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Aug 31 2011

Targeting Eagleman

David Eagleman is an interesting, prolific, and lively neuroscientist who has unfortunately roused the ire of a few New Atheists with his sloppy criticisms of atheism and his flaky “Possibilianism” label — and now Sam Harris is hunting him with a big ol’ barbed harpoon. This could be fun!

What also makes it fun for me is that Eagleman will be visiting the University of Minnesota Morris campus on the 27th-28th of September, and he’ll also be popping into my Neurobiology course as a guest presenter. His lecture will be open to the public, but he’ll be talking about his latest book, not Possibilianism…but maybe we’ll be able to squeeze in a few questions.

78 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    Asked whether he was an atheist or a religious person on a National Public Radio interview in February, 2009, he replied “I call myself a Possibilian: I’m open to ideas that we don’t have any way of testing right now.”

    Aw, he’s “open.” How nice–and irrelevant to present possibilities for knowledge.

    Well who isn’t open to ideas that we don’t have any way of testing right now? OK, the IDiots and such–they’re not open to good ideas having solid evidence after all–but science is theoretically (if less in practice) all about being open to ideas that we can’t test, and especially to finding ways to test them.

    How long must the possibility of a witch living in a candy house detain me, however?

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    MoonShark

    That’s a shame to see Eagleman be flaky on atheism. I really loved his book on syntaesthesia, “Wednesday Is Indigo Blue” (co-author: Richard Cytowic), and would strongly recommend it to the horde here.

    I got to speak with Ed Hubbard (another synaesthesia researcher) one time, and I really go the impression that the whole group of neuro-psychologists working on that were breaking new ground in showing the physical processes behind thoughts and behavior.

    Which, of course, pretty well rules out “free will” and “god”.

  3. 3
    PZ Myers

    Only until you have the opportunity to push her into the oven.

  4. 4
    unbound

    Well, I assume he’s open to the possibility of Russell’s teapot…and the invisible pink unicorn…and the flying spaghetti monster..

    After all, isn’t there *some* possibility that they may be true…

  5. 5
    Rieux

    Surely you misspelled “Gnu Atheists”?

  6. 6
    rad_pumpkin

    Stupid question, but how exactly is this “possibliansim” different from agnosticism? Or is there some sort of claim of potential testability past the initial declaration of “I don’t know/possibly?”

  7. 7
    Rich Woods

    “I call myself a Possibilian: I’m open to ideas that we don’t have any way of testing right now.”

    I took a ride in a time machine last night. Do you believe me, Mr Eagleman?

  8. 8
    Rich Woods

    Oops, Dr Eagleman. Apologies.

  9. 9
    Upright Ape

    Too bad I can’t make it myself. But it would be great if someone could ask Dr Eagleman if he is a “possibilian” on questions of soul/afterlife. As a neuroscientist, can he claim those are realistic possibilities?

  10. 10
    Sour Tomato Sand

    Yawn. Douchebag Sam Harris doesn’t like superflake David Eagleman. Who are we supposed to be rooting for here?

  11. 11
    Anthony K

    From the website on Possibilianism:

    “Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.”

    Ah, I see. Possibilianism is the practice of calling only the least thoughtful and curious of agnostics ‘agnostics’, and redefining the rest as possibilians, and then congratulating yourself for reinventing the wheel.

    I think it’s time that I introduce my new philosophy: awesomecoolplussometimesexplosionsism. Awesomecoolplussometimesexplosionsism is akin to atheism in that it shares the belief that there are likely no deities, based on the evidence that we have, but it differs in that it’s much more awesome, much more cool, plus sometimes explosions.

    My speaker’s fee is C$5,000 per engagement. I know that sounds a bit high, but consider what I’m bringing to the table: much more awesome, much more cool, plus sometimes explosions.

  12. 12
    Dhorvath, OM

    What does things that we can’t test right now exclude? I mean, it sounds pretty wide open, doens’t it?

  13. 13
    required

    Possibilianism, besides being the stupid word ever, is offensive to both atheism and religionismismsism (sorry, too many isms to keep track of). If anything can be true, nothing is true.

  14. 14
    Sastra

    From Sam Harris:

    But it seems to me that now might be a good time for you to admit that “possibilianism,” this middle position of yours, is just a piece of performance art, rather than a serious thesis.

    Exactly: this so-called middle position of “being open to ideas we have no way of testing right now” is not in any significant way any different than the position taken by gnu atheists like Harris, Dawkins, PZ, etc. Damn it, it’s the very spirit of scientific inquiry — the same goal that allows gnu atheists to be open to considering “God” to be something we can test against what we’ve learned so far.

    What Eagleman is doing is a bit of performance art, a simpering little dance of humility-in-the-face-of-ignorance which wears the clothes of religion and uses the style of “spirituality” while containing none of their actual content — a content which is anything but humble and which does not maintain that we are “ignorant” about God at all. We’re just unsure exactly what God is and why God is and how God is and what God has done or is going to do — but it’s God, God, God anyway and so good for you and me to leave a door of possibility open for God, whatever the hell God is because who cares as long as there’s belief in Belief?

    The religious often bask in the conceit that atheists don’t believe in God because nothing ever would or could have made them believe in the first place — the problem is the atheists themselves, not the argument. There’s plenty of evidence — if you’re motivated to count it as evidence. Atheism then is a lack of motivation, an inability to be “open to possibilities.”

    And they just LOVE it when an atheist agrees with them while making their own little self an exception. Those OTHER atheists are all narrow and sure of themselves: not me, though, so you can like me. I’m just a waitin’ for better evidence. Not like those BAD atheists who think they’ve all figured it out.

  15. 15
    ManOutOfTime

    I’m disappointed that he’s running away, but that’s what little boys do when they get caught smoking behind the barn, trying to look cool in front of the neighborhood kids.

    Right-wingers embrace the woo like nobody’s business, but even progressive rational types bow to peer pressure – how many progressive or even conservative leaders really truly believe? Ronald Reagan? George Bush Sr? Al Gore? The current POTUS? No way does/did any of them believe in a personal god. I think Eagleman is part nice, part trying to give an inch to believers to keep their ears open – but ultimately I suspect he has hit on some catch phrases that have earned him strokes from believers and media types, and he is shamelessly going with it to sell books.

    If I am wrong, and he honestly believes in the Possibilitudiness of the universe, then I am doubly disappointed because he’s clever and eloquent, and Sam Harris is just the guy for him to be having a dialogue with. Come back, Dr. E! We don’t care what you were smoking! We just want to talk!

  16. 16
    Dr. Strabismus (WGP) of Utrecht

    Brownian
    re: awesomecoolplussometimesexplosionsism

    Will there be booze? If so, sign me up.

  17. 17
    Worldtraveller

    Brownian, I want to hear more about awesomecoolplussometimesexplosionsism!

    Unfortunately, my religion, notenoughmoneyism, states that there’s no way in hell that I’ll be able to come up with a speaker’s fee.

    Is there where we call each other blasphemers and start a holy war?

  18. 18
    chigau (違う)

    blowed up real good

  19. 19
    Don Quijote

    @ 10

    Doesn’t say you have to root for either one.

  20. 20
    EvoMonkey

    The space of possibilities is much smaller than Eagleman talks about so animatedly. The existing theistic world religions are off the grid of possibilities. He keeps using the word “middle”, but what he is pitching is a position much closer to atheism and certainty than he would like to admit. This is just repackaging and rebranding agnosticism and then selling it with a slick infomercial. Eagleman has morphed into the Ron Popeil of accomodationist agnosticism.

  21. 21
    gillt

    Harris

    Nor has Ray Kurzweil and other proponents of an eschatological “singularity” fallen afoul of our rigid orthodoxies.

    What is PZ, chopped liver?

  22. 22
    The Lorax

    A brand new movement, with Rainbow Dash ruler;
    Like agnosticism, just 20% cooler.

  23. 23
    Steve LaBonne

    Both evolutionary biology and neurobiology comprehensively rule out substance dualism. Deprived of that, what interesting “possibilian” beliefs might still exist to be investigated?

  24. 24
    Walton

    It sounds like this “Possibilianism” is simply a way of repackaging atheism. As both an agnostic and an atheist, I don’t claim to know that deities do not exist; I argue simply that there is no evidence on which to found the claim that they exist, and that, in the absence of evidence supporting a position, the default position should be scepticism. If someone produced solid empirical evidence for the existence of a particular god – for instance, if Jesus returned to earth in a blaze of glory and started regrowing amputated limbs on national television, or if a religious text could be found which contained unambiguous and correct predictions of future events about which the author could not possibly have known – then I would cease to be an atheist. (Though I should add that I would not necessarily see any reason to worship or obey a god or gods, even if I believed that such being or beings existed; I don’t think the Abrahamic God is a particularly good moral example, for instance.) This is the position taken by most atheists I know; atheism, properly understood, is not a definite claim that there are no gods, but, rather, a sceptical position about the existence of gods in the absence of any evidence that they exist.

    That said, I wish PZ would stop promoting Sam Harris’ work. Harris is an authoritarian, a shallow thinker, a proponent of anti-Muslim bigotry (he promotes the xenophobic lies, favoured by the far right, that Islam poses a “threat to Western civilization” and that Europe is in danger from “creeping Sharia”), and an apologist for war and torture. Even where Harris is right on a specific issue, I’d argue that encouraging people to read Harris’ work on any subject has the effect of causing people to perceive him as an intellectually respectable and serious figure, which he is not. In my view, if someone defends torture and promotes bigotry, he or she should be ostracized by the mainstream intellectual community until s/he recants his or her views.

  25. 25
    truthspeaker

    Steve LaBonne says:
    31 August 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Both evolutionary biology and neurobiology comprehensively rule out substance dualism. Deprived of that, what interesting “possibilian” beliefs might still exist to be investigated?

    The possibility that monkeys might fly out of my ass.

    You may dismiss the idea, but that’s just because you lack the intellectual courage to go beyond the available data.

  26. 26
    Fil Salustri

    Please update us on any interesting bits after Eagleman’s guest presentation in your course!

  27. 27
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    @ The Lorax at 22

    Nope, like “agnosticism” but 100% more dishonest!

  28. 28
    liebore

    what interesting “possibilian” beliefs might still exist to be investigated?

    At the end of Incognito, Eagleman uses the analogy of a radio. Loosely paraphrased; if scientists that had never encountered such a device came upon a radio and attempted to study it in terms of wires, knobs, transistors, etc – they might conclude that since they know all about how each item contributes to making voices come out of the device, they know everything they need to about the radio. Meanwhile, they would be ignorant of the important roles of radio waves and broadcast equipment.

    Like so many religious analogies, this constitutes very deep thinking for those looking to validate their own woo.

    Still, the book is very cool.

  29. 29
    Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar

    I think David Eagle man is doing a great Job , I don’t mind him criticizing the new atheists movement whom I am a deeply fan of , but we have to realize that brains differ backgrounds differ , I am from Iraq / Middleeast and people are just scared from the word ATHEIST , Directly the Image of Satan appears to their minds , having different terms such as Possibilian or whatever may make some people who are afraid from the word Atheist and Atheism in general be interested in Similar topics , I mean in America you have your nuts too , you have alot of religious nuts actually and communicating atheism through different words may solve some problems :)

    Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar
    founder of the Global Secular Humanist Movement
    http://www.facebook.com/GSHMP

  30. 30
    Reginald Selkirk

    At the end of Incognito, Eagleman uses the analogy of a radio… Meanwhile, they would be ignorant of the important roles of radio waves and broadcast equipment.

    That is so full of FAIL. The nature of radio waves is that they are electromagnetic waves, just like electromagnetic waves of other wavelengths. The same rules apply. Radio waves could be produced and measured with equipment designed to produce and measure other electromagnetic radiation, by tweaking a few values.

    His next example should be about finding his @$$ with both hands.

  31. 31
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Liebore @ #28, let me get this gayly forward: Eagleman uses a watchmaker analogy at the end of his book in order to show that scientists are predisposed to absolute certainty unless they prescribe to his notion of possibilianism?

    That is one high horse Eagleman needs to climb the fuck down from. Does he really think closed-mindedness is what landed us, in 2011, where we are now in terms of scientific progress? His lame idea (his intellectually dishonest, lame idea) is nothing new to science. Frankly, I have a hard time buying his analogy as even plausible. If such a discovery were made, there isn’t a reason to think that, if it produced voices, no one would wonder where they came from.

    I understand that you’re paraphrasing, but if you’re doing even a decent job, then Eagleman is forwarding a peculiar popular media driven view of scientists as closed-minded dogmatists with virtually no sense of wonder, merely a rigid and unimaginative interest in engineering. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He’s also engaging in a facile attempt to create a new kind of accommodationism.

    It seems to me that this possibilianism might appeal to a lot of new-agers, agnostics (oh, how I hate using that term in this manner) and religion-less god-believers. All you have to do is be open to possibilities. If he’s not angling for some reinvented accommodationism, he may well be surprised by the woo his idea attracts. Best if he trashes the thing now and gets honest as well as forthcoming about his motives (which actually seem rather apparent to me).

  32. 32
    Anthony K

    You know, throughout this thread I had it in my mind that David Eagleman was the same person as Terry Eagleton. (I also thought Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Lloyd Webber were the same person until a few years ago. Conversations about musical theatre and/or architecture with me were…confusing.) Now I have to face the possibility that they aren’t.

    Since it would be unpossibilianistic for me to declare them either as one or as two (it won’t due for me to commit to the idea that they are three with metal bassist Robin Eaglestone so I’ll just say I’m open to the idea) I’ll just refer to them as an amalgam: Davvyn Eaglemone, keep your vapid bullshit off of my national radio. Also, metal! Woo-hoo!

  33. 33
    Steve LaBonne

    re liebore @ 28: too bad science predicted the existence of electromagnetic radiation, whereas it precludes the existence of any sort of disembodied mind, which is a prerequisite for most forms of woo. As Reginald said, an “argument” full of fail.

  34. 34
    Jay

    If we’re looking for new words for the skeptical religious position, I rather like “igtheism”, which denotes the belief that the English word “god” is too vague to allow one to unambiguously call oneself either agnostic or atheist.

    In other words, I’m not exactly agnostic because there are specific religious claims that I consider impossible (as opposed to merely unlikely), but I’m not exactly atheist because not every hypothetical being that the word “god” could plausibly be applied to is impossible in my view (as opposed to unlikely and unproven).

  35. 35
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Jay, you are fundamentally confused about what the word atheist means, then. If you do not currently have a god belief, then you are atheist. It is really very simple. You are exactly atheist, or you are exactly not. There very really is absolutely no middle-ground.

    You’re also confused about what the word agnostic means. It has to do with knowledge and the ability to have it. It does not have to do with belief. A person can be a gnostic atheist or a gnostic theist. A person could also be an agnostic atheist or a gnostic theist. With respect to those religious claims that you rightly consider impossible, you are a gnostic atheist, meaning that you know (in a rigorous sense of the word) that the claims are wrong and you don’t believe them (like the existence of the Abrahamic god, for instance). With respect to hypothetical beings that are unfalsifiable, however, you are an agnostic atheist, meaning that you don’t know that they don’t exist, but because there is a lack of evidence indicating that they do, you do not believe in them, making you an atheist.

    Don’t be confused about these things. And don’t shy away from the word atheist. It’s a good word and it has a specific meaning. So does agnostic. You’ll notice I use it like you have in one of my posts above while lamenting at using it in that way at all. That’s because it’s so bloody common to hear the ignorant or confused refer to themselves as such in order to avoid a label or to fool themselves into thinking they occupy some kind of middle ground. They wrong and they don’t.

  36. 36
    Anthony K

    but I’m not exactly atheist because not every hypothetical being that the word “god” could plausibly be applied to is impossible in my view (as opposed to unlikely and unproven).

    Is that what you think atheists think? That every hypothetical being that the word “god” could plausibly be applied to is impossible (rather than unlikely and unproven)?

  37. 37
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Also, Jay, there’s no need for a word for the sceptical religious position. Atheists and theists can be sceptical. There are sceptical atheists. Many atheists are sceptical. It follows that these atheists are sceptical of religion.

    If there’s one thing that it doesn’t look like Eagleman is trying to do, though, it’s come up for a word more succinct than sceptical atheist. Rather, his word is confused agnosticism or accommodationism dressed up. It’s silly nonsense. It’s intellectually dishonest and it has within it a lot of erroneous presumptions.

  38. 38
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Oh, I don’t mean to have implied that all sceptical atheists are necessarily sceptical of religion. Clearly, that’s not the case.

  39. 39
    Sisu

    You know, throughout this thread I had it in my mind that David Eagleman was the same person as Terry Eagleton. (I also thought Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrew Lloyd Webber were the same person until a few years ago. Conversations about musical theatre and/or architecture with me were…confusing.) Now I have to face the possibility that they aren’t.

    The other day my husband and I had a very confusing conversation about a musician; we couldn’t quite figure out why the other one was so wrong in what was being said about the musician in question. Turned out that I was talking about Jack Black, while he was talking about Jack White. Not quite Frank Lloyd Wright/Andrew Lloyd Webber level confusion, but still quite funny when we realized what had happened…

  40. 40
    steve oberski

    @Walton That said, I wish PZ would stop promoting Sam Harris’ work.

    PZ is awaiting further advice on how he should run his blog/life with bated breath I’m sure. In the future you may want to EMAIL him directly.

    You’ve been challenged a number of times in the past to backup your claims that Sam Harris is an anti-Muslim bigot and I have yet to see any forthcoming.

    Anyone who has actually read any of Sam Harris’s work and concludes that he is pro-torture and war must be a very shallow thinker indeed.

    And as for ostracization, nothing that you’ve written has enough substance to warrant that.

  41. 41
    eean

    Nor has Ray Kurzweil and other proponents of an eschatological “singularity” fallen afoul of our rigid orthodoxies.

    Speak for yourself Sam!

  42. 42
    walter

    I consider myself an atheist, but it is hard for me to understand the hostility here. I am big fan of this blog. In fact I consider most people here as intellectual allies, it helps to know I am not the only one out in the world. So please believe me, I do not want to infuriate anyone here. But why the hostility? It seems to me many people never actually bothered to actually understand Eagleman’s position. Grant it, it may be a little flaky, but surely does not warrant the emotional responses seen here. It is so hard to find any blog that does not quickly degenerate into heated hostile arguments. I have done my share of insulting here, especially against libertarians (they irritate me so much), but lately I am getting fed up with hostility, even my own. Given long enough we all become each other’s enemy. Is it just me?

  43. 43
    Anthony K

    Is it just me?

    In short, no. The internet hates itself.

  44. 44
    ManOutOfTime

    @Walter – enemy shmenemy: calling an otherwise admirable thinker a D-bag when he is committing D-baggery is not making enemies. I hope the strong reaction, coming from people Dr. E might similarly respect and agree with, will raise his consciousness and refine his worldview. Nothing here that a big boy shouldn’t be able to handle.

  45. 45
    gc

    I read quite a few of Eastman’s articles and listened to some of his videos. I am still unsure how Eagleman’s position is much different from the standard atheist position, he does not make it clear to me what the distinction of his position or what his objections to atheism are. It just sounds like a new name for the same position to me.

    It does seem to me that the atheist movement could use some new approaches, but I am not sure Eastman’s thinking is honestly anything new at all, it is too poorly defined and does not clearly state how it is any different from secularism.

  46. 46
    CJO

    In short, no. The internet hates itself.

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite all time New Yorker cartoons. A dog, on a psychiatrist’s couch, is saying “I can smell my own fear.”

    The internet is like a self-destructive teenager, full of angst and free-floating anxiety looking for a target. It could really use the stern yet compassionate intervention of an older, wiser massively distributed system of interconnected data retrieval and storage devices, don’t you think?

  47. 47
    Putting On The Foil

    Just call me an ItsTooUnfuckinglikelyToWasteMyTimeist.

    I have to remain open to the vastly remote possibility of the existence of the Great Green Arkleseizure.

  48. 48
    truthspeaker

    Eagleman made false claims about what “new” atheists say and believe. I don’t know about you, but I get hostile when someone lies about me.

  49. 49
    DFS

    @walter. I think the irritation comes from seeing the same stuff over and over again. Yet ANOTHER person coming along, taking it upon themselves to counter those nasty new atheists, constructing straw men and making the most wishy washy facile assertions, when in fact they also don’t believe in god. It gets tiring.

  50. 50
    Kel

    In some ways, I can see where Eagleman is coming from – the focus on the non-existance of God does seem a sterile topic. Yet I think he misses the point in two ways. First, there’s a necessity to focus on that point because of how contentious it is – it’s like how there’s a necessity to focus on the validity of evolution or climate change. Second, atheism is not the end of the story where ‘neo atheists’ ground their view of reality. I’m sure a lot would agree with him that we shouldn’t think we have a complete understanding of reality and be open to possibilities – the contention that gods are products of the human mind is perfectly compatible with what Eagleman is advocating.

    The misrepresentation of what Dawkins et al. are saying is getting tiresome. Is it really to much to ask for a fair representation while trying to climb through the Overton window?

  51. 51
    WhiteHatLurker

    A neurobiologist from Baylor … does he know this band of researchers?

    Make him sing in your class!

  52. 52
    Andy Groves

    Eagleman made false claims about what “new” atheists say and believe. I don’t know about you, but I get hostile when someone lies about me.

    I don’t know about you, but I tend to discount someone’s opinion when they fail to appreciate the distinction between making a false claim and telling a lie. That said person goes by the moniker “truthspeaker” is especially delicious.

  53. 53
    'Tis Himself

    walter #42

    It seems to me many people never actually bothered to actually understand Eagleman’s position. Grant it, it may be a little flaky, but surely does not warrant the emotional responses seen here.

    I have read Eagleman and I believe I understand his position. He’s an accommodationist atheist who doesn’t like Gnu Atheists. He dislikes us so much he misrepresents our positions on atheism and skepticism. People here are emotional because we don’t like lies being told about us, especially by someone who should know better.

  54. 54
    Janine, The Little Top Of Venom, OM

    I am sorry for what I am about to do.

    Eagleman?

    Eagleman!

    I have something for you!

    People who lived in and around Chicago during the nineties will know what this is.

  55. 55
    Kel

    @Walter, past of the reaction might be not so much against Eagleman, but what Eagleman brought against ‘neo atheism’ is a common misrepresentation. How many times must the same straw-man be repeated before someone will give a fair assessment?

  56. 56
    Pete

    > but how exactly is this “possibliansim” different from agnosticism

    It lets you write a book, give talks, and make money.
    And now that Eagleman has his status and livelihood associated with the stake he’s put in the ground, I expect he will never give it up.

  57. 57
    rosejam

    I saw Eagleman give a talk at Southbank here in London, and he was doing well until he described himself as a libertarian. I couldn’t take him very seriously after that.

  58. 58
    Ing

    Anyone who has actually read any of Sam Harris’s work and concludes that he is pro-torture and war must be a very shallow thinker indeed.

    Except for the parts where he says he is in favor of torture for these evil muslims *eye roll*

    But I’m sure it’s like the Bible and we missed the important context

  59. 59
    truthspeaker

    Andy Groves says:
    31 August 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Eagleman made false claims about what “new” atheists say and believe. I don’t know about you, but I get hostile when someone lies about me.

    I don’t know about you, but I tend to discount someone’s opinion when they fail to appreciate the distinction between making a false claim and telling a lie.

    What distinction?

    Eagleman has access to the works of Dawkins, Harris, et al. He is writing an article responding to their words. As such, we can reasonably presume that he is familiar with what they have said. If he misrepresents what they said, then it follows that he is lying.

  60. 60
    D Mulvihill

    If there is one thing that the so-called “New Atheists” like you and Mr. Harris can agree on with the right-wing religious opposition is you both hate moderates. As GW Bush would say: “you are either with us or you’re against us.” How dear those sophistical smarmy moderates rain on our holy battles and tell us we should try to get along. Damn those people!

  61. 61
    steve oberski

    Ing: Od Wet Rust

    Except for the parts where he says he is in favor of torture for these evil muslims *eye roll*

    But I’m sure it’s like the Bible and we missed the important context

    So what part was that ?

    Don’t worry about the context, I’ll take the trouble to read the entire book/article.

    Suggest you practice your eye rolling front of a mirror where you will have a more appreciative audience.

  62. 62
    truthspeaker

    How dear those sophistical smarmy moderates rain on our holy battles and tell us we should try to get along.

    That’s just it, though. We are getting along. The smarmmeisters seem to think that we can’t get along unless we dishonestly pretend to agree on everything.

  63. 63
    Walter

    I haven’t seen much of him, so I cannot comment with certainty. The little I did see seemed reasonable. I had a hard time distinguishing between his idea and Richard Dawkins. Perhaps the difference is that for some atheist the universe can be utterly pointless, as stated Sean Carroll. While this may be not a problem for many, it does make atheism a hard sell. Possibilianism leaves the door open for the possibility of something other than the stated pointlessness of it all. I know that whatever possibilities are out there, as espoused by possibilianism, while not totally ruled out by science are extremely unlikely. So unlikely in fact that it would be ridiculous to take them too seriously. But I think we can have something like the lottery effect. If I am in dire need of money it would be stupid to pin all my hopes on wining the lottery, the chances being so remote. But at the end of the day I still check the wining number, just in case. That is what I got from the little I did see. Now, if he is bringing the magic crystals then that is like maxing your credit card before checking the wining number.
    Anyway, atheism is a hard sell. I am an atheist because I cannot be anything else, not because I like it, truth be told I actually hate it. I envy atheist who embrace the pointless of it all and be fine with it. Atheism depresses the hell out of me, but I cannot believe in something else just because it would make me happier. Reality has not concern for my emotion state. It is a little upsetting when other atheists try to convince me that my gloominess is baseless. I do not choose to be depressed, I just feel that way. Is like having my arm cut off and someone whispering in my ear “it shouldn’t hurt, just take it.” But oh yes, it hurts. Anyway Eagleman’s libertarianism bothers me more than his possibilianism.

  64. 64
    lazybird

    Walter:

    [atheism] Is like having my arm cut off…

    So you’re saying that without a god to worship you’re missing something?

  65. 65
    Walter

    Once again, I do not want this to degenerate into the typical blog argument. I think you are honestly missing the point. Please understand that I am not arguing against atheism, but confessing to the nihilism it creates in me. It has nothing to do with the need to worship anything; I find the idea of submission disgusting, and the way god is usually represented is morally deplorable. I would not worship that god even if I did believe in it. It has more to do a sense of meaning with something grater than oneself, or maybe is just the fear of death rationalized as something else. Point is, I don’t think I am the only one. Most atheists are not bothered by it; most people who are bothered by it maintained themselves delusional and remain theist. There are a few unlucky bastards such as myself who are bothered by it but cannot remain believers. Does it make any sense?

  66. 66
    Anthony K

    Walter, it sounds like there is a lot going on here with you. As someone with a fairly cynical sense that at times borders on nihilism, I get where you’re coming from. However, as someone who suffers from depression, I think you need to consider yourself depressed, rather than suffering from existential ennui.

    The reason being is that people who realise they are depressed will seek therapy for their depression. Those who think their issues stem from existential ennui look for philosophical answers. I’ve known many who’ve successfully used treatment to end depression; I’ve never known anyone to use philosophy to treat themselves effectively. (Because you can’t. The universe is a meaningless, uncaring place. No thought process will change that, but therapy can help that not be so depressing.)

    That’s probably why you find it “upsetting when other atheists try to convince [you] that [your] gloominess is baseless”. Because it’s not baseless, though I’d wager your gloominess has nothing to do with your atheism.

  67. 67
    steve oberski

    @Walter

    Is like having my arm cut off and someone whispering in my ear “it shouldn’t hurt, just take it.”

    If you think that hurts, try waving your arm at a televangelist who thinks you have money.

  68. 68
    Ing

    If there is one thing that the so-called “New Atheists” like you and Mr. Harris can agree on with the right-wing religious opposition is you both hate moderates. As GW Bush would say: “you are either with us or you’re against us.” How dear those sophistical smarmy moderates rain on our holy battles and tell us we should try to get along. Damn those people!

    You want me to play nice with people who want folks like me dead and believe it would be a good thing if the state persecuted or killed me.

    Sorry there is no moderate in those stances.

  69. 69
    kermit

    Walter: “It has more to do a sense of meaning with something grater than oneself, or maybe is just the fear of death rationalized as something else”

    Walter, plenty of people have found paths that serve something greater than themselves, without involving magic or superstition.

    There are all those Zen paths, devotion to a discipline that demands a forgetting of self: gardening, martial arts, jazz, long distance running…

    Service to humankind makes demands on some, and gives them a sense of purpose. Some devote themselves to teaching. Habitats for Humanity, soup kitchens, political causes fulfill some folks, or seem to. We could really, really use people who try to enlighten our fellow apes regarding global warming.

    And a scientist devoted to his or her field makes me think very much of a desert monk. Except the scientist is doing something real. And atheism does not preclude even ritual and holidays.

    What do you want to do, or what do you think needs doing? Do it, and do it well. Do it with purpose.

    ***********************

    The young man from the village told Takuan that he wanted to become a monk. “Why? asked the master.
    “I want to become enlightened, more than anything I know.” replied the erstwhile monk.
    “Fetch me a ladle of water, and I will show you something important,” said Takuan.
    As the lad leaned over the well’s edge with the ladle, Takuan grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and thrust his face into the water. He held him there, against the fierce struggling, for several long beats, then released him.

    He waited until the fellow had stopped coughing, and looked at the master with horror.

    “When you want to be enlightened more than you wanted to breathe, you will be ready to study,” said the master.

  70. 70
    Ing

    Walter: “It has more to do a sense of meaning with something grater than oneself, or maybe is just the fear of death rationalized as something else”

    Walter, plenty of people have found paths that serve something greater than themselves, without involving magic or superstition.

    There are all those Zen paths, devotion to a discipline that demands a forgetting of self: gardening, martial arts, jazz, long distance running…

    Service to humankind makes demands on some, and gives them a sense of purpose. Some devote themselves to teaching. Habitats for Humanity, soup kitchens, political causes fulfill some folks, or seem to. We could really, really use people who try to enlighten our fellow apes regarding global warming.

    And a scientist devoted to his or her field makes me think very much of a desert monk. Except the scientist is doing something real. And atheism does not preclude even ritual and holidays.

    What do you want to do, or what do you think needs doing? Do it, and do it well. Do it with purpose.

  71. 71
    Ing

    Walter: “It has more to do a sense of meaning with something grater than oneself, or maybe is just the fear of death rationalized as something else”

    Walter, plenty of people have found paths that serve something greater than themselves, without involving magic or superstition.

    There are all those Zen paths, devotion to a discipline that demands a forgetting of self: gardening, martial arts, jazz, long distance running…

    Service to humankind makes demands on some, and gives them a sense of purpose. Some devote themselves to teaching. Habitats for Humanity, soup kitchens, political causes fulfill some folks, or seem to. We could really, really use people who try to enlighten our fellow apes regarding global warming.

    And a scientist devoted to his or her field makes me think very much of a desert monk. Except the scientist is doing something real. And atheism does not preclude even ritual and holidays.

    What do you want to do, or what do you think needs doing? Do it, and do it well. Do it with purpose.

    You forgot good old fashion hedonism and enlightened self interest. Just because oblivion is inevitable doesn’t mean that the time between it isn’t enjoyable.

  72. 72
    David Marjanović, OM

    Possibilianism, besides being the stupid word ever

    Breatharian.

    You lose.

    There are all those Zen paths, devotion to a discipline that demands a forgetting of self: gardening, martial arts, jazz, long distance running…

    All of them stupid.

    (Sure, some of them are good for your health, but that’s another topic.)

    “When you want to be enlightened more than you wanted to breathe, you will be ready to study,” said the master.

    Stupid.

    You forgot good old fashion hedonism and enlightened self interest. Just because oblivion is inevitable doesn’t mean that the time between it isn’t enjoyable.

    Now we’re getting somewhere!

  73. 73
    truthspeaker

    For feeling like a part of something bigger than yourself, one option is to join a musical group. A musician performing in a group is contributing a piece of a larger whole. And you don’t even have to be very good – there are community choirs and little bands that play together just for fun.

    Now, if you are pretty good, and you are in a group where you are all improvising together – that can feel transcendent.

  74. 74
    Kel

    @walter
    For some of us, we’ve never really had to deal with the existential crisis that is said to accompany the death of God. In Nietzsche’s dialogue about the death of God, some of us are like the villagers who laugh at the very notion. At least for me, and what seems many other ‘new atheists’ is that we don’t see what the madman is on about. God is dead? So what?

    Yet this is one of the criticisms leveled at the ‘new atheists’ – that we don’t understand why the death of God is a big deal, an consequently why we don’t truly understand belief in God. We trivialise the discussion by not grasping the severity of what we are saying. Yet from my perspective, and what I gather from other ‘new atheists’, it is the believers trying to turn atheism into something it is not – into a rival worldview. Again from my perspective, God is dead is one of those dontness in much the same way as there being no fairies or ghosts – yet who cries over their ontological redundancy? Failed explanations from a species primed to think in terms of agency.

    The way I see it is that no matter what you believe in, we are still faced with the same existential quandary that we call the human condition. Is God really an idea that can help with that? Perhaps for some. For me, what we need is mostly to be found in this world, in our actions and interactions with others. He we can’t see value in love, in company, in achievement, in understanding – then what good is God beyond that?

  75. 75
    Kel

    Typo there in the second paragraph – why I shouldn’t post here from my phone :P

    I think I was trying to say ‘God is dead is akin to there being no fairies or ghosts’.

  76. 76
    Kel

    And the last line should say ‘If we’ not ‘He we’. Gah!

  77. 77
    lazybird

    It has more to do a sense of meaning with something grater than oneself…

    Walter, YOU give life meaning. You don’t need someone or something else to give it to you.

  78. 78
    Walton

    You’ve been challenged a number of times in the past to backup your claims that Sam Harris is an anti-Muslim bigot and I have yet to see any forthcoming.

    Sam Harris has written, in so many words, that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” He has encouraged the pernicious myth – beloved of the BNP, the EDL, Geert Wilders, and other far-right xenophobic groups – that Europe is “under threat” from Islam. (In reality, far-right nationalist extremism in Europe and America is a far bigger threat to our liberties than Islamic extremism; Muslims are a small minority throughout the Western world, and the great majority are not extremists or fundamentalists.) Muslims are an oppressed group in our society, and Harris’ inflammatory rhetoric is contributing to that oppression.

    Anyone who has actually read any of Sam Harris’s work and concludes that he is pro-torture and war must be a very shallow thinker indeed.

    You mean anyone who’s read Harris’ own explicit statement that “torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror”? In an opinion piece titled “In Defense of Torture”?

    I have said all this, with links, many times before on Pharyngula. If you’re too illiterate and lazy to read, or too much of a Harris-fanboy to acknowledge the possibility that he might actually have said some nasty and bigoted things, then I can’t help you.

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