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The Problem with Religious Moderation From Sam Harris

#81 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 04:31

Christopher Hitchens, in God is Not Great, makes powerful arguments against religious moderation, tolerance of religion and respect for religious beliefs. To describe these arguments would mean quoting the whole book, but I recommend it to anyone who has not read it... unfortunately, it is mostly atheists who read it, so no believers are led by the book to question their own beliefs.
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#82 User is offline   gwnn 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 04:47

nige1, don't you think it's kind of rude to quote mikeh's long post that he obviously invested quite a bit of time in, and dismiss it with an ambiguous smiley? Did you even read his post? And anyway, supposing that you were to dismiss it with said smiley, do you really need to quote his post in its entirety? That wastes a lot of bandwidth.

On topic: yes, religious tolerance can be a bit strange. Essentially what many people believe sounds like: "I believe you are a depraved sinner that will suffer eternal punishment if you don't listen to me (or any one of the millions of people saying the same thing as I do). I will also be enjoying the biggest possible pleasures forever while you go through this. But this is just my belief, no pressure, I still love you either way. :)" (Optionally: "It is not my judgement but God's so it's not really up to me to say that you are wicked. Nevertheless, I believe God to be perfectly just and he clearly states that you are indeed worthy of eternal damnation. I accept this because God is perfect in every way. I consider God to be perfect in every way umm uh yes I just do OK?") No matter which way you twist that, it will sound like a heinous thing and not super-tolerant, let alone worthy of tolerance. Christadelphians and other people from some other flavours of Christianity believe that there is no Hell at all, in which case it will sound a bit less heinous but not what you would call tolerance in more earthly matters.
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#83 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 06:43

This is a complicated subject.

Couple quick observations:

First: There are some belief systems that are characterized as "religions" that are so "moderate" that I don't feel that Harris would find them objectionable.
Where do (say) Unitarian Universalists fall or this spectrum? Cultural reform Jews? Buddhism?
I suspect that Harris needs to resort to "No true Scotsman" type measures to handle these edge cases.

I certainly believe that there are religions that are based on nonsensical beliefs that, none-the-less can prove valuable to their practitioners.
(South Park did a great episode titled "All about Mormons" during season 7 that raises this point. It's well worth watching)

One can argue that it would be better if this could all be replaced by a more rationalist belief system that serves the same set of cultural needs, however, in the real world I don't see how we get their from here so I don't find the comparison particularly interesting.

Second: In my experience, if you aggressively challenge a religious moderate about their beliefs, they tend to hunker down and become more radical. The arguments that Harris promotes encourage the behaviors that he deplores.

My own religious upbringing was in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I have left the religious beliefs behind, but a lot of the cultural norms have stuck with me. One of the most important is that showy declarations of faith and aggressive prosthelytizing is counter productive and tasteless.

The best way to promote your belief system is to live your live well and illustrate by acts rather than statements.

Gould used to speak of Non-Overlapping Magisteria... I don't completely buy into this theory, but I do think that its pretty much useless trying to using logic to convince a true believer that they are wrong. (I'm not saying that it isn't fun, but if you're trying to achieve real change, this is a pointless exercise...
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#84 User is offline   RSClyde 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 07:19

Harris addressed the idea that "you'll never change anyone's mind" in an interview once. This is certainly a common perception. He says he's gotten thousands of letters from people who have rethought their positions and abandoned their beliefs because of his books. The reason that he believes we don't think we can change anyone's mind is that it seldom happens in real time. You never get "Yeah I guess that's true, I missed that point." It's more like people need time to ruminate on an idea.

An illustration is the aggressive campaigns against drug and tobacco use among teens. You can tell a 15 year old to their face that smoking has adverse effects on their health and they will ignore you and do it anyway. So real time dialog feels unproductive. However when you look at statistics, drug and tobacco use among teens has been steadily decreasing. We feel when delivering a message that all who hear should succumb immediately to our revelations, when it doesn't happen like that we feel that nothing is accomplished. It just takes time for ideas to become embedded into public conscience.
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#85 User is offline   kenberg 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 07:20

My first thought on reading Sam Harris: He didn't go far enough. All moderates are guilty What in God's name is the point of having a belief if you are not prepared to kill, or at least marginalize, people ho think differently? I probably qualify as a moderate atheist. For example, at a recent ceremony where a grandchild became an eagle scout, I felt no compulsion at all to interrupt proceedings to explain everything they were doing wrong. Myself, I got out of scouting at around the same age as I left the church, age fourteen or so. I was sort of noisy about my opinions then, but I grew up.

So I tried for some second thoughts.

For a public and current example, I often read Michael Gerson with respect and interest. Here is his column of today:

http://www.washingto...1153_story.html

Mr. Gerson is religious, which I am not, and has conservative views, many of which I find worth attending to even when I disagree. And I don't always disagree. . I am not certain just exactly who qualifies for the label "religious moderate" but however Sam Harris labels Gerson, I am fine with him as a columnist.

Hell, maybe I am a religious moderate and just don't know it. "Oh Jonah he lived in de whale, Oh Jonah he lived in de whale..." Well, "It ain't necessarily so". But many relgious people would agree, although I guess that Mr. Harris thinks badly of them "The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to Godís law." If the "moderately religious" person and I can agree that Jonah probably didn't live in "that fish's abdomen" , and if we can agree that we have responsibilities in the world that go beyond our own direct well-being, if we both acknowledge that life is a mystery, in mant ways beyond the reach of reason, does it really matter just how we frame it?

I have a friend who once considered becoming a priest and now is a committed non-believer. He is very committed to rationality. He finds me very frustrating in that I accept many aspects of my own irrationality and moreover I make it clear that I have no plans to change. I don't think I am anti-rational, If something seems clearly to follow from reason I am prepared to accept it.. But my list of things that I believe are inaccessible to reason is (much) longer than his. "Do onto other as you would have them do onto you". Not a bad way to live, but hardly a theorem with a mathematical proof.

It has been years since I last saw Zorba the Greek but there is a part where the Alan Bates character expresses surprise at Zorba's favorable comments on a Turk. Zorba: "Turk, Greek, what does it matter. I ask 'Is a man good or is a man not good?' " And then he adds "And I swear that as I get older, I don't always ask that anymore". Not a bad summary of the Christian view of life, and not a bad summary of mine either. We just differ on the theology, and quite a few of us find theology to be the least important part of religion. It's none of my business whether Mary was a virgin.
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#86 User is offline   billw55 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 07:34

Mikeh, as always you make some very interesting and thoughtful points on this subject. And, also as before, your tone comes across as more fanatical than most others posting in the thread.

It may shock you, but the vast majority of religious people that I personally know, I find to be good, honest, peaceful people. They aren't out to do me any harm. They may believe that I am going to hell, or at least not to heaven. But then, I am not so sure they are going to heaven either - because it may not exist. Should they hate me for believing so? Mostly they don't. But sometimes it sounds like you hate them for believing only the same about you.

As for persuasion, it indeed seems that only a very small percentage of people are open to rational persuasion, and that in many cases, religious people are less represented in this group than in the general population. It is kind of sad. I wish more people cared about knowledge.
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#87 User is offline   mikeh 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 08:17

View Postbillw55, on 2013-October-08, 07:34, said:

Mikeh, as always you make some very interesting and thoughtful points on this subject. And, also as before, your tone comes across as more fanatical than most others posting in the thread.

It may shock you, but the vast majority of religious people that I personally know, I find to be good, honest, peaceful people. They aren't out to do me any harm. They may believe that I am going to hell, or at least not to heaven. But then, I am not so sure they are going to heaven either - because it may not exist. Should they hate me for believing so? Mostly they don't. But sometimes it sounds like you hate them for believing only the same about you.

As for persuasion, it indeed seems that only a very small percentage of people are open to rational persuasion, and that in many cases, religious people are less represented in this group than in the general population. It is kind of sad. I wish more people cared about knowledge.

I realize that my tone is often over the top, but I can assure you that I don't hate anyone for having religious beliefs. I am biased against anyone who has beliefs that lead them to want to commit acts of violence in the name of their god, but I suspect I share that bias with just about everybody who posts here.

I respect many people who are strongly religious when they use that faith to guide them to act kindly to others...intellectually I feel regret that such good people are infected with the religion meme, but while in my circles, most are either atheist or not outwardly religious, some are committed to their religion and it is simply an attribute of theirs that doesn't impact our relationship, any more than my lack of belief does. We know what we each believe and never argue about it. We may joke about it, though.

Were we to argue, I suspect my tone might well become over the top in person as well, so it is good that we don't, I suppose.

It is not the people I 'hate' it is the institution of religion even more than the (to me) patently misguided beliefs that religion inculcates. My primary emotion, on reading the posts here by believers, is either interest (mycroft's posts as an example) or frustration (nige's or lukewarms's as examples).

The trope that athesim is a religion is so absurd and yet so often repeated by people with the outward appearance of having some intelligence that it tends to trigger a little anger. I may be overreacting, but these issues are of profound significance and impact the future of this planet. Now, of course nothing that we write here is going to change that future, but seeing the sort of smug, blind certainty that underlies such silly assertions (they are not arguments, they are talking points someone has adopted without thinking about what it means) is annoying. If there was one thing I could wish for all beleivers it would not be the loss of faith, but, rather, the acquiring of a genuine ability to think critically about their core beliefs. I know I have: I didn't get raised as an atheist and have come to my somewhat putspoken posiiton only over a period of years, during which I have read and thought extensively...including some works by believers.

I wish I were less impassioned, btw.
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#88 User is offline   billw55 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 08:28

Agree that atheism is not a religion, and that saying it is comes across as doublespeak and avoidance of real points of argument.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-08, 08:17, said:

It is not the people I 'hate' it is the institution of religion even more than the (to me) patently misguided beliefs that religion inculcates. My primary emotion, on reading the posts here by believers, is either interest (mycroft's posts as an example) or frustration (nige's or lukewarms's as examples).

Not quite sure, are you identifying me as a believer here?

edit: wow you edited me out of that before I could quote it! So never mind my question :)
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#89 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 08:32

View Postkenberg, on 2013-October-08, 07:20, said:

"Do onto other as you would have them do onto you". Not a bad way to live, but hardly a theorem with a mathematical proof.


That is really sexy. It makes "do unto others" seem deadly dull.
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#90 User is online   Winstonm 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 08:55

It is probably unfair to discuss the point Harris makes without posting his primary assumption, so here it is:

Quote

A belief is a lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a personís life. Are you a scientist? A liberal? A racist? These are merely species of belief in action. Your beliefs define your vision of the world; they dictate your behavior; they determine your emotional responses to other human beings.


My understanding of his argument is that in most religious cases the core ideology is the same for the moderate and the fanatic - there is a god who intervenes in the affairs of man. If you accept the idea that beliefs drive behavior, then keeping alive this core belief helps keep alive actions related to that belief, and, in that sense, the moderate is guilty of maintaining the structure that within grows the fanatic, and thereby has a share of the guilt for any religion-associated behavior of the fanatic.

In defense of Harris, I would point out that I have never heard of a moderate religious person who decried a fanatical-religious action based on a lack of reasoning supporting the core belief - they may decry the religion because it is different at the edges than theirs, has different hero-figures, and a different holy book - but they never criticize the belief in a mystical god-figure who intervenes in the affairs of man as unreasonable in and of itself.

But, if you remove god from the equation, there can be no god-based religious violence. And that, I believe, is the point Harris tries to make.

Whether there is a causal connection between moderate religious and fanatical actions rests solely on the assumptions made I would think. I see his point, but I am unsure if I totally agree.
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#91 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 08:58

View PostVampyr, on 2013-October-08, 08:32, said:

That is really sexy. It makes "do unto others" seem deadly dull.

I like the way the Wiccans put it: "An' it harm none, do what thou wilt."
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#92 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:02

View Postblackshoe, on 2013-October-08, 08:58, said:

I like the way the Wiccans put it: "An' it harm none, do what thou wilt."


That is all right, but has no instructions about climbing onto people and letting them roll onto you...
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#93 User is offline   blackshoe 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:08

View PostVampyr, on 2013-October-08, 09:02, said:

That is all right, but has no instructions about climbing onto people and letting them roll onto you...

Laissez les bon temps roulez! :lol:
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#94 User is offline   Vampyr 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:11

View Postkenberg, on 2013-October-08, 07:20, said:

For a public and current example, I often read Michael Gerson with respect and interest. Here is his column of today:

http://www.washingto...1153_story.html


I clicked on the link, and this was the first sentence I read:

Quote

Following a walk through nearly empty hallways, there is no receptionist at Thomas Friedenís outer office.


I was unable to read on.
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#95 User is offline   mycroft 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:12

I would say that while atheism is not a religion, some atheists are religious about their atheism. Not all, by any means. They also tend to appeal to Reason, with absolute faith in it (as opposed to actually reasoning themselves). They also use "because Science says so" as an ultimate in an argument - the Scientific Method admits of no ultimate, just "the closest approximation we have come to so far". And lots of things are proven that are later shown to be obviously false, whether due to better tests, scientific or business cupidity, or otherwise.

I also believe that some atheists are both fundamental and evangelical in their atheism, and, as MikeH says, tend to be just as irritating to the inCorrect as their Mormon and JW brethren.

There are some who believe that religion, or any "taking on faith" of any sort, is so evil in itself that anything that leads to more of it is dangerous. And you can take them on faith on that, because they've done the reasoning, to their satisfaction, for you :-) *.

On another issue, a lot of these anti-religious arguments (specifically, anti-Christian arguments) are against "I religion" and "heaven and hell". And most of those don't argue from biblical texts, but from the same Dantean/Miltonian/Enochian hagiography that have bled so far into the mainstream that they don't realize it's not actually from the Bible. And given that my biggest issue with "I religion" people is their lack of care about what Jesus said beyond John 3:16 and "Noone comes to my Parent save through me" (I'm saved. Are you saved? And that's *all that matters*), the fact that many anti-Christian arguments attack that same view of Christiantiy (not all, by any means) are immediately treated as "nice pinning. But the donkey's on the other wall."

* To give them credit, I would believe that they would to a man ** decry anyone who would do that. But it happens, they know it happens, and they don't tend to argue against it - or at least, that's not what they argue against *in public*.
** And to within error, they are all men - at least all the published ones. And since the issues the atheist/skeptic community, at least in North America, have with Tailhook-style behaviour are pretty easy to go find at the moment, I don't expect that to change any time soon.
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#96 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:22

View PostWinstonm, on 2013-October-08, 08:55, said:


But, if you remove god from the equation, there can be no god-based religious violence. And that, I believe, is the point Harris tries to make.



The violence comes first. The "god" stuff is an after thought used to justify the desired outcome.
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#97 User is offline   mycroft 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 09:24

View PostWinstonm, on 2013-October-08, 08:55, said:

In defense of Harris, I would point out that I have never heard of a moderate religious person who decried a fanatical-religious action based on a lack of reasoning supporting the core belief - they may decry the religion because it is different at the edges than theirs, has different hero-figures, and a different holy book - but they never criticize the belief in a mystical god-figure who intervenes in the affairs of man as unreasonable in and of itself.
Well, that "core belief" is not the one I have Fundamental (sorry) issues with, it's the "I Christianity" "core belief" - and I do say, and have said, that that is incorrect.

Quote

But, if you remove god from the equation, there can be no god-based religious violence. And that, I believe, is the point Harris tries to make.
Yeah, we'd have to fall back on tribal, racist, sexist, or "you've got something I want" violence. And while it is true that "more people have been killed in the name of a god than for any other reason", how much of that is due to the temporal power that the religion has? And does anybody believe than in an irreligious world, that power would not be assigned to something else, and be equally insidious?

Posit: "American exceptionalism" is a religious belief (as, as MikeH said on a different thread, was the concept of "Britain's obligation" and the "white man's burden" 100 years ago). And that the deaths and damage caused by that belief is currently quite widespread (again, as it was at the height of Empire).
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#98 User is offline   mikeh 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 10:08

View PostWinstonm, on 2013-October-08, 08:55, said:

It is probably unfair to discuss the point Harris makes without posting his primary assumption, so here it is:



My understanding of his argument is that in most religious cases the core ideology is the same for the moderate and the fanatic - there is a god who intervenes in the affairs of man. If you accept the idea that beliefs drive behavior, then keeping alive this core belief helps keep alive actions related to that belief, and, in that sense, the moderate is guilty of maintaining the structure that within grows the fanatic, and thereby has a share of the guilt for any religion-associated behavior of the fanatic.

In defense of Harris, I would point out that I have never heard of a moderate religious person who decried a fanatical-religious action based on a lack of reasoning supporting the core belief - they may decry the religion because it is different at the edges than theirs, has different hero-figures, and a different holy book - but they never criticize the belief in a mystical god-figure who intervenes in the affairs of man as unreasonable in and of itself.

But, if you remove god from the equation, there can be no god-based religious violence. And that, I believe, is the point Harris tries to make.

Whether there is a causal connection between moderate religious and fanatical actions rests solely on the assumptions made I would think. I see his point, but I am unsure if I totally agree.


I saw his thesis as you have described it, and still have issues with arguing that moderates are culpable.

While there appears to be a sort of hard-wired, genetically driven vulnerability to holding irrational beliefs, my understanding is that the great majority of religious believers became so when indoctrinated as a young child, at a time in their lives when parents and other adults in a position of power were viewed uncritically.

Some people stay within that belief, others change the details, but remain subject to the same underlying meme: the existence of some invisible sky fairy. Some see that sky fairy in the simplistic terms that Mycroft criticizes, and these tend to include (but not be limited to) the fundies. Others have far more nuanced belief structures, to the point that they can argue away many of the more obvious contradictions between the universe as we know it to be and the universe in which the traditional sky fairy exists.

My point, however, is that it simply makes no sense to 'blame' or find 'culpable' any of the moderate believers merely because their core beliefs are the same as those of the fundies.

Imagine a traveller who, unbeknownst to him or her, become infected with a virus. It is contagious before it is symptomatic. The traveller boards a plane and, during the flight, unknowingly infects a dozen others, two of whom subsequently die.

In one sense, the traveller was 'responsible' for those deaths, in that had he or she not taken the flight, they wouldn't have occurred. However, I don't think many of us would 'blame' the traveller. What did he or she do that was morally offensive?

Virtually all believers (if limited to my personal experience or that gleaned from reading: drop the virtually) had no choice in the way they were exposed to religion when too young to have any defences.

Modern religions are highly evolved ways of thinking. The belief structure comes with self-reinforcing traits and, more impressively, contains a form of inoculation against waking up or becoming free of the meme. It cripples the ability for the sufferer to ever step all the way back and start examining the beliefs from the outside. While I appreciate that some would argue that some atheists (me?) are sort of mirror images, suffering from the same problem, that doesn't strike me as fair. Despite the apparent conviction with which I write, underlying my approach to this topic is an express acknowledgement that neither I, nor anyone whose opinions I find plausible, has 'the answer'.

This is the distinction between the thoughtful atheist and the thoughtful believer. The latter may have doubts at times, but has 'faith', or an irrational acceptance of ideas with no demonstrable validity. I have doubts, and have no 'faith' at all: everything is provisional, and I am completely ok with that. Indeed, I find it strange that anyone, with any passing understanding of history, could think otherwise.

I am reminded of a story by Susskind: he visited either Oxford or Cambridge and learned of a professor who had become famous for a certain idea. Years later his idea was shown to be wrong, by a younger up and comer physicist. The older was delighted and congratulated the younger, who had just demolished the former's most acclaimed ideas. The delight was because the older one was interested in understanding the universe as it really is, and the younger one had just helped him do that.

I hope that that is my attitude towards my worldview. For as long as the evidence known to me suggests my current opinions, I will hold to them, but should the evidence change, I will be delighted to change my opinions accordingly.

Moving back to my main point, the mycrofts of the world can argue subtle points of theology, and can disdain the simplistic forms of the religion that usually serve as the targets of most criticism from people like me, and people far more knowledgeable than me.

The reason those like me so frequently target the simplistic forms of religion, and of Christianity in particular, are complex. Atheism is rare in Islamic countries, if only because it can be fatal to one's health.

The classic Christian fundie is very prevalent in today's society and does an astounding amount of harm, while the behaviours of many of the leaders seems almost an invitation to attack. They are therefore not only important targets, for the harm they do, but easy ones, since the lunacy of their worldview is fairly easy to expose.

Sophisticated, nuanced beliefs are far harder to criticize. The mycrofts of the world aren't the illiterates who haven't read the bible yet profess to it being inerrant, because their preacher told them so.

The mycrofts of the world are thoughtful, intelligent, decent people who have thought a great deal about their beliefs and it is impossible for me to assert where they went wrong (altho it is possible for me to assert that wrong they went, since they still profess core beliefs that are, to put it as kindly as possible, implausible and not suggested by the testable evidence of the universe).

If I were ever to have the pleasure of a detailed discussion/argument with the mycrofts of the world, it would, on my part, consist of acknowledging the validity of much of what he had to say, but with that acknowledgment constrained to an acknowledgment that what he says is valid 'provided that' one accepted certain basic assumptions as accurate.

Which assumptions would have to await that discussion, but I suspect that one set of assumptions that the mycrofts make is that the existence of the universe, or some aspects of it, warrant the assumption that a creator of some kind has to or had to exist.

I have read some fairly sophisticated books on this issue, and while I have yet to find an explanation that resonates with me, and I happen to think that this topic may be intellectually beyond our ability to comprehend, much as neither of my dogs will ever read this statement, I am ok with the notion that there are things we do not as yet know and I see no reason to create a god of the gaps.

It may also be that Mycroft has a basic assumption that a Jesus did exist and did act as was later to be written, in a series of somewhat inconsistent stories, several generations after he was said to have lived.

Can I prove he didn't? No. But that question, to me at least, misses the point. Can the mycrofts prove he did? No. Can they prove that the scrolls on which the earliest known versions of the gospels were written contained anything more that a retelling of one of countless messianic cults? No. They can choose to assume that they didn't, but it is almost certainly impossible, in principle, to prove anything one way or the other. Meanwhile, there is certainly reason to suspect at least the influence of old myths in the gospels, since some of the stories, such as the 40 days in the desert, appear very similar to stories told in other ancient religions....religions that held sway in the same geographical area and many years before the time of Christ.

I may be doing the moderates, and Mycroft in particular, a disservice in making these assumptions about his approach to his faith. Unfortunately, much as I think I would enjoy it (and would hope Mycroft would too), it seems unlikely that we'll ever have the chance to have this discussion in person. I suspect that we'd both learn something, but might not change our opinions.
'one of the great markers of the advance of human kindness is the howls you will hear from the Men of God' Johann Hari
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#99 User is offline   nige1 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 10:17

View Postgwnn, on 2013-October-08, 04:47, said:

nige1, don't you think it's kind of rude to quote mikeh's long post that he obviously invested quite a bit of time in, and dismiss it with an ambiguous smiley? Did you even read his post?
I don't mean to be rude, Sorry :( I did read Mikeh's post...

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

Your ignorance is showing, despite your attempt to mask it as humour with that emoticon ... so, nige, take your ill-informed, smug ignorance of the difference between holding a faith-based belief, and an evidence-based opinion, and stuff it.
Ignorant and sure of nothing, I try to learn from Mikeh and others in this forum.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

Any religious believer, by definition, has chosen (or, more likely, had instilled in him or her while too young to understand what was happening) the concept of 'faith' which is precisely a rejection of reason.
IMO, faith isn't a rejection of reason.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

That is why, to a large degree, it is impossible to 'persuade' a religious believer to stop believing. I have read many stories from atheists who had been believers, and not one of them was ever 'persuaded' to stop believing. They each finally came to recognize, for themselves, the myriad inconsistencies and implausiblities and, in many cases, the absurdities of what their religion proclaimed. Yes, some of them gave credit to courses they took at university, or books they read once they began to doubt, but it seems clear that most, if not, all former believers who became atheists got there through being able to find within themselves some ability to think for themselves.
Usually, part of being a moderate is being open to argument. Like Mikeh, many of my contemporaries were brought up in religious environments but are no longer religious.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

As for atheists, I infer that you are one of those ill-informed believers who assert that athesim is a religion of its own. That's like saying that a perfect silence is a noise. Atheists come in all shapes and sizes, intellectually speaking. We have no belief in common and no holy book or books. For instance, I do not 'believe that there is no god', and while some atheists might hold that belief, it is to me indefensible for precisely the same reason as I have for being an atheist.
As explained before, it may help to distinguish
  • Atheists who believe that God doesn't exist
  • Agnostics who believe it's not possible to know whether God exists.
Humpty Dumpty would be proud of this nice distinction that enables clear and concise argument.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

Atheists, if they share this view of the world, are the most 'persuadable' people in the world, because we evaluate and formulate our beliefs based on what we see as the evidence. I do NOT claim that we are entirely rational, analytical and logical...we are not Vulcans. We are human and thus prone to error and to blind spots and so on. But within that context and, hopefully, with an awareness of the resulting limitations, we seek answers. Where we differ from the religious is that our answers must be consistent with our understanding of the physical reality that we (the collective we, based on scientific explorations) observe or infer. We do not accept that there is an invisible sky fairy to whom we are special and who created us for some purpose. We reject the psychopathic old testament monster, who practiced genocide when unhappy, and the slightly more benevolent new testament god....as unproven and as in many ways inconsistent with the way the universe works. We infer that as of yet there is no rational basis upon which to conclude that the gods of any human religion exist. Should evidence, and I mean real evidence tho I suspect that phrase has no meaning for you, come to our attention, we'll evaluate it critically and reach what seems to us to be rational conclusions, which might even be to the effect that a god exists.
OK

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

The funny thing about moderates is that they are textbook examples of humanity's ability to rationalize anything in order to cling to core beliefs. Far from being 'persuadable', they will spend collective millenia contorting themselves into logical knots in order to avoid being persuaded.
Mikeh's and my experience (further above) seem at variance with this statement.

View Postmikeh, on 2013-October-07, 20:26, said:

Thus with every major scientific revolution.....discoveries that rendered the earlier understanding of the world untenable, more and more of scripture, formerly held to be literally true, became allegorical or metaphorical, and the wise men proclaimed that it had ever been thus. Please: imagine someone came to you pitching an idea for a movie. it was about a god who had created a species of sentient beings and given them free will. Leave aside the killing of 99.999999999% of all living creatures that this god (who is all powerful, all knowing and merciful) perpetrated when he got pissed off at how some of those people exercised that free will. Just imagine that he decided that eventually their sins were too great but that they deserved a chance. So he made a woman pregant and had her give birth in a small town in a province of the roman empire rife with messianic cults. Why he did this rather than, for example, write a warning in the sky in big flaming letters in every known language, or something more readily accessible is a mystery. But on with the story. he did this so that the child, who was his son, would be brutually murdered and by being brutually murdered, this somehow expiated the guilt of all then living, even the almost 100% of the world's population who had never heard of him, and offered all who came after a chance to spend eternity in a state of rapturous sycophantic worship of the god who caused it all in the first place. Bear in mind that he made sure that only a handful of humans then living could take advantage of this, since the messiah was a very parochial messiah and he was born in an age when it was impossible for ore than a tiny, tiny fraction of 1% of the population would even know he existed. Religion, as a social construct, is so successful that this sort of silly story is simply accepted by otherwise intelligent people. It was excusable 2000 years ago because, while the god idea never really explained anything, it didn't contradict much either. Miracles could be reported, and nobody understood the physics that these miracles violated. Nowadays, one would expect that at least once in a while a real miracle would happen that was recorded and testable. Atheists say the lack of such testable miracles is reason to infer that they probably don't happen. Moderate believers come up with arguments such as that god doesn't need to prove himself, so he won't do a miracle that could be tested. It's like the famous double blind study on the effect of prayer on health. The study was widely endorsed by factions of the christian churches until the results came out negative...were any of those who claimed that the study would prove the power of prayer persuaded to abandon their beliefs? No, they all...all....came up with arguments about why the study would never work! These arguments had apparently not occurred to any of them before the experiment. Oh...and that ever so tolerant religious moderate? Most are still convinced that they are going to heaven and that the rest of us are going to live in perpetual agony...for ever and ever, amen. Nice, kind, tolerant thoughts. I appreciate the sentiment. What a nice god you have. Since there have been so many gods, the odds are that the vast majority of people are going to have a very unhappy eternity. Actually, all actual evidence suggests that our death will be akin to the turning out, permamently, of a lightbulb. The bulb shines when the power is on, but doesn't experience being 'off'.
Excellent points and relevant to the debate as a whole but they don't seem to refute the post to which they're a reply.
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#100 User is offline   mikeh 

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Posted 2013-October-08, 11:09

View Postnige1, on 2013-October-08, 10:17, said:

As explained before, it may help to distinguish
  • Atheists who believe that God doesn't exist
  • Agnostics who believe it's not possible to know whether God exists.
Humpty Dumpty would be proud of this nice distinction that allows more clear and concise argument.

We see this all the time. I am an atheist. I describe, in often way too much verbiage, precisely what I think about the existence of a god entity, which (to repeat myself) is that I see no compelling or persuasive reason to infer it but I recognize that I cannot disprove it, and I get told by the nige's of the world that I am an either mistaken about what I am or am lying.

The approach used by nige has been called the dictionary approach. Nige reads a definition...a definition written by someone who clearly hasn't understood what atheism is in the real world, and he assumes that the definition applies even to those who say, clearly, that it doesn't.

Dawkins is one of the most outspoken of the 'new atheists' yet he would be an agnostic by nige's definition, as would, indeed, virtually every atheist whose opinions I have learned.

Given the current state of the art in terms of our understanding of the universe, it is not yet possible to do more than conjecture with respect to what might be called the ultimate questions. Believers have faith that they have been told the answers (altho these answers don't ever provide a true operating explanation...they are all, essentially, 'god did it').

It is, as far as we can currently demonstrate, possible that the ultimate answers involve, in some manner, a god entity or creative 'force', tho if so one has to wonder how that entity or force can be explained. However, merely because something is possible, in the sense that we cannot demonstrate that it is impossible, is hardly a basis for concluding that it is 'real' in any meaningful sense.

Hence an atheist, or all atheists with whom I am familiar, does not have a positive belief in the non-existence of a god: we simply don't see any reason to believe it exists....and personally, my opinion is that the chances of its existence are extremely remote. Despite appearances to the contrary, that is not the same as my saying: there is no god. That would be a statement of belief, since it wouldn't be based on evidence. I say instead that my opinion is that there almost certainly is no god and I am not going to waste my limited life acting as if there were: I am going, instead, to try to enjoy the wondrous fact of my and our existence as it appears to be.

If anyone here is not an atheist and wants to engage in a meaningful discussion of atheism, I suggest they try to understand this post and see where nige went wrong.
'one of the great markers of the advance of human kindness is the howls you will hear from the Men of God' Johann Hari
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