I had a better impression of Canadians before I read that tripe

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Atheism is another religious belief”. “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” “Someone curdled the contents of my brain pan and replaced them with a thurible.” Yeah, familiar nonsense, isn’t it? And now a Canadian “legal philosopher, writer, professor and practicing legal consultant”, Iain Benson, is forcefully regurgitating them again, with the added bonus of amazingly false claims.

“Atheists, agnostics and religious of all forms are believers and all have faith. The question is not whether they are believers but rather, what they believe in,” he says and insists the “new atheists” such as the late Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, who pride themselves on “not having any beliefs,” are wrong.

“Atheists are men and women of faith. Their faiths are different but they are still faiths and their beliefs still beliefs, no matter how much Dawkins and those like him wish it was different. Humans are stuck being believers, and that’s all there is to it,” he says.

We pride ourselves on not having any beliefs? Really? I have lots of beliefs, and I question them whenever necessary; I also expect my beliefs to be supported by evidence. I believe the earth orbits the sun, and I have evidence for that. I believe the earth is 4½ billion years old, and I have evidence for that. I believe life evolved, and I have evidence for that.

I don’t have faith, though, unless you’re willing to redefine “faith” to such a degree that it has no relationship at all to what theists mean by the term.

Here’s the problem: it’s not belief, because of course everyone has beliefs. It’s false beliefs. It’s beliefs that contradict reality, or are internally self-contradictory, or dogmatic beliefs that cannot be revised in the face of new evidence. Atheists try their best to get rid of those (although even there, we’re not perfect), while theists like Benson embrace such nonsensical jibber-jabber enthusiastically, and try to use their demonstrably false beliefs to guide public policy.

We all have a body of common beliefs: you’ll die if you jump out of a tenth story window, you should have a competent mechanic check out that used car you’re planning to buy, we can learn more about the world by observing and testing it. These are the set of pragmatic beliefs that allow all of us to function from day to day.

Then there are the set of entirely bogus and nonsensical religious beliefs layered on top of the useful common beliefs: you will live after death, a god cares about what you do in the privacy of your bed, we’re all damned sinners who will go to hell unless we belief in a zombie blood sacrifice. Sensible people reject those.

Although “dogmatic” doesn’t necessarily mean being rude, common usage helps prevent any real understanding of what dogma is. “Which is why so many atheists and men and women in the street think, like Dawkins and Hitchens, they don’t believe in anything. But they do.”

But a lack of understanding has enabled contemporary atheists to present their belief system as the only one that should have public recognition, forcing their own so called “non beliefs” on others.

No, you can believe whatever you want. What you can’t do is determine public policy by your dogma, which poorly reflects the realities of the physical world, nor can you use the state to indoctrinate children into your set of falsehoods.

Contrary to Benson’s freaky views, atheists aren’t trying to demand that politicians and teachers be atheists — we insist that they be secular. Big difference. Use secular principles to work out what is best for people in the material world. Weirdly, Benson seems to understand what “secular” means.

“We need to reclaim the true meaning of the ‘secular,’” Professor Benson says, pointing out that the word is misunderstood in today’s world and taken to mean “non-religious” when its real meaning, and legal definition is derived from the Latin word “saeculum” meaning “world.”

“Secular was used historically to distinguish between those things that were deemed to be ‘in the world’ and those that were expressly and technically ‘religious,’” he explains using the Catholic tradition to distinguish “secular priests” or those who work “in the world” from “religious” for those men and women who have taken specific religious vows and may live a cloistered life.

Yeeeeeessss? Atheists know what “secular” means. Perhaps Mr Benson should talk to a few sometime — his babblings reveal a profound ignorance.

According to Professor Benson, religious believers have as much right as anyone else to function in society according to these beliefs.

“Likewise religious institutions have as much right as non-religious institutions. Everyone has a belief system of some sort and those who draw on religious sources should not be put at a disadvantage,” he insists.

His support of equality for religious and secular institutions is commendable. Then I suppose he’d agree with me that the special privileges of tax exemptions and lack of regulatory oversight for changes should be abolished?

Since both religious people and atheists can share secular values, I don’t think it’s depriving the religious of their rights by insisting that everyone should be competent at their secular role; the special knowledge of religion/spirituality ought to have as much relevance to secular positions as knowledge of the rules of Dungeons & Dragons.

Comments

  1. sirbedevere says

    Part of the problem is the corruption of the word “belief” itself: It’s now widely assumed to be synonymous with “irrational belief”. So, yes, atheists have beliefs, we just try not to hold irrational beliefs.

  2. Gregory in Seattle says

    Faith: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” – Hebrews 11:1

    Gullibility: See “faith”

  3. 'Tis Himself says

    Goddists, particularly of the Jesusite flavors, consider faith to be a virtue. However when they pretend atheists have faith then suddenly “faith” becomes a sneer.

  4. Ogvorbis: strawmadhominem says

    “Which is why so many atheists and men and women in the street think, like Dawkins and Hitchens, they don’t believe in anything. But they do.”

    Once again, a complete stranger telling me what I believe, what I don’t believe, what I cannot believe. Do these asshats ever actually talk with, discuss, converse, exchange ideas with atheists? Ever?

    And I agree wholeheartedly with you, PZ. There are shitloads of things that I believe. The difference between my beliefs and religious beliefs being that mine are not in conflict with reality and are actually supported by evidence. And, I am willing to change my beliefs if the evidence changes.

  5. cafeeineaddicted says

    From Wikipedia

    Iain Tyrrell Benson (born 1955, Edinburgh, Scotland) …Dual citizen of Canada and the United Kingdom

    So PZ, by calling him simply Canadian, are you implying he’s not a true Scotsman?

    *ducks*

  6. 'Tis Himself says

    Once again, a complete stranger telling me what I believe, what I don’t believe, what I cannot believe. Do these asshats ever actually talk with, discuss, converse, exchange ideas with atheists? Ever?

    We’ve seen this all too many times before. Goddists who argue against the strawman atheist who lives between their ears rather than actual atheists who hold different views than their strawman.

  7. Ogvorbis: strawmadhominem says

    Goddists who argue against the strawman atheist who lives between their ears rather than actual atheists who hold different views than their strawman.

    I think part of that may be an innability, or unwillingness, to admit that actual atheists exist. To many theists, atheists are people who are angry with gods; the idea of actually not believing in gods is so far outside the mental box of many theists as to be, if you will excuse my playfulness, unbelievable. Even though there is more evidence for the existence of atheists than there is for the existence of gods, we do not exist. Therefore, the only atheist that they can actually argue with is the strawmanatheist.

    Shit. Did that make sense? If not, I can try again.

  8. anubisprime says

    #OP

    “Everyone has a belief system of some sort and those who draw on religious sources should not be put at a disadvantage,” he insists.

    Back off nob ‘ead!!!…when those religious sources bray whine and mewl about Homosexual equality and the profound wish…or rather blatant insinuation… they should all be stoned to death…the fuckers have gone way past any sell by date and need reminding about where reality actually matters..the dummy should be shoved back in their collective gobs and they should be calmly put down for afternoon snoozies…! Seems crankiness goes hand in hand with being a toddler.

    They do not deserve either respect or consideration because they have demonstrated more times then they have a right to expect that they are incapable of understanding what humility and humanity actually is.

    and this Benson endorses that carbuncle on the ass of society.

    What an ignorant self deluded petulant inconsequential little toe rag!

  9. janiceintoronto says

    Please don’t compare all Canadians with this broken headed twit.

    We really are much better than that.

    No, really.

    Sincerely,

    The Canadians

  10. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Speaking of Canadian tripe, CBC’s been airing a radio/podcast series called “After Atheism

    Public discussion of religion tends to be extremely polarized, split between religious fundamentalism and the aggressive atheism of such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But much of what people actually believe falls somewhere in between, and is subtler and more tentative. David Cayley explores the work of five thinkers whose recent books have charted new paths for religious faith

  11. abb3w says

    @0, PZ Myers

    I don’t have faith, though, unless you’re willing to redefine “faith” to such a degree that it has no relationship at all to what theists mean by the term.

    And the character of the “faith” left is really, really uninteresting; and usually implicit to theists, also. OK, so taking a mathematical axiom like the Axiom of the Unordered Pair does involve taking a proposition as valid without any inference from priors, and as such may be colorably “faith”. It’s not exactly earthshaking, and here has very little to do with “religion”.

    Of course, as a scientist PZ probably in practice doesn’t bother verifying mathematical theorems like “2+3=5″ from the most basic axioms, but instead simply provisionally trusts the validity of abstract mathematics. However, if someone were to present him a (valid) proof that a mistake had finally after hundreds of years been found in some mathematical theorem like the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, he’d probably (after getting a sanity check of the proof from the math department) just adjust his views and his laboratory procedure as required. So… more “trust” than “faith”, in that it is changeable. But there’s usually not much point for him to worry about the details of proving “2+3=5″ or the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus from ZF axioms. Having everyone learn the tedious proofs of such things tends to waste time and effort on futilely redundant effort.

    Similarly, that “we can learn more about the world by observing and testing it” can be derived as a theorem from broader axioms doesn’t make much difference to how scientists operate on a day-to-day basis. That the actual theorem may (does) have some uselessly pedantic philosophical qualifiers won’t bother him, unless it can be translated to a way he can change his lab practices to be a better scientist.

  12. David Marjanović says

    the Latin word “saeculum” meaning “world.”

    I hate it when people make such blatant errors of fact and blithely proclaim them as truth.

    Saeculum means “century” or more broadly “era” – as opposed to “eternity”. “Secular” is the opposite of “eternal”, just like how “[this] world” is the opposite of “heaven & hell”.

  13. David Marjanović says

    “Secular” = “limited in time” as opposed to “eternal”.

    OK, so taking a mathematical axiom like the Axiom of the Unordered Pair does involve taking a proposition as valid without any inference from priors, and as such may be colorably “faith”.

    …Isn’t that axiom a tautology?

    Of course, as a scientist PZ probably in practice doesn’t bother verifying mathematical theorems like “2+3=5″ from the most basic axioms, but instead simply provisionally trusts the validity of abstract mathematics.

    He probably makes an empirical argument: every time you have 2 marbles and add 3 marbles, you end up with 5 marbles because of, like, the 1st law of thermodynamics (science; hypothetico-deductivism) and the definitions of “2″, “3″, “5″, “+” and “=” (nomenclature).

    Math is an abstraction and extrapolation from the way nature behaves. Logic is an abstraction and extrapolation from the way math behaves.

  14. anubisprime says

    # 7 Ogvorbis: strawmadhominem

    Did that make sense?

    Perfect sense.
    I hold that very same opinion.

    They can only deal with atheism from the angle of ‘it is just another ‘belief”

    All their history the only strife they have had is from other ‘beliefs’ therefore they are only geared to battling ‘belief’ per se, that you see, they understand only to well, they know all about ‘belief’ they know its little secrets and its weak spots…after-all they live it day after day.
    A lack of ‘belief’ in their stunted minds cannot exist, they have never had to deal with that before,they totally fail to understand the concept.

    That is why every single theist that has ever spouted toxic bollix about atheists lands their clumsy grotesque ordinance so far wide it is not even a ranging shot.

    But that does not really matter, the flexing of their flaccid muscle power is only showing off in front of the legion of the brain dead anyway, cos they definitely have not a clue what atheism is either…except their spiritual overlords do not like it…they get that!

    But still not one of them has ever managed to actually understand atheism.

    The only thing they can do is character assassinate…a theist oldie but goldie…and blame global horrors on them as per script hence the ‘all atheists are Nazi’ mantra.
    They got nothing else!

    It always worked in the past, they are suddenly uncomfortably aware it is not working anymore, Atheism is not going away or being absorbed by the hive mind…that has never happened before…and they are in trouble, and they know it

  15. Anders says

    Hey! dont diss the Rules of D&D, after all, most of those make SENSE! Also, why not decide sensitive political questions with a couple of T20′s? Then instead of lobbying, corporations could buy cards +1 in damage and so forth

  16. says

    I believe that 2 * 10 = 20. That doesn’t mean that I have faith, idiot. I have justified beliefs, the sorts of justified beliefs that religious and non-religious people share. Faith is believing what isn’t so, that’s the difference.

    Then I suppose he’d agree with me that the special privileges of tax exemptions

    Plenty of atheist and secular organizations share those tax exemptions. We know how this “even-handedness” really favors religion in practice, yes, but still it shouldn’t be implied that it only applies to religious organizations.

    Glen Davidson

  17. says

    This guy claims to be a philosopher of some kind, but he has no concept of epistemology. Of course everyone holds beliefs, the question is how we justify them. Did we read them in an ancient book that collects old myths and fables, or did we test them against observable reality and subject them to the demands of logic?

    That doesn’t seem to me a terribly difficult distinction to grasp.

  18. says

    But a lack of understanding has enabled contemporary atheists to present their belief system as the only one that should have public recognition, forcing their own so called “non beliefs” on others.

    He’s writing for a Catholic website, so of course he’s pushing the privileged argument that being constrained from shoving their beliefs down everybody’s throat = having nonbelief forced upon them.

  19. andusay says

    “Goddists, particularly of the Jesusite flavors, consider faith to be a virtue. However when they pretend atheists have faith then suddenly “faith” becomes a sneer.”

    I find this particularaly amusing. The whole “you are just as bad as we are” mentality. It is clear that in a fundamental sense, THEY don’t think faith is a good thing. Whenever I hear that “it takes more faith to be an atheist” crap I translate it in my head to be “you guys are more stupid than we are because you have more faith, which is a measure of stupidity”. Do they not see the complete idiocy of this line of thinking?

    “Everyone has a belief system of some sort and those who draw on religious sources should not be put at a disadvantage,”
    Oh really? And just what disadvantage is that? The disadvantage that people ridicule your insanity? Or the advantage of all those tax brakes and the faux respectability you get? In other words “I want my ideas to be treated equally in the marketplace of thought even though they cannot stand on their own”.

  20. says

    @10: I heard most of one on those episodes — yet another manifestation of http://xkcd.com/774/. David Cayley seems to go in for this sort of mush-brained crap.

    @16: AFAIK, among non-profits only churches are exempt from municipal property taxes. Also, in Canada “providing religious instruction” is one of the categories that qualifies and organization to become a tax-deductible charity. Other possible criteria like feeding hungry people, or providing education to the public are somewhat harder to meet.

  21. Dhorvath, OM says

    JaniceinToronto,
    Hey now, I am from Canada too, eh. Know what that tells us about each other? Just shy of squat. We are not bound to be better by our accidents of geography.

  22. says

    But a lack of understanding has enabled contemporary atheists to present their belief system as the only one that should have public recognition, forcing their own so called “non beliefs” on others.

    *headdesk!*

    Canada has some sort of separation of church and state, yeah? If so, the quibble is with Canadian laws, not atheists.

  23. paleotrent says

    So when I read this:

    “We all have a body of common beliefs: you’ll die if you jump out of a tenth story window, you should have a competent mechanic check out that used car you’re planning to buy…”

    my brain skipped over the “you’ll die” bit, and I thought “If you’re going to jump out of a tenth story window, it doesn’t matter what kind of shape the used car you’re planning to buy is in!”

    But on a more serious note, I think that perhaps the good professor is confusing “assumption” with “faith”. We atheists all make one big, overarching, assumption – i.e., that how the universe around us works is intelligible to the human mind. I (unlike what I suspect Benson’s position to be) don’t agree that this is an example of “faith”, however; I think it is based on observation and experience.

  24. Gregory in Seattle says

    @’Tis Himself #3 – The word you want is blackwhite:

    …this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

  25. says

    AFAIK, among non-profits only churches are exempt from municipal property taxes.

    This is what I get from a little searching:

    In most states, the group of nonprofits
    eligible for a charitable property tax exemption
    largely overlaps with those designated as 501(c)
    (3) charitable nonprofits at the federal level, with
    the further stipulation that property must be both
    owned by such a nonprofit and used to serve its
    charitable mission. But state requirements vary and
    some additional revenue may be gained either by
    narrowing the permissible exemption or by more
    strictly enforcing the property tax exemption statutes
    and case law.

    http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412460-Property-Tax-Exemption-Nonprofits.pdf

    I don’t think that exempting churches alone would make it past the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the First Amendment. OTOH, it may be questionable how much real public good a church really does.

    Glen Davidson

  26. says

    @Anders – and being able to play D&D requires at least rudimentary math and opportunity-evaluating skills, which infer a certain capacity for logic.

  27. Dalillama says

    @#21 and #26
    The problem is that churches receive tax exempt status just for being churches, as most states (and apparently Canada) consider religious instruction in and of itself to be charitable works, and thus eligible for tax exempt status.

  28. Blondin says

    @ David Marjanović

    So secular means kind of finite or measurable as opposed to infinite, indistinct or non-quantifiable?

    Similar to “cobular” – quantized corn.

  29. Brownian says

    From CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain comment #10:

    Public discussion of religion tends to be extremely polarized, split between religious fundamentalism and the aggressive atheism of such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. But much of what people actually believe falls somewhere in between, and is subtler and more tentative.

    This paragraph beautifully outlines the privilege of religion. On almost any other subject other than religion (and to some degree, politics), a position of fence sitting would be an indication that better education/communication/research/something is necessary.

    But when the issue is one of belief and ethics and morality? Why, there’s no position more pious than temperate moderation. God bless the believer who believes more or less in the parts of the bible they agree with.

  30. Brownian says

    @Anders – and being able to play D&D requires at least rudimentary math and opportunity-evaluating skills, which infer a certain capacity for logic.

    Again, it’s an issue of compartmentalisation. I know of at least two skilled D&D players who are prone to falling for the most ludicrous conspiracy theories based on spurious and fallacious reasoning. One even turned fundie for a time.

    He got better.

  31. shouldbeworking says

    Yes, churches are exempt from taxes in Canada and yes our religious writers are on par with the Americans.
    I do wish I was wrong.

  32. says

    @28 et al: Pet peeve: I do wish, when this discussion comes up, that people would distinguish between different senses of “tax exempt”. At a minimum, it covers:

    1) Non-profits, religious or otherwise, pay no corporate income tax because they have no net income (In theory; I realize that certain notorious “ministries” are in reality giant money-farms for the guy behind the pulpit. But that’s a failure of oversight, not principle — your average congregation is more like a club).

    2) Not paying municipal property taxes.

    3) Issuing tax receipts as a registered charity.

  33. says

    Humans are stuck being believers, and that’s all there is to it,” he says.

    He says it, he believes it, that settles it.

    Isn’t that how the pithy phrase goes? Because we all know those arrogant atheists think they know it all!

  34. ikesolem says

    Any decent scientist has grasped the technique of multiple working hypothesis. Benson obviously hasn’t – so, for his sake, let’s apply this to religious belief, as follows:

    The hypothesis that the major religions put forth is that there is some all-powerful entity overseeing the universe. A scientist would then ask this: “What experimental or observational evidence do you have in support of your hypothesis?”

    The major religions then present their various holy texts, from Bibles to Korans to Hindu scriptures, etc. These, we are told, were either produced by the proposed all-powerful entity, or written by people who heard the voice of said entity in their heads.

    The scientist responds: “That’s not evidence. All you have is a book. Why aren’t other books also divinely inspired, then? Homer? Tolkien? Should we worship Frodo, who took the Ring of Power to Mordor, and saved the world from Sauron? If not, why not?

    Second, these are mutually inconsistent hypothesis, all these different books. (Mathematics is self-consistent, in contrast) Thus, the scientist concludes, We must reject your hypothesis of the existence of an all-powerful entity overseeing the universe. But I would still be willing to look at observational or experimental evidence, if you can produce any – but given the failure to do so over many centuries, I won’t hold my breath.

    Religious mythologies form the basis of religion. Atheists seem to have no such texts to point to. Hence, how can atheism be a religion? Of course, an atheist who can’t handle the multiple working hypothesis approach would make a piss-poor scientist, but that’s not the issue here.

    This is where religious types go apeshit, when you point out that their holy texts are just the product of human imagination. It’s the ultimate blasphemy, they say – and no surprise there, because the real goals of organized religion – the accumulation of wealth and power, as per the divine kings of old – could not be accomplished if people didn’t treat their texts as unquestionable truth.

    “Frodo Baggins, our Lord and Savior, requests a tithing” – just doesn’t work. does it? Prophet Frodo – just don’t draw any pictures of him? How about “Frodo talks to me in my head?”

    Saying something like this in Saudi Arabia would get you an appointment in the torture chamber – but wouldn’t the fundies also like to recreate the Spanish Inquisition in the USA?

  35. StevoR says

    Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer! ;-)

  36. ikesolem says

    @34 Eamon

    Due to their rather unique position, churches are centers of illegal money laundering all over the world. Non-profits could never get away with this kind of thing. The Vatican Bank is the most well-known offender, to the point that the U.S. government has placed them on a list of suspected money-launderers, (outraging Santorum & Beck) but it goes on everywhere:

    Jewish synagogues & money-laundering

    Mormon churches & money-laundering

    Donations to churches are tax-deductible, so a common scam is to arrange with the church to recycle the donations back to the donor via ‘good works’ programs, with the church taking a cut (which one would assume to be less than the government tax rate). Drug money can also be legitimized in this manner (with Wall Street playing a supporting role, i.e. drug cartel proceeds -> church -> Wall Street bank -> drug cartel, with everyone taking a cut).

    There are exceptions, my favorite being those Belgian monasteries who support themselves by brewing beer and who accept no donations from the public. Consider founding an atheist monastery “community” that made its living the same way, say?

    Now, now – a little snark never hurt anyone, did it?

  37. tomh says

    @ 34
    1) Non-profits, religious or otherwise, pay no corporate income tax because they have no net income

    Non-profits don’t automatically qualify for tax exempt status, it has to do with their operating activities. They must operate exclusively to promote causes that benefit the community including charitable, educational, humanitarian, religious purposes and others. However, they must still must file annual tax returns, in order to ensure that the organization continues to fulfill the purpose for which the IRS granted tax-exempt status. How they earn and spend their money is on public record. This is where religious privilege kicks in, because religious organizations are exempt from the annual filing requirement since they are the only organizations that are automatically tax-exempt without having to apply to the IRS. There is no public record of their donations or how they spend their money.

  38. adrienne says

    @ Eamon Knight

    AFAIK, among non-profits only churches are exempt from municipal property taxes. Also, in Canada “providing religious instruction” is one of the categories that qualifies and organization to become a tax-deductible charity. Other possible criteria like feeding hungry people, or providing education to the public are somewhat harder to meet.

    As someone who sits on the Board of Directors of a community theatre in Ontario, specifically one that has charitable status, I can comment. We are, in fact, exempt from municipal property taxes. And it wasn’t that difficult to get charitable status, so far as I know, nor is it difficult to keep it. We’re listed as an Educational charity, within the category “Cultural Activities and Promotion of the Arts”.

  39. says

    @39: There are exceptions, my favorite being those Belgian monasteries who support themselves by brewing beer and who accept no donations from the public.

    As a lover of Belgian-style duppels and trippels (I’ve got some Fin du Mond in my fridge right now), the Trappists are my standard response to anyone who says that religion never did humanity any good ;-).

  40. says

    @41: Fair enough, I stand somewhat corrected. Things I was hearing from my CFI Canada connections indicated it was somewhat more difficult for them to qualify as a charity than it would be for a religious group.

    However, the mere fact that “religion” stands as a category of qualification is an example of religious privilege.

  41. abb3w says

    @13, David Marjanović

    …Isn’t that axiom a tautology?

    Nope. Just very, very fundamental to the usual conception of “set”. Wikipeida seems to suggest it may be derivable from a couple other ZF axioms, like Infinity and Replacement, so you might also have to throw those out for it to be taken in Refutation. This might result in a non-ZF sense of “set” where a set may only have zero or one elements. What you get is probably in the “Now What, Smartass” class of math/philosophy dead ends: valid, but unsexy.

    @13, David Marjanović

    He probably makes an empirical argument: every time you have 2 marbles and add 3 marbles, you end up with 5 marbles because of, like, the 1st law of thermodynamics (science; hypothetico-deductivism)

    Actually, that approach seems to present a much more serious problem. Science implicitly relies on the validity of the language of mathematics; as such, that likely would be circular reasoning — a much more problematically blatant type of “faith”. Furthermore, even if you did put two marbles next to three marbles and get six marbles at some point, that wouldn’t mean that “2+3=5″ would no longer be a valid theorem; it would merely mean that putting marbles next to each other is not well-modeled by arithmetical addition. That makes it a headache to pass along to the physics department, not the mathematics department.

    From another perspective, that marbles-based approach seems to involve placing “faith” in the validity of empirical and inductive reasoning — which makes for a much larger leap of faith than those required to construct it, though much less tedious than walking through the construction.

    The empirical/induction reasoning may well be where PZ also places his “faith”. But that’s like putting “faith” in the Second Law of Thermodynamics as “disorder always increases”: intellectually sloppy, not quite precisely correct, and potentially leading to foolish consequent errors.

    @16, Glen Davidson:

    I believe that 2 * 10 = 20. That doesn’t mean that I have faith, idiot. I have justified beliefs, the sorts of justified beliefs that religious and non-religious people share.

    In so far as the belief “2*10=20″ is is justified as an inference from priors, that makes the point not one of faith.

    However, such inference necessitates having priors, which then are subject to scrutiny as to their warrant in turn.

    Granted, the sort of ultimate premises I’m talking about tend to be so universally shared that people go “wait, isn’t that a tautology?” and (as PZ noted) have very little resemblance to “faith”, and none of the broader religious associations. That everyone accepts the starting point doesn’t mean it’s not a starting point. (Or, alternately, it means “A premise is justified if everyone shares it” gets taken as an implicit count-from-zero premise.)

    @19, Glen Davidson:

    And, just to be clear, I’m not saying that all of my beliefs are justified

    Which is a core point. The Münchhausen Trilemma means your beliefs can be traced back to their roots to reach either a starting point, a closed circular reasoning loop, or an infinite regress (leaving aside exotic topological embellishments). Each of these looks rather like a form of “faith” (though only the first is clearly “without justification from priors”; contrariwise, well-ordering a circle leaves the nature of “priors” dubious for the second).

    The relationship to what theists mean by “faith” is de minimus, having only one of the denotations associated and none of the religiosity connotations associated (until you redefine “religiosity” so anthropologists won’t recognize it). It’s not quite “no relationship at all”, just so close as to make the stretch involve only a minute rhetorical hyperbole.

    @24, paleotrent

    We atheists all make one big, overarching, assumption – i.e., that how the universe around us works is intelligible to the human mind.

    Actually, I more take that as a mathematical inference from other propositions. (Though I suppose taking that inference involves an implicit assumption that the human mind can handle the abstract mathematics.)

  42. fastlane says

    I think this repeated canard is a red herring. It’s all about changing the conversation from us requesting evidence, to arguing about what ‘belief’ is.

    Don’t buy into it.

    People like the author of this drek make my opinion of philosophers go down with every reading. At this point, as a profession, few are much above theologians.

  43. says

    That everyone accepts the starting point doesn’t mean it’s not a starting point.

    And?

    I said I have justified beliefs, not that there isn’t a starting point. Intersubjective agreement is what matters in the end, because that’s all that’s necessary for subjects to use knowledge cooperatively (and if there aren’t other subjects except in my delusions, it still works for myself).

    It’s very tiring to have these objections any time someone points out that we can justify our beliefs. There is such a thing as a context, and if we have the same starting point we can damned well operate within that context. And we do. Pretending that someone claiming justification is saying that said justification reaches beyond the understood grounds, as if we’re claiming transcendent knowledge, is just plain wrong.

    Glen Davidson

  44. sirbedevere says

    @42:

    I’ve got some Fin du Mond in my fridge right now

    Ooh, that’s some fine ale! I may just have to pick up a bottle of that today…

  45. LuminiferousEthan says

    Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer! ;-)

    I believe that I share this belief with you! And I’m even Canadian!

  46. mnb0 says

    The fact that religious morons get their terminology wrong is not an excuse for atheists to have ours wrong as well.
    As far as I’m concerned having faith and having a belief is the same: stating something that can’t be empirically tested. I have faith/I believe in Ockham’s Razor and in Popper’s Falsifiability. I am also a materialist. This means I accept as few statements of belief/faith as possible. God exists is certainly not one of them.
    When statements concern something empirically testable I prefer to use the word assume.
    I assume the universe is 13,7 billion years old.

  47. adrienne says

    @Eamon Knight

    However, the mere fact that “religion” stands as a category of qualification is an example of religious privilege.

    I don’t disagree, but I tend to think that the privilege in question is born, at least somewhat, out of pragmatism on the part of the GoC. Out of 85 770 active status registered charities in Canada, 33 369 (around 39%) of them are religious. A whole lot of money is donated to churches, and voters want their tax deductions for it. (As an aside, while religious charities represent 39% of active charities, they’re disproportionately represented among the charities whose status has been revoked for cause — 115 out of 348, about 46%).

    The equally interesting expression of privilege in Canadian tax law is political parties; 100% of deductions to parties with official standing are tax deductable. It’s something like 20% of the donation for all other types of donations.

  48. Chuck says

    The term “secular priest” is an oxymoron. Professor Benson is just a moron.

  49. AlanMac says

    The Harper regime has been heavily involved in the establishment of a State/Religion coalition. This guy is one of the key players. He is one of the founders and current board member of the The Global Centre for Pluralism, a joint venture of the Aga Khan 49th hereditary Imam of Ismali Muslins, and the Harper Government. This is direct tax support of a religious agenda under the guise of “freedom”. Like all parasites, we never feel their first bite.

  50. says

    To follow up a bit on what I wrote in #46, the rather greater point about how tiresome issues of a “starting point” or some such thing is that you can only ask “Is there a God?” or is “This religion true?” (in the usual sense people understand–not some weird philosophical or mystical concept) if you’ve already accepted the fact that there is a reality, other humans inhabit it, and reason works at least fairly well (you could be a phenomenologist with no position on “reality,” but then the phenomena becomes a sort of “reality” that can be treated similar to others’ “reality”). We’re already agreeing that mathematics works (ultimately, because we’ve found by experience that Euclidean geometry and real numbers work for us), that sensory perceptions work reasonably well in most individuals, and that our abstractions mostly map to reality (or to perceived phenomena) closely enough.

    How else could you ask if some “God” exists outside of ourselves, possibly outside of the universe?

    You want, “Do I exist?” or even “Does ‘exist’” really mean anything outside of our perceptions of “things?”, fine, but that’s not what “faith” as used by religion is about. Indeed, “faith” is often about how our understanding actually fails to work as assumed at some point in history, or in some “heavenly realm.” Religious faith isn’t that we could, probably should, see things in universally the same way once our terms and abstractions are either the same or interchangeable, it is that a particularist point of view is in fact correct, not the universal one.

    Of course you could find cases where “faith” is meant counter to what I wrote above, my point is what is most normally meant by “faith.” Faith is that three (gods) is one (god), not that 3 + 1 = 4, even though we both know that three things do not equal one thing “normally” (the shamrock notwithstanding).

    Glen Davidson

  51. Dalillama says

    #39
    Given the rather ascetic lifestyles often found among computer nerds, I have actually contemplated founding a ‘software monastery’ where people reside in small rooms, eat from communal stores, and spend their time writing code and similar tasks. I suspect that such a thing would actually have a fair number of applicants, particularly if there were no requirement of chastity. Funding would of course come from software/support contracts.

  52. says

    “…..and that’s all there is to it.”

    Well, well. With evidence like that, how could I not buy the bullshit?

  53. Sastra says

    Glen Davidson #54 wrote:

    Religious faith isn’t that we could, probably should, see things in universally the same way once our terms and abstractions are either the same or interchangeable, it is that a particularist point of view is in fact correct, not the universal one.

    Good point, and I think it helps explain the bizarre love/hate relationship believers often seem to have with the concept of “faith,” where it becomes a bad thing when others hold it. When you get right down to it, religion and spirituality are grounded in the idea that the universe plays favorites. Your faith-based conclusions and beliefs aren’t the result of the chain of evidence and reason you or anyone else could follow; they’re the result of you being you. It’s particularist, not universal.

    When religious claims are approached objectively they fall apart because that’s the wrong way to approach them. Science as method works at eliminating personal biases and prejudices: faith embraces them, enhances them, encourages them, and entrenches them. They don’t want universal knowledge that any ordinary person of intelligence could obtain. They want special knowledge which is only there for people with the Right Stuff — the right disposition, the right motivations, the right sensitivity, the right attitude, the right identity. It’s an epistemology of division, reflecting the fact that reality isn’t supposed to work the same way for everyone. It relates to you like a person relates to another person.

    When atheists have “faith” it’s apparently supposed to be a bias in the wrong direction because atheists are bad people, at heart. Nice people are attracted to believing in nice things, and truth is nice for them. Atheists must be repelled by the Good — and by Truth.

    We pride ourselves on not having any beliefs? Really?

    For the record, I’ve run into a few atheists either online or in reallife who insist they have no “beliefs.” They usually think they’re being especially clear with language and that atheists who admit they have “beliefs” are just playing right into the theists’ hands. Like most atheists, I think they have it backwards. They can join those small groups of atheists who insist that they have no “morals” (because that’s a religious term) and their life has no “purpose” (because that’s a religious concept) and they would never get “married” (because that’s a holy covenant with God.)

    Hitchens and Dawkins of course are not members of this semantic atheist rebel posse.

  54. Aquaria says

    #25:

    Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

    See: Republican Party.

  55. says

    “Saeculum means “century” or more broadly “era” – as opposed to “eternity”. “Secular” is the opposite of “eternal”, just like how “[this] world” is the opposite of “heaven & hell”.”

    I am glad that someone else caught that! Macte virtute esto, David Marjanović.

  56. abb3w says

    @46, Glen Davidson:

    And?

    And, “starting point” meets at least one denotative sense of “faith”. Ergo, at least trivial relationship rather than zero relationship.

    Confusing “minute” and “zero” is essentially how idiot creationists conclude that since beneficial mutations are rare, they have no effect. This disgusts me, such that I consider this sort of confusion a really, really bad error.

    @46, Glen Davidson:

    It’s very tiring to have these objections any time someone points out that we can justify our beliefs.

    It’s similarly tiresome to note that the basis of justification must also be rooted on something meeting such limited denotative sense of “faith”.

    It’s even more tiresome going the other way, explaining that while yes, there is a starting point, all the necessary ingredients for science are included as an implicit subset of the religious starting points.

    @50, mnbo

    As far as I’m concerned having faith and having a belief is the same: stating something that can’t be empirically tested. I have faith/I believe in Ockham’s Razor and in Popper’s Falsifiability.

    Sigh. Occam’s Razor can, however, be derived from more basic principles; the theorem includes coverage of the cases where Popper’s Falsifiability is an oversimplification (and thus “wrong”), due to neglecting (or rather, mis-attributing) the role Simplicity as a criterion in science.

    I’d also think it’s useful to distinguish beliefs held as inference (such as the suspicion that you will find it painful to slam your thumb with a sledgehammer) from those hold as primary premises, not reliant on inference from prior premises.

    @50, mnbo

    When statements concern something empirically testable I prefer to use the word assume.

    I’d suggest “trust” or “provisionally infer” would be a more exact word choice.

    @54, Glen Davidson:

    the rather greater point about how tiresome issues of a “starting point” or some such thing is that you can only ask “Is there a God?” or is “This religion true?” [...] if you’ve already accepted the fact that there is a reality, other humans inhabit it, and reason works at least fairly well

    In contrast, I’ve found it a somewhat useful entry point to emphasize how these things develop from more basic premises — the actual points of faith. Since following such a discussion involves analytical reasoning, and given Gervais and Norenzayan have shown (10.1126/science.1215647) analytic thinking promotes religious disbelief, I suggest the tactic might be a useful and more effective response than simply denying faith.

    Of course, the difficulty is finding anyone patient enough to listen and continue trying to consider the argument reflectively. Most people find such thinking unpleasantly hard.

    @54, Glen Davidson:

    We’re already agreeing that mathematics works (ultimately, because we’ve found by experience that Euclidean geometry and real numbers work for us)

    1) You and I, yes; Ken Ham and his ilk, not so much.
    2) Er… the universe isn’t Euclidean, it just provides an easier framework for talking about the non-Euclidean.
    3) Scientists don’t usually work with the Real numbers in general, merely Computables. There’s some abstract headaches back at the proof of Occam’s Razor I was talking about, but they’re pretty far flung from this.

    @58, Sastra:

    When you get right down to it, religion and spirituality are grounded in the idea that the universe plays favorites.

    That’s part of it, especially from what Dale Cannon refers to as the Way Of Shamanic Mediation (and to a lesser degree, Way of Devotion). Contrariwise, Cannon identifies Six Ways, most of which don’t directly involve this.

    @58, Sastra:

    They don’t want universal knowledge that any ordinary person of intelligence could obtain. They want special knowledge which is only there for people with the Right Stuff — the right disposition, the right motivations, the right sensitivity, the right attitude, the right identity.

    Well, first, your “any ordinary person of intelligence” underestimates how hard it is for humans to do more advanced math, particularly some of that required for bleeding-edge physics these days. (Even following the math for population genetics boggles most people.) Given typical high-school math performance, there are probably more than a few people out there who would die of old age before learning how to master the tools required.

    Second… that reminds me of an interesting point, which gets back in a sense to the Way of Shamanic Mediation. In his “Six Ways” book, Dale Cannon identifies Shamanic Mediation as consisting

    into entry into altered states of consciousness in which persons become mediators or channels for the intervention of spiritual reality°, in the expectation that “supernatural” (transmundane) resources of imagination, power, and guidance will be released for solving or dealing with otherwise intractable problems of life.

    If one kind of rapes the context (Cannon would expressly disavow this I think), and posits that thinking in formally logical, mathematical, scientific, structured analytic reasoning modes is an example of “altered states of consciousness”; that “mundane” refers to “folk science” conceptions of the universe; and that the referent of “spiritual reality°” is the universe of space-time as it actually is (the idealized limit condition of what scientific methods attempt to approach via models)…

    Well, yes. That’s exactly what science and engineering provides; with the “right stuff” being “analytic thinking ability”.

    And rather more reliably than the methods of the evangelical revival tent “laying of hands” shamanic mediation.

  57. Sastra says

    abb3w #62 wrote:

    If one kind of rapes the context … Well, yes. That’s exactly what science and engineering provides; with the “right stuff” being “analytic thinking ability”.

    Well, yes. If one kind of turns everything backwards, then one gets the opposite result. In spiritual and religious systems, however, “analytic thinking ability” is typically the antithesis of the “right stuff.” You’re supposed to transcend the rational and intuit how reality really is via a heady cocktail of folk science, wishful thinking, and confusion.

    In science, you have to try to use arguments which will convince people who don’t already agree with you; in religion, you ignore the critics and seek those who, like you, are receptive. And avoid curiosity, clarity, and consistency as if they were vices… which, in religious faith, they are.

  58. Ichthyic says

    But when the issue is one of belief and ethics and morality? Why, there’s no position more pious than temperate moderation. God bless the believer who believes more or less in the parts of the bible they agree with.

    being one to like putting labels on things, let’s call that part and parcel of the “fallacy of the golden mean“, and I would also say it is perhaps the MOST common fallacy Americans fall into.

    It seems “fair” and egalitarian on the surface, but really is nothing more than vacuous platitude, which serves not a whit to further any real discussion of issues, and in fact does the reverse: completely derails productive discussion.

    Did I mention it’s also a pet peeve?

    Did I mention I always find this at the root of accomodationist thinking?

    Did I mention I need more coffee?

  59. Sastra says

    Ichthyic #64 wrote:

    Did I mention it’s also a pet peeve?

    Oh, yeah. One of mine, too.

    It’s so vacuous: pretty much everybody defines their own position as the “moderate” one between the “extremes.” This means that there’s a race to be the first one to bring it out, thereby relegating the other view to the fringes. It doesn’t matter what the actual issue is: all you have to do is make a show of being the thoughtful and temperate one.

    Dawkins’s Law of Adversarial Debate:

    When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

    I think the popularity of the Fallacy of the Golden Mean owes something to how easy it makes things seem. It also automatically places you in the position of someone who can graciously give and take, seeking compromise. About the only thing good I can say about it is that the New Agers really, really hate it if you start out your defense of skeptical reasoning by claiming it’s the result of seeking the reasonable middle ground between extremes. Watching their frustration is almost as fun as seeing their panic when you explain that the ground of atheism is “love” before they get a chance to tell you that their foundational spiritual ground is “love.” Steal it from the mo-fo’s, I say. Call dibs. Now they’re really screwed. The Moderate Middle and Love were their best arguments.

  60. Amphiox says

    Canadians are on average centrist-left politically. In the last election there was a significant movement away from the Centrist Liberal Party (mired also with an uninspiring leader and a history of corruption when in power), to the Progressive New Democratic Party (aided no doubt by the performance of their charismatic leader, who, sadly, passed away from cancer shortly after the election).

    The end political result of this leftward stampede towards Progressivity? A newly minted Conservative majority government.

    Food for thought for progressive Americans for November 2012.

  61. Lyn M, Purveyor of Fine Aphorisms of Death says

    The definition of what is a charity was codified in the Charitable Uses Act of 1601. This put restrictions on what organisation could qualify as charities, and therefore receive tax exemptions or other special treatment under the law. The system in the US is derived from this Act, as is the system in Canada. In the day, religion qualified pretty much automatically, so long as it was a “real” religion.

    There is also a lot of case law on this as various organisations tested whether their particular plan could be considered charitable, wanted to change their plan, etc and sought court approval.

  62. abb3w says

    @63, Sastra:

    If one kind of turns everything backwards, then one gets the opposite result. In spiritual and religious systems, however, “analytic thinking ability” is typically the antithesis of the “right stuff.”

    In Calvinist Protestant approaches, somewhat.

    Other religious traditions, perhaps less so. There’s more than a few tribal religions that talk about heroes being clever and tricking deities.

    And, contrariwise, while Christian suppression-of-doubts and Buddhist mediation are “altered states of consciousness”, analytic thinking also appears to qualify (especially given some of the literature I’ve read on reflexive-vs-reflective thinking).

    I’d certainly agree this makes the result atypical in the category; I’m not sure it puts it outside the category.

    @63, Sastra:

    In science, you have to try to use arguments which will convince people who don’t already agree with you; in religion, you ignore the critics and seek those who, like you, are receptive.

    That’s pretty much ignoring some of the root “evangelical” aspects Christianity: spreading the word to those who do not yet believe.

    True, Christians are also directed (inconsistently) to give up at certain points; however, scientists also give up trying to persuade someone who’s apparently schizophrenically incapable of sustained analytic thought.

    @63, Sastra:

    And avoid curiosity, clarity, and consistency as if they were vices… which, in religious faith, they are.

    Even within Christianity, degrees of hostility vary, and it isn’t the only religious tradition out there.

  63. Merrily Dancing Ape says

    Great piece PZ — thank you. Agree wholeheartedly. The “atheists have faith too” thing is incredibly annoying.

    “Thurible” was new to me, as well.

    I hope it is not too anal to point out that you used the word “changes” when you meant “churches” in the following quote:

    Then I suppose he’d agree with me that the special privileges of tax exemptions and lack of regulatory oversight for changes should be abolished?

  64. articulett says

    I don’t believe in any invisible people; I believe that the invisible people theists believe in are as imaginary as the ones they dismiss as myth.

  65. DLC says

    “what are you, some kind of thurible for brains!”

    “Well, yes. . . ”

    I have no faith in things. I limit my belief to things that can be proven to exist. To me, this is the very core of rationalism.

  66. WhiteHatLurker says

    I’ve never heard of this Benson individual. Not saying I know every other Canadian, but I can’t even find what university he’s employed at. Sounds like his résumé has been artificially enhanced.

    Oh wait – here we go – he’s at the “University of the Free State” (South Africa) as a “professorextraordinary“.

    He is married and the proud father of seven children. (All living in France as of 2010.)

    How is he Canadian again? Hope he at least pays taxes here.

  67. rg57 says

    Speaking only about my city, I’ve noticed increased religiosity, and more of it is conservative.

    The change in media is also amazing. I visited my library to read some old newspapers, and in just two decades the difference is astounding. I scanned about two weeks of old newspapers. I was researching something else, but I couldn’t help but notice that the old papers promoted science and investigation in a way you’d never see today. Today’s versions promote woo and belief.

    There is no legal separation of church and state in Canada that I’m aware of. Indeed, in the most blatant example, Canada’s constitution requires public funding of certain religious schools in some provinces.

  68. ibyea says

    @amphiox
    I am interested. How did the leftward shift in Canada allowed the conservatives to take power?

  69. Amphiox says

    I am interested. How did the leftward shift in Canada allowed the conservatives to take power?

    Most markedly in Ontario, but elsewhere as well, in a many key ridings that had been held for a long time by the Liberal party, where the Liberal candidate traditionally beat the Conservative candidate by a few percentage points, the collapse of Liberal support over to the NDP (which in those ridings previously was non-competitive) lead to vote splitting which allowed a large number of Conservative candidates to win those former Liberal seats, even with, in many instances less than 40% of the popular vote.

    This directly produced the Conservative majority.

    A LOT of those ridings had traditionally had vote tallies that looked like:

    Liberal – 40-45%
    Conservative – 35-38%
    NDP – 10-15%
    Others -whatever is left over

    And they flipped to:

    Conservative – 35-38%
    Liberal – 25-30%
    NDP – 20-35%
    Others – whatever is left over

    Meanwhile, the only place where the shift to the NDP actually produced lots of NDP seats, was in Quebec, which has always been the most left-leaning province, and here the Conservatives never ever had any presence at all, and the NDP took seats away from the separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois, with the Liberals falling into a distant third.

    And thus Canada has been left with Stephen Harper getting an unfettered majority government.

  70. Amphiox says

    Granted, of course, the Liberal party did in many ways make its own bed by squandering its previous majority status on a very ugly corruption scandal, followed by repeatedly selecting completely useless leaders.

    This resulted in a series of Stephen Harper conservative minority governments, that had to govern close to the center, because a combined Liberal-NDP alliance could always bring about a non-confidence vote.

    But now Harper is free to govern as far to the right as he wants (and thinks he can get away with for the next election cycle). A Canadian Prime Minister with a majority government is far, far, far more powerful within his own country than any US president could ever dream to be. He literally has almost no checks at all to his power.

  71. karamea says

    @ibyea

    Same in the UK – the increase in the Lib Dem vote in the last election mostly came out of disgruntled Labour voters. All of a sudden it seemed like they had a proper chance, so people didn’t feel like it would be a wasted vote.

  72. Just_A_Lurker says

    abb3w@62

    If one kind of rapes the context

    Is this really appropriate to use rape like this? This reads to me like gamers who say “you just got raped” when someone dies (in the game). I really really hopes it’s just me and that I’m wrong…

  73. Just_A_Lurker says

    Thinking more on it. It’s probably me. Hair trigger and bad association because whenever rape is used in such a way it has been bad. I’d still like people’s though if they want to expand on it but don’t want to veer off course here.

    Sorry for the derail. I will go ask on TET.

  74. Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist says

    He’s a profound idiot. I’ve never heard of him and I’m no better for having learned who and just how stupid he is.

  75. kelvinpauli says

    I had a better impression of PZ before I read that headline.

    -Canadian

  76. abb3w says

    @81, Just_A_Lurker:

    Is this really appropriate to use rape like this?

    @82, Just_A_Lurker:

    Thinking more on it. It’s probably me.

    No, I’d consider it a reasonable question; especially given PZ’s sensible efforts to increase sensitivity on such issues.

    On the other hand, there’s a fair bit in the context of the chapter I’m quoting from where Dale Cannon himself seems to make it pretty clear he’d reject the spin I give. So, if you can suggest an alternate idiom that succinctly conveys the same sense of abuse (of concepts) in direct violation of their presented context — and lack of consent of the original author — I’d be willing to consider it for future use.

    More broadly, I’d suggest that though it’s not a necessity, such criticisms seem likely to be significantly more persuasive when the criticism is accompanied by a viable alternate phrasing suggestion.

  77. David Marjanović says

    So secular means kind of finite or measurable as opposed to infinite, indistinct or non-quantifiable?

    Originally, yes.

    He probably makes an empirical argument: every time you have 2 marbles and add 3 marbles, you end up with 5 marbles because of, like, the 1st law of thermodynamics (science; hypothetico-deductivism)

    Actually, that approach seems to present a much more serious problem. Science implicitly relies on the validity of the language of mathematics; as such, that likely would be circular reasoning — a much more problematically blatant type of “faith”.

    What exactly do you mean by “validity”?

    Furthermore, even if you did put two marbles next to three marbles and get six marbles at some point, that wouldn’t mean that “2+3=5″ would no longer be a valid theorem; it would merely mean that putting marbles next to each other is not well-modeled by arithmetical addition. That makes it a headache to pass along to the physics department, not the mathematics department.

    Well, it would make addition itself wrong. I really do interpret all mathematics as being an extension of its preschool version.

    From another perspective, that marbles-based approach seems to involve placing “faith” in the validity of empirical and inductive reasoning — which makes for a much larger leap of faith than those required to construct it, though much less tedious than walking through the construction.

    Oh no, there’s no induction in there. There are ideas (which may have come from induction or elsewhere, nobody cares, it doesn’t make a difference), and all of them are empirically testable. This includes the laws of thermodynamics; that’s why I mentioned one of them.

    And yes, that does mean there’s no attempt to claim anything can be proven as universally true – a claim that mathematics, of course, does make.

    We atheists all make one big, overarching, assumption – i.e., that how the universe around us works is intelligible to the human mind.

    Actually, I more take that as a mathematical inference from other propositions. (Though I suppose taking that inference involves an implicit assumption that the human mind can handle the abstract mathematics.)

    I take it as a testable hypothesis. If we can show that how the universe works is not intelligible even to a human mind extended by quite baffling* mathematics, it’ll be falsified.

    * As you mention in comment 62.

    Like most atheists, I think they have it backwards. They can join those small groups of atheists who insist that they have no “morals” (because that’s a religious term) and their life has no “purpose” (because that’s a religious concept) and they would never get “married” (because that’s a holy covenant with God.)

    What does “purpose” mean?

    Really, what does the English word “purpose” mean?

    I’ve never managed to really find out. Some of its meanings have completely unconnected equivalents in other languages, and sometimes none of them fits. Please help me out.

    Macte virtute esto

    ^_^

    If one kind of rapes the context

    *twitch*

    professorextraordinary

    Doesn’t that just mean “associate professor” (and “ordinary professor” means “full professor”)?

  78. David Marjanović says

    So, if you can suggest an alternate idiom that succinctly conveys the same sense of abuse (of concepts) in direct violation of their presented context — and lack of consent of the original author — I’d be willing to consider it for future use.

    Twisting the context? Ripping it out of its context?

    More broadly, I’d suggest that though it’s not a necessity, such criticisms seem likely to be significantly more persuasive when the criticism is accompanied by a viable alternate phrasing suggestion.

    When you talk to people, talk to them instead of vaguely about them. Otherwise you run the risk of being interpreted as passive-aggressive.

  79. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Dawkins’s Law of Adversarial Debate:

    When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

    Or to put it another way

    ” ‘Compromise’ is stalling between two fools” – Prof. Trefussis aka S.Fry.

  80. abb3w says

    @87, David Marjanović

    What exactly do you mean by “validity”?

    Self-consistency; lacking internal contradiction. In particular, such that the use of mathematics as a language does not render science itself explosively inconsistent.

    @87, David Marjanović

    Well, it would make addition itself wrong. I really do interpret all mathematics as being an extension of its preschool version.

    Ah. That latter may be the basis for a fundamental disagreement. Modern math is far abstracted from its primordial origin therein.

    To give a more scientifically concrete example where this actually has happened, the Einsteinian discovery that our space-time is non-Euclidean does not make Euclidean geometry “wrong”, or impact the validity of theorems depending on the 5th postulate like the Pythagorean theorem. The Euclidean system remains self-consistent, and valid as abstract truth. Rather, it means that the system does not correspond to the space-time coordinate framework of our universe, such that Euclidean Geometry models it in a noticably inexact way.

    It’s akin to “My son has green hair.” remaining a grammatically valid English sentence, even when it has no correspondence to reality due, say, to my lack of children. (I’m not sure if you’re up on the relation between proof systems and formal grammars? I’ve alluded to it indirectly in threads where we both posted, but I don’t think we’ve discussed it.)

    @87, David Marjanović

    Oh no, there’s no induction in there.

    Generalizing from empirical past cases (every time you’ve put 3 marbles next to 2 marbles) to a general empirical rule is induction, in the sense of Hume’s “Problem of Induction”.

    @87, David Marjanović

    I take it as a testable hypothesis.

    Actually, not so much. It’s pretty straightforward to show that, taking the refutation of one of the propositions I referred to, what appears to be the universe could with equal internal consistency be described as a island of order in a sufficiently large Ramsey Theory sea of chaos.

    Contrariwise, any finite amount of universe to describe is trivially handled by only moderately baffling mathematics — though not particularly useful, and the trivial description may be one that can be improved over.

    @88, David Marjanović

    Twisting the context? Ripping it out of its context?

    Not sure that’s strong enough, given the actual relationship to Cannon’s thesis in the chapter; “grossly distorting the context” might be close enough, though.

    @88, David Marjanović

    When you talk to people, talk to them instead of vaguely about them. Otherwise you run the risk of being interpreted as passive-aggressive.

    I find simply telling people to do something tends to trigger reflexive rejection, especially in the more independent-minded; while abstraction seems to allow introducing conceptual disagreement in a way that seems more likely to be processed reflectively, rather than reflexively, possibly increasing chances of persuasion.

    There’s risks either way. YMMV.

  81. antigodless says

    “We pride ourselves on not having any beliefs? Really? I have lots of beliefs, and I question them whenever necessary; I also expect my beliefs to be supported by evidence. I believe the earth orbits the sun, and I have evidence for that. I believe the earth is 4½ billion years old, and I have evidence for that. I believe life evolved, and I have evidence for that.

    I don’t have faith, though, unless you’re willing to redefine “faith” to such a degree that it has no relationship at all to what theists mean by the term.

    Here’s the problem: it’s not belief, because of course everyone has beliefs. It’s false beliefs. It’s beliefs that contradict reality, or are internally self-contradictory, or dogmatic beliefs that cannot be revised in the face of new evidence. Atheists try their best to get rid of those (although even there, we’re not perfect), while theists like Benson embrace such nonsensical jibber-jabber enthusiastically, and try to use their demonstrably false beliefs to guide public policy.”

    Beliefs are important. Scientists cannot prove a belief system that is not able to be replicated in a laboratory, cannot be observed or repeated, or cannot be measurable. Being objective, a scientist can also not discount a theory or belief system as ‘false’, otherwise the scientific community will declare them as biased. Hence, to declare the Earth as 41/2 billion years old and that life evolved is a belief system based on your faith that the worldwide flood did not occur, that assumptions produced by your peers does not influence the present dating systems employed by the scientific community, and that there exist definite evidence that intermediate species that prove successful mutations created a new species, exist. Creation Scientists would present evidence to the contrary, and if you do not objectively look at these objections, your research or findings would not hold in any scientific journal published today because of bias.

    Even Bernard Wood states “Our progress from ape to human looks so smooth, so tidy… But it is an illusion” (New Scientist , 26/10/2002)

  82. Ichthyic says

    Other religious traditions, perhaps less so. There’s more than a few tribal religions that talk about heroes being clever and tricking deities.

    I’d be willing to wager a sum of money that religious practice trends stongly with whether it is targeted to authoritarian personalities or not.

    all the abrahamic religions are STRONGLY targeted towards attracting authoritarian personalities.

  83. Ichthyic says

    That’s pretty much ignoring some of the root “evangelical” aspects Christianity: spreading the word to those who do not yet believe.

    not really. their arguments are not meant to persuade, but instead to find already like-minded individuals. it’s just going “door to door” instead of via the pulpit.

  84. Ichthyic says

    …and by “like minded”, i really mean authoritarian leaning. the dogma itself doesn’t matter in the particulars, so long as it appeals to the authoritarian personality to begin with.

    hell, it’s how cults grow.

  85. says

    antigodless #91

    Hence, to declare the Earth as 41/2 billion years old and that life evolved is a belief system based on your faith that the worldwide flood did not occur, that assumptions produced by your peers does not influence the present dating systems employed by the scientific community, and that there exist definite evidence that intermediate species that prove successful mutations created a new species, exist.

    Wow, how you manage to be wrong so many times in one sentence is beyond me.

    First off, you appear to have no idea of the history of science over the last 300 years or so.

    The Genesis account of creation was the default that scientists in the West started off with. The problems came when time after time, the new evidence being discovered failed to match. The more we learned, the worse it got. The hoops and ladders people were jumping through trying to make the known facts fit with Genesis bacame more and bizarre.

    Finally, someone made a brave leap: they proposed a sequence of events that was based ONLY ON WHAT EVIDENCE WAS AVAILABLE.

    And that was the beginning of modern geology.

    What a bold concept – looking at the actual evidence, and building your hyopthesis on that!

    So-called “Creation Science” fails as a science – fails to be science – because it insists that the text of some religion’s creation myth is more truthful than actual reality.

    No one studies, for example, plate tectonics, because of some sort of, as you put it, “faith that the worldwide flood did not occur”. That would be a very silly thing to say. It’s like saying that PZ Myers became a biologist because of “faith that unicorns are not real”.

    And the “present dating systems”…? Do you know ANYTHING about the various dating methods used? Even something as simple as C14 dating? How it works, the understanding of physics on which it is based? The ways it has been tested and improved and proven to be very reliable within its limitations? How we know what its limitations are?

    How would – how could – the “assumptions produced by your peers” “influence the present dating systems”? How? How could, for example anyone’s “assumptions” affect the rate by which Potassium-40 decays into argon?

    And for the last part: yes, the fossil record is rife with intermediate species. Lots of them. Creationists deny reality, because reality doesn’t match their mythology. That’s not science’s fault, it’s Creationists’ fault.

  86. says

    antigodless #91

    Creation Scientists would present evidence to the contrary, and if you do not objectively look at these objections, your research or findings would not hold in any scientific journal published today because of bias.

    Creationists do little or no research. Mostly what they do is troll scientific publications for little bits and pieces that they can misrepresent. Generally by quoting a sentence or two out of context and then lying about what the article actually said.

    That’s right, lying. They lie. They are liars. We know this because we can look up the articles they’re lying about, and compare the actual to the claimed.

    Liars.

    Even Bernard Wood states “Our progress from ape to human looks so smooth, so tidy… But it is an illusion” (New Scientist , 26/10/2002)

    Did you read the article that quote came from? Of course not. The quote doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means.

  87. says

    antigodless #91

    What the fuck are you yammering on about?

    I’ve seen people tremble in fear. I’ve seen people tremble with joy and rage.

    Reading your gibberish, though, was the first time I have imagined someone trembling in stupidity.

    You are rapturously, electrifyingly, coming-from-your-toes whole-bodily, almost-admirable-in-its-purity, stupid.

  88. says

    tkreacher, you made me COL (chuckle out loud), re-read, COL again.

    If you are going to insult another person’s intelligence, this is perhaps the best way I’ve ever seen it done:

    You are rapturously, electrifyingly, coming-from-your-toes whole-bodily, almost-admirable-in-its-purity, stupid.

  89. jacklewis says

    And still of all the replies to antigodless this was the lamest that didn’t address any of the BS in his post and most likely to make the idiot never question is reasoning. It fascinates me that some still find name calling amusing when there’s nothing in the post to indicate that the insulter has any advantage over the insultee.

  90. jacklewis says

    >>I had a better impression of Canadians before I read that tripe

    I always base my impression of entire countries on the biggest idiot I can find. Reasonable behavior is probably in the eye of the beholder…

  91. Amphiox says

    So, has jacklewis COMPLETELY missed the point concerning the irony of the OP title, or is he engaged in some kind of meta-double-irony that I have managed to miss?

  92. says

    jacklewis #99

    It fascinates me that some still find name calling amusing

    Allow me to fascinate you further.

    According to the limited sample you’ve provided in this thread, you are probably a moron.

    And a hypocrite.

    You might also make shit and jelly sandwiches and eat them open-faced. Because you are an asshole.

    Are you sufficiently beguiled?

  93. abb3w says

    @92, Ichthyic:

    I’d be willing to wager a sum of money that religious practice trends stongly with whether it is targeted to authoritarian personalities or not.

    I’m not sure on your exact sense.

    However, I’d note that there’s two types of authoritarian, and lots of combinations of religiosity Ways of expression. The “trickster” myths would seem to be pitched more to the high-SDO than the high-RWA.

    @93, Ichthyic:

    their arguments are not meant to persuade, but instead to find already like-minded individuals

    More than a few claim otherwise. The bible seems pretty ambiguous on this, though.

    @99, jacklewis:

    It fascinates me that some still find name calling amusing when there’s nothing in the post to indicate that the insulter has any advantage over the insultee.

    Atheists may have less tendency than the median towards some irrationalities, but atheism itself doesn’t leave them immune. “Source derogation” is a common irrational persuasion resistance tactic. However, public SD might conjecturally also serve as social signalling mechanism to help more efficiently allocate the scarce resource of reflective analysis. (IE: thinking is hard work; calling a fool a fool helps others spend less effort contemplating the folly.)

  94. says

    abb3w

    However, public SD might conjecturally also serve as social signalling mechanism to help more efficiently allocate the scarce resource of reflective analysis. (IE: thinking is hard work; calling a fool a fool helps others spend less effort contemplating the folly.)

    Might? Conjecturally?

  95. abb3w says

    tkreacher:

    Might? Conjecturally?

    Yes. I’ve barely even anecdata; thus, I phrase conservatively. Can you point to a peer-reviewed social psychology paper that empirically shows (or refutes) that this is the case?