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Dec 31 2012

Keith Kloor responds

And it’s even worse than I expected. I had presentiments of failure: last night he tweeted this at me.

kloor

Talk about completely missing the point…he had previously written a post quoting Saul Bellow saying science was unsatisfying; I was baffled about why he thought Bellow was a particularly insightful contributor on this topic, especially since his comment was so banal and ignorant. I was NOT suggesting that he needed to get a better-ranked author to convince me; I’ve got nothing against Bellow’s literary contributions. But that seems to be the only thing he took away from my post.

So now he’s put up a short post (promising more later) which consists of little more than a quotation from Margaret Atwood.

I think that the religious strand is probably part of human hard-wiring…by religious strand, I don’t mean any particular religion, I mean the part of human beings that feels that the seen world is not the only world, that the world you see is not the only world that there is and that it can become awestruck. If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.

Like the Bellow quote, I really have nothing against the source; in fact, I’ve enjoyed the writings of both Atwood and Bellow. My complaint is with the abysmal vacuity of the content, and the fact that Kloor seems to be playing a game of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. It doesn’t advance the argument to quote someone else saying something wrong. (Although he probably feels it gives him cover.)

I will congratulate him on dodging my accommodationist bingo card — there were so many possibilities to fit into a mere 25 boxes, and “religion is hardwired” didn’t make the cut, because I really didn’t think he’d be so stupid as to trot that one out.

“Awe” is probably hardwired as an emotional response. The effort to try to comprehend the world around us is probably hardwired into our brains. Religion isn’t. Religion is a parasitic phenomenon that short-circuits honest sensations, the desire to understand and our humility before the complexity of the universe, and plugs in a false belief that we do understand everything to resolve the two. That’s my objection: not that there are sincere and interesting questions about our place in the cosmos, but that religion lies and claims to have all the answers. Yet when we actually look at what religion focuses on, it’s all petty trivial dogma and weird justifications for tribal cosmetics.

What the New Atheists actually argue is that we aren’t giving up wonder, but that we focus on real paths to knowing and understanding, rather than the delusions of prophecy and pettifogging scriptural interpretation and blithe acceptance of the inanity of “god did it.”

And then this final gambit is ludicrous.

You’d that think the atheists who are evolutionary biologists would be able to process this with their super-rational minds. And that they (Myers, Coyne et al) would be smart enough to recognize that one-size-fits all denunciation is likely counterproductive to their goal.

There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

I have little hope that his continuation of this discussion will be any better.


Sweet jebus, he’s continuing — and just when I can’t imagine him getting any dumber, he says this:

I don’t understand why he’s making such a big issue of me quoting writers like Saul Bellow and Margaret Atwood.

Aargh! No! I haven’t made a big issue of it — I was baffled by why he was making those quotes the centerpiece of his argument, and why he was making such a big issue of the quotes. But that’s all he sees.

I’m done with him. He’s too stupid to argue with further.

84 comments

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  1. 1
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    and the fact that Kloor seems to be playing a game of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

    LOL perfection, The Peez, perfection.

    Having just watched Trekkies and Trekkies 2, this was an extra bit of squee to distract me from Kloor embarassing himself.

  2. 2
    kosk11348

    And that they (Myers, Coyne et al) would be smart enough to recognize that one-size-fits all denunciation is likely counterproductive to their goal.

    Another recurring trope from the accommodationist handbook. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read similar sentiments. Accommodations always assume the New Atheists’ goals are the same as their own goals, it’s just that we’re really bad at accomplishing them or something. It’s like it never occurs to them that we aren’t necessarily after the same things. The hubris is staggering.

  3. 3
    Ingdigo Jump

    I think that the religious strand is probably part of human hard-wiring…by religious strand, I don’t mean any particular religion, I mean the part of human beings that feels that the seen world is not the only world, that the world you see is not the only world that there is and that it can become awestruck. If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.

    So how does he explain people here?

    It probably is hard-wiring…but it’s not positive. It’s what I (being a layman) have observed as “The Plan”. Basically I think people like having a plan and following a plan even if it’s horrible because it’s better than the feeling of having no control. Random lightning strikes are scarier than vengeful god, therefore we make god. If it’s a entity then we can appease it and that means we can be safe if we follow the plan! The worst of human defects and flaws is due to this ingrained way of thinking.

  4. 4
    Jafafa Hots

    “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

  5. 5
    Nichodeemous

    In regards to Kloor’s argument: “”Shaka, when the walls fell”

  6. 6
    Ingdigo Jump

    I’ll also shoot back that the only reason such powerful emotions are refereed to as “religious” or “religious like” is because that’s so far the only fucking cultural framework we’ve had to label them.

  7. 7
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Ugh. Poor Margaret Atwood. I’d hate to be so quoted. She may well be wrong and she wasn’t saying much of anything at all, really. The idea that a predisposition to religious thinking evolved is a widespread idea. I can’t fault her for that and she isn’t making excuses for religion, exactly, but for religious thinking. I wonder if she’d actually have much in common with Keith Kloor on the subject. Having read her and heard her speak, I rather doubt if she’s accommodationist or even if she really is a believer (having identified as a ‘strict agnostic’) and while she doesn’t appear to be friendly toward the idea of atheism, I see little that sets her a part except for some particular ignorance …which is fine, since she’s rather occupied with things outside of atheism.

    Kloor is rather boring. And what is it with quoting people as argument? Margaret Atwood was repeating a common belief, she’s neither an expert in any evolutionary science nor an atheist thinker. It beggars belief that Kloor thinks quoting Atwood should convince anyone of his position, let alone when following that up by positioning himself as correct, if only we could see it.

  8. 8
    PZ Myers

    Yeah, they love that “you’re trying to make a one-size-fits-all atheism”, when the whole point of their complaint is that only their tolerant, open-minded version of atheism is acceptable.

  9. 9
    roland

    Kloor’s message seems to be: “If you do not believe, be happy for those who do and don’t argue with them”. So then he can stop writing about it then.

  10. 10
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What is it with religious types and arguments from authority? Quote the babble as authority. Quote other people as authorities, particularly outside their expertise. But avoid real scientific evidence. Can’t wrap my head around it.

  11. 11
    Gregory Greenwood

    …and the fact that Kloor seems to be playing a game of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

    The Beast (of nonsensical evo-psych arguments) at Tanagra…

  12. 12
    Ingdigo Jump

    The idea that a predisposition to religious thinking evolved is a widespread idea. I can’t fault her for that and she isn’t making excuses for religion, exactly, but for religious thinking.

    Yes but it’s the same thing with racist thinking. It may have a strong biologically selected bias. For much of human history humans have been humans greatest threat. Either by culture or by nature xenophobia and distrust of outsiders has been selected for. It’s still wrong, but ethically and practically.

    This feels like the computer programer arguing that an obviously disastrous programing issue is a feature not a bug. It doesn’t matter if it’s allegedly a feature it isn’t working.

  13. 13
    Sastra

    There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

    It seems to me that Kloor (and possibly Atwood) is actually making the Naturalistic Fallacy: if it’s natural, then it’s good. The gnu atheists have never argued that tendencies for supernatural thinking haven’t evolved. We’ve argued instead that such tendencies lead us to wrong conclusions. That’s not a small point.

    Racism, sexism, and seeking revenge are also part of human hard-wiring. So is violence and cheating. And yet I doubt that Kloor thinks this is a knock-down argument for why it’s wrong to argue against such things — or try to a least mitigate them if it’s not possible to eliminate them.

    And yes, there are cultural and psychological motivations but even so MOST of the gnu atheists have argued extensively that religious belief draws its primary strength from intuitive, instinctive, sloppy habits of thought imbedded in the primitive human brain: teleological thinking, belief in essences, intuitive dualism, anthropomorphic reasoning, and so forth. Kloor coming out and announcing this like a surprising revelation which ought to count against gnu atheism is just silly.

    So is telling us that religions also include a lot of lovely elements completely unconnected to supernatural belief. Yes. We know. That’s our bloody point. The good part of religion isn’t religious. How is that supposed to vindicate it?

  14. 14
    rabbitbrush

    Who is Keith Kloor? And why should I spend time thinking about him? (I won’t, beyond this comment.)

  15. 15
    dianne

    If religion is “hard wired” into the human brain, why are there nonbelievers at all? And even if it is true that religion is, in some sense or another, “hard wired”, so what? That doesn’t make it true or morally right or useful. There is at least minimal evidence that some level of racism is innate to humans, but few people argue that racism is therefore a good thing. Why should religion not be scrutinized–and scrutinized all the moreso–because we have an innate tendency to believe?

  16. 16
    Ingdigo Jump

    There is at least minimal evidence that some level of racism is innate to humans, but few people argue that racism is therefore a good thing.

    Except people did in the days of desegregation and abolition! It was argued that that was the natural way and such things were hardwired in.

  17. 17
    Gregory Greenwood

    Ing:Intellectual Terrorist “Starting Tonight, People will Whine” @ 3;

    I think that the religious strand is probably part of human hard-wiring…by religious strand, I don’t mean any particular religion, I mean the part of human beings that feels that the seen world is not the only world, that the world you see is not the only world that there is and that it can become awestruck. If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.

    So how does he explain people here?

    Isn’t is obvious? We are all defective. Mutants trapped in an evolutionary dead end. It’s the same innate flaw that makes us all such shrill, strident fundamentalists. Even when we are showing behaviour that would be considered reasonable in actual people non-baby-eating-atheist-militants. The rest of (devoutly believing or suitably faithist, and thus evolutionarily functional) society is most tolerant of us really. They haven’t tried to enact a programme of forced sterilisation of we nasty Gnu atheists (in case our condition is heritable) or anything.

    Not yet, anyway …

    ;-P

    ———————————————————————————————————————

    Sadly, I think there are accommodationists out there who would happily nod along sagely with most of the above, with maybe a slightly disapproving ‘steady on now’ when you got to the sterilisation bit.

  18. 18
    Big Boppa

    PZ

    There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

    How about Kloor’s Gambit?

  19. 19
    coozoe

    We may be hard-wired for story telling or conspiracy theory but not religion. All religion is story telling; not all story telling is religion.

  20. 20
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Ing …I’m not defending the idea that religious thinking is evolved, I was only stating that it’s a common idea.

    I happen to not think that it’s evolved. I think you’re wrong to argue that it is ‘hard-wired’, even that it’s a faulty bit of wiring. Religion co-opts a host of other emotions and ways of thinking and those things have then become ‘religious thinking’. We’re no more evolved for that than we are for scientific thinking. And that’s a good example, because we have all the faculties required for scientific thinking, but need a framework to facilitate it; religion facilitates religious thinking, all the faculties were extant before religion.

  21. 21
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Pamschneider

    With all due respect, no religion is not just story telling. It’s part of it but it is a lot more than that.

  22. 22
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Thomathy

    You mistake my stance. I think religion is a cultural frame work for a ‘faulty’ brain process that acts as an often unhealthy coping mechanism.

  23. 23
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    /nigel’s head asplodes

    The issue at hand isn’t the particular flavor of religious belief. Hell, the issue at hand isn’t even limited to religion. It could also apply to ghosts, UFOs, vaxxers, truthers, and AGW denialists. The issue is simple, and can be summed up thusly: Why should we poison the well of knowledge with the dead, bloated body of “making shit up”?

    (I’m leaving the metaphor of a well behind. And good riddance. Now I’m going to mix it up, like a metaphor cocktail. Shaken, not stirred.)

    We’ve worked hard for our meager little hoard of knowledge. It’s taken a long time to build up, piece by solid, teeth-crunching piece. You can bite down on each coin, each ingot, and they are mostly all satisfying.

    And folks like Kloor say, “Yes, but these other people don’t have the comfort of real wealth. Instead, there are institutions that hand out gold-colored spraypaint. They are there for those who pile up shit. They gild those piles of shit until they look like a fortune. Those piles of gilt shit look far more impressive than the small pile you scientists hoard for yourselves. Also, they get high on the fumes of the paint. You can’t deny them their little comforts, can you?”

    “But,” we say, “not only is that condescending as all fuck, but this pile of knowledge is for all of us. It’s not like it decreases in wealth when we use it — it actually increases. It pays dividends. The more we use it, the wealthier each and every one of us becomes.”

    Kloor responds, “But look at the vast piles of gold each believer receives! Don’t you wish your pile was as large?”

    And to this there is only one possible, sad response. “We would rather have a vast treasure of real wealth, each and every one of us. We are tired of people trying to trade us gold-painted shit for real wealth, especially when they can share in the real wealth with the rest of us.”

    The fact I’m tired of people pawning off gilt shit on me does not make me a fundamentalist. Yet that happens all the time. Too many people have come to believe their fake currency is just as good as our real currency, to the point where I’m expected to accept it.

  24. 24
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Sastra, Atwood isn’t making that argument, just voicing received opinion. As I mentioned, she isn’t an atheist thinker. She’s obviously considered her own position, if not very carefully, but she hasn’t thought much at all about atheism. It’s funny, because she actually gives a very excellent explanation of agnosticism when defining herself as agnostic. In any case, Kloor is using her, but I don’t think he knows her. If he keeps doing the quotes are argument thing, his ignorance of who he’s quoting is going to catch up to him.

  25. 25
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    And then there’s the illusion of agency—that feeling when things are going badly that something is fighting you or when things are going well that something likes you.

    Atwood’s simply remarking that there is a tendency towards religious feeling, not that there’s any reality behind the feeling.

  26. 26
    Ingdigo Jump

    I swear with these discussions it reminds me of when I talk about certain movies and argue that something doesn’t work, whereupon the defender of said movie or book or whatever tries to explain to me that that’s what the author was going for and I’m left exasperated trying to get them to understand that YES I get that’s what they were going for, I just either think it didn’t work or that it wasn’t a worthy goal to begin with.

  27. 27
    consciousness razor

    I’m really starting to wonder what happened at Discover blogs. There were a bunch of bloggers who recently all left around the same time: Sean Carroll, Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, and I think a couple of others. It could be coincidence, but I never heard if there was some big change which caused that.

    Hmmm, but come to think of it, I had forgotten that Mooney moved The Intersection a long time ago.

  28. 28
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Ing, I’m not mistaken; I disagree with you.

    I don’t accept your just-so story, ‘The Plan’. We’ve all heard that touted as an explanation for religious thinking before. I just think it’s wrong, or incomplete. As I said, I think ‘religious thinking’ is co-opted from a host of emotions and ways of thinking. I don’t think there’s any particular aspect of it that’s faulty, only when it’s brought together under a bad framework is it bad.

    I’ll grant that people seek explanations and that our species is predisposed to see agency where there is none, I just refuse to believe that everyone of our recent Pleistocene (or early even) ancestors assigned agency to every mundane (or deadly) event. Evidently a great many did, but then, it’s equally clear that a great many never did so or I expect we’d have advanced technologically quite a bit more slowly than we have. I cannot accept that a predisposition to excessive assignment of agency is enough or even necessary for religion or religious thinking. I also don’t see excessive assignment of agency to be a necessarily bad thing; like those other emotions or ways of thinking, it’s just been co-opted into a bad framework.

  29. 29
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    For anyone interested, here’s the whole interview with Margaret Atwood.

    TL;DR: Her position is basically that religious thinking is hardwired–that it can’t be forced out of humanity. If a god could press a button and do away with it, doing that would damage other aspects of humanity that are good (language and story-making). The best we can do, is make religion more humanistic. She also mistakes the atheist position as one of dogmatic absolute certainty.

    I think it would be very cool to see her have a discussion about religion with, say, Greta Christina.

  30. 30
    michaeld

    Tony. Ing. Cut that out right now your fracturing our hive mind echo chamber group consensus we have going on here. ;p

    Ok carry on.

  31. 31
    stonyground

    One argument that seems to be regularly made by the accommodationists is that the gnus uncompromising stance is bad strategically, that we will somehow win more converts by being more accommodating. This doesn’t seem to square very well with the fact that since the gnu movement started, atheism has risen at an unprecedented rate in lots of different countries. In the recent UK census, those who stated no religion went up from something like 25% to 35%, while at the same time Christianity took a massive hit. The census is taken every ten years, this is a pretty steep increase.

    As previous commenters have pointed out, if religion is hard wired, why do more than a third of UK citizens get by perfectly well without it? Actually, most of those who ticked the Christian box are as non-religious as I am.

  32. 32
    michaeld

    err Thomathy cause I apparently can’t read this morning >.>

  33. 33
    Jafafa Hots

    With all due respect, no religion is not just story telling. It’s part of it but it is a lot more than that.

    It’s storytelling with COSTUMES!
    (And punishment for the audience members that fall asleep or try to leave before the show is over.)

  34. 34
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    michaeld, you’re right. I really ought to fall in line. I can never remember when we’re the Hive Mind or the Fractious Arguers.

  35. 35
    hypatiasdaughter

    When you go into a dark room and feel a the shiver run down your back, because you sense a presence that isn’t there, is as “spiritual” as any religion. It is also stupid and creates superstition.
    Religion is another form of that “shiver”. It panders to the wrongness in our senses and our minds.
    (Notice how guys like Kloor always talk about vague spiritually stuff and never how it gets turned into “actual religions” that are less about spirituality and all about orders, rules and control of people – all handed down to us by the select few who claim they KNOW what the “shiver” is and what it wants from us.)
    Studying and understanding reality is the purest form of spiritual expression.

    (Atwood & Bellow? Is Kloor a Canadian? If so, I apologize on behalf of my country for foisting another dipshit on the world.)

  36. 36
    consciousness razor

    I cannot accept that a predisposition to excessive assignment of agency is enough or even necessary for religion or religious thinking. I also don’t see excessive assignment of agency to be a necessarily bad thing; like those other emotions or ways of thinking, it’s just been co-opted into a bad framework.

    I agree with that. You also mentioned “that people seek explanations.” Not having one and wanting one really really bad can end with undesirable (or at least incorrect) results.

    I think we’re susceptible to all sorts of fallacies and biases, or just going with our intuitions without thinking much so we can get straight to work (i.e., get food/resources, survive, fuck, perform an experiment, or whatever it is). That can make things a whole lot easier sometimes, because it works well enough in a lot of mundane situations. But as you get to more abstract metaphysical or ethical claims, it definitely doesn’t work at all.

  37. 37
    michaelbusch

    There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

    It’s an association fallacy, isn’t it?

    “We agree on A.
    I say A and also B.
    Therefore you ought to also say B.”

    I also count pro hominem and argument from authority. I suspect that there are no new logical fallacies.

  38. 38
    screechymonkey

    Aside from the silliness of “argument ad novelist,” I’m left with the same “so what?” that others have noted. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that some tendency toward religion (or other stuff that often manifests itself as religion) is “hardwired.” What then?

    If “hardwired” also means “unchangeable,” then it’s pointless to chastise Gnu Atheists for not using the right tactics to achieve what you think is their goal, because you think that this goal is unachievable. If it doesn’t mean unchangeable, then you haven’t explained how that affects the optimal strategy.

    It seems to me that Kloor is then either invoking the naturalistic fallacy — we evolved this way, so it must be a good thing — or he’s simply offering another version of that old accomodationist favorite, “you and I have risen above religion, but the little people need it.”

  39. 39
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    You also mentioned “that people seek explanations.” Not having one and wanting one really really bad can end with undesirable (or at least incorrect) results. [...]

    Oh, I agree.

  40. 40
    Reginald Selkirk

    seems to be playing a game of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. It doesn’t advance the argument to quote someone else saying something wrong.

    That was a favourite game of Pope Indulgence. He used this gimmick repeatedly; relaying quotes about Galileo and relativity, comments about Muslims during the era of crusades, etc. When he got into trouble for the comments he would fall back on the “well it wasn’t my idea, I was just quoting somebody” excuse. Of course he wouldn’t have been quoting them if he didn’t agree with them, since he in no way implied that they were wrong or made any criticism of the quoted content. His Royal Popeness seems to have given this game up for Lent, or at least has reduced his play time in recent years.

  41. 41
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Thomathy

    I’m not saying EVERYONE did that or does (if they did nothing would change). It’s just a common behavior people are more comfortable with a certainty (even if it’s false or horrific) than uncertainty

  42. 42
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    hypatiasdaughter, don’t worry and don’t apologise. I won’t. No more than any nation’s fair share inhabit Canada, and we might even say less our fair share of those dangerously stupid. It’s one of the reasons I’m always so nice to Australians*, the poor things.

  43. 43
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Thomathy

    For example at work there’s a article on the message board put up there to act as a reminder. It cites a study about how people when in an experiment having to work with a robot (and they KNOW it’s a robot) still assign blame to the robot when it’s programed to mess them up. There’s a reflexive need to place an agency on something inconveniencing you.

  44. 44
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Ing, sure. Yes. I guess I can accept that …but you’re just-so story was an explanation for religious thinking, not a narrative to support an observation that people are comfortable with certainty more than with uncertainty. So, I don’t know where we stand, other than that I still disagree with that just-so story about religious thinking and you note that people like certainty.

  45. 45
    michaelbusch

    @myself:

    I hope it was obvious, but: I was counting the logical fallacies in Kloor’s statements.

  46. 46
    consciousness razor

    Oh, I agree.

    So we agree. Alas, we’re back to being an echo chamber!

    You might like Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained. It deals a bit with hyperactive agency detection, but there’s obviously much more to it. The title is only slightly presumptuous. (It reminds me of Dennett’s Consciousness Explained.) It’s a damned good start at an explanation, if you ask me.

  47. 47
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Thomathy

    It’s not a just so story, it’s an observation of a pattern I see in behavior. I’m taking a guess that whatever causes it is likely the same problems with rational thinking that causes superstition.

  48. 48
    Sastra

    Thomathy #24 wrote

    Sastra, Atwood isn’t making that argument, just voicing received opinion.

    Even if she was making that argument, though, from what I can tell she’s not saying anything contrary to what we’re saying. It’s not a “gotcha!” statement Kloor can trot out to shame us.

    Accomodationism isn’t identified by saying that religion is an evolved part of the human condition. It’s when you go further and say that it’s an important, vital, ineradicable evolved aspect of the human condition, one that cannot and should not be changed. Natural = good. The Way Things Should Be to operate best.

    So I think I need to revise my list. On the other thread I gave a definition of an ‘accomodationist.’ I wrote that imo an accomodationist believes one or more of the following:

    1.) There is no necessary conflict between science and religion.

    2.) People’s religious faith is part of their fundamental identity, and deserves to be treated with a special respect.

    3.) The underlying problem is never faith or religion per se: the real problem is only with extremists.

    I should add:

    4.) Religion is hardwired into the human animal and so it is both pointless and harmful to try to change people.

    (Note there’s nothing on the list about ‘being able to work with the religious on a common cause.’ That’s not what defines them, though they like to think it does.)

  49. 49
    noelplum99

    I don’t really like the term ‘hard-wired’ because it gets us down the problematic path of biological determinism, which is more often than not an accusation made against a claim rather than the claim which was actually made.

    I think it is probably true that religion is

    a parasitic phenomenon that short-circuits honest sensations, the desire to understand and our humility before the complexity of the universe, and plugs in a false belief that we do understand everything to resolve the two.

    but where you say

    “Awe” is probably hardwired as an emotional response. The effort to try to comprehend the world around us is probably hardwired into our brains.

    I would add to that a tendency to infer agency in things, even when it is wholly inappropriate or erroneous (such as supernatural explanations for weather phenomena or natural disasters involving deistic agency). I suspect that this is probably as much what is responsible for supernatural thinking as anything else.

    Jim

  50. 50
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Ing, I agree with that. Perhaps it a matter of detail. I see a problem with a framework. It seems you see a problem with something more fundamental.
    _____

    consciousness razor, I know the book. It’s on my list and it’s such a long list. I think I heard an interview with the author somewhere. Maybe on Skeptically Speaking or Little Atoms …I can’t recall.
    _____

    Sastra, it’s definitely not a ‘gotcha’ and that what makes it so damned silly the he even quoted her.

  51. 51
    Sastra

    noelplum99 #49 wrote:

    I suspect that this is probably as much what is responsible for supernatural thinking as anything else.

    To that I’d probably add a natural human tendency towards mind/body dualism and magical “essences.”

    A recent study purported to show that atheists initially have the same sorts of supernatural intuitions as spiritual/religious believers: we apparently just automatically re-think them into more rational terms. I suspect that’s true, though I don’t know whether individual personality or education (or both) is primarily responsible for the difference.

    For example, my New Age friends believe (or pretend to believe) that consciousness flows through all things and that part of the evidence for this is our instinctive tendency to do things like get angry at a car that won’t start. We’re not anthropomorphizing: our inner selves are recognizing the Spirit of the car. Or something like that.

    They’ve apparently taught themselves to pay more attention to how it “feels” than to what makes more rational sense. In our culture, this particular form of supernaturalism (animism) is less popular and more obvious than others. But I suspect it’s the same process for all. It’s just that when the supernatural belief is popular then WE are the ones who have ‘taught’ ourselves to pay more attention to how it reasons out than to what it “feels like” (to a toddler.)

  52. 52
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

    The Evo-Phrenologist’s Fallacy?

  53. 53
    noelplum99

    Sastra @51

    Haha, you sound like you have been talking to my sister! She believes that all things possess this ‘energy field’ – we had a lovely discussion about it a month or so ago :)

    I think dualism and dualistic thinking is really interesting. It almost seems the intuitively reasonable thing to believe UNTIL you actually work through it (a bit like the concept of free will). As you say, maybe this is because we have an underlying predisposition towards it.

    Jim

  54. 54
    Chuck

    The best explanation of “hard-wiring” of religion I’ve heard is that normal cognitive processes — such as the ability to conceive other people as having minds similar to ours, persistent memories of others long after they’ve died, agency detection, etc — are hijacked or hyperactive, and so we perceive ghosts or gods where there is in reality nothing.

    I seriously doubt religion itself is “hard-wired” (whatever that means), but it certainly appears to be the result of otherwise normal cognitive processes gone awry.

  55. 55
    BubbaRich

    It’s odd that nobody mentions the fact that PZ and Kloor (and Atwood) are using at least two different definitions of “religion,” and PZ’s entire argument rests on “MY DEFINITION IS RIGHT!”

    PZ also continues to reveal that he doesn’t know any religious people. He does this by asserting his definition of religion as the “true” definition of religion, such as “when we actually look at what religion focuses on, it’s all petty trivial dogma and weird justifications for tribal cosmetics.”

    Some religion does, that’s true, but people (especially modern Americans) don’t actually live religion that way in daily life. But PZ knows what REAL religion focuses on. The religious people I know, of several religions and even more sects of Christianity, only intersect with dogma occasionally. Those active on talk radio do so much more, of course, so maybe that’s where PZ is learning his religion. He seems to believe in religious magic more than his liberal Christian opponents, though, based on his tiff with Chris Stedman about making him go into a church. I didn’t hear PZ ever apologize for his childish tantrum or his factual error (of blaming the church location on Stedman), did I miss that?

  56. 56
    Argle Bargle

    Reading Kloor reminds me of a quote from H.L. Mencken:

    There is always an easy solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.

  57. 57
    PZ Myers

    I know a lot of religious people, BubbaRich, and I’ve been to many churches. And your version of religion is idiosyncratic and practiced almost nowhere.

  58. 58
    Ingdigo Jump

    bubbarich shows US that reality is too borring you cam just make up your own

  59. 59
    Ingdigo Jump

    oh fuck you Autocorrect

  60. 60
    Argle Bargle

    Bubba Rich #55

    PZ also continues to reveal that he doesn’t know any religious people. He does this by asserting his definition of religion as the “true” definition of religion, such as “when we actually look at what religion focuses on, it’s all petty trivial dogma and weird justifications for tribal cosmetics.”

    If you honestly think theology is more than the study of trivia based on the opinions of people studying the musings of long dead priests which have been edited, rewritten, expurgated, revised, filtered and amended by countless hands all with various and differing agendas then you must not be paying attention.

    his tiff with Chris Stedman

    Okay, I understand now. You’re a Stedman fanboi sneering at PZ and gnu atheists for not giving Stedman the esteem he so craves. Just so you know, accommodationists in general and Stedman in particular are not admired by the Pharyngula commentariat.

  61. 61
    Inaji

    ” “Spiritual but not religious” doesn’t have the power of traditional religion to brutalize or oppress, it still leads people to derail their critical thinking, and trivialize reality, and prioritize personal bias over evidence, and base important decisions on a foundation of sand.”

    “When I’m in a less generous mood, though, I see this trope as smug and superior, without anything to back it up. I see it as a way of saying, “I’m so special and independent, of course I don’t have anything to do with hidebound organized religion, I’m far too free a spirit…but I’m also special and sensitive, and in touch with powerful sacred things beyond this mundane world.”

    “Rather more importantly: I think the “spiritual but not religious” trope plays into the idea that religious belief – excuse me, spiritual belief – makes you a finer, better person. There’s a defensiveness to it: like the person is saying, “I don’t attend religious services or engage in any religious practice…but I’m not a bad person. Of course I still feel a connection to God and the soul. I haven’t completely descended to the gutter. What do you take me for?” It gives aid and comfort to the idea that value and joy, transcendence and meaning, must come from the world of the supernatural.

    But my biggest problem with this trope? If being “spiritual but not religious” means rejecting organized religion while supposedly being in touch with sacred things beyond the mundane physical world…it shows a piss-poor attitude towards the mundane physical world.

    The physical world is anything but mundane. The physical world is black holes at the center of every spiral galaxy. It is billions of galaxies rushing away from each other at breakneck speed. It is solid matter that’s anything but solid: particles that can’t be seen by the strongest microscope, separated by gaping vastnesses of nothing. It is living things that are all related, all with the same great-great-great-to the power of a million grandmother. It is space that curves, continents that drift. It is cells of organic tissue that somehow generate consciousness. When you take the time to learn about the physical mundane world, you find that it is anything but mundane.

    And this crap about “I don’t follow any organized religion, but there has to be more to life than what we see” does a grave disservice to the wild and astonishing complexity of what we see.

    As someone whose name I can’t remember once wrote: The “spiritual but not religious” trope tries to have the best of both worlds…but it actually gets the worst. It keeps the part of religion that’s the indefensible, unsupported-by-a-scrap-of-evidence belief in invisible beings; indeed, the part of religion that sees those invisible beings as more real, and more important, than the physical world we live in. It keeps the part of religion that devalues reason and evidence and critical thinking, in favor of hanging onto any cockamamie idea that appeals to your wishful thinking. It keeps the part of religion that equates morality and value with believing in invisible friends. It keeps the part of religion that confers a smug sense of superiority, solely on the basis of your supposed connection with an invisible world.

    It keeps all that…and abandons the part of religion that’s community, and shared ritual, and charitable works, and a sense of belonging. It throws out the baby, and keeps the bathwater. And then it pats itself on the back and says, “Look at all this wonderful bathwater I have!”

    -Greta Christina, Why Are You Atheists So Angry?

  62. 62
    lilandra

    If that is the case, religion was selected for in the Pleistocene by many, many millennia of human evolution.

    Pleistocene could be the center of an evo-psych bingo card.

  63. 63
    kantalope

    Religion is good because it is hardwired? I have a blind spot hardwired into my eyeball and vision. Does that mean your head really disappears if I put it in that blind spot?

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17511-the-blind-spot-and-the-vanishing-head-illusion.html

  64. 64
    Inaji

    kantalope:

    Does that mean your head really disappears if I put it in that blind spot?

    Now I’m thinking about “I’m crushing your head!

  65. 65
    John Morales

    The “spiritual but not religious” trope tries to have the best of both worlds…but it actually gets the worst.

    Nah, it just loses one aspect of the woo. The religious one.

    It keeps all that…and abandons the part of religion that’s community, and shared ritual, and charitable works, and a sense of belonging.

    Leaving aside my opinion of community and shared ritual and need for a sense of belonging, none of those things depend on organised religion. So, no, they haven’t abandoned that at all.

  66. 66
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    *shakes fist at Thomathy*

  67. 67
    Joerg

    There must be a name for this logical fallacy: “You accept [broad scientific discipline], therefore you ought to accept [my quirky and unfounded personal interpretation of it]!”

    Philosophy?

  68. 68
    rorschach

    Kloor sez:

    Fortunately, there are prestigious scientists like Peter Higgs willing to call out the “fundamentalist” strain that soils the atheist movement. To see the reaction to that is to know that Higgs has hit a nerve.

    It’s true, Higgs has hit a nerve. And it’s the collective nerve of the New Atheists who have heard this same old trope a million times before. The strain that soils the atheist movement is not the Gnus, it’s the people like Higgs or Kloor who think that preferring truth over desert nomad poetry, and evidence over faith, and saying so out loud, is somehow strident, militant or fundamentalist.

  69. 69
    Inaji

    To see the reaction to that is to know that Higgs has hit a nerve.

    I’ve really come to loathe the use of “oooh, hit a nerve!”. Just because something you say provokes a reaction doesn’t automagically make you right.

  70. 70
    rorschach

    Moar Kloor:

    If you dare to say (as I do) that religion still has some redeeming qualities for people, you’re branded an “accomodationist.” If you dare to say (as I do) that science and religion can coexist, you’re branded an “accomodationist.”

    Alcohol or Crack have redeeming qualities for people too, and yet they are bad for you. The point is that those redeeming qualities of religion are either based on untruths(eg afterlife), or are not unique to religion at all(eg community).

    As to the second part, of course religion and science “can coexist”, they’re coexisting as we speak, one is not an accomodationist for pointing out this trivial observation. But what makes Kloor an accomodationist in my view is the fact that he doesn’t seem to get that science and religion are completely different concepts of knowing, of seeing the world. And religion has no role and no use as a way of knowing anymore.

    Well, it never did, but in times before science it was about the only available tool to “explain”, or interpret, phenomena and events. So what the Gnus are saying I think is that religion has no power to explain the world around us, and in this sense the two can not coexist in that role. If you think they can or should, then yes, I guess that makes you an accomodationist.

  71. 71
    Ingdigo Jump

    Well science and religion can only coexist if one accommodates the other (oy see what I did there!) if they contradict then either you have to sacrifice science to make people feel happy or sacrifice belief for the benefit of not being a fucking moron.

  72. 72
    Ingdigo Jump

    Also from my above we should all agree that the ideal way to coexist is for religion to accommodate science, as again we’ll all be happier in the long run if we’re not being utter boobs. The real issue is that assholes like Keith here seem to think that science is the one to accommodate.

  73. 73
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    You know, if belief in imaginary deities and a soul and an afterlife were free of cost, I might be tempted to be more accommodationist. After all, if a belief salves the pain of life and helps people get through loss, why not. However, there is a cost.

    If you posit a caring, all powerful deity, then you have to resolve the problem of evil, and that always seems to lead to a “chosen people” and “the others”. It tends to make people feel “special” and protected, no matter how stupidly they act.

    If you believe in a “soul”, then you have all sorts of problems. Does the rest of nature have a soul as well, or is it just humans? And if just humans, then when does the inanimate matter that makes up a zygote get its soul and become human”? What about when there are two souls in the same body (pregnancy)? And on and on. It is simply not reasonable to expect people to resolve these questions without reaching absurd conclusions–particularly when there can be no evidence to guide them.

    So, I will simply reply to the silly quotes of Mr. Kloor with a quote of my own:

    “If they can make you believe absurdities, they can make you commit attrocities.”–Voltaire

    That is why I cannot be an accommodationist.

  74. 74
    DLC

    If religion is persistent, and if by religion you mean belief in a supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient creator figure , then what you really mean is that humanity’s tendency to assign agency to unknowns is something selected for early on in our evolution. This is also known as the “what’s behind the curtain” syndrome. If I produce a rabbit out of my hat, people who aren’t in on the trick think it’s magic. But when i explain that the hat has a false bottom, the curtains have a hidden opening and my assistant stuck the rabbit into the hat when you were watching my hands make passes with a wand, it’s all rather mundane.

  75. 75
    Stacy

    @noelplum99 #53

    I think dualism and dualistic thinking is really interesting. It almost seems the intuitively reasonable thing to believe UNTIL you actually work through it (a bit like the concept of free will). As you say, maybe this is because we have an underlying predisposition towards it.

    I find it interesting too. I think the reason we’re predisposed to it is an accident of how our brains create “consciousness” (in quotes because I realize the concept is under dispute.) It really feels like our minds are separate from our bodies. Even knowing that they aren’t, it still feels that way. After all, if you lost an arm, you would’t be less you, would you?

    And if mind and body are separate (as we wrongly but persistently perceive them to be,) then they ought to be separable, and minds could theoretically exist independently of bodies.

  76. 76
    John Morales

    Stacy:

    I think the reason we’re predisposed to it is an accident of how our brains create “consciousness” (in quotes because I realize the concept is under dispute.)

    Sapience or self-awareness would work.

    After all, if you lost an arm, you would’t be less you, would you?

    But if you lost a chunk of brain matter, you very probably would be.

    And if mind and body are separate (as we wrongly but persistently perceive them to be,) then they ought to be separable, and minds could theoretically exist independently of bodies.

    If they’re separate then they are in fact not separable, so that’s a silly claim.

  77. 77
    Ingdigo Jump

    After all, if you lost an arm, you would’t be less you, would you?

    Well phantom pain and sensation seems to indicate that the brain is rather insistent that yes it would rather that limb still be attached because it’s sort of based a lot of it’s perception of self around it thank you very much.

  78. 78
    jayarrrr

    I poo-poo this “seen/unseen world” blather for the most part until I have to take one of the cats to the vet for the last time. Then this “Rainbow Bridge” myth gets me all stingy-eyed…

  79. 79
    J Dubb

    From the NYTimes yesterday:
    “Humans have been fascinated with the horn for ages. The ancient Persians thought rhino horn vessels could detect poisons. The Chinese thought rhino horn powder could reduce fevers. The Yemenis prized the horn for coming-of-age daggers, presented to teenage boys as a sign of manhood.

    In Asia, faith in traditional cures runs strong, fueling demand as Asian economies grow, though there is no scientific proof that rhino horn can cure cancer.”

    Clearly, humans have evolved this need for rhino horn belief! What other explanation could there be? Why fight it? Why not think of all the good that rhino horn belief does? If it results in all the rhinos being slaughtered, well, it can’t be helped.

  80. 80
    LykeX

    Some religion does, that’s true, but people (especially modern Americans) don’t actually live religion that way in daily life./

    Actually, nearly half of Americans do live religion that way, to the degree that they’re happy to reject major scientific ideas.

  81. 81
    LykeX

    Curse you, blockquote! I’ll get you some day.

  82. 82
    David Marjanović

    I’ve really come to loathe the use of “oooh, hit a nerve!”. Just because something you say provokes a reaction doesn’t automagically make you right.

    You’ve said it better than I could have.

    You know, if belief in imaginary deities and a soul and an afterlife were free of cost, I might be tempted to be more accommodationist. After all, if a belief salves the pain of life and helps people get through loss, why not. However, there is a cost.

    [...]

    You, too, said it better than I could have.

    Curse you, blockquote! I’ll get you some day.

    Hah. Blcokqutoe always wins.

  83. 83
    vaiyt

    Fortunately, there are prestigious scientists like Peter Higgs willing to call out the “fundamentalist” strain that soils the atheist movement. To see the reaction to that is to know that Higgs has hit a nerve.

    Argumentum ad Trollium?

    In which planet making people upset proves you’re right?

    One argument that seems to be regularly made by the accommodationists is that the gnus uncompromising stance is bad strategically, that we will somehow win more converts by being more accommodating.

    The problem is, how far should you accomodate?

    You can only build bridges so far before you end up at the other side and there’s no functional difference between you and a credulous bullshit peddler.

    But PZ knows what REAL religion focuses on. The religious people I know, of several religions and even more sects of Christianity, only intersect with dogma occasionally.

    And yet, these REAL religious happily support the dogma-peddlers, giving money, support and air time to them.

  84. 84
    Inaji

    Stacy:

    After all, if you lost an arm, you would’t be less you, would you?

    Yes, you would and “you” would be rather insistent on that arm still being there. You might want to read The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran. He has a couple of chapters which specifically deal with limb loss and how those not so separate brains of ours deal with the situation.

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