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Sean Carroll is wise

In a piece explaining why he won’t take Templeton money, Sean Carroll says why promoting godlessness is important. It’s how the universe works, something quite fundamental to how science operates.

Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about—origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing—for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last 500 years. And it matters to people … a lot.

Or at least, it would matter, if we made it more widely known. It’s the one piece of scientific/philosophical knowledge that could really change people’s lives. So in my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out—to not be wishy-washy on the question of religion as a way of knowing, but to be clear and direct and loud about how reality really works. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, or seem to contribute to their blurring, or even just not minding very much when other people blur them, we do the world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the world is currently run—not just through extremists, but through the well-meaning liberal believers who very naturally think of religion as a source of wisdom and moral guidance, and who define the middle ground for sociopolitical discourse in our society. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning. If we think we know something about that fundamental nature—something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom—we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible. And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.

Comments

  1. kevinalexander says

    And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.

    And gives it that stale urine smell.

  2. Kevin Anthoney says

    Given that, to a first approximation, all scientists are called Sean Carroll, I think you should say which one.

  3. says

    He identified himself as Sean Carroll the physicist in the quotation.

    Sean Carroll the biologist would have probably talked about fish, not physics.

  4. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Sean Carroll the biologist would have probably talked about fish, not physics.

    Yes,

    “Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about—origin of the fishies, fundamental laws of fish schools, that kind of thing—for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No laser fishing rods are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God.”

  5. doublereed says

    SHUT UP SEAN CARROLL! I WANT MY JETPACKS!!! DON’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM MEEEEE!!!

  6. Sastra says

    Wise indeed.

    The “well-meaning liberal believers who very naturally think of religion as a source of wisdom and moral guidance” whom I know are strong believers and supporters of alternative medicine. And all my scientific objections are met with the wisdom and moral guidance they get from their “spirituality.”

    When the pseudoscientific arguments fail, they speed like bullets towards the arguments built on the value of faith. Especially that argument which says there shouldn’t BE any arguments: we live in different ‘paradigms.’ Different systems. Different knowledge. Different facts. Different results. Different realities. Because we are different types of people.

    PZ once said that “science changes the way you think.” Yes. For the better. For one thing, it’s not going to divide the world and humanity up the way happy, smiling, harmonious Templeton-style spirituality will. They’ve got it backwards.

  7. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    doublereed,

    meh, they didnt give us the hovercars they promised us in the 60s, I wouldnt get my hopes up :)

  8. Dhorvath, OM says

    We have better explanations for how things work.

    That’s gonna stick. Simple.

  9. Stacy says

    Sean Carroll is wise indeed. A few months ago he gave a talk at CFI-L.A. about the hunt for the Higgs Boson. In the middle of his talk he pointed out how all the scientists he’d named so far were men. He then went into an elegant demonstration of how women have been and still are discriminated against in science (he showed that study where identical resumes were rated differently based on whether there was a female or a male name on the application. The “male” applicants were much more likely to be hypothetically hired.)

    Then he said he hoped that in the future, things would look very different. And went on with the hunt for the Higgs, and what it all means.

  10. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    Hear, hear, what a welcome change from the crap we get from the so-called community.

  11. says

    I agree that taking money from the Templeton Foundation is a bad idea. Religion and spirituality have nothing useful to offer science. At best, these people can just shut up and get out of the way.

    But I would argue against the idea that religious people have nothing to say about morality. If someone is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or donating blood, does it really matter if it is on behalf of an invisible man in the sky? I’ve seen a lot of people doing a lot of good in my communities and they proselytize not at all. And they wouldn’t for a minute think to promote creationism, abstinence-only, teacher-led prayer in school, reversion therapy, or any of the other “Bible-based” crap that annoys me. I have been taught useful lessons on morality from religious people and religious texts.

    One way to think about this might be to imagine being a coach. Let’s say you had a great player that wore a “magic necklace” (I think these things are popular in baseball these days). Would you rant and rave (or even calmly argue) against your guy wearing it, or would you ignore it and spend your time focusing on things that actually matter like practice, mechanics, fitness, etc.?

  12. timanthony says

    As science progresses, and embraces more and more people into its worldview, religion not only appears to be more and more dishonest, it actually becomes more and more dishonest. The leaders of religion increasingly are on the defensive and, finding themselves without much of a defense after all, have resorted to ever-increasingly desperate measures. To wit: mendaciousness (not graciousness).

    Look at the neophyte Pope Francis. He, and the entire Catholic Church and Vatican together with him, have learned NOTHING from Christopher Hitchen’s damining indictment of their own Mother Teresa.

  13. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    “If someone is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or donating blood, does it really matter if it is on behalf of an invisible man in the sky?”

    Way to miss the point. The question is – is religion a source of guidance and morality. This has nothing to do with what you say here.

  14. timanthony says

    [sorry, distracted coz 'Preview' function isn't WYSIWYG on links & I hit wrong button]

    to complete my thought(!)…

    Instead, we have the antithesis: a new Pope who is literally glorifying and encouraging poverty as a way of life. In fact, within the Vatican, he isn’t encouraging poverty so much as he is enforcing poverty.

    This is leadership? It’s leadership like the Pied Piper of Hamelin showed leadership – removing soceity’s vermin from the sight of those who could afford to pay him.

    Except the Church actually gets paid BY the rats as it is selling them out to a life of abject poverty. Not even Mother Teresa thought of that angle.

  15. consciousness razor says

    But I would argue against the idea that religious people have nothing to say about morality.

    Religious people are people. All people have something to say about all sorts of things. Since this isn’t the idea you’re arguing against, it’s irrelevant.

    Religion, as an institution and a method of understanding the world and acting upon it, doesn’t say shit about morality that’s anything like true or beneficial.

  16. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    All people have something to say about all sorts of things. Since this isn’t the idea you’re arguing against, it’s irrelevant.

    And I’d augment this by saying that we have to recognize this as a tactic of the religious. Some religious people claim that secularists would drive the faithful any sphere of public influence. Which is, of course, bullshit.

    Speaking for myself, I would just disallow revealed knowledge as a basis for making decisions that affect us all.

    Were it up to me.

  17. Owlglass says

    Excellent piece. It seems since 9/11 there is an interesting way how world views interact (something that previously seemed to take decades). Fundamentalists ended the previous time. Christian religiosity was on the rise, sometimes intolerant in nature. In the synthesis, it was called for respect and tolerance for religion. That prompted New Atheism around 2006. It was then opposed by Accommodationism. But with science and freedom still under attack, more and more people seem to form yet another wave, which isn’t about going against (or arguing about) God(s), but instead promoting the fact that no evidence whatsoever exists and that we better accept what’s on the table. I hope more scientists follow Sean Carroll’s example (and all the others before).

  18. Sastra says

    erikjenson #13 wrote:

    If someone is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or donating blood, does it really matter if it is on behalf of an invisible man in the sky?

    No, it wouldn’t matter. Which proves our point — not theirs.

    Keep in mind that we’re not saying that religious people can’t do or say moral things. Of course they do — many of them claiming that they’re motivated by religion. But from our standpoint (yours and mine), every good and decent moral thing they do is related to humanist values. We can say this with confidence because if it wasn’t then we atheists would be scratching our heads in confusion, wondering gee, why would anyone want to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or donate blood? Does not compute in our godless little brains.

    But the only moral things which really DON’T compute in our godless little brains are the morals you really DO need religion for: blasphemy laws, banning gay marriage, not eating pork, human sacrifice, and other arbitrary, pointless, mean, silly, and regressive rules which make no sense unless you read the secret decoder holy book of special revelation for the initiated. And that last category will go all over the ethical landscape, differing from religion to religion and faith to faith.

    The secular ground is the common ground. This needs to be emphasized.

    Your example of the coach and the player with the “magic necklace” is assuming that the guy wearing it doesn’t take it too seriously and is more than willing to focus on things that matter like practice, mechanics, fitness, etc. But what happens if he loses the “magic necklace” and the coach is suddenly stuck in the desperate situation of the little mouse in Dumbo, arguing and arguing that no, you don’t need it the necklace doesn’t matter the feather isn’t magic and you can really truly play well without it? What will probably happen is confirmation bias. No matter how much practice and training that player has, he will fail because he believes he can’t succeed. The magic turned against him.

    Jollying people along by playing into their weak points is a dangerous game. Sure, it might work. Or it might backfire.If the invisible man in the sky stops telling these wonderful folks to feed the hungry and house the homeless and instead tells them that now is the day of reckoning and the infidels must be crushed beneath the feet of the godly … then you just might find yourself wishing that you hadn’t been quite so relieved that hey, these people never tried to debate you or get into an argument over what’s true or not … wasn’t that nice?

    Give the religious more credit. Argue against religion because it isn’t true. They will usually know to keep the extraneous parts that are useful. Didn’t we?

  19. says

    Sastra, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    Everyone appears to agree that religious people can say and do moral things. What about religious books? Can they be sources of morality? I would say that they can; they were written by men, some of whom had good ideas sometimes.

    I would also argue that SOME religious leaders and institutions are sources of morality. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind. If I were to take a time machine back to the 50s and 60s, I would join him in his protests instead of wasting time trying to convince him that his invisible man in the sky wasn’t real. Call it “jollying people along” if you want.

    I don’t spend much time arguing against religion. I don’t find it particularly useful for anything other than alienating people. I’ll be honest if asked, but I usually don’t bring it up. Sky fairies are low on my list of concerns.

    I agree that the humanist common ground is where we need to be (and that is where many “religious” people actually are), but I don’t think that makes things simple. Should we have free trade or fair trade? How should we treat the environment? Should we have hate crime laws? Should hard drugs be legal? Guns? Prostitution? Even if we all agree on a common ethical framework, I don’t see how we can all agree on policies.

  20. says

    Everyone appears to agree that religious people can say and do moral things. What about religious books? Can they be sources of morality? I would say that they can; they were written by men, some of whom had good ideas sometimes.

    What exactly is a source of morality? These books contain some things which you deem moral. The source of morality is where now? In the book? In the minds of the men (of course it was men) who wrote them? Your mind?

    Regardless of that conundrum, I’d argue that a book that contains both moral advice and profoundly immoral advice, AND which says that the whole kaboodle is meant to be taken as a whole, together, AND that this is an authority, is, at its core, profoundly IMMORAL since it mixes up harmful things with harmless things and confuses people about what morality really is.

    I would also argue that SOME religious leaders and institutions are sources of morality. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind.

    Again, what is this actual source of morality? I’m having trouble with this entire idea. It’s not like King invented anything new. Morality is something we all experience and have to judge for ourselves. The actual source here is your brain, not an external authority. Deferring to external authorities on matters of morality is suspect.

    If I were to take a time machine back to the 50s and 60s, I would join him in his protests instead of wasting time trying to convince him that his invisible man in the sky wasn’t real. Call it “jollying people along” if you want.

    When you have to invoke time travel to demonstrate the superiority of your position, consider that perhaps your position isn’t as superior as you thought.

    I don’t spend much time arguing against religion. I don’t find it particularly useful for anything other than alienating people. I’ll be honest if asked, but I usually don’t bring it up. Sky fairies are low on my list of concerns.

    Sky fairy believers, on the other hand, are causing trouble for people everywhere. Why are you making the same mistake that believers make, in implying that our concern is with the gods rather than with the believers?

    I agree that the humanist common ground is where we need to be (and that is where many “religious” people actually are), but I don’t think that makes things simple. Should we have free trade or fair trade? How should we treat the environment? Should we have hate crime laws? Should hard drugs be legal? Guns? Prostitution? Even if we all agree on a common ethical framework, I don’t see how we can all agree on policies.

    Having a basic agreement about how reality really works is going to go a long way towards coming to an agreement on issues like this. People who believe that Jesus is going to return soon and thus aren’t interested in combating climate change are a major problem. They are categorically wrong on many levels but they are very influential in the US Senate and Congress. I don’t see how you can work towards an ethical policy position vis-a-vis climate change without confronting religious believers on some level.

  21. consciousness razor says

    What about religious books? Can they be sources of morality?

    What does that even mean? No book is a “source of morality.” Not one ethical treatise, by any religious or secular thinker ever, is a source or the source of morality itself. Morality’s something people do with each other, not something books do. All you need is people — not ones with books, or ones with gods or spirits, or ones who you think made the right choices, just any group of people.

    I would say that they can; they were written by men, some of whom had good ideas sometimes.

    Again, this is going straight back to your original claim that “some people had ideas about [mumble mumble]” which no has ever argued against. So they had ideas, some of which weren’t half-bad. Big deal.

  22. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    erikjenson #13 wrote:

    If someone is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, or donating blood, does it really matter if it is on behalf of an invisible man in the sky? I’ve seen a lot of people doing a lot of good in my communities and they proselytize not at all. And they wouldn’t for a minute think to promote creationism, abstinence-only, teacher-led prayer in school, reversion therapy, or any of the other “Bible-based” crap that annoys me. I have been taught useful lessons on morality from religious people and religious texts.

    (TL:DR rant)
    Where the fuck are these people?

    Seriously, having been dirt poor, homeless, and lived in shelters I’ve yet to meet religious person who didn’t pull some shit. Like doing a fucking sermon for an hour before letting us homeless folks eat the food they came to give us in the park. Or the religious affiliated shelters that claim not to push religion but they talk about it and endlessly mention their chapel or “religious guidance counselors”. It’s been made very clear the disdain those religious people felt when I rebuked their attempts to “save my soul”. I was punished because they said I wasn’t a proper mother to refuse such teachings to my child. This attitude of “I help you to serve god” breeds this view that we must listen, must grovel and be grateful for their “sacrifices” and adhere to them. To not bow down to them and their god is seen as great affront. I was no longer deserving of shelter or food or clothes because I did not agree to their terms. That is the problem with religious charity. I’ve had to shallow and allow their bullshit just to survive. Of the people who also needed help and were also religious, their reactions depends if their religion was the same as the charities. Then usually it seemed too much and took out too much of their time, but they weren’t as offended as I.

    If there was ever a religious person who helped me but didn’t try to convert me, it was because they didn’t mention their beliefs. Because it didn’t matter. They were just there to help, to do the right thing. The need to brag or lay the claim of charitability at their god’s feet wasn’t there because it wasn’t god that moved them to be there. It was just them wanting to do the right thing. Why else would someone stay silent on the fact some great benevolent being is the reason for giving?

    Probe them for why they do these charitable acts and their answers often show the way. Those religious people that attach strings to their gifts just answer with god. It’s just god for them, hence the preaching. For those people, who are religious but keep it to themselves, they may say “because god demands it” but they will also come up with more.

    I was exaggerating earlier, there’s actually one person, and that’s not an exaggeration, I’ve met that follows under this category. She was the best fucking caseworker I’ve ever had. (True Story:) I was complaining one day to this case worker about the religious aspects of a program I was getting help from. She felt for me and said, (paraphrasing from memory)”It’s wrong. This isn’t about religion.It’s about helping people, regardless of beliefs or skin or education. I leave my religion at home and in my heart because I’m just a person here to help other people.” That’s the key right there. To truly be helpful and not a preaching, pressuring, pestering, religious person inflicting your beliefs on others, you have to come and give as just a person, not a religious person. Those people? I’d love to fucking meet because in this godsoaked state and country, the reality of charity is never really no-strings attached when it comes to religion. I’ve been lectured by state fucking employees in the welfare office FFS.

    It’s everywhere and until religion is tackled, defeated as reason for giving, for learning, for working, for justice, and for living, I don’t think religious people helping sans religion is going to be the norm. Right now, unless people are willing to admit that morality doesn’t come just from religion (indeed even the cherry picking religious often claim their beliefs come from god, but they pick and chose based on other factors outside religion), I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have to tear down this shrine for religion that society sacrifices us to, or else leave it and have everything tainted with it. I’ve quite frankly realized how easy I could die, how easily my child could die because society holds religion close to it’s heart and not it’s people. From abortion to our so called justice system people cling to this “Because god says so.” and refuses to think further than that, which leaves us in wars we shouldn’t be fighting, women dying for the sake of a fetus, minorities sequestered in ghettos, prisons and beaten down, and our education system used to keep us ignorant. Yes, there are other factors and yes, religion may not be the root cause, but it’s a blockade to progress, not a stepping stone.

    And, an important note, just because you don’t feel they preach or pressure the people they help when it comes to religion, the view is often very different from down here. Those secular charities? Their very people in the organization often promote and pressure for religion all on their own, with little recourse for those they inflict it upon. Like those people who insist they don’t force, just stuff your hands with pamphlets and suggest you go to church, yet withhold their helpful services until you go. (For instance, “Oh, I’m just so busy and the paperwork has just been done, maybe when I see you at church on Sunday, I’ll have better news.”On Monday, “Oh, no it’s not done yet and I was so sad to see you weren’t at church. Why? There’s this service on Wednesday if that suits you better, maybe I’ll have it done by then…) Yeah, that caseworker honestly protested and defended herself against the charge of not helping me and not pushing religion on me. She honestly fucking believed it. That’s what she honestly tells people, “I’m not like those preachers, I’m here to help!” *snort*

  23. says

    Sally,
    You are completely missing my point about MLK by focusing on the time travel.

    In the here and now I make common cause with religious people who care deeply for the environment (including climate change) and take action on it. They invoke Genesis where god says his creation is good as their justification. Contrast that with some atheists who seem to take every environmental restriction as some sort of fascist affront to their freedom.

    In the here and now I make common cause with religious people who work tirelessly to promote equality for homosexuals. Their justification is god’s love for all people. Contrast this with most atheists who do virtually nothing for the cause.

    In the here and now I make common cause with religious people to improve my neighborhood. I don’t see any atheists coming around to fix it up, so I join them and keep my atheism mostly to myself (as they keep their religion mostly to themselves).

    I agree that it is sky fairy believers who are the problem on numerous issues. I’ll rage against people like Rick Santorum and the numerous theocrats highlighted by Ed Brayton. I just don’t think it’s fair to lump them all together.

  24. consciousness razor says

    In the here and now I make common cause with religious people who work tirelessly to promote equality for homosexuals. Their justification is god’s love for all people.

    I’m gathering from this that the reason they’re justifying it (since they don’t have equality like they should) has no connection worth mentioning to religious bigots claiming it’s a sin according to their god. Is this how the conversation is going to be? How many facts do I get to omit?

    Contrast this with most atheists who do virtually nothing for the cause.

    Compare it to your lack of evidence for this claim.

  25. says

    Hmm, well, I said a lot of other things besides that invoking time travel is not a very convincing argument. Why don’t you try responding to some of the other things I and other folks have talked about, JAL in particular?

    Also, note the straw man: neither I nor anybody else is telling you not to make common cause with religious people who share your secular values. Stop putting words in our mouth.

  26. consciousness razor says

    And I hardly need to ask… but what the hell does any of this have to do with Templeton funding?

  27. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    #25
    erikjensen

    I agree that it is sky fairy believers who are the problem on numerous issues. I’ll rage against people like Rick Santorum and the numerous theocrats highlighted by Ed Brayton. I just don’t think it’s fair to lump them all together.

    They tie themselves together with their religion. Like atheists and Atheism+, disavow the regressives publicly and loudly, or else be doomed by their own touting of religion to appear the same way. Too often liberal religious people will defend or deflect the regressives to honor their religion, or they brush it off as not really a threat. They say, “Oh, but at least their helping people! Oh, at least they doing what they think is right, they’re really good people with good hearts!”. They just think it’s small or not really a problem since they gain their morality from the same tainted source of religion. . For every good thing you can pull from the Bible and the like, there’s 10 more horrible things to make it a lie. Hence why most don’t even know their own holy books, their moral compassed is being steered by something else.

    Converting those conservative religious people is not our jobs, culling the harm they cause is what I’m working towards. They can join us as people or go fuck themselves. I should not need to grovel on my knees, still my tongue or pay homage to another man’s false gods in order to live. And yet, within this supposed land of the free and brave, the majority is only swayed by god and country – not reason, facts, reality or even the pleading of their own neighbors.

  28. Owlglass says

    (24) erikjensen wrote: Everyone appears to agree that religious people can say and do moral things. What about religious books? Can they be sources of morality? I would say that they can; they were written by men, some of whom had good ideas sometimes. [...] I would also argue that SOME religious leaders and institutions are sources of morality.

    Regarding something as “religious” doesn’t change anything about the nature of the work or the person. It can be good, immoral, inspiring, cruel, nice, or any other qualifier. After all, “religious” merely means that some people consider it to belong to a particular type of belief system. A particular belief system itself could help people to be morally good. Not monotheism or the Bible though, where it comes down to cherry-picking. The cherry-picker must know which cherries to pick and which are considered foul. It’s the old principle that has many names. People use some external thing, maybe Tarot cards, a story, a cold reader, goat testicles, astrological signs, spirits, banks with Jewish names, the Bible to reflect back to them (more or less consciously) what they have on their mind. It is apparently “magical” to some. But it is a collection of cognitive biases and Apophenia at work.

  29. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    28
    consciousness razor

    And I hardly need to ask… but what the hell does any of this have to do with Templeton funding?

    We dared speak of the religious in generalities and realities instead of making exemptions for the few who are religious and hold humanist values nonetheless. Just like but “Not ALL men are rapists!”, it leads to the same tiring, stupid arguments and takes a tangential point to obscure the actual focus and problem.

  30. consciousness razor says

    JAL, yeah I’m getting that too. But I think this says a lot:

    Religion and spirituality have nothing useful to offer science. At best, these people can just shut up and get out of the way.

    But I would argue against the idea that religious people have nothing to say about morality.

    So we don’t need it for science, but maybe we do need it for morality. Is that the Templeton-esque idea that erikjensen’s driving at? Or not exactly that we need it, but that it offers useful things? Or is the crucial point here supposed to be the utterly trivial one that “they have things to say”?

  31. Pteryxx says

    just passing by to say, JAL @24, that was one beautiful righteous rant. Thanks for the wake-up.

  32. Pteryxx says

    oh, and:

    Contrast this with most atheists who do virtually nothing for the cause.

    I don’t see any atheists coming around to fix it up, so I join them and keep my atheism mostly to myself

    I suspect a connection there. *cough* Just sayin’.

  33. Ulysses says

    JAL @24

    To truly be helpful and not a preaching, pressuring, pestering, religious person inflicting your beliefs on others, you have to come and give as just a person, not a religious person.

    I prefer the Jewish attitude towards charity over the Christian attitude. Christians see charity as showing their god how good they are. Jews see charity as a benefit for the poor. When I give to charity I’m not doing it to make me feel better but to make someone else, likely someone I’ll never meet, feel better.

  34. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    33
    consciousness razor

    JAL, yeah I’m getting that too. But I think this says a lot:

    [erikjensen:]Religion and spirituality have nothing useful to offer science. At best, these people can just shut up and get out of the way.

    But I would argue against the idea that religious people have nothing to say about morality.

    So we don’t need it for science, but maybe we do need it for morality. Is that the Templeton-esque idea that erikjensen’s driving at? [1][Or not exactly that we need it, but that it offers useful things? [2]Or is the crucial point here supposed to be the utterly trivial one that “they have things to say”?[3]

    1.] If that’s what’ he’s saying, then that’s a problem. Him claiming to be an atheist makes me doubt that however. Morelike, for some people they need and use religion for morality. Of course, those he’s defending just happen to have the same values as he, an atheist, does. Funny, that.

    2.] The only thing “useful” that comes from religion is “God did it. God says it. You obey.” All morality, good or bad, can be derived from other sources, rendering religion utterly useless unless people aren’t taught critical thinking and skepticism to find the reasons for what morals they hold. That absences just leaves them clinging to religion like a buoy in a storm when there is a rescue boat in front of their face that they claim doesn’t exist.

    3.] That trivial “They have things to say!” seems to be in line with his “But there are good religious people that help our causes!” defense, which is just as trivial. Of course, there are but they aren’t good because of religion, but because of the morals they’ve decided to have and picked their religion to fit. Those that morals and religion clash, it’s often uncomfortable and, as we’ve seen, often leads to switching of religions or to outright atheism. After all, who says they’ve changes churches/temples/mosques because that god doesn’t exist but believe this new one does? It’s because what they’ve decided is right has changed, so they group with other people to wrap themselves and their morality in the cloak of god to claim righteousness, community and shelter from having to question their beliefs further.

    ——————————————————-

    35
    Pteryxx

    oh, and:

    [erikjensen:] Contrast this with most atheists who do virtually nothing for the cause.

    I don’t see any atheists coming around to fix it up, so I join them and keep my atheism mostly to myself

    I suspect a connection there. *cough* Just sayin’.

    Indeed. Not to mention, just because the religious out number us doesn’t lessen our involvement or contributions, but their pushing, and their religious “reasoning” often does. Oh, and the threats and risks many atheist face to come out because of the religious….

    And thank you for the compliment in #34. =D

  35. says

    JAL says, “where the fuck are these people?”

    Here are a few suggestions: YMCA, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccans, United Church of Christ, Habitat for Humanity

    None of these groups give a crap about evangelism. I’ve never even seen someone pray at the Y, let alone talk about religion. And there is a fat chance that any UU would ever try to convince you of anything supernatural.

    Let me be clear, I do think our society would be better off without religion. Scandinavia seems to have the right approach to most social issues while places like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Alabama do not. Religion is clearly the culprit. Convincing people of this is a very slow process, however. I just think our time is better spent on things other than philosophy. You can be good without god, but you can also be good with god. I’ll take a decent theist over a jackass atheist any day.

  36. says

    How much more good could all those good religious people do if they weren’t wasting all their money and time and other resources propping up their churches and imams and lobbyists (which are doing horrible things with it, by the way)?

  37. says

    Religion is clearly the culprit. Convincing people of this is a very slow process, however.

    Not if Sean Carroll has his way. He’s calling on scientists to reveal to people the truth. It’s only been 4 centuries since Bacon and 150 years since Darwin. In historical time, that’s a moment, and look at what’s been accomplished already. The future will fly even faster with the Internet to expose people to the facts of reality. And birth control, as it ought to soon (in historical time) pull the rest of humanity out of poverty, will take away one of the main weapons religion uses to keep people under its thumb.

    But it sounds as if you don’t want to do any of the convincing. Fine. Just don’t stand in our way.

  38. says

    Seriously erikjensen, either quote who it was who said you’re not supposed to ally with religious people who have similar values to work on this or that cause, or retract your statements chastising us for allegedly preferring being assholes to MLK about believing in god instead of marching with him at Selma or whatever your overblown hyperbolic hypothetical was.

  39. says

    Here are a few suggestions: YMCA, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccans, United Church of Christ, Habitat for Humanity

    None of these groups give a crap about evangelism.

    don’t know about the YMCA, but the YWCA here in town kicked out a lesbian couple who wanted to exercise there.
    As for the UU… http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2009/09/09/unitarian-universalists-complain-about-atheist-ads/
    And Habitat for Humanity? Well… this is what its founder had to say:

    “I have a deep concern that Habitat for Humanity remain firmly a Christian ministry,” said Fuller, the organization’s president. “From the beginning, I have seen Habitat as a new frontier in Christian missions — a creative and new way to proclaim the gospel. … Ironically, success may be the biggest impediment to Fuller’s vision, he conceded. Habitat has attracted millions of volunteers who want to help end poverty by providing affordable housing.
    “Some of them are not Christians,” he noted. “We have an open-door policy” to accept all volunteers who want to build homes in order to end poverty. Consequently, people of all kinds of faiths and no faith have stepped up to participate. … “We urgently need [Baptists], not just to saw boards and pound nails, but to have a presence on site that introduces people to Jesus,” he stressed. “But you can’t do that without presence … without Christians on site.”

    so yeah, you’re full of shit.

  40. Ichthyic says

    Let me be clear, I do think our society would be better off without religion.

    you know what?

    you would have been far better off just saying that, and not the 99% of the other ignorant, ill-thought, inane drivel that acted as filler for the rest of your posts.

  41. Ichthyic says

    In the here and now I make common cause with religious people to improve my neighborhood. I don’t see any atheists coming around to fix it up,

    what this tells me is you are terrible at statistics.

    on average, 90% of the country is self-professed xian or similar, 10% or less are atheists.

    if you were good at statistics, you would realize how stupid and meaningless your “observation” is wrt to making conclusions about the value of religion in charity.

  42. unclefrogy says

    you know I was in high school when MLK was making trouble in Selma and Birmingham> I have heard many of his speeches many are still available to hear on line. They do not sound very much like Baptist sermons to me they sound like someone who is focusing on the constitutional rights of all people on the basic human rights of all people. I do not think he would have had as much success had he kept talking about Jesus love and salvation.
    His speaking style was undoubtedly drawn from the Black Church the content sounded more like Philadelphia in the 1700′s to me.
    He spoke like a humanist who grew up in the church.
    the religious who want to put their religion first in every thing can go suck a rock and stay away from me.

    uncle frogy

  43. Anri says

    erikjensen:

    One way to think about this might be to imagine being a coach. Let’s say you had a great player that wore a “magic necklace” (I think these things are popular in baseball these days). Would you rant and rave (or even calmly argue) against your guy wearing it, or would you ignore it and spend your time focusing on things that actually matter like practice, mechanics, fitness, etc.?

    It depends.
    Does he attribute every victory to it? Publicly? When asked if his team is any good, if his coach is effective, does he instead indicate the necklace did it all?

    Does he spend valuable practice time stroking the necklace, talking to it, bowing down before it? Does he refuse to practice, or play, if he’s not allowed to do this?

    Has he started insisting that the other players also bow down before his necklace? Does he claim that we lost when they don’t? Has he tried to get anyone kicked off of the team if they refused?

    Does he claim that the necklace tells him how his teammates should dress? How and when and with whom they can have sex? Does he claim it tells him what color skin is acceptable for teammates? Has he objected to anyone not fitting these guidelines being on the team? Tried to get them kicked off? Beaten them? Killed them?

    When you find me a world in which religion doesn’t do these things, you will find a world in which I don’t object to religion.
    Do we live in such a world?

  44. Anri says

    erikjensen:

    I would also argue that SOME religious leaders and institutions are sources of morality. Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind. If I were to take a time machine back to the 50s and 60s, I would join him in his protests instead of wasting time trying to convince him that his invisible man in the sky wasn’t real. Call it “jollying people along” if you want.

    One more quick thing – there were plenty of religious people who opposed MLK, too, many on religious grounds (look it up if you don’t believe me). Some, in fact, still do.

    If you were making a choice based on who was religious, without regard for morality, you would be have no basis for picking the right side. If, however, you made you choice based on who was moral, without regard for religion, you’d get it right every time.

    Morality is not closely related to religion.

  45. MetzO'Magic says

    I was going to say pretty much what JAL said @#24, but she says it much better than I could, and it comes from bitter first-hand experience in her case: with the religious, an offer of help nearly *always* comes with strings attached; whereas when the godless help, it is nearly always for humanist reasons.

    This crap about how atheists supposedly have no morals has to stop. It’s a freakin’ brain dead argument from the religious nutcases that is instantly refutable by just looking at what goes on in the real world.

  46. says

    Wow, that’s lots of hostility there Ichthyic. I thought we were all on the same side here, but if you want to eat your own, then go ahead.

    I think it is YOU who are unaware of statistics. Yes, I am aware that roughly 90% of the people in America are religious. I don’t live in a representative neighborhood. In my neighborhood, it is more like 95%. I would have about one friend and my kids wouldn’t have many play dates if I was “clear and loud and direct” (Sean Carroll’s words) about the falsehood of religion. That’s what I’m arguing against. Maybe you feel all warm and fuzzy in your basement surrounded by your virtual atheist friends or maybe you happen to live in a particularly open minded area of the country or maybe you’re just socially tougher than me.

    I just don’t think that religion is central to bullshit. There is medical bullshit, religious bullshit (almost all of it), scientific bullshit, political bullshit, etc. I will work on all of these things when it makes sense to do so in a manner that I think is effective and doesn’t ruin me socially. Maybe being an “out and loud and proud” atheist works for you and I say go for it. I’m sorry if my milquetoast approach pisses you off.

  47. says

    Jadehawk, I may be wrong about Habitat. But here is a quote from their website:
    “Habitat homeowners are chosen without regard to race, religion or ethnic group, in keeping with U.S. law and with Habitat’s abiding belief that God’s love extends to everyone. Habitat also welcomes volunteers from all faiths, or no faith, who actively embrace Habitat’s goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world.”

    They may have evolved, like many groups. And if there is an atheist group building houses for poor people, then please let me know about it.

    The YWCA is not the YMCA. It is you who are full of shit.

    Some UU people didn’t like the ads in their magazine. BFD. That does not mean that they are evangelists.

  48. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    50
    erikjensen

    In my neighborhood, it is more like 95%. I would have about one friend and my kids wouldn’t have many play dates if I was “clear and loud and direct” (Sean Carroll’s words) about the falsehood of religion. That’s what I’m arguing against.

    Well, join the fucking club! I’m in Arizona, one shitty conservative state and I’ve yet to meet another atheist. There are none in my neighborhood.

    Maybe you feel all warm and fuzzy in your basement surrounded by your virtual atheist friends or maybe you happen to live in a particularly open minded area of the country or maybe you’re just socially tougher than me.

    Virtual? Not the right word, my friends online are very real and dear to me. They’ve helped far more than any fucking charity, secular or otherwise has.

    I just don’t think that religion is central to bullshit. There is medical bullshit, religious bullshit (almost all of it), scientific bullshit, political bullshit, etc. I will work on all of these things when it makes sense to do so in a manner that I think is effective and doesn’t ruin me socially. Maybe being an “out and loud and proud” atheist works for you and I say go for it. I’m sorry if my milquetoast approach pisses you off.

    Why use the weasel word of almost for religion? It’s all fucking bullshit. It doesn’t matter if people use it for good or bad, it’s still fucking bullshit.
    Well, the fight for being a non-theist and not being ruined socially isn’t going to fight itself! Hence, what we do online. No one is saying you have to scream and cuss out your neighbors. Fucking Christ. Did you not read my earlier comment about having to shallow religious shit to survive? Your dodge is completely fucking noted, you self-righteous pompous jackass.

  49. consciousness razor says

    I would have about one friend and my kids wouldn’t have many play dates if I was “clear and loud and direct” (Sean Carroll’s words) about the falsehood of religion. That’s what I’m arguing against.

    No it isn’t. Look at all the claims you’ve made in this thread, in case you’ve forgotten them. For fuck’s sake, do you think any of that bullshit follows from that?

    So what the fuck are you on about exactly? Based on your experiences quoted above, do you conclude that the problem is with being “clear and loud and direct” about religions’ failures, or do you conclude instead that it’s yet another example of how religious dogmatism fucks with people’s heads and ruins otherwise-healthy relationships?

    Maybe you feel all warm and fuzzy in your basement surrounded by your virtual atheist friends or maybe you happen to live in a particularly open minded area of the country or maybe you’re just socially tougher than me.

    Ichthyic’s fortunate enough to have left the U.S. long ago for New Zealand. Not sure if he has a basement though, in case that affects your … uh… argument? Trolling? Bloated assumptions about people you’ve barely had any interaction with?

  50. says

    Sally Strange, nobody said I can’t make allies with religious people, but choosing to be “clear and loud and direct about how reality really works” (Sean Carroll’s words) would preclude this. I want allies in other struggles that are often much more important to me than teaching people about how reality really works. We have to make choices about when to be clear and loud and direct about reality. The 1960s in Alabama is a case where doing so probably would not have been a wise choice.

  51. consciousness razor says

    We have to make choices about when to be clear and loud and direct about reality. The 1960s in Alabama is a case where doing so probably would not have been a wise choice.

    The reality is that racism is fucking unethical, in Alabama in the ’60s just like it is now everywhere. Who the fuck do you think is claiming we shouldn’t have supported the civil rights movement because religious people were involved?

  52. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says

    54
    erikjensen

    Can you at least learn to fucking blockquote you douche? Goddamn, you see everyone else do it, the code is right there, you must know how to Google yet you refuse the customs of our threads?

    Fuck it. I don’t know why I bother. I’m an Invisible Pixel.

  53. says

    JAL, why all the hostility? My comment wasn’t even directed at you and you’re writing as if it was. I think it sucks that the religious charities tried to force religion on you, by the way. I apologize if I indirectly insulted your online friendships (again, my comment wasn’t directed at you). What do you want me to say? I’m not sure what you think I’m dodging. I don’t feel an obligation to respond to everyone and everything.

    Yes, being clear and loud and direct isn’t going to work for me.

    I wasn’t trying to use a “weasel word” when I said “almost all”, I was emphasizing the point that there is very little in religion that isn’t bullshit. The fields of medicine and science have lots of stuff that aren’t bullshit, so I wouldn’t say “almost all” for those fields. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

    I am not saying that I won’t fight. I just choose to pick my battles. And I certainly don’t want one with you. We’re on the same side, even if you think I’m a “self-righteous pompous jackass”.

  54. says

    JAL, please don’t put words in my mouth. I never said that atheists wouldn’t support the civil rights movement in the 60s. But being “clear and loud and direct” with the extremely religious supporters of the good guys would probably have alienated them and created a needless diversion. My point is that there is a time when it is wise to shut the fuck up and I think my time is now. I just seem to be making people more and more angry. Cheers.

  55. consciousness razor says

    I am not saying that I won’t fight. I just choose to pick my battles.

    Unlike Sean Carroll. He’s just a clueless fucking dumbass who can’t figure that kind of shit out, and he totally meant that you shouldn’t be able to choose your own battles. Obviously.

    We’re on the same side, even if you think I’m a “self-righteous pompous jackass”.

    Apparently to some extent, but I couldn’t tell you how much or in what ways. Your (intentional?) lack of clarity and directness probably doesn’t help.

  56. consciousness razor says

    JAL, please don’t put words in my mouth. I never said that atheists wouldn’t support the civil rights movement in the 60s. But being “clear and loud and direct” with the extremely religious supporters of the good guys would probably have alienated them and created a needless diversion.

    That was me. Since you can’t seem to let go of the strawmen, your concern is noted.

  57. says

    What about religious books? Can they be sources of morality?

    It seems to me to be unnecessarily complicating, to teach about right and wrong by starting with lies.

    I suppose it can be done, but the hard part of arguing about morality is grounding it in something other than authority. Religious books seem to be nothing but a supernatural appeal to authority. Strangely, when you study the great philosophers, you see a tendency to avoid appeal to authority because it’s basically a cheat. “I am right because (mumble) says so.” Even Socrates used the oracle’s declaration of him as the “wisest of men” ironically. Religion is poor poor philosophy indeed – its books come scribbled, with red ink, a grade of ‘F’ and “SHOW YOUR WORK!” At the top.

    I tried to touch upon your question at greater length in a silly posting last year in which I wondered what kind of questions real philosophers would ask if they thought they were in the presence of an actual god – jesus at the last supper:
    http://mjranum.deviantart.com/art/The-Dining-Philosophers-a-Problem-330263095

  58. Anri says

    erikjensen:

    My point is that there is a time when it is wise to shut the fuck up and I think my time is now. I just seem to be making people more and more angry. Cheers.

    Or, you could, yanno, just engage with those that might have been a bit snarky, but didn’t act hostile or angry, and ignore the others.

    Odd how people suddenly figure out they’re making people angry and should leave for the benefit of the poor regulars just about the same time they’re being made to look a fool in the discussion.

    Coincidental, that is.

  59. David Marjanović says

    to a first approximation, all scientists are called Sean Carroll

    :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    meh, they didnt give us the hovercars they promised us in the 60s, I wouldnt get my hopes up :)

    …They also promised us nookular cars. “The only remaining problem is how to make a nuclear reactor small enough” (paraphrasing from memory). Yeah, and how to restore the site of a car crash to habitability within the next thirty thousand years.

    When you have to invoke time travel to demonstrate the superiority of your position, consider that perhaps your position isn’t as superior as you thought.

    Heh. :-)

    Sky fairy believers, on the other hand, are causing trouble for people everywhere. Why are you making the same mistake that believers make, in implying that our concern is with the gods rather than with the believers?

    After all, the believers exist

    I don’t pick any battles.
    Sometimes they pick me.

    Happened to me a few days ago. A friend from Madagascar insisted I had to pray for her visa to get extended and refused to take a smile as an answer. :-/ If I end up deconverting her, it’s her fault.

    http://mjranum.deviantart.com/art/The-Dining-Philosophers-a-Problem-330263095

    Nice. :-)

    But it’s Nietzsche with “ee”, not Neitzsche with “eye”. The z is the letter that doesn’t make sense; the ie is perfectly logical in German. (You get it right later on.) Also, deity, from deus.