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Chris Hedges: I Don’t Believe in Atheists

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Posted on May 23, 2007
Chris Hedges
Truthdig / Todd Wilkinson

Chris Hedges reads from his essay at the Truthdig debate “Religion, Politics and the End of the World” on May 22, 2007.

By Chris Hedges

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday night, Chris Hedges and Sam Harris debated “Religion, Politics and the End of the World.” The following is Hedges’ opening statement, in which he argues that Harris and other critics of faith have mistakenly blamed religion for the ills of the world, when the true danger lies in the human heart and its capacity for evil. Click here for full debate coverage.

Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism.  His book is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society.  He attacks superstition, a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe, of the closed society.  He calls this religion.  I do not. 

What he fails to grasp is not simply the meaning of faith—something I will address later—but the supreme importance of the monotheistic traditions in creating the concept of the individual.  This individualism—the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that at times defy the clamor of the tribe or the nation—is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths.  This sense of individual responsibility is coupled with the constant injunctions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity for a deep altruism.  And this laid the foundations for the open society.  This individualism is the central doctrine and most important contribution of monotheism.  We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe.  This empowerment of individual conscience is the starting point of the great ethical systems of our civilization.  The prophets—and here I would include Jesus—helped institutionalize dissent and criticism.  They initiated the separation of powers.  They reminded us that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious life required us to often oppose and defy those in authority.  This is a distinctly anti-tribal outlook.  Immanuel Kant built his ethics upon this radical individualism.  And Kant’s injunction to “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as mere means” runs in a direct line from the Christian Gospels.  Karl Popper rightly pointed out in the first volume of “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” when he writes about this creation of the individual as set against the crowd, that “There is no other thought which has been so powerful in the moral development of man” (P. 102, Vol. 1).  These religions set free the critical powers of humankind.  They broke with the older Greek and Roman traditions that gods and destiny ruled human fate—a belief that when challenged by Socrates saw him condemned to death.  They offered up the possibility that human beings, although limited by circumstances and simple human weaknesses, could shape and give direction to society.  And most important, individuals could give direction to their own lives.

Human communication directly shapes the quality of a culture.  These believers were being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity.  This deity could not be captured in pictures, statues or any concrete, iconographic form.  God exists in the word and through the word, an unprecedented conception in the ancient world that required the highest order of abstract thinking.  “In the beginning,” the Gospel of John reads, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  This is why the second of the Ten Commandments prohibits Israelites from making concrete images of God. “Iconography thus became blasphemy,” Neil Postman writes, “so that a new kind of God could enter a culture.”

God is a human concept.  God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty.  To argue about whether God exists or does not exist is futile.  The question is not whether God exists.  The question is whether we concern ourselves with, or are utterly indifferent to, the sanctity and ultimate transcendence of human existence.  God is that mysterious force—and you can give it many names as other religions do—which works upon us and through us to seek and achieve truth, beauty and goodness.  God is perhaps best understood as our ultimate concern, that in which we should place our highest hopes, confidence and trust.  In Exodus God says, by way of identification, “I am that I am.”  It is probably more accurately translated: “I will be what I will be.”  God is better understood as verb rather than a noun.  God is not an asserted existence but a process accomplishing itself.  And God is inescapable.  It is the life force that sustains, transforms and defines all existence.  The name of God is laden, thanks to our religious institutions and the numerous tyrants, charlatans and demagogues these institutions produced, with so much baggage and imagery that it is hard for us to see the intent behind the concept.  All societies and cultures have struggled to give words to describe these forces.  It is why Freud avoided writing about the phenomenon of love.
 
Faith allows us to trust, rather, in human compassion, even in a cruel and morally neutral universe.  This is not faith in magic, not faith in church doctrine or church hierarchy, but faith in simple human kindness.  It is only by holding on to the sanctity of each individual, each human life, only by placing our faith in the tiny, insignificant acts of compassion and kindness, that we survive as a community and as a human being.  And these small acts of kindness are deeply feared and subversive to institutional religious and political authorities.  The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman wrote in “Life and Fate”:

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I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man.  The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality.  It can never be conquered.  The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is.  Evil is impotent before it.  The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it.  This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning.

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil.  It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.  But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.


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By jonathan, May 27, 2007 at 12:00 am Link to this comment

Another analysis of a Christian fallacy for Chris Hedges.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Writers of the Bible inserted, that the number of the beast (Anti Christ) is 666.
In so doing they created the most mysterious definition of the Anti Christ.
Mankind has inquisitively pondered over this mystery for 2,000 years.
In doing analysis and research I came to one conclusion – 666 can be contrived and be concocted as the identity of several persons, in several ways but (still mysterious) with out any proof whatsoever.
Here however is the “true version” as presented in the King James Bible.
In - 1st KINGS CHAPTER 10 VERSE 14 it says; Now the weight of Gold that came to King Solomon, in one year’s taxes was Six Hundred and three score (twenty per/score) and Six Talents of Gold. ( This totals 666) six hundred + 60 + 6
There is no mention here of any beast or Anti Christ and there is no mystery about this verse. It is clear that 666 talents of Gold are just that ! < 666 > there is no such person.
The number must have been selected at random – there is no such person.
Therefore; we can dismiss the search for a person with the number 666 - like many other mysterious verses in the bible, the writers merely sought to mystify
the identity of the Anti Christ (there is no other worthwhile explanation).

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 11:59 pm Link to this comment

Thank you, Archeon. That is a far cry from the sign-off statements you and Trish made concerning my motives and comments on a separate article on a similar topic. I genuinely hope you are sincere in your current and apparently positive assessment of the sincerity of my motives and beliefs.

I do believe in the universality of God and His/Her accessibility to all humankind. I cannot accept the exclusivity of mere belief systems constructed of humanly generated dogma as valid spiritual paths. To my thinking, this description of religion is fundamentalism. As I have clearly indicated in my commentary on both articles, I believe fundamentalism is the great evil, and religious fundamentalism is indeed a great danger to all humankind. I believe most of us who have stayed with these discussions do find that to be a strong point of agreement.

I believe that in this vast universe there are likely other planets, perhaps too distant for communications with us, that have evolved organisms with human-level intelligence. So who was their Savior? Was it Jesus Christ running around and incarnating on different planets? I have my strong doubts, to put it quite mildly.

This will likely bother atheists here, but I want to use an example arbitrarily chosen from Christianity. St. Paul in the Christian New Testament states that “Christ was crucified even before the foundation of the world (‘cosmos’ in the original Greek).” Now most Christians interpret that as meaning Jesus was simply DESTINED to be crucified before the foundation of the cosmos. I think the significance is much deeper.

We can understand the metaphor of Jesus’ crucifixion as some more thoughtful Christians do, namely that we must identify our small, egocentric, selfish minds with Jesus’ death and then identify with Jesus’ resurrection to a new and expanded existence that rejects the pettiness of our previous small-minded, selfish existence. In this light, St. Paul’s statement can be taken to mean that Jesus merely manifested and acted out at a specific place and time a timeless, eternal truth. That truth is that spiritual growth requires us to relinquish our pettiness and identify ourselves with a much grander perspective on the nature and purpose of our lives, serving the interests of others rather than perpetuating our collectively negative, petty self-preoccupation from which we all suffer abuse in one way or the other.

Literal-minded fundamentalists would see this as blasphemy, but I rather think that this may well be what St. Paul actually meant. Metaphorical thinking and expression were a social habit in his day. It is not today, so in my view, such misinterpretation is almost inevitable. And so it is with the scriptures of any religion.

I personally don’t care much about the petty specifics of each religion. I find the same fundamental principles allegorically buried in them no matter whether it’s Taoism, Hinduism, Bhuddism, Judaism, or Christianity. Never mind the parochial, chauvinistic components. The deep allegorical significance of them all are inexplicably parallel unless you believe that they all have at least a significant basis in reality.

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By jonathan, May 26, 2007 at 11:49 pm Link to this comment

Here is proof that Chris Hedges denies the fallacies of the Christian religion.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
                       
  I read in the “Bible” that “Nimrod” son of Kush (an Atheist) married his mother “Semiramis” in order to rule the kingdom. Nimrod was assassinated by his uncle a believer of the Jewish “Yahweh-God-Jehovah” for claiming to be a “Sun God”.
Nimrod was historically placed among the stars as “Orion” (in the constellation of Orion the Great Hunter) as the “Sun God BaaL.”
Nimrod’s wife & mother Semiramis, assumed the throne (in old Iraq).
Claiming to have been dropped from heaven into the “Euphrates” river in the form of an egg - Semiramis was worshiped as a Goddess and became known as “The Queen of Heaven.” Jeremiah chap 44 verse 15 thru 19 and 25 says; As for the words that you have spoken to us in the name of Yahweh-God-Jehovah, we will not listen to you – but we will certainly do whatever goes from our “mind and mouth” to burn incense to “The Queen of Heaven” and offerings to her, as we have done, in the cities of Judah and in Jerusalem.
At the Spring Festival in April they celebrated “Spring Fertility” worshiping “Semiramis” as “The Queen of Heaven” with prayers, offerings & sacrifices.

That is the origin of the Easter bunny and the Easter eggs. Supposedly Semiramis ascended to heaven and became “the Moon” and the populace worshiped the Moon. The Pesach (passover) occurs in the Spring, it is referred in the Torah as “Chag He Aviv” the “Festival of Spring”.
Ref. The Jewish Festival of the June Moon.
That is why millions of Atheists as well as millions of Christians celebrate “Easter Sunday.”  (eggs & bunnies – have nothing whatever to do with the Crucifixion)
Ref.  Rev. chap. 1 verse 20 says; The seven stars of “Orion” (in the constellation of “Orion”) are the angels of the seven churches.

Strange and bizarre that “Christianity” is based on two of the greatest fables ever devised by mankind – Christmas and Easter. .

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By jonathan, May 26, 2007 at 11:30 pm Link to this comment

Either Chris Hedges has not read the following bible scriptures or he deliberately ignores what is written in the KJV bible.
I seriously doubt that he truly beleives his own ravings.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
American Finances are “managed and controlled” by the auspices, of the Federal Reserve Board, “The Lion” of the tribe of Judah, the “Treasures of Zion.” That, makes American Government, a “Religious Theocracy.” (There is no greater truth, on earth) “The Jewish coalition “Israel Public Affairs Committee” is dedicated to build a “United Israel” in the United States of America..
For what other purpose?  did Moses, King David, King Solomon, and Yahweh-God-Jehovah, need,  “The Treasures of Zion.”
Bible says; King Saul, killed his thousands, and King David killed his “tens of thousands” because they would not believe; and the “Twelve tribes” were chanting songs and dancing in the streets, singing; Saul hath killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands. To the point where King Saul became jealous and began to persecute the king to be; King David.
1st Samuel chapter 29 verse 5 says; Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying; Saul slew his thousands, and David his tens of thousands ?
Ecclesiastes chapter 10 verse 19 says; A feast is made for laughter, wine to make merry, but Money is the answer to all things.
Isaiah chap 44 verse 10 says; Who hath formed a God or molten a graven image (of a god) that is profitable for nothing? 
Yahweh-God-Jehovah is a fearsome God!  Exempts himself from his own rules!
When the Hebrews were freed and left Egypt they began to disbelieve Moses; they melted their gold jewelry and made a God statue, of a Golden Bull. Fashioned after “Adi” the Lord Bull,  Hindu Lord God of Wealth. In modern days, in their Synagogues, Jews pray to “Adonai” and to “Hashem” because they were like Saints, devoted to Yahweh-God-Jehovah.
Hebrews have two “Patron Spirits” their names are, Golem and Guhulam.
Ancients called Hebrews the “People of the Book” ‑ the “Golden Calf People.” (Abraham’s Jewish religion)
The word “Ibru”, in Egyptian, means Slave. (from there, the word Hebrew)
The word Yahweh means God, just like the word Jehovah means God. The word Yahweh or YWHW was so revered and so Holy – that it could not be uttered or spoken – because
Yahweh-God-Jehovah – supposedly, is the God of all armies.

John chapter 1 verse 1 says; In the beginning, it was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.
From Nothing ! it was/is just the letters YHWH or Yahweh.

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By archeon of thrace, May 26, 2007 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment

And still those proposing god avoid answering the question: Can the god of abraham exist?  They consistently say: “A god could exist, and you can’t prove god is impossible”.  This is a statement I agree with, yet it does nothing to satisfy the deep misgivings I have about the claims of the christian churches, the jewish synagogues, and islamic mosques.  Claims that are based on texts we can examine, claims that can be cross examined, tested, and in the end must be dismissed as superstition, and are assumptions based on nothing.

When we are asked: “do you believe in god?”  we must answer according to what the questioner defines as god.  The pope would have a far different definition and understanding of god than Straighty.  So in a scence my answers to either of them would differ.  I can say without hesitation that I don’t believe in the god of the pope, I can even say that the god of the pope does NOT exist.  The same i cannot say of Straighties god, because the parameters of his god definition (at least as I understand his god) are so broad that a god is possible.

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 11:04 pm Link to this comment

“Could it also be said that the consciousness of someone who suffers from insane delusions is likewise a primary property of the cosmos?  If so, then I think we can also agree that “knowledge” of the existence of god is the product of insane delusions, but is nevertheless correct, in the mind of one who suffers from insane delusions.”
- Lefty

Where are the critiques of my reasoning here? There are only arbitrary statements and assumptions that “we can also agree…product of insane delusions”. Oh, so who can agree and specifically WHY do they agree? Just more “I’m right because I’m right” goofiness? How can anyone who claims rationality have the gall to call someone else irrational and put out stuff like this? It’s patently absurd to anyone who really can reason.

As to the one request that I identify whether I’m a pantheist, etc. in order to lend more coherence to the discussion, I see little chance of that given the responses I’m getting so far. I just see atheists agreeing and patting each other on the back for simply stating positions and stating opposition unsupported by anything approaching coherent reasoning processes.

So why should I put a label on myself so you can make all kinds of goofball assumptions about what I believe based on the label and confuse things even more by adding to the already ubiquitous goofball assumptions about what I believe? I have stated clearly what I believe, and if you find it incomprehensible, look to yourselves for what underlies that. Labels would add nothing productive, but only erroneously pigeonhole me for you.

I will give you one label and one label only, which is already clearly implied by my previous coments. I am a theist. That means I believe in a Supreme Intelligence at the basis of all existence. I believe S/He is a conscious, intelligent being. I believe that His/Her consciousness corresponds to the body of the cosmos just as we associate our individual awareness with our physical bodies. I call Him/Her by the traditional nomenclature, namely God.

I don’t give a whit about the flaws in Abrahamic scriptures and do not depend on them for my understanding of God. There are many things in those scriptures that ring true to my experience of God, but there is also much that is quite parochial, chauvinistic, and simply unacceptable in any literal sense. Much is metaphorical and misunderstood by most organized religions, most especially the religious right, which I think we can all agree is pitifully ignorant, literal-minded, and pinheaded.

I’m a religious maverick, but to say that because there are a lot of jerks in the world who believe stupid things about God is no indication that a Supreme Intelligence we can legitimately call an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God does not exist. If you’re going to insist on defining God narrowly and say he is anthropomorphic, meaning humanlike in appearance, and that He lives in a literal place called heaven somewhere out there in physical space, then I’m an atheist, too.

I absolutely do not believe in that God. But I feel love for my God and feel His/Her love for me. We communicate on that level, not with speech, but consciously on the level of feeling, thought, and consciousness. If all of you atheists think that is insane delusion, so be it!

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 10:26 pm Link to this comment

“...your supposition that “consciousness might be a primary property of the cosmos,” is meaningless nonsense.”
- Lefty

I will respond to this brief little quote because it sums up comments from several others. You do not address why it is meaningless nonsense. Is it meaningless just because you affirm it is? That’s precisely what you accuse me of doing. Can’t you do better than that?  Your accusations so far are simply unsupported classical projection.

Define consciousness and prove it exists. What if I tell you I’m not conscious. I’m an automaton who has no idea what I’m saying or writing. I represent such an amazing level of artificial intelligence that I’m able to fool all of you by providing pseudo-evidence of my consciousness.

Refute that logically. Then use that same logic to refute that consciousness and intelligence are not primary attributes of the cosmos. Can you define awareness for me without circular definitions? Can you even define time and space without circular definitions?

So why is stating that consciousness is a primary attribute of existence itself meaningless while saying that four-dimensional space-time curvature is a primary attribute of matter is meaningful? Be specific. I’m tired of emotional pseudo-logic and rationally unsupported sophism.

Don’t you know that you cannot describe the cosmos adequately without a priori, axiomatic fundamentals? They are at the basis of all further reasoning concerning their practical implications, but they are beyond logic and reason. So I’m just proposing that consciousness as an attribute of existence itself is axiomatic, just like any other fundamental axiom. Now you tell my WHY you think it’s not, NOT THAT you thing it’s not. That’s the kind of worthless “drivel” of which you have accused me.

Evolutionary theory fascinates me and I love to stay abreast as much as time permits. I once attended a lecture/demonstration at a major university presented by an astro-biochemist who was taking pretty much the new position now dominant in his field regarding the origin of life. That is to say, he didn’t hew to the old paradigm of life happening incredibly rarely, in line with Gamov’s example of billions of monkeys typing randomly for billions of years finally reproducing somewhere in the midst of all their random garbage the complete works of Shakespeare.

Instead he subscribes to the more current idea that natural law is so structured that life will appear just about anywhere conditions provide the slightest chance for it to do so. However, while he brewed his chemicals live right in front of us to produce the precursors of life, he kept talking about how this or that physical or chemical law combined with others in a “fortuitous accident” of confluent natural laws to produce the chain of events that could ultimately initiate simple living organisms from non-living material.

He repeated this phrase so often that I eventually asked him how long his chain of “fortuitous accidents” had to be in terms of the confluence and coordination of natural laws, from the Big Bang to the appearance of life, before he quit calling them fortuitous accidents. He was apparently an atheist, and probably thought I was a creationist. He did not like the question at all, but could not answer it.

Some of you make large claims to rationality while you fail to demonstrate your claims in your responses. Quite the opposite. You do not show any clear chain of reasoning to refute what I say. You just make unsupported statements concerning the irrationality of what I’m saying. How is that productive? It only says, “I believe what I say is rational because I have predefined what I believe as rational. I have also predefined what you believe as irrational. So there, Straight_talk. How do you like them apples?” You’re just going around in circles while you accuse me of precisely that. Too bad!

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By Hope, May 26, 2007 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mark, Max, Ted and Other Readers,

I’ve learned through cyberspace dustups that it’s best to remain anonymous when posting in these venues.  But since you’re curious and have shared bio tidbits, I’ll say that I’m a college dropout who fell through the interstitial spaces of academia and USA Inc. many decades ago.  I work as a day laborer, “support staff” to intellectuals, including some with enough humility to realize how little they know.  When I’m not earning my daily bread as a member of this country’s class of working poor, I read, write, enjoy the piano, art and nature, and do what I can to educate myself, revise and strengthen my epistemological and ontological roadmaps, and help where I can.  When I retire, which I hope will be soon, I plan to writebooks on hermeneutics.  J/K

Mark, thank you for your response.  I liked your post because I thought you were trying to get people to think, rather than to treat the theist/anti-theist discussion as if it were a football game.  It worries me a bit that some of the anti folks talk as if they may have found their own priestly spokesmen to whom they can “outsource their thinking.”  But I won’t continue in this vein, lest people think we’ve formed a mutual admiration society. 

Further, I see no point in pursuing the tooth fairy line of inquiry.  We both know that tooth fairies don’t exist.  This does not mean, however, that cats are incapable of playing the piano.  Please see http://www.ravenswingstudio.com, recently featured on the AOL home page.  Nora actually plays the piano, not as well as Joel Fan, but not bad for a feline.  Non-sequitur?  Maybe.

Max, I suppose everyone has a political agenda, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Convention and so on.  Hitchens may writefaster than I read, so it’s difficult to keep up with his irreverent takes on religionists, but he seems to treat all religions with equal disdain.  I admire him for trying to debunk destructive beliefs and practices in organized religion, whether he’s railing against the deceased Ayatollah who placed a fatwa on Rushdie (something that liberal Western clerics and parishioners were not particularly vocal in opposing) or saying what he thinks of fundamentalist preachers in this country or religious fanatics in Israel.  Hedges does the same thing in American Fascists, exposing the dogmatism, blind belief and stupidities of the religious right.

Unlike Hitchens, I don’t think religion per se is the problem.  As people learn more, or humanity evolves, barbarism of all kinds recedes from human institutions. 

Ted, I read some interesting neuroscience commentary by Steven Pinker on http://www.edge.org.  The site also links to Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford.  If Harris wants to explore some of the less ethically refined practices that can take place in science labs, perhaps he should visit Stanford’s own Dr. Phil.

Thanks for the discussions, everyone.  I’m checking out now.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hope

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By Jason, May 26, 2007 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment

#72819 by Max Shields on 5/25 at 5:36 pm
(48 comments total)

#72808 by Jason on 5/25 at 4:16 pm
(2 comments total)

You can’t be a fundamentalist without a holy text.  Atheism doesn’t have a holy text, therefore someone can’t be a fundamentalist simply by virtue of being an atheist.

Jason,

And to what source to attribute this statement?

I learned that definition of fundamentalism from James R. Muir, D. Phil (Oxford).

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By Ted Swart, May 26, 2007 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment

Mark Colby #73070
You say with refernece to the contributor Hope;

“8. Who are you?  Your erudite post has piqued my curiosity.”

What can I say.  Me too.

And this curiosity applies to others like archeon of thrace. 

We know that you are an atheist philosophy professor with liberal politica leanings but we know very little about most of the others.

I have described myself as a radical agnostic pantheist and I can add that I am a retired university professor with a D.Sc. in physical chemistry—who taught and researched in physical chemistry for about 20 years.  I then re-tooled and ended up with a Ph.D in the interface between mathematics and computer science and had another 20 years in this arena. Long story.  Incidentally I can agree with you that students making the transitionn from high sachool to univeristy are all too often very ill prepared.

Am now retired with my wife of 49 years and have 4 children—three girls and a boy with the last two being twins.  The girl twin is a family physician and her twin brother has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Our granchildren count is 6 with a 7th on the way.

Am not sure why so many contributors travel under fictitious nom de plumes but I have learnt to my dismay that many atheists in America are scorned and deliberately discriminated against and that may be part of the reason. I don’t think I am either a liberal or a conservative —some sort of mixture—but I am definitely against political correctness gone worng. Someone like Steven Pinker is more my cup of tea.

Like you I don’t agree with everything that Sam Harris says but I also agree that there is much substance in what he writes as is the case with Richard Dawkins.

Thanks so much for your sober civilized and well thought out contributions to this discussion.

. . Ted . .

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By Jim H., May 26, 2007 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re: Hope

God is the ‘Godist’ Charlatan’s
‘lollipop’ for the innocent child
    he is about to rape!

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 5:27 pm Link to this comment

Hope,

Here’s the rest of my reply.  (The word limit here is very inconvenient.)

5. “However, since reading the End of Faith and its argument concerning torture in a hypothetical ticking nuclear bomb scenario, I don’t think I’ll be looking to Harris for evidence of intellectual rigor or ethical culture building.  I know he means well and is appalled by a world full of suffering, but I think his ends-justify-means rationalization for torture is deficient in intellect and common decency.”

Well, no one is perfect!  Harris’ arguments have their strengths and weaknesses, like anyone else’s.  The question, for me, is this: what remains cogent in his critique of religion once we remove his deficient thinking about torture?  My answer would be: very much.

6. “David Lubar refutes similar arguments in an article titled “Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb,” originally published in the Virginia Law Review and reprinted in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s Magazine.”

I read this article and agree with it. (Besides being an atheist, I’m also a liberal.)

7. Thanks for your other references.

8. Who are you?  Your erudite post has piqued my curiosity.

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By Ted Swart, May 26, 2007 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

One thing has become abundantly clear to me. This debate is getting nowhere fast. Some contributors lik Mark Colby, Hope and Canadian atheist make a good deal of sense. Others seem to be what can only be described as spoilers. And all of us (apart from those who had the opportunity to attend the actual debate) are handicapped by having so little information.
We don’t even know what Hedges actually believes.  He does not talk like an orthodox Christian—in many ways—but nevertheless, when push comes ot shove, he does seem to believe in some kind of Abrahamic God.
Unless and until Truthdig provides us with more material it will be increasingly difficult to hold a sensible discussion.

Can we all at least agree that we urgently need more information.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment

Hope,

Thanks for the compliment about my politeness.  Sometimes it’s difficult.  As for your points:

1. “My understanding of logic may be deficient, but I think the third statement indicates that God exists as a transcendent reality, both beyond and on the level of human existence, reaching it and causing us to seek and achieve.  Granted, Hedges doesn’t say whether or not the mysterious force is of the same nature as the God of Abrahamic tradition, but I think he’s saying that God is a force (“I AM that I AM”) that underlies all spiritual traditions.

I’m sure that this is his meaning.

2. “The first two statements seem to be saying what a human does and believes in response to the mysterious force acting upon us.  I think that’s looking at the same God from different standpoints.”

One would have to be quite charitable to Hedges.  A claim like “God is a human concept” could have been taken right out of Feuerbach, Marx or Freud, atheists all.  In the context of a debate about religion and, given his own defense of religion, Hedges should have taken far more care to make his meaning clear if he wished maximum sympathy from his audience.

The same is true for his second claim, “God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty.”  This claim invites confusion in a different way as well.  Assuming that Hedges is an Abrahamic theist, this claim really means that we have a belief that life has meaning, and since God exists, our belief that life has meaning is true.  But this is certainly disputable, and perhaps fallacious depending on how one reconstructs Hedges’ reasoning: an atheist or Buddhist could believe that life has meaning but deny that God exists.  Moreover, the claim is factually false.  In common usage, the word “God” refers to an entity; it has a referential use.  The belief that life has meaning is a normative one, and I find it hard to believe that any theist uses the word “God” to refer only to a belief about life.

3. “I don’t think it’s possible for people of faith to present evidence that God exists, but that does not mean that faith in a transcendent reality beyond the human is the equivalent of belief in the tooth fairy, as some atheists here suggest.”

Sorry to disagree, but I disagree since there are evidential arguments, like the argument from design, that God exists.  (If you mean “faith” as excluding reason, though, then I agree.)  But why is faith in a transcendental reality not equivalent to belief in the tooth fairy?  I can think of several reasons why tooth fairies are more plausible than belief in a transcendental reality.  If there were such an entity, a tooth fairy presumably would exist in our reality, as would elves, leprechauns, and werewolves, and we have overwhelming evidence that at least one reality—our natural reality of space and time—does exist.  But there is no such evidence for the existence of another reality altogether, whether transcendental or not.  So, depending on how one describes the nature and living arrangements of tooth fairies, it could be more plausible to believe in them than in another reality.

4. “I also think that the newly formed quartet of popular atheists—Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens—are making constructive contributions to intellectual inquiry by confronting people with commonly accepted views of reality, or consensus reality, and urging them to question their ideas and beliefs.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

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By Max Shields, May 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment

Mark,

I think we will have to agree to disagree (at least I hope we can agree on that). I still think it works as much against Hedges as for him to only have his preamble posted and nothing from Harris.

May be Harris makes your case. May be the full debate allowed Hedges to refine his thinking and reason to meet your standards (I suspect many who attend these see it as sport and they’ve pretty much picked their “guy”).

For me the embodied mind is always emerging and that includes our world view, science, our spiritual sensability and understanding. Pure logic and reasoning have an essential role (though all too frequently missing in our national and private discouse); but like all good things they can be taken to extreme.

I haven’t heard your case for atheism as much as your arguments against Hedges.

Anyway, thanks for putting your thoughts together to respond to mine.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment

Max,

Here’s the rest of my reply.

6. “What I would add, Mark, are some of the statements, and in particular one, that Hedges makes about Harris (from one of the latter’s books). This is not purely about “atheism/theism”. This is as much about the positions these fellows (and particularly Harris who has made a living on this topic) have posited.”

I agree that it’s not purely about atheism and theism.  I just focused on his arguments about God because they interested me and were obviously fallacious.

What does Harris’ making a living on this topic have to do with anything?

7. “Point, Hedges claims “...externalization of evil is what allows Sam to endorse torture. He, of course, deludes himself into believing that it is reason that requires us to waterboard detainees in the physical and moral black holes we have set up to make them disappear. He quotes Alan Dershowitz…to trot out the absurd notion of a ticking time bomb, the idea that we know a terrorist has planted a large bomb in the center…”

What would be the significance of this claim if there were no God?  Wouldn’t we have to conceptualize evil as purely human?

By the way, I disagree with Harris about torture and some other claims he makes. 

8. “At issue here is the subtext of this encounter (debate). This is not simply about a person holding the belief that there is no God, but a rationale that Mr. Harris has leveed to target Islam in particular. We can argue the politics, but I’ve heard Harris talk, and he has a political agenda. That agenda is as much on the table as his atheism.”

Sure, but I have little interest in his political agenda.  This is why I focused on Hedges’ argument about God.

9. “I think those of you who are atheist may hold an entirely different view of this matter (at least I hope so).”

Probably.  But I would argue that it is impossible to evaluate religions’ nature and role in human life without addressing their ontological claims, their claims about the nature of reality.  If those claims are false, then the grounding that religions contend they have for their moral claims is negated.  This would change how we understand those moral claims.

10. “Again we do not have the full record, his rebuttal, etc., but having heard Harris in the past Hedges remarks seem credible. You may want to go back to the convenience of the chess match; but I’m more interested in the substance of the discussion - the fullness of the debate - of which we only have a small fraction.”

Again, I’ve based my evaluation only on what was posted here.

11. “These kinds of debates, Mark, are not academically structured, so you may be disappointed in its imperfections.”

This sounds like you’re subtly accusing me of having an unfairly high standard because I’m an academic.  If so, I disagree.  Hedges’ arguments about God are defective by the only standard that can claim to be universal—that of logic.  As I said below to someone else, I believe, it harms the mind if anything but the highest standard is respected at all times.  A debate ought to be seen as an occasion for collective learning by the public, not just about how the disputing parties see the issue over which they’re disputing, but also about how to think about the business of thinking in search of the truth.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

Max,

1. “As to your point on debate and its implications, my understanding is this was his preamble or opening remarks, prior to statements/rebuttals.”

Then his opening remarks should have been more carefully reasoned, especially if they were written beforehand, as I think was the case.

2. “I would rather concentrate on substance than the etiquette of the debate itself since I wasn’t there to experience it. (I must admit, Mark, I feel like I’ve already explained this.)”

I’m not sure what you mean by “substance.”  What I mean is the content, the actual statements made and defended.  I’m judging Hedges only on what was posted.  As for etiquette, if you mean how one conducts oneself in a debate, I believe that one ought to conduct oneself with maximum rigor and clarity in order to minimize the risk of manipulating the audience.  (This is why I objected to eloquence below.)

3. “But you disagree with Hedges’ premise. So, it sounds a bit disingenuous to be making this case.”

He’s under an intellectual obligation to make his case as cogently as he can.  I just focused on several flaws in his case about God.  I don’t see what’s disingenuous about my claim.

4. “I didn’t say it was private; but it is a belief system nonetheless.”

I know you didn’t say it was private.  I added the word to strengthen the contrast between any individual’s belief system and the public nature of the rules of logic.  This makes it harder for readers to dismiss my criticisms as merely my subjective preferences as reflected in my belief system.  Of course I have a belief system, but if I’m right about the flaws in Hedges’ arguments about God as discerned by logical analysis, my belief system drops out as irrelevant to the merits or demerits of his arguments.

5. “Since, once again, this is the preamble and not the “debate” we are left with an incomplete picture. It is fair to say that Harris’ and Hedges’ statements and rebuttals are required to really begin to discuss this in debatting terms. We’ll see if that happens. Until then I think your arguments, here, are far to premature.”

I disagree.  I’m criticizing Hedges’ self-contained preamble.  (Maybe I should have been clearer.)  But I believe that a preamble is part of the debate since it provides the framework for the ideas presented in the debate proper.  If there are flaws in that framework, they are transmitted to the debate proper.  If I had a transcriptof the debate proper, I could try to defend this claim.

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By Max Shields, May 26, 2007 at 4:35 pm Link to this comment

#73051 by Hope on 5/26 at 3:14 pm

Hope, I think you’ve pretty well covered my argument. I would add as I recently stated that some of this quartet have sharp political agendas which cannot be ignored. I’m speaking mostly of Hitchens who has said the most damning things about Islam and the people in the Middle East, and the torture issue with Harris. I do not question their intellectual integrity, but I’m deeply disturbed by what they do with it.

Dennett is a cognitivist (though extremely bright with academically top notch credentials) who holds perplexing views on human consciousness utilizing artifical intelligence. These models are less in vogue.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment

Worths1,

Hello.  Here’s what I think.

1. “Do you equate truth and fact? Or do you appreciate the notion of truth contained in metaphor?”

Yes, a fact is a true statement.  There is no such thing as a false fact.  Metaphors may contain truths, but in order to know what truths they contain, the metaphor must be given a literal meaning so that its content can be analyzed and evaluated.  The problem with all metaphors insofar as the goal of truth is concerned is that metaphors are by definition vague and suggestive.  People often use this vagueness to mask their own confused thinking.  One reason why science is so progressive is that it excludes metaphors.

2. “I have acquired a level of comfort with the metaphorical (or you can call it “fuzzy”) concept of “God” because at present I have no better understanding of transcendence.”

I understand, but metaphors don’t tell us enough about what’s being described by the metaphor for us to be able to evaluate the metaphor to determine whether it has any truth and what truth it has, if any.  The problem is that metaphorical vagueness makes it impossible to distinguish between two different scenarios: (1) transcendence is real but cannot be described by literal language, or (2) transcendence is entirely illusory, no matter how it is described.  If the goal is truth, vagueness prevents us from knowing whether (1) or (2) is true.  Both can’t be true.  The same problem arises about metaphorical descriptions of God.

3. “I suspect you don’t like this idea of fuzzy concepts or the concomitant imprecision in defining terms.”

“Fuzzy” concepts are better than no concepts at all, but precise concepts are best of all because they allow maxium possible clarity.

4. “But, I still don’t get why religion, as described by Hedges, is threatening to you. He would tear down the parts of religion you decry. Why not accept that and agree to disagree about the rest?”

It’s “threatening” to me only in the sense that any poor or invalid thinking about reality is threatening.  I believe that mankind should free itself from all error, illusion, delusion, and superstition as much as possible.

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By Hope, May 26, 2007 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The Greeks invented logic but were not fooled by it.”  Eric Hoffer

To Mark Colby

Thank you for your efforts to elucidate the need for logic and logical consistency in debate and for remaining polite throughout this thread.  Like a few others here, I was impressed by the eloquence and spirit of Hedges’ opening statement, and I do not think the following remarks about God are necessarily contradictory.  You wrote that Hedges said:

“God is a human concept.”

“God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty.”

“God is that mysterious force—and you can give it many names as other religions do—which works upon us and through us to seek and achieve truth, beauty and goodness.”

My understanding of logic may be deficient, but I think the third statement indicates that God exists as a transcendent reality, both beyond and on the level of human existence, reaching it and causing us to seek and achieve.  Granted, Hedges doesn’t say whether or not the mysterious force is of the same nature as the God of Abrahamic tradition, but I think he’s saying that God is a force (“I AM that I AM”) that underlies all spiritual traditions.

The first two statements seem to be saying what a human does and believes in response to the mysterious force acting upon us.  I think that’s looking at the same God from different standpoints.

I don’t think it’s possible for people of faith to present evidence that God exists, but that does not mean that faith in a transcendent reality beyond the human is the equivalent of belief in the tooth fairy, as some atheists here suggest. 

I also think that the newly formed quartet of popular atheists—Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens—are making constructive contributions to intellectual inquiry by confronting people with commonly accepted views of reality, or consensus reality, and urging them to question their ideas and beliefs. 

However, since reading the End of Faith and its argument concerning torture in a hypothetical ticking nuclear bomb scenario, I don’t think I’ll be looking to Harris for evidence of intellectual rigor or ethical culture building.  I know he means well and is appalled by a world full of suffering, but I think his ends-justify-means rationalization for torture is deficient in intellect and common decency.

David Lubar refutes similar arguments in an article titled “Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb,” originally published in the Virginia Law Review and reprinted in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

I want to express my thanks to Truth Dig for sponsoring the debate and publishing commentary here.  I cited a couple of books here the other day, but that thread seems to have disappeared.  Others who are interested in the relationship between science and faith might want to read:

http://www.harvardmagazine.com/2007/05/twin-passions.html

Also relevant, a book by Richard E. Rubenstein:
Aristotle’s Children—How Christians, Muslims and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages.

Thanks again, Mark Colby, for generating more light than heat.

Hope

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By Max Shields, May 26, 2007 at 3:51 pm Link to this comment

#73011 by Mark Colby on 5/26 at 12:37 pm


“Hedges presented himself as debating Harris; the term “debate” implies the presence of reasoning and invites the debaters to be judged on how well they reason.” 

As to your point on debate and its implications, my understanding is this was his preamble or opening remarks, prior to statements/rebuttals.

I would rather concentrate on substance than the etiquette of the debate itself since I wasn’t there to experience it. (I must admit, Mark, I feel like I’ve already explained this.)


“And if Hedges can’t convince anyone on the strength of his arguments to adopt his position over Harris’, what’s the point of his debating Harris?”

But you disagree with Hedges’ premise. So, it sounds a bit disingenuous to be making this case.

“It’s not that I have my own private belief system and that I arbitrarily favor it over any other.”

I didn’t say it was private; but it is a belief system nonetheless.

“Anyway, Hedges is certainly intelligent enough to engage in debate in a way that combines eloquence with logical rigor.  As I argued in my post below, I found 7 major flaws in his reasoning.”

Since, once again, this is the preamble and not the “debate” we are left with an incomplete picture. It is fair to say that Harris’ and Hedges’ statements and rebuttals are required to really begin to discuss this in debatting terms. We’ll see if that happens. Until then I think your arguments, here, are far to premature.

What I would add, Mark, are some of the statements, and in particular one, that Hedges makes about Harris (from one of the latter’s books). This is not purely about “atheism/theism”. This is as much about the positions these fellows (and particularly Harris who has made a living on this topic) have posited.

Point, Hedges claims “...externalization of evil is what allows Sam to endorse torture. He, of course, deludes himself into believing that it is reason that requires us to waterboard detainees in the physical and moral black holes we have set up to make them disappear. He quotes Alan Dershowitz…to trot out the absurd notion of a ticking time bomb, the idea that we know a terrorist has planted a large bomb in the center…”

At issue here is the subtext of this encounter (debate). This is not simply about a person holding the belief that there is no God, but a rationale that Mr. Harris has leveed to target Islam in particular. We can argue the politics, but I’ve heard Harris talk, and he has a political agenda. That agenda is as much on the table as his atheism. I think those of you who are atheist may hold an entirely different view of this matter (at least I hope so).

Again we do not have the full record, his rebuttal, etc., but having heard Harris in the past Hedges remarks seem credible. You may want to go back to the convenience of the chess match; but I’m more interested in the substance of the discussion - the fullness of the debate - of which we only have a small fraction.

These kinds of debates, Mark, are not academically structured, so you may be disappointed in its imperfections.

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By worths1, May 26, 2007 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment

Mark,

LOTS of posts appeared between the time I first sat down, typed a little, got up, then typed a little more. I concede your cogency.

I think you are reading too much into the quote in making your point number 6, but I get your general point. You like precision and Hedges has fallen short in defining God. Fair enough.

Do you equate truth and fact? Or do you appreciate the notion of truth contained in metaphor? I have acquired a level of comfort with the metaphorical (or you can call it “fuzzy”) concept of “God” because at present I have no better understanding of transcendence.

I suspect you don’t like this idea of fuzzy concepts or the concomitant imprecision in defining terms. But, I still don’t get why religion, as described by Hedges, is threatening to you. He would tear down the parts of religion you decry. Why not accept that and agree to disagree about the rest?

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

Straight talk 11,

I’m afraid that I agree with Logician and Ted Swart.  Your posts contain many statements which have nothing to do with the question of whether God exists and make it hard for us to understand exactly what you’re claiming and why you’re claiming it.  Whether consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe or not, it has nothing to do with the question of whether God exists.  I don’t understand why you persist in connecting the two.

You mentioned thinking with “serious intent.”  What is serious intent if not the willingness to understand and consider what your opponents say?  Or an attempt to focus on the point at hand and not make irrelevant statements?

Maybe you can tell me this much: do you admit that it’s possible that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe but that God does not exist?  If not, at least give a reason why you think the two are necessarily connected, so that we can evaluate it.  If so, why bother introducing the irrelevant issue of consciousness?  The only issue that matters is whether you can convince a skeptic that you have a good reason to believe that God exists.  Your confidence that you do have one is worthless to anyone else, since you might simply be wrong, deluded, prone to misinterpret experiences, gullible, etc.  Confidence has no connection to truth since one can be confident about a belief even though it is false.

This might help you to understand why consciousness and God are two distinct issues.  The reason why there are no skeptics about the existence of other minds is that massive indirect evidence is available.  For example, even if I can’t directly experience your mind, I have the indirect evidence of your posts; I could get testimony from your family and friends; every human brain dissected came from a person whose behavior while living exhibited all the signs of consciousness, etc.  This is just one of many reasons why I told you that the problem of consciousness or other minds is disanalogous to the problem of whether God exists.  If you persist in claiming that they’re analogous, you need to address my criticism that we have indirect evidence for the former.  Otherwise, Logician, Ted, and I would be entitled to conclude that you’re not serious about thinking or debate after all, just willing to accuse others of lacking seriousness.

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By bbrewster, May 26, 2007 at 2:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you so much for posting this terrific statement by Chris Hedges.  It is a common mistake for self-proclaimed atheists to be quite sure about the nature of the God and faith and religion they misunderstand and condemn.  Arguments against religion by Harris and others like him also tend to elevate reason without taking into account the limits of experience and subjectivity and the human capacity for self-delusion.  Perhaps the most important point raised by Hedges is the danger of externalizing evil and glorifying an us-them worldview which provides the rationale for perpetrating evil by those who think they are righteous.  Thank you, Truthdig and Chris Hedges.

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By Ted Swart, May 26, 2007 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment

ST11 #73014
Your trouble withyour posts is that you seem to be as far removed from stright talk as it is possible to be.  You have indicated that you are not a believer and not an atheist but you have never told us where you actually stand.
You have suggested that:

“consciousness might be a primary and fundamental property of the cosmos, not at all alien to it, but on the contrary, indigenous to it. Think about how much theoretical economy it lends to our being conscious instead of having to invent magically acquiring our consciousness from a cosmic evolutionary nest devoid of such a property.”

Am I to assume that you are some kind of pantheist?  If so, perhaps you can tell us what it is that you really believe.  It would sure make it a lot easier to interact with you.

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By Logician, May 26, 2007 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

Re#73014 by straight_talk_11 on 5/26:

“It actually says nothing more meaningful than this: “I think you’re wrong.”  Yeah, well, we get that.”

We don’t think you’re wrong, tyrol, we know you’re deluded.  Get back to junior college and retake that Philosophy 101 class where you picked up the big words you use to try to justify the complete insanity of god belief. 

Only this time, LISTEN to the prof tell you about the MEANINGS behind the words.  You might then figure out how truly goofy you sound to rational people.

One can only hope…

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment

“I will conceed [sic] that you can ‘know’ that god exists although you are unable to prove it, to the extent that one is able to ‘know’ somethng [sic] and still be ‘wrong’.”
- ST11

Of what possible use to any debate or coherent discussion is a statement like that? It actually says nothing more meaningful than this: “I think you’re wrong.” Yeah, well, we get that. Do you know that you’re conscious? Are you wrong about that?

Think about that with serious intent instead of reflexively vomiting on the idea that consciousness might be a primary and fundamental property of the cosmos, not at all alien to it, but on the contrary, indigenous to it. Think about how much theoretical economy it lends to our being conscious instead of having to invent magically acquiring our consciousness from a cosmic evolutionary nest devoid of such a property.

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By Logician, May 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Re#72996 by straight_talk_11 on 5/26:

Awwww, did ‘oo ged’um widdle feewings hurt?  Don’t feel bad, s_t_11, you responded EXACTLY as so many have before you which is why I could name one of your only responses in #72893: “Or will you cop out,...say I’m baiting you and that you “don’t have to stoop” to answering me?”

You, “straight_talk_11,” a truly oxymoronic name if I’ve EVER seen one, reacted just like ANY believer when pressed: you copped out. 

Just like every theologian, every shaman, every yogi, every priest, every druid, every catholic, every baptist, every muslim, EVERY believer in ANY of the fairy tales of god I’ve spoken with, you CANNOT back your yack.  Knowing this, you resort to high handed snottiness and claim I, and others like me, cannot or chose not to, “know” the “spiritual” “truth” of which you speak.

Can’t even YOU come up with something more original than that?  Crikey, I’ve heard THAT tired old chestnut from every second-rate spoon bender ever handed his head by the Amazing Randi.

Haven’t you EVER really wondered WHY atheists consider believers so freaking STUPID?  I gave a range of predictable responses for all to see and you did EXACTLY what I said you would.  You do not even have the ability to be original in your own responses. 

As stated, you demonstrate an intransigent ignorance that is predictable, repulsive, and boring.  I take leave of you, just another in a long line of atavistic posers, with the words of a man you really should listen to - Jean Shepherd:

Excelsior, you fathead!

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Max,

In response:

1. “As to the weakness of Hedges arguments, I admit he seems more intent on “eloquence” than nuts and bolts logic.”

Eloquence is a fine quality but it has nothing to do with truth or good reasoning.  Hedges presented himself as debating Harris; the term “debate” implies the presence of reasoning and invites the debaters to be judged on how well they reason.  I criticized Hedges’ arguments; his eloquence doesn’t interest me.

2. “Perhaps that’s owing to the fact that this was meant for a listening audience (?).”

Maybe, but this is no excuse.  Eloquence doesn’t exclude good reasoning.  Hedges’ problem is that his reasoning is rather defective.  His eloquence may obscure this, but no one who values the truth or good reasoning should let it.

3. “But the strong gist of his position is quite evident - at least to me (and I am not a religious person, nor an atheist).”

Yes, the gist of his position is evident, but all the deficiencies in his arguments mean that no one who is rational should be convinced by those arguments that his position is the right one for a rational person to adopt.  And if Hedges can’t convince anyone on the strength of his arguments to adopt his position over Harris’, what’s the point of his debating Harris?

4. “Your critique (and I thank you for admitting your atheism for clarity purposes) seems to come from your “belief” system. Perhaps you’d prefer Thomas Aquinas to the style of Mr. Hedges…”

It’s not that I have my own private belief system and that I arbitrarily favor it over any other.  Logic is a universal system of rules of valid reasoning; any “style” of reasoning that fails to respect the rules of logic just doesn’t count as reasoning, any more than someone who doesn’t respect the rules of chess can be considered a chess player.
When Hedges or Aquinas violates these logical rules (e.g., through a fallacy or begging the question), he fails to provide convincing reasons for anyone to accept his view.  Logic is, so to speak, a test of truth, along with reason.  This is why someone as brilliant as Aquinas can still be criticized and rejected by other philosophers.

Incidentally, my own view of public debates is that anyone who values eloquence or style over intellectual rigor and substance does a disservice to his audience.  Anyway, Hedges is certainly intelligent enough to engage in debate in a way that combines eloquence with logical rigor.  As I argued in my post below, I found 7 major flaws in his reasoning.

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By Ted Swart, May 26, 2007 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Max #72977
Methinks you have failed to read all the comments in this forum.  If you had done so you would have discoverd that it is not only what you call the anti-God clique in atheism which has chosen to criticize Hedges muddled thinking. Several comments from God-believers indicate that they think he has strayed from the straight and narrow and distorted their message.

When you say something like:
“The awe and wonder of the universe, shared on various levels by all beings can connect us in ways that are truly transcending. We can choose to ignore this wonder and damn all who rejoice in it and simply go about praying to the all mighty dollar or fabrications of Western civilization (a civilization that has culminated in endless wars, weapons of mass destruction, domination, and empirism; and in effect, has set the globe on fire with violence begetting violence). Or we can make room and let that wonder fulfill us in ways that make us one with it ALL. It’s our only hope.”
it strike as specious.
 
Surely you are not suffering under the delusion that atheists have “no wonder of the universe” and spend their time “praying to the almighty dollar”. If you really think that then you are badly in need of some face to face encounters with real atheists.

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By Gerry, May 26, 2007 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

Enough already!

When do we get to see/read the rest of this Hedges/Harris debate? I have a lot of respect for the truthdig website but I’m rapidly loosing it.  This is a classic case of bait-and-switch. We get to read only one side of the ‘debate’ and have to wait till when for Harris’ opening remarks and the rest of the debate?  Thuthdig wants us to come back multiple times to their website in the hopes of finding the rest of the debate. This has gone on for more than two days now! Shame on you thuthdig!

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By Max Shields, May 26, 2007 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment

#72985 by Mark Colby on 5/26 at 11:19 am
(14 comments total)

1)I did not claim that you (or those who claim to be atheists and posting on this topic) are using Hedges as a strawman. I was clear about that. But, many, you’ll concede, are.

As to the weakness of Hedges arguments, I admit he seems more intent on “eloquence” than nuts and bolts logic. Perhaps that’s owing to the fact that this was meant for a listening audience (?). But the strong gist of his position is quite evident - at least to me (and I am not a religious person, nor an atheist). Your critique (and I thank you for admitting your atheism for clarity purposes) seems to come from your “belief” system. Perhaps you’d prefer Thomas Aquinas to the style of Mr. Hedges…

2) A strawman is a “fabricated” argument used to prove one’s point. I don’t think I did that. Angst from the German - “a feeling of dread, anxiety, or anguish.” Is it too much to assume that all athesists have feelings, and may have angst - after all we are not talking about solipsism (or are we?). I have interpreted the various posts railing against Hedges - in uncommon numbers for Truthdig, as a sign of ANGST. Call it what you will; that’s what I call it.

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Ref # 72932

Logician, there is absolutely no point in responding to your comment other than to state that your raving and ranting make the case for its irrelevance far more eloquently than I ever could.

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

Mark, the logic is not so involuted as you make it. If I can know personally that I am conscious while unable to prove it, then it is possible that I can know that God exists while unable to prove it.

Yes, this is stated hypothetically. That doesn’t mean that neither I nor anyone else does not know that God exists while unable to prove it. I am obviously unable to prove either that I’m conscious or that God exists, but I can and do claim both.

So for me and others who have had direct personal knowledge of this nature, my statement is not hypothetical. It is hypothetical only to those like you who have not. I believe you are capable as a human being of knowing, but first there must be some impulse to look before you can find.

I have solid personal reasons based on clear personal experience that consciousness and God are related. I have posited arguments that attempt to show the inelegance of assuming we are conscious while the consciousness associated with the physical body we call the cosmos, which fostered our evolution for billions of years, is not.

In this view, God is the consciousness associated with the entire cosmos and not just a local human body, but the latter is a reflection of the former, a local holographic manifestation of the cosmic awareness and intelligence responsible for our evolution. In addition to my personal experience, for me intellectually, this is a much more elegant and theoretically economical perspective than assuming a disconnect between what we experience personally as our own awareness and its association with our local physical being and that associated with the unitary system we call the cosmos. Otherwise, even on a cold, intellectual level devoid of personal experience, we are forced to assume the magical appearance of consciousness and intelligence in the universe as properties alien to the universe itself.

If the universe manifests from fluctuations within a single field, how could this be? It defies the fundamental premises underlying information and communications theory, and it defies common sense. Even so-called primitives intuitively knew better than that.

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By Ted Swart, May 26, 2007 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

archeon of thrace #72946
Thank you sir for the very sensible suggestion that in talking about atheism vs theism it makes sense to focus on the question:
Does the Abrahamic God exist?
Atheists say NO and the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths say YES.
I have yet to hear any cogent suggestion as to why the answer to the quesion should not be NO. Any decent suggestion would have to explain the confliciting claims of these three faiths and this is both logically and practically nigh unto impossible.
worths1 # 72940
I am afraid that your defence of Hedges does nothing to redeem Hedges internally incompatible contribution to the debate.
If you read Mark Colbys #72949 an 72950 you must surely appreciate that Hedges is badly confused. Colby’s critique is comprehensive but far from exhaustive. Hedges nice sounding final quote from Reinhold Niebuhr is much less inspiring than he seems to think.
1. The very first sentence(Nothing worth doing can be completed in our lifetime) is completely untrue. There are many things worth doing that we can complete in our lifetime.
2. And the second sentence is a non sequitur. Even if the first sentence was true why would it imply that we are “saved by hope”?
Need I go on?
3. The final sentence is (Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness) is no more helpful than the first two.
Dare I ask what we are supposed to be save from?  Our innate evil?  Our culpability for disobeyig God which we inherited from Adam and Eve? The fact of death?
Adherents of the monotheitic religions often claim to have achieved certainty but in very truth “probabilitc reasoning based on evidence is our only guide to truth” as Mark Colby so aptly says (#72943).

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By nahida, May 26, 2007 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Shocking news


“In your religion… … …”
“Hey… hey… stop there
I don’t have a religion
I don’t believe in God
I am a secular… atheist”

“Oh… but you do dear
You do have a religion
When you accept as true something
Without any decisive evidence
You simply believe

Mathematically speaking
The chances are
Either there is a God
Or there isn’t
You can never prove that God does not exist
Nor can you ever negate the possibility of God’s existence
So, when you say
Definitely there is no God
I.e. the probability of God’s existence = 0
Scientifically that is inaccurate
False statement
As this can NEVER be proven

In your case
Affirming that
‘There is no God’
Believing that God doesn’t exist
Without the ability -ever-
To produce any conclusive proof
Is called faith

Sorry dear… but…
If this is not religion
What is?

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By Logician, May 26, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment

Re#72932 by straigh_talk_11 on 5/26:

Oh, s_t_11, I DID respond in #72836.  I complimented your sublime sense of satire.  Your statement about your “experience within my own consciousness” was the purest pile of horse-hockey I’ve heard since the Maharishi. It was really well done new age drivel.

Your hurt reply in #72874 merely reiterated what I’d said: “I don’t have to believe what I have experienced quite directly and personally for decades.”  You couldn’t have exposed your pathetic position any more succinctly.  Thanks!

My response to THAT puerile gem is in #72893 and it is the same to you as it is to EVERY boob who says they’ve “experienced” “God:” “Any “God” experience you’ve had can and probably already has been duplicated in a lab with the right electrode placed in the correct part of the brain.”  Did the person who read the post to you skip that part? And didn’t I JUST state: “Knowing” is not “proving?”  Need a dictionary?

Now, as to WHAT, in that hodgepodge of hooey you DO believe in: No false assumptions were made - You use the word “God” several times.  Since “God” is a man made construct to justify any amount of filth (we’ll save that for later) you HAD to have heard or read about “God” from someone or something.  My challenge remains, oh one-with-the-cosmic-muffin:

How do you know YOUR source is THE source?

That is the question, the ONLY question that matters.  Not some whiney-assed drivel about proving consciousness or some other crap.  YOU made the EXTRAORDINARY claim YOU have a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with “GOD.” 

Until you can rustle up SOMETHING besides feelings, ancient texts, really cool drugs, etc, to give ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY RESEMBLING ANY FORM OF PROOF for such a bold statement you are to anyone of reason just another boobie trying to play with the big dogs and getting your new age ass handed to you.

I’m still waiting…can you measure up, or are you just another washout?

And for your edification: in #72959 you make an incredibly ignorant statement - “I can understand why an atheist who effectively worships the physical surface of human experience…”  Atheists DO NOT “worship” ANYTHING, effectively or otherwise.  Your intransigent ignorance of whom you are speaking to demonstrates the exact reason I find believers of any faith to be so disgusting: not only do you know next to nothing about your own beliefs (derivations, originations, etc) you know even LESS about whom you condemn.  That, s_t_11, is REAL arrogance: factless statements absurdly put forth as truth.

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By nahida, May 26, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am so sorry that I am speaking with such harshness and lack of gentleness, but I think we keep getting stuck in this little hole where some atheist are allowing themselves to alienate people just because of their beliefs. We ought to move on as a progressive free-thinking people.

We need to open our minds and hearts by tolerating the other who is different (not only if they have different looks, but also in their thinking, philosophies, ideologies and perceptions)

We need to exercise and implement our principles in reality by even going a step further than just tolerating those who are different but by also showing RESPECT to their perceptions, to their choices and to their freedom of thought.

This -I think- is only a humble step towards a fairer and a more peaceful and just society.

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By nahida, May 26, 2007 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Open-minded free thinking people realise that there are extremists and fanatics in every ideology.

Believing that this universe has a Creator does not make one a brainless mindless fool; nor rejecting the idea of the possibility of the existence of a Creator qualifies a person to be a brainy mastermind genius. Period.

I have no problem with any dear atheist who chooses to reject the concept of a Creator if their logic leads him/her to such a conclusion.

I only take issues with rigid intolerant people who see nothing beyond their own perception, and who try to force their views on others.

Invalidating and dismissing other people’s logic, perceptions, conclusions and experiences is pretty serious stuff in the abode of progressive freethinking company.

Arriving at where we are in our understanding of the world has much to do with our long painstaking quest for answers through our diverse and profound personal experiences, and of course directed and predisposed by our intellectual capabilities, emotional capacities, cultural influences and psychological tendencies.

We all arrive to this world without a choice of our own, and as soon as we open our eyes to the wonders around and within ourselves we are driven to question, and to long for meanings that explain our existence.
Our curiosity is magnified as we grow.

Drawing on my personal experience, this inquisitive curious mind was no different from anyone else. As a little girl I spent endless hours pondering and thinking… asking so many questions, and contemplating; what is this universe around me? Why all this beauty? Who am I? Where did I come from and why? And where am I going? What is the purpose of my existence? You know all the usual questions that one asks as a child.

My little brain would always come bouncing back with the same reply nonetheless.

This organization, this system, this beauty, this perfection, this diversity, this love, this logic, this mind, this existence, this ability to comprehend existence, all point to an incredibly Able, intelligent, Beautiful, Artistic, Creative Designer.

And ever since, my brain and my logic, did not and could not acknowledge or be satisfied with any other explanation.

As a thinking person this is where my reason by its common sense always leads me.

Nothingness cannot cause existence. Chaos does not lead to order, intricate laws do not spring out of mayhem. Passion and compassion do not bloom out from oblivion. Havoc cannot produce balance. Unconsciousness does not lead to awake-ness and awareness.
My infinite love and ability to love could not have sprouted out from a parched materialistic purposeless universe… my logic always concluded.

Now, if other people’s logic works differently, and if they are happy with a different explanation, I have absolutely no problem with that, as long as they are not trying to impose their logic and their beliefs upon me.

Unfortunately, what I notice some times is that many atheists claim a monopoly over logic, science, and even over goodness, righteousness, and the work for social justice; they accuse people of faith of: irrationality, and inability to use their minds, and also they accuse them of the many evils that we see in the world today.

When I see that happening, and with my motherly instinct I react and interfere saying: enough is enough.
Stop it now.
You have no right to claim logical superiority.
You have no domination over reason, you have no supremacy over the use of intellect, you don’t own commonsense, you have no authority over science, and you do not control rationality.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

Max,

You claim that atheists “choose to use Hedges as a strawman argument” and you mention atheists’ “angst.”  As an atheist, I want to respond.

1. Maybe other atheists are guilty of the fallacy of the strawman, but I’m not (nor are one or two others who have posted here in the last two days).  I gave my reasons why Hedges’ arguments and claims are flawed.  I never attacked Hedges personally.  I merely showed, for those who can follow my critique, that Hedges commits various fallacies, shifts the meanings of his key terms, and the like.  I attacked his arguments and claims, not him.  He and they are not the same.

2. Ironically, you yourself committed the strawman fallacy in mentioning the “angst” of atheists.  Angst is a personal quality, having no bearing on the quality of the arguments that atheists produce to justify their views about God’s existence.  If you didn’t intend to use angst as a reason to reject the arguments of atheists, I suggest that nothing is gained by addressing personal qualities, psychological or otherwise.  Many theists, especially Calvinists, experience angst or a close relative when they ponder their relationship to God, so angst can’t be used as evidence for or against theism.

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By Dale Headley, May 26, 2007 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This argument is just silly!  There are no such things as gods.  Therefore, there is no Abrahamic god; therefore there is no Christian God.  The concept of a god is an extraordinary claim; and as Carl Sagan famously said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  So, perhaps extraordinary evidence of God’s existence should be proffered before engaging in meaningless pontifications about His philosophical ramiications.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 12:08 pm Link to this comment

Straight Talk 11,

1. I don’t know whether you’re intentionally insulting in writing, “Look who’s talking!” in response to what I said, but it seems that way.  I suggest that you try to ensure that your remarks are clearly intended in a civil manner.

2. “The point is not that consciousness proves the existence of God. I never said it did.”

I never said that you said it did.  I was making an assumption favorable to your view in order to show that, even if such an assumption is made, your view is flawed.

3. “I simply point to an instance in which you cannot prove that you are conscious, yet you absolutely know personally that you are. This eliminates the argument that you can’t also know personally that God exists.”

I understood what you were trying to do.  That’s why I was willing to grant the assumption for the sake of argument, as I explicitly stated.  The problem with your reasoning is that you’ve committed the fallacy of argument from ignorance.  Yes, we might know personally that God exists, but equally we might know personally that God doesn’t exist.  The fallacy lies in your assuming that the elimination of the argument that we can’t know entails validation of the argument that we do know.  No such entailment follows.  This fallacy is taught in undergraduate courses in critical thinking, by the way.  (A simple example of the fallacy: “Martians exist because you can’t prove that they don’t.”)

3. “One does not imply the other, but in principle, if one is possible, so is the other. That’s the point.”

As a matter of logic, whatever isn’t self-contradictory is possible, so you gain nothing by saying this and I lose nothing by granting it.  The issue isn’t what’s logically possible.  Elves, Martians, Zeus, werewolves, etc., are all logically possible.  The issue concerns what is real, not what is possibly real.  Your “point” doesn’t address this, which is why I indicated that consciousness and God are disanalogous.

4. “Please attempt to avoid assuming logic that is not present in my comments.”

You mean “assumptions,” not “logic.”  Logic encompasses universal rules for valid reasoning; if there is no logic present in your comments, then by definition they are illogical, and no one should take them seriously.  In any case, the fault is not mine.  I merely evaluated and criticized your statements as you wrote them.

5. “If we can individually know that God exists while remaining unable to prove it to others, as I have argued we can in the same way that we can know we are consciousness while unable to prove that either, this has implications.”

Of course.  The problem with this statement is its hypothetical form: “If ..., ” then…”  You’ve said nothing to show a skeptic that we can indeed know that God exists.  Many say yes, many say no.  Given human fallibility, ignorance, willfulness, fear, need, and many other factors that affect our ability to reason well, why should anyone accept the claim that we can know that God exists?  Of course, you’d like for skeptics to believe you, but your personal preferences are no more relevant than mine.  Only the quality of the reasoning and evidence that one provides to support one’s claims matter.

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By Davian, May 26, 2007 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Hedges’ constant references to his preferences in religion is the predicament almost all religious discussion falls into, akin to standing between two mirrors facing each other, staring into the depths of infinite reflection of the same image, all the while attempting to find deeper meaning.

Hedges’ concluding remarks, which really should be the defining moment of his argument, reveals this predicament:
“The point of religion, authentic religion, is that it is not, in the end, about us.”
With all due respect to his earnest search for truth in that self-reflection,  religion inexorably, only exists in the mind of humans and as such must be understood from the best and the worst aspects and prevailing tendencies of the species.

I believe Alan Watts hit the nail on the head (“Psychotherapy East and West”?) when he pointed out the etymological confusion of the terms, “faith” and “belief”. “Belief” comes from the midieval root, lief- “to wish”, which is to say, belabored by preconception. Faith, on the other hand,  is qualified only by the unbound acceptance of not “knowing”.

Religion has failed humanity largely because it is dominantly, a tool of power which must be constantly defended to retain its power. That “power” must be explained, which undermines, (if not destroys), the honest practice of faith and the presumed good intentions of the institution.

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By Max Shields, May 26, 2007 at 11:53 am Link to this comment

#72971 by straight_talk_11 on 5/26 at 10:31 am
In truth, you will never convince, the so-called anti-God (not to be confused with non-believers) amongst us and who have been drumming away at Hedges.

No, these arguments are all talking past one another.

Hedges does not represent religion, nor fundamentalism. He in fact critizes both as frequently myopic at best, and tyrannical at worst.

No, on this alone, the atheist cannot argue. Instead that choose to use Hedges as a strawman argument that has been festering. What seems to go un-noticed is that (regardless of what one thinks of the eloquence of Hedges remarks) these “athesists” have taken on the radicalism of their breathren the Christian right. In that sense Hedges is just a pretext for their angst.

The awe and wonder of the universe, shared on various levels by all beings can connect us in ways that are truly transcending. We can choose to ignore this wonder and damn all who rejoice in it and simply go about praying to the all mighty dollar or fabrications of Western civilization (a civilization that has culminated in endless wars, weapons of mass destruction, domination, and empirism; and in effect, has set the globe on fire with violence begetting violence). Or we can make room and let that wonder fulfill us in ways that make us one with it ALL. It’s our only hope.

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 11:31 am Link to this comment

Archeon, the God whose existence I indicate is not impractical. All-encompassing, however, is not such a bad description of God, since even traditional concepts propose this as the nature of God. The point you seem to miss is that this all-encompassing God is an ultimate, supreme, intelligent and conscious being.

If I as a miniscule subcomponent of the cosmos (Greek meaning “system” in reference to the whole universe) am conscious and intelligent, then why should the holistic nature of the universally comprehensive system that fostered my evolution be assumed to lack these properties. This assumption is especially inelegant in light of theoretical physics pointing to a cosmos that manifests by virtue of fluctuations within a single field and a “big bang” that started with a particle called a “singularity”.

If we can individually know that God exists while remaining unable to prove it to others, as I have argued we can in the same way that we can know we are consciousness while unable to prove that either, this has implications. If S/He is indeed intelligent and conscious, this implies the possibility that we can consciously communicate with Him/Her and experience practical effects of that communication in our lives.  Being all-comprehensive, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc. does not eliminate God from the realm of practical utility. Why should it? No,quite the opposite!

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 11:15 am Link to this comment

Mark Colby,

The point is not that consciousness proves the existence of God. I never said it did. I simply point to an instance in which you cannot prove that you are conscious, yet you absolutely know personally that you are. This eliminates the argument that you can’t also know personally that God exists. One does not imply the other, but in principle, if one is possible, so is the other. That’s the point. Please attempt to avoid assuming logic that is not present in my comments.

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 11:00 am Link to this comment

“Now God is a concern.  This is his third redefinition.  The same problem remains—meaning is not the same as a force or a concern.  These are all different.  This doesn’t mean they can’t overlap; for example, we could call sex a force, and certainly it’s a concern and meaningful.  But the overlap requires a clear sense in which sex is indeed a force.  If it were a force in the sense of “force” as a concern, then the terms in the overlap make no sense, and neither does the overlap itself.”
- Mark Colby

Then later:
“These objections are why I find Hedges’ views not just unpersuasive but incoherent.”
- Mark Colby

Hmmmm! Look who’s talking!

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 10:53 am Link to this comment

Mark Colby, I haven’t been interacting with your comments much so far, but language is flexible and should be if it is to be expressive. I’ve already explained in a previous comment that fundamentalism in a religious context refers to elevating superficial detail regarding things, persons, and events to the status of spiritual absolutes. These are literal-minded people whose deepest conception of truth is on the order of whether Jane went to the grocery store yesterday, or whether we should worship on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I call this a “God Creates Frog Today!” newspaper copy mentality. It’s extremely superficial and dogmatically asserts that little scriptural “factoids” are absolutes.

The same thing can and does happen in a secular context. Despite our individual experience of consciousness, we can look at the material, physical surface of life and say that’s it! There’s nothing more to it. We’ve thus committed the same error as the religious fundamentalist, but this time on the level of the entire cosmos and the whole of human existence within it.

I personally defend the use of “fundamentalist” in secular contexts because it points more emphatically to the precise parallels behind the kind of thinking it represents rather than specific content. The specific content varies radically even within the religious context. Muslim and Christian fundamentalists differ widely on content, but they’re all still fundamentalists, and so it is with any other content.

I can understand why an atheist who effectively worships the physical surface of human experience as ultimate reality would resist being called a fundamentalist, but the difference with a religious fundamentalist is strictly a matter of content. They’re both stuck on the surface. The atheist is effectively saying there is no Supreme Intelligence in the cosmos because you can’t show It to me. Religious scriptures are full of false “factoids”, so this indicates God doesn’t exist, etc. All the arguments still stuck on the surface.

In fact, some of the responses I’ve received here indicate a total lack of comprehension that anything beyond the surface could possibly exist. Matter is solid; time and space are separate, linear and concrete; if you can’t show it to me, it doesn’t exist.

Well, this is an extremely naive and obsolete perspective. Time flows backwards in anti-matter and space and time are neither separate nor linear except in locally restricted space-time domains. Things are not at all as they appear locally and on the surface.

I find the failure to recognize this to be the fundamental driving force behind atheism. I say this because any time I mention here or elsewhere anything that involves understanding the continuum between global/general/abstract and local/specific/concrete, concepts that are fundamental to both mathematics and theoretical modeling of the physical world, atheists clearly and consistently demonstrate in their responses again and again a total lack of comprehension. The typical response is either a failure to respond to such points or to criticize such comments as “meaningless”. They apparently live in a very small world.

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By Anthony, May 26, 2007 at 10:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Many of those making comments are no match for Hedges, they have completely missed the point.  One even criticized what the guy was wearing, something that had no bearing whatsoever on the debate.  It will be interesting to see the Harris response. It seems that Hedges is an agnostic which would be honest because there is so much we dont know.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 10:42 am Link to this comment

Words1,

Here is the rest of my post. I had to break it in two because of the word limit.

5. “God is perhaps best understood as our ultimate concern, that in which we should place our highest hopes, confidence and trust.”

Now God is a concern.  This is his third redefinition.  The same problem remains—meaning is not the same as a force or a concern.  These are all different.  This doesn’t mean they can’t overlap; for example, we could call sex a force, and certainly it’s a concern and meaningful.  But the overlap requires a clear sense in which sex is indeed a force.  If it were a force in the sense of “force” as a concern, then the terms in the overlap make no sense, and neither does the overlap itself.

6. “God is not an asserted existence but a process accomplishing itself.”

Now God is a process.  This is redefinition #4, I believe.  And again, a process is not the same as a meaning, a force or a concern.  Hedges seems to want the word “God” to mean whatever suits him, which makes me think he’s just an ideologue, with no interest in rational dispute with Harris or anyone else and no interest in the truth, just in “winning” against his opponents.  Also, he’s contradicted himself: in stating that this process exists, he’s made an assertion.

7. “And God is inescapable.  It is the life force that sustains, transforms and defines all existence.”

This sounds like the traditional Abrahamic definition of “God.”  So Hedges has come full circle, back to his starting point, before his first redefinition.  It also contradicts #6 since it’s an assertion.

These objections are why I find Hedges’ views not just unpersuasive but incoherent.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 10:40 am Link to this comment

Worths1,

As an atheist who has posted his views here, I would just say that the problem is that Hedges’ views cannot be reconciled with mine, despite your claim to the contrary.  As for cogent criticisms of him, several have been made here.  I’ll give a few more using his own words.

1. “God is a human concept.”

This is ambiguous.  All our concepts are human concepts since they are created by us.  (Name one Martian concept.)  The question that Hedges is confusedly trying to ask is whether the concept of God refers to anything real.  Some of our concepts do not refer—e.g., “unicorn,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “round square,” “the present King of France,” “Godzilla,” etc.  The same may be true of the concept of God.  This is what theists and atheists dispute.

2. “God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty.”

This is very, very confused.  It’s an attempt to redefine “God” away from the orthodox definition given by Abrahamic religions, that God has such properties as being eternal, perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, simple, etc.  If the word “God” means only a belief that life has meaning, then if one were a literal atheist (not believing that the Abrahamic religions are right that God exists) but also believing that life has meaning, one would thus believe that God exists in Hedges’ redefinition.  This is incoherent.  It invites nothing but further confusion.

3. “The question is not whether God exists.”

Then why does he redefine “God” to mean the belief that life has meaning?  If the word “God” in his sentence means this particular belief, then the sentence says that the question is not whether life has meaning.  But he just said that it does.  So he’s contradicted himself.

3. “The question is whether we concern ourselves with, or are utterly indifferent to, the sanctity and ultimate transcendence of human existence.”

How do we know that existence has sanctity?  How do we know that there is any such thing as “ultimate transcendence”?  His assurances are empty assertions, worthless unless supported by evidence or reasons.  Presumably he’s relying on the orthodox properties of God—but if so, why did he redefine “God” to mean the belief that life has meaning?

4. “God is that mysterious force—and you can give it many names as other religions do—which works upon us and through us to seek and achieve truth, beauty and goodness.”

Now he redefines “God” to mean a force.  Before it was the belief that life has meaning.  Which is it?  A force is not a meaning.  He seems very confused about what his own views are.  It isn’t just a matter of names; it’s a matter of meanings.

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By archeon of thrace, May 26, 2007 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

Logican I agree with you.
This is my problem with any religion/phylosophy that claims revelation to man of “gods” will/desire/grace.  In particular this is a problem for those faith were this occurs throught prophets/yogis/priests/shamans etc.

Straighty will however I think say that the differences and contradictions between the faiths is because we humans cannot “see” the true nature of the “god”.  Each faith can only “see” a limited portion and not the whole - because 99+% of reality cannot be percieved by our limited scences.  He will claim that a better description of god is embodied by that which the modern scientific theories regarding unified field theory, or the grand theory of everything.

Though I find this idea interesting, I am not convinced.  I extrapolate from this thinking that it is not important and indeed a waste of time to think of a “god” at all.  Because god could not be seperate from and may then well be the entire universe.  And we still would not have an explanation of why or how god influences the minutia of everyday human life - except that he does not exist as the being proposed by all god based faiths.

I find it frustrating that the god/no-god debate is always hijacked by those who would create an allencompassing god, a god that by definition would/could/does exist. (because the parameters of what “is” god are so broad that they encompass everything)  OR by people who confuse “god could exist” with “god must exist”.  Leaving only a small number of us to keep attacking the fundamental failings of the (in my case) abrahamic faiths, and the pure drivel in the texts used to support them.  The majority of people would if they were intellectually honest agree that abraham’s god at least is a fiction.

The primary issue in North America, Europe, and Asia is not “does god exist?”, but rather “does abraham’s god exist?”  Once this silly human fiction is eliminated we can work on the other “god” delusions.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

Straight_talk_11,

I’d like to comment on your challenge to Logician.  Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that no one can prove to anyone else that he is conscious.  (This is called “the problem of other minds” in epistemology.)  The flaw in your reasoning is that, contrary to your assertion, this is not analogous to the problem of God’s existence.  You seem to treat the two problems as equivalent, i.e., they must both be solved together or neither can be solved, and that the solution to one is the same as the solution to the other.  But this is false.  For example, it’s logically possible that people are conscious, that this cannot be proved, and that God does not exist.  In other words, the unprovability of human consciousness does not entail that God exists.  These are two entirely independent issues about what exists.

The demand for proof is mistaken.  Proofs are possible only in mathematics and logic.  Outside these disciplines, probabilistic reasoning based on evidence is our only guide to truth.  So the question becomes: what is your evidence that God exists?  Saying that you “know” he does is unacceptable because you might simply be mistaken.  After all, throughout history people have claimed to “know” countless truths which were later shown to be utterly false.  How do you know that what you claim is true really is true?

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By worths1, May 26, 2007 at 9:57 am Link to this comment

I can imagine it would be hard to sit through someone reading Hedge’s essay aloud, and I have no trouble accepting the assertion that his rhetorical skills are weak. Sitting at my computer to read this essay however, I am inspired. Hedges cuts through the present fashion in intellectual circles for Godless worship to suggest a continuing place for religion in the world.

Though I’m a religious person, I have cheered the emergence of Sam Harris and others in the popular literature for parading the Naked Emperor of theism. Religious people like Jack Spong have done the same. The a-thiests win.

Hedges, however, is suggesting a path that doesn’t assume religion is irredeemable. Since this path requires concessions from both the religious and non-religious, the criticisms originate from both.

I understand the fundamentalists objections better, because Hedges rejects the core of their beliefs. At this point, they will either wake up from their Daddy-God dream or they won’t.

I have more trouble understanding atheists, drawing from the postings here anyway. So many—but not all—have attributed to Hedges positions he clearly rejects. I can only suggest that they step back and to see where their beliefs can be reconciled with his and then come back when they can make a cogent criticism.

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By Mark Colby, May 26, 2007 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

Max,

You wrote, “Mark, me thinks you protest too much. I will continue to use fundamentalism in the same manner has West and others have. The word is applied in that spirit to religious and non-religious individuals and groups. I’d like to avoid the “Alice in Wonderland” word play.”

I’m not “protesting too much.”  I’m trying to clarify certain issues based on my training in philosophy, so that anyone who really cares about the truth and not just about “winning” a debate can understand how ambiguity about meaning makes genuine rational debate between people with different views difficult, if not impossible.  I’m no more protesting too much than any educator trying to convey the best thinking in his field.

As for West’s use of the term “fundamentalism,” have you ever heard of the saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right”?  West is fallible.  He has his own strengths and weaknesses, like any human being.  If his language results in obscuring the issue, as I claim, then no one should follow him in it.  Keep in mind also that he writes for the general public, not for philosophers, so he’s not going to writewith the kind of rigor that would be required of a more highly educated audience.  The same is true of Hedges although I assume that West is the superior thinker.  (This is only a guess.)

There’s absolutely no “Alice in Wonderland wordplay.”  We use words to communicate.  If our desire is to communicate as well as possible—meaning, as clearly, as precisely, as possible—in order to understand each other and thereby engage in rational debate with any prospect of mutual agreement about the truth, it is imperative that we pay careful attention to the words we use.  One of the largest problems I face as a professor is the poor education that my students receive in public schools before they reach the college level.  Part of my teaching involves helping them to understand the importance of linguistic clarity and how to think critically.

Nothing I’ve said about language has any bearing on the outcome of the dispute between theists and atheists.  Clarity about meanings is neutral, favoring neither side.

I repeat my contention: if “fundamentalism” as you use it has the same meaning as “dogmatism,” you and everyone else should use the latter term.  As you saw with some of the posts here, the term “atheistic fundamentalism” is incoherent.  Nothing is gained by its use, and clarity is lost.  People who continue to use it should be suspected of insincerity—of having no desire to engage in rational argument, just a desire to “win.”

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 9:34 am Link to this comment

“Logician”, why don’t you respond to what I actually say instead of your assumptions about what I believe? I’ve not mentioned that I believe any scriptures are exclusively correct or infallible. I’ve clearly challenged you to prove that YOU are not an unconscious automaton merely simulating consciousness despite being as aware as a rock.

Such things are not provable, but I suspect you KNOW that you are conscious despite you’re inability to prove it to anyone else. You’re response refers to this line of thought, but your “logic” steps right around it. I then stated that I can personally know God exists in an exactly analogous way, but you have so far not addressed this argument or even demonstrated that you have read it with so much as one iota of comprehension.

Maybe you should take a reading comprehension test and find out whether you have the ability to absorb anything on which you can exercise your much-touted reason in the first place. All your “rationality” has demonstrated so far is an apparently uncontrollable penchant for vitriol and irrational responses to false assumptions about what I believe.

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By sharon ash, May 26, 2007 at 9:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In the Bible, religion is mentioned 5 times while spirit is mentioned 505 times.  Spirit is that part common in each of us and it is why we make the journey to the Earth school. It is a learning experience for our spirit.  If you are an atheist, you are probably just where you are suppose to be in your spiritual growth, however, being angry with those who believe in God serves you no useful purpose.  If you believe in God, you are probably just where you are suppose to be in your spiritual growth, but being in judgment or trying to force your beliefs upon others serves you no useful purpose.  What I hear in most of these posts are people trying to declare themselves as right whether as a believer or a non-believer.  There is also a great deal of anger and condemnation.  Those are egos talking, not the spirit.  Egos spend considerable time trying to be right and imposing their will on others.  Generally, an out of control ego trying to impose its will is just annoying unless it sits in power, like say for example, the White House, then it becomes a problem.

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By Logician, May 26, 2007 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

Re#72874 by straight_talk_11 on 5/25:

Another barely educated believer in superstition indulging in armchair psychoanalyzing.  Think you’re UP to “rational dialog?”

If you think you are I’ll ask you a question I’ve been asking for over 42 years. 

Ready?  Here you go:

I have in my library five different books that represent the beliefs of five different religions.  For the sake of continuity I shall call them all bibles, as they all function in exactly the same way as the Christian bible: they describe the basic tenents of the faith, tell the tales of the faith, etc.  One of them is, in fact, the Christian bible.

Now, every one of these bibles say the same thing, not in so many words, but the meaning is EXACTLY the same concerning the very foundation of their claims. That is this:

Similar statement #1: “This book is THE Holy Word of God, written by God Himself.”
S.S. #2: “Any other book that claims to be THE Holy Word of God is a fraud. Only THIS book is the True Holy Word of God. 
S.S.#3: “Anyone who doesn’t believe this will suffer eternal torment of some sort.” 

With me so far?  Good!  Now here’s my question, it’s only ONE question, and it’s a small question; but it is THE question:

“What proof do YOU have that YOUR bible is THE Holy Word of God?”

See? Only one simple question.  And until you satisfactorily answer it, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that comes out of your mouth or from your pen sounds any different to a human of reason than the mutterings of a Yogi, a Priest, a Shaman, etc. 

Because you ALL claim EXACTLY the SAME THING: you have THE ONLY TRUTH, PERIOD.

To save you some time:
1: Don’t tell me you your bible was written by God.  I just told you EVERY bible claims that.  It’s not PROOF, it’s a CLAIM.  Look up the difference.

2: Don’t tell me of ANY of your experiences.  Any “God” experience you’ve had can and probably already has been duplicated in a lab with the right electrode placed in the correct part of the brain. Your “testimony” is SUBJECTIVE, not OBJECTIVE. Again, look it up.

3: Do NOT tell me you “know” God is real.  “Knowing” is not “proving.”  Yet again, look it up and have someone reread #2 to you.

4: If you wish to be taken seriously by any rational adult, DO NOT say: “I don’t NEED proof, it is a matter of faith.”  If you wish to be regarded as DIFFERENT from ALL the other believers, you NEED proof of your extraordinary claim.

Again, no matter how ‘purdy’ you speak, no matter how many dime store diplomas you’ve tacked up on your walls, until you can produce some proof, you all sound EXACTLY the same: STUPID.

If that offends you, GOOD!  Maybe, just MAYBE, your ‘righteous indignation’ will get you to begin to consider how offensive it is to people of reason to have to be subjected to drooling boobs saying the most egregiously ignorant pap in the name of their ‘faith.’ Because that, straight_talk_11, is “arrogant language:” expecting others to listen to and respect superstitious garbage.

So, straight_talk_11, can YOU answer my question?  Or will you cop out, call me names, say I’m baiting you and that you “don’t have to stoop” to answering me?  That’s the easy way out. Remember, until you do, NOTHING you say about religion, morals, ethics, philosophy, science, etc, is any more credible than, oh, say, a Borneo Pygmy. 

Time for YOU to “put your money where you (sic) mouth is”.

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By Verne Arnold, May 26, 2007 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

#72701 by TAO Walker on 5/25 at 9:44 am

Yes, messages in a bottle.  They wash up on the beach I comb, 10,000 miles from my birthplace on Turtle Island (I hope I can use that term).

I spend a lot of time barefoot…I have long thought we must touch the earth directly or lose our grouding.

In the lands that honor the Lord Buddha, your speaking resonates.  This gives me hope.  It goes to the universality of “true people” in every land on this earth, I think.

Thank you

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 12:19 am Link to this comment

Logician’s comments:

“That is pure artistry!  Such subtle satire on the moronic mumblings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi I have NEVER encountered.  That is such well written satire one would almost think you really MEANT such idiotic drivel.  (Uh, you WERE writing satire, right?  I mean, you don’t REALLY believe such SH*T, do you?)”

I don’t have to believe what I have experienced quite directly and personally for decades. Allowing one’s silent awareness to remain alone in its own pure self-awareness is something that any human being can experience with the right guidance. It doesn’t require some very high state of consciousness.

Your scathing satire, burlesque, and arrogant language only reflect a fundamentalist mindset akin to Falwell’s rejection of all who did not believe as he did. He did the same thing: no logic; just rhetoric loaded with satire and bible quotes.

It was fundamentally a product of fear that he may not have been right. It smacks of emotional desperation. It is also totally counterproductive to any kind of rational dialog and is itself the antithesis of such dialog. So I would suggest you put your money where you mouth is (with regard to your inflated image of yourself as gifted with rationality superior to that of theists) and get off it!

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By straight_talk_11, May 26, 2007 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

Ga quoting Straight_talk_11:
“But atheists do the same thing. They say there is no God because, EFFECTIVELY, they’ve NEVER CAUGHT HIM HIDING BEHIND A TREE! SO ABSURD! JUST ANOTHER BRAND OF FUNDAMENTALISM. SAME LACK OF DEPTH. SILLY!!!!!!!!”

Ga:
This sentiment occurs often here. [Straight: Huh? What sentiment? Down below you state this declares something to be absolutely certain. What? It refers to ATHEISTS saying that God does not exist because ATHEISTS have never caught Him hiding behind a tree. It is a deliberate pointing to the absurdity of a mindset that expects something along the lines of an old man with a white beard, a physical being. So what does my statement declare to be absolutely certain? What weird stuff are you reading into this?]

Straight_talk_11:
“Incomprehension sees nothing intelligent in its environment except a projection of its own poor state. Just because self-aware intelligence was not clearly manifest locally before human life evolved on this planet does not mean it was not globally implicit in the environment that evolved such life.”

Ga:
The former declares something to be absolutely certain as to be obvious, the latter declares everything too compex to be understood. You can’t have things both ways. (The latter also pretty much meaningless.) [Speak for yourself! The meaning is transparent to anyone who can think past the surface of much of anything. No modern cosmologist, atheist or otherwise, would have any trouble following that statement meaningfully.]
————-
My comments without brackets:

There is no contradiction. God as a physical being is absurd. In fact, ANY implication that because S/He is not sensibly perceptible means that S/He does not exist is absurd. 99.xxx…% of physical reality doesn’t meet that criterion.

For example, I stated we perceive gravity only by its effects. The same is true of anything truly fundamental. If a Supreme and Conscious Intelligence exists, S/He is fundamental. I propose that the entire cosmos is the effect, and some of it is just as observable as the effects of gravity or more so.

I don’t believe in magic. Atheists have to postulate that consciousness appears magically from some special confluence of physical phenomena, but it is not physically palpable and is something we only assume others experience because we each do personally. So you can’t prove that you’re conscious and not an automaton simulating awareness with no more consciousness than a rock. Neither can I offer you a cage with God peaking out of it. Consciousness is a global trait of humans, unlike hands and fingers. A Supreme Intelligence would also be a global aspect of the cosmos, not locally observable except by its effects.

I assume that humans are conscious because I personally experience awareness. Science shows that physical reality is hierarchically structured. I find it irrational and counterintuitive to assume that the individual consciousness we experience as associated with our bodies is not also hierarchical, but instead suddenly appears magically from nothing.

Which is more elegant and theoretically economical, to assume that:

1) Nature is hierarchically structured except for consciousness and intelligence, which properties magically appear within a universe otherwise devoid of them? Does information theory tell you that’s possible?

2) Consciousness and intelligence are fundamental properties of the cosmos, and globally implicit in the structure of the natural laws that govern evolutionary process?

Is it not more elegant to assume that we are simply local reflections of the holistic nature of the cosmos; a natural consequence of the holographic universe that theoretical physics is now favoring as the best direction in which to look for the elusive quantum gravity it seeks? Holograms contain the whole at every point. This is the scientific interpretation of “made in the image of God”.

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By Ga, May 25, 2007 at 10:55 pm Link to this comment

Someone asks, “What is evil?”

Man.

Remove all human beings from the Earth, leaving everything else the same, and evil would not exist.

One can ask, “Where does evil come from?”

Has some “God” created evil and placed it in our hearts?

Evil is a concept. It is a term we use when one human being has performed a horrific act upon another human being.

Is evil when Satan interferes with man’s will?

A mental illness, chemical influence, brain damage, all contribute to a man’s actions.

Can the science of brain/body chemistry one day explain it all?

Religion was born out of man’s urge to understand the hows and whys of the world. The Earth is not the center of the universe but it was once believed that it was which was explained by religion. Many physical phenomena previously explained by religion have prooven to be otherwise (the Earth revolves around the Sun now, doesn’t it?).

Religionists hate science for it has been proving many religious doctrince as false for generations.

Will science a thousand years from now dis-prove so much religious dactrine as to finally dis-prove God himself?

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By AtheistCanadian, May 25, 2007 at 10:26 pm Link to this comment

To Max…

We can always resort to the Oxford dictionary here.

Fundamentalist: (noun)  A form of protestant Christianity that upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible, including its narratives, doctrines, policies and moral laws.

- strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology, notably Islam.

This provides a good jumping off point by which to differentiate atheists from fundamentalists.  Briefly put, (and as Dawkins will often say), atheists are convinced by evidence rather than static publications of Bronze Age origin.  Show us evidence and we’ll happily consider it, scrutinize it and reach logical conclusions.

Admittedly, for some, it may seem to be a rather awkward step to go from beakers, test tubes and vector calculus - to the adoption of a worldview, but there you have it: that’s what we do!

It’s really quite simple.  Since we atheists maintain open minds to the possibility of new evidence coming along that could contradict our previously held understandings of the Cosmos, we cannot be rightly labeled fundamentalists.  Indeed it’s fair to say we yearn for and thrive on new knowledge and perspectives as we use our freethinking minds to continue improving our cognitive maps of the universe.  (... and reading Lisa Randall’s book takes an open mind!)

Compared with a belief system rigidly rooted in one single Bronze Age publication, the contrast is plainly evident, it seems to me.

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By archeon of thrace, May 25, 2007 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment

I just love it when thiests and whishfull faithies expand the definition to god so wide that almost anything could be him.

The god of abraham is not so “fuzzy” and he does not exist.

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By Ga, May 25, 2007 at 10:23 pm Link to this comment

Comment #72740 by writeon:

“Surely we can all agree that such an entity [God] is pretty powerful, way beyond any mortal human being.”

No.

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By archeon of thrace, May 25, 2007 at 10:22 pm Link to this comment

“Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism.”

Yes he has, and rightly so.  Faith communities are “tribes”.  Just look at the Shia and Sunni conflict, the 100 years war, Northern Ireland, the list is neverending.

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By Ga, May 25, 2007 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment

#72799 by Max Shields:

“The problem with athesim, as discussed here, is not that people wish to “believe in it” (materialism, scientism, logic, etc. and disregard the spiritual - though such materialistic beliefs can be problematic), but as I’ve been saying, it’s the conflation of all theism with fundamentalism and by its turn, revealing, as I read these posts, an atheistic fundamentalism which denies everything but materialism.”

But atheism is not such a conflation, although if you just took the comments here by some “atheists” you have a point—but one should not do that. An “atheistic fundamentalism which denies everything but materialism” is not the definition of atheism.

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By Ted Swart, May 25, 2007 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

Message for Max regarding comment #72844.
Having listened to what everyone has to say it does indeed seem true that it is far better to speak of dogmatic atheism rather than fundmantalist atheism.
We all know what the word fundamentalist means as applied to Christianity.  It means sticking to and emphasizing what evangelical Christians regard as the essential core of Christianity.  The divinity of Jesus as the last prophet and the only way to salvation, the veracity of the Bible (more particularly the New Yestament) as the word of God, the hoped for return of Jesus and so on.

It thus makes perfectly good sense to speak of fundmentalist Islam to describe those Muslims who insist that Muhammed (not Jesus) was the last prophet, that the Q’uran is in fact the real word of Allah(God) and so on. 

But to speak of fundmentalist atheists is at very least odd.
And the oddness shines through in the fact that atheism has no beliefs which form the core of atheism. So most atheists would probably find the phrase fundmantalist atheism as devoid of meaning.  The interesting thing about fundamentalist Christianity is that Christians fundmantalists do exist as a group and don’t object to being labeled fundamentalist—in fact they are proud of it. (Ditto for Wahabbi Muslims). But there does not appear to be any such thing as a fundmantalist atheist group.

Not so when it comes to dogmatic atheism. This simply means being rigid and unbending in ones atheism. There are atheists who regard agnostics or pantheists as letting the side or being cowards or worse. And that strikes me as unduly dogmatic and not something that I feel comfortable with.  I am not sure what I should be described as but perhaps radical agnostic pantheist fits the bill.  I am radical in my opposition to orthodox religions in that I see no evidence for the existence of a Creator God, agnostic because I do not claim to have all the answers and pantheistic since I don’t rule out the possibility of some kind of divine essence intertwined with the world/universe.

For my money it is dogmatism, of all kinds, which is a curse upon the earth. Decent free-thinkers live by probabilities not certainties.  And whether it is religious dogmatism or some other kind of dogamtism it is the bane of our lives.    The inquisition (Christinaity), suicide bombing(Islam or the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka), Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot are or were all tarred with the same brush. Dogmatically convinced they know/knew all the answers and had the right and duty to force them on others they all cause/caused immense unwanted and unnecessary suffering.

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By Ga, May 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm Link to this comment

“But atheists do the same thing. They say there is no God because, EFFECTIVELY, they’ve NEVER CAUGHT HIM HIDING BEHIND A TREE! SO ABSURD! JUST ANOTHER BRAND OF FUNDAMENTALISM. SAME LACK OF DEPTH. SILLY!!!!!!!!”

This sentiment occurs often here. We hear it in the most simplistic terms, as above, and then in the most complex, such as:

“Incomprehension sees nothing intelligent in its environment except a projection of its own poor state. Just because self-aware intelligence was not clearly manifest locally before human life evolved on this planet does not mean it was not globally implicit in the environment that evolved such life.”

The former declares something to be absolutely certain as to be obvious, the latter declares everything too compex to be understood. You can’t have things both ways. (The latter also pretty much meaningless.)

An atheist saying that “there is no God because there is no proof of God” is based on logic but is not a complete “proof”. But it is hardly the same as “fundamentalism” as in religious fundamentalism. You are kidding yourself (or us) if you believe that it is.

Yeah, sure, there are what could be called “militant atheists” who shout that God does not exist over and over—obviously that smacks of fundamentalism… of that kind of person.

Religious fundamentalism is organized and based on non-scientific texts. Things like gravity—“thing” is perhaps not an exact term for it but gravity does exist—are as proven as anything can be proven through observation and experimentation along with mathematical proofs.

“Things” that religion proposes as absolute truths are so far from ever being observed at all let alone experimented on or ever proven.

There is a chasm between fundamentalism and atheism.

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 8:39 pm Link to this comment

#72833 by Mark Colby on 5/25 at 6:48 pm
(8 comments total)

“Since words do evolve, we should aim at maximum clarity about the meanings we assign to them.  This is why I think it unhelpful to classify atheism as fundamentalist if the point is only to accuse atheists of dogmatism.  The word “dogmatism” is far easier to understand, whatever one’s religious, ontological or epistemological commitments, than the word “fundamentalism.” “

I agree clarity is important to communication - certainly its opposite is meaninglessness.

Since you understand what I mean by “fundamentalism” I don’t think we have a communication problem.

I think it’s perfectly fine if, upon reading the word “fundamentalism” in my argument, you swap it for dogma or dogmatism.

I’m attempting to stick to the Hedges’ piece which for me is perfectly clear. He has not mis-used the English language. Perhaps he and I share a community of practice which makes such an understanding precise.

“So it should be used instead.  The term “market fundamentalism,” as West and others use it, is just a synonym for “market dogmatism” or a dogmatic, uncritical attitude toward the market.  The test of my claim is simple: substitute the word “dogmatism” for the word “fundamentalism” in West’s text; is there any substantive difference in meaning?  If not, then the difference is only verbal—a matter of word choice.  If you agree that the difference is only verbal, then you should agree that our word choices should always be made to ensure maximum clarity.”

Mark, me thinks you protest too much. I will continue to use fundamentalism in the same manner has West and others have. The word is applied in that spirit to religious and non-religious individuals and groups. I’d like to avoid the “Alice in Wonderland” word play.

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By Logician, May 25, 2007 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment

Back in town after a refreshing motorcycle trip to Hannibal, Mark Twain’s childhood town.  After a week of real common sense about the idiocy of religion from my favorite author, what a shock it is to come back to the unbelievable mishmash of profoundly idiotic stupidity from Chris Hedges.

No need to expound on it, many others have seen the utter inanity of that opening “statement;” better described as the ramblings of a seriously conflicted mind.  As soon as Mr. Hedges figures out whether “God” is a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, he might make some sense.  Too bad he’s nowhere near a decision yet.

Thanks to Chris in #72669 on 5/25: best refutation of the flapdoodle yet.  Don’t you wonder what Sam had to say?

And a whole LOT of kudos to straight_talk_11 on 5/25!  I haven’t laughed so hard in a looong time! To wit:

“By this experience within my own consciousness I do not refer to visions or voices, but to the knowingness intrinsic to the transcendent silence within one’s own simple, pure awareness left alone to enjoy its own global self-cognizance, freed from any localization of attention.”

That is pure artistry!  Such subtle satire on the moronic mumblings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi I have NEVER encountered.  That is such well written satire one would almost think you really MEANT such idiotic drivel.  (Uh, you WERE writing satire, right?  I mean, you don’t REALLY believe such SH*T, do you?)

And hey, Truthdig!  What the hell is up with printing just Hedges’ opening?  Look up the word DEBATE and show those of us who missed the broadcast what Harris had to say.  You know, that journalism thing…what you heard your professors talk about during your hangovers between parties.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment

Max,

I think I understand your view, but my approach to all these issues is to aim at maximum conceptual clarity.  This, to me, is a necessary condition of “moving the argument along,” as you put it.  Without maximum clarity, the chances of anyone understanding anyone else are reduced, to say nothing of the chances of actually resolving any dispute.  Since words do evolve, we should aim at maximum clarity about the meanings we assign to them.  This is why I think it unhelpful to classify atheism as fundamentalist if the point is only to accuse atheists of dogmatism.  The word “dogmatism” is far easier to understand, whatever one’s religious, ontological or epistemological commitments, than the word “fundamentalism.”  So it should be used instead.  The term “market fundamentalism,” as West and others use it, is just a synonym for “market dogmatism” or a dogmatic, uncritical attitude toward the market.  The test of my claim is simple: substitute the word “dogmatism” for the word “fundamentalism” in West’s text; is there any substantive difference in meaning?  If not, then the difference is only verbal—a matter of word choice.  If you agree that the difference is only verbal, then you should agree that our word choices should always be made to ensure maximum clarity.

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment

#72813 by Mark Colby on 5/25 at 4:48 pm

Mark,

All due respect, I guess confusion is in the eye of the beholder. It seems you’re trying to re-frame what I stated away from the well known argument of mind/body (Cartesian) and the counter arguments begun with Kant. I won’t debate the issue of ontology vs epistimology because it does not move the argument along (a red herring, if you will). Kant’s versus Descartes’s influences are well documented and I don’t think here is the place to make that point to someone as schooled as yourself.

Once again, check into the works of Verela and Searle.

As far as fundamentalism: Words, as you know evolve; and today, this happens relatively rapidly. Not long ago, fundamentalism (early 20th Century) was only applied to American Protestant fundamentalist. We know that that is no longer the case. Check Cornell West’s Democracy Matters for his coverage of Market Fundamentalism (and a series of other examples of “fundamentalism”). These have in commmon an adherence to dogma which is “religious” in devotion, but is narrow in scope - i.e., not exactly liberal in the broad sense. They dismiss all other considerations as “infidels”. Falwell had no use for those who did not follow his strict and limited version of Christianity; and likewise to degrade all theists (and one can think of men such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Berrigan, Tutu, etc) as mindless fools, as some aethists do, would, I argue, be rightly characterized a case of fundamentalism.

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By straight_talk_11, May 25, 2007 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment

“You can’t be a fundamentalist without a holy text.”
- Jason

Who says? Fundamentalism is actually a misnomer. It comes from the idea of “going back to basics”, which by RELIGIOUS fundamentalists own admission means accepting their scripture as infallible and literally true in every respect. Their deepest conception of truth is on the order of things like whether Jack went to the grocery story yesterday. They live in a black and white world. In short, they take scriptural metaphor and mistake the physical things, persons, and events they describe and elevate them to the status of spiritual truth, ignoring completely the genuine truths to which the metaphors point.

It is a fact of history that much of ancient speech and writing was metaphorical. Their concept of truth was more poetic than moderns seem to be able to conceive. To take things, persons, and events and elevate them to the status of spiritual truth is absurd, and amounts to the very materialistic mindset the accuse the rest of us of displaying. I call them religious materialists instead of scientific materialists.

But atheists do the same thing. They say there is no God because, EFFECTIVELY, they’ve NEVER CAUGHT HIM HIDING BEHIND A TREE! SO ABSURD! JUST ANOTHER BRAND OF FUNDAMENTALISM. SAME LACK OF DEPTH. SILLY!!!!!!!!

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment

#72808 by Jason on 5/25 at 4:16 pm
(2 comments total)

You can’t be a fundamentalist without a holy text.  Atheism doesn’t have a holy text, therefore someone can’t be a fundamentalist simply by virtue of being an atheist.

Jason,

And to what source to attribute this statement?

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By Ted Swart, May 25, 2007 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment

For Mark Colbey—message #72374

Clarification regarding the validity of the term non-rational apprecaited.  I more or less agree with you.  Using the term non-rational to explain or defend religious beliefs is a mugs gam. It is not an aspect of our lives which normally leads to learning truths about the way the world operates or our role in the world. But that does not mean that it cannot facilitate the learning of truths.

You say about Hedges:

“Given all the claims he makes in his debate, he would lapse into incoherence if he were to concede that he doesn’t think any of these claims are true.  A claim, like an opinion or belief or theory, aims at the truth about the matter. No one ever wants to hold a false belief.”

And with this I must agree.  I don’t think he presents a remotely coherent defence of the points he tries to make.

You also say:

“For example, Buddhism claims that there is no God; the Abrahamic religions that there is. As a matter of logic, both can’t be correct.

I know that Buddhism is commonly regarded—both by outsiders and Buddhists themselves—as being atheistc. But the Buudhists I have spoken to are less dogmatic about their supposed atheism.  And Buddhism in practise does seem to have many of the trappings of other religions. So I am not at all sure it is a thoroughgoing example of atheism in action. 

For the rest you say:

“As for particular ethical disagreements among the religions, these are so rampant that it would take books to itemize all the disagreements about how to treat women, sex, abortion, sin, atonement, slavery, suicide, murder, homosexuality, etc.”

And all I can say to that is:  YES INDEED.
And the disagreements include the issue of how we decide whioh was the last prophet (Jesus, Mohammed Bahaiullah?) and so on and so on. I am so very glad that I am on longer associated with any formal religion.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment

Max,

I would say that you’re confusing two distinct issues.  One concerns the nature of reason and how it relates to consciousness, matter, etc.  This could be called an ontological issue.  The other issue concerns the Kantian one of the validity, scope, and limits of reason.  This could be called an epistemological issue.  Whatever one’s views on the ontological issue, the epistemological one is logically independent.  The issues about the differences between science and religion, the role of faith and reason in religion, etc., are solely epistemological.

I disagree with you about “the problem with atheism.”  I don’t see it as a problem but as a position on the issue of whether God exists.  This doesn’t mean that atheism has no logical or epistemological problems as a position, but that’s true of any position, whether atheistic or theistic.

I also disagree with how you characterize why people accept atheism.  People like myself are atheists for a wide range of reasons, some ontological, some epistemological, some logical, and some moral.  I, for one, do not believe that there is any evidence that a spiritual or transcendental reality exists.  (I have other reasons too.)

You’re right that it’s a mistake to conflate all theism with fundamentalism.  But I reject your phrase, “atheistic fundamentalism.”  It doesn’t help matters since the term “fundamentalism” is a term applicable to religions, designating a particular kind of attitude toward the interpretation of sacred texts.  Atheism is not a religion, but the denial of the truth of the central religious claim that God exists. The only way anyone could call it a religion is by arbitarily expanding the standard meaning of the term “religion” so that it no longer has any recognizable meaning or contrast.  If your point in using the expression “atheistic fundamentalism” is that some people are dogmatic atheists, I would certainly agree with that.  People can be dogmatic about anything.  But dogmatism is never epistemologically permissible.  I believe that there is nothing to be gained by thinking of atheists as fundamentalists except a hollow, rhetorical victory—which no serious thinker would value.

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By Jason, May 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment

You can’t be a fundamentalist without a holy text.  Atheism doesn’t have a holy text, therefore someone can’t be a fundamentalist simply by virtue of being an atheist.

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

Hi Mark,

Regarding God/Buddhism/Theism. I’d refer you to this in terms of Buddhism (I use here, Wikipedia because it’s handy):
“Buddhism is usually misunderstood by Westerners’s view as a religion with or without a Creator God to whom one might offer devotion or worship. Rather, Buddhism is a way of life in non Westerners’s view.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_Buddhism
I won’t quibble about Buddhism’s variations VS many variations of theism, but only to reiterate that with regard to transcendence (Hedges’ point) I think they both reflect that human need.


I think you’re oversimplifying reason. Yes, traditionally reason has had ties to inductive and deductive logic, but there is much debate with regard to how reason relates to consciousness. Much of this has progressed through a dialects, in part, with Cartesianism, or reductionist /materialist view VS an emergent view of living consciousness (read biologist Francisco Verela). This, as you know, started way back with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and ever more solidly with modern day philosophy, biology and the cognitive sciences.

Consciousness is, as modern microbiology and cognitive sciences posit, an emergent process - it is complex and in that sense transcendent.

I’d refer you to the works of John Searle - since it seems you enjoy the philosophical underpinnings of thought and science.

The problem with athesim, as discussed here, is not that people wish to “believe in it” (materialism, scientism, logic, etc. and disregard the spiritual - though such materialistic beliefs can be problematic), but as I’ve been saying, it’s the conflation of all theism with fundamentalism and by its turn, revealing, as I read these posts, an atheistic fundamentalism which denies everything but materialism.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 4:14 pm Link to this comment

Straight Talk 11,

Thanks for your comment.  I just have time for a few quick replies.

1. “The true appreciation of God is not irrational, nor non-rational, but suprarational.”

I would argue that there is no such category as the “suprarational.”  I would even argue that your sentence makes no sense.  How do you know that your sentence is true unless you use rationality?  But if you do use rationality, then how can rationality encompass what, according to your definition, is supra-rational?  Logically, it cannot.  So you’re trapped on the horns of a dilemma about this sentence.

2. “Reason cannot serve as its own basis. Goedel’s Proof goes even further. All systems of rational thought are predicated on premises that are accepted a priori. This means that nothing is ultimately provable, but can be judged only in terms of how well it serves its purpose.”

Partly right, but the problem is that you’re appealing to a pragmatist criterion of truth as what serves its purpose.  If the purpose is to provide a true account of reality, religions require testing of their rival accounts by reason, which is what I originally addressed about Hedges’ confused claims.

3. “Most organized religion has a pretty poor report card on this basis, but the distortion of truth is not an indictment of the truth it distorts, is it?”

First, how do you know that a distortion of truth preserves any truth about what is being distorted, as opposed to preserving no truth whatsoever, which is also possible?  If you can’t compare the distortion of the truth with the truth, you have no basis for judging that any distortion is involved.  By what means do you determine the answer, if not by reason?

Second, if your question means that you acknowledge the necessity of reason and that religions make incompatible claims to truth, then you’ve agreed with my original criticism of Hedges.  Reason is fallible and imperfect, but it’s all we have.

Third, I agree that nothing is provable except in the narrow confines of math and logic, where “provability” has a specialized use not applicable to extra-mathematical or -logical contexts like those of science, religion, or morals.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

Max,

Thanks for your comments.  I have time just for a few brief replies.

1. “It would be fair to argue that Buddhism (non-theism) fulfills the same transcendent needs as the “concept” of God (as Hedges refers to Abrahamic religions). And so this is not an either/or case as you seem to be making it.”

Logic is either/or.  This is why so many people find logical thinking unwelcome.  Buddhism may fulfill many needs, transcendent or otherwise, but needs have nothing to do with the question of truth about the issues that religions address.  As I said before, if Buddhism states that there is no God and the Abrahamic religions that there is, both cannot be right; if one religion says that suicide or abortion is morally permissible and another says that these are impermissible, both religions cannot be right.  No appeal to needs or any other personal factor can change this.  It’s a requirement of any coherent thinking.

2. “And since we’re being honest, I really don’t think Hedges is presenting a case against reason - far from it. Reason is but one of many cognitive processes.”

Well, Hedges isn’t presenting a case against reason; his confusion is that he doesn’t understand the consequences for his own views if he admits that he is relying on reason.

As for reason being one of many cognitive processes, if by “cognitive” you mean truth-yielding, the answer is that reason is the only such process.  Any alternative, such as experience, intuition, faith, etc., must be tested by reason in order for anyone to know that the alternative provides truth.  Reason is of course imperfect and fallible, but it’s the only means we have.

3. “Being an atheist does not mean you or others have cornered the market on intellectualism, love of philosophy, Beethoven, Geothe. Most of the arguments laid out here by atheist (and I’m only speaking about those who are vehemently anti-theism) are truly specious at best or simply a deep seated indignancy that side steps Hedges’ points.”

I admit that I haven’t refuted his points one by one; I just don’t have the time to do this.  As for whether other people’s arguments for atheism are specious, they may be, but they’re not my arguments.  I have my own, but I don’t have the time to give them.  Suffice it to say that I think Hume is largely correct about the errors of theism.  And I certainly don’t think I or anyone else have “cornered the market on intellectualism.”  The problem, though, is that too few people who post here have any familiarity with the arguments against theism.  I don’t blame them—how could I, as a professor?—but that doesn’t mean they have the knowledge to be able to deal adequately with the issues.  Hedges doesn’t, in my professional opinion.  (This doesn’t mean that I think I’m infallible or smarter than anyone else.  I’m actually a modest person.  I’m like a lawyer or doctor, only my training is in thinking.

4. “And as far as your students, tearing Hedges’ remarks apart, well I guess, such would be the case of many polemicists (an interesting classroom exercise), but it in no way eliminates the protracted discussion to conjure up through a variety of ever complex metaphors life’s mysteries. I think that’s the greater context, quibble though we may.”

I never engage in polemics.  I teach students how to reason philosophically—meaning how to reason logically, analytically, and critically.  These necessarily exclude polemics and metaphors.  My goal would not be to “tear Hedges apart” but to instruct students in how to reason in the most rigorous, objective, and impartial way possible.  (Any lower standard would harm their minds.)  Hedges certainly can’t object if other minds develop through a critique of his reasoning.  If we wish to learn the truth, our only hope is to discuss, debate, and evaluate each other’s reasoning.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment

Hello Mike,

Thanks for your questions.

1. I don’t discount the non-rational, but my point is that religions cannot consider themselves to be non-rational.  They make claims which they think are true.  Since religions make incompatible claims, they cannot all be true, any more than science and magic can make incompatible claims and both be true.  If one chooses to think that science is true, logic forces him to reject magic as false.  Equally, if one accepts religion A as true, logic forces him to reject religion B.  (It’s also possible that both A and B are false.)

2. As for your second question, there can be more than one path to enlightenment, but if the word “path” means more than just a personal road and is anything like a doctrine, where there are two or more doctrines and they make incompatible claims, then one is logically forced to choose between them. (Or one could reject both as being false, like A and B above).

3. It’s not a matter of anyone claiming to have “a lock on truth.”  Rather, it’s the nature of logical reasoning about the nature of truth.  If religion A is true and A is logically incompatible with B (or if B is true and B is logically incompatible with A, then a person has to choose which he believes to be true, A or B.  If he chooses one, he is forced to reject the other.

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment

#72747 by Mark Colby on 5/25 at 12:32 pm

It would be fair to argue that Buddhism (non-theism) fulfills the same transcendent needs as the “concept” of God (as Hedges refers to Abrahamic religions). And so this is not an either/or case as you seem to be making it.

And since we’re being honest, I really don’t think Hedges is presenting a case against reason - far from it. Reason is but one of many cognitive processes.

Being an atheist does not mean you or others have cornered the market on intellectualism, love of philosophy, Beethoven, Geothe. Most of the arguments laid out here by atheist (and I’m only speaking about those who are vehemently anti-theism) are truly specious at best or simply a deep seated indignancy that side steps Hedges’ points.

And as far as your students, tearing Hedges’ remarks apart, well I guess, such would be the case of many polemicists (an interesting classroom exercise), but it in no way eliminates the protracted discussion to conjure up through a variety of ever complex metaphors life’s mysteries. I think that’s the greater context, quibble though we may.

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By straight_talk_11, May 25, 2007 at 3:18 pm Link to this comment

“It’s not that I dismiss the non-rational.”
- Mark Colby

The true appreciation of God is not irrational, nor non-rational, but suprarational. Reason cannot serve as its own basis. Goedel’s Proof goes even further. All systems of rational thought are predicated on premises that are accepted a priori. This means that nothing is ultimately provable, but can be judged only in terms of how well it serves its purpose. Most organized religion has a pretty poor report card on this basis, but the distortion of truth is not an indictment of the truth it distorts, is it?

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By straight_talk_11, May 25, 2007 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

Incomprehension sees nothing intelligent in its environment except a projection of its own poor state. Just because self-aware intelligence was not clearly manifest locally before human life evolved on this planet does not mean it was not globally implicit in the environment that evolved such life. Those who perceive only the visible surface are short-sighted indeed.

You can’t even prove the existence of gravity except by its effects. You can’t hear, touch, see, taste, or smell it. You can only feel it when you’re not in free fall. We can say the same thing about intelligence and consciousness in humankind and in nature. We can say the same thing about God.

This is the nature of anything that transcends local physicality. When the physical is seen in its infinitely comprehensive totality, it directly implies that which is global, abstract, and locally insensible. All mathematics and physics testify to this simple fact. Yet each local instance of their utilitarian application has utterly practical consequences.

The traditional nomenclature for this global/abstract and local/concrete dichotomy is spiritual and physical. The God in whom I place my trust represents the ultimate in the utilitarian application of His global, abstract, sensorially transcendent nature. Just as my own experience of consciousness is concrete only to me, I can experience Him concretely only in my own consciousness.

(By this experience within my own consciousness I do not refer to visions or voices, but to the knowingness intrinsic to the transcendent silence within one’s own simple, pure awareness left alone to enjoy its own global self-cognizance, freed from any localization of attention.)

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By ktfalvey, May 25, 2007 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Mark Colby:

If you think that all religious faith necessarily involves a “doctrine” that claims to “provide the truth about the universe, etc.” you have no business teaching philosophy of religion.

This is a childishly simple view of religion as a kind of primitive armchair science.

As an antidote, I suggest you check out Wittgenstein’s “Lectures on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief” (though a great many other works by diverse thinkers could be mentioned here as well).

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By robert bloom, May 25, 2007 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was at this debate and the main point of contention had little to do with the concerns of the comments posted here. 
  Harris was arguing and illustrating the absurdity of religious belief in general. That guy is fun to listen to. His use of language is one part poetry, one part stand-up comedy and one part razor logic. That alone was worth the $25 plus $8 parking. But he wasnt really debating so much as speaking about the subject of religion.
  Hedges on the other hand was convinced that he was debating, and everything he said was somehow attempting to undermine Harris. Hedges certainly plays the part of the self-righteous, moral-high- ground leftist to a tee. He speaks in this very loud, overbearing voice just like a preacher, and dresses in “middle-east reporter” chic with black jeans and black leather jacket. Frankly, I was sick of his sermoninzing within 5 minutes. No, make that two.
  Hedges 20 minute introduction is simply the same speech that he has posted here on truthdig. If you read it you will see what I am talking about. This guy is basically making the claim that Harris has misunderstood religion and then goes onto explain what religion really is. Of course, “real” religion a la Hedges is incredibly close to what Hedges himself actually believes. Whodda thunk it?
  His aim was to discredit certain claims that Harris had made in his books, but he wasnt actually responding to anything that Harris was stating at the event. His “shocking” revelation was to accuse Harris of condoning torture, and reading a passage from a book in which Harris suggests that it might be necessary to invade a muslim country to bring it to heel. In Hedges mind this is proof of a depraved and evil nature of Harris and the bankruptcy of Harris’ ideas.
  It was left up to Robert Scheer to actually put Hedges’ position into something comprehensible by asking Harris if it was a bit of an overstatement to say that Islam can be credited with various acts of middle eastern violence and implacability, and besides hasnt secular state violence whether it be the killing fields or US carpet bombimng in Vietnam equaled anything that can be laid at the door step of religion?  Scheer asked this question about ten different ways, and I think he forfeited his claim to be the “moderator”, because I can hardly recollect a single hostile question directed at Hedges.
  Harris’ answer was basically, one, that they were crediting him with positions he didnt hold, two that they were overstating his positions he did hold and three, how would you know that religious belief isnt at the heart of many of the middle easts troubles just because the overt strength of Islam ebbs and flows. All of which goes to explain why Hedges was a jerk-off because he kept trying to manufacture a disagreement that wasnt actually present. And all in that same preachy tone.

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By Mark Colby, May 25, 2007 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment

To Ted Swart:

It’s not that I dismiss the non-rational.  (As a lover of classical music, I couldn’t imagine life without it.)  My point was just that all religions claim in their doctrines to provide the truth about the universe, life, death, meaning, purpose, etc., and so they cannot be treated as non-rational, as Hedges proposes.  Given all the claims he makes in his debate, he would lapse into incoherence if he were to concede that he doesn’t think any of these claims are true.  A claim, like an opinion or belief or theory, aims at the truth about the matter. No one ever wants to hold a false belief.  (In contrast, what is non-rational can’t be true or false, just pleasant or non-pleasant, sweet or salty, large or small, etc.  The concepts of rationality and truth are deeply connected to each other.)  People don’t use violence against each other over whether classical music is better than rock; they do over religions, and that’s because religions make incompatible claims about the truth.

For example, Buddhism claims that there is no God; the Abrahamic religions that there is.  As a matter of logic, both can’t be correct. As for particular ethical disagreements among the religions, these are so rampant that it would take books to itemize all the disagreements about how to treat women, sex, abortion, sin, atonement, slavery, suicide, murder, homosexuality, etc.

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By writeon, May 25, 2007 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Someone has probably said this before, but I think it might need repeating. When dealing with the concept of “GOD” I think we need to exhibit a little bit of humility. Put in very simple terms; we’re dealing with an entity that is both all knowing and all powerful. An entity that’s created the universe, time and space, and all the stars we can see in the night sky, the Milky Way and countless starsystems.

Surely we can all agree that such an entity is pretty powerful, way beyond any mortal human being. This seems uncontroversial to me. It would appear that “GOD” is a far above us, as we are compared to bacteria. How can we possibly think that we can understand the mind or wishes of GOD? Surely we are being ridiculous here? We can guess, but we cannot know the mind of GOD.

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By Nick, May 25, 2007 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

118 comments (so far), and it seems the prevalant theme is “I’m right and you are wrong” or “Look at what I know and what you don’t”.  This troubles me as we obviously have some intellegent people posting here.  I know the subject matter is of importance, and has substance and depth to it, but come on guys.  What will the constant attacks and name calling lead to but more of the same?  I would like to think Hedges and Harris went into their “debate” with the thought that maybe, just maybe, they, and their audiences could learn a thing or two from each other.  Would this outlook not be more productive, than being divisive simply because we cannot agree on whether God or a god exists?  On a related note, thanks to those of you that are open to opposing viewpoints, however far-fetched they may seem.

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By fritzikatzi, May 25, 2007 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment

If god created man in his own image…. why did he put evil into their hearts? What nonsense. It makes sense that the son inhert the traits of his father!
A story by Schopenhauer illustrates this : A preacher was preaching (naturally!) reminding his flock that God created man in his own image.
As the weather was warm, the church door had been left open to allow the sun to come in.
Just then the village idiot walked by, for everyone to see.


Hedges states that God is a human concept.  ‘God is the name we give to our belief that life has meaning, one that transcends the world’s chaos, randomness and cruelty.’
One look around and you must see that not much has transcended the world’s chaos….this belief in the meaning of life is nothing but an unwillingness to acknowledge reality.

People like Chris Hedges, who is not even aware that he wears a black leather jacket, (leather being the clothing of a tribal chief), whose man made god conveniently does not extend the possession of a soul to animals besides himself.

Hedges statement:
“To argue about whether God exists or does not exist is futile.  The question is not whether God exists.  The question is whether we concern ourselves with, or are utterly indifferent to, the sanctity and ultimate transcendence of human existence.  God is that mysterious force—and you can give it many names as other religions do—which works upon us and through us to seek and achieve truth, beauty and goodness.”

I am not in awe of gibberish by silly preachers. I am in awe of geniuses like Shakespeare, Goethe, Nietzsche, Beethoven, and others, who transcended the meaning of human existence and lived their life exploring human potential.
They did not have to invent a God to show them the way.

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By Hemi, May 25, 2007 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The “Puritan work ethic” is like a powerful retro-virus that continues to propagate and infect almost all of theamericanpeople….and, by other names, the rest of the domesticated breeds the world-around.  So much so that among the “civilized,” one is virtually defined by what one does to make money.  For the vast majority, participation in this “global market economy” has devolved into a life-sentence of drudgery dictated-by and in-service-to “power”- wielding interests more-and-more openly inimical to human or other actual living considerations of any kind.” - TAO Walker

Funny, I just told my boss the very same thing. He said to save me from continuing as a wage slave he’s not paying me anymore!

I am apparently ill defined by what I do to make money. When I tell people what I do for “a living” they all have the same reaction. “You’re kidding? They pay you for that?”

I got your “Message In a Bottle” my friend. Keep ‘em coming.

Scileann fíon fírinne.

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By Roberto, May 25, 2007 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a waste of time! I only read the whole thing outta respect for truthdig. Chris Hedges has his own progressive personal view of what religion and faith is which can only be described as New Age mysticism not the christianity he claims to be a part of. Mr. Hedges is so convoluted with his own ideas of god and goodness that it becomes hard for the reader to know what the hell his talking about. It seems to me that Mr. Hedges got his religious doctrine from the Seemingly Intropesctive No-Sense Abstractions That Make You Feel Good book of quotes by Christian Apologetics (not in stores).
Please no more Chris Hedges. I thought this was gonna be a cool debate about religion and faith not the “New Personal Ideas on Faith and Religion as Understood by Chris Hedges After Watching the CareBears Movie.” Think i’d rather spend the day watching Dr. Phil.

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By Ted Swart, May 25, 2007 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

Whilst I agree with Mark Colby that Hedges contribution was riddled with misunderstandings I am at a loss to understand Colby’s summary rejection of the notion ot the non-rational. We all know that using reason means thinking logically and paying attention to the evidence. And we all know that thinking illogically and deliberately ignoring the evidence implies behaving irrationally. But we frequently behave neither rationally nor irrationally - for example when we listen to and enjoy a beautifual piece of music. Does this not qualify as non-rational?

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By Tim, May 25, 2007 at 11:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Monotheistic religions are pure ideology and nothing else; an invitation to submission and slavery. What is “evil,” exactly, Chris? I’d wager you could not give me a satisfactory answer, nor could any Christian, because there really isn’t any such thing.

At least most pagan religions, which Mr Hedges derides, did not conflate themselves with ideology and morality: they were simply a way of understanding the self and the world; many spirits exist within us. It is therefore not surprising that many pagans would accept the gods of even their conquerors into their religions: my conqueror is a fact of life and I must come to grips with his “gods.”

I am an atheist, but not because I think religion is “superstitious” or “primitive” but because all the modern monotheistic religions are depraved. They value ideas (in this case, god) over reality and all the rest follows.

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By gdhmusic, May 25, 2007 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a sermon!

Sam Harris was genuinely interested in “discussing” the topic of religion, and it is bizarrely irrational to read one man’s statements with regard to what has been titled a “debate.”

Why is Chris Hedges getting the front page, top column, of Truthdig without a single utterance from Harris?  This strikes me as selective journalism with an agenda.  It certainly speaks nothing of either discussion or debate.

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

#72693 by Farakon on 5/25 at 9:18 am
“For a brief moment towards the beginning of the Hedges / Harris debacle I had a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  As an atheist I am not accustomed to being surrounded by so many like minded people.”

Why does this seem such a strange irony? Well because it seems that aethests have been longing to feel connected to other believers - or should we say non-believers believers; or unfaithful believers.

You see in the end it’s all about a collective sense of belonging - a “warm fuzzy feeling inside”. The violence of jihad seems to have incited the frontal attack by some aetheists such as Harris - certainly the so-called Christian Right has alienated the rest of us - whether believers, spiritualist or aetheists.

I did not see the debate, but there is a concern that a kind of racism can be found at bottom for some. It is unwise to use the term lightly, but it appears equally unwise to pretend it doesn’t exist. If we concentrate on the so-called majority of Christians in this country, than a debate that deals with the nuances that cross that religious group is worthy of discussion (and I do think that’s what Hedges is trying to do).

But the larger issue is Islam. Watching a cabal of aethiests joining the camp of anti-Islamists, usually Eastern/Middle Eastern people of color is a bit uneasy - and perhaps that is what Hedges was getting at. We should be concerned with this grand lumping of a people into some kind of Islamofascism that our President has described (talking point from the neocon playbook).

I think atheists should speak up about their ideology. They are not a monolithic group. Martin Luther King, Jr. was first and formost a Christian; Father Barrigan a devoted Catholic. The list could go on but I think there is more in common with those two men and say, Bertrand Russel than they could ever have with Jerry Falwell. Religion can provide a pretext for war, but certinly we are in Iraq for reasons that have virtually nothing to do with religion - regardless the Christian Right mis-guided confluence.

I’m trying to understand the deep resentment aetheist have been harboring. And I respect the right of all to their religion, and non-religion; but I think we should be concerned when any of these turn into a fundamentalist jihad against the other.

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By TAO Walker, May 25, 2007 at 10:44 am Link to this comment

Verne Arnold (#72638) is too kind, though his own “Yogi-ism,” about this old Indian’s “....absence (being) sorely missed,” certainly helps to keep things in perspective….and provides its own good laugh into the bargain.  “Hau, Kolapi,” is Lakota for “Hello, Friends.”

“Posting” comments here seems a lot like tossing a bottled note into the ocean.  Maybe somebody finds and reads it….maybe not.  Maybe it’s seen as a “message”....maybe it’s just a “tree falling in the forest” with no one around to hear it (to mix, if not just plain mangle, metaphors).

This Person frequently finds the “comments” here more interesting and informative than the actual articles.  Occasionally it’s the other way ‘round.  Say what you will about Harris and Hedges, though, they both elicit long “threads” of often reflexive, sometimes reflective, but almost always sincerely felt responses.

This old Heathen has said elsewhere that from here in Indian Country the rationalist vs. religionist “debate” looks like “Much Ado About Nothing,” to borrow again from The Bard.  All anybody has to do (or, when it gets right down to it, CAN do) is just “keep on keepin’ on,” to arrive at the point-no-point where all this current “belief” and “speculation” (We rather call it “wonder.”) will be “behind” them (replaced by the knowing that comes from going to see)....and a brand new batch of it all spread-out “ahead.”

Therein lies the “Beauty” in what the Dineh People (“Navajo Nation”) call The Beauty Way, others call The Sundance Way, or The Way of the Sacred Pipe (or any of dozens and hundreds of Ways, including The Tao itself), and in what this old Savage likes to call the Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself.

The “Puritan work ethic” is like a powerful retro-virus that continues to propagate and infect almost all of theamericanpeople….and, by other names, the rest of the domesticated breeds the world-around.  So much so that among the “civilized,” one is virtually defined by what one does to make money.  For the vast majority, participation in this “global market economy” has devolved into a life-sentence of drudgery dictated-by and in-service-to “power”- wielding interests more-and-more openly inimical to human or other actual living considerations of any kind.

Many cling to the notion and hope that these killing conditions are somehow anomalous….and thus correctible by using some of the mechanisms of captivity to tinker-with the mega-machinery of exploitation and abuse.  Having watched the civilization “process” at-work here since first it reared its ugly head, however, us free wild natural Peoples know that is a fools’ bet.  What we have here today has not come about in-spite of the essential nature of civilization, but in precise and inevitable consequence of it.

So our declining to join our domesticated sisters and brothers in their misery comes not from spite or any sense of “superiority,” but from our informed choice to play-along with the Play of Life Herownself, instead….“The Play (really) is the thing,” after all.  That choice, of course is always theirs, as well, though the information necessary to make it is a lot harder to come-by from inside the contraption.

Here’s another “Message In a Bottle,” then, just in case anybody is out “beach-combing” today.

HokaHey!

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By Farakon, May 25, 2007 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

For a brief moment towards the beginning of the Hedges / Harris debacle I had a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  As an atheist I am not accustomed to being surrounded by so many like minded people.

That glow enabled me to get through the debate despite Hedges’ ranting and Scheer’s inept mishandling of the whole event.

Reading these comments, however, has renewed my cynicism and despair for the future of humanity more strongly than ever.

Thanks.

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