In defense of Mary Midgley

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Via Wilkins’ blog I found the discussions (by PZ and The Unpublishable Philosopher) of Mary Midgley’s latest. I posted a comment at the UP’s blog, but it won’t come up until approved.

Note that this is not an attempt to spoon-feed completely from scratch the entirety of Mary Midgley’s philosophy to everyone who has got it into their heads that Midgley is a soft-headed (simply ludicrous if you know anything about Midgley – e.g. she has been called “One of the sharpest critical pens in the West”), theism-friendly (she is a long-time atheist), anti-Darwinian (she was one of the earliest and strongest voices for bringing Darwin into philosophy in a serious way), post-modernist (actually a very old-fashioned rationalist scientific liberal) nincompoop. If you want to talk sense about Midgley, please go read Beast and Man and The Ethical Primate and then we’ll talk.

That said, here is my 2 cents replying to UP (and somewhat to PZ), in an attempt to give people a quick sense of the kind of thing Midgley is trying to get people – particularly New Atheists – to think about, when it comes to religion.

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Found this via Wilkins’ blog.

Eh, I’ve read most of Midgley’s books and articles, I don’t think you or PZ getting her at all.

The short version of what she’s saying is that there is a lot more to life than simply scientifically assessing everything as if it was a hypothesis. The primary reason many people like their religion, despite its obvious problems from a scientific point of view, have to do with things like:

* providing a sense of community

* instilling values in children and in themselves

(And whatever ranting and raving the New Atheists do about the evils in the Bible and the evils promoted by parts of modern religion, an actual fair, non-raving assessment simply has to acknowledge that a large part of religion throughout history, and especially in liberal democracies in the 20th century, has been about providing often-correct moral guidance to the parishioners. For every instance of child abuse or witch burning in history there are probably millions of instances of individuals finding good moral guidance in their religion. Of course there are a good number of cases of people finding poor moral guidance as well, but then you can say this about democracy, scientific leaders, atheist leaders, etc. as well. Religion works for many people much of the time.)

* providing a hopeful view of their place in the grand scheme of things (the typical atheist alternative is pretty dour and depressing)

* providing an organizational framework for social action, charity, and/or political action

In these and many other ways, there isn’t much that the atheists offer at the moment that can compare to what belonging to a church offers people. Some people feel fine without it, that’s great, but I wonder if it will ever become a common thing outside of certain professions like academia.

And pretending like these factors don’t exist and don’t matter and that it’s all just a simple matter of scientifically assessing religion based on the worst claims of its craziest proponents, or on the unsupported nature of some very fuzzy theological claims of moderates – which is basically what the atheist campaigners do – is a pretty silly thing to do. This is what Midgley is trying to point out.

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635 Comments

I believe she is right. There are reasons religion binds, builds community, assists the under-priveleged. Those reasons are usually associated with reproduction, and more importantly successful reproduction. As a species however we must evolve beyond this. We should consider every human as important, not merely our church group: We are not far enoughed evolved to reach this utopia, and will probably destroy ourselves before we come anywhere near this evolved ideal.

Depressing? Sorry, I’m an atheist.

Honestly, Nick, if you think PZ et al. aren’t aware of these aspects of religion, you don’t know shit about them, and having read more of Midgley than is probably healthy, I can tell you that you’re giving her far too much credit. Good job coming off as a condescending asshole, though.

I gave up reading the PZ blast as his very rude and puerile attack didn’t actually seem to have anything to do with the passages from Midgley that he was quoting.

robert van bakel said:

I believe she is right. There are reasons religion binds, builds community, assists the under-priveleged. Those reasons are usually associated with reproduction, and more importantly successful reproduction. As a species however we must evolve beyond this. We should consider every human as important, not merely our church group: We are not far enoughed evolved to reach this utopia, and will probably destroy ourselves before we come anywhere near this evolved ideal.

Depressing? Sorry, I’m an atheist.

Are we not actually a flock species, and are not all aspects of our behavior expressions of that fact? Which is why http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/j[…]acem_en.html hasn’t got a chance.

Honestly, Nick, if you think PZ et al. aren’t aware of these aspects of religion, you don’t know shit about them, and having read more of Midgley than is probably healthy, I can tell you that you’re giving her far too much credit. Good job coming off as a condescending asshole, though.

Sigh. FWIW I know PZ pretty well and I think he’s a great guy and a great writer. But sometimes he and his fans get carried away. Let’s just have another look at what PZ was saying in reaction to Midgley:

Look at religion. It is a failure. There is no convergence of ideas, no means to test ideas, and no reliable outcomes from those ideas. It’s noise and chaos and arbitrary eruptions of ridiculous rationalizations. Mormonism, Buddhism, Islam, and Catholicism can’t all be true — and no, please don’t play that game of reducing each religion to a mush that merely recognizes divinity. Religions have very specific dogmas, and practitioners do not blithely shuffle between them. Those differences are indefensible if they actually have a universal source of reliable knowledge about metaphysics.

Let’s see: (a) treating religion as if it were a scientific hypothesis; (b) ignoring exactly all the positives I listed above; (c) on top of not getting Midgley or what she was saying about religion, insulting them both on the narrow grounds of (a). Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in, and that because of this it is at least understandable and not necessarily out of ignorant idiocy or dogmatism that some reasonably intelligent people might maintain a belief in moderate religion, and that they might deserve the basic courtesy of receiving civil disagreement from the New Atheists, rather than, predominantly, emotional tirades and insults? Just a thought.

For crying out loud, Matzke. Midgely is a lying fool and quoting her own blurb hardly makes for a strong credential. I read her critique of THE SELFISH GENE and she simply made up stuff about Dawkins, sometimes saying things about his work that were directly contradicted by the work itself. Now with her new piece, her very first line is a screamer of a strawman:

“Science really isn’t connected to the rest of life half as straightforwardly as one might wish. For instance, Isaac Newton noted gladly that his theory of gravitation gave a scientific proof of God’s existence. Today’s anti-god warriors, by contrast, declare that Darwin’s evolutionary theory gives a scientific disproof of that existence and use this reasoning, quite as confidently as Newton used his, to convert the public.”

You see, that’s bullshit. Why the hell would you want to defend this crap?

More from Mary Midgley:

(via Wikipedia): ‘In an interview with The Independent in September 2007, she argued that Dawkins’ views on evolution are ideologically driven: “The ideology Dawkins is selling is the worship of competition. It is projecting a Thatcherite take on economics on to evolution. It’s not an impartial scientific view; it’s a political drama.”’

But, yeah, if you want to think of that as an incisive critique, go ahead.

More from Mary Midgley:

(via an interview in The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/200[…]3/philosophy):

‘For instance, there are plenty of theologians who believe that God made creatures so they could know him and love him. That is a ridiculous claim on its own, but what are we to make of the remark by two prominent physicists that “a physicist is an atomÍs way of knowing about an atom?” She uses that as a classic example of folie de grandeur and adds: “It should surely be obvious that, if the universe is the kind of thing capable of knowing or wanting to know anything, it can do this on its own, and does not need help from physicists.”’

Midgley fails to understand that this was a *joke* told by physicists at the expense of some of the more extreme interpretations of quantum theory. But, of course, her book blurb calls her one of the sharpest pens in the West, so she couldn’t possibly be confused about that too, could she?

This is why I am an agnostic. I just don’t like this much vitrol and worrying about there is or is not a G(g)od(s). I am all for defending Science and Evolution, but, I don’t like trying to use Science to try and disprove the “supernatural”. Don’t misinterpret me, I am 99.999999999% sure they didn’t happen, but as they are supernatural, they are not what Science can test.

’…that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in…’

There is a fair amount of good in Scientology.

And while the Aztecs and Incas had human sacrifices, at least it worked for many people much of the time.

Religion provides moral guidance for millions of people, who listen to what their Pope tells them is moral and then ignore it.

Nick Matzke said: In defense of …

… the indefensible. Maybe, once upon a time, Mary Midgley once said something intelligent - or merely which impressed you. But right now, in her Grauniad column, she’s being moronic and about as wrong as she can be in pretty much every statement she makes.*

Nick Matzke said: This is what Midgley is trying to point out.

Not in that column she isn’t. If she were, how do you explain away her shocking inability to come anywhere close to what you’re claiming she’s saying.

Not that your spin on it is a good one anyway! In summary, it’s just the old and patronising claim that thickos / peasants / masses need religion to keep them in line, even though us superior members of society (many of whom want to control them with it) know it’s all false really.

*

Getting back to what Mary Midgley actually did say that time around:

Para.1: Science is intimately interconnected. It’s just very easy for the non-thinking to ignore that - much as a pig or a mushroom goes through life obliviously. Newton was just foolishly relieved that he hadn’t ruled out all god(s) altogether (having already cut down on his personal number of them, from 3 to 1). She’s telling falsehoods about what actual non-theists generally say and would need to provide a specific example and representative listing of the tiny minority she means to attack because, as it stands, if we accept she’s talking about anyone real at all(!) then she’s guilty of defamation of huge numbers of people, each of which could quite legitimately take her to court for it.

Para.2: See (1) for why this isn’t true of both cases. The “prevalent and respected” bit isn’t true of her Newton case (as a closet unitarian)! And he was the one attacking a prevailing opinion (trinitarianism) or lack of opinion (on how planets work). It’s also not exactly true of science in general - certainly the peasants tend to lack respect and the politicos only respect technology and don’t even understand that isn’t science. Her dishonesty about the status of the scientific arguments follows on from her previous misrepresentations.

Para.3: Newton’s “arguments” very much do still need refuting today - because they are the same old god-of-the-gaps stuff which religionists keep trotting out (and not because they are at all exclusively and identifiably Newton’s). People really do still “think” like that now. There are probably more of those than there are in the group Mary Midgley imagines she’s attacking (see 1). Once again she misrepresents how knowledge of evolution is most typically used by anti-theists who are not of her strawman type. Plus she’s still concentrating on one particular imaginary God (not even the trinity!) as envisioned by one subset of Abrahamists and pretending that’s the whole deal. Science refutes all specified notions of gods in one way or another.

Para.4: is rather vague and contains more misrepresentations (eg over what the minority and majority views are). Meanwhile, being grateful to a fictional entity is hardly a good thing. Her “always” is patently untrue.

Para.5: Literalism is not recent. It’s merely a periodic revival of a quite undertandable reading of a load of tosh. Ussher is not that recent. The scumbag enforcers of the dark ages weren’t recent. If the literalists everywhere and everywhen haven’t got the “correct” interpretation, then Genesis evidently failed to declare itself clearly enough as just-a-fairytale (and the parasitic religious leaders taking advantage of the peasantry certainly didn’t do much to disabuse them of the notion).

Para.6: “spiritual” faitheist nonsense.

Para.7: Of course god-belief is not a one-off falsehood. It’s usually part of a complex and self-contradictory web of lies and delusions. None of it good. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it were just an isolated falsehood. It’s also not true that everyone has and needs these visions - if she means the faulty ones. And she’s saying nothing worthwhile at all if she merely meant “sentient beings are sentient”! (ie that one can’t be viewing the world at all without a world-view of some description)

PS I failed to make one bit clear enough:

Mary Midgley says:

Newton … was not a Christian

Liar!

If she were genuinely ignorant enough to believe he wasn’t a Christian (by all the same sort of signs and standards with which one could evaluate anyone’s Christian-ness) then she’s lying about her ability (ie relevant knowledge and intelligence and hence competence) to tell one way or the other. She certainly can’t expect to get away with it in a throwaway remark without specifying precisely what her peculiar definition of a True Christian™ is.

Nick (Matzke) said:

Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in…

Well, it would probably kill one’s claim of being an atheist - evil being a rather religious concept. Morality tells us what’s good and bad, but religion tells us when bad is evil.

The scientific method could do a good job of investigating how morality varies across religions. It can also show how the propensity to become religious is linked to genetics. I wonder if those genes are linked to being gullible in general?

Nick (Matzke) said:

* providing a hopeful view of their place in the grand scheme of things (the typical atheist alternative is pretty dour and depressing)

I am not in the least bit depressed about my reason for existing: to have sex, just to ensure the continued existence of my genes. I’m actually rather pleased about it. Thank God I’m not self-crossing.

1) providing a sense of community (in a very bad, close-minded way)

2) instilling (evil, hateful, and often times retarded and unnecessary) values in children and in themselves

3) providing a hopeful view of their place in the grand scheme of things (the typical atheist alternative is pretty dour and depressing) (except that it isn’t. religion is a sedative, while atheists are somehow perfectly fine without it. there’s freedom, not depression, in it)

4) providing an organizational framework for social action, charity, and/or political action (whereas atheists just give back to the community for the sake of helping people instead of because their god said so. so when you think about it, atheists are better. and have you seen what happens when religion provokes political action? *shivers*)

You, Nick, misunderstand PZ’s point. Don’t just look at his post on Midgley, but his entire blog. Yes, he believes we should hold religion up to the same scrutiny as we do any scientific theory, but that doesn’t mean he’s blind to these “positive” aspects of religion. He’s simply arguing, I think correctly, that what religion does right atheists can do even better.

You can have a sense of community without retarded beliefs. You can hold values rooted in human nature instead of religion. You can view life positively without a god or an afterlife – millions of atheists do. You be charitable and active without religion – as Richard Dawkins has proven.

None of these things require, or are even aided by, religion. Religion is an impediment to human progress. Whatever you want to do or believe you will and you’ll twist your religion to support it. That’s how there’s so many opposing interpretations of each religion. People who are being charitable are doing so because it is in their own nature to do so, and then they apply religion and claim to do so in its name.

Mary Midgley Wrote:

Naturally, Newton’s arguments scarcely need refuting today.

Ms. Midgley might want to try googling for Newton God and see if maybe she uhhhh might wish to reconsider that.

Besides, we don’t even know what arguments Midgley is talking about, because she won’t tell us. Hello citation please!! [citation needed] Helloooo?? For all we know, she could be referring to some made up quote from some fundie blockhead like D. James Kennedy or something.

SEF said:

PS I failed to make one bit clear enough:

Mary Midgley says:

Newton … was not a Christian

Liar!

If she were genuinely ignorant enough to believe he wasn’t a Christian (by all the same sort of signs and standards with which one could evaluate anyone’s Christian-ness) then she’s lying about her ability (ie relevant knowledge and intelligence and hence competence) to tell one way or the other. She certainly can’t expect to get away with it in a throwaway remark without specifying precisely what her peculiar definition of a True Christian™ is.

Yes, Isaac Newton WAS a Christian, but he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity which was a basic part of Christian orthodoxy. To say that those who reject the Trinity are not Christians is to play right into the hands of Christian fundamentaism.

If Mary Midgley is an atheist, she is one of the most incompetent atheist writers ever!

Nick (Matzke) said:

“Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in… “

That’s rather like saying we should acknowledge the fair amount of good mixed in Fascism. They did get the trains to run on time, after all.

It’s silly to look at the ‘good’ side of Fascism just like it’s silly to ponder a good side of religion. Both may have an element of good if you look hard enough, but goodness wasn’t the point of either one.

Let’s see: (a) treating religion as if it were a scientific hypothesis;

When religion stops making fact claims about reality, I’ll stop treating it as a scientific hypothesis

(b) ignoring exactly all the positives I listed above;

Your dishonestly exaggerated list of positives is irrelevant to the truth or false of the fact claims made by all religions

Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in, and that because of this it is at least understandable and not necessarily out of ignorant idiocy or dogmatism that some reasonably intelligent people might maintain a belief in moderate religion

No, that is not in the least reasonable. Even if religion delivered the positives you claim and more, it would still be idiotic to believe in the supernatural claims. Rational belief is based on evidence, not on how the belief makes you feel.

RWard | June 15, 2010 7:54 AM | Reply | Edit Nick (Matzke) said:

“Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in… “

That’s rather like saying we should acknowledge the fair amount of good mixed in Fascism. They did get the trains to run on time, after all.

It’s silly to look at the ‘good’ side of Fascism just like it’s silly to ponder a good side of religion. Both may have an element of good if you look hard enough, but goodness wasn’t the point of either one.

Even if goodness was the point, it wouldn’t make it any more rational to believe in the supernatural. Even if Hitler had built a society based of justice, economic fairness, and human rights it would still be idiotic to beleve that “Aryans” were the Master Race. How nice a belief is has absolutely zero bearing on whether it’s true or not.

providing a hopeful view of their place in the grand scheme of things

By the way, I don’t see this as a positive at all. Wishful thinking is bad for you. It is far healthier to understand that the universe doesn’t give a damn how you behave.

Nick (Matzke) said:

Would it really kill New Atheists to acknowledge somewhere that religion isn’t pure evil, that in the usual muddled human way there actually does happen to be a fair amount of good mixed in.…

“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil – that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg

I accept that religions provide communities and the associated support for their members, but they seem, at best, to be orthogonal to good or bad behavior by those members. The idea that people need religion to treat each other decently is a damning insight into the theistic mind. I think a lot more highly of individuals than that.

My 2c on this statement:

The primary reason many people like their religion, despite its obvious problems from a scientific point of view, have to do with things like:

* providing a sense of community

* instilling values in children and in themselves

In the 13 years I have been following the creationism/evolution “debate” I have been paying close attention to the attitudes of people I know toward religion and science. They are a very varied group, though with relatively few hard-line atheists or hard-line fundamentalists. Most belong to an organized religion (I haven’t since my early teens, 40+ years ago). When they talk about religion, which is not often, but far more often than they talk about science, it’s all about the “community” aspect, and virtually nothing about values. Most seem to give little thought whether the stories they hear in church can be taken literally. Very few, including none of the ones I spoke with on the subject, are aware that the Biblical origins accounts come in mutually contradictory versions, let alone how anti-evolution activists mostly cover up their irreconcilable differences on such testable items as the age of earth and life. Few even know mainstream science’s answer to those questions beyond “millions of years.” Yet most do seem to accept evolution “or something like it.” The big problem IMO is that they give it all so little thought that a few choice sound bites could easily drive them right into the arms of the DI if not AiG.

That said, I remain a staunch defender of people’s rights to belong to organized religions. I am convinced, however, that if people gave more thought to the values that their religion preaches, they would be less vulnerable to anti-evolution activists who find it necessary to bear false witness and feed their misconceptions and distrust of science.

This unresolvable issue always stirs up a lot of emotional discussion. There are some truths to be gleaned, however. One is that religion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Belief in the supernatural is older than civilization, there are billions of believers, and no amount of argumentation, no matter how accurate and logical, is going to cause many of them to abandon their beliefs. Second, “new atheists” aren’t going anywhere, either. They are correct that religion is a bad thing. Religion isn’t the source of morality, it co-opts morality. If we could magically eliminate religion, people would build new secular community organizations, they would still be moral, and we would be rid of the religious baggage of hating people for violating arbitrary rules, worshiping the “wrong” God, or worshiping God the “wrong” way. To the extent that New Atheists can convince people they can live good lives without religion, its a good thing. As atheists, we should respect each others rights to express our own opinion, without making strawman arguments to bring each other into disrepute. Nick, New Atheists do acknowledge that religion is not pure evil, and the atheist alternative is not dour and depressing-it is, IMHO, a call to live a joyful and meaningful life (meaning is not generated by immortality, in fact, an endless, never-changing afterlife pretty much drains meaning from everything). At the same time, we should recognize that the enemy are the very numerous and powerful crazies who would burn the world down in the name of Allah or Yahweh or Jesus, and moderate theists who have disposed of most of the baggage, reject hate and embrace a message of love and service to humanity are our allies against the crazies. Atheists are going to have their strongly held opinions and express them, which is good, but we should acknowledge reality and speak truth to each other and about each other.

Orthogonal is a good word to describe it. The four bullets Nick cites have nothing to do with belief in the supernatural.

At least in the U.S. we seem to lack non-religious social organizations that try to do all four. But why are we looking for such a wall-mart solution in the first place? Why do I need to shop at the same social club for everything? Maybe I’m perfectly happy with my kid getting moral advice from me, a sense of wonder about the world from summer camp, and a sense of community from school. (Or whatever; those are just illustrations and probably bad ones at that. The point is we should question the assumption that we need an uber-social club in the first place.)

Religious fanaticism is a very ugly thing. Seconded and passed by acclamation.

At the same time, we should recognize that the enemy are the very numerous and powerful crazies who would burn the world down in the name of Allah or Yahweh or Jesus, and moderate theists who have disposed of most of the baggage, reject hate and embrace a message of love and service to humanity are our allies against the crazies

Unfortunately, the moderates use the same language and cultural poitns of reference as the crazies, so there is no reliable way to tell them apart.

truthspeaker said:

At the same time, we should recognize that the enemy are the very numerous and powerful crazies who would burn the world down in the name of Allah or Yahweh or Jesus, and moderate theists who have disposed of most of the baggage, reject hate and embrace a message of love and service to humanity are our allies against the crazies

Unfortunately, the moderates use the same language and cultural poitns of reference as the crazies, so there is no reliable way to tell them apart.

I would disagree. Does a church, for example, accept homosexual unions as deserving the same dignity and respect accorded heterosexual unions? Has a pastor signed the clergy letter in support of the teaching of evolutionary theory? Does a church recognize the right of women to make their own reproductive choices? Such a church is unlikely to support the kind of bad craziness we see coming out of fundamentalist sects.

For every instance of child abuse or witch burning in history there are probably millions of instances of individuals finding good moral guidance in their religion.

Gotta disagree with you there. In North America alone there have been 100’s of Catholic priests collectively raping 1000’s of women and children. We are only just now learning of the same activities in Europe. Church atrocities in Africa, Asia and South America have yet to be exposed but that day is coming. The ones we are aware of only go back 20-30 years. There is no reason to think that this hasn’t gone on since the inception of the church. Church leadership has covered up most cases, threatened the victims, obstructed justice. This is not an anomaly. It is the way the Catholic church has always operated. Even with the overwhelming evidence that the Catholic leadership is morally bankrupt, they still have their vocal defenders. The 40-60 million or so people in this country that identify themselves as Catholic have largely remained silent about these atrocities. They are lied to about this by their pastors. They are fed the Catholic company line and by and large they consume it with a smile. They have accepted that sense of community and presumed correct moral guidance as payment for a profound gullibility, willful ignorance. This is what religions offer: an absolute prohibition of critical thinking with regard to the religion, its doctrines or its leaders. This is the raison d’etre for organized religion: to maintain power in the hands of a few and insulate the powerful from justice. The rest is just window dressing.

And that’s just the Catholic church. Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on all have their scandals (some such as the rabbinical sex scandals are similar to those in the Catholic church). All encourage gullibility, credulity, ignorance… it is how one maintains power.

The great works religions claim to have performed, especially in modern times, are largely a sham. How much money to religions in the US get in donations? They should, therefore be funding quite a lot of things like hospitals. Do they? Nope, not really.

This has to be one of PZ Myers’s best conceived, most eloquent, denunciations that I have stumbled upon. Of course I strongly disagree with his breathtakingly inane assertion that “religion is a failure”, but I do appreciate that he has taken Midgely to task for both her logical and rhetorical incoherence (She definitely sounds as bad as Elaine Pagels, who was utterly dreadful as a panelist at this year’s World Science Festival Science Faith session. IMHO a very good reason why that session needs to be scrapped in the future, and not merely because I think Jerry Coyne and Sean Carroll have made a very good point in their respective blogs that a session on science and faith should not be held at a World Science Festival.

Aagcobb replied to comment from truthspeaker | June 15, 2010 10:08 AM | Reply | Edit truthspeaker said: Unfortunately, the moderates use the same language and cultural poitns of reference as the crazies, so there is no reliable way to tell them apart.

I would disagree. Does a church, for example, accept homosexual unions as deserving the same dignity and respect accorded heterosexual unions? Has a pastor signed the clergy letter in support of the teaching of evolutionary theory? Does a church recognize the right of women to make their own reproductive choices? Such a church is unlikely to support the kind of bad craziness we see coming out of fundamentalist sects.

Those few churches are, yes. But I’m not talking about churches so much as individual Christians. If you meet someone, and they tell you they are a Christian, or you just notice the fish emblem on their car, you have no way of knowing if they are one of the crazies or not. Asking what denomination they belong to might give you a clue, but even then you would have to find out what church within that denomination they attend (if any) and what the particular clergy at that church are saying.

There are Southern Baptists who strongly disagree with their denomination’s past views on race and current views on women and science, and there are Southern Baptists who yearn for the old days when racism was expounded from the pulpit. Members of both groups will identify themselves as Southern Baptist and members of both groups will accuse you of prejudice and intolerance if you dare to judge the Southern Baptist faith on its leadership’s official, publicly stated policies.

Ichthyic said:

Have you guys noticed that the one who started all this hateful, bigoted, arrogant crap, truthspeaker, no longer comes around?

the reason is that honest people get bored with your constant lies. What lies? You are assuming that calling atheism a dogma is lying, eh? Decades ago, I read in a dictionary that atheism was “The belief that there is no God.” Now I find atheists here claiming that atheism is “being without belief in God.” If you seriously think those two statements are identical, I have just as much right to call you delusional as truthspeaker called all religious beliefs delusional. It’s obvious that atheists have recently broadened the meaning of atheist and atheism to swell their appearant ranks and make atheism look more “tolerant” than most religions. Your calling me dishonest is a pot insulting a kettle, I think.

truthspeaker is a regular feature on other sites, where folks like yourself are rightly lumped with creationists. More delusional extremism, I see.

…not because you think the world is 6k yr old, but because you employ the same level of dishonesty in your arguments.And I can call you a liar for saying that. What goes around comes around.

I’m ashamed that the others on this site refuse to smack you down for it, simply because they think your “tone” is better, when in fact it isn’t even that. What’s stopping you from doing it? And why should you think your “tone” is any better than mine?

sad. I guess you can’t handle determined debate with opponents who are not idiotic Creationists?

Tulse said:

You’re welcome to believe whatever and however you like, as long as I’m permitted to think whatever I like about your beliefs.

In the great words of Robert A Heinlein, “Think whatever you like, but not too loud.”

Dale Husband said: Decades ago, I read in a dictionary that atheism was “The belief that there is no God.” Now I find atheists here claiming that atheism is “being without belief in God.” If you seriously think those two statements are identical, I have just as much right to call you delusional as truthspeaker called all religious beliefs delusional. It’s obvious that atheists have recently broadened the meaning of atheist and atheism to swell their appearant ranks and make atheism look more “tolerant” than most religions. Your calling me dishonest is a pot insulting a kettle, I think.

No, Dale Husband. You have found that there are two definitions of “atheism”. You have found that atheists prefer the more reasonable of the two definitions, while in other parts of society (the predominantly religious part) the one that makes atheist look bad appears more popular - clearly the one you grew up with too. Based on this, you have decided that the atheists must be lying about their position.

This is prejudice, plain and simple. Has it never occurred to you that there has been a long tradition of religion maligning atheism? Doesn’t that make it more likely that the misrepresentation is happening on the other side? Of course atheists view themselves differently than the religious majority see them. To some, atheists are evil and dangerous, and anything is fair game in stopping them. Others don’t really think much about it, but uncritically absorb the negative views around them.

You have bought into this propaganda hook, line and sinker, though, to the point where you’d rather call atheists liars than listen to them. To the point you’d do pretty much anything to not be associated with people like PZ Myers, like ignoring several times now what he wrote about not being able to disprove all possible gods. To the point that you call what we emphasize is a tentative conclusion to us a “dogma”. Applying in a double standard that, when applied consistently, would make even a statement like “the sun rises tomorrow” a statement of dogma. After all, for all we know, a giant space amoeba will drop out of hyperspace tonight and eat the sun. You even seem willing to throw the ability of science to draw any tentative conclusion under the bus, just so you can keep calling atheists dogmatic.

This is why people get tired of talking to you. You have already made up your mind about atheists. Anything they say that doesn’t agree with what you think atheism is about, must be a lie. It’s like talking to a brick wall. “Winning” debates by wearing out your opponents until they walk out in disgust is hardly an accomplishment to be proud of. I’m done with you and this thread too, I’m moving on. Cry victory if you like. It’s what a creationist might do.

Dale Husband said:

Have you guys noticed that the one who started all this hateful, bigoted, arrogant crap, truthspeaker, no longer comes around? It seems like he got what he wanted, a lot of $#it stirred for his own entertainment, and then ran away when he finally realized he couldn’t verbally beat everyone else into total submission with his extremist anti-religious trolling.

GOOD RIDDANCE!

I suspect he’s not bothering for the same reason I didn’t persue over your inability to distinguish between an irrational belief and a delusional one. You’re an arsehole.

If you can’t see that a god who has no more credability than leprechauns (who were subject to religious belief at one time), santa claus, and Russell’s teapot is indistinguishable from a non-existant one but feel so personally invested in those beliefs that you maintain that we must give some kind of “respect” to those who hold those beliefs…well. You feel free to sit there looking for some kind of warm fuzzy feeling from your irrational religious friends while maintaining your intellectual superiority.

You know, one thing I’ve never seen anyone do is demonstrate why believing any of the supernatural aspects of religion (in other words, the stuff PZ Myers, and Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, and Jerry Coyne, and Thunderf00t, and pretty much every atheist I’m familiar with objects to) is a good thing. Because when asked what’s good about religion, it seems that people inevitably cite things like charities and maintaining a sense of community, and not things like the Resurrection or how Moses parted the Red Sea.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on June 15, 2010 12:56 AM.

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