I am officially disgusted with Alain de Botton


Unfortunately, he’s extremely talented at self-promotion, and keeps saying things that deluded god-botherers love to hear, so he keeps popping up in the media, saying the same stupid things. Now he’s on CNN, whining about atheists again.

Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is "true." Unfortunately, recent public discussions on religion have focused obsessively on precisely this issue, with a hardcore group of fanatical believers pitting themselves against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.

Fuck you very much, Alain de Botton.

He might find the question boring, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s central and important. Are we to live in a society that values truth, or one run by idiots like de Botton, who think the truth is irrelevant, in which we are governed by and our children taught by people who promote falsehoods? Who live their entire lives guided entirely by disproven myths and falsehoods, and evangelize that nonsense intensely?

Our culture is currently divided between three groups: Atheists, who think the truth matters, and want our problems addressed with real-world solutions; theists, who want a god or supernatural powers to solve our problems with magic; and fence-sitting parasites like de Botton who see a personal opportunity to pander to the believers for their own gain, who will ride the conflict while pretending to aloof from it, and win popularity with the masses by trying to tell everyone they’re all right. He is no friend to reason; he’s a really good pal to Alain de Botton.

Comments

  1. grahammartinroyle says

    Why doesn’t this idiot get it, that IS the important question. It doesn’t matter if it’s boring, it is the most fundamental question to be asked, is religion true? If it isn’t, then why are we paying so much attention to it, why is it given so much respect, what the fuck use is it?

  2. sawells says

    I suggest we all live our lives in the belief that Alain de Botton is a serial murderer and needs to be locked up forever. He can hardly object; asking “Is it true?” would be boring.

  3. dianne says

    Hmm…if one were being generous, one might read de Botton’s statement as saying that the question is boring because it’s solved. An analogy that might not work for anyone else, but here goes: The question of whether iron deficiency causes anemia is boring. We know it does. But it remains an important question to know the answer to because lots of people end up with iron deficiency anemia and knowing that the answer to the question is “yes” is important. But it’s rather a dull question compared to the question of “what do you do about it” or “why did it happen”. God is non-existent, that’s no longer a real question that needs to be answered, but it’s still an important one to consider if one is not to waste one’s life. That allows one to go on and ask other, possibly more interesting questions about religion, like why did people ever invent god, but being able to answer that sort of question depends on knowing the answer to the “boring” initial question.

    Of course, de Botton then goes on to whine about how society has declined since people stopped listening to sermons and how much less moral we are now than the religious folk of yore, so maybe I shouldn’t bother attempting to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  4. McCthulhu, now with Techroline and Retsyn says

    Now I’m just counting the days until Maddow, Stewart or Maher say how bored they are of de Botton. If he’s on TV, someone from TV has to shove a cork in his witless cake-hole. If you’re suffering from ennui from the discussion on how a culture derives its reality, you no longer get to be involved in the discussion on how a culture derives its reality.

  5. Ichthyic says

    Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.”

    Sometimes the boring questions are still the ones that most need answering.

    In fact, LeBottomised, if you think about WHY they question IS boring, you might figure out it’s because IT NEVER GETS ANSWERED, and never has, for thousands of years.

  6. Ichthyic says

    LeBottomised translated:

    boring = I’m tired of the fact that nobody is LISTENING TO ME RIGHT NOW!!!

    fucking narcissistic wanker.

  7. gshelley says

    In a way it is boring, as the religious don’t have any new arguments that were not refuted a hundred years ago and then refuted again in the past 10 years. It is pretty rare for anyone familiar with the subject matter to learn something new and relevant from the religious side.

    Which is totally different to how important a question it is.

  8. Aliasalpha says

    Since the whole truth thing has the potential to kind of demolish one entire side of the discussion with a single stroke, wouldn’t it be wise to know if its true before you potentially waste time with anything more specific?

    Or to put it another way, should I be worried about whether or not to buy a set of fuzzy dice as a joke present for Optimus Prime for his birthday before I establish (one way or another) the actual existence of Optimus Prime?

  9. sc_5d5676725fc922c0ea1f6d3a6a05561a says

    Also, religion makes so many unfounded and distracting claims that it’s like clearing a minefield (or a cow pasture) before we can get to the interesting questions. We can’t just ignore the dogma until we step in it.

    And I used to like Alain de Botton. But it’s sadly more publicity for him to run down thoughtful atheists than to say hey, here are some things I like about religion that I’d still like to do, just minus god(s). There are too many people trying to stomp on (or murder) fellow atheists for me not to be grateful to PZ, Dawkins, Greta, Leo Igwe, Ophelia, et al.

    Get religion out of our politics and our laws first; then I’ll have no more problem with people believing in gods than I do with my geek friends hoping for FTL spaceships.

  10. Ogvorbis: Now With 98% Less Intellectual Curiousity! says

    One would think that, had the theists even a shred of actual evidence, they would have presented it by now? If they could, the argument would no longer be tired and boring. But, with no evidence at all to support the hypotheosis of gods, well, it’ll remain boring.

  11. datasolution says

    I don’t think so PZ, his TED talk was really good, informative and competent and we can all learn a lot from it.

    Your road is a road to nowhere.

  12. StevoR says

    @2. grahammartinroyle – 28 February 2012 at 7:19 am :

    is religion true? If it isn’t, then why are we paying so much attention to it, why is it given so much respect,

    Because its followers are – in many if not all cases – dangerous fanatical idiots who will threaten people with death or/ & violence if you don’t “respect” their “holy” books and “prophets” eg. no writing books they dislike or saying things they dislike or behaving as they dislike because they have the guns, bombs and numbers and pustulent masses of hatred arrayed against everyone sane.

    ..what the fuck use is it? [religion.]

    Motivating dangerous idiots into committing dangerous, stupid, wasteful and often self-destructive acts of stupidity they’d otherwise know not to do.

    Also social control and identifying politico- ideological “teams” and “sides” for purpose of same.

    IOW, political power games,creating cannon fodder and keeping the 1% in charge.

  13. says

    Suppose that a significant minority of the population fervently believed that urine was inflammable; and as a consequence, in order to pander to these people’s baseless assertions, we were all forced to include outrageous and unnecessary fire precautions in bathrooms.

    Suppose further that if you attempted to prove the riduculousness of these people’s position by lighting a small fire, then putting it out by piddling on it, you would be charged with an offence of arson with recklessness as to the endangerment of life. And scholars would spend many hours debating how you faked it.

    Believing untrue things is harmful per se. It really is that simple.

  14. StevoR says

    what the fuck use is it?

    It is “useful” in getting good peopel to override their survival and thoughtful instincts and do horrific things.

    Like fly planes into skyscrapers.

    Blow themselves and others up in crowded marketplaces.

    Burn “witches” at the stake.

    Treat some loving couples diffently than others based on their gender or previous sexual histories or other irrelevancies.

    Deny whole populations /generations education on certain “controversial” (ie don’t teach X it upsets us)but vital subjects.

    Ban books and imprison authors who say the Earth goes round our Sun not vice-versa.

    … Plus about a trillion and one other atrocities.

  15. James C. says

    @datasolution #12:

    So truth is a road to nowhere. Got it.

    I can thus only assume that you lie when you call de Botton’s talk informative.

  16. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Your road is a road to nowhere.

    The road of rationality and reality is the road to nowhere? Compared to delusional thinking and fooling oneself? Now, where the fuck are you? And take your head out of your ass.

  17. says

    I’m officially confused by the drivel el Button spouts. He starts with “To my mind, of course, no part of religion is true”, follows on with “We can then recognize that we invented religions”, and then suggests we give religion(s) respect – WTF?????

    How can anyone respect grown-ups who invent fairy stories and then try to insist they’re real? How can we be expected to respect the fairy stories? That would most definitely be the road to disaster – personally I’d rather go nowhere.

  18. datasolution says

    @17

    I was talking about pragmatical solutions to post-new atheism which de Botton offered in his TED talk.

  19. Anri says

    I would suggest that Mr. de Botton pop by his local megachurch and explain to them, thoroughly and at length, the massive unimportance of their beliefs being true or not.

    He will swiftly learn just how important the issue is as he is blown bodily off of the stage at the overwhelming roar of outrage and hate.

    I’ll make him a deal – just as soon as he can get the theists to stop taking religion seriously, I’ll do the same.
    …I’m not holding my breath.

  20. Sastra says

    Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.”

    I am absolutely astonished that religious people think that this line of reasoning from an atheist makes that atheist a “tame” atheist — respectful, non-threatening, acceptable in mixed company and ecumenical group mutual love sessions. That is, I understand why this is the case, but it still never fails to amaze me that the faithful are apparently so willing to gloss over the implications here simply in order to get the atheist to change the damn subject.

    De Botton is basically coming out and telling folks that they don’t believe in God. Not that he doesn’t believe in God – but that they don’t. Not really. It’s all about putting on an identity like a piece of clothing. You wear “faith” to express yourself as a deep person, a moral person, a loving person, an aesthetic person: a person with character and history and a very handy therapeutic method of dealing with life’s ups and downs. And hey, we respect that. Whatever floats your boat. Live and let live. Atheists *like me* are like this. Can I get a hug?

    And the faithful apparently encourage this — because it gets them off the hook. They don’t have to defend their belief. They don’t have to explain what they believe, why they believe it, and engage in a serious discussion. Sure, sure, religion is just like a big Renaissance Faire, a dress-up game where you pick and choose your favorite belief and walk around posturing and gesturing in a way that looks like you’re “praying” and “communing” to something called “God” which you don’t care about at all, really. You’re just cementing who you are. It’s a useful tool.

    Except that this is bullshit. Religious people do take their beliefs seriously. They don’t think that the question about what is or is not “true” in spiritual matters is “boring.” They think it’s absolutely central to what it means to be a human being.

    And they admit this the moment the atheist leaves the room. Or the moment their objective critical facilities go to sleep and they get to wallow again in the self-satisfied glow of being the kind of person who just knows that faith is not just a way of knowing — it’s THE way of knowing.

    So yes, I have some contempt for de Botton, the good, tame atheist the religious can feel comfortable with. But frankly I have a lot more contempt for those faithful who find this sort of atheist a comfortable one. They’re giving up the entire point of their belief just to avoid confrontation. Cowards.

    Mental, moral, mendacious cowards.

  21. James C. says

    @Markr1957 #18:

    I think what he means there is something like “religion is a combination group cohesion device/security blanket, and we can apply bits of it to attain those very ends without the suicide bombers and the homophobes and all that nasty stuff.”

    It’s not entirely dissimilar to, say, Breaking the Spell (or Eric Steinhart’s Wicca series for that matter.) The main problems with de Botton’s piece are his cavalier dismissal of truth and the assumption that secular society doesn’t already make use of, say, morality. (There is a reason “we” bridle at sermons: they rely on the vice of authoritarianism. That’s a moral judgement.)

  22. David Marjanović says

    I don’t think so PZ, his TED talk was really good, informative and competent and we can all learn a lot from it.

    Your road is a road to nowhere.

    Please do explain.

    Can I get a hug?

    Frankly, yes. How about getting you another Molly? It’s been a long time…

  23. Sastra says

    I don’t know. De Botton maybe strikes me as similar here to an evolutionary biologist complaining about those biologists who waste their time fighting Creationism by bringing up biology. Change the focus! The creation/evolution debate is just so boring.

    Instead, we ought to promote evolution by admitting that Creationism isn’t really about whether evolution occurred, but about the fun of being in a special group. If biologists acted more like creationists then biology would be seen as more useful and evolution more acceptable.

    The parts of “acting like a creationist” that make sense are either what we’re already doing — or they make sense only in the context of a conspiracy theory. And this hypothetical evolutionary biologist doesn’t really understand what and who he or she is dealing with.

  24. quoderatdemonstrandum says

    datasolution @ 12

    I don’t think so PZ, his TED talk was really good, informative and competent and we can all learn a lot from it.

    where? citation needed.

    In the first 30 seconds he starts with a false premise dividing the world into two camps: “those who believe” and “those who don’t”. “Those who believe” *in what*? There is no unity of belief amongst believers. Believers don’t even agree on the identity or even numbers of god(s). Religious believers believe diametrically opposite things. So lumping all religious believers as on group is absurd and dishonest.

    Now at minute 13 and have heard only one interesting thing “the catholic church’s revenue last year was 97 Billion dollars”

    Mminute 14:30 or so and he suggests educators look at how religion indoctrinates people because they are so effective at it. Need it be said that indoctrination of evidence-free belief is the diametric opposite of educating people?

    15:48 “you can get shot by either side, the religious and the atheists”. The former claim is accepted as beyond cavil, the latter needs evidence.

    18:09 “we [atheists] need to be polite.” When should we be polite? When a Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor calls atheists “less than fully human”? When the Pope compares atheists to Nazis? When christians tell me my gay friends should be denied civil rights in this world and will burn in hell in the next? When they try to deny contraception and prophylactics to people who desperately need them in order not to avoid AIDS and die painfully, leaving widows and orphans behind?

    So no, other than a nice fact about the riches of the catholic church, nothing learned from de Botton.

  25. says

    The road of rationality and reality is the road to nowhere?

    Atheism isn’t that road, it’s just the fact you didn’t take exit 666 to Insane City on the freeway of belief.

    The interesting question is “What do you believe in?” not “What don’t you believe in?”. I believe in rationalism and reality, that the absence of pain, both physical and psychological, is the greatest good, in moderation in all things… I am, broadly, an Epicurean. My atheism is a result of that, not a cause.

  26. Sastra says

    Here are some of the things that DeBotton thinks atheists “find it impossible to live with” because we’re so disgusted by religion:

    the word “morality”
    hearing a sermon
    the idea that art should be uplifting or have an ethical mission
    pilgrimages
    temples
    expressing gratitude
    self-help books
    mental exercises
    singing in groups
    “consoling, subtle or just charming rituals ”

    WTF?

    With the possible exception of “hearing a sermon” I can’t think of any of us here ever having ranted or raved against ANY of those things — assuming they’re all interpreted in secular context. And Pharyngula is supposed to be the repository of the “bad” atheists.

    If someone goes to see Darwin’s house we don’t express horror that this person went on a “pilgrimage” and atheists can’t do this! If one of us is an artist the comments section does not erupt with complaints that no, that is too much like being spiritual — better get a job in a lab.

    I don’t think he means to do this, but de Botton is being incredibly insulting. And dense. He’s like one of those Christians who wonder aloud why atheists would ever bother to be honest because “without God there is no right and wrong” or express amazement that an atheist would show compassion because compassion is “spiritual” and we all know atheism is all about me, me, me. It’s like de Botton took the worst stereotype of the crankiest, coldest, most bitter and resentful atheist he could think of and wrote about how “atheists need to stop being like this.”

    No wonder the theists apparently love him. Not only does he agree to drop the whole “truth” thing. He’s feeding into their fantasy of what atheism does to a person.

    He really ought to watch out for that.

  27. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ Markr1957

    “We can then recognize that we invented religions”, and then suggests we give religion(s) respect – WTF?????

    Not necessarily a bad idea (at least conceptually) and one that has been tried before. The development of (ancient) Greek Religion is a case in point. People like Homer quite consciously sought to contrive, flesh out and embroider a religion that would give direction and focus the aspirations of his society. It worked, while the underlying society could inflate the initiative with like impetus.

    But don’t try this at home folks. The effort faltered as the society that it stood upon transformed and started to betray its own values. The rivets came out completely with the Peloponnesian War and the whole endeavor came crashing down.

    I am fairly sure De Botton is not aware of this. I confess though that I have not read his book. On the other hand he does not speak publicly on this history, which should by highly consequential if he is really interested in making this more than pandering to the current hollow religions – that stand in stark contrast to the Greeks’ ancient and noble initiative.

  28. truthspeaker says

    AJS says:
    28 February 2012 at 8:02 am

    Believing untrue things is harmful per se. It really is that simple.

    QFT

  29. Sastra says

    David Marjanovic #23 wrote:

    …It’s been a long time…

    *Hugs* to you too, but no it hasn’t. You and I (and cuttlefish) can never ever be mollied again. It is forbidden… heh.

  30. ChasCPeterson says

    I have pissed off Alain de Botton on twitter

    LOL. No doubt his followers are grateful for the respite from his steady feed of clever quotable aphorisms.

  31. waldo000000 says

    Why doesn’t this idiot get it, that IS the important question. It doesn’t matter if it’s boring, it is the most fundamental question to be asked, is religion true? If it isn’t, then why are we paying so much attention to it, why is it given so much respect, what the fuck use is it?

    YOUR last questions are the important questions. Why is religion given so much respect, and what use is it?

    De Botton argues that asking if religion is “true” is boring, because the answer is obviously NO!

  32. says

    de Botton twits: “Ghandi and Mandela never resorted to the name-calling and insults your team thinks will change the world.”

    And yet the people who founded the US were quite free with the name-calling and insults. So…

    ***

    With the possible exception of “hearing a sermon” I can’t think of any of us here ever having ranted or raved against ANY of those things — assuming they’re all interpreted in secular context.

    Well, I did rant in a minor way recently about Templeton’s “The Science of Gratitude” initiative (and their Science of Schlock projects in general), but that’s not quite the same thing as ranting about the expression of gratitude. And I find it possible to live with it – just think it’s a stealth right-wing religious effort.

  33. Brownian says

    I was talking about pragmatical solutions to post-new atheism which de Botton offered in his TED talk.

    Then why didn’t you mention them, rather than spouting off a string of useless subjective qualitative opinions about his talk?

    Oh, right: because you’re a troll, even if you aren’t trying.

    (See what I did there? See how I used a concrete example to make my case? See how that works?)

    Fuck off. I would rather a world full of honest if deluded believers than one full of dishonest idiots like you and De Botton.

  34. funkyderek says

    To be fair, de Botton thinks the question is uninteresting because we know the answer: religion is false. Given that we all agree on this, arguing it further is not particularly interesting. (At least that’s the premise; we don’t all agree on it, but de Botton’s book is for atheists, who do.)
    If religion is false, does that then mean it has nothing to offer? I don’t think so, and de Botton certainly doesn’t. I haven’t found his book particularly engrossing but the general premise, that these near-universal institutions that have survived for millennia may not be entirely worthless, seems sound.

  35. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ funkyderek

    that these near-universal institutions that have survived for millennia may not be entirely worthless, seems sound.

    Exactly the same argument could be made for the most ridiculous superstitions. For how many centuries did humankind indulge in human sacrifice as an inherent part of their religious institutions. (“A human heart each day keeps the sun in the sky.”)

    Modern religions amount to little more than as much superstitious bunkum. Their age does not grant them our approbation. Repeating their authoritarian lies for millennia does not make them right.

    Their universality stems from their superstitious nature. People are scared to die. They fear for their crops. They desperately want a (celestial, if need be) parent to take care of them. And reality is just so much hard work! If we could all just agree the same lies it would be soooo much easier.

  36. raven says

    I suspect Allain de Botton just want to copy the fundie xian toad leaders. There is a lot of easy money being a sociopathic panderer.

    Get your own TV ministry on a cable channel.

    Ask for money a lot. The fundies have their own pet Rabbis who agree with them on almost everything.

    I suppose they can always use a pet atheist, someone who agrees with them on everything and hates all the other atheists.

    Pat Robertson made a billion dollars doing this sort of thing.

    Televangelist:

    Here to tell us what evil atheists do in the dead of night in their sacred groves of trees, is Allain de Botton, a reformed atheist who hopes to find jesus some day (if there is enough money in it). continues

  37. Brother Yam says

    Who cares if its false! It makes the comfortable classes happy, the lower classes docile and the untouchables miserable!

    WIN-WIN-WIN

  38. datasolution says

    You have to admit there is a certain subversive power to de Botton’s approach.
    He acts like all the god debate is done for and it really is, he doesn’t shy away from saying that supernatural entities of course don’t exist. Instead we should stop pretending that most superstitionists are serious about all this nonsense and focus on the institutional mechanisms that keep such appearances afloat by adopting them.

    Surely most atheists realize how there is very little content here and even proper studies say that they are ignorant of their beliefs and in fact they just go with the flow generated by these mechanisms.

    I think people should watch his TED talk again and try to be more open minded to fully understand his position.

  39. Ichthyic says

    de Botton twits: “Ghandi and Mandela never resorted to the name-calling and insults your team thinks will change the world.”

    oh, you simply HAVE to be kidding me?

    Ghandi?

    ROFLMAO

    Le Bottomised is truly the prince of twits.

  40. says

    Wow, and people call me a woolly liberal.

    I don’t think I’m ever going to quite get over him tweeting me that that “Politeness gets you ignored only if you have nothing convincing to say.”

    Got his head up his de bottom, that one.

  41. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    WIN-WIN-WIN

    The Seneca Award ™ goes to Ing.

  42. truthspeaker says

    James C. says:
    28 February 2012 at 8:34 am

    @Markr1957 #18:

    I think what he means there is something like “religion is a combination group cohesion device/security blanket, and we can apply bits of it to attain those very ends without the suicide bombers and the homophobes and all that nasty stuff.”

    In other words, sure Sauron is evil. But what if you and I had the Ring, Gandalf? Think of how much better we could make the world!

    Or if you prefer a Star Trek analogy, see “Patterns of Force”.

  43. truthspeaker says

    datasolution says:
    28 February 2012 at 10:51 am

    You have to admit there is a certain subversive power to de Botton’s approach.
    He acts like all the god debate is done for and it really is, he doesn’t shy away from saying that supernatural entities of course don’t exist. Instead we should stop pretending that most superstitionists are serious about all this nonsense

    But we’re not pretending. They really are serious about it.

  44. Ichthyic says

    I think people should watch his TED talk again and try to be more open minded to fully understand his position.

    bah.

    you must be new to this game.

    His diatribes are nothing more than attention seeking, shallow bits of drivel.

    that YOU can’t see that just means you have much to learn still.

  45. says

    Oh is THAT BREEDER babbling again?

    To say that religion should be kept for its positive influence is laughably classist and privledged. It can only honestly be said by someone who has the position and funds to be able to afford to ignore religion.

    Gay?
    Woman?
    Poor?
    Minority?
    Crippled?
    Trans?

    Even if religion said did an amazing job at feeding the homeless…its still in the US MAKING people homeless at a far greater rate than anyone they actually help get on their feet. They’d have to find a home for every gay and trans runaway just to break even…which they don’t. They provide food and minimal shelter.

    I can’t swing my hat without running into a rule or law from someone elses religion that affects me.

    Must be nice to be well off enough to ignore religion. What an asshole

  46. janine says

    Ichthyic, datacupcake is just a rape denying MRA troll. He is not here to learn, he is here to leave troll droppings.

  47. Brownian says

    but the general premise, that these near-universal institutions that have survived for millennia may not be entirely worthless, seems sound.

    The problem with this premise is that it’s so poorly defined as to be useless. What’s the institution in question here? Religion? Belief? A world-view? Cultural in-grouping? Massive cathedrals presided over by a hierarchical priest-class that appropriates wealth through tithes, indulgences, and theft to support and augment the socio-political power it weilds to enforce social inequity?

    Try a little exercise: which of the following is/are most different from the others, and why?

    A) The Roman Catholic Church
    B) A shaman or medicine man/woman living among one group of a tribe of foragers in Botswana
    C) Modern banks, highly regulated and subjected to international agreements such as the Basel Accords
    D) The Balinese Water Temple system
    E) Trobriand cricket
    F) Comic-cons, SF conventions, and LARPers

    Now, among the above, which are the valuable parts that would be lost forever that only exist among religious institutions?

    When the Gnus challenge religion, they’re typically challenging unevidenced beliefs held by modern industrialised (or industrialising people) that at best are unnecessary, and at worst harmful. And we can break these components down. No one is saying that the RCC priesthood needs to stop wearing vestments because symbolic clothing is harmful. No one is saying that we need to lose the churches because large spaces designed for gathering are harmful. No one is saying that storytelling is harmful (well, some may say that, but they haven’t thought very hard about it). We’re saying allowing unevidenced beliefs to remain unchecked is harmful.

    And further, we can even look at these unevidenced beliefs and provide some nuance. Why do we preferentially make type I errors? There must have been an adaptive reason for it. And yet, we see that this tendency is also maladaptive, and so we’ve come up with all sorts of net sciencey tricks to reduce that bias. We can be specific.

    But so far, from the other side, all we seem to hear is “Well, religions, in the largest and least specific sense, have been around like forever, so they must contain something good.” Well, what is this good thing? We all admit it’s not truth. Is it Retsyn? Is it the ability to wick away sweat and keep you dry and cool?

    Sure, saying “truth matters” may be boring, but I can go somewhere from there. All we get from the accommodationists is “Stop picking on belief (unless the belief is that vaccines cause autism).”

  48. Anri says

    To be fair, de Botton thinks the question is uninteresting because we know the answer: religion is false. Given that we all agree on this, arguing it further is not particularly interesting. (At least that’s the premise; we don’t all agree on it, but de Botton’s book is for atheists, who do.)
    If religion is false, does that then mean it has nothing to offer? I don’t think so, and de Botton certainly doesn’t. I haven’t found his book particularly engrossing but the general premise, that these near-universal institutions that have survived for millennia may not be entirely worthless, seems sound.

    Like slavery, for example.

    I mean, everybody knows slavery is wrong, and produces repulsive violations of basic human rights and dignity when it is supported by government and society, but so long as someone gets some comfort out of it, it can’t be all bad, can it? These discussions of the oppressions of slavery just get so boring, it’s almost more than I can stand. Really, we should move to more engaging topics of my choice.
    It’s so much more civilized than getting one’s metaphorical hands dirty discussing *yuk* truth.

  49. Brownian says

    Like slavery, for example.

    Let’s see:

    a) is asking whether it’s true boring? (slavery happened, so yes): ✓
    b) has it survived for millennia? (yes): ✓

    There we go.

    Now we can start harping on those rude, closed-minded anti-bigots and abolitionists!

  50. Rey Fox says

    Yeah, whether or not religion is true is so boring. Why don’t we turn our thinking caps onto whether religion is gleeb?

    Dang, he appears to have deleted that tweet. What a twit. I had to wade through fortune cookies like this trying to find it:

    It’s never difficult to seduce people we aren’t attracted to.

    Most projects take so long to come off, life can resemble an interesting song in which someone is continually pressing pause.

    It is a bit immature to mind so much if one is sometimes treated like a child.

    This is the guy I want pontificating on religion.

  51. Ogvorbis: Now With 98% Less Intellectual Curiousity! says

    Who’s Ghandi?

    I seem to remember a Bloom County cartoon in which Milo and Opus are sitting in a theater waiting for the picture to begin. Opus is upset that the movie is Gandhi, a film about the effectiveness of civil disobediance and non-violence, and not Ghandi, a science-fiction epic about a planet eating organism. (Doing this from memory (which isn’t all that great), so I am definately wrong in the details).

  52. Sastra says

    de Botton twits: “Ghandi and Mandela never resorted to the name-calling and insults your team thinks will change the world.”

    “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you.
    Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
    — Mohandas Gandhi*

    *(not entirely sure this quote is legit: I can only find it on New Age sites)

  53. David Marjanović says

    People like Homer quite consciously sought to contrive, flesh out and embroider a religion that would give direction and focus the aspirations of his society.

    Please explain.

    But we’re not pretending. They really are serious about it.

    Not all of them are. There are plenty, especially in Europe, that de Botton has exactly nailed.

    Still, hundreds of millions are serious, and most others are serious about some of their beliefs.

    THAT BREEDER

    …?

    Why do we preferentially make type I errors? There must have been an adaptive reason for it.

    Specifically, those who failed to see the leopard in the nearest bush have all already been eaten, while those who saw one when there wasn’t any are still among us.

    Natural selection against type II errors in attributing agency to nature is much stronger than against type I errors.

  54. Brownian says

    This is the guy I want pontificating on religion.

    Yep. El DeBarge is better:

    I tried to understand because I’m people too
    And playing games is part of human nature
    My heart’s in overdrive, it’s great to be alive

    Okay, maybe the same:

    (Girls like her) Are very special girls
    (Girls like her) Don’t rest
    ‘Till ‘Till you too are a believer
    ‘Till you too have caught their fever

    Still, I’ll bet I can paraphrase De Botton’s theses using nothing but lyrics from 80s pop songs. Here’s Genesis on religion.

  55. Brownian says

    Specifically, those who failed to see the leopard in the nearest bush have all already been eaten, while those who saw one when there wasn’t any are still among us.

    Natural selection against type II errors in attributing agency to nature is much stronger than against type I errors.

    Thanks, David.

    I was using the question as a rhetorical device, but I see the argument is stronger if the answer is included.

  56. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    The more that he goes on about “Atheism 2.0″ and so-on, the more I see why the one AdB book that I have read* was unsatisfying but was unable to put a finger on why. There seems to be a vast difference between how AdB thinks that people function and the way that they actually do. People believe in that stuff, are serious about it, and act with it in mind. However much we may agree that the god question is over, it is most definitely not for the believer.
    A bit shit for a supposed philosopher, IMO, and reminds me of the apocryphal “horses’ teeth” story.
    *”Status Anxiety” in my case. Interesting in parts, but he also went a bit “yay religion” at the end. Conflicted bloke, maybe.

  57. Brownian says

    There seems to be a vast difference between how AdB thinks that people function and the way that they actually do…
    A bit shit for a supposed philosopher

    Philosophers are terrible at understanding how people function. That’s why we invented anthropology and sociology.

  58. Therrin says

    Rey Fox,

    I had to wade through fortune cookies like this trying to find it:

    Like most fortunes, these work much better when appended with “in bed.”

  59. funkyderek says

    @theophontes

    Modern religions amount to little more than as much superstitious bunkum.

    No, they don’t. They amount to a lot more than that. They provide a framework for people’s lives, a well-understood way to celebrate births, marriages and coming of age, to mark the seasons, to reflect on our lives, and to mourn the dead. They provide a sense of community and a place to turn in times of need.
    Those are the sorts of things that de Botton is arguing are worthwhile.

  60. says

    But they’re NOT providing the framework, they’re just putting a robe on it and pretending it belongs to them. And because we live in pluralistic societies now, the claims by the various religions serve to FRACTURE that framework, frequently at the worst possible times.

  61. Brownian says

    They amount to a lot more than that. They provide a framework for people’s lives, a well-understood way to celebrate births, marriages and coming of age, to mark the seasons, to reflect on our lives, and to mourn the dead. They provide a sense of community and a place to turn in times of need.
    Those are the sorts of things that de Botton is arguing are worthwhile.

    They’re also the sorts of things that the ignorant mistakenly think only religion provides.

    They provide a framework for people’s lives,

    Without being more specific as to what you mean by ‘framework’, all culture does that. No religion necessary.

    a well-understood way to celebrate births,

    I’ve helped many a friend celebrate the birth of shkler child. A hearty Congratulations!, a few jokes about cigars, comments about how beautiful the child is and whose eyes shklee has, and everybody understood what was happening. No religion necessary.

    marriages and coming of age,

    I grew up in a Catholic framework: baptism, first communions, the whole bit. Getting my driver’s license at 16 meant more to my friends and I than any of the religious ones. No religion necessary.

    to mark the seasons,

    [Looks outside. Sees no god, but lots of snow.] Maybe religion is necessary for those living on the equator.

    to reflect on our lives,

    [Atheist Brownian reflects on his life just fine.] No religion necessary.

    and to mourn the dead.

    Just had a lunchtime conversation with my coworkers about various funerary practices and grieving. Some of us are religious, some are not. Religion did not appear to be a prerequisite.

    They provide a sense of community

    So does shared language, geography, hobbies, and any number of other things. No religion necessary.

    and a place to turn in times of need.

    You mean like hospitals, but much less effective?

    …………………

    The problem with the Atheism 2.0 people is that you label things like culture, community, ritual, storytelling, and other human universals as ‘religion’. I think there are a few of you who do it out of a desire to be deceptive, but most of you are just uneducated.

    Humans without religion are not emotionless androids. They love, laugh, cry, grieve, mark milestones, reflect on their roles as children, parents, community members, citizens, and what have you. They’re still human, just not religious ones.

    Is it too fucking hard for people to take a goddamn anthropology class if they’re dead set on opining about the things humans do?

  62. David Marjanović says

    You mean like hospitals, but much less effective?

    No, like Internet hugs, only without the hugs.

  63. Stacy says

    No doubt his followers are grateful for the respite from his steady feed of clever quotable aphorisms

    Seriously. His twits–the ones I was able to read before the nausea set in–are pretentious little deepities. A selection: “The only people we can think of as normal are those we don’t yet know very well.” “It’s always hard to resist the conclusion that people who aren’t interested in us are egomaniacs.” “How much you’d have to care about reviews to go to all the trouble of NOT reading them.” “So strange is death, if we found a way of being immortal, it would soon seem like the most natural, unremarkable state.” “A conversational pause with someone you desire always leaves you thinking you’re the boring one.” “Which to trust more the wild fears and hopes of Sunday night or the sober punctual realities of the next morning?” “Ugly neighborhoods are generally not ugly because they are poor, they are poor because they are ugly” “There is despair and nihilism in the extra unnecessary mouthful of the middle aged: Jaffa cakes.”

    Has he not gotten over that adolescent stage where you think your every insight half-assed thought is brilliant and worthy of sharing with the world?

  64. says

    Our culture is currently divided between three groups…

    I think the majority of the fence-sitters are those who are too scared to follow their truth-seeking convictions through to their natural conclusion. I’ve talked to tonnes of people who acknowledge that I may be right, but they just can’t handle that.

    It’s a combination of fear and bravery. The more a person is scared of a lack of god, the more bravery they need to get past it. I’ve never been scared to let go of god, so I didn’t need much intellectual bravery to get where I am. But others (perhaps brought up with the fear of hell-fire) need to be really brave – a commodity only found in part of the population.

  65. Anri says

    No, they don’t. They amount to a lot more than that. They provide a framework for people’s lives, a well-understood way to celebrate births, marriages and coming of age, to mark the seasons, to reflect on our lives, and to mourn the dead. They provide a sense of community and a place to turn in times of need.
    Those are the sorts of things that de Botton is arguing are worthwhile.

    And the people he’s villifying are living, breathing examples that none of these things require religion in any way, shape or form.

    I like my little life rituals as much as anyone else. I just don’t have the arrogance to assume the entire universe waits up nights to watch me perform them.

  66. truthspeaker says

    We Are Ing
    28 February 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Religion isn’t providing the frame work for rituals…it’s selecting one way of doing said rituals and excluding others.

    While dishonestly claiming to be the source and sole arbiter of those rituals. Here in the states, clergy aren’t content to make the rules for marriages that go on in their churches, they want to impose their rules on civil marriages as well.

  67. DLC says

    sometimes all I can add is a bit of cheesy snark — so : de Botton.. . I think it’s spelled wrong. should end in ‘m’ shouldn’t it ? he seems to be spewing so much brown matter that de bottom sounds right.

    Do you think religion does no harm? you can’t be that ignorant of history, de Bottom. you know, on second thought, I should stop using that. it insults self-respecting bottoms all over.

  68. KG says

    the general premise, that these near-universal institutions that have survived for millennia may not be entirely worthless, seems sound. – funkyderek

    Yeah, I mean, anything that’s survived that long must be good: just look how useful rabies and guinea worm are!

  69. eman says

    I recently went to de Botton’s talk on the subject at the Sydney Opera House. Whilst I haven’t read his book, I think a lot of what he said actually has merit.

    Whilst I personally love seeing the direct smackdown that PZ dishes out to fundamentalist theists, it is important to be aware of the communication style used.

    The communication is a very direct, academic style approach, and often with a bit of ridicule and ego thrown in the mix. Whilst that is great fun when communicating with a tertiary level educated rational peer, how do you think it is perceived by others not so familiar or comfortable with that style?

    I think there is a misunderstanding of de Botton’s message and that it stems from him approaching the communication with more of a psychotherapist’s hat on rather than a scientific/academic hat.

    Try to imagine a psychologist having a conversation with a mentally ill patient. Telling the patient directly that they are wrong, that their beliefs are ridiculous will get you nowhere. They will just shut down and block out what you are saying. Instead, the psychologist has to build a respectful rapport with the patient, and gently challenge the patient and allow them to come out and realise for themselves the false nature of their beliefs.

    de Botton is not a believer or apologising for religion. My take on it is that his big overall message is that:
    1) There are better ways of communicating to the ordinary person that will be more effective and;

    2) There are some elements of organised religions that bring psychological well being and comfort to people and that we should figure out how to bring the good bits across to atheism (without any of the supernatural rubbish) to make atheism more relevant to people’s lives.

  70. John Morales says

    eman, your opinion is duly noted, though it’s old and hoary.

    1. Who is an “ordinary person”?

    (Clearly, you don’t think of yourself as such)

    2. There are some elements of S&M/B&D that bring psychological well being and comfort to people, so therefore we should likewise bring the good bits to non-practicioners, right?

    (You imagine we’ve never heard of framing or of babies and bathwater?)

  71. Ichthyic says

    There are some elements of organised religions that bring psychological well being and comfort to people

    this has been studied up the wazoo.

    if you really cared about the issue, you might start with searching the literature using phrases like:

    psychology of religion

    oh, and while you’re getting yourself an education in social psychology, I happen to be pushing Bob Altemeyer of late.

    it’s a quick read and will explain a LOT of why so many people find religion appealing to them, and why it makes them “happy”.

    what’s more, it’s a fun, quick read, and FREE.

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    De Botton is an ignorant, childish, ass that is trying to rediscover the fucking wheel and whinging that those of us already way ahead of him but still realize the fundamental problems with religion aren’t listening to him.

  72. Ichthyic says

    hell, Leo Strauss was elucidating the “value” of religious structure long before De Botton was learning what 2+2 equaled.

    If you want to see where the philosophy of stripping the dogma from religion but keeping the organizing structure leads, just check out some of Strauss’ writings.

    …and see the results of that in the rise of the neocons in the US in the late 70s onwards.

  73. eman says

    John Morales:

    1. Yes, it was a lazy choice of words which has a unnecessarily condescending tone to it.

    I meant by it, people that the atheist community are trying to persuade (i.e. theists) and who do not respond well to direct, academic style reasoning.

    2. Sure. If a person into BDSM wanted to permanently change the way that they sexually express themselves, it could be good for them psychologically to figure out what aspects of it brought comfort/meaning and to find an appropriate substitute/or address their needs another way.

  74. Brownian says

    I think there is a misunderstanding of de Botton’s message and that it stems from him approaching the communication with more of a psychotherapist’s hat on rather than a scientific/academic hat.

    Oh, okay: let me take of the mortarboard and gown I always wear on my way to the faculty club and pretend I’m a normal, non-academic for a second—silly me, I totally forgot that I’m not; I’m just an average, foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, pot-smoking schlub.

    But, as an average, foul-mouthed, beer-drinking, pot-smoking schlub, why is it that those who style themselves better at communicating are always so awful at it?

    Here’s The Guardian on De Botton’s atheist tower. Does the article sound glowing? How about the people interviewed? Do they sound compelled?

    So maybe it’s not just us. Maybe De Botton just isn’t as good at convincing people that the only thing missing from atheist’s lives is everything about religion except the belief as he thinks he is.

  75. Brownian says

    I meant by it, people that the atheist community are trying to persuade (i.e. theists) and who do not respond well to direct, academic style reasoning.

    Oh? And that’s De Botton’s goal? To convince theists of what? That religion isn’t so bad?

    Or is he trying to convert them with his tower temple?

    “Man, when I read The God Delusion, I thought: okay, but what about my desire to come to a big tower temple and worship? Dawkins had no answer, so I stayed a member of Opus Dei. But now that I hear atheists like De Botton are building their own towers…”

  76. John Morales says

    [semi-OT]

    eman, I know you’re trying, but (ahem) a person into BDSM ain’t a non-practicioner of BDSM.

    (Care to try again?)

  77. eman says

    Brownian:

    Or is he trying to convert them with his tower temple?

    The tower temple is an utterly idiotic idea which unfortunately does ruin the credibility of some of his other more sane ideas.

    Anyway, I haven’t read his book or followed his public statements. All I can say is that some of his _overall_ message made sense in his live talk that I attended, even though a number of the specific suggestions were rubbish.

  78. eman says

    [OT]

    John Morales, by “into” I did mean practitioner. Anyway, too off topic for this style blog comment system..

  79. eman says

    Ichthyic:

    Aye, nobody is claiming that de Botton’s message is new. Thanks for the Bob Altemeyer link.

  80. Stacy says

    Seriously, eman, do you think de Botton is addressing himself to “ordinary” (judging from your remark about tertiary education I assume you mean relatively uneducated) people? On the contrary, his shtick is directed at comfortable middle-and-upper-class middle brows, the sort who enjoy armchair philosophy as long as it isn’t too intellectually or emotionally challenging.

    One of his annoying tweets:

    “Ugly neighborhoods are generally not ugly because they are poor, they are poor because they are ugly”

    If that’s not a dribble of facile, classist condescension I don’t know what is.

    In the other thread devoted to AdB, meadog provided this link to a “digested read” of Religion for Atheists: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/22/digested-read-religion-for-atheists

    And here’s one for his book The Architecture of Happiness:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/apr/17/digestedread.tvandradio?INTCMP=SRCH

  81. Stacy says

    Sorry, eman, I’m a slow poster. Don’t mean to pile on you for your earlier remark. I just get irritated with twits like de Botton and felt like drubbing him some more. Besides, those Guardian “Digested Reads” are hilarious.

  82. John Morales says

    The tower temple is an utterly idiotic idea which unfortunately does ruin the credibility of some of his other more sane ideas.

    Only in the minds of simpletons who don’t judge ideas on their own merits.

    [OT]

    eman:

    Anyway, too off topic for this style blog comment system.

    Bah. This style blog comment system instantly shows me any new comments when I come back to the page, unlike inferior styles.

  83. eman says

    Stacy, those digested reads are brilliant and hilarious.

    One of his annoying tweets:

    “Ugly neighborhoods are generally not ugly because they are poor, they are poor because they are ugly”

    That tweet is fucked up. He is indeed a twit.

    Seriously, eman, do you think de Botton is addressing himself to “ordinary” (judging from your remark about tertiary education I assume you mean relatively uneducated) people? On the contrary, his shtick is directed at comfortable middle-

    Nope, you’re probably right about his target audience. I’m not saying his style can or will reach everyone.

    I suppose my main point is, that (to me at least) there is probably a significant number of people who get turned off by the direct confrontational style of atheist message and who be receptive to a less confrontational style.

    Let me flip things around: Do people here think that the very direct communication style that is commonly used is the most effective way of spreading the atheist message and persuading people of the folly of religion?

  84. John Morales says

    eman:

    Let me flip things around: Do people here think that the very direct communication style that is commonly used is the most effective way of spreading the atheist message and persuading people of the folly of religion?

    FFS!

    Whyever do you think that the purpose of this blog (or of its commenters) is to spread the atheist message and persuade people of the folly of religion?

    (You know what my “atheist message” is?

    I’ll tell ya: religion is very silly, and theism is even more so.)

  85. John Morales says

    PS eman, if you don’t realise that one can be religious without being theistic or that one can be theistic without being religious, you’re very naive.

  86. Brownian says

    Let me flip things around: Do people here think that the very direct communication style that is commonly used is the most effective way of spreading the atheist message and persuading people of the folly of religion?

    Most effective? Like, hits the hump of the curve at the mean of all religious people and so targets the largest proportion of the population? I don’t know.

    We do know that some people have claimed that this confrontational style, while unpleasant, worked on them. And we do know that there is a proportion of the population that finds any message by atheists too confrontational. Mention a secular group on campus and they go apeshit. Argue that a school prayer violates the establishment clause in the US and they go apeshit.

    But without numbers or evidence that I should act somehow different. I’m only acting the way I know how. Sometimes people find me persuasive. Others don’t.

    If people like De Botton find success in their method, then good on ‘em and godspeed, as long as they don’t tell me their method doesn’t work because I exist (an evasion often used by accommodationists against the new atheists). There’s room for all kinds of fruit in this fruit cup, and that kind of ‘everyone has to be on board in exactly the same way or it won’t work’ is the kind of cop-out yogic fliers use.

  87. Stacy says

    @eman

    Let me flip things around: Do people here think that the very direct communication style that is commonly used is the most effective way of spreading the atheist message and persuading people of the folly of religion?

    I’m not convinced there is a single “most effective way”. In any case I think we need different approaches. In the gnu/accomodationist controversy, I don’t think either side should be telling the other: Ur doing it wrong. But the accomodationists seem to use a lot of ink saying that to gnus.

  88. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ David Marjanović 60

    People like Homer quite consciously sought to contrive, flesh out and embroider a religion that would give direction and focus the aspirations of his society.

    Please explain.

    My pleasure, even if I must keep it short.

    There was a very earnest push by a number of the ancient Greeks to do this, the prime example being Homer. He was quite instrumental in transforming the early Greek gods into the Olympian Greek Gods. (I am not saying he invented them. All gods are evolved from earlier exemplars.) There are a number of sources, but I shall quote from Gilbert Murray:

    the cardinal moment is the same. It consists in the coming of Homer’s ‘Olympian Gods’, and that is to be the subject of the present essay.

    Herodotus in a famous passage tells us that Homer and Hesiod ‘made the generations of the Gods for the Greeks and gave them their names and distinguished their offices and crafts and portrayed their shapes’ (2. 53). The date of this wholesale proceeding was, he thinks, perhaps as much as four hundred years before his own day (c. 430 B. C.) but not more. Before that time the Pelasgians—i. e. the primitive inhabitants of Greece as opposed to the Hellenes—were worshipping gods in indefinite numbers, with no particular names; many of them appear as figures carved emblematically with sex-emblems to represent the powers of fertility and generation, like the Athenian ‘Herms’. The whole account bristles with points for discussion, but in general it suits very well with the picture drawn in the first of these essays, with its Earth Maidens and Mothers and its projected Kouroi. The background is the pre-Hellenic ‘Urdummheit'; the new shape impressed upon it is the great anthropomorphic Olympian family, as defined in the Homeric epos and, more timidly, in Hesiod.

    {my emphasis above}

    What I did not bring up, although it is also relevant and interesting, was that Homer himself was to consort with these very Gods. Through his genius and hard work he could rise to this acceptance by the very Gods he helped create! (Sorry to Pfft you: The Apotheosis of Homer.)

    Like Shakespeare, there is some dispute that his works should all be attributed to a single person. Perhaps it was really a group of people embodied by a person (yet another fictional character?) called Homer.

    My main point is that there once was a very noble and honest attempt to make shit up that could benefit the community and culture that produced it. They where (at least the sharper minds) aware that they where using analogies and story telling as a means to express their highest ideals and to strive for more. Their efforts ultimately failed for a number of reasons (not least of which hubris, greed and cruelty) as they betrayed their own values and fell into civil war.

    Obviously this religion of aspiration, looking to empower and strive for the noblest human sentiments, was a completely different kettle of fish to the narrow minded goddist’s “Nay!”-saying skygod of today.

    If De Botton has such things as this in mind, he is certainly barking up the wrong tree in choosing to deal with current religions as a starting point.

    ….

    I am citing G.Murray The Five Stages of Greek Religion. (It is free, download it and read it already, damnit!)

  89. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ funkyderek 70

    They provide a framework for people’s lives, a well-understood way to celebrate births, marriages and coming of age, to mark the seasons, to reflect on our lives, and to mourn the dead. They provide a sense of community and a place to turn in times of need.

    You remind me of a parody of the advert by Anodine ™ headache tablets:

    Jane {sits down at table. Rubs temples and moans.}: “What a day! What a headache!”

    Announcer {out of view}: “Jane, take Anodine Cyanide. Anodine Cyanide’s new adult strength will cure any headache.”

    Jane swallows tablet with glass of water.

    Announcer: “How is your headache Jane?”

    Jane: “Gone …” {Jane promptly expires.}

    Announcer: “There you have it. Her headache is completely gone.”

    All the things you describe, I have experienced in the secular realm. As an atheist.

    Religion poisons everything. Don’t swallow it, even if it is sugar coated by apologists like De Botton.

  90. lofgren says

    He’s absolutely right. There are many more fascinating questions worth asking about religion, the answers to which are both complex and revealing regardless of the truth of a religion, and some which are more even more interesting if the religion is false.

    The question of whether most religions are true is boring primarily because it should be so fucking obvious.

  91. John Morales says

    lofgren:

    He’s absolutely right. There are many more fascinating questions worth asking about religion, the answers to which are both complex and revealing regardless of the truth of a religion, and some which are more even more interesting if the religion is false.

    So, care to enumerate a half-dozen or so of these “many more” purported fascinating questions worth asking, for our delectation and fascination?

    The question of whether most religions are true is boring primarily because it should be so fucking obvious.

    Maybe so, but this dude who you claim is “absolutely right” wasn’t quoted as claiming it was “most religions”, rather “religion”.

    (You think the two are equivalent?)

  92. lofgren says

    So, care to enumerate a half-dozen or so of these “many more” purported fascinating questions worth asking, for our delectation and fascination?

    If a religion isn’t true, why do we believe them?
    How have individual religious beliefs shaped history?
    What do particular stories tell us about the people who invented them?
    What do the shifting interpretations of those stories tell us about the people who have believed them since?
    Has religious conviction ever led us to truths we might not have uncovered otherwise?
    Do all religions have a single source or have they evolved independently of each other?
    Is there a physical component to religious belief, like the desire to eat fatty foods, or is it entirely cultural, like horseback riding?
    Do any other animals have “beliefs” that resemble religion in humans?
    Can stories in the religious tradition be used as a tool of moral instruction while avoiding its supernatural convictions (what has been called the “calcification of imagery”)?
    Does humanity need religion to maintain sufficient cohesion and complacency to avoid killing itself?

    All worthwhile questions. Regardless of its truth value, the persistence of religion has huge implications for our species and for our world. In depth investigation is worthwhile, and fascinating.

    (You think the two are equivalent?)

    Equivalent enough for our two statements to be compatible. I’m merely allowing for the possibility of a religion whose truth claims are close enough to reality to make them not obviously false given the concurrent scientific evidence.

  93. John Morales says

    lofgren, on the first part, very good; I am impressed.

    (So far as I am concerned, you’ve sustained your case)

    On the second, however, not so much; religion is a category, and religions are instantiations of it, and you tread dangerously close to the fallacy of composition (remember Alain was quoted as referring to “the whole thing”).

    (I also don’t appreciate your equivocation between ‘true’ and ‘not obviously false'; again, different things)

  94. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ lofgren

    Yawn …

    {theophontes answers in sleep:}

    If a religion isn’t true, why do we believe them?

    Desperate wishful thinking. (And speak for yourself only please.)

    How have individual religious beliefs shaped history?

    By killing free thinkers. (We will never know what the world “would have been like.”)

    What do particular stories tell us about the people who invented them?

    Excellent correlation between societies and the attributes of their imaginary sky-gods. This should not come as a surprise.

    What do the shifting interpretations of those stories tell us about the people who have believed them since?

    Societies change => gods change.

    Has religious conviction ever led us to truths we might not have uncovered otherwise?

    No.

    Do all religions have a single source or have they evolved independently of each other?

    If you count a generalised rank superstition as “a single source”. There are very strong correlations between disparate superstitions. (Hunters/farmers generally deal with the same basic shit year in and out.)

    Is there a physical component to religious belief, like the desire to eat fatty foods, or is it entirely cultural, like horseback riding?

    Possibly mental defects (from our perspective) such as inter hemispherical brain chatter. People get by in spite of this. Diet can affect disposition. I could write at length on the lack of iodine in the land of YWH.

    Do any other animals have “beliefs” that resemble religion in humans?

    Yes. Most apes have trouble letting go of their dead.

    Can stories in the religious tradition be used as a tool of moral instruction while avoiding its supernatural convictions (what has been called the “calcification of imagery”)?

    Hypothetically yes. How does one remove the poison though. (See my painkiller analogy.)

    Does humanity need religion to maintain sufficient cohesion and complacency to avoid killing itself?

    You are thinking about this 180 degrees the wrong way around.

  95. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    {fixed} There are very strong correlations between superstitions in disparate societies.

    eg: (“King/chief must be carried” … this idea arose independently in Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia.)

  96. lofgren says

    On the second, however, not so much; religion is a category, and religions are instantiations of it, and you tread dangerously close to the fallacy of composition (remember Alain was quoted as referring to “the whole thing”).

    Perhaps I am misunderstand him then. I read “the whole thing” as referring to a given religion. I assumed he was speaking somewhat imprecisely. I have no idea what it means to refer to all religions as a “thing.” I think he is saying that, given a religion, the least interesting question is whether or not it is “true.” I agree, in that the answer is always yes or no, and almost always obviously no when compared with actual evidence. Just because it’s the most important question doesn’t mean it’s the most interesting one.

    Would you say the most interesting question we can ask about subatomic particles is whether or not they exist? It’s obviously the most important question, since the answer determines whether further investigation is worthwhile, but once answered it only opens the door to myriad far more interesting and complex questions, from engineering possibilities of a finer understanding of electricity, to the morality of atomic weapons, to the investigation of the origins of the universe. Their existence might have been the most interesting question for a brief moment between the modeling of the atom and splitting it, but now? Anybody with a high school education would look at you like an addled child if you thought the question bore further investigation.

    (I also don’t appreciate your equivocation between ‘true’ and ‘not obviously false’; again, different things)

    I’m not sure what this means.

  97. John Morales says

    lofgren:

    Perhaps I am misunderstand him then. I read “the whole thing” as referring to a given religion. I assumed he was speaking somewhat imprecisely. I have no idea what it means to refer to all religions as a “thing.”

    Perhaps you are.

    (Try substituting ‘spirituality’ for ‘religion’)

    I think he is saying that, given a religion, the least interesting question is whether or not it is “true.”

    If that is what he meant to express, he’s done a damn shoddy job of it.

    I agree, in that the answer is always yes or no, and almost always obviously no when compared with actual evidence.

    The answer is always ‘yes’ to its adherents, though — even when compared to the actual evidence. Duh.

    Anybody with a high school education would look at you like an addled child if you thought the question bore further investigation.

    If you change the topic from the existence of subatomic particles to evolutionary biology (which is no less scientifically-established), would you stand by that claim?

    I’m not sure what this means.

    Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true” “not obviously false”.

  98. lofgren says

    (Try substituting ‘spirituality’ for ‘religion’)

    I’m still coming to the same reading. Perhaps you should just say what you think he means instead of playing Socratic games?

    The answer is always ‘yes’ to its adherents, though — even when compared to the actual evidence. Duh.

    That doesn’t make the question anymore interesting.

    If you change the topic from the existence of subatomic particles to evolutionary biology (which is no less scientifically-established), would you stand by that claim?

    Would I stand by a claim that I didn’t make? No. Would you stand by the claim that pasta primavera is German dish composed of cabbage and sausage? No? But all I did was replace most of the words in your post with other words! Clearly this is relevant somehow.

    Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “not obviously false”.

    Again, not sure what you are getting at here. It seems like your objection to my statements stems entirely from replacing things I said with things I didn’t say.

  99. atheist says

    I can see why de Botton’s facile views grate. The truth is not irrelevant, and I suspect de Botton is half-joking when he says its “the most boring question about religion”. It is also not appreciated that de Botton equates fundamentalist Christians with “fundamentalist atheists”, whoever they might be. I am pleased to see that in a later thread PZ has diagrammed the absurdity of this statement.

    That said, I do feel that de Botton has a point. Atheists care a great deal about truth. Most people, however, do not, and never will. de Botton appears to be critiquing modern skepticism from a standpoint of ancient skepticism — that is, critiquing the activist attitude that all mysteries ought to be interrogated, from the more passive attitude that all facts and answers can be doubted. He is also not wrong to try to change the focus away from truth or falsity of religious dogma and toward the sociological meanings of religion.

  100. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ atheist

    toward the sociological meanings of religion.

    I went into this up at #102. However I must point out that modern abrahamic religions are certainly a far cry from what the Greeks would have understood.

    I do wish the two very different concepts where not squashed into the same term so. It is most inappropriate to my mind. I propose we should call the contemporary term “religion” and the ancient one “Religion” in a discussion. The former term is a poor shadow of the latter. (I would even argue that what little of value De Botton can scrape off modern religion is all plagiarised from Greek Religion. I trust he has acknowledged this and discussed it in detail. If not, I don’t have much faith in what he has to say on this subject.)

  101. truthspeaker says

    eman says:
    28 February 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Let me flip things around: Do people here think that the very direct communication style that is commonly used is the most effective way of spreading the atheist message and persuading people of the folly of religion?

    I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that I have too much personal integrity to allow myself to indulge in indirect communication. I refuse to lower myself to that level.

  102. Ichthyic says

    Lofgren, your list of things “interesting about religion” by and large are not specific to religion.

    this, of course, is exactly the point.

  103. Cyranothe2nd says

    What makes me ~so mad~ is that de Botton is purporting that we study what makes religion so effective at converting and persuasion. But anyone who studies history ALREADY KNOWS THIS. It’s what Augustine wrote about (as well as a lot of other early church fathers)…taking Aristotle and Cicero’s principles of rhetoric, jettisoning logos (logic, ie evidence, because to them, the Bible was the last word and nothing else was needed) and creating a new discipline out of it. So basically, co-opting rhetoric, emphasized homiletics and ethos claims over the use of logical reasoning and suppressed the teaching of any other kind of rhetoric for about 1200 years…

    Combine that with memes like ‘wishful thinking’ and in-group/out-group dynamics, and it makes perfect sense. And doesn’t take a great deal of study to figure out…

  104. atheist says

    @theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen
    29 February 2012 at 9:12 am

    @ atheist

    toward the sociological meanings of religion.

    I went into this up at #102. However I must point out that modern abrahamic religions are certainly a far cry from what the Greeks would have understood.

    I do wish the two very different concepts where not squashed into the same term so. It is most inappropriate to my mind. I propose we should call the contemporary term “religion” and the ancient one “Religion” in a discussion. The former term is a poor shadow of the latter. (I would even argue that what little of value De Botton can scrape off modern religion is all plagiarised from Greek Religion. I trust he has acknowledged this and discussed it in detail. If not, I don’t have much faith in what he has to say on this subject.)

    Maybe, but who cares? His mission appears to be to take the good parts of religion – ancient, modern, whatever – and repurpose them for secular use.

  105. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ atheist

    Maybe, but who cares?

    I do.

    ancient, modern, whatever

    No “whatever”, don’t be sloppy.

    Ancient and modern are quite different. I would be utterly fascinated to know what “good” one can take from modern religions, such as judaism, xtianity or mohammadism, that presents a unique good to humanity. What are these “good” parts? Churches?

    The ancient Religion to which I referred was quite different. It was contrived as a human centered endeavor to benefit the community and create aspirations for the common good. The myths served to stimulate the mind to probe deeper (like a buddist koan) and guided religious mime. The sum purpose to guide people to a higher level of humanity. Though such people might not in reality be “worthy of the gods”, it does not matter that the religious aspects where false. The aspirations they engendered and the results these led to where a sufficient end.

  106. says

    He is also not wrong to try to change the focus away from truth or falsity of religious dogma and toward the sociological meanings of religion.

    I have two very serious problems with this.

    First, in my experience, the idea of this focus is never really honest. People who call for this shift in focus are trying to distract from the question of truth and to minimize its importance (it doesn’t matter if people’s beliefs are true or not if they gain by them, and so on). More importantly, though, people who want to look at these sociological meanings (all of a sudden everyone’s so interested in sociology!) want to do so in a very partial way: they want to focus on alleged or real “positive” meanings, while ignoring the “negative” meanings or walling them off as related solely to “fundamentalists”* and while ignoring or denying the long history of nonreligious sources of the same positives and claiming them for religion. If people really want to talk about the sociological meanings of religion – and as a sociologist I think that’s great – they need to view the matter far more honestly and holistically. The investigation has to be undertaken fairly, and from what I’ve seen from these people to this point it hasn’t been.

    Which brings me to my second major problem. The people who want to shift the focus from truth to “sociological meanings” fail to recognize that epistemic practice has sociological meaning. The way people individual people form their beliefs and the epistemic norms of a culture have powerful sociopolitical consequences. Faith itself matters sociologically, independent of the effects of any particular beliefs or practices. Until the de Bottons of this world can understand and address the fact that there is no such thing as epistemic questions divorced from sociopolitical reality, they can’t genuinely participate in a conversation about the social pros and cons of religion.

    *This suggestion is misleading, as religious extremists and fundamentalists of various sorts have led or joined movements for social justice historically.

  107. crissakentavr says

    Of course it’s a boring question, because the answer is the same for all religions.

    But it’s not boring because look atheists! Ugh.

  108. David Marjanović says

    Herodotus in a famous passage tells us that Homer and Hesiod ‘made the generations of the Gods for the Greeks and gave them their names and distinguished their offices and crafts and portrayed their shapes’

    Huh. That’s interesting. Was Herotodus some kind of euhemerist?

    How do I download the book? Downloading HTML pages is a rather messy affair.

    If a religion isn’t true, why do we believe them?

    Because “we” don’t know they aren’t true (and, in most cases, haven’t ever really tried to find out).

    Do any other animals have “beliefs” that resemble religion in humans?

    Oh yes. When the rain goes on for too long, chimpanzees threaten it.

    I don’t know if the rain ever goes on for long enough that they’d try to appease it. That would be indistinguishable from human religion.

    The Five Stages of Greek Religion is also available at Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats.

    But not as pdf, meh.

  109. John Morales says

    [OT]

    David:

    But not as pdf, meh.

    PDF is evil; I much prefer plaintext, RTF or even HTML.

  110. says

    [OT]

    John,

    since I prefer PDF as it preserves the formatting, or epub because I like to put leisure reading on my iBooks.

    Do you know of a good way to convert HTML books into PDF format? My e-book reader on the iPad makes reading PDFs a delight, but I haven’t been able to get HTML books onto it…

  111. Therrin says

    There are a few programs that “print” documents to PDF, such as CutePDF or PDFCreator. I don’t have an e-book reader, so I’m unsure how well the result displays.

  112. says

    Alethea,

    there are some HTML book formats that are designed to be read on browsers, i.e. they are in directories with many small files, sometimes graphics files separately etc. Very annoying..

  113. Ichthyic says

    oh, and yeah, I know Calibre can read html books; haven’t checked to see if it can convert to pdf, but seems very likely.

  114. Ichthyic says

    oh, and fwiw, i prefer converting to epub, as most readers then allow you to convert fonts on the fly.

  115. says

    I do have calibre, though I haven’t used it on my iPad, it also wanted to reorganise my manual e-book folder structure on my computer, so another reason I stopped using it. But I’ll look into it, and see if it’ll convert that nasty type of html book I was talking about. Thanks.

  116. John Morales says

    [OT]

    pelamun, I dislike PDF for the very same reason you like it.

    Why should I have to put up with someone else’s idea of formatting?
    Why should I have to either scroll left and right every line or squint at tiny print?
    Why should I put up with the typeface or background or pagination someone else thinks is nifty?

    (Many times I’ve had to extract the content and paste it into a decent reader that lets me customise the content to my own satisfaction. Sometimes I’ve even had to resort to OCR to do that!)

  117. says

    John,

    I agree with you to a certain extent regarding fiction and nonspecialist nonfiction. For that I prefer epub on iBooks, or mobi on the Kindle, as you can format it the way you want.

    That doesn’t work with the academic literature full with illustrations, diagrams and what have you..

  118. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ David M.

    Huh. That’s interesting. Was Herotodus some kind of euhemerist?

    I don’t rightly know. What is true though, is that the Gods (I shall capitalise for the Greek) where represented by humans in mime and ceremony. The priestess literally became Hera and the king literally became Zeus. This is not quite so bizarre when you consider that RCC crackers and wine become the body and blood of Dionysus Attis Adonis jeeebus.

    How do I download the book? Downloading HTML pages is a rather messy affair.

    Actually there are several free books I think you might enjoy reading in this regard. How are you reading right now? I am on kindle and know that you can download their reader. If you get a kindle I could “adopt” you.

  119. atheist says

    @theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen
    1 March 2012 at 9:00 am

    Ancient and modern are quite different. I would be utterly fascinated to know what “good” one can take from modern religions, such as judaism, xtianity or mohammadism, that presents a unique good to humanity. What are these “good” parts? Churches?

    Churches, which often act as social welfare agencies as well as nodes of contemplation and social anchors: certainly. Myths and rituals which enable people to experience concepts like “rebirth” and consider their emotional meaning (consider the Catholic rituals around “Holy/Maundy Thursday”/Easter). And, as Nietzsche pointed out, an “apocalyptic” view of time which advances, unlike ancient religions which viewed time as essentially cyclical.

  120. John Morales says

    UID=’atheist’ responds to theophontes:

    I would be utterly fascinated to know what “good” one can take from modern religions, such as judaism, xtianity or mohammadism, that presents a unique good to humanity.

    Churches, which often act as social welfare agencies as well as nodes of contemplation and social anchors: certainly.

    Have you never heard of (for example) Lions Clubs International, or did you miss the key word ‘unique’ in the very quotation you employed?

    Myths and rituals which enable people to experience concepts like “rebirth” and consider their emotional meaning (consider the Catholic rituals around “Holy/Maundy Thursday”/Easter).

    The woo-laden concept of “rebirth” ain’t unique to religion, either.

    And, as Nietzsche pointed out, an “apocalyptic” view of time which advances, unlike ancient religions which viewed time as essentially cyclical.

    An apocalyptic view is a good thing, to you?!

    (Ain’t unique to religion, either)

    Try again.

  121. David Marjanović says

    PDF is evil; I much prefer plaintext, RTF or even HTML.

    PDF may be evil, but it looks nicer. All the formatting is the reason why it’s the standard for scientific publications. It’s easy to read on a screen and of course easy to print.

    There are a few programs that “print” documents to PDF

    *facepalm* Of course I have several such things, including Acrobat itself, installed here in the museum…

    How are you reading right now? I am on kindle

    No such newfangled thingummy for me. Just the oldfashioned ways: computer screen and dead trees (the latter for reading in the subway).

    Of course, all time that I declare spare is spent on Pharyngula, so… I fear I won’t get to it this month at least.

    social welfare agencies

    That’s the state’s job. It’s one of the very few reasons for having a government at all – that’s why it’s mentioned in the US Declaration of Independence (even though the Republicans ignore it as hard as they can).

    Myths and rituals which enable people to experience concepts like “rebirth” and consider their emotional meaning (consider the Catholic rituals around “Holy/Maundy Thursday”/Easter).

    *eyeroll*

    And, as Nietzsche pointed out, an “apocalyptic” view of time which advances, unlike ancient religions which viewed time as essentially cyclical.

    Already superseded by the scientific view of non-cyclical time. Buh-bye.

  122. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ John Morales

    Exactly. (& thanks)

    @ David Marjanović

    On advantage of kindle is that you can share books (though limited to 14 days).

    I will cobble together a list of good books (mostly free) that deal with the history of religion if you are interested.

    I fear I won’t get to it this month at least.

    No worries. I will need a few weeks myself. I’ll post a linky to TET when it is ready.

  123. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ pelamun

    Of course! (I just need to get my shit together.)

  124. myops says

    There’s another three groups to be considered our culture is currently divided between: (1) people who believe in truth, (2) people who do not believe in truth and (3) people who believe there is no truth. Most people belong to category 1, along with PZ Myers an the pope. Truth is an concept as metaphysical and ungrounded as god is.

  125. John Morales says

    [meta]

    myops:

    Truth is an concept as metaphysical and ungrounded as god is.

    IOW: nothing can be true, and by its corollary: nothing can be false.

    (Boring, you are, and stupid to boot)

  126. myops says

    Thanks, John, for elaborating on my point. Still, you didn’t mention how you do establish the truth of truth (besides your argumentum ad hominem).

  127. John Morales says

    myops, I didn’t elaborate, I merely evolved the corollary of your claim.

    Now you wonder why I didn’t mention how I establish the “metaphysical and ungrounded” concept of the “metaphysical and ungrounded” concept?

    PS I but rephrased you and opined, so: to what argument do you refer? :)

  128. nevdelap says

    I’ve been listening to the Ask an Atheist Alain de Bottom episode this morning.

    He seems like a pleasant guy, a very well spoken guy, a learned guy, and on other subjects probably an interesting guy, but I find I can’t agree with him on anything he is saying about religion and atheism.

    His assertion that religion is full of good things that secularists can reclaim is bizarre, and his attempts to redefine words to suit his needs is silly. I am sure his brand of weak rhetoric will achieve nothing for the atheist cause, and will just give theists more nonsense to say, along the lines of “An atheist said…”.

    His claim that PZ is not funny is even more bizarre! WTF?

    I guess he would place himself far from the group containing the likes of Myers, Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dillahunty. I would too, and I expect he’ll move onto his next book and disappear off the radar of this issue.

  129. nevdelap says

    I think so. You’ll get a good idea of how he thinks. But you might not be able to make it all the way through in the same way what it is hard to finish listening to a William Craig Lane debate. I got to the 36 minute mark, and I’ll listen to the rest on the bus after work.