A New Effort


Recently, the commentariat(tm) was joined by a christian believer, who managed to drag a fairly minor thread into a gigantic, sprawling debate by responding to philosophical enquiries with glibly well-intentioned bafflegab.

There’s a lot to unpack there, starting with the “christian privilege” that makes its believers so confident that they see nothing wrong with presenting vague whagarbl as though it’s a philosophical argument. In a normal context, we’d expect to see such things dismissed out of hand as crackpottery, but the christians are so thoroughly convinced of it that it doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re like kindergartners arguing with an adult, in terms of the sophistication of their philosophy.

Any of you who’ve been in the situation of arguing against christian crackpottery know what comes next: pleas for respect and tone-trolling because it’s so gosh-darned rude to call someone’s bullshit “bullshit.” Note, it’s not rude at all to sling bullshit, because that’s “sophisticated theology” – it’s sincere therefore it’s not proper to call it nonsense.

Jean Meslier Portrait

Your host, Jean Meslier

As you probably know, I’m a fan of Jean Meslier’s Testament (more correctly known as: Superstition in All Ages) which seems to me as a distillation of his un-voiced replies to christian crackpottery, assembled over the course of his long-suffering life. It’s his final rebuttal, made after he was safely dead and could not be tortured by the church authorities. In my opinion, Meslier covered his target like a B-52 wing dropping an ARCLIGHT strike – he left no topic un-bombed; it was a thorough saturation strike. Between Meslier and Voltaire, we ought not to have ever had to treat christian philosophy seriously ever again, but the christians just won’t give up.

Last year, I encountered this again when PZ Myers did a response to one of those “10 questions an atheist can’t answer.” That’s one of the shabbiest implementations of the internet “if you don’t make a counter-argument, I win” trope I’ve ever seen – it’s an invitation to a strategic land-war in Asia because the christians can simply shrug “not good enough” no matter what answers you offer. When I saw that, I was nearly moved to write my own version, but I simply could not summon up the energy. There was also an operational problem – I didn’t want to work for a week to write a gigantic gobstopper of a blog posting, knowing that it was going to sink into the internet without a trace. I think I’ve cracked that problem, I’m going to approach it as a clearing-house posting for a number of points that I will assemble behind a single page. [stderr] That way, The Commentariat(tm) can give each major point a good chewing-over in comments specific to that issue, and I’ll tie the whole thing together with some framing arguments. That’s the plan. I think I have about 10-15 points that need to be made and we’ll see where it takes us all from there.

My focus is not going to be a carpet-bombing like Meslier’s, because he already did that better than I can. I want to aim at one point that I don’t see fleshed out very often: the immorality of christian practice and christian belief. Meslier’s point is that christianity is stupid, which it is. But it’s also immoral and wrong, and the alleged morals of the supposed deity are worthy of reproach. Reproach with extreme prejudice, really. This is not a new argument, either – I’m under no illusions on that score – Plato pretty much began plowing that row in his Euthyphro and Epicurus drove a nail through the entire coffin with his famous paradox about the power/powelessness of a deity. I want to keep things a bit lower to the ground, because (in case you hadn’t noticed) christians don’t read Plato, generally, and don’t think about Epicurus, either, or there would be no christians that needed arguing with.

I expect this project will take me the rest of 2020, or longer, as I aim to occasionally cough out a bolus of accusatory argument, which I’ll link onto the framing page, and eventually it’ll build out the whole case. I declare in advance, since I am trying to make a consistent case, that I may freely edit and adjust my arguments – though I’ll keep notes describing my changes and why I made them.

I want to avoid a list of “here’s immoral stuff in the bible” like Lot’s daughters, because that’s a really simple target, and christians typically respond to such challenges with “sophisticated theology” like “divine command theory” which is, basically, “god has different morals from you and me, therefore anything goes.” That, by the way, is an absurd argument in itself – which brings me to another point: I will try to be scrupulously fair to christian theology, so as to avoid the expected ‘rebuttal’ that I am dealing in straw-people.

phlogiston theory [source]

Originally, I wanted to tackle this on an even narrower axis, framed along the lines of the “10 questions atheists can’t answer” in the form of “10 things christians cannot tell you about ‘souls’ – in spite of the fact that their entire religion depends on a theory of ensoulment.” If anyone wishes to take up that particular club, be my guest; it’s an interesting topic in its own right. That’s the kind of argument that reveals the basic immorality of christian belief and theology: they try to present arguments against original formulations of Darwin’s work and ignore the progress of evolutionary science, while trying to act as though arguing against evolution supports their religion. Evolution (in case you noticed) does not say anything about gods or whether they exist or evolve, and even if all of evolution were wrong (it’s not) completely overturning it would not support christianity in the slightest. It merely removes one objection. Making dishonest arguments like that is either immoral (if done knowingly) or ignorant – either way, it doesn’t make christians look any better, it just reveals them as ridiculous ideologues who can’t play ‘science’ at an elementary school level. Presenting a complex theology based on the principle that there are ‘souls’ while leaving the existence, nature, and epistemology of ensoulment off the table is another example of wilful or ignorant dishonesty. As we see in the history of science, the first thing that happens when a scientist puts forth a theory dependent on – for example – the existence of “phlogiston” is that another scientist will ask for the evidence that “phlogiston” exists. We’ve been letting christian blowhards get by too long by simply assuming there are “souls” and building from there; it’s time to lay a pick-axe to some of those basic assumptions and ask christians to defend them, not launch dishonest attacks on poor old Charles Darwin (whose theory, by the way, was immeasurably strengthened by our eventual discovery of DNA and RNA, viruses, and carcinogenesis – all of which make sense only in the context of his overall theoretical framework).

So, that’s my “heads up” to you, so you can see where I am trying to go with this series. As I linked earlier, these postings will all be collected behind [stderr] which will remain a work in progress until we collectively grow bored of it. I am sure that some of you already have your own ideas about the immorality of christian philosophy and theology, and your contributions are welcome. I’d like to request that you give me the chance to frame the discussion myself, so that I don’t get confused and wander off into forests of reason and wind up in a ditch, somewhere. Give me a chance, then tear me apart if you will.

One question that I expect to have to answer is, “why?” so let me start with that: I felt bad about pulling the wings off flies so I gave off that practice long ago. Christianity is a fair target and (like a housefly) it has a tendency to show up, buzz around, and lay maggots on my metaphorical lunch. I think it’s an easy target, which may make it a dishonorable target, but I’m an American and we bomb Medcins Sans Frontieres hospitals, occasionally too. I’ll also address another issue: a self-identifying moral nihilist is probably not the right person to be lecturing about morality. Nonsense – having escaped that intellectual trap, I can examine it like some kind of malignant pathogen, through the clear visor of my biohazard suit. Most of the moral nihilists I know are deeply concerned with the question of morals and whether they make sense at all (and most moral nihilists think they don’t) but we have a lot of practice and rummaging around in the genaeology of morals trying to understand its DNA.

------ divider ------

I should mention Christopher Hitchens, here. Hitch made a few good stabs at christianity for being immoral, which I will reprise and elaborate upon in the series. I don’t think his ideas on christianity’s immorality were original; he appears to have been inspired by Meslier, and Plato, and Epicurus. Like any other human being, ever, he was subject to being fairly targeted over his own failings – most specifically his late-life turn toward violent authoritarianism and islamophobia. Hitchens does not get excused for that, since he never broadened his desire to kill islamic believers like mosquitoes into wanting to do likewise to christians, buddhists, and so forth. Like many skeptics, I enjoyed him once but outgrew him. I still miss his cigarette-waving sneers, though I fear my feelings now would be similar to how I feel about Sam Harris or Bill Maher: a cringe, a sigh, and a tightening of the shoulders as I mentally project, “please shut the fuck up, now” in his direction. So please don’t tell me this is all inspired by Hitch, OK? Hitch is a bump in my mental landscape and I wish he were still around to embarrass himself.

Comments

  1. Allison says

    There is a problem with saying “Christianity is immoral,” as if it were obvious what one means by “Christianity.” The interpretations of what Christianity is vary so much among groups of (self-identified) Christians and individuals that almost anything one assumes about Christian beliefs is likely to be disputed by somebody. Add to that the fact that what people who identify with this or that body of faith or non-faith actually do is often not what one might assume from their professed belief.
    What I see happening is that whatever the most obnoxious and self-promoting evangelists of “Christianity” is espousing is taken as True Christianity.

    If one were to take Richard Dawkins and his ilk as representative of the One True Atheism, one could make an argument that atheism is immoral. There are Deep Rifts(tm) everywhere.

    I’m reminded of a saying (cribbed from an SF novel): “he who claims to have the Truth is carrying an empty sack.”

  2. says

    Allison@#3:
    It’s true that christians frequently employ the “no true scotsman” defense; I’m aware of it and I’ll do my best to focus on core beliefs and behaviors rather than labels. In this context when I say “christian” I am referring to people who self-identify with a set of beliefs and practices that are frankly abhorrent.

    If one were to take Richard Dawkins and his ilk as representative of the One True Atheism, one could make an argument that atheism is immoral.

    If one were to do that, one would be making a dishonest argument.

  3. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Thank you for introducing Meslier, of whom I’d not heard. FWIW, his book is here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17607

    I download the Kindle version and skimmed the TOC and my goodness: carpet bombing indeed; the count of propositions runs to number CCVI.

  4. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    Oh, also, about the rejection of evolution by natural selection? That is not done in defense of Christianity per se, but in defense of a literal interpretation of the bible. Not all Christian sects (notably not the Catholics) feel the need to defend the bible as literal, historical, truth. The fundamentalists who cling to that position do so for a practical reason: if any part, even a single word, of the bible is to be taken in a non-literal way, who is to say what its figurative or metaphorical meaning should be? Who gets to extract god’s true intent from the metaphors and similes? The only way they see to avoid a chaos of conflicting interpretations is to insist on a literal reading. When that leaves them in the ridiculous posture of defending the two creation accounts in Genesis as historical fact, they see it as a fair price to avoid uncertainty and conflict. (The Catholics resolve the same issue by saying, the bible has various levels of meaning and if you want to know what any of them are, just ask us and we’ll get back to you; meanwhile, focus on the weekly reading at mass.) The problem for skeptics is, the defense of evolution is so tempting, so satisfying, so fun, that it distracts from the more, dare I call them, fundamental issues that I hope you will focus on.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … we’ll see where it takes us all from there.

    Book-wards, I suspect. You’ve already done that, so you know the moves.

    … the immorality of christian practice and christian belief.

    My oneiromancer predicts you will need a post on W.K. Clifford’s The Ethics of Belief, which he conveniently summarized as

    It Is Wrong, Always, Everywhere, And For Anyone, To Believe Anything Upon Insufficient Evidence

    … even if all of evolution were wrong (it’s not) completely overturning it would not support christianity in the slightest.

    That would depend on the nature of the overturning. Should all the stars re-arrange themselves to spell “Ken Ham is RIGHT, Medamnit!”, christianism could claim a bit of a boost.

    … souls …

    Can’t see how you’ll address such issues without entering into the territory of [cue scary music] psychology: not your favored terrain.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the immorality of the Bible recently too. Here’s my 2p:
    It’s no fair picking on the bits of the Bible that most Christians themselves would agree are immoral: the genocides, the rapes, the entire book of Joshua. Any Christian who has read the book (of course many haven’t) has already come up with a way of reconciling those episodes with their own versions of a deity.
    Instead, I would go after some of the foundational principles of Judeo-Christianity that seem to be central to the belief system, and that most Christians have been conditioned to accept uncritically. I’ve identified two such principles that seem inextricable from the entire book, and can’t easily be explained away: one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.
    The central problem of the Old Testament is the entire concept of a “Chosen People.” Back when I was a young Christian, I often thought about that. Was I one of the “chosen”? I certainly hoped so. That meant, somewhere out there, there was someone who was NOT chosen. How would I know who they were?
    It’s basically God-mandated inequality. And it doesn’t get fixed right away in the New Testament, either. Jesus comes right out and calls a non-Jewish woman a dog. It isn’t until halfway through Acts — more than 3/4 of the way through the book — that Paul finally says God told him the damn pig-eaters could get salvation too.
    The biggest ethical problem with the New Testament is the whole problem of the End Times — the concept most Christians have that there will be a divinely ordained End to History, when God and Jesus will show up in person and roll up the whole works. I don’t need to explain how that makes all our human endeavors meaningless, or how it would cause us to behave differently if we all believed, deep down, that our survival as a species depended on nothing but our own actions with no potential for divine rescue if we screw up.
    The thing I love about your project is that most Christians are probably unprepared for it. They’re used to being told that, since all morality comes from God, atheists must by definition be immoral. Being attacked on moral grounds puts them on the defensive in ways they may not have defenses for.

  7. brucegee1962 says

    Oh, there’s another thing I’d mention as well if I was undertaking your project: that there’s plenty of perfectly good morality in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. All the stuff about helping the poor and needy is perfectly good advice today, and there’s little to criticize in something like the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, the superior approach of Christianity with giving value to those at the bottom of society was doubtless one of the main reasons the religion spread so quickly in the 1st through 4th centuries compared to other worldviews. But it was still a bronze-age morality, so it only makes sense that the whole field has made advances since then — in treatment of women, the whole religion’s blindness to slavery, homosexuality, and a host of other tolerance-related issues.

  8. says

    I intend to steer away from questions of the veracity of the bible in favor of questioning whether anyone can truthfully claim the bible is divinely inspired, given commonly available knowledge about its origin. It’s awfully scammy to be going around promoting that old thing – especially for anyone educated in bible studies. A lot of christians teach that it should be believed when they know it is literally unbelievable.

    Doubt is another topic: is it moral to teach children that something is true if you doubt it yourself? That is a variant of the issue mentioned in the comment above – professing to know something, on such flimsy evidence, is dishonest at best.

  9. Bruce says

    One aspect that should be addressed or at least blocked off is the appeal to magic. That is, religious or mystical people can try to claim that anything is ok or excused for magical reasons, and thus ends the argument. Most folks would never claim this, baldly. But some respondents will try to dress up their magical thinking inside holy jargon, and convince themselves they have been reasonable. We need a way to inhibit them from creating magical rabbit holes everywhere and demanding we jump in and follow them down to nowhere.

  10. Ketil Tveiten says

    Yes, surely we need another “here are the details on why [obvious fact we all agree is obvious] is true”. But if you’ve got nothing better to do…

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 11: … given commonly available knowledge about its origin.

    I would hope you could expound a bit on some of the less commonly available knowledge, particularly the Documentary Hypothesis and its implications. Check out the works of Mark S. Smith, detailing, e.g., how the separate deities named El and Yahweh found themselves merged into one supergod.

  12. Bruce says

    @#12, Speaking of magic, for example, I would say the Bible should be thought of as a very magic-oriented set of claims. In contrast, Isaac Newton on gravity and Rowling on Harry Potter are much less magical, if not proto-scientific. Newton has no theory of his great and wonderful gravitational law and observations: not even gravitons, much less Einsteinian General Relativity. As his work on that is descriptive but not explanatory, it is similar to the Harry Potter canon, where “magic” is used in a very repeatable and reliable manner, although without real explanations. So, again, it is descriptive of an apparently reproducible set of things, but not explanatory.
    In contrast, bible stories describe magical events that do not happen repeatably. Few spells there work for more than one wizard, and usually not even in the same method for them.
    These all contrast with modern scientific areas in physics, chemistry, and biology/evolution, where we now have useful explanations (I.e., theory) for many things.
    In summary, bible magic is much slipperier to analyze than is Harry Potter proto-science.

  13. says

    In my opinion, the biggest “magic” in christianity is the assumption there is a soul and it lives eternally. That gigantic assumption appears to have been absorbed with the neo-platonists, though obviously bronze-age mumbojumbos believed there is something after death.

    Souls and afterlife are one of the keystones of the whole wretched edifice, yet believers continue to prate about that assumption as though it were a given.

  14. lochaber says

    I think this is a lost cause.

    An intellectually honest believer will admit that their faith is irrational, and they can’t prove or intellectually defend their stance, but that they hold it anyways. Every now and then I meet someone like this, and while I don’t share their belief, I respect their introspection and honesty. I don’t believe one has a lot of control over what they do/do not believe. I do believe they can choose whether and how to question and examine their beliefs, but I don’t think they can just will them to change.

    Anyways, on the other end of things, there are no shortage of people who genuinely believe the Bible was written in English, and is the exact, untranslated, error-free word of god. Those folks are absolutely immune to reason.

  15. says

    lochaber@17: You are correct! I think of religion as more like art than science. Sure, there’s plenty of people that have a lot of very specific and weird ideas about this or that. There was a long history of Religion Explains Everything which has pretty much been obliterated by actual explanations for things, and a surprising number of people haven’t gotten the memo.

    That said, lots of people *have* gotten the memo, and have come to the conclusion that while Science explains much, it does not explain everything. As Dylan Thomas says of a book received at Christmas, it “told me everything about the wasp but why.”

    Movement atheists seem to take some pleasure in devising systems, and then remarking that this religion or that do not fit within them. People who wish to make money appearing in television shows can always be relied upon to show up and “debate” this sort of thing, and others who wish to shout a great deal and wave signs around can be relied upon to do that but nevertheless many people who subscribe to one faith or another simply ignore the whole thing.

    I’m sure Marcus’ plan will be intellectually stimulating and probably a great deal of fun for the participants.

    I find the exercise of ascribing immorality to religion to be highly amusing, though, since the goal is clearly to position atheism as a position of higher moral stature. FtB, after all, collectively seems to spend an incredible amount of energy digging out the immorality of other atheists and shunning the guilty, which would seem to be prima facie evidence that at any rate atheism is no panacea for morality. Not to put too fine of a point on it, some of the nastiest people out there are atheists.

  16. says

    hatty@#4:
    How can Plato have critised Christianity when he lived 400 years before Christ?

    The same way Epicurus did and Lao Tze did: he presented philosophical problems that christianity and other religions still wrestle with. I was specifically referring to the bit in Euthyphro where Socrates asks Euthyphro whether that which is pious is that which is beloved of the gods, or whether the gods had their own standards of goodness that applied to them? (translate “piety” as “morals”) Naturally, Euthyphro couldn’t answer. Socrates was setting up the next move, which would be to ask whether if the gods met a higher standard, where it came from? Or, if they didn’t, why was the behavior of divinities more closely resembling characters in a soap opera?

    Epicurus’ paradox still stands as a challenge to claims of divine omnipotence and love by pointing out that such claims are inherently contradictory when considered in the light of there being misfortune in the world.

    And Lao Tze published the whole “do unto others” thing before christianity existed. So, either it was not inspired by a christian god, or Lao Tze was, or god’s commands are just a bunch of trite quips pulled from fortune cookies.

  17. says

    lochaber@#18:
    An intellectually honest believer will admit that their faith is irrational, and they can’t prove or intellectually defend their stance, but that they hold it anyways. Every now and then I meet someone like this, and while I don’t share their belief, I respect their introspection and honesty.

    I respect honesty, too, but I’m a bit more skeptical about people’s claims to honest introspection. It seems to me that this stuff is pretty obvious, and for a believer to maintain their belief, they have to shelter it from the accidental arrival of challenging knowledge.

    I don’t believe one has a lot of control over what they do/do not believe. I do believe they can choose whether and how to question and examine their beliefs, but I don’t think they can just will them to change.

    I’ve read various psychology studies that claim that it’s more expensive (somehow) to dislodge a piece of knowledge than to gain it in the first place. I’m skeptical of such studies, but it’s an interesting idea and it makes some sense. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s actually very difficult to change one’s mind even about big things. I have known several people who have overcome deep religious belief, as well as various political beliefs and historical beliefs. If I think back over the things I used to believe (the US was in Vietnam for a good reason, there may have been WMD in Iraq, etc) my understanding and interpretation of the past changed suddenly and fairly dramatically. It’s not a matter of exerting willpower to change – it just happens as a result of new facts coming in and creating new understanding and opinions.

    I think it’s generally considered kind to say something like what you did, about respecting the faith of the faithful and their quaint delusions, but it’s patronizing, really – they’re wrong about something very important and they ought to do a bit more research.

    Anyways, on the other end of things, there are no shortage of people who genuinely believe the Bible was written in English, and is the exact, untranslated, error-free word of god. Those folks are absolutely immune to reason.

    They are nobody’s intended audience, except the con-men who turned them that way.

  18. says

    Andrew Molitor@#19:
    I find the exercise of ascribing immorality to religion to be highly amusing, though, since the goal is clearly to position atheism as a position of higher moral stature.

    It seems odd that you’d expect me, a moral nihilist, to promote any system of belief or non-belief as having moral high ground. I’m not interested in doing that. Pointing out the errors in one position does not necessarily promote another, unless it does so by accident.

  19. says

    If you’re pointing out how muddy the WHITE pigs are, one might for forgiven for assuming that you have a soft spot for the other pigs. It is, at best, a curious thing to focus on the white ones if all the pigs are equally muddy.

    Probably I am allowing my position, which is that all the pigs are in fact about as muddy as all the other pigs, to color my thinking a little too much.

  20. cvoinescu says

    A small but important correction:

    As we see in the history of science, the first thing that happens when a scientist puts forth a theory dependent on – for example – the existence of “phlogiston” is that another scientist will ask for the evidence that “phlogiston” exists.

    The first thing a scientist would do, before they even talked to their colleagues, would be to think of as many ways as they could in which the world would be different if their theory was false. The next thing would be to perform those observations or experiments that could make those distinctions. When the calx turns out to be heavier than the original metal, you know phlogiston does not exist. If it turned out lighter, that would not have proven phlogiston (a single substance, same for all burnable things) existed; just that it did not not exist in that specific way.

    In short, you don’t prove theories. You use them to make predictions, and then test those predictions. You can then become reasonably sure your theory is correct: it fits all observed facts, and we did our level best to look for those facts that would have changed our mind.

  21. says

    If you’re pointing out how muddy the WHITE pigs are, one might for forgiven for assuming that you have a soft spot for the other pigs. It is, at best, a curious thing to focus on the white ones if all the pigs are equally muddy.

    Except for the fact that there are millions of people who are not only claiming that the white pigs are completely spotless, but also that other pigs aren’t truly pigs at all and anyone who says so is evil.

    You’re not one of those. I get that. But they’re still out there and it’s not unfair of us to respond to their claims.

  22. says

    Andrew Molitor@#25:
    If you’re pointing out how muddy the WHITE pigs are, one might for forgiven for assuming that you have a soft spot for the other pigs.

    One might be forgiven, but one would still be wrong.

  23. says

    Well, if that’s what’s going on, LykeX@27, that’s fine. One may spend ones leisure time as they see fit!

    What I see going on, though, is that Marcus specifically and movement-atheists generally have uncovered what they believe to be a causal path that explains white-pig-muddiness specifically in terms of the whiteness of the pig. It’s a very attractive path, it looks convincing and real.

    Standing over here, I see a bunch of pig of various colors, all equally muddy. I see no correlation between whiteness and muddiness. This leads me to suspect that the causal path that has been identified for white pigs in particular is more likely to be spurious than not.

  24. John Morales says

    Andrew, you still don’t get it.

    Atheists don’t pretend to be moral purely because they’re atheists, but the converse is not true.

  25. bmiller says

    ” I don’t believe one has a lot of control over what they do/do not believe. I do believe they can choose whether and how to question and examine their beliefs, but I don’t think they can just will them to change.”

    Which is another reason for the fundamental…immorality…of Christianity. Especially the “by faith alone” variety of salvation. There are entire populations raised in non-Christian cultures or households predisposed NOT to believe the torturous and tortured myths of Christianity.

    I am really looking forward to this series, Marcus. One aspect of the religion that I find particularly immoral is the fundamental unfairness of it. Both for the point above, but also due to question of authorship/ownership. We are told God’s Will directs everything. That means God knew at the beginning of time I would be a raging misotheist. Give God’s Will, God is the author and creator of Sin. Given he knows all, he obviously knew about The Fall. This is ragingly unfair to me. Free Will mumble mumble doesn’t answer this either. Either God is Omniscient, or He is not.

    We are told that we are filthy rags before the site of God. Given that He designed us this way, knowingly, maybe we should demand of God that He ask of us OUR forgiveness for HIS sins in creating this vale of tears!

  26. bmiller says

    Damn, that was garbled. I just woke up from a little nap.

    I meant the wronged party is us, and We should ask for God to beg our forgiveness for His sins in creating the flawed world

  27. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @30:

    Atheists don’t pretend to be moral purely because they’re atheists

    No, but a lot of atheists are obnoxious, smug, supercilious twits who wouldn’t know irony if it kicked them in the arse, spun them around, looked them in the eye, and said “hi, I’m irony”. The next best thing!

  28. says

    Andrew Molitor@#29:
    What I see going on, though, is that Marcus specifically and movement-atheists generally have uncovered what they believe to be a causal path that explains white-pig-muddiness specifically in terms of the whiteness of the pig. It’s a very attractive path, it looks convincing and real.

    That’s fucking stupid. If you’ve paid any attention at all to anything I’ve written in the last couple years, you’ll notice that I am careful to ascribe (perceived) cause to (apparent) effect. That includes in matters of religion, belief, and ethics. I know you’re not stupid, so should I assume you are deliberately mis-characterizing my views? Because – as I said before – you’re wrong, and utterly, stupidly so.

    Standing over here, I see a bunch of pig of various colors, all equally muddy. I see no correlation between whiteness and muddiness.

    You have contrived a stupid and misleading metaphor, and are continuing to argue metaphorically. That makes sense, because if you tried to actually say what you mean, it might be pretty clear that you’re wrong.

    You appear to be trying to accuse me of slamming christians either as a form of virtue signalling or because it’s a simple target. But I’m neither virtuous nor is it a simple target. Or, are you trying to say that everyone has beliefs of some sort or another, variously stupid, and it is therefore inappropriate to attack another’s beliefs? I hope it’s not the latter, because that’s the worst defense of the status quo I’ve seen in a while. Stop trying to be obscure and say what you mean.

    Also, since I frequently say “no movement, no leaders.” you should assume I do not self-identify as part of a (nonexistent!) atheist movement, and you know that I tend to reject labels being applied to me. If you’re trying to label me as a movement atheist or something like that, I’m going to ask you to defend that label with specifically a definition of that label, and examples of how it applies to me.

  29. says

    To those referencing an “atheist movement” what is this whereof you speak? There is no such movement, as is evidenced by the persistent fragmentation among various atheists, deep rifts, self-promoted leaders, and various public disownings. None of that is evidence of the existence of a movement – perhaps a general trend, but if it’s a general trend, it’s a general trend of squabbling movement-less atheists that has been going on since Voltaire and Rousseau got into it.

  30. says

    cvoinescu@#26:
    In short, you don’t prove theories. You use them to make predictions, and then test those predictions.

    I was referring to those unfortunate incidents, which the history of science is replete with, in which a scientist did rush to announce a theory without going all of the necessary prep-work. E.g.: phlogiston. If scientists followed ideal practice, there would be a lot fewer mistakes and some whole categories like “popular psychology” would be nearly obliterated.

    As I mentioned in the next posting, if you’re interested in science as a form of epistemology, you might like Cziko’s Without Miracles – he takes an evolutionary view of ideas; the ones that survive are the ones we hold as likely to be true(ish). (e.g.: Newtonian physics was true enough for its time that it remains useful even though relativity has expanded it and corrected it)

  31. says

    Andrew Molitor@#37:
    Marcus it appears to me that you feel I have been shitting on you, one way or another.

    No, you don’t away with it that easily. Explain what you were trying to imply. You were trying to imply something – that was your intention.

  32. John Morales says

    I thought it was pretty clear:

    I find the exercise of ascribing immorality to religion to be highly amusing, though, since the goal is clearly to position atheism as a position of higher moral stature.
    […]
    Not to put too fine of a point on it, some of the nastiest people out there are atheists.
    […]
    If you’re pointing out how muddy the WHITE pigs are, one might for forgiven for assuming that you have a soft spot for the other pigs. It is, at best, a curious thing to focus on the white ones if all the pigs are equally muddy.

    So, an accusation of tu quoque; thus my retort @30.

  33. Curious Digressions says

    Late to the party, but…

    Since you’re discussing the question of souls, will you address the fear of nonexistence in death? In a conversation with a Unitarian, he said that there had to be a soul and afterlife because life was so amazing and there *has* to be something after. That’s obviously a terrible argument, but people won’t give it up just because you point out that it’s irrational.

    If people are starting from the assumption that there has to be a soul because the alternate is too horrible to contemplate, where do you go from there?

  34. John Morales says

    Curious,

    If people are starting from the assumption that there has to be a soul because the alternate is too horrible to contemplate, where do you go from there?

    Why go further? Goal achieved, when someone acknowledges their purported belief is based purely on wishful thinking.

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