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Posted on Sep 16, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI
AP/ Jens Meyer

Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims as he climbs the stairs of a stage before celebrating Mass at a Munich fairground Sept. 10. The German-born pontiff visited his homeland Sept. 9-14.

By Sam Harris

The bestselling author of “The End of Faith” responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Harris: “It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ‘evil’ and ‘inhuman’ before 250,000 onlookers and the world press, is now talking about a ‘genuine dialogue of cultures.’ ”

Harris’ new book, “Letter to a Christian Nation” is available here.

Cross-posted at Huffington Post



The world is still talking about the pope?s recent speech?a speech so boring, convoluted and oblique to the real concerns of humanity that it could well have been intended as a weapon of war. It might start a war, in fact, given that it contained a stupendously derogatory appraisal of Islam. For some reason, the Holy Father found it necessary to quote the Emperor Manual II Paleologos, who said: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman….” Now the Muslim world is buzzing with pious rage. It?s a pity that Pope Benedict doesn?t also draw cartoons. Joining a craven chorus of terrified supplicants, The New York Times has urged him to muster a ?deep and persuasive’’ apology. He now appears to be mincing his way toward the performance of just such a feat.

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While the pope succeeded in enraging millions of Muslims, the main purpose of his speech was to chastise scientists and secularists for being, well, too reasonable. It seems that nonbelievers still (perversely) demand too much empirical evidence and logical support for their worldview.  Believing that he was cutting to the quick of the human dilemma, the pope reminded an expectant world that science cannot pull itself up by its own bootstraps: It cannot, for instance, explain why the universe is comprehensible at all. It turns out that this is a job for? (wait for it) ? Christianity. Why is the world susceptible to rational understanding? Because God made it that way. While the pope is not much of a conjurer, many intelligent and well-intentioned people imagined they actually glimpsed a rabbit in this old hat. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, praised the pope?s ?deep and complicated? address for its ?clarity and openness.? Here is the heart of the pope?s argument, excerpted from his concluding remarks. I have added my own commentary throughout.

“The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizon….”

The pope suggests that reason should be broadened to include the empirically unverifiable. And is there any question these new ?vast horizons? will include the plump dogmas of the Catholic Church? Here, the pope gets the spirit of science exactly wrong. Science does not limit itself merely to what is currently verifiable. But it is interested in questions that are potentially verifiable (or, rather, falsifiable). And it does mean to exclude the gratuitously stupid. With these distinctions in mind, consider one of the core dogmas of Catholicism, from the Profession of Faith of the Roman Catholic Church:

?I likewise profess that in the Mass a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice is offered to God on behalf of the living and the dead, and that the Body and the Blood, together with the soul and the divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly, really, and substantially present in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and there is a change of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into Blood; and this change the Catholic Mass calls transubstantiation. I also profess that the whole and entire Christ and a true sacrament is received under each separate species.?

While one can always find a Catholic who is reluctant to admit that cannibalism lies at the heart of the faith, there is no question whatsoever that the Church intends the above passage to be read literally. The real presence of the body and blood of Christ at the Mass is to be understood as a material fact. As such, this is a claim about the physical world. It is, as it happens, a perfectly ludicrous claim about the physical world. (Unlike most religious claims, however, the doctrine of Transubstantiation is actually falsifiable. It just happens to be false.) Despite the pope?s solemn ruminations on the subject, reason is not so elastic as to encompass the favorite dogmas of Catholicism. Needless to say, the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of the dead, the entrance of an immortal soul into the zygote at the moment of conception, and almost every other article of the Catholic faith will land in the same, ill-dignified bin. These are beliefs that Catholics hold without sufficient reason. They are, therefore, unreasonable. There is no broadening of the purview of 21st-century rationality that can, or should, embrace them.

“Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today….”

It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ?evil? and ?inhuman? before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a ?genuine dialogue of cultures.? How much genuine dialogue can he hope for? The Koran says that anybody who believes that Jesus was divine?as all real Catholics must?will spend eternity in hell (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38). This appears to be a deal-breaker. The pope knows this. The Muslim world knows that he knows it. And he knows that the Muslim world knows that he knows it. This is not a good basis for interfaith dialogue.

“In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures….”

Astrologers don?t like ?their most profound convictions? attacked either. Neither do people who believe that space aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Happily, these groups do not take to the streets and start killing people when their irrational beliefs are challenged. I suspect that the pope would be the first to admit that there are millions of people on this Earth who harbor ?most profound convictions? that are neither profound nor compatible with real dialogue. Indeed, one doesn?t even need to read between the lines of his speech to glean that he would place the entire Muslim world beyond the ?universality of reason.? He is surely right to be alarmed by Islam?particularly by its doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. He is right to find the treatment of Muslim women throughout the world abhorrent (if, indeed, he does find it abhorrent). He is right to be concerned that any Muslim who converts to Christianity (or to atheism) has put his life in jeopardy, as conversion away from the faith is punishable by death. These profundities are worthy objects of our derision. No apologies necessary, Your Holiness.

We might, however, note in passing that one of the pope?s ?most profound convictions? is that contraception is a sin. His agents continue to preach this diabolical dogma in the developing world, and even in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 3 million people die from AIDS each year. This is unconscionable and irredeemably stupid. It is also a point on which the Church has not shown much of an intelligent capacity for dialogue. Despite their inclination to breed themselves into a state of world domination, Muslims tend to be far more reasonable on the subject of family planning. They do not consider the use of temporary forms of birth control to be a sin.

“Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought—to philosophy and theology….”

This may have been where Sullivan found the Holy Father to be particularly ?deep and complicated? and ?profound.? Granted, questions of epistemology can make one sweat, and there are many interesting and even controversial things to be said about the foundations of our knowledge. The pope has not said anything interesting or controversial here, however. He has merely insinuated that placing the God of Abraham at the back of every natural process will somehow reduce the quotient of mystery in the cosmos. It won?t. Nearly a billion Hindus place three gods?Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer)?in the space provided. Just how intellectually illuminating should we find that?

“The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor….”

Please read that first sentence again. I hope it doesn?t seem peevish to point out that the West faces several dangers even greater than those posed by an incomplete epistemology. The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community, by religious impediments to clear thinking, and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come. We are living in a world where untold millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in world where millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of American Christians hope to soon be raptured into the sky by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy the holy genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. We are living in a world in which a silly old priest, by merely giving voice to his religious inanities, could conceivably start a war with 1.4 billion Muslims who take their own inanities in deadly earnest. These are real dangers. And they are not dangers for which more ?Biblical faith? is a remedy.


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By Maani, December 7, 2006 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan:

Given your citing of Einstein, I thought I would provide some of his most apropos quotes:

“Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble.”

“Either we see everything in life as a miracle, or we see nothing in life as a miracle.  I prefer the former.”

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical.  It is the power of all true art and science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead.”

“Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exists between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies.  Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up.  But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding.  The source of this feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.  To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason.  I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith.  The situation may be expressed by an image: religion without science is blind; science without religion is lame.”

“In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.  But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views…I want to know how God created this world.  I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts.  The rest are details.”

Peace.

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By Joan, December 7, 2006 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Malini and Rick,

Malini,

Glad you are enjoying the conversation. I think is a particularly good one too. And enjoy the holidays. See (?) you next week.

Joan

Rick,

Clearing out more smoke, I know of no Christians who do not accept science or see science and religion as an either or proposition the way Harris casts it. His viewpoint seems rather medieval and more of a straw man, not reflective of the state of affairs. I think Einstein explains it well when he says something like scientific inquiry is not intended to rule out God just to see how He thinks. And I think that attitude is more correctly the attitude most Christians have about science rather then the pseudo arguments that Harris offers. This is why you see so many Christians in the medical fields, teaching professions and sciences, for the most part. And they follow the scientific method without a thought or concern for their salvation. Harris is not on solid ground here.

Joan

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By Joan, December 7, 2006 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Malini and Rick,

Malini,

Glad you are enjoying the conversation. I think it is a particularly good one too. And enjoy the holidays. See (?) you next week.

Joan

Rick,

Clearing out more smoke, I know of no Christians who do not accept science or see science and religion as an “either/or” proposition the way Harris casts it. His viewpoint seems rather medieval and more of a straw man, not reflective of the state of affairs. I think Einstein explains it well when he says something like scientific inquiry is not intended to rule out God just to see how He thinks. And I think that attitude is more correctly the attitude most Christians have about science rather then the pseudo arguments that Harris offers. This is why you see so many Christians in the medical fields, teaching professions and sciences. And they follow the scientific method without a thought or concern for their salvation for the most part. Harris is not on solid ground here.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, December 6, 2006 at 10:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan wrote:

>I see that you and I have sorted through a lot…We both disagree with Dawkins and Harris has having an accurate read on religion’s role in world difficulties, you in your way and I in mine…so do we have commonality that can maybe be productive…

Sort of.  I consider religious memes or similar xenophobic memes to be a causal step in the path to irrational thinking and war, just not the primary cause as Dawkins and Harris imply.

>You have argued that to avoid wars that we must get to the root of problems and you have centered these roots so to speak on sustenance issues…

At least it is my claim that the psychological traits that lead to wars were originally about sustenance.

> too many people, too few resources …according to your position this is the formula for war…

Actually it is the anticipation of such a situation that is more important.  It would not pay (for genes) nearly as well to wait until your tribe was weak from hunger before going after neighbors.

>and you offer birth control as one way to address this issue…if you were king, how would you go about implementing this solution?

Back in the days when there were kings (with real political power) they would start a war once in a while to burn off the excess population.  (Consider Nepoleon’s march on Moscow.)

>If you were President of the United States how would you go about implementing this solution and convince other nations of your position?

The big problem is that it is way too late, by one or two generations.  The Islamic population in excess of what is sustainable has already been born.  Still, if I were president, the least I would do is provide funding for family planning of all kinds including abortion, not the current policy of denying funding to anyone who suggests that birth control is a good idea. 

Raising the status of women is a good idea too.  I have no ideas about how this might be done in Islamic countries.

The Chinese solution of one child per family was draconian, but the alternative is worse, think Darfur x 100 or 1000.

If I were able to direct resources, I would put them into early nanotechnology, particularly carbon nanotubes.  The reason is that CNT might be strong enough to build a space elevator.  If space elevators can be built up to the capacity of a few thousand tons per day delivered to GEO, then it becomes possible to build solar power satellites cheap enough to displace all the coal and much of the rest of carbon based fuels.  Clean, low cost energy would go a long way toward improving conditions.

>Just an aside … in philosophy “verification, verifiability” means being able to demonstrate the actual occurrence or state of affairs of that which is to be verified. “Falsification, falsifiable” would be demonstrating that that which is proposed to be the case is in fact, not the case or state of affairs.

>“X” has been demonstrated to be the case and “Y” has been demonstrated not to be the case. Hence, “Y” is false, has been falsified or demonstrated to be false.

The classic is the “all swans are white” statement where finding one non-white swan makes the statement false.

Asserting that memes are elements of culture or replicating information patterns leads to certain predictions, for example the result of a baseball island experiment.

The experiments tend to be so obvious I don’t know how any budding experimentalist would get funding.

snip

Keith Henson

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By Joan, December 6, 2006 at 6:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rick,

Part 2

You raise an issue that I have wanted to put on the table and now is as good a time as any. We do not hold science’s errors against it—- such as the innumerable deaths of women who died in child birth from childbirth fever because the physicians who attended them did not wash their hands after handling cadavers before attending deliveries OR the awful thalidomide tragedy because scientists thought erroneously that the placenta was a filter, weeding out things toxic to the developing fetus, OR the under treatment of women in cardiac peril because doctors fail to address the different symptoms of female cardiac patients and do not aggressively treat them OR that drug trials are mostly only done on the male. These errors have led to countless deaths. A scientist would likely respond to these tragedies by saying,” Look, when we know better, we do better”. And I would cut scientists a lot of slack here, believing that they are fully intending to help rather than injure.  Along that line of reasoning, knowing better and then doing better, regarding religion and its errors why is not equally fair to say “Look, when we understand the cryptic words of Christ better or the nature of God better we do better.” I think it is fair to say that to an extent but here I am also with Harris and Rick Yel, some. The Christian clergy officially has not in fact revised its word and theory in the face of a literate laity. A re-haul of Christian thought beginning with the question—- Did Christ even intend an organized religion to spring from his ideas?—is long overdue. And I have a few ideas as to how that should occur. But I cannot disagree with you, Rick, about the impressive progress of science and the failure of religion to progress into this world and century. It is a frustration and people are leaving churches by droves because of their alienation from religion. Our suicide rate is higher than our homicide rate as I understand it and we are the anti depressant nation while being the wealthiest one. Something is missing here with respect to our national overall state of well- being. 

In summary, I would argue that if we cut science a lot of slack to re-group and correct it errors as I think we should, that we along the same line of reasoning we ought to likewise cut religions some slack, with the caveat that none of these disciplines should ever be allowed to promote ideologies that threaten the safety of the community, not suicide bombings and not inadequately treating female cardiac patients. Here the state must be allowed to secure its rightful agenda in safeguarding its citizens.

As for religious wars, numerous if not all ideologies at one time or another try to spread themselves with the sword, including democracy.


Lastly, I am not sure I agree with you that in science a statement is considered true if there is nothing sufficient to disprove its claim …that seems like an awfully loose standard for truth. Numerous religious, mystical concepts would be deemed true under that concept.

Joan

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By Joan, December 6, 2006 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rick,

Part 1

I too took biology, chemistry and physics in both high school and college so I have good idea as to how the scientific method operates.
We may be discussing science from different perspectives. Science is popularized as an inquiry that with all objectivity discovers unimpeachable truth about any and everything, given enough time all will be revealed by its methodology. Philosophy views science as one epistemological construct, one way of ascertaining what is true in the world. In philosophy, science concerns itself with things we can know by experience only and can determine its truth by experience (testing, observation), otherwise known as a posteriori knowledge. But philosophy has held that there is knowledge that is known prior to experience or a priori knowledge, to which scientific methodology does not pertain. Religion would fall into that category, not based on external experience alone. Philosophy and most theologians and I think Harris concedes this of most theologians—they would say religion is a qualitatively different discipline than science for the very reason that some religious precepts defy objective verification, as is the high ideal of science. So perhaps criticizing religion for not being like science is a little like criticizing an apple for not being a hammer.
So to an extent, when claiming that religion does not verify is something that the religious would say is true but philosophers and I am one of them would say other respectable disciplines such as ethics and to an extent science cannot or do not verify(Here think “The Elegant Universe” as told by physicist Brian Greene, a wonderful documentary video on string theory). Therefore, that objection, inability to verify, is not sufficient to blow religion out of the water as a respectable discipline because so many other necessary disciplines have difficulty with verifiability.
As far as my reading of Harris, I have read both his works and I stand by my interpretation. He is essentially arguing that because we cannot verify religious statements we have no grounds to accept them or conversely if religious statements were verifiable the way scientific ones are we would have grounds to accept them. I read him from the philosophers’ viewpoint as that is how I am trained and how he is trained. I believe he is taking this idea of verifiability from the British empiricists who for the above mentioned lines of reasoning have thrown out ethics with religion as well. So I as a trained ethicist I have my ear to the ground on such subjects as rationalizing away my very livelihood. See part 2.

Joan

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By Maani, December 6, 2006 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dave:

Your anger and hatred are palpable, even in cyberspace.  How can you speak like that and then think you can hide behind a disingenuous sign-off like “Peace and Best Wishes?”

You do NOT wish me “peace,” as evidenced by the increasing nature of your disdain, dismissal and intolerance.  It doesn’t take an awful lot of “armchair psychology” to realize that most of your hatred is actually self-directed; it has been obvious to anyone who has followed your posts and really “listened” to you.  That you lash out the way you do is simply an “acting out” of that self-hatred.  Ultimately, I feel sad rather than angry or insulted.

A few responses to your comments.

You speak of “a Christ who…leads his followers to an eternal, otherwordly salvation AFTER DEATH!” (Emphasis yours)  While it is true that salvation and eternal life deal with the “hereafter,” this is not mutually exclusive from the fact that Jesus also taught us how to live in the temporal world - during our lives HERE - in a way that would promote love, peace, forgiveness, compassion, humility, patience, tolerance, charity, selflessness, service, justice.  Surely you are not suggesting that this aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry be ignored - or is somehow “lesser” than the hope of salvation and eternal life?

You say, “for Jesus…to induce folk…to abandon, disregard, ignore or otherwise subordinate their closest relatives/friends to believing in a nonexistent god is the epitome of deceit…”  Is THAT what you got from the passage?  Either you are far shallower than I thought, or you are willfully ignorant of the idea of euphemism and double meanings.  He was simply suggesting that His ideas and ministry were SO radical - so different from what the populace was learning in the temples at the time - that a person who “followed” His teachings would necessarily cause dissension in their own household.  For goodness sake, the war in Iraq (and Bush in toto) have been causing this kind of dissension within households for the past few years, often leading relatives and friends not to speak to each other.  How much more true would it have been with regard to an entire spiritual philosophy that was almost antithetical to what was being taught at the time?

Finally, and perhaps most saliently, I find it supremely ironic and amusing that your reply is so anti-faith, anti-God, anti-Bible and anti-Jesus - and particularly your comment that the Bible is “absolutely false” and “fiction,” and note that “whatever Jesus said, even if authentic (highly debatable) is based on human-invented fable…” - when my citing of the Scriptural passage that led to your most recent diatribe was in direct response to YOUR choosing to quote Jesus to support your claim about the “sword.”

Dave, I’ll make you a deal: I will leave medicine and doctoring to you if you leave theology to me.

Peace.  (And unlike you, I mean it)

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By Malini, December 6, 2006 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Greetings Everyone!

Thanks for all the thought provoking, insightful debate that is going on!

This is the best dialogue I’ve experienced in my life!

With love to all,

Malini

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By Joan, December 6, 2006 at 7:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Keith

I see that you and I have sorted through a lot…We both disagree with Dawkins and Harris has having an accurate read on religion’s role in world difficulties, you in your way and I in mine…so do we have commonality that can maybe be productive…You have argued that to avoid wars that we must get to the root of problems and you have centered these roots so to speak on sustenance issues… too many people, too few resources …according to your position this is the formula for war…and you offer birth control as one way to address this issue…if you were king, how would you go about implementing this solution? If you were President of the United States how would you go about implementing this solution and convince other nations of your position?

Just an aside … in philosophy “verification, verifiability” means being able to demonstrate the actual occurrence or state of affairs of that which is to be verified. “Falsification, falsifiable” would be demonstrating that that which is proposed to be the case is in fact, not the case or state of affairs.

“X” has been demonstrated to be the case and “Y” has been demonstrated not to be the case. Hence, “Y” is false, has been falsified or demonstrated to be false.

So I am not sure how this effects our discussion. This is juat an explication of my terminology.

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., December 5, 2006 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

RE: Maani’s comments, #40708, 12/04/06

As a former “believer” but never w/o skepticism, Maani, I’ve been
agnostic or atheistic for yrs, meaning foremost that all Biblical claims of a God & a reward of immortal bliss in a heaven w. an alleged “Trinity” of a ghost, a father & his son are absolutely false or literary works that must be categorized as fiction, yet expressive of ancient myths such as a god or gods fathering the likes of a Christ who therafter leads his followers to an eternal, otherworldly salvation AFTER DEATH!  Thus, whatever Jesus said, even if authentic (highly debatable), is based on human-invented fable, dersire, wishful thinking, yearning, etc.  Whereas you’ve come to believe such nonsense & unreason, I definitely do not; truth remains “my shepherd” so all faiths manipulating via supernatural fable, false “immortality”, & a god that’s benevolent & omnipotent & omniscient are, in my view, immoral while having “hijacked” morality w. the simultaneous dissemination & promotion of evil—evident almost perpetually since the “god’s chosen” lie was invented.

Moreover, for Jesus to brain-drench, manipulate or induce folk, individually & “en masse”, to abandon, disregard, ignore or otherwise subordinate their closest relatives/friends to believing in a nonexistent god & heaven is the epitome of deceit & contemptuously immoral.  Truth, science, reason & common sense of the 21st c. dictate the fallacy of such nonsense, yet, I must admit again that I fail to believe that the brilliant folk, especially clergy, who make such claims can be serious.  And consider further why a god would condemn humankind over 1000’s of yrs to a purgatory (I presume) merely for having been born before the year 4 BCE, when Jesus arrived; not only that absurdity, but this god & other contemporary or subsequent gods had/have other names, traits & lies as different as the human imaginations/yearnings by which all were invented.  To me the rationale for that wall between religion & governance under the phenomenally first of our Bill of Rights is obvious—it excludes from the state’s legal machinery the mandating of unreason & nonsense, yet leaves individual citizens to disbelieve or believe whatever they wish.  Like Harris & Dawkins, my candor is ordained in reality-constrained truth, it results from my yrs of  
observing, reading about & analyzing human behavior & it is based on well-documented psychological/behavioral studies, so if “vituperative” as theists regard facts antithetical to their delusions, at least it’s truthful & honest.  During 2 millennia religion has promoted swords but not serenity so I invite all to consider the merits of secular humanism & the current Humanist Manifesto or Affirmations published in each edition of “The Humanist” magazine.

Peace & Best Wishes!

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By Joan, December 5, 2006 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Rick and Keith,

You both give me lot to think about and I have lot of holiday stuff with “elfing” projects responsibilites for the geriatric members of my clan, in addition to my own. I will respond ASAP…Please stand by…

Rick,

It’s good to hear from you..Where have you been???!!Anyway right out of the shoot, Harris is pivoting on arguments in logical positivsm, and I am taking him this way as he was a phil. major so I am arguing from this postion which I think is fair but… this is just a first read of your post which deserves much closer attention. ill do.

Keith,

Where do you stand with Dawkins or Harris…you cannot have both and remain logically consistent as I see it. I would go with Dawkins although I am not convinced at all about memes…but I,unlike Harris would never say that we cannot make statements that we cannot verify. The world activity would literally come to a halt.This is what Wittgenstein concluded but I would not put my life on it that it was he but this is why logical postivism and its progeny were taken off the philosohpical table as an epistemology .It was far too limiting of the sensible conversations of academic and other disciplines.

Will be back with more.

Joan

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By Rick Yel, December 5, 2006 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan,

I hope your holidays are going well.  I want to try and blow the smoke out of the room on a particular point that keeps popping up here.

Read carefully, Harris literally states that Faith has “insufficient evidence” for us to believe Faith or religion to be an accurate representation of the world in which we live.  Personally, I think he makes a strong point here with his various arguments concerning the topic in both of his books. 

In science, a statement is considered true if there is nothing more sufficient to refute the claim.  After studying quantum physics in my undergrad, I can tell you that as complicated as the behavior of electrons seem, we have definately pinned down it’s particular behavior through the use of advanced equations and instruments.  So, there is sufficient reason to believe in the actual material existence of electrons(assuming one believes equations to be a true, albeit advanced, view of our physical world).

A common argument against the existence of electrons is that we cannot visually see, in any direct sense, electrons.  However we have very good reason to believe they are there.  If they aren’t there then we continue to get very lucky when we turn on our light switch. 

A recent example may shed some light on the subject:  Pluto was not directly spotted by any telescope or astronomer.  It’s existence became known to us once a smart fellow realized that Neptune and Uranus had odd perturbations in their orbits not explained by any phenomena known at the time.  Thus, the best explanation left was that a object of a sufficient mass was floating close enough to gravitationally effect these 2 other planets (some argue the astronomer got very lucky in finding Pluto, but that may be up for debate).  In any case, wouldn’t you know it, when we had telescopes strong enough years later, there was tiny little Pluto. 

I am not saying that one day we will prove electrons through visual display (although quite possible), my point is that we have good reasons to believe something exists and we have reasons without sufficient evidence that something exists.  Sam Harris is saying that Faith and Religion belong in the latter category.

So when you say:

>> “Harris does not permit us to accept things that are not verifiable but Keith says that we accept things because they are inferred, like electrons,in order to allow certain disciplines like science to continue their inquiries. But continuing along this line of reasoning, accepting that which is not verifiable, how rational (logically consistent) is it to accept science but reject religion? Or how much science is religion?”

Science thrives on a continuous flow of information that we can test.  You would maybe be writing me a letter in feather and ink if it were not for our mastery of nature’s phenomena.  The very existence of your computer is a prime example that science most definately follows a logically consistent track.  It seems very logical that one believes in science while not in religion.

More so, science is an art of visual and direct progress that can be seen everyday, and almost everywhere.  Religion no doubt is a lot of places, but some say what it is missing is progress in any scientific sense.  A great example of this fact is what is happening in the Middle East.  Death over belief has been tormenting that area (and many others) for thousands of years.  Any person with an outside view can see the lack of progress compared to an area not over-run by religious zealots (our current gov’t aside).  Now you have probed the scientific mind my dear Joan.  I wish you the best holidays!

Your Pal,

Rick

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By Maani, December 5, 2006 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
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Adding to Joan’s recent comment about “how much science is religion,” since we “accept” many scientific “theories” that are not verifiable:

I am told by quantum physicists that a particle can (i) be in two places at once, or (ii) spin in both directions simultaneously.

Given a choice between believing those two things or believing in God, it seems God is the more…logical choice.

LOL.

Peace.

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By Joan, December 5, 2006 at 6:48 am Link to this comment
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Everyone,

Harris does not permit us to accept things that are not verifiable but Keith says that we accept things because they are inferred, like electrons,in order to allow certain disciplines like science to continue their inquiries. But continuing along this line of reasoning, accepting that which is not verifiable, how rational (logically consistent) is it to accept science but reject religion? Or how much science is religion?

Joan

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By Keith Henson, December 4, 2006 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Part 1

Joan wrote:

snip

>Proving memes exist may be trivial to you and Dawkins but it is not trivial to Harris who is arguing that for a statement to make sense it must be verifiable.

The usual term is falsifiable.

Memetics makes predictions such as those expected in the baseball meme thought experiment.  The existence of memes as elements of culture would be falsified if you came back to the island and found the kids playing hockey if neither they nor their instructor knew hockey.  (This would be like the spontaneous generation of life.)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_generation

>So I not see how one can be consistent and support Harris and Dawkins simultaneously.

Well, I don’t support either one of them.  I think they are barking up the wrong tree in directly attacking religions.  Of course if they *did* understand the origin and effects of religions and related psychological traits they would probably be no happier than I am with the knowledge.  It paints a picture of a miserable future with the advanced nations eventually having to watch maybe a billion die.  (Baring a miracle such as nanotechnology.)

>I like you support many statements and scientific stipulations that are not immediately observable. I think it is lunacy to eliminate all statements because they are not verifiable but that is in fact the centerpiece of Harris’ refutation of the validity of religions in both his books.

As I say, wrong approach.  Religions are real to the people who hold them and they hold them to an intense degree.  Many are willing to *die* for them.

Why?

That’s the level Harris and Dawkins should be addressing.

(If you want to refute religions in general, they can’t all be true, so the least complicated answer is that none of them are true.  This is unrelated to the previous statement.)

>I think reason has always been applied to world problems but North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Bush, Rumsfeld demonstrate its insufficiency and powerlessness at times.

Reason is worse than useless if you are starting from a poor model of the world.  Garbage in, garbage out applies to people as well as computers.

>We are not master “reasoner"s and we are made of more than reason alone.

You are strongly supported by evolutionary psychology in this statement.

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By Keith Henson, December 4, 2006 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Part 2

>Yes, long-term sustainability is a serious problem and I fear too much intervention and too little intervention.

I fear intervention at all when people don’t have a correct model of the situation.  And yet, it is clear that we are headed for disaster if we continue the way we are going.

>I think we have to rein in our huge appetites for material goods but obesity seems to come in many versions. Yet this appetite creates jobs and raises the standard of living. Again competing interests. You elucidate a tough, tough problem.

>Golly gee… why would you think I support wars…

Your statement:

>and we may soon see the daycare nations of Europe not having enough people to support their projects or populations sufficient to fight in wars should they arise.

How else should I take this? 

>they happen though

Don’t you think it would be a *really good idea* to understand what lies behind wars and try to avoid them?

>nuclear war that you and I both agree is not impossible and as for push button war, the efficacy of that presumption has given us the Afghanistan and Iraq we know today. If you mean by push button war the utter annihilation of us all, well then everything we say here is moot.

No.  Humans would survive with no major damage all the nukes the mid east countries are likely to make, even if they used them all.  “Utter annihilation” was not likely back at the peak of the cold war and is much less likely now.

>Those who survive these push button wars like Iraq do so with the baggage of anger and humiliation etc., as we have seen spinning out new reasons for future wars. If we are under-populated we are in danger.

Japan could shrink its population by half and still be densely populated.

The US had less than half its current population when I was born and it didn’t lack for warriors.

There are negative and positive effects for having a large and dense population, both here and in the rest of the world.  The negative effects are really dire.

>Your long-term predictions on the imbalance of China’s population inequities may or may not be accurate. I for one am concerned now about the reality of a lot of young males who are not constructively occupied, who lack ties of family and values and responsibilities. They are the most dangerous people in the universe.

This is the “excess males” theory of why wars happen.  It is in competition with my “bleak future” model.  If things are looking good for the future in China and China starts a war, that will enhance the excess males theory.  So far this has not happened, and those excess males continue to get older and older.

snip

>“Bleeding edge” technologies, what are you referring to? 

Strongly super human level AI, or uploading humans into much more powerful hardware.  I.e., the creation of beings with many of the characteristics we associate with gods.  _See The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology_ by Ray Kurzweil.

Keith

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By Maani, December 4, 2006 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
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Dave:

Like the so-called Religious Right, you take Scripture out of context to support a totally incorrect point.

You mention Jesus’ statement about bringing “not peace, but a sword,” and follow it with a comment about Jefferson and “principles of government,” thus relating the “sword” to matters of state.

However, Jesus was not referring to government or policy in any way.  Taken in context, it is as clear as day what He was referring to:

“Whosoever shall therefore confess Me before men, him also will I confess before My Father in heaven.  But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him also will I deny before My Father in heaven.  Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  (Matt 10:32-37)

It is clear that the “sword” Jesus referred to was the dissension that belief in HIM would create WITHIN INDIVIDUAL HOUSEHOLDS - NOT anything having to do with politics.

If you feel the need to quote Scripture to support your positions, at very least read it in context and understand what is being said.

Peace.

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By Joan, December 4, 2006 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
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Everyone (and Richard, see note below),

Due to the demands of the holiday season, I will be unable to follow this thread as diligently as I usually do. But I will try to keep up and respond to those who have taken the time and care to address me. I again enjoy our discussions. I thank our hosts, “truthdig” and Sam Harris and my fellow interlocutors. During this time I ask you to give little thought to something very endemic to this thread, especially when so many of us around the world celebrate and hope for peace on earth. In America we enjoy the fine life and national peace and prosperity we do because in real live America we have ended the religious wars by respecting people even if we not do believe what they do, not because some are deemed intellectually superior to the rest of us and are entitled to degrade us. To me this peace and prosperity is the fulfillment of the dream of the Founders. If this respect is withdrawn and people of different beliefs are deemed to be legitimate targets of derision and animosity, problems result.  If done on grander scales you will likely see an end to the peace in the religious wars. The tactic both Harris and Dawkins use, disparaging people and their beliefs under the guise of intellectual superiority, which they are not, is particularly offensive to me as someone who has been rigorously trained in the discipline of reason.  I look at this activity as a particularly degrading use of a noble endeavor, reason. Intentionally offending people is not a rational posture to assume if you are pledging yourself to the endeavor of peace on earth. That is the way to start wars. No one is willing to be nor should be on the receiving end of legitimized degradation. This derision is especially unpalatable when it is directed at those who have given this majestic country its breath of life and on whose backs this country is essentially sustained.

Joan


Richard,

Re: Your inquires about philosophy books…
”The Practice of Philosophy, A Handbook for Beginners” by Jay F. Rosenberg and,

“Bluff Your Way through Philosophy”  just for fun.

To enhance a straightforward and a hard- hitting writing style,I used “Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B.White and Oxford trained logician, Dr. Stanley Maartens. Stan is not for sale though.

Amazon would be a good place to check for these.  Have fun.

“The Practice…” is a small book explaining the underpinnings of a good argument, how to critique and some ideas about how the game is played in analytic philosophy, as opposed to intuitionism and existentialism. FYI

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., December 3, 2006 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment
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RE: #39435, 11/23/06 - Rick YEL & #40412, 12/01/06 - by MALINI

With a sincere apology for belatedness, I wish to thank Rick Yel, not so much for favoring reason & supporting me as for his reminder that America & its Democracy are sustained “on the shoulders of giants”, who still live in our century, preceded all allegedly “sacred” texts (ex. Epicurus, 341-270 BCE) by centuries and fortunately documented their thoughts; and I thank Malini, whose love for reason she graciously has ascribed somewhat to my entries to this dialogue—many thanks!

Recently my reading from Fred Turner’s FR. COUNTERCULTURE to CYBERCULTURE re: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network & Digital Utopianism, I was enlightened by the “hippie, nerd, geek & hacker” connotations, which Turner describes (not w/o known rebuttals) as “the most interesting & efffective body of intellectuals since the framers of the US Constitution”.  Of course that’s debatable but what struck me as factual was a Stewart Brand epigram (whose interests include promoting the idea of “deep time” & how buildings learn [yes!]): “We are as Gods and might as well get good at it”.  Sam Harris, Dawkins, Kurtz, Wm Blake, David Hume, Alexander Pope, Epicurus & many other great minds would not, in my opinion, disagree.  And a reminder from Jesus & Jefferson: His followers claimed that Jesus declared he had brought “not peace but a sword” (is this not Islamic, Catholic, other-Christian, Jewish & Hindi combined?) but Jefferson in a 9/06/1819 letter to Judge Spencer Roane wrote: that “[the election of 1800 had been] as real a Revolution in the principles of our government as that of [19]76 was in its form; not effected indeed BY THE SWORD…but by the rational & peaceful instrument of reform”.  My bet is that Falwell, GWB, Dobson, Bennett, Cheney, Wolfowitz, the Pope & other faith-heads never read this and if they did, their level of comprehension was unprecedented.

Peace & Every Best to all

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By Joan, December 3, 2006 at 10:04 am Link to this comment
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Maani,

You are again absolutley correct and I am very indebted to you for your kindness, respect and care. If Dave’s attitudes are a glimpse of what we can expect from atheistic domination, I see a serious worsening of our status and dignity as a people.

Thank you.

Joan

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By Joan, December 3, 2006 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
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Keith,

I know God exists from His side effects. Good point.

Proving memes exist may be trivial to you and Dawkins but it is not trivial to Harris who is arguing that for a statement to make sense it must be verifiable. So I not see how one can be consistent and support Harris and Dawkins simultaneously. I like you support many statements and scientific stipulations that are not immediately observable. I think it is lunacy to eliminate all statements because they are not verifiable but that is in fact the centerpiece of Harris’ refutation of the validity of religions in both his books.

I think reason has always been applied to world problems but North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Bush, Rumsfeld demonstrate its insufficiency and powerlessness at times. We are not master “reasoner”s and we are made of more than reason alone.

Yes, long-term sustainability is a serious problem and I fear too much intervention and too little intervention. I think we have to rein in our huge appetites for material goods but obesity seems to come in many versions. Yet this appetite creates jobs and raises the standard of living. Again competing interests. You elucidate a tough, tough problem.

Golly gee… why would you think I support wars… they happen though…nuclear war that you and I both agree is not impossible and as for push button war, the efficacy of that presumption has given us the Afghanistan and Iraq we know today. If you mean by push button war the utter annihilation of us all, well then everything we say here is moot. Those who survive these push button wars like Iraq do so with the baggage of anger and humiliation etc., as we have seen spinning out new reasons for future wars. If we are under-populated we are in danger.

Your long-term predictions on the imbalance of China’s population inequities may or may not be accurate. I for one am concerned now about the reality of a lot of young males who are not constructively occupied, who lack ties of family and values and responsibilities. They are the most dangerous people in the universe. This population imbalance in the here and now has resulted in social problems for both marriageable age males and females who are being kidnapped as brides or sold off.  This is not an appropriate standard of living for those who are actually living in the here and now, their shot at life. This is why what seems reasonable at a first glance is very challengeable. Reason has to be tempered with other standards. Science without ethics is very dangerous. See November Harper’s article on Dawkins.

That scientists believe in God or not seems to be a draw. There are the cellular biologists who have proposed Intelligent Design and The “Language of God” the author of whom (?)  informs that more and more scientists believe in God. “Bleeding edge” technologies, what are you referring to?  I do not think we will live to see resolution here about scientists, believers or not. But I base my belief or non- belief about God on my own wits, not Einstein’s or Hawkings or Brian Greene’s. And as my joke goes….when scientists told God that they could clone and yada-yada-yada with all their science, God picked up some dirt and fashioned man. Then He invited the scientists to make man. So the scientists reached down to grab a handful of dirt to do likewise. God winked and stopped them from grabbing the dirt. ”Make your own dirt”, He said.  So I don’t know, Keith, I think God has a point.

Joan

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By Joan, December 3, 2006 at 8:18 am Link to this comment
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Richard,

Perhaps we construe these phrases differently. Let’s clarify…”We hold these truths to be self- evident”. The truths that are self evident are ….”All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator (not Jesus) with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” …I take this to mean that it is self evident that the Creator (not Jesus) made all men equal and gave all men certain inalienable rights. So I conclude that Jeff. says

-man was created by God and God created all these men to be equal to one another…this is a Christian concept, we are all equally children of God. This is not a historical concept as history demonstrates repeatedly that men are not created and are or treated as equals….

-God (not Jesus) endowed all these equal men with inalienable rights. They are immutable because God gave them to man, not because John Locke who was Jeff’s soul mate or the Czar of Russia, or T. Jeff gave them to man but they are immutable because they came from God. That is the role God plays here.The inalienable rights are not immutable because these rights have some sort special, mysterious power inherent to themselves that makes them special but they are special because they are from God. Because the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are endowed by God, no one can change them or deprive man of them such as judges or A. Gonzales.  Their immutability is a function of being given to man by God, i.e. “…endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” That is Jeff.’s argument.

Now many of American ideas about human rights are predicated on the concept of inalienable rights, those that cannot be taken by anyone because God gave them to man. And A. Lincoln at Gettysburg says”…a new nation, conceived in, liberty, and dedicated to proposition that all men are created equal.”  All men being created equal was found in no other ideology and practiced by no other form of government except Christian philosophy prior to the founding of America. These traces of Christianity to me are the blood coursing through the veins of our nation and the blood and labor of mostly Christians has been its mainstay.  These concepts of equality and dignity are inextricably linked to God by Jefferson’s own hand. And without these concepts we do not have America as we know it so they are not trivial at all. You don’t have to buy into what I say at all if you think otherwise but I certainly stand by my explication. I don’t see how Jeff.’s phraseology can be construed otherwise. The wording seems straight- forward and unequivocal.
Additionally, on the world scene Christian nations typically are extremely generous to others and do not uphold the eye for an eye mentality we are seeing displayed in the world today. These behaviors contribute unfathomably to world- wide security and to me are not backward looking ethical precepts, either. Also, one cannot be logically consistent by blaming Islam for the problems in the Middle East and then denying Christianity plays a role in the success of Christian nations.
I do not understand why these are ideas are so troublesome. Admitting the positive influence of Christianity does not meant anyone has to believe in God.

Joan

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By Joan, December 3, 2006 at 8:06 am Link to this comment
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Keith and Richard,

The problem of suicide bombing seems more directly connected to feelings of animosity et al although sustenance may be a lesser part of the mix.  Militant Muslims are educated also and come from some particularly oil rich countries but you and I have been down that road before. To reiterate, I believe several of these countries are either very wealthy or potentially wealthy and they have options. It seems to me that militant Muslims are angry and dislike the West and are threatened by Western intrusion in their lives, etc…don’t like our politics. Serving their religion is secondary. They want to find a way to destroy us and the first thing they have to do is get permission from their ethical system to do so. And there is plenty in the Koran that would provide permission. They are not flying planes into buildings all of sudden as I have said, to guarantee their future sex lives, that is just a double effect of achieving their primary goal, destroying us. Their scheme, suicide missions,  is very potent and very threatening. These particular Muslims hate us, you and me…Christians, Jews and Atheists. I would think that reason would command us to unite and together deal with this issue in a way that does not divide us further and weaken our unity and resolve and distract our focus, unlike the Harris /Dawkins model that is trying to use intellectual enlightenment to divide us and legitimize new forms of bigotry. That, to quote Mr. Spock, for whom I have nothing but the greatest affection, seems irrational.

It is a particularly un-American activity to actively promote new grounds of intolerance on the basis of religious viewpoint. It is legitimate to debate what constitutes religion and discussions about “God on a coin” or in a “pledge” as the very first words of our Bill of Rights are about the prohibition of the establishment of a religion, *like atheism, and prohibiting a religion, like Christianity in these days and times. Lumping all religions together and equally condemning them seems like a very cursory evaluation to me. A religion serves as an ethical system that directly or indirectly is mirrored in the laws of the land. Nations and their laws are not born of a vacuum. The way to see if the nation’s underlying ethical system/religion serves its people well, to be a bit Aristotelian here, is
to evaluate if the people are thriving, all things being equal. And all thing being equal, the countries of a Judeo/Christian, Greco/Roman heritage are very much thriving countries. Religion/ethical systems are not just pie in the sky ideals. Some religions are also in fact the systems that stand between us and the gates of hell on earth or those systems that open those gates of hell such as communism and fascism, albeit not perfectly but that is the human way, not perfectly.

*Atheism under the tutelage of Dawkins/Harris is functioning more and more like a religion with its evangelizing and precepts like memes and verifiability. If this movement prods laws to be made that deny, implicitly or explicitly, the existence of God, we are now making laws on a religious precept, namely that “there is no God” which American legislators are not allowed to do and American judges are not allowed to pronounce. Evangelizing that there is no God and connecting this religious belief to the legal process is very arguably entering the waters of atheism attempting to establish itself as the religion of the land. This will be fought as diligently as I would fight against the religious right attempting to do the same thing.

More to come.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, December 2, 2006 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joan wrote:

snip

>Given that memes are not observable any more than my proposed dremes are, I say first of all, with Dawkins we do not have an empirical discipline but speculation or even fantasy.

There are lots of things that we know exist that are not directly observable.  You can’t, even in theory, see an electron yet we know they exist from their effects.

Likewise you can see the effects of memes changing behavior.  You can detect if a person has the baseball meme by seeing if they can teach a recognizable game to a bunch of kids that don’t know the game.

Memes (or religious viruses) are simply information.  Can people transfer information between them?  Does this information persist over a number of transfers?  If you answer yes, then in effect you support memetics.

>The purpose of his exercise seems not to be to advance science as discovery but to spin out a purported thesis to his personal liking in order to refute religion,

The fact that religions are memes does not refute religions.  True, they have passed though a lot of humans, directly and on paper.  Memetics though has no problem with a meme originating from another species, a computer, a space alien or a deity.

>a personal agenda. Now Harris is on the same anti religion crusade and he diametrically opposes Dawkins by stipulating the criterion that all statements made about the world must be verifiable. Hence Dawkins, without verifiable statements, is no longer germane to the crusade from Harris’ viewpoint.

It’s trivial to demonstrate memes existing.  See above.

Snip

>Again I cannot buy into Harris’ notion that reason is sufficient to secure a safer world.

Neither can I, but it is a good start.

>I have an automatic healthy skepticism about one -size fits all theories such as all wars are fought for sustenance alone and practicing birth control is the solution.

That’s not exactly my argument.  Wars in the Stone Age or between primitive peoples are generally due to effects of population pressure in the sense of anticipation of falling income per capita.

>Practicing birth control en masse is a double- edged word. In countries like Russia, Germany, Sweden the population rates are failing to replace themselves to their economic peril

In this respect Japan is even worse.

For long term sustainability using current technology, the world has about 3 times to many people, maybe more depending on how high a standard of living you desire. 

>and we may soon see the daycare nations of Europe not having enough people to support their projects or populations sufficient to fight in wars should they arise.

I think you don’t understand modern “push button” warfare, but are you supporting war?

>And I am opposed to national population birth control plans that are too stringent such as those used in China that is now overrun by too many men.

China has a really dire problem with far to many people for the resources available.  It took a drastic solution.  True, as a side effect of preferring sons, 20% of them will not find wives.  The next generation should be better balanced.

I think you don’t have a grasp of what is going on out on the bleeding edge of technology.  The people there are close to universally atheists.

But deists raised many of them and by and large they regret that there are no gods.  They work diligently to create a transcendent god or gods.

The possibility they may succeed scares the hell out of me.

Keith Henson

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By Richard, December 2, 2006 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

I still think you are placing too much emphasis on whatever traces of Christianity were remained in the thinking and writing of our Founders.

It seems that an evolution of ideas was taking place. First came Locke, then came the Declaration of Independence, then the United States Constitution. What should have come next? I don’t believe it’s the situation we have today.

I have given “credit where credit was due.” Please acknowledge the idealogical beauty of the direction we were headed and the backsliding this nation has done by placing religion in our pledge, on our currency, and in our Congress.

Although the declaration did refer to the Creator, the most important idea in the statement was that the truth is “self-evident” to all. That has the same flavor as a verified natural law, independently confirmable by anybody who wishes repeat the experiments that proved it (although most are content to just read about the experiments and agree with the results).

Although it is possible for a corroborated scientific theory to be falsified, the principle of the immutability of natural laws is still upheld. Likewise, although there may be quarrels over the epistemology of belief in rights, the concept of the human rights is equally immutable. There may be a metaphysical element for the time being, but rights are not based on the belief in a particular god. No god is even required to find the truth in it. It is “self-evident.”

There was not a hint of any other Christian idea, in the Declaration; no idea that could only be considered “evident” because Jesus said so, by inspiring a supposed transcriber before the age of reason.

And then came the Constitution of the United States, free of even the most plain vanilla god, and guaranteeing complete separation of religion from policy. There was no “Christian twist,” or necessarily even an “equality of man that cannot be undermined.” There were only equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, rights that could never be guaranteed if priests were deciding what is moral and what is not, based on mythology and words of the supposedly inspired ones.

The Founders were men who said such things as:

“I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.”—Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820. This remark arose in the context of discussing the human soul. Jefferson said he considered the soul itself to be a material reality.

Even if the founders recipe included Christian flavoring, those aspects were not unique to Christianity. As far back as Cyrus (550-530 BC), leaders were attempting to provide national stability by providing religious freedom. Israel was enslaved by Cyrus, but he ordered them to go re-establish their center of national worship at the place they thought Yahweh lived.

The United States of America has never had a national god or center of worship.

Anyway, My point is, ideas of freedom and their implementation should move forward, not regress. Even if the Founders did come out of a religious heritage and we have to give credit where credit is due, that was then and this is now. As Colbert says, “Moving on. . .”

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By Maani, December 1, 2006 at 9:13 pm Link to this comment
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Dave:

For the sake of brevity, your Q, my A:

You: “Both you & she…have been zealous apologists for Christianity, justifying “under [a] God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, for ex.”

Me:  Nope.  We did not justify it; we simply stated that it is ultimately petty - the “wrong fight” to be picking under the current socio-political and religious climates in the U.S.

You: “...while she repeatedly has misnamed the Founders as “Christians” (some were Deists, etc.)”

Me:  Nope.  She has only maintained that the idea for attributing “inalienable rights” to “a Creator” was taken from a Christian tradition.  Both of us have repeatedly noted that most of the founders were deists, with few practicing Christians among them.

You: “For you to think I owe her an apology is ludicrous; firstly, I did not attribute the “bound for hell” remark to her directly nor even indirectly.”

Me:  You either have a bad memory or you are a very bad liar.  Here is your exact statement, from your comment #39798: “Thanks, Joan, for not only persevering in the typical ‘faith-based’ or Christian fashion, but also for inviting all allegedly ‘bound for hell’ freethinkers to consider your observations…”

That, my friend, is about as clear an indirect (if not direct) attribution as I have ever found.

You: “[Y]our demand for my apology & Joan’s self-centered retreat from further discourse with me specifically are exemplary of reactions of many other Christians: anger or accusations of vituperation by atheists or, probably among all, being offended that anyone would dare to challenge their faith & their “God”.”

Me: What a crock!  This is the most intellectually dishonest statement I have heard thus far.  In other words, you are saying that it is not possible that Joan has retreated from further discourse NOT because you are challenging her faith, but because you are just flat-out snide, condescending, contemptuous and generally difficult to deal with?  Indeed, you are broad-brushing this, too, by presuming that any faith-based person who either refuses to engage you or retreats from a long-term engagement with you MUST be doing so because they feel their faith is being threatened.  to say that this statement reeks of egotism would be an understatement.

You: “Joan seems angry that she really cannot prove a god’s existence.”

Me:  Horsehockey!  Joan has insinuated no such thing.  Indeed, such a feeling would be anathema to the faith that Joan and I share, she in her way and me in mine.

You: “And, incidentally, Jesus is hardly a source of good or pragmatic medical judgment; modern medical expertise is.  Allowing “nature to take its course” could mean indefinite provision of nutrients.”

Me:  First, when did either Joan or I suggest that Jesus was “a good source of pragmatic medical judgment?”  As well, your second statement is self-contradictory: if “nature” is taking its course, then there would be no “indefinite provisionof nutrient,” since that would not be “natural,” but ultimately “forced.”

Dave, the reason Joan has retreated from discourse with you, and why I only respond to your posts directed to me, is that you talk in circles, you misquote and misrepresent people constantly, your inferences have little or no basis in what came before, and you hypocritically accuse others of being dogmatic and doctrinaire when you are no less so in your own way.

It has nothing to do with feeling like my faith is being challenged.  If another Christian spoke and acted the way you do, I would “turn them off” just as quickly as Joan did you.

Peace.

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By Joan, December 1, 2006 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,

What is a “mind virus”? Is it something other than a mere construct of Dawkins creative mind?????? Or is it nothing more than “dremes”, a mere creative construct of Joan’s mind pertaining to delusions that infect people’s minds? 

And let’s do hope that the pope has some success given your prediction and mine as well that nuclear weapons will fall into hands of Islamic terrorists as he is the only world player directly confronting the connection between Islam and its sanctioning of violence as a religious precept that hopefully will be downplayed by their clerics, if properly challenged on theological terms and if Benedict succeeds in getting Muslims to be more conciliatory to non Muslims as he seems to be trying to do in Turkey this week.
What Urban did is not germane to the problem of Islamic terrorism no matter its roots as I see it. I will not grant that human behavior is a function entirely of determinism, our biochemistry notwithstanding. We can choose, even if poor and hungry, ya-da, ya-da, ya-da…in predicaments, we can make choices depending on our goals. All things being equal, we are not merely lions and sharks, ravaging away without a care for the consequences of our acts and the acts of others. You evidently must believe this too ohtherwise discussion would be a silly endeavor.

“The Guns of August ” points out the error of predicting warring behavior based on the previous war’s behavior. Wars can be lost that way. You yourself have noted that the problem of suicide bombing is a very new one. Using prior history is probably of limited, if any value.

Inciting more and more hatred for people for various and sundry reasons makes the world less and less safe. It is not at all rational to found a movement that turns more people against each other and then think more overall safety and security will be the net result.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, December 1, 2006 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment
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Joan wrote:

>My point with Dawkins is—- evidently you cannot grow these purported viruses in a petrie dish…he should not even use the term “virus” as it is routinely used to identify things that are observable, scientific things…he is trying tacitly to get a status for his “virus” that is not entitled to.

Dawkins uses the term “religious virus.”  It is quite clear that he is not talking about a flu virus, but a mind virus or meme.  “Computer virus” is also a legitimate term that is distinct from a biological virus.

A biological virus is about as simple as genetic replicators get and was known for a long time before the others needed names so the etymology of these terms is clear.

Re memes being real:

http://cfpm.org/~majordom/memetics/2000/14935.html

snip

>He [Harris] is really becoming too much the poster boy for slandering the faithful and doing too little to address problem—like how to stop religious fanatics from flying plane into buildings

I agree with you that there is no point in slandering deluded people.  Fear them perhaps.  I don’t slander scientologists, even though the delusions of many of them can be used to lead them into criminal acts.  (Search Google for “Tory Christman” and “Patty Pieniadz” to read their accounts.)  People deluded by religions are all to ready to engage in wars and other kinds of social disruptions. 

To make an effective response to a social problem you really need to know what caused it.  Social problems are notorious for being hard to understand their root causes.  For example, urban dynamic studies in the late 1960s showed slums were not caused bad housing but the lack of jobs, which causes what became known as “social trapping.”  Took decades for this to be accepted, and hundreds of millions was spent on housing for the poor that was eventually destroyed as being worse than useless.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System_Dynamics

Militant Islam with suicide bombers and pilots flying into buildings hasn’t been around that long.  What caused it?  What changed?  Particularly how does it get control of psychological traits evolved in the Stone Age? 

>to guarantee themselves a better future sex life. (Again with the sex, Keith) always there is the sex.)

You really should study evolutionary psychology.  Find a copy of _Moral Animal_, that’s what engaged my interest. 

You are right about sex, but as much of a motivator as it is today, the more important sex is in the past—millions of years in the past.  What shaped our psychological traits was what worked (most of the time) in hunter-gatherer bands to get our ancestor’s genes into the next generation.

>I think the pope is at least taking a crack at the problem.

I am not impressed.  Pope Urban II, now *he* had an understanding of the root of the problem—too many people trying to live on too little land—which is, incidentally, the same problem many of the Islamic countries have today.

His solution wasn’t particularly inspired, but few of those who set out on crusades came back.  The main reason we don’t see a reverse crusade or jihad marching out of the Middle East into Europe is the huge disparity in military technology.  (Imagine a crusade against 11th century Arabs with machine guns!)

>And I respect that while I may not approve of other things the papacy does.

Understanding *why* Why Western Europe has been relatively peaceful for the last 50 years (low birth rates below economic growth) isn’t a meme compatible with Catholic doctrine against birth control.

On the other hand, calling another religion “evil” is the way to psych up your warriors into a killing frenzy.  Depending on your viewpoint, this might even be better than the alternatives.  (Before birth control there really were none.)

Without some deus ex machina such as nanotechnology, the situation is almost certain to get worse.  Islamic countries will continue to acquire nuclear weapons and probably will use them.

Keith Henson

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By Malini, December 1, 2006 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment
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Dear Dr. Dave Summers!

I love your input!

Best wishes,

Malini, another soul from the human species…

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By Joan, December 1, 2006 at 10:12 am Link to this comment
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Everyone                
                                As far as religion being the root of all evil, we do not have clue as to what the world would have been without religion. And the illuminati who are always claiming that the world would have been better off without religion as fact have no factual basis for this claim. The Founders were world wise enough to understand that the best way to get the kind of rights they wanted guaranteed for the people of this spanking new country was to appeal to the person with enough power and clout to deter others from undoing what that person had done for them, namely the Creator, an all powerful source of our rights and dignity. This concept of our inalienable rights being endowed by a Creator is rooted in religious ideas about equality of all children before God, an accepted tenet of the Christian culture, irrespective of the personal religious views of the Founders. It was a highly exploitable precept. American and British ideas about rights tracing back to certain political philosophies of the day and that Christian twist, equality of man that cannot be undermined, are our best bet for world -wide peace if adopted world- wide in my estimation. So thus far in our evolution and I think we are still in the early stages of man’s political evolution, our American ideas on human rights predicated on a seminal tenet of Christian philosophy, I think really redeem religion as a positive world player in the grand scheme of things. And these are far more reasonable conclusions based on a very actual, not fantasy, successfully run America as opposed to mysterious, mystical memes and trying to get rid of everything we want to say because we cannot prove it or believing that religion will disappear in the light of pure reason, whatever that may be and that Reason is a sufficient messiah or just hating people who have religions and teaching others to do the same in the name o of so called enlightenment. We really need to get real here with realistic ideas because we are in danger in several fronts.  America is a success and the more we can demonstrate and make our success appealing the safer we will be. That is what I think the illumnati should address, how to polish up our very, very tarnished image and make America once again the dream others want to dream.

Joan

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By Joan, December 1, 2006 at 9:59 am Link to this comment
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Keith,

Part 2

I have an automatic healthy skepticism about one -size fits all theories such as all wars are fought for sustenance alone and practicing birth control is the solution. Practicing birth control en masse is a double- edged word. In countries like Russia, Germany, Sweden the population rates are failing to replace themselves to their economic peril and we may soon see the daycare nations of Europe not having enough people to support their projects or populations sufficient to fight in wars should they arise. And I am opposed to national population birth control plans that are too stringent such as those used in China that is now overrun by too many men. We do not have the sophistication or knowledge to implement these kinds of plans. Childbearing for innumerable reasons has to remain always the personal decision of the woman. But that women can save the world, of course!!!…look at the nativity…we would have asked for directions and arrived on time, cleaned the stable, brought a casseroles and practical gifts and there would be world peace if we were the kings not just the child-bearers.

I too think Harris and Dawkins are addressing the problems in the wrong way and would like them to get out of atheist evangelism and use their guile to develop not “x- file” ideas and animosity against religion which is not going to disappear anytime soon but find constructive ways to tone down fanaticism and violence. This is an appropriate activity for the keepers of reason. WE DO NOT NEED ANYMORE REASONS TO HATE EACH OTHER AND ANY NEW BRANDS OF BIGOTRY. We need to learn to live together.

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., December 1, 2006 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
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Followup to #40293, of 11/30:  To All, Exclusive of None

As the Winter-Solstice-fact & Christian-Doctrine-fantasy celebrations approach, I’m reminded via the Mike Richards notoriety to aplogize to Joan, conforming thereby w. the Maani Mandate; simultaneously, concurring w. Tom Flynn, “Free Inquiry Editor, I appeal to all freethinkers in America to “come out of the closet” to which the nation’s “faith-heads”/anti-secularists would prefer that we remain.  But “what is [humankind] born for but to be [reformers]...?”, asked Emerson, hence our duty is to save our Democracy by truth & reason, the foremost antitheses to right-wing, unpatriotic delusions, nonsense & unreason.

The Greek Godess of eternal slumber was remembered by Swinburne’s, “Garden of Proserpine”, the next to last verse of which I quoted as a “Thanksgiving prayer” for Joan.  Today, however, I apologize to her for my omission of the poem’s last verse, quoted herewith:

“Then star nor sun shall waken,/ Nor any change of light:/
Nor sound of waters shaken,/ Nor any sound or sight;/
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,/ Nor days nor things diurnal;/
Only the sleep eternal/ In an eternal night”.

Such is my & her & Maani’s & humankind’s destiny, known via biochemistry’s spontaneity, and confirmed in the Carl Sagan conviction from 1980:  “The Cosmos is all that is or ever will be”.
And, inspired by Voyager-1’s photo of Earth in its distant galaxy from beyond the Neptune & Pluto orbits, he challenged us to “look at that dot [where] the aggregate of our joy & suffering, thousands of confident religions & idealogies,...every hero & coward, every Creator & destroyer of civilization,...every supreme leader, every saint & sinner in the history of our species live… on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.  Sagan named our Earth the “Pale Blue Dot” in 1994, 2 years before his demise, when his remains chemically joined the elements & particles.  Was it not preeminently perceptive of Zora Neale Hurston to proclaim in 1942?— “Prayer seems to me a cry of weakness & an attempt to avoid…the rules of the game as laid down.  I do not choose to admit weakness….I have made my peace with the Universe as I find it, and bow to its laws….It seems to me that organized creeds are collections of words around a wish.  I feel no need for such….Somebody else may have my raptured glance at the archangels.  The springing of the yellow line of morning out of the misty deep of dawn is glory enough for me….Why fear?  The stuff of my being is matter—ever changing, ever moving, but never lost….I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance”.  And so are we.

Every Best, in “the misty deep” of our Cosmos!

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By Joan, December 1, 2006 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
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Keith,
    Part 1
Here are some summary thoughts, as I probably will not be digging into Dawkins book anytime soon. So admittedly I am speaking based on what I have read about Dawkins from you and from Marilynne Robinson’s article in the November Harpers’s. She refers to memes as viruses of the mind and explains that Dawkins essentially claims that and memes “spread and persist in the human population”. “By his (Dawkins) lights, it is a new etiology, a fully sufficient refutation of religion in every form and the basis for a new view of mankind.”  Given that memes are not observable any more than my proposed dremes are, I say first of all, with Dawkins we do not have an empirical discipline but speculation or even fantasy. The purpose of his exercise seems not to be to advance science as discovery but to spin out a purported thesis to his personal liking in order to refute religion, a personal agenda. Now Harris is on the same anti religion crusade and he diametrically opposes Dawkins by stipulating the criterion that all statements made about the world must be verifiable. Hence Dawkins, without verifiable statements, is no longer germane to the crusade from Harris’ viewpoint. So they are working at odds with each other rather than complementing each other. Religion has one up on Dawkins as it admits its statements are not necessarily verifiable but are relevant to the realm of transcendent. Of the two, Dawkins and the clergy, the clergy are more correct about the rightful domain of their subject matter. I see no reason to buy into the meme idea as anything other than a fantastic construct of an imaginative thinker, perhaps good material for sci fi, really. But that’s it. Dawkins demonstrates nothing that can be used to undermine any religion and his work should be taken as highly, highly subjective.

Certainly wars are fought for sustenance. But I have argued the counterexample that Alexander for instance did not fight for sustenance but due to his “dremes” of power and greater glory. He was schooled under one of perhaps the greatest rational thinkers that has ever lived, Aristotle, and yet being rational did not offset Alexander’s other aspects of humanness. Again I cannot buy into Harris’ notion that reason is sufficient to secure a safer world. Alexander was not sufficiently impressed or used his reasoning skills to his advantage with little compassion for operating for the sake of the common good. Two other “reasoners”, J. Carter And C. Rice do not seem to have a clue as to how to cope with other aspects of world players. Personally, I think in general that academics should stay tucked away in universities, think tanks and let those who have demonstrated the characteristics of leadership, lead, for the sake of the general good. See part 2

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 30, 2006 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment
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RE:  Maani - #39822, 11/26 & #40008, 11/28/06

As a theistic devotee in this dialogue, you & your input are appreciated, just as the ethical philosophy of Joan has been ample rationale for nontheist considerations, irrespective of her chagrin.  The “point” of my queries to her was my desire to witness just how she would acknowledge Christianity’s dangers to democracy and whether she perceives the role of “the establishment clause” as the foremost guardian of freedom of conscience; the medical query was instigated by her remark, “let nature take its course” re: a case like Schiavo’s.  Both you & she, I hope you admit, have been zealous apologists for Christianity, justifying “under [a] God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, for ex. while she repeatedly has misnamed the Founders as “Christians” (some were Deists, etc.) and emphasized references to a God or “Creator” in the D. of I. by TJ.  But our laws clearly minimize a “God” & “religion”; only to reject a sectarian test for office and to guarantee governmental freedom from & citizens’ freedom of religion or conscience, is “religion” written into our laws/rights.

For you to think I owe her an apology is ludicrous; firstly, I did not attribute the “bound for hell” remark to her directly nor even indirectly, considering the fact that Christianity is the underlying thesis of this thread & that she has defended it—not (presumably) as a philosophy but as a faith or her preferred faith or religion.  Whether you or she would concur with Spinoza’s contrast of religion w. philosophy, I don’t know, but he stated, “Philosophy has no end in view, save truth; faith looks for nothing but obedience & piety”.  Thus, your demand for my apology & Joan’s self-centered retreat from further discourse with me specifically are exemplary of reactions of many other Christians: anger or accusations of vituperation by atheists or, probably among all, being offended that anyone would dare to challenge their faith & their “God”.  The Pope isn’t less paranoid when he ignores Christianity’s history of violence while accusing Islamists of contemporary violence.  So I, along with Harris, believe that all Christians - not the Falwells alone - contribute to the 21st century’s #1 problem (faith animosities & conflicts) by perpetual defense of sectarian lies, deceit, untruths, unreason, fantasies, etc. (Joan seems angry that she really cannot prove a god’s existence nor its living status, while freethinkers lack a need for that “burden of proof”). 

But I’ve often considered the fact that neither believers in a god & immortality (in a heaven & a hell) or theists nor freethinkers will ever be able to say “I/we told you so”, for speech after death does not occur - will not occur.  In preference to fantasy, truth remains “my shepherd…”, hence I aim for the satisfied life here & now, knowing that “by & by” is a myth.  And I refrain from my support of truth primarily with children having terminal illness or with the mentally deficient or deranged—but in those circumstances the truth should be conveyed to a mature, responsible entity or person(s).  And, incidentally, Jesus is hardly a source of good or pragmatic medical judgment; modern medical expertise is.  Allowing “nature to take its course” could mean indefinite provision of nutrients, as was continued more than 15 yrs in Schiavo’s tragedy, but as I had indicated, Joan was free to refrain from replying to that question but in her subsequent statements (devoid of circumstantiality) she apparently concurs with the practical & humane advice of the majority of neurologists.  Many other facts re: fatal illness & Advance Directives come to mind but brevity’s virtues must maintain precedence.

Every Best!

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By Joan, November 30, 2006 at 9:43 am Link to this comment
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Keith, Richard and Everyone,   

Part 2

Here is the argument—-In his attempt to undermine the credibility of religion, Harris claims we cannot accept as true any statements that we cannot verify and religious statements are not verifiable. Dawkins various claims in Memetics are not verifiable either because we cannot see these viruses in a petrie dish etc as one case in point ... Therefore, according to Harris, we cannot accept what Dawkins says either…Memetics and religion both make unverifiable statements. So Dawkins theory also is out by Harris ‘ standards.

Now I for one am more lenient in my epistemologies because through my studies from empiricism through logical positivism through linguistic analysis I have learned that we must accept many unverifiable statements to function and give sufficient latitude to many disciplines to advance their inquiries. I made this criticism of Harris’ work many times. He needs to be more careful in his analyses or he will be knocked out of the running and his very valid point that aspects of religions that are dangerous to the community will not be addressed, as they rightfully should be. He is really becoming too much the poster boy for slandering the faithful and doing too little to address problem—like how to stop religious fanatics from flying plane into buildings to guarantee themselves a better future sex life. (Again with the sex, Keith) always there is the sex.) .  I think the pope is at least taking a crack at the problem. And I respect that while I may not approve of other things the papacy does.

And here is a note to Richard —this little Catholic school girl took biology and chemistry and physics from nuns who never took that stance …Oh well, God just made things this way…we learned evolution and our teachers, some of them were working toward their advanced degrees in chemistry and physics…So this idea that religious people do not have curiosity over this creation is just another a myth.

Those who want to challenge religion at least Catholicism really need to understand that there are centuries of Jesuitical debate that leaves of rich legacy of philosophical defense and explication that is not immediately observable to the average citizen/ observer like Harris. The level of sophistication of these interlocutors is brilliant and the Church is well prepared for the jabs Harris takes if it so desires to engage him. So I urge Harris to be equally meticulous with the arguments he offers to challenge religion. Any philosophy major would identify the flaws I m elucidating for you. And if reason is the answer than reasonable analysis should be given the weight is due.

Joan

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By Joan, November 30, 2006 at 9:40 am Link to this comment
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Keith and Richard , if you are around and of course anyone and everyone,

                          Part 1

As always, Keith, you give me a lot to sort through but my short response is this…

Re: Meta- ethics
This is the study of the comparison of normative ethical systems…meaning the study of the ethical systems that have been proposed through the centuries as to which are the more superior and which are the lesser successful ones…i.e. utilitarianism Mill and Bentham or the justice as fairness theory of John Rawls or the libertarian stances of Robert Nozick or Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle which claims that which is good performs its function well…Memetics is nowhere to be found, albeit it may be a topic in phil. of sci. courses, determining if it is a science along the lines—is psychology a science in that it is not unquestionably a discipline based on determinism, for instance…I am not in touch with a department now and do not have a basis to comment on this further.

After my comparing these varied ethical systems under the guidance of other philosophers and I studied in communist (?) marketplace of Rutgers and at other state schools, I bought into the ethic of Jesus of Nazareth -treat others the way you want to be treated….simple and suitable for any situation….even Harris thinks it is particularly morally insightful.


My point with Dawkins is—- evidently you cannot grow these purported viruses in a petrie dish…he should not even use the term “virus” as it is routinely used to identify things that are observable, scientific things…he is trying tacitly to get a status for his “virus” that is not entitled to.

Now Harris states and argues that we should not accept statements about the world that are not verifiable, like virgin births. That is his showcase strategy to undermine the power of religion. But he knows as a philosophy major that this theory of knowledge started with empiricism but was ultimately abandoned by philosophers for the simple reason that it disregards numerous statements that we make and need to make that we cannot verify. This verifiability standard for acceptance is not attainable in but a small percentage of statements. By invoking this verifiability standard you lose numerous scientific statements as well as religion and ethics because numerous scientific statements are not verifiable or able to be fully explicated under this standard. Hence science as well as religion and ethics could be halted as fruitful endeavor if it had to meet this verifiability standard. So this epistemological standard had to be loosened so all the disciplines could breathe a little freer as they pursued their inquiries. See the Harper’s article I referred to for a further expansion. Don’t Google it. It is not posted.SEe Part 2.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, November 30, 2006 at 8:18 am Link to this comment
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(snippage to get under 4k)

> Memetics rightfully be prefaced as speculative…speculative and unproven!

More like a trivial observation.  But you might note that Harris and Dawkins are not using memetics as an reason to dump religion.

(Given your interest, meta-ethics, at least “treatment of others” has a sound basis in genetics/evolutionary biology.  See Hamilton.)

>Or not provable and that conclusion about Memetics would bring us back to… you know… the same predicament of religion…no empirical verification and hence nonsense, according to our heroes, Harris and Dawkins.

I disagree with them on this point as I said in a previous posting.

>Or if verification is not necessary, can I claim just as loosely and call it science, continuing along Dawkins/Darwin lines for instance, that those who deny God are infected with the less powerful “dremes”, that make man susceptible to a not so potent virus, but a virus nevertheless of un- religion because atheists harbor the delusion that there is no God.

I used to argue (1986) that religions (as a sort of evolved mental parasite) protected those who had them from even worse things like Jim Jones cults.  That may be true, but my interest has shifted to trying to understand why humans are susceptible to religious memes at all.

(I also wrote that religions start as intense cults and those that survive tend to mellow out over 300 years.  Used Calvin as an example.)

>It is seen in virtually none as it evolves away because the “dremes” serve no useful purpose for mankind as opposed to the more robust memes that allow the religion virus to serve man’s needs so superbly in the grand scheme of things.

Actually I agree with you on the point that religions serve their function superbly.  It is just that their main “function” in an evolutionary sense is to support a step in the ghastly spectra of wars and genocides. 

That’s not something to complain about any more than we should complain about any other psychological trait left over from our hunter-gatherer days (see capture-bonding).  It _is_ something to be concerned about if your object is to prevent wars and related social disruptions.

>Do these viruses

Memes, replicating information patterns, elements of culture.  Please use one of these or related terms, even mind virus.  “Viruses” without qualification refers to RNA or DNA cell parasites.

Snip

>It is fine for him to theorize certainly, but let’s call theory, theory and not muddy the epistemological waters by conflating theoretical speculation with empirical work.

All of science is theory even when it is extremely well settled theory.  Memetics is—I guess the best way to put it—trivial.  Memetics is encapsulated by taking the old saying “ideas have a life of their own” seriously and applying what we know about the biology of living things.

>I will have these high standards of verification re:Memetics as Dawkins seems to be crusading to undermine a very important aspect of human behavior and to do this it is right that he very well be speaking the Truth.

As I said in another posting, I disagree with Dawkins, Harris and the rest on the approach they are taking, but my disagreement does not relate to memetics.  Unless population growth is kept below economic growth, religions and the wars they help engender are the alternative to grinding starvation.  Think Rwanda.  In that respect, religions serve their evolved purpose.  (They have other features of interest, but I claim this is the origin of the psychological traits behind religions.)

Jane Goodall was horrified to find chimpanzee groups exterminate neighbors.  Wars and genocide probably predate the human line splitting from the chimps.  Xenophobic religious memes and the psychological traits behind them fine-tuned the human hunter gatherer populations sizes to just above starvation.

It’s worse than you think.

Keith Henson

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By Keith Henson, November 29, 2006 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment
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Joan worte:

>Keith,

>I have been out of grad school since the eighties and out of teaching since the end of First Gulf War due to health reasons but I still doubt that Memetics as I understand it would be discussed in general in analytic philosophy departments, excepting philosophy of science but I may certainly be wrong about that. My specialty is meta-ethics.

352 for meta-ethics memetics
724 for “analytic philosophy” memetics

Memetics is very closely related to evolutionary psychology (in my view).

587 for meta-ethics “evolutionary psychology”
18,600 for “analytic philosophy” “evolutionary psychology”.

When in doubt, Google!

>However if it is the rightful purview of analytic philosophy, a highly theoretical endeavor, how is it an empirical science? Or have I misread you?

I don’t think I have ever heard of memetics as being considered an empirical science, though there certainly have been experiments that could be interpreted as demonstrating meme replication.

http://cfpm.org/~majordom/memetics/2000/16640.html

Also look up “baseball meme” or try here:

http://www.skepticfiles.org/evolut/evol3doc.htm

>My point is—can you grow this “virus of accepting a religion” that supposedly is investing hapless and silly people in a petrie dish or see this virus under a slide in a microscope as we do other viruses, thereby entitling Dawkins to claim empirical data to support it as a particular kind of knowledge, scientific knowledge?

Other than contributing the name and pointing out that elements of culture (formerly called culturgens by Lumsden and Wilson) are replicators, Dawkins has not been very active in the area of memetics.

There is no such thing as a “virus of accepting a religion.”  There almost certainly are _genes_ that build brain mechanisms that in turn can be loaded (or infected) with religions.  Religions, being elements of culture *are* memes.

As far as “hapless and silly people” are concerned, please look into scientology or consider Jim Jones or some other abusive cult.  Evolution has left us with some bizarre psychological vulnerabilities.

But there are _many_ things that we understand to exist without being able to directly see them.  Viruses were known to exist for close to 100 years before someone was able to see them and even then, they were “seeing” an electron microscope picture.

Do you doubt that part of the meme for baseball is 3 strikes and 4 balls?

(continued)

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By Keith Henson, November 29, 2006 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
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Dawkins is one of the people who has been most influential in my life, but I think he and Sam Harris and the rest of the “militant atheists” are taking off in the wrong direction.  (In fact, their fervor probably stems from the same psychological mechanisms that underlie religions and similar memes.)

Sure, vast evils, wars and related have been done in the name of religions.  But attacking religions is attacking a _symptom_; like railing against fevers when the root cause is elsewhere.

We are fooled into thinking that religions _cause_ wars because upsurges of religious memes very often happen before wars.  But the association is false, the _cause_ is further back.

I am a minority of one who makes the case that the expansion of memes like militant Islam and Christian rapture are due to perception of a bleak future by a population.

Sam concluded his article:

>The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community,

Not at all.  In the not so distant past few people were concerned.  What has changed?  There is a wide perception that the future is going to be worse than the past (energy, global warming, population growth).  In the US tens of millions of people have fallen out of the middle class.  Even those who have not are on edge about it.

High population growth in Islamic countries along with stagnant economies generates that feeling there.

From an engineering perspective the western could solve the coupled energy and global warming problems. (Ask if you want to know.)  Unfortunately that would not keep us out of wars with Islamic populations unless they (or we) can solve their population growth/economy ratio.

>by religious impediments to clear thinking,

I make the case that “impediments to clear thinking” are an evolved _feature_ of humans facing bleak times.

>and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come. We are living in a world where untold millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales.

Again, this is an evolved feature from hunter-gatherer past where intertribal warfare was the way the top predator, humans, stayed within the bounds the ecosystem could support.

>We are living in world where millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam.

That’s how Islam spread till it was beaten back by Christian zealots.  Read how Pope Urban framed his call.

>We are living in a world in which millions of American Christians hope to soon be raptured into the sky by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy the holy genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history.

Again irrational is an evolved _feature_ from hunter-gatherer days when the interests of genes diverged from the person carrying them.

>We are living in a world in which a silly old priest, by merely giving voice to his religious inanities, could conceivably start a war with 1.4 billion Muslims who take their own inanities in deadly earnest.

The Danish cartoons came closer to starting wars than the Pope’s speech.  If conditions are ripe for starting a war, namely perception of a bleak future for a long enough time for xenophobic memes to build up, then any minor incident can touch off a war.

>These are real dangers. And they are not dangers for which more “Biblical faith” is a remedy.

Unless the remedy is to send faith-crazed warriors battle.

But unless there are stringent efforts to get the birth rate down (largely by empowering women) and to solve (by engineering) energy and related problems to economic growth, then groups with high population growth and low economic growth will start wars.

_IF_ there is a bird flue epidemic that kills a substantial part of the population, my prediction is that xenophobic religious memes and “rumors of war” will fade out for at least a generation.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, November 29, 2006 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment
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Keith,

I have been out of grad school since the eighties and out of teaching since the end of First Gulf War due to health reasons but I still doubt that Memetics as I understand it would be discussed in general in analytic philosophy departments, excepting philosophy of science but I may certainly be wrong about that. My specialty is meta-ethics. However if it is the rightful purview of analytic philosophy, a highly theoretical endeavor, how is it an empirical science? Or have I misread you?

My point is—can you grow this “virus of accepting a religion” that supposedly is investing hapless and silly people in a petrie dish or see this virus under a slide in a microscope as we do other viruses, thereby entitling Dawkins to claim empirical data to support it as a particular kind of knowledge, scientific knowledge? OR is Dawkins running fast and loose with what he claims to be an empirical discipline or science that philosophy and religion do not claim for themselves? Or will Dawkins admit that this Memetics has not met the stringent criteria of the empirical disciplines because it lacks verification? And shouldn’t that deficiency bother scientists? How can they assert this “meme” idea with scientific certainty? It seems to me that to speak with veracity, in the absence of empirical verification, (you know the kind Harris is always preaching about—the need for verification in order to make accurate/true statements about the world and through this standard Harris virtually eliminates all religions and not incidentally all of ethics, due to lack of verification)…  here shouldn’t Memetics rightfully be prefaced as speculative…speculative and unproven! Or not provable and that conclusion about Memetics would bring us back to… you know… the same predicament of religion…no empirical verification and hence nonsense, according to our heroes, Harris and Dawkins.

Or if verification is not necessary, can I claim just as loosely and call it science, continuing along Dawkins/Darwin lines for instance, that those who deny God are infected with the less powerful “dremes”, that make man susceptible to a not so potent virus, but a virus nevertheless of un- religion because atheists harbor the delusion that there is no God. It is seen in virtually none as it evolves away because the “dremes” serve no useful purpose for mankind as opposed to the more robust memes that allow the religion virus to serve man’s needs so superbly in the grand scheme of things.


Do these viruses appear in virtue of Dawkins mere speculations of hopeful models to re-cast the world in the Dawkinsonian image …or are they objective phenomena, if so where are they??? on or in a petrie dish, observable to all under microscopes…it seems the empirically oriented rest their more superior laurels as keepers of the purest knowledge on actual hands-on observation, at least when it comes to calling things viruses…Or is Dawkins doing any kind of science at all…I am beginning to think that he is not doing science as it is universally understood, running tests to support theory, minimally or more formally verifying objectively what he is talking about. It is fine for him to theorize certainly, but let’s call theory, theory and not muddy the epistemological waters by conflating theoretical speculation with empirical work.

I will have these high standards of verification re:Memetics as Dawkins seems to be crusading to undermine a very important aspect of human behavior and to do this it is right that he very well be speaking the Truth.

Joan

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By Keith Henson, November 29, 2006 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment
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Joan wrote:

snip

>Keith,

>In reading this article, I learned that Dawkins is the originator of this “memes” idea. . . . But I ask you and Dawkins- what is the scientific support/ empirical evidence for the existence of these memes?

Everywhere around you.  Memes are elements of culture, such as how chip rocks, make shoes, and build skyscrapers.  Memes are transferable ideas such as the “meme about memes.”  Ideas are almost always memes.  Can some information or behavior pattern be passed from one individual to another?  If so it’s a meme.

Learned bird songs are memes as is potato washing by Japanese monkeys. If information, usually behavior modifying information, is being transferred from one brain to another by observation or any other means, that’s an example of meme replication.

Try Googling for “baseball meme” for a thought experiment about memes.

Google finds over 27,000 web pages for my name and memetics.  But I don’t now support everything you find; some of my thinking has changed quite a bit over the last 20 years.

“Memetics. A very recent branch of behavioral science, Memetics is the study of how ideas can replicate themselves through individuals and social networks.  . . . “

http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-education-guide/
social-science/behavioral-science-major.htm
(need to splice URL)

Memetics is taught as a graduate course.

>I may browse through Dawkin’s book and find the answer myself but I have not heard of any scientific discovery of such a virus or gene.

Memes, computer viruses and genes are all examples of the class “replicators.”  There are, of course, differences, but much applies to the entire class.  You have to be careful extending what you know from one member of the class to the others, but analogy is one of the most useful paths to new knowledge.

>So where’s the scientific/empirical data here…this is question I have asked before. Is Dawkins pushing fact or fantasy or is that again some scientific construct in which the miracle occurs so we can take the next “scientific” step

Academic memetics spent better than a decade arguing over the definition of a meme—which I think was just silly.  I think the next step is a better understanding of the human host for memes, and that comes from understanding our evolutionary background.

Our ancestors lived as hunter gatherers for 99% of the time since we and the chimps parted ways.  That environment is stamped (by evolution) into our psychological traits.  See the Time Magazine cover story article in the issue dated Dec. 4, 2006 “Why We Worry About The Things We Shouldn’t… ...And Ignore The Things We Should”

“Part of the problem we have with evaluating risk, scientists say, is that we’re moving through the modern world with what is, in many respects, a prehistoric brain.

Snip

>Without any material proof, why should I think Dawkins is for real here? After all isn’t science the discipline that demands the objective, material, hands on verification for the statements science makes about the world?

There is a 2004 book, Evolutionary Psychology from Cambridge University Press.  Chapter 13 seems particularly interesting since it discusses culture and elements of culture in relation to EP.

From the index:

  memes, 353-4
  and cultural evolution, 354-5
  and genes, 355-6
  memetics, 353-4, 357-8

It suprised me that anyone who would mention analytic philosophy would be completely unfamiliar with memetics.

“The application of Darwinism to culture rests on the concept of memes, concepts or ideas which are propagated from person to person and “compete” with one another.

[From a review of _Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:
Evolution and the Meanings of Life_ by Daniel C. Dennett.]

http://dannyreviews.com/h/Darwins_Dangerous_Idea.html

And you might try:

THOUGHTS AS TOOLS: THE MEME IN DANIEL DENNETT’S WORK by Kelby Mason

http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/Conf/MemePap/Mason.html

Keith Henson

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By Joan, November 29, 2006 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
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Maani,

Thank you for your lucid and unequivocal responses to many issues that have been inexplicably muddled. I personally thank you for reiterating some of my positions in your last post to Dave. You are absolutely accurate in your renditions of my points of view that I think have been pretty clearly explained. I especially like this editorial. It captures,as you say very succinctly, one ongoing discussion in these science and religion courses, and this is one class on these two topics, in philosophy departments- namely just how much of a religion is science? Again for those who have taken science and reason as gods, take some analytic philosophy classes and learn more about these gods from those who engage in reason professionally. These two disciplines upon in depth scrutiny are not what they are popularized to be, as many things are not what they are cracked up to be. They are helpful gods no doubt but do not deliver all they have been purported to deliver.

Joan

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By Maani, November 28, 2006 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment
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All:

For the sake of brevity, a Q&A:

Q:  Dave asks re medicine and illness, “If religion is so great, why not adopt prayer alone for deliverance?”

A:  There is nothing in Scripture to support this.  Although Jesus di say “Physician, heal thyself,” he was talking spiritually.  If Jesus has meant for prayer to be the be-all and end-all of medicine, He would have said so.  But I’m sure that even He was tended to by doctors as a boy.

Q:  Dave says to Joan, “Your contentions of and about Christianity, while ignoring our laws, do indeed characterize you as an advocate for Christian theocracy.”

A:  Poppycock!  Firstly, neither Joan nor I ever advocated against the temporal-political “laws” that we live under.  Nor has either of us ever expressed anything but full support for the separation of church and state in all regards.

Q: Richard says, “Removal of ‘In God We Trust’ would not be persecution of those who believe, but acknowledgement of freedom FROM religion.”

A:  Two comments.  First, I agree with Joan that this is an awfully silly, petty way to express your feelings.  As the expression goes, “pick your battles carefully.”  This one hardly seems worth the trouble given all the other far more serious battles in this regard.  Second, as both Joan and I have stated ad nauseam, the simple printing of the words “In God We Trust” does NOT “establish” religion, much less a SPECIFIC one - which is what the Founders meant.

Q:  Richard says, “Religion claims to be a perfect, unlimited source of knowledge.  Every question can be answered with the assertion, ‘God did it’.”

A:  Balderdash!  Setting aside that the OFFICIAL position of even the RCC (i.e., ex cathedra by Pope JP) admits to a world older than 6,000 years, and thus some form of an “evolution” of man, religion has admitted scientific findings for hundreds of years.  True, it has sometimes “dragged its feet” in this regard, but to continue to tried argument that religion and science are antithetical, much less mutually exclusive, is not simply absurd, but incorrect.

Q:  Richard says, “It all begins with one testable idea - the idea that I have the right to run my own life.”

A:  Absolutely!  And I do not see where anyone on this thread has suggested differently.  But your position presumes that you are always and truly in control of your own life.  Many believers - even those who don’t believe in absolute predetermination - would consider that position a fallacy.

Q.  Richard says, “Maani, your words ‘unreasoning, irrational believers’ are harsh, and I hope I never said them directly…”

A.  Richard, do you understand the phrase “LOL?”  It followed my use of that phrase.  Also, although neither you nor anyone else on the thread have said them directly, it would be disingenuous if I did not state that they certainly seem to be implied, at least from those most slavishly supportive of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett et al.

Peace.

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By Maani, November 28, 2006 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment
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All:

Hmmm…so much to say, so little room…LOL.  I will address all in my next post, but I wanted to quickly post a letter to the editor that appeared in The New York Times in response to an article on the recent conclave of scientists and atheists.  It responds to something both Richard and Dave have said, and I could not have worded a better, more succinct response myself:

“The discussion of whether scientists should take an evangelical approach to opposing religion highlights the irony of this age-old debate.  Faith is defined as a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.  What many scientists won’t admit is that their steadfast belief that science can answer every question is an exhibition of faith to rival any true believer.  Life is full of occurrences for which science provides no explanation, but scientists assure us that - given enough time and study - the answers will come.  That is a faith-based philosophy if ever I’ve heard one.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it…LOL.

Peace.

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By Joan, November 28, 2006 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment
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Dave.

You have understood nothing of what I have written and never addressed a single challenge I put to you but are so intoxicated with the exuberance of you own verbosity and your need and intent to denigrate me that you are not present to the answers to your own questions that I work to address. You infer from my writings what you have no basis at all to infer. How can you discuss advance directives, for example? Where did that come from, indeed, especially when I have said on two posts that I think most ethicists including myself would not support the continued life of Terri Schiavo!! You have demonstrated nothing about your viability by invoking “the Cogito’’.  Why should I grant that you even think or breathe or do anything? I practice philosophy, not winning through intimidation and I think you overestimate your ability to intimidate. Philosophy is a mutual discourse from which all parties hope to advance their understanding, not beat each other to a pulp. That is an exercise that I will not engage in. As a courtesy, I am giving you an explanation why I am withdrawing from any further dialogue with you after today.

Joan

Richard,

There is humor and we should all be able to laugh at ourselves, etc. I agree. It’s healthy. Then there is ridicule that is intended to cause pain. I am addressing ridicule.

I am automatically skeptical of those who hide behind the Founders to practice any form of intolerance that is born through ridicule. If you just want to bash, do it, but say it’s from you. Don’t drag in other people who cannot speak here or to whom I cannot give context to their words or writings or question. Admittedly, I have words and skill for reasonable analysis but I have none for prejudice and intolerance from anyone, including the Founders. My read on America is that its intent is toleration for all, no matter the race, color, sex and creed. These seeds were planted by the Founders but they are not the only ones entitled to shape America, thankfully so, given women and blacks to whom they were less than gracious- selling both groups down the river so that they could get their documents approved by the necessary number of white, land owning males who would not part with their slaves and gave women not a thought.

“The tired and poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free”… that is the bond of our people and the promise of our birthright, not nitpicking, or narcissistic agendas that disregard the sweat and labor and values of those who work day and out so you can have this kind of a country. “God” on coins does not hurt you. Removing it may hurt others. What’s the gain here? What kind of people are we? Tenets of Christianity, like equality of men, have served America extremely well and I think it is hypocritcal not to give credit where credit is due while basking in the fruits of Christian thought and labor. Compassion and respect and tolerance for what you do not believe in should be gods in America as well.It’s give and take for the greater good.

I do not admit to abandoning reason.  I am not out of my mind here. It is my profession. I have come to learn of its limitations, however, in daily life and problem solving… I have learned of the need for some basic guidelines to direct you when reason fails or offers too many options or contradicting ones.

Your writing style is much more methodical and I can follow you much more easily. You’ve changed strategies here. I find that when I write more methodically, I think that way too….

I do not give a blank check to the papacy which is clear in my LA Times letter to the editor a few weeks ago.

Joan

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By Joan, November 28, 2006 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment
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Everyone, Maani and Keith,

The December Harper’s has not hit my Borders yet but I did pick up the November Special Politics issue and this issue had an article by Marilynne Robinson titled “Hysterical Scientism”. It is a review of Dawkin’s “God Delusion”. I found it fascinating in that it covers among other things, topics I have covered since October re: Harris, such as logical positivism (basic A.J. Ayer) and verifiability and science as not the pure and perfect epistemological construct to deliver Truth (knowledge) as we are brainwashed and indoctrinated to believe from the time of our births.  Robinson directs her comments to Dawkin’s work but much is apropos to Harris because he so echoes Dawkins.  She evidently has some background in analytic philosophy as she critiques in a similar fashion as I do with my training as an analytic philosopher. And she is worth a read for those to understand why from some philosophical perspective we would conclude that Christians alone may not be the only ones harboring fantasies. Those for whom science and reason are gods should take some philosophy courses, analytic style, and learn more about these gods. Harris as some good ideas but he is not careful enough in his analyses as I have previously stated on a post to Rick Yel in mid October in which I do a little more in depth critique. And these rebuttals will become more prolific as the debate continues, so it is worth a read. If Harris does not revise, he may be lost to the skill of other powerful thinkers who do take more care and are more reality/fact based in their critiques.

If the magazine is off the stand, perhaps the local library may have copy.


Keith,

In reading this article, I learned that Dawkins is the originator of this “memes” idea. I did not realize this as you referred me to Gat whom I did peruse. But I ask you and Dawkins- what is the scientific support/ empirical evidence for the existence of these memes? I may browse through Dawkin’s book and find the answer myself but I have not heard of any scientific discovery of such a virus or gene. So where’s the scientific/empirical data here…this is question I have asked before. Is Dawkins pushing fact or fantasy or is that again some scientific construct in which the miracle occurs so we can take the next “scientific” step as we so often see in theoretical physics when solving those mind boggling equations in which variable or constants are willy- nilly inserted so the “scientific” speculations like grand unifying theories can make sense. (String Theory, as a case in point) Without any material proof, why should I think Dawkins is for real here? After all isn’t science the discipline that demands the objective, material, hands on verification for the statements science makes about the world?

Joan

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By Joan, November 28, 2006 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
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Maani,

Good “Times” article. This is yet again another example of how unfettered reason multiplies rapidly into many other lines of reason. I would speculate in this case that one guideline invoked to corral these lines of reason will be something like the state’s valid (compelling) interest to protect children from molestation and this guideline will easily trump the freedom of religious defense (line of reasoning) being offered by the defense counsel, as has been our legal tradition. This state’s interest tradition is referred to also in the article, to my recollection- namely state’s interest trumps other interests to provide a safety net for citizens.  (That is if the loose cannon Ninth Circuit does not somehow get its hands on the case and who knows how things will go then.)  This brings us nicely back to Harris’ valid concern that dangerous aspects of religions cannot be left un-addressed and that we must openly air our concerns about the dangers some aspects of religions pose to the community and legally address them. That is why I am absolutely confounded as to why Harris ridiculed Pope Benedict over his comments on Islam. I thought Harris would be his biggest cheerleader. Instead Harris puts the pope in a no win situation. I have to conclude that his ridicule was based on prejudice not reason. The pope is the only world leader who had enough backbone to say what had to be said about Islam and the vindication of violence in the name of Islam, as far as I can see.
I have followed the Jeffs case in the LA Times for a few months before the arrest and it is appalling not only because of the abusive practices but because some members of local law enforcement were members of this hideous cult and would not protect the girls and women. Also young males were summarily banished from the group and their families too in order to cut down on competition and prevent protection for their sisters and mothers. It was a tough case to crack. I believe the federal government finally got involved but could not swear to that. Anyway I am glad they nailed this guy, finally.

On another note: If one argues for and the state permits gay marriage using the line of reasoning that the government cannot rightfully hinder or determine who we love, I cannot see how polygamy between consenting adults can be kept illegal while at the same time maintaining logical consistency. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to love and legally wed several partners simultaneously? So hang on to your hats here if this polygamy issue is pressed. Personally my taking several husbands, as the benefits would have to be open to both sexes, sure would go a long way in reducing those exorbitant college and wedding bills. I think women taking several husbands makes great economic sense, more so than men taking several wives.

Will probably check Harper’s today.

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 27, 2006 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
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RE:  #39869 & #39854, 11/27/06 by Joan

I wish to explain, Joan, that my recent responses to your comments were motivated by your allusions to some of my contentions, by your identifying “Dave” (although you may have meant the David of your “sacred Bible”, considering your unattended passion for Christianity, but that I doubt) in your comments, but chiefly because you prefer to evade or ignore the laws which Madison, et. al. emphasized, especially the first Amendment’s establishment clause.  Instead you seem to proclaim, even glorify religious liberty, meaning Christian freedom of religion while ignoring others, simultaneously showing no or minimal regard for Christianity & a Christian God being imposed on the populace via the machinery of governance—clearly in violation of the establishment clause.  Thus the dialogue which freethinkers prefer is prevented from occurring & thereby cannot become meaningful.  Note that you have responded w/o answering questions #1 & #2 and even your response to #3 is not devoid of circumlocution, although you may prefer avoiding consideration of a medical encounter, with your Advance Directive favoring indefinite use of nasogastric nutrients when your physicians fully realize that such feedings will be futile; nor have you accepted the prospect which most passionate religionists almost invariably reject despite their God’s omnipotence & omnibeneficence: prayer alone to “cure” their ruptured abdominal or cerebral aneurysm to prevent fatal & terminal exsanguination (bleeding to death), for example. But a few Amish & other faith-controlled folk, as you know, have sometimes lost their children to polio or meningitis while other such children have been saved via Court orders—not by the goodness of a beneficent “God”.  If religion is so great, why not adopt prayer alone for deliverance?  Your evasive response, of course, welcomes both prayer & medical expertise for relief or a cure, but I wish to assure you, with Ingersoll, that “all prayers die in the air which they uselessly agitate”—they never have & never will cure the numerous traumatic & pathologic states which medical science faces daily.

I decided in college (when an elective, political science, introduced me to Descartes’s Meditations) that neither he nor St. Anselm nor St. Thomas Aquinas proved a God’s existence, so I doubt, with skepticism’s highest degree, that you can prove the existence of that arbitrarily believed male supreme being that I choose to name “She-He-It” or “Sheheit”—merely to emphasize that the arbitrariness should include both animate & inanimate prospects & both male & female genders.  That I’m not a dream nor a fantasy is easily proved, however, by Descartes:  “I think, therefore I am”; moreover, that which is not, a “God”, neither dreams nor fantasizes and I can prove my viability further by, I breathe (as of now), therefore, also, I am.

Note that I did not state that you condemned freethinkers to a hell; I referred to the common Christian belief among millions that nonbelievers “allegedly” are bound for that nonexistent & otherworldly place.  And Christianity as an institution in America, being imposed by your fanatically & passionately unattended corpse worshipers of the religious right - including virtually all other Christians: cultural, moderate, liberal, etc. - is also imposing theocratic nonsense on our precious Democracy, threatening thereby, not nobly saving but meanly losing “the last best hope of earth”.  Your contentions of & about Christianity, while ignoring our laws, do indeed characterize you as an advocate for Christian theocracy, “truth be told”.

Every Best!

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By Richard, November 27, 2006 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment
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I had an idea during the holiday break. I got my inspiration from the Visa commercial where a cash-paying customer fouled up the whole mechanism of daily commerce. Since cash is falling into disuse, we can safely remove “IN GOD WE TRUST” from the currency. Joan, you can have it printed on your Visa card (Or you could have “IN BENNEDICT WE TRUST” for all I care.) Nobody will suffer from having religion removed from cash, and you can still display your faith in the public square every time you pay for something. It would probably even get greater notice than the saying on a bill. You could turn it into a flashy hologram.

Removal of “IN GOD WE TRUST” would not be persecution of those who believe, but acknowledgement of freedom from religion. I don’t trust in God when I spend a dollar; I trust in the value of the dollar being upheld by other people. There’s nothing supernatural about it. I also place trust in others when I put my payroll on automatic deposit and my bills on automatic payment.

Ridicule of ideas is also not persecution of people. “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them. . . .”—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816 (discussing the nonsense of the Trinity doctrine).

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By Maani, November 27, 2006 at 3:23 pm Link to this comment
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All:

Although this thread was originally one of faith vs. reason (assuming one sees them as anti-thetical to begin with, of course), the subtext has become the Founding Fathers and what they said and meant.

In that regard, there are two articles everyone should read.  The first is a short blog piece by Stanley Fish on the current court case against a polygamist.  That link (including comments to the article) is:

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/?p=24

If this link does not work, try going to the Times site directly.

Even more incredible is the main article in the new (December) issue of Harper’s: “How the Christian Right is Reinventing U.S. History.”  This is MUST reading, especially for anyone who thinks that the Religious Right is NOT trying to “re-write” American History vis-a-vis Christianity.

Harper’s does not yet have a full-access web version of the magazine, so you will either have ot buy it, or simply fo read it for free at your local bookstore.

Peace.

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By Joan, November 27, 2006 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment
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Dave,

Before I forget, Dave, I will happily demonstrate (prove) that God exists after you demonstrate that you in fact exist as opposed for instance, that you are not a dream or fantasy that God is having as Bishop Berkeley once mused. Hint: See Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy”…the second one of the six meditations, if my memory serves me. You should like Descartes as his intellect embodies two of your favorite gods, science and reason. You know, Cartesian points etc…

Re: using reason when one has health problems
When dealing with serious health problems one would, I think, rationally invoke all the doctors and all the G(g)ods germane to the issue at hand. One would hope that the egos of those invoked (G(g)ods’ and doctors’) would not interfere with their understanding for the human need to use all available to resolve a health issue given the human predicament these problems create, compassionately understanding why those afflicted would appeal to the arms of the angels, if need be, to break their descent into the particular hells that diseases offer. One would think that empathy alone as opposed to actually having to be ill would be enough to validate this legitimate human desire for relief and using any venue they thought available to obtain it.

Joan

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By Joan, November 27, 2006 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
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Dave,

I am surprised you are responding to my posts. I thought you concluded it was fruitless to dialogue, theist with atheist. Well perhaps you just don’t want to dialogue with me. Oh, well… I again marvel over the things you draw out of my posts.

Re: Jefferson…his genius is rooted in the concept of equality of man based on the Christian concept of all men being equal because God made them that way, a concept that is seminal to Christian thought and highly marketable to those who had to sign and ratify this document and the documents that were to follow …Jefferson’s further genius descends more directly from the British philosopher, John Locke, who virtually handed Jefferson those famous words “endowed by their Creator” because Locke argued this, saying that these inalienable rights absolutely had to come from God so that no one in the future could take them away. This was a philosophical ploy that worked. Vidal, as a historian should know this. I would think you would appreciate the poignancy of Locke/Jefferson here to add “God” as we have just seen a presidency that has been willing in the name of the war on terrorism to water down the privileges of our citizenship predicated on these inalienable rights. The Founders founded a place free from religious persecution I would imagine because they knew about it first hand, writing these documents in the city of brotherly love, another Christian concept. They wanted this spanking new country to be free from persecution based on religious belief, something some of the atheists on this post will not accept goes both ways- no establishing a state religion and not persecuting people who practice a religion (Remember PA, the home of the Declaration and Constitution was a state providing religious asylum, hardly were the Founders trying to get rid of the faithful). Those who hide behind the Founders to propagate their own bigotry and ridicule Christians et al are disrespectful to their project.  The Founders intent was not to eradicate religion. It was to protect all of us from the dangers of a theocracy. They wanted to take religion out of government while at the same time guaranteeing all the right to practice their religion without interference. And as you can see from the past election, most Christians still agree with this.
Here’s another take…you cannot blame the Middle East problems on Islam and logically refuse to recognize the success of America without acknowledging the success of the Christian underpinnings of this project.

Where did I ever mention anyone being bound for hell…where in the blazes did you get that from??? And how in blazes did you ever get the idea I advocated a theocracy?? I am sorry to burst your bubble about the limitations of science and reason but I have lived among the professional reasoners and been trained formally by them. Science is not all knowing and all pure. It is limited by our limitations and at best is a work in progress. As for reason as salvation, the Beyond Belief Conference is pretty much how reason fares. Everyone has their own ideas about how to deal with such issues. Reason is the long, hard slog as I described in my Nov. 26 post, not the singular crystalline prism. That is how it plays out in real life. Don’t believe me?? Take a few philosophy classes then and see how much your precious reason leaves you outside the realm of medicine where your options are not too open ended, as they are in reason, but are limited.

Why would you think I would not want my doctors to use reason and their know- how and ability to deal with a medical issue?? Of course I do but they too are limited by their reason and understanding of the human body and by what is available to address the health issue to name a few problems, as you well know.

Dave, you are projecting things into my posts that simply are not there.

If nothing more, Dave, answer this question- where does one go when medical science fails? Or does it never fail?

Joan

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By Richard, November 26, 2006 at 8:47 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

You admit to abandoning reason after getting bogged down in the mire (I see Dr. Summers has posted first on this one as well). I would like to know the particulars. I am a problem solver, and I can’t help but think that you harbored at least one pivotal contradiction along the way (maybe the mire was between your ears). Perhaps it was the conception of reason as a single personified “ray of light,” in metaphysical space (In the beginning was The Logic, and The Logic was with God, and the The Logic was God. . . In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it).

You were correct in saying that science is not that kind of perfection. Although John 1 and science both came from Heracletus’ idea of Logos, Science is useful because of the limitations that have been placed upon it. It is an incremental process, informing us step by step and ratcheting knowledge forward. Sometimes the latch has to be loosened, and scientists back up a few notches. There are still some epistemological quarrels, but consensus seems to have been reached on the approach of testing ideas for validity. The method itself prevents anybody from hijacking the whole body of human knowledge with something metaphysical. As Karl Popper said, “Not for nothing do we call the laws of nature ‘laws.’ The more they prohibit, the more they inform.”

Religion claims to be a perfect, unlimited source of knowledge. Every question can be answered with the assertion, “God did it,” and the Source of that assertion is above questioning. The priests, who rule through disruption of reason and by claiming a superior connection to that Source, will always be the enemies of science. They know it is a superior way of understanding the world and subverts their authority.

I would like to take an approach to morality that is similar to scientists’ approach to nature. It all begins with one testable idea – the idea that I have the right to run my own life. Go ahead, prove that I don’t have the right. You can kill me, cut out my tongue, or lock me away. However, violence isn’t an argument. It’s what people use when they run out of arguments.

“Rights” are tautological. They merely refer to what is right for human beings. They cannot rightfully (logically) be denied. The rest of morality and ethics can be ratcheted up from that point. There’s your main guideline, your pivotal concept. The legitimate powers of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to (the right of) others. I see no need to compromise on that point. It could only lead to lynch-mobbery.

I would say to <u>the man</u>, “You think you can deny my rights? Who the hell do you think you are? So you are in a position of authority. Big deal. Who put you in that position? It wasn’t God. There is no God. I put you there. You are just a public servant.” That is what the Constitution of the United States with its Bill of Rights tells <u>the man</u>, in so many words.

Maani:

This is an altar call. Won’t you say the Pledge of Allegiance with me (leaving out just two revisionist words)? It upholds the only things that are sacred and holy—our rights. It places Government in our service, not the other way around.

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By Maani, November 26, 2006 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
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Dave:

I don’t know about Joan, but I would like to take a stab at your threee queries.

First, although Joan does not need me to defend her, your comment about “bound for hell freethinkers” is completely misplaced: whatever Joan’s personal beliefs may be, she has never made any comment to suggest that she believes in the Christian construct of “hell,” or that all of you Godless atheists (LOL) will end up in fire and brimstone.  In the interest of honesty, I think you owe her an apology.

Now, re your three queries.

Your first query: “Why do you think the non-Christian Deists - TJ, Madison, Washington, et al - insisted on guaranteeing both governmental freedom FROM religion & citizen freedom OF religion in the First Amendment?”

I’m not sure what your question actually is here, since neither Joan nor myself has shown anything but full support for that “guarantee,” and have agreed with its premise.  Both of us strongly support the separation of church and state (for the reasons the Founders gave, among others), and both of us support the freedom of every person to worship (or not) in the way they see fit, without government interference.  So what, exactly, is your question?

Your second query: “If faith was so important to the Founding Fathers…why do you suppose they already had excluded it from this defining document of our Government, when they emphasized in the first of our Bill of Rights that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Again, I’m not sure what your question is, since both Joan and I have offered nothing but full support for the Founders’ decision to exclude faith and religion from the Constitution.

In both of these regards, Joan’s original point (with which I agreed) was that the Founders “used” the then-well-understood-and-ingrained “moral center” of Christianity as a way of getting the populace to accept the notion of “inalienable rights,” since they would have been much less likely to “buy” the entire premise if those rights were solely guaranteed within a temporal, “God-less” structure.  As you note, once they had accomplished this, they made sure to exclude religion from government and the Constitution itself, and include its safe and unhampered expression in the personal lives of the citizens of the country.

Your third query: “Would you desire or even insist that your physicians appeal to a Christian God for guidance in their decisions regarding your life & wellbeing, rather than depending on their education, training & experience; in other words, should they pray for guidance re: what your Advance Directives indicate as opposed to their knowledge & test results relating to your prognosis when your written Directive & their knowledge contradict each other?”

I do not know how Joan will answer this, but I would offer the following.  A medical doctor’s “education, training and experience” are not mutually exclusive from my (or even their) faith.  Thus, I would expect a doctor to use his/her knowledge and test results to determine a course of treatment.  I might ALSO pray, both for health, comfort and strength as I go through that treatment, and for the success of that treatment.

As for a doctor’s prognosis and a person’s faith “contradicting” each other, this only occurs with a very few, small sects of Christians (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example), and is an extremely rare exception to the rule that Christians go to and trust in doctors BECAUSE of their “education, training and experience.”

You seem to be looking to make arguments for arguments sake, rather than truly listening to what people are saying, and attempting to understand and find common ground with “the enemy” (us…LOL).

Peace.

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By Richard, November 26, 2006 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment
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I had an idea during this holiday break. I got my inspiration from the Visa commercial where a cash-paying customer fouled up the whole mechanism of daily commerce. Since cash is falling into disuse, we can safely remove “IN GOD WE TRUST” from the currency. Joan, you can have it printed on your Visa card (or “IN BENNEDICT WE TRUST” for all I care). Nobody will suffer from having religion removed from cash, and you can bring your faith into the public square by showing it every time you pay for something.

Removal of “IN GOD WE TRUST” does not signify persecution of those who believe, but acknowledgement of freedom from religion. It’s not God in whom I place my trust every time I spend a dollar. It’s the vast majority of other men, who act reasonably. I also place trust in others when I put my payroll on automatic deposit and my bills on automatic payment.

Freedom of religion makes no sense without freedom from religion (I see Dr. Summers has beat me to the punch here).
By Joan’s reasoning, atheism is currently considered a form of faith (although I prefer a less dogmatic definition of the word “atheism”). I must have freedom from religion to practice my chosen faith.

I’m not evangelizing a faith. As I have said before, this dialogue is important to me for a handful of related reasons:
1. I occasionally encounter social problems for refusing to go through the motions of the faithful
2. I think the root of those social problems is the assumption that only the faithful can be trusted
3. Powerful politicians and influential moral philosophers often verbalized that assumption
4. Ideas are more important to me than many people are; I would rather ridicule and alienate than keep quiet under this pressure; it’s an intellectual fight-or-flight situation

Maani, your words, “unreasoning, irrational believers” are harsh, and I hope I never said them directly toward any person. Like Franklin, I try to refrain from direct insults, saving my strongest language and sardonicism for ideas that make little or no sense.

Ridicule is not persecution. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Comedy Kitchen. “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them. . . .”—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp July 30, 1816.

I will disagree with anybody demanding surrender of faith. I will also disagree with anybody who claims their beliefs are above ridicule. The quotation from Jefferson above was from an argument over the doctrine of the Trinity – the most sacrosanct, yet ridiculous doctrine of Christianity.

Just because something was historically laughable in Jefferson’s day, that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of ridicule today. I believe we have to move understanding forward. Martin Luther started something great with his 95 Theses. When he died, he still believed you could throw rocks into a pond, causing the spirits to come up and start a rainstorm. Jefferson kept slaves and probably intimidated the women into having sex with him. Colbert ridiculed him the other night, and I thought it was hilarious. I don’t revere people from the past. I revere the ideas they had that were true.

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 26, 2006 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment
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RE:  Joan’s “Everyone” Discourse, #39770 - 11/26/06

Thanks, Joan, for not only persevering in the typical “faith-based” or Christian fashion but also for inviting all allegedly “bound for hell” freethinkers to consider your observations (note, my use of freethinkers includes atheists, agnostics, skeptics, irrespective of arguable differences among them, while we generally agree, as I’ve advised PA’s Interfaith Alliance, that we aren’t at all worried about an otherworldly, nonexistent “hell”, exclusion from a nonexistent “heaven” nor do we appeal to a nonexistent “god”).  Your ongoing responses are sufficiently sectarian to be lumped with those of the 3 major faiths (or should I suggest 4 - Islam, Jewish, Catholic & other Christian, now w. the Pope’s planned visit to Turkey on Tuesday 11/28?).

Apparently you subordinate reason to the mythical human creation, a God, to which (not whom) you appeal for moral guidance; thereby you also disbelieve the voluminous evidence that “[Man] created [gods] in his own image”—not vice versa—while you also disregard the obvious: that the various alleged gods among multiple faiths cannot possibly be identical or one & the same being (rejected by Paine, Chris Kitchens, et. al. including yours truly).  Here I refrain from re-stating freethought contentions but offer the following for your consideration or perusal in the context of reality-constrained truth & reason or logical analysis of life, Earth & Cosmological truths which science has unveiled - thus far - in humankind’s journey:

(1)  Irrespective of Jefferson’s use of “Nature’s God” & “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence & the absence of “religion” in the Constitution (except forbidding a religious test for holding office), why do you think the non-Christian Deists, TJ, Madison, Washington, et. al. insisted on guaranteeing both governmental freedom FROM religion & citizen freedom OF religion in the First Amendment?

(2)  If faith was so important to the Founding Fathers, about 39 or 40 of whom signed or agreed to the Constitution, why do you suppose they already had excluded it from this defining document of our Government, when they emphasized in the first of our Bill of Rights that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

(3)  Would you desire or even insist that your physicians appeal to a Christian God for guidance in their decisions regarding your life & wellbeing, rather than depending on their education, training & experience; in other words, should they pray for guidance re: what your Advance Directives indicate as opposed to their knowledge & test results relating to your prognosis when your written Directive & their knowledge contradict each other?

No, you’re not obligated in any way to answer the foregoing; your replies may or may not be appropriate for this dialogue re: #3.  But how you would reply to #1 & #2 relate directly to our laws, the intent of the Founding Fathers & how the Founders regarded religion for a successful democracy—which most certainly would deteriorate into an autocratic, freedom-denying theocracy if & when the machinery of governance were permitted to impose sectarian fantasy, unreason, imagination and, worst of all, human-invented & yet believed beneficence, omniscience & omnipotence.  The Christian guidelines would collide inevitably w. Islamic mandates & both would collide with Catholic mandates while the Hindu & other citadels of unreason would plunge our already combative world into the real “fire next time”—not as a supernatural directive but as those over-passionate, faith antitheses which freethinkers see as preludes to Earth’s & humankind’s total annihilation.

Every Best!

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By Joan, November 26, 2006 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
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Everyone,

In my discussions with Dave I stated there can be several equally rational approaches to a problem and typically to “adjudicate” these differences one appealed to a set of guidelines that were agreed on in order to avoid an infinite regression of thought and a generally non productive exercise in which everyone walks away angry. The Founders did this by collectively understanding that they wanted certain political rights as men and no longer wanted to be subject to the whims of those in power, who historically behave in their own self interest. They then appealed to certain aspects of their commonly held moral concepts that were based on God and Christianity to argue for equality of common man, which they knew was historically laughable. To secure these equal rights the Founders played that card that could trump earthly majesty by citing God as the source of the common man’s equality, albeit only white male landowners.  We see this appeal process repeatedly in our justice system when we have competing claims and appeal to the Bill of Rights for instance to resolve the opposing positions. I advised people of this process to offset the erroneous but tacitly held assumption people seem to have, namely that the light of reason synthesizes itself into one intractable beam of insight so that when viewed would be unequivocally accepted by all. This is not how the reasoning process works and I suggest you look at the NY Times “Beyond Belief Conference”, (November 22) article Harris referred us to because he and his likeminded colleagues illustrate my point superbly. Here we have Harris and his colleagues all in agreement about the silliness of religion but divergent on how to deal with this. Voices bigger than Harris disagree with him, say things like thinking 6 million people (?) will give up their faith is “the fantasy”, something that Joan also says. And larger voices chasten Dawkins for his less than delicate delivery of his beliefs as not constructive. But it seemed like quite a cackle fest which is just about how reasoning typically works, not the one ray of light but a vast array of beams emanating from the one idea and each are beams that will give rise to its own variants of cognition and reason. Reason does absolutely not clarify matters; it also obscures them, especially if they are difficult ethical ones and that is why philosophers try to identify some guidelines to resolve the conflicts. Appealing to science to provide facts indicates that one does not recognize the limitation of science. This is an investigative discipline that is always a work in progress, not one that is understood in the context of having perfect knowledge. Investigations in science are done in the context of the questions asked and the means to available to acquire the answers together with the bias of the investigators and the methodologies they utilize, excepting for the mathematical sciences and those that are of the order of theoretical physics that have little bearing on problems in religion and ethics. I think Richard is onto something—- those who are looking to reason as their messiah should take about 12 credits in philosophy and make the descent into the mucky ways of reason. I came out knowing a lot less than I did going in and virtually nothing was cleared up. Socrates made a major point about the problems of reasoning in that reason can be twisted into delivering rightly reasoned rationales that are not true and this rightly affronted his sense of morality. It is one major problem with the legal system today, prophesied by Socrates—the reasoning is correct but the outcome is not the justice that we seem to intuitively value more. I have tasted the world of reason more than most at the hands of the greats and their interpreters and really, you still need some basic guidelines to get through the day. Reason has its place but has to be kept in its place if you want to avoid reasoning yourself right into paralysis.
Joan

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By Joan, November 25, 2006 at 9:14 am Link to this comment
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Everyone,

There is an editorial in the Courier News today, November 25, 2006 by Kathleen Parker addressing the role of evangelicals in the abolishment of slavery, again attesting to the role Christians have played in shaping America, the America so loved by those who feel intellectually entitled to belittle Christianity and remarkably deny the value system it brought to the New World. Go to http://www.c-n.com…do a search on Kathleen Parker, and this editorial will be among those listed,  “Evangelicals behind Many Crusades for Social Justice”. I believe that Maani has mentioned this previously in a few of his posts. Again…let’s give credit where credit is due.
Joan

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By Joan, November 24, 2006 at 4:21 pm Link to this comment
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Rick and Richard,

Rick,

My take on Iraq is that it has little to do with Bush’s religious beliefs and a lot to do with Natan Sharansky’s book, “The Case for Democracy”. This book is a virtual blueprint for the neo-con project of democratizing of the Middle East as the way to offset Islamic fundamentalism and ultimately safeguard America. This was a championed cause before Bush was elected the first time. The debacle in Iraq to me is a function of people who were so confident in their views that they refused an inexperienced president the benefits of discussion and discourse necessary to handle such a difficult project, terrorism, and a president who had unquestioned confidence in the rightness of their views without doing his homework, naïve loyalty. See Woodward’s last book, “State of Denial” They all brought us down through this arrogance.  And you know what? Christians, the overwhelming majority of the population, voted their party out of office.  Rumsfeld was gone the next day. Cheney and Rumsfeld politically annihilated their opponents and stymied discussion from those who had other viewpoints. This is the danger of thinking one has all the answers.  And we and the Iraqis and perhaps the world will pay dearly for this arrogance and hubris.

Joan


Richard,

When the few cracks bring down the structure, ALL go down with it and become the rubble. I really think it is an error to underestimate the fervor with which Americans will respond if they conclude that atheists are deliberately trying to interfere with their freedom of religion even if it is sold under the guise of being rational.  I believe that is why the Supreme Court wisely side-steps some of the challenges put to it in the name of certain types of legalities that are really marks for religious intolerance. There is a peace here in America with respect to the different religions but the religious wars can still be ignited. I would urge caution. As I said to Dave Summers in my sign off, we are all emotionally attached to our messiahs, be they Jesus or Jefferson or science or reason, no matter who or what they are. We have to learn to live together on this small planet and usually that means compromise and tolerance for the sake of the general good.
Joan

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By Joan, November 24, 2006 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,

You are truly the paradox…you argue against those in the country trying to create a national God, whoever these people may be… it seems that any attempts to nationalize God were soundly trounced a few weeks ago in the November elections…you say you’re glad that you have become so enlightened about the silliness of God and religion because you can now ridicule others who have these silly beliefs while you opine over why some people seem to be down you about your anti- religious attitude… you seem to spend a fair amount of time as an atheist evangelical, visiting chat rooms spreading your faith but have little toleration for those who want to spread their faiths and that is what it is faith because you cannot demonstrate your beliefs either. Any double standards here? You conclude that religions are very bad. But religions, science- think nuclear weapons here as one case in point- governments and social institutions all have had good and bad side effects. That’s just the human condition. Do we get rid of everything? What man- made institutions are so pristine that they have no aspects that have never systematically hurt men or women? And think women and how the cards have been stacked against them at every turn. You say you love freedom above all as long as the rest of us we free thinking, freedom loving Americans think as you do, I guess. The rest of us are not allowed to freely choose what we want without being rightly subjected to your ridicule. This is not how I understand America.  In the America where I live, no one has to think the way I do. And I am not allowed to belittle those who think differently, although I am allowed and encouraged to disagree. I am not to be persecuted for what I think or persecute others for what they think. Christians should not persecute atheists and vice versa is the ideal the Founders were working to achieve. You virtually deify the Founders but in practice seem to disregard their precious legacy, tolerance. This is all very paradoxical to me. But you are not alone. I have seen these paradoxes before.
Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 24, 2006 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
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RE:  Joan’s contentions, #39327, 11/22/06

Joan:

I’d like to reiterate Jefferson’s brilliance (although his rationali- zations on human bondage might cause “cherry-pickers” to detract from the Gore Vidal praise that TJ was/is the “genius of liberty”),  [1] “that truth is great…” & [2] that reason must reign supreme & always free to combat, denounce, suppress error.  And neither logic nor truth nor objective analyses of reality (life, Earth, the Cosmos, etc.) will ever prove a God’s exisence—nor would religionists desire that such an effort be made, always intentionally shielding from any actual, objective attempts by perpetual retreats into an unknown, otherworldly & eternal domain of unknowability among “lower than angels” & weak/mortal men (H. sapiens - not feminine-exclusive).  Hence we (freethinkers incl. Dawkins, Kurtz, Harris, myself, et. al.) need not “prove” a God’s nonexistence; the god-concept in its entirety whether polytheistic or monotheistic, is beyond reason, clearly a fantasy & can only render truth scandalous.

Moreover, knowledge of humanity, of male & female H. sapiens (not exclusive of transgendered nor homosexual varieties) & their behavior portray their wishful thinking, need for hope, resistance to critical thought, gullibillity for fable, “need” of a heaven (what’s a heaven for if not to extend the human grasp beyond its reach? queried Browning, though my recall may be in error), etc.  And I must re-emphasize the fact that false hope, confirmed by history, supersedes “no hope at all”, perhaps best demonstrated among American slaves, whose “bitter, chastening rod [had been] felt in the days when HOPE UNBORN HAD DIED”, in James Weldon Johnson’s “immortal” words; but in his “Lift Every Voice & Sing”, that death of unborn hope still is followed by: “Out of the gloomy past, ‘til now we stand at last where the white gleam of our bright star is cast!”, as only the authentic “poet” could express it (“prophet” among Jews, Christians, Islamists).  Thus the combination of human “yearning for the realm of a divine” & the conclusion that any “God” has been rendered irrational & truthless by its human inventor, leaves secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, including Dawkins, Harris, Kurtz, me & millions of others totally free to denounce the nonsense on behalf of truth’s greatness & idealism and reason’s supremacy.

In my unposted reply to you 9/28-29, I alluded not only to Gibran but also to his predecessor in the realm of poetic & artistic genius, Wm Blake, who wrote, “Mercy, pity, peace & love/ Is God our father dear/ And mercy, pity, peace & love/ Is (sic) man his child & care” (and later in his “Divine Innocence”), “For all must love the human form/ Whether heathen, Turk or Jew/ Where mercy, love & pity dwell/ There God is dwelling too”.  Blake wasn’t “mad”, as some of his contemporaries claimed, but instead brilliantly perceptive of the human need for guidance, reassurance, fortitude & hope—invented by humankind alone, irrational due to human error, inconsistent due to H. sapiens varieties of fantasy & envious, evil, loving, jealous, exploitative of human desire via favoritism, etc.  Witness its multiplicity of manifestations - Allah, Yahweh, a Trinity, a Godhead, etc. with that most atrocious trait of all, its “chosen folk”, necessarily exclusive of other folk or “infidels”.  In legal lingo, “res ipsa loquitur”—the thing speaks for (& of) itself.  And, again, I/we rest our case, sincerely hoping that you w. millions of others will share our esteem for truth & reason.

Every Best!

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By Keith Henson, November 24, 2006 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
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Richard (replying to Maani) wrote:

Snip (re wars)

>What’s going to make it stop? It isn’t faith. No wish or prayer can change the world we live in. We have to change it with political power.

Unfortunately, that won’t do it either.  To rephrase Clausewitz, politics is just a continuation of war by other means.

So what will do it?  Looking at such hunter-gatherers as remain and tribes just above that level war seems to be the norm and peace relatively unusual.  (See Azar Gat’s papers.)

I make the claim (and it is far from a new claim, going back at least 900 years) that wars ultimately result from population growth that exceeds economic growth.

Simple, and something we can do something about.

Of course the Catholic Church and the American right are opposed to birth control.  In this model they are setting up the conditions for wars.

Keith Henson

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By Maani, November 24, 2006 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
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Richard:

I am truly happy to see that you have not forsaken all of us unreasoning, irrational believers…LOL.

A couple of responses.

You note Galileo, but fail to note (as do all atheists who use the Galileo argument) that despite being excommunicated, Galileo remained an ardent Catholic for the remainder of his life.  Thus, he disagreed with the RCC re his discoveries and the scientific truth behind them, but never renounced his faith or his belief in the Judeo-Christian God.

Re Jesus and Satan and “this planet,” this is a very narrow view of God.  If, for example, there IS intelligent life on other planets, and assuming that such life is humanoid and similar to us in most ways, then there is nothing within the Judeo-Christian construct that would negate the possibility that either (i) Jesus and Satan serve in similar capacities for these beings (since both figures are beyond time and space), or (ii) that God provided other “Jesus” and “Satan” figures for the ultimate salvation of these beings (assuming that they also had our inherent propensity for sin).  If God truly created the entire universe, and is truly omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, then “confining” His “power” to a single planet in a universe that may include other planets with intelligent life makes zero sense either logically or theologically.

Re “political science” being part of your change of heart, here again we have two antithetical views of Christianity.  I see my Christianity as not only informing and completely in harmony with my left-of-center political views, but that my political views are a “mandatory” outgrowth of my faith, and my understanding of Jesus’ ministry.  If I am to live a “Christ-like life” - of love, peace, compassion, forgiveness, humility, patience, charity, selflessness, service, justice, truth, etc. - then I cannot but have left-of-center political views.  It is simply not intellectually or theologically honest to be otherwise.

As for churches and doctrines “invariably creating a conflict between ‘I think’ and “they say,’,” that is, unforuntately, true in many regards, and for many people.  But not in ALL regards, nor for ALL people.  Indeed, given that perhaps 50% of Roman Catholics disagree with the RCC on some of the most serious donctrinal issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc.), it is clear that there is more “free-thinking” (or at least “free-acting” - which is more important) going on than you allow.  And most Protestants (aside from the rabid extremist evangelicals) are notorious for “thinking for themselves” rather than simply taking everything they are told at face value.  After all, all of us Protestants have Martin Luther’s free thinking to thank for our faith.

As for churches creating “false hope,” I can only assume you mean re the afterlife, and not anything in the temporal world.  However, since the afterlife, like God Himself, is unknowable and unprovable from a scientific, empirical standpoint, you cannot know whether that hope is truly “false.”  You can only state your opinion based on the fact that you, personally, do not believe in an afterlife of the soul.  You are certainly entitled to that belief, but by not allowing even the slimmest possibility of its existence (since you cannot KNOW, but only strongly suspect), you do not display the kind of “reason” that a rational, logical thinker would show.

Finally, you will be happy to know that I, too, “will publicly resist all attempts to create a national God.”  This makes me your ally.  Unless you actually WANT it otherwise.

Peace.

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By Maani, November 23, 2006 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
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Rick:

Welcome back and Happy Thanksgiving.

Two comments you made beg response.

You said, “The frustration becomes greater when those outside the realm of Faith see, with a somewhat objective eye, the net negative effects religion and faith is having on our world today.  It is observable and true.”

I disagree that the “net effects” of faith and religion are negative, even in the current socio-political and religious climate, for the reason that less than 50% of believers support the narrow-minded, extreme wings of their faiths. For example, of the over 1 billion Muslims in the world, it is unlikely that even 50% support the extreme fundamentalist wing of Islam; most practice their faith quietly, and do good, at least to each other if not “externally.”  And of the over 1 billion Christians in the world, it is unlikely that 50% support the extreme fundamentalist wing of Christianity; again, most practice their faith quietly.  Even in the U.S., the highest estimate for the number of Christians who support the political agenda of the Religious Right is 37%.  Still, way under half.

So there is not one shred of logical, rational support for the notion that the “net effect” of faith and religion is negative, especially when you count in all the good that organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other Christian outreach groups do on a daily basis throughout the world - sometimes too quietly for you even to know about it.

Which brings me to the second half of your comment, “(Can those who do Good in the name of a God - as there are many - do this much Good without believing in being eternally rewarded by their creator?)”

At least with regard to Christianity, you have an incorrect understanding of “eternal reward.”  Christians do not get their eternal reward by “doing good.”  Salvation and eternal life are guaranteed solely by the application of Paul’s words: “If thou shalt confess the Lord Jesus with thy mouth, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”  That is the ONLY thing a Christian need to do earn salvation and eternal life.  The rest is details.

But James makes clear that “Just as faith without works is dead, so works without faith cannot prosper.”  But it is never the DOING of good works - with or without faith - that determines a Christian’s “reward” of eternal life.

Thus, the good that Christians do is done ALREADY KNOWING that they have salvation and eternal life; which means that they do good out of a wish to live a more “Christ-like” life, and observe the precepts of Jesus’ ministry, among which are charity, selflessness and service.

Peace.

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By Richard, November 23, 2006 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
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Malini:

I don’t take credit for “Reason’s Greetings.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation is selling the cards, and somebody sent me a small jpg the other day. If you just go to Google Images and search you will find the cards for sale.

I will keep coming back here for a time because this is an interesting thread. If I vanish, you can find me at ex-christian.net where I do most of my chatting under the pseudonym steamboat_willey. There is a lot of ignorance reflected there. Some gems are also posted.

The percentage of atheists was reported by Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor at the University of Minnesota. Her interpretation of the study result was that atheists are the group least tolerated of all in the United States (the link is too long just go to http://www.ur.umn.edu/ and search for “atheists distrusted”).

It was very perceptive of the RCC to excommunicate Galileo when he pointed out that this earth is not the center of the universe. Geocentric cosmology and geocentric theology go hand-in-hand. We have rid ourselves of one but not the other. How is it possible for the gospel to be seen in any other way? Jesus died on this planet, not some other. Satan is “accuser of the brethren” on this world, not some other (Job 1:7).

My views were not changed only by natural science. Some personal factors also weighed in. For example, when my first daughter was born, we taught her to pray and took her to church. I hated seeing her on her knees. I wanted her to grow up strong, proud and independent. I quit going so she wouldn’t have to.

Political science also had a lot to do with my change of heart. Liberty means more to me than anything, and I don’t think any collectivist construct helps the cause of liberty. I see the churches as places people go to serve a collective and give up freedom. Doctrines invariably create a conflict between “I think” and “they say.”

One of the reasons I pulled my hands off the plough was that I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of quarrels over doctrine where one viewpoint is as good as another because the whole basis of the argument was made up in the first place and has always changed with the times. It’s like saying God is made of spaghetti, and then arguing over whether She has meat sauce, marinara, or Alfredo in order to justify the most popular dish of the day.

The churches must have dogma in order to define such concepts as “in-group,” “out-group,” “orthodoxy,” and “heresy.” That’s where the friction occurs, and pastors are always stuck in the middle. I’m out of the atheist closet and “out-group” with respect to all religions. This allows me to point out how ridiculous all of them are. None of them have my respect. I think they all create a false hope that is probably the biggest reason for fighting in history.

I am “in-group” with respect to my country. I say the POA and sing the national anthem. I would never interfere with anybody’s right to practice religion, as long as it does not impact me. You can take the dog out of the fight, but not the fight out of the dog. I will publicly resist all attempts to create a national God, and I denounce what has been done along those lines as revisionist.

A national pasta dish would be just fine.

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By Rick Yel, November 23, 2006 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
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It is with hesitation I return to this forum.  But after following it silently for the past few weeks, I must say that the comments made my Dave Summers seem to hold most water.  He has the ability to back his arguments with valid and believable proof and evidence.  Enough cannot be said about the importance of this feature. 

It seems many Christians attempt to balance their faith with science’s daily new findings.  If they did not, we would be dwindling around in the Middle Ages again.  However, this acceptance of science as something True and worth Balancing in their beliefs did not come about through any means of the Church.  If the Church, and it’s many branches (broken or not) did not believe in the infalliability of scientific claims then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. 

It is men like Galileo who studied the pureness of science.  Observable and believable regardless of who is telling the story.  True because it in itself is true.  This may be the main reason Atheists and others who abstain from religious belief can become so frustrated with those of Faith.  Because after all the dirt is shoveled off, underneath the discussion emerges 1 of 2 beliefs.  Is there a/your God, or not?  And then those in the middle who claim their to be insufficient evidence in a/your God. 

The frustration becomes greater when those outside the realm of Faith see, with a somewhat objective eye, the net negative effects religion and faith is having on our world today.  It is observable and true.  (Can those who do Good in the name of a God - as there are many - do this much Good without believing in being eternally rewarded by their creator?)  Is it not enough to devote one’s life to helping others just in the name of Human Brotherhood.  No doubt there are many who do/have done this(myself included). 

As Sam Harris said, “Do we need bad reasons to do good?” 

Just something to think about while hundreds of Iraqis are dying in a War begun by a “man” who believes himself to be personally guided by the hand of the Christian God.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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By Maani, November 22, 2006 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment
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Richard (if you’r still here…LOL):

I would never claim that there are no reasons for “falling away” from one’s faith: my primary ministry is counseling, including those who are having “crises in faith” or have “fallen away” and are looking to regain their faith.

However, rejecting it because you “thought about everything I have read and learned” (I assume you mean about science, etc.) is not a particularly good reason, at least in my book.  After all, I know plenty of Christians - myself included - who have no problem whatsoever in merging their faith with their understanding of the “rational” world.  This is, in fact, where so many atheists are wrong about so many Christians, and why I insist so strongly that atheists stop generalizing so much.

If your “calling” was as strong and true as you claim, then your increasing knowledge of the rational world would not have shaken it - no more than it has shaken the faith of thousands, perhaps millions, of Christians.

You say, “I think the idea of the Only Son of God dying on the cross on Earth to save this planet from sin is already an inappropriate theology for the age we have entered.”

Why?  I see no reason why it should not be just as valid - if not more so - given what we see in this world.  (And He did not come to save the planet from sin, nor even to save the people on the planet from sin; He came to “be sin once for all for all time” so that the PENALTY for our sin will already have been paid, as long as we simply accept His sacricife, and repent when we do sin.  Becoming a Christian does not make one any less sinful, or any more perfect, than any other person.)

You call me on the carpet for saying that I first said that God’s people didn’t do violence for necessities, but that I then said that most wars were fought for economic, not religious, reasons.  But there is no conflict here.  What I was responding to when I made the first statement was your claim that ALL wars were fought for economic reasons, with religion as the impetus.  (Dawkins’ “meme” theory.)  What I was pointing out was that the initial incursions by the Israelites were NOT about economics, but PRIMARILY “religious wars” undertaken because they were “told” to do so by Yahweh.  However, once the Israelites were settled (in all those lands they conquered), further wars in which they were involved were either defensive wars against enemies attempting to conquer THEM, or wars to protect their access to natural resources.

You quote a Univerity of Minnesota poll that showed that atheists account for only 3 percent of the American population.  I challenge that, since every poll I have ever seen on this shows that atheists represent over 10% of the population, and as high as 13%.  That may still be a small number, but it is far higher than 3%.

Finally, you say “Christians don’t trust us because we aren’t driven by fear of the impossible,” and then say, I may be generalizing…”  Not generalizing, so much as being hopelessly simplistic.  If Christians don’t “trust” atheists, it is for the very reason that Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Maher et al are going out of their way to prove: that atheists want nothing less than the abolition of all faith and religion on the earth.  And as unrealistic as that goal may be, the very fact that it is the goal gives Christians EXCEPTIONAL reason to distrust many, if not most, atheists.

The fact that the “rational” and “reasonable” atheists are actually more extremist and intolerant than the people they are accusing of extremism and intolerance is not simply ironic, but only feeds the distrust you speak of.

Peace.

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By Malini, November 22, 2006 at 3:59 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks & Congratulations Richard for the term “Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays”!

You may become the next Bill Gates if you market this idea in the form of a well wishing card!

As for me, this phrase makes much more sense and definitely is much more meaningful than all the other greetings that are floating around on this earth…

Richard, it was your comments and the input that I always found very interesting and looked forward to…

It will be a great pity if you dropped out of this discussion!

Thanks for your frank, honest views/opinions!

Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones too!

Malini

(A simple soul frustrated by all the events that are taking place in the name of “faith” on this earth.)

PS: Thanks Sam for your great, insightful work!  I simply cannot find enough words to express my gratitude to you for opening up this discussion, which may eventually lead to peace on earth and a balance in our spirituality.

As Richard said, “Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays” to each and everyone!

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By Joan, November 22, 2006 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,

Taking a few minutes away from holiday preparations I checked this post. Let me be clear, I have no problem with things evolving as many of them do. I just have a problem thinking there is no method to evolution’s madness, no deliberate intention to the design…to me thinking this complex universe popped up without some intelligent force           is a greater act of faith than I am capable of making…as for “conservative chronologies”, you will have to explain what you mean…The Muslims believe that Islam is the final revelation but I do not believe this to be the case, mainly because if you have applied Christianity, as Manni says is the act of being Christian and many un-baptized person behave this way, you will intuitively understand that there probably is no a wiser dictum that would secure our growth and security——people actually across the board treating one another the way they want to be treated.  When doing philosophy, it is imperative to take the personal attachment to the issues off the table or the analysis will be prejudiced. This is one problem with Harris’ work as I see it. He is too emotionally involved and it clouds his thinking.  This will lead to a weakening of his positions rather then strengthening them.
It seems that you are very hurt about things relating to religion. All I can tell you is that I do not attend church and have tough ideas about the papacy and I have lots of issues with some aspects organized religions. But than again so did Christ. I d not seem to loose friends. We do have to separate the wheat from the chaff here concerning religion and thinking people should. Maani is not cherry picking. He is separating the wheat from the chaff. People are revising religion just like they are revising the errors in science, living and learning and understanding. People do not practice Judaism and Christianity by applying the literal word of the Bible as Harris argues which weakens his position. By observation, it is clear that believers just don’t do that. When I discuss touchy issues I am careful not to be inappropriately or personally derogatory. I discuss the point not the so- called stupidity of the person who believes differently.  Somehow Harris, et al, have come to feel that just because he has made a reasonable challenge to ideas in religion that are dangerous, it is now all right to be ugly or condescending towards everyone who practices a faith, no matter its merits. It’s too sweeping and not strongly defensible. It is not morally acceptable to demean people because they are Christian, etc. Harris, in fact, cannot disprove the existence of God, neither can Richard, Dave Summers, nor Dawkins etc. All of you build your cases and then take the “non- existence” position through a leap of faith in your own ideas.
When I am invited dinner and the meal is less than my great expectations I don’t tell the hostess/ host it was awful because I do not want to hurt him or her. Why would I want to hurt people?  The way people take what you say has a lot to do with your delivery. If you antagonize people, they will become hostile. That’s all. Think Michael Richard here. I think he has ruined his lengthy career in just a few moments.

Joan

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By Malini, November 22, 2006 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks & Congratulations Richard for the term “Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays”!

You may become the next Bill Gates if you market this idea in the form of a well wishing card!

As for me, this phraise makes much more sense and definitely is much more meaningful than all the other greetings that are floating around on this earth…

Richard, it was your comments and the input that I always found very interesting and looked forward to…

It will be a great pity if you dropped out of this discussion!

Thanks for your frank, honest views/opinions!

Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones too!

Malini

(A simple soul frustrated by all the events that are taking place in the name of “faith” on this earth.)

PS: Thanks Sam for your great work!

As Richard said, “Reason’s Greetings & Happy Holidays” to each and everyone of you too!

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By Richard, November 22, 2006 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment
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The assertion that I never had a true faith is another one of the arguments I always hear. It’s a basic assumption of most Christians that there can be no good reason for falling away. I answered that argument before you even brought it up. I did, in fact have a true calling and acceptance. I believed in Jesus with all of my heart and dedicated my life to preaching the gospel. I also don’t think I was taught a self-defeating interpretation of religion. My interpretation then was quite mainstream and very much like what you teach. I arrived where I am by thinking about everything I have read and learned.

There is no indication of a Tertiary covenant, yet. We are all geniuses after the fact, and nothing prevents priests from postulating a Tertiary Covenant in the future. New Testament passages could be interpreted anachronistically, in light of some Third Testament, just as Old Testament scriptures are now reinterpreted in light of the new “Judeo-Christian” construct. That’s a strange concept because Jews only accept half of it, and Christians really turn it into a triune God, including the Holy Spirit.

If science and technology continue to progress exponentially, we will need a theology that is not geo-centric, and the Judeo-Christian construct won’t be any good. I think the idea of the Only Son of God dying on a cross on Earth to save this planet from sin is already an inappropriate theology for the age we have entered. Considering the vastness of the universe and the quadrillions of possible worlds, it is merely conceit.

Previously you said God’s people didn’t do violence for necessities. Now you say most of the wars were fought for economic reasons not religious ones. Which is it?

I wouldn’t force anybody who thinks they need religion to live without it. I just believe it’s not needed in order to have morality, ethics or law, or to experience life to its fullest. If the Government acknowledges any god, that presupposes an answer to the question, “what god?” Then you get into trouble, and years from now She will have a new name (after The da Vinci Code is declared eternal truth). Perhaps She will be named the God of the Tertiary Covenant (How great thou art, GTC). The Pope will hand over his $25,000 bath robe to some female super-priest, and the Holy Ones we trust to intercede for us will have to sodomize our children using strap-on technology.

Christians don’t have any right to judge or condemn me, but they do. According to President Bush the First, I’m not even an American or a Patriot. The University of Minnesota’s department of sociology recently found that atheists are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the public. They are rated below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans don’t want their children to marry. We account for only 3 percent of the American population.

The poll probably got these results because atheists deny the Invisible Judge in the sky who supposedly watches everything done every minute of every day. The Judge supposedly knows not just what we have seen and heard, but even what we are thinking and feeling (Psalm 7:9, 139:4, Proverbs 15:3,11; 16:2, Revelation 2:23). This information is kept in books (Daniel 7:10, Revelation 20:12) or remains in the mind of the Judge for every human who ever lived.

Christians don’t trust us because we aren’t driven by fear of the impossible. I may be generalizing, but good science from the University of Minnesota backs up what I’m saying.

George Sorros says that even small cracks in a very rigid structure can lead to its collapse. I’m trying to create cracks.

Reason’s Greetings and Happy Holidays. I’m out of here and may not return.

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By Malini, November 22, 2006 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
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Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Hope everyone will have a wonderful day with each other!

With love,

Malini

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By Maani, November 21, 2006 at 9:45 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

Based on your story, I believe there are two reasons why you rejected your faith.  First, because, like so many others, you were taught an ultimately self-defeating interpretation of it.  However, the more important reason is that your faith was never based on true calling, or true acceptance of Christ.  Simply being baptized, and even re-baptized, does not make one a Christian.  Even accepting Christ intellectually and quasi-spiritually does not make one a Christian.  Your faith failed you because it was never grounded in a true, “heartfelt” - and, more importantly, spiritually felt - fashion.

I do not say this in judgment or condemnation.  I say this because I believe it to be true. That said, I offer the following comments.

You accuse me of cherry-picking my truths.  How so?  Examples would be helpful.

You correctly note that the New Covenant in Christ “tempered” the Abrahamic covenant.  But you are incorrect to believe that there is some future “tertiary” covenant.  Within the Judeo-Christian construct, the “New Covenant” is the final one: there is no Scriptural passage that speaks to, or even suggests, another.

You say evidence shows that the original Israelite “conquests” may have lasted 100 years, and then mention other wars and revolts.  However, it is simplistic to ascribe solely, or even primarily, religious causes to all but that first 100 years: later wars were not about “who has the true god,” but about economics.  Yes, there was probably a “religious” aspect to those wars; but that was not their primary cause.

If you agree with Harris and Dawkins, you agree that you are as extremist as those you accuse of extremism; you believe in the complete abolition of faith/religion, even though no one on “my” side is calling for the abolition of atheism (and, indeed, moderates like myself are fighting hard for YOUR cause); and you support “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”  These are hardly “rational” or “reasonable” positions from someone who claims to follow reason.

You add that “Copernicus, Galileo, Hume, Darwin and Einstein…accomplished much more working without fear of God.”  Perhaps they did not “fear” Him, but, except for Hume, they were all deists if not theists, and thus believed in, if not a monotheistic God (though Darwin did), then at least a “power” greater than ourselves.  The danger in atheists bringing up the great scientists is that they don’t actually gain all that much by doing so, since most of the greatest scientists were deists or theists.

Finally, there is not “something wrong with you” for having lost your faith.  Nor do all (and perhaps even most) believers feel that they have a monopoly on morality.  You never HAD true faith, or even the bad theology you were taught would not have affected it.  So you have nothing to apologize for, or feel bad about.  And NO ONE - particularly Christians - has any right to judge or condemn you for it.

When people say they will pray for you, it does NOT always mean that they think you are “sick,” either spiritually or otherwise.  Most prayer is done out of love, not out of pity.  To believe otherwise is to willfully misunderstand prayer.

For over twenty years now I have ended every single communication - every phone call, every letter, every e-mail, every post to a discussion thread - with the word “Peace.”  As has been said before, peace is not simply the absence of war and violence.  It is an active approach to living and interacting with ALL the people with whom we share this single fragile planet.

I do not feel “peace” coming from Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Maher et al, and those who support them.  What I feel coming from them is an even greater intolerance, extremism, condemnation and dismissiveness than those whom they accuse of the same.

Would that they had enough “reason” to see and understand this, and work toward “peace” and not further divisiveness.

Peace.

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By Richard, November 21, 2006 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment
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Maani and Joan:

It’s difficulty to stop generalizing, and we’re not just talking about a hypothetical situation. We’re not just discussing things that are “out there” in some spiritual idea space. I’m basing everything I say on my own life experiences. Perhaps it’s time for my ex-timony.

I was raised by a deeply religious mother and a skeptical father. At times I have had faith, enough to be baptized, re-baptized, and then study for the ministry. I only took one quarter of philosophy, Joan. That’s why I asked for advice on method. We barely brushed the surface, and avoiding blasphemy was a primary criterion.

Have you ever prayed before entering a shoe store, because you were about to spend “God’s money?” I did. I also asked God to put me to the test so I’d develop a better Christian character (perhaps that was presumptuous and God turned me into an atheist). I preached at the prison, worked as an associate pastor, and earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from an accredited college. I decline to state where because I need to protect freethinking individuals (read, “heretics”) who still work for that organization.

At times I have doubted. The faithful worldview has usually brought positive social consequences. The skeptical view has alienated me from others. It’s not just today’s religious right creating this alienation. It is the mainstream of every decade I’ve lived in. They they subject themselves to the basic message of the Invisible Man in the sky, and they expect me to believe also, but I do not.

I was kicked out of the Boy Scouts in the second grade for saying I didn’t believe in God. They would not let me back even after I apologized and promised to keep such opinions to myself.

More recently I lost a promotion I was well qualified for. I know the promoted individual attends church with senior leadership. He also has his strengths, and I like him a lot. Management never advertised the job, and covered up its availability when I was asking for advice about what to do next with my career. Then they shoe-horned him in three days later. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know, so lets not “neglect the assembling of ourselves together.” Yes, these are sour grapes. I encounter social problems because I refuse to just go through the motions.

There has never been a difference in the way I treat other people as I have vacillated from one opinion to another. The difference has only been in how they treat me, after I speak heresy and blasphemy. There is no real, effective choice in this matter. People pry for my opinions after they learn of my educational background, and inevitably I reveal my thought crimes.

I once had a true faith. I have lost it, and I resent being told there is something wrong with me for not continuing to think in harmony with the supposedly moral majority. People say, “I’ll pray for you.” They mean that I’m sick and they think they can convince an imaginary god to make me well through some unidentified means called “grace.”

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By Richard, November 21, 2006 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:

You seem more open-minded than Joan, acknowledging the absurdity of the conservative chronology, the overwhelming evidence for evolution, and the criterion of disprovability, for example. However, it seems like you only agree with me on some points because you ignore certain words of the Holy Book. You cherry-pick your truths, perhaps just to appease and persuade. At any time, if we allow the Bible to be the benchmark, I could be stoned for not keeping the Sabbath, for trimming my beard, or for keeping a picture of the full moon as my wallpaper.

I know, I know. Today’s construct is New Covenant instead of Old Covenant. What will the Tertiary Covenant be like, something like imaginary deal with God that made the Dutch murder the Hottentots or Hitler murder the Jews? I won’t sit by idly and just let it happen to me, whatever the new priests of the American theocracy decide it should be.

I don’t know what convinced you that conquest occurred over a relatively short time span or that it was an aberration. The archaeological evidence indicates that it took over 100 years for the Hebrews to gain control of Palestine. Then there was the period of Judges, war with the philistines during the monarchies, war with Assyria and captivity, Babylonian captivity, the inter-testament period and Maccabean revolt, the crucifixion of Jesus, the fall of Jerusalem. It has all been very brutal, and it seems like the main thing prolonging it to the present day is the question of who has the true god. “There will be wars and rumors of wars.” What’s going to make it stop? It isn’t faith. No wish or prayer can change the world we live in. We have to change it with political power.

I must agree with Harris and Dawkins, who see compromise as capitulating and fruitless. When it comes to matters of faith, our Government has absolutely no interest. Their powers extend only to such acts as are injurious to others. The middle ground is between your ears.

I am being passionate, confrontational and hostile because of my personal experience in society. I’m not witty like comedians Maher and my favorite, George Carlin. Sam Kinnison was also hilarious. The comedians heap ridicule on religion, which is a good thing. They point out the tremendous incongruities and make us laugh. Laughter kills fear. As Epicurus observed, without fear there is no need for God. This construct is why Thomas Aquinas said laughter is sinful.

Perhaps religion helped some great thinkers and inventors deal with the human condition. Laughter would have been better, particularly ridicule of religious nonsense. Copernicus, Galileo, Hume, Darwin and Einstein all brought progress by teaching heresy, alienating themselves from the mainstream, and subjecting themselves to demonization. They may have accomplished much more working without fear of God.

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By Joan, November 20, 2006 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
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Dear Dave,

We all have our own gods and we are very emotionally attached to our own particular messiahs, be they Jesus or Jefferson, both of whom very interestingly appealed to the same Creator for the same reason…the source of our human dignity and the entitlements that follow from that dignity. I hope your gods, some of whom are evidently the Muses, do not disappoint you.

All the best,

Joan

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 20, 2006 at 11:34 am Link to this comment
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To Joan re: 38258 (11/15), 38352 (11/16) & 38712 (11/18)

My dear Joan:

I wish for you a joyful Thanksgiving—for farm products, life in the good ol’ US of A, & for the medical, scientific & technological advances you enjoy.  The content of your interesting responses as dated above prove to me the near futility of meaningful theist & nontheist discourse.  Harris, Dawkins, Kurtz & the remaining atheistic Americans (16%), whose devotion to truth & reason I share, have tried to direct humankind’s attention to religion’s unreason, its evils, how & why it has failed over many centuries and how all humans would achieve peace, happiness & a wider uplifting of the human condition by learning & applying critical analysis & by discarding their nonsense, only-way fantasies & god delusions, but I believe many arguments among “the faithful” are both subconscious and conscious, with that virtually impossible element of brain-drenching, instilled from birth almost always, with loss of skepticism while accepting a god, a heaven, a hell & sacred-text inerrancy.  Hence, my conclusion, “never the twain shall meet”; for faith is sustained in unreason & falsification while science is devoted to reason & reality-constrained facts.

Harris has stated quite clearly the issues of concern—for human well-being, for peace and for ending the perpetual and ubiquitous faith-based miseries, atrocities, injustice, nonsense, etc. so another portrayal of my views is hardly warranted.  But I’ve been impressed by the self-educated Joseph Lewis, free- thought publisher, and his succinct contrast of atheism & faith:

“Atheism rises above creeds & puts Humanity upon one plane.
There can be no ‘chosen people’ in the Atheist [humanist]  philosophy./ There are no bended knees in Atheism;/ No supplications, no prayers;/ No sacrificial redemptions;/ No divine revelations;/ No washing in the blood of the lamb;/ No crusades, no massacres, no holy wars;/ No heaven, no hell, no purgatory;/ No silly rewards & no vindictive punishments;/ No Christs & no Saviors;/ No devils, no ghosts & no gods”.

In other words, beliefs in a god equate with beliefs in childish
fairy tales, in Santa, Cinderella & Peter Pan, etc.  Truth, reality, reason, science & those of us who proclaim their merits for humankind are merely invoking all humans to join us—for the good of our Earth & its resources, for Edwin Markham’s “destiny which makes us brothers [& sisters]” & for the property & happiness rights which Locke & Jefferson invited all to pursue.  Ultimately I would even compare the American challenge of the 21st c. with that of Lincoln, Garrison, Douglass et. al. of the 19th c.  But where Lincoln alluded to “the same God” to which the North & South prayed, & Garrison wrote, “God speed the day when human blood shall cease to flow…” & Douglass confessed, “for twenty years I prayed for my freedom, w/o success, until I prayed with my legs”, all appealed to a phenomenal Cosmos of laws, truths, reason & even chaos, to which we are subjected & endowed individually,however, with Tennyson’s “one main miracle—that thou art thou, with power on thine own act and on the world”.  I share the Garrison words of passion, perhaps almost as profound as the Douglass deeds & words on behalf of freedom, in my devotion to the truth & reason that should prevail over sectarian conflicts—iniquitously imposed on innocents, even from birth & the formative years.  And for your Thanksgiving prayer I offer an Algernon Swinburne truth in poetry:

“From too much love of living, from hope & fear set free;
We thank with brief thanksgiving/ Whatever Gods may be—
That no life lives forever, that dead [folk] rise-up never,
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea”.

Peace & Best Wishes

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By Keith Henson, November 20, 2006 at 7:03 am Link to this comment
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Maani wrote

>A scientific explanation of faith?  That is a contradiction in terms.

Of *a* faith, I agree with you.

But that’s not what I was writing about.  The question of why the social primates known as humans have faiths at all *can* be addressed by science as you imply yourself further down.

>Science is based on the rational, empirical and falsifiable.  Faith, by its very definition, is not: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

>However, I believe there is a difference between “rational” and “reasonable.” Clearly, faith is not “rational,” as that term is defined vis-a-vis empirical science.  However, faith may still be “reasonable,” just as many things that are not quantifiable can be reasonable.

>Just as there is no scientific explanation for altruism

Sorry, you are way out of date.  There *is* a scientific, mathematical even, explanation for altruism.  It was one of the biggest advances in evolutionary biology of the last 50 years.  Google for Hamilton inclusive fitness.

>or evil - or even love (I mean the feeling itself - not what occurs bio-chemically or even psycho-emotionally within the body and mind)

The reason for love is well understood.  Keeps people from drowning newborns like rats.  grin

>- one need not be able to “prove” faith.

>Indeed, while “faith” and “religion” may originally have been responses to things that were otherwise unexplainable to the earliest hominids (things that we now have explanations for), one would expect that natural selection would have “breeded out” faith/religion if it did not have beneficial aspects for the species.

Again you are out of date by decades.  Evolution is not for the benefit of species, that’s been recognized for at least the last 40 years.  Genes are what “benefit” from natural selection (i.e., certain versions of genes become more common and others less common over generations).

But still you have it right.  The psychological traits behind faith and/or religion either aided reproductive success in the stone age or they are side effects of other traits that did contribute to reproductive success.  Otherwise, as you point out, we would not have such traits.

My claim is that the psychological traits behind faith (in particular) are a side effect of the mechanisms that induced the genocide in Rwanda, and more generally, wars.

And if humans want to have control over their destiny, they really need to understand their selected-in-the-stone-age psychological traits and what it takes to keep the worst of them turned off.

Best wishes,

Keith

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By Joan, November 19, 2006 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
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Hello Everyone,

This week I will pretty much be addressing things like turkey and cranbery sauce and family ...I will try to keep up but if I do not respond, please be patient…I will get back to you as soon as I can…Wishing all a wonderful holiday, and again I thank our gracious hosts, Sam Harris and Truthdig for this forum. Your ideas have made me dig deep and helped me keep sharp what naturally dulls with age.

Warmly ,
Joan

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By Maani, November 18, 2006 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
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Keith:

A scientific explanation of faith?  That is a contradiction in terms.

Science is based on the rational, empirical and falsifiable.  Faith, by its very definition, is not: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

However, I believe there is a difference between “rational” and “reasonable.”  Clearly, faith is not “rational,” as that term is defined vis-a-vis empirical science.  However, faith may still be “reasonable,” just as many things that are not quantifiable can be reasonable.

Just as there is no scientific explanation for altruism or evil - or even love (I mean the feeling itself - not what occurs bio-chemically or even psycho-emotionally within the body and mind) - one need not be able to “prove” faith.

Indeed, while “faith” and “religion” may originally have been responses to things that were otherwise unexplainable to the earliest hominids (things that we now have explanations for), one would expect that natural selection would have “breeded out” faith/religion if it did not have beneficial aspects for the species.

Peace.

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By Joan, November 18, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
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Richard, Maani, Dave and all,

The language of God is found in the strumming of His universe, the material one and the immaterial one (soul). We are designed with our curiosity and human need to learn that language. Observations about this language are found in science books and bibles and korans etc. Some of the observations are correct but they must always be scrutinized because they are people’s observations.  For accuracy, we have to match those observations with the strummings of the universe like the way the pope challenged Islam. He claimed that God’s nature must reflect reason and not be unquestioningly a tirade of not rational, irresponsible dicta that people submit to without evaluation. The strummings of the universe reflect reason and order and method to madness. One cannot claim any activity is of God as one cannot claim it of the universe, such as today there will be no gravity, thinking that merely saying it makes it so. True statements must reflect that state of affairs. God’s immaterial universe is guided by the dicta of treating everyone as they wish to be treated because in doing so we will have the security and dignity our humanness yearns for and needs for its own safety and survival. As His messenger said, his teachings were to bring life and bring it in abundance, reflections of the strummings of the parallel material universe. This Teacher advocated this directive for daily ethical behavior and paid with his life for counseling against theocracies among other things. He raised the dignity of the lowest to the ranks of kings by claiming them as equally children of God. Seems pretty rational to me and similar to the Jefferson’s slate of hand in appealing to a Creator for man’s dignity and assured humane treatment at the hands of the new government.
Now Richard says that the ridicule directed at Christians is a backlash. And I have given that considerable thought. There is truth to that observation.The Christian Right movemnt has also been a backlash. But I think there is more to the backlash that Richard cites. White American males are the most privileged class of people in the world.It’s a man’s world and always has been. The institutions are man made—- the legal, religious, social, the medical, education, governments and business ones are all man made constructs. I don’t see God Himself running around here pulling strings and making men dance. In act He is criticized for keeping such a distance. In other words the words in the Bible ring true, literally God gave man dominion over the earth and this is what we got, guys.
These institutions, since time in memorial, all of have been slanted toward men and stacked against women. Every last one of them. These Founders were men of their times and established the country for the white male landowner. All the rest of us have had an uphill climb to get the rights and privileges you men have had from the outset. And you know what? I think as a class white male Americans have not much taste as to what it is really like to have the institutions systematically stacked against them with unreasonable laws and cultural prejudice. (Affirmative action my have given you a sip of it but it was so limited.) And I think that sacred status being marginalized by Christian Right agendas and power is big part of this backlash and righteous indignation. Welcome to the world the rest of us have had to live in. I mean you no ill feeling because it sure ain’t fun when the deck is stacked against you in favor of someone else’s interests like those of the Christian Right, for instance. And I too am relieved that this election hopefully sent the message of full rejection of the movement. But really maybe what goes around comes around and maybe just maybe the privileged tasting that flavor of being less privileged will bring some long term benefits.
Joan

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By Keith Henson, November 17, 2006 at 10:14 pm Link to this comment
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I find the recent discussions (or arguments) not to be deep enough.  Like why do people have religions at all?  What are the common elements of religions?  And what is the evolutionary origin of the capacity to hole religions.  Recently someone asked:

>Can you give me a scientific explanation of faith?

Faith is a manifestation of the psychological mechanism that (in appropriate conditions) leads to wars.  Wars were the evolved hunter gatherer mechanism that kept the human population in bounds set by how larg a population could be supported by the ecosystem.

The reason a mechanism evolved at all was that humans became the top predator at least by the time we had fire and probably by the time our remote ancestors had sharp rocks.


Since nothing else controlled humans numbers, and humans reproduced at more than replacement we had to become our own predator.  (That is prior to effective birth control.)


Under non stressed circumstances the ability to think rationally is an asset.  But at times, when facing starvation and the need to make war on neighbors, the interest of the individual and his genes diverge (because of copies in relatives).  Under such circumstances gene constructed mental mechanisms switch off rational thinking and lead to attacks (like the Rwanda genocide).


Just as BDSM sex is a side effect of capture-bonding (look it up) non-thinking faith is a side effect of rational thought suppressing mechanisms selected because of population growth and wars that functioned to limit the population in the stone age.

This is, of course, an evolutionary psychology approach to the question of faith.

Keith Henson

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By Joan, November 17, 2006 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,
Re: memorizing. I re-worked so many of these thinkers in classes and then trying to teach the stuff that you do learn it but I often have to review because the positions are detailed and the more you do it the more you see in a philosopher’s work and yet again you see the ideas differently as you age. I learned by doing and watching other philosophers talking and being skeptical about just any assertions that were made as they worked through the material. As I read Harris I think—why should I believe this? I sat in tutorials, one- on –one with a professor as eh addressed weakness and strengths of a position. And I re- worked my own pieces based on comments of my teachers. It’s a skill, Richard. You have to always be in self critiquing mode.

To be clear about the Schiavo case I am saying that many ethicists including myself would argue that there was no moral reason to prolong her life in that state. Many ethicists would agree with the courts decisions.
Re: That moral statements are not verifiable…Here is a good example of how a basic survey of Western philosophy text would come in handy…in the 19th century a school of thought emerged called empiricism which led to other like minded theories that ultimately argued that even moral statements and certain scientific ones could not be verified. Verifiability is a very stringent philosophical standard. Harris is appealing to this school of thought. Now if moral statements and also certain scientific statements cannot be verified should we throw them away too like Harris suggests we throw away religions?
Ethicists talk a great deal about conflicts of interest problems and whose interest should prevail? For instance… pain patients want painkillers but some doctors fearing they will be prosecuted by the DEA are stingy with giving them out and patients may suffer when they can be relieved of pain. Who should win, the pain patient or the doctor? Both have valid issues. Both have the same inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who wins?
I do not think dissent and ridicule are the same things. I do not like to see a high-minded discipline like philosophy become a vehicle for bigotry or ridicule. That is not love of wisdom. This is misuse of guile. The Founders rightly wanted to keep religion out of lawmaking because of the pain that causes but that is not the same as trying to stamp out religion. I think they were wise enough not to attempt such a task.
Like Maani I agree that there are numerous systems of ethics that do not appeal to God as the moral judge. So I disagree with what that office worker said and have never judge people based on a religion. I learned lot about good people from those who do not have particular faith.
Good philosophers are always re working their positions.
Joan

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By Joan, November 17, 2006 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment
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Richard,

Well how exciting that you are interested in advancing your skills in philosophy.
Here are a few ideas. It is good to get a basic overview of the history of Western thought because a lot of ideas people come up with are often already analyzed and you see the evolution of ideas, i.e. how twists in a theory ushers in a new school of thought. This also helps you to understand the ongoing philosophical discussions and the way philosophers addressed weaknesses of previous theories. To this end I would suggest getting a hold of a survey of Western philosophy text, covering the pre-Socratics to at least Bertrand Russell. A college bookstore or Amazon or Borders or Barnes and Noble may have something. The book I would recommend is on loan to my primary care doc, and I do not have the full name but the author is (?) Stumpf. If you are interested, I will try to get the full name but it may be out of print. It is not a very scholarly text but it is highly readable and is historically represented with some of the philosopher’s original works. Bertrand Russell has a history of Western philosophy that may work too. I do not recommend reading the philosophers themselves right out of the shoot without an interpreter because God only knows what some of these people are trying to say. I save these people for bedtime reading because they put me to sleep. Get a good dictionary of philosophical terms. I have the “Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion” W.L. Reese but again that may be out of print. Last you will need to get a little in touch with the rules of formal logic and learn about what kinds of arguments and appeals are rejected in formal philosophical disputation. For instance recently I told you I did not accept a quote from Adams on religion as your way of bolstering you positions. I rejected this because it is formally considered an appeal to authority that is a logical fallacy. Your position is not more right because Adams, a great American, said what he said. Your position is only more right than mine if you offer a stronger support for your viewpoint with superior reasoning. Another overused logical fallacy is appeal to emotion. If your opponent gets angry or upset or intimidating that may stop the discussion but it doss not win it. There are logic texts but mine are not new again…A college bookstore might help here and here you are looking for elementary logic, basic formal logic. If you are mathematically inclined you may be able to do this reading yourself. If you are not, you will need a course.
This brings us to the nuts and bolts of philosophy… the argument. This is the whole ballgame. All of philosophy centers on THE ARGUMENT. The argument consists of premises and a conclusion. The object of the argument is to be sure you can show that your premises are true so your conclusion is therefore true. 
In daily life philosophy is most fun when reading letters to the editor and editorials. And I had my students dissect these pieces to find the premises and the conclusions, determining the truth- values or whether or not they are true or as Harris says verifiable. When you are a philosopher you cannot be thinking about what is right about what you are saying—- you have to be thinking what is wrong with my thesis or where are the weak spots in my supporting positions or premises. The worth of your positions is only as much as the support you can give it through your reasoning process. You are always thinking—-have I left myself open for an opponent to challenge me?  Every position you take you want to make sure someone else cannot refute it.
Joan

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By Maani, November 17, 2006 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

[Part II]

You also repeat your problem with “Christians’ constant insinuation or plain statements that I cannot possibly have any morality or values without God.  It’s part of the boilerplate speech.”  Yes, it is part of a boilerplpate speech for SOME, perhaps even MANY, Christians.  But, again, you debate in the most broad-brush generalities and stereotypes.  I do not know a single Christian - Catholic, Protestant or other - who believes that Christians have a monopoly on morality.  And I know ALOT of Christians.  This does not mean that there are not alot of Christians who DO feel that they have a monopoly on morality.  But if you don’t get away from outrageous generalizing, you are simply going to alienate Christians like myself who agree with you.

You say that “making the message easy to swallow is really just treating people like they are stupid.”  I do not make the message easy to swallow because I think people are stupid.  I make the message easy to understand for the very reason that Harris writes books and you support him: because most non-Christians (and even many Christians) do not understand the Christian message.  For believers, this is because a “loud minority” (the Religious Right) has hijacked their religion, and gotten them to focus on a small number of “hot-button” issues (abortion, homosexuality, stem cell research, etc.), which focuses their attention on a phony “morality.” For non-believers, it is because they have been force-fed a media diet of the narrow-minded, unloving, unforgiving and ultimately un-Christian views and positions of the Religious Right.

My intent is not to treat people as stupid, but to “counter” the deeply-ingrained positions and messages of the Religious Right - the very positions and messages that Harris, Maher and others rail against, but in doing so end up over-generalizing.  My intent is to get people like Harris, Maher and yourself to STOP GENERALIZING!  Can I make it any more plain than that?

How can you complain about faith-based people generalizing about atheists (e.g,, that they “cannot possibly have any morality or values without God”) when all you do is generalize about faith-based people?  Do you not see the blatant hypocrisy in this?

Finally, you note the “brutality” in the OT and “more brutality” in the end of the NT.

Yes, the Israelites brutally conquered various lands at the “behest” of Yahweh.  Yet all of this occurred in a relatively short time span.  This does not negate or excuse that brutality, but there is far more to Judaism, and the later history of the Jewish people shows that this brutality was largely an “aberration” from their later behavior and beliefs.  Or do you not believe that people can change?

As for the NT, you note only one book (Revelation) and baldly dismiss EVERYTHING that precedes it - which, notably, has not a single word or action of violence and, indeed, in which Jesus and the apostles and disciples clearly and consistently admonish against it.  Thus, you conflate the brutality in a single allegorical book with the clear and consistent message of love, peace, humility, compassion, forgiveness, patience, charity, selflessness, service, justice and truth of Jesus’ life and ministry as discussed in the twenty-six other books.

Where is the intellectual honesty in doing this?

Ultimately, Harris, Dawkins, Maher and those who follow and support them have fallen into a classic trap: because they view ALL faith and religion as extremist (and do so based more on perception than on fact), they respond by resorting to the opposite extreme, rather than attempting to find any middle ground - which they see as either capitulating or fruitless.

The reality, however, is that the middle ground is the proper place to be having this discussion and debate, since not all faith and religion is extremist or worrisome - and some has even proven historically to be a very positive thing.

Peace.

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By Maani, November 17, 2006 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

[Part 1]

It saddens me how palpable your hostility is, despite your attempts to “make nice.”  How is your hostility toward me and my views different from the hostility you ascribe to most (if not all) people of faith toward atheists?  How is your dismissive attitude toward their beliefs and positions any different from their allegedly generalized dismissive attitude toward atheists and their positions/morals, etc.?  And do you think the extremist positions and attitudes of Harris, Dawkins, Maher et al really serve to further a discourse between people of faith and those who (correctly) see problems - sometimes serious ones - with blind faith and religion?

Passion is a good thing, but it can often lead to unnecessary and hurtful insults, stereotyping and confrontationalism.  And this is true for people on both (or all) sides of an issue, so I am not singling out you or those in your “camp.”

You say, “Religion hasn’t brought the human race a shred of new knowledge for centuries.”  That depends on your viewpoint.

Many scientific discoveries were made, and knowledge gained, by scientists whose work was informed by their faith.  Copernicus and Galileo were guided toward the sky not solely as the result of a “strict” scientific bent, but due to the wonder that their faith instilled in them. Similarly, Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur and Washington Carver were guided by both their faith-based wonder and a pressing need to “make the world a better place” through their scientific work.

Darwin did not set out to disprove the existence of God, but simply to prove that each species was not “specially created,” but was the result of random mutation and natural selection.  Yet Darwin’s work was also informed by his faith - a faith he never rejected, even if he had moments of doubt.  Darwin believed that evolution itself was a process - a “law impressed upon matter” - “set in motion” by the Creator.”  He states this in so many words in the Summary chapter of The Origin of Species.

Even Einstein - a non-practicing, agnostic Jew - made it clear that much of his work was inspired by faith/religion: “Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must feel humble” and “In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.  But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views…I want to know how God created this world.  I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.  I want to know His thoughts.  The rest are details.”

Thus, although it may be true that religion CAN be “...a throwback, celebrating primitivism and willful ignorance,” this is not always the case, and, indeed, it has become less and less so over the centuries.  That a loud minority of fundamentalists voice an “anti-science extremism” does not change the fact that science and religion have come closer together.

Part II coming.

Peace.

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By Richard, November 16, 2006 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

I consider myself an amateur philosopher. I am always working at one of the greats (you have convinced me to put Locke next on my list). I don’t know how you could do good philosophy without a lot of memorizing. I would like to learn your methods for doing what you call “formal critical analysis,” which you advocated more of for Sam Harris. Please recommend a book. Can it be done without memorizing a large body of historical philosophy? Who said what, and what was their epistemology? How did they justification their knowledge claims? What were their mistakes, and how can we prove they were mistakes? Those are the questions that interest me. If you have memorized fewer facts, become less of a subject matter expert than a biologist is on biology, how can you consider your voice in any way authoritative?

Philosophy, to me, achieves an ideal that religion sought and fell short of. It is “love of wisdom.” The Bible talked about wisdom, saying fear of God is the beginning of it (Psalms and Proverbs). Too many apologists treat that fear as the end of wisdom also. You continue to insist that the Founders were basing everything on it, but the most objective reading of their words and ideas proves they were pushing this nation away from that fear and the tendency of clerics to monger it.

Wisdom really consists of adding to knowledge– standing on the shoulders of the giants. Religion hasn’t brought the human race a shred of new knowledge for centuries. It is inevitably a throwback, celebrating primitivism and willful ignorance. The anti-science extremism we have seen this decade is case in point.

I think you must begin with some assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. In a previous segment you said, “we are engaging in unjustified abortions.” In the message to Dave you pontificate about our moral dilemma over Schiavo, and supposedly conflicting, competing interests. Do you have a mouse in your pocket? How many human bodies do you presume to speak for? There is no such thing as a conflict of interest. There can’t be. When there seems to be one, and you distill it down to a matter of inalienable rights, you always end up with somebody who has a true interest, and somebody else who is faking reality. For example, only Schiavo can speak for Schiavo. In a situation where she cannot speak for herself, who’s name does she have? Her husband obviously speaks for her, not meddling fundamentalists who don’t even comprehend their own scriptures (Genesis 2:23-25).

Please tell me what formal, critical analysis (free of faith-based assumptions I hope) led you to say, “Moral statements are not verifiable nor are many scientific ones.” Earlier I said that we’re in big trouble if the only way to have morality is to believe in the unbelievable. It’s merely repeating that to say that we’re in big trouble if we can’t verify moral statements. I think there is a way to verify moral statements, and it boils down to inalienable rights. I prefer the concept of disprovability for science (until somebody demonstrates a better epistemology).

The tendency to belittle and deride Christians is typically a backlash. For me it begins with Christians’ constant insinuation or plain statements that I cannot possibly have any morality or values without God. It’s part of the boilerplate speech. This is very fresh for me, because a Catholic at work recently told me my life must be very shallow.

It is not un-American to ridicule. “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” (need I provide the source for that one?) Americans have always loved to ridicule one another (they teach it on the Disney Channel; my kids are watching it right now and learning to become smartasses). Offering dissent is one of the reasons I seek this dialogue. The things that are supposedly sacred in this world are the ones most deserving of ridicule. Ridicule can be very persuasive, and I won’t foreswear an occasional sardonic stab (my sincere apologies to Benjamin Franklin).

In daily practice, I show courtesy to Christians. I would love to display sacrilegious wallpapers on my computer and stickers on my car. I don’t. Notwithstanding Article VI, Section 3, it would be career suicide or would just piss off people I need to be able to work with. This forum and others like it are places to let out pent-up frustrations.

Maani:

Making the message easy to swallow is really just treating people like they are stupid. You under-estimate the people on this post. Go ahead, challenge me with something good. Tell me why you attribute Hebrews to Paul (it doesn’t bear his name) and James to James (wasn’t he illiterate?). I don’t care how doctrinaire you get. It just reinforces my point. You should use the same kind of formal critical analysis Joan recommends for Sam Harris, or you have no light in you, as far as I’m concerned. You barely skim the surface and revise Biblical theology into a bunch of make-nice BS.

Most notably, you dismiss the brutality in the Bible that was committed in the name of Yahweh. You said He never advocated it for mere physical necessities. Taking the larger view, property is a necessity. It provides place to live, build homes for your tribe, and create descendants as countless as the stars. Those were the only two things Yahweh promised Abraham—the property and the offspring. That was his salvation. the descendants of Abraham overthrew another nation to gain that salvation, and murdered most of the original inhabitants of that land in the name of Yahweh. The primary meaning of salvation, to the Hebrews, was having victory in battle. The song of Moses and Miriam is fundamental OT theology (Exodus 15).

There were also instances where the Hebrews spilled people’s guts, cut off their fingers, looted , took people as slaves, or added the women of their dead foes to a harem – all of this with Yahweh’s blessing. The supposed instructions from Yahweh told them how to divy up the loot, including human beings.

The New Testament ends with more brutality—people being tortured for months and longing for death but not having it, then being killed with the sword, thrown in the fields for the birds to eat, and finally resurrected so they can be fed to the flames. Creating a Yahweh/Jesus/Ghost morph doesn’t change a thing from the brutal OT God, and you just “wrest the scriptures” with your make-nice, Sunday school quality theology.

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By Joan, November 16, 2006 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment
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Dave,

Take 2.

Working in a philosophy department means everything you say is challenged. You expect this but I saw a difference in what you wrote to me a few days ago. Perhaps it was not your intent but I sure felt the condescension. I appreciate your care in addressing my concerns. No hard feelings.

If you believe I support a theocracy, you have misread my work.

I have re- read your post several times now and I am thinking this. What I am hearing is, and this is from you and Harris and Dawkins, based on your comments about Dawkins, that religions must be eradicated. But there is a difference between upholding that Congress shall make no law establishing a religion and thinking it is in man’s interests to eradicate religions. These are two different discussions that I see being conflated into one in these discussions. Congress cannot be in the business of eradicating religions in a country that is founded on the very principles of religious toleration. As I have stated repeatedly the protections go two ways, namely establishing no state religion and at the same prohibiting religious persecution. That is the business of Congress and the judiciary, not aiding and abetting the cause of eradicating religions because of the intellectual conclusions made by fellow Americans about the efficacy of religion. The point of America is that Americans are entitled to their religions despite that you and Harris and Dawkins think differently about their worth. Using lawsuits, like claiming “God” on a coin is establishing a religion, as attempts to advance the cause of eradicating a religion is un-American activity. Congress has no obligation and no business in furthering your particular means to man’s salvation anymore that are to further Falwell’s. That being said like Harris I agree that if a religion is threatening our national security, of course, it is in the state’s compelling interest to address this vigorously and should do so.  Other than that, Americans are constitutionally entitled to religious freedom and to me that freedom includes freedom of religious expression.

The model problems in ethics I have submitted to you have not been resolved in the ways you describe by appealing to more data, for instance, one reason being is that the data is not available. We live in a world of unknowns but still must take a leap of faith and decide on a course of action with the information we have at hand. That is the human predicament. It happens in medicine and everywhere else.  Usually in ethics it becomes necessary to appeal to a set of underlying guidelines for direction in making the morally choice. This conclusion is based on my years in attending ethics class and reading case studies etc. Ethical decision- making does not follow the course you describe. It is difficult and tenuous and begs for seminal guidelines which is why so many different ethical systems have been proposed and evaluated over the centuries. In medicine you may be spared these problems because nature has so much input beyond our control.

Philosophers seek the “Truth” but cannot tell you what it is other than that it is the state of affairs. Isn’t that odd! Many of them have serious doubts about the unquestioned efficacy of science to deliver the “Truth” at least at this stage of the game. We just do not know enough of what we need to know to declare the “Truth” . But Truth is beauty like a woman.

The following is a little essay of observations I made recently about this post and I offer it to those who hold being rational as the only key to salvation as well as those who use Harris as a vehicle to be derogatory towards those who have faith, speaking not for me but my fellow American who are far less articulate than I. I am speaking for them.

                                          Reflections

Over the last several weeks I have addressed comments from those who claim the Founders were uninfluenced by Christianity or religion. For them, the Declaration and Constitution were virtually acts of pure reason, out of context with the historical Christian culture in which they were immersed. These folks support the Founders as highly rational and as supporters of such reasoning minds. They too are more rational than Christians or people of other faiths.
I thought we were having a discussion on ideas. My interest here has been to address an idea the Harris put on the table that I think needs constructive discussion, namely that there are dangerous aspects of certain religious ideologies that we must discuss. At times this seems to be have become nothing more than open season on Christian bashing instead of a constructive exercise in dealing with a serious problem. Often the Founders, many of whom were not formal Christians are invoked as people who soundly reject faith and have become a vehicle for permitting this bashing. There is little logical consistency this line of reasoning as these men no matter their private ideas about faith put their lives on the line to gain religious freedom among other freedoms. The Declaration and Constitution were birthed in a state that was based on a land grant to William Penn to provide safe haven for Quakers, as I recall. And Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, a basic tenet of Christianity, as well as the home of Franklin and Jefferson and our precious documents, to say nothing of the philosophical appeal to a Creator in the Declaration to get the ball rolling. So how is it again our nation was not influenced by religion? And to use these men who were willing to give their lives for this principle as an excuse to Christian bash is not only logically inconsistent it is disrespectful and insulting to their aims which some have held up as the highest ideals of reason while concurrently practicing and advocating religious intolerance. This is also illogical.  I have concluded that such folks do not really understand or love America per se but rather they love some sort of unrealistic, fantasy reasoning process they think occurred in Philadelphia. And they believe this reasoning process will insulate them from the dangers of life particularly those who are wrong-minded thinkers such as Christians. There ain’t no such process. This is a professional assessment.
More than most others, I have been trained in logic and the study of rational thought and the ideas of the greater thinkers in Western history. And here is the bottom line, if rational thought was as supreme arbiter of difficulties as these aforementioned supporters believe there would be no Iraq, Iran, North Korea, no economic problems or education problems. There would be no poverty because all economic problems would be resolved by the sheer force of reason. There would be no philosophy departments with sharp minds still trying build good theories and offset there weak spots such as Jefferson and Locke did when they appealed to a God for the source of inalienable rights because appealing to man and his reason as the source just would not do the trick. Then I have been told science will deliver us. But do AIDS sufferers and victims of Parkinson’s find salvation in science?
We live in world in which being rational and having science guarantees nothing. I have learned that salvation while facing an uncertain political future or job situation or health problem resides on being master and commander of your soul. The soul going back to the days of Plato if not before was never solely defined by being rational. It is emotive and transcendent and these aspects of it need to be quelled as well. Fixing the soul is prior to fixing all else. Adjusting and accepting. Finding equilibrium and order, in order to use reason and other tools to help us with our problems. And I personally do not know of any greater support in that task than God. He is not magician and He is not the manager of a day care center or a master puppeteer. He is what He is not what you or I think He should be, although He is clearly Santa Claus at times. He is rational and emotional like us and He respects our godliness a lot, not interfering but putting the reins in our hands as He has them in His. To each his own but I do know from personal experience that reason and science are lesser gods than one Locke and Jefferson appealed to in order to get this project America up and running. Now I have the skill enough to dialogue appealing to reason but I do no have skill enough to dialogue with prejudice. Those who use the work of the Founders to justify Christian bashing do not understand the work they did and are misusing their work to further the very intolerance these men were working to thwart.  If it is reason you are serving, than I think you would see that lack of reason in this tactic. If it is prejudice, I have no words for you.
                            ……………………………….

I believe there are greater things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies, Dave. I believe this based on my numerous experiences as a human being as you ahve drawn form you experiences. But we are entitled to our differences as we are entitled to mutual respect. If anyone thinks they have it all knocked, I am secure that they will meet the challenge in life that will give them cause to re- think this view. This just seems to be the nature of things. So we just have to hang on to our hats. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Joan

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By Joan, November 15, 2006 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment
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Dave,

What an interesting epistle…are you related to Paul,but antithetical to his mindset. I think maybe the best way to address your many points is to start with position paper of sorts. I am happily surprised by the care you took to respond.

First things first. When I taught philosophy of the many definitions of philosophy offered, some 47(!!!) was the last count I think, I chose the simplest- Philosophy is the art of gentlemanly disputation. Of course my feminist students accused me of sexism but the definition kept us filled respect and sensitivity with forthright discussion. A case in point- I taught my last class during the First Gulf war. I had a very articulate student who was from the Gaza Strip who enlightened us on the Palestinian perspective of Saddam Hussein. The class harbored a cross section of Americans, including Jews. We learned a lot from Ghassan who learned a lot from us. The touchy discussions were open and candid but we were present to vested interests of others.  We did not polarize each other while learning to justify methodically our positions. No one ever had to agree, they just had to support what they claimed. I found gentlemanly disputation is more productive and more dignified. Candidly your last post struck me as derisive and often that precludes valuable discussion. And I am also big on dignity.

Let’s start with Schiavo. From the myriad of discussions I have been in and read on this type of ethical issue, I think ethicists would not see a bona fide moral dilemma. Recalling my Catholic indoctrination, the position of the Church was also misrepresented as well. There is no ethical mandate that prevents nature from taking its inevitable course, directing us to prolong life at any cost.  The medical facts were that she would not recover, ever and would only be living a life on a feeding tube. Other mitigating factors were the expense and the psychological pressure on those on whom her life weighed heavy and from what I understand there were the medical difficulties that would befall here if she was left in that state. Here I am referring to the medical predications explained by one of the four guardians ad litem appointed by the Florida governor. This was a political ploy only and it was a shameful one at that. There was no real ethical dilemma.

The specific ethical dilemmas I elucidated to you are the some of the archetypical ones, pondered and dissected over and over in ethics classes. They are mostly conflicts of interest or conflicts of ethical values, and are generally insoluble. It was a trap of sorts, Dave, and I will admit to being a little more a professor than was fair here. You are on the right track when you said you want more information but trust me, after hours of evaluating extenuating circumstances you come up to one path. That is you need some basic ethical guidelines to invoke to choose a direction in the face of competing interests.  I have had to evaluate the major ethical systems that come down to us through Western thought or they would not give me my degrees. To live by, I chose the simple one to resolve ethical conflicts…treat others the way you would want to be treated in a given circumstance. It is elegant as a directive for ethical human behavior because it is so simple and amenable to any circumstance. Note that even though it is given by one who is thought of as divine, there is no appeal to divinity to it. It is just intuitive and when I apply it, no matter the results, my conscience is clear. And I want clear conscience.  In my studies and, this is my professional opinion, I do not believe it is possible to resolve moral dilemmas without appealing to basic moral guidelines to sort of adjudicate conflicting or competing interests. This is much like our appealing to the Bill of Rights for instance to resolve certain legal conflicts. I argue that this is the case in designing the “Declaration” and the Constitution also. These was appeal to basic moral guidelines some of which were Christian as well as political ones that had been evolving.

I was very, very excited when I read Harris’ first work, “The End of Faith” because I shared the same misgivings about our trepidations in addressing the violence of Islam. Thought it was irrational of Harris to ridicule the pope for addressing them. Being a pope does not preclude one from reasoning as well as Harris. That to me is just bigotry. I have done some critiquing of “Letter…”. See post to Rick Yel on 10/13, comment #28684. Harris has great appeal to those who have thought these ideas through on their own and are not familiar with a lot of formal critical analysis. He has some good points but they will be lost if he does not do more in depth analysis and make some corrections to his work. Some reasons are mentioned in the Washington Post article I suggested a few weeks ago. Serious scholars do not bash and ridicule. They separate the Old and New Testaments and understand how tenets of Christianity are applied. Although they may not approve of Christianity, they do not attempt to deny that it was a philosophical force in the inception of America anymore than a doctor would deny obvious symptoms to make a diagnosis, Dr. House excluded. As I said in the “Yel” comment claiming that religious statements are not verifiable is nothing new under the philosophical sun. Moral statements are not verifiable nor are many scientific ones. We cannot throw out all of these disciplines under Harris’ reasoning. His argument is not sufficient in the ‘necessary and sufficient ‘sense to throw out all religions. My concern is that if Harris does not seriously address these flaws that he will not continue to get a respectable audience and his good message will be lost. I think that is a big loss. I am also concerned that he is not scholarly enough and panders too much to derision which is what I have been addressing lately. There is a movement afoot in this country to belittle and deride Christians and others. This is as un-American as it is un-American establish a state religion. I do not support the attempts by the Bush Administration to use religious principles as a basis for law. I support the separation of church and state. But I do not support a handful of atheists attempting to claim God on coin or in the Pledges is the establishment of a state religion. Be serious. It is just the reflection of the state of affairs of the majority of those in the country and in the world. For a handful of people to want to deny what is dear to others when they suffer no harm to me is cruel and narcissistic. It is bigotry masquerading as intellect. And it’s disrespectful to all the Christian Americans who build and built this the country that these political atheists say they so love so dearly. Christians are and have been the mainstay and the backbone of the country. And we would not have equality before the law and other precepts if this were not a Christian country. This is Christianity 101. Other of my posts address these points. Christians should be respected as fellow citizens even when it means extending them a courtesy you do not believe in. That is religious toleration in practice rather than theory. You cannot say you love the Founders but do not want to do what they fought to accomplish. Paraphrasing President Kennedy’…we have to breath same air and inhabit the same small planet…” that means give and take and a little bit of self confidence that as an atheist if you hold coin with the word “God” on it you have not turned into a Christian.
Let me stop here and re-read your post because I know you have other points re:God, truth, reason and whether we have the same definitions…my initial response is tath roughly we do or we could not communicate…but let me review your ideas again.

I always thank the ‘docs” who should be thanked. It takes years of effort to do what they do and I even bring them cake and have good talks with them while they work away. They are like my rabbis and vice versa…it also took years of effort to do what I do here.

Joan

Re: Dawkins, I have not read him but the review in “The Economist” made him sound a lot like Harris

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By Maani, November 15, 2006 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

“Touchy feely?”  LOL.  I will take that as a back-handed compliment.  LOL.

That said, I feel like you have put me in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” position.  You say that “I’ve gotten deeper theological meaning from a Sunday school class taught by a burned out homemaker.”  However, my guess it that if I were to be more “heavy-handed” in my theology and ministry, you would accuse me of being…heavy-handed and doctrinaire.  You can’t have it both ways.

I prefer the “lighter” approach because it is easier and more “palatable” for the average non-believer.  Howeer, that does not mean that I “skimp” on the meaning or context of the Scriptural cites or “interpretations” that I provide.

You then say, “I’m revolted by the tendency to ignore or revise what he doesn’t like about the scriptures, or to be just plain wrong but not care.”

I would welcome your examples in these regards, since I would be more than simply remiss if I were to “ignore or revise” ANYTHING in Scripture.  That said, this does not mean that you are necessarily going to agree with all of the interpretations that I provide - no matter how “on point” or “folksy” or “heavy-handed” they may be.  However, again, I cannot think of any time during these discussions when I ignored or “revised” Scripture.

Peace.

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By Dave Summers, M.D., November 15, 2006 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment
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RE: Joan (37776 & 37870, 11/12 & 13) & Maani (37796, 11/12)

Dear Joan: 

For 2 easons I reluctantly attempt to send my apology & my response to you; firstly because I have no control of either what TruthDig editors accept or reject or computer “glitches” that
may have prevented my 10/28 response from being posted.  Secondly, I’m concerned that you’ve taken personally my criticisms of an institution—the multiform, polytheistic but allegedly monotheistic phenomenon called religion or faith (God for Christians, just as for Islamic, Hindi, Jewish faiths is presented & accepted as “the one true God”; yet, long before Chris Hitchens expressed his view that the many gods cannot be “one” & that all are therefore necessarily false, I had come to the same conclusion, paraphrased as “[Man] created [a] God in his own image, in the image of [man] created he [himself]” - not the converse).  But since you’re only one example of a religionist you’re obviously not the others; yet, as with Frank Goodman (in this dialogue), my definitions of a god & truth and even reason seem to differ from yours, so such differences underlie our respective perceptions of each other.  But being disagreeable in my disagreeing is not my intention, nor do I believe it’s Sam’s or
Richard’s (Dawkins, THE GOD DELUSION) or the intent of most other nontheists, but in my years of collaborating with Christians (mostly Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist-Episcopal, Catholic & LDS) I’ve almost always elicited from them accusations of being vituperative (while my reading about Islamic, Jewish, Hindi & other faiths reveals the same allegiance, not to facts but to fantasy & not to logical or rational discourse but to Allah or Yahweh or a specific God-head belief of what I choose to describe as “only-way nonsense” - as perceived by Hitchens, many others & by me).  So I hope my apology is accepted.

However, please know that, as a native-born American (my Ohio beginning), acceptance of “involuntary servitude” in the USAR,
voluntary entry into College ROTC training, & having had active military duties while also continuing the neurology profession, I love America as much as millions & definitely more than hundreds or even thousands.  Harris & Dawkins also love America, Dawkins from Oxford having observed before the 2004 elections that the Bush policies were anti-America & anti-democracy—which most voters in America failed to recognize or to admit.  I mention Harris & Dawkins because many are over-cautious about “offending the faithful”, but all simultaneously ignore or forget or never comprehended our laws, our Constitution & Bill of Rights or they impose a distorted understanding of our rights, in my view.

Reverting to those “equally logical” instances of dilemmas that you provided, perhaps I should invoke Pascal’s explanation in one of his lengthy letters:  “I have made this letter longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it short”;  indeed the length of my reply to you & Maani may have influenced an editorial rejection, hence I must refrain from an excess of typing.
Essentially, your examples caused me either to conclude that I needed more info or couldn’t recall the necessary info OR what I did recall wasn’t perceived as “difficult” for me to make a choice, influenced ultimately by pragmatic reasons.  And my reiteration that Hentoff, et. al. disseminated misinformation about Schiavo also was a challenge to you—knowing that Terri had been brain-dead ca. 15 yrs (for PVS, though rudimentary, is exemplary of cerebral death, hence the person, Terri, was deceased already when Hentoff, Frist, the parents, GWB, etc. regarded her as being “alive”—against expertise of 19,000 neurologists, against MRI evidence of space where brain tissue should have been & even against the unnecessary autopsy evidence that the brain, above the brain-stem, was absent—not unlike a brain-less or anencephalic newborn infant, I doubt that most people would disagree with the prevailing courts & neurologists while the continuing “controversy” is not knowledge-based but ignorance-based).

I also wonder about your reaction to Sam’s LETTER to a CHRISTIAN NATION; to me the book is 100% truthful, and for truth neither compromise nor denial nor distortion & definitely not rebuttal is acceptable in our REAL world, galaxy, Cosmos or realm of scientific discourse, discovery & consequent knowledge.  I had interpreted your comments re: the Pledge & coins & currency, etc. as deliberate disregard for the First Amendment’s precise & unequivocal wording; although certain
Supreme Ct. decisions have ignored the precision & brilliance of c/s separation for a democracy’s survival, such interpretations do indeed facilitate a “little by little, bit by bit” destruction of “the last best hope of earth” (Lincoln’s immortal re-statement of Jeffferson’s First Innaugural, “the world’s best hope”).  Of course you know such already but rather than insulting I merely mean to remind or even awaken you to the obvious (”[she] who knows & knows not that [she] knows is asleep, wake [her]”.  And Harris,
another American super-patriot w. Kurtz & Dave Koepsell & Tom Flynn, etc. must not be accused of disrespect & bitterness when they emphasize & acknowledge truth, while identifying that “wolf in sheepskin” danger of organized religion (neither atheism nor humanism, to me, is a religion—the essence of their secular domain & the reason democracy will survive if & only if faith is excluded from governance, for faith or unreason or fantasy in the machinery of the state will lead only to retrogressive Dark Age government whereby totalitarian, theocratic, Catholic decrees led to centuries of Crusades & Inquisitions.  But the remedy or change of course, to freethinkers is obvious:  Stop the self-delusion by which, not merely born-again or fundamentalist Christians but also “moderate or liberal” Christians, pretending to uphold science, truth, reason, tech’l advances & progress while they faciltate a triumph of Falwellian or Robertsonian fantasy, nonsense & unreason.

Through 50 years of medical & neurological experience (incl. the 4 yrs of Medical School matriculation), I’ve become ever more convinced of religion’s dangers to individual rights & democracy’s survival & what should be governance of , by & for the people.  Often, when patientts would “thank the Lord” for their recovery or improved health, I’d inquire why they didn’t also or even “only” thank their doctor(s)—not yearning for more approval but to suggest the “here & now” of life’s journey.  Likewise, for physicians claiming the “merits” of intercessory prayer, I can only emphasize their delusions or their deceit by poorly-designed research (as a Duke U. group concluded last year & as docs truly devoted to scientific methodology would always suspect).  Thus pseudo-science needs to be identified if true medical progress is to be made (whereas you may have wondered about a surgeon’s knowledge or expertise or skill or right to appear confident, trust remains a primary essential so I hope you also thanked, if not your doc at leastt “your luck stars” that such expertise was yours to accept, endure, enjoy, appreciate, etc.  I recommend Barbara Smoker’s “Should We Respect Religion?” in the Oct/Nov issue of “Free Inquiry”; she answers “certainly not”, followed by “but should we respect religious people?”  Her answer: “Yes—as long as they’re not antisocial & do not aim to impose their religious views on others”.  Yet, such imposing is the hallmark of both the born again Christians (“always even more of a pain the second time around”), and, as Harris states, moderate or liberal or enlightened or cultural Christains, who by their silence or acceptance or allegiance to imagined God-concepts & sheltered behind the taboo against sectarian criticism, facilitate or augment such impositions—on individual rights via their stealth & blatant & ever-present influences, while ignoring the First Amendment.  Sanctimonious Santorum in typical nonsensical fashion said Kennedy was wrong in his address to the Houston Ministerial Asso. 9/12/1960; but the strict isolation of faith from governing was the unequivocal intent of Madison, Jefferson, et. al. when they insisted on making freedom from religion by government the #1 protectorate of freedom of religion by citizens or freedom of conscience for all.  And any isolation of “matter from art” is primarily an effort of Louis Menard of Harvard among others (see Brian Boyd’s “Exhortation: Getting It All Wrong”, American Scholar, Autumn ‘06 edition).  Yet, in my view, the emphasis on truth, reason & methodology by science is so antithetical to faith-fantasies or God-delusions
that, for sure, “never the twain shall meet”.  I haven’t read THE GOD DELUSION by Dawkins but was pleased to witness on TV the standing ovation he received at Randolph Macon Women’s College last month, when Dawkins lectured on his book then answered multiple questions.  Knowing a God merely satsfies the human yearning for the realm of a divine & hence is not or does not exist, I’m likely to agree w. Dawkins, again 100%.

To Maani, who has commented on the “wide brush” which I’ve applied to religion or to Christians who prompted Harris to reply to their attacks, criticisms, threats, etc., first I must repeat (from my 10/28 reply that wasn’t posted), I’ve “been there, done that”.
Thus Maani & I took opposite paths—from a freethinking home to theism for him and from a religious home to nontheism for me.  Even at 2-3 yrs of age I was skeptical, remaining so when I was “converted” at 13 to a Baptist faith, but only to please my older sisters & an Aunt.  Darwin’s contributions to evolutionary theory convinced me in college that much of the Torah & Bible were mere fable, but transiently I agreed that a God may have permitted evolution, only to abandon that idea when my readings of LDS lit, Fawn Brodie’s NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY, a Biography of Jos. Smith, 2d ed. & a multiplicity of “cop-out” answers about a God by Lutheran & other members of clergy.  In combination w. my experiences w. human behavior, by 1976 I was fully agnostic, then found the best guides for living in the Paul Kurtz publications & in secular humanism.

Again I suspect my reply is too long, but I hope it’ll be posted;
Perhaps the editors will accept my paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm as my preference for bragging (the Psalmist having had an entirely antithetical view):

“The [truth] is my shepherd, I shall not want. /[She] maketh me to lie down in green pastures; [she] leadeth me beside the still waters. [She] restoreth my [will]; [she leadeth me in the paths of [reason] for [her] name’s sake. /Yea though I walk [toward Earth’s promise] of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for [truth] is with me; [her] rod & [her] staff they comfort me. /[She provides] a table before me in the presence of [sectarian tyranny]; [she] anointest my [brain] with [power]; my cup runneth over. /[Hopefully] goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall [be with eternity’s truth] forever”.

And, Joan, perhaps you’ll concur with Jefferson’s consigning to the feminine gender, not only truth’s essence but also her beauty, her pulchritude & her indispensable nature in humankind’s journey.
     
Ever sincere, with Peace, w/o malice and accepting while challenging even all religionists, for “in adoration I cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble myself lower than their despair”; here Gibran comes closer than most to a resolution of science & religion:  “Since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too, should rest in reason & move in passion”.  But any “hereafter” for him was botanical or reincarnation, as confirmed by fossils, etc.  And he had only one answer to his query:  “Does the song of the sea long for the shore or for the hearts of those who hear it?”  As time & space & fossils & DNA & the African origins of H. sapiens confirm, conversion of zoological to botanical remains, in earth & in its vast waters, is the Gibranian, the biochemical, the organic chemical & the anthropological answer, while neurochemistry’s actions are part & parcel of the spontaneity of chemistry in general—not some mystical realm, beyond our massive & seemingly unending Universe, whose outer"margins” are trillions of light years away (I presume the speed of light remains at 186,000 miles/second or thereabout, even w. the newest technologies).

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By Joan, November 15, 2006 at 8:26 am Link to this comment
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Richard,

Well Maani has yet to identify his /her gender. All I know for sure is that Maani is not my offspring. So for now it’s mystery Maani. hopefully Maani will end the suspense.
Re: the command of the Scriptures, I have to give kudos to anyone who memorizes anything as I am not inclined to do so which is why I took up philosophy instead of say biology….
Speaking of John Madden commentary, I always thought that football/baseball was the national religion and we are currently in one of its most sacred seasons. John Madden is of course one of the highest priests. I am being currently overcome by the fervor, as I am not much of a fan. LOL

Joan

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By Richard, November 14, 2006 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment
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Joan:

Yes, we’re all laughing out loud. I thought it was funnier when I addressed Maani as “Peace” because I overlooked the heading. I thought Maani’s writing style was somewhat feminine, or maybe that’s just how I read the touchy-feely stuff he presents. Sorry, I do sometimes see things in stereotypes.

You congratulate Maani on knowing a lot about scripture. I find his comments very folksy; a lot like listening to John Madden comment on a football game. I’ve gotten deeper theological meaning from a Sunday school class taught by a burned out homemaker. When I’m not laughing at the plain folk’s appeal, I’m revolted by the tendency to ignore or revise what he doesn’t like about the scriptures, or to be just plain wrong but not care. We have a special word for that quality—“catholic” (used as an adjective, not a proper noun).

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By Joan, November 14, 2006 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
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Richard,

I had a laugh there…I have no idea who Manni is but he for darn sure know his Scriptures. He’s like a mystery man. Ayway, I believe he is male because if the writing style. And I know he is not kin…I have only brought forth 2 daughters who I perceive to be goddesses, you know… but…Maani and I are unrelated…
As far the Catholic Church and theocracy…this is truly a foreign concept again referring to my ultra Catholic upbringing.  I say this with the caveat that Christianity in virtue of seeing Christ as its head and through Christ ultimately the Father is a theocracy in that very personal sense but not in the sense of earthly politics. The inner workings of the church, your bishops and cardinals etc are run like kingdom of sorts but of course that is all done by personal choice. Other than that I do not understand this theocracy idea…

Joan

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By Richard, November 13, 2006 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment
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Maani:

I apologize for the gender confusion. I don’t know why I assumed I was talking to a lady. One of the blurbs made me think Joan and you were mother and daughter.

If the encyclopedia I referenced is no good, what, then, is the authoritative position of the “One and Only True Church” regarding separation of powers? I suspect it’s still essentially the construct I outlined, and you would have to show otherwise. (I understand you are Evangelical. You seem to be well informed. Please provide the source).

Yes, your stance on the POA is extremely ironic. I am an atheist and a subversive. I sincerely wish to undercut anybody who presumes to coerce me, intimidate me with nonsense, or otherwise treat me like I’m a stupid sheep. I unequivocably pledge allegience to my country. I love the United States of America. We don’t see people piling into boats and walking across miles of desert to illegaly enter Italy, do we now?

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By Joan, November 13, 2006 at 1:29 pm Link to this comment
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Dave and others with similar ideas,


I am still confounded by you and some others who have written similarly disparaging remarks gushing about how great is the America of the Founders and how these dumb- cluck Christians are spoiling it. The overwhelming majority of Americans are and always have been Christians and or connected to God in some manner.  You claim to support America but express such contempt for the majority of Americans, the ones who delivered the spirit of America and the backbone and sweat on which this country is built. These stupid Christians and other believers are our firemen and teachers and ditch diggers and doctors. How can you love America and so despise Americans? Where is the logical consistency in your reasoning? This reasoning implies that a country is not a reflection of its residents. America as much as any nation can be, is a reflection of its people.

You and likeminded souls seem to think that tenets in the Declaration and Bill of Rights surfaced through some pure reasoning process devoid of any cultural perspectives about rightness and wrongness and then you accuse Christians of being the ones of having fantasies and unsupportable beliefs, tacitly implying that this viewpoint of how ideas develop is the epitome of good reasoning and rational analysis undertaken by the Founders. It is not epistemologically feasible to think reasoning is devoid of prior knowledge and understanding, which in this case is knowledge of primal ideas of rightness and wrongness that are agreed upon and invoked to guide the formulation of such documents like the Declaration and the Bill of Rights. New ideas and reasoning are fostered or “parented” with prior roots or concepts. Suggesting otherwise is the fantasy shared by atheists who rabidly deny the pivotal role of Christian values in the inception of our country.

I am absolutely mystified by this logic.

Joan

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By Maani, November 12, 2006 at 8:47 pm Link to this comment
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Richard:

First, just for the record, I am male.  So “she” would not be the proper pronoun for me…LOL

Re your comment about “In Gold We Trust,” I like it!  Indeed, it is rather…ironic to have “God” on currency since the Scripture teaches that one can serve “God or mammon (money), but not both.”

Re the article you cite, methinks you rely FAR too heavily on it.  Firstly, Pohle is only one Catholic theologian.  As well, the Catholic Encyclopedia, from which the article is taken, contains hundreds, if not thousands, of articles by theologians, many of which do not jibe with Pohle’s position (yes, the pun is intended).  Most saliently, the Catholic Encyclopedia does NOT represent the “official” position of the Catholic Church - only the Catechism and various official decrees and bulls represent the official voice of the Catholic Church.  Thus, I reiterate my claim that there is nothing in the Catechism, or in any decree or bull of which I am aware, that indicates that the Catholic Church’s official position is that a theocracy is the best form of government.

Finally, with regard to the POA, and any alleged “ostracism” that might be involved in refusing to say it, it is ironic (to me) that you are concerned about ostracism vis-a-vis the “spiritual” beliefs of children; from the time I was in my double-digits - and throughout most of my life, and later even as a Christian and then a minister - I refused to say the POA for POLITICAL reasons.  And I did so despite the fact that I knew I would be “ostracized” for my POLITICAL views.  Even when I was growing up as an atheist (into my late teens), I had no truck with saying “under God” per se: despite being raised by rabidly atheist parents, I did not see what all the fuss was about.  What I DID have a problem with was that I didn’t support - indeed, in some cases I was mad as hell at - the policies and actions of my government, so I refused to pledge allegiance to it.

I suppose that ostracism of any type - political, spiritual, other - can be difficult, particularly for children.  But to suggest that one type is more egregious than another (if indeed that is what you are tacitly suggesting) is something with which I cannot agree.

Peace.

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By Maani, November 12, 2006 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dr. Dave (may I call you that?  LOL):

I was with you right up until your last comment: “All have been splendidly ridiculed by Sam Harris in LETTER to a CHRISTIAN NATION, but, as you know, the response from these allegedly “loving” folk…has been unwarranted pity or murderous threats or yearnings for Sam’s misery, woe & strife, when his only motive has been to uplift the worldwide human condition.”

Hmmm…where do I start?  LOL.

First, I believe the more intellectually honest statement would have been “...the response from SOME OF these allegedly…”  Instead, you, like Harris and many (even most) of his followers, simply use the “broad brush” to generalize about the faith-based response to Harris’ book.  Yes, some “believers” have betrayed the tenets of their own faith by “wishing Harris ill” (or even dead).  But I am certain that you are intelligent enough to know that there are also plenty of believers (particularly Christians) who either simply ignore Harris’ taunts (i.e., refuse to be provoked in any manner), or who may believe him to be misguided (which is simply their opinion, of course) but nevertheless wish him well and pray for him (and not in a condescending or disingenuous way).

Second, I think it is REALLY stretching it to claim that Harris’ only motive has been to “uplift the worldwide human condition.”  (Indeed, that sounds like a sound bite from FOX News.  LOL).  If that were truly Harris’ “only motive,” then he would not be as extremist, inflammatory and dismissive as he is of people of faith - who, as Joan points out, are a majority of Americans - and, indeed, even a majority of human beings.  Being combative and confrontational with the majority of humanity does not sound like a prescription for “uplifting the worldwide human condition.”

Peace.

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By Joan, November 12, 2006 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My Dear Dave,

Well, mercy me…what a row I’ve caused…‘quick, someone, get me the smelling salts, lest I faint to the floor in a heap of crinolines.’

Yeh… right….

Just a few points…

-credit where credit is due… RE: my editorial in the LA Times…if I make a pitch based on reason, that too is not acceptable…just what kind of religion is atheism? It seems as blind and passionate as you accuse the other more recognized ones of being.

-don’t recall that you ever worked through my challenges to you about resolving moral conflicts that have equally valid resolutions in which I asked what criteria you would weigh in on for resolution. You asked for examples and I took the time to present some. I have checked the post again and still did not find any response.

-of course a majority cannot impose laws that are in conflict with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s one major point of this entire exercise… minority rights in the country are protected not by anyone’s reason per se but by a philosophy that values the rights of all persons no matter their power or wealth, so minority rights are protected…this is a seminal tenet of Christian philosophy and it is a seminal tenet of American political philosophy, WHAT A COINCIDENCE! (with America being populated by a bunch of Christians who had to ratify the Constitution proposed by these few good men, who’d a thunk? ), again, what a coincidence that these two identical philosophies just miraculously converged. It is equally irrational and unsupported to argue that reason alone would protect the rights of the common man from the powerful. “Might makes right.” See Plato’s “Republic”—- justice is the interest of the stronger. Hence the appeal of the philosopher/king whose impeccable reason was   also magically to hold in check man’s baser instincts. Alexander, Aristotle’s student was particularly moved by Plato’s arguments and concerns—- you know trying to conquer the world and all. Our greatest rational thinkers, Plato taught Aristotle who taught Alexander. So there you have a real example of reason prevailing over power, strength and greed. Or, for more examples… Read any newspaper. Read history. Check my post to Richard on 11/1 for an expansion on this.
People seem to think these Founders transcended their own culture and all time and space, living in this bubble of pure reason. In real life, they were following the long evolution of political revolutions past and current, particularly in England and France with all the philosophical political spin the contemporary revolutionaries there were spinning. At the very same time the Founders were immersed in the ether of a historically Christian culture that they used and discarded at will as politicians of all times do as a matter of political expediency. They were men of their times who gave us a wonderful new country but one fraught with their prejudices as much as their acumen. For instance they still compromised all those who were not white males and not landowners. “Remember the Ladies” Abigail entreated her husband, John. How reasonable was that? It certainly was politically marketable though.  So let’s stop deifying them. Perhaps, if our students were required to take more philosophy courses they would better understand the evolution of Western thought and analyze it with more detached expertise.

-other than your sense of entitlement to berate people who do not agree with you, you have me mystified as to what you are trying to communicate. “More matter, less art.” Lady MacBeth. If you want to have a reasonable dialogue with me, please distill your points and make them more cogent and less emotive.  I am not going to take the long, hard slog through your diatribe again. I find your post to be a strange example of high-minded and rational people who claim to have so much a better grip on reason than the rest of us. 

Joan

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By Joan, November 12, 2006 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maani,

Thanks for taking the time to check out my letter. Also had a fee published in the NY Times but no lately.
Joan

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