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The new definition of “fundamentalist”

Keith Kloor, a journalist and blogger at Discover, really doesn’t like those fundamentalist atheists and he echoes those ridiculous comments by Peter Higgs.

The other big argument waged by a vocal group of prominent scientists involves the assertion that science is incompatible with religion. This insistence by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne is a puzzler. As someone who dislikes dogma of any kind and distrusts vested powers, I’m no fan of institutional religion. I’m also an atheist. But I see no value in making an enemy of virtually the whole world. What’s more, an argument that lumps together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus strikes me as rather simplistic. The atheists who frequently disparage religion for all its faults don’t dare acknowledge that it has any redeeming value, or that it provides some meaning for those who can’t (or aren’t yet ready) to derive existential meaning from reason alone.

This sneering and strident approach by the religion haters is not just bad manners, it is puritanical. That’s what scientist Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) is getting at with his recent sharp criticism of Dawkins.

Jerry Coyne has already replied, but that comment was so appallingly dumb that I have to chime in.

This isn’t a matter of making an enemy of the whole world; it’s an issue of scientific integrity. Are you going to sit back and let people say things that are wrong simply because you’re afraid to annoy them? And yes, you can legitimately lump together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus together on certain traits: they’re all three promoting superstition and falsehoods. That doesn’t mean you think the Dali Lama blows up statues, or that Jesus is crusading for Tibetan independence.

I am unimpressed with this constant claim that religion has redeeming value. What is it? That it provides dishonest answers to questions that trouble people? How is that a virtue? Only apologists for religion seem to think it is.

And now Kloor has doubled down with a reply to Coyne.

He quotes Saul Bellow. Seriously, dude: Saul Bellow? Why? He’s a good writer, but does he have some special authority on this matter?

What do you think happens at death?

This I don’t know, but I don’t think everything is resolved with the destruction of the body. What science has to say seems to me insufficient and unsatisfying.

Saul Bellow’s dissatisfaction with an honest truth is not an argument. It’d be like me saying I’m unsatisfied with astronomy because it doesn’t have enough squid in it, or that science education needs more parades and trumpets. Your personal expectation of what reality ought to deliver is not a valid criticism; I’m not going to claim that Islam fails because 72 virgins isn’t enough. (If only they promised 73, I’d convert in a flash.)

To wave away the persistent questions and yearnings that still drive the religious impulse as merely the last bastion of ignorant superstition is, as I wrote here, “inconsistent with the spirit of science.”

The assertion that religion and science are incompatible has become an article of faith for some–a kind of dogma that I recently discussed in this post. Aside from this being a form of fundamentalism, I also said that I saw no constructive use “in making an enemy of virtually the whole world” by broadly denigrating all religious believers.

I’m not waving away the yearnings, they’re real enough, and we all have them. I’m waving away the goddamned answers as inadequate, contradictory, and false.

You do realize, Mr Kloor, that that’s what religion promises? Not more questions (if that were the case, it would be philosophy), but deep cosmic truths, answers hallowed by nothing more than generations of prophets pulling stories out of their asses? It is “inconsistent with the spirit of science” to simply accept those claims unquestioned, to assume that there is some validity to them because you’re afraid that pointing out the flaws might be regarded as “denigrating all religious believers.”

If telling people that they are wrong is denigrating, then my profession of education is dedicated to denigration.

I guess it also makes me a fundamentalist, if your definition of fundamentalis is lacking in reverence for the unsupported authoritarian dogma of religion, and feeling no respect for faith at all.

Comments

  1. omnicrom says

    Kloor doesn’t seem to get Science. Waving away the “Yearnings that drive the religious impulse” is ENTIRELY in the spirit of Science.

    Science is a method for determining the truth, and that truth exists without regard for whatever “Yearnings” you might have. Science exists to discern the difference between what we want to be from what actually is, and one of the first steps is recognizing that what we “Yearn” for is totally irrelevant to reality. This is why Science uses Peer Reviews and Double-Blinds, to make sure that Yearnings don’t get in the way of observing what’s really happening.

  2. toro says

    The Humpty Dumptys are ever proliferating. What kind of a role model is this?

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

  3. Chuck says

    Just face the facts, PZ. You’re probably already wearing an atheist burqa and chanting verses from Origin of Species when no one’s looking.

    Come out of your fundamentalist closet and embrace it already!

  4. stonyground says

    Central to Christianity is the Resurrection, St. Paul specifically states that if the Resurrection didn’t happen then Christianity is false. It is scientifically possible that Jesus was comatose for a couple of days and then came around. That would hardly be a miracle though would it? The alternative is that he really was dead for two days and his body was re-animated. Anyone who knows anything knows that this is impossible, the body starts to de-compose and break down as soon as life becomes extinct, a two day old corpse is not capable of being alive.

    Shall we just say that Christianity is incompatible with science then, or shall we go through all the religions one by one?

    “To wave away the persistent questions and yearnings that still drive the religious impulse as merely the last bastion of ignorant superstition is, as I wrote here, “inconsistent with the spirit of science.” ”

    Why? Since ‘merely the last bastion of ignorant superstition ‘ is precisely what it is, how is it unscientific to say so?

  5. Chuck says

    The alternative is that Jesus (if he ever existed) was temporarily buried in Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb in advance of the pending sabbath, then removed the next night to his final destination: the graveyard of the condemned, where all blasphemers condemned by the Sanhedrin ended up at that time. When the women came to the tomb the next morning, no Jesus. Couple that with despondent disciples in acute grief and some preaching about the return of the “Son of Man,” and you have the beginnings of a major world religion.

  6. eddarrell says

    Faith is not “knowing.” Faith is belief in the absence of knowledge. Science is about knowing what can be known, and not being fooled by what we don’t know.

    Faith is not science. Faith and science can co-exist, but they cannot be reconciled. That doesn’t mean we need to war about the differences, except when one side insists the other must back down, to claim that we don’t know what we actually do know, or that we know without facts something that is unknown. Oddly, it’s always faith that makes those demands of science.

    On a great tangent, P.Z.: Remember that great tour of Ham’s theater of fiberglass and the absurd you led a group of skeptics on? I’d love to see you and Dallas skeptics do a similar tour of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Sometimes, money in Texas can get stuff mostly right, and this is one of those times. While Ham struggles financially, the big money guns put down $185 million to build this museum, a grand and ambitious expansion of the old Dallas Museum of Nature and Science in Fair Park (which is still there, since there’s so much stuff to display!). Evolution is much on display, in every little chat about living things, actually.

    When are you going to be here next? Do we need to get a formal occasion and get some millionaire to spring air fare?

  7. silomowbray says

    From Coyne’s reply:

    Finally, plenty of nonbelievers have no problem in deriving “existential meaning” from a finite existence. If they’re “not yet ready” to do that, as Kloor argues, we’ll help them.

    I don’t like defending Kloor at all here, because the rest of Coyne’s reply is right on target, but speaking as someone who wasn’t ready, I didn’t want anyone to “help me.” I just wanted confirmation that I could take comfort in something more than this earthly life. Someone “helping me” accept that I would go into oblivion and never see my loved ones again was the last thing I wanted.

    I got better. But I wonder at how many people out there would accept that kind of help. I’m guessing that getting to “ready” is almost entirely up to the individual. “Help” would be accepted after climbing over the wall.

  8. says

    It’s a very, very odd thing, when you think about it, that the argument ‘I wish this were so, and thus everyone should just believe it is so (and how can anyone be so illogical as to believe otherwise?)’ ever got any respect at all. And that it has somehow achieved the ubiquity it has is, in my ever so humble opinion, somewhere beyond strange, and well enroute to entirely otherworldly.

    …all this said, I think we can all agree that astronomy doesn’t have nearly enough squid in it.

  9. crocodoc says

    The ability to make compromises is essential for every society. We have to do it every day to get along with each other, it’s necessary to learn how to deal with conflicting interests. Generally, someone who is ready to make compromises helps to maintain peace and is usually thought of as a good person. One typical feature of a fundamentalist is not to compromise on anything. I think that’s why the word is used for people like Dawkins – because they have realized that there is no compromise on truth. An architect who does his calculations with 4 instead of 3.14159, because he respects some lunatic’s opinion that Pi is more like 5 and is willing to meet him halfway, may be a nice guy but I don’t want to live in a house he designed.
    I spend a lot of time explaining to people who call me a fundamentalist that a compromise between a wrong and a right statement is still a wrong statement. It’s frustrating to see that hardly anyone accepts that but I get used to being called a fundamentalist, radical, arrogant, intolerant and so on.

  10. says

    Kloor is now tweeting at me. His complaint? That I said Saul Bellow is just a “good writer”.

    Uh, guy, this isn’t about Saul Bellow at all.

  11. Edward Gemmer says

    I think the near poisonous atmosphere is really what spurs about this. I can’t justify science an religion, but going around calling all religious people evil, stupid, blind, or whatever else really accomplishes nothing. I think a good appreciation of the history of religion and the value people find in it is helpful.

  12. says

    So, lumping together the Dalai Lama, the Taliban and Jesus is “simplistic,” but lumping together Greta Christina, Richard Dawkins and Rick Warren is just fine. All fundamentalists of a feather, I say!

  13. Tony the Queer Shoop (owner of the pink cotton ball of death) says

    Who is going around calling all religious people evil, stupid, or blind?
    I’ve seen them labelled as delusional, but last I checked, religion IS a delusion.

  14. says

    Fundamentalist, n.: a person commited for any reason, intellectual or otherwise, to an idea with which I firmly disagree.

    Strident, adj.: louder than I am used to. See also: shrill.

  15. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I think a good appreciation of the history of religion and the value people find in it is helpful.

    Citation needed, as usual.

  16. Rodney Nelson says

    I think we can all agree that astronomy doesn’t have nearly enough squid in it.

    How does one measure the amount of squiddige in a particular topic? Are we counting individual squid? Tonnage? Cubic volume?

  17. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Who is going around calling all religious people evil, stupid, or blind?
    I’ve seen them labelled as delusional, but last I checked, religion IS a delusion.

    I’ve only seen evil used when the religious try to support genocide (OK by the babble), slavery (OK by the babble) anti-choice laws (not really mentioned in the babble), or when they try to legislate their theology upon everybody in society, instead of keeping it personal. Likewise, the patriarchy of the babble makes them blind to male privilege in society. It would appear if they are evil and blind, stupid isn’t far behind.

    Substitute leprechauns for jebus and they would be considered delusional personalities. If the foo shits, wear it.

  18. says

    Well. Science education could use a few more parades and trumpets. You’ve accidentally hit on an ingenious solution to the USAnian science education crisis, PZ. Or was it an accident??

  19. says

    This will no doubt incite the equivalent of hockey fights in the various atheist rinks of the blogosphere.

    Yawn.

    ***

    Kloor is now tweeting at me. His complaint? That I said Saul Bellow is just a “good writer”.

    Uh, guy, this isn’t about Saul Bellow at all.

    What else do they have? Saul Bellow, mint juleps, and the grandma gambit. Well, and tens of millions of dollars from a rightwing foundation.

  20. thecalmone says

    I recently watched an old Red Dwarf episode that had a Squid Of Despair in it (trapped in the spaceship’s enormous water tank).

  21. says

    And yes, you can legitimately lump together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus together on certain traits: they’re all three promoting superstition and falsehoods. That doesn’t mean you think the Dali Lama blows up statues, or that Jesus is crusading for Tibetan independence.

    I’m rereading The Art of Happiness now, a book that had a great impact on me when I read it 12 years ago. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in the Buddhist teachings about the positive mental benefits of practicing compassion, meditation, etc., and the thing that makes The Art of Happiness work as a book for a secular reader is that it was assembled by a psychiatrist who structured it in an interview format, keeping the topic focused on secular self-help matters, and interjecting with comparisons to scientific research and how a lot of these thousands of year old Buddhist practices make sense from what we know of modern science.

    That doesn’t mean that the Dalai Lama doesn’t also proselytize a whole bunch of really wacky supernatural beliefs, nor that he isn’t also a polarizing political figure, but at least from my experience of the books he’s coauthored with actual scientists, he seems to bring a whole lot more to the table in terms of offering practical life advice compared to the other two. The Dalai Lama also seems to be rather gracious in quickly admitting to the possibility that when/if science were to prove something wrong about Buddhism, then Buddhism would have to change (although a lot of religious people are quick to admit to that possibility in principle, not necessarily in practice).

  22. says

    Well, I think of a delusion as a form of madness, refusing to believe one’s eyes or being taken in by a confidence trickster. So to split hairs that perhaps only I can see, I think of religion as superstition, which is what we tend to label others’ religions–something widely believed and passed around in a culture, which isn’t true.

  23. raven says

    I think a good appreciation of the history of religion

    I did look into the history of religion.

    1. The bible is clearly fiction. You can see how they made it all up.

    2. Religion seems to have left a huge number of dead bodies behind it, a pattern we see this up until today. Just about every day there is a religion induced atrocity somewhere. Right now, the UN is preparing to invade Mali and suicide bombers are a steady background.

    It’s not known too well how many bodies the RCC has left behind but it is at least in the tens of millions. That Indian girl, Sativa, in Ireland is just one of the latest casualties in the RCC War on People.

  24. gshelley says

    It’s as though there is some unwritten rule that if you are going to criticise Dawkin’s stance on religion, you aren’t allowed to actually know what it is.

  25. Dick the Damned says

    Nerd #16

    I think a good appreciation of the history of religion and the value people find in it is helpful.

    Citation needed, as usual.

    You asked for a citation. How about William James – The Varieties of Religious Experience? An amazing collection of insanity that was seen to be for the good.

    I wonder, if the religiously raptured hadn’t been psychologically receptive to the woo, what would’ve happened to them instead. My guess is that they’d mostly have lived ‘normal’ lives: maybe in some cases, some might’ve gone on to do some amazing things that actually benefited humanity.

  26. madscientist says

    Kloor is not terribly intelligent, is he? Kloor, Kloor, brains on the floor.

    Maybe it’s my old age; whenever I hear something stupid I don’t say “I respect your opinion”, I say “what goddamned universe are *you* living in?”

  27. unclefrogy says

    Of all the ideas, beliefs, held by the religious that I see most of it is this idea of a immortal soul and afterlife. It is attached to the idea of an immortal all powerful god.
    They fail utterly at defining what is life, what is this soul that lives on and what is this self that knows these things. so the whole construction is meaningless. What does life after death mean when you do not even know what life is.
    It is all just whistling past the grave yard.
    I prefer to turn on a light, and use reason to look and see what is in the shadows instead of invent phantoms, though phantoms are much more dramatic and make me feel so important.

    uncle frogy

  28. pHred says

    Well, I am totally onboard with the whole

    science education needs more parades and trumpets

    idea. The best I have managed is to threaten my intro classes with a police whistle if they start talking to much (it is in a huge auditorium apparently designed by the pi equals 5 architect, since the acoustics tend to amplify the conversations in the back of the room rather than the person lecturing in the front). Trumpets and parades would be great!

    And after all, clearly the only reason the science isn’t better accepted and used to develop policy in the US is because all these outspoken atheist scientists have been so mean and outspoken for decades . . . Oh, wait that can’t be right. . . Sigh.

  29. mildlymagnificent says

    This is just Kloor being Kloor. Again.

    He takes the same ‘Oh you scientists shouldn’t be so strident or picky or sneering or whatever.’ attitude to everything. He’s the quintessence of he said, she said journalism. Absolutely every topic, climate science usually, is amenable to the notion that it’s all about “balance”. Everyone should listen to everyone else, but it’s just as well they don’t because then he’d be left with nothing to say. Even though plenty of people have tried to tell him, he will never accept that in some matters there really is only truth on one side and wharglbargl on the other.

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    unclefrogy @32: “They fail utterly at defining what is life, what is this soul that lives on and what is this self that knows these things.”

    They’re not supposed to. What we think of as religion now probably arose as a way to control large numbers of people. Agriculture->Centralized populations->kingship. In a hierarchical system, you need rules to govern, and an authority to dictate and enforce. The afterlife stuff was probably tacked on as a reward for the misery you would be put through in this life. And the finer points of dogma built up like eons worth of barnacles piling up on a ship’s hull.

    Maybe this is all old hat here, but Caine welcomed me to the shark tank, so now I can be everyone’s chum.

  31. says

    The assertion that religion and science are incompatible has become an article of faith for some

    He does not realise this statement is absurd because articles of faith and science are incompatible.

    That all religions are founded on articles of faith is the reason for their incompatibility with science.

  32. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Maybe this is all old hat here, but Caine welcomed me to the shark tank, so now I can be everyone’s chum.

    ;)

  33. says

    Rob:

    They’re not supposed to. What we think of as religion now probably arose as a way to control large numbers of people. Agriculture->Centralized populations->kingship. In a hierarchical system, you need rules to govern, and an authority to dictate and enforce. The afterlife stuff was probably tacked on as a reward for the misery you would be put through in this life. And the finer points of dogma built up like eons worth of barnacles piling up on a ship’s hull.

    This is what religion turned into, for sure. It all started as a way to explain all the ooga booga scary shit we didn’t understand – lightning, thunder, seasons, sunrise/sunset, sickness, death, all that good stuff. As Greta Christina has pointed out, now that we know and understand so very much about how our world works, about how we work, about the universe, all that, religion doesn’t explain a single fucking thing.

    As she also points out, it’s a world view hypothesis which is utterly useless, because you can twist it about to cover every single happening. Friend gets cancer and gets better? God! Friend gets cancer and dies? God’s will! or God works in mysterious ways! There’s little point to a view which can twist in the wind to support any view or any event.

  34. Sastra says

    Apparently the definition of “fundamentalist” is “someone who is not in the middle.” Good news — we are all in the middle! Everyone is. You can always point to someone, somewhere who is more extreme — and do it for both sides. It’s not a privileged position.

    I think that real fundamentalists always proudly call themselves fundamentalists. After all, a necessary part of what makes a person a fundamentalist is being damn proud to stand on something that is both faith-based and fundamental. Science — with its commitment to form only falsifiable conclusions — is not going to qualify for either.

    The assertion that religion and science are incompatible has become an article of faith for some–a kind of dogma that I recently discussed in this post. Aside from this being a form of fundamentalism, I also said that I saw no constructive use “in making an enemy of virtually the whole world” by broadly denigrating all religious believers.

    The assertion that religion and science are incompatible is usually based on the provisional conclusion — not the faith-based assumption — that the supernatural claims of religion (you know, the unique aspect of religion which places it in the category called “religion”) are wrong. Notice then how Koor changes the subject. Let the Little People use what works for them: they can’t handle the truth.

    I wonder if Koor think it doesn’t matter if God exists as long as ‘religion’ works so well for so many Little People. I also wonder how many religious Little People would give a hearty “amen” to that bright little bit of condescending denigration.

  35. consciousness razor says

    As someone who dislikes dogma of any kind and distrusts vested powers, I’m no fan of institutional religion. I’m also an atheist. But I see no value in making an enemy of virtually the whole world being honest.

    Yep, looks like my Bullshit-to-English translator still works fine.

    It’s weird, though. When religions make an enemy of virtually the whole world, it always comes with a gentle reminder that it’s the best thing ever. But my irony-meter isn’t even twitching. I think it just gave up.

    What’s more, an argument that lumps together the Taliban, the Dali Lama, and Jesus strikes me as rather simplistic.

    I’m just going to assume he thinks the Taliban is the one which is compatible with science.

    The atheists who frequently disparage religion for all its faults don’t dare acknowledge that it has any redeeming value, or that it provides some meaning for those who can’t (or aren’t yet ready) to derive existential meaning from reason alone.

    I’d like to know what the redeeming value is too. Not the redeeming value of people enjoying their time together or helping each other out, because that’s not religion. Believing in nonexistent things “provides some meaning”?

    This sneering and strident approach by the religion haters is not just bad manners, it is puritanical.

    It’s so bad, it’s like a religious sect! You know, in the way that hanging witches is like sneering and being strident. Don’t you sneering, strident people get it yet that religion isn’t all bad?? </not at all sneering or strident>

  36. says

    CR:

    It’s so bad, it’s like a religious sect! You know, in the way that hanging witches is like sneering and being strident. Don’t you sneering, strident people get it yet that religion isn’t all bad??

    People do get all touchy when you point out that the promotion of wishful thinking isn’t all that and a bag of chips.

  37. nixmanes says

    It is truly bizarre that those who continue to push the pro-religion-science compatibility idea don’t get that the point of science is to replace answers that involve magic with ones that don’t. To insist they remain viable is from a mindset that would insist children should never grow up.

  38. says

    nixmanes:

    To insist they remain viable is from a mindset that would insist children should never grow up.

    It’s the Santa problem. Would people think it was a good thing if the belief in Santa being real was kept throughout life, that every precaution be taken against anyone finding out Santa isn’t real? Or would people think that idea is silly, that of course, everyone needs to grow up eventually and deal with Santa not being real, it’s okay, because life goes on just fine?

    Would people be decrying any and all A-Santaists, insisting on accommodation of Santaists because belief in Santa doesn’t do any harm and makes people feel good? Or would that be considered silly?

  39. A. Noyd says

    The atheists who frequently disparage religion for all its faults don’t dare acknowledge that it has any redeeming value….

    Redeeming value? Religion is a shit sandwich. The meat of it is poisonous excrement and even if the bread could be salvaged, it would take more effort than baking a new loaf.

  40. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    Also a bit misleading the point is that religion does not have any EXCLUSIVE redeeming value.

    It’s like saying that no you do not need fast food to survive and it’s generally unhealthy and people insisting that you’re refusing to acknowledge the nutrient value of it! No we know it has that, but there are other better places to get it that is NOT deep fried in pig butt grease

  41. says

    A. Noyd:

    Redeeming value? Religion is a shit sandwich. The meat of it is poisonous excrement and even if the bread could be salvaged, it would take more effort than baking a new loaf.

    It’s more like a layer of new shit slathered over a slab of old shit, placed between planks of straw. And the whole thing is called a sandwich. There’s no meat and there’s no bread.

  42. Akira MacKenzie says

    /rant

    At the risk of raising some progressive ire, I really don’t have a problem with “making an enemy of virtually the whole world” if the rest of humanity is too fucking stupid, greedy, and/or cowardly to accept reality as it is. We ought to have standards and expectations of what people think and behave before we considered to be civilized. If you believe in “free markets,” then you are a capitalist pig and should be held universally reviled as such by anyone with a shred of human decency. If you are a MRA, racist, or heterosexist, then ought to be held up as a bigot and hounded every time you open your filthy mouth. If you believe in religion or anything supernatural–no matter how educated or charitable you may be–you should be regarded and treated as what you are: a supersticious barbarian and an enemy of modern civilization.

    What’s that? Religion gives you “comfort?” Even if you are dying of some horrible, agonizing disease, I really don’t give a flying fuck what makes you comfortable. In fact, we ought to be uncomfortable. We ought to face the pain and suffering that humanity has to deal rather than be allowed to daydream it away with lies about an afterlife and cosmic justice. We ought to be made to stare into the Abyss: to be forced to see the world as it is even if it means having someone pry our eyeslids open to look. Maybe we’ll finally get uncomfortable enough to actually do something about it.

    Come again? You can’t “derive existential meaning from reason alone.” Awwwww, too bad. That’s not my fucking problem. The problem is that we have people in this world whose primitive and mystical beliefs are getting in the way of progress, and coddling them isn’t the answer. Getting rid of the beliefs is, and at this low point in our history, I really don’t care what the even the “nicest” theist feels. They can fuck off and lament how cold and impersonal life is without their god, just keep them away from the apparatuses of political power and out of earshot of those who can find meaning without religion so we don’t have to put up with their whining.

    / rant

    Ahhhh… There. I’ve been holding that in since lunch (i.e. 3pm CST). I feel better.

  43. gordonmacginitie says

    Science is about What you know, religion is about Who you know. For science the ultimate authority is physical evidence, for religion the ultimate authority is the person that wrote or said it. In science truths are discovered, in religion truths are invented or hallucinated.
    Science and religion are compatible only to the extent that religion accepts science.

  44. says

    Gordon:

    religion is about Who you know.

    Except it isn’t. Religion is about who people think they know, about who is whispering in their ear. Yes, they all claim it’s god, this god, that god, whatever god. Considering the sheer amount of different religions and overwhelming amount of sects inside different religions, it’s noteworthy that’s there’s no consensus on this god critter. It’s all down to interpretation, rendering it meaningless.

  45. Akira MacKenzie says

    “Redeeming value?” What redeeming fucking value?

    Let me guess: the charities, the homeless shelters, the hospitals? You REALLY think those exist out of the kindness of the faithful’s heart? Bullshit! They exist as means to ensnare and convert the desperate and needy, thus creating new disciples to perpetuate the religion and with new disciples comes more money and/or power.

    (What, me cynical? You bet your ass I am.)

    Ultimately, “Religious Charity” is an carrot-and-stick arrangement. Charity is the carrot. Religion is the stick.

  46. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ahhhh… There. I’ve been holding that in since lunch (i.e. 3pm CST). I feel better.

    Have some swill and bacon popcornz. Enjoy the feeling.

  47. Feline says

    Akira @53:
    Ten-point rant. Imagine a voice that someone threw waaay too much reverb on shouting “Flawless.”

  48. Akira MacKenzie says

    @Nerd fo Redhead:

    Have some swill and bacon popcornz.

    I actually read PZ’s OP on lunch break at a little bar a block from my call center and I was eating a “Milwaukee Burger” (i.e 1/3 beef patty with Colby, thick-cut bacon, and beer-cooked onions on a potato bun. I add steak sauce, myself. Damn good burger!).

    Anyway, I have this tendency to “spazz out” when I’m agitated; I start shaking, jerking, and violent wringing my hands and wrists while I make vocalizations like grunts or squeals. It can be disturbing to see, so I had to make a conscious effort to keep myself under control in a public place otherwise I would have to deal with some rather embarrassing questions. That’s not an easy thing for me to do sometimes, especially when the topics that have me riled up are politics and/or religion.

    It was just to get home and vent. Holding it it doesn’t help me either.

  49. says

    “When it comes to religion, “live and let live” believers are very much in the minority. And progressive and moderate religion lends and unfortunate credibility to the conservative and extreme varieties. It lends credibility to the idea that faith is more valuable than evidence; to the idea that it’s reasonable to believe things we have no good reason to think are true; to the idea that wishful thinking is a good enough reason to believe something. It lends credibility to all the things about religion that makes it most uniquely harmful.

    And this ecumenical attitude that reality is an annoying distraction from the far more important business of feeling good – and that insisting on reality is an ugly form of bigoted intolerance – is part and parcel of this unique armor that religion has built against valid criticism, questioning, and self correction. It is not a protection against the evils of religion. It is one of them.”

    “Progressive and moderate believers who normally are passionate advocates for free expression will get equally passionate about demanding that atheists shut the hell up.

    -Greta Christina, Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

  50. says

    Thanks for the breath of fresh air, folks.

    @Edward Gemmer

    but going around calling all religious people evil, stupid, blind, or whatever else really accomplishes nothing.

    You seriously need a citation for this one too. I know for a fact that it’s accomplished one thing: I’m no longer evil, stupid, or blind in this regard.

    I think a good appreciation of the history of religion and the value people find in it is helpful.

    Looks at diploma awarding me an M.A. with a specialty in the history of religion. Yep. It’s helpful alright.

    Shit sandwich is a pretty apt metaphor. Shit sandwich with straw, a couple of layers of shit and some nuggets of hardened puke in the centre. It may have been just bearable when it was the only thing you had to eat, and if you worked at it, you could get some sustenance, but eating it all isn’t necessary any more. Thing is, people still cling to it because they think without it, they’d starve. And these accommodationists, for some reason I can’t quite grasp, think it’s kinder and more polite to talk up the shit sandwich and praise it and pretend that it’s the food of paradise rather than saying, that shit sandwich is disgusting and repulsive and it’s preventing you from eating this salad over here.

  51. Azuma Hazuki says

    It is useful, objectively useful, to understand religion and the value people take in it. This, too, is part of science (Lat. scientia, “knowledge”). At the absolute worst, it’s useful in a “know thine enemy” way.

    Personally, it was learning heavy theology, philosophy, logic, and even a little Koine Greek that led me out of religion, and in ways that what we think of as “science” itself simply could not do. Philosophy is exceedingly important, and there are too many scientists who don’t understand the very basis of their own thinking. How many of us, if challenged, could explain why the Problem of Induction isn’t actually a problem for science? How many of us could pick apart the logical flaws in the Kalaam argument?

    For me, presuppositionalist apologetics was a very large hurdle, because I couldn’t see any way of defeating it from a scientific point of view. It was learning philosophy and logic, and understanding that PE is “I’m gonna declare my whole argument axiomatically” that did it. Likewise, learning some Koine and finding out that the words we have as “eternal punishment” in Mat. 24 were “aionios kolasis” (roughly “age-lasting discipline/chastisement”) and could in no way, as a 2-word phrase, be connoted to mean eternal anything, gave me the courage to search further.

    And doesn’t it help at all, in SOME small way, to be able to get inside your opponent’s head? To figure out step-by-step how he or she arrived at certain conclusions? Yes, “emulating” William Lane Craig makes the inside of my head feel slimy, but it also lets me pick apart a simulation of his thought processes in real time and find the flaws.

  52. says

    “If any outcome of, for instance, an illness – recovering dramatically for no apparent reason, getting gradually better with medical intervention, getting worse, staying the same indefinitely, dying – could be explained as God’s work…then the God hypothesis is useless. It has no power to explain the world, or to predict the future, or to tell us how our behavior will affect our lives. It serves no purpose.

    The fact that religion is unfalsifiable doesn’t mean we have to accept it as a reasonable possibility. It means the exact opposite. It means we should reject it wholesale, on that basis alone.”

    -Greta Christina, Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

    “I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you ever considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”

    – Daniel Dennett

  53. says

    Azuma Hazuki @63, personally, I find it damn irritating that I have to know more about religion than theists. A whole lot of atheists do know plenty about religion, it’s one of the reasons there are so many ways to effectively argue it.

    Also, many atheists were at one time theists, so yes, they know the ins and outs of religious thinking.

  54. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    How many of us, if challenged, could explain why the Problem of Induction isn’t actually a problem for science?

    Some combination of “because science is iterative, allowing hypotheses to be tested and refined rather than having to have THE ANSWER in one step,” and “because science is made up of people who want to GET somewhere rather than yelling ‘FINE, IF YOU CAN’T GIVE ME ABSOLUTE DEDUCTIVE CERTAINTY I DON’T CARE, I’LL JUST HOLD MY BREATH UNTIL I TURN BLUE!'”?

  55. Azuma Hazuki says

    @65/Caine

    I understand; I’ve felt similar, like “why in fuck do I need to know all this just to stop the nightmares?” Knowledge is power though :) At the absolute worst, we’re less ignorant on fewer things~

    @66/Azykroth

    LOL’d. Yeah, the answer is “science is hypothetico-deductive, not inductive per se. This is why we hypothesis test and are skeptical of our own answers. And why we never prove anything, but fail to disprove it.” Though, this is Popperian methodology; are there others?

  56. John Morales says

    Azuma, science uses both, since both are inferential systems.

    (Hypothesis testing applies to both)

  57. says

    @ Rob Grigjanis

    Agriculture->Centralized populations->kingship.

    That is about it in a nutshell. Instead of doing ones own thing (being able to petition the divine/nature directly), one transfered the task to an intermediary (priestess/priest-king/shaman) who could petition on everyone’s behalf.

    “The Lord”, was pretty much just the reflection of an earthly lord (be it king or mere landowner) telling one what and when to do things and handing out reward and punishment accordingly.

    @ nixnames

    point of science is to replace answers that involve magic

    No, the point of magic is to explain nature and utilise this to peoples’ benefit. Nowadays, the stuff that works we call science, the bullshit we call superstition. Magic is the mother of both science and religion. For a very long time it was hard to tell the two apart. Today we (all) have no such excuse.

    [fundamentalism of atheists]

    Reality IS fundamental.

    [evil]

    Evil is an interesting one, going way back. It is worth noting that evil (as is common in superstitious belief systems everywhere) is infectious. Fortunately it can be beaten out of one. So for example jeebus was scourged to turn him into a pure (ie free of evil) vessel into which the sins of his community could be poured. As a scapegoat, he would then die with the sins.

    On a more mundane level, error could not come from GAWD (obvious!) and must therefore be due to evil. As everyone knows: “spare the rod and spoil the child”. By beating a child who has made an error, you are driving evil out. The whole idea of corporal punishment was intertwined with this notion.

  58. zetopan says

    “I think we can all agree that astronomy doesn’t have nearly enough squid in it.”

    That is not entirely true; Stephen Baxter addressed this “problem” in “Manifold: Time”.

  59. says

    Theophontes:

    On a more mundane level, error could not come from GAWD (obvious!) and must therefore be due to evil.

    However, evil comes from God. There are a healthy number of times in the OT where God decides to send an evil spirit on someone he’s decided to kill, after the evil spirit makes the person go and kill someone else (or a large number of someone elses), which gives God the reason needed to kill the person in the first place. The whole evil spirit from God is the bigger, badder brother of God hardening someone’s heart.

  60. says

    They can fuck off and lament how cold and impersonal life is without their god, just keep them away from the apparatuses of political power…

    Very much this. It’s one thing to say that you can’t handle dealing with reality and you need your superstitions to keep you going. It’s another thing to say that and still expect to be taken seriously as an adult human being.
    Make a choice; deal with reality or go sit at the kids’ table.

  61. says

    I’ve enjoyed this thread, and learned a lot, with great rants, quotes, definitions and video links. Now I’ll go listen to more Tom Waits.

  62. says

    Azuma Hazuki
    logical flaws in the Kalaam argument
    Who gives a damn about the faulty logic? The fundamental flaw of the Kalam argument is that there’s not a shred of evidence for it, and that furthermore it contradicts what is known by physics. Given that, even if the logic was flawless, the argument’s still worthless. GIGO.

    Though, this is Popperian methodology; are there others?

    None that work.

  63. says

    For Bellow, being Jewish, he probably was as dissatisfied with what his religion said about an afterlife, which is essentially nothing, with a few Greek/Roman/Christian tropes thrown in at a later date.