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The magic of denying reality

Ophelia deals with a review of Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality. The reviewer makes a common accusation that atheists everywhere have heard a thousand times before: if we believe that the universe is nothing but matter and energy, then what about love? Usually about this time they acquire a triumphant tone of voice — they have backed us into a corner in which we have to confess to be soulless automatons, or we must recognize that there must be something more, something…spiritual. It’s these wacky woo-peddlers, though, who are shoehorning the universe into a tidy black and white box where either love is unreal and doesn’t actually exist, or love is real and therefore, God exists! Presto!

So this reviewer paints a stark picture of Dawkins denying love.

Thus he tells us that “reality is everything that exists” – and “exists”, he makes clear, means whatever we can see or stub our toes on, albeit with the aid of telescopes and seismographs. Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory. This, he implies, is what emerges from science, and science is true.

Ophelia is rightly skeptical, and doubts that Dawkins actually denies the existence of love, but she doesn’t have a copy of the book yet — it’s not going to be released in America for a couple of weeks yet.

But, aha, I get to have a McLuhan moment. I have a copy! Richard Dawkins’ publisher sent it to me, and it arrived just this afternoon, so I can pull it out right here on the spot.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read it all myself. Like I said, it just arrived today, and I’ve been bogged down in grant writing all day. And then, when I took some time over lunch to savor it, I got distracted — man, this is a gorgeous book. I just leafed through it, savoring the illustrations and dipping now and then into the text. It’s really lovely and going through it is an esthetic experience (oh, are atheists allowed to have those? I think so.)

But fortunately, the reviewer didn’t dig very deeply either. The source of his accusation is in the very first chapter, on page 19, and it’s all so well laid out it was rather easy to almost intuitively flip to the right page and find where Dawkins called love and jealousy “illusory”. Oh, wait…he didn’t.

Does this mean reality only contains things that can be detected, directly or indirectly, by our senses and by the methods of science? What about things like jealousy and joy? Are these not also real?

Yes, they are real . But they depend for their existence on brains: human brains, certainly, and probably the brains of other advanced animal species, such as chimpanzees, dogs, and whales, too.

OK, I put the emphasis in there myself, because obviously religious apologists need all the help they can get. A simple four word declarative sentence isn’t plain enough for them, I guess. I also added the bright red arrows. I’m afraid they’d miss it otherwise. Propriety forbade me from using the blink tag. Should I have put in a 72pt font?

It’s amazing, though. The reviewer practically quotes Dawkins on love and jealousy, and then suggests an interpretation that is directly contradicted by a short plain English sentence in the next paragraph.

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Yeah, well how about my acne clearing up the day before my big date with Mary Sue? Explain that Mr. Smarty-Pants Atheist! :-þ

  2. says

    Well, isn’t quoting Dawkins as saying the exact opposite of what he actually says the standard way of rebutting him? It has a long tradition since The Selfish Gene, at least.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    What????? Emotions are real, and products of evolution. Dang, we here a Pharyngula Saloon and Spanking Parlor™ have to send Professor Dawkins a beta test version of our transport with e-ducats of positive tab.

  4. chigau (曇) says

    ‘Tis
    Does your wife know about Mary Sue?
    —-
    I placed a hold at mu library.
    I’m 8th in line.

  5. pokip says

    “It’s amazing, though. The reviewer practically quotes Dawkins on love and jealousy, and then suggests an interpretation that is directly contradicted by a short plain English sentence in the next paragraph.”

    With my understanding of the religious, especially creationists, this is about all they’re capable of.

  6. Michael Swanson says

    I can’t take anything that isn’t in purple Comic Sans seriously. Your font is how I know your godless ass doesn’t believe there’s any beauty in the universe.

  7. Michael Swanson says

    @8. OgreMkV

    Wow… quotemining. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you to find someone quotemining Dawkins.

    Look:

    “…atheists everywhere…believe that the universe is nothing but matter and energy…we have to confess to be soulless automatons, and love is unreal and doesn’t actually exist!” – PZ Myers

    It’s easy!

  8. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Does your wife know about Mary Sue?

    It doesn’t matter, as long as she doesn’t know about Barbara Ann:

    Tried Peggy Sue
    Tried Betty Lou
    Tried Mary Sue
    But I knew she wouldn’t do

  9. John Morales says

    Andrés, OgreMkV, Michael, ellipses are indeed the honest quote-miner’s best friend, but the example provided is not a quote-mine, rather a malicious paraphrase relying on an equivocation: Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory.

    (To claim misquoting or quote-mining where none exists is no better, perhaps worse. PZ did not stoop to that, I note.)

  10. says

    But they depend for their existence on brains

    I don’t understand why this gets the apologists and accommodationists in such an uproar, why it is just so horrible that emotions stem from our brains.

  11. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I don’t understand why this gets the apologists and accommodationists in such an uproar, why it is just so horrible that emotions stem from our brains.

    I think that is because it essentially denies the existence of a soul. More like a sole, on a pair of holey slippers…

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    From a strictly materialistic point of view, does any abstraction exist?

    Take, say, the concept of “three” – we can point to countless examples of sets of three things, but they are seen as such by our arbitrary processes of selection, grouping, definition, etc.

    Other concepts we regularly use – emotions, theories, customs, categories, etc, etc – similarly fall apart once we focus only on atoms & energies. We have this proton bound to that electron – but, knowing they can be recombined otherwise, how do we justify reifying the elemental concept of “hydrogen”?

    No doubt the philosophers have whacked on all this till the sun came up, produced a dozen labels for the varying nuances of perspective thus distinguished, and kicked the ass of that sophomore who had to ask whether such categories “exist”. Nonetheless, the epistemologically naive (such as the unstable phenomenon known as me) can see how a rigidly exact “materialism” might have to deny any such subjective, if utilitarian, percepts – or allow anything, even a mangy god, so long as someone “sees” it.

  13. says

    Stupid, blinkered theists. They have their inane talking points and they will use them, come hell (don’t worry, not going to happen) or high water (tsunamis do occur). They’ve talked themselves into thinking that atheists consider themselves to be unfeeling automatons, so it must be true. Besides, the evidence is all around: Atheists are all single, curmudgeonly, unloved, and unlovable. QED! (And it’s not fair to point to my old bachelor self as a contradiction of my own argument. It’s all about over-generalization and stereotypes. [Okay, it's not all about over-generalization and stereotypes, but mostly.])

  14. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    It’s all about over-generalization and stereotypes. [Okay, it's not all about over-generalization and stereotypes, but mostly.])

    There’s also wishful thinking and delusion.

  15. says

    What about hunger? Oh, that’s just a sensation programmed into us by our need to survive. Love’s not like that. It’s special. Right. Unlike all the other meat robots on this planet we’re really really special.

  16. says

    PZ, this is just your literalism again. Just as the religious don’t really mean to express belief in miracles or that their mythic stories are real (regardless what millions of them explicitly claim), similarly Dawkins does not mean to assert the reality of love and jealousy regardless of what his words say. You just don’t understand poetry and story and puppies and stuff.

  17. says

    Nerd:

    I think that is because it essentially denies the existence of a soul.

    I suppose so. At one time, it was widely believed that the heart was the seat of emotions and the seat of reason, the brain was basically discounted. People got over that when it was found to be wrong, yet there are still people who are stubbornly denying the importance of and functions of the brain.

  18. Xios the Fifth says

    It’s all about over-generalization and stereotypes. [Okay, it's not all about over-generalization and stereotypes, but mostly.])

    There’s also wishful thinking and delusion.

    Don’t forget pompous asshattery.

  19. reasonisbeauty says

    @18

    From a strictly materialist point of view, an abstract idea has a very real, material existence in the state the neurons the regions of a brain that holds them. And considering that abstract ideas sometimes have a very real and quantifiable effect on the physical world around us, it would be difficult to deny their reality.

  20. Lyn M: droit de seignorita says

    If someone out-argues you, is a better writer, has better information than you do, what can you do but mis-quote them?

  21. says

    why it is just so horrible that emotions stem from our brains.

    Because then we wouldn’t be special – dogs and cats and horses and whales and elephants and (the list goes on) would all be capable of emotions, and that leads to acknowledging that they might be feeling or even moral beings. And that we might just be animals. And maybe the big difference between us and the other animals is that we made up gods and wrote them down.

  22. macallan says

    The reviewer practically quotes Dawkins on love and jealousy, and then suggests an interpretation that is directly contradicted by a short plain English sentence in the next paragraph.

    Surprised? It’s not like they don’t do that with their other favourite book all the goddamn time.

  23. raven says

    Yes, they are real ←. But they depend for their existence on brains: human brains, certainly, and probably the brains of other advanced animal species, such as chimpanzees, dogs, and whales, too.

    I can see a major mistake right here. Maybe Dawkins can correct it in the next edition before too many people notice it or stick in an erratia

    …such as chimpanzees, dogs, whales, and cats. I can’t believe he left cats out.

  24. reasonisbeauty says

    edit first, post later…

    @18

    From a strictly materialist point of view, an abstract idea has a very real, material existence in the state [of] the neurons [in] the regions of a brain that holds them. And considering that abstract ideas sometimes have a very real and quantifiable effect on the physical world around us, it would be difficult to deny their reality.

  25. raven says

    It’s amazing, though. The reviewer practically quotes Dawkins on love and jealousy, and then suggests an interpretation that is directly contradicted by a short plain English sentence in the next paragraph.

    No it isn’t. It’s not amazing at all.

    It’s just routine, common lying. Fundie xians have to lie. It’s one of their three main sacraments.

  26. kantalope says

    This must be some of that sophistimicated theooology y’all keep going on about: IF Dawkins had argued that then he would have been wrong. hahahaha

    If Newton had said that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter objects then he would have been wrong.

    This works for anyone…If Glenn Beck had…oh never mind.

  27. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Raven, different animals have different cognitive processes, but I think that compared to those mentioned, cats are relatively stupid. I’d certainly put parrots and horses ahead of them.

    (So, I doubt their omission from that short list is “a major mistake” that will be corrected)

  28. echidna says

    I think that if you are pounded with “God is love; love is God” messages*, to the point where no love without God is possible*, then atheists really can’t know anything about love. Whatever words Dawkins used, he is only demonstrating that atheists don’t believe in Love/God. Whatever happens in the brain really doesn’t count.

    If everything good comes through their god, then atheists must by definition be “goodless”. (as per psalm 14:1:”They [non-followers of middle-eastern deity] have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.” How could misquoting a corrupt person like Dawkins do any harm, when you are only speaking the Truth?**

    *(Note how neatly this can be used to control human expressions of love, since these must then conform to the deities wishes, as explained by your local pastor. It’s all about control.

    **I despise the evil, lying ways of these people. The sooner we recognise, at a society level, that religion is not a public good in its own right, the better.

  29. Art Vandelay says

    Isn’t this eerily similar to the wildly popular argument about Darwin saying that it’s unlikely that the eye could ever evolve in OOS?

  30. says

    Occam’s Blunt Instrument:

    And maybe the big difference between us and the other animals is that we made up gods and wrote them down.

    That reminds me of Yeats’ poem, The Indian Upon God:

    I passed along the water’s edge below the humid trees,
    My spirit rocked in evening light, the rushes round my knees,
    My spirit rocked in sleep and sighs; and saw the moor-fowl pace
    All dripping on a grassy slope, and saw them cease to chase
    Each other round in circles, and heard the eldest speak:
    Who holds the world between His bill and made us strong or weak
    Is an undying moorfowl, and He lives beyond the sky.
    The rains are from His dripping wing, the moonbeams from His eye.

    I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:
    Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,
    For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide
    Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.

    A little way within the gloom a roebuck raised his eyes
    Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the Skies,
    He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He
    Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?

    I passed a little further on and heard a peacock say:
    Who made the grass and made the worms and made my feathers gay,
    He is a monstrous peacock, and He waveth all the night
    His languid tail above us, lit with myriad spots of light.

  31. raven says

    I think that if you are pounded with “God is love; love is God” messages*, to the point where no love without God is possible*,..

    I don’t know what religion you are talking about but it isn’t the current perversion known as US fundie xianity.

    You have made a strawperson here. I hope you aren’t going to torch it. The strawpeople are getting really tired of being massacred.

    US fundie xianity is based on pure hate. It is the other sacrament besides lying and hypocrisy. The fundie god is an Invisible Sky Monster. Some of the theologians don’t even bother hiding that fact, especially the Calvinists.

    This isn’t even worth documenting. Who hates everybody and everything in and about our society, gays, atheists, Moslems, scientists, women, democracy, science, the US government, nonwhites, normal people, and on and on.

  32. says

    Just as the religious don’t really mean to express belief in miracles or that their mythic stories are real (regardless what millions of them explicitly claim), similarly Dawkins does not mean to assert the reality of love and jealousy regardless of what his words say.

    No!

    Dawkins’ planting an assertion of the reality of love in his book is meant to test our faith in our scientific dogma that “reality is everything,” similar to the way God tests our faith in the truth of the creation story in Genesis by planting fossils.

  33. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Um, Raven. I’m pretty sure you’ve misread Echidna, and furthermore that it is you who has erected a straw dummy.

    (The contention is if X, then Y; you don’t address that, other than to claim ¬X)

  34. says

    Raven:

    I don’t know what religion you are talking about but it isn’t the current perversion known as US fundie xianity.

    Echidna was talking about christianity. Most christians aren’t fundies, and many of them were taught the ‘love is god, god is love’ business and buy into it, lock, stock and barrel.

    You focus on fundies only, however, a majority of christians consider themselves to be on the moderate side, and are responsible for a lot of backward legislation and continued efforts to take the U.S. backwards.

  35. ichthyic says

    I’d certainly put parrots and horses ahead of them.

    horses?

    really?

    Just checking:

    You did know that Mr. Ed wasn’t a documentary, right?

  36. echidna says

    Raven,

    Colin Tudge, who wrote the drivel of a review, is not a US fundie. He is British, and being a biologist is more likely to be trying to fit everything into a “we know nothing but through God” filter than through a “US fundie hate filter”.

    It is not “creating a strawman” to discuss an extant version of Christian woo which might explain where this guy is coming from.

  37. otrame says

    If someone out-argues you, is a better writer, has better information than you do, what can you do but mis-quote them?

    Lyn, that is a perfect explanation, in just a single sentence. Very well done. You get ALL of tonights internets.

  38. says

    Icthyc writes:
    horses?

    Some of ‘em are pretty sharp. They don’t vocalize like a parrot but they can learn a few words in human. Their intelligence is kind of weird – predators ‘think’ very differently from prey animals like horses.

  39. otrame says

    John Morales, parrots are more trainablethan a cat, but I doubt they are as smart as a cat. Horses? IDK much about them, but my dad, who worked on a thoroughbred ranch during his teen years sworn they were about on par with chickens–which was probably an exaggeration for effect, but even so…

  40. raven says

    You focus on fundies only, however, a majority of christians consider themselves to be on the moderate side,…

    I focus on the fundies for good reasons. They own US xianity right now. And they are quite likely going to destroy us.*

    The moderates and Catholics outnumber them 2 to 1 at least. But they are mostly apathetic and asleep at the wheel. They aren’t even all that noticeable most of the time.

    And it is costing them a lot. The moderates are losing members as fast as or faster than the fundies. A few moderate leaders have spoken up to defend their faith, Bishop Spong and Barry Lyn etc. but most just don’t care anymore.

    *I’ve posted the reasoning behind this several times. About all that happened is a few people went into a coma (from boredom) and had to be resuscitated.

    Briefly, the death cultists aren’t going to win their culture war. In fact, they are losing it. But they don’t have to. It turns out the US economy is very fragile and Bush almost destroyed it. One more Tea Party president and it’s over with for a generation.

  41. says

    Caine writes:
    That reminds me of Yeats’ poem, The Indian Upon God:

    Beautiful.

    Which in turn reminds me of Jean Meslier’s:
    He discovers a vast plain entirely devastated by the sword and fire; he looks at it and finds it covered with more than a hundred thousand corpses, deplorable remains of a bloody battle which had taken place a few days previous. Eagles, vultures, ravens, and wolves were devouring the dead bodies with which the earth was covered. This sight plunges our pilgrim into a sad reverie. Heaven, by a special favor, had made him understand the language of beasts. He heard a wolf, gorged with human flesh, exclaim in his excessive joy: “O Allah! how great is Thy kindness for the children of wolves! Thy foreseeing wisdom takes care to send infatuation upon these detestable men who are so dangerous to us. Through an effect of Thy Providence which watches over Thy creatures, these, our destroyers, murder each other, and thus furnish us with sumptuous repasts. O Allah! HOW GREAT IS THY GOODNESS TO THE CHILDREN OF WOLVES!”

  42. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Echidna, note Raven used ‘strawperson’ and ‘strawpeople’ rather than ‘strawman’ and ‘strawmen’, presumably for the same reasons I use ‘straw dummy’.

    (You misquoted. Tsk)

  43. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’m quite sure that PZed is right that Tudge has Dawkins’ wrong, but the paragraph that he quotes and the line that he highlights doesn’t actually do the proving.

    The problem with Tudge (and I’ve just finished reading his review, better written by someone named “kludge”) and his interpretation of Dawkins is not that it contradicts what Dawkins says in that paragraph but that it asserts something that I haven’t seen Dawkins’ say.

    Tudge doesn’t merely say that Dawkins calls such things illusory, but that he says such things are dependent on material existence to themselves exist…and are therefore illusory.

    Dawkins does in fact say that Love is real but depends on material existence. It’s in PZed’s quote:

    → Yes, they are real ←. But they depend for their existence on brains:

    Brains being part of material existence, Tudge got that part right. But he implies with the word “illusory” that love and jealousy and other important emotions should be disregarded. The proof will come not merely in a quote that says such things are real, because there can be “real illusions” – just ask Penn – but when he discusses how such things are important and to be respected.

    And we should respect love and happiness and anger and all those things our brains produce, like thoughts. And I’m sure that Dawkins has said that many times. He just doesn’t in that paragraph.

    So, Tudge is wrong, but I still need to read the book for the ammunition.

    Oh, darn. Having to read a book by Dawkins. I’m so saddened by the necessity ;-)

  44. raven says

    I don’t want to derail this thread so one more data point, a crucial one.

    Percentage of Americans Living in Poverty Rises to Highest Level …www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html?pagewanted=allAdd to iGoogle
    You +1′d this publicly. Undo
    Sep 13, 2011 – And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1996.

    Here it is 2011. The median household income is falling and is now at 1996 levels. We are going backwards, now to 15 years ago. In a few years, the number below the poverty line has doubled.

    A lot of people I know are struggling right now, trying to hold onto their houses, keep paying their kid’s sky high college tuition and so on. And I live in a well off area.

    Things are likely to get worse and soon. They aren’t getting better for sure. Obama is in big trouble right now and everyone knows it. So, if the voters elect a Tea Party president, the group that created this disaster, wave bye bye to the economy for a few decades.

  45. says

    my dad, who worked on a thoroughbred ranch

    One interesting side-effect of how we humans have twisted the genes of our animal companions is that you can get breeds of dogs that are much smarter than others (i.e: border collie) – ditto horses. Intellect is not prized in thoroughbreds – they’re genetically manipulated meat robots for running very fast and not much else. Sometimes you get smart ones but, once you move into the trail horses or working horses, you can find some that are pretty clever. I have 2 warmbloods and one of them can learn pretty decent tricks including navigating trails by verbal cues alone (he probably thinks his name is ‘butthead’…) For me an interesting test is when animals can learn a name that has been assigned to them. Dogs can do it. Horses can do it.

    My ex-wife is a farrier and used to work at a barn where one of the horses used to steal things from people and hide them in the straw in his stall. And they definitely can have a sense of humor, albeit a kind of dopey (they’d fit right in with the typical internet derp derp troll…) obviousness. My horse’s idea of funny is to collect a lot of water in his mouth and then to let you get in close to say “hi” then he blicks it onto your head. Witty. A well known horse-trick is to try to scrape a rider off its back with a convenient branch. They’re funny to watch when they’re cooking something up because they obviously think they’re about do be verry verrrry cunning. It’s cute. My horse once impressed me by figuring out that he could hook a branch with the saddle-horn, take a couple steps forward, and drop his shoulder – presenting his passenger with a real problem.

    Horses aren’t dumb. Some of them are about as smart as lettuce while others could match wits with a dumb dog.

  46. kristinc says

    I can’t figure out why cats wouldn’t be at least as smart as dogs. (Come to that, I can’t figure out why people think cats are any less trainable than dogs. Is that just one of those things that “everybody knows” so well that they can’t see what’s in front of their faces?)

  47. Cuttlefish says

    @reasonisbeauty #26/31–

    If I may…

    No, no no no no no no! I know you mean the right thing, but the “real, material existence” is in the behavior and interactions of whole persons! The brain states you point to are a part of the process, but reducing it to these portions loses so much of what is there! Love is not something that brains do, but something that people do, and (thankfully!) do with much more than just their brains!

    But you are quite right (so please do not take offense!) that love can easily (for certain levels of “easy”) be defined materialistically (or, more generally, monistically, without need for some supernatural, whether god, mind, or magic); just as a”sunset” is redefined as “earth rotation” without losing an iota of its beauty, a scientific examination of love does not and cannot make it lose any of the qualities that we cherish.

  48. echidna says

    Echidna, note Raven used ‘strawperson’ and ‘strawpeople’ rather than ‘strawman’ and ‘strawmen’, presumably for the same reasons I use ‘straw dummy’.

    (You misquoted. Tsk)

    Quite right. *Hangs head.*

  49. amphiox says

    otrame, parrots and corvids are the most intelligent of all the birds, and at least as estimated based on their behavior, they are equivalent to primates, possibly even apes. They are up there comfortably up there with the most intelligent non-human animals on planet earth.

    Definitely smarter than cats on average. Not that cats are dumb. They are probably above average for mammals.

  50. says

    But he implies with the word “illusory” that love and jealousy and other important emotions should be disregarded.

    Love and jealousy are as “illusory” as hunger or an itch. They’re terms we use to describe brain/body states. The big mistake religion leads people into is assuming there’s a brain/body divide – which there isn’t – because it’s necessary to make their belief system work.

    You can see how this works when believers try to separate the ‘cerebral’ parts of life from the ‘material’ – love is a different and magical thing not to be confused with that o-so-mortal erection. Hunger is just a thing of the body, while artistic impulse is purely a thing of the higher mind. (Tell that to a fucking bower bird!) And, to the point of the bower bird, when we buy our sweeties expensive shinies and take them out for a night on the town (used to be diamonds, now maybe an iPad?) we’re not at all like that poor silly little meat robot bower bird. We’re special.

  51. says

    I can’t figure out why cats wouldn’t be at least as smart as dogs.

    Could it be that dogs are more social than cats? Or more socialized with humans?

    Perhaps we are biassed toward seeing sociableness as a sign of intelligence? Or, perhaps sociableness is intelligence? I noticed in amphiox@#60 above he mentioned that crows, one of the most social birds, are damn smart. This could be one of those chicken:egg things.

  52. echidna says

    I can vouch for parrots being a lot smarter than we give them credit for too. My galah used to have a whale of a time calling the dog, teasing the cats and generally doing a really good impression of holding a meaningful conversation with a limited set of phrases.

  53. raven says

    For me an interesting test is when animals can learn a name that has been assigned to them. Dogs can do it. Horses can do it.

    My cats all know their names. That is pretty standard for cats. The problem with cats is they will come when you call them. If they feel like it. If they don’t, they won’t.

    They aren’t as smart as some people claim but not as dumb as a lot of people would have it.

    My two ex feral cats figured out how to open any type of door in a few minutes without looking like they were even thinking too hard. They learn by watching each other and watching humans.

  54. says

    echidna writes:
    I can vouch for parrots being a lot smarter than we give them credit for too.

    For some reason, when I read that, I couldn’t help but think of John Cleese calling Sarah Palin “a trained parrot.”

    I knew a parrot when I was a kid that could do “telephone conversation” with other people (including the phone ringing) in impeccable French and German. What was crazy, to me, was that the parrot (Jacko!) never switched languages. I watched that damn parrot a lot, because it was so cool. Now that I think back, it was like a markov chain playback, almost. It was as if it had learned threads of French phone conversation and German conversation and knew they didn’t go together because French followed French 100% of the time. It never made that mistake, though it’s conversation was sometimes surreal. “Allo? J’ecoute! (Long pause) Oui, je vous souviens. (Long pause) Certainement! (possibly repeats a few times) ” etc. Come to think of it Jacko was much more articulate than Palin…

  55. Tim DeLaney says

    Alan @ 32:

    Boy, you guys are being very gentle compared to the comments section of the Independent. They’re busily ripping this Tudge fellow a new one.

    See especially the post by Chaotopia who absolutely dismembered Tudge, paragraph by paragraph. (See comment 32 for the link)

  56. echidna says

    Raven@55, I hear you. I’ve been following Krugman’s blogs and posts, and it really doesn’t look good, for either inside or outside the US. In the US, the safety nets are not in place for the ordinary person, and the Tea Party seems to be ideologically opposed to them. It’s not a good situation.

  57. says

    They learn by watching each other and watching humans.

    Yeah, learning from watching one another is really interesting, when you see animals do it. My horse P-nut always lets his buddy Otto test the electric fence before he goes near it. My dog Jake used to let Miles test the porcupines and skunks and snakes and cats and…

  58. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    For Occam’s Blunt Instrument:

    I know it wasn’t your intention, but I laughed like a fiend when I read:

    Love and jealousy are as “illusory” as hunger or an itch. They’re terms we use to describe brain/body states. The big mistake religion leads people into is…..

    There’s ONE big mistake???

  59. Katrina, radicales féministes athées says

    Occam’s Blunt Instrument, the Pfffft!! of all knowledge says this about cat intelligence:

    It is proven that cats learn by trial and error, observation and imitation. They can retain some information learned through exploration of their environment much longer than dogs. In one study, it was found that cats possess visual memory ability comparable to that of monkeys.

  60. Tim DeLaney says

    amphiox @ 60

    … Not that cats are dumb. They are probably above average for mammals.

    This is self-evident. An animal that can train an advanced primate to give it a can of delicious food, merely by rubbing up against its leg and meowing is, evolutionarily speaking, highly intelligent.

  61. says

    I’m not saying cats aren’t intelligent! I think my first posting in this threat @#28 I listed “cats” right after dogs. I lived with quite the army of cats for about 30 years and am quite familiar with feline intelligence.

    The most typical and memorable example of feline intelligence that I can recall was one cat that I had who ostentatiously stood up, glared at me, then crouched and took a dump on my best pair of shoes – glaring at me the whole time. I assume it takes pretty good intelligence to be malicious and cats certainly are experts at that. :) I also used to have a feral alley cat who, on about 10 occasions, I tried to capture. He outsmarted me 9 out of 10 times. Cats are smart.

    The whole point of this is that religion steers away from the question of animal intelligence because then we start to ask what’s the difference between intelligence and a soul, and why won’t our dogs be in heaven (answer: because my horse doesn’t like dogs and he’s going to heaven and will kick dogs that he sees…) etc.

  62. evilDoug says

    While I easily accept that Corvids are very intelligent, I fear that many are Pentecostals. When the magpies and blue jays that come to my house for breakfast (and lunch and tea and dinner and a late snack), aren’t in stealth mode or announcing that a cat is in the yard or trying to see if they can be loud enough to break glass, are given to speaking in tongues.
    ~~~
    I kind of missed my four-alarm crows this year. Four crows, four AM, four metres from my bedroom window.

  63. Myron says

    “[I]f we believe that the universe is nothing but matter and energy, then what about love?”

    Well, according to (noneliminative) materialism, emotions and all other experiential/mental phenomena are real physical phenomena.

    “It may help to perform special acts of concentration—focusing one’s thought on one’s brain and trying to hold fully in mind the idea that one’s experience as one does so is part of the physical being of the brain (part of the physical being of the brain that one may be said to be acquainted with as it is in itself, at least in part, because its being as it is for one as one has it just is part of what it is in itself). It’s worth trying to sustain this (it’s a philosophical procedure), forcing one’s thought back to the confrontation when it slips. At first one may simply encounter the curious phenomenological character of the act of concentration, but it’s useful to go on—to engage, for example, in silent, understanding-engaging subvocalizations of such thoughts as ‘I’m now thinking about my brain, and I’m thinking that this experience I’m now having of this very thinking (and this subvocalization) is part of the physical activity and being of my brain’. It’s useful to look at others—children, say—as they experience the world, and to think of the being-in-time of the common-or-garden matter in their heads (hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, iron, potassium, sodium, etc.), and to think that their having experience is part of the routine being-in-time of this matter. It’s useful to listen to music, and focus on the thought that one’s auditory experience is a form of matter or energy.”

    (Strawson, Galen. Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 289)

  64. Tim DeLaney says

    [OT]

    Tim, I can’t resist noting that most Primates are rather advanced (in age).

    Ah, English. Ya gotta love it.

  65. Pierce R. Butler says

    reasonisbeauty @ # 26/31: … an abstract idea has a very real, material existence in the state [of] the neurons [in] the regions of a brain that holds them.

    No more so than this sentence phrase has in the unlit pixels of your screen. Arguably less so, as neurons & synapses change much more rapidly & complicatedly (between individuals and over time) than does the hardware of a monitor, or perhaps even the photophores of a wily cuttlefish.

    The position I’m sketching/caricaturing – call it reductionism taken to extremes – disregards all secondary/emergent/epiphenomenal observations as imaginary constructs imposed on a mechanistic physical foundation. Starting from there, ideas such as “love”, “irony”, “beauty”, “species”, and even “poopyhead” don’t make the reality cut. Equipped only with such a mentality, not even the most robotic Spock parody could function – but as a vaguely insinuated slur thrown at materialists/physicalists/positivists, throwing into question what we mean by “exist”, it serves particular rhetorical needs quite handily.

  66. kristinc says

    The problem with cats is they will come when you call them. If they feel like it. If they don’t, they won’t.

    This popular belief (nothing personal against you, raven) is an excellent example of evidence-denying idiocy. I’ve known umpty-ten dogs that couldn’t be bothered to come when they were called because they hadn’t been trained to do that, and hey, sniffing this fencepost is WAY more interesting than whatever Mom wants. My own dog is pretty well mannered but when someone leaves the gate open, for example, she’ll hear me calling her, look back at me and make a conscious choice to ignore my ass.

    Meanwhile, most of my cats will come when they’re called, and the two I raised from kittens were specifically drilled to do it when they were tiny and absolutely come running.

  67. kristinc says

    I remember reading recently that not only do corvids have flabbergastingly good facial recognition, but they can lie. And not only can they lie but they appear to be conscious of the fact that others of their species lie, and the birds who lie more often are more suspicious of their fellow birds. That is some scary smart shit.

  68. bassmanpete says

    In similar vein, here’s a letter from The Age newspaper in Melbourne:

    “WHAT a depressing program for the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. Three days of preaching hopelessness. And people will have to pay to be told there is no purpose to their pointless lives.”

  69. Sastra says

    Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory.

    Supernaturalists seem to have a lot of trouble trying to make sense of abstractions and levels of experience: they want to take everything literally, as irreducible substances. Love is only real to them if it’s a thing, a sort of spiritual-substance which is made of neither matter nor energy because it is the immaterial essence of love. Ironically, that makes them super-materialists — spinning material into finer and finer substances until like only comes from like. Love is derived from love. Otherwise, it can only have the same properties that were there in its origin.

    Despite their claims to be so comfortable with “higher levels” of reality, supernaturalists are concrete thinkers. They can only make sense of immaterial abstractions by turning them into spirit-things in a spirit-world. It’s the same sort of composition fallacy that causes people to have a serious problem with understanding how life can come from non-life. Things are supposed to be stable, discontinuous units of essential natures which are forever separated by what they ARE. If inert matter can live, it must be because a vital force made of life gets into the matter to somehow to make it live.

  70. Tim DeLaney says

    Getting back to the topic at hand, I’d like to point out (as many here have done before me) that the “book review” of Mr. Tudge is really mislabelled. Properly speaking, it is a polemic–and a rather badly done one at that. The “Indy” might want to raise its standards in the future.

  71. azkyroth says

    I don’t understand why this gets the apologists and accommodationists in such an uproar, why it is just so horrible that emotions stem from our brains.

    Because it’s like we’re saying they aren’t capable of love?

  72. Myron says

    The experiential/mental/spiritual is undeniably real but it is part of the corporeal/material/physical, there being nothing hyperphysical about it.
    Unfortunately, most people still need to get used to the idea that the categories “mental” and “physical” aren’t mutually exclusive. If the former is read as “nonphysical” and the latter as “nonmental”, mind-body dualism is true by definition.

  73. azkyroth says

    Perhaps we are biassed toward seeing sociableness as a sign of intelligence? Or, perhaps sociableness is intelligence? I noticed in amphiox@#60 above he mentioned that crows, one of the most social birds, are damn smart. This could be one of those chicken:egg things.

    I’m somewhat convinced that a lot of people are convinced cats are more intelligent than dogs because they’re less social and display fewer social behaviors, which people anthropomorphize into something that reminds them of stereotypical upper-class/nobility mannerisms. Cats are more “dignified” than big slobbery bouncy dogs, after all, surely they must be more mature and refined. *eyeroll*

  74. chigau (曇) says

    Oh for fuck’s sake, kristinc
    Whatever relationship you have with the critters in your house, it is NOT parent and offspring.

  75. theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme says

    Googling around for information about the new book, I notice that there are different versions of the cover. More interestingly there is a very large difference between the cover of the British version (Link) and the American version (Link).

    The British one is really cool and attractive. Positive, exciting, entertaining (at least that is my impression). A book that would immediately attract my attention as either child or adult.

    Then we get to the ‘Merkin one. Oh my Holy FFSM! Emo, “searching”, “spiritual”, … the kind of cover that would go with woo or xtian “profundity”. I am sure it was choosen carefully and with a purpose for the ‘Merkin market. But this only makes me dispair all the more for where the USAians are headed.

    (It also has echoes of this: Link)

  76. Kseniya says

    Supernaturalists seem to have a lot of trouble trying to make sense of abstractions and levels of experience: they want to take everything literally, as irreducible substances. Love is only real to them if it’s a thing, a sort of spiritual-substance which is made of neither matter nor energy because it is the immaterial essence of love. Ironically, that makes them super-materialists

    Yes! I’ve often had similar thoughts when confronted with the “what about love? hah!” argument, but never took them to this logical conclusion. Sastra nails it again. This is exactly what they do!

  77. chigau (曇) says

    Damn.
    When I get my turn at the library copy it will be the ‘merkin version.
    Oh well, “book by its cover”.

  78. kristinc says

    Oh excuse me chigau, I forgot this is a SCIENCE blog, and we must all be SRS SCIENCE BSNS, and never EVER use casual or colloquial or humorous or figurative or idiomatic language AT ALL EVER. UNPOSSIBLE. NOT ALLOWED.

    And of course the entire point of my whole post @80 was totally and completely about that one goddamn word. Yup, you really penetrated incisively to the core of my argument there. Oops, that’s figurative language, NOT ALLOWED SRS SCIENCE BLOG COMMENTING.

  79. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    About crows: they can also teach newly acquired information to their offspring who have no direct experience with it. (The Nature of Things did a show about their intelligence and social behaviour. http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/natureofthings/2009/murderofcrows/ )

    And cats: Of my last two, one was as dumb as a stump (she made up for it by being super-affectionate and as cute as it is possible for a grown cat to be), the other was extremely intelligent. I’m pretty sure she recognised herself in a mirror, and she tricked me into doing what she wanted on more than one occasion.

  80. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Kseniya, neither, so far as I know.

    The one time a comment I tried to post failed to get through, I was not logged in and I’d forgotten to populate the name/email fields. I suspect that may have been your problem; it’s easily done.

    (A site login is handy if you want to comment on the multiple blogs here at FTB, though)

  81. Kseniya says

    Never mind. Disregard last comment.

    The “love” argument makes me want to ask similar questions back. What about fear? Specifically, what about that weightless exhilaration you feel at the top of the roller coaster? Does that come from God? On a more subtle level, what about emotional ambivalence towards a family member, or the mild distaste one might feel for a slightly creepy guy in the neighborhood? Is that a manifestation of the wellspring of the Divine?

    What about that vague, uneasy feeling you get when you’re miles away from home and it suddenly occurs to you that you might have left the stove (or iron, or something) on. Surely that feeling comes from some other place, outside of space and time, from God Himself, who wouldn’t Let you Forget something as Important as turning off the stove. (Or would he, to teach some kind of lesson or something? How does that work again?)

  82. Kseniya says

    John:

    (A site login is handy if you want to comment on the multiple blogs here at FTB, though)

    Yes. I think I’ll have to go ahead and make a FTB login, just for convenience. Thanks.

    My problem earlier was just a little lag between my posting the comment and its appearance on the page. (Tsk… patience, girl!)

  83. says

    bassmanpete @ 82:

    Three days of preaching hopelessness. And people will have to pay to be told there is no purpose to their pointless lives.”

    I find this idiotic sentiment incredibly annoying, seeing as the whole “purpose” and “point” of their life (as defined by their god belief) is to die so they can sit in Sky Daddy’s lap. Yeesh.

    Theophontes:

    Googling around for information about the new book, I notice that there are different versions of the cover. More interestingly there is a very large difference between the cover of the British version (Link) and the American version (Link).

    Aargh. I seriously like the British cover and seriously dislike the ‘merkin one. I might have to order this from Amazon.uk to get the proper cover. Reminds me of the horrible ‘merkin covers on all the Discworld novels.

  84. chigau (曇) says

    Kseniya

    Is that a manifestation of the wellspring of the Divine?

    Well, of course.
    That wellspring is manifesting that I have another glass of wine.
    Who am I to argue?

  85. gijoel says

    I’m coining a new logical fallacy.

    Reductio ad venus:

    An ad hominem attack whereby one attempts to refute an argument by claiming that the opponent is cold and emotionless and thus can not understand the attackers argument.

    See also Reductio Ad Spockerum.

  86. mcedgarallanfloe says

    My analogy:

    Person A has a preconception that reflections in mirrors are a window into a non-physical world (this is not a complete straw man; superstitions about reflections are quite common). Person B states that they are a skeptic.

    Person A: “So, you don’t believe in reflections?”

    Person B: “No, reflections are certainly real, and explainable by the physical interaction between waves and certain materials.”

    Person A: “Oh, so you’re saying it’s all an illusion then?

    Person B: *facepalm*

    In my experience, most devout religious types hold very strong to their preconceptions and have a difficult time having a discussion outside of them. See most religious/atheist debates: the skillful apologists are excellent at making the argument take place in their own terms (although this can backfire spectacularly when you’ve got somebody like Hitchens who can concede incredible ground to an apologist and still rip their arguments to shreds).

    I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush, because I have met religious people who are willing entertain ideas that they disagree with for the sake of discussion, and these tend to be the more interesting conversations. However, in my experience, these are the minority among religious people.

  87. echidna says

    Regarding that letter in the Age:

    WHAT a depressing program for the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne. Three days of preaching hopelessness. And people will have to pay to be told there is no purpose to their pointless lives.

    Turning it around as if it were about Chrisitianity, the projection becomes obvious.

    WHAT a depressing program for a Sunday morning. Every week being told that one is guilty by default, how worthless one is, without the grace of God, and how this life is not important compared to what happens after death. And people pay to be told that their lives are pointless but for the grace of a deity for which there is no evidence.

    Atheism doesn’t allow us to discount our lives in favour of some mystical after-death experience. But if a Christian believes that without God there is no meaning, and you take away God from the equation, then you are left with the belief that atheist’s lives must be meaningless.

    This is the same basic idea that I think was expressed in the book review.

  88. M Groesbeck says

    Chigau @ 92 –

    While my social interactions with my cat are definitely the relationship between an unusually affectionate (towards humans, at least) cat and her preferred human, a number of her behaviors towards me are associated with the behavior of juvenile wild cats towards their mothers. On the other hand, other interactions seem to be based on her treating me as one of her kittens, or as a potential mate, or as a comfortable place to sleep.

    It’s actually part of why cats are interesting to me — their domestication was more recent than that of dogs, but also followed a different path. The wild ancestors of domesticated dogs were already social; wolves are pack animals. Wild cats, though, are solitary, while the domesticated subspecies are often not only social but attention-seeking. Even feral cats are social; they form colonies, which wild cats do not. In other words, cats as we know them are the product of a rapid shift from a solitary animal to a social one, with relatively few physiological changes associated with the shift, and occurring in the very short window of time since humans developed agriculture. As a side effect, cats have had to develop a whole “vocabulary” of social behaviors which are not normal in wild cats. They seem to have adapted whole patterns of behavior towards kittens, mothers, potential mates, and useful inanimate objects and turned them into behaviors used for greeting, bonding, indications of pleasure or displeasure, etc.

    Well, that and I seem to have attracted the attention of the most affectionate cat in the world, so I get some wonderful company as my part of the mutualistic relationship between our species. (Cats may not be on the same level of “intelligence”, however we define it, as humans or dolphins or crows, but they are certainly capable of making their desires known. Like learning the sound of a particular human’s car in order to be able to run to the window and start screaming as a sign that a change of residence from that of one human to that of another might be preferred.)

  89. chigau (曇) says

    M Groesbeck @107
    Yup.
    I have lived with cats for most of my life.
    I understand cats (insofar as that is possible).
    I understand the relationship between “pet” and “owner”.
    I have NEVER understood myself to be “my” cat’s “mother”.
    That’s just creepy.

  90. raven says

    bassmanpete @ 82:

    Three days of preaching hopelessness. And people will have to pay to be told there is no purpose to their pointless lives.”

    Caine:

    I find this idiotic sentiment incredibly annoying, seeing as the whole “purpose” and “point” of their life (as defined by their god belief) is to die so they can sit in Sky Daddy’s lap. Yeesh.

    Of course, the vast majority of the world’s population will fail at this and be tortured for eternity by the all loving god’s other creations, demons and satan in his other world, hell.

    According to the Calvinists, most xians will end up there too because it is god’s plan to torture a lot of people for eternity.

    40% of the US population believes jesus will show up by 2050, kill 7 billion people, and destroy the earth.
    Their best idea is to sit around in a catatonic daze while waiting and hoping for the Sky Monster to show up 2,000 years late and kill them and everyone else.

    Now who has the most hopeless and ugliest worldview here?

  91. says

    I’ve posted an article on my blog about Colin Tudge’s review. It is too long to repeat here. But it contains extracts from what Colin Tudge has written elsewhere, (with links), and here are extracts from those extracts:

    “But if you take the view, as I do, that religion is and aspires to be the all-embracing narrative, the complete account of all that is and could and should be, then none of these common positions will do. Religion, the way I see it, embraces all formal disciplines, including science”.

    “If the mind-matter idea does stand up, if indeed it is true, then it changes everything. Its implications for some of the core ideas of religion need thinking through but they seem intuitively obvious. It re-admits the idea of the intelligent Universe…. It suggests that prayer, which to some extent may be seen as an attempt to influence events by thinking, might have a physical basis”.

    Colin Tudge repeatedly quotes Sir Peter Medawar: “Science is the art of the soluble”. Does he hold religion in esteem because he thinks it is somehow “the art of the insoluble”?

  92. Snoof says

    Person A: “Oh, so you’re saying it’s all an illusion then?

    Person B: “Yes. And illusions are real.”

    At least, that’s how I’d respond.

  93. Der Zed says

    slightly off topic but it seems clear that the Universe which we are slowly awakening in is entirely mechanistic. but the complexity of the system is so vast as to be indistinguishable from magic except of course in the meager circle of light our little intellects can illuminate. instead of side stepping this notion I would recommend wearing it like a flag. yes it is a mechanistic Universe that is so wondrous, bizarre and complex that we shall never want of challenges to understand even the smallest bit of it. it is numinous and supremely worthy of our reverence but it cannot be constrained by the dusty and bland proclamations of our even more ignorant for bearers. my favorite Jules Verne quote says it best:

    “Reality provides us with facts so romantic that imagination itself could add nothing to them.”

  94. John Morales says

    Der Zed, I prefer Lovecraft:

    The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.

    (The Call of Cthulhu)

  95. says

    Had a cat that would answer the phone when we weren’t home.
    Knock the receiver off and meow into it. Seriously. Caught him at it twice when he thought I was gone.

    Cats have brains in ‘em.

  96. Gregory Greenwood says

    Ah, but what we have here is a clash between definitions of what is meant by ‘love’.

    Does love exist? Yes, if by ‘love’ you mean the complex series of neuro-chemical interactions in the brain that lead to the emotional state we call, in common parlance, love.

    No, if we use the woo-ist definition of love as a sacred karmic union of souls pre-ordained by an invisible sky fairy.

    Thus, to the woo-ist, we nasty rationalists are denying their interpretation of ‘love’ – the chaste, fluffy-bunny-magic-fairydust love that they consider ‘pure’ and ‘virtuous’, in favour of a biochemical reality that they reject as ‘icky’ – after all, that means that the experience of love comes from one’s squishy grey matter, and is no more profound or spiritual than other things that emanate from our neurophysiology, like that whole aweful sex-drive business – I mean, you can’t have a choclate-box, uber-saccarine rendition of that.

    Well, you could, but it would be really weird.

    The bottom line is that the woo-ists cannot tell the difference between a denial of love, and all such emotional experience, outright, and a denial of their particular fantasy of what love ‘should’ be. Thus, it is easier for them to paint all atheists as unfeeling automatons who are yet to undergoe the Pinocchio metamorphasis to become real boys and girls than it is to recognise that their sanitised definition of love bears little resemblance to reality.

  97. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Jafafa Hots, oh, come on!

    You think kitty knew it was a telecommunication device and it was trying to use it as such?

    (I hope you’re kidding)

  98. John Morales says

    Gregory, look on the bright side: if we atheists are unfeeling automatons, we can’t possibly get angry or even hate.

    (Nor are we to blame for anything)

  99. Gregory Greenwood says

    John Morales @ 118;

    Gregory, look on the bright side: if we atheists are unfeeling automatons, we can’t possibly get angry or even hate.

    Ah, but the fundies would claim that getting angry and even expressing hatred are all normal aspects of the human condition, and that emotionless Spock-esque atheists are simply demonstrating how inhuman we really are.

    (Nor are we to blame for anything)

    Come now, of course we can be blamed for everything! If we are so cold and emotionless, then we are naturally also lacking in empathy for our fellow humans, and thus are the killer AI/Terminator brand of evil; utterly uncaring of the lives we destroy in pursuit of our cold, unfeeling, single-minded purpose…

    “Understand this. It doesn’t pray. It doesn’t meditate. And it will not stop, ever, until you are deconverted!”

    I think there genuinely are fundies out there who fear that if they detonate a fuel tanker on top of Dawkins then a gleaming, metallic endoskeletal armature wil rise from the flames.

  100. says

    He knew that when it rang, we’d pick it up and talk into it. He knew that when it rang and he picked it up, voices would come out of it. Maybe knew it was out voices, dunno. He, for whatever reason, knew to “talk” quietly into the receiver.

    But then, this is the cat that knew how to turn the door handle to let himself into and out of the house – both ways.

    Also, I’d heard that kittens needed to be taught to eat prey by their mothers, that otherwise they would just play with it and leave it dead. Not J.C. We got him when he was WAY too young to be weaned, just tiny (a rescue).

    yet when he was put on a low protein kidney diet, he decided to supplement his diet with fresh meat, and became the best hunter I’ve ever seen in a cat. Caught everything up to rabbits, and ate virtually everything, leaving nothing but a shiny filled colon. Every day, mice, several a day at times, all quickly and cleanly consumed.

    He was a kitty genius. I don’t even want to tell you about the day he died.

    Right now we have a cat that doesn’t answer the phone, but she does come running from anywhere in the house to the answering machine, trying to figure out why the “we’re going to foreclose” lady from Bank of America seems to be stuck in the little box.

    I’ve known many cats and many dogs. Cats are as smart as dogs, in some ways smarter. They just have different interests and concerns.

  101. John Morales says

    OK, Jafafa. He sure sounds like he was very special.

    (I’ll keep an open mind on the strength of your conviction)

  102. John Morales says

    Gregory, please don’t ever cross to the other side.

    (You’re too competent at it, even in jest!)

  103. says

    We currently have a kitten who presses the snooze button on the touchscreen smartphone we use as an alarm clock. Mostly she bites it until it stops making noise and then sits on spouse and purrs.

  104. JohnnieCanuck says

    Gregory (119), I would have guessed that more likely most of them would be expecting a bright red goat-man hybrid to be revealed by the flames.

    That atheists are ‘of the Devil’ just goes without saying, in some congregations more than others. Satan is real, if invisible and present no matter where they are, though possibly not when they are on hallowed ground, like in church. Satan is actively trying to deceive good Christians, like themselves. Anyone who uses logic or reason or even quotes the Bible to show them that their faith is wrong is clearly a mouthpiece of the Devil, the Father of Lies.

    Sad.

  105. Gregory Greenwood says

    John Morales @ 122;

    Gregory, please don’t ever cross to the other side.

    Don’t worry, the Dark Side holds no appeal for me.

    Mind you, if it actually had some cool Force Lightning on offer, maybe I could be tempted…

    (You’re too competent at it, even in jest!)

    I am still trying to work out whether this is a compliment or not…

  106. Gregory Greenwood says

    JohnnieCanuck @ 124;

    That atheists are ‘of the Devil’ just goes without saying, in some congregations more than others. Satan is real, if invisible and present no matter where they are, though possibly not when they are on hallowed ground, like in church. Satan is actively trying to deceive good Christians, like themselves. Anyone who uses logic or reason or even quotes the Bible to show them that their faith is wrong is clearly a mouthpiece of the Devil, the Father of Lies.

    You’re right on the money there. On several occasions I myself have run into the kind of theist that believes just such tripe. I have also made the mistake of trying to convey to them that, as atheists, we are no more inclined to believe in satan than we are to believe in god, and so it is odd that we should be in service to a mythical creature that we deny and, indeed, tend to mock as unmercifully as the god myth.

    These conversations usually go one of three ways:-

    1. The theist in question contorts their features into an expression of patronising mock-concern, and goes on to claim that the devil is indeed ‘real’ (despite the total lack of evidence) and that we, the poor blinkered unbelievers, have been gulled by him, and that our only hope of salvation comes in embracing jebus as our personal saviour. My usual responce to this is to try to explain that not everyone shares a belief in the supernatural, and that one can differ from the theist line without being the pawn of any unevidenced force of evil. Needless to say, such a reasoned response never, ever works.

    2.The theist wheels out the old chestnut that the devil’s greatest trick was convincing humanity that he doesn’t exist. Requests that the theist provide evidence for the existence of such a being are either ignored or met witrh a flurry of bible bashing and confirmation bias.

    3. Some variant of a ‘get thee hence, unclean beast!’ tirade about how utterly evil all atheists are. Usually, the only responce I bother with in such cases is to walk away. On the rare occasions when I have felt masochistic enough to try to get through to such fanatics, I have always discovered that this type of moron is armoured against reason and at war with reality itself. It is quite literally impossible to battle through their layers of delusion and cause them to actually think. The experience would probably traumatise their tiny walnut brains.

    As you say, sad. Very sad indeed. And as long as they have no power, then sad is all they are. Give them even a sliver of authority, however, and they go from sad to dangerous and frightening in an instant.

    The thought that such a creature could become US president in 2012 is terrible indeed, even to a UK based apostate such as myself, yet if Obama is not reelected, almost the entire Republican field of candidates is made up of just such delusional fundies.

  107. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Hm. I think I have been under-estimating cats (and I’ve owned three!) after a bit of an internet survey prompted by this thread. This page by Sarah Hartwell doesn’t ring alarm bells and prima facie seems a good summary.

    And, for some levity, the inimitable xkcd has a slightly different take on it.

  108. Anubis Bloodsin III says

    Easy really..

    If a text from the ‘enemy’ does not say what they so desperately want it to say…they make it up cos they know their Janet and John readers that drool after jeebus will never dare to check the veracity of their intellectual guardian of things satan….tis a fait accompli.

  109. says

    Had a bit of a revelation when commenting on this over at B&W:

    People are always accusing materialists of reductionism, and I never quite understood what this meant. Of course it all theoretically reduces down to particle interactions, but that’s not a particularly meaningful way to describe the world a lot of the time. So what the hell does reductionism even mean?

    And then it hit me… this reviewer doesn’t know it, but he’s a reductionist! To him, if emotions originate solely in the brain, then that is all they are. They don’t exist. To a reductionist like this asswipe, when Dawkins says jealousy and joy “depend for their existence on brains”, to this reviewer, that is synonymous with saying they are not real.

    Those who find the materialist viewpoint to be a joyless and impoverished one, those are the real reductionist, and it is their reductionism which is the impoverished view, not the materialism.

  110. Dermot says

    “I don’t understand why this gets the apologists and accommodationists in such an uproar, why it is just so horrible that emotions stem from our brains.”
    “I think that is because it essentially denies the existence of a soul.”
    I am going to buy Dawkins’ new book for my 11 and 12 year-olds for Yuletide. On the question of the substitution of observable reactions in the brain as evidence for the emotions such as love, anger, the sense of the awesome, the numinous, the transecendent, for the religious concept of the soul, I think it negates both the monotheistic idea of the dead human ascending to heaven (or descending hellwards) and the eastern religions’ adherence to reincarnation. Take the latter: as an organism can not reincarnate while it is still alive, then logically the soul must exist within a body. If all the soul’s properties are found in the brain, then for them (and us, for argument’s sake) it is logical to assume that the soul is in the brain – in which case it is subject to the scientific method and ultimately to the absence of evidence for the soul’s ability to re-locate from one organism to another (and while we are at it, to evidence of its absence). In the case of the monotheisms, they have always faced the problem of what organism gets taken to the afterlife; you at 80, old and decrepit or you at 20? – vigorous and active. Furthermore, what if you develop Alzheimer’s; how is your soul affected by that? And if it is, which soul will go to heaven? The degenerative mental disease question faces eastern and western religions equally. If the soul (by which rationalists mean the human ability to recognise love and other abstract emotions) is in some way eternal, how can religion explain its protean nature over time within a single organism? Have you heard of the experiment asking the different halves of the same individual’s brain whether thay believe in God? One half answers “Yes”, the other “No”. A huge dilemma for St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

  111. says

    Wow… quotemining. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you to find someone quotemining Dawkins.

    Oh no, this is like, headline news, seriously…

    ‘Dipshit religious apologist lies ass off in laughably transparent attempt to imply his pointless bafflegab continues to be somehow relevant, honest, rilly, fer true…’

    (/’… also, water continues to be wet, Elvis continues to be dead, and the Earth doth continue to spin…’)

  112. says

    … further to this peculiar notion certain religionists seem to have about emergent phenomena somehow being ‘not real’ since they are, in fact, complex phenomena arising from simpler ones:

    I wonder if somewhere in this tangled misconception is the somewhat debased and frequently self-loathing Platonism certain religions push.

    Remember that such sects teach endlessly what a miserable, awful place is this world, how it’s really just the warmup, this dreary thing of painful dross ‘n tribulation you suffer through to get to heaven, how the flesh is such a corrupt, dreadful thing, how we’re all such miserable sinners, and it does make a certain sick sense…

    How, in such a (peculiar) context could love ever come from atoms? These are ‘of this world’, and that, they’ve been told implicitly their whole life, is bad. And love, well, that’s good, right? It’s this idealized, beautiful thing, there’s this halo around it and heavenly choirs sing, naturally, when it happens…

    Suggesting it could be something that happens in human brains, made by human brains, well, let’s not be gauche ‘n imperfect ‘n impure, please. We want heavenly choirs and pure essences and perfection, see? Brains are so terribly base, against all that. I mean, please. We’ve been taught our whole lives pretty much to hate what we are, to despise as imperfect and sinful our very selves, and now you’re saying love emerges from us? How does that square with our self-loathing? Can’t possibly be right, therefore.

  113. KG says

    Sastra nails it again. – Kseniya

    Indeed so. In other news, dog bites man, Pope Benedict affirms the truth of Catholicism, and ursine faeces are found in forested areas.

    If Tudge actually read the book, there is no way one could tell from the “review”, which is simply a hate-piece aimed at Dawkins, and atheists generally. He actually says of Dawkins: “As somebody said of Miss Jean Brodie, it’s time he was put a stop to.” Read literally, this is a call for Dawkins to be silenced, if not assassinated. As a Catholic, Tudge evidently longs for the good old days when the likes of Dawkins would have had his work suppressedby the Church, and would have been lucky to escape being burned at the stake.

    One of the comments at The Independent caught my fancy:
    “Tudge not, that ye be not Tudged.”

  114. Hazuki says

    I find it hilarious that they accuse us of having a pointless existence, when the sole purpose of Abrahamic religions is to go to a place where they suck up for all eternity and avoid an infinite roasting for finite sins, while in the Dharmic religions it’s to attain to virtual annihilation (Buddhism) or something close to it like moksha (Hinduism). Same thing, surely.

    It frightens me how much hellfire and brimstone of all stripes there is in religion, and how little it understands human nature.

  115. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I think that in some ways, the motivation of the xtian apologists is easier to understand than is the flaw in the logic they use.

    Ultimately, I think that all religious/spiritual thinking has the ultimate aim of denying the reality of death. In Xtianity, they as much as say so.

    But I think that their reasoning, such as it is, is based on an argument from incredulity: They simply cannot understand how chemical reactions and electrical impulses could result in the subjective experience we call love. It is the subjective experience they are reserving to the province of the soul. Of course, they could as easily argue the same for “the color blue” or the “taste of quinine”.

    To those who need woo, subjective experience is the last gap of the god of the gaps. Of course, if the experience of God and of the spiritual is entirely subjective, this requires that it exists in a separate “spiritual realm,” which they can keep safe from death and change and decay and sadness. The thing is that these experiences are not 100% subjective. Science can and is studying them, and even here, the gaps are getting smaller and smaller. Poor ol’ God. He must have a sore back from trying to fit in such small gaps.

  116. raven says

    That atheists are ‘of the Devil’ just goes without saying, in some congregations more than others. Satan is real, if invisible and present no matter where they are, though possibly not when they are on hallowed ground, like in church…

    Depends on which religion that calls itself xianity you are referring to.

    Most U.S. Christians Don’t Believe Satan, Holy Spirit Exist,

    Christian …www.christianpost.com › PoliticsCached
    Apr 13, 2009 – In contrast, about 35 percent of American Christians believe Satan is real. Twenty -six percent strongly disagreed with the statement that Satan …

    Most US xians don’t believe satan even exists. This is mostly a fundie xian delusion. My natal church hardly ever mentioned satan, demons, or hell.

    and present no matter where they are, though possibly not when they are on hallowed ground, like in church…

    One of the few pieces of data that satan might exist. Fundie xianity. If he exists and hangs out anywhere, it would be fundie churches.

  117. raven says

    I’ve always found the “satan hiding under your couch” meme alien and stupid. It wasn’t anything taught in the natal sect.

    1. So where is our free will and individual responsibility then?

    2. Why does the fundie Clown Monster of Heaven let satan and demons run around lose helping us make a mess of everything. Is their god sick, drunk, asleep, dead, or just doesn’t care or even actively malevolent?

    Only fundies have to worry about satan, demons, and hell. They invented them themselves so it is their problem.

  118. raven says

    Some variant of a ‘get thee hence, unclean beast!’ tirade about how utterly evil all atheists are.

    I’ve never been able to tell the difference between fundie xianity and satanism. There isn’t any.

    1. Fundie xianity based on lies. Check.

    2. Fundies xianity based on hate. Check.

    3. Fundies practice human child sacrifice (by medical neglect) check.

    4. Fundies worship an Invisible Clown Monster god check

    The only difference is that fundies exist and satanists more or less don’t. The Church of Satan is atheistic and something Levoy just made up for money.

  119. says

    (Without reading other comments)

    The real reason these people lie like this is to demonize us. We emphatically do believe in the existence of love and other abstract ideas, but they choose to lie because it’s inconvenient for them to actually think about the nature of emotions and ideas. They are motivated by hate to treat us as less than human.

  120. says

    And you know how the bastard does it? By a word shift. I’m sharply aware of this because I wrestled with it while writing my little “I don’t believe it.” Dawkins said “real”; Tudge said “exists.” Bastard. Different things. I was pretty damn sure Dawkins wouldn’t say “love isn’t real” but that did me no good because that sly Tudge was careful to say “exists.” Well do I think love “exists”? Not exactly – not if that means “as an independent entity.” But that’s not the same as not thinking it’s real! Miserable sly bastard.

    Pisses me off, that kind of thing.

  121. raven says

    Well do I think love “exists”? Not exactly – not if that means “as an independent entity.” But that’s not the same as not thinking it’s real!

    If “love” exists as an independent entity or object, where is it? Where does it hang out?

    This doesn’t really sound much like xianity anyway.

    It’s Platonism. Love exists in the Platonic Realm, wherever that is. If anyone knows where The Platonic Realm is and how to get there, post it.

  122. Ewan Macdonald says

    In the Independent comments thread someone posted an extract from a book by the reviewer:

    “I don’t want to define religion in the usual ways. I don’t want to say
    as many do that religion is inveterately concerned with the
    “supernatural”. I certainly don’t want to say that it necessarily
    involves any particular God who can be named and who must be worshipped via particular rituals and ceremonies.” …..

    “But if you take the view, as I do, that religion is and aspires to be the all-embracing narrative, the complete account of all that is and could and should be, then none of these common positions will do. Religion, the way I see it, embraces all formal disciplines, including science”.

    Suffice it to say, Todge has a dog in this fight, and it’s leading him to write either dishonest things or ignorant things.

    Religion poisons everything.

  123. Iain Walker says

    raven (#138):

    I’ve always found the “satan hiding under your couch” meme alien and stupid.

    I misread that as “satan hiding under your crotch”. Which for a lot of fundies actually seems more apt …

  124. Hazuki says

    @133

    BRILLIANT! I’ve wondered about this same thing for years now, but you’ve put it in much clearer and sharper terms than this blunt mind of mine ever could.

    In fairness though, I think we should be mindful that dualisms of all kinds are intuitive. And they’re intuitive because, for almost all history and for all animals that think less than us, they were “close enough” to reality to make sense.

    It’s only in the past 200 years at most that we’ve been able to make a case for monism at all. Religion has been, up until very recently, extremely adaptive. It’s a delicious yet bittersweet irony. I think Dawkins would appreciate it :)

  125. NoXion says

    Dermot:

    Have you heard of the experiment asking the different halves of the same individual’s brain whether thay believe in God? One half answers “Yes”, the other “No”.

    No I haven’t, and it sounds interesting. Link?

  126. Gregory Greenwood says

    Raven @ 139;

    As a rule the kind of people who refer to themselves as ‘satanists’ (tongue firmly planted in cheek, naturally), tend to be far nicer and more progressive, tolerant and generally decent people than the bible-bashing god-botherers.

    Still, fundie xians must have targets for their hatred, and mythical child sacrificing satan woprshippers will do just as nicely as supposedly baby-eating morality-hating atheists or the mythic, agressive, ‘convert’ seeking homosexuals hell bent on ‘corrupting teh innocent children with teh ghey!’ – indeed, many fundies consider all these classifications to be interchangeable.

    Blind, inveterate hatred of everyone and everything that can be defined as the ‘other’ – it is the glue that holds together all too many religions.

  127. Iain Walker says

    I see (belatedly) that lots of people were struck by that comment of Sastra’s.
    Such a useful insight.

    That’s what Sastra does ..

  128. Roxee says

    I got the iPad version of the book today. It is truly amazing. What a wonderful tool to teach my grand-children about science. They can zoom in and out to see the earth in relation to the solar system, they can run experiments on frogs, they can heat water up and cool it down again to learn how to make vapour from liquid. And evolution is explained in a way that even helped me, and I thought I had the basics. The list goes on. Richard even pops in now and then with extra commentary to add detail, or explain more.
    Of course I also love the mythology parts of each chapter too. I was dreading how it would come across, but the myths are told in a way which Mr Dawkins finds enjoyable. Then of course the book lets you know the entertainment is over, back to exploring the magnificence of reality.
    This book could be a game changer if we could get it into the public education system. Imagine all those young minds armed with critical thinking skills growing to adults and being released into the world. I hope I’m still here to see some of it.

  129. Dermot says

    In reply to NoXion:

    Dermot:

    Have you heard of the experiment asking the different halves of the same individual’s brain whether they believe in God? One half answers “Yes”, the other “No”.

    No I haven’t, and it sounds interesting. Link?

    Apologies for the delay – went to hospital with my eldest. Below is the link to lecture outlining the atheist/religionist experiment. The presentation was by V.S. Ramachandran to the Beyond Belief conference of 2006; he starts his spiel on the topic at about 6:08 in to part 1 of his lecture. As he concludes, the results should have sent a tsunami through the religious community.

    By the way, the whole conference is worth watching.

  130. Dermot says

    I seem to have unwittingly uploaded the above video when I meant to provide a link; apologies to any litigious-type for my technological ineptitude.

  131. says

    Dermot:

    I seem to have unwittingly uploaded the above video when I meant to provide a link; apologies to any litigious-type for my technological ineptitude.

    Oh, you are in so much trouble.

    To keep the link from embedding in the page, you have to wrap it in an anchor tag, like this:

    Click on <a href=”http://youtube.com/somevideo”>this link</a>.

    BTW: similar research can be found in the most-excellent The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer (starting at the bottom of page 138).

  132. Coyotenose says

    AJ Milne wrote:

    (/’… also, water continues to be wet, Elvis continues to be dead, and the Earth doth continue to spin…’)

    Actually, Elvis is alive and well on the planet HōL. (He’s even playable!)

  133. Coyotenose says

    As long as we’re sharing stories about smart animals, I have to describe an experience with oscars when working in a pet store. They’re very bright for small fish. I always knew this. But still…

    Our largest tank held a variety of odd freshwater fish that couldn’t go anywhere else: large oscars, gar, puffers, rays. I don’t recall the gallon size of the aquarium, but it was four feet across and two feet high.

    Oscars like to pair off, and these two naturally did so. But it quickly became obvious that something was off with one of them. It would drift a bit and seem to have trouble keeping up with the other. The next day, it couldn’t stay floating at all. I tried to treat it, but had nowhere to put them for individual care. It survived for some time after taking ill, and spent almost two entire days lying on the bottom of the aquarium in the corner. I should have taken it out, but something stopped me: the other oscar.

    For two entire days – seriously, I saw this over the course of three of my work shifts – the healthy oscar protected the sick one. It wouldn’t let the other fish near it. It attacked my net to keep me away from its sick fellow. It lay on top of the sick oscar to keep the other fish away from it.

    Seriously. It turned on its side and lay on top of the other one on the bottom of the tank. It wouldn’t come up for food, although it was healthy. It guarded.

    Eventually, the sick oscar died, I don’t know why. The healthy one was bought a couple of days later. Unfortunately, that occurred off-shift, so I never got to describe this to the customer.

  134. says

    One angle I’m thinking about bringing up with the next supernaturalist troll on the “thinginess” of love and emotions: They’re as real as “fire.” Fire is not a discrete object, it’s a process involving a collection of chemicals reacting with each other in a way that gives off heat and light. There aren’t any “fire atoms” involved in the process. And after the fire runs out of reactants (fuel or oxygen), or loses the heat of ignition, it stops being a fire. The chemical processes going on in our heads are just more complex interactions, but, on a fundamental level, aren’t that different.

    A metaphor that comes to mind: Rules in games.

    In Magic: The Gathering, the word “attack” is very specific. You declare an attack, choose which of your creatures attack, tap them, the defender declares blockers, unblocked creatures deal damage to the defending player, blockers and attackers deal damage to each other. When a card’s text refers to an “attack,” it means that specific game event. That’s kind of what supernaturalists seem to think these “immaterial” things are like.

    Let’s change the game to something like Go. (I’m not a player, but I know a little bit from my arm chair.) There are rules for where you can place a stone, what determines if a group of stones gets captured, counting territory at the end, and such. There isn’t really a defined “attack” term, from what I understand. A novice might refer to an action or series of moves that triggers a capture as an “attack” while an expert might refer to placing a stone too close to an abstract zone of control as an “attack,” even if it doesn’t immediately do anything to other stones on the board.

    Physics is more like Go than Magic:tG. Simple rules and simple objects forming complex interactions. Just because terms like “going on the offensive” or “the endgame” aren’t specifically defined in the bare bones rules doesn’t mean that they’re any less “real.” We’re just more willing to define and examine the nitty-gritty details and recognize that everything is in principle, if not always in practice, reducible to description in terms of its smallest components.

  135. says

    Dermot:

    In the case of the monotheisms, they have always faced the problem of what organism gets taken to the afterlife; you at 80, old and decrepit or you at 20? – vigorous and active.

    Most christians believe they will be given a brand new bod in the afterlife. Rapturites definitely believe that. In yet another discussion (read argument) over the nature of heaven at Rapture Ready, that point is brought up and is one that isn’t argued over.

  136. Dermot says

    In reply to Caine, Fleur du Mal:

    “Most christians believe they will be given a brand new bod in the afterlife.”

    How convenient, as Hitchens would say.

    I still wonder about the case of the old man with Alzheimer’s; at what point in the extinguishing of the synapses and the relentless deterioration of the personality does God step in and say, “I’ll make my decision now; that soul gets in.”

    It raises the question, “What is the difference between the personality and the soul?” None.

  137. Birger johansson says

    “…such as chimpanzees, dogs, whales, and cats.”

    Cats may not be as clever as parrots. This is why I plan to make a race of GM cats with group intelligence, acting like a swarm of land pirhanas. If the intended victim is wearing body armour they can smother him under a purring mound of fur.

    “Most christians believe they will be given a brand new bod in the afterlife.”
    What about memory? Since most dead humans died as children, they will now be facing parents and siblings who barely remember them.

  138. says

    Birger:

    What about memory? Since most dead humans died as children, they will now be facing parents and siblings who barely remember them.

    From what I remember from discussions at RR, everyone, including dead children, gets the new bod, which will be adult and somewhere around 30 years of age (not actual age, mind, just in appearance, and no, I don’t know how in the fuck they reason that one out). Apparently, formerly dead kids will magically recognize parents, and vice versa along with everyone recognizing former spouses, extended family, all that. Ya know, it’s all By the Power of Grayskull Jesus!

  139. Dermot says

    In reply to Caine, Fleur du Mal:

    “Indeed. I’d prefer being able to get a brand new bod right now. I could use one. ;)”

    Amen to that and pass the botox.

  140. frankb says

    and cats. I can’t believe he left cats out.

    Cats are stupid, at least mine is. He discovered that he can get all sorts of love and attention at the elementary school next door. Now we have to keep our cat indoors on weekdays. there must be a cat god somewhere to explain all these feeling of love that cats get.

  141. PaulG says

    Dermot, 163

    I still wonder about the case of the old man with Alzheimer’s; at what point in the extinguishing of the synapses and the relentless deterioration of the personality does God step in and say, “I’ll make my decision now; that soul gets in.”

    This is why gods are so alluring to some people: it’s all a big mystery, with all responsibility and bucks finally stopping with the big guy. It really must be quite comforting to believe that putting up with all the shit involved with being a human will one day lead you to place of eternal happiness.

    My local paper today had a story about a man who was beaten into a coma by cops (seemingly for Driving While Black) in the 90s. He received paid-for-life care, and his family $3.5M, from the PD, but no officers were charged.

    His mother has refused to switch his feeding tube off for nearly 20 years.

    A strong belief in god, jesus, etc gets her through. Perhaps without this belief that “only god can know when the time is right for him to go home” (not her exact words), she would long ago have crumbled into the wreck I believe that I would have become in the same circumstances. I think godly belief helps weak minds (I would count mine, and most peoples’, in that category) cope with extreme circumstances.

  142. Dermot says

    In reply to PaulG:

    I would say 2 more things helped the poor woman to get through: her confidence in medical science and the strength of her love for her unfortunate son.
    My godless brother gave up work to look after our degenerating father; he did not need God to tell him it was the right thing to do and I suspect there are far more persons like that in the world than we think. It’s just that we anti-theists tend modestly not to trumpet, “My common decency told me to do it.”

  143. llewelly says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM | 24 September 2011 at 12:06 am:

    Yeah, well how about my acne clearing up the day before my big date with Mary Sue?

    I am led to understand that the real Mary Sue is not as talented, as strong, as charismatic, or as amazing as she is made out to be in the book. One expects the same is true of her dates.

  144. David Marjanović, OM says

    their other favourite book

    Thread won.

    I’m somewhat convinced that a lot of people are convinced cats are more intelligent than dogs because they’re less social and display fewer social behaviors, which people anthropomorphize into something that reminds them of stereotypical upper-class/nobility mannerisms. Cats are more “dignified” than big slobbery bouncy dogs, after all, surely they must be more mature and refined. *eyeroll*

    Seconded!

    I might have to order this from Amazon.uk to get the proper cover.

    Amazon.co.uk.

    One of the comments at The Independent caught my fancy:
    “Tudge not, that ye be not Tudged.”

    Awesome.

    It’s a delicious yet bittersweet irony.

    Like chocolate! :-) :-) :-)

    From what I remember from discussions at RR, everyone, including dead children, gets the new bod, which will be adult and somewhere around 30 years of age (not actual age, mind, just in appearance, and no, I don’t know how in the fuck they reason that one out).

    Well, 33 is the ideal age*, and everything in heaven is ideal, so…

    * Shut up. It just is. And I want Comic Sans back.

    By the Power of Grayskull Jesus!

    Exactly.

  145. PaulG says

    Dermot, 170: I half agree, in that love and inter-human respect are strong motivators in this kind of situation. I also believe (can I get a hallelujah?) that religious faith helps strengthen some peoples’ resilience.

    This, however, in no way compensates for the science-beating, child-raping, woman-beating, homosexual-beating, other-religion-beating nature of religionists. Religion needs to and will be laughed at as the Stone Age leftover it is.

  146. Dermot says

    In reply to PaulG:

    I did not discount the woman’s belief in God as motivation for her actions – “2 more things helped the poor woman” – and I do not think it appropriate or helpful to denigrate the lay-religionist’s – and I stress lay – weak-mindedness, irrationality, oppressed sigh, call it what you will. “To call on them (the people) to give up their illusions is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions,” as Marx said.
    It would be intolerably arrogant and plain incorrect for anti-theists to refuse to recognise that “religious faith helps strengthen some peoples’ resilience,” as you say.
    Belief in God demonstrates nothing at all about His existence; it merely shows the need to study its origins from a neuro-scientific and evolutionary point of view as V.S. Ramachandran is doing.

  147. DingoDave says

    @ Dermot #155
    I’m pleased you referred to V.S. Ramachandran’s work in neuroscience and human cognition. You beat me to the punch.
    You might also enjoy listening to his 2003 Reith Lectures entitled “The Emerging Brain” if you haven’t done so already.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/lecturer.shtml
    The human brain certainly is a weird and wonderful piece of equipment. Ramachandran’s work(among others) puts the final nails in the coffin for the concept that there is any kind of ‘ghost in the machine’.

  148. I'mthegenie!Icandoanything! says

    There is a delightful ironic, Dickensian aroma to this previously unknown reviwer, however:

    Colin Tudge.

    It’s cheap to make fum of anyone’s name, but sometimes, as with N-xon’s crew (Spiro Agnew, Bebe Rebozo, Halderman and Erlichman) it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

  149. Dermot says

    Thanks, Caine, Fleur du Mal

    A neophyte to blogs, I ask:

    1) What is a troll?
    2) What is a morpher?

    Pardon my ignorance.

  150. amphiox says

    This is why I plan to make a race of GM cats with group intelligence, acting like a swarm of land pirhanas. If the intended victim is wearing body armour they can smother him under a purring mound of fur.

    Are ye mad, man?

    Pound for pound, and on a per victim per unit time basis, the house cat is already the most efficient killing machine on the planet! It’s an eldritch horror with whiskers and a purr!

  151. Sally Strange, OM says

    @ Dermot

    A troll is a person who is interested in being provocative for the sake of being provocative. The conflict is more important to the substance to them, so their telling feature is an inability to assimilate new information, admit error, answer direct questions, etc.

    A morpher is a person who switches usernames to get around a ban. A person using several usernames at once to make their position appear more popular than it is is said to be sockpuppeting.

  152. says

    Dermot:

    1) What is a troll?
    2) What is a morpher?

    The Pharyngula Wiki to the rescue: Troll

    Someone who morphs is someone (generally a troll or banned person) who comes back with different nyms. PaulG has also been Monkey Genes, Jazzhands and Pollution. The majority of dungeon inhabitants were given parole when the move to freethoughtblogs took place. PaulG is one of them.

  153. KG says

    I’mthegenie!Icandoanything!,

    Tudge is actually reasonably well-known in the UK, as he used to be a BBC broadcaster on food/farming issues, and specifically a critic of agribusiness.

  154. DingoDave says

    @ Dermot #177
    If you find Professor Ramachandran entertaining and humourous, then you will definitely enjoy listening to his Reith lectures.
    In fact, one of the topics he discusses in his first lecture is the evolutionary development of human laughter.

  155. mjd666 says

    The more I think about Tudge’s polemical tripe, the more disgusted I feel.
    Even the opening paragraphs are revoltingly dishonest…

    “Richard Dawkins has no sense of irony. [...] He condemns the Catholics for filling the heads of children with a particular view of life before they have had a chance to think for themselves – and now, in The Magic of Reality, written f…or readers as young as nine, he has done precisely that”.

    – You see the stinking dishonesty there? Catholics and Jesuits and every other kind of religious mafia can get their hands on your kids at *four or five years old* — if not earlier. And here is Tudge attacking Dawkins for a book aimed at children ‘as young as nine’.

    “As somebody said of Miss Jean Brodie, it’s time he was put a stop to”.

    – Oh, really? So what are you suggesting? Lethal injection? Burning his books? Censoring his website…? Hmmm…??

    You’re *a piece of crap*, Tudge.

    M

  156. Dermot says

    Heard a comic once start with the line “I don’t like laughing”. Will definitely look up V.S.

  157. DingoDave says

    “Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early. The Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man,’ is no less accurate (or sinister) for being hackneyed.” – Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’
    Thankfully, this maxim doesn’t always hold true.

  158. Hazuki says

    @DingoDave

    It sure did for me unfortunately. I’m only now escaping the last of it. That crap was responsible for a lifetime of anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and heaven knows what other insanity. I am trying so, SO hard not to go the “religious indoctrination is child abuse!” way, but in my case it was.

  159. John Morales says

    Hazuki, my sympathy. Yeah, in one way or another, such indoctrination leaves indelible marks.

    (I escaped with nothing other than warped values (misogyny worst of all), but then I have an unusually strong anti-authoritarian streak)

  160. Hazuki says

    John: It’s getting better. I’ve more or less escaped the Abrahamics but occasionally have bad dreams or panic attacks along the lines of “How do we know there’s no such thing as a hellish state anywhere in an infinite universe?!” etc. I’m also wondering how you’d disprove something like Buddhism, which is far less falsifiable than Islam/Christianity/Judaism. And occasionally the sheer horror of human history and a feeling that we deserve to be damned will fall over me. Fun times all around.

  161. David says

    @18

    We don’t have a metaphysical foundation to consider anything to be non-abstraction (see: problem of induction). If we want to talk about anything at all, we have to use abstraction. Despite this, some abstractions are better founded that others (and there are different types of abstractions).

    It’s possible to interpret any phenomenon as any other given thing if you use the right code, but to speak vaguely, you can tell how good of an interpretation it is based on the level of arbitrariness used in the code.

  162. Desert Froglet says

    It’s a long time since I’ve read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, but doesn’t the ‘somebody’ who wants to (and does) put a stop to Miss Brodie activities end up becoming a Catholic nun? Another layer of religion in Tudge’s tosh.

  163. says

    What about memory? Since most dead humans died as children, they will now be facing parents and siblings who barely remember them.

    Think of the fun as spouses who died before their partners get to find out that their partners re-married and (potentially) get to meet their replacements. Sounds like ‘heaven’ to me!

    “what? you married that little chippie only a year after I’d died of cancer? she’s young enough to be your daughter!!!!” gets fun when the daughter (who is also there) is able to chip in. ;) “I told you that those cheezburgers were going to kill you!” or perhaps, “you took my old vinyl albums to the dump? don’t you know what those were WORTH?!”

    The only premise that allows “heaven” to work at all is that human nature is incredibly changed by death and enheavenment. Presumably everyone becomes spiritless asexual zombies interested in nothing but wandering around googly-eyed chanting praises of the dear leader.

  164. articulett says

    I’m willing to concede that god exists in the same way that as love, jealousy, evil, friendship, and other abstractions. But somehow, I don’t think this is what theists mean when they claim that god exists.

  165. SteveV says

    Kseniya:

    What about that vague, uneasy feeling you get when you’re miles away from home and it suddenly occurs to you that you might have left the stove (or iron, or something) on. Surely that feeling comes from some other place,

    …..

    This feeling is probably closely related to:

    SHOEBURYNESS (abs.n.) The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else’s bottom

    (Adams/Lloyd, 1983)

  166. sailor1031 says

    @Caine, fleur du mal:

    “yet there are still people who are stubbornly denying the importance of and functions of their own brain”

    There. Fixed it for ya!

  167. VegeBrain says

    More evidence there is no god because if there was a god he would care when one of his sycophants lied.

  168. says

    Coyotenose @ #160:

    Our largest tank held a variety of odd freshwater fish that couldn’t go anywhere else: large oscars, gar, puffers, rays. I don’t recall the gallon size of the aquarium, but it was four feet across and two feet high

    Everyone outside the USA knows a very simple formula for working out how much water is in a rectangular container:

    Litres = (centimetres / 10) * (centimetres / 10) * (centimetres / 10).

    You really should try using the proper measuring units sometime. It makes engineering calculations a lot simpler.

    Changing the subject, I used to have a dog who almost learned to answer a telephone.

    She successfully worked out that when the phone made a noise, it was trying to attract my attention and wanted me to talk to it. If it had gone for more than three rings without me picking it up, she would “help it” by barking; and if I happened to be in a different room, she would come and show me the way to the ringing phone.

    Had she lived a bit longer, I am sure she would have worked out eventually to push the receiver off its rest and bark into it.

  169. says

    192.
    Hazuki says:
    I’m also wondering how you’d disprove something like Buddhism, which is far less falsifiable than Islam/Christianity/Judaism.

    Hazuki,
    I was Hindu(by the accident of birth),became a Buddhist and finally gave that up as well. The way I got over buddhism was simple. Inspite of its(Theravada buddhism) rather sophisticated positions on Karma and rebirth, the whole thing falls down once we realise that there are no absolute morals. I looked around and realised that nature teaches only one moral – that of survival. Because we life in a society or a group which again enhances our survival, we developed morals – right or wrong based on reciprocity and co-operation. Since there doesnt exist any abolute morals, karma as something which is retributive simply cannot be true. Secondly, Buddha could not have remembered his previous lives because our memories are stored in the Brain. This is an undeniable fact and that is why people sometimes lose their memories when there is a brain injury. The brain on Buddha can have memory stored only from current births experiences and not from previous births(even if they were true). This would imply this claim to past memory is just untrue – however morally superior his teaching is to abrahamic or other religions! Just my two cents..

  170. Coyotenose says

    AJS:

    You do realize that you just chided me for not knowing the volume of an object based on only two of the three required dimensions to make such a determination? I was illustrating to those who have owned aquariums that the tank was used for fish large enough to be a threat to the oscars. It was an extremely minor detail.

    I’m not an engineer or a scientist, thanks. The fish and tanks are measured by the companies and retailers in inches, I describe them in inches or feet.

  171. reasonisbeauty says

    @AJS #200

    “Everyone outside the USA knows a very simple formula for working out how much water is in a rectangular container:”

    For someone who hints at an engineering background below this quote, the inaccuracy and prejudice displayed by this statement are quite impressive. Kudos.

  172. echidna says

    Coyotenose and reasonisbeauty, I think you may have got the wrong end of the stick with AJS (Aussie for misunderstood the intention behind the comment).

    The pointed snark in the comment was not aimed at Coyotenose’s ability to calculate volumes, nor did it have anything to do with an engineering/scientific background. It was (in my reading, anyway), pure snark at the continued use by the USA of the Imperial measurement system (as inches, feet, gallons etc. are commonly known), where the metric system is so much simpler.

  173. says

    Ravi:

    Because we life in a society or a group which again enhances our survival, we developed morals – right or wrong based on reciprocity and co-operation. Since there doesnt exist any abolute morals, karma as something which is retributive simply cannot be true.

    Wow. This is the second solid refutation of Buddhism I’ve seen in as many weeks. Excellent.

    Ing provided the other, though I’ll be damned if my Google-fu is sufficient to look it up. Basically, he stated (and I could be mangling this beyond recognition) that Buddhism is cowardice, giving up all emotion and experience simply because some experiences are negative.

    It’s a sublimation of humanity in an attempt to provide an experiential void.

    Though I could be mangling it.

    In any case, this is perfect. Thanks.

  174. Kseniya says

    Right. At best, we Imperials still have to convert cubic feet to gallons to express the volume in a commonly-understood unit.

  175. says

    I was just pointing out that creationism isn’t the [i]only[/i] reason why the rest of the world laughs at Americans. Your stubborn insistence to use your own measuring units to your own detriment, when not causing you to crash space probes, makes what should be simple engineering calculations unnecessarily hard.

    A tank measuring 120 * 60 * (this wasn’t given, but for argument’s sake and neat proportions let’s say) 40cm. holds 288 litres, the calculation (12 * 6 * 4 = 288) being rendered extremely simple by virtue of using the proper units from the beginning.

  176. uncle frogy says

    A tank measuring 120 * 60 * (this wasn’t given, but for argument’s sake and neat proportions let’s say) 40cm.

    well that is what I thought he only gave 2 dimensions it takes 3 to get volume so who cares it was not important just the idea that it was big. it makes no difference.
    this blog does go off at odd angles at times.

    As I understand it Buddhism and Hinduism teach that the separateness of the ego is an illusion not unlike what is quoted from Dawkins book about emotions.
    and that which gets reincarnated is not in any sense the western idea of a soul. it is not the ghost uncle frogy that gets put into a new body that is an illusion.
    why when lists of intelligent animals are given why are the cephalopods usually left out?

    uncle frogy

  177. says

    nigelTheBold, thanks for your appreciation!

    You are not mangling it at all. Though buddhism claims to be the ‘middle path’, it undeniably has a slant towards asceticism and rejection of sensory pleasures.

    well, I for one, like to have gay sex with brownian; Lots of it!
    So goodbye buddhism..

    (note: Picked up the phrase from Pharyngula wiki. Is it too old to be used now?)

  178. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    AJS #208, your calculation is off. A liter is a cubic decimeter. You need to divide all cm by 10, then do the multiplication.

  179. SteveV says

    Right. At best, we Imperials still have to convert cubic feet to gallons to express the volume in a commonly-understood unit.

    Which gallon? Imperial or US?

  180. echidna says

    Which gallon? Imperial or US?

    Just so.
    I was reading an old paper (from a couple of hundred years ago) regarding how to calculate fractions to convert between Scottish ells and Welsh ells. The measurement system was so unbelievably unwieldy, that to do any sort of trade required a lot of calculation no matter how simple the transaction.

    The move to metric made a huge difference to ordinary transactions. The US was actually at the forefront in the move to metric, making it legal to use metric measurements very early on. But industry pushed back against the change, since any transition incurs costs. A costly mistake, I think. YMMV. ;)

  181. says

    @ Nerd, I already did divide the lengths in cm. by 10 before multiplying them together. (And then sanity-checked, using that a cubic metre is a thousand litres; but this came out right, so I did not bother to show that bit.)

    Anyway, the point I was making is, it’s a lot easier to get a volume in litres from lengths in metres, which is the way things are measured in every freaking country in the world except the USA, than it is to get a volume in gallons from lengths in feet.

  182. KG says

    it’s a lot easier to get a volume in litres from lengths in metres, which is the way things are measured in every freaking country in the world except the USA – AJS

    Some things still come in imperial measurement in the UK – pints of beer, for example. But it’s certainly amusing that the one country where the imperial system still rules completely outside the lab (and sometimes even in it), is that ramshackle state set up by rebellious colonials :-p

  183. FossilFishy says

    Ravi: I’m told that gay secks with Brownian never gets old. But then, I’ve never even bothered to fill out the paperwork to get in the queue so what do I know?

    I took a professional mechanics course in Colorado Springs a few years back. I was the only Canadian there. On the first day they went over some simple metric thread and bolt sizes for the locals, which prompted me to ask “Uhm, isn’t the system you use the British imperial one? Didn’t you guys win that war?” I was told to shut up or they’d take it up again where they left off. I wanted to hand out buttons saying “Fifty four forty or fight!” at the end of the course but couldn’t find a place to make them.

  184. Hazuki says

    @201&211

    Very good points. I am sure some Sophisticated Theologian (TM) of the Buddhist kidney will argue that “karma isn’t retributive, it’s simple cause and effect,” but that still relies on moral facts being built into reality on a level below consciousness. They might even say that morals are relative between species/minds/existences, but that still leaves an apparently absolute and universal “law of ‘doing your dhamma’” built into reality.

    And that also means that, for example, a tiger’s dhamma may actually include eating meat, which is unskillful for a human. Or a Yama’s duty may include personally sentencing sinners to septillions of years of torments as fierce as any in the Abrahamic cosmology, which would, if a human did it, be an instant ticket to Avici.

    I guess I got a bit gulled by how Buddhism has a very sensical, humanistic set of morals IF you don’t look too closely.

  185. says

    And that also means that, for example, a tiger’s dhamma may actually include eating meat, which is unskillful for a human.

    If you can believe it, I came to the same point trying to justify Karma. I stopped as soon as I realised I have descended into the trap of endless justifications that has kept any religion going through the centuries. Countless interpretations, re-interpretations and re-inventions – The same trap from which I got over earlier(Hinduism).

    I can’t help but refer to this interview of Bertrand Russell.
    Am sure all Pharyngulites would have seen this but what he says about God or belief in general is one of the sanest I have ever heard. What clarity of thought and expression!

    Note: This is first time I am trying to link a video. Hope it appears just as a hyperlink.

  186. pelamun says

    Ravi, is it true that for Hindus, Buddha is one of the manifestations of Shiva (?) come to trick true believers? If this is true, does this play any role nowadays, for instance in the modern Indian context?

  187. Ravi says

    Pelamun, hindu mythology probably dating from 2nd century AD says Buddha was an incarnation of god ‘Vishnu’ to delude evil people! But common people just worshipped Buddha as God and continue to do so. No one brings up this myth nowadays because it has been clearly established that buddha preached a superior kind of morality than hinduism. so for a modern hindu, buddha is a figure of reverrnce.

  188. pelamun says

    Thanks, Ravi, for clarifying that. I just half-remembered something about it, and good to know what the modern relevance of that myth is.

    My only hands-on experience with Hinduism is with Balinese Hinduism, and that seems to be quite different, also according to an Indian NGO worker I ran into. (I think his name was Ravi too, sorry, just remembered that)

  189. ChasCPeterson says

    Cats are more “dignified” than big slobbery bouncy dogs, after all, surely they must be more mature and refined.

    They’re one hell of a lot less annoying, I’ll say that.

    I don’t recall the gallon size of the aquarium, but it was four feet across and two feet high

    If 1 ft. wide, that’s a 55.

    The simple calculation goes like this:
    4 ft. x 2 ft. x 1 ft. = 8 cubic feet.
    8 ft^3 x (1 acre-ft / 43,560 ft^3) = 0.000183655 acre-ft.
    Because an acre is a chain x a furlong, this is equivalent to 0.000183655 chain-furlong-ft.
    But of course there are exactly 10 chains per furlong and 4 rods per chain, so this equals 0.0293848 rod-ft.
    And of course every schoolchild in the USA memorizes the simple conversion formula from rod-ft. to gallons: simply multiply by 1871.716. QED.

    Actually, I know because I keep a few turtles in one.

  190. says

    Ravi #201:
    I like your refutation of Buddhism, but there are a couple of small quibbles.

    I looked around and realised that nature teaches only one moral – that of survival.

    That’s not a moral — the fact that some behaviours are more conducive to survival and propagation than others is simply an observation, like any other ‘law of nature’.

    Of course, survival is a pretty obvious goal at any rate, and really, realizing that the mind is only the product of brain function and brain death == mind death makes setting that goal so ridiculously easy that I don’t get why religions seem to think that life is just not enough. IMO, Hitchens put it best when he described it as an egotistical quest for immortality, and Buddhism is probably the best example of this.

    Because we life in a society or a group which again enhances our survival, we developed morals – right or wrong based on reciprocity and co-operation. Since there doesnt exist any abolute morals,

    If survival is considered the axiom, shouldn’t the morals observed to be best conducive to survival be considered absolute in the same way that laws of nature are considered absolute?

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