Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Left Masthead
October 4, 2015
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Rad American Women A-Z

Truthdig Bazaar
Pieces of a Decade

Pieces of a Decade

Theodore Hamm

The End of Faith

The End of Faith

Sam Harris

more items

Print this item

Render Unto Darwin That Which Is Darwin’s

Posted on May 11, 2008
stained glass

A stained-glass window at Yale University by Louis Comfort Tiffany imagines science and religion in harmony.

By Chris Hedges

The German chemist August Kekulé fell asleep in his study after a fruitless struggle to identify the chemical structure of benzene. He dreamed of a snake eating its own tail and awoke instantly. The dream gave him, through the ancient language of symbolism, the circular structure of the benzene ring that had eluded his conscious mind. The dream may have had its basis in Kekulé‘s experiments, but it was the nonrational that brought him his discovery.

Many physicists see “string theory”—in which the structure of the universe is made up of resonating, one-dimensional submicroscopic strings—as plausible. Yet no scientist has ever seen a string. No direct experimentation has established a firm ground for strings. Cosmology routinely bases arguments on things that cannot be seen in order to explain things that can, as in the case of “dark matter,” whose effects can be seen. Quantum physics demolished the assumption that physical elements are governed by fixed laws. 

Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor. A mirror demonstrates the randomness of nature. A mirror reflects about 95 percent of light hitting it. The other 5 percent passes through the mirror. Photons, which are invisible, are either reflected or pass through the mirror’s surface. But there is no way of knowing which photons will be reflected and which will be absorbed. Electrons are also subject to these quantum effects. This led Werner Heisenberg to formulate his “uncertainty principle.” This principle states that we cannot know everything about a particle. If we can determine a particle’s position we cannot determine its momentum. We can measure momentum, but in this measurement we lose the particle’s exact position. We can know a particle’s momentum or its position. We cannot know both with definitive accuracy.

Science is not always directly empirical. Science is not governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science, and especially quantum mechanics, far from telling us we can know everything, tells us there will always be things we cannot know. No one ultimately understands. Science affirms the complexity and mystery of the universe. Science, like the religious impulse, opens us up to a world where we face mystery. There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind. 

The New Atheist writers from Richard Dawkins to E.O. Wilson to Sam Harris have become the high priests not of science but the cult of science. Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore, for example, call religious beliefs “memes.” Memes are defined as cultural artifacts—prototypical ideas—that invade and restructure minds in order to reproduce themselves. A meme replicates in human minds, they argue, the way genes replicate in human bodies. Memes include a word, belief, thought, religious ritual, dance, poem or any of the myriad of behaviors that are copied and reproduced in human societies. Although memes, unlike genes, are not identifiable physical structures, Dawkins uses the image of a virus to describe them. Religion, for Dawkins, is equated with a disease, and the religiously inclined are disease carriers. 


Square, Site wide

The attempt to equate patterns of human society with the behavior of genes, while it sounds plausible, and may even be instructive in some settings, is part of this cult of science. The genetic coding that permits the transfer of DNA-encoded units of information is fairly precise. But this model fails to work for the transfer of cultural, social, ethical and political behavior. Patterns of morality are easily reversed or erased, especially in ages of revolutionary fervor, war, anarchy, fear, social decline and despotism. Those who are schooled in identical religious texts, even within the same communities, have different views of morality and ethics. It is possible to transfer literal meaning. It is possible to transfer genetic information. It is possible to pass on heritable characteristics mediated by hard-and-fast rules of chemistry and physics. These rules, however, have no counterpart in the dissemination of ideas. Ideas do not replicate like genes. Ideas are snuffed out or forgotten, often for centuries. Ideas that prevail are often not the best ideas but more often ideas backed by power. The rise of Christianity owed more to the brutality of Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire than it did its particular theology. Those who advocate the theory of memes ignore the role of power, repression, persecution and force in human history, as well as the inherent chaos and irrationality of human thought. Human thought cannot be treated like an object in a laboratory. There is no scientific mechanism that explains cultural evolution.

Those who endorse the meme theory speak of memetic engineering. This memetic engineering would involve the conscious manipulation of intellectual evolution by disseminating good memes and curtailing bad ones. The question of who decides which memes are good and which bad is not raised. Dennett has argued that human evolution can be shaped and directed through memetic engineering. He advocates not science but indoctrination, an updated version of thought control. The theory of memes and memetic engineering, like the idea of the new man, is another form of magical thinking. It is not real. It has no more scientific validity than Intelligent Design. And, should it ever be adopted it would result in anti-intellectualism, a war on science and democratic freedom and a silencing of those who fail to conform. The world the high priests of memetic engineering propose is as repugnant as the fundamentalist utopia advocated by the radical Christian right.

Einstein’s quest for a unified field theory explaining subatomic structure or the Big Bang no more undermined religious contemplation than evolutionary biology. The questions of science are not the questions of religion. Science does not attempt to address, nor is it capable of addressing, the final mystery of existence, our moments of transcendence, the moral life, love, our search for meaning and our mortality. Science, limited to what can be proved and disproved, is a morally neutral discipline. It serves human needs and human ambitions. There are times when it protects and advances life. There are times when it empowers ambitions that are immoral and deadly. Science, like all human endeavors, comes with good and bad, possibilities of hope and possibilities of destruction. 

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By John Eleen, March 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Those who, in the name of science, claim that we can overcome our imperfect human nature make a leap of faith.”

Equating faith in this context is a gross misrepresentation, a total epistemological absurdity.

“But it is a myth. It is not true”

Chris hedges is the standard for truth—I forgot.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 8, 2008 at 8:38 pm Link to this comment

Your and Maani’s contention that the neo-atheists are disproving god? To quote you:  “Maani, Hedges, I myself make based on familiarity with these atheists/authors, not any personal beliefs or a prejudice. Darwin is being pre-empted by atheists like Harris, Dawkins et al to disprove God.”  This is flat out not true.  Neither Maani nor you, nor Hedges are right about this.

The support is in the texts of Dawkins, Dennett, and Mills.  I do not intend to give a book report on any or all of these brilliant current atheists. But I will cite their books:  Dawkins:  The God Delusion.  Dennett:  Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.  David Mills:  Atheist Universe.  Now just because Dennett’s book has the title it does not signify that he Dennis Dennett uses Darwin to disprove God (for whatever that might mean, but it is your phrase), nor the existence of god. Readers may seek answers for themselves.  If you read these authors, then you can point out specific quotes to support your thesis that they use Darwin to disprove the existence of god.

The point of the longer second paragraph in my post is quite self-explanatory. But to help you out.  There was no mention of Collin’s competency (that is a clever self-serving spin you put on my post).  Justification apparently in your case is very subjective.  I gave exact definitions of scientific evidence.  Collins does in fact does not do that.  Please provide it for his six premises if you think he does.  All “scholarly” work does not warrant field respect.  Often people, scientists included, do scholarly work that is challenged and unacceptable.  That does not mean a particular scientist is incompetent, it might mean he/she arrived at the wrong conclusions.  Which in my opinion is exactly what Collins has done.  If you wish to turn this discussion into a critique of Collins’ work, that is fine.  It is ridiculous to claim that Collins is more scholarly than Dawkins or Dennett, or Sam Harris.  You need to name “other scholars” who argue convincingly they “are out of their element with depth of education.”  It is a laughable insinuation and claim. 

Yes, I guess you have “pretty much said what [you] have to say,” as far as I can see you haven’t said much anyway except try to defeat my contentions that there was no use of Darwin to disprove the existence of god, first of all since that is not what Darwin was doing, nor did Dawkins, Dennett, Mills, and Harris use Darwin’s work to disprove the existence of god.  Atheists do not make that attempt at all.  They say there is no credible evidence provided for the existence of god.  This is the point you apparently wish to avoid discussing.  You have not provided one shred of evidence for your case.  Even your bringing up Collins is merely as a reference but no quotes, or page numbers provided so we could verify what you say. And it is seriously in question whether you have made any positive comment at all on behalf of your claim.  I have already said I would be willing to change my nonbeliever status if any scientific evidence were provided that shows a supernatural being exists that interacts with humankind and has the common attributes of god:  omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence.  I think anything that would have those big four O’s could be entitled to be called a god.

Since our argument does not seem to be able to get past the present form, I suggest two things:  1) a reading of the Wikipedia entry, Existence of God, following everyone of the links provided within that essay and then arrive at one’s own conclusion.  There are 19 ‘See Also’ links and 15 ‘Further reading’ links that should provide ample reading both for and against both of our positions, and 2) that our particular discussion is closed.

Report this

By Joan, August 8, 2008 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment


I did explain to you precisely my problem with your responses, stream of consciouness…you did finally give an answer to the question I posed twice very specifically and that Main argued…..You contend that Maann is not correct. It’s a beginning. Where is your support for that response.

As for your lengthy second paragraph, I am mystified. What is your point? That Collins is not competent to debate because he is a Christian? that Darwin is not being inappropriately exploited? that Collins is out to lunch about creation? that no one has ever read Dawkins or Harris but you? 

I find your analysis of Collins less than objective. I have read his work and other authors you refer to. I do not agree with everything he says but he justifies his positions. I found nothing in Collins’ work that was less than scholarly. In fact he is far more scholarly and detached than Harris or Dawkins, who cleary and personally disrespect faith- based people and do not understand certain aspects of theology. They ought to get more in depth education before they critique. They are out of their element, as other scholars have argued. 

I’ve pretty much said to you what I have to say… by broadbrushing, your specific responses to points others make are hard to discern…You like to presume that I am too simpleminded to discuss things with you on your more advanced level and that you are far more versed. Maybe so, probably not. I do not know what point you are making. What is in your head is not necessarily evident on your post. 


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 6, 2008 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment

If you took the time to read Dawkins, Dennett, Mills you would see that they never attempt to disprove the existence of God but continuously say there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that there exists supernatural beings.  Now there is a distinction between disproving a claim and saying there is no scientific evidence for such a claim.  My response does have a thread of logic to it all the way from string theory (which Hedges refers to in his also quite packed article) to Dostoyevsky, and I do admit to embellishing my arguments to make a point, and if those who read them cannot connect the dots, well so be it.  I certainly can connect dots but there is a lack of them to connect.  I am happy to explain if you would say exactly with what you are having a problem.  Is Maani right or not, no he is not. 

Collins Evangelical orientation is precisely germane particularly if he claims Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dennis Dennett, and David Mills attempts to disprove the existence of god using Darwin, or even if Darwin is left out of the equation.  If he didn’t do that, then I fail to see why you used him as a reference.  To recapitulate, first of all the famous atheist guys have not made the attempt to disprove the existence of god and certainly did not use Darwin towards that end.  If they say there is no scientific evidence there is a god, that does not disprove it.  It simply says there is no evidence.  And scientist Collins does not provide evidence even among his famous six premises.  He makes the dogmatic statement that the universe came into being out of nothingness, about 14 billions years ago.  This is an unproved theory.  Second premises is ambiguous with the words “improbabilities” and “appear.”  He admits in premise number three that the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, but he accepts the substance of evolution theory and natural selection.  And after that, he suggests no supernatural (god) was required).  His hypothesis of morality is dubious given there are other scientists who have contradictory theories.  He provides no evidence that since he cannot explain the existence of human morality, it can be attributable to a very ambiguous “spiritual” nature.  The constant hemming and hawing about providing real evidence is the crux of the problem.  I would be willing to admit a supernatural being exists if evidence is provided.  Now maybe the idea of evidence is not clear so here are a few synonymous phrases:  substantial criteria, indisputable demonstration, incontrovertible specimens, unassailable manifestation.  You might read the discussion between Collins and Dawkins God vs. Science in the Time Magazine, Sunday, Nov. 05, 2006 By David Van Biema at,9171,1555132-5,00.html
but be sure to read the entire article not just the first page.

Report this

By Joan, August 6, 2008 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment


Your entire response to my last post makes my point about triggering also sorts of reactions..…

Born again, Evangelical is beside the point, not germane to the issue… Collins is a scholar. He echoes the arguments that others… Maani, Hedges, I myself make based on familiarity with these atheists/authors, not any personal beliefs or a prejudice. Darwin is being pre-empted by atheists like Harris, Dawkins et al to disprove God. I asked you …is Maani right about this or not? Yes or no? 

In your response, somehow you got involved in discussions of death and pain and emotions and Buddhism and string theory, electrons, Dostoyevsky, necessary and sufficient conditions, exactness, “Dennett’s own (personal) science” (?), “ the scientific kind of non –empiricism” whatever that may mean…etc thoughts that are not central to the question at hand debate or if they are, you failed to connect the dots.

I cannot find your answer to this basic question about the meaty issue of this entire debate. Please exhume.  Limited mental ability that I may have, I know this little bit about the art of argumentation. It requires a certain mental discipline… staying on point and addressing the specific points.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 6, 2008 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

I take everything you said, Maani, as a compliment.

Report this

By Maani, August 6, 2008 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment


The level of your condescension, self-aggrandization and conceit is truly stunning.  And it is clear that you do not realize just how obnoxious your attitude is.  And no, it is not about being honest and direct about one’s opinion or position.  It is about the self-important way in which you debate, and the snidely dismissive comments your make to others.

You may be “smart,” but you could really use a few lessons in humility and courtesy.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

Inasmuch as Collins is a born-again Evangelical Cristian, Joan, I am not surprised at the quote you easily found.  The fact that death and dying affected him so much to propel him out of his atheism shows his fear of death and dying.  Atheists in general do not have such fears, at least the ones I know including myself and I have seen much death and dying.  Personally I find human pain and death quite strong arguments against the existence of a god.  It is also interesting that you take my response to Maani as passionate.  I suppose any response could be considered passionate since to be unemotional one would have to ignore being and interacting in the world much as Buddhists teach.  But I am not a Buddhist, and sensuously live in the world as a participant in it in many and various ways both passionately and intellectually.  If you could point out a buried point of mine I would be happy to exhume it for you.  Your claim that I respond with “all kinds of different ideas…” is sort of a red herring on your part.  If you would elucidate on those as well I would be happy to simplify them down to your level of thinking.

Observations do not attempt to “explain” others’ arguments, but to be objective one would make personal comments instead. 

Hedges’ reference to string theory as a theorized phenomenon that “no scientist has ever seen…”  implies that because there is no “firm ground” for science to believe it exists, and that somehow makes it similar to religious mysteries.  Yet Christians, and all religions for that matter, postulate an unseen deity, yet fervently believe in such supernaturalities. Partly Hedges’ point.  But because two things are inexact does not sufficiently nor necessarily connect them in any other way.  I would argue that there is nothing that is exact, neither you nor I, nor anything else.  Particularly if one uses science to try to grasp reality.  We all know there is a lot of space between electrons…  and that they are always in motion, and that everything we experience we experience them in an absolute historical sense, never in a now context, always as past events.  And if we are compelled to accept these logically consistent ideas, for if we didn’t an extreme consequence would present itself, that everything would come to a bloody halt, well maybe not bloody since that is much too sanguine, but let’s revise to say everything would come to a very cold halt, and therefore, equating irrational beliefs in supernatural beings really has nothing to do with the scientific kind of non-empiricism.  Hence Hedges’ comparison is falsely premised.  Seems to me that Dawkins and Dennett, et al, find their own arguments and own science to justify their non-belief in deit(ies)  even if they do reference evolution as a scientific fact.  As I said, facts are in the public domain.  I use none myself, neither Darwin, Dawkins nor Dennett (the Big Ds).  I just simply don’t believe and no one has ever offered any rational proof that I should.  Oh, I did use another D when I was a teenager, Dostoyevsky, as a reference for atheism once.  His questions were quite eloquent.

Report this

By Joan, August 6, 2008 at 11:19 am Link to this comment


My point is not about Maani. It is about my attempts to follow your responses to points being made. You are very passionate about the subject but your responses to specific points get buried. I would just hope to see them more clearly. It seems that he makes a point and that triggers you to respond with all kinds of different ideas…

It’s not patronizing anyone…it’s an observation.

Case in point…this Hedge’s piece is roughly about contemporary atheism and Darwin…It is my observation that the contemporary atheists have cast the debate about evolution with evolution and God being mutually exclusive. It is one or the other, not both. That is the debate I hear in the press and in the books being published on atheism and Christian apologetics that are responding to the challenge. As best I see it, this is the nitty- gritty of the public discussion about evolution vs. God. That in this day and age in the context of the public debate that high school science teachers would maintain that evolution precludes belief in God seems a reasonable contention, Darwin’s original intentions notwithstanding.  Bottom-line, Is Maani wrong in his overall contention that Darwin is being misused? Yes or no? 

On another issue, if you have read Dawkins or Harris and not understood Darwin (ie Darwinism) as being used to disqualify God from creation and everything else including ethics, I think we read tracts differently.  Here is a quote from the first book I grabbed from my shelf…”Atheism has evolved in the decades since O’ Hair was its most visible advocate. Today it is not secular activists like O’ Hair who make up its vanguard- it is evolutionists. Among several vocal proponents, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett stand out as articulate academics who expend considerable energies to explain and extend Darwinism, proclaiming that an acceptance of evolution in biology requires an acceptance of atheism in theology.” “The Language of God”  Francis S. Collins, pp 160-161. 


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 6, 2008 at 4:03 am Link to this comment

Interesting, Joan, that you feel you must explain Maani’s points.  Do you do that for everyone?  It is a patronizing habit.  As long as I have been interacting with Maani. which has been for many, many months, I have noticed he has always been able to handle his own questions whether or not I think he supports them well, and even if I think he spins things in a counterclockwise direction; well we have and can handle it in response.  I think Maani and I have no enmity between us.  Just differences of opinion.  I certainly do not have any for him.  Perhaps you do not have enough “faith” that Maani can deal with his own arguments?

Do you have your own questions?  Also you might go back and read the entire forum to catch up with what has already been discussed. 

To deal with your comment, however, please read Maani, August 4, 1:09pm, here I will quote it for you:  “...  I invite you to ask 100 high school students what Darwin set out to prove, and I bet you a dollar to your dime that they say, “that God does not exist,” rather than “that the theory of special creation is wrong” (which is what he REALLY did). 

From Maani’s invented survey, the legitimate inference is that Darwin’s theory is grossly misinterpreted by high school teachers and high school students are going around with a false notion of what Darwin did.  And yes, one could extrapolate, however erroneously, Darwin’s theory of evolution as a counter argument to the existence of supernatural beings.  However, that is not the only conclusion the theory yields, and you are incorrect to think that it is, unless you are willing to say that all of today’s invocation of Darwin are seriously fraudulent .  I suggest you read all the literature on evolution and Darwin.  If high school teachers are using Darwin as the primary source as an example of an attempt to disprove God (which was not too well put by you I have to say, better to say disprove the existence of god), then that high school is in violation of the law of keeping religion out of public schools, whereas evolution is the approved curriculum for science classes.  But that is another issue.  Let us say that is what is happening, my broad brush stroke nevertheless would certainly cover that possibility as well as if Darwin texts were used directly.  It is moot whether Dawkins, Dennett, and others such as David Mills exploit Darwin’s theories.  The theory stands on its own and it is in the public domain for a purpose, for others to use and to exploit.  Darwin himself wanted this to be the case.  However, it is incumbent upon those using another’s theory to state the theory accurately not debase it for one’s own villainous purpose.  I have read much of Dawkins, Dennett and Mills, and many others and have not seen anywhere where Darwin was misused.  The theory neither provides nor not provides evidence of the existence or nonexistence of a god.  If you want to make a supported case that Darwin’s theory of evolution does anything more than investigate the diversity of organisms and the process of natural selection then please be our guest. 

You state my point exactly.  I was giving recorded evidence of Christians murdering innocent millions in the name of their god and Maani was counterarguing with those killing millions in the name of politics.  I argued “A” and Maani argued “B.” 

Painting with wide brushes does cover a lot of area, I call it the Wide Sweep Approach.  It covers gaps that most likely would have been relevant issues.

Report this

By Joan, August 5, 2008 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment


Please excuse last post…hit the wrong key as you probably realize… My apologies…


When you are painting with your broad brush, you are arguing points Maani has not made…but more or less arguing against points you interpolate from his ideas…not countering what he specifically says…

For instance, as best as I can ascertain, Maani never said Darwin set out to prove that God did not exist. Anyone who has read the contemporary atheists such as Harris, Dawkins et al sees that they are exploiting Darwin as a means for empirically demonstrating that God does not exist. Today invoking Darwin, the propostion is an either/or propostion…If there is evolution, there is no God. This debate is THE DEBATE on which teaching evolution in public schools centers. It extends from the classrooms to the steps of the Vatican. Hence Maani’s contention that Darwin certainly is being used to as an attempt disprove God, whether this was Darwin’s intention or not. These are two different points, Darwin’s intent and how his work a being used by others. 

Understanding the specific points of an argument is crucial to the kind of conclusion that can be legitmately drawn or the critiques it is reasonable to make in response. If someone argues about “A” , it seems rather freewheeling or like a stream of consciousness to be responding by arguing about “B”.


Report this

By Joan, August 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment


yuareacinfusg di

Report this

By Maani, August 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment


Could it be?  Are we actually finally in agreement?  LOL.

I accept your most recent post in its entirety, and am glad that we have at least come to a point where we agree on most, and agree to disagree (politely..LOL) on other points.  I particularly appreciate your phrase “self-described Christian Nazis,” since, if the hypocrisy of Christians is one of your bugaboos, the historically incorrect claim that Hitler and the Nazis were “Christians” is one of mine (as you well know).

Ultimately, you are correct: the murder of ANY NUMBER of people in the name of ANY religious or political system is abhorrent, and should be condemned in the strongest terms.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 5, 2008 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Pieces!  Maani…I apologize, I don’t recall your lamentations.  But I’m contented you have.  And I have no argument with your count of the millions killed by communists.  I thought I made that clear yesterday.  Oh well, I’ll say it again.  You are indubitably correct in giving the multitudinous count of those murdered by communists (and let’s not leave out the self-described Christian Nazis who exterminated millions of Jews!).  As I shall have to make my point again, it is comparing apples and cucumbers in comparing killing done in the name of god (i.e., the Christians which I briefly charted yesterday) and killing done for political power (communist and Nazis).  I do believe there is a categorical difference.  But you refuse to see it.  Aside from being a non-militant atheist in the same vein as say Buddhist atheists who abhor violence, but also just as a human being, I detest those fascist murderous communists.  They were quasi atheists and full of their own hubris, as some atheists and theists are. I do not pretend to give exception, or immunity, to the idea that atheists cannot also be hypocrites.  As I defined the word yesterday, there are pretenders in all views of the existential.

Report this

By Maani, August 5, 2008 at 10:52 am Link to this comment


“My point is that there was killing done using their god as justification, which you fail to acknowledge.”

Given your comment to Joan about how long you and I have been debating this, I find it just a bit snarky that you would claim that I have never acknowledged that atrocities were committed by Christians in the name of their God; indeed, not just acknowledged it, but lamented it as well.

Also, by your own count, 2,503,000 were killed by Christians in a 200-year period ending in ~1300. But let’s assume that is a conservative number and raise the bar to 3 million - or even 5 million.  Lenin and Stalin ALONE killed TEN TIMES THAT MANY - yes, in the “name” of their “atheist” beliefs - in about 50 years.  And this doesn’t include Mao (~30-60 million), Hitler (~10 million) or Pol Pot (~5 million).  I appreciate that you are making my case for me.  LOL.

Another error you make is assuming that, unlike Christians who have a God and a set of (presumed) tenets to which they can be (and often are) hypocritical, atheists do not, and are thus immune from hypocrisy.  To suggest this would be the height of arrogance and conceit.

As for totalitarianism, I again refer you to “Sacred Causes” by Michael Burleigh.  I believe it will open your eyes to things you seem blindered to.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 5, 2008 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

Intentionally so,  Joan.  Maani’s theme(s) are not very compelling and I’ve known his viewpoint(s) for a very long time.  We are not new at our arguments with each other.  There actually have been aspects of Maani’s views that I agree with, but I haven’t seen any lately.  When there are few dissenters within a religion, then most of the members (the majority, if you will) become the same hypocritical hue as the fanatics by default.  If it is a fact that high school students are given false impressions, let us say particularly in this case, Darwin’s entire theories, and whether or not he proposed a proof of the nonexistence of god, which he did not, we can only suppose the Intelligent Designers or some other such catechismic dogmatic and fanatic religion have got the instructors by their proverbially didactic balls.  Furthermore, these intentionally misinformed high schoolers become misinformed adults who intentionally and systematically have not been taught to think for themselves.  However, there are those who have argued brilliantly and in my opinion correctly that there is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, of a supernatural being, or beings if one believes in the pluralistic notion of gods.  Depends on what one has been taught to suspect is the truth and how to prove the truth of claims.

Report this

By Joan, August 5, 2008 at 9:48 am Link to this comment


When you paint with a broad brush, you brush over the details which I think has been Maani’s theme. The details sometimes change viewpoints significantly.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 4, 2008 at 9:50 pm Link to this comment

Maani:  Perhaps the Crusaders were two hundred thousand in number, however they killed Muslims and Jews by the way to the tune of two million!  Christians along the way of their path gave the Crusaders sustenance, if they didn’t many of them were killed as well.  All that being said, I would agree that not all Christians were involved in the atrocities.  The fact that there were atrocities and massacres is what is important.  My point is that there was killing done using their god as justification, which you fail to acknowledge. 

In discussing ideas, Marx’s or anybody else’s, the elements of an idea do not belong to any particular domain, religion or political.  Furthermore, seeing the dynamics of an idea are really the seeds of creativity in any area of human action, basically Marx’s ideas were not that bad.  It is only when those tyrants of totalitarianism appropriated those ideas that it turned evil.  Unfortunately communism easily falls under this political disease.

Just to put a slight perspective on western “religious” murders, here is a rough estimate of the killings by Crusaders (1095-1291 AD) on command of Pope Urban II:
Charles Mackay, “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the
        Madness of Crowds:(1841): 2,000,000 killed in all Crusades.  Others put it at 1,500,000. 
Other Individual Events:
According to Davies: Crusaders killed up to 8,000 Jews in Rhineland
Paul Johnson:  A History of the Jews (1987): 1,000 Jewish women
Gibbon:  Battle of Nice [Nicea]:  300,000
Crusaders vs. Solimon of Roum:  3,000 Moslems massacred.
1098, Fall of Antioch: 100,000 Moslems massacred.
1099, Fall of Jerusalem:  70,000 Moslems massacred.
Siege of Tyre: 1,000 Turks
Richard the Lionhearted executes 3,000 Moslem POWs.
Fall of Christian Antioch: 17,000 massacred.

Peas and good night.  Tamarra is another day.

Report this

By Maani, August 4, 2008 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment


“What comparative Christian few are you talking about Maani?”

I am talking about the fact that the Crusades and Inquisitions were carried out by less than 200,000 people out of a total global Christian population at the various times of many millions, and then tens of millions.  Given this, how do you justify painting with your broad brush?  And no, not every Christian who was not actively involved in these atrocities tacitly supported them either.

Re Marx, it is just as hypocritical to steal a religious idea and then cover your tracks by denigrating and dismissing religion as it is to claim to be a Christian and do something un-Christian.  Your semantic argument doesn’t hold water.

“Just show me in Darwin where he said he was proving that god did not exist.”

You completely (deliberately?) missed my point.  My point was not what Darwin did or said (and I really don’t need lessons from you here, so your entire exegesis on Origin and Descent is wasted, at least on me), but rather what the scientific and educational communities TEACH about Darwin, or at very least leave the IMPRESSION that they leave re Darwin’s work.  THAT is what makes its way into the minds of impressionable high school and college students who go on to become badly educated adults - who then read books in which rabidly zealous atheists (and scientists, no less!) like Dawkins leave the same impression.

I agree that “hypocritical adherents” to ANY faith are worthy of refutation and perhaps even disdain. Your problem is that you see them as the majority - even the overwhelming majority - while I believe them to be the minority (even if only just so).


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 4, 2008 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment

On Darwin… Cont.
Then in The Descent of Man, there are eight references regarding god. In Chapter 21, the last chapter, 4th paragraph, “The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man’s reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture. He who believes in the advancement of man from some low organised form, will naturally ask how does this bear on the belief in the immortality of the soul. The barbarous races of man, as Sir J. Lubbock has shewn, possess no clear belief of this kind; but arguments derived from the primeval beliefs of savages are, as we have just seen, of little or no avail. Few persons feel any anxiety from the impossibility of determining at what precise period in the development of the individual, from the first trace of a minute germinal vesicle, man becomes an immortal being; and there is no greater cause for anxiety because the period cannot possibly be determined in the gradually ascending organic scale.’  This is comparatively brief and hardly a proof offered for the non-existence of god. 

All this notwithstanding, and since I have saved you all the work, you may now have a better understanding of Darwin’s activities, and I further suggest that you make a comprehensive study strengthen your knowledge on this topic.

It is my style to use a wide brush when covering a variety of topics, that way I avoid leaving too many bare spots. 

The word “stole” with reference to Marx is a mere expression meaning he found a useful idea from Christianity, but it was taken directly from your post “are you aware that Marx stole the basic concept of communism from Christianity?  It is your style transform semantically but it doesn’t work here with me.  Asking the question has nothing to do with morality, by the way, hence defense is not necessary.  I am ecstatic I shined a light on hypocrisy, as it did need illumination. 

I harbor no hatred, unbridled or otherwise, nor disdain for religion, it is the hypocritical adherents that are despicable and rank.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 4, 2008 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment

What comparative Christian few are you talking about Maani?  And exactly what acts are you talking about?  I don’t claim to be fair in any case.  The Crusaders were not being “fair,” were they?  I have no idea how you judge atheists, you seem to be judging them on some criteria.  What might that be?

Glad you admit there are ignorant adults.  Just show me in Darwin where he said he was proving that god did not exist.  In his introduction to Origin of the Species he made no mention of proving the non-existence of god, nor in his conclusion did he conclude the non-existence of god.  And if you read each of the chapters you would see that he was intent on explaining the diversity of organisms and describing the process of natural selection.  Would you care to provide a section of the book that supports your accusation?  Now if you were to offer up Locke and/or Hume as having taken the challenge of providing scientific grounds for religious beliefs you might have some substance for argument although you would lose on those grounds as well since they were unsuccessful. 

From Darwin’s diary, it is shown he was attached to the church, and never entertained the idea to prove the nonexistence of god.  Here are some relevant entries: —My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort. I have therefore nothing to record during the rest of my life, except the publication of my several books. Perhaps a few details how they arose may be worth giving.

—I remember in the early part of my school life that I often had to run very quickly to be in time, and from being a fleet runner was generally successful; but when in doubt I prayed earnestly to God to help me, and I well remember that I attributed my success to the prayers and not to my quick running, and marvelled how generally I was aided.

—After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman. He was very properly vehement against my turning into an idle sporting man, which then seemed my probable destination. I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard or thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care ‘Pearson on the Creed,’ and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted.  See next post for a completion of this train of thought.

Report this

By Maani, August 4, 2008 at 2:31 pm Link to this comment


“I judge religions by the acts of its members on behalf it their religion.”

And herein lies your problem.  You are judging the entirety of Christian thought and Christendom by the actions of a comparative few.  Not exactly fair, is it?  I don’t judge atheists en masse by the actions of Stalin, Lenin, Mao et al.

Your prior post deserves complete parsing:

“I suppose if you want to take what immature high school students want to say about science you can do that. Since it is exactly not what Darwin set out to do at all, it is rather adolescent of you to take the sentiments of the many ignorant teenagers over the record of the one, Mr. Darwin.”

Those “immature high school students” grow up to be the ignorant adults that I hear the same thing from.

“Obviously you don’t quite understand what Darwin was doing…”

I almost don’t want to honor this with a response; anytime you want to debate Darwinian theory - or, indeed, any “hard” science, including physics, geology, paleontology and biochemistry - with me, feel free to take your best shot.

“...nor do you demonstrate that you understand the concept of “the masses” but seem to think that it is some kind of unified whole that acts rationally as if it were a single being itself.  But observing the religious collective it is easily seen that religion acts as a palliative and infectiously conditions their individual minds collectively to follow some fictionalized mythical supernatural being rather than develop their own critical thinking and judiciously moral minds.  And sorry to see that you have been infected as well. In saying religion is the opiate of the masses is saying the masses of religious individuals use religion to avoid using their own thinking minds about questions of morality and existence.”

Really?  So not only do you judge the entirety of Christendom by the actions of a comparative few, but you now make a broad-brush generalization that believers do not possess “critical thinking and judiciously moral minds.”  You bury yourself in your own foolish - and hopelessly insupportable - comments.

“Does it matter if Marx “stole” the concept from Christianity?”

Given that YOU are the one who is “shining a light” on “hypocrisy,” I find this question morally indefensible.  Of course it matters!  Just as you are correct that it matters that people who self-proclaim as Christian do things that are against the tenets of their claimed belief.

“Being dispossessed of one’s own mind but following as if lemmings do not evolved human beings make but makes them lemmings.”

Believers = lemmings?!  Again with the insupportable broad-brush generalizations!  Despite your claims of having “respect for the necessity of religion,” your unbridled hatred and disdain for it is transparent.

Ultimately, you undermine your entire position when you attempt to debate as you do, with broad-brush generalizations, denigration, disdain and dismissal.  And that is sad, because you are obviously a very intelligent woman.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment

Silly question Petros.  Seems the so-called nazis (who set up their own secular religion) and so-called atheist communists killed in the name of their agenda, totalitarianism.  Don’t you think? Well depends on how you define hypocrite.  In the Greek it means ‘actor,’ ‘prentender,’ not so irrelevantly.  Christians killed the millions they massacred acting or pretending to be on behalf of their god.  So did the Muslims by the way kill the multitude supposedly acting on behalf of their god. 

What exactly are the philosophical arguments and implications for your understanding of atheism?  And if Christian doctrine says one thing but the Christians do another thing that is hypocrisy within the scope of their religion.  And if it abuses, tortures, on behalf of their religion that teaches benevolence, that too is hypocrisy.  I judge religions by the acts of its members on behalf it their religion.

Of course it is ridiculous to debate how many people have been killed on behalf of a religion, isn’t it?  Whatever is done in the name of a religion is outside the realm of morals, right?  And of course whether killing is morally right or wrong has nothing to do with religion.  That is why the sixth commandment in the Judeo/Christian religions says, Thou shalt not murder (or kill according to Catholocism).

Report this

By Petros, August 4, 2008 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment

If atheist did not kill in the name of God then why did they kill?  In the name of themselves? 

Also, the hypocrite argument is quite irrelevant to any discussion of religion or atheism for that matter. 

I don’t judge atheism by it’s extreme followers, I judge it by it’s philosophical arguments and implications.  The same thing with Christianity, I don’t judge it by it’s hypocrites or it’s abuses, I judge it by it’s main tenets and philosophical and social implications. 

To debate how many people have been killed by what view of the world is ridiculous and childish.  To debate what makes killing morally right or wrong is another thing.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, August 4, 2008 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

Happy to take up the argument where we left off in May, with much renewed energy!  Well Maani, I suppose if you want to take what immature high school students want to say about science you can do that.  Since it is exactly not what Darwin set out to do at all, it is rather adolescent of you to take the sentiments of the many ignorant teenagers over the record of the one, Mr. Darwin.  Obviously you don’t quite understand what Darwin was doing nor do you demonstrate that you understand the concept of “the masses” but seem to think that it is some kind of unified whole that acts rationally as if it were a single being itself.  But observing the religious collective it is easily seen that religion acts as a palliative and infectiously conditions their individual minds collectively to follow some fictionalized mythical supernatural being rather than develop their own critical thinking and judiciously moral minds.  And sorry to see that you have been infected as well.  In saying religion is the opiate of the masses is saying the masses of religious individuals use religion to avoid using their own thinking minds about questions of morality and existence.  Does it matter if Marx “stole” the concept from Christianity.  By the way, where does it talk about the multitude being drugged in Acts 4:32-35?  Hogwash, not at all.  Being dispossessed of one’s own mind but following as if lemmings do not evolved human beings make but makes them lemmings. 

So we quibble over the number of murdered.  Atheists who have killed others did not kill in the name of god!  But those hypocrite Christians did!  There is no justification for either murderers.  But those who kill calling on god’s graces to do so in my mind are the greater miscreants and cowards.

Report this

By Maani, August 4, 2008 at 11:09 am Link to this comment


You say, “[S]cience is not out to prove a God does not exist…”

Really?  I invite you to ask 100 high school students what Darwin set out to prove, and I bet you a dollar to your dime that they say, “that God does not exist,” rather than “that the theory of special creation is wrong” (which is what he REALLY did).  And I know this because I hear it all the time from high school and college students, as well as from adults.

And how can you make such an absurd statement in the light of such books as Dawkins’, Dennett’s, and especially Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis?”

Second, you say, “Religion is the opiate of the masses as Marx once remarked.”

Are you aware that Marx stole the basic concept of communism from Christianity?  Here is the relevant Scriptural text: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common…Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”  (Acts 4:32-35)

Get that?  From each according to his ability (to produce or provide), to each according to his need. The basic foundation of Marxism, stolen from Christianity.  And then he has the temerity to call religion “the opium of the people?”  Hogwash.

Finally, you talk about “weighing the total weight” of those killed vis-a-vis religion and those killed vis-a-vis atheism.  I have taken up that challenge more than once, and you have failed to provide any evidence to refute it.  The total number of those killed in Crusades, Inquisitions, holy wars, witch burnings, etc. is estimated at perhaps ~75 to 100 million IN ALL OF RECORDED HISTORY.  Yet the number of people killed (deliberately or via policies) by just five men - Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot - was over 150 million IN JUST 60 YEARS!

I strongly suggest you read “Earthly Powers” and “Sacred Causes” by Michael Burleigh, arguably the most respected historian of the collision b/w politics and religion.  They will give you a better understanding of killing and murder vis-a-vis “religion” and vis-a-vis “atheism.”


Report this

By Pete, August 4, 2008 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A great debate on this subject took place between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox over Dawkins points in his book “The God Delusion.”  Both of them are extremely intelligent men for whom I hold the utmost respect.  The playful banter between them and the respect they show each other is amazing.  The debate can be heard in it’s entirety on youtube.  It covers much of the ground of science etc.  that is covered here, but you get to hear Dawkins articulate the atheistic side much better than Hedges articulates. is the location of the first video.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 20, 2008 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment

Who wants to weigh the total weight of bodies of those murdered by Christian Crusaders, those murdered by the Inquisition, and German Christians and Italian Fascists, then the millions killed by Christian America of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and let’s see, how about all those South American natives slaughtered by the Catholic Conquistadores, and then most recently by the Christian President of the United States the millions Iraqis killed, against the total weight of those murdered by the communist totalitarian Russia and China combined?  I haven’t even touched on those killed on behalf of Allah.  But Christians and Jews will do to make the point.  I’m sure other better historians of those murdered in the name of religion than I can remember a lot better than I can.  Let’s see….hmmmm…what is a dead human murdered in the name of a god worth?

Yeah, whose peace?

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 20, 2008 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

Looks like Albert did have a few carbuncles on his ass from sitting on the agnostic fence.  But if anyone wants to read the simplistic Wikipedia entry for his religious views, which are not quite as Maani editorially expresses, there are also in that article many links to clarify for yourself Albert’s beliefs. 

Baruch Spinoza’s god was a pantheistic god and if Albert said he believed in Spinoza’s god then what conclusion ought we to come to? 

Albert speaks of the “professional” atheist in one of Maani’s quotes but please do focus on the part of the quote, “whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth,” where Einstein clearly understands the source of the “professional” atheists’ zeal.  Fetters by the way means shackles, chains, manacles.  And Maani’s quotes also shows Einstein spoke of the “fanatical” atheist where he is equating that kind of ardor with the same as the fanatical religious.  And with that quote I quite agree with Einstein but the quote ought to be read carefully for the gravity with which he is describing the agony of the atheists likened to self-freed slaves who continue feel the weight of their chains though the chains are no longer being worn.  Furthermore, in the truncated Einstein quote, “To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted … by science…,” Maani fails to note that science is not out to prove a God does not exist, science eloquently says there is no evidence that a God exists and it is incumbent on those who say there is such a supernatural being to prove it . 

While there might be the professional atheist, and Dawkins, Sam Harris, and a few others might be called “professional,” because they write books and give lectures, speak at freethinker’s conventions, there are also other kinds: iconoclasts, pragmatists, deists, and those among whom I classify myself, humanist absolutes.  If one is going to talk intelligently about something, they ought to know exactly what it is they are talking about, otherwise they are just talking out of their asses.  I invite anyone interested to read a most lucid book, The Atheist’s Universe, David Mills, instead of reading Maani’s and my perennial bickering over the god/no god issue on these forums along side any book about religious doctrines and come to reasoned conclusions on your own.  All this having been said, although I am an atheist as described, and amazing as it may sound, I do have respect for the necessity of religion just as Einstein did whose Ideas of a personal god were closer to atheists than the religious.  Religion is the opiate of the masses as Marx once remarked.  You need some kind of social control for the ignorant mobs and religion when practiced true to their moral attitudes is one of the best methods to do that.

Report this

By Maani, May 20, 2008 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment


While perhaps not exactly “genocide,” Stalin and Lenin most certainly DID engage in “slaughter” based on the creation of an atheist society.  Stalin and Lenin both had numerous churches blown up, and murdered believers SOLELY because of their belief.

You need to read a little more history.

As for the slaughter of indigenous people to “save” them, this is clearly not true of the largest genocide in history: that of the Native Americans. It was not “saving” them that led to their slaughter, but “manifest destiny”: the belief that we were “entitled” to the “new land,” and that they were simply in the way.  (That they were “savages” simply made it easier to justify.)


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 20, 2008 at 6:30 pm Link to this comment

Well you and that god of yours will have to catch me first!

Report this

By niloroth, May 20, 2008 at 6:21 pm Link to this comment

so sorry if this is posted 2 times. (if and whenever it finally posts.)


You really are trying to spin everything you say aren’t you?

Lets go over your quotes quotes again.

““Perhaps.  However, when “science” and “rationality” held sway over public policy, government spending, etc., they gave us (among other things) poison gas, high explosives, eugenics, Zyklon-B, napalm, ICBMs and nuclear weapons. None of these things came from the minds of believers.

That bolded part right there puts the lie into your attempt to spin it into “My comment was simply that the “inventions of death” most commonly used today were the result of “science” (i.e., “coldly,” without any thought toward morality or ethics) and not of “faith.””

Once again, much like hedges, make claims that are fully untrue and fully unsupported.  And that is not even getting into the fact that science need not be cold, immoral or unethical.  People can be, and the application of technology can be, but science is not.  Science simply is.  It’s like calling a wave evil because it wipes away your sand castle.  You are attempting to have it both ways, you want people to acknowledge that science is evil, and laying blame for everything on it (without supporting your case) while at the same time trying to cast the ‘faithful’ as benevolent (also without supporting your case).  Please do not think we are so stupid as to not see through that rather weak attempt on your part. 

“The legitimate issues caused by faith/religion are NOT addressable through “science.” They are issues of politics, culture, sociology, psychology, etc.”

Followed by your backtracking:

“As for my comment about “politics, culture, sociology, psychology, etc.,” and your comment that “these are sciences,” you deliberately twist my intent: they are not “hard” sciences like physics, biology, etc.  Yes, perhaps I should have made that clear: that “the issues being addressed by the “New Atheists” are not addressable through HARD science.” But I think you knew very well that that was what I was saying.”

How could i deliberately twist your intent.  You flat out said that science can not address issues because those issues are not in the realm of science.  Your attempt to demarcate ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science is reminiscent of the common creationists/I.D. attacks on evolution, and holds just as much weight.  And again, just like hedges, you make claims about the ‘new atheists’ that you then fully fail to support with any evidence. 

And yes, much to your chagrin, i do know exactly what you are saying, and I know exactly how you are wrong in your misguided attempt to say it.

Report this

By Maani, May 20, 2008 at 8:51 am Link to this comment


“Exactly where did Albert say he was an agnostic?  I provide references, can’t you?”

From a letter to M. Berkowitz, October 25, 1950 (Einstein Archive):

“My position concerning God is that of an agnostic…I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.”

From a conversation with Hubertus, Prince of Lowenstein (quoted in “Towards the Further Shore,” by Victor Gollancz):

“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”

From an article published in Nature, 1940:

“To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted … by science…”

From a letter, August 7, 1941 (Einstein Archives):

“Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who - in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’ - cannot bear the music of the spheres. The wonder of nature does not become smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human moral and human aims.”

From an interview with George Sylvester Viereck, circa 1930:

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

As an aside, when asked by Viereck whether he believed in the historical Jesus, Einstein replied: “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”


Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, May 20, 2008 at 6:23 am Link to this comment

Blind of faith need to believe they are right, in order to support the business of power and control with so many pockets to be picked.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 20, 2008 at 4:49 am Link to this comment

Hey, Maani, how can anybody spin the exact words Albert spoke?  You remind me of the spinning Sufis.  Twirling twirling twirling for mindless ‘mystical’ ecstacy…..Exactly where did Albert say he was an agnostic?  I provide references, can’t you?

You are quite right mill.  However, when Maani purposefully attempts to exploit Einstein’s beliefs to prop up his own arguments, and since Einstein is one of my heroes ,who I know was not a believer as Maani wishes he was, I have to say something. That is one of the values of these free thinking forums.  That being said, Einstein never made a claim about the existence of god.  Others attributed many things said by him that he never did say nor ever even implied, and he made that perfectly clear.  However, the title of this article has to do with Darwin and Hedges brings in a kaleidoscope of scientists and atheist scientists to make his feeble case by erroneously attributing to Dawkins a fabricated thesis that meme theory is science. He obviously did not read Dawkins The Selfish Gene Chapter 11, pp189-201 (paperback).  Dawkins said meme theory was like gene theory (science). Obviously you don’t know what a simile is.  But I have read four of Dawkins books and Hedges is plain wrong.  Unfortunately an interloper of the mind attempted to pimp science in the name of Einstein.  This hysteria is also in the face of recent attempts by Christian Apologetics to use science to give some credence to the unrestrainedly fanciful, bizzare actually,  and unsupported views of their religious dogma, including the author of this article, Hedges.  Most everybody here abouts know that I am an absolute atheist, and that I will make a pitch for truth every time no matter where prevarication shows up, whether you like it or not!  I would think if you want us to not discuss Darwin or Einstein you might just take a hike and go to some other forum.  This is not an argument about the existence of God.  BTW, I never leave the o out of God.  If you believe in a God then you are selling him short an o.  But that might be better than selling him long as fact.

Report this

By Maani, May 19, 2008 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment


Ultimately, I am with you on this, and I thank you for this very cogent and concise assessment.  Bravo.


Report this

By Maani, May 19, 2008 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment


Feel free to continue to rationalize, justify, spin and attempt to semanticize your way out of this one all you like.

The fact remains: the word Einstein used consistently and continually to define his beliefs was “mystical,” which has a very specific definition, which I am certain Einstein was well aware of.  And he stated, without refutation, that he was NOT an atheist, but an agnostic.

All the cerebrating and intellectualizing in the world doesn’t change that.


Report this

By Maani, May 19, 2008 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment


Strange that you should repeat something that I HAVE been saying for quite some time - something that others here (perhaps not you) have refuted, directly or tacitly, over and over: that scientists and rationalists CAN be (and often are) believers.  My comment was simply that the “inventions of death” most commonly used today were the result of “science” (i.e., “coldly,” without any thought toward morality or ethics) and not of “faith.”

As for my comment about “politics, culture, sociology, psychology, etc.,” and your comment that “these are sciences,” you deliberately twist my intent: they are not “hard” sciences like physics, biology, etc.  Yes, perhaps I should have made that clear: that “the issues being addressed by the “New Atheists” are not addressable through HARD science.”  But I think you knew very well that that was what I was saying.


Report this

By niloroth, May 19, 2008 at 7:07 pm Link to this comment


Just the fact that you could even post the following two things places you fully outside the pale logic.  (not that i have come to expect any less of you.)

” Perhaps.  However, when “science” and “rationality” held sway over public policy, government spending, etc., they gave us (among other things) poison gas, high explosives, eugenics, Zyklon-B, napalm, ICBMs and nuclear weapons.  None of these things came from the minds of believers.”

Aside from leaving out all the wonderful things that science and rationality have done, you once again set up the false premise that people who are scientists and rationalists can’t be believers?  And/or that all believers have to abandon science and reason?  And i know it is way to much to ask that you even begin to back up your assertion about all those things being solely invented by atheists?  I know you kinda suck at the backing up your statements thing, so i won’t hold my breath.

“The legitimate issues caused by faith/religion are NOT addressable through “science.” They are issues of politics, culture, sociology, psychology, etc.”

These are sciences.  And, can even be looked at in the light of evolution.  The book I previously mentioned by Robert Wright called ‘the moral animal’ might be a good starting point.

Report this

By mill, May 19, 2008 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

interesting thread, with Einstein and Darwin, deep thoughts expressed and argued.

i’m struck tho’ about how much the thread is like political spin - so, with out singling out any poster .....  if we can argue that Darwin or Einstein believes in G-d (or doesn’t), that some how affects the validity of the argument.

neither Einstein nor Darwin are experts at G-d, theism, or religious beliefs.  they were REALLY good at their work in the natural world.

it is painfully true that brilliant minds do not necessarily show genius across the intellectual spectrum.  that Darwin uncovered evolution or Einstein (perhaps his wife, so some speculator’s view) uncovered relativity means nothing for the debate of G-d or not.  their pronouncements on the existence (or not) of G-d are no more relevant than anyone elses.  If you want to understand how species change, or light bends .... that IS another story.

politicians do this, and are falsely stained by this same technique.  take some person (Rev. Wright), find the connection to someone you need to tear down, then POUND POUND POUND how that someone else ( e.g., a person running for President) must be of the same cloth.  Nonsense.

i read Einstein for physics, Darwin for biology, not for theological guidance in any direction.  their thoughts on evolution/relativity can be subject to independent verification/refutation.  what refutes their words on religion?

why do others want to trumpet their nonexpert views in the domain that is religion?

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 19, 2008 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment

Stretch your rubber band however long you want Maani, you completely and purposefully misunderstand his intention.  Agnostics are those who sit on a fence and get carbuncles on their “unsure” ass.  Albert was never one to get carbuncles.  You might check out his corpse. 

He has stated unequivocally that, by the age of twelve, he had rejected any sort of theistic religion. He could no longer bring himself to believe in any sort of miracle-performing God of the sort that was supposedly revealed in the Torah, the Bible or the Koran.

But the ideas of miracles and revelation are definitionally required of theism. When he used the expressions “God”, or “the Lord”, or “the Old One”, he was referring to the god of some nontheistic (i.e., atheistic) religion. But which God was he talking about?
Einstein was the son of Jewish parents. Was he, therefore, referring to Moses’ Jewish God? Or, he spent a good deal of his life in Christian America, so was he referring to the Christian God, the Pantheistic trinity of Father, Son, Holy Ghost? Or could he have been referring to some other god? There are over 240 gods in whom people have believed.

Maybe Einstein was a deist? Not so since he rejected the concept of any sort of supernatural being or god distinct from nature. His god is to be identified with nature itself.

Clearly, Einstein’s “God” is not at all like the God that most people think of when they hear the word. Neither is the “God” of the famous cosmologist and mathematician, Stephen Hawking, whose talk of “the mind of God” has given comfort to many religious believers. Hawking also is a pantheist. When asked by CNN’s Larry King whether he believed in God, Hawking answered:

“Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.”

Or he might have been a pantheist.  Pantheists believe that nature itself deserves to be called “God” since nature itself deserves our feelings of reverence and awe. For the pantheist, nothing is more worthy of reverence, or even worship, than the awesome power and beauty of the cosmos itself.  See reference below.

Pantheism provides to an emotional need many people feel for a spiritual (as opposed to materialistic) values, a need to value something beyond themselves or even the human race.

Pantheism has a long and distinguished history. It has included several philosophers especially the seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Certain versions of Taoism are pantheistic. So is Therevada Buddhism. As Einstein pointed out:

“[Therevada] Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.”

Einstein undubitably was a pantheist. In his own words:

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestation of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this sense alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

Moreover, Einstein strongly resented having his religious convictions misrepresented:

Check out the cogent reference:
Did Einstein Believe in God?

Report this

By Maani, May 19, 2008 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment


Actually, I am quoting him DIRECTLY from a letter that was just sold at auction.

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

True, even here, Einstein was not referring to what we commonly call a “personal” God, or “religion” as that word is defined via a particular dogma or doctrine.

But neither was he an atheist.  And let us be clear on our terms.  “Atheist” is a position of CERTAINTY: “there is no God.”  “Agnostic” is a position of at least SOME uncertainty: “I do not (and possibly cannot) know enough to state for a CERTAINTY that God (or some higher conscious power) does not exist.”

As well, Einstein consistently described his beliefs as “mystical.”  According to Webster, “mystical” is defined as “having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality.”

If Einstein had not meant the above, he could easily have chosen another word to describe his beliefs.

Thus, Einstein was, by his own admission on a consistent basis, a “mystical agnostic.”  He was NOT an atheist.


Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 19, 2008 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

If you can’t own him, misquote Albert, right Maani.  Everyone knows Albert Einstein was an atheist.  Cherry picking partial quotes is dishonest.  But then is that new behavior for the religious?

Einstein was an atheist by any traditional definition of God.  He said “it was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated.  I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.  If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” This quote can be found in Albert Einstein: The Human Side,, Princeton University Press, 1981. 

Some people twang rubber bands to make fool’s music too.

Report this

By Maani, May 19, 2008 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment

Some random responses:

Vermonter said, “Unlike too many religious people, no modern atheists call for wars against those with other views, despite what Hedges tries to imply.”

I guess you are not considering Stalin, Lenin and Mao “modern.”  Although “inner directed,” all of them specifically “declared war” on all those in their respective societies who believed in God.  And the number of people these three murdered IN JUST 60 YEARS (~100 million) is almost double the most LIBERAL number of people estimated to have been killed in all of the holy wars, Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, etc. in ALL OF HISTORY (~50-75 million).

Mill said, “Mr. Hedges writes as though rampant anti-theist nonemperical humanism is controlling important things, like public policy, government spending, popular opinion. If only - instead the opposite holds.”

Perhaps.  However, when “science” and “rationality” held sway over public policy, government spending, etc., they gave us (among other things) poison gas, high explosives, eugenics, Zyklon-B, napalm, ICBMs and nuclear weapons.  None of these things came from the minds of believers.

troublesum said, “What Rilke wrote a hundred years ago rings even truer today: “...the whole so-called ‘spirit world’, death, all these things that are so closely related to us have through our daily defensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have been able to grasp them have atrophied.  To say nothing of God.”

I would add the following quote from Einstein, re radical atheists: “They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium for the people’ — cannot bear the music of the spheres.’ The problem of God…is too vast for our limited minds.”

demar said, “Could anyone explain to me why the left is pushing back on writers such as Sam Harris?”

Those “pushing back” against the “New Atheists” (Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Stenger, Hitchens et al) are doing so because these people are incorrectly and inappropriately “using” science in order to address some legitimate issues about faith/religion.

I use the example of the rubber band: if you stretch it to its furthest point and let go, it goes almost to its further point in the other direction before resting in the middle.

In addressing legitimate issues re faith/religion - which they feel are “extremist” - Harris et al are pulling the rubber band to its extreme in the other direction.  However, this only makes them just as “extremist” (as rabid, polemical, “fundamentalist” atheists) as the rabid, polemical, fundamentalist believers they abhor and denigrate.

The legitimate issues caused by faith/religion are NOT addressable through “science.”  They are issues of politics, culture, sociology, psychology, etc.

Thus, the “left” (and, of course, the faith-based community) are “pushing back” in order to bring the rubber band to its natural resting place in the center.


Report this

By Hemi*, May 15, 2008 at 12:59 pm Link to this comment

From just a rudimentary internet investigation on “Kekulé’s theory” I found the general belief is that the “snake eating its own tail” vision came after his work on the structure of benzene was completed and was not considered the catalyst for his findings.  My guess is that it added mystery and awe to his public persona and at the same time caused him some embarrassment among contemporary scientists.  There reportedly had been a lampoon version of his vision with “monkeys holding hands in a ring formation” circulating before the “snake” dream was made known.

And then there is this: “Evolutionary science, however, swiftly became for many a surrogate religion. It was used to promote racism and pseudo-science, such as eugenics, a theory of biological determinism invented by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. It was turned like a club on religion and used to justify exploitation and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged.”

I ask you who are these “many”? Where is the historical account of this abrupt shift from theology to cosmology? Where are the “Galtonians”?  Galton was an important scientist and advanced a number of fields.  That he was incorrect on a few select and perhaps repugnant points has been corrected not by religion but by science.  Is it surprising that corruption can take hold in most human thoughts and endeavors?  Does that negate fact?  Did the earth stop orbiting the sun when Galileo was forced to recant heliocentrism?  Human exploitation existed prior to both religion and science. Human exploitation based on science is a crime. Human exploitation based on religion is the “stuff that dreams are made of”. Religion spawns religions in the great circle of tribal warfare. Sort of a “snake eating its own tail” or a “guy with his head shoved up his own ass”.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 15, 2008 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

Well here’s part 2 if it can get posted. This particular TD website is almost as crazy as Hedges…

Part 2
His attack on the theories of Dawkins, Dennett, et al, is grandstanding at its worst really; his arguments are weakly supported.  His accusation that they are proposing a “meme religion” is ridiculous at best.  If one were to actually read “The Selfish Gene,” chapter 11 to be exact, or Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine.” one with half a mind could see they are likening the transmission of “memeplexes” of religion as how cultural behaviors are exchanged.  It is no more a religion as Darwin’s theory of evolution.  There are no meme churches nor tithing plates to donate money to as do all the religions.  Uh, pardon me.  If it is wanted to call all scientists pastors of their theories then that is an insane stretch of defintion.

Religion has a definite connotation, as a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers as regarded as creator and governor of the universe.  There is no worship of meme theory just as there is no worship of gene theory.  The fact that there is no worship at all among a growing number of the population must be the classic Shakespearean rub.

Seems like Hedges would like the Dark Ages to return and send science to the hell he invented.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 15, 2008 at 8:48 am Link to this comment

This site does not work right!  Hmmm.  Looks like my post got posted doubly and the second part didn’t.  Too bad.  Weird that I can’t get logged in for this forum but all the others are working just fine????  Haunted?  Naw, ain’t no such things as ghosts.  I posted a full comment on the Secular Fundamentalism site which seem to be a clear site to carry on the discussion from this forum.  See you there, maybe.

Report this
Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 15, 2008 at 6:42 am Link to this comment

In his good book, The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins begins chapter 2, The Replicators, pg. 13 paperback, with the sentence, “In the beginning was simplicity.”  It is the mantra of all good science whether we are talking about the nature of a benzene molecule, string theory, snakes eating their own tails, dark matter, a unified field theory, an uncertainty principle, Darwin’s theory of evolution, a theory of cultural transmission, or the notion of an abstract idea such as Truth.  It would be a good idea to apply it also to any notion of god, which is what actually happened when the change from polytheism to monotheism occurred to the mind of mankind (using the term mankind because it is from the mental devices of men that the idea of god sprang much in the same way that Athena sprang from the mind of Zeus, whole and ready to take on the world, except of course Athena was hidden there by her mother! and it took an ax to let her out of Zeus’s head).  You must pardon this amusing digression.

Christopher Hedges wants to offer his usual bargain basement philosophy with a shopping bag full of examples that cultural traditions are somehow transmitted through some non-rational means in opposition to Richard Dawkins’ completely rational idea of meme conveyance.  Except Hedges exaggerates with unholy exuberance in order to shine brighter than the actually dull thesis he offers.  Such as when he says dark matter can be seen!  See his 2nd paragraph.  He wants to make the case that science is as elusive in its knowledges as theology (we can let philosophy and. every other human endeavors go since we know he is really after exonerating theology).  He sort of takes the Berkeleyan view that if you don’t see it, you don’t know if it really exists.  The problem with Hedges’ comparison is that science knows its limitations and knows it works on inference and implication where as theology thinks is has a grasp of Truth.  Science always leave the door open to questions and evaluation, whereas religion demands faith its dogmas are true. 

Hedges says, with only derivative understanding “There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.”  The really big problem is to say that science is no always directly empirical is a fact is incorrect and Hedges’ edifice falls flat on its face.  Nothing is every directly empirical since nothing is ever experienced directly.  Not even oneself!  There is always a “time” delay in cognition of the sense of oneself and all reflections of oneself is thereby delayed.  We are always viewing even the thoughts in our own minds in a historical perspective.  Because it takes “time” for thoughts to travel around the synapes and come to rest in the region of contemplation or if you prefer, reflection.  We never experience the world or ourselves directly except as sensations immediately occur without thought about them.  We are constantly and helplessly inferring ourselves and the world.  We imagine ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves.  Hedges’ eccentricity for religion is to criticize science and scientists imperfectly.  Do with it what you will.

Report this

By Wink Magic, May 14, 2008 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I enjoyed the article.  Despite the derogatory comments I hope you will still continue to write in this vein.

Sun surely,

Report this

By pitleaper, May 14, 2008 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment

Thanks for the list.  There’re a few I haven’t read and would like to.  Hang in there.

Report this

By Wilf Loree, May 14, 2008 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With such complicated argument and rebutal, how is the “average” person to understand what life and living are all about? There must be, like the seaarch for a consice and comprehensive theory of existance, a simpler explanation. Perhaps we are so caught up and confused by knowledge and the confusing content of consciousness we cannot see what is simply true. And such truth, I suggest, is beyond words that can only otherwise be conveyed and passed on in behaviour. And only if that behaviour reflects a love for one another is there any chance for our civilization, so called, to survive.

Report this

By Richard Hudson, May 14, 2008 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges must devolve into beating the same old dead horse because all of the arguments that are pro-deity become categorically formulaic.  I have said for a long time that church attendance was listening to the oldest and most boring book report, and poor Chris has no other ammunition than this.  Hedges is a Christian moderate and rails against the evangelicals of his faith, calling them “fascists”.  Sam Harris, whose writings show only passing interest in meme theory, considers moderate Christians such as Hedges to be the war elephants on which the wild-eyed evangelicals ride.  I believe this is what rankles Hedges against Harris.  Uniquely, Hedges fails to mention Christopher Hitchens whose antipathy toward religion is, in my opinion, more inflammatory and every bit as cogent as the “group” that Hedges has chosen to do battle with.  Also, I believe, Hitchens’  is the only one who has taken Hedges personally to task and I can’t imagine why he chose to leave poor Christopher out of the group.  Was it, perhaps trepidation?  Alas, it’s true; a debate with Christopher Hitchens tends to leave God’s defenders more than a bit bloodied.  Hitchens will only go at it bare-knuckled.

Report this

By Elias, May 14, 2008 at 9:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually I couldn’t help but notice that of the 90% of the comments against the article, 90% of them are personal attacks either on the writer or on the Harvard Divinity School (whatever that is).  I think the writer made some interesting points, not all of which I agree with, and I feel enriched by having heard his point of view.  Unlike most of the other posters here, I don’t have a rabid intolerance for people who think differently than I do.

Report this

By demar, May 14, 2008 at 9:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I love the way the truth manifests itself with such clarity. Your comments on Chris Hedges blarney make my day. Could anyone explain to me why the left is pushing back on writers such as Sam Harris? Tom Hartman of Air America had Sam on as a guest and proceeded to attack him from the get go. Hartman hadn’t even read his whole book so he misunderstood him completely. What is the origin of the term, radical atheist? Is Truthdig part of this push back?

Report this

By Bruce, May 14, 2008 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have seen Hedges talk and read his ramblings on truthdig, and always have the same reaction.
“why do they waste space with this guy”?
Harvard divinity, woopdeedo
unreadable. I try, really I do.
But, unreadable

Report this

By woody, May 14, 2008 at 6:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wisdom from a child-molester? Great.

Report this

By Terry Sanders, May 14, 2008 at 6:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In sum, you’ve become the defender of superstition. By criticizing the extreme far-right, you feel empowered to proclaim that primitive superstition is still ok as long as it doesn’t go Taliban wacko.

Science really doesn’t matter here. It is your insistence on denying common sense in the vain hope of validating your very expensive and pointless degree that appears to be your real agenda.

Report this

By omprem, May 14, 2008 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What is your point? All you have done is to issue a series of ad hominems against Mr Hedges and restate what you claim to be his point of view to suit your own purposes. If you have something to say, say it.

Report this

By Robert Brwon, May 14, 2008 at 5:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges’ arguments are not even wrong, they’re just incomprehesible pseudoscientific giberish. It’s not even worth responding to so I’ll only say that if he has read any of the authors he criticises he obiously hasn’t understood a word they wrote and clearly he has no idea of what science is or isn’t.


Report this

By Manson, May 14, 2008 at 3:51 am Link to this comment

“The atheistic scientists hold the rather naive belief that if God exists he can be found in the same way they discovered electrons.”

It seems to me the naiveté is rather the opposite - just because those practicing the scientific method have not yet measured something in no way indicates that those practicing religion somehow can.

In fact, religion has yet to provide any testable, repeatable methods of knowing that aren’t readily available to those unbridled by religion.

Senses atrophied… boy, you can say that again.

Report this

By cyrena, May 13, 2008 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment


I have to agree with you. The intuitive (feelings) are as important as the logic, and can only be at maximum efficiency when operating interdependantly.

(mysterious as it is)

Report this

By Lena Herzog, May 13, 2008 at 7:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The profound difference between science and religion is that a paradigm change and even slight readjustments are in the very nature of science. Belief never does that; it is a static system. Any credible adjustment of a faulty paradigm in any discipline of science brings about changes, small and big, sometimes so profound that they change the way we view the world. As religious institutions always sought a tight grip on our existential outlook they rightly saw science as a threat. But it is a psychological reaction and has a poor intellectual ground. Science and religion have nothing to do with each other. Chris Hedge’s resentment towards science as the usurper of truth is misplaced, science falters and makes mistakes and clings to myths (he rightly observes) as its authors are human, they are the same authors of god. But science is an usurper of a more dynamic method which at its best application brings out the best in us: ability to think critically and re-evaluate.

Report this

By c, May 13, 2008 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

At no point do Dawkins and E.O. Wilson “insist we are moving toward a final good.”

You have misunderstood their viewpoints, possibly out of a lack of scientific knowledge, perhaps on purpose. They argue that our intelligence and reasoning capacity gives us the ability to, in Dawkins’ words, “rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators”—our genes. 

There is a simple proof for this: birth control. We use it, although our biological makeup is configured to compel us to reproduce far more often.

There. You lose. Seriously, look it up—that’s the kind of thing they’re talking about. Don’t just take my word for it.

As for the rest of the article—well, if it had some structure, I could maybe address a few of its points. But it’s all over the map, like a Burroughs novel. The point seems to be to pile on enough innuendo and strawman arguments that readers will just throw their hands up in surrender.

And the sentences are needlessly convoluted. You know, kind of like when a writer is trying to obscure the weak points of an argument.

Now stay the hell off of my turf.

Report this

By troublesum, May 13, 2008 at 6:38 pm Link to this comment

The new atheists are offended at the idea that there could be anything in the universe greater than themselves.  The atheistic scientists hold the rather naive belief that if God exists he can be found in the same way they discovered electrons.  We all tend to believe that apprehending God is easy and that we are all capable of it.  What Rilke wrote a hundred years ago rings even truer today: “...the whole so-called ‘spirit world’, death, all these things that are so closely related to us have through our daily defensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have been able to grasp them have atrophied.  To say nothing of God.”
Rumi, the Islamic spiritual and literary genius, said, “the man who doesn’t worship God will worship an idol, and the idol of every man is his own ego.”  Ours is the culture of idolatry.

Report this

By Earnric, May 13, 2008 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

“Quantum physics demolished the assumption that physical elements are governed by fixed laws.

Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor.” ...

This statement is simply wrong and belies a person who doesn’t understand what science “is”.

Report this

By mill, May 13, 2008 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges writes as though rampant anti-theist nonemperical humanism is controlling important things, like public policy, government spending, popular opinion.

If only - instead the opposite holds. 

imagine a world where reality, commonly defined, strongly shaped the opinions of those who are in real control, whether those controllers are theists or not, scientists or not, politicians or not

and then they acted like they cared about the rest of us as a result

Report this

By Uncle Ernie, May 13, 2008 at 1:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Son you better put that crack pipe down, it’s making you null and void. Harvard Divinity, why am I not surprised? Could you explain the talking snake theory, please?

Report this

By DR, May 13, 2008 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How many times can you write the same post, but with different words? Mr Hedges is certainly attempting to establish the record here. Give it up, and go on to better pursuits; you have lost all credibility on this issue a while ago. Here’s what you’ve been going for the last year, Mr Hedges:

1. You claim without any sort of substantial argument, that Atheism is nothing but another religion.

2. You claims and whatever thin arguments are thoroughly rebutted, repeatedly.

3. You completely ignore the counter arguments, and simply go on and repeat the whole cycle all over again.

It’s like a dog chasing its tail: good for some entertainment at first, but after a while you start thinking he might need some kind of medical help…

Report this

By Vermonter17032, May 13, 2008 at 10:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I suspect the reason religious people get so agitated by a few atheists is that they realize that their altars are built on sand. Unlike too many religious people, no modern atheists call for wars against those with other views, despite what Hedges tries to imply. Science itself evolves. It admits mistakes and adapts. It grows and, while never perfect, always improves our understanding of the universe. Religion, on the other hand, has not substantially brought us any closer to understanding the universe than it did 3000 years ago. Every atheist I know is a moral person. That’s more than I can say about all the religious people I know—in case this last sentence is misunderstood, let me clarify: I know people who espouse religious beliefs who are immoral people. I do not know any atheists who are. There are religious people who support violence against those who do not share their views.

Then think about this: In the United States an avowed atheist would have no chance to be elected president. People would gladly tell pollsters, “No, I will not vote for someone who does not believe in God.” Yet, I would bet you will not find a single atheist who would not vote for someone simply for his or her religious beliefs.

And yet it is the religious who get their holy relics in a bunch because a few atheists have managed to get a word or two in edgewise in this debate. Says something to me about the strength of their beliefs.

Report this

By Luigi, May 13, 2008 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As Woody Allen once said, “No one can prove the non-existence of God.  It’s something that has to be accepted on faith.”

Report this

By David Bryson, MD (Yale '63), May 13, 2008 at 7:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

physics first had its Newton, and then had its Einstein - evolution first had its Darwin, and has
been awaiting its Einstein - next year, 2009, is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and also 150 years since the publication of The Origin of Species - a global curriculum inspired by the Einstein of Evolution is in production, and welcomes
inquiries and assistance -
google   Bryson + Cosmopolitics for relevant links

Report this

By Hemi*, May 13, 2008 at 6:55 am Link to this comment

Look, before you throw your take on “meme theory” at me, explain what the flyin’ f*ck is “Harvard Divinity School”? Does graduating from such an institution give you license to use a “divining rod”? If so, could said rod help you to find a clue?

I had no idea “Professor Irwin Corey” was alive and well. Enough of the “onward Christian soldiers apologist hysterical double-talk” please. There’s nothing left worth reporting is there TruthDig? You hired this guy and now don’t know what to do with him. You keep throwing him on stage hoping the audience will finally “get him”. It ain’t working, there’s nothing to “get”.

Report this

By J. Smith, May 13, 2008 at 5:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Chris Hedges,

The following are some concerns and critique I have with regard to your arguments.

“It certainly is not Darwinian science. Darwin wrote nothing to indicate…” This is inconsistent. Here you cite Darwin directly in support of one of your arguments, but in another section, you observe (accurately), that Darwin was not the final word on evolution and that we have learned a great deal more since Darwin’s time.

In the second, third and fourth paragraphs you seemingly attempt to undermine science in the mind of the reader through a disingenuous misrepresentation of the uncertainty principle (which has yeilded predictions and formulae that have proved to be anything but uncertain) and several other areas of research. Your comments about Dark Matter not being “seen”, and the not-so-subtle implication that therefore Science is faith-based is simply obfuscating the conversation without making any real contribution to it. This is also just grossly wrong, and I shouldn’t need to spell out to you the rock solid merits of implied scientific observations. The idea that only by having actual photons from an event strike your retina can you make any truly meaningful ‘observation’ is just absurd and flies in the face of many great scientific breakthroughs that were made in exactly this manner.

To say that the “questions of science are not the questions of religion” is to ignore the current reality faced by many concerned parents at the prospect of intelligent design being forced into American schools, and then there is the whole tiresome issue of stem-cell research. What you mean when you say “religion” seems to be your own idealistic benevolent definition of religion - or perhaps what you wish religion could become - and it is at variance the religion those of us out here in the real world are experiencing. This was also very apparent in your debate with Sam Harris I thought.

If you are advocating a contemporary, thoughtful, evolved version of religion, please make this clear. Attacking Harris and others for calling a spade a spade, when you are substituting his spade for a queen of diamonds benefits no-one.

I find this article contradictory and idealistic, and coming up short in furthering our discussion or understanding of this issue. You are preoccupied with attacking these “leaders of the cult” personally, rather than suggesting alternative ideas. Instead of offering contructive critique, you offer obfuscations.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing with everything you’re saying. This debate is very important and I have been following your contributions. But please, please, let’s be honest about it. If you cannot make a point in a thoroughly truthful, genuine manner, don’t attempt to make it.

I look forward to hearing more from you.

Report this

By ManoZezez, May 13, 2008 at 3:49 am Link to this comment

These Harris quotes do not discuss “moral hierarchies among human beings” or “[using] these hierarchies to sanction violence”. Although Harris disagrees with Islamism, this isn’t the stated reason he’s advocating violence. He’s advocating violence in self-defence because he thinks Islamists pose a threat. I don’t happen to agree with what Harris says, but Hedges was criticising uncited atheists for holding genocidal attitudes, and that wouldn’t be the content of the criticism I’d level at Harris.

Report this

By ManoZezez, May 13, 2008 at 3:27 am Link to this comment

It is possible for you to have a different mental representation of the procedure for making a cup of coffee from the person who taught you how to do it, while both of you have exactly the same functional ability to carry it out. Memetic replication doesn’t require that mental representations be physically similar in the way that DNA is, only that they’re functionally so. It may turn out that they’re physically similar as well, but this isn’t necessary for replication or natural selection to occur. To my knowledge, Dawkins has never made any claims either way about whether the mental representations are similar so you’re not criticising the theory as he presents it.

Report this

By ManoZezez, May 13, 2008 at 3:10 am Link to this comment

The theory of memes only consists of the claims that ideas can recognisably be transmitted from person to person and that this transmission is imperfect. From that it follows logically that natural selection will occur. As I said earlier, these claims should be completely uncontroversial to anyone who has ever learnt anything from anyone or indeed communicated anything whatsoever. But if you think these claims are untrue, then you shouldn’t be afraid that atheists will “take memetic ideas and use them to nightmarish purposes like mind control.”

Report this

By ManoZezez, May 13, 2008 at 2:57 am Link to this comment

(...continued from previous comment)

b) Belief in the absence of irrefutable evidence
Some physicists may consider string theory “plausible” despite there being very little empirical evidence in support of it, but considering something plausible is a far cry from believing in it. These same physicists might also regard opposing theories as equally plausible, but remain open minded about which is correct. It’s misleading to equate this with what happens in religion, where doctrine is not merely regarded as plausible, but embraced via leaps of faith that are encouraged as virtuous.
The more general strategy of attempting to present atheism as simply another kind of faith relies on conflating faith with uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is provisional and subject to refinement on the basis of further evidence. In that sense, scientists are never completely certain they’ve found ultimate answers, but what they are doing is siding with whatever the available evidence tells us is the best account available at the present time. In this way, science progresses towards theories that make increasingly accurate predictions. For instance, while Newtonian mechanics predicted observations very well, Einstein’s Relativity superseded it because it predicts them even more accurately.
People like Dawkins and Dennett have repeatedly made it clear that they are technically agnostic in the sense that they don’t believe it’s possible to prove with absolute certainty that there is no god (just as it is impossible to prove anything with absolutely certainty), but they note that this technical agnosticism applies to the existence of all conceivable gods, including ones like Zeus that people have historically believed in and others like the Flying Spaghetti Monster which as yet has no known adherents, but the existence of which is also something we cannot rule out. And the same line of reasoning prohibits us from ruling out with absolute certainty that there’s a teapot orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars. We also cannot say for sure that I don’t have a second head that is immaterial and invisible, but which likes to sing songs from the musical Annie (though inaudibly). And on it goes… It’s technically true that we can’t rule out the existence of such things in absolute terms, but this fact is profoundly uninteresting. We all but rule out such possibilities by arguing from the best explanation, which is very different from adopting a position on faith. Historically, there is of course a strong tradition in theology of doing the same thing. Paley’s design argument was an argument of this type. Prior to Darwin, an atheistic account of the apparent design found in living things was incapable of providing what the biblical account of creation provided.

Report this

By ManoZezez, May 13, 2008 at 2:57 am Link to this comment

The point about the non-rational source of scientific ideas was made in connection with Kekulé‘s dream, but the discussion of string theory centred around the “many physicists” who he says think the theory is “plausible” despite “no scientist [having] ever seen a string.” In both discussions, it’s clear that Hedges was inviting the reader to draw a comparison between beliefs that apparently have some scientific prestige on the one hand and religious beliefs on the other, the basis of the comparison being that they both lack the support of rationality and/or evidence. The strategy, which he uses throughout the article, is to attempt to paint atheists as hypocritically embracing many of the very features they criticise in religion. For instance, Hedges labels the new atheists as “the high priests not of science but the cult of science.” If they are literally ‘priests’ of a ‘cult’, the criticisms they level at (other) religions would have to apply equally to themselves.

So let’s look at whether these comparisons are justified:

a) Belief in the absence of rationality
Scientists engage in non-rational processes all the time, but ‘non-rational’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘irrational.’ Non-rational processes are those that are neither rational nor irrational because they don’t involve drawing conclusions. Some non-rational processes include physical activities like walking that don’t involve thinking at all, but there are also non-rational thought processes like remembering and the creative process of coming up with ideas. Thought processes that involve drawing conclusions will fit into the categories of either ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ rather than ‘non-rational.’
The important point is that atheism isn’t hostile towards everyday non-rational behavior, but towards irrational behavior (drawing conclusions in an illogical way), which they argue is a property of all religions. Non-rationality and irrationality are easily confused, and doing so would make the argument of an atheist look hypocritical, so although Hedges was careful to use the word ‘non-rational,’ he was inviting a misunderstanding that would work in his favor.

(to be continued…)

Report this

By congressive, May 13, 2008 at 2:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Nash Equilibrium defines morality, particularly behaviors which best insure the success of proximate populations, much better than any delusions of religious madmen high on acacia bark.

No, religion will go the way of segregation.  They are both crowd control based on ignorance and ego.

Report this

By niloroth, May 12, 2008 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

Hedges attributes ideas and positions to the “atheists” that he does not in any way shape or form support with evidence.

Hedges writes:
“The atheists, while they do not endorse the hierarchy of races or espouse the crude racist doctrines of earlier Social Darwinists, continue to argue that natural selection is social selection. They continue to create moral hierarchies among human beings and use these hierarchies to sanction violence. They do this because they insist we are moving toward a final good. This is not a position supported by human history, human nature or evolutionary biology.”

Notice the serious lack of citation, or reference, or in fact, even any idea who it is who holds these beliefs.  Other than of course to label the “atheists”. 

Now, to take one of Hedges favorite boogymen, lets get a quote from Dawkins:
“Now, to the matter of Darwin. The first thing to say is that natural selection is a scientific theory about the way evolution works in fact. It is either true or it is not, and whether or not we like it politically or morally is irrelevant. Scientific theories are not prescriptions for how we should behave. I have many times written (for example in the first chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain) that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to the science of how life has actually evolved, but a passionate ANTI-Darwinian when it comes to the politics of how humans ought to behave. I have several times said that a society based on Darwinian principles would be a very unpleasant society in which to live. I have several times said, starting at the beginning of my very first book, The Selfish Gene, that we should learn to understand natural selection, so that we can oppose any tendency to apply it to human politics. Darwin himself said the same thing, in various different ways. So did his great friend and champion Thomas Henry Huxley.”

So once again, Hedges is tilting at windmills, creating straw men to knock down, and full on fabricating the positions of those he rails against.  Sadly, this seems to be typical of him when writing about anyone who does not ascribe to the same watered down, mealy mouthed, make believe version of theology that he does. 

Nice try again Hedges, but like all the other ones, you are quickly shown for your ignorance and bias.  How long till this one falls off the front page out of shame?

Report this

By Joan, May 12, 2008 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment

Hedges’ piece and the responses make an interesting illustration of some cases in point. Those whiny assaults on religion surely speak to Hedges’ position that there has been little evolution in humanity’s supposed journey to perfection, becoming intellectually superior masters of the universe that Dawkins predicts from what scientific evidence, I do not know. His contention is mystifying for sure. I would not accept some of that whiny anti- religious reasoning from a freshman philosophy student, never mind potential biologic geniuses we are purported by Dawkins to be evolving into.

Now onto memetics…there is no empirical evidence to support the existence of a meme much less the bizarre theory that Dawkins proceeds to build on this fantasy/entity. The only science, if it be science, on passing along societal mores and group think has been done by anthropologists. And Dawkins ridicules the idea of the virgin birth as fantasy! At least Christians honestly call this notion a miracle…Who are the realists here?

Lastly, certain atheists here make another of Hedges’ points beautifully. Hedges argues that the new atheism is just intellectual repression disguised as a new form of intellectual enlightenment …as Maani suggests, read a book or two on the topic that the potential masters of the universe are discussing in order to grasp first the nuances of the theological/scientific points before attempting to refute them. This way these points can be addressed intelligently and one would not have to resort to the “Neanderthal” tactics of bashing and browbeating those who disagree with you. So much for intellectual evolution and the new repression of diverse thought.

As far as I can see, Hedges is right on the money here.

Report this

By Epicurus, May 12, 2008 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Science does something that religion never does, and never will do: science welcomes and incorporates facts as they are presented, whether they agree with the theory to which they apply, or not, and adjusts any discovery to incorporate the newly-discovered evidence – thus growing and improving the view we have of reality. Science is never “proven” – it offers a view that explains the world as we see it, a view that is subject to improvement, adjustment, or even reversal, if the facts require that to be done; science gets better by discrete steps, getting closer to the truth, with each step. Religion, on the other hand, is set, hardened, incorrigible, dogmatic, and incapable of changing its notions. It rules as a dictator, denying any and all facts that oppose its dogma. It does not grow.

Report this

By truthreader13, May 12, 2008 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This article is nothing but a piece of nonsense
defending blind faith in some fairy tales which are called religions.
Science is based on proven facts and scientists are
the first one to admit that they do not know the
secret or the truth of every thing in the universe but science is progressing and more facts and secrets are discovered each day.
It happens and happened sometimes that science make an error or some one try to use science for his base human motives like justifying using nuclear weapons
“a.k.a Harris” but that does not invalidate what
science has discovered and accomplished.
One fairy tale which Hedges is defending said
“GOD” created the universe in seven days and he
created the sun after creating the earth and the
first humans were expelled from “paradise” when they
listned to a snake and discovered sex.!! And all
that happened no more than six thousands years ago.
Pleee..ze give me a break.



Report this

By Maani, May 12, 2008 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment

Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leeuwenhoek, Pasteur, Curie, Washington Carver, Pascal, Brahe, Kelvin, Maxwell, Faraday, Darwin - deists or Christians all.  Some of them believed that the scientific truths they discovered only further revealed the “glory” of God; some did not.  But none of them saw any conflict between science and the scientific method on the one hand, and faith and religion on the other.

This puts the lie to accusations that somehow “believers” have not only contributed nothing to science, but that they stand in opposition to it.

As for string theory (which is actually NOT a theory, but only a hypothesis), multiple universes, much of quantum mechanics (including the hypotheses that a particle can spin in both directions at once or be in two places at the same time), etc., since none of these can EVER be tested, non-falsified or even properly subjected to the scientific method, they hold no more weight than a belief in God.

Indeed, I had a short debate with Victor Stenger recently on this topic.  In addressing how the universe began, if not by a Creator (since science accepts that “something” cannot be gotten from “nothing”), he spoke of a “pre-universe” that either collapsed and then “re-exploded” or a deSitter universe which essentially “leaked,” causing the “Big Bang.”  I asked, “Since your hypothesis can NEVER be tested, non-falsified or subject to the scientific method, aren’t you essentially asking us all to take it ‘on faith’?”

Since this was at an informal meeting of a chapter of CSI (Center for Skeptical Inquiry) - and he assumed he would be speaking only to “the choir” - he stood in shocked silence for a moment, and then hemmed and hawed through an answer which basically simply repeated what he had said before.  I then asked, “But if we are asked to take this hypothesis ‘on faith,’ why is that any different from asking you to take God ‘on faith?’”  His response, after a short pause, was, “Well, it seems unnecessary to suggest a theological explanation when there are perfectly good scientific explanations.”

Even some of the atheists in the room saw through that one, and were clearly unsatisfied with that response.


Report this

By Gmonst, May 12, 2008 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

excellent posts Inquisitor.  Well thought out replies and a very civil tone.

Report this
PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, May 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment

Republicans evolving into progressive democrats then into constitutionalists.

Report this

By Inquisitor, May 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment

This is in reply to ManoZezez (May 12, 5:30ish am), and to some extent to tdbach (at 6:30am) and Billy the Dik (at 7am)

First, I want to congratulate ManoZezez on being a true inquirer: actually caring what the truth is, rather than finding new and creative ways to denigrate and morally/intellectually condemn people who believe differently.

I feel sorry that no one has addressed your points in the systematic way that you presented them, though I note that no one flamed you either—it would appear the more pro-religious posters in the Truthdig comment crew are less inclined to reactive invective; in fact it seems that it was two relatively pro-religious—or at least not anti-religious—posters (tdbach and billy the dik) who were most impressed by your arguments.

I believe you honored Chris Hedges by quoting him accurately and offering well-argued refutations.  You deserve the same honor.

1. In your discussion of Kekulé’s dream, you mistakenly equate having an idea with having a discovery. A scientific discovery doesn’t just require generating a hypothesis, but also testing it.

This is a fair point; I would add that while the non-rational can be a good source of hypotheses, it is best to activate the rational when seeking to test them.  It is no small point that the non-rational is a good source of hypotheses, however.  To the extent our social norms and the structure of our educational system seeks to demonize and marginalize irrational and arational thinking, they will also marginalize creativity and imagination, and thus potentially restrict the range of scientific pursuit.  In a society where irrational and arational imagination is taboo, our rational skills may find themselves increasingly directed to solving technical problems for business, industry and the military.

2. String theory is still untested and it’s misleading to suggest that physicists have already accepted it. The interest in it stems from the possibility that it could unify a lot of phenomena.

I’m not sure that Hedges implied this; again his main point was the value of the non-rational in generating such a potentially fecund and important theory (even if it remains to be satisfactorily tested enough to bring about near unanimity among scientists)

Report this

By Inquisitor, May 12, 2008 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment

3. “Quantum physics demolished the assumption that physical elements are governed by fixed laws.” This is completely untrue.

Yes, it’s untrue in that quantum physics continues to expect physical elements to be governed by fixed laws, but the laws fixed by quantum physics are very unsettling ones for those used to fixed laws governing physical elements in the normal way. Quantum laws fixed clouds of probability about where an electron would be, what direction it would be spinning in, etc.  The electron itself could no longer be fixed in space or orientation (though as I recall, David Bohm found a way to do this at the cost of introducing radical non-locality; a heavy intuitive price to pay).  Quantum physics even messed with Einstein’s sense of existential security.

Hedges’ central point about quantum physics is to illustrate that science, while we might employ it with the goal of gaining greater certainty—more reliable prediction and control that is—often points us back to uncertainty, even a deeper sense of uncertainty than we had before we embarked on scientific investigation.

Hedges is not making an argument against science, but rather offering an illustration of how science tends to return us to imagination-stoking mysteries from which some certainty-craving scientists are seeking to escape.  The non-rational will reassert itself, and becoming rigorous empiricists will not offer us refuge from it.

Though Hedges doesn’t mention this, Quantum physics is also an illustration of the potential folly of the memetic model, a folly growing from a religious impulse that Camus called “the nostalgia for unity”.  The nostalgia for unity is a central motivational principle in both religion and theoretical science. Before quantum physics, scientists seeking to unify quantum reality with astronomic reality were motivated to understand the atom as a miniature solar system.  While this perspective was an important intermediate step to a fuller understanding the quantum world, it is one that ultimately had to be discarded.  Memetic theory is likewise a manifestation of the nostalgia for unity—an attempt to understand cultural evolution as closely analogous to biological evolution, so analogous as to be dependent on the idea of selection taking place among faithfully self-replicating units. I suspect this admittedly imagination-stimulating idea of the meme will also need to ultimately be discarded like the solar system model of the atom.  Hopefully it is discarded before it becomes an article of faith among scary fundamentalist personalities who can tell that believing in God is no longer respectable and middle class and so are looking for moral and existential guidance from the post 9-11 atheist movement.  It is these fundamentalist personalities creeping into the atheist camp (and giving it its increasingly monolithic reputation) who are most likely to take memetic ideas and use them to nightmarish purposes like mind control.

Report this

By Inquisitor, May 12, 2008 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

4. “Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology”. The uncertainty principle says that there are physical limits to how accurate measurements can be, but it’s misleading to suggest that something that isn’t perfectly accurate is no better than anything else that isn’t perfectly accurate. Also, coming up with scientific theories is a creative process, but testing them isn’t. The difference between science and faith is about the role of evidence. Like most of us, a scientist believes we’re more likely to find answers when there is some evidence available rather than none.

I don’t argue with this point.  I’m not sure Hedges would either.  You might be attacking a straw man.

5. “There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.” It’s misleading to imply that since we cannot learn everything on the basis of evidence that we might be able to learn just as much or more with none (i.e., by relying on faith).

I’m pretty sure Hedges is not arguing that we should all rely on faith, though I imagine he would agree that keeping a space open for faith is not inimical to good science.  If anything, Hedges is arguing that when a kind of fundamentalist spirit sneaks into the community of scientists (which it sometimes does) it has the potential to wreck as much havoc as that spirit does in communities of non-scientists—perhaps even more havoc, since scientists seem to be so much better than non-scientists at making things go boom.

6. “The genetic coding ... is fairly precise. But [the memetic] model fails to work…” No one is arguing that memetic replication has to be as precise as genetic replication, only that ideas can be transmitted in a recognisable form from one person to another culturally just as genes can be passed from one generation to the next. If you’ve ever learnt anything from anyone, you have to consider this completely uncontroversial.

Watered down to that level it’s uncontroversial, but then you are no longer talking about faithful self-replicating units of mimesis that travel from mind to mind and successfully replicate or dissipate like coils of DNA.  And if you are no longer talking about that, then you are no longer talking about the meme but about more general processes of cultural evolution (e.g. Boyd & Richardson, 1985).  The meme is a very specific idea, and considerably more superorganic and even Durkheimian than other models of cultural evolution that treat the panhuman ecological and psychological landscape as highly determining, less subject to subversion by an independent self-replicating unit.

7. “Ideas that prevail are often not the best ideas but more often ideas backed by power… Those who advocate the theory of memes ignore the role of power…” Dawkins doesn’t argue that the ideas that prevail are ‘best’ in any sense other than that they are better at getting themselves copied. Indeed, he argues that the memes that replicate most prolifically don’t necessarily represent true ideas and are not necessarily beneficial to the people whose minds they inhabit. That’s why he compares some of these successful memes to viruses.

I think you’re right that Hedges may be confused here.  And certainly insofar as Dennett and Dawkins would talk of “memetic engineering” they must have some kind of exercise of power in mind. In the worst case scenario this power would be an elite one and not one voted on my a majority of citizens after careful public debate and consideration.  Like attempts at mind control by the CIA in the cold war era, this memetic engineering would likely flop because it is based on such flawed and fantastic theoretical premises, but like the attempts at mind control, the attempts would likely leave a gruesome trail of wrecked minds and wrecked lives, and might spawn a new and useful form of torture.

Report this

By Inquisitor, May 12, 2008 at 2:19 pm Link to this comment

8. “Human thought cannot be treated like an object in a laboratory.” There are people in psychology and neuroscience departments all around the world who would passionately disagree with you, so you’re not working from shared assumptions.

Perhaps it could have been re-written “should not”.  I myself am not so sure how I feel.  Cognitive science, ironically, has re-opened the door to the respectability of investigating religion scientifically—that and 9-11 and the Templeton foundation.  I expect that once people begin to dispassionately investigate religion, both the religious and the anti-religious will have to come with some unsettling empirical data.  And you cannot investigate religion without investigating human thought.  It is not the investigation itself that is dangerous or objectionable, but what fundamentalist eddies among so-called scientists will do with intermediate findings that confirm their prejudices.

9. “Dennett has argued that human evolution can be shaped and directed through memetic engineering. He advocates not science but indoctrination, an updated version of thought control.” This is blatant misrepresentation.

I am not sure that Hedges is being excessively paranoid here.  In his book Breaking the Spell he mentions that his father was a historian of Islam and a spy for the OSS (page 234).  It is possible that Dennett has kept up his clandestine connections and experiments in thought control following the memetic model are taking place now by the people running Guantanamo, black sites, etc.  Like I said, I expect these experiments to be failures, but not before generating some outrages against humanity.

10. “Evolutionary science ... was used to promote racism and pseudo-science”. It is a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory to believe that one existing species is more highly evolved than another. It’s also a mistake to link might with right. Is evolutionary theory to blame for these misunderstandings?

Probably not, but this is precisely Hedges’ point.  Hedges claims that Darwinism did not necessitate racist beliefs, but that those who made a cult of Darwinism (including some very capable and well published scientists) brought racist beliefs a great degree of scientific respectability for a long time.  Likewise, racism, homophobia, etc. is not necessitated by most basic religious beliefs, but those who make a fundamentalist cult of their religions offer religious respectability to these prejudices.  In other words, science is not immune to the toxic social processes that plague religious communities.

11. “He uses compassion to insist that sooner or later the “superior” races—those with compassion—will exterminate the “more savage” races.” Your use of the word ‘exterminate’ is completely out of step with Darwin’s view of how one race might prevail over another. He was talking about natural selection rather than genocide and there is no evidence that Darwin shared Spencer’s discredited views about Social Darwinism. None at all. Darwin used the word ‘savage’ in his writing to talk about what we would now call tribal cultures. It has unacceptable racial connotations now, but you have to take this in historical context. And it would make no more sense to attempt to discredit religion by citing racism among religious leaders.

I think Hedges is not anti-Darwin, and is simply illustrating how some of Darwin’s statements—regardless of the essential correctness of the rest of his theory—lent themselves easily to prejudicial interpretation in that historical climate.  And I agree with you that “it would make no more sense to attempt to discredit religion by citing racism among religious leaders.”  You will notice, however, that this gets done a lot, no?  Hedges is trying to illustrate that if this is how the tainting game gets played, then science is as tainted as religion.

Report this

By Inquisitor, May 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment

12. “The atheists ... continue to create moral hierarchies among human beings and use these hierarchies to sanction violence.” If you had the courage to explicitly attribute this view to any of the atheists you cite, this would probably be libellous.

Hedges does actually attribute this view to a specific atheist—Sam Harris.  See some quotes that he includes by Sam Harris in Hedges new book [page numbers below refer to the page in Harris’ book—The End of Faith]

“Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people.  If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.  This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and of innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world.  We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.”
—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 53

“We are at war with Islam.  It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so.  It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been “hijacked” by extremists.  We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran, and further elaborated in the literature of the hadith, which recounts the sayings and actions of the Prophet.”
—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp.109-110

“What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?  If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them.  In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.  Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime – as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day – but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.”
—Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p. 129

Given that Hedges’ claims are supported in this case, I imagine Sam Harris would not sue.

13. “Wilson ... uses evolutionary biology to justify power structures such as the subjugation of women and social inequality.” Explanations are not justifications.

I agree.  Also, insofar as Wilson, according to Hedges, states that religious belief gives humans a biological advantage, this could also be (erroneously) seen as justification of religious belief.  That Wilson then goes on (supposedly) to dream of a world in which religion is jettisoned by science and reason suggests that he doesn’t equate what is with what must be after all.  He might well also dream of a world of more equality and gender equity; this is certainly no more improbable than dreaming of a world with less dependence on religion.

14. “Darwin wrote nothing to indicate that the human species had risen above its biological composition.” Darwin isn’t the last word on evolution. He was wrong about a lot of details. Dawkins and Wilson will no doubt be shown to be wrong on many of the details too. The good thing about science is that if you have some evidence, you can use it to correct them.

Agreed.  Let the correcting begin.

Report this

By David, May 12, 2008 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Every night I pray for a pony.  Where is he?  If there was a god, I would have gotten my pony by now.  I mean if Republicans can pray for war and get it, I should be able to get a lousy pony!!!

Report this
skmacksk's avatar

By skmacksk, May 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment

Dear ManoZezee,
Thank you for your beautifully argued repost to Mr. Heges. You have held to a very high intellectual standard and I look forward to reading your comments on Truthdig.Your comments enrich and nourish the internet community which are values that cannott be gainsaid.Brava,bravo,a tour de force!

Report this

By lightiris, May 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment

Here we go again. 

Mr. Hedges, you should stick to writing about war.  On that you seem to know what you’re talking about.  On the subject of religion and science, however, your thinking is muddled and your articulation of what you believe to be singular truths garbled.  Your use of strawman arguments, as well, is embarrassing.  Case in point:

Science is not always directly empirical. Science is not governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science, and especially quantum mechanics, far from telling us we can know everything, tells us there will always be things we cannot know. No one ultimately understands. Science affirms the complexity and mystery of the universe. Science, like the religious impulse, opens us up to a world where we face mystery. There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind. 

Come again?  One hardly knows where to begin to deconstruct the inanity of these sentences.  Would that someone actually argued what you seem to be arguing against would be helpful, but, alas, no one is is.  Who, specifically, suggested what is implicated by the quote above?  Perhaps a closer look at the what you have written will help.  I have articulated the implied assertions you seem to be responding to in the text below.  I am hopeful this explication will help you identify for your readers the people in “science” you are railing against.  Who, pray tell, asserts this:

Science is always directly empirical. Science is governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science…tells us there will never be things we cannot know. Everyone ultimately understands. Science does not affirm the complexity and mystery of the universe. Science…closes us down to a world where we face mystery. There are no forces in the universe that will lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.

Have you an agenda, Mr. Hedges?  I ask because no respectable scientist would make the assertions you are refuting.

Report this

By Grousefeather, May 12, 2008 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Substitute the word knowledge for science and you’ve nailed it. Take your pick: choose to know, or choose to believe.

Report this

By Gmonst, May 12, 2008 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment

We don’t have mysticism (feelings) as a way to know things. Sorry.

I have to disagree with this idea.  Feelings (mysterious as they are) are a very important means of human knowing.  I have learned much more about myself through listening to my feelings than logic (and become a much better person). It is by feelings that we compose a inner moral sense.  It is feelings that allow compassion, and love.  Our culture seems to disregard feelings as valid, and has disdain for those who listen to feelings over logic.  Hence the term bleeding-heart liberal as a bad thing.  To be sure, the knowing from feeling is very different from the knowing from logic, but nevertheless it is knowing.  I think that very often the feeling comes first and then logic is used to support the feeling.

Report this

By Dave, May 12, 2008 at 1:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Everyone: please read through the comments.  Chris must be reading through and saying to himself: hmm, maybe I should write for Answers in Genesis instead.

90% of all comments completely undermine this article, and rightly so.  Makes me smile.

Report this

By Rod, May 12, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


Thanks for a great article.  I particularly enjoy how you dispell certain myths perpetrated by some under the guise of science.  It’s a breath of fresh air.

However, not all atheists believe or perpetrate those myths, so I would avoid using the word “atheists” to describe the subgroup or their particular ideas.


Report this

By Aegrus, May 12, 2008 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment

Bah to that. Christianity is organized. Look at Catholicism. Look at Judaism. Look at Baptists and Muslims. It’s an organized following. Anything that can book 30,000+ people in one building is organized.

Report this

By pitleaper, May 12, 2008 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment

You’re absolutely right.  My mistake.

Report this

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

Like Truthdig on Facebook