.

But as far as being "dangerous" (to society and human freedom), the problem is not faith. The problems are things like ignorance, unthinking conviction, blind devotion. Those of faith and those of reason both fall into these traps.

"The enemy of knowledge and science is irrationalism, not religion" — Stephen Jay Gould


message 4: by Nated (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments Dawkins seems like just another fundamentalist to me, as intolerant as the forces he 'fights'...

Like a person with no sense of smell saying that it's unnecessary to smell and that no one should ever make decisions based on it.

He's making the same decision that fundamentalist christians and muslims (hindu, satanists, etc.). He's certainly not helping the world become any safer by saying that religion is dangerous. All that trouble in Turkey was cause by a combination of popular/gov't religious intolerance and Dawkins' disrespect and intolerance.

Because it is a disrespectful and intolerant stance he takes, though that doesn't mean we should ban it. I mean, if you have faith then it should be immune to Dawkins' criticism (which are based on a different thought system, like criticising literary studies because it doesnt' make algebraic sense). If one is faithful, it's really based on personal belief on feelings, and not on a power structure that can be threatened by a book.

So that's a good thing about it, you can see who's not worth following by finding the people that react to Dawkins' work with fear and hatred and all those things their faiths supposedly should keep them away from.


message 5: by Salma (new)

Salma "Atheists can be dangerous fundamentalists, too. :-)"

haha, I like that- so true- I've met just as many 'radical' Atheists (come hell or high water, they will not rest until they've absolutely proved to all 4 billion people on this planet that God is a non-existent joke) as I have fundamentalist Christians who've personally informed me that I'm going to hell unless I adopt Jesus as my savior.


message 6: by Trevor (new)

Trevor I guess the Turkish publisher can spend 6 months in gaol thinking about how to keep his personal beliefs personal.


message 7: by Charissa (new)

Charissa (dakinigrl) The difference between Dawkins and fundamentalist religious folks, is that Dawkins is not proposing that religious people be rounded up and killed because of their beliefs. He is not blowing up people who are religious, simply because he thinks they are dangerous. He is simply writing and speaking about a point of view that he has come to hold. Personally I wouldn't care one whit about religious fundamentalists if they were as well behaved as that. I'll take fundamentalist atheists any day over fundamentalist religious folk.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Hi, I just joined this group. I haven't yet read Dawkins and i'm wondering if he's managed to resolve a problem about atheism which is that it's just as much a position of faith as theism, cause you can't prove it one way or another. So is he actually an agnostic? (It's one thing to say that all believers are delusional but it's another to say there is no god.)


message 9: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments I, like many atheists, aren't in the businees of hatred. Those who blindly critisize Dawkins a biologist, see the world with rose colored specs and blinders. It's fine if you just want to raise kids and be a passive screw in the giant production oil machine with the two car garage and the yard and PTA meetings with perfect attendance to your local Presbyterian, catholic, methodist, evangelical, jewish, muslim, church, temple, sinagogue, or meeting house. Religious folk reduce their apathetic non-involvement with casual banter, passive agressive opinions and name calling in order to defend their christ, odin, zeus, spirit, jehovah and or promised king. If they are not phisically rounding up non-believers to burn at the stake, they are voting for those who will take god's right hand and crush his enemies in order to bring in Armageddon as promised. Dangerous oh yes that's what I see as dangerous. Those who read Dawkins will understand, otherwise you are just shooting with a personal opinion.


message 10: by Salma (new)

Salma You've boxed all 'religious' people into one absolutely ridiculous and broad stereotype. What makes you think just because someone believes in a higher force that means they're apathetic and non-involved? Plenty of great artists, writers, environmental crusaders, etc. have been 'religious.' Furthermore, just because you have a two-car garage and care about your child's progress and school (PTA meetings), does that mean you can't care about the welfare of the universe?

Additionally, take Buddhists for example? That's a religion, right? Look at Dalai Lama and his followers. Can you imagine any of those wanting to 'round non-believers' at the stake.

You're talking about closet fundamentalists. That's fine. But that's a minority, and it certainly does NOT encompass all 'religious' people.


message 11: by Salma (new)

Salma one more thing- you've said you're not in the 'business' of hatred. Your post seems to say the opposite.


message 12: by Jim (new)

Jim | 7 comments I don't get it - either you believe in something or you don't.
What difference does it make whether I believe in a rock/couch/God/Nature as long as I treat people/nature right. It's not like I own the world/a lake or about any thing else.
I can't prove any god/supernatural entity exists nor has any one proven one does not exist.
My kids are enough proof that there's a wonderful world that I'll be a part of the world through them and their memory of me in the future.
That's plenty for me.


message 13: by Charissa (new)

Charissa (dakinigrl) Alejandro, your post is also a personal opinion. When it comes to faith or non-faith there are no empirical "facts", only experiences.

Unfortunately, no one group on this planet has the corner market on hatred. There seems to be plenty to go around, regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof.

Personally I think Dawkins makes some interesting observations, but ultimately misses the mark. I don't blame religion for the violence humans have perpetrated over centuries. Religion is just another in a long line of reasons people kill one another. Communism seemed like just as good a reason as any kind of religious faith. If people aren't killing each other over ideals then they are killing over land, resources, possessions, or perceived insults. I think at this point in our evolution I think we can safely say that violence is just one of the many traits that humans normally exhibit. Perhaps it would behoove us to study the conditions under which humans most likely exhibit peace and then seek to reproduce those conditions as often as possible. Neh?

Does anyone know if there is a book out there written about the history of peace?


message 14: by Salma (new)

Salma Charissa- I like your comment about communism. Yes, any of us who paid attention in history class are well aware of the horrendous killings that have taken place under this particular theory. Explain that, please- Alejandro. Communism isn't traditionally a religion.


message 15: by Trevor (last edited Jan 07, 2008 10:59AM) (new)

Trevor In the end Communism ended up as much a faith as religion, in that it too would not accept any views that were not narrowly defined as in conformity with the ‘class struggle’. The problem is that all of these faiths end up defining truth in absolute terms (my god’s bigger than your god – my theory’s truer than your theory). When they have power you can generally tell when they have abandoned reason – count the bodies.

Clarissa, I’ve just finished reading Kant’s Perpetual Peace, (I also did a review, but it might be a bit rambling) which, although not really a history of peace, does seek to provide norms of behaviour for countries in dealing with each other that could then go on to form the basis for perpetual peace. Essentially, he says that countries should be treated as persons that ought then to conform to his categorical imperative – treat other countries as ends, not means.

It made particularly interesting reading given the US, British and (I’m ashamed to say) Australian government’s recent colonial adventures in Iraq.

I read somewhere recently – and I’m sorry, I can’t remember where – that while there is a clear history that leads from the stick to the atom bomb, there is no similar necessary history that leads from slavery to freedom. The responsibility is with us – and as such I tend to think that Reason (which John Donne called God’s viceroy in us – yeah, okay, it made me smile too) is something we should protect and defend. It would seem to be our only hope.

Reason’s imminent death under the suffocating weight of ‘I know the truth’ because a) my God told me or b) my country told me – does sometimes strike me as the most likely outcome. But then there are groups like this one that are opposed to the banning of books – and therefore against the banning of ideas – and if anything offers hope in the darkness and chides me for the times I lack all hope, it is the existence of a group like this.



message 16: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments Indeed, my point was to illustrate my personal world view and expirience. Certainly communism has been a blatant example and exception for human atrocities. Interesting point about finding a book with peace as an alternative, hmmm. I hate to sound pessimistic, the fact that we are questioning if it exists proves that peace may be in a minority of thinkers and publishers minds. Worse even due to present world conditions peace may not be profitable and seeing the sales results in video game sales, to war or to kill is in our nature, as much as the quest for noble peace. I am familiar with Joseph Campbell though and it changed my life at eighteen long ago. The Masks of God and The Hero's Journey embarked me on this voyage.


message 17: by Lisa (last edited Jan 07, 2008 02:35PM) (new)

Lisa | 23 comments I'm also new to this group. I'm an atheist, though certainly not of the fundamentalist stripe. I've spent years thinking about the question Paul posed. It's nearly impossible to prove a negative. It requires taking every possible example and disproving it. Disproving something like god, which can't be seen, touched, or measured, is doubly impossible. However, that doesn't mean that atheism is a position of faith. I've seen no evidence for the existence of god that can't be explained in some other way. A basic rule in science is that the simplest explanation is generally the one that will turn out to hold true. To me, it's a simpler explanation that the basic rules of the natural world are responsible for what we see and experience than that there is some magical, omnipotent force, subject to no natural laws, behind it all. I've made a rational, not faith-based, decision based on the evidence available.

I'm not attempting to evangelize. For those of you who have made a choice to have faith in a god or gods, I respect your choice. By definition, faith is a belief that there is something beyond the evidence. Atheism is a choice not to make a leap of faith, and instead to rely solely on the observable evidence available.


message 18: by Charissa (new)

Charissa (dakinigrl) Thanks Salma, Trevor and Alejandro for your responses. I do so enjoy the civility of debate and discourse in this community.

Trevor, my problem with theories like Kants are the uses of "should" and "conform". It is my experience that dictating terms of behavior to others is a tricky business. Certainly if someone were just declared emperor of the universe and everyone had to go along with what they said (if it were me the order would be "everyone shall be nice to one another", "share your toys", and "snack time is every 2 hours")... well, then the solution would be simple, neh?

I would like to find a comprehensive view of the causes of peace... to understand the organic origins of it. Not how to force it into existence through more theories and isms. Do you understand the distinction I am making there? It is an important one.

Yes, Alejandro, I have long noticed that our world is oddly predisposed to view the world in terms of conflict, illnes, tragedy, violence, and other negative occurances. History, as it is taught in our schools, is comprised to stories about wars and body counts. News, as it is shown on a daily basis, consists of the horrible things that people are doing to each other around the globe... or nature... or other events.

I have long wondered how it might affect our culture if history was the story of laundry days, baking, baby burps, whittling, sprouting seeds, when weather was miraculous, the evolution of beautiful handwriting, the year everyone had enough to eat, and every day that went by in someone's life when they didn't hate their neighbor.


message 19: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Clarissa,

They were my words, rather than his – to be fair to Kant I do tend to oversimplify and it is hardly fair that he should end up wearing my simple-mindedness. In part Kant’s view is that by nature we are war like – but that what is most interesting about us is that we are cultural creatures, rather than merely natural ones constrained by our natures – and therefore our chance of overcoming our natural tendencies are through reason and cultural restraints on our natural inclinations.

With Kant I would probably worry that by nature we aren’t terribly nice – and looking for organic origins of peace might be precisely the wrong place to start looking.

All the same, I don’t know of any book that meets the criteria you are looking for, sorry.



message 20: by Salma (new)

Salma Where there's violence, there's peace. Dark and light must co-exist, that's the law of nature. That said, Alejandro- you do have a pessimistic view of the world, it's true- of course I'm going by solely your posts, since I don't know you personally.

We should remember though, and I recently read an article about this- that violence, war, 'power, greed, and corruptible seed, to quote Bob Dylan' are more rampant in Western countries and countries that have been imperialized by the West in the past. If you look at Native American culture, they had(or have) ideas that promote peace and harmony with nature. Same with numerous tribes and indigenous groups across the world- destruction, violence, and selfishness are nearly non-existent among these people. I think violence is a direct result of our disconnect with nature, the super "Mother." The people who live fully in Nature, no cement, no urban sprawl are the most at peace. That says something right there.


message 21: by Trevor (new)

Trevor I guess this light/dark idea is a law more along the lines of Murphy’s Law rather than, say, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.

Actually, as bad as the suburban sprawl can seem, you are much less likely to die in a war or be murdered in a modern city than at any other time in human history – despite the myth of the noble savage.



message 22: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Hi Lisa - I have two opposing ideas about all this. 1) we're here, as is the universe

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24...

and it all takes some explaining, don't you think?

2) the science of the future always appears to be magic to people from the past. So the scientific explanation for all this existence would, actually, sound just like God.



message 23: by Jonatron (last edited Jan 08, 2008 06:45AM) (new)

Jonatron "In the end Communism ended up as much a faith as religion"

Are you just saying that so that you can blame their atrocities on "faith"? No true atheist kills people, so the communist killers are not true atheists?

http://atheism.about.com/od/logicalfa...

"Certainly communism has been a blatant example and exception for human atrocities."

Certainly not an exception. Think about all the atrocities you can remember, and then tally up what percentage of them were about religion, (as opposed to race, nationalism, etc.) The problem is not religion; the problem is this mode of thinking that humans exhibit where there's an "us" and a "them". "They" are foreign and backwards and wrong, while "we" are superior and rational and moral. It gets to the point where it's almost "our" duty to wipe "them" off the planet, forcibly reeducate them, etc. We're doing them a favor by killing their children. We're liberating them; spreading freedom.

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/

Atheists fall into this mode of thinking just as easily as the religious, but it's just as wrong when they do.

"I would like to find a comprehensive view of the causes of peace... to understand the organic origins of it."

I've been thinking about this stuff ever since I left Christianity. I like this essay:

http://mwillett.org/atheism/god_shape...

The idea that memes like religion and nationalism have evolved to hijack our instinctive pathways for altruism to our group. It's pretty Dawkinsian. :)

"Where there's violence, there's peace. Dark and light must co-exist, that's the law of nature."

No. No way. Argument from lack of imagination.

"If you look at Native American culture, they had(or have) ideas that promote peace and harmony with nature."

I'm not an expert on native Americans, but I highly doubt this modern highly romanticized notion of their culture. I believe their history is filled with wars and skirmishes just as much as every other culture.


message 24: by Salma (new)

Salma "Where there's violence, there's peace. Dark and light must co-exist, that's the law of nature."

No. No way. Argument from lack of imagination.

Ok- it's easy to make a blanket statement- what's your theory to disprove my 'light and dark theory'? Or I guess, someone like yourself would be more likely to subscribe to the everyone is just a selfish, greedy bastard theory.

Look at people's behavior- a guy who's cheating on his wife could be rescuing people from burning buildings the next day. There you go- light and dark right there.


"If you look at Native American culture, they had(or have) ideas that promote peace and harmony with nature."

I'm not an expert on native Americans, but I highly doubt this modern highly romanticized notion of their culture. I believe their history is filled with wars and skirmishes just as much as every other culture.

This actually helps prove my theory. Native Americans did have wars, but they were also a very interdependent, harmonious society in many ways.

Oooh! Light and dark again.



message 25: by Salma (new)

Salma "I guess this light/dark idea is a law more along the lines of Murphy’s Law rather than, say, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation."

What???


message 26: by Trevor (last edited Jan 08, 2008 11:20AM) (new)

Trevor Jonathan,

This seems to be a point that people fail to pick, but atheism isn’t a thing, but a rejection of a thing – it is not a consistent set of beliefs, but a rejection of a set of beliefs. Atheism, therefore, is not the basis for a moral theory – it just says that one based on faith isn’t going to work – very little more. So, Atheists – as a group – don’t really exist.

That you can point to atheists that have done bad things is hardly surprising – this is a group that spreads from the far left – Karl Marx, to the far right – Fredrick Nietzsche. I avoid the True Scotsman fallacy by saying that not believing in God gives a person no moral advantage over those who believe in God – it just means that you are a little less likely to base your morality on appeals to a higher authority. Even then, you will only be a little less likely to do this – as in godless Russia they did have the cult of the personality.

I believe reason is a better basis for ethics than either belief or non-belief in supernatural forces. Has anyone ever fought a war because they have been more rational than their enemies? I mean literally more rational, rather than by their own assertion? I hardly think this would be possible.

The idea that freedom and democracy brings peace can’t really be an absolute a law, as is asserted in the article you pointed to, otherwise how would one explain Hamas in the West Bank?

Salma,

Murphy’s law is that if anything can go wrong it will. As far as I know this is a ‘law’ only in the sense that some people think it is true, but they based this faith on nothing other than their gut feeling. Whereas Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation is a rationally demonstrable law of nature that applies everywhere in the universe. Your natural law of the light and the dark sounds to me like something that is supported by nothing other than your gut feelings. To call this either a natural law or even a theory seems to be stretching these categories to breaking point.

To say that the fact Native American societies might have been more violent than our current society (the opposite of what you started of arguing) somehow supports your light / dark idea would make me think that there is nothing that would not support it.



message 27: by Nated (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments in taoist philosophy, the point of the 'light/dark' idea is that in a world composed of human perceptions of what is 'light' and what is 'dark', the existence of one term always creates the other. So when we see something as light, or tall...we automatically create the concept of short or dark. When we see violence, we create a characteristic of peace that we will see in other things, but it's all relative and arbitrary.

for instance: the suburbs may be less likely to provide violent death by mugging, but they are far more likely to house individuals that make management decisions robbing thousands of their livelihoods or support the blood soaked diamond industry. So a lot depends on what you mean by violence.

i agree with the point made that the source of everything we see as violence is the 'us' 'them' dichotomy, whether it crops up politically or religiously (ideologically in both cases). there could be no violence if we were all awake to our unity (not that that's an easy thing to get to, not that i have realized it) - the point here is that neither organized religion nor the institutions of science really promote this idea, therefore, neither one, in general, can prevent violence. (In response to the idea that science is only a force for peace, i submit the scientific creation of modern assault rifle and the rationalism of the nazi and khmer rouge holocausts.)

Division/violence is an entrained response in us, because we are animals and because animals know, cellularly, that we need food and water and mates and that there aren't enough of those things to go around. Any authority structure always ends up us and them, as does any division like a country, or at least in the vast majority of cases through history.

Communism was a great idea, i think, but it was always implemented us and them and always got locked in with a major authoritarianism. Capitalist democracy may seem nicer, but it just sends its violence beyond its borders with colonialism or unmitigated capitalism like the US with, say Chile/Iraq, or the British with China during the Opium wars (wow, a war fought to preserve the right to sell drugs, basically they were working on the same motivation as the crips, bigger and with a navy)

Anyway, the most influential force in favor of the idea of human unity has always been religion and philosophy. Those same ideas can be found through scientific inquiry, but the avenue is rarely explored and can only go so far before it needs to rely on values science cannot process, things our brains process as feelings and intuitions.

Simply relying on 'facts' cannot help us with unity because people decide what a 'fact' is and they are generally bent to look like they mean whatever those presenting them want them to say - a situation that any US citizen trying to find out about the world through the media can certainly attest to.

So we can't rely on organizations and we can't rely solely on facts, so we have to find something else...some other level through which to see. Standard Western science doesn't process the data for any level other than the material so we have to be open to something else as well

I read a criticism of Dawkins book that talked about levels of view...and how science is the most useful tool we have for looking at the material level of the universe. But it continued that we crave answers to questions of meaning and we try to find peace in spite of our apparent material separation, and we feel things for which there are no satisfying materialist answers, so we need to be open to more than one frame of reference... Dawkins seems to deny the existence/validity of these others frames...

My feeling is that Dawkin's view of religious people contains the same contempt and division that a drives a fundamentalist. So it's current non-violence is contingent on violence not being a useful tool for it. And who's to say that insulting the heritage of most of the world is less meaningful as violence than throwing a man in jail. They both create/increase division and thus increase violence.

So, my imperfect approach to the problems posed was to leave the organization of my religion, which was not in tune with it's message of peace...and hang on to the good/unifying/peaceful parts...(which in Christianity are very much the center of the literature, despite the actions of the powerful and fearful and stupid members representing it) - so the two options talked about, fundamentalism and atheism, did not offer me any satisfaction.

This is not to say that one has to believe in a god to get work with 'higher' questions...But it seems that a choice to believe that all the answers lie in materialist fact is indeed a faith decision, one has faith in materialist science despite it's inability to prove it's own validity according to it's own principles. But i have faith in science...

Interestingly, Taoist philosophy is ahteist and has a lot of access to these other areas, and it's protoscientific, so it's got something for both sides of the debate - not that i'm proselytizing, just a suggestion for all y'all's further inquiry


message 28: by Nated (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments sorry if that's excessive, i should have found a more concise way...


message 29: by Salma (new)

Salma Nated- love your post. You've said everything much better than I could've.


message 30: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments Thank you Trevor.


message 31: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments Thank you Nated


message 32: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments "Division/violence is an entrained response in us, because we are animals and because animals know, cellularly, that we need food and water and mates and that there aren't enough of those things to go around. Any authority structure always ends up us and them, as does any division like a country, or at least in the vast majority of cases through history....Anyway, the most influential force in favor of the idea of human unity has always been religion and philosophy. Those same ideas can be found through scientific inquiry, but the avenue is rarely explored and can only go so far before it needs to rely on values science cannot process, things our brains process as feelings and intuitions."

Interestingly, evolutionary psychology has looked at this in several different ways. One intriguing theory is that the development of religion served to enforce group rivalry among early humans, not reduce it (in other words, early "holy wars" led to killing off the competition). However, ideas like altruism and human unity are also pretty fascinating in evolutionary terms. People are more likely to behave altruistically toward family than strangers (promoting one's own gene pool), toward people we see regularly (higher probability of being on the receiving end some other time), and when others are watching (lots of potential motivations--increased social status by being able to demonstrate abundance, showing off for potential mates, etc.).

Evolutionary psych doesn't hold the answers--there's no real way to know what motivated humans in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, and modern-day analogues are interpretable in many ways. However, what it does offer are some interesting questions that challenge our assumptions about things like the relationships between religion, altruism, and survival.

"1) we're here, as is the universe and it all takes some explaining, don't you think?

2) the science of the future always appears to be magic to people from the past. So the scientific explanation for all this existence would, actually, sound just like God."

Paul, I just really like option #2. Humans have gone a long way toward explaining the universe, its origins, its past, how it works, where it might be going. Sure, we're not done yet, but we've got a good running start. Given that, option 2 is good enough for me.

Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone that atheism is the way to go. I just hope to convince folks that those of us that do go that way aren't missing anything in terms of morality, humanity, or ability to understand the universe--we've just got a different approach. That religion isn't a human necessity, it's a human choice, though certainly one with some strong evolutionary background on its side.



message 33: by Salma (new)

Salma "Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone that atheism is the way to go. I just hope to convince folks that those of us that do go that way aren't missing anything in terms of morality, humanity, or ability to understand the universe--we've just got a different approach. That religion isn't a human necessity, it's a human choice, though certainly one with some strong evolutionary background on its side."

I really love how you worded this, Lisa. So many atheists just make dismissive and arrogant remarks to people who consider themselves spiritual- it's refreshing to see someone who's actually argued her point.


message 34: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Lisa,

A wonderfully thoughtful response. This comment of mine is slightly off topic, but I can’t resist. I do worry about evolutionary psychology, for much the same reasons Pinker gives somewhere (I do wonder sometimes why I bother reading when I seem to remember so little of what I’ve read) that it can seem to be a series of ‘just-so’ stories. But I agree with your point more than Pinker’s that anything that makes us think can’t be a bad thing.

Which brings me to the bit that is off topic. A few years ago I heard of some research where a group of researchers watched people in a park – they were watching to see if anyone would litter. When someone would drop some litter the researchers on watch-duty would contact someone with a clip board and the said person with the clip board would ask the litterer a series of questions around littering, what they thought of it and so on. These are people who minutes before had been seen littering. The researchers found that teenagers were most likely to admit that they did sometimes litter and older ladies most likely to say they never littered, even on repeated questioning. The conclusion was, and I just love this, that grannies are better liars than most people give them credit for.



message 35: by Nated (last edited Jan 10, 2008 07:21AM) (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments Lisa, I take your point about religion, organized religion, prodding people to violence. But I think that has more to do with leadership and politics than the message of the religion.

I think it's important, talking about this stuff, to maintain a difference between spirituality (independent type religious-ish beliefs), and obedience to a religious hierarchy and community structure. I believe that most muslims would say that blowing people up is not in the spirit of their religion, though it has proven an effective tool for some of the power structures that exist in a Muslim context. Just as the Crusades did for Medieval Christian Europe, though they were clearly against the spirit of the 'love thy neighbor' thing.

I should have been more specific and said that most of the backing for human unity on a large scale has come from 'religious' and philosophical thought. You're right that the institutions have a mixed record at best.

At the same time, i think the atheist group needs more definition. Are we speaking abut atheism as an exclusive belief in materialist/scientific explanations? Or is there room for a person of atheist persuasion to feel a transcendent or interconnecting force, the stuff that's often referred to as spirituality?

Maybe the biggest mistake is allying ourselves to belief groups as if what we believe will never change. After all, the thing I find most infuriating about religious fundamentalism is the relentless closure of minds that it engineers. It's one thing to know what we believe is true at a given moment, but entirely another to say that the felt truth coincides exactly with Reality, that we will never see more because no more exists, the proof of this being that we haven't seen it.


message 36: by Salma (new)

Salma "I think it's important, talking about this stuff, to maintain a difference between spirituality (independent type religious-ish beliefs), and obedience to a religious hierarchy and community structure."

Exactly! That's the point I should have made in one of my posts earlier, and didn't. For me personally, a lot of atheists have met have been bitter about religion because they were made to sit on hard pews in church as a kid, or that they were told that they were sinners, sex is bad, etc. There is a HUGE difference between religion and spirituality- the former subscrbing to a fixed set of tenets blindly (or if not blindly, then without question), and the latter-which is more of a feeling and connection to a higher force. That said, you can't explain why you're spiritual to an atheist because a lot of atheists believe that rational thought and intellect are above new-agey "fluff" like "feelings" and "intuition" and "mystery."

Of course, I'm not saying that a religious person will necessarily be the blind, unquestioning individual I mentioned- it's just a possibility (albeit a higher one).

I also think that when people talk of religion, they talk of the Judeo-Christian tradition which has a set of beliefs very different from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Old World pagan religions. Therefore, when they make blanket statements regarding 'those religious people' they are often doing so without full knowledge of all the different types of religions and beliefs of these others.


message 37: by Trevor (new)

Trevor Nated, “Or is there room for a person of atheist persuasion to feel a transcendent or interconnecting force, the stuff that's often referred to as spirituality?”

Naturally, I would avoid the word ‘spirituality’ as it comes with far too much baggage, but I think the experience that I have that would most match this ‘interconnecting force’ would be the aesthetic experience. Having never had a religious experience – either of the hard kind or the soft and fluffy kind referred to by Salma, I always just assume that the religious experience is in some way similar to the aesthetic one. If it is not then it seems to have been a very odd preoccupation of religions throughout the ages.

And I agree that groups are very often the problem. Groups of people seem to be able to believe just about any nonsense. Even if it is something that seems to be the exact opposite of what one would have taken as their core beliefs – like those churches that say things like, “Jesus wants you to be rich.” Any fair reading of what Jesus said would seem to imply the very opposite.

Salma, I think it is hard in our culture to talk about religion and not use examples from what is the dominate religion in our culture, these are just the examples that are most readily to hand. I don’t know, in detail (or even in broad outline), all of the religions of the world. To get this knowledge would become a life’s work, and I feel, for me, that would be a wasted life.

I think I would say that any belief based on requiring a leap of faith – whether that be in god, grand unifying spirit, astrology, ghosts or the fundamental goodness of the universe must be, at best, suspect.



message 38: by Nated (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments I agree the word 'spirituality' is loaded. I'm not a big fan of the New-Age scene myself. But it is, however, the best commonly known word (that i could think of) for that feeling I was talking about. And I'm reluctant to let concede it.

I think you're dead-on, Trevor, with that comparison to aesthetics. When I've experienced moving works of art, there has sometimes been a sense of profundity. Somethign felt to be beautifully in view but with much meaningful beyond sight. Fascination, wonderment, etc. And that's very much what I've experienced religious or spiritual moments to be like. They're not that common, but it's a very similar 'deep' or expansive feeling, a lot like successful meditation.

I think you're also right on the link. A lot of religion/spirituality is about beauty, trying to approach a certain beauty/love that one feels at these moments of connection, or opening. I imagine that religions have worked to try and communicate the religious experience through aesthetics, and many individuals have tried to convey the feeling through their works. There is a lot of famous talk about the 'spark of the divine' and such stuff. And various churches have tried to regulate aesthetics, which shows that they feel it's powerful and related, and want that power for themselves alone.

I think most people make this leap of faith based on strong feelings, it's generally not blind. Blindness often follows in a religious org., but the two are separate. It's not that someone just told people to believe and they decided that they would, for the hell of it. They're deeply personal feelings though, and not generally based on easily expressible concepts, especially for someone with little academic training, and especially when argument is implied. Of course, the task of expressing one's belief is made much more difficult by pop/marketing religion and the language of the New Agers, which for many has attached this idea of insincere/trivial hippieness to spiritual language. But it feels a lot like intuition.

Besides, any scientific hypothesis is based on a leap of faith taken before investigation begins. Most scientists continue to believe their hypothesis until proven wrong, though they don't have 'proof'. People have devoted their lives to hypotheses they can't prove. Darwin travelled immense distances and risked ostracism. The allegory to a religious/spiritual belief is obvious. The evidence concerned is simply of a different kind.

A teacher once told me that prayer is talking to the divine, and that meditation is listening to it. I'm sure this includes all meditation, definitely that done in scientific inquiry, since it's all being quiet and trying to connect to something more profound (Truth/God/Gravity/Drosophila genetics and what they mean for Genetics in general :]


message 39: by Jonatron (new)

Jonatron "Ok- it's easy to make a blanket statement- what's your theory to disprove my 'light and dark theory'?"

State it in a way that can be disproved and we'll find out. :)

To me, it sounded like a dismissive shrug of the shoulders. "Eh, there will always be atrocities. Nature needs war and genocide to balance out the happy things in life." So, consequentially, there's no point in trying to stop it.

But I really don't think it's like this. The bad things that result from "dangerous" thinking are certainly very common and have been around a long time, but that doesn't mean they're inevitable. I suspect we will eventually engineer cultures that are resistant to the more dangerous ideas.

"Or I guess, someone like yourself would be more likely to subscribe to the everyone is just a selfish, greedy bastard theory."

I don't know what that means. I think the ultimate law of nature is "take what you can get away with", but organisms have all kinds of other laws built on top of that one when they result in mutual benefit, like the "don't steal" rules of human society.

"This seems to be a point that people fail to pick, but atheism isn’t a thing, but a rejection of a thing – it is not a consistent set of beliefs, but a rejection of a set of beliefs."

You can certainly define it that way...

"Atheism, therefore, is not the basis for a moral theory – it just says that one based on faith isn’t going to work – very little more. So, Atheists – as a group – don’t really exist."

Of course they exist. The word just means different things to different people, in the same way that "Christians" and "the religious" have wildly varying beliefs and morals.

"The idea that freedom and democracy brings peace can’t really be an absolute a law, as is asserted in the article you pointed to, otherwise how would one explain Hamas in the West Bank? "

I certainly didn't link to Rummel because I agree with him! :) I was giving an example of the "other groups are inferior to my group, and it's my moral duty to save them from themselves, so I'm going to kill them" mentality. Most of the times that people do horrible things, they do them with the best intentions.

"neither organized religion nor the institutions of science really promote this idea, therefore, neither one, in general, can prevent violence."

Exactly.

"In response to the idea that science is only a force for peace, i submit the scientific creation of modern assault rifle and the rationalism of the nazi and khmer rouge holocausts."

...and biological weapons, nuclear bombs, anti-handling land mines ...

"religion, organized religion, prodding people to violence. But I think that has more to do with leadership and politics than the message of the religion."

Exactly. And anyone can fall into the same thought patterns. It's not a religious problem.

"though they were clearly against the spirit of the 'love thy neighbor' thing."

"Love your enemies", actually. And "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." But how many of his "followers" are even aware of this?

"After all, the thing I find most infuriating about religious fundamentalism is the relentless closure of minds that it engineers."

But it's not "religious fundamentalism" that leads to closure of minds. There are close-minded atheists and close-minded everything else. The "fundamentalist" mindset itself is the problem. How do we get rid of it?

"For me personally, a lot of atheists have met have been bitter about religion because they were made to sit on hard pews in church as a kid, or that they were told that they were sinners, sex is bad, etc."

And then they become the "close-minded atheists" who attack others without actually forming any rational basis for their own (non-)beliefs. It's a group to join; not a rational decision.

"Groups of people seem to be able to believe just about any nonsense."

When you're surrounded by people who believe the same thing as yourself, it's easy to never question your beliefs. :-/


message 40: by Salma (new)

Salma I found this quote by Einstein that I thought would be interesting to share:

"The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness."
( Albert Einstein - The Merging of Spirit and Science)


message 41: by Jason (last edited Jan 11, 2008 08:59AM) (new)

Jason Wilson | 4 comments dogmatic monotheistic religious doctrine sets up a few dangerous presuppositions in the world view of the adherent:
* this world is just a proving grounds, a test, a stage on which your personal dedication to the faith will be tested.
* this faith test is specifically about "how well you maintain true internal belief and outwardly expression of this belief in the face of all opposition, logic, reasoning, magic, coercion or peer pressure" (Jesus, while being a generally well rounded guy, advises us to follow faith even in the face of losing relationships with our parents or our children). Basically it's about how well you can prevent yourself from ever being convinced that you might be wrong.

The "successful" combination of these 2 forces within a person sometimes results in a pious zealot working for generally positive change (giving up their own comfort to help the needy, etc), while other times results it results in a pious zealot willing to do terrible things.

Atheism does not set up these kinds of traps. As a society, we should encourage belief systems that are more likely to be healthy for our own survival, and discourage belief systems that are built on concepts that undermine long term stability and growth, peace and happiness here on Earth. In the past, in smaller communities, religion sometimes did this, but now, in our global society, a belief system that lifts up the our own situation as being paramount, that lifts up things that we know and can point at and can collectively agree on, is the way to survive.

In some ways Atheism is more political than religious.


message 42: by Trevor (new)

Trevor "In response to the idea that science is only a force for peace, i submit the scientific creation of modern assault rifle and the rationalism of the nazi and khmer rouge holocausts."

...and biological weapons, nuclear bombs, anti-handling land mines ...

You know, I do worry that I will be taken as a complete science nut – and Dawkins’s unquestioning faith in science does worry me a little – but it is clear that science, as such, isn’t really responsible for assault rifles and so on.

And I’m going to sound like someone from the gun lobby now, but it isn’t so much scientist that make guns, but people that make them. Science is a tool, we get to decide how we use that tool. I worry that we might abnegate our responsibility for the consequences of how this tool is used by talking of science as if it was something that was somehow separate from us.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it is not so much science that makes these horrible things possible, but how we choose to use science that makes them possible. And since how we use science is a choice, we can choose to do something different.

Science, as such, is indifferent to peace – peace has to be left up to us.



message 43: by Salma (new)

Salma "I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it is not so much science that makes these horrible things possible, but how we choose to use science that makes them possible."

The same can be said for religion.


message 44: by Wes, Grand Poobah, Ministry of Controversial Materials (last edited Jan 11, 2008 05:42PM) (new)

Wes (pricerightbooks) | 33 comments Mod
Has anyone that is commenting actually read this book. I purchased it when it was on the top seller list hoping it was something with content and meaning. I study different religions especially Christian and Gnostic text. When I picked up this book and started reading and found actors and magicians making quotes in this book I realized I was reading sensationalized garbage. Yes it is an anthiest's handbook to attack or defend a Godless world but it only shows one side with no discussion thereafter. Everything that is contained in this book has counter measures for other religions it is so one sided it is like watching democratic news on CNN.

The God delusion is a direct attack on Christian faith and Dawkins is a huge coward when it comes to debate.

Just to note I did not finish reading the book just because it bored the crap out of me.


message 45: by Lisa (last edited Jan 11, 2008 07:40PM) (new)

Lisa | 23 comments No, Wes, I haven't read it--yet. I'm the choir he's preaching to, so it seems kind of unnecessary for me to read it except to be able to discuss it with people for whom it might be more thought-provoking and raise more questions.

I do find it rare, though, for a book of this sort to contain much debate. Instead, most books that make an argument for a position, such as this one, are simply one voice in a much larger debate. As in any debate, one presents one's position and the evidence for it, and lets the other debater(s) present theirs. One debater rarely presents both positions (for example, a candidate for president rarely uses his limited time to describe in detail the merits of his opponent's positions in the course of making the argument that his own positions are better).

I think of this sort of thing as a conversation among books. All the participants (books, or if you prefer, authors) bring their own views, and the reader who would like to hear the range of options listens to each of them make their arguments.

And Trevor--what is "unquestioning faith in science"? Isn't the basis of science to question--and then to explore the evidence for an answer? (Sorry, I know you were actually speaking positively of science, but that kind of 'science is a religion, religion is a science' stuff freaks me out and leads to textbooks in which intelligent design is described as equally valid as evolution...)


message 46: by T.K. (new)

T.K. Kenyon | 2 comments Salma 01/06/2008 03:28PM

"Additionally, take Buddhists for example? That's a religion, right? Look at Dalai Lama and his followers. Can you imagine any of those wanting to 'round non-believers' at the stake."

Just for to fill the position of Devil's Advocate, (or lack thereof,) the ethnic Sri Lankans, who are slaughtering Hindu ethnic Tamilians in one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars on the planet right now, are Buddhist.

Even Buddhism has its violent fundamentalists.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel "Science proves it: There is no God." "A literary slapdown with dialogue as the weapon of choice." --Booklist Starred Review

and CALLOUS: A Novel, coming in May, 2008




message 47: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments I found this article on the Washington Post from 2001 where Shankar Vedantam observes beyond the gut feelings and maybe shed a new light on the religious expirience and or spirituality. It is inconclusive as in all discussions, and ongoing such as research. Atheists aren't a group with an agenda, I for example can live with the absence of a force or set of beliefs or a warm "spiritual sensation" wich is a mystery.
What creates that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe? It could be the decreased activity in the brain's parietal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation, research suggests. How does religion prompt divine feelings of love and compassion? Possibly because of changes in the frontal lobe, caused by heightened concentration during meditation. Why do many people have a profound sense that religion has changed their lives? Perhaps because spiritual practices activate the temporal lobe, which weights experiences with personal significance. "The brain is set up in such a way as to have spiritual experiences and religious experiences," said Andrew Newberg, a Philadelphia scientist who wrote the book "Why God Won't Go Away." "Unless there is a fundamental change in the brain, religion and spirituality will be here for a very long time. The brain is predisposed to having those experiences and that is why so many people believe in God."

The research may represent the bravest frontier of brain research. But depending on your religious beliefs, it may also be the last straw. For while Newberg and other scientists say they are trying to bridge the gap between science and religion, many believers are offended by the notion that God is a creation of the human brain, rather than the other way around.
Dawkins book illustrates an opinion on how most religious folks debate the existence of beautiful creatures in the depths of the ocean proves there is a god. When any of us try to discuss an alternative and maybe begin to debate through biological explanation, the religious journalist or leader just quotes another text in the the same reference book they began with. No other reference but the same book. Thanks again Trevor and Nated for your comments. Very insightful.


message 48: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments There's plenty of other research, too, that locates spiritual beliefs in the brain, not (necessarily) the ether. I think this particular argument can go either way--I mean, if I were a god, wouldn't I have set aside a part of the brain devoted to believing in me? There's a part of the brain, near or part of the amygdala and/or the hippocampus (they're close together between the frontal/temporal lobes and the brain stem--much older, evolutionarily, than the frontal lobe) that, when affected by a rare but severe form of epilepsy (which is just a strong, uncontrollable stimulation of some part of the brain), results in extreme religious visions of the saint/shaman sort.

An interesting bit of (as always, very inconclusive) evolutionary psych research demonstrates that people are nearly incapable of describing most phenomena in any but anthropomorphic terms. The most interesting example was taking a sample of college students who had no philosophical/religious beef with evolution, and asking them to describe it. Something crazy like 70% couldn't describe it without saying something like "wants to attain" or "strives for perfection" or some other volitional statement. It could be cultural, but given the pretty much universal nature of anthropomorphizing things we don't understand, or even things we don't understand all that well (calling it god/gods/ghosts/spirits/ancestors/magic/whatever), it really seems plausible that the human brain is hardwired to understand the world in those terms. It's really very helpful if you're dealing with potentially violent humans and animals and need to predict their behavior, and may even be psychologically beneficial when dealing with things like death or natural disasters (the number of times people have told me, in tragic situations, "things always happen for the best/for a reason"...though it always pisses me off...I have a hard time imagining that people who feel bereft by the loss of a partner/a home/a child/a parent/a whatever feel better when they hear that, and I want to tell them instead that it must hurt like a bastard, and I'll show up tomorrow and bring cake/bring dinner/take out the trash/help them sort through the stuff/whatever).

I just wish it weren't so offensive to the religious that we've found this stuff in the brain or as such an inherent part of human behavior. If it's "natural" to believe in a higher power, then it ought to show up in the brain, which is where all "natural" human behavior originates. It ought to have traces in evolutionary psych, which is the backstory for all human behavior. I find it interesting, and allows for the possibility that belief evolved as a survival strategy for humans (my view). But even as a staunch atheist, I'd never take this stuff as proof of that, because it's so chicken-and-egg. As a behavioral scientist (I'm a psychologist), I don't consider the neurological or behavioral evidence to be conclusive at all. It just leaves the door open.


message 49: by Nated (new)

Nated Doherty | 24 comments Thanks Lisa and Alejandro.

The information of faith's place in the brain is not, i think what offends people.

Any debate or conversation of this sort is charged with hostility from the beginning (Why is that continually so?). When one brings up physical aspects of the transcendental, 'believers' often instantly see it as a challenge of the "See! This explains it, it's all JUST chemistry" kind. Which Lisa is very right in pointing out is not true. We see, the understanding of the chemical/physical signature of sight does not indicate that there is not a thing being looked at, no one ever takes information on the neurology of sight to mean that. Clearly there is an expectation of insult.

People who believe in various transrational/metaphysical things are keyed already to be offended by two things, i think. 1) A consciousness of their own weakness of 'faith', which many of them have been taught is a terribly bad trait, and which they want to cover with a loud mouth in favor of what they at best half believe (or with furious legislation that actually thwarts the deeper meaning of their faith, as is common in the US). 2)The long history/tradition of mutual antagonism between 'reason' and 'belief' in the West, which is now perpetuated by both sides to some extent, though not universally (the Vatican now accepts most of evolution and it's not hard to find a scientist that has some kind of faith/belief).

Basically, everyone expects to be disrespected and told they are wrong/ignorant, so it's hard for anyone to listen to what's being said, rather than what they think will be said. And there's this need to shoot down the opposition (often personally), like a bear growling over a kill. The irony is that the bear growls because the kill can be stolen, but if one really has faith/belief it can only be given up, never stolen, so there need be no hostility. The same is true for one convinced of the validity of science.

However, as is clear in US culture, both sides seem to feel they are being threatened with extinction, and that the other side is utterly secure. This seems to me to suggest that this is more a problem of psychology for the 'combatants', rather than an actual theoretical conflict, especially since science as a system is very open to possibility and almost never closes one off.

(People of the Jerry Falwell orientation certainly make things much worse by encouraging this feeling of crisis in their flocks in order to keep them listening and paying furiously to a 'war effort'. People contribute more when there's a crisis, but they also rarely achieve reflection. Which is supposed to be a cornerstone of Christianity.)

And it all gets so personal because people often have deep personal vulnerabilities invested in their choice of belief, on either side. The ego is certainly involved, and that's usually not helpful for listening.

I imagine the whole problem started because of the church's ignorance and hostility towards western science in it's earliest development. Only in western culture is this divide so charged with antagonism, so it makes sense that it would be linked to our particular history. Boo to the guys who locked up Gallileo.

Alejandro: do you think you could provide a link to that article?


message 50: by Salma (new)

Salma "Just for to fill the position of Devil's Advocate, (or lack thereof,) the ethnic Sri Lankans, who are slaughtering Hindu ethnic Tamilians in one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars on the planet right now, are Buddhist."

Well- they're not real Buddhists, obviously. In fact, sounds like they don't even know what Dhammapada is.



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