When All Else Fails

When all else fails, pull out the New Apologetics.

This piece of bleep by a Christian apologist starts:
"Apologetics, or the defense of the Faith, generally takes one of two forms. Either it offers convincing arguments which show the truth of various doctrinal propositions, or it offers persuasive demonstrations that the Christian faith is the best way to fulfill legitimate human aspirations. Both approaches have their place, but I believe a third approach is also needed."
If the arguments were convincing or the demonstrations persuasive, then the New Apologetics should hardly be necessary, should they?

He goes on:
"it is time to bring to the fore what classical apologists have generally regarded as merely a preparation for apologetics: a consideration of the impediments to faith. Such impediments are all the intellectual, emotional, cultural and psychological factors, both conscious and subconscious, which make it impossible for a given person to genuinely consider the Christian message."
I'll sum up the impediments for this apologist: intelligence, logic, education, and the realization that one can lead a love-filled, purposeful, moral life without recourse to inculcated belief in magic.

His tactic is to insult those who do not swallow the religionist party-line by stating that they suffer from an excess of 'human pride', as though employing the intelligence that evolution has given us is something of which we should be ashamed. He claims that in order to open ourselves up to mythological clap-trap, we should, "learn to accept our own limitations, both the limitations of human nature and our own personal peculiarities and deficiencies."

'Learn to embrace our limitations' would be closer to his intended point. I should have to be deficient indeed to believe that some human-invented, inconsistent dogma originating with quite vicious and narrow ancient tribesmen, and promoted by equally vicious and narrow propagandists, could offer either logic or a guide to a better life–and, the real religious drawing-card, a better death.


"It is hard to be open to God when we’re in denial about ourselves."
I deny that there is any validity to religious claims, I am not in denial about myself at all. No, it's merely admirably impossible for a freethinker to be open to practitioner-promoted claims for some supernatural concoction for which there should be evidence and yet against which all the evidence points.

He goes on to blame cognitive refusal to be suckered upon yet more personal failings in the nonbeliever–a stubborn refusal to 'relinquish control', 'bad habits', 'wrong attitudes, feelings and attachments', and 'constant temptation to prefer expediency to truth'.

Nope, it is simply a matter that I prefer truth to gullibility.

"You may think that’s a lot of impediments, but we’re just getting started."
Oh? More insults will prove convincing when the earlier aspersions against character have not proved sufficient to provoke credulity?

This twit thinks that we have grown up "infected by the prejudice of liberalism—that is, the notion that legitimate authority is either untrustworthy or non-existent."

That's not my definition of liberalism, bud. To the liberal, legitimate authority must earn respect by virtue of its demonstration of worthiness, not by claiming that those who refuse to swallow-the-myth are somehow inferior.
"democracy . . . tends to foster excessive individualism and the notion that
everyone’s ideas are equal."
Nonsense. I don't imagine that this fellow's ideas are equal to mine–on this topic, they are deluded and decidedly inferior.
"All of this creates a tremendous peer pressure against commitment to any absolute value or belief system. Even when we don’t reject such systems from within, we refuse to embrace them for fear of looking foolish to the world."
Notice the word 'absolute', which translates as "do it our way or burn in hell for your immorality." The entire paragraph translates as, "when religious leaders want to know your opinion, they'll give it to you."

It is not that I'm the least worried about looking foolish to the world, my rejection of religion is about not wanting to be foolish.

He continues, but I'm nauseous enough for now.

Religion is a Danger to Health

Why are religionists so obstinately stupid? I'm serious with this question.

Despite all evidence that their moralistic proscriptions–threats of Hell notwithstanding–simply do not work, religious officials continue to ignore both human nature and science. The latest in a long list of obtuse church crimes against humanity comes from Latin America.

Reuters reports from Tegucigalpa that ineffective exhortations of sexual abstinence combined with demonization of condom use, is promoting the rapid spread in Latin America of HIV/AIDS in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

According the UN AIDS program, UNAIDS, new cases increased to 410,000 in 2006, up from 320,000 new cases in 2004.

Where in the Bible does it say, "though shalt not wrap it in latex"?

Not all Catholic priests are able to maintain a sexually continent state despite having taken 'sacred' vows to do remain celibate, so how can the church reasonably expect uneducated young people to deny themselves one of the few pleasures available to impoverished peoples?

Brazil, the region's largest Catholic nation, is behaving much more sensibly and admirably, and regularly distributes free condoms in an attempt to reduce HIV infection rates.

Elsewhere : Catholic condom ban helping to spread AIDS .

Destructive Tenacities

The rear end of a pachyderm - photoshopped.On a blog sporting an anti-Marxist emblem and the possibly dubious claim that "We're not complete assholes!" I found typical religionist hyperbole, scriptural quotes, and mysteria.

"There are four major world religions. . . . They nearly all have one corresponding feature: an attempt to create positive attitudes through mutual beliefs."

Positive attitudes? Have you not read the Bible? Are you not aware of the Religious Wrong's diatribes and slurs against anyone who has the temerity to reject absolutist controls or to reject various SkyPoppa Myths? Are you not aware of Islamic degradation of women and medieval Sharia laws. Have you not heard of the history of violence between different religions persuasions that continues to this day?

"Then we have the bastard child of religion, namely Atheism. A pernicious anti-creed that has as it's motor negativity and nihilism. Since these individuals must define themselves by what they don't believe, it becomes incumbent on them to repudiate the beliefs of others."

You imply that religious gullibility is a superior state for humans, when it has actually long been the almost exclusive province of the ignorant, credulous, and self-interested. Atheists mostly define themselves by what they do believe–metaphysical naturalism, humanist moral contracts, mutual tolerance, freethinking, love of beauty, nature, family. The label atheism was not self-designated by atheists, though almost all of us are proud to proclaim ourselves atheists. No, the label was originally assigned by theists who could not conceive of how rational thinkers could reject inconsistent, superstitious, malignity invented by ancient tribesmen.

"For such people it is child's play to take the religious texts of those they disagree with and turn them into brickbats with which to pummel the faithful."

Of course it is easy, the texts are inconsistent, often viciously nasty, and fantasmagorical. Theology is a little more carefully thought out, though it too is internally inconsistent and all purported 'proofs' have failed.

"Heck, I could do it quite easily."
If you fancy that you could easily refute the atheist position, you flatter yourself. The burden of proof lies with theistic claimants and they have failed for 2,000+ years.

"The problem with this practice is it is a negative action. It serves no purpose but destruction. No person is helped, no good is done. In fact, the opposite is true."

You probably have a point there, though there is a positive reason for what you feel is a negative action. You are not correct that no person is helped–many closet agnostics and atheists are relieved to have finally found those to whom they can be honest. Good will be done when the pernicious political stranglehold of the Religious Wrong is loosened–unless you think that trillions spent and hundreds of thousands killed and maimed is a good thing.

"We get young men of science declaring themselves to be soulless when they should know from their science that they can know no such thing."

If you knew anything about neuroscience, then you would understand what they mean. I have known many young men of science, and I can assure you that they were not 'soulless' in the sense of lacking positive emotion or a sense of purpose, they were simply acknowledging that we should all live this one life as fully as possible because dualism is wishful thinking.

"We get people forming public policy with the belief that "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" (Ingrid Newkirk, PETA)."

Your animal rights activists sorely needs some education in molecular genetics, cladistics, or taxonomy!

"We get a society where Grace is an alien concept and human life is cheapened to the point where millions of dead babies becomes a political issue and not a moral one."

Grace is an invented, imagined, wished-for concept.

If you wish to reduce abortions, making the procedure illegal will simply result in young women's being forced back to hole-in-the-wall abortionists, with resultant death by infection and hemorrhage of many young women in addition to the death of their fetuses. If you do not want young women who get pregnant because of lack of contraception to die at the hands of quacks, then don't make abortion illegal. If you wish to reduce abortion numbers, you will vote for decent social programs. If you wish to reduce the number of abortions, provide good education in contraception and provide free condoms to all who need them. The religionist impulse to render good measures unavailable in vain hope of stopping an activity of which you do not approve, or to overcontrol via legislation simply does not work.

"Discussion and dialog are positive things, and positive results can come from them."
They might be if religionists were not so intent on insulting anyone who does not toe the mythological party line.

"If someone chooses to be a Godless, soulless heathen fine. It's the path they have chosen. "

Your attitude and remarks indicate just the opposite. Yours is the typical hysterical, ad hominem attack.

"I do feel sympathy for such a person"

I sincerely doubt it. I think that you mean that you feel contempt. I don't know a single atheist who needs or even warrants your sympathy. As a group, we are generally emotionally well-adjusted, well-educated, and well-employed.

"for their world is devoid of Divine Grace, and their final destination is merely the grave."
As is your world and your final destination; you just won't face it. Wishful imagining does not make a thing so, particularly when there is not only absolutely no good evidence for that thing, but intstead there is abundant evidence to the contrary. I am quite content to know that death is the end. Atheists are more comfortable in foxholes than are believers.




Don't Give That Man a Cigar!

Mark Vernon is a Brit writer, honorary researcher, and former C of E priest (supposedly turned agnostic). He has published a couple of books and has more scheduled for publication.

On the basis of these somewhat chequered credentials, Vernon fancies himself a Freudian psychoanalyst and has wrestled The God Delusion onto his fantasy couch in a misbegotten attempt to understand Dawkins' naturalist (atheistic) philosophy.

Don't give up your day job, Mark! If you wish to understand Dawkins' motivations, simply read Dawkins' explanations rather than concocting inaccurate Freudian psyscho-bubbles. (Yes, I meant to type 'bubble' because Vernon's piece is dishwater puffed up with flatus.)

Freud's so-called Oedipus and Electra complexes are meaningless puffery invented after Freud retreated from genuine clinical insights under pressure from contemporary physicians. As such, to attribute Dawkins' atheism to "psychological murder of the God/Father" begins with bilgewater and descends into madness. If you wish to understand Dawkins' motivations, consider only the strong likelihood that he values truth, morality, and life's meaning highly.

Elsewhere: Never mind what he did say . Atheism as grand oedipal symbolic act . Mark Vernon .


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Ablate-X pandemic

Let’s imagine for a moment that the world has been be struck by a bizarre 'ablate-X' viral pandemic.

This virus very selectively targets human brains, and print, magnetic, celluloid, and CD/DVD data. Ablate-X specifically blanks all religious-belief-related printing and all Scriptures, wipes all religiously-related magnetic data and CD/DVDs, destroys celluloid dealing with religious topics, and wipes all long and short-term memory of religious dogma.

Initially after infection by ablate-X, the formerly religious of the world wonder what the purpose of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples could ever have been. Ablate-X has destroyed religious memes, rendering the structures and icons meaningless.

Gradually, the impact of acute infection recedes and the formerly religious of the world realize that these structures and icons signify similar beliefs to those infered from archaeological evidence of prehistoric belief systems.

Morality persists because humans had already evolved emotionally-determined moral feelings and had already developed a contract-based moral philosophy. The pandemic has eradicated anti-humanist, religiously-dictated, absolutist moral proscriptions, so a contractual humanist moral philosophy comes to prevail evenly across all peoples. People continue to feel the same sense of purpose, community, connection, and love of beauty that they had formerly misattributed to religious belief. They recognize that love of others and of beauty are a gift endowed by the simple fact of being human.

With all emotion-laden memory erased, individuals are able to go about their business freed of worries about salvation and religious hatreds. The divisions between peoples of the world are reduced to differences of economic conditions and of non-religious cultural features. The geographical, educational, and economic inequalities persist, but governments are better able to work upon solutions now that all are freed of illogical other-antagonistic assumptions.

Some years following the ablate-X pandemic, human and physical meme traces return to normal. Infected individuals recall the didactic content of what they had forgotten. However, they have lived so long without the emotional baggage that originally accompanied the didactic material that information about forgotten mythologies does not cause a regression. The virus-infected data reverts to its pre-pandemic condition. The world now has the memetic information back, just as we now know of the memetic didactics of abandoned mythologies. Those who have recovered from the pandemic now know what they have escaped and they are grateful for the infection of ablate-religion. Virologists keep ablate-X alive in laboratories just in case another epidemic is needed to treat future outbreaks of religiosity.



Rowan on Richard

In the Telegraph today is an article entitled Rowan Williams hits out at atheist Dawkins:


“The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams responded to critics of religion by arguing that atheists had missed the point and failed to understand what Christians really believe in. . . In a fierce attack on the Oxford professor and other leading atheists, he said: "There are specific areas of mismatch between what Richard Dawkins may write about and what religious people think they are doing." . . . He suggested that Prof Dawkins, the author of the best-selling The God Delusion and a leading Darwinist, was a good scientist but a poor philosopher.”




It's rather difficult to imagine softly-spoken Rowan Williams' being fierce. Perhaps Jonathan Wynne-Jones meant "fierce by Rowan's standards". Attacking Dawkins as a "poor philosopher" is standard apologetic fare. I do not know how well Dawkins would fare if he were to shift from writing for lay audiences to writing for philosophers. However, I consider it unwise to judge a writer's philosophy solely from material written for a lay reader. Judging Dawkins by this lay-writing standard might lead one to assume that "his knowledge of evolutionary science was not up to snuff", and this is clearly false in view of other evidence. Christian apologetics has, in any case, already been effectively refuted by professional philosophers, so the burden of atheism does not fall on the shoulders of Dawkins or Hitchens.

Unfortunately for his argument, the Archbishop of Canterbury did not explain exactly what Christians really do believe. (At least, not as reported in this article.) This is an important point because different Christians believe in a bewildering complexity of sect-contradictory nonsense. The most obvious belief, which runs an individual gamut from vague acceptance to obsessive insistence, is in the existence–nature undefined–of an interfering supernatural agent.

Dr Williams appears to be ignoring the fact that atheism is absence of belief in vague supernatural deities for which religion claims an existence. The burden of proof lies with the theologians–and they have failed. In fact, when religious types exhort their congregations to have faith despite the lack of evidence, then they are admitting that they have failed to find any evidence for existence of the supernatural and, by extension, that theological philosophy has failed to fill the vacuum.


“In a message to the critics, he said: "Don't distract us from the real arguments by assuming that religion is an eccentric survival strategy or irrational form of explanation."”



And don’t distract us from the real arguments by diminishing the atheistic argument to a mere two of its components!


“He said: "When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: 'This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it's not actually what I believe in'."”


Yes, but what exactly do the religious actually believe in? Perhaps this article will provide a clue to Rowan's thinking: Of course this makes us doubt God's existence. Rowan snipes at Hitchens, but the bulk of his remarks, as quoted in this article, attack Dawkins, whom Williams concedes is a "lively and attractive writer" and a "good scientist ".


“He told the audience he wasn't simply interested in defending his beliefs, but also in upholding the principle of intellectual debate.”


The difficulty, of course, being that religion rests on complete lack of evidence coupled with failed apologetics. On the other hand, scientific knowledge is an edifice that rests on abundant evidence comprehended by way of internally consistent logic. True intellectual debate demolishes unempirical-emotion-and-illogic based religious dogma.



“The first argument against religion he looked at was that of it being explained as an evolutionary survival strategy, passed on through generations.”


Dr Williams appears to be a kindly, intelligent, well-educated fellow (if one can consider theology to be a leading out of critical thought rather than a putting in of nonsense). Surely Dr Williams is aware that this is not the sole argument against religion so much as it is a description of how one competing religion survives rather than being replaced by a competitor. Perhaps he is not aware that childhood indoctination is essential for the perpetuation of belief in religious doctrine. If he is not aware, should we assume that the Church of England is planning to refuse religious instruction to any children born into Anglican families?



“Dr Williams said that Darwinian theory had wrongly been used as a way to interpret culture, not just biology, by Prof Dawkins.”


Irony 101: Darwin’s immensely important and insightful idea of natural selection was inspired by the work of Anglican country parson, geographer, and mathematician, Thomas Malthus:



“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.” (EconLib-1826: An Essay on the Principle of Population)


Indeed, Darwinian theory, while tremendously useful in advancing understanding of evolutionary biology, has been misapplied by various sociopolitical theorists, philosophers, and religious conservatives. This misuse of the Malthusian meme is not the responsibility of Malthus, Darwin, Dawkins, or a host of evolutionary biologists who recognize the importance of natural selection.



"He rejected Prof Dawkins's theory which assumes culture is transmitted in a similar way to biology, through "memes" as opposed to genes, and added: "I find this philosophically crass and undeveloped at best, simply contradictory and empty at worst."


Making derogatory comments based on a personal apologetic position does not constitute refutation. How else, I wonder, does culture propagate by Dr Williams reckoning? I doubt that he would, for the sake of defending religion, go so far as to say that ideas are not transmitted from person to person via various media (speech, writing, audiovisual). I doubt that Dr Williams would deny that the Anglican church relies upon speech, writing, and audiovisual media for its own survival. Perhaps his failure can be attributed to lack of imagination insofar as he can't visualize a better post-pandemic world.



“Dr Williams added that to see religion as a survival strategy was to misunderstand it.”


Perhaps we ought not to view religion as purely a physical “survival strategy”. If not, then what? The church could not survive without religion, church incomes would vanish without religion, believers who have been indoctrinated might fear that they were doomed to hell without religion. And hasn’t this fear of hell that religious teachers continue to inculcate into the vulnerable minds of children proven to be the greatest survival meme of religion? Madison Avenue has nothing on the churches when it comes to not merely selling a product but making people afraid to switch product.



The Telegraph article gives the last word to Dawkins:




"Prof Dawkins has been scathing in his assessment of Christian theology, which he has described as vacuous. In a Channel 4 programme, The Enemies of Reason, in August he said: "There are two ways of looking at the world — through faith and superstition, or through the rigours of logic, observation and evidence, through reason."

Yet today reason has a battle on its hands. Reason and a respect for evidence are the source of our progress, our safeguard against fundamentalists and those who profit from obscuring the truth. We live in dangerous times when superstition is gaining ground and rational science is under attack."

View a streaming video presentation of Rowan William's lecture on the University’s website here.

Blogs Elsewhere : Rowan Williams and the 'New Atheists' :

Fear of "Framing"

Perhaps the post header ought to read "Fear of not Framing."

Framing refers to the expected impact on public opinion according to the manner in which a message is conveyed. Greed, power, and ideology motivate opponents of facts and of the expert evaluation of data, so areas for which framing is assumed to be important include politics, economic policy, morality, religion, health, and science. It is no accident that political affiliation and degree of religiosity cluster in patterns that reflect attitudes to information.

Any claim that framing of scientific information or op-ed articles will impact public opinion turns on the assumption that the public will have heard, viewed, or read the framed information in question and that the information will have been comprehended. Further, such claims for the impact of framing must assume that public opinion has not also been significantly swayed by competing messages from political opponents of the information.

Possible political or economic implications of information excite special-interest opponents of factual information to present opposing arguments or misinformation so as to ensure continued political support for the opponent's power base. The antagonistic schism of American public opinion that has entrenched along religious, economic, and in-group political lines, will render appeasement framing impotent.

I'm sure that I'll eventually find more examples of what amounts to battle of the militants versus the milquetoasts, but here is one for starters: Nisbet and Mooney in the WaPo: snake oil for the snake oil salesmen. The post by biologist PZ Myers of Pharyngula critiques an op-ed in the Washington Post by Matthew C. Nisbet* and Chris Mooney** entitled Thanks for the Facts. Now Sell Them. (April 15, 2007). Nisbet and Mooney criticize the tactics of Richard Dawkins, claiming that the atheistic evolutionary biologist gives "creationist adversaries a boost".

More recently, PZ complains of "a day that will live in inframey". In a blog post entitled Matthew Nisbet says entire environmental movement should just shut up, Chris Clark complains of Nisbet's assumption that Gore did not frame the environmental message to the liking of Republicans. This was in response to Does Gore Contribute to the Communication Crisis?, in which Nisbet blames Gore for the fact that Republic concern about global warming has fallen while that of Democrats has risen. According to Nisbet, Gore ought not to have used 'scare tactics' to convey the message of global warming threats to Republicans. I find this somewhat extraordinary since Republicans also espouse religious dogma that employs scare tactics offset by promises of salvation for good behavior. So, the problem cannot be that Republicans do not respond to scare tactics.

Since concerns over global warming amongst Democrats have increased in the same period, it seems more likely that the problem is that Republicans are also listening to the big business lobby that is promulgating warming-denial messages which appeal to the wishful thought that the planet is not in peril. This equates to personal reluctance to face the fact that individuals need to cut back on luxuries or pocket-change. Neither Democrats nor Republicans welcome the news concerning global warming–it is merely that Democrats are less likely to deny unwelcome facts out of pure selfishness. Business interests are well aware that Republicans respond to emotional, pro-religiosity, Don't-Trust-Democrats messages. Republicans might, according to the framers, respond to, "God wants you to park the SUV and take the bus!"

In the final analysis, everything, including silence, is communication. By this token, all messages are, by such a definition, framed in some way. The disagreement between 'activists versus appeasers' or 'politicizers versus pacifiers' concerns exactly how to frame a particular message in a mode most likely to produce the desired result. The reality is that volume may count more than framing–just as we are more likely to pay attention to the same message from three people than from one person, so are we more likely to pay attention to the same message from many sources than from one, no matter how that message is "framed".

On the topic of Gore's presentation of global warming predictions, Tim Lambert (Deltoid blog) provides a good summary of scientists' asssessments: Update on the nine alleged errors in An Inconvenient Truth, which is a follow-up on An 'error' is not the same thing as an error.

*Matthew C. Nisbet is a professor in the school of communication at American University, where his "research focuses on the intersections between science, media, and politics." Nisbet has a blog called Framing Science, where he discusses his "framing" ideas. His latest post is entitled Only 50% of Americans Have a Favorable View of Al Gore, in which Nisbet comments that Republicans do not favor Democrat Gore.

**Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and the author of The Republican War on Science and the newly released Storm World. Mooney co-authors a blog called The Intersection.

Elsewhere: Al Gore Wins the Nobel Peace Prize for Framing : Appeasers: The spineless pushovers :



What's in a Naturalism?

An interesting discussion erupted over on Pharyngula concerning naturalism. The bandying about of terminology prompted me to find definitions for the terms.

Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with conceptions of reality and the nature of being, while metaphysics investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science, traditionally including cosmology and ontology. Ontological naturalism, or metaphysical naturalism, describes the belief that nothing exists except the natural world that can be studied, at least in principle, through the scientific method (methodological naturalism). This excludes the supernatural from study not merely because only the natural is available for study but also because the supernatural is held not to have existence outside its conceptualization. The scientific method follows upon the assumption that observable effects in nature are best explainable only by natural causes, without reference to, or an assumption of, the existence or non-existence of supernatural notions.

The supernatural is conceived of as pertaining to entities, events or powers that are regarded as being beyond nature, in that they cannot be explained from the laws of the natural world. How convenient for those who wish to believe in miracles!

I—and scientific others—maintain that because we could not even suspect the existence of such entities or powers if they did not interact with the physical world, then that such entities or powers are necessarily part of the physical world—are natural—by virtue of such interactions. As soon as something manifests within the physical world then it is part of the physical world. In fact, the supernatural is a special invented category that made intuitive sense to pre-scientific thinkers and that has remained convenient to religionists, creationists, and intelligent design creationists.

Frederick Crews argues that metaphysical naturalism is a valid and rational extension of methodological naturalism. This is contrary to Ruse and to the people at NCSE (e.g., Eugenie Scott). Stenger states that according to our best knowledge, the world of matter is all that exists. Massimo Pigliucci wrote in 1998 that the methological-metaphysical distinction is "technically correct" but lacking in "philosophical courage." Trotskyist, Joe Kay, thinks that the methodological-metaphysical distinction is untenable.

Why are these methodological and ontological distinctions important?

Proponents of creationism or intelligent design creationism refer to methodological naturalism as 'scientific materialism' or as 'methodological materialism' and conflate it with metaphysical naturalism. In an attempt to discredit the findings of science that exclude religious explanations, they resort to this assertion in order to support their claim that modern science has an atheistic bias. To do so ignores the fact that even if science did have an atheistic bias, this would not indicate that creationism is a viable explanatory alternative. Creationists favor a revived natural philosophy that welcomes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in supports of claims for "theistic science" or pseudoscience.

Blog: comments on Letter to an non-atheist New Atheist.

Here's an interesting critique of a critique of scientific approaches.

Websites: Butterflies and wheels article : Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science and Critical Inquiry : The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, 11: GOD, SCIENCE, AND NATURALISM : Philosophy Now: The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory : Statement on Intelligent Design : Science and fundamentalism : Justifying Methodological Naturalism : Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism : Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science : Robert T. Pennock, Supernaturalist Explanations and the Prospects for a Theistic Science or "How do you know it was the lettuce?" : Kitzmiller v. Dover: Whether ID is Science :
On the Origins of Methodological Naturalism : Kitzmiller trial: testimony of Robert T. Pennock :



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I am not with Sam

Newsweek on washingtonpost.com has a transcript of Sam Harris' talk at the Atheist Alliance Conference, and I still disagree with his ideas on not calling ourselves 'atheists'.

I have lost much respect for the guy, so I'll refer to him as Sam rather than as Harris.

First, Sam makes the point that those who campaigned against racism in America did not have an anti-racist label. He seems to be ignoring the fact that most civil rights activists were distinguished by their degree of pigmentation and that they called themselves 'civil rights activists' if they were moderate or 'Black Panthers' if they were militant. Earlier than these days, those who campaigned against slavery called themselves 'abolitionists', as another participant at the conference pointed out.



We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Sam was invited to participate in the conference because, whether he used the term 'atheism' in his book or not, his book took an anti-faith, atheist position.

Many of us are atheists, secularists, secular humanists, naturalists, and skeptics/rationalists/freethinkers/brights. Each of the terms indicates a different manifestation of the usually liberal, empirical worldview that also manifests as atheism. Some, who arrived at atheism emotionally because they lost faith in a patently indifferent deity do not exhibit the cognitive manifestations of a liberal worldview, but those folk are unlikely to have attended the Atheist Alliance conference.

Now, it just so happens that religion has more than its fair share of bad ideas. And it remains the only system of thought, where the process of maintaining bad ideas in perpetual immunity from criticism is considered a sacred act. This is the act of faith. And I remain convinced that religious faith is one of the most perverse misuses of intelligence we have ever devised. So we will, inevitably, continue to criticize religious thinking. But we should not define ourselves and name ourselves in opposition to such thinking.

If it talks and walks like an atheist, then it is an atheist.

Well, rather than declare ourselves “atheists” in opposition to all religion, I think we should do nothing more than advocate reason and intellectual honesty—and where this advocacy causes us to collide with religion, as it inevitably will, we should observe that the points of impact are always with specific religious beliefs—not with religion in general. There is no religion in general.

Look again, Sam, there is indeed religion in general, and if you weren't so apparently in love with being different, you would see that when you say, "given the absence of evidence for God, and the stupidity and suffering that still thrives under the mantle of religion" you are in fact talking of religion as problem-generating, deluded belief in nonexistent supernatural entities.

But we shouldn’t be fixated, and we shouldn’t be even-handed. In fact, we should be quick to point out the differences among religions. . . Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. . . Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery, than Christianity has been for a very, very long time. And the world must wake up to this fact. Muslims themselves must wake up to this fact.



I agree that Mormon beliefs are even more ridiculous than 'average' Christian beliefs, though not necessarily much more stupid than Biblical literalism. I agree that Islam is a menace to both Westerners and to Muslims (well, certainly to Muslim women). However, neither of these facts alters the fact that the core problem is that any religious belief demands some degree of credulity, anti-empiricism, and illogical thinking. The terrorist style adopted by Muslims has probably caused less actual harm than the non-election and probable non-election of the Religious Wrong's favorite idiot. Sam is correct that some religions are even more stupid and dangerous than others, and it is time to stop being polite about this, so let's not ignore Christian fundamentalism because Congress gave Dubaya carte blanche for invasion and overt war without terror tactics.

Another problem with calling ourselves “atheists” is that every religious person thinks he has a knockdown argument against atheism. We’ve all heard these arguments, and we are going to keep hearing them as long as we insist upon calling ourselves “atheists. Arguments like: atheists can’t prove that God doesn’t exist; atheists are claiming to know there is no God, and this is the most arrogant claim of all. As Rick Warren put it, when he and I debated for Newsweek—a reasonable man like himself “doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” The idea that the universe could arise without a creator is, on his account, the most extravagant faith claim of all.
This is not a problem due to calling ourselves 'atheists', rather this is a manifestation of the cognitive problem that accompanies theism. To be a theist in this age of scientific explanation requires that the believer close his or her mind with the church door.

Many theists are too uneducated, too lacking in imagination or comprehension (like Rick Warren's type), too obstinately ignorant, too illogical, and/or too emotional in their thinking ever to concede that their arguments have failed repeatedly. This is particularly true because they have been protected by the unwarranted politeness that has traditionally been extended to religious follies. So long as such theists are thus protected from critical thinking, they will smugly assume they are not being foolish because there are lots of other fools who also think as they have been told to think. Unless and until such types see that increasing numbers of others do not believe, then they will not question the "rightness" of their own indoctrination.


I can assure you that this [Stalin, etc] bogus argument will be with us for as
long as people label themselves “atheists.” And it really convinces religious
people. It convinces moderates and liberals. It even convinces the occasional
atheist.

I can assure you, Sam, that our not calling ourselves 'atheists' will not make this bogus argument go away, because it appeals to emotional thinking. When a rationalist makes what is only an intellectual argument, many theists are simply not paying any attention. As soon as many theists are aware that any discussion relates to religion, to lack of faith, or to science, they will troop out one of the tired fallacies of logic that offer such emotional succor to the logically challenged.

Reasoning with such non-thinkers does not work, so the only means by which to disrupting their emotional thinking is to directly point out the fallacies in their illogic and to then to provide a rational alternative explanation. Be warned that unlike open-minded individuals, most theists cannot be expected to concede the point, instead they amplify their illogic, change the subject to another irrelevance, or leave the discussion. Such theists don't care about being right, they only care about feeling right.


Instead of doing this, consider what would happen if we simply used words like
“reason” and “evidence.” What is the argument against reason?
What happens? Don't you know, Sam? Many theists resort to denial, arguments from incredulity, ridicule, the scriptures, and the tactics that I have just described.


We will have won this war of ideas against religion when atheism is scarcely
intelligible as a concept. We will simply find ourselves in a world in which
people cease to praise one another for pretending to know things they do not
know. This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future
compatible with our long-term survival as a species. But the only path between
now and then, that I can see, is for us to be rigorously honest in the present.
It seems to me that intellectual honesty is now, and will always be, deeper and
more durable, and more easily spread, than “atheism.”

The war of ideas against religion can only be won by attacking the illogic of religious dogma by asserting the facts and arguing and arguing and arguing that 'atheism' is the logical, rational alternative on the basis of all the evidence.

The more advanced Western nations have already freed themselves from much theistic thinking. America and Islam are particularly intransigent in this regard, probably for similar reasons of low educational standards and community pressure to conform. The war will only be won by declaring against conformity to deluded beliefs.

PZ Letter to a non-atheist New Atheist .

Sam Harris responded to PZ Myers and Ellen Johnson to 'clarify the point [he] was making about the use of the term "atheist."':

My point, with respect to the term "atheist" (or any other), is that the use of a label invites a variety of misunderstandings that are harmful to our cause.

Then why didn't you say that instead of suggesting that we quit the label because theist might get upset and make fallacious arguments? Trying to waffle out of your error of political judgement changes nothing that you actually said in the infamous speech. Sam, it is theists who invent misunderstandings regardless of how rational the argument of scientists or atheists. Theists will not desist from fallacies of logic just because atheists don't admit to being atheists.

I was not impressed before. I am even less impressed now.

Blog reactions: Sam Harris seems like a nice fellow, but very confused :